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What is SEO (Search Engine Optimization)?

Search Engine Optimization

What is SEO?

If you’re just starting to dive into digital marketing, one term you are going to hear bandied about a lot is SEO. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It is the process, and activity, that optimizes your website to increase its rank in organic search results pages online using a search engine, like Google or Bing.

SEO is not something you do today, to garner results tomorrow. It is the long game of the internet, and something that might take months to start showing results. However, when it does, you’ll be happy you started when you did! SEO is also not a set-it-and-forget-it activity. It requires constant review, updates, and activity to keep abreast of the latest changes to best practices, and search algorithm changes.

There are a variety of tactics and activities to optimize your website for search engines. Some of them are global to your entire site, and others are page specific. The types of activity that we recommend will depend on your target audience, the product or service you offer, and the geographical reach you wish to achieve; i.e if you’re a plumber that serves a specific area, there is no reason you should be spending time and effort on showing up in search results outside of your target service area. Or, if you sell widgets with global appeal, you’re going to want to be seen in more searches than just those in your area code.


Keywords are the first clue that search engines look at to determine what your website, or webpage, is about. Once upon a time, when the internet and webpages were still in their infancy, SEO consisted of using a keyword as often as you could in your copywriting. You would often come across pages that spoke about keywords being the keyword to use in your keyword activity to increase its ranking for keyword searches. Thankfully, search engines have improved significantly since those days, making keyword stuffing like the above more or less a thing of the past; most search engines will actually penalize a site if it determines that it is doing it. (Let’s hope this page doesn’t get penalized for this example!!) Nowadays, you want to ensure that you include your keywords in the first sentence or two of your body copy. Then, make sure that the rest of the copy is relevant to the subject matter.

Start by identifying 10-15 words or short phrases that are relevant to your business. They should be words that potential customers are likely to include in their searches. These keywords should be relevant to your geographic location, the product or service you offer, and/or modifiers of the keywords.

For example, as a digital marketing agency based in Fernie, BC, we might identify the following keywords for our business:

  • Digital marketing agency
  • Best digital agency in BC
  • SEO agency in BC
  • Digital marketing Fernie
  • Kootenay marketing agencies

As you can see, the keywords might more accurately be called “key phrases”. Select keywords for your business by thinking like your customer – come up with terms that they will use in their search for products or services that match your offering.

There are a number of tools available to help identify relevant keywords for your website. Keyword research is important. It will help you determine the popularity of specific keywords, identify what keywords your competitors might be using, and score ranking difficulty for specific terms. Examples of helpful tools include:

If you want to learn more, read this post about keywords.

User Experience

User experience (UX) is pretty much what it sounds like: the experience a user has of your site. UX has both a direct and indirect impact on your SEO. It directly impacts your SEO when a site visitor has a negative experience and quickly leaves the site. This suggests to Google, and other search engines, that your site doesn’t have what the searcher was looking for. Inversely, if you have great UX built into your site, searchers will spend more time on it. This tells the search engine that the answer the searcher was looking for is on the site. Indirectly, a great UX is more likely to generate backlinks to your site as people writing for other sites link to it as an example, or to provide more information.

UX is fundamentally the result of great design. Think of websites that you frequent, and how they are laid out. Sites that you frequent regularly are visually easy to navigate, easy to scan and digest information and help you find the information you’re searching for quickly. Sites you don’t spend much time on are difficult to find what you’re after, don’t make it obvious where you need to click (or the buttons are far too small for use with mobile devices) and are generally challenging to consume the information that you’re after.

birr has helped numerous clients rebuild their websites to focus on mobile-first applications, implementing UX improvements, and ensuring that they are SEO-friendly. One example of a site we’ve recently helped design and build is

We’re in the process of building more, but can’t share them with you yet. 😉


Content is king. Let us say it all together now, “Content is king!” 

Now that you’ve identified the keywords that searchers will use to find your business, and created a website designed to allow your audience or customers to easily navigate and find the information they are looking for, it’s time to create the actual content for your website. Content is everything and anything that you put on your website. It’s the logos, the images, illustrations, videos, infographics, and all of the copywriting that go into making a website, well, a website.

Over the years, search engines and their algorithms have become increasingly sophisticated. So much so, that these days, they are able to determine what your search intent is. That is to say, what the underlying reason someone is searching for a product or service: 

  • Are they looking to buy something (commercial/ transactional intent)?
  • Are they looking for to learn more (information intent)?
  • Are they trying to find a specific webpage (navigation intent)?

Making sure that the content on your site satisfies their a specific intent will help to boost your site ranking for that query’s intent. Moz has put together a valuable guide to help with evaluating content for search intent. Structuring your content in a manner that emulates the current top results will help increase your rankings. After all, if it ain’t broke, why fix it?

On-Page SEO

Title Tags

Title tags are the title that the SERP lists for your webpage. They are extremely important for SEO! At a minimum, you will want to include the keyword for the page in your title. SEMrush has a great guide on how to write better title tags.

Some important tips for writing title tags for your website:

  • Keep them simple!
  • Have a unique title for each page
  • Keep them short, 55-60 characters max, so they don’t get clipped.
  • Use descriptive text like BEST, AMAZING, TOP etc, to drive clicks.
  • Use the 5 Ws (WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY and HOW) to make it crystal clear what will be found on the page.

Spending some time reviewing your page titles, and ensuring that the title is relevant to the content of the page. Make sure it is not duplicated across any other pages! This will help improve each page’s search ranking.

Meta description

Meta descriptions are the blurb of text found underneath your title tag on the SERP. Meta descriptions don’t directly impact your rank on a SERP, however, crafting a meta description that helps garner attention and clicks will boost the long-term value of the specific page.

