SEO can make a huge difference to the success of your website as well as your business, so we’ve put together this beginner’s guide to SEO to help you get started.
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and does exactly what it says on the tin - it optimizes your website and its content to meet the algorithms set by online search engines.
It is widely believed by people in the industry that SEO is to be the future of marketing and advertising as we move towards a world where machines have a better understanding of users than we do and are able to deliver the best brand and user experience to site visitors.
But what exactly is SEO and how does it work to improve your website stats and success?
That’s what this beginner’s guide to SEO is all about. We take a look at some of the key aspects of SEO and provide advice throughout the article on how to optimize your website.
Without further ado, let’s get into it!
What is SEO and Why is It Important?
It’s strange to think a phrase that once didn’t exist is now a part of the vernacular we use on a daily basis. This alone should show you just how much Google and other search engine sites have grown to become an important part of our lives, and, therefore, of our businesses.
To put this into perspective, it is estimated that over 3.5 billion Google searches are carried out each day. It doesn’t matter what your website niche is or what type of business you run - with this many searches happening on a daily basis, some of them are bound to lead to you.
However, thanks to the unlimited expanse of the internet, it’s likely that you will be up against some serious competition even with the high number of searches. This makes SEO a race to achieve higher click-throughs, increased site traffic, and hopefully, a larger profit as a result.
SEO Will Help You Rank Higher on Search Engines
Think about this for a second. When you type your intended query into a search engine, how many results are displayed and how many do you actually click through to? Out of these, how many do you actually take the time to read before you leave the page completely?
Only a small percentage of businesses are actually visible. The rest (90.88% according to Ahrefs, to be precise) are relegated to the second, third, and further pages of Google.
Although there are different Google ranking factors that will determine where your website shows up in online search results, using SEO can help you optimize your site so that it meets these requirements and gets picked up and boosted by the algorithm.
Research has shown that between 71% and 92% of Google click-throughs are captured from this first page, with this number dropping dramatically to a mere 6% for the second page and beyond. SEO practices are therefore important to your business as they can help your website to become one of the top-ranking ones displayed on that prestigious first page.
SEO Will Help You Improve Site Traffic
Leading on from our last point, having your website listed on the first page of Google when people search for certain keywords can help increase the volume of traffic on your website.
You can see this for yourself using one of the many available traffic tracking tools like Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer, which clearly shows a drop in click-through rates even for the second and third search results, let alone the websites that aren’t displayed on the first page.
In addition to increasing your site traffic, SEO ensures that the traffic you’re receiving on your website is more consistent. This is more difficult to achieve through mediums such as social media or email marketing as the initial spike in traffic often dips back down again after.
Site traffic is a huge factor in how successful your website or business is, as this is what drives customers to your products or services and will ultimately lead to larger profits, so paying attention to how SEO methods can improve your site traffic is hugely important.
SEO Provides Free Organic Traffic to Your Site
Organic traffic is when you generate and drive traffic to your website simply by ranking for keywords in the search, meaning you have achieved this without additional SEO efforts.
According to Ahrefs, “organic search accounts for more traffic than all other sources of traffic combined”, so the fact you can generate free organic traffic through utilizing SEO practices demonstrates just how important it can be to the overall success of your business.
This can help spread out your site traffic rather than having an influx of visitors all at once.
It also makes it much easier to handle the ‘flatline of nope’ that typically follows a ‘spike of hope’ after making changes or upgrades to your website, as organic traffic will be naturally boosted by the signals that SEO sends to the algorithm as they appear in Google searches.
How to Optimize Your Site For SEO
Now you’ve learned about the importance of SEO and what a huge difference it can make to your business, you’re probably wondering how to actually optimize your site for SEO.
This next section will teach you everything you need to know about implementing SEO practices so that your website and business can benefit from their effects.
Submit Your Website’s Sitemap
Sitemaps play an important role in setting up your website as this allows search engines to recognize the structure of your site through compiling individual maps into a sitemap index.
Having a good site structure will make your content more discoverable for your customers as it will be easier to find. Not only is this beneficial for SEO purposes, but it allows your site visitors to jump to specific website locations in order to find the exact information they need.
Using a sitemap therefore provides a way for readers to retrieve specific information in seconds even if the internal linking on your website is a little less than perfect.
