SEO basics: Getting Started in SEO Means Asking the Right Questions

SEO is an extremely powerful tool for bloggers and website owners. SEO offers a constant stream of inbound marketing activity and qualified leads, it tends to bring in much higher conversion rates, and it lives on for a very long time. 

In the following weeks, we will be taking an SEO journey together with Rebecca Gill. We will have a series of articles that will get you thinking about search and teach you how to use these thoughts to improve your website or blog. 

In today’s article, Rebecca will share with you the secrets she stumbled upon over a decade ago and the starting point of SEO.

SEO Doesn’t Have to Be Scary

I started my SEO journey over 15 years ago in the ERP industry, and content I created back then still ranks in Google (and it is still bringing in qualified leads). This is the magic I see SEO delivering, and it is why I’ve never strayed away from it. 

No other marketing channel can offer you such focused and long-term delivery of inbound activity.

If SEO is such a great marketing channel, why do so many people ignore it?

I often encounter hesitation because most people simply don’t know where to start. The process of SEO can feel overwhelming, intimidating, and difficult. 

I will fully admit that SEO can be scary, but I’ll also loudly state it doesn’t have to be. 

There is an easy way to get yourself started with SEO and help ensure you are positioning yourself for success.

Look Beyond Data and Looks Towards Website Personas 

If you are already asking yourself “How do I learn SEO?”, an excellent starting point is figuring out who you are and clarifying who you serve. That may seem like I’m selling the complexity of SEO short, but I’m not. 

In reality, asking questions is a critical step that most business owners and bloggers tend to skip. And because they skip it, they set themselves up for failure.

When I perform SEO workshops or create beginner’s SEO guides, I always discuss website personas (also called marketing personas) because they build a foundation for everything that follows. 

Marketing personas are crucial because:

  • Different groups of people have different problems.
  • When groups of people have different problems, they also have different needs.
  • With different needs, comes different answers or solutions.
  • With varied answers, you derive different terms and phrases the group or persona would use to search for their solutions.
  • By viewing different groups and creating seed keyword lists for each group, you exponentially expand your keyword universe and opportunities to rank in search.

If you don’t know who you are and who you serve, you can’t begin to understand what your customer need and how you can help them. This lack of information makes it impossible for you to create a successful SEO strategy and plan for execution.

By asking questions, we are creating a set of variables we can use to research, analyze, and take action. The answers to our questions will start to formulate our target audience, and they will help us know what matters to them. More importantly, it allows us to focus in on their problems, solutions they seek, and how we can provide answers.

The core of SEO is a blend of questions and answers. People visit search engines (like Google and Bing) to find answers to their questions. That’s it.  

The search engines’ job is to locate the best answer to a given question. When you properly perform SEO, you are creating a roadmap to help search engines locate your content and match it up to a given question.

No voodoo, no magic. Just plain and simple questions and answers.

The one thing you can do to help you succeed in SEO is to start to think about who you serve, what questions they ask, and how you can help answer those questions. 

Start With the Right Questions

In college, I loved psychology. Back then, my dream job would have been closely related to psychology. I found it fascinating to learn about people and what makes them tick. 

What I didn’t know was this love of psychology was going to serve me well in optimizing websites and blogs. Marketing is intertwined with psychology.

At the core of this connection is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This motivational theory is a model of five levels that represent what drives a human’s actions. It boils down to the fact that we all have a varying degree of needs to breakdown into physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. These needs influence our behavior, and they influence the way we interact with the world around us.

This closely ties to SEO because people search based on their needs at a given point in time. This varies by where they are located within their information journey or their location within a buying cycle. Some searches will be basic, while others will be more advanced. Some will be at the beginning of a process and others at the end. Some may be informational, and some may be transactional.

Bain and Company created a B2B version of called The B2B Elements of Value. It translates Maslow’s core ideas into modern-day marketing for B2B companies.

The key for both B2C and B2B marketers is to find the intersection of your target market and what you offer. Knowing where you land on their Hierarchy of Needs is crucial.

Don’t be scared off my all my psychology talk. Let me translate this into a set of fundamental questions that will help you better formulate who you serve and how you help them.

An SEO Exercise for Finding Your Website Personas

Let’s start your SEO journey by asking the following questions and documenting your answers. Keep in mind these could be related to you, your company, or your product or service.

  • What are your areas of expertise?
  • What are some of your greatest skills?
  • What are you passionate about?
  • Is there a particular niche that is more important to you than others?
  • What benefits do you offer your customers?
  • What differentiates you from your competitors?
  • When you’ve been successful in the past, why did your customers choose your service or buy your products? What did they say?
  • When you think back to your existing client testimonials or online reviews, what did your customers say about you and your offerings?
  • At the end of the day, what business accomplishments are you most proud of?
  • How you typically describe your business to a potential customer? 

