The Ultimate Guide to SEO

Ever wonder how Google is so good at knowing exactly what you need? Ever notice how the answer to any question is usually located on the first page of a search result? SEO is the secret behind it all. SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, works to keep your website from being buried in search results pages so that you can be found easily by visitors who are looking for a specific result online. In this blog post, we will discuss SEO from top-to-bottom - how it works, why it's important, and some tips on how to optimize your website so that you rank higher in Google.

Travis Godec Roanoke Web Designer
Travis Godec
November 18, 2021
Ultimate guide to SEO

What is SEO and why does it matter

What is SEO? SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. SEO is a strategy that allows you to increase the ranking of your website on search engine results pages (SERPs) such as Google, Yahoo, and Bing. In short, SEO is all about making sure that people are finding you when they search for products or services related to what you offer.  SEO is important because if you rank higher in Google, your website will receive more traffic and ultimately convert to sales. SEO helps companies succeed online by producing a steady flow of potential leads through the website.

Why SEO? SEO allows businesses to be found easily when customers search for their products or services on Google (or any other major search engine). On average, 71.33% of searches resulted in a page one Google organic click. Page two and three get only 5.59% of the clicks. On the first page alone, the first 5 results account for 67.60% of all the clicks, and the results from 6 to 10 account for only 3.73% (Source: MarTech).

SEO vs. PPC (Pay Per Click)

PPC is the shorthand name for paying for advertisements on search engines. One of the most common questions is whether or not SEO works better than PPC. The short answer to this question is that they are both extremely valuable and should be used together, as opposed to one over another.

SEO tends to be a longer-term investment, while PPC can be a good quick fix to boost traffic if you're on the brink of getting a website off the ground. After an SEO campaign has ended, the results continue to drive traffic and leads to your site. When a PPC campaign is ended, the ad is gone and all traffic associated with that ad dries up and vanishes.

What search engine optimization is

How does SEO work

SEO works by optimizing your website to rank higher on search engines so that you can drive more traffic from these SERPs. Search engines use what is known as spiders, which are bots, to crawl through websites searching for SEO signals. These spiders find signals on your website that help them determine what the site is about. It navigates through elements on the website such as keywords in the URL, meta descriptions or alt tags, and the content on the page. Google then calculates what it calls "E.A.T" -- Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. It's kind of like a popularity contest where the more SEO signals you have pointing back to your site combined with quality content on each page, Google determines where you're going to rank for keyword terms.

SEO experts target and track what are known as "keywords". These keywords are relevant to the product or service that you offer. SEO is all about understanding what your customer wants and matching it with keywords so that they can use it to find you. For example, if you were a business that specializes in tanning beds, you would want people searching for "tanning salons near me" (or something similar) to find your website.

How Google ranks web pages

Google uses over 200 SEO signals to determine the rank of a website. These signals all are combined into their ranking algorithm which determines where your site ranks for specific keywords or phrases. Google's algorithm is constantly changing, and the exact metrics are unknown, but we have a pretty good idea from years of trial and error for what helps websites move up the ranks in the search engine results pages (SERPs).

On-page SEO factors

On-page SEO factors are what you can control on the website. These SEO factors help Google (and other search engines) navigate through the pages of your site to determine how strong or relevant it is for certain keywords or phrases.

On-page factors can be broken down further into technical elements, and content elements.

Technical on-page SEO factors

Technical SEO factors are elements of your site that you can control, but generally have nothing to do with the content on the page viewed by the user. Some of the major technical on-page SEO elements include:

  • Robots.txt -  A  file that tells search engine crawlers which URLs they can access on your site.
  • Sitemap - A file that provides information about the pages, videos, and other files on your site, and the relationships between them.
  • 301 and 302 redirects -  indicates to search engines that this page has been moved permanently or temporarily.
  • Canonicalization - a way of telling search engines that a specific URL represents the master copy of a page
  • 404 or missing pages - Error code is given when a page has been moved or improperly linked to.
On-page factors google uses o rank websites

Content-based on-page SEO factors

On-page content is one of the most important factors search engines use in determining what a website is designed to do.  

Content SEO factors include:

URL Structure - Relevant keywords should be placed in the URL if possible, but it's not super essential anymore as search engines gain most of their information from other locations on web pages

Page Title - Appears in the browser tab or title bar of a website, and is also used as an SEO signal by search engines.