One of the other great things about using a sitemap is that it will automatically update as you make any changes to your website or its content, including adding or removing sections. Additionally, you can customize your sitemap index to tailor it to your website specifically.
But how do you submit your website’s sitemap to search engines? Here are three of the main ways you can do this.
Google Search Console - New!
The new Google Search Console has replaced Google Webmaster Tools that would previously accept sitemap submissions. Here is how to submit under the new guidelines:
- Sign in to your Google Search Console account.
- Select your website from the sidebar.
- Click ‘Index’ then select ‘Sitemaps’.
- If there are any outdated or sitemaps that are no longer valid, remove them.
- Click ‘Add a new sitemap’ then enter your sitemap’s full name in this field to complete the URL.
- Finally, submit your sitemap!
Bing Webmaster Tools
Follow these instructions to submit your website to Bing Webmaster Tools:
- Sign in to your Bing Webmaster Tools account.
- Select your website from the ‘My Sites’ page.
- Go to the left side of the sidebar and choose ‘Configure My Site’, then click ‘Sitemaps’.
- If there are any outdated or sitemaps that are no longer valid, remove them.
- Enter the full sitemap URL into the field at the top of the page.
- Finally, submit your sitemap!
Follow these instructions to submit your website to Yandex Webmaster Tools:
- Sign in to your Yandex Webmaster Tools account.
- Select your website from the homepage.
- Go to the left side of the sidebar and choose ‘Indexing Options’, then click ‘Sitemaps Files’.
- If there are any outdated or sitemaps that are no longer valid, remove them.
- Finally, submit your sitemap!
Get an SSL Certificate
An SSL certificate is a data file stored in the origin server of a website. This is what converts a HTTP website to the more secure HTTPS, making SSL/TLS encryption possible. They contain all relevant information to the website’s public key and identity.
When building your website, make sure you choose a host that provides a free SSL/TLS certificate or supports Lets Encrypt which provides TLS certificates free of charge.
If your host doesn’t provide an SSL certificate, according to Google Support, you can obtain one “for your domain directly from a Certificate Authority (CA). You’ll then have to configure the certificate on your web host or on your own servers if you host it yourself.”
Provide Original Informative Content
Search engine optimization algorithms are advanced enough to detect and rank based on the quality of your content, so make sure yours is original, well-written, and informative as this is an important aspect of optimizing your website for SEO.
Although there are ways to generate high volumes of content that is optimized for SEO, either by hiring low-paid article writers or using article spinners, this type of content is unlikely to be of the highest content and therefore will have a hard time engaging readers.
Poorly written content or obvious plagiarism will damage the trust between you and your reader and they will be less likely to take action, resulting in fewer purchases through your affiliate links and/or of your products or services.
It’s much better to invest in a team of talented, capable writers. As Neil Patel says, “you’ll probably have to pay them a lot more, but it’ll be a far better investment.”
Another good piece of advice is to avoid overstuffing your content with keywords in the hopes that it will boost your rankings on Google search results, as it will often have the opposite effect. This is because it can cause your text to sound unnatural and poorly written.
According to research into the leading causes behind spikes in website traffic, at least 40% of site traffic starts with a search query. In order to make sure your site shows up in users’ search results, it’s important to target the popular keywords of phrases they’re using.
You should stay up to date with current search trends and write content that provides the information that people are looking for as this is a great way to capture site traffic.
One option is to target trending topics that you can write about to boost traffic to your site while they’re popular. It doesn’t then matter if they fade to the archives once the fad passes.
Another good option is to create evergreen content by writing recipe articles or how-to articles as these tend to rank highly quite quickly and consistently do well. This means you will continue to drive new traffic to your site over a more sustained period of time.
If you’re looking to create content based on a timely topic, you can use Google Trends or Google Suggest to find keyword phrases. You can also use one of the multiple free keyword tools available online.
If you’re looking to create content that will generate recurring traffic, take a look at your current data and look at the keywords on your site that seem to be driving more conversions.
Focus on Creating a Good User Experience Including Page Speed
When optimizing your website, although you should be targeting this towards meeting SEO requirements, you also need to think about how to optimize your website for your users.
