SEO is a fundamental skill for any new entrepreneur looking to grow their personal brand or business.
SEO can seem daunting but once you get your head around the key concepts, it becomes easier to understand and implement.
This beginner’s guide will break down the basics of SEO to get you started!
Table of contents
- Understanding search engines
- The role of keywords
- The fundamentals of SEO
- The evolution of SEO
- Monitoring and analytics
- SEO Related FAQs
What is SEO?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation. It’s the process of improving your website’s visibility on search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo.
The goal is to increase the chances of your website appearing at the top of the search engine results pages (SERPs) when somebody searches for keywords that relates to your business.
Why is SEO important?
In the simplest terms, SEO equals traffic…
Backlinko analysed 4 million Google results in 2022 and found that the top 3 results get 54.4% of all clicks, the #1 result has an average click-through rate of 27.6% and only 0.63% of searchers clicked on something from the second page.
So we know it is vital to be on the first page of search engines, and that ranking highly increases the amount of visitors to your website. How do we do that? Well that is where SEO comes in.
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What are the benefits of SEO?
Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of SEO:
- Increases your visibility and organic traffic: By optimising your website for search, you will increase your chances of appearing on the first page in the search results. The higher your website ranks, the more likely users are to click on it. Therefore leading to more organic traffic.
- Targeted audience: If you’re doing it right, SEO allows you to reach your targeted audience, so the increased traffic will be from your ideal clients or customers. They will likely be easier to convert, which will help you achieve your goals – whether that’s sales, leads or engagement.
- Cost-effective ROI: Compared to paid advertising or other traditional marketing methods, SEO can be more cost-effective, providing long-lasting sustainable results without ongoing costs.
- Builds brand awareness and authority: People tend to associate higher-ranking websites with quality and reliability, and these are often perceived as more credible and trustworthy.
With Google receiving over 3.5 billion searches per day, there is so much opportunity to make organic search your website’s largest source of traffic.
Understanding search engines
How do search engines work?
I always start my SEO trainings with explaining how search engines actually work. Once you understand this, it becomes easier to optimise content because you begin to think more like the user.
Search engines have four main parts:
- The crawler: The crawler or bot has one job – to visit, find and read all the pages on the web. It does this by following links from one web page to another. Think of this like a spider crawling through a massive web.
- The index: As the crawler works its way around the web, it stores and categorises information from each page in a database known as the index. Think of this like a digital library.
- The algorithm: When you type something into a search engine, it goes to the index and looks up all the pages that reference that query. Based on what it’s learned during crawling and indexing, the algorithm quickly decides what is most relevant to your query.
- The results: Finally, the search engine presents you with a list of results, ranked by what they believe is going to be most helpful.
SEO helps the crawler do its job more effectively and efficiently.
The Google algorithm and ranking factors
Google use algorithms with over 200 ranking factors to determine how websites are ranked. The algorithms and ranking factors are constantly evolving to provide users with the best possible experience.
While these algorithms are mostly unknown, we do have some hints as to what positivity influences ranking.
Here are some of the factors we do know…
- Content quality: Google loves high-quality, regularly updated, informative, valuable and engaging content.
- Use of keywords: Having relevant keywords throughout the content helps Google understand what your page is about.
- Backlinks: High-quality, authoritative websites linking to your content can help provide a “recommendation” boost.
- User experience: A well-structured, user-friendly website that loads quickly, works well on mobile and is easy to navigate enhances the user experience, which Google loves.
- On-page SEO: Optimising title tags, meta descriptions, header tags, and image alt text with relevant keywords helps Google understand what your site is about.
- Engagement: Metrics such as click-through rate (CTR), bounce rate and time spent on page are good ways to assess how a user interprets your content’s quality, relevance and value.
- Authority: The overall authority and trustworthiness of your website plays a role. This is influenced by factors like the age of your domain and the quality of your backlinks.
- Social signals: While not a direct ranking factor, social media activity (such as engagement and shares) can indirectly influence your traffic, which can impact your ranking.
- Site architecture: A well-organised and clear site structure helps search engines understand your website’s layout to get around easier.
- Security and privacy: Websites with SSL certificates (URLs beginning with HTTPS instead of HTTP) that prioritise data protection and privacy are also favoured as they provide a more secure user experience.
You’ll notice a pattern here – each of these points are linked to the site’s value and the user experience. Focus on creating high-quality content and optimising your website.
What is Google’s main goal?
Google wants their users to be happy with their service.