Meta Description - The description that appears under your site's listing on SERPs (Google Search Engine Results Pages). This short snippet tells users why they should click on your link vs. another site.

Meta Keywords - These are keywords that describe your content, but SEO experts no longer believe they play a role in ranking organic search results today.

Heading tags - Heading tags (H-tags) are used to organize content on pages. There are 6 levels of H-tags ranging from H1 being the most important, to H6 being the least.

Keyword Density - The percentage of times a keyword appears on the page compared to the total number of words in your content.

Keyword prominence - Determined by if a keyword or phrase appears more prominently on your website, and how it relates to where that information is placed throughout the site.

Image SEO - How well images on your site are optimized for SEO. This is done by strategically placing keywords within the image file name, ALT Tags (text option of an image), and in-content text surrounding or describing an image.

Internal links - A link from one webpage on a domain pointing back at itself keeps visitors engaged with relevant content while helping search engines understand how pages relate to each other across multiple domains/sites.

Off-page SEO Factors

Off-page SEO factors are all of the signals that search engines can't observe directly on your site. These include:

External Links - Links originating on another website pointing to yours can be good indicator of quality content. Generally, if other people think that page has valuable information they want to direct their audience towards they'll post a link to it.

Brand Building -  The building of authority of your brand across the web.

Social Media - Having a presence on social media websites

Content Marketing -  Content that is created to give an audience something to share, talk about, or link back to.

PR -  Press coverage by reputable sources.

Local SEO (GMB and Citations) -   Google My Business (GMB) and other local search engines drive a lot of traffic as well as ranking authority to business websites.

Forums -  Participating in discussions on relevant forums can help increase traffic and SEO signals.

Influencer Marketing - Influencers are individuals in the industry who have a large following of like-minded people they can refer to.

Events -  Participating in events can help build SEO signals by creating a buzz around your brand, as well as the event itself.

Guest Posting -   Writing content for other websites can help SEO signals by increasing the number of inbound links to your website.

Podcasts -   Podcasts are one of the best SEO tools because they provide a way to create content that is easily shareable and highly targeted

Reviews - Reviews build trustworthiness and SEO signals which help to increase your ranking.

Content Syndication - Syndicating content to popular news sites.

What is the role of content in SEO?

Content is one of the most important factors in SEO. It has even been said that "Content is king".  To produce the best rankings possible for a website, we want to show search engines that our website is the authority on the topic and searchers are likely to find the answers to their questions on our website. The majority of the time, we target customers at the top of our sales funnel with knowledge and information that ties into products and services we can offer lower in our funnel.

Content Clusters

Many website owners hear they need to have a blog, but end up spinning their wheels creating content that never drives any traffic. Generally, the content is too short and not optimized for search. Research and strategy are integral parts of a content campaign to ensure content is designed in a way to drive traffic and convert prospective leads.

The current best practice for optimizing content is to create what is called "content clusters". Content clusters are groupings of related posts around a single keyword or content theme, known as a "pillar".

This pillar post should have the main keyword of a service or product you offer. The content connected to this pillar should expand upon the idea and provide more information so users (and search engines) can gain a deeper understanding of your knowledge and service. Linking topic cluster pages to pillar pages and pillar pages to a service or product will eventually improve your search visibility by giving you authority over a particular topic.

Ideally, we are looking to create engaging content that people want to read, share, and link back to as an authoritative source of information on a given topic.

Different types of SEO campaigns

There are different types of campaigns depending on the market you are trying to target. SEO for local businesses is slightly different from a campaign for an international company or an e-commerce store.  Here are the different SEO campaigns available.

Local SEO campaigns

Local SEO is the practice of optimizing a product, service, or business for a particular location-based search query. Google (and other search engines) uses a user's IP address (for desktop) and geolocation (for mobile) to decide which results to show the consumer. As a result, when someone does a local search for a dentist, contractor, or lawyer, the search engine will display local companies that are relevant to their area.

For a local business, a local search result combines two key components (or chances):

  1. Organic Search Results - The website
  2. Local Pack - Google My Business (GMB)

Local SEO entails improving the company's website for local search queries as well as optimizing the business's Google My Business profile.

Local Pack (Google My Business) and Organic Results (websites) are generally used to construct typical search results.

