SEO For Newbies


If you want your website to generate business you will need Google to send you visitors. This means that you will need to understand the value of SEO and how to apply it in your business. I don’t mean you need to understand the techniques, I mean that you need to be able to develop an SEO strategy, and implement and maintain it over time.

This article is for newbies, and for anyone who has already tried SEO but not managed to generate enough business online. This article I think is a good read, or at least its a bit long, hopefully enjoyable. It explains what you need to know about SEO to make the right choices, and why SEO it is not about getting on page one of Google (despite impressions given to the contrary).

If you survive to the end you’ll have learned the essentials you’ll need to succeed with your SEO including: what it is and is not, and how to apply it to your online business. You’ll also have some practical options to consider for improving your existing website, or for creating a new website that will benefit from affordable, effective, and practical SEO.

Oh, and for the total newbie, “SEO” is the preferable abbreviation of the ugly term “search engine optimisation”.

SEO Is NOT About Getting On Page One of Google

REALLY IMPORTANT:  SEO is not about getting to the first page of Google. If someone markets SEO services to you with a promise to get you (or your website!) on page one of Google, I advise you as follows: laugh long and hard as you put the phone down, or if in person, frown disapprovingly for a moment, let out a large sigh and turn away. This may require practise, see below.

Be aware that the phrase “page one of Google” indicates a sales pitch, and not a useful goal for you. A lot of people imagine this is what SEO is about because the phrase is so often used by people offering to do SEO. But that doesn’t make it true.

It would be great though wouldn’t it? To get on page one of Google for just a few hundred dollars! They’ll swear they can deliver, offer guarantees, and you will be tempted because you want it so much! But don’t be, I refer you to my instrucions above. Practice them in the mirror whenever you feel the temptation coming on, or you’ll end up wasting $500 or more more for no return, I promise. In the UK I’ve known people pay £500 on this promise.

I’m not saying it can’t be done, or that they won’t get you on page one of Google. There certainly are some reputable SEOs who spend all day doing this for certain businesses. I even know some of them! A very specialised area of SEO is indeed about trying get to the top of the “SERP” rankings in Google and other search engines.

What I am saying is that getting to “page one of Google” is an SEO strategy that won’t benefit you. Firstly, there is always the risk of a fly by night scam, but even if you do get on “page one,” it will fail for you one way or another. For example, it will fail if you are on page one for a search that doesn’t generate many visitors, or which sends visitors who don’t buy from your website. Even done well, getting on page one would only be one part of a successful SEO strategy. Without the other pieces properly arranged around it, the picture will be incomplete, and it will fail.

There are other risks too. Highly targetted SEO of this kind almost always involves tricks. A kind of ducking and diving, while “in the ring” with a 400lb gorilla called Google (or do I mean Matt Cutts?). By this I mean that this approach is RISKY, as well as flawed.

It is risky because even if your “page one of Google” SEO is for real, he’s going to employ specialist and potentially risky tecnhiques aimed at carefully selected keyphrases, on selected pages. Note the uses of “selected” as well as “risky”. Being on page one doesn’t guarantee sales as I’ve pointed out, and it can get you into trouble.

Getting on page one will require you spending a significant amount of money, I’ll guarantee that, and could end up making things worse. Because, if he doesn’t dodge that gorilla, you might end up dropped by Google entirely. It happens, and Google is constantly training its gorilla to be cleverer and more agile. That’s Matt Cutts’ full time job, and he’s a very smart guy at the head of large team of other very smart guys.

So yes, the “page one of Google” SEO does exist, and if you’re lucky you’ll find the genuine article. But I tell you now, in words of one sylable: HE IS NOT FOR YOU. How do I know this when I know nothing about you? I know because you are reading an article called “SEO For Newbies”, that’s how!

That you’re reading SEO For Newbies tells me that you are not part of the very narrow demographic of informed risk takers, who know the pros and cons of the “page one” kind of SEO. Therefore, you aren’t in a position to make an informed choice about the risks and rewards. And for your information, neither am I; you and I are in the same boat. So let me tell you what SEO is for at least 90% of us, newbies and experienced, or do I mean grumpy old, online business owners alike.

