SEO or search engine optimization is a complex and dynamic subject area. Here is a free guide that will help you understand the basics of SEO. Understanding SEO is a must if you want to be found on Google or other search engines. The knowledge of SEO helps you to add a unique value and generate quality traffic to your website.
We will walk you through the world of SEO. This information combined with a little practice can be a game-changer in real life. Are you ready to experience this amazing learning? Then let’s get started!
SEO talks about everything from technical aspects to backlinks and content. There is a lot of information to take in. So, before diving deep into the practices, we will go through some basic definitions. By the end of this guide, you will have a solid understanding of SEO, its importance, and how it works.
What Is SEO?
Search engine optimization is an ever-growing and mandatory digital marketing strategy. The prior goal of SEO is to rank one’s website higher in a search engine result.
It is about understanding search engines. It is also about understanding the people. Get a clear knowledge about what your audiences want and what words express their query. Then offer a beneficial solution in a way that is easily crawled in the search engines. And SEO tells you how to do so.
The more visible your website is in a search result, the greater attention you gain. So, you have a better chance of receiving traffic and attracting customers. However, SEO covers only the organic search results, not the paid results. Before you get more confused, let’s discuss these terms and enrichen your vocabulary.
The search engine is a type of answer machine that generates solutions for all our problems. Whenever a query about something pops up, the search engine is there for the internet users. Among the various search engines, Google is the most used and well-known. It takes different factors into consideration to generate the best fit for what we seek.
Here in this guide, we will mainly focus on the Google search engine. And SEO is all about optimizing your website so that Google ranks it higher. For preparing the result, Google uses a three-step process known as crawl, index, and rank. But that is a story I am saving for later.
Words or phrases that the users submit in the search engine’s search box. These words help to express their queries.
Have you noticed the advertisements on the top for every Google search you make? These are paid results. So, the businesses are paying for every click. Therefore, it is also called PPC which stands for pay-per-click.
On the flip side, the organic result is non-paid. The ranking on the result page is solely based on the source’s quality. This is why the organic result appears more relevant and credible.
Categories of SEO
There are thousands of factors that search engines consider to evaluate a website for ranking. Depending on the major factors, we can divide SEO into three main categories. These are- technical SEO, on-site SEO, and off-site SEO.
Technical SEO elements are not anything related to the website content or promotion. Rather, it includes the actions you make to optimize the website to be more crawl-friendly. Here are some examples of technical SEO factors that you can optimize.
- Website infrastructures
- Website foundation
- Webpage speed, readability, craw-ability, and indexing.
On-page or also known as on-site SEO is all about optimizing website content, its individual pages, and HTML. These are the factors that you can control directly. Here are some of the On-page SEO elements that you can change to rank higher.
- Finding and adding the best keywords in the right places.
- Writing simple yet high-quality and unique content.
- Making the content mobile-friendly.
- Using keywords on the title tags of each page.
- Using meta descriptions and sub-headings to make the pages easy to understand.
- Using internal links.
Off-page SEO elements are not under your control. Yet these elements play a major role in determining your rank on the search engine. Fortunately, there are ways to make indirect impacts on these factors. You can work on other things beyond the website. For example-
- Building high-quality backlinks from relevant sites that have authority.
- Building relationships with influencers who will use links landing onto your site.
- Influencing others to like and share your content on social platforms.
Why is SEO important?
Can you live without a search engine? We are living in an era where Google is used more often than our brains. Whenever we need a product, service, or an answer to something, we just Google it. That’s how important a search engine is to us. In this context, SEO helps us to get the best answer for our query.
Now think from a business owner’s perspective. Someone is searching for a product and you have that specific product. But guess what? Your website appears at the bottom of the page due to your poor SEO knowledge. Will that person be able to find your product? Not very likely.
The higher Google ranks your site, the more traffic you can gain. And more traffic results in more profit. Therefore, SEO is super important for digital marketing. At the same time, investing in SEO provides a long-term result. Once you have done a good job on SEO activities, you will keep getting new visitors. The website will flourish even after you stop its work.
