Search Engine Optimization (SEO) 101

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) 101

If you have a website, you’ve likely heard of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and know that it can help your target market find you online. But when it comes to understanding how SEO works behind the scenes, things can get complex in a hurry. 

We’re here to take the mystery out of Search Engine Optimization, with a high-level overview of what it is and how to work it into your marketing plan. 

As a starting point, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) helps your website appear in the organic (non-paid) search results when someone searches for a specific keyword or phrase. While you make it easier for your target market to find the information they are seeking, you also connect them to your products or services.   

To avoid being left behind by competitors who are willing to dive into best practices for SEO, it’s important to explore the subject with an open mind. Here is a breakdown of Search Engine Optimization (SEO), how it works, and why it is a critical marketing tool. Welcome to SEO 101! 


1. What it Is: Targeted Tools 

While Search Engine Optimization (SEO) sounds like it might be just one tool, the term refers to several components that all aim towards one goal—improving your site’s ranking in search engine results pages (SERPs).

Ultimately, you are doing all you can to make sure that search engines can find relevant content easily, and find your site to be a reliable source. Here is a look at some of the components that make up Search Engine Optimization (SEO):


Content-based SEO – The content on your site will have a significant impact on the ranking it receives. For example, say you have a coffee shop in Portland that specializes in dark roast flavors. You might want to improve your search results for “Portland coffee shop”. By using this phrase frequently, but naturally, throughout your content, you will help to improve your search results.

Code-based SEO – Just as it sounds, this tactic is related to the technical aspects of your site or the code your website is built upon. Clean, well-organized code can optimize your site, making it easier for search engines to crawl and index your pages. If it can easily see that your site is a good fit for users searching for coffee shops in Portland, for example, it will boost it among the site rankings. 

Off-page SEO – Not every element of SEO is related to your content or code. Some are connected to the links you have to and from your site. Search engines use this information to determine if your site is more credible, based on the sites connected to it. In the coffee shop example, you might link to sites that promote community events or businesses in Portland, and ask that they link back to you. 

With a holistic approach to your Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tactics, using content, code and links strategically, you will have far greater success in boosting your organic search results. If you’re wondering where to put your SEO time or resources first, look at your content.


2. How it Works: A Search for Quality

While the algorithms used by search engines are private, we can make some high-level assumptions about how they work. In the broadest sense, they are on the lookout for quality content. When a user enters a search term, they want to provide the most relevant results first. 

Search engines crawl and index your site, looking for a wide range of indicators that a given site could be relevant to a search term. Every search engine has its own criteria and timeline for crawling sites, but most average between 3 days and 4 weeks. This is important to note if you are making Search Engine Optimization (SEO) upgrades to your site, as the impact will take time to appear in search results. 

Of course, it is hard to get every aspect of SEO just right. As Google indexes sites, it is estimated that it takes over 200 factors into account. Here are a few of the factors thought to be considered in page rankings:

  • Relevant content for a given search term
  • Related content (peripheral words and phrases) within your page
  • Age of site (newer sites wait longer than established sites to be crawled)
  • Usability (Google bots scan for trouble spots)
  • Popularity
  • Cleanliness of code
  • Frequency of site updates 


While you’ll always be making best guesses about the factors that make up search engine algorithms, using the best practices of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) can help you make an impact through your content. 

The term that sometimes stymies site owners is “relevant content.” How do you prove to a search engine that your site is applicable to a given word or phrase? Using your targeted keywords or keyword phrases is perhaps the most helpful tactic. 

In our coffee shop example, it would be important to use the phrase “Portland coffee shop” frequently, but as naturally as possible, without overusing or keyword stuffing. By working the phrase into your titles, subtitles and meta tags, you would tell search engines this phrase is important to your site. By creating content that reads naturally, you will likely include peripheral words and phrases that search engines value in determining relevant content. 


3. Why it Matters: Better Search Results

Of course, to improve your site’s organic search results, it’s important to measure key metrics of success. If you are putting in the time and money to boost your rankings, it’s critical to understand the return on your investment. 

To start, it’s worth getting to know Google Analytics, a free tool to help you measure and analyze your site data. Ultimately, you can track and test the SEO changes you make, learning which keywords are most effective in driving site traffic and which sources bring you the most leads. 

Your goal will always be to boost your search rankings. According to Backlinko, less than 1% of Google users will click on a link that is not on the first page of search results. In other words, the stakes for pushing higher within search results are high. 

This is where it’s wise to think about strategy. If “Portland coffee shop” is too competitive as a keyword, maybe there is a similar phrase that is less competitive. Maybe you would fare better aiming for “best coffee Portland” or “downtown Portland cold brew”. 

Whichever keywords you decide to focus on, keep in mind that you’ll need to make regular updates if you want search engines to see your content as relevant and rank it higher. The best plan, to avoid feeling overwhelmed, is to start with a content plan you can work into your operations.


Find Your Strategic Partner

Of course, when you first realize what Search Engine Optimization (SEO) involves, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the list of to-dos. If you are short on time or feel uncertain about how to upgrade your site’s code or content for SEO, it’s a good idea to get professional help. A reputable SEO company will work with you to understand your goals, help you prioritize your spending and create meaningful content for your site.

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