De-mystifying digital marketing, one article at a time.
Creative Services
Online Services

Absolute Beginner’s Guide to SEO for 2024

Every expert was once a beginner. So if you’re new to SEO, consider this the first step to becoming a master.

Whether you’re a longtime business owner or totally new to the digital marketing world, odds are, you’ve heard of SEO. But maybe you aren’t sure what the term means or how to achieve the best SEO for your business. Whatever the situation, this guide will answer all your novice-level questions.

As you read, you may come across an unfamiliar term or two. When that happens, make sure you check out our SEO glossary.

What Is SEO?

First things first, what is SEO? At its roots, SEO stands for “search engine optimization.” Its purpose? To increase the quantity, as well as the quality, of visitors to a website through non-paid-for (or organic) means. 

Many people talk about SEO in terms of Google’s algorithms and how to adjust a website and its content to match that system. But there’s a lot more psychology behind SEO than most people realize. At its core, SEO is about understanding what people are searching for online. 

In other words, good SEO requires you to understand:

  • What questions are being asked,
  • What words are being used to ask those questions, and
  • What types of content a searcher wants to consume

If that seems complicated, don’t worry. We’re going to continue breaking it down.

Why Is SEO Important?

There are many different ways to generate traffic to your website. You may be familiar with paths like paid advertising or social media, but the majority of online traffic is driven by organic searches (primarily on Google).

While Google likes to shift its Search Engine Results Page (SERP) algorithm around quite a bit, organic search results continue to take up the majority of each page. These results seem more credible (compared to ads), especially for searchers who understand how SEO works.

Here’s what you really need to know: SEO has around 20 times more traffic opportunities than Pay-Per-Click advertising. 

Plus, it’s free—which is an obvious bonus. Any business owner on any budget can use SEO to improve their site’s ranking. If you want to rank higher on Google, you need only be willing to put in the work. 

Keep in mind that while SEO pays dividends, it takes time. If your website has solid content that uses relevant keywords, the traffic will eventually snowball. With Google Ad Campaigns, on the other hand, your ranking will depend entirely on your ability to pay. The second you turn off the campaign, you’ll lose your ranking.

SEO has around 20 times more traffic opportunities than Pay-Per-Click advertising.

What Is Local SEO?

If you live in Chicago and you want to rank high as a dentist in Chicago, you’ll need to localize your SEO efforts. How? Good question!

Start by setting up a Google My Business account. Doing so will greatly improve your rankings on a local level. Google My Business is also a great resource for compiling positive reviews for new clients to see . . . and you can even respond to those reviews to create some genuine relationships and build authority.

You can also create posts inside the Google My Business platform that highlight any offers you currently have or give updates on the goings-on of your business. Google loves when you interact with their platform, so these actions will have a positive impact on your local rankings. 

What Is User Intent and How Does It Affect My Rankings?

A big part of SEO is technical, including sitemap files, keywords, website layouts, etc. But good SEO hinges almost entirely on providing excellent content for the user.

Let’s say you had to choose between these two options:

  • A beautiful website that has amazing links, flawless technical SEO, and lousy content. 
  • A trash website with haphazard links, shoddy technical SEO, and stellar content.

Which choice would be preferable? (Pssst….the correct answer is #2!)

That’s right, when it comes to SEO, content is always king. If you can provide solid content that users want to read, you will outrank other sites. Period.

This is why research is so important to SEO. You need to understand what users are trying to find when they do a Google search related to your business. And, because people are complicated, this part of SEO can get complicated as well. People search for things in different ways, so take time to figure out what the right people are searching for on Google. 

Then, write content that is clear and helpful. Throwing up a blog post that is pointless and stuffed with keywords just doesn’t work anymore.

How and Why Should I Do Keyword Research?

Imagine trying to build a house without a blueprint. That’s what trying to do SEO without keyword research would be like. Without keyword research, you cannot understand user intent and you cannot hope to create content that matters.

So when we tell you that this step is important, please believe us. We pinky swear you won’t regret it. 

