What is SEO & Where Do I Start?


A blue header image featuring an icon of a laptop with a search window open in the center and faded internet icons in the background

Defining SEO

Search engine optimization—more commonly known as SEO—is a method you can use so your website and other internet content appears higher on the results page of a search engine. Most SEO tips are geared toward Google because it is the most widely used search engine. Bing and Yahoo both have similar tips.

In the dawn of the digital age, it was easy to game the system and get your website to the top of the results page through…questionable means. One of the most common ways of doing this is something now called “keyword stuffing.”

A keyword is a word or short phrase that users type into a search engine. Let’s say you’re looking for a pumpkin pie recipe. Your keywords might be something like “best pumpkin pie recipe.” During the days of keyword stuffing, the top results might be websites with paragraphs like:

“This is the best pumpkin pie recipe. I guarantee you will think this recipe for pumpkin pie is the best. The recipe is the best and pumpkin pie is the best and this is the best way to make pumpkin pie.”

You can see how that might not be very helpful. In order to correct this and help users find the actual best recipe for pumpkin pie, Google developed a series of algorithms (also called crawlers) to sort through content and pick the best pages. The end goal is getting valuable content to the user.

So, how do you get content higher on those result pages? SEO is sort of a moving target. Google is always refining and updating their algorithms to make them more robust and accurate. There are a lot of opinions on what works, and it can be a little overwhelming in the beginning.

Starting SEO

Here are three things to help get you started:

1. Use keywords appropriately

Keywords are still the first and easiest way for users to find your content. You should use them, but you need to be strategic in how you use them. Going back to our pumpkin pie example, think about your content from the perspective of another person reading it.

Instead of finding 10 different ways to say “best pumpkin pie recipe,” work those terms in more naturally. Maybe it’s your grandmother’s recipe. So, the title can be something like “Granny Smith’s Pumpkin Pie Recipe” Then, your first sentence could say something like “My grandmother wrote this recipe for pumpkin pie and she swears it is the best one you will ever use.”

Most blog posts are at least 300 words long, and for a post of that length, you’ll want to try to use your keyword 4 to 5 times. There needs to be a balance, so be mindful that you don’t overdo it. If Google finds you keyword stuffing, they’ll remove your page from their index and people won’t be able to find you.

Google sees links as a way of legitimizing websites. You can think of it almost like a referral from a friend. If you produce quality content, you’re more likely to have other websites linking to that content. In the same way, you want to refer users to content you think might be valuable to them.

There are two types of links you should be adding to your website: internal links and outbound links.

Internal links are links to your other pages. Maybe you wrote that post about the pumpkin pie and now you want to write a post about pumpkin cookies. At the bottom of the cookie post, you could say something like “If you enjoyed this recipe, check out my pumpkin pie” and link to that original post. Internal links help Google’s crawlers to find all your pages and make note of the more important ones. They also help users navigate through your site.

Outbound links are links to websites or content that isn’t yours. They’re those referrals mentioned earlier. Outbound links will help give credit to your content and, in turn, make your content more linkable as well (giving you credit too—yay!) You want to link to good, reputable websites that have relevance to your field.

Maybe you’re a lawyer and you’re writing a blog about small business permits. You might use a specific law term that the average reader may not be familiar with. You can add a link to a well-known law school’s page defining that term so your reader can quickly understand what you mean. Remember to keep it relevant (Lawyers probably shouldn’t link to pumpkin pie recipes).

3. Add Images

The final tip for today is adding images. There are two kinds of images to keep in mind: decorative and functional. If an image is purely decorative and you’re using it to spice up the look of your page, spice away. If your image is functional—if it contains information that helps to better explain your content, like maybe a chart or graph—you’ll want to add something called “alt text.”

Alt text, or alternative text, gets added to the code of your website. People who are visually impaired and use assistive, screen-reading devices will hear what’s written in that alt text so they can know what’s in your images too. You want to keep alt text short, around 125 characters, and descriptive.

Alt text is one place where you can use keywords, but only do so if it helps the description. Search engine crawlers will look at your alt text to get a better idea of what the image contains, but making your site accessible to everyone should be your ultimate goal. Remember: no keyword stuffing.

SEO is an interesting topic and there’s always more to learn because the internet is always changing. If you’re interested in having an optimized website of your own, contact Bold River Marketing today.