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Making Sense of SEO: The Baseline Guide

Illustration for article titled Making Sense of SEO: The Baseline Guideem/em

The threshold for starting a side-hustle these days has significantly decreased. You don’t need savings or a loan to rent out a storefront - you can DIY a digital one with relative ease; you no longer need to warehouse products - there are a companies to do that for you.


All you need is to get your website up and running and attract those first few customers. Simpler said, than done? Probably yes, if you are a complete newbie and don’t know much about how the Internet works.

So let’s fix that by digging into one core digital marketing practice - SEO.

So What is SEO?

SEO is short for search engine optimization. In simplest terms, it’s the process you use to ensure that links to your content rank high in search engine results. Imagine you own a store that sells curtains, drapes, and other window finishings. When people search for terms such as:

  • Curtains
  • Drapery
  • Inexpensive Curtains
  • Window Blinds Near Me
  • Blackout Curtains
  • Curtain Rods And Rings

You would want links to your web pages to show up in Google (Bing, Yahoo, etc.) first. This is important because the first few links on page one of Google SERP always get the most traffic. In fact 75% of traffic goes to links that are displayed on page one. The very first link gets about 33% of that. If you aren’t showing up until page two, you’re getting the leftovers.


Why SEO Matters

SEO leads to visibility. If you own a small business, operate a bit of a side hustle, or even have a blog that you want to monetize a bit ranking high in search results is the single best way to get traffic to your web pages.


SEO is also a cyclical thing. The more traffic you get, the better your ranking will be. More traffic also leads to backlinks, social engagement, email newsletter subscriptions, leads, and sales. Many of these things in turn lead to better SEO.

As you approach SEO, here are some basic goals you should have.

  • Ranking in top half of page one or higher for your chosen keywords.
  • Ensuring that people spend enough time on your web pages.
  • Ranking for local search results.
  • Increasing organic traffic to your key web pages.
  • To improve your ranking so your content is seen before your competitors.

SEO Basics to Master

The best place to start is by ensuring that you understand basic SEO techniques. Here are a few to get started with.


On-page Optimization

On page optimization is the series of steps you take to ensure that individual web pages rank in search engine results. The goal is to get as much relevant traffic to a page as possible. If you have a specific page that isn’t ranking the way you’d like, or you’re planning to publish a new page, here are some must use techniques.


Start With Relevant, Original and Authoritative Content

Some people believe that SEO is a series of ‘tricks’ used to improve rankings whether a page deserves it or not. This isn’t quite true. Yes, there are tips and techniques that you can use to boost SEO, this article shares some of these. However, the basis of good SEO starts with content. You have to dedicate time to writing.


Your content should be relevant to the search keywords visitors use. It should be well-written. It should be original, authoritative, and share your unique perspective. One of the key ranking factors search engines use is time on page. By producing great content, you keep visitors on your page longer.

To get a better idea of what makes great content, check this SEO expert case study. Paul, the author, started a new blog that would educate others about the pillars of SEO. His roadmap to success was rather straightforward:

  • Scoop Your Audience. You should clearly understand who’s your target audience, how large and diversified it is; what’s their main pain points and how your content can help them cope with those.
  • Write Less, but Better. A single “ultimate” kind of content is better, than 100 short-form, fluff posts.
  • Do the keyword research. I’ll return to this a bit later in this post.
  • Promote the heck out of your content using various techniques - again, something I’ll cover down the road.

Use a URL That Works For SEO

As you surf the web, pay close attention to the website URLs you see. You’ll notice that some URLs make it very easy to understand the content on that page. For example, your drapery business may have a product page that looks like this:


It’s pretty easy for you to see that this is a page about balloon shades. Search engines can see this as well, and it helps them to index your web page. Avoid using dynamic URL structures or those that otherwise make it difficult to determine what a web page is about.

Instead, web pages must be contained within organized URL structures. Categorize your content and create URLs that make sense. For example, you want to avoid this:,, This flat structure places all of the pages directly under your home page, and is a nightmare for search engines to parse.


Try something like this instead:,,

Tag Your Content

Tags also make it easier for search engines to understand the content on your page. These meta tags communicate what your content is all about. There are title tags, image tags, keyword tags, and more. Learn how to use these to boost SEO.


