If you are new to Search Engine Optimization, it is not difficult to get overwhelmed with the amount of information out there. It is a lot, it is confusing, and you will probably get frustrated when trying to connect the pieces. I have been there. For this reason, I decided to write this brief introduction to SEO for beginners. I tried to make it as practical and simplified as I can, so I hope you like it!
If this is you every time you read the word SEO, welcome to the right article
Now, let’s find out what is this SEO that is suddenly interfering with our lives! And what exactly are we supposed to do with it.
What is Search Engine Optimization?
It all comes down to one thing: search engines. And search engines all come down to one thing as well: Google. Now, I am absolutely aware that Google is not the only search engine out there, but let’s be honest. The only reason that people use Bing is to get to Google! (Just kidding..or am I?)
So, every time we want to search something, such as “how to cultivate potatoes”, or “why is Donald Trump president of the United States”, we go to a search engine.
The Internet is a really, really big place. Exploring it manually would take us a few light years just to answer one single question. For this reason, search engines like Google have developed algorithms that deliver information in the matter of milliseconds.
“Woah!”, you will say. “And how do they do that?”
The answer is…spiders
I am glad you asked! As we already said, the Internet is a really, really big place, with billions of webpages. So, in order for Google to search all of them and find the exact information that we need, it uses software programs called spiders.
As the engineer of Google Matt Cutts explains in this short video, when you are searching for something on Google, you are not actually searching the web itself.
In fact, you are searching Google’s index – or copy – of the web. In other words, Google uses the so-called spiders to crawl and photocopy billions of webpages every day, creating a searchable library of relevant information.
So every time you go to Google.com and type in your search term, millions of spiders crawl this library of information to find and deliver the answer that you are looking for.
Google processes over 40,000 searches every second, and 3.5 billion every day. This means that the amount of traffic that companies could potentially get from search engines is huge. In fact, some websites get over 90% of their traffic from just Google!
But since there is no space for everyone there, Google gets to decide who goes on the first pages. And of course, who are the unlucky guys to end up on the last pages where no one ever visits, and there is only darkness. And that’s where the magic of Search Engine Optimization happens.
SEO for beginners – Part 1
So, are you going to tell me what is Search Engine Optimization or not?
Yes, we are getting there. Thank you for the patience. 🙂
Basically, if Google was a world championship, SEO would be the equivalent of your preparation for the championship. It is all the work that you do on your website behind the scenes. So, when Google comes to check how you are doing, the algorithms will see that you have done your job well (or not).
Which, as a consequence, will determine how you position among competitors. In other words, if you are a racing car competing in Formula 1, SEO will be equivalent to the construction of the car and the development of the racing strategy. And of course, the hard work of the pilot to prepare for the race!
SEO for Beginners Part 1: Search results
In your case, you will have to build your website and authority as a company in such a way that Google will want to place it on the first pages for free. There is also there is a paid way to get there, but we will talk about in my article SEM for Beginners.
I want to appear on the first pages of Google! How do I do that?
Hold up for a second! We are getting there. 🙂
Optimizing your website for search engines takes time, effort, and commitment.
Google, and of course other engines, they want to know that you are in for the long run. They want to make sure that when a user is looking for a piece of information, such as ”dank memes”, they will be be able to deliver the best dank memes ever.
In other words, Google wants to see that your content is really, really helpful for a specific search query. In fact, one of the most helpful pieces of content among the whole Internet! Sounds overwhelming and difficult to achieve, but it is actually possible.
Let’s also not forget that Google is a search engine. It’s a learning machine that doesn’t really understand content the way humans do. That’s where Search Engine Optimization comes. It is the language that you will speak to make yourself understood by Google.
You are going to speak its language. How exciting, right?
Let’s see the elements of this language that you will have to get on point in order to position well.
My goal is to explain the concepts of SEO for beginners without complicated Marketing terms 🙂 let me know in the comments below if I managed to do it!
On-page vs. Off-page
SEO can be summarized in two big dimensions (or factors, if you wish):
On-page actions are all about your website. Is your website easy to navigate? Does it load fast? Can users find all the information that they are looking for? Does it respond to their query?
Are you using keywords to let the search engine know what your website is about? And most importantly, are you using these keywords the right way so that they can be understood by Google?