Write this down. Write all of it down! Let your mind run free, but document the path it runs down.

Now I’d like you to take a step back and look at your answer with fresh eyes. I’d like you to replace any buzzwords or industry jargon that “normal” people wouldn’t understand. By normal, I mean people outside of your head, your company, or experts in your industry.

Now, I’d like you to rework your answer and write it as if you are explaining this to your Grandmother or a young child. By doing so, you’re removing the industry jargon, and closing in on what terms normal people might use when searching.

What I am asking you to do is to brainstorm who you are, who you serve, and how you help them. Once we know this, we can start to think about building a keyword universe and formulating a plan for content creation.

Additional SEO Questions

Now that we’ve done some initial investigation let’s explore what groups we might have for our target market. Again, these groups are called website personas or marketing personas.

To do this, we have more questions.

Who Do You Serve?

  • Are they men or women?
  • Are they kids, teens, adults, or baby boomers?
  • Are they consumers or businesses?
  • Are they universities, enterprise-level companies, or small business?
  • Are they beginners or advanced?
  • Do they exist in certain departments like IT, accounting, or manufacturing?
  • Do they have different positions like entry-level, manager, or c-level executive?
  • Do they speak different languages?
  • Do they live in different regions?
  • Do they have different budgets and desired price points for goods and services?

How Might You Group Them?

  • Age or gender
  • Income level
  • Geography
  • Professional position, occupation, or department
  • Industry
  • Business size
  • Stage in the buying cycle
  • Product or service type
  • Budget
  • Customer status – prospect, new customer, repeat customer

Virtually every website or blog has some form of groups within their target market. No matter what industry I’ve worked in or clients I’ve helped, I can always find website personas.

Sometimes there may only be two and sometimes they might be ten. Dig in so you know exactly who you serve and how you would group them.

Website Persona Criteria

Once you have your groups defined, we want to document more about them. My personal list for documenting website personas includes:

  • Name
  • Description
  • Drivers, goals, and/or objectives
  • Frustrations, challenges and pain points
  • Needs
  • Decision process and criteria
  • Stage of the buying cycle (awareness, consideration, decision)
  • Level of search intent (navigational, informational, commercial, transactional)
  • Purchase obstacles
  • Marketing channels where they spend time

Don’t let any of this be intimidating. You’ll most likely know some of the answers and not others. That’s okay! Work with the information you know now, and when time allows, fill in the rest.

The important thing is I’m moving you from thinking about you and what you do to thinking about your target market and what they need. 

This will help you develop a keyword list that you can use for SEO purposes.

The Human Element of SEO

Throughout my training and talks, I hold one common theme that I desperately want to drive home to everyone I speak with about SEO.

The best SEO is human-based SEO.

High performing SEO isn’t about marketing automation, easy shortcuts, WordPress plugins, or even outsourcing SEO services to a third-party consultant. 

There is no easy button, software product, or expert waiting to do all of this for you.

Low-cost SEO services at $6.99 a month won’t deliver the human element and they don’t work. Software products that state they will automatically optimize content for you based on algorithms won’t work either. It’s binary code and it cannot understand your target market, how you help them, and how you are uniquely positioned to provide a solution.

The best SEO is about understanding your website visitor, connecting with them on a personal level, and helping them solve problems.

No one is in a better position to do that than you! And it makes you super powerful.

 The Next Steps for Your SEO Journey

Today’s article covered a lot of ground, and I hope it has you thinking. Keep thinking!

Let your mind wander today and all this week. Think about you, who you serve, and how you help them. Think about what makes you unique and why you are the perfect answer for your target market.

Document your thoughts. Keep a running list of anything that creeps up while you allow yourself time to think and brainstorm.

In my next post, I’ll show you how to dig into website data and Google’s Search Engine Results Page (SERPs) to research possible keywords and phrases. Once we have our possible keyword universe, we’ll move onto keyword evaluation and selection. Finally, we’ll move into mapping your preferred keywords to current and future content.

SEO is a journey, not a destination. My goal is to show you the path and get you started on your journey. Together we can get you and your website ranking and bringing in the right traffic.

Rebecca Gill

Web Savvy Marketing Founder

Rebecca Gill has a well-rounded business background and over twenty years of experience in sales and online marketing. She is the founder of Web Savvy Marketing and an SEO consultant. In addition to running the day to day activities of Web Savvy Marketing, Rebecca also provides one-on-one SEO coaching, publishes online digital marketing courses, and hosts an SEO podcast.

