SEO can seem like an extremely complicated and confusing concept to a beginner.
And honestly it can be complicated but don’t worry, the core concepts are quite simple.
In this SEO tutorial for beginners I will talk you through the main parts of SEO to help you get started.
What is SEO?
SEO is the art, process, and method of optimizing websites and webpages to drive organic traffic to your site.
SEO requires a mix of content and media (text, videos, images, and other features), on-page optimization (content attributes, metas, etc) technical SEO (crawlibility, indexibility, fixing errors, site speed, mobile optimization etc) and off-site SEO (backlinking).
These basic SEO components combine with signals generated when users interact with your site.
The time users spend on your site (dwell time), click-through rates from the SERPs, bounce-rate (the rate at which users bounce off your site without interaction) amongst other factors also contribute to your SEO performance.
It’s therefore paramount to have a site technically oriented for SEO, but also one which is content and feature-rich enough to provide value to your users, thus indicating to Google that you’re worthy of a higher ranking!
Why SEO Is Important
For any website no matter what it’s purpose is, having traffic (people visiting the site) is vital. If nobody sees the website there is no point in it existing.
For many websites traffic = money.
People visit a site and then perform actions on it that results in revenue for the site owner.
This could be buying a product, clicking an affiliate link, learning about a product they buy offline, taking a course, clicking an advert and many other possibilities.
SEO is a way to drive traffic to a website organically (without paying). Though of course there will likely be costs involved along the way.
The Different Search Engines
There is no debate that SEO practice revolves primarily and almost totally around Google.
According to Statcounter, as of January 2021, Google owns over 90% of the search engine market share:
- Google – 91.86%
- Bing – 2.73%
- Yahoo! – 1.46%
- Baidu – 1.11%
- YANDEX – 0.87%
- DuckDuckGo – 0.66%
Google also ties in with numerous other services like Google Maps, which we use frequently in our day-to-day lives. Android phones with integrated Google services further cement Google’s position at the top of the SEO market.
For SEO purposes, Google’s monopoly simplifies things as you won’t have to jump through the at-times contradictory algorithms of other search engines.
The only complication would be if you want your site to index for, say, the Chinese search engine Baidu. Of course, this is a rare and niche situation.
How Google Works
Google’s job is to sort and catalog the web, the most info and data-rich entity on earth.
In 1993, there were just approx. 130 websites. Today, there are currently some 1.5 to 2 billion websites. Around 200 million are currently active, totaling a combined 60 billion individual webpages.
Google’s scope and complexity have changed drastically.
To index and sort the modern web, Google uses algorithms and AI bots to perform 3 core functions:
- Crawling: Web crawlers are AI bots that scour the internet for data to rank in Google. They’re programmed to follow links through sites, identify and scan code and data for every URL they encounter.
- Indexing: Google’s bots will scan the content of websites for keywords and semantical themes. They’ll use semantic analysis to derive meaning from text, ranking the site and pages for relevant queries and keywords.
- Ranking: Google will determine how relevant your page is and will essentially make a judgment on how much value it provides users searching for your terms. Ranking takes into account a huge range of technical, practical, and even environmental factors such as user proximity (in the case of local searches using queries like ‘nearby’ or ‘near me’).
The Main Components of a Successful SEO Campaign
An SEO campaign is a multi-stage strategy for achieving better Google ranking results.
SEO is complex but it’s not rocket science and SEO campaigns can be run DIY – there is a huge amount you can do yourself to improve your site’s SEO.
Remember, an SEO campaign has 4 main components:
- On-page optimization
- Technical SEO
- Off-site SEO
Written content is the mainstay of the internet. Video and images are also important, but written content is the real substance behind most websites and it’s a fairly straightforward medium for Google to analyze for ranking purposes.
You must avoid charging into your content strategy blind without proper research. You may already have some articles or blog posts in mind, but research before writing, always!
It’s much easier to build optimized content from the ground up. That way, you can build a pre-researched content map that will help you rank across various areas relevant to your website.
Rather than selecting topics and subjects first, it’s best to start with the SEO content building blocks, keywords.
The internet is rammed full of keywords covering virtually every 1, 2, 3, 4, or more word combinations in existence.
The task is to build a selection of keywords from words that are fundamentally important to your website and what you’d like to rank for.
Head Terms or Seed Keywords
Head terms or seed words are very broad-based and all-encompassing.
For example, an artisan tea shop may have head terms/seed words such as:
- Tea leaves
- Tea making
You don’t need a tool to come up with these – just brainstorm them yourself!
