What is SEO?

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of improving your website to increase its visibility in search engine results pages (SERPs). SEO is a long-term marketing strategy for reaching your target audience, driving traffic to your website, and increasing brand awareness.

One alluring myth about SEO is that it’s free. While it may not cost money to optimize your website yourself or to get indexed by search engines, ranking well for search terms (keywords) your business cares about is time-consuming. This is especially true for well-established industries where you have plenty of competitors.

So, while you may not have to pay money for placement like you would with an ad campaign, you will have to invest time and effort into your SEO strategy. The time investment can cost just as much if not more than an ad campaign. However, the payoff with SEO is that you will reap the benefits of your efforts for years to come.

Challenge #1: Understanding SEO

There are numerous aspects to SEO, which can make it difficult to know where to start. You don’t need to be an expert, but it’s valuable knowing what factors can impact how your site ranks in search results.

At the end of the day, SEO is about search engines trying to provide the best possible results for their users. Therefore, the singular best thing for your SEO campaign is to create excellent content.

Think of search queries (keywords) as questions. Search results are answers to those questions. The top-ranking content for any search query should be the best possible answer to the question. Everything else is secondary to answering your target audience’s questions with great content.

This is not to say that you should ignore the other factors that impact your SEO. But if your content is not worth reading, nothing else you do will be as impactful as building better content.

Challenge #2: Defining Your Target Audience

Your site’s target audience is the group of people you want to visit your website. Who do you wish to attract to your site and why? What do you want them to do? The answers to these questions will help you define your target audience.

Local, National, International

Your geographic focus will impact your SEO strategy. Local SEO—optimizing your site for location-based keywords—is used by businesses that serve a specific geographic area. A local SEO strategy will focus on keywords that include a city, state, or zip code to ensure that your site ranks well for local search queries. For example, a Nashville-based pizza restaurant would want to rank well for “pizza in Nashville.”

National SEO targets a nation-wide audience, and international SEO targets a global audience. For businesses, applicable regulations, distribution capabilities, and customer demographics will dictate the geographic focus of their business and, in turn, their SEO strategy.


Demographics are the characteristics of a population that can be used to identify groups of people. If you are an established business or organization, you can use your existing customer data to identify your target audience. If you are a new business, you can use data from your competitors to inform your decisions on building a target audience.

You may look at characteristics such as age, location, education, industry of employment, and income to describe your target audience’s demographics. Demographics are important because they help you understand your target audience’s needs and interests. This will help you create content that is relevant to your target audience.

Customer Vocabulary

Similarly, understanding the language used by your target audience will help you write better content. Customer interviews, testimonials, and surveys can help you understand the language your target audience uses to describe your products and services. Regardless of how you feel about their vocabulary, you should use the language your target audience uses to describe your products and services. Perhaps you prefer thinking of your product as a “widget,” but your customers may refer to it as a “thingamajig.” Your content should refer to your product as a “thingamajig” since that’s what your customers are looking for.

Pain Point Marketing

The right vocabulary helps customers discover your content, but it’s not enough to convince them to buy your product or service. You must also understand your target audience’s pain points. Pain-Point SEO is a strategy that prioritizes content around the problems your target audience is trying to solve. This content may not target the highest-volume keywords your target audience is searching for. Instead, pain-point SEO targets keywords that indicate high buying intent. That is, keywords that indicate that your target audience is ready to buy your product or service.

Combining pain point marketing with your customer’s vocabulary helps you write content that deeply resonates with your target audience. That translates into better-ranking content in SERPs, more traffic to your site, and more conversions (conversions are actions your visitors take to turn them into subscribers or paying customers).

Challenge #3: Finding the Right Keywords

Again, writing content that answers your target audience’s questions is the most important part of your SEO strategy. But you can’t write content without knowing what questions your target audience is asking.

Competitor Research

Analyzing your competition is a quick way to find high-volume keywords that your target audience is searching for. You can use a tool like Ahrefs to find the keywords targeted by your competitors.

Keyword Research Tools

There are many keyword research tools available. My personal favorites are SpyFu and SEMRush. These tools allow you to search for keywords and see how many times they are searched for each month, and how competitive they are.

You can use Google Webmaster Tools to find keywords that your site is already ranking for. If your site content already shows up for certain keywords, you can use that as a starting point for your SEO strategy. Often you’ll find keywords that you don’t rank incredibly well for but could easily rank well for by optimizing your existing content.

Challenge #4: Creating Content

SEO is typically considered a long-term strategy. The traditional reason for this characterization is the claim that it takes time to rank well for keywords. While getting your site indexed and getting other sites to link to you (“building backlinks”) does take some time, most of your time investment will be in creating content. The more content you create, the more opportunities you have to rank well for keywords your target audience is searching for.

Starting out, it’s difficult to rank for meaningful keywords simply because you don’t have content targeting those keywords. That’s why most of your SEO efforts should be focused on creating high-quality content.

Focus on Quality

First and foremost, more is not better. Focus on quality content before trying to create a massive amount of content. Quantity doesn’t rank: quality does. Quantity matters more for consumer-focused sites than B2B sites, but even for consumer-focused sites, having a handful of high-ranking pages is more valuable than having hundreds of pages that rank poorly.

Content Types

Different types of content can serve different purposes. You may find, for example, that some blog posts are only useful for a few months, whereas others receive a decent amount of attention for several years.

