What is SEO? And How To Be An SEO Pro

Andi Coombs
Andi Coombs
Senior Content Writer

There are two sides to digital marketing: organic and paid.

SEO is the organic side—it grows naturally over time.

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization.

The point of optimizing for search engines is to get eyes on your stuff.

Those eyes are ideally your best customers (also called your audience, prospects, users, or simply, your people).

And the stuff you want those eyes looking at is called content. 

This post will walk you through how to optimize your content for search engines so the time you put into SEO returns a worthwhile ROI long term.

Here’s what you’ll learn about specifically: 

  • what SEO is
  • why it matters (reputation and revenue)
  • who it’s for (people and algorithms)
  • where to use it (content + snippets)
  • how to do it (strategically)
  • how SEO makes you money (long term)
  • and what SEO techniques will shine a spotlight on you over your competition (skyscraper, link building, and copycatting)

What this post doesn’t cover is SEO tools. 

But worry not, SEO grasshoppers, we’ve got you. Here are 50 of the Best SEO Tools ready to boost your optimization in 2021.

I’ll say it one more time before we get into it:

Search engine optimization (SEO) is what you do to get more traffic. 

Do SEO right and you’ll flag the right cars off the highway to your sideroad shop. Then it’s up to your content to convert those drivers into fans before they drive away. 

This is when we exchange knowing nods and clink our Dos Equis bottles together—you’re starting to see the importance of SEO already, aren’t you?

Let’s get it.

What Are Search Engines?

Search engines work by crawling, indexing, and ranking your content, making it easy for searchers to find exactly what they’re looking for—relevant information. 

To do that, search engines judge your content according to certain criteria:

  • Quality/authority: is your content set up properly and do other sites with a high domain authority (DA) link to it? 
  • Page speed
  • User Experience: is your site designed cleanly, using white space? Is it easy to use and navigate? Are the Call-to-Action buttons obvious?

Search engines show your snippet (title tag, meta tag, and URL) in a list of other snippets all competing for click attention.

This snippet is heavily soaked in SEO. 

That’s why we teach you how to write a killer meta description in its own post). 

But know this: Search queries are for keywords. If you’ve optimized your content for a specific keyword, it will appear as a snippet in organic results when someone searches for it. If your snippet stands out in the search engine results pages (SERP), searchers will click your link over your competitors and you’ll win a healthy click-through rate (CTR).  

Getting more clicks drives more search traffic to your site. 

Once there, your content had better be brilliant to keep them there.

Your copy should read like a conversation even when you optimize for keywords. Not blending keywords in naturally makes your copy sound like robotic poop. Humans don’t like reading robotic poop. 

If you’ve optimized your website’s landing pages the right way, you’ll turn those browsers who landed there into leads. 

If you’ve optimized your lead magnets the right way, you’ll turn those leads into sales.

More sales means more profit for your company. 

Ergo, doing SEO right means making more money.

Your goal is always to win a sweet spot on the first page of SERP, ideally in one of the sought-after top three spots. Why? Because 65% of all clicks are won by the top three search results.

Google

Google is the goliath search engine. 

It is used by 9 out of 10 searchers. It’s overtaken the search engine world to such a huge extent that its name is synonymous with searching for something: “Why don’t you Google it?”

Google searches conducted per day
Google dominates the search engine market—Source

Google is the biggest search engine, but it isn’t the only search engine out there. 

Other Search Engines

These are the top five search engines used around the world in 2021:

1. Google  

Google includes YouTube. It is the grandpappy of all search engines with 92% global search engine market share. That’s 3.5 billion daily searches.

2. Microsoft Bing

Bing includes Yahoo. It has 8% of the global search engine market share—about 1.8 billion searches a month (mostly affluent Americans)

3. Baidu

Baidu captures only 4% of the search engine traffic around the world, but it dominates the search engine market in China. 76% of China’s 1.398 billion searchers use Baidu.

4. Yandex

Used by less than 1% of the global search market, Yandex is mainly used in Russia and surrounding countries.

5. Duck Duck Go

Flipping the bird to Google’s “invasion of privacy,” Duck Duck Go’s whole deal is to empower less than 1% of the search engine global market to take control of their personal information online. Tired of being tracked? Use Duck Duck Go.

