A step by step guide to SEO for beginners. Explore the SEO basics to understand how to dominate the top pages of search results.
Through SEO, your business can see the light. How?
Millions of people are searching for products or services on the internet. There are more than 4.5 billion searches on Google per day.
If your business can show up on these searches, then you are hopeful to make sales. That’s where Search Engine Optimization comes in.
SEO allows you to optimize your website content, webpages, blog posts, articles for search engines so that you can achieve higher rankings in their search results, which equals more visitors to your site and possibly more customers and sales.
I’ve been using Cloudways since January 2016 for this blog. I happily recommend Cloudways to my readers because I am a proud customer.
If you are considering making money online, or you are promoting your products or services on the internet or you want to attract more traffic to your website, SEO is the most effective content marketing tool to help you achieve that.
Who is this SEO guide intended for?
This is a complete step by step guide to SEO for beginners (Those who know nothing or a little bit about SEO).
If you are just new to search engine optimization or content marketing you have come to the right place. In this guide, we will show you exactly how to use SEO to achieve higher search engine ranking. We will use simple and easy to understand terms. NO technical terms. NO jargon. As we have said, this is a complete SEO guide for beginners.
What you will learn from this SEO guide
In this guide, you will learn the SEO fundamentals. We will cover basic SEO concepts so that you can have a foundation before you move on to the more advanced SEO techniques.
NOTE: This guide will not teach you how to become an SEO expert but will equip you with the knowledge to start optimizing your website for search engines.
If you want your website to show up when people use search terms related to your business, or if you want to make your products or services known to a wider audience or if you just want to get the hang of SEO, this post is for you.
In this beginner’s guide to SEO, we will cover:
- What is SEO and why you need It.
- How to do keyword research and the Best Targeting Practices.
- On-page SEO optimization techniques.
- Improving accessibility of your website for both search engines and humans.
- Link building & content marketing.
- Tracking and measuring your SEO success.
After reading this step by step SEO basics guide, you will learn:
- How to know what your target customers are searching for on the internet.
- How to optimize your website so that it can be found in those searches.
- How to optimize your website for humans and search engines alike.
- How to acquire backlinks (get other websites to link to your website).
- How to evaluate your SEO success.
So without much ado, let’s get started.
What is SEO?
Chances are that you have heard of SEO, but if you are just hearing it for the first time here is the SEO definition according to Wikipedia. In simple terms, SEO stands for search engine optimization. It involves all the processes you do on your website to make it visible on search engines.
There are specific SEO rules to follow when optimizing your website so that search engines can understand your content better and index it.
Search engines use a set of algorithms and crawlers that read the HTML code of a web page to understand your content, then mine the information needed so that your website can be indexed. Search engine algorithms will then decide whether to rank your website or not.
You are, therefore, required to understand the search intent of your target readers on the internet, what answers they are looking for, the terms they enter on their browsers when searching for information online (what are called keywords in SEO), and the type of content they are looking for.
Understanding all these concepts will help you to target the right people.
There are around 200 Google ranking factors that the search engine algorithms take into considerations when deciding to rank a website and its content. There are three essential SEO components (processes) namely Technical SEO, On-Page SEO, and Off-Page SEO. All these components deal with several factors that when you apply on your website appropriately, you get a fully optimized website that ranks better on search engines.
Here are the three SEO processes in a quick summary.
Well, you might find it hard to understand the concepts but we will expound on them later.
Just keep reading.
This is the process of optimizing your website to make search engines to access, crawl, and index your website smoothly. Technical SEO does not involve the content of a website.
On-Page SEO involves all the processes done within a website. It is the process of making search engines to crawl and understand your content. This is where you will want to know how to do keyword research, how to deal with content marketing and learn how to optimize your content for certain keywords.
Off-Page SEO involves all the processes done outside a website that affects your Google rankings. These include website promotion techniques such as link building, etc. Basically, it’s the process you will do once you have implemented the other two processes above successfully.
There are other terms you will interact with when learning SEO such as mobile SEO, content SEO, local SEO, and eCommerce SEO. All these are sub-components of search engine optimization applied to specific types of websites.
