If you’re new to being a webmaster (running your own website), there’s a good chance you’re feeling very overwhelmed. You’ve suddenly discovered that it isn’t enough to just design a website and put it up on the web… you have to design it in a certain way and check up on it regularly, do additional work to get people seeing it, and more.

Here are a few common questions new webmasters often have about SEO, or search engine optimization.

1. What is SEO and why do I need to know about it?

The acronym “SEO” stands for “search engine optimization” — the process of getting your website the best it can be to ensure search engines will pick it up and show it to people who are searching for topics related to it.

Search engine optimization is crucial to any good website, because it’s the process of getting seen by your audience. There are many methods of driving traffic, but this is one of the easiest because it can be completely free and it can continue to drive traffic for years, as long as your SEO stays up-to-date and you monitor competing websites.

You can even pick up tips from other websites in your niche or similar niches who have gotten to the top rankings. Studying other sites is one good way of figuring out what they’re doing that you’re not, and thus adopting their methods.

Something else you should keep in mind is that this puts a lot of weight on the importance of Google, Yahoo, Bing, and other modern search engines. When these search engines (particularly Google, which dominates the market for search engines) change their algorithms, you are forced to change your optimization to make sure you don’t lose your search engine rankings. This means you’re relying upon external websites for your own business or traffic. Some people are more comfortable with this than others, so you’ll have to make the judgment call yourself on whether SEO is something you want to pursue.

2. What are on-page and off-page SEO, and why do I have to worry about both?

These are both different types of search engine optimization, both of which are necessary if you want to optimize your website as much as possible.

On-page optimization revolves around the content, coding and structure of your site, while off-page SEO looks at how the rest of the website sees your site.

Both of them are equally important, but in certain cases, one may be a little more important for you to focus on. If you already have a lot of great content and have been established for a while, your on-page SEO might be doing well, but if you’re relatively new, getting lots of off-page SEO done can let the internet know that your page is important.

On-page SEO should be an ongoing process, and you don’t have to do too much extra to make sure you’re maintaining it once your initial SEO is set up. Even if your website is well-established, you still need to do some on-page SEO… and doing so can actually explode the popularity of your website. Make sure that your web design is efficient and SEO-friendly, as well as your code, and that your meta descriptions and titles are intact. Finally, your content should be optimized for the keywords you want to target. Spending a bit of time doing this can “tweak” things into place so your site gets bumped up the search engine rankings.

Off-page SEO, meanwhile, consists of things like social media linking, backlinking, and other types of links to your website. This shouldn’t be overdone, or Google and the other search engines will know that your website is new and trying to get ranked fast – which they often don’t like, as most of these types of sites have bad content or are profits-based rather than informational.

Content and on-page SEO should usually be your first priority so visitors stick around once you get them there and your site is “ready to go” for when your off-page SEO falls into place.

3. What does effective SEO do for your website?

Some people think that effective SEO is optional, but in reality, it isn’t. Most people create websites with the intention of having people visit them, whether you’re selling something, saying something or seeking something, so it only makes sense that you’d want people to find the site.

The most effective SEO will ensure that you don’t have to spend much time reviewing your rankings. It will rely on long-term, tested and true methods that aren’t likely to be suddenly penalized at any moment (like many “Google loopholes” people find and over-exploit).

Effective SEO can make the difference between an undiscovered treasure of a website and one that people begin to rely upon as much as the “big name” resources, one that people can return to over and over once they discover it and decide they like it. If you stay unknown, how can that happen?

4. Can you possibly over-SEO your website, and if so, what will this do?

It’s absolutely possible to over-SEO your website, and many newbies try to do this in the hopes that it will get their website to the top faster. Some examples would be purchasing several thousand backlinks at once, posting a hundred keyword-optimized blog posts at once, or “stuffing” a page with so many keywords that it looks plain unnatural.

This can get your website penalized instead of ranked quickly, so in general, try to avoid “hacks” or “loopholes” that people have discovered to exploit massive SEO optimization and get your website ranked fast. Natural ranking will reward you and keep you in the top of the listings for as long as you can imagine.

5. What are keywords all about in SEO?

This is one of the crucial concepts you’ll have to study if you don’t already understand them. Keywords are what you want to be ranked for. A website about weight loss might want to be ranked for the keyword “weight loss plan” so that when people type “weight loss plan” into Google, their site comes up first.

This means many people’s efforts are focused around getting backlinks with the anchor text (the text that is highlighted to be clicked) of that keyword, writing content around the keyword, and so on. You can clearly see how it’s a crucial concept to understand.

Search engine optimization for the newbie webmaster isn’t scary if you approach it one step at a time. When you run into a term or concept you’re unfamiliar with… Google it. Due to someone else’s SEO efforts, you’re bound to find a site related to what you’re looking for!