SEO For Beginners
Everything you need to know to start a successful SEO campaign
Table of Contents
Chapter #1 - SEO for Beginners
93% of online experiences begin with a search engine.
Right now your customers are staring at an empty search bar on Google. When they type in generic queries about your products, services or location, will they find you…or your competition?
Appearing as the top result on Google comes down to understanding the basics of search marketing. Once you know what SEO is and how it works, you can start positioning your website to rank higher on search engine results pages (or SERPs) and receive the increased traffic that follows to your website.
Ready to become an SEO pro? Let’s get started.
What is SEO?
SEO stands for search engine optimisation. If we had to give a dry dictionary definition we’d say that SEO is the practice of increasing the quality and quantity of website traffic through non-paid (known as ‘organic’) search engine results.
At Digital Estate we know just how frustrating it is to read jargon and buzzwords. So we’ll translate for you. 75% of people NEVER scroll past the first page of Google. SEO is the strategy of optimising your website (and that’s what’s happening on the site as well as behind the scenes) and improving your position on Google.
The higher you rank, the more traffic you get in the form of people clicking on your website. Think of your own browsing habits. Do you click on the first, second or third result? Probably. Do you navigate to page #47 and choose a result there? Never.
Too many New Zealand businesses get caught up in the dry, dictionary definition of SEO. Right now you don’t need to worry about robots or algorithms. When you optimise your website for people, results will follow.
Optimising for people means learning:
- What people are searching for online
- What keywords people are using to trigger their search results
- What type of content people are looking to consume when they find their results
When you can answer these questions, you’ll be able to turn your website into the solution to people’s problems, and that’s at the heart of good SEO. Great SEO (which is what we want for you) happens when you turn your site into a must-see destination for people, while optimising for search engine algorithms too.
If search engines like Google can find you, and people find your content satisfies their needs, you’ve got the recipe for success. In this free guide, we’ll show you how to do both.
Why Is SEO Important for My Business?
Customers are the lifeblood of your business. Without foot traffic coming in the door, your register won’t be ringing and the bills will start to pile up. Even if your business exists online, you still need traffic – it’s just digital.
No matter what industry you operate in, traffic ensures you have customers paying for your products and services. Google is a proven source of traffic (driving more than 50% of ALL online traffic) with customers trusting Google to help them find businesses online. Think of the last time you went looking for somewhere to eat, or the opening hours of your favourite store, we’ll bet one free SEO consultation it started on Google!
Consider some of the following stats to show just how valuable appearing on Google is for your business:
- After a search is made, more than 70% of clicks go to organic results (not paid ads)
- SEO drives 1,000%+ more traffic than social media
- 75% of people never click on the second page of Google
- SEO has 20x more traffic than paid ads (on mobile and desktop)
- 97% of people research a business online before making a purchase
- The first 3 spots on Google receive 75% of ALL clicks for any given search
The numbers don’t lie. Great SEO puts you on the first page of Google, and the first page of Google is a proven stream of traffic that outstrips all other digital marketing channels.
Best of all, your SEO benefits compound over time. While paid ads are the shortcut to the top of Google, SEO is a long-term strategy that can take 6-12 months to see results. While this is a slower process, the trade-off is that your results only improve with age. A paid ad stops driving traffic the moment it’s turned off. In contrast, a well optimised website with quality content can stay on the first page of Google – driving more and more traffic over time without you investing a cent more.
Let’s Talk About Search Engines for a Minute
Google processes roughly 70,000 searches per second. By the time you’ve finished reading this sentence, hundreds of thousands of people have fired off requests for information, products and services.
With such a high volume of searches, search engines need a way to evaluate websites and determine which site was most likely to satisfy a searcher’s request. If someone searches for ‘All Blacks’, the result has to be relevant and accurate. Search engines like Google achieve this by identifying and cataloguing all content online (think blogs, websites, videos, images and any type of consumable content). This process is known as crawling and indexing.
Like a giant library, search engines like Google now have every possible resource on file. When a searcher punches in a keyword and asks for a result, Google uses its complex algorithm to see which resource matches the query and provides these to people. The top 10 results appear on the first page of Google. This is known as ranking.
