SEO for Beginners (what is SEO & how does it work?)

Updated: Jul 13, 2020

This guide is all about Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and explains what SEO is, how it works, why it’s important for businesses, and the key things you need to know about it as a business owner.

SEO made simple...

If you’re a busy business owner (BBO) and you have a website, you’ve probably seen or heard the term ‘SEO’ thrown around a lot.

Probably more than a lot...

Probably enough to understand that it’s important and has something to do with your website and search engines such as Google, but you may have little idea of what it actually means for your business or how to use it.

Nor do you have loads of free time to spend researching it to find out...

So, what is SEO anyway, and is it really that important?

Can I be completely honest?

The short answer is yes!

SEO is important because it’s how potential customers find your business online.

Without it, only people who already know your brand would be able to find your website. And that’s obviously not ideal if you want to grow your business.

  • So, yes, you do need to have a basic understanding of SEO as a business owner.

  • No, you don’t need to be an expert.

  • Yes, learning the SEO basics and making small changes can have a big impact.

  • And no, it doesn’t need to take a lot of time, or cost a lot of money.

In fact, you should have the basics nailed by the end of this beginner's SEO guide. All of which you can implement yourself!

So allow me, (Janelle, SEO Consultant), to cut up the buzz-anagram ‘SEO’ and explain what it actually means for you and your business.

In this guide, I’m going to show you how you can effectively use SEO to get more traffic to your website, and get you as clued-up as you need to be in as little time as possible.

Ready to get started?

In this article I will cover common SEO FAQs, including:

  1. What is SEO and how does it work?

  2. What are the different parts of SEO?

  3. How can I improve my website’s SEO?

  4. What are SEO keywords?

  5. What is an SEO title tag?

  6. What is an SEO meta description?

  7. How long will it take to see results?

  8. How can I measure SEO progress?

  9. What are the best free tools for SEO?

  10. Where can I get help with SEO?

How to use this guide

Whenever I mention Google I'm referring to all the search engines out there, like Bing, Yahoo and so on. I use Google as the umbrella term because it’s the biggest. (I mean, if you use Bing it’s probably by accident, right?).

Read this guide from start to finish (it should take 15 minutes), then come back again tomorrow to re-read it with fresh eyes to make sure you understand each part and how it all fits together. (Resting your brain enables it to make connections).

I also suggest sharing this guide with your team, so they too have a basic understanding.

SEO is something that everyone in your team should have a grasp on if they have anything to do with creating content and making changes to your website.

Ready to get educated in everything you need to know about SEO, and nothing you don’t?

Let’s go!

What is SEO and how does it work?

Search engine optimisation (SEO) literally means optimising your website for search engines.

Think of SEO as building a long-term relationship between your business and Google.

People go to Google when they have a question or a problem that they want answering or solving. In order for Google to recommend your business to searchers, Google first needs to trust you and clearly understand your area of expertise and what problems you can solve.

In real life you wouldn’t recommend a business to a friend unless you knew that they’re trustworthy and did awesome work, right?

Google is the same.

Google and other search engines won’t recommend your business unless you’re a trusted expert in your field, and they’re confident you’re going to solve the searcher’s problem.

In addition to this, Google needs to be certain that people are going to have the best possible experience on your website, and find exactly what they’re searching for when they visit a page on your site.

Customer service is key.

Customers love great customer service in real life, and, believe it or not, they also love great customer service online.

In fact, your website’s user experience is even more important, because if a prospect walks into your physical store you've got more time to grab their attention and guide them towards the sale.

Online, you have 10 seconds to grab their attention - and that’s if you’re lucky!

FYI: that also includes the loading time of your website, so if your website takes 5 seconds to load, you only have a few seconds left to impress…

If you don’t grab their attention within seconds, you’ve lost them. They have hundreds of other options in the palm of their hand, and they’re working their way through them as we speak.

So, how do you keep them around?

It’s simple. Provide EXCEPTIONAL online customer service!

