First let me say that search engine optimization is a very complex subject. There are people who really know what they are doing and plenty of people that don’t. This writeup will not get you to the point where you really understand it all, and I highly recommend that you budget for a professional, but this will be a good start for people that are just beginning and need to know what they can do.

Search Engine Optimization, in simple terms, breaks down into two sections; onsite and offsite. Onsite is well within your control and is the first thing you should focus on. Offsite is harder to control and is something you will focus more on later.

Onsite

First, make a list of key phrases that you want to rank well for in search engines. Usually these should be two to five words long. It is not realistic for you to think that your site will rank for a term like “jewelery” (you’d be competing against Jared, Tiffany, Kay, etc), but you may rank very well for something like “vintage typewriter jewelry”. Make sure to be reasonable about what you can and cannot compete for.

I recommend using a something like Google’s Adwords Keyword Tool to research your terms. Obviously more traffic is good, but remember to check who you are competing against and always ask yourself “will my perfect client really search for this term?”. Also try to keep an open mind. Take a look at other terms that Google thinks are related to the one you put in. Remember that you are likely far more knowledgeable about your products/services than your clients, which means they will likely be using different terminology when searching.

You need to also try to understand what I call key phrase clusters. For example, when I checked out “Vintage Typewriter Jewelry” I found that it is searched for 140 times per month. That’s not a lot. However, I also saw that “Typewriter Key Jewelry” is searched 880 times per month (seven times as often). Additionally “Vintage Typewriter Key Jewelry” is searched 91 times per month. I immediately saw a key phrase cluster. Basically, there are three phrases that are all basically the same, and if we are careful we can target them all at once. How? Well, we use the all inclusive “Vintage Typewriter Key Jewelry” phrase. Take a look:

  • Vintage Typewriter Key Jewelry” = “Vintage Typewriter Key Jewelry” which is searched 91 times per month
  • “Vintage Typewriter Key Jewelry” = “Typewriter Key Jewelry” which is searched 880 times per month
  • Vintage Typewriter Key Jewelry” = “Vintage Typewriter Jewelry” which is searched 140 times per month

By using the one phrase regularly on a site you can actually target all three. Search engines can easily understand that someone searching for “Vintage Typewriter Jewelry” may be interested in “Vintage Typewriter Key Jewelry”.

This takes time. Quite a bit of time. It takes time to build a list of key phrases (or key phrase clusters). There’s really no way around that. The thing is…it will pay off.

So, once you have your list, when/where do you use these? The answer in short is…everywhere. You don’t want to “keyword stuff” which basically means to put them where they don’t make sense, but you do want to use them regularly. When you write articles, when you write product descriptions, even when you write something on other sites and link back to yours. These are supposedly phrases that describe something you are an authority on, so be authoritative!

Offsite

Offsite is something you have less control over. The basics are that you want other sites to link to you. These are called “inbound links” and are a metric that search engines use directly to rate your authority on any given phrase. Often getting a link can be as easy as asking. Sometimes a site would link to you if they just knew about you. Asking is simple and effective, but remember that buying inbound links will get you penalized in search engines (I cannot be more clear than this: Do not buy links to your site).

The simplest way I can explain it is this: An inbound link is worth more to you if the site it’s coming from has content related to yours. It’s worth even more if the page it’s on contains one or more of your target key phrases, and more still if the link itself contains one of your key phrases. For example, this is ok: “I saw some great vintage typewriter key jewelry today, click here to see it.” This is WAY better: “I saw some great vintage typewriter key jewelry today!”

You can help to curate incoming links by doing a few things:

  • First and foremost you get incoming links by creating good content. If someone sees a good article on your site, they will link to it. I cannot stress enough that this is the absolute best thing you can do. If you take nothing else from this entire article, please just remember that quality content is the key.
  • Approach sites whose users would be interested in your content and ask for a link. Make sure to be specific when you ask. It’s ok to say that you’d like the link text to be _____. The worst they can do is say no.
  • Become active on other sites and link back to your own site. I don’t mean spam, I mean really be active.
  • Other sites are looking for content too, so consider doing a guest post for another site that links to yours.

This is by no means a definitive or exhaustive guide, but hopefully it’s enough to not only get you started, but carry you through for a while.

29 thoughts on “Search Engine Optimization (SEO) in Simple Terms

  1. Excellent article Aaron. I have a tough time breaking down SEO in all of the articles I write, and I think you may have done in better in this one article than I have in a hundred. Round of applause! :)

  2. Thank you Law of Attraction!

    I started listening to a webinar about link building this morning, and have been on a course learning about Adwords. I am completely confused, and had to stop the webinar before my brain exploded!

    So, a great big thank you to you, Aaron!

    I already feel less overwhelmed about the whole thing and feel more confident now about identifying my keywords.

    You are one of the good guys!

    Laura :)

  3. Thank you for your very helpful article. I am curious what you think about using scribe. How will it affect using my all in one SEO pack. Thanks for any information you can relay. Jana

    • Sorry, somehow I missed replying to this comment for over a year!

