SEO is always changing, but we’ve been following the industry for over 10 years and want to help you get the most out of your SEO time and money. Search engine optimization is the art and science of getting search engines like Google to list your website, and the holy grail of SEO is getting on page one for the search terms that make your company money.

In this guide we’ll share the secret sauce behind our success of getting on page one for money-making keywords for ourselves and our clients, and we’ll give you step-by-step instructions on doing it for yourself.

Skip to the ROI of SEO Infographic

What you’ll learn in this crash course to SEO marketing:

  • How to wield SEO for specific industries, i.e.,  SEO for financial services, SEO for pet companies, and SEO for medical websites.
  • The main factors that contribute to getting websites to the top of search engines.
  • How to implement each of the key SEO factors effectively for your own company and/or clients.
  • How to choose an SEO company and establish accountability between an SEO agency and hiring company.

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Table of Contents

The main factors that contribute
to getting websites to the top of search engines

Mini Lesson – Accessibility

Do's and don'ts of SEO - SEO Service

From SEO Checklist Infographic


Before we get into it, here is a brief overview of the factors that contribute to rankings and how to wield them:

  • Technical SEO – means creating pages that have clean and readable code, making sure web pages all have the necessary components to attract search traffic.
  • Content Strategy – means making a scalable process for creating blog posts and other pieces of content on a regular basis, as well as service pages that use keywords you want and content that effectively connects.
  • Finding Keyword Opportunities – means using tools like AdWords, Hittail, or KeywordEye and identifying what search terms people are coming to your website for, then increasing the content for similar terms to leverage what’s working and expand your reach.
  • Maintaining a Backlinking Habit – means having routines in place to reach out and get links, such as press releases, guest posts, and generally making people aware of your presence, and awesome content is also a way to gain backlinks. The anchor text for this link is important as well and a couple keys are using your naked URL, brandname with keyword, and a diversification of home page, service page, and deep links to things like articles.
  • Guest Posts and Guest Posting – means reaching out to websites in your niche to write for them or have your people write for them. It’s a great way to get links and increase exposure, but another magical piece of it is that it significantly increases your website’s trust for search engines.

We’ll explain in detail how to do each of these step by step in this SEO marketing guide. If you’re short on time, skip to the “Too long; didn’t read” section now.

Applying the Principles of Technical SEO

 

There are 10 main components of technical SEO:

  • Page Titles (Meta Titles) – This is the clickable link that shows up in search engines. Write them so that they describe the page both to users and to search engines. The best length is between 60–70 characters in the following format:
    • Product/Service Name | Category (optional) | Brand Name
  • Meta Descriptions – The short description located under the clickable text in search results is called the meta description. Search engines do not utilize these when ranking a page, but they should be written to capture the attention of the searcher. Search engines do take metrics like click-through rate into account when ranking results, so a meta description can have an indirect impact on ranking.
    • Describe the value provided by the page as accurately as possible while staying under 170 characters
    • Utilize call-to-action language when appropriate
    • Mention your brand
  • URLs – The web address that points a user to a particular page on a website. They also provide information to search engines about the content of a page, so when creating URLs you should:
    • Describe the page and make the link compelling and interesting
    • Generally, using the page title as the URL is best
    • Separate words with hyphens, not underscores, spaces or any other characters
    • Don’t keyword stuff a URL. It comes off as spammy and you could be penalized by search engines
  • Canonical Tags – If you find that you have multiple pages that are trying to achieve the same goal, choose one to be the canonical, then point the attention of the search engines.
  • Heading Tags – These are bits of code used to 1) prioritize information on a page and 2) format the page visually.
    • Only use one H1 tag per page
    • Place the heading tag around the titles of pages, not body text
    • Utilize tags in sequential order (i.e., don’t go from H2 to H4.)
  • Alt Text – Search engines don’t see images in the same way that humans do. Alt text is the text that search engines see when they look at an image.
  • Sitemap – Getting your hands on your sitemap to then submit it to search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.) will prompt them to crawl and index the website and start ranking it for relevant searches.
  • Robots.txt File – This is a way to communicate with the search engines to tell them what to crawl and what portions of the site to no index.
  • 404, 302 and 301s – Identify any 404 pages (links to pages that no longer exist) and permanently redirect the traffic with a 301 redirect. If the page in question is temporarily down, use a 302 redirect to tell the search engines that  you are working on the page.

