SEO Fundamentals: What Do Beginners Need to Know About SEO?

Reinforcing the fundamentals of SEO has never been more important, as everyone wants to be more visible and findable these days. For many, knowing where to start can be the biggest hurdle.

This is the first of a 3-part series on Beginner SEO Fundamentals:

  1. Part 1 – SEO Fundamentals – what do beginners need to know – article below
  2. Part 2 – What Is an SEO Foundation (Hint: Where to Start with SEO)
  3. Part 3 – SEO Success Stories of Sites Newer to SEO

And honestly, for those who have been doing SEO but your strategy needs to evolve significantly, it never hurts to burn your SEO to the ground and start fresh. Many of us have evolved, rendering our current SEO focus irrelevant.

So, whether you’re burning down the SEO house and need a refresher, or your skills do skew more to the SEO newbie side, then this is for you.

5 Things Beginners Need to Know about SEO Fundamentals

Here are the 5 things SEO beginners need to know:

  1. Most “Beginners Guides to SEO” articles Are Downright Dangerous
  2. You Can Go Slowly, But Not Too Slowly
  3. You Need Great Content. That Means You Need a Great Writer and SMEs.
  4. Copy That Attracts New Visitors Is Not Brochure Copy
  5. You Gain Ranking Traction Initially by Starting Small

1. Most “Beginners Guides to SEO” articles Are Downright Dangerous

The other day, I ran across a blog post, “Everything a Beginner Needs to Know about SEO.”

That title is both laughable, ambitious, and scary all at the same time. A beginner cannot even begin to grasp the concept of everything they need to know. I myself can barely grasp that concept, and I’ve been doing SEO for over 10 years. There is NO way I can know everything, and no way I would even want to.

If you were to look at any “SEO 101” beginners guide, you would need to pack a snack, because you’d have to resign yourself to an entire afternoon – or more – just to get through it.

And it might likely leave you more confused than you were when you started. Like learning all of the rules to a new language before you even started practicing speaking out loud.

But guess what? There is good news.

YOU DO NOT NEED TO KNOW EVERYTHING ABOUT SEO TO GET STARTED.

I think this is one of the biggest misperceptions about SEO. But learning SEO is not like putting together Ikea furniture with step-by-step directions. You do not do SEO all in one sitting. And you do NOT need to know the entire scope of it to get started.

While I get it’s human nature to want all of the answers upfront, that misperception will do you a disservice. You just need to know the very next thing.

2. You Can Go Slowly, But Not Too Slowly

One of the first questions I ask people when they’re undergoing an SEO effort is this: how aggressive do you want to be? This one question is critical to understand:

  • Will you be more like the tortoise, slow and steady, committed to staying on course?
  • Or are you ready to tackle SEO and gain momentum quickly, jumping in with time, resources, and team members to help do the job?

When you first undergo any SEO initiative, there is a TON of one-time work to do. You need to get that all under your belt before you will start to see results. So if that is spread out over months or a year, your results will be slow coming, which may be frustrating. Ideally, it’s better to do a burst of the one-time work, then drip it out. After you’ve set your SEO foundation (which we’ll talk about in the next article), then you can slow it down.

3. You Need Great Content. That Means You Need a Great Writer and SMEs.

Great, expert content needs to be baked into your organizational culture. If you are not ready to legitimately try and be an expert in your space and show Google that, then move on to a different channel. This is a non-negotiable element of SEO.

So if you are not a great writer, no fears. You can get trained up. If you don’t want to be a great writer, then you can find someone else within your organization who does want to be a great writer. And if there is no one internally who can write, then be prepared to hire someone for your team. (By the way, there is a misunderstanding out there that Organic SEO is “free.” It is most definitely not “free” as it takes time and resources, which both have costs. SEO often requires new sets of skills that you may not have internally at your disposal.)

And next, 99% of the time, you will need a subject matter expert (SME). If you are not the SME, if you are not on the front lines with your customers and prospects, you need to find the people who are and hand them over to your amazing writer. Most of the time, marketers are NOT SMEs. 

4. Copy That Attracts New Visitors Is Not Brochure Copy

To drive more cold traffic (which is mostly what SEO is), you need to get over the fact that you will write about what you want to write about. Or what your organization thinks is important.

Sure, one of the elements of great copy is understanding your messaging and branding and positioning around what you bring to the table and how you solve needs. And in the right time and place that needs to be communicated.

But the bigger piece of SEO is starting with the mindset of the target audience you want to bring to your site. What are the terms they’re using to educate themselves or wrap their minds around a topic? What’s the known in their mind? This is where most SEO will take place. And if you’re trying to bring these website visitors to a page that’s all about your company/products/services, that is a considerable mismatch in intention.

5. You Gain Ranking Traction by Starting Small

You win with SEO by starting to rank on niche, specific topics, leading you up to a bigger, broader umbrella topic. You need to gain traction by starting small.

When I say, “start small,” generally what I mean is to start by picking keywords that aren’t too terribly competitive. That typically means selecting keywords with lower search volume.

Sure, you can have your eye on the larger, higher-volume keywords so you know what you’re ultimately working towards. But if your organization is brand new to SEO, your ability to rank right away on higher volume, competitive keywords will be dependent on:

  • how sophisticated your organization is around existing marketing and branding
  • how big of a leader you are in your space already
  • and how savvy your competitors are and the level of competition of your keywords

This is the underlying principle of keyword targeting: know the direction you want to go in and what families of keywords you want to gain more visibility for. Then, nosedive DEEP to identify a few specific areas within each big umbrella topic.

What’s Next?

SEO fundamentals and best practices boil down to this – there are things you do in 3 areas:

  1. On your site
  2. On your individual pages (this is the meat of your SEO foundation)
  3. And away from your site

This is what we’ll talk about next time, and what I think most SEO beginners need to wrap their mind around. See you then!

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Jenny Munn

Jenny is an independent Digital Marketer and SEO Consultant with more than 10 years of experience helping companies and content creators generate brand awareness, traffic, and conversions with SEO. She is a frequent speaker and is on the faculty for the AMA (American Marketing Association) and has taught SEO to thousands of marketers over the past 10 years.
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