If you’re just getting started, SEO can seem like a dense, confusing world. Google, Bing, and SEO experts have produced thousands of articles on exactly how sites are ranked and what you can do to rank higher in search engines. Some experts end up disagreeing with each other based on conflicting data sets. Every move requires a different degree of technical expertise, and to top it all off, Google tends to change the game every few months with a new update.
Without digging too deep into the technical elements of SEO, I want to help clarify the nature, purpose, and qualities of the strategy. Many newcomers I speak with tend to ask the same kinds of questions, so here I’d like the opportunity to answer them:
1. How Much Does It Cost? That all depends on your approach. If you’re just getting started with the basics, you might be able to do most of the work yourself in 10–20 hours a week (again, depending on your niche and goals). I covered this question in-depth in my article How Much Should You Spend on SEO Services? If conducted properly, a campaign at any budget level should end up returning more than what was originally invested.
2. How Long Does It Take? Again, this varies wildly based on your approach. If you’re only writing new content once a week and investing the minimum, it could take many months to a year before you start seeing progress. Multiple weekly blog posts, regular link building, and content promotion could see results in a matter of weeks. The longer you pursue a campaign, the better results you’ll see.
3. Is Coding Experience Necessary? Yes and no. You don’t need a coding background to get started with SEO, but there are a few technical items (robots.txt file, meta descriptions, etc.) that require a bit of backend website knowledge. Fortunately, most people can get by with the basics or follow step-by-step instructions to get through it.
4. How Do You Know How to Rank If Google Doesn’t Publish Its Algorithm? The short answer is: experiments. The SEO community is very good about sharing results of tests and anecdotal evidence about rank fluctuations. Collectively, we can draw conclusions about what factors affect rankings from there.
5. How Do I Pick Good Keywords to Target? Today’s search algorithms rely more on semantic search (understanding and appeasing user intent) than they do on mapping keyword phrases to identical phrases on the web. Still, you can pick good keywords for content topics (and possibly dedicated pages) by looking for common user questions in your industry, trending topics, and any important business areas you notice your competitors aren’t covering.
6. How Do I Know If I’m “Keyword Stuffing”? Keyword stuffing is the process of including too many keywords on a page (or site). If you’re shoehorning a keyword into your content, you’re stuffing. If you read the sentence aloud and it sounds funny, you’re stuffing. Don’t stuff. It’s bad for SEO and user experiences alike.
7. What Will Put Me on Google’s Blacklist? Google’s “blacklist” is an often misunderstood concept. It’s normal for rankings to move up and down — that doesn’t mean you’ve earned a manual Google penalty. Few things draw Google’s ire, but among them are engaging in spam, link building schemes, illegal practices, and other black hat techniques that you probably wouldn’t pursue in the first place.
8. Is Link Building Dangerous? Not if you do it correctly. If you post links anywhere and everywhere you can, then yes, link building can get you in trouble. On the other hand, if you always pick good sources for your links, use legitimate, content-oriented link building tactics, and diversify your strategy, you shouldn’t run into any problems.
9. What Is Local SEO? Local SEO is the process of ranking for geographically local search queries, which draw on a separate algorithm from Google’s national search results. It uses many of the same considerations that national SEO uses, including domain authority, inbound links, and on-site content, but a handful of extras, including local citations in third-party directories, and the quality and quantity of online reviews for your business. It’s a much less competitive strategy compared to national SEO, and is vital for brick-and-mortar storefronts that serve local customers. For more on local SEO, see The Definitive Guide to Local SEO.
10. How Do I Know If It’s Worth It? Most businesses that give SEO a fair shake end up experiencing its benefits. The only drawback is the amount of time it takes to start proving its value — the first few months, you’ll probably see a net loss on your investment, but the more time you spend on running and improving your SEO strategy, the more you stand to gain. Put simply, if you’re patient, strategic, and you follow best practices, SEO almost always offers a positive ROI.
Hopefully this article has helped you clarify some mysteries or misconceptions you had regarding SEO in general. Obviously, there’s no single guidebook that can lead you to search engine ranking supremacy, but if you spend enough time digging, reading, learning, and experimenting, eventually you’ll get the hang of it. Try not to be intimidated in the early stages — it seems like a lot, but if you start with the basics and scale up in complexity as you move along, you’ll have no trouble managing a successful campaign.