Search engine optimization (SEO) is, very simply, all the stuff we do to drive traffic from search engines to our digital assets.
In most cases, this just means your website, but it could also be a social media account, a product listing on an eCommerce site, or a mobile app.
There are going to be people out there trying to convince you that it’s this incredibly difficult process that takes decades of experience and unknowable amounts of talent and innate skill.
Many people will try to convince you that SEO is hard and highly technical.
The most powerful thing you can do to learn SEO and increase your traffic from search engines is to understand how search engines, like Google, make money.
The TL;DR of a search engine’s business model is:
It’s as simple as that.
If you want to succeed at SEO, your best strategy is to help Google make more money…
…and you can do that by helping them answer their users’ questions. Here’s how to do that:
Next, I’ll explain how each of these work.
Keyword research is the act of searching, organizing, and analyzing user queries (searches) to create an SEO content strategy.
In fact, the analysis of keywords is the reason why SEO even exists.
By performing keyword research, you can easily:
One of the great things about SEO is that access to keyword data is more or less available to everyone…
…which means you can compete – even against massive companies.
To run keyword research like a professional, all you really need to understand is:
Most people go as far as step 1 and go on to create weak SEO strategies.
Don’t be like most people.
First, to determine how popular a keyword is, look for its search volume using a third-party tool (more on this in the “Tools” section of this guide).
Search volume is a metric of how often a particular keyword is typed by users in a search engine: The higher the search volume, the more demand there is for a certain keyword.
Often times, you’ll find that the search volume for keywords varies (sometimes a lot) depending on the tool you use to do research. For example:
That’s why you should think of search volumes as relative metrics instead of absolute.
From the data above, you could conclude that “flowers” is 4 to 7 times more popular than “flower delivery” so, at first glance, it’s the first keyword looks like a more attractive target.
Next, you should try to understand what the users typing that keyword are searching for—this is what’s called “searcher intent.”
One of the most important things you can do is to grab the keywords you’re researching and plug them into Google yourself.
Sometimes, you’ll realize you were wrong about what people were searching for.
For example, you could think that people searching for “how to write good” on Google are looking for copywriting tips—maybe a great keyword for a company offering content marketing services, right?
In reality, most people typing this into Google are looking for an autobiographical book titled “How to Write Good” written by a well-known YouTuber.
That’s why it’s important to not only know how popular a keyword is but to also really understand what users mean when they type them into the search bar.
Finally, another major thing to consider is keyword competition.
If a keyword seems like a great fit for your website, it’s probably a great fit for plenty of others too—and you’re likely not the first one to notice.
If you find that all the websites ranking on the first page for the keyword you want to target belong to big brands with authoritative websites, it’s usually better to pursue other opportunities.
There are many ways to determine the authority of different websites (more on that in the “Off-Page Optimization” section of this guide,) but some keyword research tools already include a metric for competition that you can use.
That’s really all you need to be in the top 5% of people doing keyword research:
Eager to get started? These are some great resources to help you take your first steps into keyword research:
On-page optimization is the process of improving the content of your pages so it’s easier for search engines to understand what they are about.
As sophisticated as Google’s algorithm is, it can’t understand the content of a webpage as easily as you and I can.
Robots are amazing – but they’re not there yet.
For example, when a search engine crawls a webpage with the word “bat”, it needs to figure out if the page content is about:
While you can probably take a quick look at the page and figure it out, computers need to look for clues that reveal what the content is about.
Mainly, search engines will look for these clues in content in the form of:
Over time, search engines have gotten smarter and figured out that how their users interact with the content is a great way to understand what content is about.
For example, let’s say you Google the phrase “baseball bat” and are presented with three options:
If you click on option 3, you’re giving the search engine a signal that this page is about baseball bats.
Here are just some of the user signals that search engines probably look at:
If your website presents a great answer to searchers, your page will likely get more clicks than others shown in the search results page, searches will be less likely to bounce, and they will probably spend more time and view more pages on your site.
By providing all of these clues to search engines, you’re essentially helping them to provide better answers to their users (and make more money)—which they will reward by giving you higher rankings.
The best part? On-page optimization is perhaps the most powerful element of SEO that is 100% within your control.
Here is a great guide for you to get started with on-page optimization:
You already know that search engines strive to provide the best possible answers to their users’ questions.
