How complete is your understanding of SEO?
The Search Engine Optimization (SEO) industry is projected to surpass $80 billion in the United States by 2020. Worldwide, businesses spent over $613 billion on SEO and digital marketing in 2016. As more and more commerce moves to the internet, the need to be found is critical to the success of almost every business. So, how much do you really know about the basics of SEO?
Table of Contents: What are the various SEO Tactics?
We will discuss the basics of search engine optimization, provide examples and share the most helpful articles on how to perform basic SEO techniques.
There are over 200 ranking factors in Google’s ranking algorithm. We’ll share with you the most important optimization tactics and provide our priority of top ranking factors, so you know where to focus your SEO efforts.
The internet has over 134 million results for “SEO”. With so much information available online about SEO, how does one identify “best SEO practices”?
Many have heard about “black hat SEO” but are unclear as to what it is and what to expect should one practice black hat SEO techniques.
Becoming an SEO expert takes time and experience. While basic to advanced SEO techniques can be researched and understood by searching the internet for articles and videos, much more is required to become a true SEO expert.
1. SEO Basics for the Beginner
We are frequently asked by clients how they can help with search engine optimization efforts. Basic SEO techniques are not all that difficult to learn, understand and implement. The real secret behind SEO is not in understanding what it is and basic SEO techniques, rather great SEO results comes from experience, trial and error, and patience.
Before covering the basics of search optimization, it is important to understand that while one may learn and practice elementary optimization tactics, achieving first page results as an SEO do-it-yourselfer is difficult to achieve. Why? Because basic SEO techniques seldom achieve first page rankings. SEO is both an art and a science that requires a much more in-depth knowledge learned through trial and error and years of experience testing various optimization techniques.
Understanding the basics of SEO is ideal for entrepreneurs with limited funds as well as for online marketing professionals who are hiring an SEO company. The following 10 SEO tactics will help one improve rankings and stay ahead of competitors who are not practicing website optimization.
Top 10 Basic SEO Techniques for Beginners
Basic SEO Technique 1. Keyword Research
The first step in website optimization is to understand what terms or keywords people are entering into Google search to find answers and information about your product or service. Perhaps the best tool to perform keyword research is Google’s keyword planner. While other keyword research tools are available, such as MOZ and SEMrush, why not go directly to the source?
Top Keyword Research Tools
Keyword Research Tips
Performing keyword research can be a bit confusing and, therefore, intimidating. If you are not familiar with how to use any of the above keyword research tools, be patient and understand that you will have a learning curve that, at first, will take you longer to figure out and execute keyword research.
1. Do NOT simply pick keywords with the most search volume.
2. Rather than sort your keyword data by search volume, try a descending sort on the “CPC” column, which is the cost-per-click data. Why? Well, the average CPC is an indicator of how “valuable” a keyword is toward converting into a lead or sale. This makes sense because businesses will bid more for keywords that will convert to a lead or sale. Typically, high search volume terms are one or two-word terms that are very generic and all-encompassing. The goal of keyword research is to choose the right keywords that will help your business grow, not just your website traffic.
3. Another important factor to consider when selecting keywords to target for better rankings is the level of competition. In general, websites that are larger in terms of number of pages indexed by Google tend to carry more weight and, therefore, have an advantage to ranking better than smaller websites (all other things being equal).
If you have a website with 20 pages and are attempting to compete against a website with 100 pages, it will be very difficult to succeed, therefore, find competing websites of approximately the same size as your site and target the keywords for which these similarly sized competitors are ranking. Competing for more competitive terms with higher search volume will require the production of new content/website pages.
Great Resources for “How to Perform Keyword Research”
For more in-depth coverage of how to perform keyword research step-by-step, I recommend these resources:
- MOZ – Beginners Guide to SEO – Keyword Research
- YouTube Video – How to do Proper Keyword Research
- ahrefs – How to do Keyword Research for SEO
You may also like another article I wrote on How to Choose the Right Keywords.
Basic SEO Technique 2. Competitive Analysis
In step 1 we covered the importance of keyword research. An important part of keyword research is understanding competitors. A competitive analysis helps to identify important SEO considerations such as website size and keywords for which competitors are ranking.
Because the size of websites impact rankings, one must know how the size of their website (number of pages indexed) compares to competitors. The simple way to approach this is to select a few of your most important keywords and perform a search in Google. Create a spreadsheet that shows several of the top-ranking websites for those terms. We recommend at least 5 competitors for 3-5 of the important keywords you’ve identified.