They want you to search for something and find the best results as quickly as possible. It can help to think of Google as a taxi company; getting you from where you are to where you want to be in the shortest time.
As we move through this guide, I want you to think about your ideal audience and how they might use Google.
The role of Keywords
What are keywords?
Keywords are the terms and phrases that users type into search engines when looking for information. They are the bridge between what your target audience is searching for and the content on your website.
There are two main types of keywords: short-tail and long-tail.
- Short-Tail Keywords: These are short, generic keywords, usually one to three words long. They have high search volume but high competition and can be challenging to rank for (“shoes”).
- Long-Tail Keywords: Long-tail keywords are more specific, often consisting of three or more words. They have lower search volume but are easier to rank for and often lead to higher conversion rates (“best running shoes for flat feet”).
How important is keyword research?
Keyword research is a fundamental step in SEO.
Once we know what terms our ideal audience are using when searching for products, services or information online, we can target those keywords and optimise our content to show up in the results.
Effective keyword research serves several critical purposes:
- Understanding intent: Keyword research helps you get inside the minds of your audience. It reveals what they’re looking for, their pain points, and their questions. This allows you to create content that aligns with user intent.
- Content optimisation: Conducting keyword research helps when optimising your website’s content. By strategically incorporating relevant keywords, you can increase the chances of your pages appearing in search results for those queries.
- Competitive analysis: Keyword research also provides insights into what your competitors are targeting. By analysing their keyword strategies, you can identify opportunities to outperform them.
- Long-term strategy: Well-researched keywords are the foundation of a long-term SEO strategy, driving consistent organic traffic to your site.
How to research keywords
Keyword research involves identifying the most relevant and valuable keywords for your website or content. Here are the steps to effective keyword research:
- Understand your audience:
- Define your target audience. Who are they? What are their needs and preferences? What questions are they asking?
- Consider the searcher’s intent. Are they looking for information, products, services, or local businesses?
- Brainstorm seed keywords:
- Start with a list of broad, general keywords related to your topic or business. These are your seed keywords.
- If your business serves a local audience, include location-based keywords to target local searchers.
- Expand with tools:
- Use keyword research tools to enter your seed keywords to discover related keywords. Think about synonyms, plurals, and related terms. Search engines often understand the context and variations of keywords.
- Consider long-tail keywords as these often have less competition and can attract highly targeted traffic.
- Keyword Metrics:
- Assess the search volume of keywords and their competition level. Look for a balance between high search volume and manageable competition.
- Use tools like Google Trends to see if a keyword’s popularity is rising, falling or stable. This is particularly useful to see when seasonal searches begin.
- Filter and Prioritise:
- Eliminate keywords that aren’t relevant or have too much competition.
- Prioritise keywords that are highly relevant to your content or business and have good search volume.
- Group Keywords:
- Organise your keywords into groups or topics. This makes it easier to create content around related keywords.
- Ensure that the chosen keywords match the intent of your content. Different keywords may require different types of content.
- Create a Keyword Strategy:
- Assess the strength of your competition for each keyword. Can you realistically compete for top rankings?
- Develop a plan for using your researched keywords.
- Monitor Performance:
- Regularly review and update your keyword strategy to stay relevant and competitive.
- After implementing your keywords, monitor their performance using SEO analytics tools. Adjust your strategy as needed to improve rankings and traffic.
The key here is selecting the keywords that are being searched for by your target audience, and ensuring the keywords align with your content and business goals.
Tools for researching keywords
To conduct effective keyword research, you’ll need the right tools. Some popular keyword research tools include Google Keyword Planner, SEMrush, Ahrefs, Moz Keyword Explorer and Ubersuggest.
These tools provide insights into how many searches are taking place, how many competitors are using these keywords, and ideas for related or other relevant keywords could be used.
Another useful resource to mention here is your competitors. Studying their strategies can provide you with valuable insights. Have a look at the keywords they are ranking well for and the backlinks they have received as well as the quality and depth of their content.
By understanding what’s working for your competitors, you can fine-tune your own strategy. And this may help you identify gaps or opportunities that you can use to your advantage.
The Fundamentals of SEO
On-page SEO refers to what you do directly on the individual pages of your site. The following are some of the key aspects of on-page SEO:
- Meta Tags: Meta tags appear on the SERPs so keep that in mind when writing them as they should entice the user to click-through.
- Title tags defines the title of a page. You will want to incorporate keywords that accurately represent the content. This should be descriptive but concise (around 60 characters)
- Meta descriptions give a brief summary of the content. This should include relevant keywords while being unique, compelling and concise (around 160 characters).