Enter your seed words into a keyword research tool like Semrush. Ahrefs or Google Keyword Planner and it’ll produce a number of related keywords and phrases.
There are three measures to concentrate on here:
- Search Intent
- Search volume
With these three measures, you can identify keywords that are trending up in search volume (Google Keyword Planner is ideal for checking search volume graphs), whilst also remaining relatively low in competition.
This indicates a supply deficit – people are maybe looking for content that is insufficiently provided for by the SERPs.
Then the most important thing of all, you must make sure that the intent of the keyword matches the piece of content you plan to create.
Medium Tail and Long Tail Keywords
The keywords generated from your seed wordswill include medium and long-tail keywords.
- Artisan chamomile tea blend
- How to make bubble tea
- Best tea for sore throat
Long-tail keywords can provide ideas for content around your niche. An artisan tea shop could write a post directly relating to one of these long-tail keywords, such as ‘Best Tea for Sore Throats’.
When you’re starting out, long-tail keywords can provide instant starting points for building some basic site content.
Once you have some basic keyword ideas and long-tail keywords that can guide you towards creating some content, it’s best to look in-depth at search volume statistics.
Most keyword tools give you some indication of search volume and you’ll likely find that higher search volume = higher competition.
In addition to raw search volume, you can assess trends surrounding your niche or seed keywords.
Google Trends is an excellent tool for assessing search trends for keyword queries. It displays trending data related to your terms, suggests related terms, topics, and displays search volume data over time. This can be sorted by geographical area also.
Trend analysis is hugely important when you’re starting out – if you can predict a surge in search volume then you might be the first in line to rocket your way up the SERPs as Google looks to fill the query with relevant sites.
You can leapfrog the competition by staying current and on-trend.
When you’re new to the SEO game, it’s probably fair to say there’s a sweet spot to aim for where you’re competing with sites of your size – you need to beat them first!
Try and drill down into terms that have a decent, sustained level of volume – and are ideally trending up – but without colossal competition from big brands and authoritative sites.
You can get search volumes for keywords from the usual suspects Semrush, Ahrefs and Google Keyword Planner.
Search intent research is often overlooked by SEO novices.
The best analogy for the internet is a colossal digital library, the job of librarian Google is to direct the user to the books that will serve them best.
The issue is, books with seemingly overlapping content may also differ fundamentally based on what the user is actually looking for.
Search intent splits and divides the different intent of those searching with similar terms.
It essentially delves into the intent of users when they’re searching for terms – what are they expecting to find?
There are 4 main types of search intent:
Informational intent is when a user wants to learn factual information about a topic.
This encompasses some of the broadest search terms.
For example, if someone simply searches what is chamomile tea, then it’s pretty clear that they’re not looking to buy chamomile tea.
These kinds of ‘what is’ or ‘who is’ terms are usually mopped up by info giants like Wikipedia which will dominate the top of the SERPs for broader informational queries.
To drill down into something a little more niche, how to, resource, learn, tools, benefits and examples might be more promising informational keywords, as shown by how to make bubble tea, which could also be related to the benefits of bubble tea, etc.
Informational content guides content ideas such as how-tos, listicles, or round-ups.
Navigational intent is when someone searches a term to simply get somewhere without typing the address into the URL bar itself.
For example, typing in ‘Facebook’ to Google likely means you just want to navigate to Facebook – not the most useful search intent to drill down to when you’re getting started with SEO.
Transactional intent refers to when users are specifically looking for products to buy.
If you’re an eCommerce seller then transactional intent is something you’ll want to drill down into to discover any low competition, high volume terms surrounding your products.
Transactional intent often includes operative words such as cheap, budget, or luxury. These sorts of terms are very important when we’re thinking about the users we want to capture.
A luxury artisan tea shop should consider attaching keywords that are semantically linked to luxury, e.g. high quality, high-end, etc.
Commercial intent is a blend of informational and transactional intent.
Users searching for products or services, but who aren’t yet convinced enough to have transactional intent, use commercial intent keywords.
For example, someone who has been researching artisan chamomile tea may then look to research the best brands. This will involve commercial search intents such as best chamomile tea brands.
Again, this combines keywords that are semantically linked to products; best soothing teas, or best high-end tea brands.
Synonyms, Entities and Topics
Now, the task is to narrow down your keywords and their associated search into actual content ideas.
