definitive SEO guide for 2024

SEO EBIT Formula SEO Audit Factors

Web, Search Engines & Organic Search

Web, Search Engines & Organic Search

How the World Wide Web Works

Evolution of the Web

Evolution of the Search Engine

Importance of Organic Search

Search Engine Anatomy

How does a search engine work?

How does a search engine work?

How does a search engine find my site?

How does a search engine rank my site?

Machine learning is alive!

Google Algorithm Updates

Future Proofed Marketing Framework

Chained KPIs

The following is a comprehensive guide to Search Engine Optimization. This is a 4 part “Marketing for Robots” tutorial by Rob Bertholf covering all aspects of SEO including fundamentals, optimizing on-page & off-page, content marketing, social validation and more.

While Search Engine Optimization is constantly changing, the recommendations on how to optimize your content are consistent. In short, stop worrying about what the search engines think and worry more about how your visitor receives your content.

If you are stumbling onto this blog and wondering what my SEO credentials are, for the last 5 years I have taught this stuff at the University of Hawaii’s Pacific New Media program and I also rank #1 in Google for the term “Search Engine Optimization Expert“. Despite a long successful career in SEO, which involves delivering results for my clients; my recommendations are to focus less on search engine manipulation and more on better content marketing tactics… but again, we will get into that subject later in the guide.

Marketing for Robots

Search Engine Fundamentals

Learn how a search engine works

Technical SEO

Learn to build a solid foundation


Learn content ideation, creation & repurposing


Learn how to nullify your competition and build authority

In the first section I will discuss the role of a search engine, how a search engine thinks and how to increase your authority. I will introduce the concept that if it is good for humans it is good for robots and there will be plenty of opportunity for tangents such as SEO Algorithm for Profit.

What is a Search Engine?

We will talk more about the evolution of the search engines’ role, but briefly stated, a web search engine is:

a software system that is designed to search for information on the World Wide Web. The search results are generally presented in a line of results often referred to as search engine results pages (SERPs). The information may be a mix of web pages, images, and other types of files. Some search engines also mine data available in databases or open directories. Unlike web directories, which are maintained only by human editors, search engines also maintain real-time information by running an algorithm on a web crawler. (Wikipedia)

Search engines have been around long before Google. The first search engines date back to the early 90’s and did not have near the level of sophistication they have today.

  • 1990: Archie – Query Form (First Search Engine)
  • 1993: Excite / ALIWEB
  • 1994: WebCrawler (First Crawler)
  • 1994: Infoseek & Yahoo (Directories) / LYCOS
  • 1996: Inktomi (Pioneered Paid Inclusion)
  • 1997: Ask/AskJeeves (Natural Language Saearch)
  • 1998: Microsoft launches MSN
  • 1998/9: Google
  • 2009: Bing

Currently the search engine market share (as provided by Net Market Share) shows that globally Google controls roughly 70% of the market. Bing powers roughly 12% of the organic search and Chinese language-search engine Baidu commands nearly 17%. So as of today we have two main search engines in the US market, Google and Bing (Yahoo does not provide their own organic content). While Yahoo controls its paid search content, it does not handle the storage and retrieval nor do its own web crawling (source: Wikipedia). Interestingly enough, up until 2004, Google powered Yahoo organic search. Since 2009 it has relied on Bing for organic data.

Anatomy of a Search Engine

You may (or may not) be asking yourself what I mean by Paid or Organic. (If you are following along on the slide deck, we are on slide #9). Let me explain: If you generate compelling content and build authority for your domain you will show up in the search engines. We call these results Organic. If you are impatient you can just pay to be listed; we call this Paid Search. One type of paid search is measured in Pay Per Click (PPC).

How does a search engine find my site?

Good question. A search engine has huge warehouses of specialized computers called servers. These servers methodically browse or “Crawl” websites. They follow links to other websites or scan servers to find new web sites. The servers also scan existing websites where the content has been changed. These sites are then added to the search engines catalog or “Index”. The catalog of their findings has their ‘secret sauce’ applied to it and is then available to serve up results from searches.

