What are all the SEO basics that beginners should keep in mind? It can feel like quite a lot to remember in the beginning. And in a way, it is. SEO is a whole lot more than just copy pasting a bunch of keywords into a text. It’s a heavily data-driven marketing concept that focuses on building organic website traffic based on many on page and off page factors. So, I’ve created an overview of the top SEO aspects to give you deeper insight into how it works.
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and is the process of tweaking your site for better search engine rankings, while balancing that with high-quality content that users want to read and find useful. The end goal of SEO is to place your site as high as possible in the search engine results pages (SERPs) and drive organic traffic to the site by answering people’s questions with content.
Have you ever typed a question into Google search and then found an answer based on a certain article? Well, that’s precisely the goal with SEO. And not only this, but to rank higher for specific search terms, because the higher the ranking you have, the more likely is it that users will click on your link from the search results.
The key part of SEO is aligning your content strategy with popular search terms and search intent. In other words, answer questions that potential customers might have with thorough and transparent information. When you do this for popular questions, then you’ll provide a lot of people with answers – if you optimize your content properly. Within that optimized informational content, you add links to your landing pages, and that’s how you drive purchases with SEO content.
As the consumer demands for information grow, SEO has become an integral part of any successful marketing strategy. Not to mention that it’s more cost-effective than performance ads, markets 24/7 without constant payment, and builds highly valuable brand authority.
There are two main techniques with which you can improve your rankings.
The first one, called white hat SEO encompasses the legal techniques that respect the advice of search engines. They are meant to facilitate the indexing of pages and the understanding of their content. If you use them, your site won’t get penalized by Google but instead drive more traffic to your site. I’ll go into detail about these methods later on.
On the other hand, there’s black hat SEO, or the techniques whose aim is to give a website an inappropriate ranking for certain keywords. It includes adding keywords hidden in the background to make them invisible to visitors, but are still visible to spiders that crawl your site. Black hat SEO is illegal and should never be implemented.
On page SEO refers to all the changes that you can implement directly within your site to improve its positioning in the SERPs. It includes the basic tactics listed below, but things like the content quality and content structure should also be considered.
While on page SEO refers to factors on your site that you can directly control, off-page SEO refers to page ranking factors that happen outside of your site, such as backlinks from another site.
On page SEO optimization focuses on specific activities that lead Google to recognize your website and rank it among other sites. It often starts with keyword research, but I’ll go through the entire SEO basics checklist to see what you can change on your page to improve rankings for a better understanding of how SEO works.
For further information, read this 21 Point Checklist to Log Analysis to increase website indexation, manage crawl budget, and boost traffic.
Keywords are at the heart of SEO, because they act as the link between the content on your website and the visitor who’s reading that content. SEO keyword research helps you to anticipate changes in demand for a specific term or keyword, target that keyword, and offer content that people are actively looking for to respond to dynamic market conditions quickly by answering those questions.
There are various opinions about how many keywords should be used in an SEO text. In my opinion, I go for the less is more method, because you never want to over-optimize and annoy readers. I recommend using 3-5 keywords that relate to the content of the article, with the main keyword being the “focus keyword”.
Meta tags are chunks of text that describe the content of a specific page. You won’t see them on the page because they are within the code. They help search engines to understand what the page is about.
Meta tags exist exclusively in HTML and search engines can see them and recognize them, while the people who have access to the software architecture can change them. Some of the meta tags important for on page SEO include the title tag, the meta description, robots meta tag, and meta content type.
Metadata are the snippets of information you see on Google search results before you click on the website. This includes the SEO title, SEO description, and URL slug.
For example, the metadata for this article is:
SEO title: All SEO Basics Beginners Need to Know l IDI Consultancy
SEO description: Why are all the SEO basics beginners need to create the perfect SEO strategy? Learn more here in this article from IDI Consultancy.
The maximum character length for the SEO title is 60 and the maximum character length for the SEO description is 150. Both of them should include your focus keyword at minimum. If your article title is longer than 60 characters, you can adapt it to be a shorter version within the metadata, as long as it still contains the focus keyword.
It’s not only the text on your SEO content that should be optimized, but also your images. This is important not to overlook, because users can search specifically for images in Google and they’re ranked using similar factors as text content. Text on an image itself can’t be crawled, so there is where alt text comes in. When you upload an image onto your website, your CMS (like WordPress) often has a section where you can fill in alt text for individual images. Here is where you should add your focus keywords related to that image as well.
The H tags (H1 to H6) define HTML headings. In other words, they are crucial in telling Google about the structure and the hierarchy of the content on your page, as well as help make your content readable.
It is recommended to have only one H1 tag on the page because it is the page title. Below H1 are H2, H3, and so on. Just like image optimization, it is recommended to use keywords in the headings as well. Try to focus your content on the H2s and use less H3s and H4s, because they can make your content too split up and not rank as well.