SEO for beginners Part 1: On-page optimization
In other words, on-page SEO refers to the optimization of your website in a way that matches with users’ search queries. It is an indication to Google that your content is capable of responding to users’ questions in the most helpful way possible.
If done well, it will help you rank higher and drive more traffic to your website. We will see more details about the On-page factors below. But first, let’s take a look at what Off-page SEO is:
Off-page actions are all about your credibility and domain authority on the Internet. They are the actions that you take out of your website to impact rankings within Google’s SERP page (Search Engine Results Page).
It is determined by linkbuilding – aka, the external links pointing to your website. They are important because Google uses external links to decide how popular and trustworthy your company and your website are.
SEO for Beginners Part 1: External links
So, if many people are talking about you on the web, and make a reference to you in their own websites, blogs, comments, etc, this is a sign for Google that you are a credible source of information. As a result, you might be positioned better among search engine results.
Off-page SEO is all about linkbuilding. In other words, building links in other websites that point to a page of your website. If you don’t do anything about it, it will most probably happen naturally as you create useful content.
As Moz explains, there are 3 main types of links:
- Natural links – the ones that someone places on their website without your knowledge or permission. It usually happens because they want to make a reference to you as an authority or a favourite brand. Or they just found your content really helpful.
- Manually built link – these links require pro-activity from your side. They are acquired through deliberate link-building strategies and actions, such as asking influencers to mention your content.
- Self-created links – they are usually created by adding backlinks in an online directory, blog, or forum. However, you have to be careful! Do not do any bad practices (also called Black Hat SEO) because you might get penalized.
Great! So far, so good. Now, let’s dig a little bit deeper:
SEO for Beginners – Part 2. On-page SEO
As we already explained in SEO for Beginners – Part 1, if you want to rank (=position) higher in search engine results, you will need a great website. But what are the main factors that make a website great?
Whether you are selling potatoes or propeller airplanes, you will need to provide useful and relevant content to your users. So, when a person who searches on Google types in “best sorts of potatoes”, and you happen to be a potato consultant, he lands on your page instead of your competitor’s.
So, study your target audience, research what they are looking for, and deliver it to them. Instead of desperately trying to sell your product, try to provide value and relevance by sharing useful information and insights.
Nowadays, users are not satisfied with basic information. Make sure to provide meaningful insights not only about your company and its services, but also about the industry and the sector that you are operating in.
Google understands that your content is relevant by analyzing your keywords.
Keywords are the main ingredient of SEO. Their meaning is as obvious at it sounds – “key words”. Words that are key to describing the essence of your content.
SEO for beginners Part 2: Keywords
In other words, they point out to Google the topic that you talk about in your page. Without them, the search engine might find it hard to understand the context just by screening your paragraphs.
And if it can’t understand you, it won’t position you on its first pages either.
This means that performing a good keyword research will be essential before you actually start publishing any content on your website. It will help you select the keywords that best describe the message that you want to send to your audience.
But furthermore, it will guide you through the search terms that your audience uses on Google to find content like yours. Sometimes, what we think is how users search isn’t the way they actually search.
There are a lot of free and paid SEO tools such as Keyword Planner and KWFinder that help you find the best keywords for your content.
But before that, it is important to explain the three types of keywords that exist- and what is the difference between them:
- Short-tail keywords;
- Mid-tail keywords;
- Long-tail keywords;
These are the keywords that you want to avoid focusing on – unless you are a really huge company with an extremely authoritative website. So, if you are a tiny blog or a website like me, it is better that you stay away from them for now. 🙂
The problem with short-tail keywords is that they are way too generic.
Let’s say that you go to Google and type the word “smartphones“:
Seo for Beginners – Part 2: Keywords
Google has been struggling for years to understand what users are searching for when they type generic keywords such as “smartphones“. Do they want to buy a smartphone? Are they looking to sell their smartphone? Do they want to look at pictures of smartphones?
Or are they just interested in reading about the best smartphones at the moment?
The possibilities are endless. When users type a generic keyword, only they know what search query is exactly in their head. Google, on another hand, is left to its own interpretation. Search engines use your historic searches to serve you the results they think will be the best for you.
