About this guide: This a beginner’s overview of SEO for your website or a client’s website. For more advanced SEO training check our Yoast’s blog posts and courses.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is what increases your chances of being found when customers search for a product or service like yours with Google, Bing, and other search engines. If a customer is using a search engine to find what they need and you don’t show up, you don’t exist.
Why SEO matters
There are many ways to get the word out about your business: phonebook ads, flyers, radio commercials, paid online ads, and more. But all of those things cost money.
On the other hand, if customers find your business while using a search engine it’s like free website traffic (also called organic traffic). Though you may spend some time optimizing your website, you’re not paying for each new lead like with pay-per click (PPC) advertising.
SEO is important because it is the most cost-effective way to bring in new customers that your business. So why don’t more people do it? SEO takes time and patience to do right. Most people just want fast results and aren’t willing to invest the time, but it never happens over night.
Types of SEO
SEO is typically divided into two main groups:
- On page SEO: Everything on the page. This includes everything the words in the content you use to all the technical stuff (i.e. tho code) like the HTML tags that tell the search engines about your content. This is all within your control.
- Off page SEO: Everything off the page. This is primarily made of links to your website from other websites. This is not in your control, but you have some ability to influence it.
On page SEO
On page SEO is the most important aspect of SEO because it is completely within your control. This include making sure your website uses all the right HTML tags and structured data to correctly markup your content, which is colloquially referred to as technical SEO due to the code related nature of it.
Essentially, this markup tells search engines what your website is about, what the important things are, and how to interpret all of it. The more you help search engines understand what your website is about, the more qualified leads you’ll get from search engines (also called organic traffic).
In addition to technical SEO mentioned above, the rest is content focused and consists of the words you use on your website. For example, if you use words like accounting, taxes, marginal tax rate, exemption, invoice, IRS, audit, etc., search engines will assume you’re an accountant and your website is about accounting. When users enter search terms (also called keywords) into search engines like these, they’ll be more likely to find pages on your website related to these keywords.
This concept is particularly important for local businesses. If you’re a plumber, customers won’t find you by typing ‘plumber’ into Google. But if you’re a plumber in Turlock, CA and customers type in ‘turlock plumber’ there’s a much better chance they’ll find you. This is called as local SEO. Yoast has a Local SEO plugin that does this well. It’s a premium add on for their free WordPress SEO plugin, which I highly recommend.
This is why on page SEO is so important. If you use the right HTML tags and structured data to markup your content, Google will know what you do and where you are. So, when customers in your area are searching they’ll find your business.
If you’re using the right advanced structured data, Google can even show your phone number and where your business is located to potential customers. Awesome right? That’s why on page SEO is so important.
Getting on page SEO correct sounds hard, but using the right content management system (CMS) like WordPress makes it a lot easier.
Two common types of structured data used for SEO are local markup and video thumbnails. Below are two examples of structured data at work in Google search results.
Local SEO at work in Google search results:
Video SEO at work in Google search results:
You can spend hours and hundreds of dollars writing the best website content, but it won’t matter much if your on page SEO as lacking. So invest the time and make sure your website has what it needs to get your business found.
Off page SEO
Off page SEO is primarily made up of links to your website from other websites. I hesitate to mention off page SEO because most people do it wrong. Heck, most SEO “experts” even do it wrong.
Most SEO experts assume that more links are better, no matter where they come from. More links can actually hurt your website if they’re from low quality sources.
Most link building services build links this way and it hurts businesses. Can you imagine paying for a service that hurts your business? You’d be surprised how many business get penalized by Google for poor link building practices.
The best SEO experts do excellent work, but they’re also very expensive. The worst ones are often cheap and focus too much on getting more links instead of earning more links.
You earn links by creating valuable content that others want to link to. The best links come from reputable sources that are relevant to your business. For example, if you’re a plumber, a link from a plumber’s association is better than a link from a website about sports. The link from the sports site isn’t inherently bad for your site (unless it’s a low quality website), it’s just not as good.
That was a brief overview of SEO for business websites. SEO can be a very complicated topic, but just stick to the basics and you’ll do better than most. In fact, SEO is actually easier than it seems because most businesses (especially small businesses) do it poorly.