The Basics of SEO (Part 1 of 2)

Unpacking one of the most popular terms in marketing


As a marketer, I can identify with always wanting to tackle the most exciting and impactful project for a company. So I can easily say that I would rather be developing the launch strategy for a new product feature than combing through a website to optimize it for SEO. 

With this being said, I know that SEO is a key skill to learn as a marketer. On average, search traffic makes up 30.5% of total traffic for small businesses. Therefore it’s key that a business make an effort to integrate the idea of SEO in their content strategy. 

What is SEO? 

I won’t pretend to be an expert on the subject, so here’s an excerpt from on what it is: 

"Search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search engine results"

There are two factors here that are important to note: quantity and quality. The former is self-explanatory, and simply means driving more traffic to your site overall. The latter, however, is something to explore deeper. 

Visitors coming to your site via a search engine are very different from ones that are referred via, for example, paid ads. Search visitors often have a specific idea of what they’re looking for, unlike paid visitors who may simply be interested in the idea of your site. 

You will notice, with a site that is poorly optimized for SEO, that visitors coming through search might have a high bounce rate (leave on the first page), for one of two reasons: 

  1. The site’s description in the Search Engine was not coherent with what was posted on the page 
  2. The quality of the content on the site is not strong enough to captivate them to stay on the site

Let’s jump into the most basic and popular idea behind SEO to understand how to address these two problems. 

Optimizing for Keywords 

When you type an entry into a search engine like Google, an algorithm searches their database to find sites that align the most with your query. On a basic level, this means looking at factors like:

  • Number of keywords
  • Word count of the page
  • Number of credible links back to the site
  • Total site traffic

At first glance, the idea might be to flood every page on your site with keywords that you want to attract visitors from, in order to maximize the chance that your site is seen. The obvious issue is that Google’s algorithm will pick up on this and penalize you for it, but the more crucial point is the idea of page competition. 

If all of your pages optimize for the keyword “Fidget Spinners”, then all of your pages are competing against each other for the highest page rank. It also means that someone searching for “Fidget Spinners” could be clicking on a different page each time they search, which dilutes your page traffic and makes it harder to improve your site rank. 

This means that you need to think carefully about how your site is structured, and what each page is designed for. For a software company, this often means having certain pages that emphasize certain product features, while others may aim for larger keywords related to the industry. 

Search Engine Appearance 

Even with a strong page that is relevant to the user’s search, the next big challenge is actually getting the user to click on your listing. Wordpress, among other CMS platforms, allows you to edit how your page will show up in a search engine like Google. This includes changing the title, content, and relevant tags. 

The automatically populated description and title is often long and/or simply an excerpt from the page itself, which probably does a poor job of reflecting why someone should click on the link. Using the fidget spinners example, compare a few of the results below:


The first result has a lengthy title, but the description is succinct and conveys to the user immediately what the page will entail. The second result has a more legible title, especially with the use of the ‘|’ character. One can only assume that has more site traffic than, and hence gained a better ranking. 

Seeing Walmart fall below both of these results was surprising, but only reconfirms the strength of Google’s algorithm, and importance of SEO. Being a corporate giant with millions of products, Walmart definitely did not optimize this page for a specific keyword, however their site traffic and overall usability (seeing price and rating in the result) garnered them a top spot. 

The Long Game 

On average, SEO efforts can take 6 months or more before you start to see results. The reason being that Google doesn’t consistently crawl your site, and hence won’t pick up on your changes and improved credibility right away. 

I will go into more depth in Part II about how you can alter each of your pages to improve its SEO, and a few other basics about keywords optimization. 

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