The Beginner’s Guide to SEO

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SEO is an acronym that stands for search engine optimization and is the digital marketing practice of increasing the quantity and quality of targeted traffic to your website through organic or unpaid search engine results. SEO includes making changes to your website’s design and content to improve your ranking in the search engine results page (SERP).

There are a few different types of search optimization strategies which we will briefly mention. They include local SEO, global SEO, ecommerce SEO, voice SEO and video SEO. Local SEO is about optimizing your website for a local audience.

Local SEO

If you have a local restaurant or clothing store, you want to optimize your website so customers can find you. You can also help improve local SEO by creating a Google My Business page.

Global SEO

Global SEO involves targeting users around the world using global search engines. You’ll need to decide which countries you want to target and create content accordingly to reach your audience. 

Ecommerce SEO

If you own a business looking to drive sales online, you probably thought of ecommerce SEO. Ecommerce SEO is all about having your product pages rank higher on SERPs. When you do that, you can attract more customers to your website helping drive sales and create more revenue.

Voice SEO

With the advent of virtual assistants like Alexa, Google and Siri, voice SEO is becoming ever more popular. It’s important to create useful and clear content virtual assistants can pull from your page to immediately answer a question. One of the SERP features, called Featured Snippets, is created to give users a quick, concise answer to their question.

Video SEO

Video SEO is about retaining the attention of viewers in an effort to drive traffic to your website. Focusing on creating videos based on keywords and optimizing metadata can attract more visitors to your video.

No matter which search optimization strategy is right for you, you need to know who your audience is.

For the purpose of this article, we’ll be focusing on SEO as a whole. Many aspects we will cover can be attributed to other SEO strategies.

Why is SEO important?

Simply put, search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo are a huge source of information and traffic. It’s where millions of people per day go to look for answers to their questions or problems they have. In 2019 Google has 75.69% search engine market share while Bing and Yahoo have a collective of 12.25%.

When it comes to search engines, most users will click on the top 3 or 4 results on the page. If you look at Advanced Web Ranking, the top three results averaged 31.28%, 15.29% and 9.89% click-through rates. That means more than half of users visited the top 3 results. So, to gain the most visitors to your site, you need to optimize your website for the top of SERP.

On search engine results pages, you will find two types of results: paid and organic.

Paid search is where advertisers pay search engines to appear on the top of the results page above organic results.

With paid results, ads are ranked based on quality score and how much advertisers are willing to pay per visitor. This is also known as pay-per-click.

Organic results, what search optimization is focused on, is based on results matching closest to the user’s search query. It also looks at the website’s overall quality based on organic ranking factors.

How SEO works?

Before we get into how search engine optimization works, it’s important to understand how search engines operate. Google and Bing use an algorithm in real-time to give you the most relevant results based on your query. Search engines determine the most relevant results based on 3 things; expertise, authority and trust (EAT). Google’s search quality raters evaluate results worldwide. They keep in mind expertise, authority and trust when evaluating the value a website or particular page provides.

Expertise

When you’re creating content for your website you want to it to written by industry experts. Having someone who understand the topics being written about makes for better content. You want to be able to create quality content that is also useful to users.

Google wants you to do this. They advise any medical, financial, or scientific topics should be written by people or organizations with appropriate expertise.

Even if your content is unrelated to the medical or financial field, it is important to use experts or professionals. You want people who understand the topic and can contribute to your site’s level of expertise.

Authority

Authority is determined by search engines whether the content you have on your site is accurate and trustworthy. In this way, authority can speak to two things about your site. One, when using experts or professionals to create content for your site you want to display their information. You could include the author’s job title to their byline, include a short bio or link to their professional website. This type of information is helpful for site visitors, so they know that the content is reliable, trustworthy and accurate.

Another way search engines measure authority is through the amount of pages that link back to your page or site. This is called backlinks. Essentially, backlinks (also known as external or inbound links) are links from other sites that lead to your site. Search engines view inbound links like endorsements for your content and site telling search engines that your information is valuable and credible. The more backlinks, or endorsements, you have, the higher your site will rank in Google and other search engines.

