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A Beginners Guide To SEO (Updated 2021)

Do you feel that SEO is too difficult without the relevant software subscriptions and expertise?

Well, I can tell you that the basics of SEO are not that complicated at all. So uncomplicated in fact that I’ll run through them…right now, but first things first, what’s required from your website to excel at SEO? In order for your website to perform well on search engines, it needs to conform to the following;

Be search engine friendly
Be a source of consistent and quality content
Attain authority through links from other websites

SEO success doesn’t happen overnight. It requires patience and consistent hard work. Also, the SEO process as a whole is never done. With new site content, ever changing algorithms and your competitors evolving strategies, SEO is a full time job and should be treated as such.

Search Engine Friendly
Ok, so the first step towards SEO success is making sure your website is search engine friendly, but what does this mean? It essentially means search engines should be able to find and access your pages easily via the following technical optimisations;

Make sure that all pages within your website are linked to. Otherwise search engines have a hard time finding your pages and assigning popularity to them. Link to your top pages the most, and keep in mind that links from topically related pages contribute more to topical relevance than links from irrelevant pages.

An XML sitemap is a specially formatted file containing all of the pages that you want search engines to index. XML sitemaps are only used by search engines. To prevent having to manually update your XML sitemap after changes, make sure it is automatically updated after each change.

URL Structure
Choose one structure for your URLs and stick to that structure. Keep URLs as short as possible and make sure they are meaningful and most importantly clear for your users. Doing so improves the user experience and helps you prevent duplicate issues. Below is an example of the difference in UX a good URL is over a bad;

Good URL structure:

Bad URL structure:

User Experience
User Experience (UX) plays a growing role in SEO. It just makes sense: if visitors don’t have a good experience on your website, then why should Google grant you a top position?

We all love fast loading websites, so make sure your website loads fast as well. Ideally your website should load in under 1 second, but under 2 seconds is still acceptable. The faster the website loads, the better your conversion rate will be. In fact, Amazon found that their revenue increased by 1% for every 100ms of decrease in load time.

Ensure your website is mobile-friendly. Go easy on the popups and ads. When visitors come to a website, they arrive with a purpose. They won’t appreciate distracting popups and ads. This will lead to a bad user experience and may very well result in lower positions in Google.

The second thing that you need in order to rank for keywords for given topics is content that’s about these topics in the first place. The content also needs to be valuable to visitors and optimised for search engines.

Consistent and Quality Content Valuable content will let you meet business goals such as visitors contacting you for more information, as well as more SEO focused goals such as gaining links and social shares. When we speak of content that’s optimised for search engines, we mean that it’s clear to search engines what your content is about and what keywords you should be found for.

Keyword Research
Every SEO strategy starts with figuring out what keywords you want to rank for. Without knowing these keywords, you have no way to optimise your website for search engines. The process of researching what keywords are of interest for a business is called Keyword Research.

Where does the Keyword Research process start? Your company has certain goals it wants to achieve, and your SEO strategy needs to support these. You also have a target audience, so let’s focus on them: What keywords does your target audience use?

• What intention do they have when searching for a given keyword; are they looking to buy or just looking for information?
• Do people actually search for those keywords?
• Is it realistic that you’ll rank for those keywords, considering the competition?

All of these questions are answered during the Keyword Research phase. Its outcome is the list of keywords that you’re going to incorporate in your website.

Incorporate Keywords Into Pages
Your Keyword Strategy describes exactly how you’re going to incorporate the keywords you came up with in the Keyword Research phase. Doing so helps search engines to better understand what keywords they should rank a page for. First, map your keywords to your pages based on relevance. If you’re targeting a set of keywords with a similar meaning, then map them to the same page. Also, take into account the fact that keywords with a lot of competition need to be mapped to strong pages within your website. Your homepage is a great example of a strong page. After you’ve mapped the keywords to certain pages, you define where to incorporate the keywords within those pages. As a rule of thumb, pages with little content can only be optimised for one or two keywords. The most important places are in the meta information, headings, body content, and links.

