SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is a crucial part of running an online business successfully, but it can be hard to know where to start. We recommend nailing the SEO basics first, starting with understanding search engines and how they work, before you begin optimizing your website both on and off the page.
If you’re looking for a helping hand to do that, then you’re in the right place! Below, we’re breaking down all of the SEO basics you need to know. The good news is that many website builders have SEO checklists and tools built-in to help you out too, so you’ll be optimizing confidently in no time.
We’ll start with a brief look at how search engines rank webpages, then explain how to conduct keyword research, before moving onto on-page and off-page optimization, different types of SEO, and then walk you through how to measure the success of your SEO efforts through analytics. So by the end of this guide, you’ll be ready to optimize your own site and start ranking!
To understand how SEO works, you first need to understand the SE – that is, search engines.
When we think of search engines, our minds usually turn to Google, as they should – it boasts 80% of the market share, after all. But there are other search engines, such as Bing, Yahoo!, Ask, DuckDuckGo, and Yandex – and the platform a person uses depends on their geographic location, preferences, and concern around data and information privacy.
So – how do search engines work, exactly?
Search engines rely on complex algorithms to crawl, index, and rank web pages – before presenting them as answers to the user’s initial search.
But, of course, there’s a rhyme and a reason to it. Search engines use a specific set of criteria (called “ranking factors” to do this). These include:
- Relevance (how much the content relates to the user’s question)
- Authority (how credible is the content provider)
- Popularity (how many other people are going to this website for information)
- Usability (how accessible the information is; including how quickly the webpage loads)
At the heart of all good SEO efforts is ensuring that Google – and other search engines – perceives your content as relevant, authoritative, popular, and usable. If so, it’ll “rank” your content higher in its search results and have what’s known as ‘domain authority‘. This, in turn, means your content can be discovered, and read, by more people – which is always good news.
When you start Googling “SEO basics”, one of the first things you’ll be told to do is keyword research. So what is it?
Keyword research is the process of finding – and analyzing – the words and phrases your audience is typing into search engines. Whether it’s to search for a particular topic, service, product, or industry, these are the specific terms people use when they get online.
Why do keywords matter to you? Well, search engines use keywords to understand what a web page is about – and to figure out whether that web page offers a suitable answer to a user’s query. When you know what these keywords are, you can integrate them naturally into your content which gives it a better chance of appearing in Google’s search results when someone uses the same term.
To get – and stay – on top of your keyword research efforts, you’ll need to use a keyword research tool. These are online platforms that generate a list of keywords, along with their search volumes – that is, the approximate amount of users searching for them every month.
Some of our favorite keyword research tools include:
- Answer the Public
- Google Trends
- SERP Checker
Many keyword research tools are completely free but we recommend paying for a subscription if you want to reap the biggest rewards.
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Learn more about How Much SEO Costs in our full breakdown.
When it comes to SEO, efforts can be roughly split into two camps: on-page and off-page.
On-page optimization is the art (or science) of looking at individual web pages. It involves optimizing specific elements of each page, including their:
- Meta descriptions: keeping them between 150 and 160 characters long, and ensuring they’re concise and compelling enough to convince the user to click.
- Title tags: making sure they reflect the page’s content and incorporate the main (or “target”) keyword.
- Image alt tags: ensuring they’re an accurate description of what the image depicts, while also integrating the page’s core keywords naturally.
- Content: well, this is a whole article in itself! Check out our extensive guide to blog SEO tips for more.
- Internal links: ensuring the words you’re hyperlinking (the “anchor text”) are an accurate reflection of the page you’re linking to.
Why is on-page optimization important?
Well, search engines look at individual pages as well as their relationship to each other. So, by optimizing each page, and the content on it, you can give them the best chance of SERP success.
Plus, on-page techniques – such as compressing images to reduce their file size, writing descriptive image alt tags, or integrating keywords into your page title, headings, and meta descriptions – also make your content more accessible.
On-page optimization ensures your website can be read and understood by everyone, regardless of their abilities or disabilities, such as people using keyword navigation or screen readers. It means that, even before people click a link on your content, they know exactly where they’re going to end up when they do.
