SEO basics – a totally useful how to guide

SEO – the things you need to know

Despite all the confusing acronyms and jargon, writing search optimised web copy isn’t rocket science.  Here, we discuss some SEO basics. It’s about creating clear, targeted and useful copy – something you should be doing anyway.

Mastering SEO basics will put you on this basic trajectory.
Photo by Fab Lentz on Unsplash

Let’s start by being clear: there’s only so much you can achieve by tinkering your site’s content. Recent studies have shown that 85% of your ranking is down to things that happen off your site.And that comes down to content. With Google’s fancy new algorithm, SEO these days is all about a fresh stream of relevant, original and useful content that will keep people coming back, and make other sites link to you.

But before you start tearing off to launch your blog, let’s start with the basics. How do you make sure your site is SEO-optimised?

SEO basics – gimme the downlow

The bottom line is, search engines help people find sites and information on the internet. It means you don’t have to know the exact web address, (totally handy) – just type in keywords that describe the website or information you’re looking for.


Search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo use complex algorithms to rank sites for relevancy and credibility against your search. Search optimisation is the process that helps sites and pages appear higher up a search result – that’s called page ranking.

SEO is not about tricking people or search engines. It’s helping the search engines match your content to the people you want to attract.

Organic SEO

Make your site more credible and relevant to certain keywords, so that it’s ranked highly in those search results.This is distinct from paid SEO aka Search Engine Marketing (SEM), where you pay systems like Adwords to deliver your site to the searcher.

SEO copy

When people talk about “SEO copy” they mean that the text has been written to help Google identify the web page as one that’s relevant and credible to a searcher.

So how do you do that?

Here’s the process of creating SEO text:

  1. define targeted keywords or phrases
  2. craft copy to ensure these keywords are in strategic positions
  3. use the keywords strategically in meta data

What are these keywords then?

Keywords are the foundation of all search optimisation. They’re what people use to search, and what search engines use to match people to relevant and credible content.

Search engines crawl around the net and index the information that’s on each page. Instead of storing the billions of pages in one database, they keep track of everything in smaller databases, each centred around a particular keyword or phrase. This makes it faster for the search engines to come up with your results.

Which keywords to use?

To work out which keywords are right for you, start with a solid idea of your target audience and when and why they’ll look for you specifically. Some obvious keywords for a locksmith would be “locksmith Auckland”. For an emergency or 24-hour locksmith, targeting users who search for phrases like “keys locked in car”, or “replacing locks”, might be a more efficient way of optimising for copy.

When choosing keywords you need to factor in three things:

High frequency: a significant number of searchers are using them consistently. There’s no point being ranked number one for a term no one uses.

Low competition: not many other companies are optimising their sites for the same keywords. The less competition you have for a keyword or phrase the easier it will be to take the number one spot.

High commercial intent: if the point of your site is to sell, going for keywords that indicate people are ready to buy are the best. For example, someone searching for a “Samsung LN52B750 1080p LCD HDTV” will be closer to buying than someone searching for a “flat screen TV”.

Which ones?

Choosing the right keywords for your site can be a tricky, time consuming process. Often it’s best to outsource to the experts. It means the difference between a mediocre outcome or a spectacular one. If you’re going to DIY, use online tools to help you define your keywords with hard historical data. Google’s AdWord tool is particularly useful because it gives you information about competition and frequency of words and phrases.

Writing for SEO

Search engines measure the way keywords are used on pages, rather than just the frequency. In fact, if the same keyword appears too many times on a page it could be marked as spam and treated accordingly. This makes sense to the reader too – who wants to read a page stuffed with keywords?

Writing optimised copy is about using keywords in strategic positions in the on-page text, and in the meta data (info in the back-end of the site).

Where to use your keywords

  • Page headline, aka the H1 tag – It’s best to put the keyword as close to the beginning of the title tag as possible. If you think about the way people skim read, this makes sense for the reader too.
  • The body copy – Don’t get hung up on how many times your keywords should appear. Just focus on creating well-written, single-minded, useful copy and it’ll happen naturally.
  • Bolded in subheads or a key sentence – Again, this should happen naturally if you’re including good descriptive subheads, or what to highlight in key messages.
  • Alt attributes of images – This is the text attached to images, which can be seen when you hover over them with your mouse. Most websites will set the ‘alt attribute’ from the image’s file name. Take the time to name the file something descriptive that includes the key words – don’t leave it as DCS0012334.jpg.
  • Include it in URL and permalinks – This should happen naturally if your text is single-minded and focused. For example, a page about puppy toys will have the URL: Make sure your URLs don’t have meaningless numbers or figures – use, not
  • The meta description – This is the text that appears in search results. Search engines place little weight on meta descriptions when indexing or ranking, but they act as little ads for your site and encourage people to click.
  • In links to the page or site – This one is arguably the most important. Google takes note of keywords in inbound links. So links to the puppy toys page should have the key phrase “buy puppy toys” in it. Links from this page should have keywords that are relevant to the destination.

To get ranked in Google first, put the reader first

Now you know some SEO basics and I encourage you to break the rules a bit. Why? Because the most critical rule of SEO copy is to put the reader first – never compromise on readability for the sake of “better search-optimised” copy.

Copywriters and search engines are on the same side. You both want to deliver useful, credible and relevant content to the right people (making sure that it’s your content). There’s so much you can do to help your website rank. Don’t sacrifice the readability and usefulness of your content.

Helen Steemson

The lead copy writer and creative director at Words for Breakfast. She spends much of her time working with the copy writing team across a variety of projects.