[Series] SEO for Beginners | Way of the Tortoise

This article is part of the “Way of the Tortoise” series. You can check out our other posts in this series here. Check back regularly to read our other updates.

Today we’re going to talk about SEO. It’s a topic shrouded in mystery, like Cold Hands from Game of Thrones. Be wary of spoiler alerts if you go Googling those terms. SEO is misunderstood, and a lot of people spend a lot of time on that little acronym, which stands for Search Engine Optimization, in case you didn’t know.

One of the most common questions I get from existing clients and prospective clients is: “How do I rank first in Google for ‘x’ term,” where “x” is that customer’s niche keyword. I shrug my shoulders. Not because I don’t have an answer, but I don’t have a sure-fire way to help a client get to that first spot.

You can do your own SEO; if you’re doing the basics properly, that’s a good start. That will get you to the point where you can start looking at professional help and understand what you’re getting for your money.

What We’re Covering

In short, we will cover a lot of ground here. I hope to keep it in bite-sized chunks so that you all can follow along and learn a few things along the way. I want to avoid going to deep into the weeds on various topics. The reason is that the scope here is to give you the basics; the ammunition you need to get things going and then be able to have a conversation about your SEO efforts going forward.

What we will cover:

  • What is SEO and why it matters to you—and everyone else.
  • Busted Myths
  • A search engine’s one job.
  • What search engines want from you.
  • All about the words
    • Keywords vs. Intent
  • Ranking. Does it matter
  • Just do the thing


Adjusting Expectations

If you follow these tips, there’s a good chance you will not reach a number one ranking in search for your best and most relevant keywords and phrases. However, if you follow this guide, you will gain a better understanding of SEO basics, and if you implement them in your site, you will notice a benefit. Perhaps you’ll see more visits; maybe people share the content more often than other content.

What is SEO and why it matters to you—and everyone else.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a practice that seeks to increase the visibility of a website in search engine rankings. Put another way SEO is a collection of methods that helps websites become more visible in search engines. We’ll discuss the how in just a bit.

One term you’ve probably heard is “organic search or organic traffic.” This just refers to people who find your website while doing a search and then having your website show up in the results from that search. One facet of SEO is to improve a website’s chances of showing up in that search.

Ranking well for organic searches means that your website contains the sort of content that people are looking for. This is where you begin to learn about your competition, other businesses competing on similar keywords and customers.

We’ll focus on some of the basics that help a website improve visibility to organic searches throughout.

Busted Myths

People I talk to, who ask me about this stuff, usually ask this:

Question, I have been reading up on seo and backlinks and crap like that. What do we need to do to get ranked, and hopefully got on the 1st page of results for stuff? You are the expert so I await your knowledge sharing!!

“And crap like that.” I think that’s how this practice is often perceived. People don’t care about your keywords. They care about finding what they care about most. It’s that “simple.”

One common thing that people believe will help their site’s credibility and visibility is to obtain a large number of links from other websites (backlinks). Not so! Backlinks DO help and are a signal that search engines look at to determine a piece of content’s relevance in search engine queries. However, those backlinks should be from reputable sites, and it should be “natural.” If someone finds this content useful, they will link to it from their social media accounts, or perhaps they’ll link to it from their own website. The key thing to note is that someone needs to find your content useful enough to want to share it with people. That is the best way to rank for any given keyword or phrase. Create something useful that people will love and it will inspire people to share it. It is frustrating when no one shares your content you spent a bazillion hours on, however. There are ways to help people find your content, though. You guessed it; we’ll cover that in more detail, too.

Another myth people get caught up on is the importance of keywords. They get tunnel vision and want to rank for a particular keyword(s). Again, the notion is quite right, but the idea of execution is off. Keywords do matter, to a point. No one really cares about keywords; they care about finding something; they care about solving a problem they have; they research. Stuffing a bunch of keywords into your website just because is a bad, bad thing to do. Your thought should always be How can I create value for my customers/clients? And you should have an answer for that. That applies to all businesses, not just yours.

Meta Keywords/Meta Tags. Just stop. No one pays attention to these items anymore. Stop asking about them and stop using them! It’s all about Meta Descriptions and Meta Titles.

A Search Engine’s Job

a search engine's job

As I noted above search engine’s are built with a purpose in mind. That purpose is to be useful. Useful at what, you ask? Useful for connecting people to the information they want. That. is. it!

A search engine’s value is based on its ability to help people find what they want. It does that simply by returning results from a given query from the user. Also, search engines try to predict what their users want.

Search engines will list the content they perceive to be most valuable—after any paid advertisements of course. Your job, then, is to build up a resource for the people who will want to buy whatever it is you’re selling.

What Search Engines Want From You

Believe it or not, search engines don’t want your first-born or even your seventeenth born. But they do want something from you. They want you to create excellent content. Something that is well thought, unique, and distinct. Have a focus keyword or topic for each page of your site, this goes for blog posts, as well.

Using a Google search result as an example, we’ll point out a few basics in a visual manner.

professional organizer

Four things search engines want from you:

1. Meta Title: Specific information about this content. It should be obvious what your content is about

2. Meta Description: Extended context and information about the content.

3. URL/Permalink: This is the URL for your page. It should be immediately apparent in the URL what the content is about.

4. Clarity: Your content should be as focused as it can be on one topic. In our example, the Title, description, and URL have t keyword Professional Organizers play.

Summary: Be detailed, be clear, have fun with your content and employ the best practices above and give search engines what they really want.

All about the keywords

We’re at the meat of this discussion as we turn our focus to keywords. Keywords are probably the one thing I get asked about the most. How do I find my keywords? How can I rank first for them? That sort of stuff.

