SEO (search engine optimization) is a term that describes all the techniques used to improve a website’s rank in search engines like Google. Why does SEO matter? A higher search ranking increases users’ chance to see your website, making them more aware of your brand, content, and products or services.
In this beginner’s guide to SEO, we’ll cover all the basics of search engine optimization. While SEO can’t be learned overnight, we hope to share some SEO fundamentals so you can have a solid start. Let’s dive in!
Search engine optimization (SEO) goes beyond just the basic principles of search engine marketing. However, many businesses still don’t realize this strategy’s technical and social side.
While the basic principles of SEO may be well known, many of the SEO marketing techniques experienced marketers use are not general knowledge. Google’s algorithms change all the time, and to know how to satisfy each new algorithm, one must stay informed about the latest SEO trends.
What is SEO?In a nutshell, SEO (short for Search Engine Optimization) helps your website get found by people searching for what you sell (either in a direct or non-direct way).
Prioritizing SEO and optimizing your website for search engines ultimately helps build authority and trust with prospective customers, so it’s worth the time and effort. In addition, SEO can directly translate to sales! Who doesn’t love that?
How Does SEO Work?
To understand how SEO works, it’s important to understand how search engines work. Search engines use crawler programs (also known as a search bot) to collect and index data across the internet. SEO helps search engine crawlers determine your rank (your site’s position in search results), and this helps determine how relevant you are to certain keywords.
Proper keyword research is very important with regard to search engine optimization. Your SEO may not work as you had intended without proper keyword research.
That’s why your SEO strategy is so important. Search engine optimization works best when you optimize your site’s content and pages. For instance, use keyword research and then earning shares and links around the web.
SEO is about the specificity of your content, long-tail keywords, and the technical development of your SEO. Once a page has been crawled by a search engine, the website is indexed. It starts to increase in rank for the keywords you selected, and you will soon see the fruits of your labor.
Why is SEO Important?Basically, SEO is important because it establishes domain authority for your website. Google wants to know that your website is trustworthy and offers the best content for the user’s search query.
SEO can help your site rank higher in search engines, hopefully leading to more traffic, conversions, and sales.
Ultimately, SEO allows you to be found by potential customers who are searching for what you sell. SEO is also useful to help build awareness for your company or brand by potential customers. In many ways, SEO is a form of advertising that allows you to position yourself and your company as an expert in a particular field.
How Do You Do SEO for a Website?
Depending on your market research, audience targets, and content, you can approach doing SEO for a website in several different ways.
There are also all kinds of SEO tactics to improve your pages, content, links, metadata, and structural markup for an existing website. Search engines look for keywords, alt tags, title tags, image tags, internal linking structure, internal links, and backlinks (aka inbound links).
Crawlers look for fast page speeds, mobile responsiveness, site structure, visitor behavior, and other factors that mostly involve off-site signals, such as social shares and engagement.
So when it comes to doing SEO for a website, you’ll need to cover these important SEO steps from preparation, research, writing, and technical implementation.
SEO Step-by-Step: 8 Steps to Better SEO
Here’s a general step-by-step way to create your strategy and plan for execution for better SEO.
1. Gather Your SEO Tools
To set up SEO for your website, you’ll likely need the following stakeholders and tools:
- SEO strategist
- Web developer
- Content manager
- Writers (copywriters, technical writers, content writers)
- Social media manager
Best SEO Tools
There are many SEO tools out there (and we mean a TON). Here are a few worth checking out.
- Keyword research tools (SEMrush, Google Keyword Planner, Keywords Everywhere, KWfinder.com)
- Long-tail keyword research tools like AnswerthePublic.com
- User research tools like SurveyMonkey
- Google Analytics for traffic analysis and data
- SEO auditing (SEMrush, Moz, Woorank, etc)
- An SEO-friendly website content management system like WordPress
- Domain authority score (Siteprofiler.com or ahrefs.com)
- SEO WordPress plugins (like Yoast SEO, All-in-One SEO Pack or SEMRush Writing Assistant)
These best SEO tools provide you with the best research and audience insights. They can also provide real-time reports and analyses based on what ranking signals Google crawlers are looking for.
