A Beginner’s Guide to Learning SEO Best Practices.
Someone probably told you that you need to have “Good SEO.”
But what the heck does that even mean?
And why are you getting phone calls every other day from recording machines claiming they can get you to the top of Google?
Before you spend a single penny on “SEO,” please take a second to read this article. And to start…
I want to properly define SEO – Search Engine Optimization – and lay some myths to rest about what it really means to you, as the entrepreneur, business owner, or website manager.
What is Search Engine Optimization?
Search Engine Optimization is the act of preparing your site, your content, and other indicators (off-site SEO, such as backlinks and social shares) for easy and proper interpretation by search engines (primarily Google) in order to increase your organic search engine ranking.
That breaks down into 3 categories:
How Google ranks pages
What terms you want to rank for
How to structure your content (and build a strategy around it) to achieve great rankings
And, in the end, it all comes down to one thing… Having valuable content.
SEO in it’s most basic form is primarily about writing stellar content (blog posts, web pages, etc.) that people enjoy and interact with around a specific topic.
Why is SEO about Content?
Because Google’s job is to determine what pages and content people like the most and show those results to the next searcher. In other words, Google’s job is to provide as much value to their searcher as possible, and even though they aren’t perfect at it, they are getting better every day.
Therefore, you’re job is to provide as much value to your user, or reader, in a structured way that makes it clear to Google what it is that you are talking about.
Why Should You Care about SEO?
Google is a market shaper, a market mover… Google is the gatekeeper.
They control where people go after searching for something in Google search, which is anywhere from 66- 93% of the global online search market, and over 100 billion searches a month.
And if someone is searching for what you sell, you’re going to want them to go to your site, learn about your business, and buy your product or service.
Depending on your business and industry, achieving great rankings in Google can generate you hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars in business. So obviously, you want to rank well.
What SEO is not:
SEO is not easy. It’s not guaranteed. It’s not forever. And it’s not about spamming people or getting mass amounts of backlinks.
If someone is telling you they will get you to #1 on Google, run! They are either a liar, a thief, or an idiot.
And remember #1 for any random term does absolutely zero for your business. You need to rank well for keywords concerning your ideal customer.
SEO is Not Dead
I had a very smart internet marketer, who does all of his business through paid ads, primarly on Facebook, tell me that SEO is dead. He corrected himself to say dead to him, but it’s still an asinine statement…
Just because he’s decided not to spend time, money, or effort ranking well for key terms, doesn’t mean it couldn’t be a huge part of his business if he wanted. I mean, for someone willing to spend $.50/click on Facebook, it seems like it could be a wise idea to try and get 2,000 clicks/month from Google for free – not actually free because of time considerations – with some relatively easy to produce content.
It’s pretty simple math:
2000 * 12 * $.5 = $12,000
If you think you can get 2,000 clicks/month for 12 months from targeted keywords in Google by producing great content, and you usually pay $.50/click in Facebook, you should be willing to spend up to (and more than but we won’t get into that) $12,000 to producing the content.
Yet you are probably thinking, “well that’s crazy, I would never spend $12,000 on silly blog posts…”
Well, first off, you don’t have to…
You just need to dedicate a portion of your time learning the basic SEO strategies, and another portion of your time writing great content, and a third portion of your time promoting that great content online. That might only cost you $5,000 worth of your time… maybe less.
But even if you were to spend $12,000 producing content, why would that be such a bad thing if you could directly tie it to $XXX,000 in sales? After all, it’s all about making money / ROI.
SEO is not quick.
Most SEO fixes or strategies do not yield immediate results. It can take months, yes months, to see a blog post climb the search engines to take a strong ranking for a competitive keyword.
Also, when you are just starting out, you’re sitting all alone on your own island. You have no backlinks, and no authority, so your posts won’t rank anywhere for anything.
But as you continue to produce valuable content, grow your social following, and “growth hack” your way up the ladder, your older articles will start to take off in rankings as your domain authority and breadth of content grows.
