Nearly 50% of marketers report, based on their tracked metrics, say that SEO has the best ROI of any digital marketing channel.

To put it simply, SEO is a powerful marketing strategy that works for large and small businesses in any industry. When implemented correctly, SEO drives traffic to your website that you don’t have to pay for, increasing website traffic over time — and thus, the chance to sell to more and more potential customers.

This SEO starter resource is your first step toward getting that search traffic and increasing your rankings. It will give you the basics on search engines, search engine optimization strategies, as well as 50+ resources you can use to learn SEO.

How do search engines work?

Search engines like Google and Bing work by searching the web using robots called “crawlers,” or “spiders” to find new content online (in Google, these crawlers are known collectively as “Googlebot”). If the bots find new content and decide the content meets the guidelines of the search engine, that content is then indexed and served to searchers based on an algorithm.

Diagram of how search engines work.

Learn more about how search engines work:

What is SEO?

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving web pages so that they’re easy for both people and search engines to use. It includes three core components:

  • Technical SEO
  • On-page SEO
  • Off-page SEO

Search engines use a number of ranking factors to determine which content to show users. SEO is the practice of improving a web page to meet those ranking factors, with the ultimate goal of getting that web page to show up on a search engine results page (SERP), where it can attract more visitors.

Black hat vs white hat vs gray hat SEO

Black hat SEO is the process of optimizing a website for search engines by using techniques that violates the search engine’s policies. Black hat SEO may result in quick wins that help you rank, but in the long term it can get your website banned or de-indexed (removed from Google altogether).

Black hat SEO can also include negative SEO, which is the process of harming a competitor’s website or content using unethical SEO tactics (like pointing a number of spammy links to a single webpage) with the goal of getting their content de-indexed or ranked lower.

White hat SEO is the process of optimizing a website by following a search engine’s policies as closely as possible. White hat SEO is generally a longer process, taking months to years before becoming effective, and focuses on providing a high-quality user experience.

Comparison of white hat SEO techniques and black hat SEO techniques.

Gray hat SEO falls in the middle, using tactics that may or may not be approved by search engines but that fall into a gray area, where it’s not entirely clear if the search engines approve of the tactics or not.

Learn more about the three different types of SEO:

The three core components of an SEO strategy

On-page SEO, off-page SEO, and technical SEO make up the 3 core components of any good white hat SEO strategy. Here’s what they are and how they work:

On-page SEO

On-page SEO refers to everything you do on a web page to optimize it for search. This includes putting keyword phrases in specific locations or including internal links, satisfying search intent, and creating high-quality content.

Keyword research

Keyword research is the process of using keyword research tools to find what keyword phrases your customers are searching for. Keyword research is critical to any on-page SEO strategy because it helps you determine the kind of content you need to create to attract searchers to your website.

Learn more about how keyword research works.

High-quality content

High-quality, great content is comprehensive, it satisfies search intent, has good internal linking, and is organized with headers and subheads.

Comprehensive means that the content covers all aspects of a topic. If someone searches for “how computers work,” your content needs to explain everything about how a computer works to be considered high-quality.

Satisfying search intent means the searcher finds the answer they’re looking for when they consume your content. Your content is all they need, and they don’t go looking for answers elsewhere.

Internal links are links between one piece of content on your website and another. Internal links help readers to find more content that is related to the content they’re consuming, and they also help search engines to understand how each piece of content is related to other pieces of content. Additionally, it helps crawlers to find new pieces of content more easily.

Organizing content with headings and subheadings helps readers who scan your content to find the information they need quickly. They also help search engines to understand what your content is about so that they can serve it to the right searchers.

Learn more about high-quality content.

Effective meta tags

Meta titles are the titles that show up on a search engine results page (SERP). These are different from title tags, which are the titles that show up on the page itself.

The image shows a meta title in purple. Meta titles should be under 60 characters. To write a good meta title, include the keyword phrase at the beginning of the title and make the title interesting enough to click.

For example, for the keyword phrase, “how do computers work,” your title might be, “How Computers Work | The Definitive Guide to Modern Computing”

An example of good meta title creation for the term "Learn SEO."

A meta description is the text that appears under the meta title, as seen in the picture. A good meta description is about 155–160 characters long, includes the keyword phrase at least once, satisfies search intent if possible, and includes a call to action at the end.

For example, if we use the keyword phrase “how do computers work” again, a good meta description might be, “Computers work by processing information quickly so that a user can perform a variety of tasks, like calculating complex equations or playing a game—learn more.”

Learn more about how to write good meta titles and descriptions.

Further reading on on-page SEO

Learn more about on-page SEO from some of the best SEO professionals in the industry:

Off-page SEO

Off-page SEO refers to SEO tactics that take place off the page to improve your search engine rankings. Mostly, it refers to link-building – which is the process of getting other websites to link to your web page. Building links is important to SEO because search engines determine how authoritative a web page is based partly on the number and quality of links pointing to it. The more you have, and the more authoritative those links are, the higher your page is likely to be ranked.

Link-building tactics

Link-building tactics can help you to get backlinks (links from other websites) to your web pages. The goal is to show search engines that your pages are authoritative.

For example, you might use broken link building. You might also email a piece of content to a webmaster and see if they’d be interested in sharing it with their audience, with the goal of getting them to include the link in existing or future content that they create.

When these tactics end with a link back to your site, it shows Google that other web properties are willing to send their web traffic to your website, which means it must be valuable. In this way, getting a backlink from another website is like getting an upvote.

Learn more link-building tactics.

