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Search Engine Optimization: Beginner's Guide to the Basics of SEO

Updated: Dec 8, 2023


desk and chair with work items on desk

Search engine optimization or SEO is the process to gain traffic and visibility to a website through organic traffic through search engine results. Search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo!) are the way that users navigate to find items that they are looking for by typing in search terms of particular interest to them. The higher you rank within a search engine; the more people will come to your website organically without paying for higher placement.

Why is SEO important?

Web traffic is primarily driven by search engines such as Bing, Yahoo!, and Google. Therefore, if search engines can't find your site there isn't an opportunity to drive traffic and get visitors to your site. Businesses that fall on the first page of search results have a better chance of interacting with searchers than businesses whose websites appear several pages in search results. The higher the position on the page the better visibility you receive, the more organic traffic you attract, and the more sales a business can get.

Google is the largest search engine and generates the most traffic. A website must show up on Google with a high position and rank. Correct keywords and information linked to your business can help increase sales, traffic, leads, revenue, etc.

How do search engines work?

First, search engines "crawl" for information and then provide users the answers in rank order of what the search engine deems is the most relevant to the user's search. Automated robots called "crawlers" search links and pages of websites. Crawlers store this information in databases that can be recalled when someone is searching for specific information. Search engines rank the information based on relevance and popularity, influencing what someone will see.

Determinations of rank within search engines:

  1. High-quality, relevant information

  2. Relevant keywords within the website content

  3. Number and quality of websites that link back to your website pages

  4. Engagement of the site

  5. Site speed

  6. Unique content

To better position, your website, refine keywords on your site to optimize your website. Place relevant keywords in posts and on pages where they apply and place your most relevant keyword in the title and header tags. This will be fundamental for getting found.

5 ways in which you can improve the SEO of your website

  1. Links

  2. Content

  3. Titles and meta-descriptions

  4. User Experience

  5. Mobile

Website Links

Links are key to search engine optimization because the number of links pointing back to your website shows search engines that a website is credible, relevant, and more trustworthy than other sites. The fewer links your site has the lower your ranking will be.

Website Content

Content is king on a website. If you don’t have good content that users are looking for, they will leave your site and find another source for the information they are searching for. Content is important for SEO because search engines want to know that your site is still active and that you are providing relevant information to searchers. The more you can update your content with fresh information the better it will be for search engine optimization.

image example of website content for website and brand design

Be consistent with posting content on your website such as blog articles to help to boost rankings. You want to ensure that the information you are generating is high quality and not something you just put up without any thought. Search engines favor quality and if you regularly post (1 time per week, 5 times per week, or 1 time per month) search engines take into consideration the consistency of posting.

Ways to tells if you have content visitors want to see is by looking at click-through rates, bounce rates, and page visit times.

  • Click-through rates contain the percentage of people who see your content, click on to the page and interact with it.

  • Bounce rates are visitors who come to a page on your site but quickly leave after their visit. Bounce rates can indicate that someone was not able to find what they were looking for, the content was not right for them, or there was a disconnect somewhere between what they saw and the page they ended up landing on.

  • Page visit time indicates how long someone interacts with a page or pages on your site. The longer they spend on your site the more engaged they are and the more likely you may be able to keep them coming back or purchasing from your site.

When you have a high bounce rate and low page visit time, this can indicate the searcher isn't finding what they intended or the user experience may not be good. This negatively affects your rankings for search engine rankings and organically shows in search results. Don't provide clickbait to try and get users to visit a page on your website since this will provide a negative experience. Rather provide information that visitors will find useful, so they continue to come back again and again to find more great content.

Website Titles and Meta-Descriptions

Title and meta-description results are some of the first pieces of information someone may see when searching. The below image is an example of what a searcher may see when typing in a particular keyword such as "digital tools" or “consulting services”. It is important to make sure the message is clear, concise, and attractive because this is the opportunity to grab the user and get them to click on the link. Making the title catchy and clickable is key.

website titles and meta description example for website search engine optimization

With titles and meta-descriptions, the click-through rate (CTR) becomes an important indicator if something is working or needs to be changed. CTR is determined by how many people see your title and meta description versus how many people clicked on your link. CTR is important as this is the percentage of people who have clicked on your link and if a search engine recognizes that your link is being clicked it will move your headline and meta-description up in the search results and vice versa if your links are not being clicked. If the CTR percentage is low this may be an indication that your title and meta-descriptions are not connecting with the audience that you would like.

Website User Experience

interior design website template on tablet and laptop sitting on table. Image shows an example of good user experience for a website

Google collects information about how users interact with your website once they land on the site. If a user bounces or leaves quickly from your site because the load time wasn’t fast or the content wasn’t on par, Google will take notice of this. The more people that leave your site immediately Google will notice thus affecting SEO. Making a user’s experience easy when they come to your site to find the information, they are looking for is critical. Some items to focus on to do this are keeping your site simple and clean, having quick site speed, and limiting the number of ads on the site.

Mobile Website Design

Mobile has become increasingly important over the years as this is a primary way that people search for information. According to SerpWatch, statistics show about 87% of people use mobile search once a day with 55% of traffic coming from mobile devices alone.

desktop and mobile layouts for cathleen barnes consulting website

Google now uses mobile indexing first within its algorithm compared to several years ago. Desktop sites used to be the preference but with everyone having a mobile device and using that more for everyday activities mobile has become the preference. This means your mobile site now is more important when it comes to search engine optimization, getting found, and getting indexed on Google.

Things to check to ensure your site performance and SEO health are in good standing on mobile is to check:

  • Page load times - make sure the pages load quickly

  • Content displays properly on a smaller screen

  • No content is hidden

  • Text is large enough to read

Understanding the basics of SEO is one of the first steps you can take to improve your business’s website. There are many free resources and tools to help businesses identify improvement areas for search engine optimization. Tackling each item for SEO improvement one by one will help gain more traffic and sales.


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