SEO Basics: How do I get started with Search Engine Optimization?
In this post, we outline the primary elements of SEO as they relate to building and managing web pages. We’ll go over the most important technical and on-page SEO elements, describe what they mean, where they’re used, and provide tips to accelerate your process. We’ll provide a basic overview of these:
- Page Titles
- Page Descriptions
- Keyword-rich Page Copy
- Image Filenames & Alt Tags
- Sitemaps (Indexing)
- Page Performance (Speed, Mobile Friendliness)
- SSL Encryption
- User Intent Satisfaction
- Best WordPress Plugins for Managing SEO
- SERP Checker Tools
In our increasing state of connectivity—it’s no longer enough to just have a website. To get found, your site needs a marketing outreach strategy, social media accounts to drive engagement, advertising, and yes… search engine optimization (SEO). A site without these elements is like a ship—dead in the water—with no flares, no form of communication, and no lifeline. It goes unnoticed, just floating along.
ALREADY KNOW THE BASICS?
Check out our Getting Started blog on SEO Implementation for Beginners, DIYers, and Small Business Owners. It’s all about how to write SEO content that performs and what to do with it.
But we want to ignite rapid acceleration of your goals…
An Introduction to the SEO Basics
Before we get started, know that search engines don’t work like they did a decade ago. So let’s dive in.
Search Engine Optimization is the practice of… well.. optimizing your website so that it performs well on search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo, and more. And on the modern web, that means it has to perform well with users. It has to fulfill their “intentions” and “goals”. Those are measured by how users engage with your website when they arrive. And in order to make sure your website shows up for what they are searching for—you need to have a website that executes well on the SEO Basics.
This means ensuring that your site has the necessary elements (SEO Basics) in place. But don’t start to think that SEO is something you do once and forget. Rather, it’s a foundation upon which you hone your craft, that way as you continue to produce content, you are executing it with better keywords and “converting” more visitors by giving them what they want.
And yes, there are also some routine tasks you should perform to keep everything running smoothly.
Search engines use algorithms (calculations & logic) to “rank” how “relevant” a site is. Sites that are more relevant, or have more “authority” get placed higher in Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs)—what you see once you type in a google search and hit enter. And based on research—for your site to effectively pull traffic—you need to be in the top three organic search results for your search terms. In a report from SmartInsights from 2016, their research found that clickthrough rate (CTR) is highest in the top 3 search positions. 30% for 1st position, 12% by 3rd position, and ONLY 2% in positions 9 and 10.
By 2017, it’s even more skewed with position 1 taking 20.5% of clicks and position 2 and 3 around 13%.
Alright, so your page needs to rank highly to hit that x-factor and really take off. How do we get there? Here are the key contributing factors to a strong SEO rank and strategy:
The Most Important On-Page SEO Elements
Really quick. Before we get into the list, there’s an important distinction in many SEO elements. Some are intended for “machine consumption”—while others are only used and populated in search results to be displayed for us humans to make our own decisions. Then of course, some are used by both.
Recommended Length: 50–60 characters
Intended For: Search Engines AND Humans
These are short titles that appear to search engines and in your web browser tab. They are used to identify the primary purpose of a web page—which means your keyword selection is key. These are also critical to human visitors—and the keywords they used in their search will attempt to match pages with the most relevant (and best-performing) content.
To show you this, we performed a search for “
Best Laptops of 2017”
In the example, “The Best Laptops of 2017 – Reviewed.com – Reviewed.com Laptops” line is the title. Directly below that is the page hyperlink, and below that is the date and page description.
Recommended Length: Up to 320 characters for desktop, ~230 for mobile (Increased from 160 characters in 2018)
Intended For: Humans
Page Descriptions were once a place where webmasters “stuffed” as many relevant keywords as possible to improve their rankings. No longer. Descriptions have been relegated to human-only use. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t important.
This is where the quality of your content and particularly your SEO content will really pay off. A title is just one “signal” to a web surfer. The description below will have their search keywords highlighted, and if you write a description that gives a compelling reason for the visitor to find you, it can make all the difference.
Keyword-rich Page Copy
Recommended Length: 500+, 950 is an incredible goal. The more total content, the better machine learning algorithms are at effectively categorizing and ranking content.
Intended For: Search Engines AND Humans
Recommended Keyword Density: Goal of 2–3%
Spend time doing keyword research to determine the most relevant words for your site. The most important thing is to produce content and articles that actually met people’s needs. You can use Google, Bing, and other tools to research keywords or use Google Trends to determine search volume. In the example below, we looked at Google Trends data to see how
Fake News compared to
Bad Journalism. There is a definite spike—but we won’t get into that.
Image Filenames & Alt Tags
Image Filenames help search engines determine what the image is about, but also help you keep track and organize photos as your site grows. Choose strong keywords and label your images so they are readable to both search engines and you (in case you ever have to go back through your images, high probability).
Image Alt Tags provide metadata that is important because it allows search engines to categorize the image. This helps that image get catalogued and helps the engine understand your site better. This also offers information in case the image doesn’t display on a specific device. Providing keyword-specific alt tags actually help boost your SEO score. For more, read about alt text from Moz.