What About Payment By Results SEO?

Surely payment by results is ok? you might say. But this is another sales pitch, like those no-win, no-fee accident lawyers and PPI claimsters. Before trying a “payment by results SEO” you need to understand the implications.

I recently had a friend come to me because his website had been doing great, from payment by results SEO as it turns out. He came to me in a panic because last month his web traffic plummetted (after a Google update code-named “Panda”) and he was panicking because his business had come to depend on his Google traffic.

You see by employing SEO’s on “payment by results” his traffic was artificially inflated by an SEO who was not incentivised to invest in his business. The SEO was incentivised towards short-term performance, and the use of risky SEO techniques to artificially inflate the performance of the website, rather than to invest in creating a website worthy of the traffic (which is what good, sustainable SEO is about).

If the “pay by results” SEO does good, sustainable SEO he won’t get to eat, because that takes time, and you won’t be paying him for most of it! The situation is made worse because many of these guys are based oversees (e.g. in India). If he knows you’ll never meet face to face, it is even more tempting, or attractive to people who will just as soon empty your wallet and then move onto the next “mark”.

Payment by results is generally a bad idea. If you want an SEO to invest in your business—which means to build your SEO performance for the long term—you need to incentivise them on this basis: not for short term gain.

So employ an SEO who you pay from day one, and expect to continue paying as the results improve even if this is slow. Expect to keep paying them in the longer term too, because to maintain performance needs ongoing work too. This incentivises the SEO because he gets to eat if he keeps you happy in the long term. If your results suddenly plummett, its as much of a disaster for him as it is for you, because you’ll probably fire him. So he’ll work hard to avoid this. So he’ll do “sustainable SEO”, and its win-win. Now if your business becomes somewhat dependent on the traffic, its ok because there’s less risk involved, though you’d be wise to plan for the eventuality all the same. That’s good business management.

Ok, so “payment by results SEO” and “getting on page one SEO” is not good SEO. So what is good SEO?

What Is Good SEO?

I’m not going to answer you What Is SEO! Instead I’m going to be more helpful! I’m going to explain it in terms of things you probably already have a good grasp of.

SEO is like:

  • the care you took to proof read your business card design
  • the time you spent choosing a name and logo for your business
  • the strapline you crafted
  • the agonizing you did over the style, colours and layout of your website, leaflets or brochure

What this means is that SEO is about being professional, doing at least the basics well so that you don’t come across to people, or in this instance Google, as incompetent, sloppy or unreliable. SEO is about presenting yourself, or rather your website, to Google as a competent, well put together online business.

Getting closer to the actual work of SEO, SEO is also:

  • ensuring your website contains all the essential information your customers expect
  • making the nagigation menus, clear and logical
  • the crafting of relevant, informative and clear titles for the pages
  • providing a range of content that will appeal to many different people
  • ensuring your content focuses on the key demographics you want to address
  • keeping the website fresh and useful, topical, regularly updated

Much of this is common sense and obvious good practice. But the relative importance of certain elements in getting Google to recognise your website—such as adding new or topical content—only becomes apparent when you realise how much they can impact your SEO. Without this understanding, you might dismiss this as too much effort.

Ther’s a lot more to SEO and not all of it is common sense. Numerous do’s, don’ts,”trade secrets” and so on, which are not obvious and so are easily overlooked, or which applied incorrectly will have a detrimental effect. Or which are only worth the effort in special cases.

What I’m saying here is that you should not regard SEO as a magic bullet that will make or break your business by sending you zillions of eager customers or clients. You can’t just pay someone $500 and create a money machine. Think about that for more than five seconds and you’ll realise why that isn’t possible.

What SEO Is

SEO is part of what you need for a website that works well. A website that Google will want to send visitors, and mainly visitors are likely to want what you have to offer.

SEO covers a range of activities, many focussed on the website, and some about other things such as social networks or attracting links from other websites. However, most SEO techiques or activities are still not going to be worthwhile for you. There are only a small band of businesses for whom the cost of doing a lot of  SEO is going to be made up for by the additional revenue you will generate as a result.