Give the people what they want. Which is to have a wonderful user experience, and find what they’re looking for quickly and easily.

Your website is your digital store.

As soon as a potential customer ‘walks in’ to your digital shop, they should have a wonderful experience from start to finish, and find exactly what they need.

To achieve this, make sure your website is optimised for the best possible customer experience (fast loading, user friendly, mobile optimised, simple site structure) and rich in valuable, relevant content in your area of expertise that answers all your customers questions and provides solutions to their problems.

Simple, right?

Well, in theory... but often business owners miss the mark when putting this into practice.

Don’t worry, I provide my top tips for making SEO magic happen below.

A beginner's guide to SEO for business owners

First, find out what your target audience is searching for.

In order to provide the best online experience for your customers, you first need to understand what their pain points are, and what they’re searching for in Google to find services or products that you offer.

This is what they are commonly typing into Google.

The cool part?

Google gives you this information if you want it. It literally hands it over on a silver platter.

But more on where to find that later (I include a list of free SEO tools at the end of this guide).

Next, let’s find out how Google answers a search query, so we better understand how we can get our business to show in search results.

For example:

Person types into Google: “Child friendly pubs in London

First, let’s think about what the person’s intent is behind this search. What are they hoping to achieve by typing this query into Google?

Well, it’s clear that this person is looking for a child-friendly pub to take their children to.

Otherwise, why on earth would they be searching for child friendly pubs over normal pubs?

This person is probably a parent who is looking for a pub that allows kids so they can go out for a drink and a meal with friends, without having to hire a babysitter.

Google puts two and two together and makes a good guess that this is probably the case, and will then get to work to try and find the best answer to the person’s query.

To do this, Google’s minions (referred to as Googlebot) will crawl the web to find the best solution/s.

Then, Google will show them the results that it thinks are most likely to provide the best answer/solution.

Let’s take a look at the top results for “Child friendly pubs in London”:

SEO search engine results example for child friendly pubs query

How does Google decide which pages to show?

There are a bunch of different things that help Google decide what website to show, but here are three key parts.


See in the image above that the top pages match the intent of the searcher’s query perfectly – therefore, Google shows them as options in the search results because they have a high probability of providing an answer/solution to the person’s query.

Note how the URL, Title and description all include related keywords the searcher used when submitting their query to Google. These are key components for SEO, because they tell search engines, and people, exactly what the web page is about. These should accurately describe and match the content of the page, and not be misleading.

User experience (UX)

To further analyse the relevance a page has to a search query, Google uses different metrics (which can be found in your website’s Google Analytics account), including bounce rate, time on site, and pages viewed per session, to indicate whether the page should be shown to other people with the same query, or whether other websites could provide a better experience for users.


Google also analyses the amount and quality of links pointing to the web page from other websites to indicate trust and authority. For example, if you have a news article linking to your website, or links from other blogs and websites, this indicates that you’re a trustworthy source of information.

But that’s not all (no, we're not done yet!) - keep reading to find out how to optimise your website for SEO.

What are the key parts of SEO that websites need?

The key parts of search engine optimisation (SEO) that websites need in order to rank well, include:

  1. Crawl accessibility

  2. High-quality content

  3. Keywords

  4. User Experience (UX)

  5. Links and shares

  6. Meta tags, headers and descriptions

  7. Structured mark-up and Schema

Sick of reading yet? Don't worry, I made a cute info-graphic to explain it...

The 7 key parts of SEO - infographic

How can I improve my website’s SEO?

From the seven key parts of SEO mentioned above, here are the top three things you should focus on as a business owner to improve your website’s SEO:

  1. Technical back-end SEO

  2. Digital PR

  3. High-quality content

Now, let’s cover these in more detail (yay detail!).

Why technical SEO is important

Technical back-end SEO

If you’re anything like me, the word ‘technical’ is a huge turn off. And I’m not going to sugar-coat it either - technical SEO is just as sexy as it sounds.

But just because it ain’t sexy, doesn’t mean it hasn’t got a great personality - and technical SEO is a vital contributor to your website’s SEO success.