For example, SEMrush Writing Assistant will assess your blog post and give it a score based on readability, SEO, and originality. You’ll also get keyword suggestions in real-time, based on what other content in your niche ranks for the same focus keyword.
2. Conduct an SEO Audit
SEO audits are helpful step-by-step assessments of your website that point out what’s missing from each area of SEO. These audits are typically assessed based on these points:
- Focus keyword research
- Domain authority score
- Keyword density
- Site URL or permalink structure
- Schema markup
- Site speed and responsiveness
- Image alt attributes
- On-page factors
- Off-page factors
- Backlink assessment
- Google SERP analysis for top keywords
- Bing SERP analysis for top keywords
- Competitor keyword analysis
- Online reputation scores
- Social media channels and sentiment
During an SEO audit, you’ll consider all of these factors for each of your website’s main pages and any page that you want to rank up in search of certain keywords.
For example, suppose you want a content page to rank locally for “plumbing repair Atlanta GA.” In that case, you’ll want an SEO page with this keyword in the title, images that support it, and content that’s expertly written on the topic with long-tail keywords and questions about the subject.
Tools like SEMrush and Moz offer comprehensive auditing tools that will conduct an in-depth analysis, then deliver a report with suggestions for improvement. These reports are somewhat automated but can help you as you start looking deeper into your site. Another great option is to work with an SEO agency or consultant.
3. Set Up Your SEO Strategy
Your SEO strategy should be based on your goals. These could range from building traffic, increasing conversions, and collecting more opt-ins for your email marketing campaigns.
So first, write down a few things you want to see from your SEO strategy. Do you want to gain more overall traffic to your home page? Are you trying to rank for new keywords with a blog strategy? There are four components to every good SEO strategy:
- Keyword research
- Audience research
- Content plan
- Site structure
Even if your domain is something like “offthewall.com,” you can rank for any content. Just so long as you create a content plan. This includes knowing what keywords you want to rank for, what keywords your audience is researching, how you’ll incorporate this content on your site, and how your site structure will direct search engines to crawl your content.
For example, if the top keyword you want to rank for is “women’s shoes,” your whole site should be structured around the keywords your audience will use to find your content.
Why Your CMS Matters for SEO
Even if your site is customized in HTML, you should have a website content management system (CMS) that can help you structure and add structural data to each page. For that reason, WordPress is one of the best website content management systems to use. Not only can you use it to build customized websites, you can also easily add a blog to aid in your SEO strategy.
WordPress websites provide excellent opportunities for low-to-medium volume keywords to rank via the topics you write about. You can get more backlinks and shares through your blog, thus supporting your social strategy. You can also focus on site speed with WordPress optimization and WordPress caching, which are huge wins for better SEO.
In addition, lots of excellent WordPress SEO plugins are available, so you don’t have to worry about coding any of the technical markups manually. One of the most popular SEO plugins is the Yoast SEO plugin, which helps you add detailed SEO markup and score your content based on a focused keyword. We’ll cover more on that in a bit.
4. Improve Your On-Page SEO
Once you have a plan ready, start with on-page SEO factors. What can you improve on each page of your website to help it rank faster?
Here are the top signals that crawlers pick up from on-page SEO:
- Keyword in the title or H1 tag
- Keyword in H2s and H3s
- Keyword in meta description
- Keyword in first 100 words of content
- Content is longer than 500 words
- Keyword density is no more than 1 keyword per 100 words
- Keywords use variants and don’t get “stuffed”, leading to a higher density
- No duplicate content
- Use canonical tags
- Images have alt text
- Content is up-to-date and timely (even older pages have been updated for the current year)
- Outbound links
- Internal links
- Keyword in URL
- Long-tail keywords and questions included for commonly asked questions
- Anchor text includes keywords
- Domain authority score
- Mobile optimized
If your site loads quickly and has keywords in the right places on each page, you’re already ahead of many other businesses. You also want to make sure that your site is mobile-first and responsive.
The keywords also must naturally be placed so that it reads well. All your links should be relevant to the content, whether you’re linking out or another page on your site.
5. Expand Your Off-Page SEO Factors
On-page factors are mostly things that you can control. Your web developer can help you add structural markup and ensure that your keywords are included in all of your tags.