A keyword is a word or phrase that is substantially significant to your business. You probably have a few examples in mind already. e.g. Pomona Plumber, Los Angeles Events Company, Best Wedding Cake, etc.

Take a moment and jot down five of your business’s keywords.

How do you find your keywords?

They’re not out there knocking on your door to tell you Hello! I’m here, use me! In other words, you’ll need to be proactive to start attracting more traffic to your website.

A quick note about traffic. I’m assuming your goal is not simply getting more traffic, but to actually create more revenue, more sales, more leads etc. That said, not all traffic matters. Creating traffic for the sake of more traffic is a fool’s game indeed.

Did you write down your keywords? Great! I’ll pause here. There are a lot of tools and techniques you could use to help determine your keywords and what you should be creating content off of. For this article, we’ll use Google’s Keyword Planner Tool.

Google Keyword Tool

Keyword Planner – Google AdWords 2016-06-02 07-49-00This exercise is brief, to get started sign-in to your Google account and open the Keyword Planner Tool. There are three core things you can do here. First, you can simply research new keywords related to ones you enter. You can look up historical search trends on keywords to gauge their performance and trending data. Lastly, you can discover new keyword opportunities and combinations.

  1. Click ‘Search for new keywords by phrase…’
  2. Enter one of the keywords you wrote down.
  3. Click ‘Get Ideas.’
  4. I recommend clicking on the ‘Keyword Ideas’ tab.

You’ll see a list of keywords in the results. A lot of great information such as competition and search volume is available for your research. Also good to note are estimates on how much those keywords would cost you to bid on for PPC campaigns. Run your keywords through this tool to see what comes up. You’re looking for other keywords that might be a good fit as well and also search volume. Use the filters to the left to get more precise results.

It doesn’t do you too much good to market for a keyword no one is thinking about or searching on.

Google’s predictive search


Search engines want to help you be more efficient in your research. They use data they collect to help connect you with the information you want. Sometimes just starting a search and see what the search engine spits back to you is an excellent way to find relevant keywords other users might be using.

Keywords vs. Intent

I don’t want you to focus too heavily on keywords. I truly think creating useful, and relevant topic is your best bet to getting your business where you want it to be online. That said, I want to discuss Intent. You see, people aren’t just searching for keywords. I’d go so far as to say people could care less about given keywords.

However, people do things with intent. In any given moment a person needs something. They need a laundry service; they need to remove a stain; they need to buy last minute flower arrangements; they need a lift somewhere. Thinking like a customer, how does this apply to you. What have you searched lately?

Connect your business services to particular client needs to begin figuring out the intentions behind why people reach out to you and make a list of those.

What should you do with these keywords and phrases?

It may be worth it to create content based off of those very things you find in your research. On one site we manage we noticed a trend of traffic regarding bed bug removal, the client is an Exterminator. We suggested they create additional content about that. How bed bug infestations can happen; how to quarantine; and tips for removal and prevention.

Does Ranking Really Matter?

It’s a sad fact, yes, yes it does. You could create mountain piles of content and still never rank for particular keywords. There may be other more popular and authoritative sites that will rank higher than your site. There are an unknown number of factors that exist which determine search engine ranking position (SERP).

Getting on the first page will open up a lot of opportunities for your business. Getting there is hard. So are a lot of worthwhile things. Let’s take a moment to be real. Very few people are ever the best at a thing. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t steel your resolve and try. Always, always try. Creating content is like that. It’s a vitamin for your website. If you create a lot of great content with variety, then you will boost your traffic, and you may find other reasons people come to visit your website. But you’ll only know that if you are creating consistent content.

Just do the thing

My favorite phrase of late. Just do the thing. You have to. You have to get up; you have to do your business thing if you want to eat. Just do the thing. Hit the publish button, do that thing! If you do it and put time into it, and you share with people who will care about it, you’ll slowly gain traction; you’ll begin to get results. But you have got to do the thing and keep doing it even when you don’t want to.

That’s your daily affirmation.

Your takeaways?

Understanding your basic practices and how to implement them. Including meta titles and descriptions on every page on your site. Creating content based on keyword popularity and also intent. The keyword thing is a gigantic discussion that I didn’t do justice to. Just understand what your top five to ten keywords are and insert some intent phrases to help round things out and that should help you identify your content.

And finally, you have to want to do the work. Be organized about it of course, but you do have to do the thing. Hit publish. Before you hit publish have a plan.

Let me know what you think below! Phew! And we out!

Additional Resources to Fuel Your Learning.

4 responses to “[Series] SEO for Beginners | Way of the Tortoise

  1. I think the discussion of keywords is right on point — it’s incredibly easy to get hung up on keywords and forget about the point of the keywords themselves.

    The keywords often represent problems or interests customers have — if you can provide solutions to those problems (or content that meets those interests), you can start to draw traffic. Hopefully, you also sell a solution that aligns with those problems you’re solving — otherwise, as you say, you’re just drawing traffic for traffic’s sake.

    I feel more tortoise like already!

    • alex vasquez says:

      “keywords often represent problems or interests customers have.”
      ^ This a million times. I think you could drop the mic. Understanding the problems a customer has or whatever that thing is that they do that causes them to go research is the thing to spend your time on. How does your business solve a problem? How does your business create value and who does it create value for? Create content off of those things.

      • Exactly. We’re all problem solvers, but sometimes it’s hard to know if we’re even solving the right problems — what do our clients want? What problems do our potential customers have? If you’re solving a problem no one cares about, it’s gonna be pretty hard to make a buck. But using keyword research as a jumping off point, a place to find out what people ACTUALLY need, can be really helpful, to them and to you.

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