Heading Tags

Heading tags are an important aspect of UX, helping to break up the content of the page, and providing easily scannable headings. They are referred to by H1 through to H6 tag levels. Organizing your content, including keywords in your headings, and using H1-H6 levels helps search engines build a hierarchy of the content of the page. This will provide useful insight into the content of the page.

Page URLs

Like title tags, the page URL is one of the top markers for SEO. Ensuring that your page URLs are descriptive, include the primary keyword for the page, and are as short as possible is extremely important. Technically speaking, it’s also much easier if you use hyphens rather than underscores, and keep things all lowercase.

Image Optimization

One of the most common mistakes we see when reviewing and analyzing websites is with images. Lack of image optimization negatively impacts SEO. Image optimization is a two-part process.

  • Optimizing for SEO
  • Optimizing for load speed

To optimize your images for SEO, it’s important that you rename them with a descriptive title, include alt tags, and provide descriptive text. Having a file named DSC_576980.jpg will do nothing for SEO. In contrast, Skier_In_Deep_Powder_Snow_FernieAlpineResort.jpg gives you a pretty good idea of what the image is. Adding alt tags and descriptive text will aid accessibility (for visitors who are visually impaired) and a more clear description of the images, helping boost SEO.

As part of your site’s UX, ensuring that your website loads quickly and seamlessly will keep people on your site longer. How many times have you left a website because it didn’t load instantly? Ensure that your images are sized exactly for how you want them to appear. Make sure that they are compressed so that the file size is as small as possible. This will improve both load speeds and your SEO scores.

Internal Links

Internal links are a fundamental part of improving your website. Internal links help search engines understand the structure of your website, build page authority between your pages, and help users navigate around your website. For example, if you’ve found this post informative on the basics of search engine optimization, you might also be interested in learning more about birr agency, and what exactly a digital marketing agency does.

Off-Page SEO

Link Building

Another fundamental aspect of your site’s ranking comes down to the domain authority that search engines place on your site. Another way of putting this is, how many other sites link to your site? By building up backlinks, from relevant and topically authoritative sites, you will increase your domain authority over time. Not all backlinks have the same value. The more authoritative the site, the more value the backlink will have. For example, having The New York Times link to your travel website is going to be a lot more valuable than your neighbour’s weekend getaway blog (unless of course, that neighbour is the editor of the New York Times travel section!)

So, what are some ways you can start to build and improve your backlinks? One of the quickest wins is to reach out to people and businesses you know personally, and that are relevant to your business. This might be

  • suppliers, 
  • customers, 
  • local chambers of commerce, 
  • industry associations.

Another avenue for link building is specific industry directories. Just make sure that the directory is not a fly-by-night listing service, but a quality directory for your industry.

birr agency has also had tremendous success for clients building backlinks through Public and Media Relations activity. Leveraging PR activity to garner clients editorial coverage almost always includes a digital version of a story and an associated link to their homepage. As the publications are editorial in nature, they often have a relatively high domain authority themselves, and as such their backlinks have a relatively higher value.

Technical SEO

Technical SEO ensures that your website and server are optimized for search engine spiders to crawl and index your site most efficiently and effectively. If the search engine can’t crawl and index your website, then it doesn’t matter how good everything else is, it will not show up in SERPs.

Google Search Console

Setting up Google Search Console is actually one of the first things you should do when you build a new website. It is free, and will help identify any issues on your website right away. Even though it is specifically designed for Google searches:

  1. It will help fundamentals for all search engines, and,
  2. Lets be honest, the number of people using other search engines is extremely small compared to Google… there is a reason that “googling” something has become synonymous with searching online.

Page Indexing

Page indexing is when a page has been visited by a web crawler, analyzed for content and meaning, and stored by the search engine for future reference. Once a page has been indexed, it can be shown in search results. Reviewing your site’s page index report will help identify any indexing issues early. You can then correct them so as not to limit your reach on results pages.

Robot.txt Files

If you use a custom CMS, you’ll need to ensure that your site has a robot.txt file on it. If you use a CMS such as WordPress, you should automatically have a robot.txt file associated with your site. But… it’s worth double-checking.

A robot.txt file instructs web crawlers how to crawl your site. It also tells the crawler which pages not to crawl and index. It is important to review your robot.txt file to ensure that low-value pages are not being indexed and that high-value pages are.

Speed Optimization

When was the last time you stayed on a website that took more than 2 seconds to load each page? Slow page speeds negatively impact the UX, increase the bounce rate, decrease dwell time, and lower conversion rates. See our post on website stats and what they mean here.

There are a number of free tools out there that include site speed in their audit, including our favourite, Hubspot Website Grader.

Site Security

You may not be completing financial transactions on your website, or having customers log into a service, but it is still extremely important that your website is secure. You will recognize a secure site by the HTTPS at the start of the URL, rather than HTTP. If your site is not secured with HTTPS, then installing an SSL certificate will rectify that immediately. Most browsers will now put up a warning to deter traffic if your site is not secured.


Given the ubiquity of mobile devices, mobile compatibility is a key ranking factor. If your website was not developed with a mobile-first approach, then your site is likely being penalized in its ranking. Technical aspects of a mobile-first approach include insuring that the site is responsive to display size (scales to phone, tablet, or desktop screens), tapability (are the buttons and menus structured so that “fat fingers” are able to click on links), and load speed/page sizes (nobody wants to waste their mobile data on bloated webpages.)

Final Thoughts

SEO is an extremely important aspect of all digital marketing activity, and one that is frequently ignored or forgotten. While it may seem like the return on investment is not worth it, the long term cost of not prioritizing SEO in an ever increasing digital world is tremendous. birr agency has various levels of SEO support for businesses seeking to increase their digital presence. We would love to hear from you, you can reach us here.


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