In order for online marketing to succeed, you need to be found through search. This post covers some basic SEO tips for beginners.
Search Engine Optimization, better known as SEO, is a digital marketing concept that seems to elude many DIY marketers and small business owners.
But SEO is not nearly as complex as some may have you think—at its very core, the goal has remained the same since the beginning: to rank as high as possible in search engine results pages (SERPs).
(Does anyone ever visit page 2 of Google search results?)
You can still get traffic to your website through other channels but let’s face it: most of your website traffic will come from search. And that’s why your website needs SEO.
The great thing about SEO is that even if you only have fundamental knowledge of the tactics, it can make a big difference. So, if you’re serious about improving your search traffic and learning effective SEO tactics, read on!
Part 1: Definitions
What is SEO?
If you’ve ever searched for anything, then you already kind of know what it is.
Every time you type a phrase or set of words into a search engine like Google (apparently there are others but Google has become synonymous with search engine), you get a set of search engine results from which you choose the link that looks most useful.
For a more formal definition, Moz defines SEO as
While search engine capabilities can be quite amazing, they still need your help in the form of SEO to find your website.
The right kind of SEO can boost your traffic and brand awareness. The wrong kind of SEO can cause irreparable damage.
What are Black Hat and White Hat SEO Tactics?
Have you ever received an email from a marketing company with promises that they can upgrade your website and guarantee first page SERPs?
If it seems too good to be true, it is.
Black Hat SEO tactics (as you might suspect) are the tactics that search engines frown upon.
- Content Automation (the process of creating content of the website in an automatic matter by using a tool or script)
- Doorway Pages
- Hidden Text or Links
- Keyword Stuffing
- Reporting a Competitor (or Negative SEO)
- Link from Non-Relevant Websites
- Guest Posting Networks
- Paid Links
- Article Spinning
- Link Farms, Link Wheels or Link Networks
- Creating pages, subdomains, or domains with duplicate content
Doing any of these might get you short term success—but these tactics should be avoided at all costs since Google penalties can be more devastating than you think. When millions of users search on a daily basis, the last thing you want is Google bringing the rain down on your SERPs.
White Hat SEO techniques are the complete opposite of Black Hat techniques—meaning they focus on optimization for a human experience, not just the bots. The tactics comply with search guidelines and generally keep your website integrity intact.
- Commenting on high quality blogs
- Offering quality content
- Making your site easy to navigate
- Well-labelled images
- Relevant links and resources in your content
- Email outreach (pre and post)
Brian Dean, one of the best SEO minds out there, shares a detailed step-by-step case study on white hat SEO techniques. Certainly worth the read—I just spent the last 15 minutes reading myself!
Part 2: DIY SEO — On-Page Best Practices
SEO can seem overwhelming if you start at the wrong end of the spectrum. So let’s start at the beginning and look at the easiest SEO tactics you can execute today—on-page SEO.
Setting up your own domain and hosting is important for enhanced SEO.
If you’re serious about blogging for your business, setting up a free blog won’t do you any good.
Here a few things to consider:
- Choose a domain that’s easy to remember, and write
- Exact match domain names are no longer a competitive advantage
- Domain extension isn’t a make or break (if .com is taken, .co, .org, .net work just as fine)
YOUR BLOGGING PLATFORM
After selecting your domain, choosing the best blogging platform for SEO is key. I mentioned WordPress in my guide to starting a business blog and rightfully so—WordPress is behind 59.4% of websites, worldwide.
Not only that, but it has heaps of great SEO features so building an SEO friendly website is less daunting.
Here’s why WordPress is a frontrunner for best blogging platform when it comes to SEO: it has flexibility and you can customize everything.
You are in control of your site structure and design so you can make use of those opportunities to optimize for SEO.
YOUR SITE STRUCTURE
Since a large part of your SEO ranking relies on user experience, structuring your website in a way that is simple and logical for your users is important.
