What is SEO — A Guide For Beginners
You've probably heard of SEO. If not, SEO stands for “search engine optimization.” It’s for increasing the quality and quantity of traffic of your website, as well as brand exposure, through organic search engine results.
SEO is about understanding what people are searching for online, the answers they are seeking, the words they’re using, and the type of content they want. Knowing the answers to these questions will allow you to connect to the people who are searching online for the solutions you offer.
How Does SEO Work?
Search Engines scour billions of pieces of content and evaluate thousands of factors to determine which content is most likely to fit a searcher's need. Search engines do all of this by discovering and categorizing all available content on the Internet (that includes web pages, documents, images, etc.) this process is known as “crawling and indexing.”
Google dominates the market because of the size of its index, as well as the way it calculates page relevancy. i.e., its algorithm (more on that in a bit.) In short, it's the best search engine in the world (except China).
Fun fact: YouTube is a search engine! The 2nd most used as well.
How Google Works?
So we've learned Google is the dominant player in the search results that your business or website would want to show up in, and the best practices outlined in this guide will help position your site and its content to rank in other search engines, as well.
So how does it work? How does Google decides which pages to show in response to what people search for? How do you get all of this traffic to your site?
Google’s algorithm is complex, Google is looking for pages that contain high-quality, relevant information about the searcher’s query. They decide “quality” by a number of means, but mainly among those is the number and quality of other websites that link to your page and your site as a whole. At the end of the day, the purpose of Google is to find the best (or most popular) results for your query.
Now, back to SEO basics! Let’s get into the tactics and stuff that will help you get more traffic from search engines.
1. Understand What People Are Searching For
The first step in SEO is really to decide what it is you’re actually optimizing for. This means identifying the terms people are searching for (also known as “keywords”) that you want your website to rank for in search engines.
For the purpose of discovering the best keywords possible and staying in the online trend loop, search engine professionals do something called keyword research.
Keyword research involves exploring the actual terms used in queries by searchers on search engines, with the aim of discovering niche keywords that are not yet competitive and then these keywords are looked into further to find resembling or exchangeable keywords. This whole endeavor is powered by keyword research tools, which have the functions of a thesaurus and word suggestion built into them. Google provides Keyword Planner, while Bing has Bing Keyword Research tool. Both of these tools, as well as similar tools developed by other companies, will help you explore:
Competitiveness of the keywords you are interested in
Estimated amount of traffic for those keywords
Keyword suggestions to get new ideas and similar phrases you can use on your website
Important: Keywords should always be chosen on a page-by-page basis.
For example, if you sell multiple products or services, you’ll want to target different keywords for each page. Google ranks webpages, not websites!
Also remember that in general, it’s not a good idea to blindly target broad, sweeping queries like “restaurant.” Not only is competition nearly impossible to beat, but it’s also difficult to figure out search intent.
2. Optimizing Your Site
Once you have your keyword list, the next step is actually implementing your targeted keywords into your site’s content. Each page on your site should be targeting a core word and a “basket” of related words. Let’s look at a few critical, basic on-page elements you’ll want to understand as you think about how to drive search engine traffic to your website:
While Google is working to better understand the actual meaning of a page and avoiding aggressive and manipulative use of keywords, including the word (and related words) that you want to rank for in your pages is still valuable. And the single most impactful place you can put your keyword is your page’s title tag.
The title tag is what you can see at the very top of your browser, and is populated by your page’s source code in a meta tag.
The length of a title tag that Google will show will vary (it’s based on pixels, not character counts) but in general 55-60 characters are pretty good. If possible you want to work in your main keyword, and if you can do it in a compelling way, add some modifiers around that word as well. Keep in mind that the title tag will be what a searcher sees in search results for your page. It’s the “headline” in search results, so you also want to make a clickable title tag.
While the title tag is effectively your search listing’s headline, the description is your site’s additional ad copy. Google decides what they display in search results, so your description may not always show, but if you have a good description of your page that would make people searching likely to click, you can greatly increase traffic. (Remember: showing up in search results is just the first step! You still need to get searchers to come to your site, and then actually take the action you want.)