Technical SEO refers to website and server optimisations that help search engine spiders (Googlebot) crawl and index your site more effectively (to help improve organic rankings).

The main goal of technical SEO is to make sure the infrastructure of a website is on point, so that search engines can read it easily.

I like to think of technical SEO as speaking Google’s language. Google reads web content differently to humans, so we need to make sure your website is easily readable by both.

So, while technical SEO isn’t particularly exciting, it’s very important.

Make sure your website is:

  1. Crawlable by search engines (because that’s how they find your content and serve it up to searchers).

  2. Is fast loading (preferably loads in less than 3 seconds).

  3. Is optimised for mobile (because the % of mobile users are ever-increasing).

I recommend getting a web developer or SEO specialist to do a SEO audit of your website so you can see what improvements can be made to its structure, speed, and content. That way, you can hand this un-sexy part of SEO off to someone who loves the technical stuff.

On a budget and love a bit of DIY?

Google actually offers free tools to check the crawlability and speed of your website. I will include this at the end of this guide, along with the rest of the tools and resources.

Don’t worry, I used to be scared of the technical website stuff, but now I’m a SEO tech wizz! It just takes a while to get your head around.

HOw digital PR helps SEO

Digital PR and reviews

Digital PR is an important part of SEO because it includes getting other websites to link to your website through blogs, news articles, and so forth.

This is called link-building.

As we covered earlier, links are a key metric used by Google to analyse whether your website is authoritative and trustworthy or not.

Links to your website from other websites will help your website to rank higher in search engine results.

Online reviews, such as Google reviews, also help with SEO.

Why are links and reviews so important?

Well, you know how incredible and effective getting customers through word of mouth is, right?

Links are the digital equivalent!

As a consumer, you are far more likely to trust a business that has a bunch of glowing reviews and is being raved about online by other people - including news articles and social media mentions.

Google thinks the same way. Reviews and links to your website are trust signals, and that’s why they’re so important.

You don’t buy from a business you don’t trust. Google doesn’t rank websites highly in search results that it doesn’t trust.
Why high-quality content is essential for SEO

High-quality content

Creating high-quality content about your brand’s area of expertise that answers searchers questions and provides value is key to a great SEO strategy.

This is commonly referred to as content marketing, and can include writing blog content, creating web pages that match relevant queries, and providing in-depth information about key topics on your website.


Because it shows you’re an expert in your field!

In a physical store, you could talk to a potential customer about a specific product or service you offer that they’re interested in.

You have the opportunity to answer any questions they have, and give them the information they need to make an informed and confident decision about whether or not to make the purchase.

But guess what? You can create the same experience on your website!


Through creating amazingly useful content that answers any questions or objections they have, and gives them all the information they need to make a confident purchase from you.

To do this effectively so Google can recommend your content, it needs to contain keywords you want to be found for, and reflect the query they type into Google. (Google loves relevance and clarity, remember?).

What keyword are in SEO and how to use them

What are keywords in SEO?

Keywords/phrases tell Google what your content is about and use the same language that people type into search engines to find you. The keywords will either be branded or non-branded.

What is a brand keyword?

A brand keyword, or branded keyword, is a word or phrase that’s directly related to your brand and business name and offering. It indicates that the searcher already knows your brand, and was looking specifically for you when they typed the keyword into the search engine.

For example:

Person types ‘SEO by ContentQueen’ into Google.

This implies that they already know my brand and what I do. Here is the result:

Branded keyword SEO search engine result example

What is a non-branded keyword?

A non-branded keyword is when the searcher doesn’t already know your brand or wasn’t specifically looking for it, but a page on your website matches what they are looking for, leading them to your website.

For example:

I want to find a wedding photographer, so I type into Google: ‘Wedding Photographer in London’:

non-branded keyword search engine result example

Google serves up different options for wedding photographers based in London - all of which I’d never heard of before. Now, I can visit their websites and see whether I’d like them to photograph my wedding.

