10 min read

What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?

What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?

You can Google. A BUNCH of stuff. Or you can read this and get the full picture of everything SEO-related.

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So, What is SEO?

SEO refers to the process of optimizing your online presence for search engine performance.

What makes SEO testing so unique is that it is done in a live environment, which makes it more difficult.

SEO progress requires time to pass to generate statistically relevant results. This can take up to 3-6 months. SEO is not an instant gratification discipline.

You need wisdom and experience to understand the data. The data is not wisdom. Professionals outperform amateurs.

SEO is not cheap.

There are three variables for SEO services:

1. Quality

2. Speed

3. Fee

You want SEO that works. It takes a solid investment and it takes time. But it does work, and all of the traffic you earn is yours to keep.


The Customer Journey

Interest- Aware of Need

Search- Clients using digital media to research options

Research- reviews, product specs, price, brand, expertise, authority and trust

Purchase- online, phone, brick and mortar


EAT refers to Expertise, Authority and Trust

Expertise, Authority and Trust are CORE Goals


Your Money Your Life - News, Government, Law, Finance, Shopping, Pricing, Health, Safety

  • Google gives specific importance to these topics and trust level needs to be high
  • People must believe you in order for you to perform in this segment

Least Imperfect and Ranking Curves

Top ranking site goes to site that is least imperfect

No site is perfect = impossible

Low End of SD= unoptimized sites

High End of SD= overoptimized Sites

Top Ranking= Natural, within Standard Deviation, not over or under optimized

Page Rank

PageRank system is a point system - not a ranking. Points can be in the millions.

People linking to you gains points. Internal linking can also generate points but can dilute equity.

Best Practice- link to Homepage for brand name, then link to subpages within the site by KW. Can pass rank.

Pages located furthest away from the homepage lose the most equity.

Pagerank decay = distance within the site from the homepage matters.


Search Engine (SE) Ranking

3 major areas impact SER

1.       Search Engine- is not your friend. Public companies generate revenue by staying on a property and clicking on ads. This means impartial, vague answers and constantly changing. There are as many as 3,000 algorithm adjustments per year.

2.       The Competition- also not your friend. It wants your traffic and is constantly changing.

3.       Your own website- On Page factors, Off Page Factors, Rankbrain Factors, Production Schedules, Website Performance, Content, Term Ambiguity, Mobile Friendly, Local Presence, Jargon (Coke v Soda v Pop), Engagement Objects.

Google wants to reward organic sites because they are the best and deliver the best experience to their “customers,” who are the people doing the searching.


Site Structure- should be able to start at the home page and get to the entire site. If you cannot do this, then the page does not matter to SE. Do not orphan pages.

Google uses Mobile First Indexing- sites must be developed in Mobile format for SE crawl.

Head Section- page title, description, canonicals, misc tags.

Body Section- section users usually spend their time in. Heading, body, image.

Page Layouts- Use responsive design.

Design for Mobile first- Mobile layout is what Google uses to interpret web design; if elements do not appear on mobile Google will not see them.

Use single URL for content and let CSS handle rendering- do not make multiple entities.

Always use compressed images- WEBP.

If on Safari, use compressed JPEGs.

TIP: Improper images are biggest speed suck out there


Navigation should be short and sweet on mobile.

Start off with major themes then drill down to specifics. 

ID major pages, then secondary pages, then third pages, so on until four deep max. Create a map.

Major pages should be major SERP query answers, then secondary pages for longer tail queries.


Not every page on every site is spidered every day.

Some subpages might not be spidered every month. Crawl budget is important.

Spider does not determine if a page is worthy of ranking, it just determines if you are breaking Google’s rules. It can palace you in index, if you have a quality property. Spiders do not like errors. There can be a gradual increase in distance between crawls if a site does not update content. 

TIP: No need to spider if nothing has changed


On Page Optimization is about 3 things:

  1. Repetition
  2. Emphasis
  3. Arrangement

Establish a theme. Make sure the SE knows what you are about.

