[SEO For Dummies]: Don't Buy Snakeoil

Firstly, SEO is not some magical buzzword that will guarantee you organic traffic. If anyone promises you that, you tell them to stick their promise where the sun don't shine. Also, the image preview for this article is not to call you stupid, it's just a funny meme I hope you also appreciate. 

This post is to demystify what SEO actually is/a brief overview and how you can improve yours or at least be educated enough to know how to. I want you to be educated so if you ever need help, your armed with knowledge.

A lot of times your website platform will do all the heavy lifting for you (Shopify, Wix, Yoast for Wordpress, etc), so no need to fret!

For your convenience, here is a index of the topics:

  1. What is SEO?
  2. What are headers? Why are they important?
  3. What is a sitemap?
  4. What does it mean when Google "crawls" my site?
  5. What is metadata?
  6. How can I get found for specific search terms?
  7. What search terms should I concentrate on getting found for?
  8. What are next steps? Things that are more valuable than SEO for small-to-medium brands

1. What Is SEO? 

SEO (search engine optimization) is a way to make sure your website's code is formatted in a way that Google/Bing/etc can read and make sense of. It makes your website's HTML code search engine friendly. In addition, it is a way to let Google know that you have a good quality site related to the search terms you want to be found for.

2. What are headers? Why are they important?

Headers are any text that comes after <h1>, <h2>, etc tags. They often look like big, bold information on your website (not unlike the header that says "2. What are headers? Why are they important?").

Header text tells Google, "HEY!!! THIS IS IMPORTANT INFORMATION ABOUT MY WEBSITE! USE IT." Google then uses that information to make assumptions about what your website's about.

If I have headers on my website that consistently say things like "Best bagels in San Diego", "San Diego's authenticate NY bagels" Google will start to think that my website is about bagels sold in San Diego and will think of my website when someone searches things like "bagels near san diego"

3. WTH is a sitemap?

A sitemap is a xml document (think of it like a weirdly formatted excel spreadsheet) that tells Google all the pages that it should look at when looking at your website. This is often autogenerated by the website platform you're using!

Your sitemap will often be located at yourwebsite.com/sitemap.xml .
Put it in your browser and try it out! 

Example: Mine is at beckahsheeler.com/sitemap.xml

Lucas the Spider by Joshua Slice

4. WTF does it mean when Google "crawls" my website? 

Crawls does kind of seem like a spider, huh? Well Google kind of acts like a spider when it looks at your website.

When Google crawls your site, it goes through all the pages you listed in your sitemap and makes sense of all the information on your site ('member the headers? It uses those too!).

After it crawls the pages that are listed in your sitemap, it caches that information, and it knows to have your website appear in a search if someone googles something relevant to what it thinks your website is about.

In order to have Google crawl your site, you request to do so in Google Webmaster.

5. What is metadata?

Metadata is code on your website that you can't see, but helps populate your Google search listing as well as tell Google, Facebook, and Twitter what your website is about. When I say Google listing, I mean it helps create your listing in a Google search, or basically this:

This is often super easily tweaked in Shopify pages or if you're on Wordpress, Yoast. 

If you're using Shopify:

  1. Go to your admin dashboard (yoursite.myshopify.com/admin)
  2. Click on Online Store
  3. Click on Pages
  4. Click the page you want to add meta data for. 
  5. Scroll down to "Search engine listing preview" found at the bottom of the page
  6. Click "Edit website SEO", edit, and then save. You're good to go!


6. How can I get found for specific search terms? Answer: Content is king!

When you want to get found for a specific search term, metadata and header information (as discussed in the previous sections) is not the only thing that matters. The normal content on your website is extremely important, both in a direct and indirect way. Here's how.

The biggest thing you can do to increase your visibility on a search term is to become an "authority" (a site Google classifies as a reliable source for a topic). And the way to become an authority is back linking

Back linking is when other sites post links to your website on their website. If that website gets higher traffic or your link gets posted many times, even better; this tells Google there's information that's valuable enough to share with other people.

So you might be thinking, how the heck do I get websites with high traffic/a lot of people to link to me? PROVIDE VALUE- and I couldn't recommend blogging more highly. Create posts that provide genuinely valuable content to your demographic.

Whether you're an outdoor brand that has an article about the "Top 10 Camping Sites In New England" or a cosmetic brand that posts about "5 Proven Ways to Decrease Undereye Bags", this content is inherently more sharable and therefore increases back links. It fosters a platform for you to genuinely engage your core demographic which only creates brand loyalty.

Additionally, blog regularly! This helps your ranking for two reasons:

  1. Google ranks your site higher if it's updated regularly because it means your site hasn't gone stale
  2. The more content on your site related to your targeted search terms, the better likelihood you'll be ranked for that term. If you blog regularly about your topic, you'll basically be accumulating content. 

Think of this process of updating and accumulating content on your topic like spinning sand into a pearl. Each word of your blog and each update is gathered by Google, and as more content is worked and reworked on your blog, it becomes a bigger pearl- AKA makes you more of an authority on a topic.


7. What search terms should I concentrate on getting found for?

This is a more tricksy topic. Firstly you need to figure out what region you want to appeal to, whether your state, county, or city as well as gage opportunity. For instance, if I want to compete for Shopify design in NYC it's going to be much hard to rank than if I compete for Shopify design in Des Moines, Iowa.

Also, maybe instead of geographical area, I should concentrate on my unique value-proposition (maybe I'm especially good at Shopify design for cosmetic brands).

Here are a few helpful ways to looks for SEO opportunities.

One way is to look at Google trends and filter by geographical area and time period. Then look at related searches.

If you look at this above picture, this is a trends result for Shopify in San Diego over 5 years. You can see the general trend is going up. I can also see what areas really like Shopify by looking under "Interest by city".

In addition, maybe I should also concentrate on the related searches (found under "Related topics"). This lets me know that people in San Diego are also interested in the related topics; it might be valuable for me to concentrate on those related categories in addition to my target category to attract my ideal customer.

This is just one, free way to gage opportunity.

8. What are next steps? Will this all really help?

If you are a small to medium brand, make sure your website is formatted in a way that if you shoot up to stardom, Google can display you in their results. However, more than likely, you will get much better traction by fostering genuine relationships with your target audience rather than investing in SEO.

Your business is dependent on having an audience who can relate to your brand and wants to see your business succeed. This is infinitely more valuable over the long term than pouring loads of money into advertising and optimization.

My recommendations are the following:

  • Provide helpful, shareable content for your audience
  • Engage with your audience where they are. Whether trade shows, Facebook groups, or subreddits, become a valuable member of your community and always answer questions with your insight. You'll also discover unique opportunities by keeping your finger on the pulse.
  • Meeting someone in person and having a great, empathetic conversation about solving their pain pointwill almost always trump being the first result in Google

If you found this helpful at all, I would love if you would subscribe to my blog!

The next few articles I'll be writing about how to figure out what to blog about, 5 actionable tips on being better at SEO, and other helpful ecommerce tips!



Great post, thank you!!

Kate Mchugh-Westfall

Thank you for this info! I knew a little bit about back linking, but didn’t realize how important it was in terms of SEO!

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