For many companies, their website can be their largest brand asset, which is why it needs to display authority, trust, and expertise.
Optimizing your website to meet customer needs and display these characteristics makes up the fundamental process of SEO.
However, before we dive into the nitty-gritty of SEO, I always recommend my clients perform a deep analysis of their client and consumer relationships.
My company does this in three ways:
- Examine how and why individuals are discovering and considering our products/services.
- Examine our customer’s online behaviors (e.g., search queries, questions, and attributions channels).
- Examine our customer’s demographic and psychographic criteria (e.g., what are they like and what are they looking for).
Understanding and acting on this data will put you on the first step to performing a proper SEO campaign.
So without further ado, let’s define the process of SEO, what strategies to take, and how it can help your online presence.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of optimizing a website to capture as much organic website traffic as possible via search engines and convert that traffic into measurable business outcomes.
Simply put, SEO is the process of trying to direct people to your website anytime they type in a search query into a search engine.
For example, if you type into Google [what is content marketing], there are about a million websites that have purposefully optimized a piece of content for that keyword phrase so that you click on their website.
Once you click on that website, you will browse around, familiarize yourself with their brand, and sign yourself up for their newsletter.
Simple enough, but SEO also involves a lot of jargon and nuanced strategies that can be difficult to understand at first. To make things easier, I decided to define a few terms that I may throw around in this tutorial.
Defining SEO Terms
Keywords: Keywords are the words that users plug into a search engine whenever they seek out information over the web.
Organic traffic: Organic traffic is any traffic that comes to your site over a search engine search, excluding those who click on PPC links.
SERP: Search engine results page.
PPC: Pay-per-click advertising is an advertising strategy to rank products or landing pages above the normal Google SERP results. These links will say “ad” next to them.
User intent: The intent of the keyword search (e.g., is the user asking a question or looking to buy a product).
Meta tags: Snippets of text designed to describe a webpage to a search engine. For example, the title of the page is contained in an HTML title tag attribute.
Ranking factors: Any algorithmic factor designed to influence a page’s ranking in a search engine for a particular keyword search.
Crawling: The ability of search engines to find web pages on your site.
Indexation: The ability of search engines to include your web pages in its web index.
Technical SEO: The backend details of a website, including a web page’s speed and mobile rendering, which impacts its search rankings.
On-page SEO: A list of ranking factors, including meta tags and header tags, designed to help a page rank higher in search results.
Off-page SEO: A list of ranking factors, including link building and acquisition, designed to improve your website’s visibility and authority.
Link building: The manual process of building backlinks or hyperlinks to a website, which is a vital ranking factor for most search engines.
Algorithm updates: Any update to Google’s core algorithm (e.g., Penguin, Panda) that influences a broad range of search rankings.
Core Web Vitals: Technical SEO factors that Google finds important in determining a page’s potential user experience.
E-A-T: Expertise, Authority, Trust. A set of guidelines Google suggests to marketers to evaluate whether their content meets these criteria.
UX: User experience.
The Importance Of SEO
So the question becomes, why is SEO so important?
I’ve come across many developers, advertisers, and even high-level executives who either didn’t understand SEO or didn’t think it necessary. This is folly.
Done right, SEO is the gift that keeps on giving. I tell clients to think about it like compounding interest on investments.
The benefits of SEO include:
- Low cost, high ROI: While advertising is great for short-term clicks, the leads disappear once you turn the proverbial faucet off. On the other hand, SEO is a long-term investment that can bolster your brand’s value and provide significantly higher ROI in the long run – if done properly.
- Higher click-through rate (CTR): The higher your content ranks in search engines, the more likely people will trust and click on your web page.
- Increased brand awareness: Capturing additional SERP real estate helps place your brand in front of more eyeballs.
- Reach more touchpoints during the buyer’s journey: Over 50% of shoppers do research before making a purchase, so creating additional content can provide another touchpoint to nurture leads across your sales funnel.
- More sustainable traffic: One high-ranking blog can pull in more traffic at little-to-no cost vs. a multi-thousand-dollar PPC campaign.
