The Basics of SEO

Tired or afraid of getting little to no results from your time and money spent on SEO for your small business? Despite what most “SEO experts” want you to believe, the fundamentals of SEO are easy to understand, simple to execute, and (most of the time) require little or no specialized knowledge, even if you’re a beginner. In this guide, I expose a simple checklist of the three fundamental principles of SEO and show you where to direct your time and money to get better results in less time.

The Three Principles of SEO

Search Engine Optimization really boils down to three fundamental components:

  1. Crawlability
  2. Meaning
  3. Importance

Everything else you’ll ever hear or read about SEO is merely strategies, tactics and techniques designed to positively influence these three components.

SEO Basics


Crawlability is the first and most fundamental component of SEO. As I define it, “crawlability” means “possessing the characteristics necessary for a web crawler to find and extract information.” In practical terms, in order for search engines to do anything with the stuff you put out there on the Web, they to need to be able both to find the web resources you’ve created such as web pages, images, videos, audio files, etc., and extract the information they contain.

The bread and butter of crawlability is:

  • Web server
  • HTML
  • Links

Obviously, your stuff has to be online in order for a web crawler to find it. This goes without saying. But, for some reason, I felt compelled to state the obvious.

HTML is the native language of web search engines. And links, which are themselves HTML, provide search engines with the locations of other web resources. In other words, HTML is the primary means of relaying information to search engines, and links are the pathways to that information.

There are lots of little details that can inhibit a web crawler’s ability to crawl your site.  But at the core, if you want search engines to be able to crawl the stuff you’re putting online, you can’t go wrong with HTML and links.


The value of a search engine lies in its ability to match resources to what a user wants. At the most abstract level, search engines are extracting meaning from the user and comparing that meaning to the meaning found in resources.


You can think of a search engine like a librarian. Let’s say that I ask a librarian, “I’d like to know how to build a birdfeeder.” The librarian extracts meaning from my words and understands that I’m interested in a resource that will provide instructions for building a birdfeeder.

The librarian might also extract information from sources other than my words. For example, the librarian might extract information from my clothes and hands and estimate the probability that I’m looking for a resource for the inexperienced woodworker.

The librarian might also extract information from my location. I live in Iowa. So, I’m likely looking for a birdfeeder for birds found in Iowa.

Search engines extract meaning from users in much the same way. For a user searching for “restaurants”, Google will take meaning not only from the user’s “question” but also from elements like the user’s location. “There’s a high probability that he wants restaurants near his location.”

But it’s not enough to understand what a user is looking for. The search engine also has to extract meaning from web resources it’s found. The search engine can extract meaning from a resource by analyzing:

  • content
  • structural elements such as:
    • title tag
    • meta description
    • headings
    • HTML5 semantic markup (e.g. <article>)
    • sturctured markup (e.g.
  • links
    • anchor text
    • surrounding text
    • etc.

Search engines compare the meaning obtained from the user to the meaning extracted from resources. Matching results are returned ordered by a combination of relevance and…


Back in 1997 before Google was created, only the first two components (crawlability and meaning) mattered for SEO. However, as the creators of Google noted, “‘Junk results’ often wash out any results that a user is interested in.” Those were the days of keyword stuffing. If you wanted to rank higher for a given keyword than the highest ranked web page, you simply had to increase the meaning/relevance factor of your page by increasing the number of times your keyword appeared on your page.

The creators of Google attempted to solve this problem by taking advantage of the link structure of the Web to produce a global importance ranking of every web page. The algorithm they developed, PageRank, gave each page an importance score (i.e. a PageRank value) based on:

  • the number of links pointing to the page
  • the importance (i.e. PageRank) of the other pages that linked to the page
  • the number of outgoing links on those other pages

Since that time, many elements besides links are used by search engines to determine importance. However, as of today, PageRank is still one the top 2 ranking factors.

Where to Focus Your SEO Activities

To get results from SEO, you’ll know you’re spending your time well if you’re focusing your efforts on elements that will have the greatest impact on the three fundamental components: crawlability, meaning, and importance.

How to Improve Crawlability

Your primary focus for crawlability should be:

  • Put your stuff online
  • Use HTML
  • Link to your content

A bit of a shortcut for getting your pages indexed is to use a sitemap. But bear in mind, a sitemap is not a substitute for links. As one of the top 2 ranking factors, links have tremendous value beyond just getting your pages crawled.

How to Influence Meaning

To understand the words and phrases that people are using to search for the topics of your content, use the Google Keyword Planner.

Apply what you learn from your keyword research and analysis to the language you use in your content.

And, of course, create lots of awesome content. More content exposes your site to a greater number of search queries for which you’ll have the potential to rank. And more search queries and rankings means more traffic to your site.

How to Increase Importance

Links. And if you’re a local business, then local business citations, too. Basically, get your name out there. Publish something provocative or polemic. Create something innovative or revolutionary. Publish content elsewhere. Get interviewed. Interview other people. Make friends. Make connections. Build relationships. Do something extraordinary, newsworthy or remarkable in some way.

Other factors that can increase importance include things like the load time of your pages. A slow loading page may be negatively impacted in search results.

Don’t worry too much about the little details of SEO. “But what about the robots meta tag? Or rel=’nofollow’? Or…” Your time would be much better spent creating new content and building links to your site. Focus on these three fundamental areas of SEO and you can expect to see a significantly greater return on your investment of time and money.

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2 Responses
  1. Jérôme Rigal

    Hi, this is *almost* exactly what I’m looking for. Now, please save my poor soul and tell me how I can use this with an IMPORTRANGE… I just can’t find the right syntax and this is driving me crazy 🙁

  2. Analyst Atwork

    Incredibly helpful. THANK YOU!!

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