For most of us then, SEO is about knowing which are the most important things, and focussing on those until you have them all done, and have learned enough to be able to judge when it is worth doing (i.e. spending) more to try and boost your sales, and when it is not.

SEO Is Like Advertising

In this respect, SEO is like advertising: you can spend as little or as much as you want. But the “magic key” to success, is finding the right balance between what you spend and the sales this expenditure generates. Note for later: this means you will need to estimate the cost and the benefit of your SEO, just as you would do to try and get value from your advertising.

Reminder: What SEO is/is not

Ok, by now you probably get the gist. SEO isn’t a silver bullet, but it is important, vital even. And, like a poor website or business card, if you don’t get the basics right, business is going to suffer. If you give out a scruffy business card containing typos, you won’t get the sale. And if you don’t give the same attention to SEO that you do to all your marketing materials, Google too will throw your card in the trash and not send you its valued customers.

SEO in a Nutshell

Putting SEO in a nutsell: to make money, Google strives to be the best way to find good websites, or people won’t use it. So you need to: 1) provide a good website and, 2) make sure Google can see that it is a good website.

The Best Way To Do SEO

Remembering the analogy of SEO working like your brochures and advertising, the best way to do SEO is:

  • get the basic SEO of your website right
  • pay attention to SEO whenever you do anything to your website
  • focus on the most effective measures first, then gradually increase the scope and time spent on SEO until it is no longer cost effective to take it further, maintaining it at this level thereafter
  • monitor the cost of “extra SEO” activities, measure their impact, and assess their effectiveness

To achieve this, you have the following implementation options:

  • either learn a lot about SEO, or
  • get someone who understands it to advise on SEO as you go, and get training in SEO for each of the things you do yourself, or
  • hand over most website and content related tasks to someone who will pay attention to the SEO impact while doing them. I call this SEO-Aware Website Management

There are other options, but they all end in tears so I wasn’t going to list them. But at the risk of boring you to death, here are a few:

  • Build a website without attention to SEO and wonder why no-one is visiting it.
  • Pay someone to do an “SEO audit” or “SEO Website Review” (I’ve don a few of these), which will tell you everything you need to do to fix it. You Google’d all that together yourself on a dull wet afternoon, but neither that nor the audit will tell you how important each action is to your business, or how long it will take to make a difference. That will be revealed as part of an ongoing SEO strategy.
  • Get a designer who knows about SEO to create your website and then forget about it. Later, when you realise this website doesn’t get many visitors, decide unfairly that the designer didn’t do the SEO properly. This is unfair because SEO is an ongoing activity that takes time to have an impact. It is not, as explained earlier, a one-off quick fix. So it is not the designer’s fault if you don’t take it forward, it will be your fault for not following one of the options I set out above.
  • There is of course also the possibility that you employ a designer who doesn’t know enough about SEO to do it properly!
  • … and now fill your own scenarios here. There are many more ways to mess up with SEO.

The upshot of all this is that SEO is important if you want your website to generate business. In the same way that good design of your website is important if you want people to feel they can trust you, and make sure they can find what they want to know about you and your products. So you must do SEO properly. This almost certainly means employing someone to advise you, train you, or to do it for you. And SEO must be done not just at the start when the website is built, but afterwards whenever the website is changed, re-organised, moved or added to. And good SEO almost always requires ongoing work to create value, and build credibility online, not least with Google.

But beware. You need an SEO “expert” who doesn’t just know the ins and outs of SEO techniques. You need one who understands how to make it work for your business. You’ll need to avoid those who don’t take time to get to know your business, or who know some techniques but not about strategy. Above all you’ll need to avoid those who make a living out of a slick SEO sales pitch, but lack depth of knowledge about this complex subject. Remember, the sales pitch will be tempting, so keep practising in the mirror as instructed.

Having read this far you can relax a bit because clearly you get it, or are starting to and only one problem remains: If you don’t understand the ins and outs of SEO, how can you select an SEO expert to advise, train or do your SEO for you. How can an SEO newbie choose an SEO expert?

How To Choose An SEO Expert?

A tricky one this: How to choose an SEO expert when as an SEO newbie, you can’t test their SEO knowledge, and you can’t tell if what they say about SEO is true or a tempting sales pitch?

