The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization

Search engine optimization (SEO) can help your website get found by more potential customers. If it’s done right.

SEO involves content, keywords, sharing and backlinks

Keywords are key

First, you need to know what keywords your customers are using to search.  If you don’t know, you’d better find out.

If you have a flower shop do you think customers could find you in the 116 Million search engine results for ‘flower shop’? No, probably not.

So the first task is to narrow your focus a little.

What sets your shop apart from all the other flower shops? Do you specialize in one type of flower or for a specific occasion, such as a wedding? Are you located in a particular area? Are you open earlier or later than your competition? Do you offer a unique service?

Now use this information to set up your main keywords, such as: florist specializing in weddings, flower shop in downtown Houston, orchids for special occasions.

By adding specific words like these, you’ve changed a generic keyword to a long-tail keyword that is much more likely to bring customers to you.

Check your logs for more ideas

The logs will tell you how visitors got to your website, including which search engine and keywords they used. If you haven’t been checking your logs, you should because there is so much useful information in there about your visitors and how they use your website.

If you don’t know how to access your logs, check with your hosting company for help. Most offer access to reports based on your logs and some offer access to the raw data as well.

Another smart move is to install Google Analytics on your website. It “helps you analyze visitor traffic and paint a complete picture of your audience and their needs, wherever they are along the path to purchase.”

Go undercover

Another trick to help you find appropriate keywords is to spy on your competition. Go to your competitor’s website, then click on “View” near the top of your browser window and then “Source”. (Find the source code in other browsers.)

A new window will open showing the code that makes that particular web page. Near the top you should see something that looks like <meta name=”title” …> and another one that looks like  <meta name=”description”…> and maybe one that looks like  <meta name=”keywords”…>. Right now we want the one that says keywords, although not all websites include them. We’ll come back to the other two in a bit.

If the site does include a list of keywords look through them and see if any words or phrases might work for you. You might need to tweak it a little or it might give you other ideas. Do this for several sites to come up with a list of possible keywords for your website.

Now go to your favorite search engine and type in your potential long-tail keywords and see how much competition there is for each one. Click on the top few links and see what comes up.

Are there lots of sites? Are the top sites really good? If so, try some other keyword combinations

If there aren’t very many results or if the top few sites aren’t very good, maybe this is a good keyword for you to try.

Writing your content

Each page on your website should be built around one keyword phrase. Think of it as a theme and stick with just one main theme per page.

  • The page title should include your keyword phrase, preferably near the beginning of the title.
  • The first paragraph should also include that keyword phrase or something similar.
  • Then LIGHTLY sprinkle that phrase throughout the rest of the page, but only use it where it would naturally fall. Try reading the page aloud and see if it sounds natural. If not, try rewording it until it does.
  • Also include portions of your keyword phrase in captions for pictures and other graphics.
  • Always, always, always write first for your readers, second for the search engines

Make sure you have the <H1> tag around your page title. And make sure you break up your content with subheadings. They help people skim your content to find what they need. Each of those subheadings needs to be enclosed with the <H2> tag. Make the title and subheadings interesting and relevant. They work together with your keywords to help the search engines determine what your page is about.

Now you need to tweak your other meta data.  Remember when you clicked on the top few search results for your potential keywords? The first, clickable, part is the title very much like the title on your page. The second, longer, part is a description. Both of these come from those meta tags. Although they’re not required, you really should include them, otherwise the search engine will choose a sentence that it “thinks” your page is about. It might choose well or it might not, so why leave it to chance?

You can use your page’s title in the title meta tag or you can come up with something similar. Make it sound enticing so a visitor would want to click on it. Limit the length to no more than 70 characters and spaces. Most search engine results won’t show any more than that.

Next describe your page in 156 characters or less. Think of the main benefit your page provides to your visitors and use that so they know what to expect.

Now include all three of these meta tags – keywords, title and description – in the <head> section of your web page’s code. Each page on your website should have its own keywords, although they can overlap a bit.

Linking your way to popularity

Now that you’ve provided wonderful content, you need other websites to link to it. You can say how great you are all day long, but someone else ‘singing your praises’ will always be more convincing. That’s where backlinks come in because they help the search engines determine how useful your content is to visitors.

For years, search engines just counted the number of incoming links without checking the quality and relevance. That led to link farms and sales of links and all sorts of ‘black hat SEO.’ Don’t go there. You don’t need the trouble that can cause. What you do need are links from quality websites that are relevant to your website.

When you provide quality content and promote it, people will naturally want to share it and that brings backlinks to your website naturally.

Social buzz – other people talking about and sharing your content on social media – is another form of backlinking.

You can earn links by sharing your content on social media and encouraging your followers to comment on and share it. You can even pay to boost your post on Facebook.

Comment on other websites – and not just a comment like, “Nice article” – add something useful to the discussion.

Participate in forums, but remember to be helpful rather than just using them to promote your own website.

Offer to write a quality post for another website. You may not want to do that for a direct competitor, but rather approach someone in a related industry. For example, if you own a pet store, you might want to approach a dog trainer or a groomer. Adding content on other sites may give you the chance to link back to your content.

Putting it all together

If you’ve done this much you’re doing better than most websites, but it still only scratches the surface of SEO.  As they say ‘the devil is in the details’

There is a lot more to keyword research and you should regularly check your logs to see what keywords visitors are using. Plus you should check your search engine ranking, then tweak your keywords to see if you move up or down.

Search Google using (replacing ‘’ with your domain, both with and without the ‘www’) to see who is linking to your content. If you find some spammy, smelly types of links you can disavow them using Google’s Webmaster Tools.

Work on sharing your content and getting other people to share and comment on it.

It’s an ongoing process to rank well in the search engines. Just remember ‘quality’ and ‘relevancy’ on your journey.


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