Keywords will be associated with a vast network of phrases and semantically linked topics and entities.
When you feel you have some draft content headings, like the benefits of bubble tea, you’ll need to consider the synonyms, entities and topics that you’ll include to instruct Google that your content is relevant, thorough and info-rich for the term.
For example, your post on the benefits of bubble tea shouldn’t merely amount to vague concepts like ‘bubble tea is nice’, it should provide real value to the reader by breaking down the topic into different information, e.g. health benefits, a brief history of bubble tea, different styles, etc.
Topic analysis often involves some simple Googling and manual research.
Check Reddit, Quora, or other forums and discussion boards to discover what people want to learn about your topic, and therefore, what content you can produce to give them the answers.
The more confidence you have in your keywords and topics, the more you should generally aim to write.
Think you’ve got loads to say on a topic with reasonable demand surplus and supply deficit?
This is a good indication that you should spend more time on that post to consolidate any various disparate information that already ranks around it whilst also adding information of your own.
Writing content is simpler thanks to free plugins like Yoast SEO which will help guide your post’s SEO characteristics.
A large portion of this will be covered in the next topic.
A webpage consists of a constellation of on-page elements that combine to influence its ranking.
Content is the main feature of a webpage, but there are several other SEO components such as meta tags, image alt tags and schema markup, all of which combine to instruct Google on what your pages are about on macro and micro level.
Each and every page of your website should be optimized on an individual basis – be methodical and don’t leave any stones unturned!
Optimizing for Search Intent
We’ve already covered the basics of search intent, but how do you optimize for it?
The content writing process follows the 3 Cs:
- Content format
- Content angle
Your content type will be guided by your analysis of search intent surrounding your keywords.
There are 4 main content types:
- Blog post
- Product page
- Category page
- Landing page
Trying to sell something? Look towards creating and optimizing transactional content, e.g. product pages and landing pages. You could still sell something from a blog post with a CTA, but this shouldn’t be its main purpose and it probably won’t rank well for transactional intent either.
Want to provide a resource or guide? Look towards informational intent – how-tos, instructional content, or ideas on how to complete a popular process or task are valid content types here.
Product pages should be optimized for transactional intent, blog posts for informational intent, and so on.
Commercial intent is somewhat of a blend of the two, and this is where you can combine blog content with CTAs to guide users to your products from those posts – but it’s important to note that this likely isn’t their intent when they click through to your site.
Key On-Page Elements
On-page elements are the nuts and bolts of your webpages.
There are 7 key on-page elements:
- URL: Your page URL should be concise and contain your main keywords. It will often be set as your title tag.
- Title (H1): Your page title will often be the main long-tail keyword that you’re targeting, such as how to make bubble tea.
- Meta Description: This is the short description that appears alongside your title tag and URL in the SERPs. Keep your meta description between 120 – 155 characters so it doesn’t become truncated (cut off).
- Images and Media: Posts with rich media content like diagrams, tables, images, and videos might rank better than those without. Aim to add images and other media to your posts instead of pure text.
- Image Attributes: Image file names and alt tags instruct Google about images so it can index them properly and chalk them up as relevant to your content.
- Headings (H2s, H3s, etc): Your headings should be optimized to contain semantically linked keywords and subtopics, or entities. For example, instead of this vague heading: But how?, choose one with keywords like: But how do you create a consistent bubble tea?
- Links: There are two types of links, internal and external. Internal links guide users around your site whereas external links can document your claims and help build credibility. Link anchor text is important here, aim to add links to relevant phrases and keywords. Use exact match or partial match anchor text if you can, e.g. buy luxury bubble tea would link users to a page selling luxury bubble tea.
When you’re producing content for your site, bear in mind that keywords need to be naturally integrated into the right places throughout your text.
Ideally, you want to include your most relevant keywords towards the top of your text. It’s worth noting that keyword stuffing is never a good idea, so this isn’t a green light to write a nonsensical intro paragraph with the sole purpose of integrating your main keywords.
Correlation and Competitor Analysis
Correlation and competitor analysis tie in together.
Correlation analysis is the process of sifting through competitor websites and correlating their features (the keywords they’re targeting, their content types, on-page elements, etc) with their ranking and other SEO signals.
An analogy would be analyzing social media posts. Instagram’s algorithm is much simpler than Google’s, as is the platform. You could perform correlation analysis to correlate high-ranking posts with different post elements, e.g. whether the photo was formatted as portrait, landscape or square.