For instance, local SEO is effective to local businesses that want to attract neighboring customers but eCommerce SEO is suited for online stores. Off-page SEO does not only include the use of link building but other practices that improve the reputation of your brand online. You should consider getting social media mention from influencers. Furthermore, you can hire SEO Builder to help you undertake off-page SEO. After all, this all happens outside your website.
Why you need SEO?
So, you’ve heard of SEO but still wondering why you should care about it. Here is why you should have your website optimized for SEO.
To rank better in search engines
When done properly, SEO can make your website get higher Google rankings and possibly attract more website visitors. Traffic or website visitors are what your website needs to succeed. When you get more traffic flowing to your site, you increase conversions, sales, grow your email list, and make your website known to many people.
Attract target traffic to your website
Many people are searching for information online. With SEO, you get very specific or target traffic.
Although you can drive traffic from other sources like social media, forums and many others, to get organic traffic, you must target it. Users that find information on Google have search intent but users on social media are doing it for fun, or to connect with friends.
There are higher chances of making a sale or conversion when a visitor comes from Google than social media. A user who searches you on Google has a need (commercial intent) and is looking for a solution but a user coming from Facebook may have clicked an ad and landed on your website.
Conversion is when a user takes an action you want them to take. For instance, clicking a link, subscribing to your email list, purchase a product you sale, etc.
Further reading: 11 proven strategies to get 1000+ visitor per day to your blog.
To get unpaid or organic traffic around the clock
Organic traffic is simply traffic coming from search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.). It’s not paid for.
Sometimes people opt to pay to drive traffic to their sites. Well, this is a good idea but for you to be successful with this method, you must be able to execute profitable PPC campaigns on search engines or social media. The drawback with this method is that to continue driving traffic to your site, you must continue paying for ads else your traffic will go down once you stop paying.
Fortunately, with SEO, you do not need to pay anything or even if you will pay, it’s not as costly as paying for ads. Once you implement the essential SEO techniques that get your website ranked higher on search engines, traffic will flow to your site. This way, you increase the chances of making sales at any time.
SEO for business growth
SEO is unpredictable. Google changes their algorithm constantly and every time this happens it affects websites’ rankings. If you follow the white-hat SEO techniques and perform your SEO consistently, you can predict how the next Google algorithm change will affect your website. This way, you can know how to keep your website ready and hence growing your business.
NOTE: Websites that show up in the first pages of search results get 73 percent of the clicks while those in the top five positions get 67 percent of the clicks.
This implies that if you want to attract more clicks, then your website must show up on the top five positions.
Additional SEO benefits
Apart from the benefits we have mentioned above, there are other benefits you can get by implementing the right SEO techniques.
When your website shows up on thousands of relevant searches, many people get to know about your business.
Since people trust Google, they are likely to trust your business if it shows up on the top pages of search results.
Websites that show up on the top of search results get more shares on social media platforms.
More quality backlinks- Websites that appear in the first pages of Google are more likely to get quality backlinks.
How do search engine rankings work?
To determine whether your site will rank, Google’s algorithm considers certain elements such as:
- The way users engage with your site (are users consuming your content, or are they clicking the back button before even reading your content? Or are they ignoring your listing and not clicking your links?).
- Loading speed and mobile-optimized website – Is your site optimized for mobile visitors? Does your website display what people search on the internet when using their mobile devices? Your website should be able to display properly on devices of any screen size
- Is your website content valuable to potential customers? Is your content thin or is your website filled with duplicate content?
As you can see there are plenty of Google ranking factors that algorithms take into consideration before your website can rank better. However, you do not have to be an expert to know all of them.
Proceed to our next step to continue learning how to rank for valuable search terms in search results.
How to do keyword research and the best targeting practices
First things first, before you start the search engine optimization SEO process, you need to know what exactly you are optimizing for. This is where you are required to find out what terms users are entering into their browsers when searching for information on the internet (the keywords that you want your website to rank for in search engines).
This is where the keyword research process comes in.
Are you getting more confused?
Don’t worry, you will find everything we have shared in this step by step guide to SEO for beginners easy to understand once you read through to the end.