- More qualified leads: Providing high-level content can help meet user intent and build higher trust with customers, making them more likely to turn to your brand for future shopping decisions or information.
With these benefits in mind, the key to SEO now becomes understanding all of its little intricacies and learning how to do it the right way.
7 Steps To Master SEO Once And For All
1. Build A Solid Technical Foundation
Unfortunately, everything I’m about to talk about is completely useless if your website has a substantial technical error preventing it from ranking highly.
I’ve seen countless companies create magnificent pieces of long-form content only to get hampered because of page speed or indexation issues.
Google values technical SEO because technical SEO is a major influence on user experience. For example, if your webpage loads slowly and users tend to bounce, then Google will adjust based on this information.
To reinforce this, Google unveiled its Core Web Vitals project in 2020. Without getting too much in the weeds, Core Web Vitals measures a website’s:
- Largest contentful paint (LCP): How long a page loads.
- Cumulative layout shift (CLS): How stable its visuals are.
- First input delay (FID): How long until a user can interact with the site.
Core Web Vitals provides developers with baselines to reach to create a solid UX.
The Chrome UX report (Chrome Users only) allows you to test your website for these core vitals to see if changes are required.
In addition, I recommend focusing on the following factors to position your website as best as possible to rank in the SERPs.
- Hosting: Look for a host with a server close to you, hosting plans that can scale with your website, and other essential factors, such as data backup and SSL certification.
- Content management systems (CMS): Creating webpages on a CMS like WordPress makes it much easier for developers and marketers to update their websites without learning to code. Plus, tools like WordPress have plugins that help improve your website without any backend work.
- URLs: Building an SEO-friendly URL structure is important for indexation. The following represents the easiest and most ideal URL structure: https://domain.com/subdomain/pagetitle.
- Crawling and indexation: Crawling and indexing errors caused by a misconfigured theme or robots.txt tag will prevent your website from being discovered by search engines.
- XML sitemaps: Submitting an XML sitemap with all existing URLs is a great way to help your pages get properly indexed and crawled quickly.
- Mobile rendering and responsiveness: Second to page speed in importance is mobile responsiveness. Creating a mobile responsive website allows your site to render properly and load quickly on mobile devices.
- Duplicate content: Eliminate any duplicate content that is cannibalizing your keyword rankings. Inserting a canonical tag on your original content can help cut down on duplicate content errors.
- HTTPS protocol: Ensure your website is optimized with a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate to protect users who visit your site. Chrome will give users who visit a website without an SSL certificate a warning, which will kill all of your traffic.
- 301 redirects: Redirecting old or duplicate content with 301 redirects is a great way to transfer any existing link equity into a new page to help it rank higher.
- HTTP errors: 4xx errors, such as 404 errors, signal that something on your webpage is broken and must be fixed to help it rank again.
Write down a list of problems you have with your website and work with a developer to resolve them before you begin publishing content or researching keywords.
For a more detailed breakdown of technical SEO factors, read Advanced Technical SEO: A Complete Guide.
2. Learn How To Properly Research Keywords
Once you have your technical foundation foolproof, it’s time to get into the more granular aspects of SEO: discovering keywords.
Generally, we segment keywords into two categories we can use to build out of top-level navigation:
- Seed keywords: Seed keywords are short (1-3 word) broad-match keywords that relate to your most important services, products, or topics. For example, if you were building a website for an SEO agency, your seed keywords may include “SEO services” or “inbound marketing strategist.”
- Long-tail keywords: Long-tail keywords are longer keywords (>3 words) that relate to specific queries. For example, “what is content marketing” or “Jordan Air Retro 1 Mid Casual Shoes” are great examples of long-tail keywords.
Your top-level navigation will include seed keywords related to broad-ranging topics, services, or product lines. For example, the top-level navigation of the Search Engine Journal website follows this format:
On the other hand, long-tail keywords will be used for informative evergreen blog posts or various forms of content that appeal directly to user intent.
Generally, many small businesses like to focus on long-tail keywords for more niche services because they have lower competition.
You might also consider building separate pillar pages around seed keywords on your website to help them rank higher in search engines. For example, having a broad topic page related to mobile SEO won’t rank as high as an evergreen post discussing mobile SEO.