Comments ( 59 )

Isabelle

Apr 15, 2020

thank u, Rebecca, it's really good content for a beginner like me, expecting ur next post.

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Rebecca Gill

Apr 16, 2020

Isabelle it is my pleasure! I'm happy to hear to was helpful.

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Cathy

Apr 17, 2020

Wow this is really good content for me as a beginner and I feel like I can learn more from you than rushing here and there to pay lots of money to learn about SEO. I think it's a step by step journey that I'm excited to begin.

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Rebecca Gill

Apr 28, 2020

Cathy I'm glad it is helpful! Thanks for commenting.

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ASR Martins

Apr 19, 2020

This sounds more like it! Those technical talk of other experts with all their analytical data just confuses me. Great article!

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Rebecca Gill

Apr 28, 2020

I try really hard to keep SEO digestible so everyone can use it in their digital marketing efforts. SEO isn't voodoo and it doesn't have to be scary. You just need to understand the "why" and then the "how" becomes easier to implement.

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Mary Reid

Apr 20, 2020

Thanks, nice framework on which to build a road map

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Paradogsicle Minds Media

Apr 22, 2020

Awesome article and information, Rebecca! I couldn't agree with you more that people really just have no idea where to start when it comes to SEO, either on-site optimization or off-site! I know when I got started in the world of search engine optimization, the thing that helped most was to just start. It didn't matter where I started, but the more I thought about what I could or should do, the more difficult it became to even begin! In reality, SEO can get incredibly complex and seriously convoluted, to say the least (part of the issue with not being able to see the effects of what you are doing on your rankings immediately), but it doesn't have to. The amount and type of on-site optimization you need to start ranking in Google is simple enough for anyone to understand or accomplish with the right instructions! Thanks again for the great read! my name is Jarrett, I am with paradogsiclemindsmedia.com, a digital agency serving local service companies and small businesses around the Pacific Northwest, you should check us out sometime, I would love to get your thoughts on the site!

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Rahul Sharma

Apr 26, 2020

Rebecca, Thank you for this post very helpful for a beginner like me, specially since slightly daunted by the whole SEO element. Just signed to for my Siteground account 10 minutes ago. Your post is the first thing I have read all the post and articles on the new home screen. Regards, Rahul.

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Rebecca Gill

Apr 28, 2020

Rahul I'm thrilled to hear this article was part of your SiteGround start! Thanks for commenting.

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Rahul Sharma

May 13, 2020

Many Thanks Rebecca and for the newer articles.

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Kenny Williamson

Apr 27, 2020

Hmm buzzword... what is ERP? Other than that, good article, lots of points. Define your voice and market... most important. I have started watching youtube videos and it is precisely that, the voice and angle is consistent on the ones i want to watch.

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Rebecca Gill

Apr 28, 2020

Old habits...I may have left the ERP (enterprise resource planning software) 15 years ago, but apparently part of it has stuck with me. It's where I learned SEO and it was the catalyst for my digital marketing agency, so I think it will always be a part of my SEO.

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Hans Peter Bech

Apr 27, 2020

Very timely content on SEO. Thanks for sharing.

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Eveline Wu

Apr 27, 2020

As someone who has had SEo take the first step writers block and has read many articles on it, I really appreciate how you bother describe and demonstrate how writing well to your customer's needs in simple ways is the most important thing. I especially appreciate how you do this, since I am a therapist, and the metaphor of defining where a customer's seeking behavior is on Maslows hierarchy of needs is particularly relevant! Thank you!

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Rebecca Gill

Apr 28, 2020

Eveline you would probably get a kick out of my website persona webinar and slides that use the Winney the Pooh gang to demonstrate personas. They were a messed up bunch of characters when you break their behaviors down and compare it to SEO. I used this same presentation in live WordCamps and everyone always likes it because it is something they can relate to and understand. If you are interested in reading/watching it, you'll find it at https://www.web-savvy-marketing.com/blog/mapping-keywords-to-website-personas/.

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iWebCrafter

Apr 27, 2020

Rebecca, I have been studying SEO for more years than I want to say, but once and a while I find a nugget of gold that surprises me. Your take on SEO as a journey is spot on. I find a lot of people do not understand the big picture of SEO being a verb and not something you do one time to a website. As an affiliate for SiteGround, your blog is going to add even more value to what is already my favorite hosting company. Thank you so much for taking the time to do this blog. -howard

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Rebecca Gill

Apr 28, 2020

Thanks so much for commenting Howard!

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Tom Raffelt

Apr 29, 2020

I agree 100% with Howard. No magic bullet, slow and steady and constant.