- How to Optimize Images for SEO: Follow these best practices to make your website imagery SEO-friendly
Off-page optimization doesn’t actually take place on your site, but off it. Broadly, examples of this technique include:
- Link building: by working with other, authoritative sites in your industry – and getting them to link back to your content – you can boost your site’s credibility, trustworthiness, and authority in the eyes of search engines.
- Social media marketing: by building a strong social media presence, you can boost brand awareness, drive traffic to your site, and engage with potential customers.
- Influencer outreach: by working with influencers, or guest blogging on other websites, you can build links back to your content, increasing your brand’s visibility.
Let’s say your online website is like a physical store. If on-page optimization is putting ads in the store window – and off-page optimization is dropping ads in people’s letterboxes, or on billboards – then technical SEO is the electricity that keeps your store’s lights on.
It’s the stuff that goes on behind the scenes – the nuts and bolts. Technical SEO involves ensuring your site is fast, secure, mobile-friendly, and structured in a way that makes sense to both your website’s users as well as Google.
Let’s break those elements down:
- Site speed: when it comes to website load times, statistics show that even a one-second delay reduces customer satisfaction by 16%. So technical SEO is concerned with ensuring your site loads quickly, and that it’s slick and seamless to use.
- Mobile responsiveness: with so many people accessing the internet on their smartphones and tablets, a mobile-friendly site is a must. Technical SEO can help make your website mobile-friendly – and keep your small-screen users satisfied.
- Site architecture: this is the way your website’s pages are organized; how they link to and interact with one another. With a well-structured site, the search engine bots (that’s the technology it uses to interpret web pages and their connections to one another) will be better able to crawl your site and its content.
Content marketing is all about creating – and sharing – valuable, relevant, and consistent content. The goal? Attracting, and retaining, an audience: informing, engaging, and entertaining them in order to, eventually, sell them.
“Content”, in this sense, can be a blog article, a newsletter, an ebook, a brochure, a podcast, an email – and so much more.
How does content relate to SEO? Well, high-quality content (that which is created to educate and inform, rather than simply sell), is vital for boosting a website’s visibility and authority across search engines. With compelling, well-optimized content, sites can attract more traffic, win more backlinks, and accrue more social signals – all of which are critical ranking factors for Google and friends.
Some of the ways your website can blend content marketing and SEO effectively are through:
- Blogging: writing and publishing blog posts consistently (every week, for example) helps establish your site as an authority in its space – while also providing vital opportunities to link between your pages, and integrate important keywords.
- Guest posting: by writing content for other sites – but which feature one or more links to your own website – you boost the social signals associated with your site, and remind Google that you’re a credible authority in your industry.
- Social media: by sharing your blogs on social media, as well as posting original content to your Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn profiles, you can expand your reach, boost traffic to your site, and build greater awareness around what you do.
SEO isn’t simply about what you do on your site (or off it!), but how you measure the success of those efforts. After all, SEO isn’t something you do once, then forget about – it’s a perpetual process of refinement, analysis, and iteration.
So how can you measure your SEO efforts? We recommend you start by adding Google Analytics to your website. Google Analytics is a completely free SEO tool that allows you to view how many visits your site’s getting on a daily, monthly, or yearly basis – as well as how much time people are spending on your website.
You can also peruse metrics such as bounce rate (the percentage of your site’s users who immediately “bounce” off the page after arriving on it), and conversion rate (the percentage of your site’s visitors who are taking a specified action, such as making a purchase or signing up to your email newsletter).
Analytics and measurement are vital processes for SEO because it’s not an exact science. SEO is a constant process of trial and error: whether that’s editing content to integrate fresh keywords, updating pages for relevance, or revisiting your website’s key pages to ensure they’re optimized for the latest search engine changes – like Google’s Core Web Vitals update.
“SEO basics” is kind of an oxymoron, because frankly, SEO isn’t basic!
It’s a complex, shifting staircase of a discipline that’s – quite literally – evolving every day. It’s why we have an SEO glossary to help make sense of it all! But, with the tips we’ve provided here, you have all of the building blocks with which to build the foundations of understanding – and set your site up for search engine success.
It’s a framework, which helps coordinate your marketing efforts across multiple types of content. With it, you can streamline your time and resources, and pursue your content and wider marketing goals with more efficiency and zeal.