Get Back to the Basics of SEO

When was the last time you read an article or tutorial from an SEO insider? They can be pretty brutal. Like this one.

Structured data and machine learning. I’ll give you a minute to digest that.

To be clear, I love the experts at Moz, Search Engine Land and other SEO sites. But I’m a practitioner, and for most businesses, those sites don’t matter. Because if you don’t get the basics of SEO right, you don’t have to bother with the deeper stuff. Without those building blocks, even the best structured data and perfectly-built XML sitemap won’t do much for your website.

So to succeed in SEO, get back to basics. They’re simple and intuitive, and you don’t even have to be a coder to follow them. 

If you’re in charge of a small business and are struggling online, read on to get back to the basics of SEO. The technical details can come into play later.

Everything Starts and Ends With Your Audience

Search engine optimization is really audience optimization. If you start with that, it highlights how much the fundamentals matter.

Google’s wants to show users the most relevant content based on what they search for. If users start finding search results irrelevant, they’ll turn elsewhere. Google uses hundreds of factors to determine its rankings. But they all come back to relevance and user-friendliness. Remember that.

Keyword Research to Determine Audience Intent

Keyword research is essential to SEO success. It helps you clarify your direction and the keywords and phrases you need to focus on. It can also get pretty complex.

Don’t get confused by things like competitiveness index or commercial intent (forget I mentioned them). Instead, go back to the basics of SEO: using keyword research to determine what your audience wants and how they’ll search for it. Google’s free keyword planner can even help you find related keywords based on phrases you enter.

The takeaway: SEO is impossible without considering your audience. If you know what type of content they’re interested in and how they search for it, you know where to focus your efforts.

The Growing Importance of (Relevant) Content

SEO is so important, it spawned content marketing as an entire subcategory of digital marketing. As the content has become more complex, it’s become more prominent, too.

Again, SEO ranking factors don’t matter much. What matters is they’re designed to elevate content that is unique, relevant, credible and well-liked. If your content fills those needs, you’re in good shape.

Still, let’s dig in a little more to see what exactly that actually means.

The Truth Behind RankBrain

RankBrain is one of those terms that confuses non-SEO experts. Once you hear things like core algorithm and machine learning, it’s easy to turn away.

RankBrain provides context to searches, ensuring that search results are relevant, even if they don’t match an exact search term. You might search for get food, and the search query goes to restaurant instead. Context clues that get smarter as users search over time tell Google to go beyond identical keywords and interpret what you mean.

But wait, there’s more (How’s my infomercial voice?)! Google uses past search results to predict what content users might click on. It also uses interactions with search results to determine relevance.

That’s as technical as I’ll get, I promise. Keyword research is fine, but content relevance matters more. Rather than trying to match an exact keyword, Google’s emphasis is on content your audience actually wants to read.

Sharing is Still Caring in SEO

Remember those ranking factors? You don’t have to memorize them, but one stands out: sharing. The single most important factor in where you rank is who and how many other websites link to you.

But consider how you get those links. If they come from questionable pages, they’ll hurt you. Relevance matters. And in SEO, how many people share your content doesn’t just matter, it’s essential.

How do you get people to share? Produce good content. The more relevant, credible and unique it is, the more will people share it and link to it. You need quality content to succeed.

The Takeaway: Learn about your audience and build content they actually want to read, interact with and share. 

What Does Your Content Look Like on Results Pages?


So far, it’s been all about you. Let’s turn that around for a second.

Say your audience types in a keyword relevant to your business. Lo and behold, your page shows up in the search results. What does it actually look like? If your initial impression isn’t right, your audience will click something else.

That’s why I want to bring up metadata for a second. Within a search engine results page (SERP), users see a headline, short description and the link to the page you’re ranking for. Optimize these for a better shot of getting that click:

  • Your page title. It’s the headline of the search result, so make sure it’s short enough to fit and accurately describes your content.
  • Your meta description. It’s the short description that shows as preview text. If you leave it blank, the first few lines of your content automatically populate. Instead, sum up the page in a sentence or two.
  • Your link URL. Google usually shows your website. Shorter is better—ideally with a keyword, too.

Bonus points: If you have the time and expertise, dig into the various types of content on your website, and the ways Google might feature them.

The Takeaway: Always take it back to your audience. If you know what they see when your content displays, you can optimize it for them. 

Accounting for SEO Trends

SEO is ever-changing, which is why managing it is so daunting for busy marketers and entrepreneurs. SEO trends are constantly popping up and need to be accounted for, and juggling multiple responsibilities is a challenge. Heck, Google releases multiple algorithm updates every year!

Luckily, many new developments are intuitive and consistent with current marketing issues. Like these:

  • Google is prioritizing how pages look on mobile devices, as more users browse on smartphones and tablets.
  • Google is adjusting to natural language search queries, thanks to voice assistants like Siri and Alexa.
  • Google is leveraging machine learning to figure out user intent, rather than just matching keywords.

Each makes sense. But they also tend to be presented in technical terms. Don’t get hung up on that. Try thinking in terms of general internet trends, which usually apply to SEO, too. That might just mean having a website that wasn’t built in 2005, but has undergone some updates since then.

The Takeaway: Most SEO trends are intuitive. Examine your own search behavior and start drawing conclusions. Then, use surface-level research to confirm (or reject) your conclusions and adjust accordingly. 

Master the SEO Basics

SEO is complex, but you don’t need an advanced degree to build a modern, search engine-optimized website. Knowing the basics of SEO is half the battle in achieving success. That means:

  • Building your entire audience with their needs in mind.
  • Focusing on quality content that’s relevant, specific and unique to your audience.
  • Understanding what that content looks like to your audience.
  • Continually improving your website to account for how users interact with the internet.

Sounds simple, right? It’ll take time and plenty of effort, but SEO is a realistic goal for even the smallest marketing teams. Get your SEO basics in shape for business success, and grow to incorporate more complex strategies.

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