What Makes a Search Result Organic?
The best things in life are organic. Fruit, veggies, and website traffic!
Traffic is organic when it is earned through SEO. In contrast, paid traffic is bought (for example Google Ads and Facebook Ads). In the past it was easy to spot the difference between organic results and paid ads, but as search engines grow and evolve it’s become harder to spot the difference. SERPs are a mixture of organic results and paid ads, with paid ads taking priority at the top of Google (we’ll explain why that is in a bit).
Here’s a quick visual example:
As frustrating as it can be to see business take a shortcut to the top of Google using paid ads, it’s important to remember search engines are running a business just like you. Paid ads help search engines drive revenue. Businesses pay for each click of their ad (this is known as pay-per-click advertising) with Google receiving the revenue.
The best things in life are free though, because you can drive traffic by improving your SEO and moving up the SERPs -without spending a cent.
Even better, there are multiple ways to appear on the SERPs without paying for traffic. These include:
- Featured Snippets
- ‘People Also Ask’ boxes
- Image Carousels
- Google’s Local Pack
- Organic search results
For example, if you ask a question that can be summarised neatly, you may see a Featured Snippet result on the SERPs. If you ask for the best local fish and chip shop in Auckland, you may see a Local Pack made up of Auckland’s best fish and chip shops marked on a map. Each result is driven by the needs of search engine users, so there are plenty of ways for your business to appear and receive organic traffic.
Prefer to take the shortcut to the top of Google? Discover the Digital Estate approach to Google Adwords for instant rankings.
Should I Hire an SEO Professional or Do It Myself?
If we had a dollar for every time we’ve been asked this we’d be retired on a sunny beach in Australia by now.
Depending on the competition in your industry, your willingness to learn, and your free time, you could absolutely perform some basic SEO on your own. Or, you might value your time and prefer to hire an SEO consultant to drive results and deliver ROI quickly.
Either way is 100% fine!!!
We’re living in the age of DIY, which makes SEO accessible for all New Zealand business owners. However, like any specialty skill, SEO takes time and knowledge to get right. Would you rather pay to have a mechanic fix your car – knowing it would be 100% road ready; or save a little money and tackle your engine problems on your own?
At Digital Estate we’ve seen first-hand the frustration of business owners who feel trapped by agencies that won’t share their SEO knowledge. So we’ve made it our mission to educate and inspire New Zealand businesses to manage their own marketing as much as possible.
This free guide pulls back the curtain and removes the mystery around SEO, so when you’re ready to make your run to the top you have a strategy and the right skills in place. But if you do opt for a professional service, it’s crucial to learn the difference between a ‘Good SEO’ and ‘Bad SEO’. Many agencies, freelancers and consultants offer SEO as a service, but bad SEO can do more harm to your website than good.
The simplest way to understand SEO is to compare white-hat SEO (good) with black-hat SEO (bad).
White Hat SEO vs Black Hat SEO
When it comes to SEO there’s a quick way…and a right way.
White-hat SEO refers to optimisation strategies that adhere to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. These are seen as safe and exist to provide value to search engine users. In short, Google loves white-hat SEO and these tactics are used by New Zealand’s highest ranking websites (and championed by us).
Black-hat SEO refers to optimisation strategies that look to trick Google’s ranking algorithm into improved rankings. Black-hat SEO is designed to drive fast results but places websites at risk of penalties from Google (which cripple rankings, destroys reputations and can wipe out revenue) or deindexed completely. This is a classic ‘churn and burn’ strategy that risks your website being removed from Google and losing all your traffic (not to mention any previous investment in your SEO). If this has happened to you, we can help get your website back on track with a penalty removal services and corrective White-Hat SEO campaign.
White-hat SEO can take time, but the results are worth the wait.
Shhhh. Google Has a Secret Guide to Help You Rank
Imagine if Google had a set of publicly available guidelines to help businesses optimise their website using white-hat SEO….wait a minute, they do!