Keyword research comes down to four basic steps:

  1. Brainstorming
  2. Analyzing
  3. Comparing
  4. Prioritizing

In the very beginning, you’ll need to brainstorm some keyword ideas. Think about your industry, your services, and the kinds of questions your customers ask. Then, create one- to three-word phrases that are relevant to those ideas.   

Start analyzing whether those keyword ideas are practical. Check out your competitors and the keywords they rank for. You can do this by plugging relevant URLs into Ahref’s Site Explorer tool. This will show you the kinds of keywords your competitors are using and ranking well for. 

Once you’ve solidified your list of potential keywords, compare them to each other so you can prioritize the keywords that are most relevant to you. This, in our opinion, is the really fun part.

To compare and prioritize your keywords, turn to Google Trends. With this tool, you can compare as many as five terms at a time. Plus, you’ll receive relevant data about each keyword’s trends. 

Using Google Trends is easy. Once you’re on the site, enter a handful of your keyword ideas into the search bar, with a comma in between each term. If ToasterTubs were to try this exercise, they might search:

“hot tub, toaster tub, in-tub toaster, aqua lounge”

After clicking on the search icon, ToasterTubs would quickly learn that “hot tub” is by far the most searched for term in the group. So if they were going to prioritize one keyword, that would be it. 

However, when doing keyword research, it’s important to understand that going the popular route may not be the golden ticket. If a keyword is too popular, it can be difficult to rank for that term. Instead, try a long-tail keyword that has a lower search volume but attracts more relevant traffic. 

For ToasterTubs, this may look like, “hot tub with toaster attachment” or “unique luxury hot tubs.”

What Are the Four Main Pillars of SEO? 

Once you have a handful of keywords you’re ready to implement, you’ll want to get started. But before you do, get familiar with the four main pillars of SEO:

1. Technical SEO

Technical SEO includes a lot of background details on your website. A full website audit will tell you if you have any of the following problems:

  • Sitemap.xml issues
  • Page speed
  • Large JavaScript and CSS files
  • Proper use of heading tags
  • 4XX or 5XX status codes
  • Pages blocked from search engine crawling

These are just some of the issues that can create problems for you on the technical side. One of the biggest issues with technical SEO these days is page speed. Google says page speed is a ranking factor, so it’s important to keep this in mind when looking at ways to improve your SEO.

2. Content SEO

Remember when we said, “Content is King?” While the other pillars allow search engines to find your website, content is the main pillar that will help your website rank high. Content SEO includes keyword research, long-tail keywords, clear and organized information, and helpful pieces that make users actually want to stay on your page.

It’s important to build a manageable content strategy. You can do this by improving the current content on your site and then assessing where your content is lacking.

3. Linking SEO

The linking pillar of SEO includes both backlinks to your website and a proper internal linking structure. A backlink happens when a different website links to a page on your website.  To Google and other search engines, backlinks mean that people recommend your content.

An internal link is a link from one page on your website to another page on your website. It’s important to build a strong internal link structure that makes it easy for visitors to find other relevant information on your website. When planning out your content schedule, content clusters allow you to naturally build a good internal linking system.

4. On-Site SEO

On-site SEO is a mix of the other three pillars and generally includes things like:

  • URL structure
  • Title tags
  • Description tags
  • Alt image tags
  • Schema

When you choose to optimize your on-site SEO, you look to improve details related to your web pages. You might add structured data called SCHEMA to help search engines understand the content on your website. 

Or, you could rewrite your alt image tags, URLs, and meta titles and descriptions to further optimize them and include relevant keywords. All of these strategies help Google to analyze your website and content. 

You Did It!

Check you out. You’ve asked all the right questions and made it to the end. There’s nothing more to learn. 

Just kidding. 

We know that at this point, you’re basically an SEO sensei. But if you’re ready to dive even deeper, we highly recommend our Intro to Search Engine Optimization. Check it out and let us know what else you learn.

Share this article

Did you find this article useful? Share it up!