SEO Basics: A Beginners Guide to Optimizing Your Site for Success

Whether you’re a blogger or a business owner, search engine optimization is essential if you want people to be able to find your website online. In this beginner’s guide to SEO, we’re going to be covering all of the most important SEO basics so that you can make sure your site is seen by the right people. SEO doesn’t have to be complicated, so even if you’re new to SEO, you should be able to make sense of these strategies and start implementing them straight away.

What is SEO?

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is the process of optimizing the content on your website so that search engines can understand, index, and rank your pages. This involves almost every aspect of creating content, from choosing the right keywords to the way you structure your headings and even optimizing your images.

When it’s done right, SEO can bring you free traffic for years to come, so although it can take some time initially, the rewards can be huge.

The Basics of SEO

Now we’re going to get into the basics of SEO. We’re going to be looking at both on-page and off-page SEO strategies—both are equally important.

On-page SEO refers to optimizing the content and structure of your website to ensure it can easily be crawled and indexed by search engines. It involves creating high-quality content, structuring your content correctly, using the right title tags and meta descriptions, internally linking between different pages on your site, and optimizing your content and images with the right keywords.

Off-page SEO, on the other hand, involves activities outside of your website that can help influence your site’s ranking in the organic search results. This includes gaining backlinks from high authority sites, social media marketing, and other brand mentions online.

On-Page SEO Basics

Targeting The Right Keywords

Choosing the right keywords to target is one of the most important aspects of SEO, particularly if your site is new or has a low domain authority.

The best way to find keywords that your site is likely to rank for is by using a keyword research tool like Ahrefs or Semrush. Keysearch is another really good option if you’re working with a tight budget.

You can use these tools to help you find keywords with a high search volume and low or moderate competition. Start by entering a  broad ‘seed’ keyword that people in your audience would be searching for.

So if you own a site in the pet niche, you could enter something like ‘Dog Collars’ for your seed keyword.

The keyword research tool will then give you a list of related keywords, with the search volume and difficulty score next to each one.

Choose a keyword that has a low difficulty score and a reasonably high search volume of at least 100 searches per month—the higher the better! The keyword you choose will be your target keyword, and you can create a new blog post around this keyword.

Title Tags and Meta Descriptions

Title tags and meta descriptions help search engines understand what your content is about.

Every search result on Google has a title and meta description, so they should be descriptive and include your target keyword so that users can quickly decide whether they want to click through to your site.

Try to keep your title tags below 55 characters and meta descriptions below 155 characters so that they show up in full in the search results.

Heading tags and Content Organization

As you write your content, make sure you use proper heading tags (H1, H2, H3 etc.) to structure your content in a clear, easy-to-read manner.

The H1 tag should be used as the page title. It should include your main keyword and a description of what users can expect from the content on that page.

For example, on this blog post, the H1 tag is ‘SEO Basics: A Beginners Guide to Optimizing Your Site for Success’. It includes our main keyword and tells you what you will find.

Using proper H2 and H3 heading tags will break up your content into different sections and subsections, making it more digestible for readers and search engines alike.

URL Structure

Using a clean URL structure will give users and search engines a clear indication of the content on the page. In most cases, it can be your target keyword. For example, the blog post titled ‘What are Inbound Links and Why Are They Important?’ uses the keyword ‘What are inbound links’ in its URL, because this is the target keyword.

https://linkwhisper.com/what-are-inbound-links/

Avoid using long, complex URLs, as they look messy and don’t usually give users a clear indication of what’s on the page.

You can edit your URL in your WordPress editor before you publish each blog post. However, to make things easy for yourself you can also change your permalink settings in WordPress.

Go to Settings >> Permalinks

Then make sure your permalinks are set to ‘Post Name’.

A screenshot of the common settings page in the WordPress dashboard demonstrating how to set the post name as your URL.

Image Optimization

Ensuring all of your images are optimized will help your images be found in Google’s image search function.

  • Use a descriptive file title that includes your target keyword
  • Resize your image. 1200 pixels wise is ideal for blog posts
  • Add ALT text for the image

Keyword Optimization and Density

Using an SEO plugin like Yoast can help you get your keyword density right. Yoast will recommend how many times you should use your focus keyword in your content. This is usually between 1 – 3% of the volume of your content.

Use your keyword:

  • In your title
  • Within the first 100 words of your content
  • In some of your H2 and H3 headings
  • Distributed evenly throughout the rest of your written content

Avoid overusing keywords (keyword stuffing) as this can result in penalties from Google.

Internal Linking

Internal linking is when you link from one page on your site to another, and it has several benefits when it comes to SEO.

Firstly, it helps establish a site architecture that search engines can crawl easily. It also helps users navigate your site and find other related content as they browse your site. This keeps them on your site for longer and generally results in a higher engagement rate, which can give you a boost in rankings resulting in more organic traffic.

It can be difficult to stay on top of your internal linking when you’re doing it manually. However, using an internal linking tool like LinkWhisper can make it easy.

With LinkWhisper you can:

  • Find orphan pages (pages with no internal links pointing to them)
  • Find broken links
  • Add internal links to old content in one click
  • View your internal and external link stats in the dashboard
  • Receive smart internal link suggestions in the WordPress editor

Check out this internal linking case study showing how one user increased traffic by 10x in one year using LinkWhisper.