Search engines like Google want to see your business succeed. When you optimise your website, you make it easy for Google to provide the most relevant and useful results to search engine users. And when search engine users keep coming back, it’s natural for ads to be clicked on – that means revenue for search engines. To cut a long story short, it’s in Google’s best interests to see you do well.
Here are some of Google’s (free) resources to support your SEO goals:
- Google’s ‘Search Engine Optimisation Starter Guide’
- Google’s Webmaster Central Help Forum
- Google’s Webmaster Guidelines
We recommend sticking with our ‘Introduction to SEO’ guide as a starting point (we’re a little biased, but we’re also a lot more relatable than Google where content can get overly technical and complex). However, the underlying message shared by Digital Estate and Google is the same – do what’s best for site visitors, and don’t try and trick Google.
When you play by the rules of that simple advice you’ll be giving your site visitors a great online experience, and that’s at the heart of great SEO.
To save you from reading any more overly dry SEO articles (sorry Google!) here’s a snapshot of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, including some simple Do’s and Don’ts.
Google Webmaster Guidelines
- ✔ Make pages primarily for users, not search engines
- ✔ Think about what makes your website unique, valuable or engaging
- ✔ Act in the best interests of users without deceiving people
- ✔ Create original content designed to help users
- ✘ Automatically generate content
- ✘ Participate in link building schemes
- ✘ Cloak your website (showing search engine crawlers different content than visitors)
- ✘ Hide text and links to improve search engine rankings
Local SEO 101
“OK Inow know about SEO, but what’s local SEO? Isn’t that the same thing?”
Just like there are different kinds of businesses, there are different kinds of SEO. For Kiwi businesses who want to appear in their local area and get more local work, you’ll need to adopt specific optimisation strategies to boost your local SEO.
This is because your optimisation strategies will change depending on your ranking goals. If you’re an international business looking to appear across the North and South Island, your international SEO tactics will look different to eCommerce SEO, and different to a local shop targeting a suburb of Wellington using local SEO.
Local businesses will often target specific locations alongside commercial intent.
[service] + [near me]
[service] + [location]
Think ‘Shoe repair near me’ or ‘pizza delivery Wellington’. These types of searches trigger local SEO thanks to the request for local information. Google’s algorithm understands that people are looking for businesses in their area, which typically triggers the local pack and results shown on Google Maps.
These results are known as a Google My Business (GMB) listing. Like this:
If you want your own shiny, customer-friendly GMB listing your business will need a storefront in the local area (like a retail store or restaurant), otherwise you won’t be able to appear as a Google Maps result. Alternatively, you’ll need to provide a delivery service to the customer’s door in the local area (like a plumber or electrician).
The example below shows a search for pizza in Wellington. Instead of the traditional SERP results listing the top 10 websites, you can see multiple options for pizza in the area. For a local family or tourist, this is the perfect way to see what’s available.
Local SEO Guidelines
- ✔ Offer a physical address (even if it’s a home address) to be eligible for inclusion in the Google My Business index
- ✔ Serve customers face-to-face either at a store location (like a restaurant) or at a customer’s property (like an electrician)
- ✔ Provide all details of your local business accurately including name, address and phone number (NAP) as well as website, hours of operation and business categories
- ✘ Use PO boxes, virtual offices or listings that aren’t eligible for a Google My Business listing
- ✘ Abuse the review feature of your Google My Business listing (either through fake positive reviews for yourself or snake negative reviews of your competition)
- ✘ Misrepresent your core business information, including ‘stuffing’ your Google My Business listing with keywords, locations or fake addresses.
Find out more about representing your local business using Google’s official guidelines here.
We’ll dive deeper into the different types of SEO – local, national and international, in Chapter #4: Great User Experience. For now, let’s learn a little more about the importance of understanding what your audience is looking for.
The Importance of User Intent and SEO
Imagine a lead contacts you out of the blue. They know exactly what they want and they’ve come to you because they know you can help them.
Now, picture a lead who’s landed on your website by mistake. They don’t want your products or services at all.
Which lead is more valuable?
Optimising your website increases the volume of quality traffic who are actively looking for your products and services. You’re not just getting MORE visitors, you’re getting more visitors who are INTERESTED in your business. As a result these site visitors are more likely to become customers, and are worth their weight in digital gold. This is one small piece of the conversion rate optimisation pie.