Brand partnerships

Partnering with another brand gives you a number of opportunities for building links. This can include guest blogging, cross promotion on various social networks or blogs, featured ad placements, and more.

Learn more about building brand partnerships for SEO.

Social media marketing

While social media links do not count as backlinks, social media provides opportunities to get backlinks. For example, sharing your content on social media can lead other brands to consume and link to your content, thereby boosting your off-page SEO by getting you a backlink.

That being said, Bing does take social signals into account, though they don’t necessarily count social media links as backlinks.

Learn more about social media marketing and SEO.

Google My Business page

Claiming a Google My Business page is one of the most important things a local business can do to improve their success in Google’s search engine. Of the top ranking factors that determine if a business will show up in the local pack, claiming your Google My Business page is at the top. Here’s what the local pack looks like:

Local snack pack search results for the search term "pizza places near me."

Learn more about the local pack.

Learn more about Google My Business and SEO.

Learn more about local SEO. 

Further reading on off-page SEO

Check out these great resources to learn more about off-page SEO:

Technical SEO

Technical SEO refers to the technical aspects of your website — how fast your website loads, if your website has structured data, if you have an XML sitemap, how your HTML is written, and even what CMS you use (WordPress or SquareSpace or Drupal, for example).

XML sitemap

An XML sitemap is a file that tells search engine crawlers what pages are on your website. Rather than forcing crawlers to try to figure out those pages themselves, you give them a single file that they can use to quickly see your content and (hopefully) index it. Here’s what an XML sitemap looks like:

xml sitemap

Learn more about XML sitemaps here.

Simple site structure

Websites should have a simple structure, both for users and for crawlers. A simple structure means that you don’t have countless pages for a user to search through manually. Instead, you categorize your site, from broad focus areas like “men’s shoes” to more specific ones, like “men’s Nike running shoes, size 10.” These help users find content easily, and search engines understand how the pages on your site relate to each other.

Learn more about creating website structure here.


Websites should be mobile-friendly. Now, Google uses mobile-first indexing, meaning it will serve users the mobile version of your website for both desktop and mobile searches. If your mobile website is just the desktop version of your website on mobile, it’s not mobile-friendly.

Learn more about the importance of having a mobile-friendly website here.

Page speed

Page speed is a ranking factor. It’s critical that you have a fast website because users will begin to click away from your website after only a few seconds. Google recommends your website load in 2 seconds, and data supports this guideline.

Over 24% of website visitors abandon a website that takes 4 seconds or more to load. The slower your website loads, the more potential customers you lose.

Learn more about why page speed is so important here.


Sometimes you’ll have two pages with the same content but unique URLs (like the same product page in two different categories). This can confuse search engines, which won’t always know which page to index in search results.

Canonicalization is how you tell Google which pages on your website should be indexed and which are duplicates that can be ignored. If you don’t use the canonical tag, it can result in two of your own pages competing against each other for space on search engine results pages, or Google picking which one to index (and Google may not choose the one you want to appear).

Learn more about how canonicalization works here.

Schema markup

Schema markup is used to tell a search engine what each type of content is. For example, you would use schema markup to tell a search engine that a piece of content is a blog post or a video.

Schema is important because it helps search engines more quickly understand what your content is about, which means your content can be indexed more quickly. The more quickly your content is indexed, the sooner it has a chance to rank.

Schema also helps search engines to support embedded qualities in a Google search, like rich snippets.

Rich snippets are pieces of your content that Google pulls from your article and then displays above the top search result. Getting a rich snippet can lead to more traffic to your website even if you don’t have the top result. The image shows a rich snippet for a page that ranks #1 for the keyword phrase, “how do computers work.”

A rich snippet showing an excerpt from the article "How does a computer work?"

Rich snippets can be more than just a definition or a piece of an article. It might include reviews for your website and how many reviews you have.

It allows Google and other search engines to display more information to searchers, which means searchers get a better idea of why they should click on your website (and not another one). The image shows a rich snippet with review data displayed.

A rich snippet complete with reviews for a book titled the "The 4-hour Chef."

Learn more about how schema markup works here.

Robots.txt file

Your robots.txt file tells search engines which pages it should or should not crawl. If for some reason you want to keep an image or video, for example, off of Google or Bing, you would use robots.txt to do that. It’s often used to keep pages that aren’t valuable to a searcher off a search engine.

Learn more about how robots.txt works here. 

Further reading on technical SEO

Technical SEO can get pretty complex, so check out these resources to learn more:

SEO tools

SEO tools help you do everything from evaluate your backlink profile to find keywords to create content around to evaluate the competition and more.

Here are the top SEO tools to check out:

SEO blogs

SEO blogs offer a variety of resources for learning SEO. Here are some popular SEO blogs known for their quality.

SEO courses and guides

If you’re looking to learn some in-depth SEO tactics, or to earn SEO certifications, check out these SEO courses and guides:

SEO YouTube Channels

If video is more your learning style, check out these YouTube channels on SEO:

SEO books

If reading deep dives into SEO is what you’re looking for, check out these SEO books.

SEO podcasts

If you’re looking for great SEO podcasts to listen to on the way to and from work, check these out:

Get a complimentary SEO audit

With a basic primer and 50+ resources, you’re ready to learn SEO. Advanced tactics will take time to learn, but anyone can start improving their website with SEO today. If you can, you should. SEO is arguably the most powerful digital marketing tactic for driving sustainable online business growth.

Want to see how you’re doing with SEO? Get an instant SEO audit below. Or, schedule a free consultation to see how intent SEO can boost search traffic revenue by 700%.