However, even despite that, it is extremely difficult to guess what your next search will be if you don’t indicate it with the right keywords.
For example, I just went to Google and typed the word “cats”:
Google thinks I am looking to read about a musical and a film I’ve never heard about!
As you can see, using such a generic keyword in your content will be free to interpretation by both Google and the user. As a consequence, you won’t be able to target your audience correctly.
On top of that, short-tail keywords usually have the highest competition. Which means that your chances to position on the top results isn’t very high!
These keywords are usually the sweet spot for the majority of websites out there. Unless your website is completely new and you are just starting to build up your authority.
Mid-tail keywords generally consist of two or three words, depending on the context of the query. Don’t get caught in the number of words itself; what actually defines mid-tail keywords is that their range of specificity.
They are usually great because they combine:
- Volume: a good amount of monthly searches to compensate for your writing efforts;
- Competition: enough competition but impossible to overpass with the right content strategy;
- Targeting: they are specific enough to capture the right audience; but not too specific;
Some examples for mid-tail keywords can be “Siberian husky accessories” or ”Buy video games”.
They normally have less competition, although less people are typing them on Google search as well (aka less volume). However, they allow you to describe your posts or other types of texts better. This way you can actually deliver the right message to your audience.
SEO for Beginners Part 2: Keyword search volume
These keywords are on the other extreme of the spectrum: they are very specific.
Because they are so specific, not many people look up for them on Google. Which, in the majority of the cases, means that they have very low volume.
Some examples for long-tail keywords can be:
- laptop HP Envy 13 sn0001 model
- Security regulations for hotels
- new Peugeot 508 model 2019
These are keywords with relatively low traffic, depending on the context.
The good part about them is that they usually have very little competition and a high conversion rate. This means that people who look for “new Peugeout 508 model 2019”, and your article happens to write exactly about that, will go straight to your content.
There is a lot more to say about keywords, but because this is only an introduction to SEO, we are not going to get into too much detail. The idea is to get the bigger picture. Let’s move on to other On-page SEO factors!
Website Navigation & Loading Speed
SEO for Beginners Part 2: Web Navigation
The speed at which your page (and website) loads is a ranking factor for Google. This means that the slower and “heavier” your page is, the worse it will be for your positioning on the Search Engine Results Page.
To have a higher possibility for scoring a top position, your website should load fast and be easy to navigate. Because yes, you guessed it – your web navigation is also a ranking factor for Google. In fact, Google expects your website to load in 3 seconds or less!
A slow and overwhelming page will scare your audience away, which in turn will increase your bounce rate. Bounce rate is a Marketing term that defines the percentage of users who left your page without interaction. They just came, saw that it wasn’t what they were looking for, and left.
This, in turn, will probably hurt your rankings.
Luckily, there are many things that you can do to improve your page speed.
Some of them include:
- Image compression – you can either do it on your own before uploading, or use a plugin such as Shortpixel if you are using WordPress;
- Optimizing your code can also help you reduce page loading speed;
- Improving server response time;
To improve your website navigation, make sure to order your information by categories. You should also structure your posts and landing pages in a way that’s easily readable by users.
Also, make sure to get rid of 404 error pages and fix links that are not working.
Other navigation factors include:
- Sitemaps – include a sitemap for your users, and another one for Google. Sitemaps guide Google through your website and get your content indexed faster.
- Mobile optimization – make sure that your website is optimized for mobile phones. Nowadays, more than 50% of the searches are done via mobile.
- Consistency – keep the navigation consistent acrosss your whole website. If it’s constantly changing from page to page, it will probably frustrate users.
- Clickable links – make sure that all your navigation elements are clickable links. Use accurate descriptions to show users exactly what content are they going to find.
- Search – include a search feature and make sure that it functions correctly in a way that’s useful to the audience.
Many companies fail to see the contribution of blogs to search engine optimization. However, I can’t miss the opportunity to explain its importance when talking about SEO for beginners.
You see, for Google it’s really important that you deliver fresh, recently baked content that’s up to date with the latest tendencies. And let’s be honest – nobody makes constant changes to their website. Unless you are a huge ecommerce or something like this.
I have had people telling me that their website doesn’t need a blog because it’s self-sufficient, but the truth is, it isn’t. Maintaining a blog means that you will deliver fresh content regularly. And Google’s spiders love to crawl pages that are updated regularly!