I’m more likely to start at the top result, and work my way down. Meaning the higher you rank, the more likely you are to get the click (and ultimately the conversion).

Can you see how valuable non-branded keywords are?

Google does your marketing for you!

The importance of non-branded keywords

With SEO, the aim is to get your website ranked in search engines for keywords that don’t include your brand name. This allows people who haven’t heard of you before to find you.

For example; if you are a hairdresser providing hairdressing services in Twickenham, West London, some of your core keywords would include:

  • Hairdresser

  • Hair salon

  • Haircuts

  • Hair colourist

Since these keywords are broad, they will be extremely competitive and hard to rank for. Therefore, you would localise them by adding your location, so Google knows to show your business to people searching for the services you offer in your specific location.

  • Hairdresser in Twickenham

  • Twickenham Hair salon

  • Haircuts in Twickenham

  • Hair colourist in Twickenham

To discover your keywords, list all your services, and think about what people would type into Google to find the services you offer.

You can also conduct keyword research using Google’s Keyword planner to find relevant keywords to your business.

To find your keywords, read my step-by-step guide: How To Do Keyword Research For Free.

Once you have found your keywords, your website content should include the keywords you want to be found for.

Often this means updating existing web content to include these keywords, and creating new content, such as blog posts and landing pages, relevant to those keywords.

How to use SEO keywords properly

How to use keywords in your web content

Make sure your website content contains keywords you want to be found for, and optimise content meta title tags, meta descriptions and copy.

The title tag of the web page, the URL and the meta description are essential parts of SEO – these tell Google what your content is about and can be added/edited using your website’s Content Management System (CMS) - which could be Wordpress, WIX, Squarespace or a different system for managing your website’s content.

To find out more about using meta data for SEO, read: How To Write Meta Titles & Descriptions That Google Loves.

Imagery is also important – it should be named using keywords that are relevant, and always have descriptive Alt text to tell search engines what the image is of. It should also be sized for web (small size for fast loading).

Find out more about these key SEO elements below.

What is a SEO title tag?

A title tag is an HTML element that specifies the title of a web page. Title tags are displayed on search engine results pages (SERPs) as the clickable headline for a given result, and are important for usability, SEO, and social sharing. You can update this in your website’s content management system (CMS).

Example title tag highlighted in yellow:

Example of a meta tag title in search engine results

What is an SEO meta description?

The meta description is a snippet of up to about 155 characters – a tag in HTML – which summarises a web page's content. Search engines show the meta description in search results mostly when the searched-for phrase is within the description, so optimizing the meta description is crucial for SEO.

Again, this is added and updated using your CMS.

Example meta description highlighted in yellow:

Example of a meta description in search engine results

H1, H2, H3 title tags

Each page or blog should be structured with one H1 heading (no more than one per page), key H2 tags/headings that use related variations of the target keyword/phrase of the key H1 heading, and supporting H3 tags/headings.

These are added in the HTML of the CMS, and look like this:

<h2>Insert heading</h2>

<h3>Insert subheading</h3>

These tags structure the on-page content and help to tell Google what the content is about and how it answers the query.

If used effectively, Google may summarise the content by pulling the H2 and H3 titles into a featured snippet.

For example: Search query: ‘How to plan a pub wedding

Example of a featured snippet in search engine results

Google displayed this blog at position #1 (also referred to as position zero because featured snippets are shown above all other results) because it fully answers the searcher’s query, and is structured well with H1, H2 and H3 tags.

It also quotes an ‘expert’ wedding planner and links to their website, which signals to Google that it’s a credible source of information.

Find out more about heading tags: How To Use Heading Tags For SEO

How to measure your SEO impact

How long will it take to see results?

SEO can be frustrating because it takes time to see improvements in search engine rankings – usually 3-6 months.

It's a marathon not a sprint, and SEO about building your website’s authority and trust with Google over time.

Just like any relationship in life, it takes time to build trust and a reputation. The key is to get started with SEO right now so you can start building that relationship.