Page speed is one of the important Google ranking factors for both desktop and mobile, so you’ll need to make sure your customers aren’t left waiting for your website to load. Not only will this prevent your site from making the top page, but you’ll have a higher bounce rate too.
Another thing that is often overlooked yet is a surprisingly common cause for your site having a high bounce rate is poor user interface. If your website is difficult to use then the user experience can be complicated and frustrating, causing users to click off your site.
To detect index coverage errors, page speed issues, and other issues that could be affecting the user experience quality, you can use Google Search Console.
If you still find that speed is an issue on your website, you can invest in a Content Delivery Network (CDN) which will create multiple copies of your website on servers in various locations all over the world so that users can always connect to your site.
Some of the other ways you can improve your website’s user experience include:
- Use HTTPS
As we briefly discussed earlier, HTTPS is the safest type of site for your website and guarantees safer browsing for your users. This includes protecting their personal data and information against hackers by encrypting your site with SSL/TLS.
- Think About The Aesthetics
If your website looks outdated or poorly designed, it’s not exactly going to inspire trust in your readers that you’re a reliable source of up-to-date, current information.
That’s not to say that you should spend too much time and money updating your site every three months just to keep up with the latest trends, merely that you should make sure your website is well-maintained and visually appealing, as well as being a reflection of your brand.
- Avoid Annoying Ads and Pop-Ups
Another way to annoy your customers into leaving is to pepper your page with pop-ups and adverts that need to be minimized before the user can move on. Even if you need to have ads on your website to generate an income, try to stick to ones that are less intrusive.
Optimize Your Images
There are a few reasons why optimizing your images is important for SEO reasons, one of which being that images tend to rank highly in Google Images which can send flurries of new traffic directly to your website. But how does one optimize images? By following these steps:
- Name them: What’s in a name, Shakespeare asked? Everything, it turns out, or at least when you’re trying to optimize your images for SEO. This is because if you use clear, logical file names for your images, Google will be able to better understand (and therefore more accurately rank) the ones you have used on your site.
- Include descriptive alt text: When you add images to your site, you should also include some form of descriptive alt text which will describe the image to the reader should the page fail to load for some reason. The majority of website-building platforms will provide a field in which you can write the alt text to go with the image.
- Compress images: Large images can slow down the page loading speeds which can be frustrating for users who are trying to get in and out of your online space as quickly as possible - think of it as your local town center at Christmas time. You don’t want to slow them down. So, install a plugin like Shortpixel to compress your images as this will help to improve your website pages’ loading speed.
Make Effective Title Tags
Next time you type a query into the search bar on Google, pay attention to the little blue clickable link that is displayed next to each search entry that shows up on the first page.
These are called title tags.
Title tags can be incredibly valuable as they provide you with an extra chance to lure visitors to your website which will generate higher volumes of traffic. The more compelling your title tags, the more visitors you will be able to attract to your website and therefore your business.
One of the best ways to do this is to make sure the title tags match the user’s search intent.
If, for instance, you were to search for “best gaming laptop” and compare the top results from the first page, you’ll likely notice a common theme.
- Most of them will include the year. This indicates that having the most current and up-to-date technology is important to people searching for this keyword.
- Most of them will mention the brand: This indicates that this is an important attribute to customers.
Once you’ve identified any patterns or trends, you can use these to come up with some title tags for your own website.
Add Meta Descriptions
Often confused with but not the same as meta tags, meta descriptions are a different kind of HTML code element that won’t be displayed on your actual website page despite being written into and updated in your website’s code.
This is essentially a bit like a preview of your website, although Google can be a bit temperamental in deciding how much of your meta description it would like to show.
However, if you write a compelling meta description to capture browsers’ attention and encourage them to click through to your website, you can greatly increase your site traffic.
The meta description for an article like this one, for example, would read something like this:
“Learn all you need to know about search engine optimization and how to make sure your website ranks highly on Google search results in this beginner’s guide to SEO.”
In general, it’s best to stick to around 140 characters or less when writing a meta description.
Make Your Website Mobile Friendly
Be honest with us (and yourself), how often do you actually open up your laptop or fire up your computer just to type in a search on Google? And how often do you search for something on Google using your phone, or even a smartphone voice assistant device?