Mini lesson: Schema-markup
Schema Markup

Mini Lesson – The Perfect Keyword Optimized Page

Perfectly optimized page - Keyword Targeting - SEO Marketing

From A Visual Guide to Keyword Targeting and On-Page SEO

Identifying Keyword Opportunities

Ranking for keywords being searched is the core purpose of SEO. But first, you have to identify the keywords that are valuable to you. Here is a process to go through to start your initial keyword research.

Identify valuable keywords that:

  • Fit within your goals – What do you want people to do? Depending on your goals, certain keywords will be relevant and others will not.
  • Have applicable intent – Depending on where the searcher is in the decision-making process, the intent of a keyword can vary from gathering information / educating to purchasing or taking action. These will be different for each business, but figuring out what bucket each keyword goes into will allow you to refine your keywords and prioritize your list.

How to find the keywords:

  • Google AdWords Keyword Planner – Originally meant for AdWords, but this tool can create keyword lists with up to 800+ keywords while including average number of searches per month, competition level for that keyword, and more. You can also target specific geographic locations. 
    • Utilize negative keywords to eliminate irrelevant keywords
    • Take your time and boil down the list to the truly valuable keywords
    • Focus on long-tail searches
  • BuzzSumo – This tool identifies what content pieces are popular, shedding light on topics for things like blog posts, infographics, e-books, webinars or any type of shareable content.
    • Do something new. Don’t try to copy the most popular post.
    • Project into the future. Identify topics that will be popular in the future, not just right now.
    • Check for patterns. Are the most popular pieces lists / how-to’s / guides / opinion pieces? Use this info to influence the type of content you produce.
  • Answer the Public – By formulating questions, this tool can provide insight into what types of searches people are conducting to find you. Simply type in your product/service and find relevant questions that you can answer with your site content.
  • Google’s “Searches related to…” Section – Found on the bottom of every search page is a great resource in identifying additional keywords
    • Try out a handful of searches and add the ones you want.
    • Start with short keywords. These suggested searches are typically extensions of what you’ve searched, so start short.
  • Google Suggest – When you’re typing in a search, often times you’ll see “suggested searches.” This is a great place to find additional keywords.

In general, it is best if you utilize more than just one of these methods. Each one of these resources has a purpose and combining these tools will provide the most well-rounded keyword list for you to focus on.

Creating a Content Strategy,
maintaining a backlink habit, and Guest Posting

Creating a Content Strategy


Content is the fuel to your jetpack or the bellows to your fire, if you know what I mean. Your website may be beautiful, but without the right words, search engines won’t ever be able to find it and show it to searchers everywhere. Forging a content strategy that makes big strides for your site’s traffic is tough. You need to gobsmack searchers with relevant information that uniquely combines interesting writing and informational bulk with digestible concision. Essentially, you need to say the right words in the right way when the right people are searching for them. Here’s how:

1. Unearth Your Target Audience
No matter what industry you’re writing about, you need to constantly be asking yourself, “Who is looking for this information?” Who is that person searching for your content about roofing or gravel or archery targets or whatever you might be writing about that day?

Identify your target audience. You can do this by assigning strict demographics, e.g., 34-year old, male, single, one dog, drives a Porsche, lives in Detroit, etc. Or you can abide by a looser model, e.g., older woman who might be a mom and simply wants to know how to go about refinishing her kitchen floors. Both definitions can guide you, the writer, toward the approach you should take with your content. Make sure what you say and how you say it aligns with your audience. So when describing how to refinish hardwood, don’t go off on a great surfing analogy because it just might not click with who you’re writing for.

2. Be an Expert
It’s hard to craft a strategic content plan when you know zilch about the niche you’re writing about. As a content writer, you’re met with a cornucopia of topics weekly, and you can’t possibly be expected to be a pre-existing expert on, well, everything. But you can become an expert. And then you can become a trivia master on weeknights.

When traversing into uncharted territories, do your homework. Thoroughly researching your client’s business and industry will serve you in everything you create for them. Not only should you establish a broad knowledge, but you should also be doing some seriously in-depth research when you write very targeted or specific blogs, articles, etc.

Did you read that part about keywords above? Read it again. Knowing the industry you’re writing about means you’ll be able to pick out the best keywords you should be using. The more long-tail keywords you can base content around, the better for your client.

3. Content Cocktail
Words are great. Super awesome. I love them. I’m guessing you do, too. Or maybe you should if they’re a part of your career. However, being a veritable content mixologist is key to a memorable and effective content strategy. Blog posts are great and many websites ride the blog wave to keep traffic up and rankings high, but playing with and without words is fun, too.