SEO helps to build the trust of a website. Greater visibility allows your source to connect with more people. The more people engage with a source, the more Google recognizes it as a trusted resource. As a result, the site appears higher up in the search result. Obviously, you will happily welcome information from a trusted source, rather than from a page you never heard of.
How Does SEO Work?
We can talk all day long about how important SEO is. And by far, you already know why SEO is important. Now comes the million-dollar question- How does SEO work? And how do search engines evaluate the quality and relevance of a webpage? So, here is the three-step science.
Search engines have a special kind of spiders that we call web crawlers, or bots. These web crawlers keep visiting websites to websites for collecting information. This information includes everything from page content to page speed to internal links, backlinks, keywords, and title tags. If your website is a new one, you have to ask Google for crawling.
To make your website crawl-friendly, make sure to have a good structure, a good number of internal links, keywords, fast-loading pages, and valid HTML.
When crawling is done, it arranges the information in an index. Just like the books in a gigantic library. The bot knows exactly what information is there and where to look for it in the index to find a particular solution.
When we make a search, the search engine has thousands of ranking factors to consider. Technical, on-site, and off-site SEO factors are some of these which we have discussed previously in this guide. Based on these factors, the bots analyze the index and rank the websites in the search result.
Remember! The search engine wants us to find the best answers easily and smoothly. Therefore, it evaluates the relevance and authority of the content. This is how it ranks and suggests the best-fitted websites for a particular search.
In order to improve your ranking, understand your target audience better. Then optimize the content in a way that is relevant to them. At the same time, make it unique, interesting, and a well-researched piece. In addition, build authority by getting backlinks, good reviews, and an appropriate contact page. This indicates trustworthiness.
What Is SEM?
SEM or Search engine marketing is a digital marketing process focusing on both paid and unpaid results. That means, SEM is not equal to PPC advertising but the PPC is definitely an element of SEM. PPC simply refers to pay-per-click advertisements. So, the websites pay for improving their visibility by appearing at the top of the search engine result page (SERP).
SEM vs SEO
Let’s learn how SEM is different from SEO.
|Focuses only on the organic result||Focuses on SEO, PPC, local, display, etc.|
|Generally free, but hiring SEO experts cost money||Requires payment for ranking higher|
|Requires patience and time investment||Drives traffic instantly|
|The result is long-lasting||Visitors are lost as soon as you stop paying|
Search Engine Result Page
The search engine result page is the page that comes up after submitting a search query. It includes both organic results and PPC advertisements while relevant. The search query can be based on information, transaction, or navigation. In a nutshell-
- Informational: When you want to learn something.
- Transactional: When you want to purchase something.
- Navigational: When you look for a particular webpage without mentioning its URL.
These are the three types of queries you can have. But have you ever taken a closer look at the search engine result page? Can you list the different features appearing on the page? Yes, there are some web pages with answers to the query. There are some images and… Then the memory starts to go blur. In reality, SERP does present dozens of different features depending on what you search. Take a look at the list!
- Universal result: Additional media apart from the organic result such as images or maps.
- Knowledge graph: Important information appears in a box, mostly on the right-hand side.
- Rich snippets: Work as an accessory to a result such as stars in reviews, recipes, etc.
- Direct answer box: Provides direct answers to specific questions.
- Shopping result: Includes item list, images, prices, and stores for transactional queries.
- Image result: Relevant images appear on the SERP based on keywords.
- Video result: A set of three videos appear based on keywords.
- Related questions: The ‘people also ask’ bar that provides related Q&A based on a query.
- Google Ads: Paid advertisements that appear on the top of SERP.
- Google News: Top stories or trending news appears based on keywords.
- Local pack: Displays results based on your location such as ‘nearest shopping malls’.
- Reviews: Data such as 4/5 or 3/5 stars appears for transactional queries.
Understanding SERP is important if you want to boost your SEO. Optimize and reorganize your website to make a search engine display it as a feature.
Important Ranking Factors
Here are the important factors that search engines consider to assign a position for websites.