      The truth is, I don’t think SEO plugins are needed on WordPress at all for 98% of your SEO (WordPress is quite good by default if you have a decent theme). They can be helpful to eek out that last little bit, but if you configure them wrong or use them wrong they can do more harm than good. My recommendation is to NOT use an SEO plugin unless you have hired a professional and they recommend it and set it up.

  4. I have had feedback from several website designers that my website is in severe need of optimisation (www.feelbettertherapies.co.uk – if you want to check it out!) and then they ask me for shedloads of money to do it for me!

    I am a technophobe, and am strapped for time and cash. Can I do it myself, or should I just part with loadsamoney and get it done. Will the ROI be worth it?

    • I don’t know about shedloads of money, but a good SEO review will probably cost you $1000-1500 USD for an average site. That would include a review with suggestions, but no actual rewriting of content or code.

      And if you’re at the point where you’re making money with your site, then yes I recommend using a professional.

  5. This is great. I am also a big advocate of using my main/core keywords in the domain name.

    Question, I see where Matt Cutts et. al are saying that keywords are less needed or not needed these days. Do you still encourage keyword meta tagging?

  6. Aaron:

    Excellent high-level article discussing how to deal with one aspect of SEO. You’ve highlighted the need to ensure that the content on a particular site is valuable, and you’re quite right. This can become a challenge if the ability of a particular person is lacking with respect to the art of writing. A tip may be to search out technical writers who have a strong skill-set with writing.

    Anyway, thanks for your contribution to the community!

    Andy

    • If you have a hard time writing, definitely get help. Sometimes having someone simply re-write articles before you post them can be a huge help.

      The one thing I warn against is letting someone else do the writing when they don’t have the same level of understanding of your topic as you do. If you’re the expert, make sure you’re sharing that expert knowledge and not relying on a less-experienced writer.

      • Totally agree with you.

        The quality of the writing is extremely important. There are so many other factors that improve SEO as well. To name a few others, typography, article title, meta tags (believe it or not IMHO I do believe they are important), meta description, image alt txt, actual image name, quality in-bound links, etc.

        Google “organic website growth”. I’m on the top of the list on the front page. I’ve been there (2) months after I launched my website. Look at the lack of content on my site (interesting insn’t it)…I’m doing some very strategic things without adwords and land at the top of the first page.

        Is being on the top of the page best? Actually research indicates that the 3rd and 4th spots receive more clicks than the top.

        Go to prchecker.info and put in http://www.ourfullhouse.com – this is our family blog and has a 6/10 Google page rank. Is this important? Yes, without question. While at prchecker.info, put in other website URL’s and see how they rank. I do believe you’ll be surprised.

        To sum it up, writing quality content is one of the most critical aspects of SEO optimization. It’s just one of them though. Ensuring that all of the factors are adhered to consistently will greatly improve the search-ability of your website.

        Thanks again for your contributions to the community. I agree with so many of those who are commenting…you’re one of the good ones.

  7. Wow, man. You’ve really summed up a massive topic in a way that makes it all seem, well, easy!

    Like a previous commenter, I’ve tried to “sum it up” as concisely as this in numerous posts/articles/books/etc., but have failed miserably more often than not…

    Rest assured, I’ll be sending people your way when they need a good intro/primer on SEO!

    Thanks, and keep up the great work.
    Nick

  8. As a newbie to the world of blogging – I hail from the archaic environment of print media – I am having an insanely difficult time navigating the changing waters of SEO, backlinks, etc. I try to read up on everything I can find but, as you point out, sometimes the information is incorrect, dated, contradictory or too difficult to understand. When I read your post – and I wish I’d found it months ago when I started EverBeautiful.com, a lightbulb went off in my head. As a writer who’s been more interested in content than keywords, I’ve been woefully neglectful and my traffic, while on an upward trend, has a long way to go to make my site a success. I have a post all ready to go. All that was needed was a little tweaking – and some search engine optimization. As I read your post, I followed your advice, simultaneously opening Google’s keywords tool and searching for appropriate terms – which I added to my post’s headline, content and description. I had been concerned about the word flow, but I think the keyword additions are seamless. I hope so at any rate. Thanks for a post that FINALLY explains keyword searches in a way that even this newbie can understand. Next up … backlinks!

    • Were you always a teacher’s pet or is this a new thing? :)

      Honestly it sounds like you really got it. Focus on the content but keep the keywords in mind. When you integrate them they SHOULD be “seamless” like you said, or you shouldn’t do it. NEVER sacrifice quality of content for SEO (that’s an oxymoron), but if you do it right you should NEVER have to.

  9. With so many opinions out there in the web world, you guys are spot on with this article. SEO is something that’s overlooked or overdone. Quality content is truly key!

    Thanks,
    Nate

  10. Aaron, this is a fantastic article. It’s very clear and to the point. I felt this was very useful and sent this link to my clients as well as linked to the blog. What a great resource. Keep up the good work!

  11. Writing great content has always brought me more quality backlinks. I’m so cheap that I wouldn’t even consider buying backlinks. But my blogs do rank well for their keywords based on good content.

    If you can solve a problem or entertain, you’ll get some great natural backlinking.

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