Again, Search Engine Journal provides another great example of a pillar page using a seed keyword and supporting pages that discuss subtopics taken from long-tail keywords.
Next, we need to filter our keyword search for user intent.
There are generally two broad categories of user intent we can separate keywords into:
- Commercial: Keywords that target shoppers (e.g., “Nike Shoes”).
- Informational: Keywords that target people looking for information (e.g., “What is link building”).
To develop commercial keywords for top-level service/product pages and individual product pages, I recommend using Google Ads’ free Keyword Planner.
To get started, type in a seed keyword related to your business.
Google’s Keyword Planner even provides additional ideas for long-tail searches up top, and you can separate keywords by competition and other factors.
I like filtering keywords by the “Top of page bid (high range)” to see which keywords advertisers have bid the highest on. This filter is also useful if you want to separate keywords by intent, with higher bids being commercial and lower bids informational.
Select a list of seed keywords – preferably with lower volumes – and export them to a CSV.
Next, we’re going to search for long-tail keywords with question phrases. Question phrases allow us to answer user questions directly, have lower search competition, and can be used to build out supporting pages for our pillars.
You can filter your keyword searches in Keyword Planner by incorporating “what,” “why,” “when,” and “how” into your search, or use a tool like Semrush that does the work for you.
I highly recommend a tool like Semrush or Ahrefs, which allow you to build out keyword lists and topic ideas using related long-tail keywords. You can even filter keywords by difficulty, volume, and intent.
In addition, tools like AnswerthePublic are great for finding additional question phrases.
Google Trends, Semrush, and Ahrefs also offer tools that allow you to view trending topics and keywords in your industry for new ideas.
Finally, peek at what your competitors are doing if you’re looking for a list of keywords or topics and don’t know where to start.
Tools like Semrush and Ahrefs show you who your biggest competitors online are and allow you to explore which keywords and pages are driving the highest traffic to a competitor’s domain.
Steal these keywords and content ideas to optimize your website based on which forms of content are ranking the highest for your competitors.
Once you compile a list of keywords in a spreadsheet, match your seed keywords to your top-nav URLs and use your long-tail keywords to build out topics for your content calendar.
3. Create Content That Ranks And Converts
Building a content marketing strategy from your keyword research will enable you to develop authority around topics and meet user intent across your sales funnel.
High-level content creation also helps you or your business become thought leaders in their respective fields.
For example, Neil Patel, Brian Dean, and several others have used content to promote their personal and professional brands to the top of our industry.
First, let’s look at factors influencing content rank, such as:
- User intent: First and foremost, does your content meet user intent? Does it answer as many questions as possible and provide a satisfactory answer?
- Length: According to HubSpot research, the ideal blog length is between 2,100 to 2,400 words. Does it mean a short recipe blog should be over 2,000 words? No, it just means that longer content that satisfies user intent tends to perform better and aggregate more links. I’ve seen 300-word pages outrank 2,500-word pages, but many of those longer pieces were created with fluff. Make sure your content provides value and solutions for readers, and length should take care of itself.
- Mediums: While we tend to focus on blogs and written content, lots of content can greatly benefit from videos, infographics, or even podcasts. You can also mix and match content by supporting videos on YouTube with PDFs or blogs on your native website.
- Uniqueness: Content that ranks high tends to provide something unique to readers, whether that be original research or a different take on a topic that sparks conversation.
- Interlinking: Interlinking is a great way to help pages get indexed, gain additional link equity, and provide readers with another resource while they read your content.
- Hyperlinking: By the same token, external links are often overlooked by many, but I believe that they improve UX and lend credibility to your website. For example, if you’re writing about medicine and linking to a medical journal, it will tell Google and users that your research is probably accurate.
- Scannability: Content that is easy to read and scan tends to provide a better user experience and higher dwell rate. I suggest keeping paragraphs short (one to two sentences) and breaking up large mountains of text with spacing, images, ads, or videos.
Generally, I like to build out pillar posts using evergreen tutorials (like this!) and then use long-tail keywords to create subtopics.