Consider more than short-form blog posts. Regularly write long-form articles chockfull of pertinent info. Create learning and informative resources to appeal to your target searcher—guides, how-to instructions, top 10 lists, etc. Branch into videos, audio or visual aspects. Perhaps record a quick podcast discussing your subject or assemble an easily shareable infographic. Making content that works well with social is awesome and only raises visibility across the web.

4. Consistency
Not only do readers like fresh content, but let’s get real, so does Google. Don’t let your readership dwindle or your credibility die off in search engine land because you throw a sloppy short blog up on your site every three months. If you truly want to start ranking for specific keywords and driving traffic to your site, look at posting at least once a month. Any less and you’ll hardly be treading water.

Create an organized content calendar that takes into account content mix and seasonality—for instance, you’ll want to start getting in the holiday spirit around October. By laying out what you’re going to write about when provides an easy way to make sure you’re sticking to your schedule and that your topics are on-point. Remember, though, that content calendars aren’t etched in stone. If one topic is doing better than others, maybe let that linger a bit more and keep creating content around that. Being flexible yet consistent is an important characteristic for any writer.

Mini Lesson – The Blogging Food Groups

Content Marketing Food Groups

From The Blogger’s Meal Plan by Mashable

Mini lesson: How to determine the quality of a backlink

Crash course to SEO Services - Back Link Quality Infographic

Infographic by ‘Pole Position Marketing

Maintaining a Backlinking Habit


The methods to get solid backlinks are wide and varied. There are as many ways to get backlinks as there are opinions about what are considered “white hat” and “black hat.”

  • White hat backlinking: Create amazing content, reach out to your friends and partners for links and guest posting, be part of directories.
  • Black hat linking: Spammy links injected into themes, bought for cheap prices, spammy blog comments.

Some practices might deserve the term “grey hat” in that someone can buy more expensive links within legitimate blog posts, pushing out a lot of guest posts through a service, and advanced techniques like “The Skyscraper Method” and “The Moving Man Method.” I’ll go over the ones I would suggest that you should pursue first, then talk a little bit more about advanced techniques at the end of the list.

  • Create epic content like deep guides for topics in your niche to provide as a resource for your customers or people in your industry. People tend to link back to this content, particularly if it feels authoritative and your site looks nice.
  • Use a directory listing service to get every local directory link you can. Just make sure your Name, Address and Phone Number are all accurate on every single one and match.
  • Create a strategy for getting guest posts on other sites. Use a tool like the MozBar plugin to determine domain authority, find high domain authority websites in your niche that allow guest posts and share with them sample articles you’ve done or your writer has done and let them know you’ll provide them with free content.
  • Have someone guest post for you. If search engine optimization is your goal then guest posting is a huge opportunity
  • The Skyscraper Method – Find a piece of content in your industry that is ranking very well, then create something that’s twice as good, whether that be more entertaining, more extensive, more visual or what have you. You can then look at all the places where people are linking to that content and let them know about your new content.
  • The Moving Man Method – People often end businesses or discontinue websites but the links to them still remain. You can reproduce similar content on a site that had a lot of links like that and email people who are linking to the dead site letting them know about your new content.

On Guest Posts and Guest Posting

Guest posting is exactly what it sounds like—posting as a guest on someone else’s site or blog. It’s like sending your content to a summer camp so it can do great things for months. But you put some real sweat equity into writing great blog posts and articles, so why would you just give that away to other sites instead of using it on your own?

 Your chance to meet new people.

Not only will offering guest posts to others build your circle of blogging buddies, but it will also introduce you to new people. Er, more like new people will be introduced to you. While you post great content on your website and social channels on the daily, odds are good that the same loyal audience is reading your wares all of the time. Guest posting exposes you to perhaps an entirely new audience you’ve been hoping to reach.

Get in front of more eyeballs.

New audiences, new opportunities.


Build inbound backlinks that’ll help you for years to come.

Every time you guest post, you should have inbound links in your article.
Now what doesn’t sound great about all of that? Guest posting is like the Christmas of blogging—nothing about it is bad if it’s done right. That is, if you plan it well enough and don’t skimp on the quality, guest posting is wonderful. Here’s some guest posting know-how you should keep tucked in your content toolbox:

Have a Strategy

Avid bloggers or blog managers can see aimless guest posts from miles away. They can tell when you’ve just thrown together some ideas like a clumsy patchwork quilt and sent it out for guest posting for the sake of backlinks. Make sure to have a strategy in place—this includes a goal for your content as well as a reason for why you’ve chosen to guest post where you are submitting. It wouldn’t be wise to try and get your guest post about “Going Vegan” on a blog about fine smoked meats. That’s a wacky strategy and the senselessness will get it denied in a heartbeat.

