Search Engine Optimization (SEO): Getting Started

Tuesday, February 13th
Content Manager

Mark Wilson

You’ve heard about Search Engine Optimization (SEO), but what are you doing about it for your business?

What you don’t know can hurt you in SEO, which means that any business that relies on its digital presence needs to have a strategy for standing out in online searches.

What’s your plan? Don’t have one? That’s ok, that’s what this article is here for.

At Leadflask, we grow brands. SEO is one of the ways we do that, and we’ve found success by following codified best practices with our clients and their SEO efforts.

Even if you’re a team of one, there’s a lot you can do to affect your digital presence. So let’s get started!

What is SEO?

SEO, or search engine optimization, is a term to describe a variety of strategies related to ranking in search results in Google, Bing and similar search engines.

When you type in a query to a search engine, it has a complicated series of processes for selecting which results you see. Showing up as the top rank for a popular search can mean getting hundreds of thousands in traffic every year.

Other times, you may have the top search results, but it’s for a query that has extremely low volume. These queries might only bring you 5-10 website clicks per month, even as the “best” result.

The algorithms for Google, Bing and others are constantly making adjustments to try to produce better results for users. Your rankings are rarely static, but will shift subtly day-to-day as these algorithms learn about your site and cater its content to users who might find it valuable.

Understanding Search Engines

Search engine algorithms can be incredibly complicated, but understanding the basics of how they work doesn’t require a degree in data analytics.

There are certain things any search engine crawler will do, including:

  1. Check to ensure a site or page can be indexed on its search results. It’s possible, for example, to “hide” pages from search results.
  2. They’ll read the page elements, including general site structure, visual elements, and any text.
  3. Special emphasis will be placed on specific text elements such as the page’s title, and any headers on the page that break the page into sections.
  4. Beyond the initial crawl, Google will monitor user interactions with your site. How often do they click on your page over another similar page? How long do they stay on your site once they visit? Do they click on multiple pages or just visit one page? These relate to how they’ll rank your site over time.

So optimizing for search engine rankings is to optimize for each of those listed above. We’ll talk about how to do that below.

Paid Digital Advertising (PPC) vs. SEO

One common mistake people make is thinking that everything that shows up on a Google results page is related to SEO.

If you search “pizza near me” you’ll get numerous results, but the top ones are likely to have that little “Sponsored” or “Ad” copy next to them. These are paid placements.

Paid, or pay-per-click (PPC) advertising is different from SEO. Your site isn’t paying for results on search engines. Those results are related to the quality and character of the site itself. This is what SEO deals with.

Any paid placements - and there are many on nearly any search engine - follow a different set of standards for ranking. The two should be treated separately, though many businesses will want strategies for both.


Search Engine Marketing, or SEM, is also related to SEO. It’s a larger category that includes both SEO and PPC advertising.

It’s worth exploring both for your brand, but the strategies for these two sides can be quite different. This article focuses on SEO only, but paid advertising can be another valuable way to build your brand and generate revenue.

What Makes SEO Important?

You probably already know SEO is important. What people sometimes miss, though, is the sheer scale of what good SEO can do for a company.

We talked above about ranking highly for a search query, and how that leads to traffic. Do this enough times with enough queries, and it can mean millions in traffic every month for your site! 

This translates directly to your business prospects in selling products, services, or in attracting advertisers and partners to your site.

The other important aspect of SEO is this: you own your website and don’t have to pay for search results like with PPC advertising.

Paid ads can get expensive in a hurry. But if your website can rank highly for key search terms, you can generate a ton of revenue for very little cost.

The downside is that SEO takes longer to succeed initially than paid placements, which is why many business owners lack the patience to follow through on good SEO strategies. The ones who do, however, are those with the largest potential growth prospects for their companies.

SEO Basics: Showing Up in Searches

For a moment, let’s forget about competing with the largest brands for search engine results. We need to take care of the basics first.

In order to rank for anything, your site needs to be indexable by search engines. This means that it has the potential to be listed in search results.

This is the default for most websites, including amateur site builders like Wix or Squarespace, as well as more sophisticated tools used by professional developers.

Importantly, not every page should be indexable. You might not want page 23 of your blog results to take away from traffic to your main blog page, for example, so only the “root” URL (in this case, should be indexable.