Special mention: Ecosia

At only 15 million users, this is the smallest of all search engines in 2021. Why am I mentioning it here at all? Because it’s the only B Lab Certified search engine that donates 80% of its profits to planting trees. We applaud that and give a shout-out to the little eco-friendly search engine that offsets 1kg of carbon with every search term—turning searching for stuff into something that saves the planet. Plus, it’s super cute.

Eco-friendly Ecosia Search Engine
Eco-friendly Ecosia Search Engine

Understanding SEO

SEO has a lot of moving parts and that’s why the concept of SEO loses a lot of people. The elements pile up and the tangents spiral off into space. 

That’s because you can’t talk about SEO without talking about content (which has its own moving parts). You also can’t separate SEO from SEM (Search Engine Marketing, also known as the paid side of marketing).

To understand SEO, you need to know what things feed into it. 

Things like content. Things like optimization. Things like search.

Before you read another word, write this on a post-it note and stick it to your screen:

You write content for your customer. But you optimize that content for Google. 

There is overlap.

We’re going to reel in the spiraling parts and tie them to the center.

The center of SEO is visibility.

There are SEO tools and techniques you use every single time you put marketing content together. We’re going to walk you through our three favorite SEO techniques. 

But first, let’s distinguish between organic marketing and paid marketing.

What Is Organic Marketing?

Organic marketing is the stuff you do that isn’t ads to get traffic.

If you’re paying for traffic, it’s not organic. 

Organic Search Engine Optimization (SEO) feeds into paid ads and takes over from paid ads to make a conversion—that’s when a browser turns into a buyer. 

Ads appear somewhere on the internet and point to your stuff. 

If someone was interested enough to click on an ad (a tiny piece of real estate with an enticing line of copywriting and a button), paid marketing did its job. 

The job of paid marketing is to get someone to jump from the ad to your web page—paid traffic.

The organic stuff takes more time and costs nothing. 

Do it right, and organic Search Engine Optimization brings people to your website from the unpaid section of the search engine result pages (SERP)—organic traffic.

Organic traffic
Organic traffic comes from the organic search results (under paid ads).

Once on your site, optimization continues to lead prospects toward conversion.

But if you botch optimization, people don’t see you as an option in SERP. They don’t click your link and they don’t show up on your site. And if by chance they do, they don’t stay for long (they bounce).

You don’t convert browsers into buyers. What’s worse, you lose credibility.

Your reputation depends on how well you pull off SEO.

How to do organic marketing right

“Doing organic” right isn’t a big secret. There’s only one thing you should keep in mind: provide incredible value.

The rest of it is a bunch of checkboxes.

The goal with organic marketing is to educate and engage people most interested in your offer. Your organic efforts build authority in your industry and build trust with those looking for solutions that your stuff can provide. 

Organic SEO uses words and images and videos to answer customer questions and solve customer problems. 

The organic stuff is something you do both for humans and for Google because, if Google doesn’t like it, humans won’t see it. And if humans don’t like it, they won’t click on your links and Google will kick you off the first page of SERP like so much rubbish. 

And that’s a very sad thing. Where do meta descriptions go when they fall off page one? To the URL dung heap.

So make your snippets brilliant, and remember this:

It’s not about what you sell. It’s about how what you sell helps your customers (better than everybody else). 

The optimization part tells Google to find you and love you and show you to people who need you (your customers) by giving you a VIP parking spot on the Search Engine Results Pages (like Google and Bing).

SEO builds that trust factor with Google, because if your customers can’t find you, they find your competition instead. 

And that’s balls. 

What Is Paid Marketing?

Putting money down on advertising is the paid side of marketing. 

Google Search Ads, Display Ads, YouTube Ads, Microsoft Ads, Facebook Ads, LinkedIn Ads, Instagram Ads, TikTok Ads….

Ads.

Pay per click (PPC), cost per acquisition (CPA), cost per lead (CPL), A/B testing, campaign duration… all that stuff lights up the paid side of digital marketing. 

That stuff generates paid traffic to your content.

The reason it’s here in a post about SEO is because you can’t talk about the organic side without talking about the paid side.

Because there’s overlap.

What is the overlap between organic and paid?

Organic SEO is the long term free stuff. Paid marketing is the short term costly stuff.