Black Hat SEO vs White Hat SEO
SEO strategies generally fall into one of two categories:
Black Hat SEO
These are practices that may get you results, but provide no additional value to your users, readers, or customers. They are little “tricks” you might play on Google to appear to be providing more value than you actually are. Some examples include: getting mass amounts of backlinks, domain forwarding, or keyword stuffing.
All Black Hat strategies should be completely avoided!
They may work for the short-term, but if Google finds out (and it’s only a matter of time), your site will get hit with massive penalties. Black Hat SEO is a bit like lying to your parents. You can only get away with it for so long, until you get caught, and are grounded.
Only difference here is that grounded could mean losing hundreds of thousands of dollars of business.
White Hat SEO
White hat SEO is “the right side of the law.”
It’s all the best practices that provide more value to your user, reader, or customer, in one form or another. Or it’s simply improving how you structure that information for Google to read. White hat SEO tactics include: creating long-form blog posts, customizing your title tags and meta descriptions, and getting someone to write a (quality) blog post on their (quality) site that links back to your content.
Why would someone choose black hat over white hat?
Well, it’s usually cheaper and easier. And it works pretty well sometimes. Kinda like being a shoplifter. Everything is free and easy, until you get caught.
The Pros and Cons of DIY SEO
Obviously, there are two options at this point: learn SEO and do it yourself, or pay someone else to do it.
While I always recommend at least understanding the basics. You should also know that taking a one hour course in SEO will not make you an expert. And if, after that course, you decide to take on all of your own SEO, you could easily do more harm than good, fail at your execution, or simply give up due to frustration pretty early on and decide “SEO is dead.”
There are many pros and cons to Do-it-yourself SEO, but the main benefit is the hands-on experience and money save, and the main risk is that you are new, and have a lot to learn before you can master the trade and truly get the results you deserve.
SEO Best Practices
In 2016, really everyone in a startup or the core team of a small business needs to have a firm understanding of SEO best practices. Even if you’re planning on outsourcing the work…
The 6 main factors for on-page SEO that you should focus on are:
Valuable – is the content clearly providing value to the reader? Are they staying on the page for a long period of time? Are they looking around your site afterwards? Do they go back to Google and continue searching for the same term after going to your site or did they find what they were looking for?
Crawlable – Have you setup Google Webmaster tools? Do you have your sitemap properly configured? Can Google (and people) easily navigate the site’s archeticture?
Keywords – What keywords are in your titles, sub-titles, and content? What does it appear you are trying to rank for? Are your keywords on topic?
User Experience – The site is well designed, mobile optimized, renders fast, and doesn’t redirect you all around.
Social – Are people sharing your content? Do people generally like your site online? Are you active on your social channels?
Meta Data – Configuring the data structure so that Google understand what you are trying to rank for. Configuring your title and meta description. Configuring your authorship, schema, and rich snippets.
How I got to #1 on Google for My Main Keyword Term in My Niche Industry
Back when we started our agency – SplashOPM (short for Online Presence Management) – we considered ourselves a digital marketing agency for small businesses in San Diego. So naturally we wanted to rank for “digital marketing agency san diego,” as well as anything related to “digital marketing agency.”
If you wanted to simply buy traffic by placing an ad at the top of Google through AdWords, you would pay between $8 and $22 per click for this keyword.
Note: Ironically, now we don’t even consider ourselves a digital marketing agency at all. We now either go by “growth marketing agency” (which no one searches, so no need to rank for that) or a startup incubator.
Nonetheless, we were able to achieve the #1 position in Google using a few very simple strategies that only took about 15-20 hours of total work to execute on.
Here’s the video that outlines the process for you:
Now, there’s two things worth noting:
First off, this keyword term isn’t going to bring millions of people to my website. In fact, it only brings a couple hundred every month. But that’s fine.
Second, there are a lot of nuances I didn’t get into in this video, that you will need to understand in more depth to execute the same strategy.
The course is only $10, and less than an hour long, but you will be ready to rock and roll with building out, or fixing up, your website.
Now, how about you? Are you new to SEO? Still wondering whether or not it’s for your business? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.