The Beginner’s Guide to SEO

“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

This philosophical query might be evaluating the relationship between perception and reality with musings about a theoretical tree, but there is a similar question we can pose regarding your business’ website. Imagine the most beautiful website in the world, with all the bells and whistles – a sizeable investment that surely you can hang your hat on. Now imagine that website, delivering an emphatic soliloquy into an empty theater, your brand’s carefully crafted voice reverberating off the hollowed walls. Is it still as impactful?

With more than a billion websites to compete with and nearly 100K Google searches alone per second, getting your content to stand out amongst the masses and appear in search can seem like a daunting task. But there’s hope – SEO best practices, driven by an accumulation of guidelines revealed from the search platforms themselves as well as groundwork and analysis by the world’s SEO-obsessed, such as the Visioneers you might meet at Augustine Agency. With these staples of success, a business can place overall user experience and user engagement center stage, and thus your website’s organic search rankings, ultimately filling those seats.

While SEO is more so a consistent, ongoing act of faith rather than pulling a rabbit out of a hat, there are several recommendations to start with that can make a larger impact for those with newer websites or now looking to take organic optimization a bit more seriously to benefit their website’s visibility. To get you started, we’ve made a down-and-dirty “SEO Boost Checklist.” Read on for an intro to SEO.

The SEO Boost Checklist

1. Install Google Search Console and Google Analytics (if you don’t have it already).

With Google being the most widely used search platform consuming a colossal 85% of the market, gathering data using its own tools is a solid strategy. Our recommendation is to start out with Google Search Console and Google Analytics – the easy difference: Google Search Console (GSC) is intended to offer insights primarily into how your website is faring in search, taking more of a birds-eye view of performance. And if GSC is above ground, Google Analytics is below it. Google Analytics (GA) dives more into your website’s performance as it pertains to the users that explore it, providing vital information into who your users are and how they interact with your pages. Together, these two offer a fuller picture to inform any subsequent decisions you make to contribute to engagement.

2. Make sure your website is indexed.

The most vital initial step one can take in preparing their website for search take-off is ensuring that it meets the bare minimum requirements to be found. To start, search engines simply cannot rank websites that they can’t see. Make sure your website or relevant pages are indexed and can be “crawled,” or read, in the first place. An easy way to check for this is by typing “” into Google or Bing’s query box and simply searching. Just below this box for Google, for example, you’ll see a number of results indicating which pages are indexable. The same can be done for specific pages on your website using the same method, i.e. “ If the number of results shown does not match up with the number of pages you want Google to read, therein may lie a technical issue to troubleshoot, though note it is standard for Google to need some time to crawl and index brand new websites. This could take hours to weeks, but the friendlier your content is designed for search engines (looking at you, SEO best practices), the more quickly it will be picked up.

3. Secure your website.

Search engines such as Google are looking to provide the best, most credible, and relevant content to their searchers, which means that they do not want to show websites that are not secure. Obtaining an SSL/TLS certificate and enabling HTTPS for your domain is now a requirement, providing a preliminary defense to attackers through encryption and verifying the web server is actually authentic to the web browser. This by default helps avoid a litany of cyber attacks, which only have become more complex and prolific over time.

4. Make sure your website is accessible to all users.

If your website isn’t accessible, meaning designed to be digested by a variety of users including those with disabilities, it absolutely needs to be. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires compliance, with legal ramifications at stake for those who attempt to circumvent this step. Compliance helps prevent discrimination and assures equal opportunity for all those who are using the web, which has become undoubtedly integral to our daily lives.

5. Perform a technical audit and fix what’s broken.

A great way to dive into SEO is to start with the nuts and bolts – of your website. Optimizations such as tweaking the content, while valuable, are best followed by a strong technical foundation. Consider each “break” as a knock against your website’s performance and user experience, and thus to Google’s or other search engines’ evaluation of your credibility. Common examples of these could include lacking an XML site map, broken links, an improperly configured Robots.txt file, redirect loops, broken images, missing alt tags, or meta descriptions. Take care to run through each of these issues and address them, as well as regularly perform technical audits to maintain the health of your website as your content ages, changes, and grows.