Google My Business (GMB)

Google My Business enables business branding to be displayed prominently in search results with a knowledge panel. Google is also expanding possibilities for users to connect with businesses directly from search results by allowing them to do so via their Google My Business profiles, such as:

  • Booking Appointments
  • Requesting Quotes
  • Messaging Directly

Without a GMB page, you may miss half of your opportunities in a local search result and the local pack.

Google My Business Ranking Factors

Naturally, Google does not reveal the ranking criteria in detail, but they do provide some general information here.

  • Relevance: "Relevance refers to how well someone searches are matching with a local listing. Adding complete and detailed business information can help Google better understand your business and match your listing to relevant searches from customers."
  • Distance: "Distance is calculated by how far each potential business is from the location terms used in a search. If a customer doesn't specify a location in their search, Google will calculate distance based on what’s known about their location."
  • Prominence: "Prominence refers to how well-known a business is. Some places are more prominent in the offline world, and search results try to reflect this in local ranking. For example, famous museums, landmark hotels or well-known shop brands that are familiar to many people are also likely to be more prominent in local search results."
  • "Prominence is also based on information that Google has about a business from across the Internet (like links, articles, and directories). Google review count and score are also factored into local search ranking – more reviews and positive ratings will improve a business's local ranking."

On-Site Local SEO

When it comes to Local SEO, knowing where your company is located is critical. We need to inform search engines and consumers about your location if your business is in a specific area. A few of the  areas we try to optimize are:

  • Home Page optimization: Reinforce location or service area into H1 heading, title tag, and meta description of the home page.
  • Internal pages: An Internal page would be the service or product your business provides. We also want to optimize the H1 heading, title tag, and meta description with information on the business's service area. Providing a list of Frequently asked questions on product or service sites is an excellent approach to assist customers in finding answers to particular inquiries while also offering keyword-rich semantic content for search engines.
  • Sitewide: Your company address and other essential information should be readily available on the website's footer. This not only helps to remind people of your location, but it also provides them with business information whether they are browsing your website from their phone or tablet. Add address, phone number, hours of operation, contact methods, and a link to your GMB profile so that consumers may locate you.

Business Citations & Local Links

Citations and Mentions (does not need to be a link) assist search engines to build a better picture of the company and its location and establish online prominence. The more often your business is mentioned and linked to from various websites, the better.

Trust Signals

Elements such as reviews are also important for SEO because Google uses this information in its algorithm to determine local SEO rank. Getting quality links that provide insight into how worthy a company may be can enhance trust signals and overall authority of your website or blog post which will affect SEO performance positively. The best way to achieve these elements is through content marketing strategies:

  • Write informative posts about relevant topics related to your business
  • Provide useful tips on using products or services
  • Offer helpful advice on getting things done well
  • Distribute unique newsworthy events happening at your location
  • Encourage people who have had an experience with you or one of our employees to leave their feedback

International Campaigns

Simply said, international SEO aids you in optimizing your website for search engines so that they can more effectively comprehend the countries and languages in which you've produced the various parts of content on your site.

When you have a website that is multilingual, which means it has the same material in at least two languages or regional accents, or when your site is multi-regional, which implies you offer different content to people in various countries, SEO becomes essential.

There are two main problems in regards to international SEO:

  • How to structure the various versions of information on your site or sites.
  • How to tell search engines which version of the content is best suited for which audience.

E-Commerce Campaigns

E-commerce optimization approaches can assist you to rank higher and your sites will deliver the most suitable answers to a user's search intent if done effectively. Optimizing eCommerce sites may provide continuous, free organic traffic to your site as long as it is properly optimized.

The heart of any successful eCommerce SEO optimization technique is keyword research. Keyword selection is critical to your SEO success. Focusing on the wrong target keyword might lessen your impressions and bring low-converting visitors to your site.

Some of the elements that are focused on in an e-commerce campaign include:

  • Product-Focused Keywords: Ensure you are targeting keywords based on a medium to high search volume that is strongly relevant to your brand and not too difficult to rank for.
  • Buyer Intent Optimization: Buyer intent refers to the intent beyond the consumer’s keywords when searching online, which reflects where they are in the buying cycle.
  • Site Architecture Optimization: Simplifying site structure improves both usability and crawlability.

