SEO for absolute beginners

SEO for absolute beginners


Vu Nguyen
If you already know what the hell is SEO, or if you do not want to be found on the web, you can leave this article now, we have many other interesting articles not talking about SEO.

This article is "SEO for dummies". Most of the website owners I know have a vague idea about SEO, they think it's too complicated, too expensive to do; then they decide not to do it at all. I'm here to tell you that SEO is easy, SEO is compulsory, and that you can do it yourself without the help from any experts.

What is SEO?


SEO is Search Engine Optimization. Well, what the hell is Search Engine Optimization then? Important search engines are Google, Bing, and a range of local search engines such as Baidu (for China).

Search Engine Optimization, in very simple and perhaps naive words, is the things you do (without paying ads money) to:
  1. Help Search Engines find you
  2. Help people find you on Search Engines
Since Google is the major search engine in most markets now, in most cases you can refer to it as Google Engine Optimization (GEO).

Why do SEO?


For the money, of course. Seriously, do you think you just set up a website then people will automatically flock there?

If you do not want anyone to find your private secret website, SEO is not for you. I'm sorry that I wasted a few seconds of your life, but you should leave this articles and read something else.

A website is not a physical shop, people don't just walk by and walk in. If you have a website with public content, I assume you want as many people to visit your website as possible. Here are a few ways people find out your website:
  1. Via referrals (someone or some program/application introduced the website to them)
  2. Via directories (YellowPages, WhitePages, LocalBusiness listing, etc...)
  3. Via search engines (they search for things related to your website and your website was listed in the result)
For most successful websites, Search Engines bring more than 50% of the visitors that come to the site (in many cases it's more than 90%). Research showed that number 1 spot in Google captured at least 30% of all visits, nearly as much as the number of visits generated by the sites in positions 2 through 5 combined.

Sample search result on Google
“ Sample search results on Google. Can you guess which page captures the most visitors?”

Note: there are certain types of businesses that rely heavily on referrals instead of Search Engines. You may still want to consider SEO however, the users tend to trust the websites that rank higher on Search results.

How to SEO?


Before you try to Optimize for Search Engines, you should first understand Search Engines work. Well, Search Engines crawl your website content, index, rank them for keywords then blah blah...Woah, sorry, did I lose you there? If you are interested in the technical details, you can later check the information from Google themselves on how Google Search works. For now, let's forget all these technical jargons for a bit, we will get back to them later, let's try to take a more human approach.

Let's try a real life scenario:

You are: a dentist
You provide: dental services (sorry for the lack of words *_*)
You want: (potential) patients
Your problem: people don't know about you

I am: business information broker
I provide: information (I help people find what they search for)
I want: to provide trustworthy, useful information
My problem: I don't know about you (or many other businesses)

Since you want people to know about your service, you first put a sign on your door saying "Best dentist in town", then you come to tell me that you are providing dental services just like the other 10000 dentists I already know about.

Now say a customer comes to me for my service, he tells me: "My tooth hurts". My first guess would be that he needs to look for a dentist in town, so I narrowed down to a list of 500 dentists in town including you. Now I need to give the customer this list in the order that I consider most relevant to him, how do I do that?
  1. I collect as much information from you as possible (the services you offer, the certificates you claim you have etc).
  2. I collect information about you from other sources (people who know you, people who used your services etc). Obviously, I cannot treat these information sources the same, I will consider in the following order of importance:
    1. Authentic sources (Government, schools, ...)
    2. Influencers in the field you do (other already well-known doctors, hospitals, medical magazines, etc...)
    3. Random guys on the streets
Obviously, if someone I don't trust say something good about you, I will completely ignore his advice or even go as far as having doubts about what you do.

I hope the above example made sense to you, it described a real life scenario which is exactly how search engines work:
  1. You played the role of a website.
  2. I played the role of a search engine.
  3. The question "My tooth hurts" that the customer asked me is the keyword for searching. Just like a human, search engines will be smart enough to guess the intention of the customer to display relevant results.
  4. The information I collected from you are contents, media etc on your website. If you have no information at all on your website then I may not know anything about you (from your source).
  5. Other information sources are other websites that link to your website
    1. If the other website is talking about related topics such as different types of tooth issues and link to you then it's a positive signal for search engines to rank you for the relevant terms in that topic.
    2. If the other site was talking about totally unrelated topics such as gambling then link to you as a dentist then search engines may consider it a potential spam flag or at least won't highly consider it in the ranking.
    3. If the other website was known to the search engines as a spammy site, then getting mentioned on that site will probably get you a negative sign.

Sample search result for my tooth hurts
“ Sample search results on Google for the keyword `My tooth hurts`. ”

To help me find you and to rank well on my list you have to:
  1. Tell me about you (as much as possible) and tell it in a way that is easy to understand and capture information -> this is called "on-page SEO" or "on-site SEO"
  2. Have other people tell me about you -> this is called "off-site SEO" or sometimes "backlink building"
Note: a website usually has many web pages which have unique link address on the address bar. Search engines will rank each web page on your website differently.


