Saucerful of Ideas wouldn’t be complete without a primer on SEO basics. That’s because it is the most effective digital marketing strategy. In today’s loud and competitive market, SEO is more important than ever.
To put it simply, SEO is the best traffic source and without it, your business is virtually invisible.
In the pre-internet era, if you wanted people to know about your business, you had to physically advertise. You had to pass out flyers or rent a billboard or hire a sign twirler.
Today, with the advancement of technology, you can just make a website and use SEO, a mandatory marketing tactic if you want to rank higher in Google search.
In this guide, I’m going to be breaking down all the major aspects of SEO. By the time you reach the end of this guide, you’ll have a pretty good understanding of SEO, how it works and how to do it.
SEO is complex and ever-changing, but when you understand the basics and the science behind it, even a tiny bit of SEO knowledge can make a big difference.
So without further ado, let’s dive in and explore the world of SEO.
What is SEO?
SEO stands for search engine optimization. It’s the practice of optimizing content to be discovered through a search engine’s organic search results.
The difference between SEO and paid advertising is that SEO focuses only on organic search results, which means you don’t pay to be in that space.
SEO is all the actions you take to make search engines consider your website a quality source and rank it higher for your desired search queries.
To make it simpler, think of search engines as libraries. After all, Google is just a giant library.
But instead of storing books, they store copies of websites and web pages. So when you search for a query, the search engine will then look through all the pages in its index and try to return the most relevant results.
For example, when someone types “fishing rod” into Google, they’re likely looking for a fishing rod. If you wrote an article about a fishing rod, you’d want people to find it. For anyone to find it, you need to rank above all the other websites with articles about fishing rods. It’s not easy, but that’s what SEO marketing is all about.
How SEO Works?
Discovery, relevance and authority are the three stages that cover how search engines work in a nutshell. Each of these three stages correlates with an action the search engine takes: crawling, indexing and ranking.
First is the discovery stage. Search engine bots discover your web page and take note of all your content by crawling it.
Next is the relevance stage. Once a search engine bots discover your content, it decides how relevant it is to certain search queries by indexing it, based on signals like keywords.
Finally, the authority stage. This means building enough credibility through backlinks and other factors that search engines consider your site authoritative enough to rank higher in search results.
Why Should You Focus on SEO?
There are three major things that attract marketers to search engine optimization:
- Unlike paying for ads, search traffic is free.
- Organic traffic is typically consistent once you’re ranking high.
- You have the opportunity to reach massive audiences you wouldn’t have access to otherwise.
As of October 2019, there were nearly 4.9 billion internet users around the world and almost 4 billion of those people are Google users. This is why SEO is an 80 billion dollar industry and why marketers are adopting and pursuing it today.
Google’s Ranking Algorithm
It’s important to note that Google is responsible for most of the search engine traffic in the world.
Google is the dominant force with more than 92% of the total share. Bing and Yahoo! are the next big players but the two of them combined make up for less than 5% of the total market share.
That’s why I want to specifically focus on Google and educate you about its algorithm so you understand what it takes to rank higher on Google.
Google has hundreds of ranking signals and they make tweaks to their algorithm 500 to 600 times per year. So, no one knows exactly how their algorithms work. But they’ve given us clues and some guidelines to better understand the factors that are important.
Now, I won’t bore you with hundreds of ranking signals, many of which are just speculation at best, but I do want to cover a few of the most important factors that you’ll need to understand from the fundamental standpoint.
Backlinks are links on a page from one website to another. And Google has said that if other prominent websites link to a page, that’s proof to be a good sign that information is well trusted.
Backlinks are basically votes. When a page receives a backlink, it’s essentially another website vouching for the content on the page. The more votes you get from credible sources, the higher the trust.
Search intent represents the reason behind a searcher’s query. And Google’s goal for search is to return the most relevant results for any given query.
You can’t write an article about “Graphic Design” and target “content marketing” as your primary keyword. It doesn’t make sense because graphic design and content marketing aren’t exactly the same thing.
Thus, you’re not providing the right answer to the query, and Google will know.
You can discover search intent simply by looking at the top-ranking pages for the query you want to rank for.
Search engines are made up of computer programs. Hence, they can’t actually read and understand text like you and I would.
Nevertheless, Google has invested billions of dollars into creating sophisticated technology that understands the content to a certain degree. But it’s your job as a content creator to provide context about the subject.
For example, if you look at the top-ranking pages for the query “how to drive a car,” you’ll find that they talk about things like fastening your seatbelt, familiarizing yourself with the gas and brake pedals, adjusting your seat and mirrors, and other things that a first-time driver may not know.
Basically, you want to be able to answer the searcher’s query the best that you possibly can, and naturally, it should lead to content that has depth.
Link building is arguable the most important and the most challenging SEO strategy. It is the process of building relationships with other relevant site owners who want and will link to your content because it enhances theirs.