Content should succinctly and descriptively answer as many user queries as possible.


Singular and Plural terms must be mixed together on the page

Write in natural language- to the consumer and not to the SE

Make sure you stay in the right topical universe

Use related phrases and keyword families: for instance — Smile, Smiled, Smiling

Query Intent

Think about intent, which will differ and shape your content.


Shopping Sites- Shorter, fewer words, smaller images, faster load, more drilldown

Research Sites- Longer, fewer images, bigger images, slower load, less drilldown

3 Types of Queries

  1. Informational- queries to gain knowledge- “What is…”
  2. Navigational- queries to locate specific web property; directories
  3. Transactional- queries to take a specific link to purchase a product; acquire products

Think about whether you want your site visitors to TAKE ACTION or simply COLLECT INFORMATION. 

TIP: Sales and marketing intersect as you shape SEO strategies.

Website architecture changes, competition profiles change constantly, and the algorithm changes often requiring constant SEO performance evaluations.

Tips for Your Title Tag

  • Clickable and shown in SERP
  • Most SE truncate and 6-12 words is ideal
  • 62-70 char on desktop, 110 on mobile
  • Be unique for every page
  • Google will often re-write your title for SERP based on query AI

Be aware of what competition is doing. If the competition has fewer words and all performing pages have fewer words, take the cue.

Tips for Your Meta Description (MD)

  • Also shown in SERP
  • Should be between 160-165 characters and read naturally, which enhances CTR
  • Can use a CTA in your meta description to encourage action
  • Use the KW toward the beginning
  • Use KW max of two times

KW in title must also be shown in MD. If MD does not have the same KW as in the query, Google may provide content pulled from the page as a better alternative.

Try to make sure every word in the title is repeated in the description tag. This provides a higher probability of displaying in SERP.

Use complete sentences and natural language. Relay what to expect from the page.

Tips for Your Headings

  • H1-H4, +
  • This is a legacy tactic, but still important
  • Be hierarchical in sequence
  • Should contain KW phrases
  • Should read like a headline with 2-5 words
  • Do not use for style purposes- use CSS for this instead

Tips for Your Images

  • People like pictures
  • Use brief and descriptive filenames and alt attributes
  • Remember, use a maximum of 12 words on alt tag
  • ALWAYS compress your images- helps with site speed

Get original images whenever possible. Unique images are better than stock. If using stock photos, alter them in some way to make them unique.

Alt Tags on images are also important for ADA compliance. If descriptions of an image do not match the image, it is a poor experience for individuals who are using screen readers.  Images should contain dimension information

Tips for Your Links

  • Anchor text is more important than URL
  • Links must be descriptive of the target page and fulfill the promise of the link
  • Don’t go crazy with links per page- 100 max, but fewer preferred

Tip: Advertisement links should have a “Sponsored” attribute.

Investigate more: watch this video on SEO Anchor Text & Linking

Tips for the Body

  • Address the needs of the reader
  • KW should be prominent but not stuffed
  • Linear distribution is important
  • Use variants of the primary words

Target 8th grade reading level for general content. Higher for technical or specific content.

HTML- Best Practices

Load files in sections. First load above the fold JS and CSS, then delay load the rest of the page JS and CSS. It may be better to load inline JS/CSS for the top of the page.


Remember, user intent drives SEO. If your site can become one that answers all of the questions of your ideal client persona (ICP), you will improve your search ranking. Answering all of the questions matches the goal of Google providing users with easy and fast access to the content you want. All of the optimization tactics in the world won’t replace the value of good content on your website to drive organic traffic.

  • ID the searcher question or problem to solve
  • Understand who you are trying to sell or attract
  • Until you ID target audience you cannot determine KW, content, style, reading level, content gaps or initial SEO implementation plans

Related: Read Segment Your Audience — Demographics


  • Is it authoritative?
  • Is it relevant?
  • Does it satisfy EAT
  • Is it linkable?
  • Is it helpful?
  • Is it the BEST content of its kind?
  • Does it encourage the return of the user?
  • Is it substantial but not excessive?
  • Does it add original value or simply rewrite existing?
  • Is it written for humans?

