What is SEO? Complete Beginner’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization

what is seo

This article will be an overview and introduction about SEO, a mandatory marketing approach if you want your website to be found through search engines like Google, Yahoo, Bing.

1  What is SEO and Why it is Important?

You’ve probably known about SEO, and if you haven’t as of now, you can check the Wikipedia definition of the term, but understanding that SEO is “the process of affecting the visibility of a site in a search engine’s unpaid results” doesn’t generally help you with addressing significant questions for your business and your site, for example:

  • How do you, for your website or your organization’s website, “optimize” for search engines?
  • How do you know what amount of time to spend on SEO?
  • How can you separate “good” SEO advice from “bad” SEO advice?

What’s probably interesting to you as an entrepreneur or worker is how you can really use SEO to help drive more relevant traffic, leads, sales, income and profit for your company. That is the thing that we’ll concentrate on in this guide.

Why Should You Care About SEO?

Lots of people search for many things. That traffic can be incredibly powerful for a business, not only because there is a ton of traffic, but because of specific high-intent traffic.

If you sell blue gadgets, would you rather purchase a billboard so anybody with a vehicle in your area sees your advertisement (regardless of whether they will ever have any interest in blue gadgets or not), or show up every time anybody on the planet types “buy blue gadgets” into a search engine? Probably the latter, because those individuals have a business purpose, which means they are standing up and saying that they need to purchase something you offer.

the-basics-of-seo

People are searching for any things directly related to your business. Past that, your prospects are also searching for different things that are only related to your business. These speak to considerably more chances to connect with those people and help answer their questions, tackle their issues, and become a trusted resource for them.

It is safe to say that you are bound to get your widgets from a trusted resource who offered great information each of the last four times you went to Google for help with an issue, or someone you’ve never known about?

What Actually Works for Driving Traffic from Search Engines?

First, note that Google is responsible for the majority of the search engine traffic on the planet (however, there is always some flux in the actual numbers). This may vary from niche to niche, yet almost certainly, Google is the dominant player in the search results that your website or business would want to show up in, and the best practice outlined in this guide will help position your website and its content to rank in other search engines, too.

seo-basics-google-market-share

Despite what search engine you use, search results are continually changing. Google especially has updated lots of things encompassing how they rank sites by way of lots of various animal names recently, and a lot of the easiest and least expensive ways to get your pages to rank in search engines have become extremely risky in recent years.

So what works? How does Google figure out which pages to return in response to what people search for? How would you get all of this valuable traffic to your website?

Google’s algorithm is extremely unpredictable, and I’ll share some links for people looking to dive deeper into how Google ranks websites at the end of this area:

  • Google is always looking for pages that contain high-quality, relevant information about the search query.
  • They decide relevance by “crawling” (or reading) your site’s content and evaluating (algorithmically) whether that content is relevant to what the searcher is searching for, generally based on the keywords it contains.

Increasingly, extra elements are being weighed by Google’s algorithm to figure out where your website will rank, such as,

  • How visitors engage with your website (Do they discover the information they need and remain on your webpage, or bounce back to the search page and click on another link for the information? Or do they simply ignore your posting in search results altogether and never click-through?)
  • Your website’s loading speed and “mobile friendliness”
  • How much unique and engaging content you have (versus “thin” low-value content or copy content)

There are many ranking factors Google’s algorithm considers in response of searches, and they are continually updating and refining their cycle.

moz-ranking-factors-seo-basics

They decide “quality” by various methods, but noticeable among those is still the number and quality of other sites that link to your page and your website overall. To put it simply: If the only site that link to your blue gadget web page are blogs that nobody else on the Web has linked to, and my blue gadget website gets links from trusted places that are linked to frequently, like CNN.com, my website will be more trusted (and assumed to be higher quality) than yours.

The good news is, you don’t need to be a search engine master to rank for significant terms in search results. We will walk through proven, repeatable best practices for optimizing sites for search that can help you drive targeted and valuable traffic through search.

