SEO Basics In Terms Everyone Can Understand

SEO Basics Starts With Understanding What "SEO" Means

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, and this is where a lot of people start to zone out. Their eyes glaze over and their minds start to wander because they're already thinking they'll never understand the explanation that follows.

Does SEO make your eyes roll back in your head?


So I'd like to take a different approach that will help you understand the basics of SEO AND  feel confident about explaining it to others!

A New Way to Think About SEO

What if I told you that SEO is really just another form of networking?

I'm not talking about a computer network here. I'm talking about business networking... the kind you're probably already doing... that helps you get new customer leads from other businesses that refer people to you.

Does that sound crazy?

Maybe just a bit... but it's true! Search engines are THE BIGGEST online influencers and they make over three BILLION referrals EACH DAY to businesses they know and trust. (Source: Internet Livestats)

What makes this form of networking different, as you might have guessed, is that search engines are not people you can just walk up to, introduce yourself and your business, and start building a face to face relationship with. Still, you CAN build a relationship with search engines IF you use the right process.

What process is that? Search engine optimization.

SEO is a way to introduce your business, products, services, and website content to search engines and demonstrate you're someone they WANT to refer their customers (users) to. 

When you introduce yourself to search engines, you also help them understand your area of expertise and what makes you an authority in that area so they can make relevant referrals to you.

It makes sense, right? You wouldn't refer someone who is looking for a doctor, to a hairdresser. Why? Because a hairdresser isn't what they want or need. The hairdresser is not relevant for this person. You also wouldn't refer someone you know to another business that you didn't know or trust. Why? Because if it turned out to be a bad recommendation, it could damage YOUR credibility and reputation.

Instead, you take great care to ensure that you recommend businesses that are:

  • Relevant. They meet the needs of the person you're referring.
  • Trustworthy. They consistently do what they say they'll do within the timeframe they say they'll do it.
  • Authorities. They are experts at what they do.

The same is true for search engines. They put their best recommendations at the top of search results. And they do this by ranking the businesses they know about based on relevance, trust, and authority (among other things).

Are SEO And SEM The Same Thing?

Many people use the terms SEO and SEM as if they mean the same thing. But there are important differences between SEO and SEM that you should know.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is a form of online marketing that uses tools like search engine optimization (SEO) and paid advertisements to promote a business and its products and services.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of improving a website to help it rise to the top of search results in order to attract more visitors.

What Do Spiders and Crawlers and Bots Have To Do With SEO?

In the early days of the Internet, search engines didn't have much information to share because there weren't many businesses using the Internet. So they developed specialized programs that would automatically search the Internet for new content. As soon as new content was found, the search engine would quickly add it to their list, in order to be the first to share this information with their users.

These specialized programs, known as spiders, crawlers, or bots (short for "robots") perform the following tasks.

  • Explore the content on websites
  • Categorize and store this information in a database
  • Arrange the information, by categories (keywords), into indexes (tables that are similar to an Excel spreadsheet) that become the foundations for search results

And this is how search engines still find and share new website content in search results.

Why Most Businesses Need SEO

Notice that I said, "most businesses." Why? Because we've all heard of some unicorn business that has the top spot in search results and hasn't used SEO to get there.

This usually only happens when there is very little competition (like a small, niche industry or small geographical area) where one business is clearly the leading authority. And that's not usually the case for most businesses.

Normally, it takes time, consistent effort, and sometimes money to rank in search results. And this is why one of the most common questions I'm asked is: "Why don't I appear in search results?"

As I shared in 22 Ways to Boost Your SEO BEFORE You Have A Website, more than 1.9 MILLION websites launched EACH DAY in 2017! And, "There are over 1.5 billion websites on the world wide web today," according to Internet Livestats.

With new websites launching PLUS all the existing websites publishing new content EACH... AND... EVERY... DAY... search engines are overwhelmed. So they prioritize their tasks.

The websites that are using SEO techniques that make it easy for search engines to discover and classify their content are the top priority. Everything else stands in line to be processed when, and if, time and resources allow.

That's why it's important to put in the effort to make the proper introductions so you can take advantage of this free source of referrals.

How you and your content stack up against your competition will determine if and when you rise to the top of search results. That's why SEO is not just about introducing yourself. It's also about establishing relevance, trust, and authority - which help you rank well - and so much more.

SEO Basics for Absolute Beginners

8 Main Areas of Focus for Great SEO

A lot of SEO experts talk about SEO in terms of on-page versus off-page tasks, where "on-page" refers to the things you do ON your website and "off-page" refers to the things you do OFF your website.

While those distinctions are important to know, I prefer to talk about the 8 Areas of Focus For Great SEO because:

  • They're easier to remember
  • It helps you easily identify which ones you should be doing right now

Read on and see if you agree!

1.  Search Engine Profiles

Each of the major search engines provides an opportunity for businesses to introduce themselves, their products, and services by creating a business listing or "profile." Whether you have a website for your business or not, you can create search engine profiles.

2.  Responsive, Properly Structured, Error-Free, Efficient, Mobile-Friendly Website Design

If you have a website, it's important that your site works properly on whatever device a visitor may be using (desktop, laptop, tablet, e-reader, smartphone, etc.). 

Your website should also be organized and include links (in navigation bars, call-to-action buttons, and text links within your content) that make it easy for visitors to navigate your site.


PRO TIP:  If it takes visitors more than 3 clicks to get the information they want, you’ll lose them.

It’s also important that your site functions properly. Don’t you hate it when you click on a link on a site and the link doesn’t work… or… worse yet… gives you some unintelligible error message… or... redirects you to a site you would never have visited on your own? 