However, with over one hundred trillion (that’s a 1 followed by 14 zeros) web pages indexed by Google alone, there’s bound to be more than ten (the number of pages included in the first page of the search results) good answers for each search query.
So how do Google and other search engines figure out which is the most relevant result for each query?
First, they filter by relevance—that’s why we discussed on-page optimization in the previous section.
But even after that, there are millions of possible results for each search query—next time you do a Google search, look for the total number of results at the top of the page.
Put simply, it all comes down to popularity.
Search engines have found that the more authoritative (a.k.a. popular) a web page (and the website the page belongs to) is, the more likely it is to provide better answers to their users.
Even though search engines don’t publish authority metrics, several tools have developed their own metrics for these:
(UR is short for URL Rating and DR is short for Domain Rating—ahrefs’ own metrics for the authority of a page and a website, respectively.)
In SEO, authority is mainly determined by links—more specifically, links from other sites to yours.
You can think of a link as a vote.
When a site links to your site, search engines will view that link as an endorsement of the content on your site.
Off-page optimization, also known as link building, is the process of strategically acquiring links from third parties to your site to increase the authority of your pages.
Generally speaking, more links = more authority.
However, not all links are created equal—here’s the summary:
Link building is considered to be the hardest part about SEO—which is why, if you manage to master it, you’ll have an unfair advantage against the competition.
Companies that are great at acquiring links stand to gain massive amounts of traffic. Professionals who are good at SEO are able to command higher salaries.
Here is a great resource for you to get started with link building:
So far, we’ve been talking about all the high-leverage things in an SEO strategy.
If you think of SEO as building a house, we’ve set the foundation, walls, roof, added furniture, and did landscaping…
…now it’s time to talk about the electrical, wiring, and plumbing.
Water and electricity won’t make your house look or feel amazing—but without them, the rest just wouldn’t matter.
That’s how you should think about technical SEO.
Technical SEO is everything you do to make it easier for search engines to find and index your content correctly.
This can sound intimidating if you’re not technical (like me!) but don’t worry.
You mainly need to take care of four major things:
1. Make sure search engines can index your pages
First things first, search engines can’t index and rank your pages if they can’t find them or if you’re accidentally blocking them.
The easiest way to do prevent this is to:
These are some helpful resources on how to do that:
2. Fix errors and broken links
Sometimes, search engines will find errors when crawling your website.
For example, maybe you’ve deleted a piece of content and its URL is returning a 404 error.
If third-party sites are linking to a URL that’s showing an error, you’re missing out on the value that’s being passed from those links—search engines will consider these to be “broken links.” That’s one of the biggest problems with errors.
You can solve this by regularly checking your site for errors (we’ll explain the tools you can use for this in the “Tools” section of this guide,) and then decide whether you need to fix that error or not—most errors can be fixed easily with a redirect to a new URL.
Here are some great guides for you to get started:
3. Make sure your site is mobile-friendly
We don’t need to explain that everyone browses the internet on their phones. You already know how much it sucks to visit a site that’s not mobile-friendly.
In an effort to provide a better experience to their users, Google and other search engines have started to use mobile-friendliness as a ranking factor (especially for mobile search results.)
If you’re just getting started, most modern content management systems and website builders (e.g. WordPress, Squarespace, Shopify, etc.) have already taken care of this.
If you’re dealing with an existing site that isn’t mobile friendly, you might need to talk to a developer about fixing this—ASAP.
If you’re not sure, Google has created a handy tool to test if your website is mobile-friendly:
4. Speed up your site
The last major thing that’s really important is to make sure your site doesn’t take forever to load.
According to Google, the longer it takes for content to load on their devices, the less likely users are to engage with it.
Let’s dig into the nerdy stuff.
Like with any digital marketing channel, there’s a major risk that you’ll feel overwhelmed by too many metrics to measure your SEO efforts.
At ClickMinded, our philosophy is that you can go a long way in any channel by understanding and focusing on just five metrics or less—that’s it.
If we had to pick the most important metrics to focus on for SEO, they would be:
When Google stopped publishing their PageRank metric, they left a void for a metric that allowed SEOs to determine and compare the authority of different pages in the eyes of a search engine.
Domain Authority and Page Authority were the metrics developed by the SEO analytics company MOZ to fill this gap.
Later on, other third-party tools developed their own versions too: ahrefs came up with Domain Rating and URL Rating, and SEMRush came up with Domain Score and Page Score.
