SEO stands for “search engine optimization.” It’s a tool that website owners and bloggers use to help increase the number of visitors they get from search engines. Most SEO strategies involve editing your Web site in a way that allows it to be recognized by the different search engines as more helpful when users enter specific keywords, which helps them return accurate results. The more often your site is found on these pages—as well as on subsequent pages of results—the higher you’ll climb in the rankings. For example, someone searching for dog boarding will likely click through to sites or links for local business listings of kennels or doggy daycare centers.
Depending on what kind of website owner you are, optimizing your site can range from tweaking titles and meta descriptions to implementing an entire search engine optimization strategy. For an eCommerce store, for example, SEO might consist of ensuring all your products have unique descriptions with specific keywords. For a blogger, it’s about adding new content regularly and publishing posts at certain times during the day so that search engines will crawl them more frequently. Quality over quantity is always the motto, but blogging can certainly help you get found.
For most business owners, search engine optimization starts by having a website in the first place! If you’re someone who’s just starting out online or building your brand from scratch, this guide is for you. We’ll walk you through how to create a basic site with the right design elements, set up pages correctly to help increase traffic and make sure you can find your website in search engines.
Let’s get to it!
What are the core elements of SEO?
The first step to search engine optimization has a website that uses clean code with which search engines can easily interact. Visitors see this as your site’s design, while Web crawlers see it as structural information. There are two main platforms for websites—WordPress, which powers 23% of all new sites today, and HTML5. For WordPress users, you’ll want to use the Yoast plugin, which gives you an HTML view of your site so you can see what’s going on under the hood. It also helps you ensure every page has certain keywords in its title tag and meta description so that search engines know what your pages are about. If you’re using HTML5, you’ll want to make sure your code is valid and use Google Tag Assistant to check for errors.
What’s the difference between on-site SEO and off-site SEO?
On-page elements are all the things you can do within your site to help with search engine optimization. They’re called “on” pages because they occur in one place—on your website. These include meta descriptions, load times, mobile responsiveness, images optimized for Web (not just big enough in size but also in resolution), XML sitemaps, internal links, alt tags, anchor text in internal links, social sharing capability, etc. A lot of this happens when you set up your site during the design phase. For example, making sure your site is mobile responsive means you won’t have to worry about what it’ll look like for people who visit on their phones or tablets later.
Off-site elements are all the things that exist outside of your website but can still help with search engine optimization. These include mentions of your brand on social media, guest blog posts, directory listings, reviews, backlinks from other websites, etc. As with most digital marketing strategies, there’s a direct correlation between how much work goes into building an audience and the amount of visibility your efforts will yield. The off-page stuff helps increase visibility through branding. However, this isn’t considered “real SEO” by some because it doesn’t directly impact how search engines crawl or index your site.
Do you have to be an SEO expert in order to start?
No! Though sometimes it can feel like search engine optimization is this enigmatic strategy run by Google gurus, the truth is that most of what makes an SEO-friendly site is already built into platforms. Things like responsive design, XML sitemaps, meta descriptions, etc., are useful for both users and search engines. This means that if you’ve got some basic Web knowledge and know-how to use WordPress or HTML5 (or you’re willing to learn), starting your website with good “on-page” elements will help get the ball rolling for optimization later.
What happens when I set up my site?
For eCommerce sites, especially those using Magento or Shopify, you’ll have the opportunity to use Google Tag Assistant during installation. Tag Assistant helps with tracking custom events, verifying your tags are working properly, and even gives suggestions about how to optimize your site for better performance based on tag alerts.
For WordPress users, Yoast provides an HTML view of your site so you can see what’s going on under the hood—this includes things like if meta descriptions are filled out, whether or not there are errors in code, etc. If you’re an eCommerce user of Magento, Shopify, BigCartel, Squarespace, Volusion, or any other eCommerce platform that uses an XML sitemap, then you can check that this is set up correctly by installing Google Analytics on your website. If you’re unsure whether or not you have an XML sitemap, Google Search Console will do the work for you. It’s important to set up these elements correctly upon site launch so that they can help with optimization later on.
What is SEO copywriting? And what does it mean to be “SEO friendly”?
SEO copywriting refers to writing web content in a way that both users and search engines understand. On-page SEO refers to the presence of certain keywords within the HTML code on a page, whereas off-page SEO is about external websites mentioning your brand, linking back, etc.
You’ll want to know how to use WordPress’ WYSIWYG editor, as well as generally staying away from spammy or keyword-stuffed phrases. You’ll also want to keep your blog posts under 1,500 words—you don’t have to write short stories, but if you can get the point across in less than 1,500 words, searchers are more likely to read it and share it. This gives you more opportunities for links, shares, etc.; it’s a win-win!
What is Google Analytics?
Google Analytics is free software that tracks web traffic, allowing site owners to see things like which pages are getting the most visits, what browsers people use to visit their sites (and how they’re accessing them), where these visitors are coming from geographically speaking, etc. If you’ve got some basics under your belt, you can learn more about how it works.
What is Google AdWords? How does it factor into SEO?
AdWords is a paid search platform that allows site owners to advertise their website and/or blog directly to their audience. If you’ve got some budget for advertising, we highly recommend giving Adwords a try —it’s super easy and, if run correctly, can be extremely effective. While most people associate AdWords with PPC (pay-per-click) campaigns, if your site gets enough traffic, running an ad campaign on the “Display Network” might also be worth looking into—it’s less competitive than the Search Network but still produces high volumes of clicks from contextually relevant sites.
What is the difference between paid and natural search?
Paid search (like Google AdWords ) is better for immediate results, whereas organic search (like Google Search or the Bing homepage) produces longer-term results. You can run both simultaneously —in fact, most companies do—but it’s important to know the difference. If you’re not willing to pay for advertising but still want quick results, working with influencers is a good way to get your site off the ground.
What are promotional links?
Promotional links are links that might be featured on other websites in order to advertise an event, discount code, etc. These are usually temporary in nature—i.e., they’re used to drive traffic toward a limited-time offer.
If you’re looking for a way to drive more traffic and sales, consider using the power of human psychology with some neuroscience knowledge. By understanding how your customers think at different stages in their buying process or lead funnel, you may be able to increase your product sales without much effort on your part. Check out our blog post about psychological marketing principles that will work for any company selling digital products online or offline. If this sounds too difficult and time-consuming, let us know! Our team would love nothing more than help enact these strategies by partnering with you to create an SEO plan that drives revenue through consideration of customer behavior. Which cognitive neuroscience principle have you applied already?