You can attract more of these quality visitors by understanding user intent – and designing your website’s on-site and off-site SEO to match that intent. For example, let’s say a customer types ‘all black gear’ into Google. Is their intent to find replica All Black jerseys to purchase, a range of clothes all coloured black, or something else?
User intent is simply the content a search engine user is looking for. This could be directions to the airport, tickets to see Flight of The Conchords, or funny cat videos. Your job is to provide people with the content they’re looking for in the format they desire.
Common user intent types include:
Informational: These people are looking for information. For example, “What is the best type of laptop for video editing?”
Navigational: These people are looking for a specific website. For example, “Apple”
Transactional: These people are looking to make a purchase. For example, “Best prices on MacBook Air”
If you’re unsure what search intent is behind your target keywords, try Googling the keywords you want to rank for and seeing what’s currently in the SERPs. For example, if there’s a photo carousel, it’s likely people are searching that keyword looking for photo results.
You can also Google your target keywords to see what your competitors are NOT providing. Do the top 10 results on Google include photos? You might consider using a video. Do the top 10 results on Google include an overview of the topic? You might consider creating a deep-dive guide on the topic. Researching ranking websites will provide a baseline, it’s your job to 10x the value they provide.
Ready to learn more about creating content that nails user intent? Jump straight to Chapter #3: Keyword Research
Once you understand the searcher’s intent behind their target keywords, you’ll be able to create relevant, quality content that gives people what they want. This will establish trust with your site visitors and help you rank higher on Google – remember, Google wants to show websites that give search engine users what they want.
So Should I Start Creating Content Right Now?
Not yet. You have to learn to walk before you run.
Before you begin optimising your website to satisfy user intent and move to the top of Google, you need to identify the goals of your website – and implement a plan to kick them. Every site is different, so a generic approach to SEO won’t work for you.
If you’re optimising your own site, you’ll need to know your goals to measure your progress.
And if you’re bringing on an SEO professional, you’ll need Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to make sure you’re seeing a return on your investment. Common KPIs to track your SEO success include:
- Phone calls
- Email signups
- Contact form submissions
If your business is operating locally, and you’re optimising your Google My Business (GMB) listing, your local SEO KPIs may include:
- Clicks to call
- Clicks to website
- Clicks to driving directions
Getting your goals down on paper doesn’t have to be complex. You can use our simple template to keep yourself or your SEO agency accountable:
‘For the website
, my primary SEO KPI is ’
Can’t I Pick ‘Rankings’ and ‘Traffic’ as My SEO Goals?
You could, but you wouldn’t want to. When it comes to SEO, rankings are nothing without revenue.
It’s the dirty secret of New Zealand’s SEO industry that certain agencies and consultants will promise you #1 rankings and charge a premium for it. But what value is ranking #1 for a keyword that no one is searching for?
At Digital Estate we don’t measure success by rankings or traffic. Those are two natural byproducts of a strong SEO campaign (and results we pride ourselves on), but they’re not our focus. We improve rankings and drive traffic – paired with a strategic approach that drives clicks, calls and conversions.
For example, let’s say you run an eCommerce store shipping products everywhere from Christchurch to Auckland. Would you rather:
- 5,000 monthly visitors and 5 people sign up to your mailing list
- 500 monthly visitors and 50 people sign up to your mailing list
It’s easy to be blinded by a large number of website visitors, but unless they’re taking the next step in the form of a call, click or conversions, they’re useless.
By identifying your SEO goals – outside of rankings and traffic – you’ll be able to kickstart an SEO campaign that’s designed to grow your business. More than vanity metrics, the right type of SEO drives meaningful business outcomes and ROI.
You just graduated with honours from chapter #1 of the ‘SEO for Beginners’ program. You can take what you’ve learned and start creating your SEO goals. Or, jump straight into Chapter #2: How Google Works (Crawling, Indexing, and Ranking) and unlock even more SEO secrets.
Chapter #2: How Google Works (Crawling, Indexing, and Ranking).