Providing high-quality content should be your top priority as a digital marketer. It is not only an important ranking factor but also enhances the user experience. Imagine if the content is full of keywords but with irrelevant information. Will that be of any use to the visitors? Not really. Therefore, the search engine makes sure to rank the worthy content higher up in the SERP.
Create some well-organized and amazing content with the target audience in mind. Write something to solve their problems, relate to them, connect with them emotionally, and express personal experiences. When words are not enough, use graphics for visual representation.
Include keywords that are highly used in the search. For this, you need to do some research. Then make use of the keywords wisely in proper places to maximize the searchability.
The title tag or page title is one of the first impressions that reflects the overall page content. It is the link appearing on the SERP that can be clicked on. In addition, the page title appears on the browser tabs and links shared on social platforms. Therefore, try to craft the perfect title with SEO in mind. This will definitely boost the click-through rate (CTR).
One of the ways to improve page title is using relevant keywords. Placing the primary keyword at the start of the title has a strong ranking power. Words like what, how, best, ultimate, etc. are proved to catch readers’ attention.
The length should be between 50-70 characters, not more than that. Also, make sure that the title is a unique one. And include the company or brand name whenever appropriate in the title.
The meta description helps the users to understand the summary of a webpage’s content. It appears just below the page title and URL in a SERP. Although, most often the search engine itself displays a relevant snippet from the content, which is not the meta description. Therefore, a meta description is not a direct ranking factor. Yet it plays a role in ranking indirectly.
The meta description when optimized fully can relate to the query. This is when the search engine suggests the website. And indirectly it improves CTR. An optimal meta description should be 120-160 characters long. Any longer than that will not be fully visible and appear as chopped-off sentences. All the web pages should have individual and unique meta descriptions.
Use the important keywords but avoid packing with loads of keywords. Make sure that it is readable and relevant to the content. Be unique in a way that gives users a reason to visit the website. Give a hint that the content has what the user is searching for without giving the full answer. If your meta description gives everything away, the searcher will have no reason to visit.
The alt tag or also known as alt text is often an ignored element of SEO. Yet it is useful in many cases. For instance, it describes an image and makes it clearly understood. Moreover, the search engine crawlers cannot see website images. Only if there is the alt text, the crawlers can index the image. This way it improves web accessibility.
The alt text should sufficiently describe the image. It should be short and precise. Include keywords but avoid stuffing truckloads of keywords. Also, avoid mentioning unnecessary words such as ‘image of’.
The website taxonomy is related to the architecture of a website. It classifies the website in a structured way. So that the visitors can easily find out the piece of information they look for. In other words, it labels the content to direct users on finding something effortlessly.
Now you might be wondering, what does taxonomy have to do with SEO? Well, an organized layout of a website is truly important to attract visitors. It provides a good user experience. On the other hand, a poor website layout results in a poor user experience. This scares people away from visiting the website in the future.
It is up to you how you want to present the different fields. Perhaps start by categorizing the content by types or topics. Then organize them beautifully to boost the search experience. This way, the visitors will land on a page with all the related contents to their search. Similarly, it makes it easier for search engine crawlers to understand, index, and rank the content.
The heading, also known as the H1 header gives the first experience to the visitors. It is the headline that concludes what the page is about. The H1 header is important for both users and SEO.
For the best user experience, craft the heading by including keywords but avoid stuffing keywords. One page should contain only one H1 header. Keep its length within 50 characters, not longer. Try to make it attractive to draw the user’s attention. This will help higher your rank in the SERP.
Most people think that the heading and title tag should be the same. Interestingly, this perception is wrong. However, both the title tag and header convey the same meaning. So, you can be creative and design the heading differently keeping the meaning identical.
As the name suggests, a permalink is a permanent link. It simply refers to the complete URL of a webpage. It is most often created in a way to resemble content heading. No matter how you want your permalink, make sure to maintain consistency.
