More Than Page Ranking: Working with Clients on SEO Basics

Somewhere deep in the darkest vaults of the Googleplex, robed figures make dark incantations to the eldritch god Algorithm. Secret rituals create mysterious results, impossible for mere mortals to understand.

At least, that’s the way SEO can seem to your clients.

But the basics of SEO are really quite simple, straightforward, and – dare we say – ordinary.

When you’re embarking on any web project with a client, it’s crucial to be mindful of SEO. And by establishing a clear and focused SEO strategy, you’ll maximize your project’s impact.

Changing the Misconceptions About SEO

Too long. Too expensive. Too random. Too hopeless.

While most clients understand the value of well-executed SEO, it’s not uncommon for them to get overwhelmed and dismiss a concentrated effort.

Maybe that’s why they’re looking for your help in the first place! It might even be tempting to lean into the misconceptions about SEO and portray yourself as a kind of sage SEO wizard with special, secret insights.

Ultimately though, you’ll drive better results and a stronger relationship by giving your client clear insights. Empower them, and they’ll more easily see the value you provide as well. And that starts with making clear that your SEO strategy isn’t some weird extra, but actually an already interlinked piece of any site’s build.

Most SEO Best Practices Easily Align with Your Project

In practice, SEO’s crucial basics line up like natural guideposts in building a site anyway.

Here’s a summary of pretty much everything a search engine wants in a top-ranking result:

  • Provides useful, accurate information
  • Follows a clear structure and purpose
  • Loads and performs reliably
  • Engages the visitor and fulfills their need

Sounds a lot like the goals of any design or content project!

Search engines want to connect their users with useful, engaging content that’s tightly associated with the users’ searches. So their algorithms have been rooted in human behavior: They seek traits that consistently correlate with better experiences for users.

In a lot of ways, SEO best practices can act as a checklist for building an amazing user experience. And great UX generates more conversions, repeat visitors, lower bounce rates … Even if a site doesn’t get a single visitor from organic search (it will!), it would still benefit from embracing SEO guidelines.

SEO is Never Hopeless

If you’re looking to outrank a giant, global conglomerate for their brand’s specialty, you’ve likely got a lengthy, costly, and chancy challenge ahead of you.

It’s worth pointing out: You can topple giants. Relatively small companies get top ranks for general search terms that you’d expect multi-billion-dollar businesses to control all the time. But those lofty Don Quixote goals will most likely take time and a concentrated, precision effort.

More importantly: The specific keywords – the ones related to the specialization and differentiation that make a business viable – are very ownable with a solid execution of the basics. And those will generate valuable organic search traffic.

So, when you begin discussing SEO with a client, don’t get lost in the weeds. If you let tiny technical tweaks tangle up your client – especially at the onset – the big simple elements can feel complicated too.

The Most Essential SEO Basics for Your Clients

Most basic SEO strategies follow a similar blueprint.

You’ll likely still perform specialized optimizations based on individual site needs. But having the essential foundation in place will always be crucial. So, start with these.

Determine Target Keywords

Keywords form the cornerstone of any SEO strategy. And in the big picture for a client’s business, target keywords reflect a site’s overall messaging and content strategy.

What defines the business in the eyes of its customers? What elements of the brand story are most likely to pull in visitors? What problems does the business best solve?

The client’s natural answers to these questions provide the framework. From there, SEO keyword research tools help quantify the current strengths, opportunities, and gaps across three fronts.

  • Internal – What terms already drive traffic to a business? Tools like Google Search Console focus on these.
  • External – What terms could help a business pick up new traffic? This is the bread-and-butter of tools like Google Keyword Planner.
  • Related – What terms and phrases are you missing? Tools like Entity Explorer and Also Asked help on this front.

By examining these three groups together, you and your client can prioritize keywords across the site experience. This list will be critical in everything that follows.

Different types of keywords can be used for unique purposes. In fleshing out an SEO strategy, you’ll want to understand the nuances. But again, be careful about making the main task too complex for clients at the onset.

Utilize Keywords in Page Content

Once you identify the target keywords for a site, you need to put them to use.

With your target keywords spread throughout web-page copy, you signal that those pages have information related to a customer’s search. Make sure you’re thinking about all these:

  • Headings
  • Body copy
  • Title
  • Meta description
  • Alt tags on images

At the base level, these instances represent the biggest factor search engines look for: A simple statement of what page content is about. Again, totally logical.

A snowball effect can occur after that. Search visitors who engage longer with a page signal to search engines that the site is a high-quality resource, improving search ranking even more.

Some clients might bristle at the idea of stocking pages with target keywords, worried about the prospect of keyword stuffing overtaking their brand story. (And others might get over eager to do exactly that!)