When you want to rank for certain keywords, there are a few essential factors to put in mind. For instance, if you want your dog food business to appear at the top pages when people search for the term “dog food” or when they enter the term “best dog food.” Head over to step three. But wait.
Essential keyword research factors to consider
Search volume –
This is the number of people who are searching for your given keyword (in this case, we can assume your keyword is “dog food”).
The higher the number of people searching for your keyword, the more the people you will reach. Equally, if no one is searching for your given keyword, then your content might not be seen through search.
Let’s take a look at what results you get when you use “dog food” as your target keyword using SEMrush. For your information, SEMrush is one of the most powerful keyword research tools out there.
As you can see the keyword “dog food” has a higher monthly search volume of up to 110K in the United States. This means optimizing your content for this keyword has the potential of reaching many people.
Although the keyword has a huge search volume, it may not help you if it’s not relevant to your potential customers. In short, you want to show up on searches related to your business. For instance, if you are selling dog food, showing up on searches related to email marketing software won’t help.
Competition is a threat to any business encounters. For that reason, you must ensure that the keyword you are ranking for doesn’t have much competition.
As you can see the keyword dog food has a competition of 1.00 that shows you will likely succeed when you rank for that particular search term.
Before you start working with keywords…
The first and most important thing to do before you start working with keywords is to understand who your potential customers are and what information they are looking for.
In this case, you need to figure out things like
- What type of content they are interested in consuming
- Problems they are encountering
- The language and tools they use
- Businesses they are engaging with (these are your potential competitors), etc.
Once you are equipped with this information, you will have gathered a list of keywords and domains you can borrow extra keywords from.
Now use those keywords on tools like SEMrush, Google keyword planners, Google search console, etc.
Let’s take a look at how to know how people are searching for your business.
Identify how people are searching for your business
Chances are that your target customers are using the search terms you have noted down. But if not, the most important thing is to understand the most popular ways people are searching for our business.
Now using the ideas you have gathered, for instance, we can assume your business deals with dog food.
Enter that phrase on Google and see the results that will show up.
Assuming you were looking for good dog food but you did not specify the exact location.
Enter your query as: Where can I get good dog food in the world?
When you skim these results, you can find that the search phrase “best dog food” and “best dry dog food’ appears in the title of most sites.
That means these websites have done some research and found that people are searching using these terms and that’s why they are including these search phrases in their title tags which is also a healthy SEO practice.
But let’s not assume these fellows know exactly what they are doing.
Now taking our “Best dog food” as our main target keyword, let’s search it on SEMrush to see the results that will show up.
As you can see, when we search for the keyword “best dog food” on SEMrush, you can see that it has a monthly search volume of 74,000 in the United States. Its CPC and Competition are also promising. This means it’s a good keyword to use.
Get a deeper understanding of how your customers are searching for your business
Here you need to get deeper into how people search for your business. In that case, you can use Google autocomplete results.
Open your browser, then go to www.google.com and type your keyword “best dog food”, but don’t click ENTER.
Google will provide suggestions on the search terms people are using to search for businesses related to yours.
Repeat the same process by entering one letter of the alphabet after another and see the results that will show up.
You can also use SEMrush to find related keywords, their search volume, CPC, etc.
You can expand your keyword research by looking to other places including forums, Reddit, Quora, Social media, etc.
On-page SEO optimization techniques
Once you have gathered your target and related keywords, you now start integrating them into your content. This is where you do on-page optimization. Note that Google can recognize keywords stuffed.
Pages on your website should not target the same keyword. Each page should have unique targeted and related keywords. Check this overview to understand how to optimize pages on your website.
Many people who fail with their SEO strategies optimize their content but ignore their webpages. You must ensure to optimize all these for search engines.
Although there are various ways to do it, if you are using the WordPress content management platform, install the Yoast SEO plugin. You don’t pay for anything. Besides, it’s easy to use for beginners and experts alike.
Here are a few critical on-page SEO elements you want to consider as you work to drive organic traffic to your site.
Add your target keywords in your Title Tags
Many people confuse the title tag with headlines. The headline of a page is usually displayed in an H1 or H2 tag whereas the title tag is what is displayed at the top of your browser.