2  Keyword Research & Keyword Targeting Best Practices

The first step in SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is really to figure out what it is you’re actually optimizing for. This implies identifying the terms people are searching for (also called “keywords”) that you need your site to rank for in search engines like Google.

Sounds simple, isn’t that so? I need my gadget company to show up when anyone search for “gadgets,” and perhaps when they type in things like “purchase gadgets.” Onto step three!

seo-basics-search-volume-trends

Unfortunately, it’s not exactly that simple. There are a couple of key factors to consider while deciding the keywords you need to focus on your website:

Search Volume The primary factor to consider is how many people (if any) are really searching for a given keyword. The more people there are searching for a keyword, the greater the crowd you stand to reach. Conversely, if nobody is searching for a keyword, there is no crowd available to find your content through search.

Relevance If a term is often searched for that is great: but imagine a scenario in which it’s not completely relevant to your prospects? Relevance seems straightforward at first: if you are selling enterprise email marketing automation software you would prefer not to show up for searches that don’t have anything to do with your business, similar to “pet supplies.” But shouldn’t something be said about terms like “email marketing software”? This may instinctively seem like a great portrayal of what you do, however, in case you’re selling to Fortune 100 organizations, the vast majority of the traffic for this term will be searchers who don’t have any interest in purchasing your software (and the people you would like to reach may never purchase your costly, complex solution based on a simple Google search). Conversely, you might think a distracting keyword like “best enterprise PPC marketing solutions” is absolutely irrelevant to your business since you don’t sell PPC marketing software. But, if your prospect is a CMO or marketing director, getting in front of them with a helpful resource on evaluating pay-per-click tools could be an incredible “first touch” and an excellent method to begin a relationship with an imminent purchaser.

Competition As with any business opportunity, in SEO you need to think about the expected expenses and probability of success. For SEO, this implies understanding the relative competition (and probability to rank) for specific terms.

First, you have to understand who your prospective customers are and what they’re probably going to search for. If you do not already understand who your prospects are, thinking about that is a good place to begin, for your business in general but also for SEO.

From there you want to understand:

  • What kinds of things are they interested on?
  • What issues do they have?
  • What type of language do they use to describe the things that they do, the tools that they use, and so forth?
  • Who else would they say they are purchasing things from (this implies your competitors, but also could mean distracting, related tools – for the email marketing organization, think other enterprise marketing tools)?

When you’ve answered these questions, you will have an initial “seed list” of possible keywords and domains to help you get additional keyword ideas and to put some search volume and competition metrics around.

Take the list of the core ways that your prospects and customers describe what you do, and start to enter those into keyword tools like Google’s own keyword tool or other tools like Uber Suggest or WordStream keyword tool:

seo-basics-keyword-research-basics

You can locate a more comprehensive list of keyword tools beneath, however the main idea is that in this initial step, you will need to run various searches with a various different keyword tools. You can also use competitive keyword tools like SEM Rush to see what terms your competitors are positioning for. These tools look at thousands diverse search results, and will show you each search term they have seen your competitor ranking in Google for recently. This is what SEM Rush shows for marketing automation provider Marketo:

sem-rush-data-seo-basics

Moreover, if you have a website, you’re probably getting some traffic from search engines already. If that is the case, you can use some of your own keyword data to help you understand which terms is driving traffic (and which you might be able to rank a bit better for).

3  On-Page Optimization

When you have your keyword list, the next step is actually executing your targeted keywords into your website’s content. Each page on your website should be targeting a core term, and a “basket” of related terms. In his overview, Rand Fishkin offers a nice visual of what a well (or perfectly) optimized page looks like:

seo-basics-guide-perfectly-optimized-page

Let’s look at few critical basic on-page elements you will need to understand as you consider how to drive search engine traffic to your site:

Title Tags

While Google is working to understand the actual importance of a web page and de-accentuating (and even punishing) aggressive and manipulative use of keywords, including the term and related terms that you want to rank for in your pages is still significant. What’s more, the most significant place you can put your keyword is your page’s title tag.