Here is an example of how a competitive analysis spreadsheet might look:
Rather than restating a previous article I wrote on how to perform a competitive analysis, please see: How to Perform a Competitor Analysis for SEO
Basic SEO Technique 3. Website Audit
Most articles on “how to perform SEO” and “the most important ranking factors for SEO” do not mention something as important as performing a website audit. Perhaps this is one reason why Webolutions’ SEO Services perform so well. We believe in cleaning-up technical issues with a website prior to performing search engine optimization.
Think of it this way, if you have a car with mechanical issues or if it is old and using less advanced technology, the car simply will not perform efficiently. The same is true for SEO. If your website has technical issues, it simply will not respond to SEO efforts as well as a well-running website. To realize the full impact of website optimization, ensure you correct website problems.
How to Perform a Website Audit
The depth of a website audit may vary. An audit can be very basic or extensive. For those just learning SEO, we’ll stick to understanding how to perform a basic website audit. Perhaps the simplest method to perform a website audit for beginners is to use SEMrush’s website audit tool.
This tool is a great starting point when performing a site audit and will cover the most important issues that might be negatively impacting your website’s performance and rankings. The tool provides an overall website health/audit score on a scale from 0-100. As a point of reference, a score of 80 or better is good. Some of our client’s websites had scores in the 40-50 range. When website issues were corrected to bring their score above 80, rankings improved significantly.
Great Resources for “How to Perform a Website Audit”
For more in-depth coverage of how to perform a site audit step-by-step, I recommend these resources:
- SEMrush – Site Audit
- YouTube Video – How to do a Technical SEO Audit for Your Website
- ahrefs – 16-Step SEO Audit
You may also find another article I wrote useful: SEO Analysis – SEO Audit
Basic SEO Technique 4. Fix Website Issues (speed, mobile friendly, SSL)
Associated with a website audit, but important enough to address separately are ranking factors associated with a website visitor’s “user experience”. Factors like website speed, website mobile responsiveness and site security are important search optimization elements.
Website speed is an important Google ranking factor. All other things being equal, a slow website will not rank as well as a faster site. Perhaps the most important thing to understand about Google is that they continually strive to deliver better results for their users.
How many times have you visited a website to find that the page does not load quickly? What do you do? Like most everyone, you leave the website and look for another result in Google that loads quickly and provides a better user experience. Google knows this and, therefore, lowers rankings for websites that take too long to load.
Another important ranking factor is whether one’s website is mobile friendly. What does this mean and why is it important? A couple of years ago, the use of mobile devices like smart phones and tables surpassed desktop computers as the primary means of search on Google.
More searches are performed from mobile devices, therefore, Google’s goal of providing a good user experience favors “responsive websites”. A responsive website changes its layout depending upon the size of the screen being used and delivers a better experience for the user. Many older websites are not responsive and, therefore, at a competitive disadvantage. Do you need a new responsive website?
The security of a website is also important to Google. They do not want to be sending search users to websites that are not secure and might even harm one’s computer with a virus or malware. They follow the adage “better safe than sorry”, therefore, one’s website should install and use an SSL (secure socket layer) to encrypt and protect the website as data is shared over the internet.
More than ever, internet users are aware of the frequent security issues with various websites. To ensure your website is not at a competitive disadvantage, use an SSL certificate on your website. You can tell if your site uses SSL if the web address shows “https” versus “http”.
A few other metrics to watch (provided by Google analytics) related to “user experience” are website bounce rate, number of page views and time spent on one’s website. Google can track how long visitors stay on your website and how many pages you visit. Websites that provide a better experience for visitors typically have higher “duration” or time on site and view more pages. All other things being equal, Google will tend to rank these websites above websites with lower time on site and page view metrics.
Basic SEO Technique 5. Meta Tags (title/description)
Meta tags, including Title and Meta Description are among the most important ranking factors. To rank well for a keyword or phrase, Google needs to understand what your web site and pages are about. Meta tags are critical to conveying this information to Google.
If one were to look at the source code of a web page, you’ll notice that the title tag and meta description are located in the page header area, which is toward the top of the code. Because these elements are so high up in the code, they are among the first things that provide Google an understanding of what your website and a web page are about.
Meta tags should contain variations and synonyms of the keywords for which you wish the page to rank well. Proximity is important. By this, we mean that listing your primary term toward the front of your meta information is more beneficial for rankings. A note of caution, do not keyword stuff your meta tags. This is a common problem for those new to SEO and is a common area of abuse (which is why Google no longer considers the meta keywords tag). Your title and meta description should stand out from other listings in Google and encourage users to choose your listing over others on the page.