So, for example, each step of this tutorial could represent a subtopic, and my strategy could become more granular from there.
Next, we need to discuss writing content for each stage of your sales funnel. While informational content and blog posts are great for attracting traffic, you need to create strategies to convert web traffic into sales or subscriptions once they land on your website.
The typical sales funnel consists of at least three broad stages:
- Awareness: At this stage, people are first discovering your website. Awareness content may include traditional blogs, guest posts, Q&As, expert roundups, original research, press releases, ebooks, real books, or anything informational.
- Consideration/Interest: At this stage, you will engage with previous visitors to create interest in your business. Some consideration stage content includes ebooks, whitepapers, webinars, or anything else that may entice people to complete an action, such as downloading a PDF, subscribing to a newsletter, etc.
- Decision: At the final stage of your sales funnel, a potential customer will decide whether or not to purchase from your business. Decision stage content may include some of the same forms of content above but packaged in an offer designed to complete a sale.
You’ll often find sales funnels on a customer relationship management (CRM) platform much more complex than this, but this should provide you with a basic overview of how you should approach your inbound marketing strategy using content marketing.
4. Optimize Your Web Pages For Search Engines
Once you start pumping out content and creating your service pages, you must ensure that your content is properly optimized for search engines.
I know we’ve discussed several ranking factors and technical SEO, but now it’s time to dive into on-page and SERP optimization factors.
On-page SEO essentials:
- Keyword placement: Primary keywords should be used strategically in the title, opening paragraph, and generously through the body of a page where it makes sense.
- Semantically related keywords: Leverage semantically related keywords through content in strategic places, such as headers, to create subtopics in your article and in the body of your content to rank for additional keywords.
- H1 tag: The H1 header is the page’s title as it appears on the physical web document. Optimize your H1 tag with your primary keyword and ensure it is relevant to the text.
- H2, H3, and H4 tags: Your H2, H3, and H4 header tags are smaller headers inside a webpage document meant to organize text into subtopics. Optimize these tags with semantically related and long-tail keywords.
- Schema markup (optional): Schema markup is a form of microdata inserted into your HTML code to help search engines index your web page based on its topic. For example, there are various forms of schema markup for different topics, locations, and even contact information, so if a person searches for your name and location, that web page should come up.
- CTA: Ensure that every web page has a call-to-action (CTA) at some point, which entices users to complete a desired action on your website. CTAs can include text-based CTAs within content, CTA buttons, or even image-based CTAs.
- Image optimization: All images should be compressed, served in next-gen formats, and optimized for alt text to index them in Google’s image search.
- Geotags (optional): If you’re competing in local SEO, geotagging your keywords with specific cities, states, and regions will help that website rank in “near me” searches. Webmasters can add geotags to their titles, NAP information, or even any images uploaded to their CMS.
- Title tag: Title tags are the clickable link on a SERP and should include a primary keyword, your brand name (homepage only), command words, and relate to the webpage document being linked. In addition, title tags should be no more than 60 characters in length.
- Meta description: The meta description should describe the linked web page and include a primary keyword in the description and a call-to-action. Meta descriptions should be no more than 160 characters in length.
- Google Business Profile: All websites that operate as a business should create a Google Business Profile page and localize it for the geographic region they serve.
Perhaps one of Google’s most important off-page SEO strategies and ranking factors remains the ever-elusive link building, which is described next.
5. Build Links To Your Website
According to research, inbound links are still a powerful ranking factor, though the quality of links trumps their quantity.
There are literally dozens of link-building strategies to use, from HARO to guest blogging.
To start link-building, you must build a great piece of content. Then, once your link magnet is built, you’ll need to get eyeballs in front of it so people can start linking to it.
Thankfully, tools like Semrush have greatly simplified the process of manual reach out, allowing you to collect contact info for target websites and manage your manual outreach over email.
You can even plug in specific keywords or competitors to uncover sites for link-building opportunities.
If you don’t have a backlink tool, you can still manually reach out to people using site operators.
