This article, SEO Basics for Beginners, is perfect for the absolute beginner to SEO. Someone who has never looked at SEO and wants to understand what SEO is and the general concepts of SEO you should be aware of. It is a step-by-step guide outlining all of the SEO Basics you should be aware of to drive traffic to your website.
What is SEO
The word SEO is bandied around a lot, but what exactly does it mean?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation. Sounds big and fancy but basically means how well your website shows up in search engine results, such as Google and Bing. Are your webpages showing up at the top of page 1 for search results, or does it only show on page 5 or further back?
There’s this great saying, “The best place to hide a dead body is page 2 of Google search results,” and it’s because the majority of people don’t click past page 1 of a Google search result. Actually, only less than 10% do. And don’t even get me talking about page 3 or after that; no one’s going there. 91.5% of Google Traffic only go to page 1 of search results. But we don’t want to be just on the 1st page of Google; we want to be at the top of that 1st page. In google, you have about 8 search results per page, and it is very competitive to get to the top of that page.
The top search result gets over 56% of the traffic to their sites, 4 times more than number 2 position, 5.5 times more than position 3, and 12 times more than position 4. What do I mean by traffic? Say you sell laptops, and the number of people searching to buy a new laptop is 1,000 people a month. Achieving #1 in a Google search result means that you will get 560 of these 1000 people clicking through to your website with an intent to buy. This is very powerful, free advertising that will skyrocket your sales if you are on the top of Google.
You now know what SEO means and the importance of it; let’s introduce you to the SEO basics:
- Is Google aware of your website?
- How does Google understand what your website is about?
- Creating content users want to read?
Does Google know your site exists?
92.47% of all search engine searches are with Google. That is why it is vital Google knows your website exists.
Google finds and updates websites in its database using its Googlebot, a web crawler. Its sole job is to move through the web, search for websites, be it new or updated to existing sites, and index them, meaning they include them in their Google search database. When you look for something using Google Search, they bring you the latest and most relevant content.
Think of the web like a spider creating its web. When the Googlebot visits your website, it records all your pages and content and moves through your site through your internal links. If you have external links, links leading away from your website Google notes these next to explore in their crawling and indexing. As you can imagine, this list is never-ending as the more sites the Googlebot crawls, the more links and websites they will find.
How does Google understand your website?
There are 6 main elements to focus on to ensure Google fully understands the content on your webpages and how to index them correctly.
- Written content
- Page Title & Meta Description
- Site Navigation
- Using the right words – keywords
- Learn from your Competition
- Link Building
When you read content on a webpage, you’ll notice that there is one large main header at the start of the page in bold, known as the H1 header. The page is then often broken up into sections, which each have a smaller subheading at the start of them. Each header and subheader should give the reader an idea of what the next paragraph of information will contain. Headers are broken up into 6 types, H1 through to H6. Your H1 header introduces the topic your page is about, similar to how a book title informs the reader what that book is about. The H2 headers are identical to book chapters, describing the main topics you’ll cover in the article sections. H3 to H6 headers are additional sub-headings within each section.
So, what is the importance of these headings? They tell a reader what to expect by reading the webpage. The main header is what convinces the reader to begin reading the webpage, and the remaining headers ensure that they continue to read the webpage until the end. Google sees this heading text as the core essence of what that webpage is about. Google views the H1 text as the core decider in indexing the page and the remaining lower headers as a reiteration and expansion of that decision. Google sees the header, says this is what this page is about, and if the users they send to that webpage read the majority of that page, Google knows they indexed that page correctly. However, if the users they send to that page quickly leave the webpage, within a few seconds, Google will reindex the webpage as it is not what they assumed and not relevant to those users’ searches. This means that the webpage will not appear at the top of those web query searches anymore.
Page Title & Description
When you use Google search, the search result page is this. As you can see, about 8 webpages are listed, and each has a title and description, telling you what that webpage is all about. This is a huge marketing opportunity for you. The text you want here has to be attractive to the reader to click through to your page. The great news is that you have total control over what this text says.
Within your site, you can build a description and meta description for each of your webpages. Within CMS’s, such as WordPress, Wix, and Shopify websites, these are built-in features usually found at the end of your page when in edit mode of your webpage. For those sites using HTML, it is a simple addition of code at the top of the HTML.
Site Navigation can usually be found at the top, side, or bottom of your website. It is a straightforward way of how to navigate/find pages within a website. Links within navigation near the top of the page are seen as the most important as they are higher up, where most people will visit first. The further down you go, the less important. So, keep your most important links prevalent near the top of your page.
Have you ever noticed a footer menu at the bottom of webpages, including Contact, About, Returns, Delivery, and Privacy Pages? These pages are not essential to driving website engagement, but if people are looking for that information, they will search harder for it than just browsing. Your goal with your website is to get user engagement and, in most cases, sales. So, your navigation bar should line up with your company objectives. Let users find the information they search for easily.
Creating content users want to read?
We’ve talked about how Google finds your site, reads your site, indexes, and prioritizes your site for search results. Now we are going to talk about creating content.
There are about 400 million active websites on the web right now. Each of these websites will have multiple pages, meaning that there are up to 2 billion active webpages at this moment in time. How do you make your website stand out so that Google will include you at the top of its searches relevant to your content? It is about the content you create. Content is what makes up your website, what’s within your webpages. The majority is text, but to break up that text, you can include images and videos.
The core focus here is your text. Each website has a core objective and a target reader, also known as a site user or visitor. News website’s core focus is to attract users to read their up-to-date news articles. For example, when it comes to an Irish travel blog, the content there is all about Ireland and the must-see sites you have to visit when you arrive there on holidays.