Finding the right balance of keyword inclusion and creating interest is both a science and art that may require “tweaking” to find the best combination that helps one rank well and results in a search user selecting your website over others. Improperly aligning your meta tags with the content/information on the page provides a poor user experience and will likely result in your page being moved lower in the results.
For websites built with WordPress, there is a very good plugin from Yoast that helps optimize meta tags. Learn more here: Yoast SEO Plugin.
Basic SEO Technique 6. Page Content / On-Page SEO
As with meta tags found in the header of a website, the text or content of a web page sends signals to Google about the topic of your page and impacts rankings. If, for example, you want a page to rank well for “dog food”, then the page should be about dog food and contain words related to dogs and canines as well as food and nutrition.
If the page does not mention these keywords on the page and focuses instead on pet food for various types of pets, then Google does not have a clear understanding and the page may very well rank for pet food rather than dog food.
To ensure you are sending the correct signals to Google, include your primary keyword(s) in the “header tags”. On-page headings are different than the source code header. Think of on-page headers in terms of the table of contents of a book or the outline of a term paper where the topic is broken down into categories, sub-categories and examples.
Our goal is to create on-page content in such a way that we introduce the main topic or subject of our page toward the top and continue to discuss this topic in greater detail down the page.
Perhaps a visual representation would help. Let’s say we were writing a page about How to Perform SEO, an outline for this might look like this:
Title: How to Perform SEO
I. Introduction: What is SEO?
A. History of SEO
B. Benefits of SEO
II. Basic SEO Techniques
A. On-page SEO Tactics
B. Off-Page SEO Tactics
III. Intermediate SEO Techniques
A. Website Audit
B. Content Audit
C. Technical SEO Audit
When performing on-page optimization, we would want to follow this type of process. The H1 (most important) header would be the title: How to Perform SEO. The H2 headers (next most important) would include “Introduction: What is SEO?”, “Basic SEO Techniques”, and “Intermediate SEO Techniques”. The other items (A, B, C) in our outline above would become H3 headers. If one were to provide examples, the header might use an H4 tag.
Structuring your content like this is good on-page optimization and will help Google understand the semantic meaning of the page from macro to more micro topics. The next step is to write informative content that is useful to users and provides them some benefit.
There are many articles and videos about “keyword density” on a page. If you’re are writing well thought out content without trying to stuff your keywords into the content, then you don’t need to worry about measuring keyword density. Simply be sure to include your keywords once or twice in your headers and a few times in the copy and your page should be in good shape.
Similar to the meta title and description, you may want to make minor changes here and there to see if it impacts the rank of the page. You might change the order of words around a bit or add more synonyms related to your primary keyword. Because there are so many ranking factors, of which on-page content optimization is only one part, don’t become overly concerned about how well the page is optimized. You’ll likely find that you begin adding more and more occurrences of the keyword and the content begins to read poorly.
Remember, Google now considers user engagement metrics as part of their ranking algorithm. Rather than worrying about where and how many keywords are on the page, you are better off focusing on writing useful content that visitors may come back to read/reference again as well as share with others on social media or their own website. When someone else’s website references your content and provides a link to that page, this is referred to as a backlink. The next section discusses the importance of backlinks.
Basic SEO Technique 7. Backlink Profile
Many SEO companies believe that backlinks trump all other types of SEO elements. There is no doubt that backlinks are important, however, because so many SEO consultants have manipulated backlinks in terms of over-optimized anchor text (the part of the text that you click on to be taken to another page) and creating un-natural links (blackhat SEO techniques), Google has lowered the weighting/value of backlinks in their algorithm in favor of other factors that cannot be as easily manipulated, like user engagement.
A backlink profile analysis will consider attributes like:
- The quality of links to your website (i.e. Domain & Page Authority). One good quality link from, say, the Huffington Post is better than 100 links from low quality websites. The key to acquiring good quality links to one’s website is writing good quality content that others will reference.
- The content and meta tags of the page linking to you. The topical relationship of the page linking to your website matters. Using our earlier example of wanting to rank for “dog food”, a link from an article on “The Top 10 Nutritious Dog Foods” will help your rankings a lot more than a page about breeds of dogs or a totally unrelated page.
- The quantity of links to a website. As mentioned above, the quality of links is more important than quantity, however, the total number of links is a ranking factor. A website with 10 good quality backlinks will have a tough time competing against a website with hundreds of backlinks.