Well, here’s a test: do you trust what I have told you so far? Does it sound reasonable? Or are the promised benefits irresistable, results guaranteed, or have the air of being too good to be true?

Do you even remember the benefits I mentioned and gave such a soft sell? 🙂 In case you don’t, the main benefit I’ve mentioned so far is not having Google toss your business card in the bin and never send you any visitors! Actually there are really great benefits, and I will get to them, but coming back to the point. How do you choose an SEO?

Well, what a good SEO tells you will make sense. It will not just sound reasonable, they will be prepared to spend time explaining and answering your questions until you understand it as much has you feel you need. They won’t be touchy about revealing techniques. They won’t be dismissive, evasive, or make you feel silly for even asking. They won’t be offering a one-off quick fix, because they know the real amazing benefits of SEO are from consistent ongoing attention to it.

An important element of SEO is applying it consistently over time, so someone offering a quick fix is feeding you a line. A good SEO can afford to take time with you because they are interested in a long term relationship with you. Even if you want to learn and do your own SEO, and they only get to give you initial advice or provide some training, you’ll still be a happy bunny and a good source of referrals for them. So, a good SEO is one who is willing to invest their time in you, and encourages you in the direction of a steady ongoing SEO strategy.

Either way, they won’t be the outfit that promises to do SEO for a one-off fee, and guarantees the results. If you get such an offer and can’t see the trapdoor in it, send or describe it to me and I’ll explain what I think about it and why.

What Are The Benefits Of SEO?

Well, aside from not being shunned by Google completely, if you do SEO properly over time, and most of your competition are doing it a little less well than you, you will gradually find more and more visitors coming to your website. But crucially, they won’t be just any old visitors, they will be people who want what you have to offer and are ready to buy.

If you do SEO well and consistently over time, you won’t only be getting just from Google but also other sources, links shared on social networks and from other websites, blogs and forums. This is because good SEO is necessarily about creating a good website, that people will want to share and link to once they’ve found it.

An SEO strategy takes time, but it works. I know, because I have done it myself.

What doesn’t work, and risks backfiring on you badly, is a quick fix that will supposedly get you on page one of Google. Like the lottery, it may work in a very few special cases, leading to convincing testimonials, but it cannot work for the many. An SEO using this as a general sales pitch is pretending that it can work for everyone, which is not true.

So if you’d like advice on SEO, training in how to do SEO, or someone who can assure your SEO while managing changes to your website, get in touch.

Helping You With SEO Strategy & Implementation

I can advise you on SEO strategy for your business. I create websites from scratch that are properly SEO’d throughout. I can take your existing website and make it into Google’s friend. I write new content (or can re-write what you already have) using SEO techniques to create copy that is clear and useful to your visitors, and will also be lapped up by Google. I can advise on changes to your visitor targetting, user experience and conversion processes. Re-organise your website structure, move it to another domain or website host, and make sure Google that doesn’t spurn you in the process. I can extend your SEO beyond your website, where it goes into attracting traffic from Facebook, Twitter, Google+, blogs, forums and other websites.

Oh, and those geeky SEO terms such as meta tags, permalinks, htaccess redirects, keywords and HTML tags are all rolled into what I do or can teach you about.

I haven’t mentioned the jargon until now because it doesn’t help understanding of what you, as a newbie, need to know about SEO. In fact, the geeky techniques tend to change all the time, so for most business owners understanding and applying SEO is more about what I’ve conveyed in this article, than it is about tags, keywords and 301 redirects. So once you understand this article, you are all set!

Is SEO Relevant To Your Business?

SEO is relevent to every online business, even the smallest, and I help many one-person businesses such as freelancers, practitioners and therapists. So don’t hesitate to get in touch, and don’t worry if you are intimidated by the jargon, or daunted by how complicated it all sounds.

I’ll guide you through what you want to know, and will find a way of applying SEO to your business which works, including a level of activity and spend that is affordable and will bring you customers and clients.

Please get in touch if you have any questions or would like some help with SEO in your business. You can call, email via the contact form, or leave a comment below. I’d love to hear your stories, questions, or just about whether you found this useful!

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