Trust

Lastly, trustworthiness, similarly to authority, is about ensuring your users that the content they are reading is accurate, the creator of that content is an expert and that you have a secure website. If you have an ecommerce website, this is especially important because of the possibility of sharing sensitive information like credit card numbers or shipping addresses. Using an SSL encryption creates a foundation of trust as it establishes a secure connection. To assure visitors their connection is secure, there are visual icons like key locks.

Search Engine Ranking Factors

Now that we know how search engines rank websites on results pages, we can now have a look at the factors that can impact search engine optimization and what you can do to improve your ranking. There are 3 different areas of your website that can determine your rank on SERPs. They include on-page, off-page and technical SEO. On-page SEO refers to the elements of your website that you have control over, like content, and can work to improve to increase visibility. Off-page SEO, on the other hand, refers to the aspects outside of your site that you can do to further promote your website. Technical SEO has increasingly played an important role for websites as it focuses on the crawlability of your website, among other technical elements.

On-page SEO

As mentioned above, on-page SEO factors are about the details that occur on your website. There are a few elements that impact your on-page SEO ranking like creating quality content, using keywords in your content, the use of title tags and meta descriptions, and the overall user experience.

Quality Content

In general, creating quality content for your website will always help you rank higher. You want to create content that is useful, optimizing for keywords that people search for. When creating quality content, be sure to do your research.

It is important to review your competitors’ articles on similar topics. Once you understand what your competition’s content is, you can look for ways to leverage new information they may have excluded to make your content more valuable. 

If you can offer a new opinion or viewpoint on the same topic, this gives readers a unique source of information. Google’s Webmaster Guidelines offer basic principles when creating content. Google advises when making pages, your focus should be on the user rather than on search engines and you should avoid deceiving your users.

Keywords

The use of keywords in your content and within your website is crucial in attracting your target audience. Keywords represent what people are searching for and if you can provide information or content that fills their need, you will be able to attract more users to your site. When conducting keyword research, it’s important to look for single keywords along with long-tail keywords. Single keywords are harder to rank for because of the amount of competition for a keyword. Long-tail keywords are 3 to 4 word phrases that are more specific in a topic and are more likely used by visitors.

Title Tags and Meta Descriptions

The use of title tags and meta descriptions all contribute to the ranking of your website or main content page. You want to use title tags as a way to promote the keywords that matter most to your content and topic.

When creating title tags within the content, like headings and subheadings, it is important to conduct keyword research in order to determine the questions or words users are including in their search query. Keyword Keg, Google Trends, Answer The Public are all great sources to conduct keyword research to find out what users are searching for.

A title tag is also important to use for the main title of your page because it is a quick summary of what your page is about. It is a way of telling Google and other search engines your page is about a specific keyword. This contributes to SERP features like Related Questions. This section on SERP, also known as “People also ask”, shows questions generated based on what Google believes might also relate to your query.

User Experience

User experience (or UX) is based on how your site is organized and how easily users can navigate through it. The use of HTML tags for titles, from H1 to H6, is important in keeping your content clean and organized in order to help your visitors find the information they are looking for. It also helps search engine crawlers understand what your website is about.

A good site structure is also essential to UX so that users can navigate to find the right page. Some users may not enter through the homepage so having a well-structured organized site is important in guiding users to the right page.

Lastly, site speed is extremely important to UX in retaining users and impacts your ranking. 54 percent of people say that their frustration increases as the load time for a company’s website increases. If you have a look at the mobile side, a one-second delay in load times can impact mobile conversions by 20%.

Off-page SEO

Off-page SEO focuses on the actions outside of your website that impact your rankings in SERPs. Much of off-page SEO is based on the different ways to promote your site or page. Building links, guest blogging, social promotion and shareable content are some of the ways you can improve on your off-page search optimization.