For example, you can find competitor links by using the following search: site:www.competitor.com -competitor.com
If there is a site you want a specific link from, you can also conduct a “site:” search and write in a topic to see if they have content written on that topic.
To find general trending topics to reach out to for links, do an “intitle” search.
Site operators can also be used to find resource pages or guest post opportunities for reaching out.
To summarize, I wrote a list of essential link-building practices below:
- Create evergreen content for other sites to link to.
- Use site operator searches to find sites to reach out to for a link.
- Use HARO to submit a quote with a link to my website.
- Guest posting on external sites for a link back to my site.
- Linking any unbranded mentions on the web using Ahrefs or Semrush.
- Manage manual reach-out using a backlink tool like Semrush or Ahrefs.
- Steal link opportunities from competitors by using Semrush or Ahrefs.
- Disavow any toxic links identified by Semrush or Ahrefs.
Editor’s note: As a free alternative to tools like Semrush, you can mine Google Search Console data. For more information on how to do that, we recommend this resource.
6. Share And Promote Your Content
While I’ve discussed some strategies to help your content rank high and acquire some backlinks manually, sometimes those strategies are not enough.
Unfortunately, SEO is notoriously competitive.
Instead, we need to also focus on various outreach strategies designed to drive eyeballs to our website.
Below are a few strategies I’ve outlined to help drive immediate traffic to your content and help it rank higher.
- Share your content on your website’s social media channels.
- Promote that content in advertisements as a landing page.
- Share content in relevant online communities, including Reddit and online forums.
- Repurpose content into a video or podcast to share on different platforms, like Spotify and YouTube.
- Promote your content in an email drip campaign with lead lists you acquire.
- Feature content in monthly newsletters to people who subscribe to your newsletter.
- Tag influencers who may be interested in your content in your social media posts.
- Write about influencers or thought leaders and email them a copy to share.
- Invite guest authors on your website with large audiences to drive traffic to your blog.
- Republish content from your blog in an ebook that can be promoted and advertised over your current outbound/inbound marketing channels.
- Add hashtags or trending keywords to your content in social media posts to help it acquire visibility.
- Feature content prominently on your homepage or website that you feel deserves visibility.
- Link to content internally to help it rank for specific anchor text and to pass link equity to the page.
There are a dozen more strategies to help you promote content, especially if you’re trying to rank on specific mediums like TikTok, Substack, Twitter, or elsewhere.
7. Consult The Analytics
Finally, SEO is not complete without consulting our analytics.
The most important analytics tools I recommend for any business are Google Analytics, Google Search Console, and a competitive research tool like Semrush.
First, I love using a tool like Semrush to see which content is ranking in that striking distance (position 11-20) on Google to either repurpose that existing content or create new content around that keyword and link back and forth between the two pages.
Your analytics will also tell you which pages drive the most traffic and which need greater promotion.
However, to get more granular, we need to look at Google Analytics to examine how people are engaging with our content.
I recommend setting up goals or conversion paths to track how many people are completing desired actions on your websites.
I also like using Google Analytics Behavior Flow to show me what path users take when they land on my website.
Use the key performance indicators (KPIs) that GA provides to make changes to your website where needed.
For me, the most important KPIs to keep in mind are:
- Conversion rate: How many people are completing desired actions, such as making a purchase.
- Bounce rate: How many people are leaving a web page without visiting another.
- Average time on page: How long are people spending on a page? Are they actually reading my content or skimming it and leaving?
- Channels: Where is traffic coming from (i.e., organic, direct, paid), and which ones should I prioritize?
- Device: Which device are people searching for my business on?
- Location: Is website traffic localized for my business?
In addition, Google Search Console is also a helpful tool that allows us to see how many impressions our pages generate and how many people click on our links.
Setting up KPIs and consulting your analytics monthly to find improvements can help you understand which strategies are working for your website and which ones need to be trashed.
Put Your Skills Into Action
Now that you understand SEO basics, you’ll learn more as you troubleshoot during a campaign.
Fortunately, many mistakes you make during the journey will not cost you lots of money like an advertisement, and any failed campaigns can always be repurposed later for better success.
Featured Image: Vadym Pastukh/Shutterstock