But there is one thing that ties both these sides together. And that’s their end goal:

Motivate someone to take action

Whether that action is to read a story or click the buy button, organic and paid marketing work hard to persuade people on different floors of the same building to do the same thing. 

Sooner or later, that thing is to buy your stuff.

For SEO, you use content to motivate that action.

What is content?

Content does one thing if done right: it makes your could-be customers happy. 

So what the heck is content, exactly?

Content in physical form is your website, blogs, videos, podcast, emails, infographics, courses, and downloadables. It’s the helpful stuff you create to connect you to your people by solving their problems better than everyone else out there.

Content is what you get when you put words and design together.  

Why bother making content?

Good question.

Content gets your message out to people looking for your stuff (the searchers who need you and want to pay you to solve their problems). 

To be clear: Ads don’t solve problems. They point to the content that does. Whoop!

Content explains how what you have is what a searcher needs. 

If you step someone through the buyer’s journey properly by creating value, you build trust along the way. 

How do you make valuable content?

Blend creativity with metrics (Google analytics). 

Write content (copywriting) and design content (landing pages) and promote content (optimization) to build a better relationship with your customers by investing in what holds them. 

Tell an interesting story that wins mindshare. 

Give them something they can take away that lightens their load and removes their shoulders from their ears. Fix their pain point. 

Help them.

What’s the formula for creating great content?

Start with this: 

  • Put a clear message 
  • on a clean website (no clutter)
  • that has a single action on it (CTA)
  • that’s powered underneath by strong SEO techniques. 

That formula will get you in front of more of the right customers with Google, so you can show those customers your amazing value.

Don’t even begin if you don’t have something truly valuable to offer. If you don’t know what makes you different, give that some serious thought. Find something. Then, give your customers a heads up about what that something is and offer it in a way that they are over-the-top HAPPY to find and use and share on social media. 

Valuable stuff is worth spending time (dwell) checking out. 

Dwell time increases your click-through rate (CTR) and your interaction stats. All of that activity tells Google you know what you’re talking about. And because of that, you rank higher in the search results pages (SERP).

That’s content in a nutshell.

Okay, swell. You get it. 

But don’t kid yourself, each of those four things (words, design, CTA, and optimization) requires a lot of thought.

Here are four tips to get you on the right track:

Four basic content marketing tips:

01. Create original, fresh content

Google improves its algorithm constantly. But one thing Google consistently rewards is fresh content. Add new stuff (or update old stuff to keep it relevant) when you see a problem you can solve. 

Do your keyword research around solving that problem so Google guides customers to your solution. The more people see you, the more they click around in happy bliss, the more your page rank goes up. 

Trumpets.

02. Say no to clutter

Clutter is never good. Not in your life and not on your site. Don’t cram as much crap on there as you can. You’re going for simplicity. Chunk your words into no more than seven brilliant blocks on a page (that’s a UX principle), be picky with your graphics (try Unsplash), and wrap everything in emptiness—pad your words in a healthy dose of white space.

03. Nail your offer

Your value proposition is your unique opening shot. It’s your elevator pitch. It’s how you’re different (because sameness is boring). It’s how you solve problems better than your competition. 

Tell your audience why you are valuable to them—and actually be more valuable!—using a few great words that sound like you. Make them excited to scroll down. 

Make Hemingway and Seth Godin proud.

04. Ask for a tiny something in return

Your buttons create actions. That action can be to contact you, jump to another page, sign up for a valuable course or eBook, or buy your thing. 

Make your buttons crystal clear, keep them simple, and guide your customers toward that click. But most importantly, make sure that click is going to make your customers happy. You want to give them a relevant result.

That’s the end game. The side effect of creating that happiness is sales.

Don’t approach your content half-assed

If you’re going to do something, do it right. 

That means actively avoiding black-hat SEO tactics like keywords stuffing, hidden text, and link schemes (buying links) to try to fool the algorithm into thinking you offer more value than you actually do. 

This strategy fails all over the place. 

It makes you sound robotic and spammy and Google’s algorithm penalizes you when users bounce quickly because your content sucks.  

Keep things valuable.

If you’re creating content, create a unique piece of content that makes you a leader in your space. Don’t create a regrettable stew of poetic lingo, tacky imagery, and packed-to-the-nuts design. 

