SEO for beginners

3.5 billion searches are performed on Google every single day. Seriously  no matter what you do  people are looking for your products and services on Google. Cell phone repair shop: 1,700 monthly searches. iPhone charger: 34,000 monthly searches. Best smartphone: 41,000 monthly searches. And these search volumes are only for US based searches. But here’s the thing: Even though there are billions of searches every single day  our recent study shows that 91% of content gets no traffic from Google. So how do you join the other 9% of web pages and start getting free  consistent  and passive traffic from Google? If you’re a beginner to SEO  then you’re going to want to read this whole tutorial because I’m going to show you how to start attracting customers from the world’s largest search engine.

Even if you haven’t got the slightest clue what SEO is  you’ll have very clear and easy action items that you can implement into your website right away. So we’ll be covering the most important things that you should know to ensure that your website is optimized for search. Let’s get started.

So what is SEO? SEO stands for search engine optimization. It’s the process of optimizing your website and webpages to get free organic traffic from search engines like Google. Think of Google like a filing system in a library. The library has billions of books with hundreds of trillions of pages.

So let’s say that you want to find something on  “global warming.” Then Google would search through these books and extract pages that contain your keywords or closely related words. But as I’m sure you know  search results aren’t returned in any random order. Google tries to return the most relevant results first by using sophisticated algorithms. And they’re so good at this  that most of us never have to click through to page 2 of the search results.

Nobody knows exactly how these algorithms work or the exact factors it looks at to rank a webpage  but we do know a lot of the so-called “Google ranking factors ” so we are able to make some optimizations. So your job is going to be two-fold: Number 1  we need to make sure that it’s easy for search engines to understand what your page is about and create that content that matches what we call  “the searcher’s intent ” right? And number 2  we need to show Google and other search engines that it’s ‘worthy’ of ranking.

So throughout this tutorial  let’s say that I’m a new and budding SEO and I live in Toronto, Canada. I’m starting my new business business called “Best SEO.” Yup  I’m pretty awesome…but I don’t have any friends  so referrals are out of the question. Alright great. Step 1 is to find relevant keywords that people are searching for and see how these search queries fit into your business. The easiest way to start finding relevant keywords is to put yourself in the shoes of a potential customer. So I would think that a business owner looking for some magical SEO would search for “SEO company in Toronto.” Makes sense  right?

So I’ll go to a keyword tool and I’ll enter in that search query. I’ll also change the country to Canada since people in other countries probably aren’t looking for a Toronto-based photographer as often. Now  I’ll run the search, but there are only around 60 or so monthly searches for this keyword phrase  which is far from exciting.

But, by digging a bit deeper I can see that more people search for  “Toronto SEO company ” over “SEO company in Toronto.”, so that’s what I’ll go for. Alright  now that we have a list of keywords it’s time to optimize your pages. In the world of search engine optimization this is called “on-page SEO.” Since we know the keywords that people are searching for in Google  it gives us clues on the language we should use to let both Google and potential customers know what your page is about.

For example  knowing that “Toronto SEO company” is a more popular search query than “SEO company in Toronto”, will help us make smarter copywriting decisions. So for your homepage content  you might want to say  “Hi I’m Sam  a Toronto SEO guru. Blah  blah  blah  blah  blah ” instead of “Howdy  I’m Sam and I do SEO for businesses in Toronto.” But I do need to make two things very clear: First  you don’t have to use your exact match keyword since Google has gotten pretty smart at understanding what your page is about. And second  it’s very important to note that you shouldn’t try to trick Google by using keywords where they don’t belong. Your first priority should be to optimize for people because the last time I checked  robots aren’t going to pay you for your services.

Here’s an example of what you shouldn’t do: “I’m launching a Toronto SEO company that does Toronto SEO for your Toronto company.” This is known as keyword stuffing and long story short  it does more harm than good. So key takeaway? Don’t do it. So for on-page SEO  I want to pass on 4 very basic, but important tips that you can use on every page you optimize.

First is to optimize your title tags and meta descriptions. When you look at the Google’s search results you’ll see this part in blue and the text below. The top part is called your title tag and the other part is the meta description. The purpose of these is to entice someone to click through to your page. And if people are actually clicking through to your page  then that’s telling Google that your page is likely relevant to the reason why they had searched for the query in the first place  right? And you can see that Google actually even bolds these keywords and similar keywords within the search results making them stand out.

With that in mind  I might create a title like  “Award-Winning Toronto SEO” and then my brand name. But of course  if you’re going to do something like this  it should be true. Then for the meta description  you can explain in a couple brief sentences what the page is about. But rather than putting a generic description that everyone else is doing and calling yourself the best  you can put something like: “Sam Oh was rated the Star’s Best Toronto SEO Company. He combines creativity with science to capture top spots in Google’s search results.” Now this would make me as a consumer want to find out who this awesome SEO is.

The last part of on-page optimization is the most important and that’s the actual content on the page. For a typical SEO company home page I might have some images  a short “about us” or “about me” section  possibly the services that I provide  and some testimonials from happy brides and grooms. Without over complicating things  you’ll likely want to use your primary keyword phrase in the main headline  often referred to as an H1 tag. And looking at one of the top ranking pages you’ll see that they did this right here.

An example of what you probably shouldn’t be doing is something like this: hello there. The H1 or heading tag here says  “hello there” which doesn’t help anyone understand what the page is about. And remember  your job is to help Google best identify your page as being relevant to the user’s search query.

Alright  so let’s take this Sam SEO example one step further. Let’s say that my business was growing I got a lot more experience under my belt and I found out that I have some mad skills in areas like web design, and social media. So I decided  heck  I’m going to offer those services too! Rather than trying to rank my homepage for keywords that aren’t exactly related  I could easily create new services pages. So I’d do the same thing by first going to my keyword explorer. Then I’d type in something like “Toronto web design” and I’ll quickly look at the search volume and see it has a lot of monthly searches in Canada. So for our web design services page we would do the same thing as we did before with the title tag, meta description, and the content on the page.