Well, the same is true for your visitors! No one likes it when they try to visit a site that is broken or doesn’t work properly.

Likewise, if your website or its pages take a long time to load, you’re losing visitors and money… and it doesn’t matter how great your content is!

Here’s a little secret… this is my pet peeve… and it’s a mistake that even the “big guys” make! And I’m gonna name names!

Forbes is one of the best-known and most well-respected media brands. They consistently put out high-value, in-demand content and are generally found at the top of search results for any keyword they target. But I no longer bother to click their links… even though I’m secretly dying to know what they’ve said. 

Why? Because they have so many videos and ads that their pages take FOREVER to load and, when they finally DO load, I am overwhelmed by unwanted, irrelevant ads and videos that automatically play that I can’t shut off. It’s a HORRIBLE user experience!  

3.  Consistent and Updated Citations

Citations are accounts, listings, or profiles you create for your business on other websites that are like online directories. And you create these listings to make it easy for customers to find you.

What happens when this information is inconsistent or out of date?

 Remember… in the online world, people can’t just walk up to you and ask questions about the information they see online. So if your information doesn't match, they may assume that the information isn't about you. Or, if it is about you, they may assume that you don’t care enough to ensure your information is accurate. Is that really the first… or any other… impression you want to give about you and your business?

Of course not! So it’s important to ensure that the key information about your business - Name, Address, Phone Number and Website Address - is EXACTLY the same everywhere it is encountered online.

4.  Backlinks From Other Trusted Websites

A backlink is created when another website creates a link to your content on their site. This can happen in a number of ways such as when you are interviewed by the owner of another website, you or your content is quoted, or you write an article for another website as a guest writer.

Backlinks are important because search engines use this to determine how valuable and important your content is… Similar to in-person networking, website owners typically only link to outside content that is trustworthy, relevant, and up-to-date. More backlinks are a signal that your content is valuable so search engines want it to appear in search results.

5.  No Penalties for SPAM or other unscrupulous practices

Search engines hate SPAM and unethical conduct as much as we do. And the way they combat such behavior is to flag sites that employ these kinds of tactics to prevent them from showing up in search results. 

Penalties are applied to websites that:

  • Stuff their content with a bunch of keywords in an unnatural way just to have a high keyword count without providing high-quality content.
  • Have been hacked. Protecting the security and privacy of users is very important and sites that have been hacked pose both a security risk as well as a privacy risk.
  • Use hidden content to add keywords to a page without affecting the user’s experience.
  • Use a bait-and-switch type of tactic where their page name and URL contain highly-searched keywords but the content is about a completely different topic.
  • Buy backlinks or participate in link-for-link backlink exchanges (schemes).
  • Have “thin” content (less than 800 words) with little or no added value to what is already available on the Internet.
  • Copy content from other websites and publish it as their own.
  • Promote affiliate products/services using the same information that is on the producing company’s website
  • Have SPAM posts by users in page comments.
  • Have expired job openings posted on their site.

6.  Recent, Positive Customer Reviews

A recent study found that 92% of consumers read online reviews, and star rating is the number one factor they use to judge a business. (Source: Vendasta, January 2019) And they expect those reviews to be within the last month in order to be considered relevant. 

So it’s not surprising that search engines use customer reviews as a factor for ranking websites in search results. 

7.  Consistent, Up-to-Date Social Media Accounts

Search engines also expect reputable businesses to have a presence in the media… and that includes social media. That doesn’t mean you must have and maintain a presence on every platform, but you should definitely focus on a presence on Facebook and LinkedIn, at a minimum.

8.  Insights About Your Competition

Consumers and search engines will compare your business to your competition. As a result, if you want to dominate the SEO scene in your industry, you need to know how you measure up to your competition in terms of your website, content and resources, keywords, online profiles, backlinks, and customer reviews.

The SEO landscape can change quickly and that’s why I recommend quarterly audits to assess your website, your SEO efforts, and your competition to identify:

  • What’s working that you can do more of
  • What isn’t working that you either need to change or can stop doing
  • What new opportunities exist

My Comprehensive SEO Audits dig into each of these key areas of focus for great SEO to:

  • Help build your brand and reputation so new leads and customers will recognize you as an authority in your field and someone they want to do business with
  • Provide your website visitors with a great user experience that will keep them coming back for more
  • Grow your relevance and visibility so you appear at the top of search results and drive more traffic to your site
  • Exponentially increase your reach by identifying other influencers who may share your content with their audiences
  • Identify new opportunities to reach more leads and customers

Recap of SEO Basics You Should Know

I know we covered a lot in this article, so I’d like to offer a quick recap.


  • SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It used to be about making your website presentable for search engines. But now it’s about ensuring you have a meaningful online presence everywhere your leads and customers happen to be.


  • SEO is similar to in-person networking because you’re introducing your business to search engines so they will refer their clients (users) to you. The difference is that search engines can’t walk up to you and have a conversation, so they set up rules and algorithms (computer programs that determine if you meet those rules) that enable them to understand the information they need about your business, your website, your content, and how to share that information with their users.


  • The 8 main areas you should focus on for great SEO are:

    1.  Search Engine Profiles
    2.  Properly Structured, Error-Free, Efficient, Mobile-Friendly Website
    3.  Consistent and Updated Citations
    4.  Backlinks From Other Trusted Websites
    5.  No Penalties for SPAM or other unscrupulous practices
    6.  Recent, Positive Customer Reviews
    7.  Consistent, Up-to-Date Social Media Accounts
    8.  Know Your Competition


In the next blog post, you'll learn How SEO Works!

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