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Rachel

Apr 27, 2020

Thank you Rebecca, Still very much in the learning phase of this journey. Really appreciate all your helpful insights and information. I can't wait for your next post. Thanks so much

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Rebecca Gill

Apr 28, 2020

We've got three more posts coming your way and I hope they help you and your website/blog!

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Sandra L. Hicks

Apr 27, 2020

Always great Rebecca...thanks

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Mohammed Ahmed

Apr 28, 2020

Great article. Indeed buyer persona has always been the foundation of my SEO framework.

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Roy

Apr 28, 2020

Rebecca, is there a way to "follow" this blog? I found it very interesting!

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Hristo Pandjarov Siteground Team

Apr 28, 2020

Working on it :)

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Vickie Sears

Apr 28, 2020

The first logical, nuts & bolts information on SEO I have read to date! You have provided us our homework, clearly & concisely .. Thank you, Rebecca for using the “KISS” principle!

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Rebecca Gill

Apr 29, 2020

Be careful what you wish for Vickie! I'm the queen of handing out homework. Especially when it comes to SEO. =)

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Jonathan

Apr 28, 2020

Thanks, Rebecca. Great article. Indeed, there's a remarkable difference between hand-crafted and machine-crafted businesses. Hand-crafted businesses always yield a strong, far-reaching, loyal, and satisfied customer base.

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Rebecca Gill

Apr 29, 2020

Human first, SEO second. That is always one rule I never break. When it comes to any SEO decision, I always ask if it helps the human. If it does, then it usually is a solid decision. If not, it's probably bad for SEO.

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Karen Konnerth

Apr 28, 2020

I’ve never read a better explanation of just what is SEO and how to manage it on my site. Now I feel like I can do this! Thank you!

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Rebecca Gill

Apr 29, 2020

Karen you can, you really can. Don't ever let anyone tell you SEO is outside your reach or something that is not attainable by the average blogger or website owner. You just have to have a strategy, plan, and execution that aligns with best practices and serving your target market. Google wants to make humans happy and when you help Google help humans you win.

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Natasha

Apr 28, 2020

Always good to start with a little brainstorming :)

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Sandy Goe

Apr 28, 2020

Thank you Rebecca! Excellent article and user friendly do-able tips! Will be sharing with our network. Looking forward to your coming articles!

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Daan Vreugdenhil, PhD

Apr 28, 2020

After reading all those enthusiastic comments, I feel extremely stupid, particularly given the fact that I am a PhD, have worked with SEO on my websites since 1998, because I don't have a clue what to do with all those questions. I wrote them down, but now what?

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Rebecca Gill

May 15, 2020

Daan you take your answers and review your current activity to see if your content helps provide those answers to visitors. Stated in other words, if your reader struggles with XYZ, have you helped them solve the problem of XYZ? That is the point of the questions. They are meant to get you thinking about who you serve, what they struggle with, and what you do to help them.

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clint

Apr 28, 2020

i get the necessity of connecting with your audience from a human perspective and that Keywords are part of the deal. my question: is there an absolute necessity for all blogs to be oriented for SEO that appear on my website. can there be a mixture of human interest stories that can be part of the mix of blogs on my website's blog page that is not SEO oriented?. should all articles that are written be exclusively SEO?

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Rebecca Gill

Apr 29, 2020

Great questions! The answer is no. Not all content will have SEO focus or be part of your overall SEO plan. There will be lots of content that you publish solely because it services humans. The trick is to find balance. And one final note, those non-SEO articles can still aid in SEO by providing internal links over to your SEO focused content.

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Nick Bastian

Apr 28, 2020

I love it. Fairly simple explanation of a topic that so many people try to find an easy fix or a magic bullet for.

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Kyle Davey

Apr 28, 2020

Hi, love the article. I'd love to be notified via email wen future posts in this series are published. How can I make that happen?

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Leisl

Apr 28, 2020

Thanks for explaining a complex topic in simple language. Definitely useful.

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Rick

Apr 28, 2020

SEO for local service companies. Google has implemented paid ads (Local Services by Google) that now appear before the normal text-based ads on the SERP. This is followed by Google's local listings (map) and then finally organic results. If you are searching on a smart phone, you are likely to never see the organic results. Does SEO even matter for service-based companies?

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Rebecca Gill

Apr 29, 2020

It does, because it helps Google better understand the why and what of you. But that said, there are industries where Google My Business tends to outperform organic SEO on the website. It's again about balance and using data to figure out what terms Google pushes towards GMB listing and what terms Google pushes towards regular old search results.

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Tom Blubaugh

Apr 29, 2020

Thank you so much for this article. I have been ignoring this for a long time. You are breaking it down into something I can understand and work with. Will you be placing these articles somewhere I can come back and visit them in sequence? Videos?