Meta Information
When we’re talking about meta information for SEO, we mean the title tag and meta description. In the screenshot below, the title tag is marked with an orange rectangle, and the meta description with a blue one.

Title Tag
The title tag has long been one of the most important factors in search engines’ algorithms. The title describes a page’s main topic in one short phrase. It’s shown in browser tabs, but more importantly in search engine result pages, or SERPs for short. These results each show brief page info: the “snippet.” To ensure that search engines show the title you’ve defined for a page, make sure it’s relevant for the page, unique within your website, and between 30 characters (285 pixels) and 60 characters (575 pixels) long.

Meta Description
The meta description describes a page in one or two sentences. It should describe what visitors can expect on a page. Although the meta description isn’t a factor in search engine algorithms, it plays an essential role in getting visitors to click on your snippet in the SERPs. Therefore it’s important that you craft your meta description carefully. The meta description looks like this:

Headings are used to visually indicate a hierarchy and help visitors quickly scan a page. Headings play a role in search engines’ algorithms. Including keywords in your headings contributes to the rank for these keywords. There are six heading levels: H1–H6. An H1 heading looks like this:

<h1>A Beginners Guide to SEO</h1>

If you haven’t defined a page title, or if search engines haven’t found your title to be relevant enough, they may show the H1 heading for a page as the title in the snippet. H1 headings should be relevant for a page and unique within your website. While you shouldn’t use more than one H1 heading per page, it is fine to to use multiple H2-H6 headings, as long as they support the page’s visual hierarchy. The H1 heading should be the largest heading on a page, then the H2 heading, then the H3 heading, etc.

Body Content
By body content, we mean the visible content on a page. As a rule of thumb, make sure a page contains at least 200 words of body content.

Furthermore, keywords shouldn’t be driving your choice of words. Focus first on the readability of your text. Don’t over-optimize your content by stuffing keywords; if it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t fit. Over-optimizing may hurt your rankings, and it causes visitors to leave.

Internal Links
Links pass on authority and topical relevance from one page to another. This goes for links from within the same website – called internal – as well as for links from outside a website – external links. If you want to rank with a page, you need to first make sure that page is getting as much authority and topical relevance as possible from your other pages. Your homepage is a great example of a page that carries a lot of authority. A page acquires topical relevance when it’s linked to from topically related pages using anchor texts describing the topic.

Authority Links

The third strand of effective SEO is authority and trust. But it’s not third in importance. In fact, authority and trust have the biggest impact on your SEO success. Authority is basically “SEO power”. The more authority the better. Authority is gained through links from as many websites as possible, as well as from authoritative websites. Trust is earned by sticking to search engines’ guidelines and by gaining links from trustworthy websites.

It should be clear by now: links play a vital role in SEO success. That’s not just because they pass on authority and trust. They also pass on topical relevance. A relevant link is a link from a page that’s about the same topic. Meanwhile not all links are created equal. For example, a link in an article from a news website will typically pass authority and trust, but no relevance.

Link building tactics
Activities centred on gaining links are called link building. Link building is about understanding what makes people tick. If you figure that out, you’ll be able to gain links that pack a punch.

Your website won’t get many links naturally. You can’t just publish your content, sit back, and wait for people to link to it. It doesn’t work that way. You need to help them find it first. Reaching your audience with your content is very hard. As a rule of thumb, you should spend as much time promoting your content as you do creating it. To be successful at SEO, your website needs to be search engine friendly, offer valuable content to your visitors as well as have authority and trust. Unfortunately for the lazy, these three things all require a lot of effort, but if you stay consistent you’ll reap the rewards in the long run.

If you’re interested in receiving a free personalised SEO audit to ascertain your site speed amongst many other potential optimisations drop us an email now.

If you”re looking at improving your overall website performance check out our tips on speed and bounce rate.

Photo by Myriam Jesser on Unsplash