Include your primary/targeted or main keyword on your title tag (naturally) to make it search engine friendly.
Generally, the length of your title tag should be between 55-60 characters according to Google.
Make your title tag clickable.
Create compelling Meta descriptions
A Meta description is the featured snippet that appears right below the headline in the search results. It’s what is displayed in organic search. In other words, when a searcher enters a search term related to the keyword you are ranking for, what they see on their search results as the headline is your title tag.
Although the title tag is valuable, the Meta description is also important since it acts as an ad copy of your site.
There is no guarantee that Google will display your Meta description but if you make it compelling, people will likely click on it and this can increase click-through rate and drive traffic to your site tremendously.
Your aim is to attract people to your site and then lead them to take the action you want.
Well, click-through rate isn’t a direct Google ranking factor but it does contribute to traffic generation from search.
Usually, Google truncates longer Meta descriptions. To avoid truncations, keep yours less than 159 characters. There are plenty of tools to use to keep your Meta descriptions within the recommended characters such as charactercountonline, pixel tool, etc.
This is how a Meta description is displayed in search results.
Break your content into headers and sub headers to make your content readable
Headers not only make your content readable, but they also make search engines understand the structure of your page.
In this case, you should use;
Header 1(H1) –
For the on-page title of your content. Add your target or related keyword here. A good rule of thumb is to use your target keywords at the beginning of your title.
Header 2 (H2) –
The titles of other sections of your page. Integrate your target/related keywords (naturally, don’t force keywords) here as well. A good rule of thumb is to use long-tail keywords which you are targeting.
Use the other headers and sub headers going deeper in your content e.g. H3, H4, H5, and so on.
The actual content
Although the above-mentioned things are important, the content you publish on your page is important.
Google favors certain types of content as you will read below.
- Unique, informative and useful – There is no exact word count when it comes to the content you can publish on a blog page but some studies have shown that longer content (more than 1,000 words) gets better Google rankings. In fact, the recent Panda updates suggest that the Giant search engine favors unique and longer content.
- Note that no matter how long your content is, it must be thick and unique. So don’t sacrifice quality with quantity here.
- Engagement – Google strives to make sure users are getting what they ask for and in the best way possible and that’s why it ranks content it feels is engaging and helping its users. You can achieve this by creating content that provides solutions to searchers. If your content engages and answers searchers’ questions, they will stay longer on your page hence increasing dwell time.
- Shareable – No matter how good your content is if it’s not getting more shares, it won’t help either. Ensure your pages contain thick content that can get more share and links. Also, interlink your content to relevant old content within your site.
Optimize images and video
Images and video are attracting to the human eye, but search engines cannot read or interpret them. To help Google understand your images or video, you must name them appropriately using the alt tags. This also helps to attract search traffic from image search. You can include your target keyword or its variations here but avoid keyword stuffing. If it can’t be integrated naturally in the alt tag of your images, just don’t use it.
WordPress allows users to add alt tags via the Alternative Text field. You can also do it manually if you are not using WordPress for your site.
Your blog posts URL is important in that it can increase the shareability of your content.
It also helps search engines to understand what your blog post is all about. You need to get it right the first time because changing it later may cause problems on your content. Read Google’s advice about URLs to know how to go about optimizing your URLs.
Another important thing you need to remember is that your site’s URL should be simple, easy to remember, and clean. It’s advised to avoid using the already developed URL by your site. Add your target keyword here as well.
Instead of leaving your URLs like domain.com/seobasics-128?guide
Make it as descriptive as possible like domain.com/seo-beginners-guide
Set up schema
Setting up schema improves the way your site appears in search results. Many people use schema to add ratings to their websites. Read the schema documentation to know how to get started.
Improve accessibility of your website for both search engines and humans
These days, in a bid to get their website content ranked better in search engines, many business owners, bloggers, and content marketers forget to write content for humans and focus on optimizing for search engines.
Remember, when publishing content, it must be tailored to your potential customers but optimized for search engines. These are your two core customers.
Bots are getting more intelligent and human-like; therefore, a good rule of thumb is to create a good experience for both humans and bots.
Although this step isn’t complicated, it’s important to work with a professional and preferably a developer so that you can get things right from the word go.
