A Beginner’s Guide to SEO
As more of us use the web every day for browsing, watching videos, shopping, working, and just about everything else in between; it’s important for website owners that their site can be found by the audience they are marketing to.
In this post you’ll find out:
- Keyword Research
- On-Page SEO
- Title Tags
- Meta Descriptions
- Internal Links
- Image Optimisation
- URL Structure
- Technical SEO
- Indexing and Crawlability
- XML Sitemap
- Website Loading Times
- Structured Data
- SSL Certificate
- Off-Page SEO
- Social Media Marketing
- Measuring Results
- Looking For Help With Your SEO
SEO, or ‘Search Engine Optimisation is the process of building and developing a website to ensure it meets the requirements of search engines and the intent of users.
Done right, SEO can offer a plethora of benefits including increased visibility for key phrases, more organic traffic, and, in turn, more conversions; whether that is sales, downloads, phone calls, or enquiry form completions.
SEO is perceived as somewhat of a dark art, but at heart, it is a methodical process that ensures your website can be found by users that are searching for your product or service. Of course, there are more technical and advanced aspects that require more experience to execute.
In our beginner’s guide to SEO, we walk you through the core factors that will impact how well your website performs in search engines; from keyword research and meta data optimisation to link building strategies and site speed.
To ensure that you optimise for the terms that your target audience is actually searching for, keyword research is a fundamental starting point for your SEO strategy.
Keyword research is the process of using search volume data to determine which keywords you should optimise for and to find related keywords which can be used alongside your primary keyword.
Keyword research can also help identify blog topic ideas, questions for FAQ sections, sub service pages and uncover the different terms people use to describe your products and services that you may not have been aware of.
Useful Tools: Keywords Everywhere
Understanding User Intent – Types of Search
Whilst opinions differ, most SEOs agree that there are at least 3 types of search that a person will use when searching for something.
- Navigational searchers refer to when the user is looking for a specific product or service from a provider.
- For example, if a user searches for ‘eBay’ they are looking for the ‘eBay’ website.
- If they search ‘Dumbbells eBay’ this is still a navigational search as the user has specified the website they want to view the product on.
- Informational searches refer to when the user is looking for information.
- An example of this could be ‘What are the best home dumbbells’. Informational searches are often targeted with blog posts rather than service pages.
- Transactional – Transactional searches refer to when the user is looking to buy a product but has not specified where they want to buy it from. For example ‘Buy dumbbells for home gym’.
On-page SEO refers to the changes that can be made on a specific page of the website to optimise it to rank for your chosen terms. It is sometimes known as Technical SEO
On-page SEO can have a significant influence on where Google and other search engines position your page in the SERPs (search engines results pages). On-page SEO factors include:
- Title tags are SEO 101 and if you aren’t using them; you are wasting a big opportunity.
- Title tags are the clickable headlines that show in the SERPs. They are effectively your shop window to entice users to choose your site over the other websites on the results pages.
- A well crafted title tag will be less than 60 characters in length, include your focus keyword without being spammy, and accurately describe to users what is waiting for them on the page. If you have room, you may also choose to include your brand name in your title tag.
Useful Tools: Moz Title Tag Length Checker | SEO Mofo SERP Snippet Optimizer | Yoast SEO (WP)
Like title tags, meta descriptions are shown in SERPs and offer an even larger amount of space for you to encourage users to click through onto your page.
With up to 160 characters available, you can be more descriptive than the title tag and put across some of the secondary information that couldn’t be included in the title tag.
Many SEOs will choose to add a call to action ‘CTA’ such as ‘visit our website to get a free quote’ in their meta descriptions.
Useful Tools: SEO Mofo SERP Snippet Optimizer | Yoast SEO (WP)
- Internal links are a fundamental SEO factor that is often overlooked in favour of the more exciting (but much harder to attain) external backlink.
- An internal link is any link from one page of your website to another, they help search engines understand the relationship between pages and can help users navigate your website more effectively and distribute page rank more effectively throughout your website.
- The best part? You are completely in control. Unlike backlinks from other websites, you can choose the target URL, update the anchor text and change the link if a more appropriate page is ever created.
Sitebulb | Screaming Frog
- HTML headers are an element that is used to provide structure to your page and context to both users and search engines.
- Starting from H1 and going down to H6, headers allow you to break up sections of your page and put more emphasis on those focus keywords.
- In most cases, you will want to use just one H1 tag for the title, H2 tags for subheadings, H3 tags for sub-headings of your H2s, and so on.