The title tag is not your page’s primary headline. The headline you see on the page is typically an H1 (or possibly an H2) HTML element. The title tag is what you can see at the top of your browser, and is populated by your page’s source code in a meta tag:

title-tags

The length of a title tag that Google will accept and show is 55-60 characters. If possible you want to work with your core keywords, and if you can do it in a natural and convincing manner, and some related modifiers around that term as well. Remember: the title tag will frequently be what a searcher sees in search results for your page. It’s the “headline” in organic search results, so you also need to consider how clickable your title tag is.

Meta Descriptions

While the title tag is viably your search listing’s headline, the meta depiction (another meta HTML component that can be updated in your site’s code, but isn’t seen on your real page) is effectively your website’s additional promotion copy. Google takes some liberties with what they show in search results, so your meta description may not always show, but if you have a convincing description of your page that would make people searching likely to click, you can greatly increase traffic.

Keep in mind: appearing in search results is only the first step! You still need to get visitors to come to your website, and then actually take the action you want.

Here’s an example of a real world meta depiction appearing in search results:

meta-description-example

Body Content

The actual content of your page is really very important. Various types of pages will have different “jobs” – your cornerstone content asset that you want lots of people to link to needs to be totally different than your support content that you want to ensure your visitors find and get an answer from quickly. All things considered, Google has been favoring certain types of content, and as you work out any of the pages on your website, there are a couple of things to remember:

  • Thick and Unique Content – If you have a few pages of content on your website with a handful to a couple hundred words you won’t be dropping out of Google’s good graces, however in general recent Panda updates in specifically favor longer, unique content. If you have a large number (think thousands) of extremely short (50-200 words of content) pages or lots of copied content where nothing changes, but for the page’s title tag and state a line of text, that could get you in a tough situation. Look at the entirety of your website: are a large percentage of your pages thin, copied and low worth? If so, try to recognize an approach to “thicken” those pages, or check your analytics to see how much traffic they are getting, and simply exclude them (using a noindex meta tag) from the search results to keep from having it appear to Google that you are trying to flood their index with lots of low value pages in an attempt to have them rank.
  • Engagement – Google is increasingly weighting engagement and user experience metrics more vigorously. You can impact this by ensuring your content answers the questions searchers are asking so that they are probably to stay on your page and engage with your content. Ensure your pages load fast and don’t have design elements, (for example, excessively forceful promotions over the content) that would probably turn searchers off and send them away.
  • “Sharability” – Not each and every bit of content on your site will be linked to and shared multiple times. But in the same way, you need to be cautious about not rolling out large amounts of pages that have thin content; you need to consider who would be likely to share and link to new pages you are creating on your website before you turn them out. Having huge amounts of pages that aren’t probably going to be shared or linked to doesn’t position those pages to rank well in search results, and doesn’t help to create a decent image of your website overall for search engines, either.

Alt Attributes

How you mark up your images can affect not only the way that search engines see your page, but also how much search traffic from image search your website produces. An alt attribute is an HTML element that allows you to provide alternative information to an image if a user can’t see it. Your images may break after some time (records get erased, user experience issues connecting with your site, and so on.) so having a useful description of the image can be helpful from an overall point of view. This also gives you another chance – outside of your content – to help search engines understand what your page is about.

URL Structure

Your web site’s URL structure can be important both from a tracking point of view (you can more effectively section information in reports using a segmented, logical URL structure), and a shareability standpoint (shorter, descriptive URLs are easier to copy and paste and tend to get mistakenly cut off less frequently). Again: don’t work to cram in as many keywords as possible; make a short, descriptive URL.

Schema & Markup

Schema markup doesn’t make your page appear higher in search results (it is not a ranking factor, presently). It gives your listing some additional “real estate” in the search results, the way ad extensions do for your Google Ads (formerly known as AdWords) ads.