However, off-page factors refer to those factors that are outside of your website. Here are some of the key off-page factors to help your site rank:
- # of domains linking back to your site
- Quality of backlink sites (need higher domain authority scores)
- # of linking pages
- Link relevancy
- Links from .gov and .edu sites are highly important
- More dofollow links (Google doesn’t count any nofollow links)
- Diversity of your outbound links
- Link anchor text
Ideally, you want to have trusted blogs and educational websites linking back to your content pages, using the same keywords you want to rank for.
6. Add Tracking and Analytics for SEO Reports
Before launching your strategy, you must be able to measure your results. Consider a few SEO metrics when setting up your analytics and reports. They are:
- Total clicks (Google Search Console report shows how much traffic your site is receiving)
- Core Web Vitals (another Google Console metric)
- Referring domains
- Total organic traffic (Google Analytics will compare quarterly, month-over-month (MoM), and year-over-year (YoY))
- User experience metrics
- Traffic cost
- Top pages with traffic
- Bounce rates
- Index pages
- Page session time
- Average CTR
- Keyword rankings
- Coverage errors
SEO Reporting Tools
You’ll need some key tools to measure and track all these metrics. The most important of these include:
- Google Analytics
- Google Search Console Tools
- Hotjar or other heat maps
- SEMrush (if budget available)
- Facebook conversion pixel (if running Facebook campaigns)
- WordPress SEO plugins (see list below)
Once you have these tools in place, it will be much easier to see how all your keywords rank, which pages rank, and which pages just bounce traffic.
7. Get Your Citations (Backlinks) Up
Citations or backlinks are any mentions of your business name, address, phone number, and website in social profiles, Google My Business listing, directory listings, and other niche-specific sites, such as TripAdvisor or Yelp. It is important to ensure your business information is correct and consistent throughout all your citations and updated regularly.
For example, Google My Business is important for your general SEO and local SEO since you can add local information like hours or special attributes, such as “outdoor seating.” You can list attributes based on your business category, and your customers can also list “subjective attributes” based on their experiences. This is why reviews are important for your SEO and online reputation management.
8. Optimizing for Featured Snippets
Finally, the latest SEO talk is about the importance of featured snippets or “position zero.” A featured snippet occurs when Google decides a part of your article satisfies a user’s question, catapulting your page to the top of the page as a “featured snippet.”
Featured snippets quote your article specifically, use images from your site, and add your bulleted lists to the top position on the page, whether you rank at number one for the keyword or not.
Featured snippets have changed considerably in the short time since they were introduced. To be featured, format your content expertly for SEO, know the questions your audience is asking and answer those questions in depth.
What is Basic SEO vs Technical SEO?
Great websites have a combination of both basic SEO and technical SEO factors in their overall SEO strategies. But what is the difference between basic SEO vs. technical SEO?
Basic SEO Defined
Basic SEO is what most people know about keywords, key phrases, and keyword placement.
For instance, most people know that if you want to rank well for “how to write a post on Facebook,” they need to use “how to write a post on Facebook” as a keyword phrase.
However, they may not realize there are technical ways to raise their ranking signals.
Basic SEO is all about:
- Keywords you include in the content
- Writing a good title
- Content length is over 500 words
- Including images on the page
- Content quality
Technical SEO Defined
Technical SEO includes the markup behind your content, such as all of the metadata or Schema markup. These are technical codes that are only readable by the Google crawler. You can share specific information about the content on the page that only a crawler can pick up.
Technical SEO is all about:
- Structural markup
- Schema.org markup
- URL site structure and sitemap
- Site speed
- Metadata and tags
Best WordPress SEO Plugins
Did you know WordPress powers over 40% of all the websites on the internet? WordPress is a simple web design and content management system that enables you to easily set up a website in a matter of hours.
If you are one of the millions of people using WordPress as your CMS, you should understand the importance of WordPress SEO plugins. There are many WordPress SEO plugins with many features to help you optimize a WordPress website for search engines.
And we’ve found these are 4 of the best WordPress SEO plugins to get you started:
Many WordPress businesses use the Yoast SEO plugin simply because it’s so popular. It is the most well-known SEO plugin because it offers content improvement tips and website optimization tools.
