SEO Basics: 5 Things Beginners Need to Know

Claire Brucher

Content Marketing Specialist

Many beginners have misconceptions about what search engine optimization actually is and how it works. In this post, we break down SEO basics – the fundamentals of ranking on Google.

First, let’s cover the super basics.

How SEO Works

Improving your website’s rankings in search is hard work. But SEO (search engine optimization) is actually pretty easy to understand.

It’s all just a game.

(And it’s one you can only win if it doesn’t look like you’re trying.)

Each search result is a competition between hundreds or thousands of websites. Whoever creates the best page, hosted on the best website, wins first place. Consolation prizes are given to the 499 or so runners up.

Your overall SEO performance is the aggregate of hundreds, thousands or millions of these competitions. Accumulate enough rankings and you’ll drive more organic traffic, which is correlated with generating leads.

While this may sound like a daunting process, it involves only three steps. Fortunately for beginners reading about SEO basics, they’re pretty intuitive.

  • Build a strong foundation
  • Consistently post high quality content
  • Analyze your performance

Building a Strong Foundation for SEO

A fast, well-written and high-performing website is the backbone of strong SEO performance. The quality of your website has a strong impact on your raw ability to rank for the searches you want to rank for. This is because Google heavily factors website performance (specifically mobile) into its ranking of search results.

Here are some basic but non-negotiable technical factors to have in place:

  • Raw site speed
  • Largest contentful paint
  • Time to interactive
  • Cumulative layout shift
  • Broken internal links
  • Valid SSL certificate
  • Sitemap
  • Title tags
  • Site structure

(You can evaluate most of these SEO basics factors with tools like Lighthouse and Screaming Frog.)

In addition to these technical factors, the content on your core pages is crucial. If you write them well, your home, solutions, services, about us and product pages should rank for your most important target keywords.

Posting Quality Content

Optimizing an existing site – or launching the new one – should provide you a strong foundation of organic keywords. But that only gets you so far. To achieve long-term SEO growth, you’ll need to add more content to your site.

Content like news posts, case studies and white papers all contribute to your SEO basics performance. But when it comes to earning keywords and generating traffic, blog posts reign supreme.

Consistently posting blogs every month is the best and most proven way to improve your SEO performance.

The word “consistently” is key here. You’ll need to maintain your content creation efforts for months and years. Publishing 12 posts at a time and forgetting about it won’t get you where you need to go.

So how often should you post each month? One blog is the minimum. Two is better. Three to five is great. Ten or more is transformative. Whatever your capacity, just do it consistently and the results should follow.

Analyzing Performance

If you’re investing time and money into SEO, you’ll want to make sure what you’re doing is actually working.

Analyzing SEO performance is a layered process. In our guide on measuring B2B SEO performance we break down every step in detail.

But for sake of brevity (we’re talking SEO basics, after all), we’ll focus on just one now: organic keywords.

SpyFu is a tool that helps with measuring SEO performance. Their organic keywords graph lets you see the number of keywords you appear for over time. This metric roughly equates to a measure of your visibility in organic channels.

Focus on the big picture.

Does the graph trend up or down? By how much? A good target growth rate is 10% per month. Growth compounds, so if you maintain a 10% growth rate for a year, you’ll see a 185% improvement in your visibility.

You can also compare yourself to your competitors to put things into context. (You can see this data for every single website in the world.)

Progress Takes Time

Search engine optimization is unmatched in its ability to drive high quality leads at a low acquisition cost. But there’s a catch.

SEO success – basic or advanced – doesn’t happen overnight. It typically takes 3-6 months to start seeing progress. And 6-9 months of consistent posting to achieve a steady flow of leads. But by 18 months, you’ll have more leads than you know what to do with.

Developing your SEO basics know-how takes a long time for a reason. Search is a competitive place with billions of websites telling Google what to rank them for. To get anywhere in the SERPs (search engine results pages), you’ll need to pay your dues and demonstrate your authority in the space.

Don’t Cheat

Hearing how long SEO takes to work naturally leads to the question: “Is there a way to make it go faster?” Other than improving your website and positing blogs more frequently, the answer is no. Absolutely not.

If you learn only one thing from this post, let it be this: Don’t cheat. Ever.

Google is the dominant search engine for a reason. They’ve been around for over two decades, have about 100,000 employees, and are experts in their craft. You can’t fool or manipulate them.

While cheap tactics and content might occasionally get some traffic or numbers initially, eventually, Google will catch on. And, when it does, it will strike your website down with the wrath of a thousand suns.

That doesn’t stop people from trying “black hat” SEO. They buy links, stuff keywords, use doorway pages, affiliate networks and click-jacks and publish worthless guest posts.

Don’t worry what any of that jargon means. Worry about what it is – bad.

There Are No Guarantees

Google search is one of the most complex technologies humans have ever invented. It handles 2 trillion searches per year from billions of users and indexes billions of website pages each day. And Google guards their algorithm better than many countries guard their military secrets.

All of that is to say that search is too complex to expect guaranteed rankings or outcomes.

What you can do, though, is rely on experience, research and patterns to make strong predictions about your SEO performance.

For example, last year I wrote a blog called Content Writing vs. Copywriting: What’s the Difference and Why Does it Matter? I knew from experience that I had a decent chance of ranking on the first page for the keyphrase “content writing vs copywriting.”  

I based this assessment on our history of ranking for similar topics and the low 5% competitive rating the search had in Keywords Everywhere. I also knew that if I did rank, I would capture some amount of traffic from the 1,900 searches the term receives every month.

As of writing, this post ranks on the middle of the first page and generated 1,700 unique page views in one year. This provided a slight increase in organic traffic, which is correlated with an increase in organic leads.

I had zero guarantee that would happen when I wrote the blog. But I was able to use research to correctly predict that the blog was worth writing.

Teach, Don’t Sell

When someone Googles something, they’re asking a question about a specific problem they have. To rank #1 for a keyword, a page has to convince Google that it’s the best page in the world for answering that  person’s question.

The absolute best way to deliver that experience is creating informative, well-written content that answers the reader’s question. It’s really as easy as teaching the reader something you’re good at.

The absolute worst thing you can do is create salesy content. SEO content that’s self-promotional provides a poor user experience because it overlooks the need to answer a user’s question. Consequently, it’s less likely to rank.

SEO Basics: Conclusion

From website design to content creation, there’s a lot that goes into improving your website’s SEO performance. But at the end of the day, there’s only one thing you really need to know:

Post great content, and Google will reward you.

Claire Brucher

Equal parts creative and analytical, Claire Brucher is capable of synthesizing complex concepts and datasets into messages that get results for clients. She is responsible for producing a wide variety of content that results in increased brand awareness, website traffic and leads. Claire began applying her educational experience at Altitude in the summer of 2018 as a marketing, PR and social media intern. Since joining the team full-time, she’s leapt headfirst into the world of content marketing and distribution.
Claire graduated from Lehigh University with a double major in marketing and finance and a minor in creative writing.