March 29

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Fundamentals

Like many things about online marketing, the SEO rules and best practices never stop changing.

For good reasons. An ever-growing army of people invest countless hours trying to get their pages (or clients’ pages) at the top of search engine results.

Some care if they are doing it the “right way.” Many do not.

Because of this, actions that are rewarded one day are penalized the next.

Here’s a cautionary tale:

Once upon a time, Google engineers believed that if a web page was linked to by many other pages, that must be a sign that the content on that page was good.

Which inevitably created an industry of websites that would link to any page you asked them to. For a fee.

To the credit of the decision-makers at Google, they realized their algorithm had been gamed.

And overnight, backlinks went from mostly good to mostly bad.

I know people whose legitimate businesses went under because of shady SEO moves. When Google caught up to them, their sites were effectively banished from the Internet.

Here’s some good news:

At the core of all SEO fads is a short list of things that have always, and I believe will always, help your pages rank higher in search engine results.

Take care of these things, or hire someone to do ONLY these things, before spending a dime on an SEO expert who promises extreme results. SEO experts exist, but most of them will take your money for doing the simple moves covered here.

Note: I’m using Search Engine and Google interchangeably here. Not to disrespect Yahoo, Bing, DuckDuckGo, Baidu, or [your favorite search engine], but the reality is about 9 out of 10 web searches are done on, a site owned by Alphabet, or a site using Google’s search under the hood.

Everything on this page will help you with all search engines.

The most enduring (and essential) SEO tactics and strategies are:

(1) Keyword Clarity

Know what web page you want to appear in search results for what keywords or keyword phrases.

Make a simple table. Column #1 – Web Page. Column #2 – Search Words.

Get those keywords on the page.

Places where keywords are critical include page titles, subtitles, descriptions, and image meta descriptions.

The most important thing is getting those keywords into the content on the page and in the flow of your copy and video script.

The days of “keyword stuffing” – going overboard trying to get keywords on a page as many times as possible, are long over. Google employs brilliant people. They have all the AI tools. They know what’s crap content loaded with keywords. And they’re not going to send traffic your way.

(2) Quality, Up-To-Date Content

Search engines will survive and thrive, or not, by how easily they get people the information or tools that solve their problem-of-the-moment (POTM).

More and more, all major search engines scrape content from reputable websites and present it on the search engine page. If the problem can be solved right on, why would they risk you seeing a non-Google ad or buying a product where Google doesn’t get a cut?

When a search engine provides links to other websites, it is heavily (not entirely, but heavily) influenced by its determination that the site will solve the person’s POTM.

There will never be a more reliable way for your page to maintain high search results than that page containing high-quality, original content that solves a POTM.

Knowing how to write engaging and compelling copy and stories will always be your unfair advantage over bland AI copy or the boring pages of most of your competitors. We can help you to crank out this kind of content here.

One more thing to consider—once upon a time, Google rewarded older pages on relatively stable subjects. This seems to no longer be the case. I know several people with websites that Google consistently displayed high in search ranking. The content was as accurate and helpful as it was when it was posted. Then, one day, Google moved them from Page 1 to a page very far from 1.

More frequent (even minor) updates to some pages on a website seem to be required to stay in Google’s good graces.

(3) Titles and Meta Data

If you’re like most clients I’ve worked with, this is your lowest-hanging fruit. You can increase your search engine traffic in the next few days by putting in two hours of effort.

If you’ve never created or published a website, you might not know that there are places for words that Google can and does read that are not shown to us humans.

Each place allows you to tell Google what your website and each page are about and what POTM it can solve.

Every website and every page on that side has a Title and Description, in addition to any words displayed on the screen.

So does every image and every link.

If I went to the website of most people reading this page and looked at the hidden words behind their photo or product image, I would find something like ‘bob-headshot6.jpg’. The file name when you saved it. And that’s it.

It takes about 2 minutes to tell Google that the photo is of “Bob Smith — The #1 Sheep Shearing Expert in Yazoo, Michigan.”

Google uses metadata almost as much as the words people can read to decide what pages to display in search results.

(4) User Experience (UX)

Google is less concerned about cool designs or flashy plugins on your site than it is about other things that affect a person’s experience.

Design trends come and go. Here are the long-term SEO factors you can control.

Mobile-Friendliness / Responsive Design

Google cares more about how pages load and look on phones than larger PC screens.

Does it look professional? Text easy to read? Images the appropriate size?

