The Complete Beginner’s Guide to SEO: Increase traffic and rankings

How Search Engines Work

If you are reading this, then the chances are that your business’s website requires some serious SEO. Let me guess – you’re either trying to figure out what it all means or how it could help. Well, let us break down the basics for you in this step-by-step tutorial and show precisely why SEO can help your company succeed online!

What is SEO & Why is it Important?

SEO is the process of positively affecting a web page’s visibility (rankings/organic traffic) or a website in a search engine’s (unpaid) results. It is essential to increase your leads, sales, and revenue by improving your organic traffic.

When first getting into Search Engine Optimization, a few questions you should ask yourself are:

  • How do you optimize a website for search engines?
  • How can you differentiate “good” SEO (white hat) advice from “bad” or harmful SEO advice (black hat)?
  • How do you know how much time to spend on SEO efforts?
  • How do you increase your website’s organic search visibility so it’s easier for your content to be found?
  • How can you leverage SEO to help drive more relevant traffic, leads, sales, revenue, and profit for your business?

Why Should You Care About SEO?

Very specific, high-intent traffic can help bring in qualified leads to your sales funnel.

organic traffic march
Organic Search Traffic

Because Google’s algorithm is highly complex, it’s important to remember:

  • Google is looking for web pages that contain high-quality, relevant information about a searcher’s query.
  • Google determines relevance by “crawling” (reading) your site’s content and evaluating (algorithmically) whether that content is relevant to the searcher’s query, primarily based on the keywords it contains.
  • Google determines “quality” by several means, but prominent among those is still the number and quality of backlinks your webpages and website has.

Google’s algorithm is weighing additional elements to determine where your site will rank.

  • How do people engage with your site (Do they find the information they need and stay on your site, or bounce back to the search page and click on another link?)
  • How much unique content do you have (versus very “thin” low-value content or duplicate content)

There are hundreds of ranking factors Google’s algorithm considers in response to search queries, and they are constantly updating and refining their process.

Keyword Research & Keyword Targeting

The first step in a search engine optimization plan is to determine what you’re optimizing for. This means identifying the search queries people are searching for (also known as “keywords”) that you want your website to rank for in search engines like Google.

There are a few crucial factors to consider when determining the keywords you want to rank for on your website:

  • Search Volume – How many people are searching for a given keyword. 
  • Relevance – How relevant is this keyword to your prospects?
  • Competition – You need to analyze the potential costs and likelihood of success. This means understanding the relative competition for specific terms for SEO.

To summarize, you need to understand your prospective customers and what they’re likely to search for.

From there, you want to understand:

  • What are people interested in?
  • What problems do these people have that they want to be answered or solved?
  • Who are your competitors?

It would be best if you worked to understand which keywords you can conceivably rank for and where the best opportunities are.

Determining the competitors of a keyword can be a somewhat complex task. At a very high level, you need to understand:

  • How trusted and authoritative (in other words: how many links does the whole site get, and how high quality, trusted, and relevant are those linking sites?)
  • How good is their content? Do they offer a great answer to that searcher’s question?
  • How widespread and authoritative each page in that search result is (in other words: how many links does the page itself have, and how high quality, trusted, and relevant are those linking sites?)

On-Page Optimization 

Once you have your keyword list, the next step is implementing your targeted keywords into your site’s content through on-page SEO. Every webpage on your site should be targeting a core (seed, head, root) keyword.

OnPage SEO
On-Page Optimization

Here are a few critical, essential on-page elements you’ll want to understand:

Title Tags

The title tag is not your page’s primary headline; the headline you see on a web page is typically an H1 HTML element. The title tag is what you see at the very top of your browser window and is populated by your web page’s source code in a meta title tag.

The title tag is what a searcher sees in search results (SERPs) for your page. It is the “headline” in organic search results, so you also want to look at how clickable your title tag is into account.

Meta Descriptions

While the title tag effectively your search listing’s headline, the meta description is your site’s additional ad copy. You can significantly increase traffic if you have a compelling description of your page that would make folks searching likely to click.

Body Content

The body content is the big area in the center that contains most of the unique content of a web page. 

To optimize this content, its best to understand that Google has been increasingly favoring certain types of content; here are a few examples:

Through Unique Content – There is no magic number word count for a page; the Google Panda Algorithm update in particular favor longer, unique, great content.

Engagement – Google is increasingly weighting user engagement and user experience metrics more heavily in their algorithm.

Alt tags

An ALT tag is an HTML element that provides text information for an image if a user can’t view it. It also helps search engines understand what your page is about.

Avoid “over-optimization” on-page keywords; this is where people try to trick Google into ranking your page higher. 

URL Structure

Create a short, descriptive URL with a logical URL structure. Don’t try to include as many keywords as possible; it is straightforward to identify.

Also, don’t change your URLs to be more keyword-focused; this could do more harm than good. If you have to change your URL structure, use the proper (301 permanent) type of redirect.