NOTE: As we mentioned earlier in this post, we don’t want to confuse you with technical or jargon.
Improve your site’s loading speed
These days, people aren’t patient. A study suggests that 43% of people will leave a site that takes more than 3 seconds to load. Besides, search engines are emphasizing on having fast-loading sites.
Having a site that loads at a lightning speed is not only emphasized by search engines but is also beneficial for your users and can have a huge impact on your site’s conversion rates.
Optimize for mobile
This involves the creation of accelerated mobile pages.
When creating content that can be accessed on desktops, think mobile optimization as well. A study suggests that more than 60 percent of searches now come from mobile. Google also understands this and favors sites with a mobile version. That means if your website is not mobile-friendly, then you are missing out a lot of opportunities. Use this guide by Google to learn how to make your site mobile friendly or test your site with Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test Tool to ensure your website caters for mobile users.
Install an SSL certificate
Google wants its users to have the best experience ever when using the search engine. For that reason, they will return a warning sign if a user is accessing a site that does not use HTTPS. Recently, Google announced HTTPS as one of their ranking signals.
It’s easier to tell when a site uses SSL since it will have a padlock in the address bar, right before the URL. For eCommerce sites, if you are not using SSL certificate, then you are risking your site.
Create a sitemap
A sitemap helps search engines to find your content and understand the connection within your pages. A sitemap is simply a list of all the pages on your site that is represented as an XML file.
If you are using WordPress for your website and you have the Yoast SEO plugin installed, it will automatically create a sitemap for you. Although sitemaps do not affect rankings, they help search engines to find and index recently added pages on your website quickly. Once you have created your sitemap, you can use Google’s guidelines to know how to test and submit it.
Interlinking relevant posts and pages
Internal linking, sometimes known as contextual linking is the process of connecting your recent and your oldest content, or various pages of your website by way of links using relevant anchor texts. This technique is also helpful when it comes to increasing the speed at which search engines move around your site (through a process called crawling).
As said, just make sure you are linking with relevant anchor texts. For instance, this post is about SEO basics, had we created a post specifically about on-page SEO techniques, we would have linked to it with an anchor text like on-page SEO so that our readers can get to learn more about On-Page SEO techniques.
Apart from helping search engines to crawl fast on your site, interlinking your content and or web pages helps users to discover more relevant content.
Link Building & Content Marketing
Link building and content marketing are two essential off-page SEO components that can make or break the success of your SEO strategy. After creating high-quality content, you need to work on promoting it and generating backlinks. This might or might not cost you money but it will need at least as much time.
Although there isn’t clear evidence suggesting that backlinks can directly increase your Google rankings, having high-quality backlinks can drive search traffic which sends a signal to Google that your content is good and this will “convince” the search engine to rank your content better.
Although you may be successful with your on-page SEO techniques, if you lack backlinks, it might not be easy to show up fast on search results.
There are plenty of strategies you can implement on your site to get other websites to link to yours. Some are more genuine (white-hat SEO link building techniques) while others aren’t effective anymore and are risky to implement on your site.
Sometimes many people in a bid to create more backlinks opt to follow the shortcut by following riskier or aggressive link building strategies. But as a beginner, you should stick to the genuine strategies so that you don’t get penalized by search engines.
You could start by analyzing how your competitors are building backlinks then start from there.
Here are genuine link building strategies you can use.
Further reading: 10 Backlink Building Rules That You Must Absolutely Follow
Build backlinks using the swipe technique
This is perhaps one of the genuine but complex link building techniques, although it’s doable.
This is how this technique works.
For instance, you have created an excellent “best dog food guide”. You are sure that your guide is thorough, informative, educative, and content is up-to-date. When you check around, you find that it’s the best guide on the web. That means, it deserves to get more backlinks than any other dog food guide out there.
However, when you perform a search to see whether there are other guides with backlinks, you find that there are around 10 sites with more than 100 backlinks.
Another thing, you find that those sites aren’t as awesome as your dog food guide. That means you can also get in touch with owners of those sites linking to these 10 websites to see whether they can accept to link to you as well.
NOTE: There are many ways to check which domains are linking to which sites. There are free and paid backlink checkers you can use as well.