- Visually, headings generally increase in size as their importance increases, with H1 being the largest. Whilst this is not always the case, it is the best practice for user experience and accessibility.
Useful Tools: Web Accessibility Checker | Screaming Frog | SEM Rush Audit
Despite most websites being heavily reliant on imagery, many website owners overlook images when optimising their websites.
As well as generating more visibility in Google Images, optimising your images properly is an accessibility factor as it can help visually impaired people understand your website better.
To ensure your images are benefiting your SEO, use a unique and descriptive file name and alt text for images across your website.
The other side of the coin with image optimisation is sizing and compression. If your images are significantly larger in dimensions than they need to be, the chances are that they will also be larger in file size. This can slow down your website and creates a poor user experience, particularly for those on mobile.
To ensure images don’t negatively impact your website loading times, first, ensure that the image is resized to the exact dimensions of the container it will sit. Then, choose the optimal file type (JPG is smaller but PNG allows transparency) before running the image through a compression tool.
Useful Tools: Image Optimisation Plugins (WP) | Canva | Image Compressor
URLs give a unique identifier to every page on your website and are used to create hierarchies as well as provide context to Google and users.
When writing URLs, ensure that they are kept concise, clear, and descriptive of the content on the page – avoid using underscores, multiple numbers, or dates in your URLs.
If you are using a dropdown on your website, it is best practice to ensure that the URL structure reflects this. When using a CMS like WordPress, you can define a ‘parent page’ for all new pages on your website which configures this structure by default.
Useful Tools: SEO Friendly URL Checker | SEM Rush Audit
Content, as they say, is king. There is arguably no greater ranking factor than the content that is displayed on the web page.
By carrying out keyword research, keeping all of the on-page factors above in mind when developing your content, and using your keyword and its variations within the website copy, you will have a strong chance of ranking well for your chosen keywords without requiring considerable SEO knowledge.
But remember, you are not just writing for Google. If your content ranks well but is not written with the user in mind, you will almost certainly miss out on potential conversions and you’ll also see this reflected in your bounce rates in analytics
Useful Tools: HubSpot Blog Ideas Generator
Where on-page SEO focuses on the changes that can be made to your pages, technical SEO is more concerned with ensuring search engines can crawl and index your site properly.
Indexing and Crawlability
To serve up billions of results to users every day, search engines must crawl websites and add their pages to their search index.
Crawlers from search engines like Google visit pages and follow the links within them to constantly add new websites to the index as they are created.
If Google or other search engines cannot crawl or index your site – it will not show up in search engines results pages.
An XML Sitemap is a list of your website’s pages designed for consumption by search engines which aids the crawling and indexing process.
By adding your sitemap to Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools, your sitemap will periodically be visited by web crawlers to check for new pages which will then also be added to the index.
XML Sitemaps are particularly beneficial for larger websites where new pages are regularly added or removed, but websites of any size can benefit from having an XML Sitemap.
Most website builders such as WordPress offer native functionality to automatically generate sitemaps, this can also be achieved with plugins. Whilst they can be manually created, we would not recommend this for a beginner.
If you want to look at your XML Sitemap and submit it to Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools, simply add /sitemap.xml to the end of your URL.
Useful Tools: XML Sitemap Generator | Google Search Console | Yoast SEO (WP) | Bing Webmaster Tools
A robots.txt file is a file that tells search engine crawlers which URLs they can and cannot access on your website.
Telling search engine crawlers to keep off a page on your website doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t get indexed; the primary purpose is to avoid overloading your website with requests to pages that are not important.
If used incorrectly, robots.txt can have devastating impacts on your website, so ensure that you only ever make changes to the file if you know exactly what you are doing.
To check your robots.txt file, simply add the following to the end of your URL: /robots.txt
Bonus Tip: If you do want to prevent crawlers from indexing your page, you should use a Noindex tag, these are added to the header of the page in question; a plugin for WordPress can be used to add noindex tags on a page by page basis.
Useful Tools: Google Search Console | Yoast SEO (WP)
If you delete or change the name of a page on your website, the previous URL will no longer work. This is an issue if it’s been indexed by Google or is being linked to as it will take users to a broken page (404).
Not only does this provide a poor user experience, but it can also negatively impact your SEO. In the case of a complete domain migration, you could potentially send all of your website traffic to broken pages.
To ensure that URL name changes don’t leave you with broken pages, you can use redirects to send traffic of the previous URL to a new or alternative page.