Top Resources for “How to Perform a Backlink Analysis”
For more in-depth coverage of how to perform a backlink profile analysis step-by-step, I recommend these resources:
- How to Perform a Competitive Backlink Analysis
- MOZ – Guide to Competitive Backlink Analysis
- YouTube Video – How to Conduct a Backlink Analysis
Basic SEO Technique 8. User Experience
Earlier we mentioned that Google has added to its ranking algorithm user engagement metrics like time on site, page views, etc. because other factors like backlink quantity and anchor text are easily manipulated. User engagement metrics are not as easily manipulated. By providing a good user experience, one helps their website rankings.
How Can a Website’s User Engagement be Improved?
Website design is critical to improving user engagement and site conversions.
One should always be considering how to provide the best website user experience as possible. After all, what good is it to have a visitor to your website leave immediately because of a poor experience. All the SEO in the world won’t change the fact that your website will not convert to a lead or sale because no one stays on a difficult to use website.
Among the top priorities for improving user engagement are website speed, mobile friendliness (responsive website), simple navigation that supports the goal(s) of your website, an un-cluttered layout that has plenty of negative space (blank space), good internal link building that takes a user from one area to related areas that may be useful, choice of colors, choice of graphics, content and many other factors. Simply consider what makes you stay on or leave a website.
Top Resources for “How to Improve a Website’s User Experience”
- User Experience Basics
- SEMrush – 8 Key Tips for Improving Your Site’s User Experience
- YouTube Video – How to Improve User Experience to Boost Conversion
Basic SEO Technique 9. New Content
Perhaps you’ve heard the saying “content is king”. This refers to the importance of a website having fresh/new content added to their website on a frequent basis. What is frequent? We recommend at least 2 new pages a month and prefer 4 or more.
Why is Fresh Content So Important?
Over time the lack of new content to one’s website results in the website becoming “stale”. If one’s website lacks new content, why would Google come back to your website to re-index the pages? There are no new pages. There hasn’t been for some time. In Google’s eyes, this is a sign that the website is not current. It is not being updated with new information and ideas. The more frequently you add content, the more frequently Google will crawl your website for new pages to include in its index.
Perhaps even more important is new content means new web pages, which means the size of one’s website is growing. Larger websites typically rank better than smaller websites (in terms of number of pages indexed). More pages mean more content, which means more occurrences of related keywords and keyword variations. More pages allow for more internal links to champion pages (those pages we wish to rank for a targeted set of keywords).
This article for example, provides useful information and resources for visitors to webolutionsmarketingagency.com. My hope is that you will find at least some of the content useful and share it with others. The article is another page on our website that is topically related to SEO and helps support our rankings for SEO related terms. Additionally, where applicable, I can provide users links to other pages on our website that provide additional information.
New (useful) content encourages backlinks from other websites and helps to improve a website’s authority and credibility. The result of more pages and more backlinks is better rankings.
Best Resources for How to Write Website Content
- The 11 Golden Rules of Writing Content for Your Website
- YouTube Video – Ultimate SEO Copywriting Tips That Still Works in 2018 & Beyond
You may also like these related articles on our website:
Basic SEO Technique 10. Clear Site Semantics
What do we mean by “website semantics” or “semantic search”? Quite simply it means that there are several sources available for Google to better understand what your website and a web page are about. Keyword stuffing the same term no longer works and provides a poor user experience. Rather, it is more advantageous for search engine optimization to provide Google several different, yet related, signals.
Providing Google a clear understanding of what your website is about helps improve rankings. When we talk about this in terms of “semantics” we mean that our content is organized in groups of topically related information. Some SEO articles refer to this as “siloing” or “silos” where topically related content is grouped together in a meaningful way for users.
Let’s say you have a website about pet food. Our topic silos might be Dog Food, Cat Food, Fish Food and Bird Food. While a website may very well interlink all these pages, it will not be as well optimized for search as when topically related content is grouped together. So, for semantic website optimization, we might have all pages related to Dogs interlink and grouped together. The same for cats, fish and birds.
If you’d like more information, this article may be helpful: Everything You Need to Know About Semantic Search And What It Means for Your Website
2. What are the most important SEO techniques?
There are over 200 ranking factors in Google’s search algorithm. We’ll share with you the most important optimization tactics and provide our priority of top ranking factors, so you know where to focus your SEO efforts.
Webolutions’ List of the Top 7 SEO Factors to Rank Well
- Keyword Research – you must understand what terms are most beneficial for your business
- Clean-up Website Problems – ensure your website is mobile friendly, responsive & secure
- Meta Title & Description – attract visitors with interesting page titles and descriptions
- Headers / Headings – organize your page content with headers
- Unique Content – provide visitors with valuable content that is useful
- User Engagement – make your website easy to use and full of unique, interesting content
- Quality Backlinks – remove poor quality backlinks and attract high quality links
3. SEO Best Practices – White Hat SEO
The internet has over 134 million results for “SEO”. With so much information available online about SEO, how does one identify “best SEO practices”? Quite simply SEO best practices adhere to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. While Google encourages website optimization to deliver the best results to users of its search engine, avoid attempts to trick or manipulate rankings. Perhaps the most popular tactic to manipulate rankings are creating backlinks with optimized anchor text.