Maintain Quality

Simply because a blog post or article won’t be on your personal website, don’t compromise quality. Adhere to evidence-based statements, good sources, quality inbound links and relevant information. Don’t turn your guest post into a flim-flam content free-for-all simply because your core audience won’t necessarily be checking it out. Maintaining high-quality content standards will make you look great, draw more traffic and still get you some sweet, sweet backlinks.


Include Links

One of the great benefits to guest posting is the opportunity to build backlinks to your site. When linking back to your website or specific web page in your guest post, make sure the anchor text for your link includes some of the keywords you want your site to be ranking for. Inbound links are a great way to drive traffic from alternate websites. Plus, the more credible and quality backlinks you have, the more Google will reward you with higher rankings. Be careful, though—if you get too spammy with your links, Google could penalize you.

Grammar, Grammar, Grammar

Going hand in hand with maintaining quality and factual content, maintain grammatical quality. Don’t skimp on the proofreading. Poor-quality content won’t get you anywhere with search engines and too many typos will make you look foolish or unprofessional.

Mini Lesson – Guest posting for SEO effectively [infographic]

Help your business by writing for others - Guest Blogging Infographic

Found on Daily Statistic 

Wrapping it up - Overview of how to implement Search Engine Optimization ( TL;DR )


Creating an effective SEO strategy takes time, but you can make it simpler on yourself by maintaining certain habits yourself or within your team. Key components include adding meta titles and descriptions through keyword opportunities you determine through a little research in the tools above.

You can then create a content strategy around the types of keywords that make sense for your industry and through the research, reach out for backlinks and guest post on relevant blogs. If this strategy is maintained, search engine rankings generally improve significantly.

How to Choose an SEO Marketing Company
and Establish Accountability

Mini lesson: Ten Top Criteria for Choosing an Internet Marketing Company

Criteria for choosing a Digital Marketing Company

Infographic by ‘E Web Results

Finding an SEO Marketing Agency with Experience in Your Industry

If you aren’t ready to spend the considerable amount of time all of these tactics will inevitably take you, perhaps it’s time to hire an agency for SEO marketing.  Always take the time to do your research on the company that may be doing your work—if you don’t, you might waste your time and resources.

  • Check what they’re showing for their work – If they have clients that they say they’ve helped thrive, take a look and see if those companies are thriving. Look for companies that display your type of company in their portfolio to glean knowledge from that experience.
  • Talk to them about what they outsource and what they do internally – Some companies outsource everything from the most basic up to the most intricate part of the strategy. Occasionally outsourcing can be useful in SEO, but make sure they understand what they’re talking about and are being highly strategic.
  • Look for case studies and due diligence on collateral SEO services are not always super easy to show visually, but they should be able to demonstrate the numbers that they accomplished. How many keywords was a client ranking for before vs. after? How much organic traffic before vs. after? Ideally the agency doesn’t just focus on organic traffic but conversions like contact form submissions and sales as well.
  • Make sure it’s a cultural fit Some SEO services agencies are run-and-gun, and some will take more time to hold your hand. You have to think about what you really need in your current circumstance and talk to the agency about what they’d need.
  • Establish timeline – When can they expect to see results? A good rule of thumb is 3–6 months for significant shifts, and it depends on what you are willing to spend to get results. It may make sense to make more if you truly understand the R.O.I. of their efforts and leads or sales have significant opportunity to improve from this process.
  • Establish deliverables  How many backlinks and content pieces can you expect to receive on a regular basis? What are some expected increases in organic traffic? If someone cites higher numbers across the board, it doesn’t always mean they’re better; they could potentially just be wildly optimistic or selling too hard.

Making Contact and Setting Expectations


What do you need to do to make sure you make the right first connection and get what you need out of your conversation with an SEO marketing company? Well, first you do the research. Have a list of priorities from your understanding based on your previous knowledge of your website and your company’s marketing efforts.

