What Is SEO? The Beginner's Guide to Search Engine Optimization

Updated Apr 07, 2022
What is SEO?

As a small business owner, you're always looking for ways to get ahead of the competition. You may have heard of SEO, but you're not sure what it is or how it can help your business outrank other websites.

In this blog post, I'll give you a beginner's guide to SEO and explain how it can help your website rank higher in search engine results pages (SERPs).

I'll also provide tips on how you can improve your SEO strategy. So, whether you're completely new to SEO or just looking to refine your current approach, read on for some helpful insights!

What is SEO and why is it important?

Search Engine Optimization, or SEO for short, is the process of optimizing a website for a search algorithm.

Most commonly that means optimizing for Google's search algorithm since they're the biggest search provider, but following SEO best practices will also help you to rank with other search engines like Bing.

The goal of SEO is to improve the visibility of a website in Google's organic search results. There are over 200+ factors that Google takes into account when ranking a website, such as the quality of the website's content and the number of backlinks.

By optimizing these and other factors, you can help improve your website's rank in Google's search results. This, in turn, can lead to more organic search traffic to your website and more customers for your business. As such, SEO is an essential tool for businesses that want to succeed online.

How does Google rank a page?

Search engines have one purpose. They are designed to provide users with relevant information when they perform a search and send them to the best web page that will provide them with an answer to their search queries.

The algorithms choose the best web pages based on the search query, then list them based on what it thinks will provide the best information for the user based on that particular query.

To provide the best results for their users, search engines analyze heaps of data using complicated equations known as search algorithms. Google keeps its algorithm a secret, however, SEO experts have recognized several factors that affect ranking. These are referred to as ranking factors in a search engine marketing strategy.

How does SEO work?

When you type a query into a search engine, the search engine uses their complex algorithm to scour the internet and find the most relevant results.

However, this process is far from perfect, and there are many factors that can influence the ranking of a website. Improving these factors is known as SEO, or search engine optimization.

By optimizing your website for search engines, your business can improve the chances of appearing higher in Google's (and other search engines) search results. This can be accomplished through a variety of means, such as using keywords throughout the site and creating high-quality content.

Although SEO is not an exact science, there are general principles that once you understand them, make it easier to improve the odds of ranking higher with search engines.

How to optimize your website for search engines

Search engines are constantly changing and evolving, so it's important to stay up-to-date on the latest guidelines. Here are a few tips to help you optimize your website for search engines:

Use keyword-rich titles and descriptions.

This will help search engines understand what your website is about and index it accordingly in search results. You can do this by updating the meta descriptions (also known as meta description tags) on your web pages.

Use header tags wisely.

Headers such as H1, H2, and H3 can help search engines parse the hierarchy of your content. Use them sparingly and make sure they accurately reflect the structure of your article or page.

Optimize your images.

One of the ways search engines work is to read the file name and alt text of your images to try to understand the content of your website. Make sure to include keywords in your image file names and alt text to make them more search engine friendly and more accessible to visitors who are visiting your website using a screen reader or other assistive technology.

Make sure your website is mobile-friendly.

With more and more people using their smartphones and tablets to search the internet, it's important to make sure your website is optimized for these devices. This includes having a responsive design and ensuring that your content loads quickly on mobile connections. Make sure you're using a mobile-friendly website platform that's optimized for both speed and responsive design.

Use internal links.

Linking to other pages on your website can help search engines understand the structure of your website and find new content. By having a strong internal link structure, you demonstrate to Google and other search engines that you have a well-structured website and that you're an authority on that particular topic.

Use external links.

In addition to linking to other pages on your own website, you can also improve your search engine ranking by linking to other relevant websites in your content. This is known as including external links. When you link to another website, you're not only helping that site's ranking, but you're also increasing the chances that people will find your website when they're searching for information because you're demonstrating that your content is well-researched.

Create quality content.

This is perhaps the most important tip on the list. By creating high-quality, informative content, you can help improve your website's rank in search results. Writing SEO-friendly blog posts is a particularly strong way to increase your odds of ranking for your targeted keywords.

Make sure to include those keywords throughout your content, but don't sacrifice quality for the sake of keyword stuffing. Content marketing is still about making relevant content for people.

By applying SEO knowledge to your content marketing efforts, however, you can ensure that you provide a positive user experience and improve organic search traffic to your entire site.

By following these tips, you can help improve your website's SEO, improve your standings in search results, and improve the odds of outranking your competitors.

What are some common SEO mistakes?

One common SEO mistake is failing to target the right keywords. It's important to choose keywords that are relevant to your business and that people are actually searching for in search engines. Otherwise, you're just wasting your time and energy.

Another common mistake is not optimizing your website structure for search engines. This includes things like failing to include a title tag and meta tag, not including header tags, not optimizing your images, and not having a mobile-friendly website. These are all easy things to fix and can prevent search engines from ranking your site's pages, so make sure you take the time to do it right.