Your site’s URL structure can be important both from a tracking perspective, and a sharing standpoint (shorter, descriptive URLs are easier to copy and paste and tend to get mistakenly cut off less frequently). Note: Don’t work to cram in as many keywords as possible; create a short, descriptive URL.
Optimize Your Images
It can be a little boring, but make sure to name all your images appropriately. Google themselves state that “the filename can give Google clues about the subject matter of the image." Optimize all your images by including alt tags with descriptions. This is the text that shows up whenever your image fails to load or if the user is using a screen reader. Naming them helps Google to understand the images better.
Start using <h1>, <h2> and <h3> tags in your webpages. Think of these as a hierarchy for your content, with <h1> being the most important (and only used once per post), and <h2> being a subheading. <h3> is a subheading of <h2> and so on.
Place your keyword within these header tags strategically, but make sure they sound natural—avoid keyword stuffing.
Boost Your Site Speed
It is important for a website to be fast. Google has stated that page speed is used as a ranking criterion. And a study by Akamai found that 75% of users wouldn't revisit a site that took longer than 4 seconds to load. You can boost your site speed by compressing images and choosing a faster hosting platform.
This can help search engines understand your site and find all of its content. Just be sure not to include pages that aren’t useful, and know that submitting a page to a search engine in a sitemap doesn’t ensure that the page will actually rank for anything. There are a number of free tools to generate XML sitemaps. Here's one that's free.
3. Create Content That People Want
On-page SEO allows you to turn your research into content your audience will love. Just make sure to avoid falling into the trap of low-value tactics that could hurt more than help!
Your content should exist to answer searchers’ questions, to guide them through your site, and to help them understand your site’s purpose. Content should not be created for the purpose of ranking highly in search alone. Ranking is a means to an end, the end being to help searchers.
This refers to content that is shared between domains or between multiple pages of a single domain. This can include taking content and republishing as it is, or modifying it slightly before republishing, without adding any original content or value. The main thing to note is that your content should be unique in word and in value.
Avoid Keyword Stuffing In The Content
Many people mistakenly think that if you just include a keyword within your page’s content a lot of times, you will automatically rank for it. Although Google looks for mentions of keywords and related concepts, the page itself has to add value outside of pure keyword usage. If a page is going to be valuable to users, it won’t sound like it was written by a robot, so incorporate your keywords and phrases naturally in a way that is understandable to your readers.
4. Off-Page SEO
Just like you have done your On-Page SEO, you also need to do Off-Page SEO to make your domain authority in the eyes of search engines. Off-Page SEO is just a fancy way to say links.
In general, any SEO will tell you that the more and better quality links you have, the higher your chances are of ranking a page and the more search traffic you’ll get. Here’s a super simple way to gain yourself a backlink right now: think about everyone you already have a connection to through your business: partners, suppliers, clients, agencies. Plenty of brands link out to others on their websites. You just need to reach out and ask. Make a list of all companies that might give you a backlink and start reaching out!
With that said, we’re obviously barely on the surface of the art of link building. The best way to build links is to not build links. Just wait for them to flow in from press, customer blogs, blog posts, etc.
Follow And nofollow Links
"nofollow" tells search engines not to follow the link. Some engines still follow them simply to discover new pages, but these links don't pass any value. Most social media networks add this to their codes, so you can't get many links from posting on social media, but it can help in increasing traffic and getting people into your content.
Designing The Perfect Link
Be specific about what the pages are.
Add your keywords to the link (anchor text).
Links on pages with links to bad sites = low-value links.
Links with keywords early on in the anchor text.
Links in content is better than elsewhere (header, navigation, footer, etc.)
So What Now?
So if you’ve gotten this far, you should know a lot of basic information about how search engines work and about how you can position your own site to generate more search traffic from search engines. Always remember that the ultimate objective with any SEO efforts is to get more exposure and traffic for your business or your site’s content.
Hopefully, this post gave you enough background information as well as actionable tips to get started on your SEO journey. Start off small and expand from there. You’ll learn more and figure it out as you go. Good luck!