SEO and website optimization is something we tend to dance around in our Rise & Design conversations.

It’s a subject that after spending about 90 seconds researching on Google makes your eyes glaze over.

We dance around it, dip our toes in...and then run away because the water is ice cold and full of monsters.

So enough of that “20 things to do to improve your SEO” crap.

We finally sat down and had a conversation about Search Engine Optimization.

Written by ferocious copywriter Anna Hetzel and photos by fierce Sean Gorant.

This recap is too long

What is SEO, really?

Keywords, backlinks, and other terrible vocab words

A few tricks that you’re doing already

Expanding your geographic power

Data made (somewhat) easier

The conclusion section of this recap


What is SEO, really?

In short, SEO is more than your website.

It is your web presence.

(enter inspiring music here)

Julie Martin gave a really great analogy to help explain what SEO actually means.

Imagine you notice someone new who liked a photo on your Instagram page.

You hop over to their page and get one of two scenarios:

Scenario One:

They have zero posts, their account is private, and they have no friends.

Scenario Two:

They have hundreds of posts, multiple likes and engagement, and countless friends.

Who do you trust to be a real human more?

Scenario Two, clearly.

SEO works the same way.

Google (and Bing, I guess, but who uses that anymore?) crawl your site to gather information, but they also pay attention to who is your site’s ‘friends.’

What other platforms, including social media profiles, are linking to your site?

Have you been interviewed on a podcast or guest blogged somewhere?

Do you have products sold on various sites that link back to you?

In short, SEO isn’t just making sure you’re stuffing your content with keywords (plz don’t do this, k?), it’s also making sure you have built up virtual social proof.

Another way to think of SEO is like a spider web.

It starts out in the middle, with each thread spun making the web stronger and more indestructible...and more likely to catch tasty bugs.

While we’re not out here trying to eat fried crickets, we are out here trying to get some business.

So let’s go, creatives of Columbus.


Keywords, backlinks, and other terrible vocab words

Anytime you do a search on SEO you get all these vocab words that sound really complicated and require more internet rabbit-holing (<now a verb) to understand.

Here are the ones that are probably the most important, as determined by a very NOT SEO expert (me).


Keywords are what you pop into Google when you’re trying to find the nearest taco stand. Understanding what people search in order to get to you is critical when it comes to SEO (and attracting the right kind of leads).

A lot of you reading this are going for “graphic designer Columbus, OH” but you’re in competition of almost everyone else reading this post.

What makes you stand out that people also search?

Are you in a particular niche market?

Do you do a particular style or service of graphic design?

Be specific.


These are all the links that bring people back to your site. Think social media profiles, guest blogs, Etsy shops, interviews, Rise & Design’s directory (PS sign up for it)...you get the picture.

The more threads and friends you have connecting to your site, the better.

Image tagging

Google can’t read an image, even if you have text in it.

So instead of uploading your portfolio and having the file name be “Taco Stand Project v1” try changing it to “taco stand logo graphic.” Notice those juicy keywords in there?

Header text

Someone in the conversation who knows a lot more about website and code than I do succinctly described Header Text: all of the text in your website is assigned a class.

I know, I know, classism is everywhere, and the same principles work here as well.

Your main header needs to have the most important keywords and phrases in it, H2 the second, H3 the third, and so on.

Google looks at these things in order, so write accordingly.

Page titles

See above.

They’re important.

While having fun page titles is fun, make sure the URL is at least recognizable. So if you want your About Page to be “Who dat?” in the page content, make sure at least your URL is /about.

A few tricks that you're already doing

If you’re reading all of this and feeling overwhelmed, join the club.

But you’re already doing a lot of SEO work!

You’ve already got a lot of threads connecting back to your site.

  • You have a website.

  • You have social media profiles that you update.

  • You maybe have extra profiles on things like Creative Mornings Guild or Alignable.

That means you’re doing SEO!


Now let’s make this more intentional.

Just like diversifying your reach and portfolio is critical, so is creating your web presence.

Every 6 months or so go through all of your profiles to make sure they are updated to reflect what you do, are linking to your website properly, and maybe post a couple of things.

If you’re just starting out, get your website up even if it’s just a splash page.

Longevity matters, and the sooner you can start developing your online Klout, the better.


Expanding your geographic power

Let’s say you get a lot of your work from referrals, or you have a really solid web presence built up for Columbus.

But what if you want to expand to new markets?

Here are a couple of tricks.

Interview influencers

Find influencers in that particular market or location and tag them in your blog and your social media posts. They’ll 100% share it with their network, and viola, you’ve broken in.

Instagram pods

Just like dolphins, creatives should stick together. Find a group of 10 or so creatives who make a pact to like and comment on each other’s posts, helping them get boosted in the algorithim.

Guest blogging

Got a publication or online blog you love reading? Pitch an idea to them and be a guest blogger. You get your expertise in front of a bunch of people and you get to a new market.

Paid ads

Paid ads are a bit more disconnected than we’d like to think from SEO. Google can tell if traffic is coming from something paid, and SEO only cares about organic stuff. Where paid ads can help is if the traffic you got from paid returns to your site at a later date.

Data made (somewhat) easier

Cool cool, you know we couldn’t have a discussion about SEO without touching on data.

While data is super boring to some, it’s critical to take a look at what’s happening so you know if all your hard work is even moving the needle.

Google Analytics is a great resource to give you a quick look at what’s going on with your website - traffic, what people are searching to get to you, how long they are staying on your website, etc.

If you want a quick look at how you’re showing up in searches, open up an Incognito or Private Browsing Window to see. If you are curious to know how you’re showing up in Chicago, Faith Gutzman gave us this cool tool trick.

At the end of the day, unless you’re selling products and wanting to go more national, spending a lot of time struggling over data points might not be the best use of your time.

Know what you need to keep an eye on it and look at your data every quarter to gauge how things are going.

It will also help you understand where to put your precious resources.

Side anecdotal story: I noticed that every time I post on LinkedIn I got a great bump in higher quality traffic. I started being more intentional about posting there and reduced my efforts of Twitter, which was getting me nowhere.


The conclusion section of this recap

Look, SEO is a BIG topic.

But at the end of the day, we still need to rely on each other.

As long as we get good work and do good work, we’re good.

The main focus should always be on the work itself.

SEO is there to help you take control over how you’re pitching yourself, how finds you, and get more of the work that you want.

Just do enough to move the needle a little further.

Let this recap help you decide what ‘enough’ is for your business.


Find out how you’re showing up in another geographic location - Hot Spot Shield

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