The permalink is a major ranking factor. It tells both the users and search engines about the content of a web page. The best practice with permalink is to keep it short, simple, and easy to understand. So that, anyone feels comfortable sharing and using it. The URL is easy to follow when its format is similar to the website architecture.
Another good practice is to start the URL with HTTPS. Avoid using an automatically generated URL. Rather create it yourself. Using keywords in the permalink helps to boost the website’s SEO directly. Remove unnecessary words to preserve the valuable space for keywords. For example, ‘which’, ‘that’, ‘and’, ‘before’, or any dates.
How to Improve SEO?
Who doesn’t want to improve their website ranking on the SERP? Everyone! But the question is how? What if I say that you don’t require ninja skills to improve your website ranking? All it takes is patience and hard work. Here are some changes to make that may help you to boost your website ranking.
Get Inbound Links
Inbound links or backlinks are the clickable links pointing to your website from other websites. Earning a good number of inbound links is the key to successful SEO. It not only helps to gather more traffic but also boosts your website’s credibility and trustworthiness. As a result, more people know about your brand and you have a higher chance of building business relationships.
Getting inbound links may not be a piece of cake. It takes patience and hard work. Here is a list of tasks that might help you get more backlinks-
- Do keyword research properly and craft a masterpiece with the right keywords.
- Create relevant, useful, and valuable content. Provide valid and unique solutions to the problems of your target audience. Also, represent facts visually with figures.
- Provide interesting and visually pleasing content. You can for example play with colors in the headers or include attractive images, videos, figures, tables, or lists.
- Use social media or discussion forums to promote your posts. You may do live sessions to receive more backlinks.
- Build good relationships with your industry experts and influencers. So that they can support and help you get backlinks.
- Ask for backlinks from websites with which you made business relationships.
- Arrange giveaway events and announce attractive offers to build brand awareness.
- Request your users and industry experts to review your service.
- Conduct webinars, interviews, and other outreach campaigns.
- Guest post on valuable websites.
Improve Page Speed
Did you know that the site load time matters in SERP ranking? Yes! A webpage should be loading fast because no one wants to visit a slow webpage. Imagine the struggle of a person having a slow internet connection visiting a slow-loading page. Google cares about it, even if no one does. Thus, to enhance user experience Google has decided to count page speed as a ranking factor.
First, start by identifying the issue that is causing the longer page load time. This can be done using tools like GTmetrix, WebPageTest, Pingdom, Lighthouse, or Google PageSpeed Insights. Next, take action to solve the issue. For example, you may need to use a high-performance server and a clean website design. If that doesn’t work, try adopting the following changes-
- Optimize large images to smaller files without destroying the quality.
- Avoid the use of URL redirects completely if possible or at least minimize it.
- Use Content Delivery Network (CDN) to shorten the delivery time of web content.
- Keep the database updated and remove any unnecessary files or other garbage contents from it.
- Delete any old and unnecessary images and media files from the library.
- Use Expires Headers. It reduces loading time for users who visit the website again with the same computer.
Fix Duplicate Content
Duplicate content puts your website in danger. It is one of the reasons why your webpages are not showing up in the SERP. Do you know what duplicate content is? It is the content that looks exactly the same or similar to another content. No matter if the content is published on a different page of the same website or an entirely different website. Both ways the content is marked as duplicate content.
So, why do I keep saying that duplicate content is dangerous? The fact is, search engines don’t allow content to be present on the SERP twice. The users wouldn’t like it either. Thus, the search engine makes a choice and omits one of the URLs from the result. This is how your duplicate content gets flushed out.
It gets even worse when loose on backlinks due to duplicate content. As you know, getting links from other websites is a major factor that improves ranking. Moreover, there is a penalty for intentionally plagiarized content. Here is how you can avoid duplicate content-
- Always provide unique and original content. Do not copy a product description from others even if you are selling the same product.
- Minimize the boilerplate content like header, footer, and menu contents. As this might be seen as duplicate content.
- One page’s content may have two different URLs. It happens for example when the URL parameters get included. Or when you publish an article on two different websites. To fix this duplication, use the canonical URL which is the one you want to be indexed. This is how search engines will identify the original URL and direct users to it.
