A quick intro to SEO using a bottoms-up approach

Learning SEO can be a daunting task. Given the dizzying volume of advice out there, it's not easy to pin down what 'good SEO' means or how to get started. In such cases, it's best to skip all the high-level theory and go straight to the bottom: the actual tools used by SEO professionals.

Each tool below is covered in greater depth by Dan Norris in his book 3 Months to No.1: The 2020 “No-Nonsense” SEO Playbook For Getting Your Website Found on Google. It's a short eBook that you can devour in a weekend.


Note: I am not affiliated with any of the links found in this article.

1. SerpFox

SerpFox helps you track your website's rank on a search engine results page (SERP). The higher your website ranks, the closer to the top you'll find it for a particular keyword. For example, if you sell bicycle rentals in San Diego, you'd want to rank high anytime someone searches for 'bicycle tours san diego' (that's known as a keyword in SEO-speak).

As you tweak your website to rank high for such a keyword—which can take months not weeks, by the way—you're probably wondering 1) Are your efforts paying off? And 2) Once you achieve a rank that you're happy with, how can you maintain that position over time? SerpFox can help you answer those questions and more.

SerpFox makes it easy to get started with a free trial and then $10 per month after that for beginners. I'd use that entry-level plan if you're ever looking to impress a future or current employer or client. I don't think it would be too hard to identify a few lucrative keyword opportunities where they rank low, or their rank has slipped down from a higher position.

2. SEO Book Keyword Density Analyzer

According to Dan Norris, SEO rests on four pillars: relevance, crawlability, engagement, and authority. Out of those, keyword density is all about signaling relevance. Keyword density is one way to tell Google that your web page has content that's a good match for a particular keyword. Going back to our previous example, if you want to rank for 'bicycle tours san diego,' you might ask what's stopping you from stuffing your web page with those four words over and over.

Google is smart enough to sniff out such tactics. Google rewards unique, high-quality content that provides a good user experience for the reader. If you look like you're trying to game the system, the big G will catch you and punish you. Literally, your website could get slapped with a search penalty and get thrown in SEO jail.

So, how do you strike the right balance between giving Google what it wants but avoid gaming the system? You can use the keyword density analyzer from SEO Book to answer that question. This free tool will help you determine how many times a particular keyword is repeated in any body of text and will spit out the resulting keyword density as a percentage.

In his book, Dan recommends taking the average keyword density of the top 3-5 results from your target SERP. It's safer to act on an average rather than relying on a single web page's keyword density alone, even if it is the highest-ranking page by Google.

3. LSIGraph

LSI is actually a common term in SEO which stands for Latent Semantic Indexing. It sounds complex, but it's not. Above, you learned how many times you should use the very keyword you're trying to rank for (using the keyword density analyzer). Now, it's time to uncover what other words and phrases will improve your content's relevance in the eyes of Google.

Fortunately, there's a tool for that. LSIGraph will give you some strong hints on what sub-topics your content could benefit from covering. For example, a page about bike tours in San Diego should probably touch on bicycle routes, equipment and supplies needed, and what snacks to bring to stay nourished (to name a few).

For any given keyword, you'll likely find that LSIGraph will spit out more LSI keywords that you can work with. It's your job to figure out which ones are most appropriate for your content and reader goals.

4. Majestic

So far, we've covered three tools to improve your on-page SEO. On-page SEO refers to acting within the walls of your website to score high marks on Google's four criteria: relevance, crawlability, engagement, and authority. Although we've only scratched the surface by covering relevance so far, let's move on to the outside world. Those are the SEO tactics beyond the walls of your website, that make your website worthy of a top spot on a search results page. It's called off-page SEO.

If your website sells bicycle rentals in San Diego, you should have other high-quality bicycle or touring or activity websites linking back to your website. The SEO world calls those links 'backlinks.' Google uses backlinks from other high-quality website to determine the quality of your website or web page. Majestic can help you uncover the number and quality of backlinks. The key is to find relevant backlinks. For example, a bicycle tour website will get greater SEO value from travel-related backlinks from travel sites rather than food blogs.

More tools for off-page SEO