How does a search engine rank my site?

There are a number of obvious and bizarrely complex factors that go into ranking a site (See my post on the search engine algorithms for more information).

The simplest explanation is that search engines assign authority based on recommendations.

There can be only one first place result; how does a search engine choose?

This should be an easy concept since we base our decisions in real life the same way. If you want to purchase a product or service, you ask your friends who they used and get recommendations. If you have two potential service providers, you start by how many friends recommended each and the strength of each recommendation. If you are in need of skilled labor work, you would probably weigh the recommendation of a friend who knew a lot about this specific industry and accept his recommendation over someone who knew nothing of the industry.

Search engine recommendations work the same way. A search engine sees a recommendation as an inbound link to your website from another website. Recommendations are passed by linking to a website. A recommendation or inbound link carries more authority if it comes from a website which is known for similar content. The more inbound links (or authority) a website has; the more weight its inbound link is worth.

Stay focused on creating quality content not just on getting links

So simply put: The name of the game is getting links to your site from websites which have high authority, and are similar in topic as your site. Fewer higher quality links are better than lots of spammy low quality and unrelated links. The less you try to manipulate Google the better; focus on creating quality content and not just on how you can get links.

But I still do not know how I optimize my website for Google!

At this point in my class people still have not bought in on the idea of focusing on better content marketing and less on gaming Google. We typically take a quick snack break and people come up to say… “so where do I place my meta keywords?” or “I created a page on my website linking out to 100 websites but it hasn’t helped my SEO”. This is where I flash a slide from the movie ‘Men in Black’ where Will Smith uses his ‘neuralyzer’ to make people forget what just happened and I say:

Forget everything you think you know about SEO!

… most of it anyway. Meta Keywords (are not used), Link Exchanges (can get you penalized), Keyword Density (can get you penalized), etc. Here is where I wish we could just let SEO die already & focus instead on content development & marketing.

How to look at SEO…

If it is good for Humans, it is good for Search Engines

Search engines want to serve relevant content wrapped in a positive user experience. The role of a search engine is to help you find what you are looking for on the web. By using keywords and phrases, the search engine finds the most relevant results and delivers them (along with tons of ads where they make crazy money to do so).

Think of Google as a hotel concierge

If you were to go to a concierge at a hotel and ask them for a good place to eat, they would want to give you the best recommendation. If they tell you to go to XYZ diner and you end up getting food poisoning from eating there, do you think you would go back to the concierge and ask for recommendations again? Probably NOT! The same is true for search engines, their game is serving up advertisements, if you ask them something and they send you to a site where you get a poor experience do you think you would return to that search engine?

With this in mind, you can look to Google as a source of information on how to make your website be the best user experience for your visitors. I highly recommend visiting the Google Webmaster Guidelines ( to learn more.

How do I optimize my website?

There are a number of factors, lets start with some foundational items and go from there. In the next few paragraphs we will look at an optimized experience from the perspective of both a Human visitor and a Robot (search engine spider) visiting your site.

Reliable Web Host

As a human, if I try and visit your website but it is ‘down’ or really slow-to-load, there is a high chance I will give up and go to another site where I can consume the information easier. What is the point of driving people to a website if it’s ‘down’ and people can’t see it?

  • Page loading speed directly affects time on site & conversion.
  • Re-think shared hosting, get dedicated IP address at a minimum.

As a robot, when the search engine crawls your website if your site is ‘down’ or if it is very slow-to-load it will not want to recommend your site to visitors.

  • SE’s want to serve best experience, site usage matters.
  • Don’t be on the same IP as spammer.

Content Management System

A content management system (CMS), is a tool used to manage the content of a website easily. A good CMS such as WordPress can give your site a solid framework to build an optimized site.

  • Keep your website content fresh. CMS’s make it easy to publish content.
  • Make it easy for your content to be shared. Add social sharing widgets from a library of plugins in seconds.
  • Make it easy to remember and share your link. Dynamically create “slugs” or permalinks to construct URLs.