A third mistake is creating low-quality content. Think quality over quantity here. Low-quality content can hurt your SEO in two ways: First, search engines may not rank your content as highly because it's not as relevant or informative. Second, if people do find your content, they're less likely to share it or link to it, which can further hurt your SEO. So make sure you're creating quality content that's worth reading.

What is the difference between SEO and paid search?

SEO is a long-term game — it takes time for your SEO efforts to pay off, for rankings to establish themselves, and for clientele to find your site. Paid Search, on the other hand, can get you results much faster.

Paid Search is a form of digital marketing where you pay to have your website show up as an advertisement in search results. The most popular form of paid search is Google Ads.

Google ads are labeled as such, so they’re distinct from organic results, which are the unpaid listings that result from SEO. The main downside of Paid Search is that it can be expensive, and you’ll need to continuously pay to maintain your ranking.

SEO is a more sustainable way to get traffic to your site, but it takes time to see results. If you want immediate results, Paid Search is the way to go, but don't neglect your SEO efforts as well since they will provide you with the best long-term results.

What's the difference between national SEO and local SEO?

National SEO is the process of optimizing a website for users across the country, whereas local SEO is focused on optimizing a website for local users.

The main difference between the two is in the keywords that are used. For national SEO, relevant keywords are typically chosen based on their popularity and search volume.

For local SEO, keywords are chosen based on their location. This means that local businesses need to use geo-specific keywords in order to be visible in local search results.

In addition, local businesses need to create listings on local directories and review sites. By doing this, they will be able to improve their ranking in local search results.

Ultimately, while there is some overlap, national SEO and local SEO are two different strategies that require different approaches.

The benefits of SEO

There are numerous benefits to SEO, including improved search engine rankings, increased traffic, and brand awareness. SEO can also lead to more conversions, as it helps users find your site more easily. Finally, SEO can help you achieve a better ROI for your marketing spend, as it is a cost-effective way to improve your visibility and reach your target audience.

Improved search engine rankings

There's no doubt that improving your SEO will lead to better search engine rankings. After all, it's the job of search engines to provide the best results for users' queries. And by optimizing your website for search engines, you can make sure your website is one of the results that come up when someone makes a search query.

Increased website traffic

Ranking higher with search engines can lead to increased website traffic. Ranking higher in search results can have a significant impact on your business, so it is important to invest time and resources into improving your site's SEO. With a little effort, businesses can see a big return on their investment in search engine optimization.

Brand awareness

By improving your SEO, you can also help improve your brand awareness. When users see your website at the top of search engine results, they will associate your brand with quality and trustworthiness. This can lead to more website visitors and increased sales.

More conversions

SEO can also lead to more conversions. By making your website more visible and easy to find, you can encourage users to take the next step and contact you or make a purchase.

If you're not already thinking about your site's pages from an SEO perspective, now is the time to start.

Better ROI for your marketing spend

Finally, SEO provides a better ROI for your marketing spend. Unlike paid advertising, which can be expensive, SEO is a cost-effective way to improve your visibility and reach your target audience. By investing in SEO, you can see long-term results that will continue to pay off, even after you stop making an effort.

Best software to help you improve your SEO success

Starting out with learning how to improve your SEO can be daunting, but thankfully there are many fantastic SEO tools available to help you optimize your web pages and improve your search engine traffic.

Some of these programs are free, while others are paid. Here are a few of the best:

Google Search Console

Google Search Console is a free program from Google that helps you track your website's search performance and search rankings. It also provides insights into how you can improve your site's SEO.

Try Google Search Console

Bing Webmaster Tools

Another free program, this one from Bing, that provides similar insights and data is Bing Webmaster Tools. This is a very useful tool for site owners. What makes it particularly useful is the ability to scan your website for SEO issues and check your backlink profile.

Try Bing Webmaster Tools

GrowthBar SEO

This is a paid program, but it offers a free trial. GrowthBar helps you track your website's SEO progress and provides detailed insights into how you can improve your rankings. It also has a handy keyword research tool. GrowthBar is very beginner-friendly and is a great way to learn the basics of optimizing your site for search engine algorithms.

Try GrowthBar SEO


Semrush is a paid program that offers a variety of tools to help you improve your website's SEO. It helps you with keyword research and has a variety of applications such as a site audit and competitor analysis tool for checking the SEO of other sites. Semrush also provides phenomenal educational resources and is a great resource for website owners.

Try Semrush

Surfer SEO

Surfer SEO is a paid program that provides detailed insights into how you can improve your website's on-page SEO. Surfer understands search engine guidelines and can help you both improve your existing website content and create new content that helps you rank. Their keyword research tool is also very user-friendly and can help you to plan high-quality content.

Try Surfer SEO


Ahrefs is a paid program that provides a suite of tools to help you improve your website's SEO. It includes a keyword research tool, site audit tool, competitor analysis tool, and more. Ahrefs is a great resource for website owners who want to improve their SEO.