- Heading tags: Heading tags structure the content on your page, think of them like chapters of a book. They provide a hierarchy (think less about style and more about structure) and should include relevant keywords throughout your content.
- H1 is the most important. It’s typically used for the main page title and should only be used once per page.
- H2-H6 can be used to logically structure the rest of your page. The H2 tag can be used for major section headings, H3 for sub-section headings, H4 for sub-sub-section headings, and so on.
- Content optimisation: High-quality content is at the heart of any successful SEO strategy. Content should be informative and valuable to the user. Incorporate keywords and related keywords throughout the content. This should be natural, fitting seamlessly into the text without disrupting the flow. Keep users engaged by using a mix of text, images, videos and other media. Break-up large sections of text, use headings and bullet points to make your content easier to read and understand.
- URL structure: Keep your URLs clean and descriptive. They should be concise and relevant, use hyphens (-) to separate words.
- Internal linking: Include internal links within your content to other relevant pages on your site that your audience might find useful. Not that linking to other websites with quality content or relevant resources is also recommended.
- Image optimisation: Use descriptive file names for images and add alt text that describe the image’s content. This helps search engines understand what they image is. Note that alt text is primarily used by screen readers.
Off-page SEO focuses on optimising factors that occur outside of your website. The following are some of the key aspects of off-page SEO:
- Backlinks: Links from other sites to your website signal to search engines that your content is valuable and trustworthy. Google prefers when links are acquired organically, as it acts as a vote of confidence. Focus on quality, authoritative backlinks that are relevant to your industry or niche (rather than quantity from less credible sources).
- Social signals: Your social media presence and engagement can indirectly impact your SEO. By building a social media following and encouraging engagement you can increase your visibility, traffic and authority. These factors can have a knock-on effect.
- Reputation: There are a number of things you can do to build your reputation online – like guest postings, encouraging customer reviews and responding to brand mentions online. You can also take part in outreach activities to build relationships with people in your industry or engage in online PR to promote your brand.
Technical SEO involves optimising the technical aspects of your website to improve its performance. This ensures search engines can crawl, index and understand your site effectively as well as making sure that it is running smoothly for your audience. Here are the key components of technical SEO:
- Site speed: A fast-loading website is essential for user experience. Users tend to abandon websites that take too long to load. There are a number of things you can do to improve speed, but as a starting point look at investing in reliable hosting, using an optimised theme and compressing your images.
- Mobile-friendliness: Make sure your site is responsive and works well on mobile devices. Google now prioritises mobile-first indexing.
- Secure connection: Secure your website with HTTPS, this adds a layer of security and trust for users and is favoured by search engines.
- Sitemaps: XML sitemaps provide a roadmap of your website’s content to search engines. They list all the pages on your site, making it easier for crawlers to index your content. You can even submit your sitemap search engines like Google and Bing.
- Structured data: Use structured data markup (Schema.org) to provide additional information about your content to search engines.
- Crawlability: Ensure that search engine robots can easily crawl and index your site. This includes using a robots.txt file to guide which pages are indexed and which are not.
- Canonical tags: Canonical tags are used to indicate the preferred version of a page when multiple versions with similar content exist. This helps prevent duplicate content issues.
- Website structure: A well-designed and well-structured website with clear navigation is beneficial to both users and search engines.
Local SEO is a specialised branch that focuses on optimising your online presence to attract local customers. It is crucial for businesses with a physical storefront or serving a specific geographical area. Key components of local SEO include:
- Google My Business (GMB): The first step is claiming your Google My Business listing. This allows you to manage how your business appears in Google Search and Google Maps. Once created, fill out your profile with accurate business information and upload high-quality photos. Keep your profile up-to-date with any changes to your business and encourage customers to leave reviews.
- NAP Consistency: Ensure that your business name, address and phone number are consistent across all online platforms.
- Local Content: Create local-specific content that is relevant to your target audience. This can include posts about local events, guides to local attractions or other related news.
- Local on-page: Include local keywords in your website’s content, meta tags and headings. If your business has multiple locations, create individual location pages for each and include specific details about each location (such as address, phone number and business hours).
- Local link building: Get your business listed in local directories and citation websites, and acquire backlinks from local websites, organisations and news outlets.
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Broken down into on-page and technical SEO lists, to help you increase traffic to your website.
The Evolution of SEO
What is E-E-A-T?