So, in your communication, emphasize that the experience still matters first and foremost. The goal here is to make it easier for visitors and search engines to recognize the content that’s relevant to them … and overstuffing often makes that less clear.

Link Related Products and Content

The web gets its name from its vast network of links and connections. And that fundamental nature matters with SEO as well: Build web site pages so they fit into the bigger story of a brand and its industry.

This typically starts with internal linking. By creating links to other related pages and content on a site, you build a depth of authority in the eyes of visitors – and search engines.

External linking will be a major factor as well. Connections with sites that are already viewed as authorities in turns builds the perception of your site’s authority. The basic concept here is something every marketer – and even networking business professional – will be familiar with.

Another warning for the overzealous: Avoid paying for links. Connecting with spam sites can actually penalize your content.

Quality linking increases engagement, too. So these efforts impact SEO from multiple angles. Just the kind of thing you’re looking for in a simple SEO strategy!

Set Realistic Targets and Goals

SEO takes time to deliver results, and even lower rankings will still generate traffic for a site.

You can alleviate many clients’ immediate concerns with monthly reports, demonstrating improvements in ranking and the direct result of your SEO efforts. And highlight the general improvements in site navigation and experience that SEO best practices create.

By reinforcing the deep and wide benefits of SEO, you’ll ensure you stay on the same page as your client throughout the project.

SEO Checklist: 29 Must-Dos for Every Site

Looking for a complete SEO checklist to help drive more traffic to your website?

Everything below helped us grow our blog traffic from 50,000 to 380,000 monthly search visits in less than two years.

Most of the checklist items below apply to ecommerce stores, local businesses, affiliate sites—whatever kind of site you’re running.

Sound good? Let’s get started.

  1. Basic SEO checklist
  2. Keyword research checklist
  3. On-page SEO checklist
  4. Content checklist
  5. Technical SEO checklist
  6. Link building checklist

Basic SEO checklist

Let’s begin with the SEO best practices that you should employ before doing anything else.

Note that these things are unlikely to have a direct effect on rankings. They’re just the basics that every website owner should have in the bag.

1. Install Yoast SEO

Yoast SEO is a free SEO plugin for WordPress and a few other CMS’. It’s useful for creating sitemaps, optimizing meta tags, and much more.

In short, it makes the technical stuff less daunting.

If you’re not using WordPress or any other CMS’ supported by Yoast, then head over to Google and search for the best SEO plugin for your CMS.

2. Create a sitemap

Sitemaps tell search engines where to find the content on your site so they can easily crawl and index your pages.

Here’s what the sitemap looks like for our blog:

Here’s what the sitemap looks like for our blog:

3 xml sitemap

You can usually find yours at

How do you create one?

If you’re a WordPress user, use Yoast. If not, Google a generator for your CMS.

3. Create a robots.txt file

Robots.txt is a plain text file that tells search engines where they can and can’t go on your site.

It’s always good practice to have a robots.txt file, but if you need to prevent search engines from crawling pages or sections of your site, it’s a must.  For example, if you run an ecommerce store, you might not want them to crawl and index your cart page.

4 robots txt

You can check if you already have a robots.txt file by going to If you see a plain text file, then you’re good to go. If you see anything else, search Google for “robots.txt generator” and create one.

Recommended reading: Robots.txt and SEO: Everything You Need to Know

4. Install Google Analytics

Google Analytics is a free tool from Google. It lets you see how many people visit your site and how they interact with it.

5 google analytics

To install it, sign up and paste the supplied tracking code into your website.

Read this guide (or watch this video for non-WordPress users) if you’re unsure how to do that.

5. Set up Google Search Console

Google Search Console lets you track search performance and see which keywords you rank for.

6 google search console

It will also keep you in the loop about on-site improvements you can make.SIDENOTE. It’s also worth signing up for Bing Webmaster Tools, which is essentially Bing’s equivalent of Google Search Console. 

Recommended reading: How to Use Google Analytics to Improve SEO PerformancePRO TIP

Link Google Search Console with Google Analytics to see Search Console data in Analytics.

You can learn how to do that here.

Keyword research checklist

Keyword research is perhaps the most crucial piece of the SEO puzzle.

After all, if you don’t know what keywords people are searching for, how can you optimize your content for search engines?

Follow these checklist items to get off on the right foot.

1. Find a primary keyword to target

Each page on your website should target one main primary keyword.

That’s what we do with all posts on the Ahrefs blog.

You can find keywords using Google Keyword Planner or Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer. Just type in a ‘seed’ keyword and check one of the keyword ideas reports.

For example, if we check the phrase-match report for “link building” in Keywords Explorer, we get over 5,000 keywords containing that phrase complete with SEO metrics like Keyword Difficulty and monthly search volume.

7 keywords explorer link building