Content Optimization

Spending time creating high-quality content is one thing, but if you want to give your content the best possible chance of making it to page one on Google, you will need to go a step further.

Using a content optimization tool will show you exactly how your content measures up against the competition, so you can (hopefully) outrank them.

You will usually be given a score for:

  • Word count
  • Number of images
  • Number of paragraphs and headings
  • Readability

You will also be provided with a list of keywords to include in your content to ensure you have covered the topic thoroughly.

Some good content optimization tools are Surfer, Clearscope, and MarketMuse. MarketMuse even has a free plan which allows you to optimize up to 10 pieces of content per month, so this is a great option if you’re just starting out.

Screenshot of Surfer's content optimization score

Off-Page SEO Basics

Now it’s time to take a look at some off-page SEO essentials. These involve outside sources linking to your site which helps build your site’s authority, trustworthiness, and relevance.

Backlinks and Link Building

First up is link building. You probably already know that backlinks are one of the most important aspects of SEO, but you might not know that the quality of those backlinks is important too.

Although it looks tempting, buying backlinks from sites like Fiverr is incredibly risky, and could result in harsh penalties on your site.

The good news is, there are plenty of Google-friendly ways to build backlinks to your site. And best of all, most of them don’t involve parting with any money.

These include:

  • Guest Posting. This involves writing high-quality guest posts for other websites in exchange for a backlink to your site. This is a great option if you are an expert in any particular subject.
  • HARO. Responding to requests from journalists on HARO can land you backlinks from reputable publications.
  • Publishing original content and images. When you use your own unique images and original research and ideas, you are more likely to get backlinks from others who want to share this information on their own sites.
  • Broken link Building. Reaching out to sites in your niche with broken links, and offering up a superior alternative piece of content from your site for them to link to instead.

You can outsource your link building too. However, make sure you choose the company you use wisely to avoid any penalties.

Social media signals and their impact on SEO

Setting up social media accounts for your business should be one of the first things you do. You can include a link to your site in your bio, which can help to boost your site’s authority and build trust with your audience

Although search engines like Google don’t use social media signals as a direct ranking factor, they can help improve your site’s visibility and authority in a few other ways:

  • Brand awareness. Social media is a great way to get your brand name out there. If you are active on social media and engage with your audience this can be hugely beneficial to your brand. Social media profiles can also rank for branded search terms, so if you’re looking to become a household name, social media isn’t something you can skip.
  • Content distribution. Social media and social shares will get more eyes on your content, resulting in more traffic, and more earnings from ads, affiliates, and product sales.
  • More opportunities to gain backlinks. More people seeing and sharing your content can result in more backlinks, which can improve your site’s authority.
  • Builds Trust. Having an active social media presence will help your business to be perceived as trustworthy.

So as you can see, despite the fact that social media isn’t a direct ranking factor, it’s still a crucial part of any online presence.

Technical SEO Basics

Now for some technical SEO basics to put in place to make sure your site is up to scratch.

Page Speed and Performance

Having a slow site can ruin your user experience, which can increase your bounce rate and lose you customers and visitors.

In general, fast sites tend to rank higher in the SERPs than slower ones, so site speed is something you should pay attention to. Choosing a fast, lightweight theme is one of the easiest ways to improve your site speed.

Mobile Responsiveness

Mobile visits account for almost half of all web traffic, so having a mobile-responsive website is a must. Make sure you choose a fully responsive theme that will look great on all devices.

User Experience (UX)

User experience is a crucial aspect of SEO. A well-optimized site should be easy to navigate, visually appealing, and user-friendly. Consider your site navigation and layout, and be sure to use descriptive labels for your menu items.

XML sitemaps and robots.txt files

XML sitemaps help search engines understand the structure of your website when crawling and indexing your pages. Create an XML sitemap, submit it to search engines, and keep it updated. Robots.txt files, on the other hand, tell search engines which pages to crawl and which to ignore, so you can use this to manage the crawling of your site effectively.

Security

A secure site builds trust with both search engines and users. Since Google prioritizes secure sites, implementing HTTPS is essential. This encrypts data between the server and the user, keeping both your site and your visitor’s details safe and secure. You can usually add this to your site with one click from your hosting provider, and in most cases, it will be free.

SEO Basics: Monitoring Performance and Progress

Now that you’ve got the SEO basics down, it’s time to start keeping track of your performance and progress.

The first thing you should do is set up Google Analytics for your site. This will enable you to see how much traffic your site is getting and where it’s coming from.

It’s also worth investing in an SEO tool like Ahrefs or Semrush so that you can keep track of which keywords you are ranking for, and monitor your site’s progress.

SEO Basics: Conclusion

Understanding SEO is essential if you own any type of online business. Unlike paid traffic, when it’s done right, SEO can bring you free organic traffic for years to come.

One of the most important things to remember is that SEO is as much about your site’s visitors as it is about search engines. All of the SEO strategies that you implement will make your site easier for your visitors to navigate and give them a better experience while they are there.

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