“ In this example we see 2 different pages with 2 different addresses on the address bar. ”

Step 1 - Choosing keywords


In the above scenario, the potential customer asked for "My tooth hurts". The keyword is "My tooth hurts". Search engines will rank you per keyword, so you can be #1 for "My tooth hurts" and #100 for "Tooth pain home remedy". It's all about the relevant content on your website and what other sources talk about you. It takes a lot of work to rank well for all the keywords and you have limited resources so you need to choose the keywords that are worth ranking for and avoid:
  1. Keywords that are too competitive take longer and more resources to rank for (and may not be worth the effort)
  2. Keywords that do not generate sales/leads are not worth ranking for (i.e: #1 for "youngest dentist in town" may be nice but does not necessarily generate any sales)
Choosing the right keywords is one of the most important and complex tasks for Search Engine Optimization, I will cover this in much more details in a near future article. Do not forget to subscribe to our newsletter to get notified when I cover this topic.

Step 2 - Optimize your site content


Search engines use secret formulas to calculate the rank of each your web pages and they don't share a public list of all the ranking factors (to fight against spammers and tricksters). There are several rules of thumbs when optimizing your website content for search engines, however:
  1. Optimize for the users: forget about the search engines, ensure your site is easy to access (fast, simple navigation, etc...) and useful for the visitors. Why? You may ask. Well, first of all, it's good for your visitors. Second, it's good for you visitors (remember the goal of search engines? They need to give the users what they look for so they will do their best to serve online useful results)
  2. Resourceful and relevant: if you are a good dentist but you do not tell anyone about it then how do people know about your services? You need to publish your previous works, your research articles, your recent achievements. If you want people who need help with the keyword "My tooth hurts" you need to have content on your website describing the symptoms and possible treatment course.

Note: Badly designed websites make it difficult for visitors to navigate the site and in turn will hurt your SEO ranking as well.

A sample bad navigation site
“ A sample of a terrible website layout. ”
On-site optimization is day-to-day work. You don't do it once, you do it every single day. If you keep an active blog/news section (and we recommend that you do), you need to ensure you check and optimize your content each time you post new content on your website as well. There are many things to check such as ensuring the content to content enough hints for search engines to rank you for the keywords you target but not so much that can be considered spammy. You also need to add images, videos, graphic elements etc to keep the content interesting for your website readers. It's a time-consuming but rewarding task that you can do yourself or ask someone in your company to do it.


Sample rich media content
“ Using images in your content makes it more interesting to read and encourages users to stay longer on your page. ”

For most business owners, especially the SME owners with limited time and no access to in-house editors and designers, Nilead offers Website Management Services that help you keep your website active and optimized for Search Engines.

Step 3 - Tell the world about your website


How do people know about you without you telling them? You cannot simply sit and wait for people to come to your website, you need to actively go to other websites to put links back to your site:
  1. You can pay: Obviously, the easiest way is to pay people to link back to you. While search engines do not allow paying for links in some cases, there are perfectly legitimate ways to do so. For example, to promote our Website design services I could go to Smashing Magazine to ask them to do a Sponsored Post for us. Depending on your industry, this is one of the easiest and quickest ways to get traffic both direct and in-direct.
  2. You can guest post: There are many websites such as medium.com that allow you to post your own content with links back to your site (certain restrictions will apply). You spend the time (and money) to write interesting pieces of articles to post on these websites in hope that people will go to your websites afterward.
  3. You can offer something useful: freebies, useful information may encourage people to talk about you and link back to you on their websites, blogs, social media posts,...etc. This is actually the best way (but also the most difficult) to generate backlinks to your website and is sometimes called "Merit Based Back Links".
This article is by no mean a complete guide to SEO, for that there are books and books and online resources out there to help you. It's a very basic introduction to help you get started with SEO. While it may sound complicated, it's do-able by everyone (my mom can do it, you can do it), there are only 2 things you need to care about:
  1. Provide useful resources on your website (written content is preferred but images and videos etc also help)
  2. Have other websites link to you (guest posts, merit links)
Note: Remember I mentioned above that Google and other Search Engines can penalize your ranking if you have backlinks from untrusted, spammy sources? They will also penalize you for link-scheme. Be aware of this when you work with agencies that provide SEO services as many tend to employ this link building tactic which usually provide faster result (and will potentially get you banned from search engines).

SEO Terms in this article:
  1. Traffic: in SEO, traffic usually refers to the visitors coming to your website.
  2. Conversion rate: the percentage of website visitors who take the desired action.
  3. Backlinks: an incoming hyperlink from one web page to another website.
  4. Merit links: incoming link from another web page genuinely earned by virtue of the usefulness of your web page.
Advanced SEO resources:
  1. Complete SEO for beginners Guide from MOZ
  2. Learn SEO with smart internet marketing strategies: a good book to get your started with SEO
  3. Search quality evaluator guidelines from Google
  4. The ultimate content strategy for your website by Portent

about the author


Vu Nguyen
Vu Nguyen
Vu Nguyen is an entrepreneur, a developer, and a founder of nilead.com. While his love is in the backend website development work, his experience covers eCommerce (being both a real online store owner and a developer), Search Engine Optimization, UX Design and Content Strategy.

Since 2005, Vu Nguyen has led and directed UX design, full-stack development teams on projects large and small for corporations, start-ups, individuals and more. He was involved in every task of each project, from idea to concept and vision, prototype, detailed design, build and deployment.

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