“How do I get in the first results of Google?”

This is probably THE question for everybody that wants to do things online.

In this article, I’m going to attempt to give you a nontechnical bird’s eye view what Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is and how it’s usually done.

We are not going to dive into specific tactics or anything like that. This is for the person who doesn’t know how this SEO thing works and needs a top level basic understating of it.

This guide will give you a better understanding of how things happen so that you can decide what course of action to follow or even if it’s really something you might want to pursue.

How search engines decide who to show

Let’s see what Google have to say

Bear in mind that the video is from 2010. For the most part, the big picture hasn’t changed but the details have.

Also, even if this is Google’s version, all search engines work by these principles, with different algorithms and different formulas for the returned results.

To recap:

  • Google is not the web, Google has its own database (the index) of pages from the web
  • When you search, Google looks in it’s index for pages that might be relevant for your search
  • It then decides which pages to show and in which order based on some kind of voodoo magic consisting of over 200 different factors.

This means a few things:

  • You need to be inside the index to be shown in the results
  • With over 200 different factors in mind, there is no ‘one thing’ that will get you in front of everybody, it’s the combination of many things that pushes you or not.
  • It’s better to be lower ranked than to be out of the index, just keep this in mind for now.

Understanding what we’re after

Think pages, not websites

You want to rank in the top spots of the search results but it’s not your website as a whole that shows up as a result, it’s a page on your website. Preferably, multiple pages.

The results are pages so we have to think in terms of pages, not the whole website.

So, instead of thinking, ‘I want my website to be #1 in search’ think ‘I want page x of my website to be #1’.

Obviously, you want as much of your website to be in the top spots but you can only get there page by page.

Show up for what?

Now that you know you want page ‘x’ to rank well, to be the #1 result in Google you will have to decide what you want to show up for.

More precisely, what keyword to show up for. This keyword being what users search for.

Keyword strategy example

It can be a one-word keyword like ‘shoes’ or it can be a multiple words keyword like ‘red high heels shoes’.

Deciding what you want to show up for is important because the ‘Optimization’ part of SEO will revolve around this target keyword.

This decision a very strategic one and very important.

Every keyword has two things attached to it, a number of searches done for the keyword and the difficulty to get into the #1 spot for it.

The number of searches made for that keyword can give you some vague idea of how many people can see your page if you manage to rank for the keyword.

The difficulty is the competition. The fiercer the competition for the keyword the more resources (time and/or money) you would have to pour into the effort of getting to #1.

What do you get for being #1?

We all want to be in the first spot.

But what happens when we’re there? Why do we want it?

Traffic for #1 in SERP

Well, you get about 33% of the traffic for the keyword you rank for, according to a study from 2013. The number is probably different today and will probably be different tomorrow.

The point is, you never get all the traffic but it can still be a significant group of people you could be bringing in.

Also worth mentioning, even if you aim to rank for one keyword, as a side effect so to speak, you will also rank for other keywords.

Maybe not as well, but that still means more people going to your pages.

Rankings change all the time

If you get to spot #1 and the keyword is very competitive don’t expect to sit there for long without some work.

SEO in an on-going process. You don’t just do it and be done with it.

Other people will fight for your keyword. Also, they are aware that they have to do something better that the ones they are trying to replace.

You have to be better than the ones you are trying to replace and those that try to do the same.

SEO is a war zone

Yep, it’s a war zone.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. It’s a game of strategy and resources.

You still need to invest so don’t think of it as ‘free’

Showing up in the search results will bring you visitors for free, sure.

But to get those spots that get the traffic you will probably spend some time and/or money. So thinking of it as being totally free isn’t realistic.

Even if you aim to get there for free you will still have to spend time and it takes a while to create content, promote it and all the related stuff.

Hiring somebody will cost you and the cheaper you try to get it the worse it can bite back, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

For now, just don’t think of it as being free in the literal sense of the word.

Ads vs SEO – short term vs long term

New business, new website, new page.

According to Ahrefs, it can take anywhere from 2 to 6 months to make it in the top 10 search results if you know what you are doing.

SERP page age

But the majority, “95% of newly published pages don’t get to the Top10 within a year.”

The point here is that if you are hoping that SEO will get you off the ground, don’t hope. This is a long term game.

If you are new business and you need to get off the ground and get those first clients, advertising is a more accessible route and the better bet in my opinion.

Unless you have an ace up your sleeve, but I’m assuming that you don’t for this post.