In some search results, if no one else is using schema, you can get a nice bit of leeway in click-through rate by virtue of the fact that your site is showing things like ratings while others don’t. In other search results, where everybody is using schema, having reviewed may be “table stakes” and you may be harming your Google CTR by omitting them:

learn-seo-basics-schema-markup

4  Information Architecture & Internal Linking

Information architecture refers to how you organize the pages on your website. The way that you organize your site and interlink between your pages can impact how other content on your website ranks in response to searches.

The reason for this is that search engines largely perceive links as “votes of confidence” and a means to help understand both what a page is about, and how significant it is (and how trusted it should be).

Information architecture can be an extremely complex topic – especially for larger sites– and there are various great extra resources below with more specific answers, but at a high level the most significant things to remember are:

  • You need to understand your most linked-to pages (use tools like Ahrefs, Majestic SEO, or Moz and see “top pages” reports to decide these).
  • Keep your most important search pages (the pages you are using to target your most valuable keywords) “high up” in your information architecture: this means linking to them often in navigation elements and linking to them whenever possible from your most linked-to pages (e.g., ensure your landing page and your website’s version are linking to the most important pages on your site from a search perspective – your “money pages”).
  • All in all you need to have ”flat information architecture” for your site – meaning that you keep any pages that you need to have rank in search engines as few clicks as possible from your landing page and most linked-to pages.

Since Google’s algorithm is still largely dependent on links, having a number of high quality links to your website is obviously very important in driving search traffic: you can accomplish all the work you want on-page and technical SEO, if you don’t have links to your website, you won’t appear in search results.

A more manageable way to developing links is to focus on more general, sustainable marketing approaches, for example, creating and promoting valuable content that also includes specific terms you would want to rank for and engaging in traditional PR for your business.

6  Common Technical SEO Issues & Best Practices

Technical SEO for larger, more complicated websites is actually its own discipline, however, there are some common mistakes and issues that most websites face that even smaller to mid-sized organizations can benefit from being aware of:

Page Speed

Search engines are placing an increasing accentuation on having quick-loading sites – the good news is this isn’t just valuable for search engines, but also for your visitors and your site conversion rates. Google has really created a valuable tool here to give you some specific suggestion on what to change on your site to address page speed issues.

seo-basics-page-speed-tool

Mobile Friendliness

If your website is driving significant search engine traffic from mobile searches, how “mobile friendly” your web page is will affect your rankings on mobile phones, which is a fast growing segment. In some niches, mobile traffic already outweighs desktop traffic. Google offers a very helpful free tool to get recommendations on how making your website more mobile-friendly.

seo-basics-mobile-friendly-update

Redirects

Inappropriately implementing redirects on your website can seriously impact on search results. Whenever you can avoid it, you want to keep from moving your website’s content from one URL to another; in other words: if your content is on example.com/page, and that page is getting search engine traffic, you want to avoid moving all of the content to example.com/different-url/newpage, unless if there is an extremely solid business reason that would outweigh a possible short term or even long term loss in search engines traffic.

Duplicate Content

Having a huge amount of duplicate content makes your website look like it is cluttered with lower-quality (and possibly manipulative) content in the eye of search engines.

There are various things that can cause duplicate or thin content. These issues can be hard to analyze, but you can look at Google Webmaster Tools under Search Appearance > HTML Improvements to get a quick diagnosis.

seo-basics-guide-duplicate-content

XML Sitemap

XML Sitemaps can help Google and Bing understand your website and find all of its content. Just be sure not to include pages that are not useful, and know that submitting a page to a search engine in a sitemap does not guarantee that the page will really rank for anything. There are various free tools to generate XML Sitemaps.

Robots.txt, Meta NoIndex, & Meta NoFollow

Finally, you can indicate to search engines, how you want them to handle some of your pages on your website (for example, if you would like them not to crawl a specific section of your website) in a robots.txt record. This file probably already exists for your website at yoursite.com/robots.txt. You can use the meta noindex and meta nofollow tags for similar purposes, however each functions different from one another.

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