Use Internal And Outbound Links

Internal links are links in your content to another pages on your website. These improve search engine indexing. They also help to lead visitors to other content on your site. Outbound links are links to external content. These improve the authority and trust of your web content. Use authoritative outbound links to create content that helps to establish your own thought leadership.


Make it Shareable

Social shares lead to increased traffic and awareness. There are two things that drive social shares. First, your content has to be engaging and trustworthy. Second, you must make sharing content easy. Add social share buttons to your web pages to make this process simple and automatic.


Use Relevant Long Tail Keywords

By placing keywords in your content, you can increase your chances of ranking for those keywords. However, if you use short tail keywords, you may not get the right traffic to your pages. The key is using long tail keywords. This helps to get people who are specifically interested in your content to your page. For example, ‘curtains and drapes’ is a short tail keyword. ‘Curtains and drapes near London’ is a long tail keyword. So is, ‘Budget curtains and drapes’.


Keep Visitors Engaged With Visuals

Because time on page is such an important ranking factor, you have to pull out all the stops. You can increase the time spent on a web page by including compelling visuals. Add high quality photos, videos, infographics, and other images.


Ensure Content is Mobile-Friendly

The number of people who use mobile as a primary means of accessing web content has skyrocketed. It’s simply not possible to create an SEO friendly web page that isn’t optimized for mobile. Whether you choose responsive or mobile first design, you must be sure that mobile users can navigate your pages with ease.


Off-Page SEO: Link Building

Links were mentioned above, but there’s one more important thing to consider. While having links in your content helps SEO, the real boost comes when other people link your content on their own web pages. Search engines view this as an indication of authority and trust. In addition to this, when other people link your content, that increases the likelihood that their readers will surf into your website. This additional traffic can improve SEO as well.


Here are some strategies you can use to earn links:

  • Write authoritative content that people will want to reference in their posts
  • Promote your content so that as many people as possible see it
  • Know the websites and information sources your audience’s trust
  • Identify influencers and other brands that may see value in your content
  • Build relationships with these brands and influencers
  • Engage in link building outreach

Advanced Tactics to Try

Once you’ve mastered the basics, it’s time to try some more advanced techniques.

Try The Wiki Strategy

This idea is courtesy of Nat Eliason and it’s something that works for pretty much any niche.


Search for nearly any topic, and there’s a good chance that its Wikipedia entry will be at or near the top of the search results. That’s because Wikipedia understands how to create content that ranks. Here are just a few things that Wikipedia does to get such great SEO results:

  • Their content is constantly updated.
  • Their content is backed by linked references.
  • They post long form content.
  • They encourage crowdsourced content contributions.
  • They use but don’t overly rely on keywords

Most importantly, Wikipedia is genius at creating rabbit holes. If you’ve ever looked something up on Wikipedia, and then found yourself exploring several other Wiki pages as you see links to content that intrigues you, then you’ve gone down a rabbit hole. You can even use Wifimapper to track your trips down Wikipedia rabbit holes. Create your own rabbit holes by including internal links and communicating to readers why they should follow them.


Earn Position Zero Ranking

Position zero or ‘Featured Snippets’ are the featured results at the top of search engine results. SEO experts covet these because of the traffic and authority that they generate.


To increase your chance of earning a featured snippet, write clear content that answers intermediate level questions. You can also format your content in Q & A style to better show Google the questions you are answering. You should also neatly summarize your answer in one or two paragraphs, then cover it in more detail. This gives Google something to grab as the featured snippet content.

Optimize For Local Search

Many searches, especially those done from mobile are focused on getting local results. These generally contain phrases such as ‘near me’ or ‘in my city’. Local search is important because these queries are often conducted by people who are primed to convert. They are often on the go, and in search of products to be, stores to visit, restaurants to dine at, etc.


Ideally, you want to rank in Google’s local 3 pack.

Illustration for article titled Making Sense of SEO: The Baseline Guideem/em

These are the top three local search results, and they get the most traffic. The first thing to do is register your local company on Google My Business. Complete your profile. Include your address, phone number, hours, and other information. Next, use local keywords in your content. You should also make an effort to get listed in local directories such as Yelp and MerchantCircle.

To ensure that you earn the traffic and conversions you need, you have to make a continual effort to ensure that your web pages rank higher in search engine results than your competitors. You can do this by applying the techniques described here.

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