You may reveal a significant correlation between portrait-style posts and higher ranking and more likes.
What action do you take? Format all of your posts as portraits from now on.
Google, however, operates in complex and at-times mysterious ways. Correlating high-ranking pages to simple variables such as image size, post type, outbound links, etc, is likely nonsensical for the most part. Correlation does not infer causation, after all.
However, pairing some level of correlation analysis with competitor analysis allows you to assess what your best-ranking competitors are doing. You can then aim to match their page characteristics whilst bettering them in other areas.
Most of the major SEO tools such as Semrush and Ahrefs allow you to analyze competitors.
CTR and On-Page Engagement
Earlier we discussed how Google measures signals generated by users on your site.
These signals actually start in the SERPs.
CTR is an SEO and marketing metric that measures the rate at which people click through your links. As we might expect, higher rankings in the SERPs likely correlate with higher CTRs, but, this is not actually always the case.
By designing a good looking SERP entry with a solid meta, URL, and title tag, you’re well on your way to bucking up your CTRs. Rich snippets using markup schema are another way to draw visitors to your site – more on this in the next section.
Punctuation and proper spelling play a key role here too. Capitalizing words in your title tags are associated with higher CTRs.
You may also spot titles with word dividers – | – which are used to split up different parts of a title into attractive chunks.
When users click through to your site, you need them to stick there.
Bouncing off quickly could read as a negative signal. This is unclear, though, because Google knows that people’s browsing habits are likely quite sporadic and maybe even chaotic, bouncing between different pages before coming back to the same ones later, etc.
Dwell time measures the time a user spends on your page after clicking through to it from the SERPs and experiments by Backlinko have shown how this matters for your ranking signal.
Engaging your users will depend on the purpose of your website. Branding and design are very important here, with modern, contemporary websites that load and work smoothly likely increasing dwell time.
But, there are two halves to this as beautiful design and page aesthetics without readable, easily navigable content could still push users off your site.
User experience is part on-page SEO, part technical SEO.
The goal is to create web pages that work for their purpose.
Simple navigation, fast loading times and well-labeled, organized content elements will satisfy users of your site.
Quality branding and visual design may boost your credibility and memorability, but users want to find what they’re looking for first.
Technical SEO gets under the hood of your website, the goal is to make technical adjustments that fine-tune your site and its pages for SEO purposes.
Some technical SEO factors are direct ranking factors, whereas others will help your site rank by increasing dwell time and engagement.
First of all, once your site is set up with your domain and host, you’ll need to put it into Google Search Console.
This can be linked to Google Analytics as well.
Google Search Console will need to verify you own your website.
- Head to the Search Console
- On the Search drop-down, click ‘add a property’
- Copy the verification HTML tag
- Head to your site and use either Yoast to add the tag automatically, or add the HTML the tag to the root of your site manually
- This should verify your website in Google Search Console
- Google can begin indexing your site
Create a Sitemap for Indexing
Sitemaps provide a sort of roadmap for Google to understand your site in greater detail.
Sitemaps are relatively simple to create and add to your site with Yoast SEO (for free). They essentially provide a map of your site and its URLs and web pages that can tell Google how to crawl it more efficiently.
By navigating to the Sitemap section of the Yoast plugin, you can open and download your sitemap as an XML file for upload to the Google Search Console.
You can also use XML-Sitemaps to generate a sitemap.
Head in Search Console and you’ll be able to submit your sitemap on the left-hand side under Index > Sitemap.
Google will crawl your sitemap and follow your URLs to index your pages. It will also display site errors and coverage issues (it can take a few days for Google to index your site).
Schema markup is a little more complex than your sitemap, though they do share some things in common.
These are called ‘rich snippets’ and include:
- Google My Business ratings
- Dates and event details
- Recipe data
- Reviews and star ratings
- Article subheadings and navigation
Schema markup is crucial for some pages that want to rank for specific types of information, like event schedules, which will automatically appear as a snippet in Google alongside your entry.
Schema can be created for almost any content type and purpose but the key ones are events, products, local business, and reviews.
You can use Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper to sort through pages you want to markup with a schema. This will create an HTML file with microdata which tells Google exactly what they are and how they’re structured.
You then upload these HTML files into your content management system (CMS) or source code.
This should result in rich snippets in the SERPs.
In the 21st century, you’d be forgiven for thinking that every website loads extremely quickly by default, but truth be told, site speed is still super-important to optimize for SEO purposes.