Google defines high-quality pages as pages with a high level of EEAT. This stands for experience, expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness.
While EEAT is not a direct ranking factor, it is a component of Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines. It helps Google determine if a site and its pages are reputable sources of information and offer actual value to users.
Here’s a breakdown of EEAT:
- Experience: This demonstrates that the author has the necessary first-hand or life experience for the topic they are writing about. This helps prove that suggestions are tried and tested, and insights are authentic.
- Expertise: This refers to the knowledge, qualifications and credentials required by the author to give reliable information.
- Authoritativeness: This is your overall reputation in your industry. It is a measure of trust and credibility. Authoritative websites often have high-quality backlinks from reputable sources, awards or other recognition within their industry.
- Trustworthiness: Trustworthiness relates to how reliable and dependable a page is. Users should feel confident that the information is accurate, up-to-date and unbiased. Be clear about who wrote your content, edit for factual accuracy and cite trustworthy highly credible sources. Trustworthiness is also linked to factors like transparency, having clear privacy policies and a secure website connection (HTTPS).
It’s important to note that EEAT is significantly important to YMYL pages (Your Money or Your Life). These are classified as high-stake topics such as those that impact a person’s health, well-being, safety or finances. Reliability and accuracy are critical in these niches.
How do you show EEAT?
Website owners should focus on establishing their experience, expertise, authority and trustworthiness. This can be done in the following ways:
- Create high-quality content that is original, helpful, accurate, comprehensive and clearly communicated. It should be written by people for people, and kept up-to-date.
- Create an about page explaining who you are, who your team are and what your experience and/or expertise is.
- Include author bios in each post, which include credentials, qualifications, past work and links to the authors social media profiles.
- Make it easy to contact you, ensuring your contact details are correct.
- Link to official sources, studies, research papers, news publications and other trusted sources, or collaborate with other credible experts.
- Build a digital profile or personal brand as an expert in a particular topic, and earn backlinks from authoritative sites.
- Encourage reviews, engagement and user-generated content (UGC) which can act as a trust signal and establish brand loyalty.
As mentioned throughout this guide, the main focus should be on producing high-quality and well-researched content, and building a strong online reputation.
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Monitoring and Analytics
Measuring SEO Success
To determine the effectiveness of your SEO efforts, you need to track and measure various key performance indicators (KPIs). Here are the primary metrics you will want to monitor:
|Total organic traffic||Monitor the overall volume of organic traffic your website receives from search engines.|
|Organic traffic growth||Track the month-to-month or year-over-year growth in organic traffic to assess the impact of your SEO strategy.|
|Keyword rankings||Keep an eye on your rankings or positions of your targeted keywords.|
|Click-through rate (CTR)||Measure the CTR for your target keywords. If it’s low, you may need to work on your titles and meta descriptions.|
|Dwell time||This is the amount of time users spend on your website after clicking from a search result. If this is low, you may need to improve the content.|
|Bounce rate||A high bounce rate (when users leave your site after viewing a single page) can indicate a lack of relevance or poor user experience.|
|Backlink quality||Monitor the quality and authority of backlinks earned.|
|Backlink growth||Track the growth of your backlink profile over time, focusing on acquiring high-quality backlinks from authoritative sources.|
|Page views||Measure the number of views on specific pages to understand which content is most popular.|
|Time on page||Assess how long users spend on individual pages to gauge the engagement level of your content.|
|Social shares||Count the number of times your content is shared on social media platforms as a sign of its popularity and reach.|
|Conversion rate||Track the percentage of organic visitors who take desired actions on your website (such as making a purchase, filling out a contact form or signing up for a newsletter).|
|Goal completions||Set up goals in Google Analytics to measure specific actions, such as reaching a thank-you page after a purchase.|
|E-commerce metrics||If you run an online store, analyse e-commerce metrics like revenue, transactions and average order value from organic traffic.|
|Local rankings||Monitor your local search rankings for specific keywords related to your business.|
|Google My Business metrics||Keep an eye on data such as the number of views, clicks and calls from your Google My Business listing.|
Tools for monitoring SEO
Use tools like Google Analytics and Google Search Console to track your website’s performance. With these tools, you can monitor traffic, analyse user behaviour, identify issues, and adjust your strategy accordingly.
Tools like SEMrush, Ahrefs and MOZ can also provide detailed data on rankings, backlinks and site health, while Google Trends can show you what topics are currently popular.
SEO Related FAQs
What are the SEO mistakes to avoid?