And when it comes to link building, there are three main strategies to get backlinks. You can create them, buy them or earn them.
Let’s get into what each method looks like, their level of difficulty and effectiveness.
Creating backlinks means to manually add links on one domain back to yours. This can be done by adding your website to directories, leaving comments on blog posts, or adding your website’s URL to your social media profile.
Anyone can do this with minimal effort but like almost all easy things in life, they’re generally not that effective from an SEO and ranking perspective.
Buying backlinks is exactly as it sounds. You pay webmasters or authors a fee, and in return, they’ll link back to a page on your site.
Now, this is against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and can potentially result in a penalty. That might be anything from losing ranking positions or even worse, getting your pages removed from Google’s search index.
In terms of effectiveness, they’re highly effective unless or until you get caught.
In my opinion, the risk isn’t worth the reward, especially if you want to build a business that will stand the test of time.
The final way to get backlinks is to earn them and there are three ways common ways you can do this.
The first and most common are links that are earned through email outreach. This is when you email other website owners and editors and ask them to link to you.
The second way to earn backlinks is by becoming a source for an online publication or media outlet.
The final way is to earn backlinks organically. For instance, if someone visits your page from a link on social media, organic search or word of mouth and decides to link to you, then that’s an earned link.
Core Elements of SEO: On-Page SEO and Off-Page SEO
There are two strategies to search engine optimization: On-Page SEO and Off-Page SEO.
On-Page SEO is nothing more than optimizing elements on your own website. It revolves heavily around optimizing pages for search intent. The goal of your pages should be to satisfy the searcher’s intent.
Your content needs to address the things people expect to see. You also need to nail items like:
- Internal linking
On-Page optimization also involves creating and optimizing HTML tags like titles and meta descriptions.
Any external activities that you perform off of your website are considered Off-Page SEO. It is mostly about getting quality backlinks to show search engines that your website has authority and value.
Off-Page optimization involves building relationships and creating content people want to share. It’s integral to SEO success because it helps you gain more visibility on Google search results and get more traffic.
SEO Strategies: Black Hat Vs. White Hat
I’m a firm believer in the long-term marketing game, and it’s definitely the way to go. However, this isn’t the case with everyone. Short-term, profit-maximizing hustlers can easily adopt a shameless mindset. Spamming, tricking and coercing.
When it comes to SEO, going for quick gains is often referred to as black hat SEO. Black hat SEO is a short term way to trick Google into giving you better search engine ranking and website traffic.
The reality is, black hat SEO, to this day, is still a proven way to get traffic to your website in a short time. However, Google will most probably catch you and ban your website sooner or later.
Black hat strategies include the following:
- Duplicate content
- Invisible text and stuffed keywords
- Cloaking or redirecting the reader to another site or page
- Links from sites with non-relevant content
White hat SEO, on the other hand, refers to the SEO techniques that stick to the search engine’s rules.
White hat SEO is a long-term strategy that focuses on the human audience. It’s about giving your readers the best content possible and making it easily accessible.
White hat strategies include the following:
- Relevant content
- Well-labelled images
- Relevant links and references
- Complete sentences with good spelling and grammar
- Unique and relevant page titles
What are keywords in the context of SEO? Keywords are simply just words and phrases that people type into search engines to find what they’re looking for.
Keywords are super important in SEO because it sets the entire foundation for search engine optimization. The basic goal of SEO is to rank your pages for keywords that your target audience or customers are searching for.
And if you’re ranking for keywords that actually get searched, then your SEO efforts are kind of meaningless.
How do you Choose Keywords Worth Targeting? Let’s run through a checklist that should help you choose keywords effectively.
The first thing to check is if your keyword has search demand. Search demand represents the volume of monthly searches made for a keyword. This is measurable with a keyword metric called “search volume.”
You can find a search volume for a keyword by using keyword research tools like Ubersuggest and Ahrefs.
Traffic potential represents the total search traffic you could get if you were to rank at the top of Google for your keyword.
On average, the top-ranking page ranks for nearly a thousand other keywords in the top 10. So, while you may be optimizing your pages for the main keyword, your page will likely rank for hundreds of other relevant keywords.
This is what makes traffic potential a much more reliable metric than search volume. You can determine traffic potential by looking at how much traffic the top-ranking pages are getting.
Business potential represents the value a keyword has to your business. The “value” really comes down to your niche as well as your business model.
An easy way to do this is by assigning scores between 1-3 to keywords you’re researching. The higher the number, the more important the topic is to your business.
Let’s say you have a website about soccer and the way you make money is by selling used soccer boots. Bringing this back to business potential means that topics, where you can organically recommend products to visitors, would hold the highest business value.
For example, people searching for “buy soccer boots” are likely ready to make a purchase here and now. So in my books, it would have a business value of 3.