We use tools like Thrive Themes web page and theme builders. They take care of all the web tech, so your page looks great on every device.

Page Loading Time Speed

Google believes how fast a page loads is a big part of the user experience. Search engines favor websites that load quickly on both desktop and mobile devices. If your page is too slow, Google won’t suggest it.

If you’re running your business on the cheapest web hosting you can find, you’re getting what you pay for. And you’ve probably taken yourself out of the SEO game. We’ve been using Liquid Web for years. They’re a price/performance winner with outstanding customer support.

Navigation and Accessibility

Google has proprietary tools that evaluate how easy a website is to navigate.

There are links with more information below, but attention to detail and common sense will take care of most of this.

Does the page have standard navigation menus and links so people will know what to do if they want to move on from that page?

Google will rarely present a page in search results that does not have links to other pages. The most important are links to Customer Support, a phone number, and the legal compliance stuff you see at the bottom of most websites.

We use to handle all the legal and best practices links at the bottom of all our websites and to generate the legal-stuff pages behind those links. stays on top of the constantly changing laws and rules. We answer a few questions, and generates all the pages required by Google and governments all over the world.

(5) Local Business Looking For Local Customers?

Do all of the Google Maps stuff. And then Apple Maps. All the online maps.

People use online maps when they want to get something local. If they’re willing to wait at least a day, it’s not easy to beat Amazon. But if they are out for a walk or drive and need something, and your business isn’t there and up-to-date on the online maps, it doesn’t exist.

(6) Backlinks

I started this article by telling you that backlinks are mostly bad.

Which is true. Because most website owners did them badly, trying to trick Google.

However, having legitimate sites and pages in your niche link to your site remains a fantastic SEO-boosting technique.

So are links from sites that are, for better or worse, on Google’s “When In Doubt List”. Google’s favorites change, but unless Wikipedia, Snopes, NY Times, Fox News, The National Review, The Guardian, etc. take a turn and become full pay-to-play link farms, links to your pages on major websites will only help your SEO efforts.

Quality is much more important than quantity. Link Farms Bad.

Another topic I’ll put under backlinks is a social media presence. Last I checked, Google claims they do not directly use social media factors (likes, shares, etc.) to evaluate a page’s relevance and authority. But I don’t see how they can’t be indirectly influenced by the byproducts of social media.

 More shares, views, links, and mentions in more places on the web are part of Google’s algorithm.


I came thiiiis close to leaving this one off the list. Because I shake my head it’s still an issue.

Yet, I see it working with clients every month.

I don’t think Google will return a page without an HTTPS certificate if there are other reasonable options — and there are always other reasonable options.

Any hosting company you want to work with includes free security certificates. If yours does not, consider moving to a bigger, likely more reliable hosting service like Liquid Web. They take care of all the HTTPS stuff for us.

(8) Do What They Say

Setting aside the debates on what Google does or does not do to increase or reduce the odds people will find web pages on a narrow range of subjects…

… Google is very upfront with their SEO “Do This, Not This” instructions.

The odds are Google / Alphabet Inc. has no motives to help or hurt your SEO objectives other than you doing what they ask you to do and not doing what they tell you not to do.

Once you’ve knocked off everything on this page, head to these pages for the rest.

Note: Google changes the names and URLs of these services every few years.

Google’s Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Starter Guide —

These pages get pretty technical, pretty fast, for a Starter’s Guide. But if Google says this is where you should start, I won’t claim I know better. If you’re going to care about SEO even a little, you should know what a crawler is. They explain that here.

Google Search Console Tools —

This is where Google tells you how they see your site and how to monitor its search traffic and performance. Use this information to optimize your site’s search performance by identifying and fixing issues that affect your rankings. If there is such a thing as an “essential” tool for your website, this might be it.

Google Search Central —

This is Google’s central hub for all things SEO. You’ll find comprehensive guidelines, documentation, and resources to help you understand how Google crawls, indexes, and serves web content. If you’ve set your site up in Search Console Tools and you see a Yellow or Red mark you don’t understand, you’ll find the explanation here.

Google Search Central YouTube Channel —

This is the video companion to reading all about it on Google Search Central. If your learning style is more “watcher” than “reader,” head here. It covers SEO best practices, how to set up and use Search Console Tools, podcasts, and interviews (if you really want to go deep with this).

Google Search Central Blog —

If your business lives or dies by search engine ranking, follow this. Historically, it’s where big SEO news appears first. Sometimes, it is far enough ahead of implementation that Google has changed course based on feedback.

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