All SEO content has a purpose: to lead users to make a certain purchase. So when a company uses SEO for marketing, they need to include important links within SEO content to direct users there. In most cases these external links (links to your own website) are landing pages that encourage users to take a specific action.
External links (links to other people’s websites) are useful, too. But you do have to consider appropriate ones. A healthy balance of high-quality links shows Google that your content is also high-quality and authentic. External links from reliable sources also build trust among readers, especially when you’re speaking about data.
DA stands for Domain Authority, and refers to how much power your website has in Google’s eyes in order to rank. If your website is older, has accumulated natural backlinks from other websites and has high monthly traffic, then you probably have a high DA. DA is something that takes time to build, so when starting out, it’s not always the major focus. But when you really start doing SEO over years, DA is something you want to pay attention to and make sure it increases.
The same goes for PA, or Page Authority. This of course refers to the power that an individual page on your website has to rank. This also takes time to grow.
The website URL is essentially an online address. It always starts with the domain of your entire website and it is followed by a specific section and/or page. It is crucial to add the focus keywords in the URL, especially if you produce an article for your blog, because it’s a major ranking factor.
For example, the URL for this article is: idiconsultancy.com/blog/seo-basics
So, “seo basics” is the focus keyword on this article.
Pagination is used when you have more products on one page and you have to disperse links to that content on multiple pages. When you paginate pages on your site, Google treats them as separate pages within a specific category.
Canonical tags are very useful pieces of code when you have multiple versions of the same page. For example, when there’s similar content on pages within the website, you use canonical tags to tell Google which version of the page to prioritize and display it in search results.
Search engines need to know what is going on on your site at all times in order to appear in Google search results, and XML sitemaps make their job easier. An XML sitemap lists the URLs of the entire website that you want Google to index and display in search results.
They have two purposes:
Your XML sitemap needs to be submitted via Google Search Console in order to be indexed.
A 404 page is a page that doesn’t exist on your site, because something in the link has been done incorrectly or changed. Although this common occurrence is not considered a fatal error by Google, a 404 error can negatively affect your ranking. For example, if there are links from other sites leading to your old URLs, they are now worthless, because the link has become incorrect. These links are harmful to the user experience as well, because of course it’s frustrating if someone clicks on a link and finds out it doesn’t exist anymore.
It’s best to redirect to existing websites that are relevant to the non-existent page to resolve the issue with 404 pages. You can crawl your website for 404 errors with a tool like Screaming Frog.
In addition to being one of the essential factors that Google takes into account when ranking pages, loading speed also affects user experience. If the page takes longer to load than 5 seconds, most visitors will abandon your site, which leads to high bounce rates. Optimizing page speed is a typical part of technical SEO, which includes many web dev related elements.
HTTPS is a protocol with built-in security. It ensures data encryption and secures communication between the browser and the server. Google marks the pages that do not have the HTTPS protocol as insecure and it won’t display them in the first pages of search results.
Constant updates to your site and excellent content are the two key factors to improve your SEO strategy, but you must not forget monitoring the progress and keeping up to speed with the changes Google makes to its algorithm.
Content and SEO are closely linked. If your site lacks high-quality content, it’s not likely that Google will rank you as number one. Once you’re done researching your keywords, create content that will link to your targeted keywords.
This content could include blog posts, e-books, infographics, videos, or any other type of content that your audience might find helpful. Knowing that they can get back to your site when they want to learn something new is much more valuable than over-optimizing a specific page.
If you stuff your content with keywords and offer nothing useful to the viewers, Google can even de-rank your website as punishment. Focus on helping your visitors instead of uploading content that’s incomprehensible to people.
Optimizing your site with SEO is a long process. However, it pays off in the end if you closely monitor the ranking progress. Naturally, you’ll need the tools, like Google Analytics, that will help you to analyze how your page ranks and find out how much traffic you got from organic searches.
Search trends change over time. You should monitor those with the help of Google Trends. This software lets you know which keywords were trending and are currently trending in a specific geographical area. If you see that there’s a new keyword related to your business trending in your area, make sure to create content that is connected to the new trending keyword.
Google mastered creating algorithms that interpret the data on your website and align it with the search purpose. In other words, the goal of Google bots or crawlers is to understand the content of your website, index new pages, and rank them. Since Google changes its algorithm constantly, make sure you follow its updates to know what you should change in your SEO strategy. Platforms like Search Engine Watch are useful in this regard, because they regularly publish content related to Google algorithm updates.
Knowing about SEO basics is the first step toward getting into the SEO world. If you have any questions about implementing SEO or content marketing, and want to skyrocket your organic traffic with the help of professionals, I’m happy to help jumpstart your SEO strategy today.
Adriana Stein is an Online Marketing Consultant based in Hamburg, Germany. Originally from the US, she is a native English speaker and specializes in helping companies with their SEO & content marketing strategies, along with graphic design, brand copy and website development.