Whatever you tell yourself, Google’s research tells us that more people are performing Google searches on mobile devices than ever before, and these types of searches have now overtaken desktop searches. It’s therefore important to make your website mobile-friendly.
If you’re building your website yourself using Wix or one of the other online website design tools, you will often be able to switch to view your site in mobile mode which will show what your site will look like when it comes up in the search results on someone’s smartphone.
This allows you to see if there are any issues with your site and you can fix them before you publish it and it goes live. Another thing to look out for is font size, as it will need to be clearly and easily readable even if the user is browsing your website on a smaller screen.
Get Quality Backlinks
Linking to other high-authority websites will increase the authority of your own domain as it shows your content is backed by other trustworthy sources. Think of it as a vote of confidence from other websites that will encourage more visitors to your own site.
There are a few ways you can build links responsibly, with the two main practices being guest blogging and using the skyscraper technique.
Writing guest posts for other websites is a great way to build links.
An easy way to find opportunities for guest blogging is to search for your chosen topic in Ahrefs’ Content Explorer to see which other websites receive a high volume of traffic.
You can email some of these sights to see if they will let you write a guest post for their blog as you also write on the same topic. This benefits them because you will be providing them with new content and benefits you by allowing you to place links to other sites.
This is an SEO technique for building links where you aim to create content that is better than your competitors and the content from websites that are already being linked to.
You will need to search for a piece of content that’s related to your niche and contains a lot of high-quality backlinks and basically… write something better. Then, you can request that other websites link to you instead of to your competitors’ sites.
Pay attention to how your competitors are attracting backlinks as you will be able to identify trends or patterns in their link profile which can help inform your own link-building strategy.
Circling back to the quality of your content for a minute; you should apply this to the anchor text you use to link to external websites. Try to avoid using the generic “click here” or “this post” type of anchor texts and instead use part of the title or refer to something relevant.
Build Links Responsibly
Link building is arguably one of the most important aspects of SEO and will help determine the success and rank of your website. It’s therefore important to build links responsibly which you can do by following these professional link building strategies to build links to your site:
- Create high-quality content and publish it on your website with links to other high-authority sites.
- Keep up to date with current conversations and advice around your chosen topic and link to other popular, on-trend articles.
- Make sure you give credit by citing and linking to the sources you use in your piece.
- Create natural links by using ‘linkable assets’ which are a ‘destination’ that users are looking to engage with when they click on the internal link.
- The numbers never lie, so focus on domain authority over domain reputation.
- Don’t annoy other webmasters with a barrage of emails begging for links, especially if you don’t have quality pieces of content attached to the offer.
- Avoid things like low-quality directory links, article submission and syndication services, unnatural site-wide links, provide blog networks, and paid links.
Internal links, though arguably not quite as important as building links to external websites, can still play a major role in improving your website and helping it rank higher on Google.
This is when you link to other pages on your own website to drive traffic to your other content, meaning the source domain and the intended target domain are the same.
There are three main reasons why internal linking can help improve your website for SEO, which are as follows:
- Helps users navigate your website.
- Establishes the architecture and hierarchy of your website.
- Shares page authority and distribute power throughout your website.
In order to be able to include lots of internal links in your content, you will need to produce a certain amount of content in the first place to have something to link to.
You can then come up with relevant anchor text with which to link to the intended page, and then from there you can link to another page, and from there to another… why not link to multiple locations on your website in one post!
Keep this to a reasonable amount, however, as there’s no need to overstuff your writing with hundreds of links just for the sake of it. Try to stick to around three or four quality internal links as this is generally a good number to aim for.
Make sure that all of the anchor texts you use sound natural within the text and flow well with the rest of your writing, otherwise Google SEO algorithms will pick up on them as trying to trick the system and will rank you poorly as a result. Try to also make sure that they are relevant to the page or content topic that you are linking to for the reader’s convenience.
When you first hear about SEO it can sound quite complicated, but the simple premise of it is to help improve your ranking in search engine results, consequently driving an increased flow of new traffic to your site and increasing your chances of monetizing your website.
We hope that through reading this article, we have helped you understand the reasons behind these benefits of search engine optimization and why it should be important to you.
By putting your time, effort, and perhaps even money into improving your SEO practices, you will improve your website, its traffic, and the overall success of your business in general.