If you only have static pages that don’t get new updates, Google will crawl your website less often. If your content seems obsolete, you might lose positions in your rankings to newer and more up-to-date results.
Now that we’ve mentioned the importance of keeping a blog, let’s see how you can optimize your articles to position better in search engines.
It all starts with a proper keyword research. After you’ve chosen your topic, you will need to select keywords that are relatively high in volume but not too competitive. You can do that using free tools such as Google Ads Keyword Planner, or paid tools such as KWFinder.
Now that you’ve chosen your keyword, you need to structure your article around it. This will help Google understand what your blog post is about. As we mentioned earlier, keywords are Google’s language of communication with webpages.
SEO for beginners Part 2: Blog posts
Your keyword should be mentioned in key places such as:
- Your blog post title;
- The permalink (URL) of your post;
- In some of your H2 and H3 headings;
- Your first paragraph;
- In your images as an Alt text;
- Your anchor texts (the ones with links in them).
- And of course, your meta description;
Additionally, the Yoast plugin recommends that you keep the title of your blog posts under 60 characters. Otherwise, when your post shows up on Google, the title will be cut:
You should also select a unique keyword for each post, and keep a good keyword density. This means that you should avoid repeating your keyword too many times. Doing this is called “over-optimization”, and will probably get you penalized by Google.
Keep your posts above the recommended minimum of 300 words and write short, well-structured paragraphs separated by headlines. According to Backlinko, the average Google first page contains articles with over 1,890 words each!
So, strive for long and helpful posts that provide detailed information about a certain topic.
Additionally, don’t forget to add visuals such as images, videos, and gifs to provide further explanation.
And last but not least, include internal and external links within your post! Internal links are good because they improve your own domain authority. Some people are hesitant to use external links because they might take the user off their page and on to another one.
Which, of course, is a possibility. However, including external links to other authoritative websites improves your own credibility and trustworthiness. To Google, it means that you are actually trying to be helpful. And it will have a positive impact on your rankings!
SEO for Beginners – Part 3 – Off Page SEO
As we already mentioned, off-page SEO is all about external links and domain authority.
You see, there are million results on the Internet for almost every search term. Some are really good, but some are just plain bad. This means that it is up to Google to sort things out.
Well, the credibility and authority of a website helps the search engine decide which content has the higher chances of being relevant. Google knows when a website is trustworthy and authoritative when it has a lot of links pointing to this website from other websites.
Having said this, Off-page SEO is simply the practice of building your reputation on the Internet. If a lot of links are pointing to your website, this means that people are talking about you. Generally, it’s because you have become a reference for a certain topic.
But how can you make Google and of course, your audience, trust you? How do you build your reputation online?
Here are some of the biggest Off-page SEO factors:
Search engines use an algorithm to decide which websites show up on the first pages, and one of the most important factors is link building.
If you have a lot of diverse, high-quality links from external sources pointing to you website, you let Google know that people refer to you, and rely on you as an important source of information.
When someone puts a hyperlink within his website or blog pointing to yours, Google considers it as a vote of trust. But of course, not all links are created equal, and some have higher power than others to position you between the first results.
Which are the pages with the highest authority?
- Government – the official website of a country’s government is extremely valuable and will help you rank higher. Getting the government to refer to you via a hyperlink can be extremely challenging. However, if you manage to do it, it will improve your authority significantly, because it will mean that a government institution votes for you as an expert on a certain topic.
- Universities and other educational institutions – some of the pages with the highest authority assigned by Google. Same as the government – if you manage to get them pointing to your website, good for you!
- Associations – if you are offering services in a certain industry, try to identify the associations related to this industry, and build your strategy around obtaining a link from them. (No illegal practices, please!)
- Good media – reputable magazines and newspapers are a great way to improve your authority.
These are the websites that Google assigns the highest domain authority to. Of course, it doesn’t mean that they are the only ones that you should care about. Not at all! There are a lot of authoritative companies and influencers in every niche.
Link building factors
However, the science behind link building doesn’t end there! Search engines also take into consideration the following:
- Number of linking domains – how many unique domains are pointing to your website
- The number of linking pages – diversity is key, so try to diversify your sources. If only one domain or page is pointing to you multiple times, Google might suspect that it could be a bad practice.