Lesser-Known SEO Factors

There are several SEO techniques that not all search optimization companies or SEO specialists know about. Some SEO elements can even be performed by you, the site owner, with little to no prior knowledge necessary for them to work and show positive results on your pages.

A few lesser-known SEO factors include:

  • Breadcrumbs: Breadcrumbs direct users and help them with understanding where they are in the site hierarchy. Breadcrumbs also make it easier for search engines to crawl and index your site.
  • Schema Markup:  Schema markup helps search engines understand what a certain amount of content is about, and assists them with displaying it in the SERP. Schema markup can be used for a range of things. It can help site owners highlight important information, provide rich snippets in the SERPs, improve CTR from users who are finding your results on mobile devices.
  • Page Load Speed:  Users don't like waiting for a page or site to load before they do what they came there to do, and tend to leave if a page takes too long. For this reason, Google has started taking into account page load speed as a ranking factor.
  • Broken Links: Broken links are another indicator of poor user experience. Nobody wants to click on a link only to be disappointed that it doesn't take them to the page they wanted.

The best tools for an SEO campaign

The SEO tools needed for a successful SEO campaign depend on the scale of your website and what you need to be checked.

SEO professionals will always use various tools as part of their SEO campaigns, but some are more useful than others.


Google Search Console (GSC): GSC is a free Google tool that tracks the following elements for both pages on a website, and specific queries (keywords):

  • Impressions (times a site showed up in a SERP)
  • Clicks (times your site was clicked in a SERP)
  • Average position in the SERP
  • Click-through rate (Clicks/impressions)

Google Analytics: The Google Analytics technology is used to keep track of people's activity on a website, such as session length, page per session, bounce rate, and more. It may be linked with Google Ads to create and manage online campaigns that include landing page quality assessment and conversions (goals). Goals might include the number of sales made, lead creation, viewings of a specific page, or video plays.

Professional SEO Software

SEMRush: Semrush is a SaaS platform that is often used for keyword research and online ranking data, including metrics such as search volume and CPC. The platform also collects information about online keywords gathered from Google and Bing search engines.

Ahrefs: Ahrefs is an SEO software suite that contains tools for link building, keyword research, competitor analysis, rank tracking, and site audits. Most of the features inside of Ahrefs are designed for marketing professionals.

Moz: SEO software that provides a variety of tools for SEO professionals including rank tracking, link building, and on-page analysis

Screaming Frog: a website crawler that helps you improve onsite SEO, by extracting data & auditing for common SEO issues.

Jarvis: AI Content writing tool used to create high-quality unique content optimized for SEO, readability, and uniqueness.

SurferSEO: Surfer is a tool designed to help SEO-optimize written content, like blog posts and articles.

Roanoke white hat seo services

What do professional SEO services cost, and is it worth it?

If you're with me here, let's get into the details.

The first thing I want to mention is that search engine optimization can be confusing at times because there are hundreds of factors in play for your website when it comes to ranking well on Google or other search engines.

What are the costs?

According to data from Ahrefs, $100-$150/hr is the most popular pricing tier amongst SEOs in the US who charge hourly rates (35.29%), and around 20% of SEOs charge $75-$100 per hour. The same data from Ahrefs suggest that around 25% of all SEO projects are priced somewhere in the $500 and $1000 a month range.

Is it worth it?

Here is some food for thought to help you decide if SEO might be an option for your digital marketing budget (Source: Intergrowth):

  1. 68% of online experiences begin with a search engine.
  2. Google currently holds 92.27% of the total search engine market share (Google + Google Images), followed by YouTube (owned by Google), Yahoo!, Bing, and Amazon.
  3. 61% of B2B marketers stated that SEO and organic traffic generate more leads than any other marketing initiative.
  4. 80% of major purchases start with online research, even if the purchase itself happens in a store.
  5. 47% of consumers view 3-5 pieces of content created by a company before talking to a salesman from that company.
  6. 70% of online marketers say that SEO is better than PPC for generating sales.
  7. 75% of people never scroll past the first page of search engines.
  8. Leads from search engines have a 14.6% close rate, while outbound leads (ex. cold-calling, direct mail, etc.) have a 1.7% close rate.
  9. 70-80% of people ignore paid search results, choosing to only click on organic search results.
  10. Nearly one-third of consumers in the U.S. use the internet to search for local businesses every day.
  11. 76% of people who search for a business nearby visit within 24 hours.
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