There are a number of myths and mistakes when it comes to SEO, here are the top things to avoid:
- Keyword stuffing: Overloading your content with keywords in an unnatural and spammy way can lead to penalties from search engines. Focus on using keywords naturally and in context.
- Duplicate content: Identical or substantially similar content that appears in more than one location on the web can negatively impact rankings. In some cases, particularly when duplicate content is a deliberate attempt to manipulate search results, search engines may impose penalties on your website.
- Neglecting content SEO is an ongoing process, neglecting to update and refresh your content regularly can lead to outdated and less relevant information, which isn’t preferred by Google.
- Other black-hat SEO: Unethical or manipulative practices designed to improve rankings in ways that violate search engine guidelines (such as hiding text or links, link farms, cloaking or attempting to harm a competitor’s rankings) may lead to penalties.
- Not staying informed: As we know, algorithms and ranking factors are ever-changing. Try to keep up with the latest SEO trends, Google updates and best practices so you can adjust your strategy where needed.
Do I need a blog for SEO success?
While a blog is not necessary for SEO success, it can definitely help! Strategic blogging and SEO is how I grew my business, so I believe in the power of blogging and encourage all my clients to do so.
Blogging offers many SEO benefits, such as:
- Fresh content: It allows you to continually publish new content, which signals to search engines that your site is updated regularly.
- Targeted keywords: It can provide more opportunity to target keywords related to your niche and allow you to improve navigation by linking to other pages on your site.
- Targeted audience: It can also help to establish you as an authority within your industry by providing helpful content to your audience as well as fostering a relationship with them by encouraging engagement.
Let me tell you about Robert Ryan’s experiment. Although it’s now an old test, I think it could still be relative in a lot of circumstances. Ryan is a WordPress developer, SEO expert and the owner of robertryan.ie. He didn’t post any new content on his blog for eight months and seven days in 2015. His overall traffic to the site fell by 32%, organic traffic fell by 42%, contact page traffic fell by 15% and overall site conversions fell by 28%.
While the impact may not be as noticeable these days, regularly publishing content on your blog and keeping old posts updated does have SEO implications and may be worth doing.
Do I need a niche for SEO success?
Again, while I don’t think a niche is necessary for SEO success, I do think having a niche will help with your strategy.
Having a niche does have SEO benefits, such as:
- Less competition: Operating within a niche often means facing less competition in search results, making it easier to achieve higher rankings for relevant keywords.
- Targeted audience: A niche allows you to tailor your content, products, and services to a specific audience with well-defined needs and interests. This can lead to higher engagement and conversion rates.
- Easier creation: Focusing on a niche simplifies content creation and keyword targeting. You can produce highly relevant and specialized content that resonates with your audience.
- Brand authority: Specialising in a niche can position your brand as an authority in that particular field, which can improve trust and credibility with your target audience.
- Backlink opportunities: Niche websites often have a better chance of attracting high-quality backlinks from authoritative sources in the same niche.
- Word-of-Mouth marketing: Satisfied customers in a niche are more likely to refer your business to others within the same niche, leading to organic growth.
Understanding your audience
Whether you have a niche or not, the key is to understand your target audience, competition and industry.
- Think about who your target audience is?
- Who would be interested in your content? Who would be interested in your products and/or services?
- Where you can market your content, products and services?
- How many competitors are in your niche? Who are your main competitors are that share the same audience?
- What competitors rank for common keywords related to your business?
Then you can create as SEO strategy that aligns with your specific goals.
The key takeaways
This guide really just touches the surface when it comes to SEO. There are many other factors and aspects to consider. And it is an ongoing process and it may take time to see significant results. However, by following these basics, you can make great progress in improving your site’s visibility and growing your traffic.
Here’s are the key takeaways:
- SEO is an ongoing process that requires dedication and patience.
- Content quality is paramount! Creating valuable, original content is the foundation of SEO success.
- On-page and off-page SEO strategies work in tandem to improve your search rankings.
- Technical SEO is all about getting your website in good shape, like building the foundation of your house.
- Local SEO is essential for brick-and-mortar businesses to attract local customers.
- Avoid common SEO mistakes, such as keyword stuffing and duplicate content.
- Leverage SEO tools to streamline your efforts and gain valuable insights.
Remember that SEO is about offering value to your audience and making your website a valuable resource in your niche. It can take time to see results so don’t get disheartened. The rewards will be worth it!
Stay patient, keep working on it and adapt your strategies as the SEO landscape evolves. Good luck!