Take a look at your favourite website.
What do you like most about it?
- Is the navigation menu easily visible?
- Does it make sense and walk you through the most relevant information path?
- Is it clean and uncluttered?
To make your site structure SEO friendly, consider:
- Less is more — don’t over engineer your website and navigation menu, Avoid having too many categories and subpages. You don’t want to create information overload for potential customers.
- Creating logical content groups — this might seem like an obvious tip, but you’d be surprised how often it doesn’t happen. Take your website visitor on the most logical path through your content.
- Limiting your site hierarchy to two levels — another way of saying less is more. You don’t want to hide valuable content from your readers, or search engines. Make discovery easy using as few clicks as possible.
- Describing categories in a meaningful way — use the language your readers would use. When it comes to naming categories, get rid of the robot talk and jargon. Categorizing content should be simple and straightforward, so save your cleverness for other content materials.
YOUR SITE DESIGN
No, I’m not talking about color schemes and fonts. I’m talking about mobile responsiveness.
There could be a large part of your audience accessing your website through their phones.
Is there anything worse than landing on a website that is not mobile-friendly? Google started penalizing non-responsive websites in 2015, and they will only start cracking down harder.
Make sure your website isn’t one of them and if you haven’t already, choose a responsive website design.
YOUR SITE SPEED
Second to landing on a website that isn’t mobile-friendly, landing on a website that is slow (think longer than 4 second load time) can also wreak havoc on your SEO ranking.
You can boost your site speed by using low-res images (jpg instead of png), making sure you’re with a fast hosting provider and by keeping your website code lean—less is more with your website structure.
YOUR PAGE TITLES
Page titles (also called title tags) will be the first impression for your readers and search engines. It’s one of the most important SEO ranking factors, so make sure you take the time and care necessary to make it work for you.
Make sure your page titles:
- Have a unique title, every single one of them
- Accurately describe the page content
- Are brief but descriptive
- Include the keywords that you’re trying to rank for—in a logical way
- Start with your target keyword—the closer it is to the beginning of the title, the more weight it carries for search engines
YOUR PAGE URLS
Don’t leave the default URL as is when you create a new content page. Update the URL to be SEO-friendly by making it:
- Keyword rich
If you’re writing online contently correctly, then you’re using headings and subheadings. How you format your headings and what you include in them can help search engines understand the content of your page.
So be sure to:
Use H1 for all headings
Use H2 for all subheadings
- Use your target keyword in at least one subhead and definitely your heading
There’s so much pressure on your introduction, for readers and search engines alike. The first 100 words of any post should contain your target keyword.
You know the alt text field when you’re uploading images into your blog post?
It’s a good spot to plug in your keyword, so be sure to do that with every image you include in your content.
Even changing the image file name will help boost your on-page SEO.
Good content is useful content. And part of being useful is providing relevant information.
Whether that’s through external or internal links, be sure to include at least 2-3 of each in your content.
For reference, Wikipedia does an amazing job of using internal links. How often do you end up spending 20 minutes clicking links and falling into the Wiki abyss?
And Google typically tends to favour websites that make good use of external links.
YOUR CONTENT LENGTH
Some of the best ranking content in Google’s search results are content pieces that are long-form. Think average word count of 2000 words.
Content length is important for SEO because Google favours quality content. Aim for 1500 words or more, as often as possible.
Learning How to Do SEO
It’s no secret that digital marketing and SEO are always evolving. Instead of getting caught up in trying to keep up with all of the changes, it’s best to just stick with the basic ingredients of SEO, especially if you’re doing it yourself.
At the end of the day, SEO is about optimizing for the user experience—so think about what would make your visitors happy and satisfied with your website and content.
I covered some of the basic SEO tips that are simple to execute every time you create new content. Once you get into the habit of doing these, SEO won’t seem so daunting anymore.
Leave me a comment to let me know: what other basic SEO tips would you recommend to your fellow DIY marketers?