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Tom

Apr 29, 2020

It would help the beginner to not use abbreviations to start with. I have no idea what SEO means...

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Hristo Pandjarov Siteground Team

Apr 30, 2020

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization :)

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charlie bruzzese

Apr 29, 2020

Just what i needed after getting a website up and running and working out what tweeks to make to get some ranking this really helps instead of outsourcing to others that dont know me or my business or clients il definitly be looking forward to the next blog after i do a blog of my own with the Qs and As i need to ask myself thank

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Patricia love

Apr 29, 2020

Thank you for this article it was great information on SEO, it can be daunting but The way you present it explains it better , and keeps it simple... I am looking forward to your next article! Thank you

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martha nansamba

Apr 29, 2020

Thanks Rebecca and looking forward to learn his to write an seo content.

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Kelly

Apr 29, 2020

Thanks for the great explanation. I am looking forward to the next article on this topic.

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Dave Puckett

Apr 29, 2020

Thanks Rebecca for doing this blog and Thanks to Siteground for asking her to give SEO information to Siteground clients. This is desperately needed for us beginners who want to develop our sites the right way for success. I'm a new client of Siteground but already realize how hard they work to provide the best service. Someday soon I want to be an affiliate for Siteground and this new blog with Rebecca just made this website Host even more valuable! Great Job!

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Dona

May 02, 2020

Thank you so much for this article. Next month I turn 70. I began a blog/website toward the end of last year. And got involved with Pinterest just recently. I'm not selling anything on my website. I just wanted to encourage people and to share my faith. I'm doing a Oh! Wow! Moments series right now. I'm looking forward to using what I learn from you to grow my reading audience. I wrote out my answers to the SEO Exercise. It was eyeopening. Thanks again for this info.

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Keith Spears

May 03, 2020

Rebecca, this is an excellent read and starting point for a newbie like. I want this to work and selecting SiteGround as a host and now learning from and leveraging your SEO insight is a win-win combination. Looking forward to the next article in this series on SEO.

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David

May 05, 2020

Sorry if this sounds stupid but I still don't understand who or what determines a website's position on a Search Engine Results Page. It is purely a set of clever software algorithms that looks through your code and determines what your website is worth or is there an element of human itervention? I think I understand what you are saying in this blog from my own personal point of view as a (beginning) developer but I get lost in trying to understand things from the SERP point of view. I.e. What SEO does with my understanding. How does it all work and what happens in order to make it work?

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Rebecca Gill

May 15, 2020

David for the most part, ranking is determined by data model that uses 200+ main data points and an unknown amount of subpoints. In more recent years this algorithm has been getting smarter and this is because Google is using artificial intelligence to make the calculations better. Now that said, you do not need to know all the data points that are considered. Just the opposite. Your goal is to serve your human visitor. While doing so, you should try and keep the search engines in mind. As you think about the search engines think about what you can do to help them find your content, determine what you content it about, and know who your content can help. That last part is on-page SEO. My blog post #5 for SiteGround will cover this topic in depth. I'll walk you through the elements of content to review and update to help Google find and use your content.

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Philip

May 20, 2020

Wow thank you for such a great article on SEO! Very well explained and organized. This is the kind of content companies would pay for. Looking forward to the rest of the series!

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Simon

May 21, 2020

Great article Rebecca. This starts to clarify the process for me BUT the big hole in my understanding of the SEO process is in Wordpress can one add multiple keywords - for example my wife’s travel blog is focused on boomer travel always with mention of special provisions for the disabled such as tactile models for the blind and/or wheelchair accessibility. Usually we use a destination as the keyword or phrase but then can one add additional keywords (phrases) and if so are they separated by commas, periods, quotes or..... An associated question to this is how do tags and keyword/phrase tie together or are they all part of the same continuum. Thanks for any light you can shine.

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Jill

May 21, 2020

Thank you so much Rebecca. I feel like SEO is the one area of running my business and building websites for others that is very daunting and becoming a massive respinsibility to achieve for clients. I found this article easy to read and understand and finally I can start this next step in learning. I look forward to the follow up articles.

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Aimee Ascher

May 27, 2020

Rebecca! Basics and Foundation. I won't repeat all of the other comments. Everything that was previously said is the truth. Thankyou for a starting point. I have been telling myself lately to not be afraid of it just because I don't understand it, I just need to learn it. You have helped with the understanding part. Thank you again!!

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Rolf Dagfinn Jan Nestby

Jun 08, 2020

I am not into business, more like starting an informative blog around nature and human impact on nature. Anyway, I find this very helpful

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