We’ve got to create a unique, special experience for them and delight visitors in addition to satisfying their query—Rand Fishkin moz.com

To be blunt…

If writing isn’t your thing, hire a copywriter.

And if you haven’t gone to graphic design school, you’re not as good at design as you think you are—No no no! Bevelled and embossed buttons next to flashing starbursts are actually not good design. Hire a designer.

If you’re not a webmaster developer, hire someone who is.

And if you aren’t sure how to get clicks on your buttons (CTAs), we’ve got some great examples here

Okay, marketers, content is what you create to help your customers while giving Google an optimized nod. 

Here are some examples of clicktastic content:

Content Examples

  • lead magnets
  • landing pages
  • email sequences
  • downloadable guides
  • infographics
  • case studies
  • workbooks
  • checklists
  • quizzes
  • courses
Types of content
Types of content—Source

Elements in blog posts that are driving results
Use visuals to increase engagement—Source

More visuals get better results
The more visuals the better—Source

You gate those pieces of content with a form that drops leads into your marketing machine. And the wheels on the bus go wound and wound. Money.

The words (copywriting):

The words are where the magic of SEO happens. And, no, I’m not just talking about blogging. I’m also talking about your website copy and your landing page copy and the copy on your lead magnets.

Writing is art. But it’s also science. 

The strategy part is combining creative words and keywords (SEO) to deliver a message that gets your audience to do something.

Creative words deliver your message to humans. 

Keywords deliver your message to search bots (also known as crawlers or the algorithm).

Both of these types of words must be high-quality. Solid keyword research determines your ranking factor. And creativity hooks searchers into picking your link.

People want to read clear answers to their questions and Google wants to determine if your article deserves a spotlight on that topical stage. 

Getting this mixture right gets more eyes on your article, more shares, and more actions.

Step one is to always write first for the customer—it’s the creative side of copywriting that brings your brand to life. 

Step two: Go back and weave in keywords to get those words in front of more customers (this is called on-page SEO). 

The more people you reach, the bigger your opportunity to build trust with a growing audience. 

When that happens, your reputation earns credibility. 

And when that happens, people start to notice your ads. 

After a certain amount of exposure to your ads, they’ll start getting clicks.  

Know this: organic SEO cannot be ignored. You can’t focus 100% on paid ads. 

Want to know why? 

Because without SEO, your customers won’t fall in love with your brand and those ads you pay for won’t have trust under them. That trust factor powers your click-through rates. 

That works in reverse too. 

Say a prospect sees one of your ads (paid marketing). They click on it because the ad is the best ad they’ve ever seen. Where do they go? Most likely to a landing page. 

The landing page is what convinces them to buy in, not the ad; the content makes the sale. 

If the landing page looks great and your prospect’s question is answered right away (in the right way), then boom

The ad put the offer in front of their face, and the landing page made their face smile. 

A great message answers questions, educates your people, builds your street cred (industry authority), creates backlink opportunities (SEO), and increases domain authority (SEO). 

The right story creates emotional triggers. People click your buttons because they feel you’re the best answer to their problems. 

You become a thought leader.

Building industry authority takes time. That authority doesn’t feed dollars into bank accounts—not directly anyway. But it does feed trust into your conversion funnel. 

And those loyal fans who trust you, buy your stuff. 

Research your keywords, write compelling copy that contains those keywords, keep those words as short as you can, and edit. 

Edit again.

The design: Say no to clutter

Design is how you make the words look as good as they sound. That means cutting the copy down until it’s naked and wrapping that nakedness in empty space so your message slaps your customers in the face from the middle of a spacious room. 

They’ll know at a glance why you’re valuable to them. 

They also like that your site doesn’t look like crap. 

Minimal design organizes content into easy-to-absorb chunks so your customers know how you’ll solve their problem right away. This is a UX (User eXperience) principle called Miller’s Law

Ditching clutter draws attention to your value like a key piece of furniture in a spacious Scandinavian apartment. It’s art + psychology + SEO + fashion: sh***y websites aren’t taken seriously. 

Website themes are designed by professionals. Pick a mobile-friendly theme you like and don’t stray from the original design too much.

If you’re looking for graphic assets to put on your site, try Canva

If you’re looking for beautiful imagery, go to Unsplash.