A slow loading site might result in users clicking off your site before it’s all loaded. Slow elements like images might cause rendering problems, leaving large sections of your site greyed out whilst they load in the background.
As of 2019, Google predominantly uses mobile-first indexing, meaning it focuses on indexing websites and pages based on their mobile versions, not desktop.
Your website needs to be totally optimized for mobile browsers.
The vast majority of modern themes are reactive and mobile-optimized already, but you still might find issues that need to be solved to provide a first-class mobile viewing experience.
It’s especially important to check mobile functionality when you add and use 3rd party plugins.
The easiest way to test your site on mobile is with your own phone. But, for a more comprehensive check across multiple devices including tablets, you can use Chrome DevTools (F12 or More Tools > DevTools).
Bear in mind that this may not suffice when it comes to assessing if your webpages load properly on mobile – perform manual checks on different types of phones when you can.
Technical SEO Audits
The remit of technical SEO is quite exhaustive and manually checking everything is very time-consuming.
Instead, you can run a technical SEO audit where a tool will automatically check near-enough every element of your site, providing you with a summary report and recommending actions to take.
If you consider this, then wait until you’ve finished your core pages and have published at least some content for the tool to audit.
Link building is the final stage of your basic SEO journey.
The internet is networked together, sites don’t exist as ringed entities, they point to each other and refer to one another.
When a site refers to another site and links them in any way, they are providing them with a backlink.
Receiving unrequested backlinks are the magic dust of SEO – a gift that ought to be treasured!
Once your site has some authority, you might find it attracts backlinks via your content marketing itself, particularly if you have quality ranking content for your niche.
But, in the early days, you’ll likely have to ask for backlinks in a link building campaign or use quick-win techniques.
It might seem grueling, but remember, every link counts.
Link Building Techniques – Quick Wins
Building authoritative, high-value links is a long game, but here are some quick-win tactics to kick you off:
Most forums have nofollow links that tell Google to ignore the link. You would not get a backlink by simply linking your site to most social medias, forums, etc.
Some forums do have follow links, though – Google will follow these and they’ll count in some way as a backlink. If you can find some forums relating to your niche, then these are a great starting point for building some quick-win backlinks.
To check if a link on a forum is follow and not nofollow, then head to the page where the link is posted, right-click > View Page Source and find the HTML for the link in question.
You’ll see a rel=”nofollow” attribute if the link is nofollow. Otherwise, it’s fair game and you can get some of your links on there.
Local directories are excellent for quick-win backlinking.
They could also net you some organic traffic. Start by searching for sites in your area, e.g. “local car mechanics directory”.
You might find directories and databases where you can insert your own business details with a link – another quick-win backlink.
Outreach is the process of finding sites that might be interested in backlinking your site.
The most prolific example here is review sites. There are many sites dedicated to reviewing certain products. You send them a product for free, they review it (hopefully positively), and provide you a quality backlink in the process.
You can also do a blog post exchange (guest post). You can write them up a quality piece of content for their site, linking your own site within that content. They can do the same for you.
As part of outreach, you can locate broken links and request to fill them with your own site.
This is great as it adds value to the site you’re targeting for backlinks.
Social Media Networking
There are loads of people out there striving for more backlinks. You can network with them across Facebook Groups, Slack Communities and forums.
Locate similar individuals and websites and offer to backlink their site in return for a backlink.
Not every link is worth the same, but pretty much every link is worth something.
Link power is governed by the authority of the site that is backlinking you and the context they use it in, as well as anchor text they use.
To put it into context, if a hugely well-respected site backlinks you AND says that you’re the master of your game – the very best in your field – then that’s about as good as it gets.
To get powerful links, you’ll likely have to refine your outreach strategy considerably and aim to target authoritative figures in your niche using sites like Pitchbox.
Where to Start
Start at the beginning – with your website.
Whether you’re operating on WordPress, Squarespace, Shopify, or any other content management platform, your site needs a purpose that can guide your SEO strategy.
Keep things defined at the start. If you have multiple ideas, then try and narrow your focus and concentrate on the most important ones.
Keeping your site compact and streamlined is important at the beginning of your SEO campaign – quality over quantity is the philosophy to abide by.
Avoid switching between different pages rapidly without finishing them – finish one before creating another – that includes ALL on-page SEO elements!
Resources to Learn SEO
There are near limitless resources available on SEO.
The main players include:
Useful Tools & Software
Each of these key players has numerous software suites available with tons of free and paid tools.
Don’t forget Google’s own tools!