You can add SEO titles and score your content in real-time, and the plugin will automatically create XML sitemaps for your site. If you want to add important Open Graph metadata for social media, you can add them directly through the plugin for any page you edit.
All-in-One SEO Pack
If you want more tools to improve your website, All-in-One SEO pack offers scoring and assessments for each page of content. It will grade your title, meta tags, open graph meta tags, XML sitemap, image sitemap, and much more.
It’s a bit more affordable than Yoast SEO. However, it’s not as robust with all of the tools. Remember you only want to pick one SEO plugin for your site.
Next on the list is Rank Math. It is quite similar to Yoast. This plugin allows you to take full control of the SEO on your site. This plugin is lightweight and integrates with Google Search Console to deliver information directly to your WP dashboard. It will inform you how well your keywords rank and your overall search engine impression.
However, Rank Math is a newer WordPress SEO plugin that many people are starting to adopt as their WordPress SEO plugin of choice.
Rank Math includes Google Schema Markup for FAQs and How-to’s, which is a plus.
SEMrush Writing Assistant
Beyond the Yoast SEO plugin is the SEMrush Writing Assistant plugin. The capabilities of this plugin include real-time content analytics, a scoring system, recommended keywords based on competitor research, readability scores, and many other time-saving, automatic checks.
The only drawback is that the free edition of this plugin isn’t as robust as the pro edition. The pro edition includes content analysis for every post on your WordPress site. Therefore, we suggest looking at the prices of pro accounts to see if the cost is worth it. If so, you’ll gain access to all kinds of SEO tools for your website. It’s truly the best value for overall SEO analytics, keyword research, real-time tracking, and content scoring.
Here are some frequently asked questions about SEO, search engine optimization, and improving your rank in Google.
Many businesses turn to PPC first because they don’t know “what is SEO”. SEO is more time-consuming than throwing your budget at a Google AdWords campaign.
Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising is another way to show up in the top positions for search engine result pages (SERPs). However, both SEO and PPC are integral to your success. While SEO increases your domain authority and helps with organic traffic, PPC can help you target prospects via keywords. If you have a marketing budget.
You may see a faster lift in traffic and conversions with PPC because you’ll bid on keywords to receive a placement at the top of search. But if you are bidding on highly competitive keywords, you may have to spend a lot of money to get first dibs on the best placements and win conversions.
In that sense, SEO is more successful because it’s a low-cost, long-term strategy that doesn’t require a higher budget like PPC. However, you may want to combine both efforts to get more visibility and insights into your audience, as well as quicker conversions.
On-page SEO factors include any tactic on your webpage that assists in ranking the webpage higher when searched. It’s called on-page because you optimize elements that directly affect the content and code on the page.
Here are some of the on-page factors that you’ll need to know to improve your content and start ranking higher:
– Title and header tags such as H1, H2, and H3
– Alt text and image alt attributes
– Meta description and other metadata
– Internal links
– External links
– Schema markup
– Mobile-friendly score
– Placing keywords in first paragraph, then every 100 words
– Anchor text for links
– Website speed optimization (Use PageSpeed Insights from Google)
– Keyword density
– Long-tail keywords (such as phrases and questions related to keywords)
– Overall length of content (always go for 750+ words)
– Check that there is no duplicate content
– Use canonical tags
Once you add these factors to your website, you should see a lift in rank. To track your rank, use a rank tracker tool like SEMrush or use a spreadsheet to manually track positions on keywords.
No, SEO is definitely not dead. Although many people wish it was. That would mean they could stop trying to improve their content and rankings. And let’s face it, SEO is a LOT of work.
Search engine optimization is a vital marketing strategy. Every website should use it to improve their content and search engine rankings. If you want more traffic, visibility, and higher ranking, SEO is the first step in getting there. However, there are other marketing strategies that are better for targeting audiences, earning leads, and getting conversions–especially if you want to do so fast.
SEO is a low-cost way to cast a wide net across the internet and capture searches for your exact content, products, and/or information. If done correctly, analytical tools like Google Analytics and SEMrush can help you increase your rank and the traffic to your content.
Most SEO tools will identify specific keyword information and conduct analysis to identify what areas are best to invest resources.