If you’re designing a landing page, do this:

How to design a landing page

  1. Put one headline (H1) in the hero section (the top part of your page) 
  2. Add one concise blurb of body copy. 
  3. Make sure the keyword you optimized for in SERP (and in your paid ad) is also in that H1 and in that blurb. 
  4. Stick a form beside that message above the fold (the part of the website your viewer sees when they land without having to scroll).
  5. Make the form’s action button juicy
  6. Give them something irresistible to download. The right giveaway (lead magnet) gets your foot in customers’ doors (their inboxes). They like that giveaway so they don’t mind if you offer even more helpful stuff by email. That’s how you build trust. And guess what? Loyal followers flap their gums about you. Your fan base grows and so does your bank account.
  7. Make sure your design is mobile responsive (looks good on mobile devices)

Do that and you’ll get your lead. 

Now tell your sales team not to blow it. 😉

What is Optimization?

Optimization gets your page ready for Google search engine crawlers that rank your page based on how well you do your SEO. 

Rank is important. 

Links on Google’s first page get clicks. Clicks create the opportunity for you to tell customers why and how you’re the best choice for them. 

But if you’re not found, all the SEO work you did on your website will be for nothing.

Here some search engine things you should optimize: 

Keywords

Picking the right keywords is incredibly important. Use your favorite keyword research tool to create a list of the keywords you wish to rank for, then dedicate one page for each keyword. 

HTML tags (hierarchies)

When you have one keyword for a page, make sure it is in your H1 header and snippet title. Also make sure it makes it into at least one H2 or H3 (subheading and sub-sub heading on your page). Work it into your body copy 2 to 5 times. Add it to at least one image alt tag (image description). Do it any more than that and you run the risk of being flagged by crawlers as keyword stuffing (that’s a black hat SEO technique you try to avoid).

Anchor text

Linking from one spot in your article to another spot in the same article is called an anchor link. Creating anchor text strengthens your page in the same way that internally linking between pages strengthens your site. 

Anchor links use a hashtag in their URL structure to identify a jump on a single page. Want to jump from the word “content” to the part of your page that talks about content? Highlight the word content and add a link like this: #content. Then go down to the content section and give it a CSS ID called content. Done.

XML Sitemaps

Easy. This is a map of every page on your site. You can use a plugin to build your site map. Google loves seeing your site architecture and knowing where every piece of content you have made is located. Don’t want Google to see something (because you don’t want it indexed in SERP)? Add a nofollow link.

Schema Markup

Whoa, now. Schema is getting deep into technical SEO. Schema markup is structured data. It helps the Google bots sort your page according to how you have marked it up (flagged sections of it). It is SEO best practices. And we talk about what it is here. But you can check out a beginner’s guide at SEMrush.

There are three types of link building: internal links, external links, and backlinks.

When you add internal links between the pages of your own website, those links strengthen the value of your website as a whole.

An external link is a link that takes people away from your site to another site. You link to outside sources because you are a good person and you want to genuinely help people. Typically, you wouldn’t link to an external source that directly competes with you. But you would link somewhere that provides extra information.

This is where some cheaters and corner-cutters stray into the land of black hat seo. Instead of researching credible sites with a reputable domain authority (DA) and asking if those sites might be interested in linking to your valuable content (giving you a backlink), some people will try to buy that authority on “scammy” micro blogs that are created for the purpose of linking back to your site. 

This is frowned upon. Don’t do it. 

Instead, reach out and connect with your peers and see about getting a white hat backlink. The worst thing that happens? The answer is no. But now you have a rapport going—and that is always a good thing.

User Experience (UX)

If your site looks like crap, the chances of someone bouncing when they land on it goes up. That’s why you put care into design principles like white space and progress bars and aesthetic useability. 

But, basically, when it comes to design, simple is best.

The simpler a site, the faster it loads, the easier it is to understand, the better it converts browsers into buyers. 

So, follow this advice:

  • Cut down your words (Occam’s Razor)
  • Pick no more than three colours
  • Use no more than two fonts,
  • Use one button style (Fitt’s Law)
  • Have one Call-To-Action (Hick’s Law)
  • Be picky with your images
  • Be generous with your loyalty-building giveaways. 
  • And don’t go for perfection—focus on making it good enough soon enough. (Pareto’s Principle).
  • Group your key points together in seven chunks or less (Miller’s Law)
  • and pad those points with whitespace so it looks pretty (Aesthetic Usability Effect). 
  • Put your value statement at the top and bottom (Serial Position Effect) so people know what you’re about when they arrive (primacy), and take it with them when they go (recency). 