6. Research competitors and build a keyword strategy.

Any good marketing effort should begin with an awareness of the competitive landscape. Creating or enhancing a content strategy for your website is no different. Which keywords are your competitors ranking for – meaning, what are users searching for that makes these competitors visible to them? Are they relevant to your business as well, or garner a large enough search volume (enough users searching them) to warrant optimizing toward? Are you ranking for your own branded keywords or phrases, i.e. ones that include your actual business name? If your website has been around for a while, which keywords do you already rank for? Answering these questions and prioritization is essential so that your efforts aren’t in vain. Then, formulate a plan for revising existing copy as well as adding additional, relevant content to your users that both provides genuine value and incorporates these keywords.

7. Optimize copy.

Once you’ve decided which keywords are worth going after, work with experts who will review and optimize your copy, on an ongoing basis. How can these preferred keywords fit organically and relevantly into your content to both improve user understanding and raise prominence in search? How can new and unique keywords better support the visibility of specific pages in search? While all copy should be reviewed, pay special attention to headers, aka text using header tags. These are critical not only for users to navigate your content in an organized fashion, but search engines weigh these considerably when determining the focus of content on the page. A caveat – keyword “stuffing,” or overloading your copy with repetitive keywords for the sake of search engines unnaturally, is a big no-no. Google can tell when your SEO decisions are infringing on user experience and may penalize you in return. Note that keyword plays aren’t the only copywriting pillars that should be focused on for copy optimization. While “quality” and “readability” may not be clear checkboxes that search engine bots can mark, users do a good job of signaling. If there’s a lot of time spent on the page and there’s high engagement, these are likely valuable or relevant pages. If people are often opening and leaving quickly (“bouncing”), they’re probably not.

8. Optimize images.

Images matter! Work with a specialized team that provides sharp, high-quality images that are relevant to your content. However, in the pursuit of this, make sure to scale down and resize images so that they do not make your pages take a great deal of time to load. Search engines see slow page loads as a detriment to user experience, so will not rank these pages as highly. This is also the time to update your image file names and alt tags, the text that will appear if your image can’t render, so that they are SEO-friendly. Every single image, graphic, or logo on your website should have an alt tag that offers a succinct and accurate description.

9. (Continue to) improve UX.

There are a plethora of ways to improve UX. Review how your website is designed, along with its structure. Is it intuitive for a user to find the pages they need? Is the design responsive and mobile-friendly? After all, with an increasingly large number of website users perusing from a mobile device, Google places more importance on mobile than desktop in how it crawls and ranks pages. Furthermore, if you’ve already “fixed what’s broken” in number 4, have you checked your website’s Core Web Vitals? How can you make a user’s experience go smoothly from the moment they load the page? Installing heat maps or other tools can provide a continued flow of information about how users are traversing your website, and provide ample fodder for optimization.

10. “Off-page” SEO.

“On-page” optimization, as its name suggests, deals with optimizations made within the walls of your own website, directly on its pages. Beyond this, there’s a world of “off-page” optimizations to explore that can support the impact and ranking of your content from other websites. The most notable of these is backlinks, which are measured by Google in terms of both quality and quantity. More, “better” backlinks pointing to your content flags to search engines that it’s trustworthy. So, facilitating backlinks through encouraging press releases, blogs, content from partners, or coverage by credible sources will serve you well. What’s the first step? Create material worth linking to.

How Can We Help?

All that to say, we’ve barely scratched the surface – and SEO was never a “set it and forget it.” With technology and algorithms ever-changing, there is always more to learn about the beating heart of web engagement and what makes search engines run like a formidable, well-oiled machine. The rise of AI and SEO trends such as Answer Engine Optimization (AEO) have steered professionals the world over to reevaluate client strategy and adapt accordingly, so staying on top of your website’s performance is critical. How can we help with yours?