Try Aherfs


Moz is a paid program that offers a number of tools to help you improve your SEO, including keyword research, link analysis, and site audits. Moz can be a bit advanced, so I'd recommend checking out Semrush first since they have better educational resources.

Try Moz

Screaming Frog

Screaming Frog is a paid program that provides website crawling and analysis. It can be helpful for identifying issues with your website's SEO.

Try Screaming Frog

These are just a few of the many great SEO tools available. If you're serious about improving your website's search engine ranking, I recommend investing time in learning one or more of these programs.

The future of SEO

The search engine optimization landscape is constantly changing. What worked yesterday may not work today, and what works today may not work tomorrow.

As a result, SEO specialists and business owners alike have to be nimble and adaptable, always ready to adjust their strategies in order to stay ahead of the curve. So what does the future hold for SEO?

One area that is likely to see changes is search engine rankings. With the increasing popularity of voice search, search results are likely to place more emphasis on conversational keywords and phrases.

In addition, the increasing use of mobile devices is likely to lead to a greater focus on local search results in search engine traffic. As a result, businesses that want to stay ahead of the competition will need to make sure their website and content are optimized for these changes to get the most search traffic to their site.

Another area that is likely to see change is the use of artificial intelligence in search engine algorithms. AI is already being used by some search engines, and it is likely that this trend will continue. AI can help search engines better understand the intent of a user's search query, and this could lead to more relevant and accurate search results.

Finally, we can expect to see more personalization in search results. Search engines are already using data from a user's past search history to provide more personalized results, and this trend is likely to continue. In the future, we can expect to see even more personalized results, based on a variety of factors, such as the user's location, search history, and social media activity.

Bringing it all together: how to apply SEO to improve your search rankings

SEO can be a little confusing to understand at first, but it’s an essential piece of the online marketing puzzle. By optimizing your website and content for search engines, you can drive more traffic to your site and increase your chances of converting those visitors into customers.

In this article, we covered the basics of SEO and how it works. We also talked about some common mistakes people make when trying to optimize their websites and offered tips on how you can improve your own SEO strategy. And finally, we discussed some of the benefits of having a strong SEO presence. If you want to learn more about SEO, check out my other articles on the subject.

If you take the time to learn about SEO and apply what you’ve learned to your own website, you’ll see your website traffic—and your conversions—begin to increase over time.

Frequently asked questions about Search Engine Optimization

What is search engine optimization?

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving the ranking of a website on search engines. The higher a website ranks, the more likely users are to find it.

What's the difference between on-page and off-page SEO?

When talking about best practices for improving search engine optimization, we often say that "on-page" refers to work you do to make certain pages of your site - or all of your site's content - rank better in search engines. Off-page factors are those not related to the actual content of your website. These include things such as social media, link building, and more.

How do you do SEO for a website?

Optimizing your website for Google and other search engines takes a lot of time and effort, but the concepts are fairly straightforward. The idea is that by making great content and implementing on-page optimization and off-page tactics, you can make your website more attractive to search engines. The goal is to rank higher in search engine results pages (SERPs), which will result in more website visitors.

Can I do SEO on my own?

Yes! It can be tricky to find the time, but the information for learning how to do your own SEO is all available to you. The great thing about SEO is that it's a project that anyone can work on, and there are numerous websites with tutorials for beginners. In particular, Semrush has fantastic resources for helping you learn how to do SEO on your own site.  

What does SEO stand for?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization.

How do you optimize for SEO?

There are a number of ways to optimize your website for SEO. One of the most important is to make sure your website's content is high quality and relevant to your target audience. You can also improve your site's ranking by optimizing your titles, metatags, and images, and by building links to your site from other high-quality websites.

By doing these things, you increase the odds that your website will be ranked by major search engines and will show up in organic search results.

What is search engine marketing?

Search engine marketing (SEM) is a form of Internet marketing that involves the promotion of websites by increasing their visibility in search result pages. SEM efforts can encompass many different tactics that are used to improve a website's ranking, and consequently, its visibility and traffic. SEM includes both paid search advertising and unpaid search engine optimization (SEO).

How do I do SEO marketing?

Search engine optimization or SEO are buzzwords for the act of optimizing your website so that it can rank high on search engines. A good way to think about it is as an online marketing strategy, but really, all you need to know is how to build links (known as link building), update titles and meta tags (also known as a meta description), and add the right keywords to your website content.

By doing these things, that tells search engines what your content is about and why they should send organic traffic to your site.

How do I get my site on Google?

Google uses crawlers to continuously scan the web to find the sites they want to add to the web. This is how most search engines discover and index your web page.

Any business owner that wants their site found on Google needs a crawlable site that can be understood by these search engines. Sometimes, all it takes is updating or restructuring your content so it’s indexed easier and faster by these search engines. If you’re starting a new website from scratch, then submitting your sitemap to Google Search Console is the best way to get found on Google.

Note that while Google is the dominant search engine, it's a good idea to submit your sitemap to Bing as well.

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