All graphics by Rachel Ann Custodio
“Do I need SEO?” is a common question that can be easily answered with “yes.” If you have a website, you need SEO. Whether you have a global brand or small business, your website can benefit from search engine optimization. The sooner you implement a few SEO strategies now, the sooner you’ll reap the benefits later. Today, I’m going to go over SEO basics you should know to get started. You’ll learn SEO as well as tips for SEO beginners.
SEO stands for search engine optimization. It’s the process of making changes to a website with the goal of the website showing up in search engines. Examples of search engines include Google, Yahoo, and Bing.
Believe it or not, when you create a website, it won’t necessarily show up in search engines. You think you might not need to show up in search engines, but how many URLs of websites do you remember at the top of your head? You might remember one or two—let’s be real, you’re probably relying on the auto-complete feature in the address bar—but you certainly haven’t memorized all the URLs of websites you’d want to visit. This is where SEO comes into play.
One of the main goals of SEO is to rank, or show up, on the first page of search engine results pages (SERPs). A user types in a search term or query into the search box, hits Enter, and is presented with the first SERP.
Today’s SERPs comprise of more than just 10 blue links. Depending on the user’s query, the first page may include pay-per-click (PPC) ads, Knowledge Graph, Product Listing Ads (PLAs), Local Snack Pack, image carousel, Top Stories section, Google Answer Boxes, and rich snippets to name a few.
As you can see, ranking on the first page has become increasingly competitive. If you haven’t invested in SEO yet, you’re only falling behind.
There are more than 200 ranking factors that Google considers when prioritizing the list of websites by relevance, authority, and location. It’s not guaranteed that implementing all 200-plus factors will result in position 1. That’s the catch with SEO unfortunately. The best you can do is implement as many factors as you can and that makes sense for your business, and hope for the best. Bummer, right?
SEO doesn’t have to be that hard though. It’s possible to rank on the first page simply by implementing a few SEO basics, which I’ll list below.
I was hesitant to put this as the first SEO basic, but it’s so important. Nearly 60% of users now search on mobile devices. That means 2 out of 3 people are pulling out their phones or tablets to find information, make a purchase, or get directions.
The push toward mobile began when Google announced it would be releasing its Mobile-Friendly Update on April 21, 2015. The update was designed to demote, or lower the rankings of, non-responsive pages in mobile SERPs.
Dubbed Mobilegeddon, the update resulted in a 21% decrease in non-mobile responsive URLs in the first 3 pages. Google refreshed the Mobile-Friendly Update again in May in an effort to get more websites on the same playing field.
An example of a mobile responsive and non-mobile responsive website.
When making your website mobile responsive, remember to build for mobile first. In other words, you want to first develop the information architecture (IA) based on the width of mobile devices. From there, you take the original design and adapt it for wider screens.
In addition, you should configure a specific viewport for each page, so your website appears the way it’s supposed to look on any given device. Don’t forget to resize your text to be easily readable on narrow, medium, and wide screen sizes as well.
Websites like WordPress and Squarespace make it easy to have a mobile responsive site, as many of their templates are already built responsive. If you’re not on a content management system (CMS) that offers mobile responsive templates, work with a web developer to get your website responsive and ready.
URLs are often overlooked probably because they’re automatically generated by most CMS. However, they can provide a small SEO signal as well as help users understand the content of the page.
Your URL should summarize the page. The easiest way to do this is by using the title of the page as the URL with hyphens in between each word.
Good URL: https://www.yourdomain.com/cookie-recipe
Bad URL: https://www.yourdomain.com?wtl=CK17ln
Remember to include your keyword in your URL too! When users type in your keyword in search engines, the keyword in your URL will be bolded, making your listing more eye-catching to users.
Title tags and meta descriptions are what you see in search engines. These lines of text are included in the page’s HTML file. When viewing your page, you can see the first part of the title tag in the tab of your browser, but the meta description is only visible in the source code.
An example of a title tag and meta description.
Think of these as a title and description of your page. The title should represent what your page is about and include your keyword. The meta description should be a brief summary of your page.
If you want to get fancy, you should include a call-to-action (CTA) in your description. A CTA is a statement that prompts users to take a particular action. An example of a CTA is: Visit our website to check out our newest beauty product line!
This is MAJOR. I don’t use all-caps often, but when I do, you know I’m serious. Write for humans and not for search engines. This means you’re not keyword stuffing, or mentioning a keyword multiple times in order to rank for it. While you should use your keyword in your content, you shouldn’t sacrifice the quality of your content for quantity of keywords.