Now that you know the basics, make sure you keep SEO front of mind when you’re making decisions about your website and the content you’re creating for your business.

Be strategic, and make sure your digital marketing campaigns and web content are designed for people who don’t already know your brand, as well as those that do. (Branded and non-branded keywords, remember?).

When you’re ranking well in search engines, you will consistently get organic visitors to your website from search engines for years to come, without needing to pay for search engine advertising, so it’s a worthwhile investment that reaps long-term results.

How can I measure my website’s SEO progress?

To measure SEO effectively, your website needs to be set up on Google Analytics and Google Search Console.

Then, you can see what keywords people are using to find you, and what pages of your website are ranking in Google. These tools are free to set up and use, and are relatively straightforward to implement and use.

You can also use SEO tools, such as MOZ and SEM Rush, to be able to track specific keywords and easily see SEO improvements. These tools cost a monthly subscription fee.

The best free SEO tools

What are the best free tools for SEO?

There’s an abundance of tools available for SEO, but if you’re like me and you love all things that are free, here is a list of the best SEO tools that won’t burn a hole in your pocket.

Google Analytics

Google Analytics is a free web analytics service offered by Google that allows you to analyse in-depth detail about the visitors on your website. It provides valuable insights that can help you to shape the success strategy of your business, including how many people are finding your website through search engines, or via social media and other mediums.

If you’re not already set up, I recommend you create an account right now! It’s relatively straight-forward to link your website with Google Analytics, and there are plenty of resources online that will show you how to go about this, depending on which CMS you use (Wordpress, Squarespace, WIX, and so on). If you get stuck, holla at me.

Find out more and sign up: Google Analytics.

Google Search Console

Google Search Console is a web service by Google which allows you to check web indexing status and optimise visibility of your website in search engines.

Search Console tools and reports help you measure your site's search traffic and performance, fix issues, and make your site shine in Google search results by seeing what keywords you’re ranking for and how to improve your rankings. This can also be linked to your Google Analytics account so you can see all the data in one place.

Find out more and sign up: Google Search Console.

Google My Business

Google My Business (GMB) is a free tool for businesses to manage their online presence across Google, including search and maps. You need to have a physical business address to be able to qualify.

If you verify and edit your business information, you can both help customers find your business and tell them your story, as Google My Business listings show up on Google maps and at the top of Google search results!

Find out more and sign up: Google My Business.

Google Ads

Google Ads is an online advertising platform developed by Google, where advertisers pay to display brief advertisements, service offerings, product listings, video content, and generate mobile application installs within the Google ad network to web users.

However, we’re not going to actually create and pay for ads, instead, we’re only signing up so we can use its free keyword planner tool! This tool allows you to enter keywords about your business and offering, and see what other keywords you can target and how many searches those keywords get per month.

In order to access the free tool and create an account, you will need to put in credit card/payment details. However, you won’t be charged as long as you don’t create any ads.

Find out more and sign up: Google Ads.

How to improve your SEO - tips for beginners

Need help with SEO?

If you’re feeling like it’s all a bit much and you have enough on your plate already without having to add this to the list, I feel you.

If time is a scarce resource, I’d highly recommend getting help from someone who specialises in SEO to take care of it. Let’s be real here, what could take you an entire day, would probably take them a couple of hours.

If you’d like a SEO specialist to help get your business set up for success with a solid strategy, get in touch with me - Janelle from ContentQueen. I work as a freelance SEO consultant and charge by the hour, so I can do as much or as little as you’d like.

SEO is my area of genius. I have many years of experience in the field, and have helped numerous businesses to grow their online presence organically, without having to pay for expensive online ads.

I work remotely from Wellington New Zealand and work with incredible business owners and entrepreneurs all over the world, including the USA, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. I can do a little or a lot, depending on what your needs are and how you like to work.

Want to see if we’re a good fit for one another?

Get in touch by filling out my contact form and I’ll get back to you within 24 hours.

Want to go it alone?

Happy S-E-O-ing!

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