But a keyword like “best soccer boots” would also be relevant to your site. People are likely ready to make a purchase soon but just don’t know which boots to buy. So I’d give this a business value of 2.
You get the gist.
This is a concept I covered earlier in this guide but it’s something that I keep talking about because it’s really important.
So again, search intent represents the reason behind a searcher’s query and the way you determine that is by looking at the top-ranking pages for the keywords we want to rank for because Google understands what searchers want more than anyone else.
Matching search intent is one of those must-do things to show search engines that your page will fulfil their goal – to deliver the most relevant results for any given query.
Your site’s HTML is super important because, without proper tags, headers, and descriptions, you will make it hard for Google to figure out what your content is about and why it should rank higher than the competition.
And don’t worry, HTML from an SEO perspective doesn’t involve coding. For the most part, changing the HTML is as simple as copying and pasting.
Below are six HTML tips that are crucial for SEO:
The title tag is the most straightforward item on the list. It’s the title you want to appear in search results. It’s placed in the head of your HTML and it’s good practice to keep these titles short, somewhere around 60 characters.
You also want to include your brand name, a few relevant keywords and copy that sets proper expectations for what your content is about.
Meta description help browsers know what your content is about. It’s important to keyword-optimize this section, and it shouldn’t be longer than 160 characters. You want it to display correctly on both mobile and desktop screens.
The alt attribute is used to describe an image and is found inside an image tag. The alt attribute helps with your website accessibility but for SEO it helps index images for search engines.
A good rule of thumb here is to keep it short but descriptive. Your goal is for someone to understand what the image is about without them needing to actually see it.
A canonical tag tells search engines that a specific URL represents the master copy of a page. This is important because it helps prevent problems caused by duplicate content appearing on multiple URLs.
In other words, the canonical tag tells search engines which version of a URL you want to appear in search results.
Schema is the result of a collaboration of several search engines. It’s basically just a subset of specific HTML tags that improves the way the SERPs display your content.
When you’re done adding your schema, don’t forget to test your page to make sure everything runs smoothly.
Semantic tags are HTML tags that help communicate to browsers the structure of your web page. It’s important to include this because it helps browsers take out any guesswork.
If you pair these six tips with great content, your SEO is sure to improve.
Technical SEO is the process of optimizing your website to help search engines find, understand and index your pages.
Now for beginners, technical SEO doesn’t need to be all that technical. It’s just a case of performing regular maintenance on your site and ensure that your pages can be discovered and indexed by search engines.
The good news is that after you do a technical SEO audit of your website and fix any potential problems, you won’t have to deal with it again.
Below you’ll find a checklist of important steps you can take to ensure your technical SEO is up to scratch:
Security and safety are the important ranking factors. If Google thinks your site is spammy or sketchy, it’s not going to give you a first-page ranking.
So it makes sense to ensure your site is secure – this can be done by installing an SSL certificate on your website, though most top website builders now include SSL by default.
Search engines prefer sites that load quickly: page speed is considered an important ranking signal. If your site loads too slow or certain elements load slowly, Google will make it more difficult for you to outrank your competition.
The Google Search Console provides information about your page speed and gives you some specific suggestions on what to change on your site to address page speed issues.
You need to create a site that performs well on mobile because that will be the most important deciding factor when Google determines how easy it is to crawl your site.
And with the introduction of Google’s ‘mobile-first approach to indexing content, a responsive website is now more important than ever.
Again, you can go into your Google Search Console and find a lot of information about what Google thinks of your site.
Search engines do not penalize websites for duplicate content but you should avoid it. Because even though Google won’t penalize you, your readers will eventually notice you’re copying from your competitors. Trust me, your readers aren’t stupid.
Write original and unique content and broaden the market instead of copying from others if you want your business to be relevant ten years from now.
Create an XML sitemap
An XML sitemap is a file that helps search engines to understand your website whilst crawling it – you can think of it as being like a ‘search roadmap’ of sorts, telling search engines exactly where each page is.
Getting a sitemap would help your site rank for each address, dramatically increasing the number of keywords you rank for, your traffic, and your domain authority.
Finally, you’d want to indicate to search engines how you want them to handle certain content on your site in a robots.txt file. This file likely already exists for your site at yoursite.com/robots.txt.
You want to make sure this file isn’t currently blocking anything you’d want a search engine to find from being added to their index and you also can use the robots file to keep things like staging servers or swaths of thin or duplicate content that are valuable for internal use or customers from being indexed by search engines.
So you’ve gotten this far, and by now you should know a lot of information about how search engines rank websites and about how you can position your own site and business to generate more search traffic from search engines like Google.
Keep it clean and legal. Don’t be spammy and scammy and risk your reputation. Follow the rules and guidelines and do SEO the right way and you’ll go a long way.