Beyond that, on-page SEO matters as well, but we’ll discuss that in more detail below when we cover planning your SEO strategy.

Should I Care About Anything Other Than Google Ranks?

Google is the leader in search results by a country mile, at least in most parts of the world. Does this mean you should ignore rankings on other search engines?

On the one hand, no, you shouldn’t. Yahoo, Bing, DuckDuckGo and others might still represent less traffic than Google to your site. But if those platforms combined account for, say, 20% of your overall traffic, that is a significant portion.

On the other hand, best SEO practices for Google are generally best SEO practices for other search engines as well. The focus frankly shouldn’t be on a particular search engine, but on practices that ensure site quality regardless of search engine.

Enhancing SEO Offline

It might surprise you to hear that SEO efforts can extend offline as well. But it’s true.

It relates to the idea that all traffic to your site improves SEO, because it’s teaching search engines several things:

  1. Your brand and web content is interesting to certain people.
  2. If you’re a local company, creating influxes of traffic in a particular region can help search engines determine where you’re located.
  3. Traffic begets more traffic, so a site or page is more likely to climb search rankings when traffic increases from any source.

How can you do this? There are tons of ways. It just requires a little creativity. Here are a few ideas:

  • Include QR Codes to deals or information on physical ads or informational items. Refrigerator magnets, mailed items, trade show pamphlets, etc.
  • Billboards pointing to your homepage or a specific page on the site.
  • Radio or TV commercials that prompt a viewer to visit your site.

While this might not be the core of your SEO strategy, particularly for companies with a sizable in-person presence, this can help to grow your website over time.

Planning SEO for Your Site

Ok, so you know what SEO is and isn’t, and some basics of what to do. To this point, though, we haven’t talked about creating a specific plan for SEO.

Let’s fix that. Below is an overview of a typical process for planning SEO for a brand or website.

Topic Selection

What is your site about? You undoubtedly have core products and services. Various informational, entertainment and/or educational topics related to products and services exist.

These are the topics you’ll want to cover in detail on your site. This means thoroughly explaining the concepts on top-level navigation pages, and taking deeper dives into related sub-topics on ancillary pages and media like blogs, videos, or pages dedicated to a specific sub-topic.

You’re building a network of related topics that revolve around 2-3 core topics that define your site. The better you define these topics, the easier time you’ll have.

Keyword Research

Keywords are individual words, or sometimes short phrases, related to a specific topic. Largely, the topics that you selected above will dictate what your keywords are.

However, keywords are also about user intent. If you have a home improvement business, do your potential customers search for “new roof” or “roofing companies near me” or any one of 100 other permutations of that idea? Or do they use the word “company” or “contractor” more often?

There’s a correct answer to each of those, but you won’t know what it is without keyword research.

A full dive into how to research keywords is beyond the scope of this article, but our article on content marketing goes into greater detail on some techniques you can explore.

Content Creation

Now comes the fun part: making content that focuses on your core topics, and with emphasis on your chosen keywords.

This doesn’t mean simply spamming the keyword. Your content needs to be interesting and useful to visitors. Otherwise, they’ll click off of your site and search engines will take notice of this.

There are a couple solid ways to ensure you have interesting content:

  1. Quickly distill a topic to its most important elements, to clear up any confusion in the visitor to your site.
  2. Provide a thorough, comprehensive analysis of a topic to fully educate the visitor.

This could be done through video, podcasts, articles like this one, eBooks, infographics, social media posts and more.

Technical Optimization

This is a rabbit hole that’s a bit too deep to delve into fully. But semantic HTML is a key phrase here, corresponding to how your page is laid out for search engines.

That means you need a descriptive page title, relevant sub-headers on the page that utilize HTML markup (H2 for Heading-2, for example, denoting a sub-topic that relates to your H1, which is usually the page’s title).

The visual layout also relates to how search crawlers read the page and how intuitively a user can navigate the page. This sort of optimization can lead to SEO success, because it relates to how long visitors will be willing to stay on your site. This directly leads to positive results with search engines.

Measuring and Reporting

Unless you set prior benchmarks and collect data regularly, you’ll have no sense of progress or any idea of what’s working, what isn’t, and how to improve your SEO strategies.