Optimize Your Images
Image Size also plays a giant role in your overall SEO score and website speed performance. Remember, slow and poor performing websites take a hit on SEO. By shrinking (or optimizing) your images, you can significantly improve your loading speeds—and result in a better user experience.
Learn more in our blog Improving Your Website Performance By Optimizing Your Images where we cover file type, resolution, pixels per inch (ppi), compression, and more.
One of the MOST important parts of your site ranking is to acquiring high quality backlinks. Affiliate marketing, generating strong content, participating in forums and other online communities are all good ways to create backlinks to your site from other high-ranking sites. Sign up for Google My Business, Yelp, Bing Places, etc. for even more relevancy and to improve your local search dominance.
An XML (Extensible Markup Language) sitemap is critical for search engines to be able to understand the hierarchy of your site. Search engines will read through (or “crawl”) your site, and then “index” it—committing that to memory and serving it to other web surfers that are browsing the internet. There is a difference between the XML version (intended for search engines) and the HTML (Hypertext Makrup Language) intended for humans, but we’ll get into that later.
One other area of importance regarding your sitemaps, is your site’s robots.txt file. This file resides at the top-level, or root, of your website—and communicates to search engines how to read (or ignore) your site. More accurately, it tells search engines what they are allowed—or disallowed—to read. So when you finally launch your site, or shortly after, you need to submit your sitemap to search engines and make sure your robots.txt implementation is set up properly.
A basic robots.txt file that allows all robots/spiders to read it might only have two lines and look like this:
Read more in our blog: Sitemaps, Indexing, & Domain Verification.
Page Performance (Load Speed, Mobile Friendliness)
In addition to optimizing your images with proper filenames and keyword-rich alt tags, optimizing your images and other page content to be as small as possible (file size) is important for pages to load quickly. Research shows that if a web page takes more than 3 seconds to load—many visitors will leave and go to another site. Strip unnecessary metadata from your images, minify your CSS, and stay away from cumbersome animations that don’t add value to your site.
As more and more web traffic is increasingly being visited on mobile devices, Google and other search engines are ranking sites that are mobile-friendly higher—while penalizing older sites that don’t work well with phones and tablets.
Two of the best—AND FREE—tools you can use to measure your page performance and speed are:
That little green lock is going to get a lot more important!
Protecting your users information, especially in ecommerce situations, is critical. Your site should use SSL (or Secure Sockets Layer), also recognized by https (Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure) so when visitors and search engines reach your site—it is recognized as secure and encrypted.
In 2016 and 2017, Let’s Encrypt has become widely used and accessible with most web hosting providers—even budget offerings. HTTPS is on the rise—and by Summer 2018, Google Chrome and other modern browsers will be switching to prefer the HTTPS protocol and more clearly identifying when websites are NOT SECURE. So stay ahead of the curve.
User Intent Satisfaction
One of most important trends over the past couple of years is a change in algorithms to prioritize “user intent“. Search engines work to connect visitors with the most relevant content, focusing on finding correlation between content and the searcher’s intent or purpose. Think of every search as a query—or question being asked to search engines. When developing content—think about what your visitor is most interested in… converting, learning, purchasing and develop your content and copy around that.
What does that mean? Well, it means not only that there will be more competition with agencies and individuals increasing the quality of content, but it also means that your on-page interactions, conversions, and engagements will play an increasing role in how you rank. In order to climb the ranking charts, you not only need to “win” the search bid, but a visitor on your site needs to give signs that they are interacting with and consuming your content. If, for instance, a user clicks on your page from search results, but immediately bounces—your rank may go down.
Best WordPress Plugins for Managing SEO
There are two SEO plugins that we swear by for our WordPress builds and installs. Both have some pros and cons, but they make managing SEO on your site extremely easy. You can’t go wrong with either one. They are:
- Yoast SEO: https://wordpress.org/plugins/wordpress-seo/
- All In One SEO: https://wordpress.org/plugins/all-in-one-seo-pack/
SERP Checker Tools
One of our favorite tools is Screaming Frog SEO Spider. Their free tool allows you to batch review many of the SEO elements on your site without ever having to buy a license. As your site grows, you can purchase an affordable yearly license.
- Screaming Frog: https://www.screamingfrog.co.uk/seo-spider/
- Alternatively, check out this Google Chrome Extension from DejanSEO.
Take these insights and deploy them in your own projects and small businesses. With this knowledge, you can start optimizing your site to perform better on your own. Improve your habits and continue to generate better content—tailored to your user’s needs. Your page ranking scores and traffic probably won’t change overnight, but by improving your content and consistency you can make major improvements that will build your traffic, presence, and overall search rankings.
If you’re curious how things have changed with the Google algorithm over the years, here’s a good read that overviews the biggest changes over the past decade or so. Learn more about how local search relevance, ad generation, black hat tactics, and other SEO Basics can help or hurt your site at: https://www.link-assistant.com/news/google-algorithm-updates.html
Now go fan those coals! We’ll bring you more free tools and affordable resources soon!
So now you know about the SEO basics. Apply what you know and take the first step towards implementing a successful SEO strategy. If you’re ready for the next step, check out our blog post on The Process of Implementing Your SEO Elements.