Can you learn SEO in an hour? Surprisingly, the answer is yes, at least when it comes to the fundamentals!
With this edition of Whiteboard Friday, we’re kicking off something special: a six-part series of roughly ten-minute-long videos designed to deliver core SEO concepts efficiently and effectively. It’s our hope that this will serve as a helpful resource for a wide range of people:
Beginner SEOs looking to get acquainted with the field concisely & comprehensively
Clients, bosses, and stakeholders who would benefit from an enhanced understanding of your work
New team members who need quick and easy onboarding
Colleagues with SEO-adjacent roles, such as web developers and software engineers
Today we’ll be covering Part 1: SEO Strategy with the man who wrote the original guide on SEO, our friend Rand. Settle in, and stay tuned next Friday for our second video covering keyword research!
Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high resolution version in a new tab!
Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to a special edition of the Whiteboard Friday series. I’m Rand Fishkin, the founder and former CEO of Moz, and I’m here with you today because I’m going to deliver a one-hour guide to SEO, front and back, so that you can learn in just an hour the fundamentals of the practice and be smarter at choosing a great SEO firm to work with, hiring SEO people.
A handy SEO resource for your clients, team, and colleagues
If you are already in SEO, you might pick up some tips and tactics that you didn’t otherwise know or hadn’t previously considered. I want to ask those of you who are sort of intermediate level and advanced level SEOs — and I know there are many of you who have historically watched me on Whiteboard Friday and I really appreciate that — to give this video a chance even though it is at the beginner level, because my hope is that it will be valuable to you to send to your clients, your potential customers, people who join your team and work with you, developers or software engineers or web devs who you are working with and whose help you need but you want them to understand the fundamentals of SEO.
If those are the people that you’re talking to, excellent. This series is for you. We’re going to begin with SEO strategy. That is our first part. Then we’ll get into things like keyword research and technical SEO and link building and all of that good stuff as well.
The essentials: What is SEO, and what does it do?
So first off, SEO is search engine optimization. It is essentially the practice of influencing or being able to control some of the results that Google shows when someone types in or speaks a query to their system.
I say Google. You can influence other search engines, like Bing and DuckDuckGo and Yahoo and Seznam if you’re in the Czech Republic or Baidu. But we are primarily focused on Google because Google has more than a 90% market share in the United States and, in fact, in North America and South America, in most of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East with a few exceptions.
Start with business goals
So SEO is a tactic. It’s a way to control things. It is not a business goal. No one forms a new company or sits down with their division and says, “Okay, we need to rank for all of these keywords.” Instead what you should be saying, what hopefully is happening in your teams is, “We have these business goals.”
Example: “Grow our online soccer jersey sales to a web-savvy, custom heavy audience.”
Let’s say we’re an online e-commerce shop and we sell customized soccer jerseys, well, football for those of you outside of the United States. So we want to grow our online soccer jersey sales. Great, that is a true business goal. We’re trying to build a bigger audience. We want to sell more of these jerseys. In order to do that, we have marketing goals that we want to achieve, things like we want to build brand awareness.
Next, marketing goals
Build brand awareness
We want more people to know who we are, to have heard of our particular brand, because people who have heard of us are going to be more likely to buy from us. The first time you hear about someone, very unlikely to buy. The seventh time you’ve heard about someone, much more likely to buy from them. So that is a good marketing goal, and SEO can help with that. We’ll talk about that in a sec.
Grow top-of-funnel traffic
You might want to grow top-of-funnel traffic. We want more people coming to the site overall so that we can do a better job of figuring out who is the right audience for us and converting some of those people, retargeting some of those people, capturing emails from some of those people, all those good things.
Attract ready-to-buy fans
We want to attract ready-to-buy fans, people who are chomping at the bit to buy our soccer jerseys, customize them and get them shipped.
SEO, as a strategy, is essentially a set of tactics, things that you will do in the SEO world to rank for different keywords in the search engines or control and influence what already ranks in there so that you can achieve your marketing goals so that you can achieve your business goals.
Don’t get this backwards. Don’t start from a place of SEO. Especially if you are an SEO specialist or a practitioner or you’re joining a consulting firm, you should always have an excellent idea of what these are and why the SEO tactics that you are undertaking fit into them. If you don’t, you should be asking those questions before you begin any SEO work.
Otherwise you’re going to accomplish things and do things that don’t have the impact or don’t tie directly to the impact that the business owners care about, and that’s going to mean probably you won’t get picked up for another contract or you won’t accomplish the goals that mean you’re valuable to the team or you do things that people don’t necessarily need and want in the business and therefore you are seen as a less valuable part of it.
Finally, move into SEO strategy
But if you’re accomplishing things that can clearly tie to these, the opposite. People will really value what you do.
