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SEO For Dummies

—Millstone, NJ

This guidebook is designed to provide you with a basic understanding of the fundamentals of Search Engine Optimization. For further information, explore the resources below. If you are a student interested in helping a nonprofit increase visibility with SEO, refer to the resources indicating how to sign up to be a STEM·E SEO intern.


Paid and organic search engine results
Paid Results above, Organic Results below

What is Search Engine Optimization?

In any search engine, like Google, there are paid results and organic search results (see diagram to the right). Indicated by the name, paid search results denote content that companies purchase to be placed at the top, while organic search results aren’t paid to be listed. Search Engine Optimization is the process of maximizing the visibility, which is the estimated quantity of clicks received based on organic positioning, of online content within organic search results. As links appear higher within the organic search results, organic web traffic increases because sites listed first are perceived as more reputable by users, and those looking for a quick response gravitate towards the first results listed.



How do search engines operate?

To better understand how to rank higher on search engine results, it is important to first understand the psychology behind a search engine. A search engine releases web crawlers or bots tasked with discovering pages available on the internet and adding these to a data structure called the search engine index. The content of these pages are indexed into keywords found within the page. In addition to keywords, the bots also index the relevance of a page based on the date published and the past user engagement of the page. Indexed pages are then filtered through a search engine algorithm. After a page is indexed, when a user enters a search term into the search algorithm, what we call a query, this search term is matched as closely as possible to pages that have matching keywords and are ranked highly by Google's indexing algorithm. The Google algorithm is constantly evolving, with 500 changes per a given year. Other factors that are used to produce results include a user’s location, detected language, prior searches of the user, the IP address, and the device from

which the query was produced, like desktop, mobile, or tablet.


How do you optimize visibility within a search engine?

Diagrams of SEO title & header tags
Example title & header tag

Whether using a website developer or coding a website from scratch, a website structure that is clear and free of glitches will influence how it is indexed and ranked on a search engine. Websites are organized into title tags, header tags, and meta descriptions. Title tags are most important, should include keywords to describe the page, and should be about 70 characters or less. Title tags do not actually appear on the page but are viewed in the browser window and provide further information to search engines regarding what a site is about. Header tags range from H1 to H6, where the most important tag is H1 and lesser important tags are H6, and they identify the most important text on the page. These can be thought of as headings and subheadings. Often these are the same, as seen in the depiction to the right.

Diagram of search engine meta tag
Example meta tag

A meta description is a general description of the webpage that will be shown on the search engine results page as seen to the right. Meta tags can be added through the SEO section of your website developer or by adding html code, as seen to the right. The content of a site is equally important and should include both internal links and anchor text. Internal links are links that move site visitors from one place on the site to another in-site location. These are important to help users navigate a site and also develop an information hierarchy within the website. With each link should be anchor text, or the visible text of a link that describes it, as in this example here, where “https://www.steme.org/” is the internal link and “describes it” is the anchor text.


SEO doesn’t stop at the website itself; it also includes the promotional efforts to amplify content. The most popular routes to do this are through social media, public relations, and paid advertising. These are all elements of link building, which describes the continual process of getting external sites to share or publish links to a site to drive traffic to this site and therefore, increase a site’s ranking


How can internal content better reach viewers?

SEO Persona Example
Example Persona

The following list has been devised as a summative assessment of the many strategies that developers could and should use. These are not the only tips available.

  1. Define your target audience. Think through the perspective of your preferred customer, or target audience, to determine what they will be looking for and wish to see. By putting yourself in the shoes of the customer, you are thinking about the search terms they will use when looking for a product, service, or solution you offer. This query must be matched with the keyword. As you look to reach this audience, it may be helpful to create personas, “fictional characters which are typically used in the user-centered design process to represent the different user types of a website” (Neil Patel, n.d) that can guide you in creating content to better reach these imagined viewers. For an example of a persona format, take Lauren, the stay-at-home mom and donor fictitiously depicted to the right.

  2. Use keywords to reach that target audience. These are the words that best describe your content, arguably the most important aspect of SEO. As web crawlers sift through your site, they look to match content with search engine queries. Include these keywords in your headings, descriptors, and body content itself. It is also important to determine the search frequency of these keywords. Searches that seem similar, such as “stem for kids” and “stem program” may have vastly different search frequencies. Highly searched keywords are invaluable and should be included in different elements of a site such that they appear more often in response to a user’s search queries. Various sites allow you to analyze a keyword's search volume, including https://searchvolume.io/, https://linkgraph.io/, and https://www.semrush.com/. For more on how to specifically find your site's keywords, stay tuned for our next blog on "Identifying Optimal Site Keywords for SEO and Google Ads."

  3. Determine the goal and message of your content. Most common goals are to inform, to engage, to inspire, and to define impact. When writing with sound intent, the rest falls into place.


Resources for Further Reading

For becoming a SEO intern with STEM·E: https://www.steme.org/volunteer


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