True story: I’ve edited and optimized blog posts where the keyword was mentioned no more than three times throughout the body. Those blog posts ranked on the first page for their targeted keywords within a week. Incorporate keywords when it makes sense to do so. Don’t force it.
Keywords aside, you should also write pages that your targeted audience can understand. Every industry has its own jargon; the search industry has plenty and many of them are acronyms. For example, we have SEO, SEM, PPC, CRO, UX, UI, and LOL. OK, LOL isn’t SEO-specific, but you get the idea.
Think about your audience and write in such a way your consumers can comprehend. A great way to make sure your content is understandable is by using the ELI5 method. ELI5, or explain like I’m 5, is explaining a difficult concept in layman’s terms.
Your website will have at the very least four pages: Home, About, Product/Service, and Contact. Each of these pages lives under your domain (i.e. www.yourwebsite.com). As such, each one save the homepage is treated equally in Google’s eyes. While that might not sound too bad, it’s recommended you provide some sort of hierarchy to let Google know how to prioritize your pages.
You achieve this by internal linking. It’s not as complicated as it sounds. On each page, you should link to another page within your website. If you’re on your Product page, you might want to link to your Contact page. If you’re on your homepage, you should link to all three other pages.
An example of internal linking.
Linking to your other pages passes on what is called “link juice” or “link love,” which is a way of transferring some importance over to other pages. Also, it’s just helpful for users because it makes navigating your website much easier.
This is where I might lose some of you because I know not everyone likes to write. Creating and maintaining a blog provides your website with fresh content, which helps Google, and thus users, find your website.
Don’t know what to write about? Write topics that pertain to your company and industry. Possible topics can include updates about your company, changes in your industry, or informative blog posts that relate to your product or service.
Before you start a blog, you have to make sure you’ll be able to maintain it regularly. Publishing a blog post once a week or twice a month are good places to start. The keys to a successful blog are consistency and quality.
No one likes reading blocks of text. OK, maybe my more literary friends do. I do know that no one on the web, especially mobile web, likes reading an endless scroll of text. Given that our attention span is now 8 seconds, it’s important to keep your users engaged with your content.
An easy way to keep readers engaged is by adding images or graphics. Dropping an image or two on your pages and blog posts are a great way to break up paragraphs and enhance your content.
When it comes to choosing an image or graphic, make sure it’s relevant and high quality. Bonus points if you use original images, or ones that you took on your own.
Which would you rather read? The page without images (left) or the page with images (right)?
Online directories are a great way to gain exposure without doing too much part on your end. You punch in your name, address, and phone number (NAP) and you’re done. Now, when people use those directories to find a business, you’ll show up.
This relates to SEO because you’re sending multiple signals to Google of your company’s existence. Remember, the Google search engine doesn’t know what actually exists in the real world; they rely on users for that.
In addition, local directory listings can provide you with a backlink opportunity. Several online directories have a field where you can input your website URL. Along with your NAP, make sure to always link to your website.
A backlink is a link from a website that points to your website. Think of backlinks as votes. The more votes a website has, the more popular it is, and the more Google will reward it via rankings.
As I explained in the previous section, backlinks are important for SEO. They signal to Google that your website is relevant and authoritative and thus can be trusted. As a website owner, you should always be watching out for link opportunities.
Anytime you or your company is mentioned, ask for a backlink. For example, if your company recently held a fundraiser or event to raise awareness, the local newspaper might write about it and publish the article online. At that point, you should contact the writer and ask if he can link back to your company website.
Or let’s say a customer purchases your product and writes a review on her personal blog. Again, reach out to the blogger, thank her for reviewing your product, and kindly ask for a backlink. (Just make sure her review was a positive one!)
To round it all out, make your customers happy. Your reputation (online and offline) matters to SEO. Google lives in an online realm, but it’s doing its best to reflect the offline world.
Reputation management and SEO go hand-in-hand.
The way you treat customers in your shop or on the phone may seep online. Given the rise of Yelp and other reviews sites, it’s all too easy for one unhappy customer to write poorly about your business. Unfortunately, Google will pick up on this and these reviews may show up when someone searches your brand name.
It works the other way too. If you treat customers with respect and resolve their issues, they’ll tell 4 to 6 people about their positive experiences. Those same satisfied customers might go online and write glowing reviews of your company. Whether the reviews are negative or positive, they can indirectly affect your SEO efforts.
Finally, you should provide excellent customer service not only for SEO, but because it’s the right thing to do.
By now, you should have a solid foundation of SEO basics. The world of SEO is ever evolving and some aspects very complex. However, you can at least set your website up for success with these SEO tips.
To recap, the 10 SEO tips for beginners are:
Have you implemented all of these tips?