Google picks up on AI-generated content and actively searches for plagiarism and duplicate content.

Curious about that claim? Read Does AI Content Work for SEO?

There are plenty of ways to improve writing for search, and here is a handy SEO writer checklist to evaluate website copy:


  • The H1 has the tier 1 keyword.
  • The H2s all include tier 2 keywords (exactly and, for key phrases, in exact order).
  • Text is broken up into short paragraphs of 3-5 sentences each.
  • There are at least 2-3 internal links, if available.
  • There are at least 2-3 external links to non-competitive, external sources.
  • All of the links work.
  • Link text is at least two words and matches the destination content.
  • All SEO keywords are present.
  • SEO keywords are distributed evenly through the text and make sense.
  • The tier 1 keyword is present in the first paragraph text.
  • At least one tier 2 keyword is in the first paragraph text.
  • The meta-description includes the tier 1 keyword, one or more tier 2 keywords and a CTA.
  • There is a succinct, coherent narrative flow to the document.
  • There is enough substance to make this a valuable document to readers.
  • The tone is good.
  • The tenses match.
  • The pronouns are correct and do not change.
  • All technical information is accurate.
  • There is some wit and conversationality.

Watch the Video: How to Edit Copywriting (Your Own or Others’)


Dwell Time

  • Time spent on page clicked on by SERP
  • Short dwell time indicates dissatisfaction
  • Have some kind of engaging content — maybe a video — above the fold to increase dwell time

Content Length

  • There is no perfect content length
  • Depends on what is being rewarded for the KW and environment
  • ID what is performing and shoot for a range


  • Voice and style are important
  • Active voice is always better than passive voice
  • Speak with confidence and make the right claims: tell visitors you can help them or satisfy their need
  • Do not assume audience knows your terminology- break down terms, acronyms, and define phrases
  • Review the personas, assessing what works, and continue to refine

Content Tips

  • You can always repurpose existing content to create fresh, optimized copy for your blog of website
  • Rotate messaging so you cover keywords well but don’t oversaturate
  • Change the format of your content, considering infographics or videos


Tips on Keyword Research

  • The search position of a given site may exaggerate or diminish position based on prior search history and geography
  • Google uses the “intent” of the query and not just keyword
  • Associated KW and prior search history help paint a picture for Google/Search Engines
  • A keyword is defined by the company it keeps: use synonyms and variants
  • Remember, a KW is used in a header or paragraph; a topic is used throughout the page
  • People have learned to use long tail KW in searching - it’s time to get more specific
  • Standard KW search starts with an ID of heavy hitters or targets
  • Always make KWs suitable for personas- Soda v Pop, etc.
  • Build long-tail KW lists

Keyword research should inform keyword campaigns, and is an act of ongoing analysis and implementation.

Watch the Video: How to Create an SEO Keyword List

Content Gap Analysis

  • Can take up to months to do properly
  • Define the target
  • Know your KPI KW, ROI KW, CPC KW and persona / community KWs; match them to competition and own the content
  • ID what your competition is doing in every area and improve on it
  • Silo/Theme/Hierarchy your content that informs, educates or entertains the reader
  • Earn testimonials and add them when possible
  • Become Subject Matter Experts (SME) on your area of the market - learn secondaries

Core Web Vitals

Core Web Vitals (CWV) are a technical aspect of SEO

The basics have to do with the following:

  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) - Load Time
  • First Input Delay (FID) - When can users interact with the page? Good <100ms, NI is <300ms, Poor is over 300ms
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) - Are elements on the page stable? 
  • Good UX. Measures format changes after initial rendering. If bad, it can create bad UX and misclicks, frustration, etc.