Here is information provided by Google’s Webmaster Guidelines:
Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines.
Don’t deceive your users.
Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with you, or to a Google employee. Another useful test is to ask, “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”
Think about what makes your website unique, valuable, or engaging. Make your website stand out from others in your field.
Avoid the following techniques:
- Automatically generated content
- Participating in link schemes
- Creating pages with little or no original content
- Sneaky redirects
- Hidden text or links
- Doorway pages
- Scraped content
- Participating in affiliate programs without adding sufficient value
- Loading pages with irrelevant keywords
- Creating pages with malicious behavior, such as phishing or installing viruses, trojans, or other badware
- Abusing rich snippets markup
- Sending automated queries to Google
4. What is Black Hat SEO & Should I Practice it?
Many have heard about “black hat SEO” but are unclear as to what it is and what to expect should one practice blackhat SEO techniques. Blackhat SEO is simply any tactic outside of Google’s Guidelines intended to manipulate rankings. Examples of blackhat SEO are provided above under “Avoid the following techniques”.
What Will Happen If I Use Black Hat SEO Tactics?
If blackhat SEO techniques are used frequently, your website may receive a penalty and drop drastically in rankings. Or, your website could get totally banned from Google and removed from its index.
Here are a couple of good videos covering black hat SEO:
- Black Hat SEO 2018 (The Complete Guide)
- SEO Mistakes to Avoid | 3 Black Hat Techniques That WILL Get You Banned from Google
5. How Can I Become an SEO Expert?
Becoming an SEO expert takes time and experience. While basic to advanced SEO techniques can be researched and understood by searching the internet for articles and videos, much more is required to become a true SEO expert.
There is no defined path or degree to become an “SEO expert”. Most professional SEO consultants are self-taught with years of experience testing various optimization tactics. I believe that the most knowledgeable SEO technicians are those who have practiced white hat, grey hat and black hat SEO. Why?
Well, quite frankly, there is nothing better than learning from your mistakes. As one becomes more competitive with a strong desire to rank #1 for high value keywords, more aggressive SEO tactics are required.
This typically moves one from practicing white hat SEO to grey hat SEO. This might lead one to include keywords more frequently on a page. Do this too much and you are practicing “keyword stuffing”, which is a spam technique.
Still not ranking # 1? Well, one may also begin creating backlinks from their own website with over-optimized anchor text. Now we’re entering dark grey hat SEO territory. Having a handful of websites interlinking becomes questionable. Interlinking a dozen or more websites with optimized commercial anchor text and this becomes clear black hat backlink manipulation, which is against Google’s Guidelines.
It isn’t until you go overboard with various black hat techniques and get one of your website’s penalized or banned from Google that you understand the boundaries for aggressive SEO. Learning and practicing all available SEO tactics helps one identify what techniques are the most effective, while also being within Google’s Guidelines.
One final skill set that separates SEO professionals is those who know how to program/build a website versus those who do not. SEO frequently requires modifications and adjustments to website code. Those who do not understand code or content management systems like WordPress, Weebly or Joomla simply cannot be as effective as those who do.
The role of search engine optimization (SEO) is critical to the success of most every business. As more and more commerce moves to the internet, being found online becomes more and more difficult because the competition continues to increase. Understanding basic SEO techniques is important for business owners and certainly those in the role of marketing and advertising.
Basic SEO techniques include keyword research, competitive analysis, website audit, meta tags, website content, backlinks and user experience. Among the most important SEO elements are keyword research and competitive analysis to ensure one is targeting terms that will result in new potential business.
There is both “good” and “bad” SEO that either adhere to SEO best practices as outlined by Google’s Webmaster Guidelines (known as white hat SEO) or perform more aggressive search optimization outside of Google’s recommendations (known as black hat SEO). Practicing black hat SEO tactics can result in a website becoming penalized and drop significantly in rankings or, at worst, banned and removed from Google completely.
Becoming an SEO expert takes time and experience because one must learn and practice many different SEO techniques to understand what is and is not successful. Additionally, a complete understanding of SEO cannot be achieved until one has practiced all forms of SEO, including white, grey and black hat. Finally, to become a true expert at SEO, one must understand website coding because search optimization professionals often need to make changes to the code that makes-up a website.