The most commonly used type of redirect is a 301, meaning that the page has been permanently moved to another page. If the redirect is temporary then a 302 redirect can be used.
Redirects can be implemented in several ways. For most beginner SEOs, the safest way is to use a plugin to manage redirects. Alternatively, they can be added through your website’s .htacess file.
Useful Tools: Redirect Checker | Redirection (WP) | Screaming Frog
Website Loading Times
Website speed has been a ranking factor in Google since 2010, and understandably so. As we become more reliant on the internet and our mobile phones, we expect websites to load fast and will leave if they do not.
Google’s own data has shown that the chance of a user bouncing (leaving after only viewing one page) increases by over 100% if the site takes up to 6 seconds to load.
If your website is slow to load, you may find that your rankings suffer as a result. Although perhaps more importantly, frustrated users are much less likely to buy from you if your website is slow to load.
The loading speed of your website can be affected by the following factors:
- Large images
- Video files added directly to the page
- Too many plugins in use
- Un-minified and uncompressed code
- Lots of ads on the page
- Slow website hosting
- No browser caching in place
- Unused code being loaded on the website
Useful Tools: GT Metrix | Google Page Speed Insights | Fastest Cache (WP)
Mobile is now more popular than desktop, so it’s critical that your website is responsive and works across all devices.
There is no excuse for not having a mobile-friendly website in 2021.
Most website builders and themes are now responsive by default. If you have an old website that is not responsive, a web developer will be able to help you modernise the website to work on all devices.
Useful Tools: Google Mobile-Friendly Test
Structured data is a standardised list of attributes that major search engines including Bing and Google support for providing additional information about a page and classifying its content.
The majority of structured data uses Schema.org vocabulary but there are other approaches to structured data markup available.
In practice, proper use of structured data can massively enhance your listing in SERPs.
For example, a product can show users information such as the weight, star rating, dimensions, and FAQs before they even click through to the site.
Useful Tools: Google Structured Data Testing Tool
An SSL certificate ensures that your websites loads over HTTPS, a secure internet connection protocol that protects user data when using your website. Websites that load over HTTPS will have a padlock in their URL.
As well as being a trust signal to users, having an SSL certificate is a ranking factor and many browsers now flag websites that are not secure to users, encouraging them to be careful if they are sharing sensitive information like credit card or personal details.
Most hosting companies now offer SSL certificates as standard but it’s worth double checking before you sign up. If your website is currently not secure, your web hosting company will be able to help you upgrade
Useful Tools: SSL Checker
On-page SEO refers to the changes that can be made outside of your website to influence your rankings. Off-page SEO factors include:
A backlink is a link to your website from another website, they can be viewed as ‘votes’ for your site. The value of a backlink is determined by factors including the relevance, strength of the domain that is linking to you, and the anchor text that is used.
There are many different methods of acquiring backlinks, some of the most common include:
- Guest posting on other websites
- Blogging to generate natural backlinks
- Getting links from web directories such as Yelp and Google
- Links from social media platform business pages
- Getting links from reviews you leave
- PR links from awards, company news, sponsorships
Useful Tools: SEM Rush | Ah Refs | Google Search Console
Social Media Marketing
Whilst social media isn’t a direct ranking factor, optimising your profiles with accurate NAP (name, address, phone number) can help build authority within Google.
Additionally, if you share a steady stream of useful content, you are more likely to attract new visitors to your website and generate backlinks as a result.
Useful Tools: Canva | HootSuite
With all the effort you’ve put into your SEO, you’ll want to make sure it’s working.
To measure your traffic, we highly recommend Google Analytics to any beginner. This free tool tracks useful metrics such as the number of visitors coming to your site, where they came from, and what pages they visited.
You can also set up goals to measure conversions like downloads, video views, contact form completions, and phone calls.
For rankings, Google Search Console can be used to get the average position of the keywords your website ranks for, this tool also tells you the click-through rate and the number of clicks for keywords driving traffic to your website.
If you’re looking for ranking tracking software with more functionality such as competitor tracking, we would recommend professional tools such as Ah Refs, SEM Rush, and Moz.
Useful Tools: Google Analytics | SEM Rush | Ah Refs | Google Search Console | Moz
Looking For Help With Your SEO?
We hope this article has given you the building blocks to start your SEO journey – we’re sure you’ll be hooked in no time.
SEO is time-consuming and becomes more complex if you really want to compete. If you’re looking for an expert SEO company to help you climb the rankings, Get In Touch With Us Today to arrange your free consultation.