A Comprehensive 4-Step Guide to How SEO Works (Fast)

This is an overview of how SEO works, and is covered in the ClickMinded SEO Training Course. Once you’ve taken that, sign up for the ClickMined SEO Certification Test.

A friend of mine used these tactics to optimize his eCommerce site. His primary keywords are Backpack with Speakers and Cooler with Speakers, and I promised him that I would help him out too – he owes me! :)

So, what is SEO?

The best way to start is by defining what SEO is not:


NOT about buying keywords
NOT calling up Google and telling them where we want to be ranked
NOT often a very fast process
NOT shady (though there are plenty of bad apples out there!)
NOT incredibly difficult once you know the basics! Google and Bing want to help you rank well if you create great content!

Matt Cutts is the head of the Google WebSpam team. Here’s the official Google line on SEO:


Data can vary wildly from industry to industry, but there is roughly a 70/30 split for organic and paid traffic:




Many have tried to correlate click-through rates with search rankings, starting with an AOL data leak in 2006, but now there are a number of agencies that release click-through rate reports. Here’s one from Advanced Web Rankings, which says that roughly 31% of clicks go to the first result, and 75% of clicks go to the first 5. This is why SEO is so important: most people don’t go on to the second page, instead they change their query rather than looking at more results.

Click-Through Rates


We know from 3rd party studies about “The Golden Triangle“, that most users’ eyes go to the top 5 organic results:


Golden Triangle of SEO


Explaining SEO in 60 seconds:

  • The words you use are important.
  • The titles of your pages are important.
  • The links pointing back to your website are important.
  • The words used in those links are important. (They’re called anchor text)
  • Your ability to get pages into search engine indices is important
  • Your reputation and credibility matters.
  • Social media matters.
  • Freshness matters.


At the end of the day, we’re all trying to get to #1 on Google:

Before you get any further, remember the most important aspect of search engine optimization:

Write compelling copy FIRST, then optimize! Design for users, and not search engines!

On-Page Optimization

  • keyword research and searcher intent
  • title tags
  • meta description tag
  • heading tags
  • image optimization
  • body content
  • internal link anchor text


Keyword Research

Google Adwords Keyword Tool

Always “uncheck” broad match, and “check” exact match!
Think about searcher intent (what is this person looking for?)
Find synonyms with the ~ parameter (type ~music into Google, and you’ll notice “audio” “mp3” “radio” and “song” are bolded. Google thinks these are related phrases, so use those related phrases in your copy!)

Searcher Intent:
1. Navigational Queries
2. Information Queries
3. Commercial Research Queries
4. Ready To Buy Queries


Title Tag

The most weighted aspect of on-page optimization
Title tags tell humans (and search engine spiders) what the page is about
Should be approximately 65 characters long
Titles should be unique for every page


Meta Description Tag

Should be no longer than 156 characters
Your primary keyword(s) should be there
Meta description DOES NOT impact rankings, but are directly related to your click-through rate
The meta description does not appear anywhere on the page
Google will often supplement content on the page with your meta description, if it either does not find the description tag, or finds the keyword on the page and wants to display it to the user


Heading (H1) Tag

Heading tags are used to logically lay out your webpage
Primary keyword should be included at least once in the heading tag (does not need to be an exact match)
Like all aspects of SEO, don’t overdo it!


Body Copy

There’s no real “minimum number of words” needed for each page, but I recommend at least 100 words (to give the engines enough text to make an assessment of your content)
Important keywords should be mentioned in the first 50-100 words of the content if possible (but design for users!)
The keyword you’re targeting should be used 2-3 times on the page for short pages, don’t keyword stuff!
“Keyword density” and “text-to-code” ratio are not important today. If anyone tells you they are, RUN AWAY!
If it’s really hard to “work in” your keywords, it might be the wrong page for that keyword


ALT Tags

Search engine spiders aren’t humans, and can’t see images
Visually impaired surfers rely on ALT tags to visit websites
We use ALT tags to tell search engines what those images are, as well as the name of the image file
ALT tags and file names are just one more component of the total optimization equation
Again: Don’t over-optimize! Use natural, user-friendly language, don’t worry about exact match text


Internal Links

The text you use in your links matters!
Search engines factor in HOW you link to your other content as a clue to what that content is about
The keyword you’re optimizing for should be used in the text pointing to that page
Links with text like “website” or “click here” are too generic, and don’t help search engines figure out what that content is about


Off-Page Optimization


Don’t be a miserable failure about your off-page optimization:

Google Bomb - Miserable Failure

Off-page optimization is the other “big piece” of the ranking equation.

Search engines basically factor in how the rest of the Internet views your site.
A link from Site A to Site B is like a “vote” from Site Afor Site B
This is very simply described as “link building” but it’s becoming more comprehensive
If all links were equal in weight and based on their content, web page with the most links will rank higher and win the Internet!

Off Page Optimization


However, no two links are the same, all links are not created equal:


Off Page Optimization - Links Are Not Equal



PageRank was originally a very important piece of Google’s algorithm, but it looks like it’s being emphasized less as time goes on.



Building links is a continuous, difficult, never-ending process. There are hundreds of strategies, tactics and techniques for link building. There is even a multi-million dollar industry being built around this concept. However, there’s only 4 crucial things to understand about link building in order to be successful:

Get links from good, trusted content.
Don’t get links from bad, spammy content.
Link to good, trusted content.
Don’t link to bad, spammy content.


Everything Else!

Competitive Link Analysis
(be sure to check competitors anchor text for keyword ideas too!)
Link Diagnosis
Open Site Explorer
Majestic SEO


Social Media

Did you know the CIA’s “Facebook” program dramatically cuts agency costs?

Social Media is a factor in search engine rankings because it’s a quality signal. I wrote more about this on Social Media Today: Quality Signals – Twitter and Facebook’s Impact on Search Engine Rankings


Great Tools For Beginners

Google Analytics – Amazing, free analytics software

Google Webmaster Tools – Not optional, must install in order to submit sitemaps and more to Google

Google Adwords Keyword Tool – The de facto keyword research tool of the SEO industry

Google Trends – Interesting tool to check seasonal fluctuations in keyword search volume

Link Diagnosis – Free link analysis tool plugin for Firefox

Open Site Explorer – Free (trial) tool to build inbound link profile

Marketing in the Age of Google – The only book I recommend buying to learn more about search

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