Beginner guide to understanding what is SEO


You’ll get the most out of this guide if your desire to learn search engine optimization (SEO) is exceeded only by your willingness to execute and test concepts.

This guide is designed to describe all major aspects of SEO, from finding the terms and phrases (keywords) that can generate qualified traffic to your website, to making your site friendly to search engines, to building links and marketing the unique value of your site.

The world of search engine optimization is complex and ever-changing, but you can easily understand the basics, and even a small amount of SEO knowledge can make a big difference. Free SEO education is also widely available on the web, including in guides like this! (Woohoo!)

Combine this information with some practice and you are well on your way to becoming a savvy SEO.

Here’s what you’ll find in this SEO guide

Ever heard of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? It’s a theory of psychology that prioritizes the most fundamental human needs (like air, water, and physical safety) over more advanced needs (like esteem and social belonging). The theory is that you can’t achieve the needs at the top without ensuring the more fundamental needs are met first. Love doesn’t matter if you don’t have food.

Our founder, Rand Fishkin, made a similar pyramid to explain the way folks should go about SEO, and we’ve affectionately dubbed it “Mozlow’s hierarchy of SEO needs.”

Here’s what it looks like:

Using this guide, here are 7 steps to successful SEO:

  1. Crawl accessibility so engines can read your website
  2. Compelling content that answers the searcher’s query
  3. Keyword optimized to attract searchers & engines
  4. Great user experience including a fast load speed and compelling UX
  5. Share-worthy content that earns links, citations, and amplification
  6. Title, URL, & description to draw high CTR in the rankings
  7. Snippet/schema markup to stand out in SERPs

We’ll spend time on each of these areas throughout this guide, but we wanted to introduce it here because it offers a look at how we structured the guide as a whole:

CHAPTER 1: SEO 101

What is it, and why is it important?

For true beginners. Learn what search engine optimization is, why it matters, and all the need-to-know basics to start yourself off right.


CHAPTER 2: HOW SEARCH ENGINES WORK – CRAWLING, INDEXING, AND RANKING

First, you need to show up.

If search engines literally can’t find you, none of the rest of your work matters. This chapter shows you how their robots crawl the Internet to find your site and add it to their indexes.

CHAPTER 3: KEYWORD RESEARCH

Understand what your audience wants to find.

Our approach targets users first because that’s what search engines reward. This chapter covers keyword research and other methods to determine what your audience is seeking.


CHAPTER 4: ON-SITE OPTIMIZATION

Use your research to craft your message.

This is a hefty chapter, covering optimized design, user experience, information architecture, and all the ways you can adjust how you publish content to maximize its visibility and resonance with your audience.


CHAPTER 5: TECHNICAL SEO

Basic technical knowledge will help you optimize your site for search engines and establish credibility with developers.

By implementing responsive design, robot directives, and other technical elements like structured data and meta tags, you can tell Google (a robot itself) what your site is all about. This helps it rank for the right things.


CHAPTER 6: LINK BUILDING & ESTABLISHING AUTHORITY

Turn up the volume.

Once you’ve got everything in place, it’s time to expand your influence by earning attention and links from other sites and influencers.


CHAPTER 7: MEASURING, PRIORITIZING, & EXECUTING SEO

Set yourself up for success.

An essential part of any SEO strategy is knowing what’s working (and what isn’t), adjusting your approach as you go along.


THE SEO GLOSSARY

Understand key terms and phrases.

Learning SEO can sometimes feel like learning another language, with all the jargon and industry terms you’re expected to know. This chapter-by-chapter glossary will help you get a handle on all the new words.

How much of this guide do I need to read?

If you’re serious about improving search traffic and are unfamiliar with SEO, we recommend reading the Beginner’s Guide to SEO front-to-back. We’ve tried to make it as concise and easy to understand as possible, and learning the basics of SEO is a vital first step in achieving your online business goals.

Go through at the pace that suits you best, and be sure to take note of the dozens of resources we link to throughout the chapters — they’re also worthy of your attention.

Getting excited yet? You should be! Search engine marketing is a fascinating field and can be lots of fun! If you get confused, don’t give up; we have folks who can help you with instructor-led SEO training seminars.

We’re excited you’re here! Grab a cup of coffee, and let’s dive into Chapter 1 (SEO 101).

What is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, which is the practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search engine results.

What goes into SEO?

To understand the true meaning of SEO, let’s break that definition down and look at the parts:

  • Quality of traffic. You can attract all the visitors in the world, but if they’re coming to your site because Google tells them you’re a resource for Apple computers when really you’re a farmer selling apples, that is not quality traffic. Instead you want to attract visitors who are genuinely interested in products that you offer.
  • Quantity of traffic. Once you have the right people clicking through from those search engine results pages (SERPs), more traffic is better.
  • Organic results. Ads make up a significant portion of many SERPs. Organic traffic is any traffic that you don’t have to pay for.

Organic search traffic is specifically any unpaid traffic that comes from SERPs.

How SEO works

You might think of a search engine as a website you visit to type (or speak) a question into a box and Google, Yahoo!, Bing, or whatever search engine you’re using magically replies with a long list of links to webpages that could potentially answer your question.

That’s true. But have you ever stopped to consider what’s behind those magical lists of links?

Here’s how it works: Google (or any search engine you’re using) has a crawler that goes out and gathers information about all the content they can find on the Internet. The crawlers bring all those 1s and 0s back to the search engine to build an index. That index is then fed through an algorithm that tries to match all that data with your query.

There are a lot of factors that go into a search engine’s algorithm, and here’s how a group of experts ranked their importance:

That’s all the SE (search engine) of SEO.

The O part of SEO—optimization—is where the people who write all that content and put it on their sites are guessing that content and those sites up so search engines will be able to understand what they’re seeing, and the users who arrive via search will like what they see.

Optimization can take many forms. It’s everything from making sure the title tags and meta descriptions are both informative and the right length to pointing internal links at pages you’re proud of.

Learning SEO

This section of our site is here to help you learn anything you want about SEO. If you’re completely new to the topic, start at the very beginning and read the Beginner’s Guide to SEO. If you need advice on a specific topic, dig in wherever suits you.

Here’s a general overview:

Building an SEO-friendly site

Once you’re ready to start walking that SEO walk, it’s time to apply those SEO techniques to a site, whether it’s brand new or an old one you’re improving.

These pages will help you get started with everything from selecting an SEO-friendly domain name to best practices for internal links.

Content and related markup

A site isn’t really a site until you have content. But SEO for content has enough specific variables that we’ve given it its own section. Start here if you’re curious about keyword research, how to write SEO-friendly copy, and the kind of markup that helps search engines understand just what your content is really about.

On-site topics

You’ve already learned a lot about on-site topics by delving into content and related markup. Now it’s time to get technical with information about robots.txt.

Link-related topics

Dig deep into everything you ever needed to know about links from anchor text to redirection. Read this series of pages to understand how and when to use nofollow and whether guest blogging is actually dead. If you’re more into the link building side of things (working to improve the rankings on your site by earning links), go straight to the Beginner’s Guide to Link Building.

Other optimization

Congratulations! You’ve mastered the ins and outs of daily SEO and are now ready for some advanced topics. Make sure all that traffic has the easiest time possible converting with conversion rate optimization (CRO), then go micro level with local SEO or take that site global with international SEO.

The evolution of SEO

Search engine algorithms change frequently and SEO tactics evolve in response to those changes. So if someone is offering you SEO advice that doesn’t feel quite right, check in with the specific topic page.

For a more technical look at SEO, check out this short video from Rand Fishkin.

Go forth and SEO…

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