Rank for low-demand, high-conversion keywords
So SEO can do things like rank for low demand, things that don’t have a lot of searches per month but they are high conversion likely keywords, keywords like “I am looking for a customized Seattle Sounders soccer jersey that’s in the away colors.” Well, there’s not a lot of search demand for that exact phrase. But if you’re searching for it, you’re very likely to convert.
Earn traffic from high-demand, low-competition, less commerce-focused keywords
You could try and earn traffic from high-demand, low competition keywords that are less focused directly on e-commerce. So it could be things like “Seattle Sounders news” or “Seattle Sounders stats” or a comparison of “Portland Timbers versus Seattle Sounders.” These are two soccer or football clubs in the Pacific Northwest.
Build content that attracts links and influencer engagement
Or you might be trying to do things like building content that attracts links and influencer engagement so that in the future you can rank for more competitive keywords. We’ll talk about that in a sec. SEO can do some amazing things, but there are also things that it cannot do.
What SEO can do:
If you put things in here, if you as an SEO pitch to your marketing team or your business owners that SEO can do things that it can’t, you’re going to be in trouble. So when we compose an SEO strategy, a set of tactics that tries to accomplish marketing goals that tie to business goals, SEO can do things like:
Attract searchers that are seeking your content.
Control how your brand is seen in search results when someone searches for your particular name.
Nudge searchers toward queries by influencing what gets suggested in the auto suggest or by suggesting related searches or people also ask boxes.
Anything that shows up in the search results, nearly anything can be influenced by what we as SEOs can do.
What SEO cannot do:
Grow or create search demand on its own
But SEO cannot grow or create search demand by itself. So if someone says, “Hey, I want us to get more traffic for this specific keyword,” if you’re already ranking number one and you have some videos showing in the results and you’re also in the image results and you’ve got maybe a secondary page that links off to you from the results, you might say, “Hey, there’s just not more demand,” and SEO by itself can’t create that additional demand.
Build brand (by itself)
SEO also can’t build brand, at least not by itself. It can certainly be a helpful part of that structure. But if someone says, “Hey, I want us to be better known among this audience,”you can say, “Well, SEO can help a little, but it can’t build a brand on its own, and it certainly can’t build brand perception on its own.” People are going to go and visit your website. They’re going to go and experience, have an interaction with what you’ve created on the web. That is going to be far more of a brand builder, a brand indicator than just what appears in the search results. So SEO can’t do that alone.
Directly convert customers
It also can’t directly convert customers. A lot of the time what we find is that someone will do a great job of ranking, but when you actually reach the website, when visitors reach the website, they are unsatisfied by the search, which by the way is one of the reasons why this one-hour guide is going to include a section on searcher satisfaction.
When Google sees over time that searchers are unsatisfied by a result, they will push that result down in the rankings and find someone who does a great job of satisfying searchers, and they will rank them instead. So the website has to do this. It is part of SEO. It’s certainly part of the equation, but SEO can’t influence it or control it on its own.
Finally, last but not least, SEO cannot work overnight. It just won’t happen. SEO is a long-term investment. It is very different from paid search ads, PPC, also called SEM sometimes, buying from Google ads or from Bing ads and appearing in the sponsored results. That is a tactic where you can pour money in and optimize and get results out in 24 hours. SEO is more like a 24-month long process.
The SEO Growth Path
I’ve tried to show that here. The fundamental concept is when you have a new website, you need to earn these things — links and engagement and historical performance in the rankings.
As you earn those things, other people are linking to you from around the web, people are talking about you, people are engaging with your pages and your brand, people start searching for your brand specifically, people are clicking you more in the search results and then having good experiences on your website, as all those great things happen, you will grow your historical engagement and links and ranking factors, all these things that we sort of put into the bucket of the authority and influence of a website.
3–6 months: Begin to rank for things in the long tail of search demand
As that grows, you will be able to first, over time, this might be three to six months down here, you might be able to rank for a few keywords in the long tail of search demand.
6–9 months: Begin to rank for more and more competitive keywords
After six to nine months, if you’re very good at this, you may be able to rank for more and more competitive keywords.
12–18 months: Compete for tougher keywords
As you truly grow a brand that is well-known and well thought of on the internet and by search engines, 12 to 18 months in, maybe longer, you may be able to compete for tougher and tougher keywords. When I started the Moz website, back in the early days of Google, it took me years, literally two or three years before I was ranking for anything in Google, anything in the search engines, and that is because I had to first earn that brand equity, that trust, that relationship with the search engines, those links and that engagement.
Today this is more true than ever because Google is so good at estimating these things. All right. I look forward to hearing all about the amazing strategies and structures that you’ve got probably in the comments down below. I’m sure it will be a great thread. We’ll move on to the second part of our one-hour guide next time — keyword research. Take care.