So, the big question for you is – what is your website’s core objective and who is your ideal reader? This should always be the focus of any new content you create for your site. Will they read it until the end? Not only should the content be what they want to read, but it should also be written in the manner in which they will read it. Are you targeting professionals, do you use business jargon and big words, or do you write in a more relaxed fashion that the general public will easily understand?
Using the right words – keywords
A Keyword is a word that best describes the content on your page or post. It’s the search term that you want to rank for with a specific page. So, when people search for that keyword or phrase in Google, they should find that page on your website.
Sometimes keywords are one word, known as exact keywords, or sometimes they are phrases, more than one word, known as long-tail keywords. It is much harder to rank for one-word keywords as many big players will have that sewn up. It is best to rank for 2–4-word keywords as they are more exact and easier to rank for.
Choosing the right keyword goes hand in hand when creating your content, as your keyword is what best describes that content. This naturally means that’s the keyword will be present in the header and throughout that web page.
However, choosing the right keyword is critical to how Google will understand and rank your page for search results relevant to your content. There are often a few different keywords that you could switch between, and Google won’t treat them all the same when it comes to search results. By carrying out keyword research, you can identify which of these options is best for your site to ensure you get the most organic search traffic.
How do you choose the right keyword?
The goal is to figure out what your target audience will type into Google search to find your webpage. There are a few tools that will help you figure this out.
In your browser, go to Google.com and type a keyword; Google will automatically prompt you with the most popular searches. Take note of these.
Google Keyword Planner is a tool that’s included in Google Ads. You need to have a Google Ads account to access the tool; however, you don’t need to spend any money on ads to use it. There are 2 ways to use Google Keyword Planner; 1: type in your web address, and it will suggest keywords for you. Alternatively, type in your keywords and see which is most popular. Then the most popular is the keyword I would go with.
Works the same as Google Keyword Planner but tends to be more accurate with trending keywords. Pop in your keywords you want to test and see which is the most popular for your geographic area.
You can use many paid tools, like Moz and SemRush; however, I don’t recommend using paid tools if you are just starting out. Get comfortable with the free tools, and then graduate up to pay when necessary.
Learn from your Competition
Creating the right content for your site may seem daunting at first. You may have no experience in this area, and you are unsure of where you start, not so confident that you could come up with ideas and content that your target audience will be interested in? But rest assured, it’s not as hard as it looks, the main reason being is you’re not reinventing the wheel. Every business has competition, and this is a great learning opportunity for you. Have a good long think of who are your close competition and then similar industry competition. See what they are producing online, what keywords are they using, are they showing up in Google search.
By learning from what your competitors do well and not so well, you get some great content ideas and strategies for your own website.
What are inbound links?
Inbound links are links to your website from other websites. These link connections coming to your website from other legitimate websites are very important for your SEO. Google determines how much it can trust you by how many links link to you and the quality of those links, giving your website domain authority.
What does this really mean? I can create any webpage talking about anything. Google will find it and say, ok, looks trustworthy, but I will only get so far in Google Search Rankings without links. If other sites use my content and link back to my website, this tells Google other trusted websites agree that my content is good and I am kind of a leader in this area. This gives my webpage domain authority and will bump me up higher in search rankings.
Notice how I use the words trusted and legitimate websites when talking about inbound links. Links from dodgy websites will do the opposite effect. A lot of shady SEO gurus promise you legitimate links for money; NEVER use these services. Google will cop on they are bought links and will penalize your website as a whole and may even blacklist it. Meaning that it will never show up in Google search. Don’t take the risk; it’s too big.
How to link build
Now the big question, how do I get trustworthy sites to link to me? It involves time and a lot of effort but worth it.
Asking for links
This is an excellent way to start, especially if you are a beginner in this job. Think about your friends, relatives, colleagues, partners, clients with a blog or a site relevant to your website. All you have to do is ask for a backlink. Ask for in-content links instead of links in the sidebar or footer.
Build relationships with similar sites to yours
Reach out to website owners similar to yours you want a link from and give them a compelling reason to link to you. That “compelling reason” is absolutely essential for this group of link-building tactics. These people you reach out to for links don’t know you and probably don’t care about your website. They must have an incentive to help you out. Your job is to identify what that incentive is, “What’s in it for THEM?”
Here are 11 link building tactics that work:
- Guest blogging — create helpful content for their website that their readers will enjoy.
- Skyscraper technique — within their current posts/content, show them better resources than they are already linking to.
- Link inserts — within their recent posts/content, offer them links to articles that elaborate on what they have mentioned.
- Ego bait- link or positively mention them or their content within your own articles.
- Testimonials & Case studies- give positive feedback about their product or service.
- Link exchanges — offer to link back to them if they agree to link to you.
- Resource page link building- show them a good resource that fits their existing list.
- Broken link building- help them fix a “dead” link on their page.
- Image link building- ask to get credit for using your image.
- Unlinked mentions- ask to make the mention of your brand “clickable.”
- Link moves — ask to make changes to an existing link.
Find out where your competitors are getting links from
You can find out who links to your competitors’ sites by using Moz’s Open Site Explorer. Simply type in the URL of your competitor, and the tool will produce a list showing you the title and URL of the linking page and the link anchor text. This should give you a few ideas on where you can try and get links from, as if a site is prepared to link to a competitor, they are probably ready to link to you too.
SEO is straightforward but takes time to really see results. Small, consistent positive changes to your website, alongside great content and links, are the ultimate road to success. Now that you understand SEO basics, you are ready to learn the practical side of SEO and start implementing SEO and testing tools to see what works best for you.
If your website is built on WordPress, check out my “Top 15 SEO Tips for WordPress” article.