Time-Sensitive Content

Time-sensitive content is basically news: it’s either describing a temporary event or a new development of some sort. This type of content is useful for a short period of time, and can benefit your SEO strategy if your target audience is very interested in the topic you’re covering. For example, a blog post about the latest iOS update may help our software agency capture attention from someone who is looking for a developer to update their existing app. However, a blog post about iOS 7, which was released in 2014, is unlikely to be of much use to anyone browsing the web in 2023.

Evergreen Content

There is other content, though, that may be referenced for years to come. This is often called “evergreen” content because it remains relevant for a long period of time and does not really expire. A good example is a blog post covering topics like ways an agency can help you get funding for your app idea. Such an article contains advice that will be relevant to its audience for a long time: the ways you can get funding are unlikely to significantly change.

Though, evergreen content can benefit from being updated from time to time. Continuing the funding example, such an article may reference specific funding vehicles. SAFEs (simple agreement for future equity) were introduced in 2013. An article written in 2012 wouldn’t reference it, but could be easily updated to incorporate new information while retaining other information that continues to be relevant. Reviewing your content at least annually for opportunities to update it can help you keep your content relevant and near the top of SERPs for valuable keywords.

Content Formats

Deciding on the type of content you wish to produce is an important step in your SEO strategy. Some SEO marketers will focus exclusively on text content, but there are other types of media that can get your site to rank well in SERPs. Images, videos, and infographics are all indexed by search engines and can rank for valuable keywords. However, those content formats require different skills to create. You may need a graphic designer or video editor to create the content you wish to produce, and should consider the time and money investment in creating that content.

A Note About AI Generated Content

Generative AI such as OpenAI’s GPT-3 can be used to create text content. However, blindly generating content and publishing it will not help your SEO strategy. Google has made it clear that AI generated content is acceptable, but—like any other content they evaluate—must be valuable to the user. So far, AI generated content is no substitute for innovative human writing. Tools like ChatGPT can be used to assist you in writing, though, or even help you produce a first draft. Just remember that people are reading your content because you have something valuable to say that they aren’t finding elsewhere. If you use AI generated content, the focus should be on enhancing your writing workflow, not replacing your thinking process or generating a final product.

Challenge #5: On-Page Optimization

Technical SEO or on-page SEO is the process of making technical adjustments to your site to improve your search engine rankings. For example, sites should publish a sitemap to help search engines crawl your site. A sitemap is a file that lists all of the pages on your site, helping search engines find every single page you believe is worth indexing and sharing in SERPs. In addition to a sitemap, your site can provide a robots.txt file and structured data to point search engines in the right direction.

There are plenty of other aspects to technical SEO: internal linking strategies, performance optimization, building for accessibility, and content structure/optimization. While links to your content from other sites are incredibly helpful to your site’s rankings in SERPs, starting solely with technical SEO can help you get your site indexed and start ranking well for keywords. As an example, our site has relied mostly on technical SEO tactics to rank well, often reaching the top 3 spots in SERPs for niche keywords.

Challenge #6: Promoting Your Content

For high-volume (popular) keywords, though, links to your site are a very important factor in ranking well. The more links you have to your site, the more likely you are to rank well for a given keyword. The descriptive text in those links is also important: if you have a link to your site with the anchor text “software agency,” that link will help your site rank better for the keyword “software agency.” Though, an overall increase in links to your site will help your site rank better for a variety of keywords as your site appears more trusted or authoritative to search engines.

Requesting Indexing

Once you’ve published a sitemap for your site, you can request that Google and Bing index your site. Use Google Webmaster Tools and Bing Webmaster Tools to submit your sitemap and request indexing. It may take the search engines anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to fully index your site, but you can check the status of your site’s status using their webmaster tools. Once your site is indexed, your pages will start appearing in SERPs.

Backlinks are links to your site from other sites. They are one of the most important signals search engines use to determine the authority of your site. The more backlinks you have from reputable sites, the more likely your site will be considered reputable by search engines. This in turn helps your keyword rankings.

There are “black hat” SEO tactics that can help you get backlinks, but they are often short-lived and can get your site penalized by search engines. Directories and link farms are two examples of black hat SEO tactics. It’s better to focus on meaningful backlinks from reputable sites than to try to game the system.

Guest Blogging

Guest blog posts can help you build backlinks to your site. By offering to write an article exclusive to another site, you can get a link to your site in the author bio. If you already have a collection of great content, there may be opportunities to link to several relevant pages on your site from a single article. Though, you must be mindful of the site hosting your guest post: they may have restrictions on the number of backlinks they permit on your post.

Sharing Your Content

Social media, email, and other channels can help you share your content with your audience. When you share your content, there’s a chance your readers will share it with their audience. Their backlinks to your site will increase your rankings in SERPs. Even YouTube videos and podcast interviews can help you build backlinks to your site, through video descriptions and show notes where you can link back to relevant content.

Challenge #7: Measuring Success

Just as we measure success after the launch of an app, we can measure the success of our SEO campaign. To begin, you must define what success looks like. There are a few potential goals you may have for your SEO campaign. You may wish to replace expensive ad campaigns, increase your website traffic, or increase your conversion rate.

Analytics tools like Google Analytics can help you measure metrics that support all of those goals. You can track the number of visitors, sources of traffic, and conversation rates. Google Webmaster Tools can also help you track your site’s performance in search results, which will help you determine your effectiveness at targeting specific keywords and help you identify new keywords worth targeting.

Getting Started with SEO

SEO is a long-term strategy that can help you build a sustainable business. The advantages of SEO are that it is relatively low-cost and can help you build a brand that is trusted by search engines and users alike. Getting started is simple: just start writing!