Related: Read an Overview of Technical SEO


There are all types of strategies around linking. This is an area where you should really watch out for black hat practices, which are bad and represent major risks to your domain authority and site health.

The basics: 

  • Not all backlinks are good
  • Pay attention to the link profile. Determine if inbound links are poison. Disavow as necessary.
  • Links are important but not the most important
  • Links are used to transfer page rank
  • Internal links move PR from one page to another
  • Links are votes- website popularity- provide unique and relevant content on subject matter- link to other experts.
  • DO NOT use link farms or pay for links
  • Review link profile often and maintain
  • Links are used to show a network presence in the industry. Focus on non-competitors that are relevant.
  • Outbound links do not mean people will leave your page- bigger picture- fallacy
  • Problem with no outbound links is it shows you are not an expert
  • Signal of trust for Google- if you don’t link to trustworthy Google will not see you as trustworthy
  • *Not really plausible for e-commerce sites
  • Links should be within niche
  • Google does not expect your website to be a dead end- not participating in internet
  • Place links as high in the content piece as possible
  • 50 links from 1 domain is not better than some good links from a few domains
  • Use links for social media distribution
  • Go for quality not quantity
  • Variety is a good indicator of influence- need .edu, .gov, .com, etc
  • Avoid excessive reciprocal links- bad indicator- shows possible collusion

There are 3 types of links:

  1. Inbound
  2. Outbound
  3. Internal

Tips About Your Links: 

  • Engage in regular link pruning
  • Disavow bad links
  • Review the source of the link to verify prior to removing
  • Perpetual process
  • Inbound links should match industry
  • Be careful- do not cut good links- will damage your ranking
  • It takes time

Related: Read 6 Link Building Strategies That Actually Work (And Don’t Violate Google Guidelines)


What is siloing? 

A form of organization that makes it easier for Search Engines to review your site

  • Better for UX
  • If you link every page to every page you have chaos
  • Vertical hierarchical structure important

Siloing Rules

  • It is a link within the ecosystem - keep it theme oriented
  • Do not dilute page rank by linking to unrelated pages
  • Only link when necessary for UX- do not create unnecessary links

15 steps to Silo

1.       Have a good idea of what the website is about

2.       Perform basic and advanced KW search

3.       ID personas and expand KW lists

4.       Prepare a comprehensive semi-final KW list

5.       Select high ROI, CPC, KPI and Brand KW

6.       ID Unicorn posts and articles and strengthen associated words

7.       Perform a content gap analysis

8.       Based on CGA- develop next-to-final KW list

9.       Build content to cover gaps

10.   Revise existing content to fit KW lists and optimal page structures

11.   Analyze what Google thinks through rank changes

12.   Select target landing pages- starting points

13.   Link theme pages together

14.   Draw a hierarchy map for site

15.   Complete

Inspo source for this was Bruce Clay - check it out.


We briefly mentioned black hat above, and that’s a real thing. There are bad actors and malicious strategies in play that attempt to game the system. Google makes every effort to reduce these, but it’s important that you don’t engage in them, either inadvertently or on purpose. The short term yield could have devastating long-term consequences.

Solid SEO ethics look like this:

  • No intentional harm or misleading
  • Do not violate published SE rules
  • Do not violate any laws
  • No false representation of client content
  • Do not copy other people's work
  • No misrepresenting of your abilities / credentials
  • Do not set unreasonable client expectations
  • Have an internal and external dispute resolution process

SEO Code of Conduct

  • Do not deceive the SE
  • Do not serve one set of content to SE and another to user
  • No multiple pages with identical or nearly identical content for the purpose of influencing SE
  • No auto-generated pages or pages of little value
  • Do not knowingly participate in link farms
  • Do not use tricks or gimmicks

Inspo source for this was also Bruce Clay - check it out.

About Hire a Writer

We are two teams with one mission: to create visibility for deserving domains on the internet.

This is achieved through thoughtful, expertly executed SEO strategies and link building activities.

We want you to win… the right way.

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