From a search engine perspective:

  • Fresh content brings the spiders back quicker.
  • Social Shares validate content.
  • Make it easy for SE’s to catalog your content.
  • Place keywords in your URL’s to increase relevance.


My recommendation for content management (and the recommendation of anyone who is not a hack) is WordPress. The following WordPress plugins will help with your optimization efforts:

  • WordPress SEO
    Write better content and have a ‘fully optimized’ WordPress site using the WordPress SEO plugin by Yoast.
  • Redirection
    Easily manage ‘301 redirections’ and keep track of ‘404 errors’ without requiring knowledge of Apache ‘.htaccess’ files.
  • Broken Link Checker
    Search engines don’t want to see broken links. This plugin will check your posts, comments and other content for broken links and missing images, and notify you if any are found.
  • Google XML Sitemaps
    Make it easy for search engines to find your content. This plugin will generate a special XML sitemap which will help search engines better index your blog.
  • W3 Total Cache
    Speed up your site’s load time. Improve site performance and user experience via caching: browser, page, object, database, minify and content delivery network support.
  • Google Analytics for WordPress
    Track your statistics easily and with lots of metadata: views per author & category, automatic tracking of outbound clicks and page views.
  • DiggDigg
    Make it easy for visitors to share your content!  This plugin creates a sexy share button to accompany your content.
  • Disqus Comment System
    Make it easy for visitors to leave comments!  Rather than requiring users to register on your site to leave comments (or getting bombarded by spam for not restricting it to logged users) the Disqus comments leverages the social media accounts you are most likely already signed into to make it easy to comment.

Responsive Website Design

Take mobile seriously! Website traffic from mobile devices is quickly surpassing traffic from desktops. Ease of navigation is important. It is better for visitors if your website is ready for any device (Desktop Computer, Laptop, Tablet, Smart Phone). Search engines prefer mobile friendly sites and they are shifting their focus to a mobile first mentality… it would be wise to follow the shift as well.

If you are in need of a conversion of your website to a responsive design I recommend Bertholf Consulting, a Hawaii based Web Marketing firm for the job.

See what I did there? Notice that I did not link the company name “Bertholf Consulting”, instead I linked “Hawaii based Web Marketing”. Google already knows that Bertholf Consulting is linked to, but I want them to know that should be associated with “Hawaii Web Marketing”.

Web design firms have a great opportunity to place a link back to their website to strengthen their authority. Most web designers do not take advantage of this fully, they link their company name or “Powered by {Company Name}”… smart ones link “{Web Design} by Company Name”.

Attention to Detail

After you max out the basics, the little things become more important.

  • No broken links or images. (If you do not care about your content why should Google?)
  • No misspellings or poor grammar.
  • Generate unique content. (Duplicate content is not credited to you)

Craft Compelling Content

As Success Kid would say “Created Content — Got Links”.

What is the point of driving traffic to your website when your visitors do not find value from the content on your site. Remember, Engaging content = Engaged visitors = Shares

Content Marketing Plan

Start with Keyword Research and create a content marketing plan!

Your keyword research can be easily identified by answering these questions:

  • What words would be used to refer to my brand?
  • What words would people use to request my product or service?
  • If my product/service is the answer, what is the question?
  • Who would ask the question?

Fill out your answers in my Keyword Research Grid exercise on the Content Marketing page.

Build Authority & Network

Google’s Authorship replacing the PageRank by matching content to the author rather than just domain name

Get Social

Social Shares are like links:

  • Place sharing widget/icons on your site
  • Share your content out to social networks
  • Encourage advocates to share your content (SurroundsMe)
  • Share your content
  • Social Signals are largely weighted.
  • Without social validation, traditional link building will fall flat.

To recap, just focus on creating a positive visitor experience. For more advanced techniques continue to the next chapter on Technical SEO and optimized website architecture.