beginners guide to SEO (search engine optimization)

Getting Started with SEO


How Do I Get More Traffic to My Website?

Whether your business is virtual, physical, or both, you have to market it. Traditionally that meant radio, TV, and print advertising. While still useful for branding, they won’t drive much traffic to your site. You could pay for advertising on Facebook or Twitter or you could post a sale to your social media feed. Done well, these tools can be effective, but the results are ephemeral. After a bump, traffic will quickly taper off to nothing as users move on to other shiny objects.

By far, the most cost-effective form of marketing is appearing in the major search engines. There is no other place where more people begin their journey online than Google and, to a lesser extent, Bing and Yahoo. In fact, for many of the sites we’ve worked with, Google accounts for 60-90% of the traffic they receive. Plus, resources you invest now will pay dividends for months and perhaps years into the future.

Ranking well is so valuable that an entire industry has been created to help your company improve its search performance: Search Engine Optimization (SEO). It’s a complex and ever-changing discipline, but there are things you can do without hiring an SEO expert. Let’s start by defining what SEO is.

What is Search Engine Optimization?

You’ll often see search engine optimization abbreviated as SEO. The concept is simple: make changes to your site to improve its chances of being one of the first results users see when they conduct a search on Google, Bing, or Yahoo.

Appearing on page 1 of a user’s search results can mean significantly more people visit your site. Some estimates indicate nearly 70% of search traffic comes from page one results and very few people navigate beyond the first 5 pages. So, the higher you rank, the more traffic you’ll typically receive.

Even though ranking well is important, don’t pursue it with wild abandon. Attempting to trick or otherwise game the system will inevitably result in lower rankings (even if you temporarily succeed). Even more important, the search engines could ban you from their indexes entirely. If you hire an SEO consultant, make sure they use “white hat” techniques. If you do it yourself, follow the following principles.

Key White Hat SEO Principles to Improve Your Ranking

Create Your Website for Users Not Search Engines

If you stop reading after this paragraph, remember this one thing: avoid crafting your pages specifically for search engines. We’ve seen “optimized” sites that are practically unreadable by a real human.

It’s all too easy to get caught-up in the competition to rank higher while losing sight of the reason for your efforts — to attract real people who are interested in your product, service, or content. After all, the Googlebot is never going to buy anything.

Google stresses that you should strive to make your website valuable to users . Google wants its users to have a good search experience. If a searcher visits your page but doesn’t find what they thought they would find, it reflects poorly on Google and your company. Meeting the searcher’s expectations results in happier visitors and that will ultimately translate into better rankings.

So how do you meet the searcher’s expectations?

Understand Searcher Intent

Behind every query is a human trying to achieve some goal. It could be to find a dog groomer in Portland, Maine; to discover the hours for Franco’s Bistro in Windham; or simply to win a trivia contest by answering the question “What Mainer was known as ‘The Lily of the North’” ( Lillian Nordica from Farmington ).

Keywords convey this intent to varying degrees. A search for dog groomers in Portland is likely to be someone interested in purchasing grooming services. However, a search for dog grooming is more vague. It could indicate someone is looking for someone to pamper their pooch, but they may want just want to know how to groom their own dog.

So, when thinking about which search phrases (also called keywords) to target, put yourself behind the keyboard of your potential customers. Be careful to avoid industry jargon or other terms your customer may be unfamiliar with. Try to think of the words and phrases they may use if they’re looking for your product or service. The better they match, the more valuable your SEO efforts will be — even if there is a smaller number of searches for that keyword.

Understand the Buyer Journey

There are three stages that buyers go through before they ultimately make a purchase:

  1. Awareness: The buyer identifies a problem or opportunity
  2. Consideration: The buyer looks for ways to solve the problem or exploit the opportunity
  3. Decision: The buyer settles on a solution

A buyer’s searches will differ based on what stage they’re in. For instance, our hypothetical searcher, Amelia, enters the Awareness stage by noticing something stinks in her house and, with a few quick sniffs, identifies her pooch Pancakes is the root cause.

Amelia Googles stinky dog . After finding and reading your article “Six Reasons Your Dog Stinks” she decides Pancakes’ problem is simply because he hasn’t been washed in months. So, Amelia enters the Consideration stage and searches for how to clean your dog . She finds your excellent guide to DIY dog grooming. After a few water-soaked attempts, Amelia enters the Decision stage and searches for dog groomers near me . Now she sees your page listing your shampoo services, hours, and location and schedules and appointment.

At each stage of the journey Amelia’s queries change. If you are able to provide helpful information in response to some or all of these queries, you’ll be the first company she calls. So, when formulating your keyword list, keep this customer journey in mind.

Create and Test Your Keyword List

Armed with your knowledge of searcher intent and the buyer journey, you should be able to come up with a list of 10 starting keywords or phrases. Keywords shouldn’t only be one or two words. People (yourself included) tend to ask questions or use multiple words when searching. Think like your searcher.

Now, search using those keywords on Google and note the results. Do you appear on the first page? Click through up to 5 pages to try and find your listing. It is possible to get traffic if you’re not on page one, but with each successive page, your chances grow smaller.

What Does SERP Stand For? You may see the acronym SERP used in relation to search engine optimization. This stands for S earch E ngine R esults P age and it is simply the page you see after submitting your search query.

Next, look at the first page of results (SERP). Depending on your query, you may see a list of local businesses, product listings, images, videos, a list of questions and answers, or ads. Each of these “features” are distinct from the standard search results and serve to push organic results (i.e. non-paid listings) farther down the page, making them less visible. You can and should try to appear in one or more of these features, if available, but doing so requires more techniques (and a little luck) than what we can cover in this article.

The main point is that even if you are on the first page of results, you may never be seen by a searcher because of these features. This makes the competition for those top spots even more important.

Long-Tail Keywords Can Save the Day

Just because you’re not in the top spot for a popular keyword today, doesn’t mean you can’t achieve it eventually. In the meantime, don’t overlook what we call “long tail” keywords. These are search phrases that tend to be more specific and, fortunately for you, better indicate a searcher’s intent.

The volume of searches for these keywords can be substantially smaller — even just a few searches a month. However, because the search volume is so small, there is less competition, making it easier to rank highly.

Traffic is a Vanity Metric

Always keep in mind that while having lots of visitors to your website may make you feel good, your true goal is qualified traffic . You’re going to invest a lot of resources into attracting people. You want your return on investment to be as high as possible. So, don’t worry about the quantity of traffic so much as the quality of that traffic.

In part two, we’ll cover some specific techniques you can use to better prepare your site to move up in the search results.

If you would like to talk more about SEO for your website, we’d love to help. Please contact us .

Pine Point Creative is a full-service web design, branding, internet marketing and “white hat” SEO agency located in Windham, Maine. We’re laser-focused on understanding the unique needs of your business by providing solutions consistent with your company’s character — with the honesty and integrity Mainers expect.