This can be remedied with regular reporting, but it’s equally important to collect the right kinds of data, the type that actually provides actionable insights. This could be total traffic, traffic to specific pages, number of “conversions” (usually defined as a particular action like a purchase or subscription), or growth within a particular demographic, among many other data points that can be collected and analyzed.

RELATED: Digital Analytics 101: Types of Data and Their Use

Do I Need an Agency, Employee or Contractor for SEO?

Whether or not you need an in-house SEO specialist, freelancer, or agency managing your SEO depends on your business goals.

It really can be a full-time job when you approach SEO holistically and make it a core part of your business strategy. Some larger companies and agencies have numerous experts devoted to different aspects of SEO.

To get started, you probably only need someone who’s versed in websites enough to make sure you’re avoiding the worst mistakes. You’ll eventually start to see some traffic for those searching for your brand name, and related searches.

However, if you want to consistently compete for search rankings in competitive industries, you’ll need to devote significant resources to it. This can mean time, money and staffing.

Beyond the Basics: Advanced SEO

We’re going to cover a few areas that go beyond basic SEO strategy below. Importantly, you don’t need to worry about these things on day 1 of a website launch.

However, they are additional steps that reap rewards for those who understand how they relate to overall site quality, and execute strategies to improve each area.


In brief, backlinks are links to your site from external sites. More of them is (usually) a good thing, unless you’re purchasing backlinks, which is frowned upon and can damage your site.

Building links to your site organically is worth pursuing though, and can increase your perceived authority on a topic in the eyes of search engines.

Schema Markup

Every website has metadata that isn’t publicly viewable but can be crawled and analyzed by search engines. One type of this structured data is schema markup.

This metadata can give search engines additional information about your site - where it’s located, what industry it’s in, and so on - that can be used to aid search rankings.

Generally, you’ll need a web developer who knows what they’re doing to insert schema markup on a site. Trying to do so without these skills can cause issues.

Internal Linking

Internal linking is how you interconnect topics and ideas on your site. Thoughtful internal linking can teach search engines which pages all cover related topics to one another, which can help one or more of them rank for related search queries.

Having a plan for internal linking, and executing it across hundreds or sometimes even thousands of pages, isn’t easy. It requires planning and curation as your site grows.

SERPs: Snippets, FAQs and Other Content

Search Engine Results Pages, or SERPs, are any result that a search engine displays.

We talked earlier about PPC vs. SEO, and how paid placements 

If you type a query into Google these days, you could see one of several types of SERPs:

  • Paid search ads
  • Shopping listings
  • “Google Guarantee” business listings within an industry
  • Google Business pages, which appear as sort of a digital business card with basic company information
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • A “quick answer” snippet at the top that attempts to answer a question without you needing to click through to a webpage.
  • A local map showing nearby options for businesses, with phone numbers and addresses.
  • Organic results that are ranked by Google according to SEO principles of its algorithm.

Marketing isn’t just about organic results, which is usually what we focus on when we talk about SEO. It can be about ALL of these things.

There are separate strategies to go after these different types of SERPs.

Not all of them will be relevant to every business, but at least a few of them should be relevant to any brand that does business or engages with people online.

Black Hat Tactics: What to Avoid

We’ve talked about strategies to consider here, but there are also “black hat” strategies to avoid.

Some techniques are considered unethical and search engines have knowingly cracked down on these strategies, to dissuade people from using them on their websites.

Importantly, search engines aren’t legislative entities, so a lot of black hat tactics are not technically illegal. But you risk losing your search ranks, if these tactics are discovered. And just as bad, most black hat tactics are considered taboo because they mislead the user in some way. So utilizing them

If you come across a tactic that seems like it may be a bit shady, it’s best to research it before implementing it. And if you’d like to read up on some common black hat tactics to avoid, see our article below.

ALSO READ: Black Hat SEO Techniques: How to Identify and Avoid Them

SEO is a Process

None of this happens quickly. In fact, a solid, consistently successful SEO strategy is one of the harder things to do as a digital company.

It requires consistent effort over years of work. Yes, you’ll see some fruits of your labor before then, but to truly embrace SEO is to make it a habitual part of your business practices.

Stated differently, if it’s something you consider “done” at some point, you’re not doing it right. Successful SEO is not a state of completion. It’s an ongoing process.

Embracing that mentality is the key to understanding how and why good SEO can be the cornerstone of a strong digital brand.

Additional Resources

Let's set up a call