Lastly, keep the site lean and optimized by compressing your images (try TinyPNG) so it loads fast. If a user has to wait, a user bails (Doherty’s Threshold). 

All of these UX Laws (and many more) can be found at this site. And all of them are doable.

Get UX down, and you’ll notice some pleasant results in Google Analytics. Like dwell time.

What is Dwell?

When users stick around to check out your site and click your buttons, Google rewards dwell time with a rank boost. That’s when more people see you—which is good for business. Dwell is the opposite of a bounce, which happens when your site is boring, confusing, and ugly and Google creates a detour around your site—which is bad for business.

SEO strategy

You’ve read other SEO articles by SEO influencers, but you still scratch your head about it. You still don’t really get it.

Maybe you lost interest reading about SEO around the 8000-word mark? Thank Brian Dean for that. His Skyscraper technique powers multi-thousand word blog articles across the internet. That’s just one of many great SEO techniques you can use. 

Here are our three favorite SEO techniques for your SEO kit

Skyscraper Technique

Skyscraper is a powerful SEO technique—a great one. But it’s laborious. I know this because I use it—and I hate it. It takes for-effing-ever to write a detailed, super-useful, covers-every-possible-thing, master guide-like, mountainous blog article. 

But Google loves it.

And that’s important because SEO is something you do for Google as well as your readers.

Here’s how the Skyscraper technique works:

Step 1: research other articles that write comprehensively about the keyword you want to rank for.

Step 2: Make something even better—and longer.

Step 3: Reach out to the right people and ask them to link to your amazing content.

We just talked about internal links. You might have noticed that there are internal links in this post that point to other KlientBoost pages. We focus on internally linking our pages together because that strengthens our SEO score. 

Google sees this technique as adding relevancy to our content—because it actually does that. It’s helpful to point our readers toward other useful content related to what they’re reading about. 

Spend some time linking from one page to another and you’ll see a boost in your rank.

“Internal linking passes both PageRank (link authority) and relevancy signals. Internal linking is a massively underutilized SEO technique, and it’s often enough to see page 2 search rankings jump onto page 1.” SEMrush.

Copy what your competition is doing right

There’s no shame in doing your research. If a competitor ranks high for a keyword you want to rank for, use your favorite keyword research tool to see how they are doing that. 

Then copy that strategy. 

But do it better.

Those are some high-level techniques we use. 

But here’s the thing:

You don’t need to scrape the SEO barrel down to its staves. 

You should work smarter, not harder. 

Cover the bases, use a few tools, and try a few techniques. Add a few more of both as you get the hang of things. Every incremental gain moves your browsers closer to becoming buyers. 

SEO powers half of your digital marketing strategy

A clutter-free website that’s written like a postcard with long-tail keywords (the search queries your customers use to find you) sprinkled throughout is an SEO marketing strategy that makes you more money.

But if your site is ugly, filled with jargon, and fails to solve customer problems, it’s a lost opportunity. 

Google decides if you’re the one who gets your face in front of the right people (paying customers) so they throw money at it.

And SEO is how you tell Google to give your awesome something some special attention. 

SEO takes care of all of the analytical stuff that snags attention and directs customers to your page. SEO is the stuff you add to your page that delivers on what your SERP snippet said it would.

Your keywords (SEO) and snippet (SEO) get prospects to your site. But your content (your squeaky clean design, keyword-infused copy, action buttons, and valuable downloadables) makes the sale.

Muck up optimization and no one finds you organically. 

If customers don’t know you exist, it’s all for nothing. Help them find you with strong on-page SEO efforts.

But SEO doesn’t just create a nod of approval with Google. 

It adds credibility to your brand and puts you up there as an authority in your space. Your fans get to know you because of your brilliant content and they feel good about trusting you after that.

Building trust is great for your reputation and your authority. And, as both of those grow, you will eventually see an increase in conversions. 

And conversions are where the money’s at.

If you notice an increase in your metrics after reading this post and doing some of the stuff we just said you should, let us know. 

Got a sweet SEO suggestion of your own? 

Share it. 

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