 

  • No matter well-seasoned your SEO marketing company is, they will need you to provide context around what you are trying to do.
  • Collaboration on topics for content marketing – Be aware the most adept SEO companies will recognize the need for this kind of collaborative working.
  • Spend your time focusing on the most important metrics – Don’t spend all day talking about keyword ranking numbers and overall search traffic if what you really care about in the end is leads or sales. Generally traffic increases correlate with lead increases, but put the emphasis on your most important metrics in the end, because you don’t want a bunch of traffic for keywords that don’t sell.
  • Let them do their job but establish clear check-ins and pre-determined intervals – Don’t stifle your SEO team, but don’t let them just auto-pilot either. No one works best without checks and balances, and by making sure there are clear check-ins and updates on progress, you can help make sure they will be looking to quantify and demonstrate results.
  • Understand that SEO marketing isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it proposition. The algorithms of Google are necessarily evolving so that no one can game them forever. That is why the shift is simply moving toward creating useful content in a lot of cases rather than implementing quick “tricks.” Content is always going to stand the test of time, especially if it’s created with standing the test of time in mind.

As you can see in the infographic to the right, link farms and black hat elements have slowly been replaced by the emphasis on content, guest posting, and more above board linking practices in the overall evolution of SEO marketing. As the next pivots evolve the industry even more, SEO marketing becomes even more important for savvy brands that can recognize that SEO is an investment that pays off over time.

Mini Lesson – The Evolution / History of SEO [Infographic]

SEO History Infographic

From Evidence Based Marketing

Mini lesson: Choosing the Right Marketing Channels

Which Marketing Channel Gives you the best Bang for your buck?

Infographic by Conductor

Keeping Your SEO Services Agency Accountable


Even though you have likely vetted your SEO marketing agency thoroughly and became familiar with them, even the best intentions can allow an agency to become apathetic or forget to push hard for your best interest. Put the right amount of accountability in place with reporting and focus on the most important metrics that are going to make you money and give you the best ROI.

  • Get regular reporting from them – Don’t be blindsided by massive shifts either positive or negative: Get at least a page or two on what they are doing, what they have accomplished as far as results, and what they are about to do over the next month.
  • Open communication – They should be driving the conversation and be intentional about what they are doing, but be open to new ideas or new developments in the market. You should be prepared to share large new developments in your market and contribute a bit on that level.
  • Give them time – Don’t get all up in arms if you aren’t on page one in two months. Make sure you give them at least three, and ideally six months of implementing against the plan they share with you before dropping.
  • Know where your money is going – If 50% is going toward links and 50% is going toward content, or 25% is spent on links and 50% is spent on content and 25% is spent on technical factors or other considerations, you need to have a basic understanding of where your funds are going. Don’t get too granular or you won’t allow the freedom to evolve the plan over time.
  • Look at the actual results – Increased leads and increased revenue should take precedence over things like impressions or even clicks. Conversions over everything.

Getting the Most out of Outsourced SEO Services


Don’t hire an SEO marketing agency if you don’t have any traffic and don’t know whether your products or services are going to sell. Only invest in SEO marketing if you already have a proven system that you want to pour more gasoline on. We know from experience that SEO marketing is way more successful if there is some modicum of success already. What if you don’t know for sure if it’s going to work but you think it will?

  • Implement some of the above items yourself and make sure that you can get a bit of traction.
  • Prepare yourself by writing some blog posts first, post them on social media – perhaps start with commonly asked questions about your product or service, and don’t focus on selling just yet.
  • Wait to hire an agency until you truly understand the benefit of organic search traffic and know that organic search is a serious opportunity.
  • If you wait until you’re absolutely positive that organic search engine optimization will definitely have a serious upside for your business you can go into hiring an SEO marketing agency with confidence.
  • Overall you can get the most out of working with an agency by doing the things you feel confident in doing yourself and sharing the other responsibilities with an agency you can trust and have a true partnership with.

If you vet the SEO agencies you’re considering working with for industry experience, quality reporting and relationship – SEO marketing can have a giant upside for you and your business. Every modern marketer should be taking the hardcore opportunities available on Google and other search engines very seriously.

Wrapping It Up – Overview of How to Choose an SEO Services Agency and Create Accountability ( TL;DR )


Finding an SEO marketing agency requires looking into their previous work and examining their approach, examining the relationship, and talking through deliverables and timeline. Focus the work order or proposal around the most important metrics like sales or contact form submissions and be collaborative about coming up with the strategy when possible so that they can get your industry-specific knowledge and you can understand a bit more about what they are doing.

 

If you establish clear deliverables, have open communication and give them time (at least 3–6 months) you will get the best results. Make sure there is a successful business model before implementing a heavy SEO campaign and try some of this guide’s strategies to inform your discussion with an agency and get the most out of your ongoing investment. Remember: SEO marketing is a habit, a discipline, and an ongoing investment—not a one-time expense.