- Authority of domain – as we already said, we need high-quality links to refer to our content. Building your links from websites with high authority has much stronger power over ranking than spam or dodgy webpages.
- Link anchor – does the anchor text of the link include the keywords you want to be associated with? If it does, it is much better than if your link appears in keywords such as “click here” or “this website”.
- Relevance – if you are selling Marketing services, getting a link from a website dedicated to truck manufacturing is not great. Try to get links from websites and companies that are related to whatever you’re doing.
SEO for Beginners Part 3: Social engagement
Being present on multiple social media platforms, and more importantly, engaging with them, is also another essential factor for building your authority as a brand.
Marketing experts has been debating for years on whether social media links count directly towards your link building. According to the Search Engine Journal, individual links from social channels are not an SEO factor.
Now, we don’t know for sure what is behind Google’s algorithm. However, just because social isn’t a ranking factor in a direct way doesn’t mean that it doesn’t impact rankings. As the Search Engine Journal says, it is a correlation, not a causation.
What does that mean? Well, it means that if you create good content, you are going to get popularity on social media. You are going to be liked, shared, and recommended across users. As a result, you not only get more traffic to your website, but you also increase your chances of getting a link from another page!
As we know, social media is key for building a community and creating relationships with your users. Which, consequently, helps you build authority and trust.
Domain authority is a key concept that has to be mentioned in every SEO for Beginners guide. It is a search engine ranking score that predicts how well your website is likely to position on Google’s first pages. It was first introduced by Moz, and it ranges from one to 100.
Some factors that determine your domain authority include:
You will probably have a high spam score if:
- All external links pointing to your website come from the same domain or webpage;
- You are a large website with only a few links;
- Having too many links can also raise suspicion;
- Little to no content, and is not useful – also called “thin content”;
- You don’t have any contact information displayed on your page;
- The name length of your domain has way too many characters;
- You have low number of pages;
- There are a lot of anchor texts on your website.
If you have a high spam score, search engines might penalize you, decreasing your domain authority.
You can check all 17 spam scores here.
Another domain authority factor is the number of unique domains pointing to your website. A unique domain is the highest hierarchical level of a site. For example, www.zara.com, or www.google.com.
Having multiple unique domains using you as a reference will highly increase your domain authority. You can read more about root domains here.
…and others. I’ve already entered into detail in another post, so I am not going to dive deep in this one – but you can read more on domain authority here.
How do I get other websites to link to mine?
As we mentioned earlier, you can do link building proactively, or it can happen naturally as you generate helpful content and start establishing your authority. In either case, there are no magic tricks here!
It can be challenging, it takes a lot of time, and it requires some work. Here are some ways to do it:
Broken link building
With this method, you start by looking for broken links on a website. Then, you contact the webmaster to report the broken link. When he responds, you offer to substitute it with another helpful resource such as your own link. You can learn more about doing this method the correct way here.
writing in-depth content that provides value, such as an infographic or an extensive guide on a topic will make people share it around. It will not happen overnight, but building an amazing content that covers a topic from head to toes will do wonders in the long run.
Guest blogging is a great way to reach new targeted audiences in your industry.
It involves contacting influencers in your niche and offering your skills to write a unique blog post for them. This way, you can get your content in front of new users, and gain more exposure for your brand.
Just don’t copy and paste the same article on both blogs. Google doesn’t like that, and you will be penalized.
Of course, there are a lot more ways to do that! I recommend you to read this webpage for more information on that.
Now that you’ve read my article SEO for Beginners, the biggest takeaway will be that Search Engine Optimization is a long-term commitment. It takes time for you to generate helpful content and be consistent with it.
However, it also takes time for the search engine to find your content, index it, and position it among its first results. According to Income School, it can take up to 6 months for established sites, and even more time for new websites to get well-positioned on Google!
So, be patient and prepare a good strategy to work on!
And of course, while you are working on your SEO strategy, there is a way you can appear first on Google fast. To learn how to do that, just go to my article Introduction to SEM for Beginners.
I hope you liked SEO for Beginners! Stay tuned for more, and let me know if you have any questions down in the comments!
Thank you for reading!