The Beginner’s Guide to SEO

By Nick McAfee, Communications Committee

Whether you’re in public relations, software engineering, or just want to learn a new skill, getting familiar with SEO is something you should look into. Actually, we’ve looked into it for you. Ready?

Dispelling Myths

The first thing I want to touch on is common myths in SEO. Here are a few:

SEO is Magic: SEO is not magic, and it is not a panacea for your site/company. SEO can be very helpful for developing new business and leads, but it is as much an art as it is a science and it takes time to find what works.

Ranking Changes Happen Immediately: Ranking changes are a slow and gradual process. If your site has no SEO and isn’t currently ranking and you implement SEO you likely won’t see changes in a couple days or even a couple weeks. Google has to index your site/pages and then they will slowly begin to change their position in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Page).

This Tools Report Says ____ Can Fix My Site: No site evaluation tool has all the answers to improving your site performance. If they did there would be no SEO professionals. All tools are best guesses about what the Google algorithm values and will only provide you with a to-do list based on what it was programmed to prioritize from those guesses. Anyone that tells you differently is either lying or trying to sell you something, possibly both.

Now we’ll take a few steps back and jump back to the basics.

Beginner’s Guide to SEO

SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, can seem rather daunting when it is first explained. SEO at its core is a method of optimizing a site to perform better in search engines, which sounds exactly like what the acronym says. When you dive a little bit deeper into what that site optimization entails is when most people start to find it overwhelming.

This is a fair mindset. Like most specialized skills it encompasses some high-level techniques and methodologies that can make beginners leery of even attempting it. As someone who has been doing SEO work for more than 4 years, I am here to tell you that it might not be as scary as it seems.

In essence, SEO contains two parts, onsite optimization and offsite optimization. If you understand these two pieces and the basics behind them you will be able to be self-sufficient in learning more from the internet and apply what you learn to your site.

Onsite Optimization

Onsite optimization refers to what exactly what is on your site in terms of content, images, links, and more. Onsite is the easiest thing to control in terms of applying your SEO knowledge. Content is king these days, and no well-optimized site is complete without good content.

So what is good content?

Good content should always benefit the user. No matter how many algorithm changes Google goes through when you look at the variables that Google weighs when scoring sites it always boils down to the website providing a good experience for its visitors.

Another tip is to keep your images small enough that it doesn’t affect your site’s load time. Having a slow site not only contributes to a bounce rate (people immediately leaving your site) but also will have an effect on how Google places your site in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Page).

Another easy addition that most sites do not take advantage of is page interlinking. If it makes sense and flows naturally within the content, having links to other pages within page content is good for SEO. Don’t go overboard and don’t try to shoehorn links where they are unnatural, but adding natural interlinking helps share your site’s authority throughout your pages.

Offsite Optimization

Offsite optimization is far more difficult to affect as an individual but is still worth understanding. Offsite optimization primarily refers to linking between other sites on the internet and your website. Offsite optimization used to be referred to as link building, but as that term often has a negative, spammy connotation, it is generally referred to as content marketing, offsite optimization, or other less loaded nicknames.

Earlier I mentioned site authority and how interlinking shares it throughout your site. All sites on the internet have an amount of authority associated with them. Sites like Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, and Google My Business have some of the highest authority rankings on the internet. Moz, a leading site in terms of SEO information, has a list of the Top 500 sites in terms of authority here. Authority is important because it determines your site’s credibility on the internet, the higher the credibility the more likely Google is to place you higher in the rankings for each individual query.

By having excellent PR pieces that link to your site, running effective social media marketing, operating an engaging blog, and pursuing effective content marketing strategies you can increase your site’s authority. This can be somewhat difficult to do as an individual, but running multichannel marketing campaigns that incorporate these methodologies is a more common practice among larger companies.

Introducing Terminology

For those of you that are still reading, congratulations, you made it through the more technical portion! In this section, I want to take some time to run you through some of the terminologies that get bandied about by people in and peripheral to the SEO industry. It is somewhat aggravating to say, but sometimes people will try to take advantage of you or your company by throwing around a lot of jargon. When you don’t know what they are saying, it can be difficult to make an informed decision on if their assistance is truly needed. Here are some of the most common terms and what they mean using real-people language:

Backlink (inbound link, incoming link, inlink): A link from an external page or site that goes to a separate page or site.

Duplicate Content: Exactly what it sounds like, pages on your site have content that is other places on the internet. This is something to be avoided. Always have original content.

Halo Effect: Search terms that you are well optimized for can also help you rank for similar keywords that you do not necessarily have on your page. (i.e. if you are optimized for “electrical contractor” but don’t explicitly mention the keyword “electrician” you could still potentially get some traffic for the term “electrician”.)

Index: Indexing means adding webpages to a search engine index. Having your site and pages indexed is critical to your site performing.   

Keyword: The main word or phrase that people type in to find your site/page.

Keyword Spam: Having the same keyword too many times on your page/site.

Long Tail: Longer search queries that are higher in specificity. (i.e. “polar bear” versus “how much does a polar bear weigh”)

Meta Tags: Part of your page’s HTML, meta tags sit in the header of your site and provide information about your page to search engines. Having relevant and unique meta tags is very important.

These are just a few of the many bits of jargon people can use, for a complete list check the one here.

Wrapping Up

This should be more than enough information to allow you to make your foray into the exciting, ever-changing, and sometimes confusing world of SEO. If you are looking to do more research on SEO on your own I highly recommend the following resources: Blog

Search Engine Land

Search Engine Round Table

Nick McAfee currently works at CSUS offering his skills as a Digital Marketing Strategist. He previously worked for a small startup as a SEO Manager and is a graduate of Seattle University. In his free time he does freelance content creation and SEO work when he isn't reading, playing video games, or hanging out with friends.