Once you have identified sites that are worth reaching out to for backlinks, you need to find email addresses of the owners of the websites and talk to them about your idea.
This video explains how to do it.
Broken link building
Some pages that have links pointing to them but due to unknown circumstances, when users click on the links, they get Error 404 page doesn’t exist. That means these pages are broken.
You can research and find a couple of them then reach out to the sites that are linking to the broken pages to ask if they can replace the links by linking to your site.
Well, this technique does not guarantee success because the owners of the sites might reject your idea.
Moreover, it’s a time-consuming exercise, although the rewards are worth it.
You will have to use tools to check broken links, then create similar content on your website and contact the owners of the sites to ask them to replace the broken link with a link to your content.
The good thing about this tactic is that:
- You will have already known the type of content the owners of the sites want to link to, and
- You will be helping them to fix broken links which could have affected their sites had you not informed them.
Check this guide to broken link building to learn more about this approach.
Guest blogging is the process of writing for other sites in your niche to get links back to your site.
Unlike what people have been saying, guest posting is still a link building technique, you can read it here.
Google wants articles, content or blog posts that educate, inform, and help users about your company. If you are guest posting purposely to create backlinks, Google is clever enough to notice that. And it may cost you in the long run.
Many people violate Google terms when building backlinks by hiring writers who aren’t knowledgeable about the topic.
If you know your guest posts are high-quality, informative, useful, helpful, and engaging, you are free to smile.
But for this link building strategy to be successful:
- You must ensure to publish content on authoritative sites with a huge readership
- Create excellent content that readers want to read, comment, and share
- Link to relevant pages on your site that help the readers in a more detailed manner.
Check this guest blogging guide to know how it’s done properly.
Tracking and measuring your SEO success
Now that you have put all these SEO techniques together and they are working, you need to know whether they are bearing fruits or you need to make some adjustments to some of them. This is what is called tracking and measuring your SEO success.
There are plenty of methods you can track and measure the success of your SEO which can get you confused as a beginner. It’s important to focus on the basics.
Remember this post is about SEO basics. And as we mentioned earlier, we will put everything in an easy-to-digest manner. The basics, in this case, involve organic traffic, average rankings for your target keywords, organic leads and sales.
Measuring organic traffic
Organic traffic is one of the health indicators that your SEO efforts are bearing fruits. By tracking and measuring organic traffic, you can know the amount of traffic coming to your site from search and where they are coming from.
Google Analytics is the best tool for tracking and measuring organic traffic. This is a free and easy-to-use tool.
Just head over to the dashboard and go to Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels > Organic Search.
Well, there are other premium tools but we find Google Analytics intuitive and user-friendly.
Another way to track and measure your SEO success is by checking your site’s average rankings. This is the assessing of how your content ranks on search engines over a given period. Google Search Console is one of the best and free tools you can use to find the average position, impression, and clicks you attract from various target keywords.
But even though your content gets higher search engine rankings, that does not mean your SEO strategy is successful. This implies that you have fought the battle halfway. You still need to drive more relevant traffic that results in more sales. So until this is achieved, you should not rest there.
Organic leads and sales
This is perhaps the most effective way to track and measure your SEO strategy. After all, your main aim is to drive traffic, engage with the traffic, and potentially make sales from the traffic.
Once your site starts making sales, you can now tell that your SEO effort is valuable.
The Bottom Line
Although search engine optimization AKA SEO is a competitive technique, it is still the most powerful approach to drive, consistent, targeted, and valuable traffic to your website.
It’s worth noting that SEO is not going to bring results overnight. You will need to commit your time, effort, and money. You will go through a trial and error phase but the outcome is worth it.
You just need to be consistent for you to continue driving traffic to your website.
To sum up our step by step guide to SEO beginners here are five essential steps you need to remember always:
- Research related keywords with excellent search traffic potential
- Create content for users and optimize it for search engines
- Optimize your website for humans and bots alike
- Build high-quality and relevant backlinks from authoritative sites
- Track and measure your SEO success
We hope we have covered everything SEO basics, but if you think we missed other crucial SEO fundamentals, let us know that in the comment section.