The ABCs of SEO

Whether you work in or around online marketing, you’ve certainly heard the term — SEO, or search engine optimization. It’s one of those acronyms, like ROI or KPI, that are widely used but often dimly understood.

SEO is a science. But you don’t have to be a scientist to understand some basic techniques involved in getting your online content front and center. Here’s a simple primer to boost your SEO IQ.

What is SEO?

At its core, SEO focuses on expanding a company’s visibility in the organic search results. It helps businesses rank more pages higher in SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages.) And in turn, it drives more visitors to your web presence, increasing chances for more conversions.

SEO drives two things — rankings and visibility.

This is a process that search engines use to determine where to place a particular web page in SERPs.

This term describes how prominent a particular domain appears in search engine results. With high visibility, your domain is prominent in SERPs. Lower search visibility means your domain doesn’t appear in many relevant search queries.

Both rankings and visibility are responsible for delivering the main SEO objectives — traffic and conversions.

Effective use of SEO lets you position your brand throughout the entire consideration journey. Early in the process, consumers typically use Google to find information about their query. Some also inquire about potential solutions to problems, like “best winter boots” or “local plumber for drain clog.”

They subsequently evaluate available alternatives based on reviews or social media mentions before inquiring with a company. But this happens after they’ve explored all information sources.

So the only chance for customers to notice and consider you is by showing up early in their search results.

Components of a strong SEO strategy.

To optimize a site, you need to improve ranking factors in three areas — technical website setup, content and links.


1. Technical website setup

For your website to rank, three things have to happen:

First, a search engine needs to find your pages on the web.

Then, it must scan those pages to understand their topics and identify their keywords.

And finally, it needs to add them to its index — a database of all the content it has found on the web. Its algorithm can then consider displaying your website for relevant queries.

Remember, a web page looks different for you and a search engine. You see it as a collection of graphics, colors, text with its formatting and links.


To a search engine, it's nothing but text.


As a result, any elements it cannot render as text are invisible to the search engine. And so, in spite of your website looking fine to you, Google might find its content inaccessible.

That’s where technical setup, also called on-site optimization, comes in. It ensures that your website and pages allow Google to scan and index them within its parameters.

The most important factors include:

Website navigation and links
Search engines crawl sites just like you would. They follow links. Search engine crawlers land on a page and use links to find other content to analyze. But as we’ve described, they cannot see images. So, set the navigation and links as text-only.

Simple URL structure
Search engines don’t like reading lengthy strings of words with complex structure. So, if possible, keep URLs short. Set them up to include as little beyond the main keyword you’re using to optimize the page as possible.

Page speed
Search engines use the load time as an indicator of quality. Many website elements can affect it. Image size, for example. Use Google’s Page Speed Insights Tool for suggestions on how to improve your pages.

Dead links or broken redirects
A dead link sends a visitor to a nonexistent page. A broken redirect points to a resource that might no longer be there. Both provide poor user experience but also prevent search engines from indexing your content.

Sitemap files
A sitemap is a simple file that lists all URLs on your site you want to be searchable. Search engines use it to identify what pages to crawl and index. It can speed up crawling and indexing of content. Your sitemap should not contain pages that have a noindex tag or pages that you want hidden from Google.

Duplicate content
Pages containing identical or quite similar content confuse search engines. Upon finding it, they can penalize a website by not displaying any of those pages at all.


2. Content

Content is what customers want when searching. And the more of it you publish, the higher your chance for greater search visibility.

While crawling a page, search engines determine its topic. Analyzing elements like page length or structure helps engines assess a page’s quality. Based on this information, search algorithms can match a person’s query with pages they consider the most relevant to that search.

The process of optimizing content begins with keyword research.

Keyword research
SEO is not about getting every potential visitor to the site. You want to attract people with the potential to become customers. That’s why SEO starts by discovering what phrases potential buyers enter into search engines.That means identifying terms and topics relevant to your business, converting them into initial keywords, then conducting research to uncover related terms your audience would use. With a list of keywords at hand, the next step is to optimize your content — a process known as on-page optimization.

On-page optimization
On-page optimization, also called on-page SEO, ensures that search engines understand a page’s topic and keywords, and can match it to relevant searches. Although the bulk of on-page SEO work focuses on the words you use, it extends to optimizing some elements in the code. Metatags like title or description are two most popular ones.

Keyword optimization
Start by ensuring that Google understands what keywords you want this page to rank. To achieve that, make sure you include at least the main keyword in the following:

Post’s title: Place it as close to the start of the title. Google is known to put more value on words at the start of the headline.

URL: Your page’s web address should also include the keyword.

H1 tag: In most content management systems, this tag displays the title of the page by default.

The first 100 words (or the first paragraph) of content: Finding the keyword at the start of your blog post signals to Google that this is, in fact, the page’s topic.

Meta-title and meta-description tags: Search engines use these two code elements to display their listings. They display meta-title as the search listing’s title. Meta-description provides content for the little blurb below it. Search engines use both to understand the page’s topic further.

Image file names and ALT tags: As we discussed, search engines don’t see graphics on a page. They can only see their file names. So, make sure that at least one of the images contains the keyword in the file name. The ALT tag, on the other hand, is a text browser display instead of an image (for visually impaired visitors.) However, since the ALT tag resides in the image code, search engines use it as a relevancy signal as well. Consider adding semantic keywords — variations or synonyms of your keyword that help triangulate the search more precisely. For instance, if your main keyword is “Target,” how does a search engine know whether you’re a major retailer or a provider of goods for archery fans?

Semantic keywords help focus your main keyword to ensure your page doesn’t start showing up in irrelevant searches.

On-page optimization beyond keywords
On-page SEO isn’t just about sprinkling keywords across the page. The factors below also help confirm a page’s credibility and authority.

External links: Linking out to other, relevant pages on your topic helps Google determine its topic further. Plus, it provides a good user experience by positioning your content as a valuable resource.

Internal links: They help you boost rankings by allowing search engines to find and crawl other pages on the site, and they show semantic relations between various pages, helping to determine its relevance to the search query better.

Content’s length: Long content typically ranks better. A longer blog post should contain more exhaustive information on the topic.

Multimedia: Multimedia elements like videos, diagrams or audio players can serve as a sign of a page’s quality. It keeps readers on a page for longer, signifying that they find the content valuable.


3. Links

Google and other search engines prioritize pages they consider the most relevant to their queries as well as the most popular pages. Links are responsible for popularity.

Links, also called backlinks, are references to your content on other websites. Google uses quantity and quality of links like this as a signal of a website’s popularity and quality.

The quality of links is determined by:

The popularity of a linking site: Links from websites that have good quality links pointing to them work better.

Topic relevance: Links from domains on a topic similar to yours will carry more authority than those from random websites.

Trust in a domain: Links from more trustworthy, established sites will always have a better impact on rankings.

Optimize your presence online.

McGuffin supports marketers by designing, writing and building websites that boost your brand and engage your audience. And we work alongside SEO partners who can grow your online efforts even further. If you’ve been searching for the right web partner, let’s talk.