Link Building

Earning links, like backlinks is crucial to off-page SEO. The more quality and valuable backlinks you have, the more likely you’ll rank higher than other sites with less links. So, how do you get quality backlinks? Well, if you’ve created a blog or article that matches or is better than the competition’s quality, and you’ve mentioned them in your content, you can always send a friendly email to them mentioning your content and how it stands out from the rest. This may lead to a backlink in their current content or the next time they create a blog post that is relevant to your topic.

Guest Blogging

Guest blogging, or guest posting, is another way to promote your own website. If you’re an expert on a certain topic, writing for another website is a fantastic opportunity to show how knowledgeable you are. In turn, you’ll receive credit, links to your website and your business credentials along with your company will be added to the post. You just have to make sure that you guest post on related websites and for related topics.

Social Media Promotion

If you have quality content either on your own site or on a guest blog, it’s important to market this content through social media. Social media promotion is a relatively free way to gain a lot of exposure. The more that people on social media share your content, the more likely your engagement rate will increase with your content essentially creating more backlinks for that specific page.

Another factor in social media promotion is click through rates. If you can increase your engagement through social media, the more likely users will click through your link to get to your site.

Shareworthy Content

Creating shareable content goes hand-in-hand with social promotion and having quality content. If you have quality and unique content that users find informative and valuable, it’s more likely that they would be willing to share your content on social platforms or even their website. If people are sharing your content, it means people are trusting your expertise. In turn, this can help you to land those guest blogging opportunities on influential websites and blogs.

Technical SEO

Technical SEO refers to website and server optimizations that help search engine spiders to efficiently crawl your site and index your content. Some of the factors that attribute to technical SEO are loading speed of pages, site design and optimization, crawlability and mobile optimization.

Page Speed

Page speed for your site is important in keeping users happy and can be a competitive advantage. According to Google’s internal studies, they found that when a site responds slowly to users, they will spend less time on the page. In July of 2018, Google started to incorporate page speed, especially on mobile search, as a ranking factor.

Pages with longer load times tend to have higher bounce rates. According to a study by Google, as page load time increases from one second to 10 seconds, the probability of a mobile site visitor leaving your site, or bouncing, increases to 123%. Site speed is an essential aspect in retaining visitors on your site and ranking higher on SERPs.

Some useful resources you can use to test your site speed are Google’s PageSpeed Insights, GTmetrix and Pingdom. It is important to note that these test results should be taken with a grain of salt. These results are based on server location and doesn’t always indicate where the location of users are visiting your site.

For example, If you only have one server on the east coast, and someone is searching on the west coast, it will cause your website to load slower. It always helps to have servers close to where your customers are. An efficient way of avoiding this problem is by using cloud hosting which allows you to host your website across various interconnected web servers that can be reached anywhere rather than using a single server.

Site Architecture

Site design and organization is important so that users don’t feel lost when visiting your site. The last thing you want is a visitor on your website that feels lost and can’t find what they’re looking for. 

One factor in creating a user-friendly design is breadcrumbs. A breadcrumb is a trail of pages a user has navigated to, essentially showing the way from where a user has started. Breadcrumbs help to create situational awareness, making it much easier for a visitor to return to previous pages if need be.

Another important part of the site organization is having a user-friendly URL structure. URLs describe what the page is about both for users and search engines. If you can use a keyword in your URL, you will increase the relevancy of your page incrementally improving how your page will rank.

According to Google, site crawling is the first step in finding out which pages exist and which pages are new. Some pages are already known to Google because they have been previously crawled but other pages are discovered when Google follows a link from a known page to a new one. Google suggests you can improve your site crawling by getting your page linked to by another page that Google already recognizes.

Mobile-Friendly

Mobile optimization or mobile-friendliness is a significant aspect of your website in how visitors reach your site using smartphones or other similar devices. Most people are using search engines and the internet on their mobile devices. According to Statista, Google owns 62 percent of mobile organic search traffic in 2019. Also, in the first quarter of 2019, mobile devices generated 48.71 percent of website traffic and has hovered around 50 percent since the beginning of 2017. 