The last thing you should do is to include your primary keyword phrase in the URL of the page. So for a web design services page your final URL, if you’re a WordPress user, you can just click and edit it using hyphens to separate spaces. So in this case  I would change it to web-design-toronto.

A really quick hack you can do is to look at the top 10 rankings and see how they’ve optimized those pages to rank there. So if we look at the Google search results for  “Toronto web design” you can see that some of the pages are keyword stuffing in the title tags and that the meta descriptions are all kind of cheesy or they’re truncated.

What you’re seeing here is an opportunity to overtake these search results. Basically Google has no choice but to choose the best options from a bad pool of pages. Alright, so by this point we’ve optimized our main pages for our different services  and we’ve covered the basics of on-page SEO. And if you’ve done this for all of your key pages  then I can assure you that you are miles ahead of a lot of your competitors.

The next part and arguably most important piece of ranking high on Google is off-page SEO. Off-page SEO often refers to link building. And link building is the process of getting other websites to link to your web pages. Basically links act as votes or other people vouching for your website saying: “hey  these people are really good at what they do and I trust them enough that I would send my visitors to their website.”

It works in a similar way that you would refer your friend to buy a product from whatever store because you’ve tried it  used it  and loved it. In general  the more quality backlinks you can get from relevant pages  the higher you’ll rank in Google. Now I’m putting the emphasis here on the word “quality ” because there are a lot of different types of links you can get from like forums  directories  and editorial links to name a few. But if you think about it  a place like a forum where virtually anyone can place a link will likely hold less value than a link from someone else’s blog.

But to be clear  other types of links will still hold some kind of value  but probably not as much as links like editorials would. So if you’re focusing on quality then you’ll probably want to prioritize editorial links. And the main way to get links from other people’s blogs is through something that SEOs often refer to as “outreach.” And outreach is exactly the way it sounds. You’re contacting people and asking them for a link. But you can’t just email someone and be like  “yo! I need a link. Hook it up.” It doesn’t work that way.

There are a three things that you need in order to make your outreach campaigns more successful.

1. You need people who are actually interested in the stuff that you do.

2. You need a good reason to contact them.

3. You need a pitch that somehow benefits them.

Let’s go through a few examples  shall we? First we need to identify people who are interested in what you are doing. The most natural one in the context of link building are websites that have already linked to your competitors. You can find these pages by using a keyword explorer tool, and entering in a domain or URL. So I’ll enter in the URL of a competitor who also does SEO in Toronto. I’ll also narrow my search down to pages that are linking just to their home page. From here, I can click on the backlinks option in the left column. And here  I’ll use this filter to narrow down the backlinks to only links within content  since I mentioned that I want to get some editorial links. Let’s say I see someone who writes about SEO case studies and she featured a not-so-great case study by my competitor. Fortunately, I’ve got a number of great case studies that are way better.

We now have a few prospects. So I can contact the site owner and her know about one of my SEO case studies that was published in some kind of SEO blog because it’s that awesome. So this now fulfills checkbox #2. We have a good reason to contact her because we have something relevant to her piece. And of course  I’d be giving her rights to publish my piece and infographic which also checks off #3. As a side note  it doesn’t mean that she’ll publish my photo or give me a link. As a general rule of thumb  the better the ‘excuse’ you can come up with to contact the author  the better your chance will be to get the link.

Another good reason to contact someone is to offer a guest post. Blog owners are always on the hunt for new content and since your site is new  you’ll be getting in front of someone else’s audience in exchange for some of your time and content where you could easily use some watermarked infographics that you’ve made. With guest posts  your reason to contact them is pretty reasonable and you’ll be providing value  which is free content (that should be good)  that benefits them and/or their website.

The next outreach prospect you can find are businesses in a lateral non-competing niche. So as a SEO you might want to contact other local hosting companies, graphic artists, and advertising agencies. You can contact these people to form meaningful relationships. Just think about it for a second. Your businesses go hand-in-hand and you can pass on referrals to each other  you can link back to each other as a ‘preferred vendor’ or link to others’ content in guest posts where it’s relevant. And this isn’t limited to just local businesses. This applies to everyone. So  find some solid partners who are on that same journey as you in a lateral niche and help each other out.

Now with link building  there are numerous tactics and strategies, so if it’s not your thing, then you can always hire us to do it for you.

Alright! We are on to the last SEO tip that I see a lot of beginner’s avoiding. Now, if you have something to sell setting up your homepage and product/services pages is probably the first thing that you’ll do or did and for good reason. These are the pages that will directly generate leads and revenue for your business. But here’s the final tip: start blogging.

I’m not telling you to write about how you changed your storefront sign from red to green. By blogging, I’m referring to providing practical content that can and will help your prospective customers solve problems. In Dr. Jonah Berger’s book  Contagious: “Why Things Catch On ” he shares his research on why content gains popularity and even goes viral. Content that provides “practical value” was one of the key factors to success. People don’t just share funny cat videos or emotional stories. They share things that help others. And the same goes for gaining links. People are more likely to link to your content if it’s helpful, actionable, and solves a problem.

Blogging lets you reach large audiences. I cannot emphasize enough how much a blog can help you boost your SEO efforts. It’s a great way to get ahead of your competitors who have been in the game for longer than you  but they’ve been targeting only ‘obvious’ keywords. From here  you can just rinse and repeat the keyword research process  the on-page optimization tips  and continually build links to your content and articles and start climbing the Google search rankings.

If you have any questions about your own SEO needs, please get in touch with us here.