In essence, all of these mean the same thing and you can use them interchangeably:
Most people believe that, when it comes to search engine rankings, the authority of a page is more important than the authority of a domain.
For example, if you’re comparing two URLs with the same content, the one with the highest page authority will generally rank higher.
However, if they have similar page authorities, the domain authority will “break the tie.”
Rankings are perhaps the metric that SEOs obsess the most about.
A search engine ranking is just the position of a specific page in the search results for a specific query.
The default setting for search engines is to show 10 results on the first page. So “being in the first page of Google” means to be in the top 10 positions for a certain keyword.
However, SEOs have realized that being in the top 10 isn’t enough anymore.
Several studies have found that more than half (>50% clickthrough rate) of the clicks on any search go to just the top 3 results.
When performing SEO, your goal is to have a low ranking and a high CTR.
We’ve already talked about the importance of links throughout this guide.
The backlinks metrics is just the number of links from third-party websites to a specific site.
If you combine this metric with an analysis of the page and domain authority of the linking sites, you can get a pretty good idea of what SEOs call a “backlink profile”: A combination of the quantity and quality of the links pointing to a site.
In SEO, you should strive to have:
We’ve talked about authority, rankings, and links—you could improve all of them but none of it will matter unless those optimizations lead to more traffic.
Organic traffic consists of all the visits to a website that are referred from a search engine.
Obviously, more organic traffic = better.
Plus, once you have access to this metric, you will be able to run deeper analysis such as the behavior of organic visitors vs. other channels, or even the average conversion rate and value of an organic visitor.
One thing to keep in mind with regards to organic traffic is the distinction between branded and non-branded searches.
Business metrics will depend on the stage of the funnel each piece of content is created for.
These will determine if your SEO traffic is actually generating results for your business or if it’s just attracting the wrong kind of traffic.
Here are a couple of examples:
To determine the impact of your SEO efforts in these metrics, you can use Google Analytics to filter organic traffic and drill down to specific URLs and check the performance for different goals.
Now that you know how to play this level and the stats to look out for, it’s time to stock up on items to help you execute.
SEO is a massive channel with tons of areas to specialize in. This means you’ll have to pick from dozens of tools to perform any task.
To help you get started as quickly as possible, we will show you our favorite setup.
These are must-haves. As an SEO, you should know your way around these.
Use these tools to find keyword opportunities, analyze search volume, and discover keyword competitiveness.
Use the following tools to optimize the content of your pages for search engines.
These tools will make the challenging process of discovering link opportunities and obtaining backlinks A LOT easier.
Unfortunately, there are a number of shady characters and companies in the digital marketing world – specifically within SEO.
When you’re getting started, it can be hard to figure out who is legit, and who isn’t. On top of all that, there’s also a sub-industry that has become more visible in the past few years—we call it the SEO Media Industry.
The SEO Media Industry is a group of websites and people whose sole purpose is to get your attention about every single “newsworthy” event in the SEO world—leading to a ton of unnecessary FOMO and overwhelming amounts of not-that-helpful information.
To help you stay away from both the bottom-feeders and the SEO Media Industry, we created a list of people and companies that, in our opinion, actually provide value to the SEO community and will make your journey into the SEO world easier.
The SEO industry is full of terrible advice—perhaps more than any other digital marketing channel.
In the best of cases, following this advice will make you waste a ton of time and money on things that don’t work. In the worst cases, you might end with an algorithmic or manual penalty from a search engine.
Navigating these can be really hard for beginners—so we put together a list of things you should avoid:
SEO is not fast.
This can lead people to want to try tactics that promise faster and drastic results—most of which don’t work.
However, there are some tactics that might be effective but also go against search engines’ terms of service. In the SEO industry, these are called “black-hat tactics.”
Even though some of these might provide quick results, we recommend just staying away from them altogether.
The risks greatly outweigh the benefits of using these tactics and search engines ALWAYS catch up with them.
In general, stay away from things like private blog networks (PBNs), paid links, and link exchanges.
Search engines constantly update their algorithms. The same things that worked 10 years ago probably won’t work today.
A lot of shady (or flat-out incompetent) SEOs will provide obsolete advice.
Always double-check the sources of information you find online or the SEO services that are offered to you. Make sure that what they’re recommending is still up-to-date.
Check out the “Helpers” section of this guide to find people and companies providing solid information.
In general, avoid anyone who mentions meta keywords, keyword density, or comments spamming.