It is critical that mobile websites are designed for fast web experiences no matter what industry you’re in. Users want to be able to quickly browse clothing brands, review restaurant menus and compare services from businesses. According to Google, mobile sites that load in two seconds or less have a 15 percent higher conversion rate than the average mobile site. Also, People who have a negative experience on a mobile site are 62 percent less likely to make a future purchase.

If you can offer users a great mobile experience, the more likely they are willing to stay on your site and make future purchases. There is a growing need for websites to have a mobile-friendly version of their site in order to take advantage of this growing segment.

White Hat vs Black Hat

When you look at SEO as a whole, there are two different techniques that you can take to optimize your site; white hat and black hat SEO. What we’ve covered so far in this article really embodies everything that is white hat SEO — following the guidelines set out by search engines. Black hat SEO typically refers to techniques that violate a search engine’s term of service in order to increase a page’s ranking. In the past, black hat SEO focused on buying backlinks to gain ranking on SERPs, however, recently black hat techniques have focused on optimizing content for search engines and not for users. Not following the guidelines set out by search engines can dramatically penalize your site and you may even get banned.

Tools to Improve Your SEO

There are many tools you can use to start analyzing your website in an effort to improve your SEO. Here are a few that you can use right away.

Analytics

Google Analytics is a free web tool from Google to help analyze your website traffic. It uses a tracking code to record data about those visiting your website. It also tracks how they interact with your site and the role that different channels play. All you have to do is sign up with your website’s information to start reaping the benefits.

Keyword Research

Keyword Keg is a great tool when conducting keyword research. By entering a keyword or long-tail phrase, Keyword Keg will give you keyword suggestions within seconds. Included in the suggested keywords are important keyword metrics like volume data, cost per click and level of competition. Depending on how many keywords research information you want, Keyword Keg offers monthly and yearly subscriptions.

If you’re looking for a free keyword research tool, look to Google’s Keyword Planner. Keyword Planner uses historical statistics and traffic forecasts to help you search for keywords that are relevant to your website. When using Keyword Planner, you can see helpful stats like search volume, competition, and cost-per-click. It can also help you choose competitive budgets for your ad campaigns.

Content

On the content side, SEMrush’s SEO Writing Assistant analyzes your content as you write suggesting the best possible version. It gives you an overall score of the quality of content based on a few recommendations. It looks at the readability of your content, use of target keywords, word count and tone of voice. All metrics used to calculate the overall quality score is based on your best-performing rivals in Google’s top 10.

Similar to SEMrush SEO Writing Assistant, Yoast SEO is a plug-in that focuses on optimizing all website content. Yoast looks at keywords and phrases suggestions, internal linking suggestions, readability analysis, along with other technical aspects of your website. They offer a premium and free version of their plugin. Yoast offers both a free and premium version of their plugin.

Ahrefs is another paid tool providing multiple options to analyze your website. Ahrefs provides a Site Explorer tool to analyze your backlinks along with competitors to find the most profitable keywords. Their content explorer tool helps to find the most shared content relating to any topic. They also include a Keyword Explorer to help get relevant keyword ideas and traffic metrics. Their Rank Tracker tool allows to track rankings for desktop and mobile sites. Finally, they offer a Site Audit tool to analyze for any issues that would affect your SEO.

Monitoring

Google Webmasters Tools or Google Search Console is a free service that helps to monitor and maintain your website. They help to make sure it continually appears in Google’s search results. Google Search Console offers reports and tools on traffic data for your site, fixing indexing problems, troubleshooting issues and more.

Similarly, Bing offers their own tool called Bing Webmaster Tools. It helps you understand what leads people to your site and tips on how to increase traffic. Bing also provides diagnostic tools giving information on what people are searching for and what areas to expand on next.

Conclusion

Search engine optimization is the practice of optimizing websites to improve your organic ranking on search engine results pages. It is important to take a holistic approach in ranking your website. Focusing on every aspect of your website is the best way to achieve success. Building a sustainable website starts with optimizing for keywords, improving the technical aspects and creating relevant content. Over time, your website can establish trust and authority with your audience and search engines.

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