How to get in the top spots of Google search

Now that we have an idea of how things work, what we are after and what we get there, how do we do it?

There are two major pieces to SEO. One involves your website. The other involves things outside of your website.

The website side of SEO

This starts with the way your website is coded and ends up with the actual content of the page you are trying to rank.

On a technical level, you mainly want to make sure that website is coded properly, it’s set up properly, uses HTML elements properly and you want to make sure it’s loading fast.

Yep, a lot of ‘properly’.

On page optimizationImage from Moz.com

Moving away from the technical stuff we get into the content itself. The content that you put on a page must be good.

What does that mean?

Many people have many different opinions here. I would define good content as content that actually helps me out with something.

Search engines try to figure out if the content is good by a mix of factors that include things like how much do people stay on that page once they arrive; if they go further into the website from that page.

Do people close the page very quickly after they arrive? Do people return to the search results to find other pages? Etc.

One thing to point out here is that apparently search engines reward what is called ‘long form’ content or ‘in depth’ content.

Meaning posts/guides/articles that are over 2000 words long. To get a feel of the scale, this post has about 2100 words.

However, if you are going to create long form content try to make it in depth not full of filler material.

The PR part of SEO

On the ‘outside of your website’ part of SEO, we are mainly looking at the all-time important links. Meaning links from reputable websites to your pages.

And I call them ‘all-time important’ because historically they were one of the most important aspects of SEO and that continues to this day.

Between good content and good reputable links you have a very powerful SEO force even if other things might not be very well optimized.

When I say reputable links I’m referring to links from actually good, reputable websites.

Reputable websites

There are websites purely made to game the system and if Google smells that you are trying to game the system, you are out of the game.

So how do people and SEO agencies get these links?

Without going into specific strategies you basically have two main options.

The first one would be to contribute with content on various websites. In return, most websites give you an author description in which you can have one or two links pointing to your website.

Of course, you have to have good material for these websites to consider your contribution. You will target websites that are already established so it’s safe to assume that they also have a ton of other people trying to contribute.

Don’t go into this thinking ‘well, I’m giving them free articles they can’t refuse me’. They will if your articles are not good.

What I’m saying is that you can’t just go on Fiverr, grab a $5 article and hope that somebody will accept it.

The other way of getting links is by convincing other people to link to you. In principle, you do that by having a good resource on your website.

Think of it this way, you are not begging for a link. You have, on your website something of high value such that other website owners will want to show it to their visitors and look like heroes doing it.

For example, if I were to link to the greatest link building guide, I’m the hero of the day for pointing you to a great resource.

On the other side, if you create that awesome resource you would contact me and let me know about the thing.

And these are the main methods of getting links.

How many links you can get and how valuable?

That will depend on your resources and ability to convince website owners, editors, writers, etc. that you have something good worth linking to.

Avoid the traps of lazy agencies

There are two schools of though in SEO. White hat SEO and Black hat SEO.

White hat vs black hat seoWhite hat is the way to go indeed

As you might expect there is also a mix between them, the gray area.

These refer to the tactics you use when trying to rank a page in the search results.

The white hat way revolves around tactics that follow the guidelines of search engines while black hat focuses on, essentially, gaming the system.

With black hat tactics, there is no question if you get caught but rather when.

Unfortunately, many SEO agencies cheat when nobody is watching. The problem is that they cheat for your website so when the shit hits the fan, it’s you who gets to deal with the consequences.

If you get caught, you will either get pushed down in the abyss or removed from the index altogether. Remember that I mentioned that being in the index with lower rankings is better than not being there at all?

Even big players get penalized as we’ve seen in the case of J.C. Penney and there are other examples as well.

So, if you are thinking of hiring an SEO or an agency I would suggest reading this guide from Google to which I would add, ask them on what websites do they plan on building links and check those sites, see if they look real (normal looking articles, author names, and descriptions, comments, Facebook page with fans, etc.)

In conclusion

I hope that now you have a clearer picture of the whole SEO process. In large lines, that is it.

As the saying goes, the devil is in the details, but the devil is also beyond the purpose of this post.

The next step for you would be to figure out what resources you can allocate for this and decide if you are going to do it in-house or work with an agency.

Either way, don’t rush into it, get a feel for what strategy the person taking care of this has, especially around building links.

If this guide helped you please share it with others that might benefit from it and good luck in your business ventures.