Search Engine Optimization Basics: 10 Things You Need to Know

Feeling confused about search engine optimization (SEO)? You are far from alone! While you probably know that SEO is really important for your website and overall online presence, that is also probably the extent of your knowledge – and that’s OK!

SEO is confusing, and not just because the “rules” change every so often. There are a lot of rules, and well, it can be pretty darn technical.

So, I had a chat with experts Susan Kim and David Stansbury from Digital Caffeine, my friends and frequent collaborators on numerous projects. They went over search engine optimization basics with me, and here are 10 things you need to know:

1. SEO is different from paid search

A lot of small business owners think SEO is paid search, and that’s it. When we talk about SEO, we are talking about organic search. Organic search is free and happens when you optimize your website to get more traffic. Paid search refers to the ads that pop up at the top of search results.

2. SEO can do a lot, but it’s not a panacea

A lot of people think, “When I optimize my website, I’ll be at the top of search rankings, and I’ll get all this free traffic instantly.” Optimizing your website properly is key, but it is only part of the equation.

3. SEO is a marathon, not a sprint

SEO is a marathon that requires putting really good shareable content on your website consistently and having other reputable websites link to your site. It also requires continual nurturing and maintenance for it to work properly. This takes time.

4. SEO requires keyword research

Part of optimizing a site is optimizing for keyword phrases – what are the phrases people use to find you? If you don’t know, then your website can’t be optimized.

When a reputable company does keyword research for you, you’ll see that it’s both art and science. You might find out that a phrase you think is important is not used at all – or used all the time (too much competition is not good). They can also find out what keywords your competitors are using – always good to know!

5. SEO is not about keyword stuffing

By keyword stuffing, we mean using a keyword too much on a page or on your entire website. Google will penalize you for overusing keywords – it looks fishy to them. A good SEO company will tell you how often to use the keyword so you don’t get in trouble.

6. SEO is all about mobile

This spring, Google changed their algorithm and sent shock waves through the system. Recognizing that we are increasingly doing search and accessing information on our mobile devices, they now basically require you to have a mobile-friendly site. If you don’t, you’ll be penalized.

7. SEO is also about great content

Your website is not the Field of Dreams – you can’t just build it and just walk away. Google likes fresh, high-quality, valuable content, but a lot of small business owners will start a blog, write two posts, and then never write again. Unless you have someone on your staff who is a Web writer, use a professional who can consistently write and publish content for you.

8. Social media is part of SEO

Social media is an important part of SEO for two reasons. One, your accounts can be indexed by Google, but for them to be of any help, you need to use them. Plus, nothing’s sadder than a Facebook page that hasn’t been updated in four months or hasn’t been updated since it launched.

Second, because Yelp, Google+ and LinkedIn are reputable websites, links from those sites to yours really help your ranking. Claim your free page, and use it!

9. SEO requires Google Analytics be installed on your site

Google Analytics lets you see what keywords people are using to find your site, where they are coming from, and what they’re doing when they’re there. Once it’s set up, you need to look at it and make adjustments based on what you find – or work with an SEO company that can monitor it for you and make suggestions on changes that will improve search results.

10. No one can guarantee you a top ranking

Be very wary of working with anyone who guarantees you a top ranking in search results instantly. Companies that promise this are gaming the system somehow, and if they use Black Hat tactics (which are very bad), your website could get shut down.

What surprised you most to learn about SEO?