Schema & Markup

Schema markup does not make your page appear higher in search results (currently not a ranking factor). Still, it does help search engines understand your page better and helps with structured data in the search engine result pages (SERPs) by adding rich snippets of data.

Semantic HTML
Semantic HTML markup helps crawlers find and process data.

Information Architecture & Internal Linking

Information architecture (IA) refers to how you organize the web pages/content of your website. The way you manage your website and internally link between your pages can impact how content on your site ranks (using an algorithm called PageRank).

Search engines use anchor text (the text within a link) to understand what that page is about (Google’s Penguin Algorithm will penalize you if you try to over-optimize this). You can analyze this anchor text density using specific SEO Tools like SEMRush.

When setting up your website, and adding internal links, The most important things to keep in mind are:

  • Link specific pages; if you link every page equally, no page will stand out. 
  • Keep your most crucial search pages (the pages you are using to target your most valuable keywords) “high up” in your information architecture.

Google’s algorithm is still primarily based on links; having several high-quality backlinks to your site is incredibly important in driving search traffic. 

A sustainable approach to building links focuses on more general, sustainable marketing approaches such as creating and promoting helpful content that includes specific terms you’d want to rank for and engaging in traditional PR for your business.

Common Technical SEO Issues 

Some of the common mistakes and issues that most sites face that even more minor to mid-sized businesses can benefit from being aware of:

Page Speed

Search engines increasingly emphasize having fast-loading sites for better usability; this is beneficial for search engines and your site’s conversion rates.

Mobile Friendliness

How “mobile-friendly” your site is will impact your search engine rankings on mobile devices. With most people using mobile devices, your website must work properly on all devices.

Too many redirects (301 error codes) or broken links (404 error codes) can slow down and provide a negative user experience for users. This lack of engagement will hurt your overall rankings.

Duplicate Content

Google’s Panda Algorithm was created to remove thin and duplicated content from its index. So it is vital to have great content.

Large quantities of duplicate pages make your site appear cluttered and possibly manipulative to search engines and users.

XML Sitemap

XML sitemaps can help Google and Bing find all of its content. It’s an index for all of your web pages and posts. You can set your XML sitemap in Google Search Console.

Robots.txt, NoIndex, & NoFollow

Using a Robots.txt file, you can indicate to search engines how you want them to crawl your site. If already recreated, you want to make sure this file isn’t currently blocking anything you’d like a search engine to find. You can find this file by going to: 

Noindex and Nofollow tags can be used to block content from search engines. If you are using WordPress, you can find them if you have the Yoast plugin installed on a per-page basis. These tags can also be added using HTML markup.

Technical SEO can be tough to get right and do independently; hiring an SEO expert is a worthwhile investment.

How to Track & Measure SEO Results

So once you start writing your excellent SEO content and putting all of these steps into motion, how do you track how well it’s working?

SEO Strategies
SEO Success

Here are some essential SEO metrics to focus on:

Keyword Rankings

By identifying where your site ranks for keywords, you can gauge the performance of your website. High rankings across a range of keywords are a strong indicator of organic search visibility.

But remember, your ultimate goal is to drive more relevant traffic that increases sales.

Organic Traffic

Organic traffic is an excellent indicator of the effectiveness of your SEO efforts. By tracking the organic traffic to your website, you can gauge what content is working best.

Google Analytics (the most widely used tool) is a free and easy-to-use tool to track your organic traffic.

Organic Leads & Sales

The best way to measure your search engine optimization results should be the actual leads, sales, revenue, and profit from your SEO campaigns. To achieve this tracking, Google Analytics is an excellent tool for goal tracking.

Additional SEO Considerations

For many companies, getting the technical aspects of SEO right, understanding the keywords you want to target, and having a strategy for reaching your site’s pages linked to and shared is all you need to know about SEO basics. However, some businesses might want to invest in:

International SEO – There are several benefits and trade-offs to different ranking sites in other countries and foreign languages.

Local SEO – For small businesses, getting local SEO rankings for different variations of {your location} + {your service} (e.g., “Ottawa pizza shops”) is the most valuable organic search traffic available. 


From all of this, you will want to establish an SEO strategy, work on the fundamentals by prioritizing your goals, set a budget, look over your resources, identify your best return on investment, determine which keywords to go after, create and promote your high-quality content.

Remember that the ultimate objective of any search engine optimization effort is to get more exposure and organic traffic for your company or your site’s content. 

This process at its core is to look for ways that search engine marketing can help your business and website; don’t just chase after the latest SEO buzzwords; this will hurt your overall business and rankings.


  • What is SEO?
Posted in SEO

Published on: 2022-06-01
Updated on: 2022-06-29

Avatar for Isaac Adams-Hands

Isaac Adams-Hands

Isaac Adams-Hands is the SEO Director at SEO North, a company that provides Search Engine Optimization services. Isaac has considerable expertise in Search Engine Optimization, Server Administration, and Cyber Security, which gives him a leg up as a Google Algorithm Analyst and SEO Expert.