- Even if the content goes well with multiple different categories, do not include it everywhere. It will produce different URLs for the same content. Therefore, make sure to use the category in which the content fits the most.
- Use unique title tags and meta descriptions for each post. If you have similar content throughout several pages, make sure to include a page number. The page number in the title tags prevents content duplication.
Create a Sitemap
A sitemap is a map that navigates search engines to different pages of your website. As a result, the search engines can easily identify important pages to crawl and index. You do not necessarily need a sitemap, but it is still good if you do. A sitemap is especially useful when your website is a new one. Or when it contains truckloads of pages without properly having internal and external links.
Creating a sitemap is easy. There are lots of plugin tools available that help create the sitemap. Any new page will be automatically included in the sitemap. Information like the publication date, time of the last update, and changes will also be presented.
If you are still not clear about how sitemap can help the SEO, let me explain-
- Sitemap points out the important pages. This way, the search engines can easily identify the pages to crawl and index.
- Sitemap helps you to monitor whether your website is existent for search engines or not.
- It allows you to estimate the number of pages indexed by a search engine. If many of the pages are not being indexed, the sitemap explains the issues. So that you can work your way up.
- It helps you to assign hreflang for a page of the website. This is particularly important when your specific content targets a specific local audience. Also, it is useful when you offer the same content in multiple languages. This acts as an international SEO boost.
Adjust Font Size
What if I say font size also matters in SEO? Do not believe me? Let me explain why. People who visit your website do not read the content out of a printed paper. The visitors will leave the website whenever they experience discomfort.
If the font size is too small, the reader will struggle to interpret the text. They will have to keep zooming the entire screen. And imagine what happens if the font is too large. Yes! The readers have to go a long way to complete the content. Therefore, the right font size is really important. It not only improves user experience but also your website SEO.
Mobile-friendliness is now one of the major concerns for Google. The right font size fulfills the requirement of being comfortable and easy to read on mobile devices. Are you worrying over determining the best font size for your website? Ideally, the font size of the body text should be a minimum of 12 pt for SEO. Although it can be larger, but never smaller.
Keep in mind that different themes appear differently with the same font size. To figure out what works best for your website, go on and experiment. You can always be on the bigger side. As long as it looks good and doesn’t harm the user experience.
Include Author Authority
Although including author names is not a direct ranking factor. It still has a positive impact on SEO. The presence of the author’s name and biography in the article helps to gain users’ trust. This may even help you get more inbound links.
Imagine searching for the best apple pie recipe. In front of you, there are two recipes. One from a famous chef and another one from an unknown person. Which recipe would you prefer to follow? Of course the one from the renowned cook, right? Because this source is more trustworthy. And this is how authorship works.
An author gets renowned for writing on a certain topic. At some point, the author as a professional gets enlisted in the Knowledge Graph of Google. So, when you publish an article written by this writer, Google recognizes it. That is particularly advantageous for SEO. The author’s reputation can be a way to evaluate the content quality.
Therefore, author authority is important. You may also consider providing links to the author’s own website or biography page. This is not essential for good SEO performance. But this will definitely provide credibility and a better user experience.
Bad SEO Practices You Should Avoid
Some SEO practices may provide you instant benefits. But in the long run, you will face some serious consequences. For example, getting your webpage’s reputation down or getting the entire website removed. These unethical techniques are collectively called the black-hat SEO. Here is a list of the SEO activities you need to stay away from-
- Keyword stuffing is a bad practice that hampers the user experience. Some people go the extra mile. They still include a handful of keywords. But then hide these behind color or figures which is even worse. Because today the search engines are smart enough to disclose these tricks.
- Destroying other’s website reputations either by hacking, spammy comments, or fake reviews. So that, your competitors get ranked lower. And you get a chance to improve your ranking.
- Paying other websites to get backlinks beside you have poor content.
- Publishing intentionally plagiarized content or directly software-generated content.
- Headlines are attractive but do not match the content.