Ideal keywords include:
– High volume, low competition
– Medium to low difficulty keywords
– Keyword search volume of 500 or more
If you’re doing everything right, within 6 months of starting your SEO strategy you will be ranking on the first page for all your top keywords. However, it can take many months to build up the content that generates that domain authority and ranking potential.
To make this process go faster, invest in quality SEO tools.
One of the best comprehensive SEO tools is SEMrush. SEMrush includes every single research and analysis tool, as well as a rank tracker, competitor analysis tool, and social media optimization widget.
If you don’t have the budget for SEMrush, there’s a number of free tools to consider such as Google Keyword Planner, Keywords Everywhere, WordStream’s free keyword tool, and a few others.
If you’re just starting out with keyword research, sign up for a number of free trials to try SEO tools for a short period of time. Look for and only select tools that provide you with comprehensive research, rank tracking, and competitive analysis.
Finally, when looking at keywords, you should separate them into “high competition” and “low competition” buckets. You can use Google Keyword Planner within AdWords to see which keywords are more competitive. These keywords typically have higher keyword difficulty scores, over 70, while lower competitive keywords will have scores under 50.
You ideally want high volume, low competitive keywords, but these can be difficult to find. Many SEOs have witnessed that new content with long-tail keywords can use highly competitive keywords, so long as you incorporate variant phrases and publish content frequently on the topic.
However, it may take months to rank for highly competitive keywords. Even if you update your blog every day and share content via social media as often as possible. The truth is that you’ll have to research your top keywords, rank them by difficulty, then look for opportunities to rank up based on SERP analysis.
Local SEO strategies mainly focus on ranking higher in Google local searches, such as Google Maps. To start ranking locally, you’ll need to create a Google My Business account and optimize your business citation profile(s).
Additionally, you can build local SEO content by incorporating location-specific keywords into landing pages that revolve around the geo you want to rank for.
For example, the best way to rank for “carpet cleaning Atlanta GA” would be to create a landing page specific to your Atlanta store and include content with every local keyword related to carpet cleaning in the area. This means you would write content and use a handful of these keywords:
– Carpet cleaning Atlanta GA
– Steam cleaning Atlanta GA
– Clean carpets Atlanta GA
The general formula is the same as long as you use the “keyword + location”. You can vary the location as well.
On local SEO landing pages, you also want to naturally incorporate phrases, keywords, events, and nearby organizations to improve your authority in the area. For example, if writing local SEO content for an Atlanta-based business, you should incorporate “The ATL” and “Gate City”, as these are nicknames of the city.
Here are the most important steps for local SEO.
– Set up your Google My Business profile
– Check all your information is correct in your Google listing
– Create landing pages for each location and use location-specific keywords
Yes, businesses should try to get as many reviews and ratings as possible on their Google profile for better SEO. Google Reviews are a huge factor in domain authority and trust. If you have a very high rating from users, your business is seen as safe and trustworthy, leading to a higher rank.
You are allowed to market for reviews and ask that customers rate your business. However, Google doesn’t want you to pay for positive reviews or discourage negative reviews. If you are reported for asking for only positive reviews, you could be penalized by Google.
In addition, you can clean up inappropriate, spam, or otherwise erroneous reviews by flagging them on your Google My Business account. You can also reply to reviews and neutralize negative reviews by offering to talk to any users with complaints in order to resolve the problem. This shows that you’re proactive and lets others know that it isn’t an ongoing problem–as you are resolving it.
Wrapping Up: The Journey of SEO is Just Beginning
As an SEO beginner, you’re well on your way to better SEO by learning some search engine optimization fundamentals.
Driving users to your website is key to growing your business, and the majority of traffic goes to a website because of search engine optimization.
When you correctly optimize your website, you ultimately rank higher in the search results. This can positively impact your business because more users will have access to and knowledge about your brand.
Kristen has been writing tutorials to help WordPress users since 2011. As marketing director here at iThemes, she’s dedicated to helping you find the best ways to build, manage, and maintain effective WordPress websites. Kristen also enjoys journaling (check out her side project, The Transformation Year!), hiking and camping, step aerobics, cooking, and daily adventures with her family, hoping to live a more present life.