UNDERSTANDING SEO FOR BEGINNERS
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is just what it sounds like. It entails enhancing all the factors that affect a website’s ranking to improve its position in the search engine result pages (SERPs). The better the SEO, the higher the website will rank on the search results’ list. This is more the reason why understanding SEO for Beginners is important to all those that are looking to reap huge profits from their site’s traffic.
The aim of SEO is not just to get a site to position one, however. It is also to make the user happy by giving them a wonderful navigational and content experience! The user’s needs come first and have to be addressed in the shortest time possible. Once people find out that they are not getting what they are looking in a website, they will quickly ‘bounce’ to the next site and probably never visit again.
SEO therefore fuels a website to be more responsive and to address the customer’s immediate questions promptly and aptly. It is broadly defined in two ways:
- On-Page Optimization
- Off-Page Optimization
On-page SEO Vs Off-Page SEO
In on-page SEO, attention is given to every web page on the site separately, with the end-goal of improving the site’s overall ranking. This involves all internal activities that deal with content, page structure, and architecture. Control is in your hands as the owner of the blog to tweak the content and spice it up with a keyword phrase here and a link there as you well please. At this point, you as a writer possess all the powers to provide the best of navigation, loading time and content.
In Off-Page Optimization, we look at techniques outside the website that will enhance the site’s performance. Off-page SEO is more of an external boost based on the site’s perceived value on the internet. It extends to link building and using other signals on search engines apart from what is contained in the website itself. A great way to maximize on off-page SEO is by social sharing where you set up social media accounts such as Facebook and Twitter from where interested people can share your posts.
Which one is more important?
If done right, both on-page and off-page optimization will drive larger traffic to a site. They are all significant in their own ways, yet on-page SEO takes the day for more reasons than one.
Reason number #1 is that off-page SEO has no use without content, and content is where on-Page SEO is most applied. This therefore implies that off-page SEO comes after on-page SEO, a true and valid fact.
Reason number #2 is that in cases where you are running a small website, all you may need to build an online fan base are the secret tools of on-page SEO. For example, if it is a website for a restaurant, on-page SEO alone will customize results to fit the searches of local customers around that area .For larger websites, however, both these optimization techniques have to be well implemented to beat competition and remain relevant all at once.
Techniques for On-Page SEO
1. Meta Title
There is every reason to ensure the title of your blog post is just right. Apart from catching the reader’s eye, the title tag is the phrase first analyzed by search engines. It tells of what the page is all about in as few words as possible.
Title tags should be short and descriptive, without giving away too much. A length of 55 characters, including spaces, is good enough. To optimize results in a search engine, the target keyword phrase should be included in the title heading. This not only increases the click-through rate but the visibility of the post as well. For long titles, the keyword carries more weight closer to the beginning of the title than farther off.
The most probable format of the title tag should be a primary keyword followed by a secondary word and brand name. Modifier words such as ‘best’, ’guide’, ’review’ or ’2018’ also improve the quality of the title’s ranking on the search results.
Most times the title is wrapped in a HI tag (Headline). It is important that there should be only one H1 tag per page.
Bonus Ninja Strategy: Always include your keyword in the title tag
2. Meta Description
Here a brief description is put on top of the main body after the title to urge the reader to go beyond perusing the link and read on. It should contain 160 characters or less and be very straight to the point. The meta description is the snippet that appears on search engines when someone searches for your site in search engines.
The Meta description is the appetizer that compels the other party to stay on for the main meal. It should be unique, fresh, and relevant to the subject of discussion,
Just like title tags, the keywords in the Meta description are highlighted when the user searches them on a search engine. This means that the description is as important in SEO when it comes to the contributing to the number of clicks.
Spamming the Meta description with too many keywords is unnecessary and would come off as trying too hard. Instead, only use your primary keyword once in the meta description as you can see in my snippet above.
In terms of formatting, the Meta description should not include quotes or non-alpha characters since many search engines do not recognize these characters.
3. Quality of Content
A popular phrase among SEO Experts goes: ‘Content is King’. No matter how well the other SEO Factors have been deployed and implemented, bad content is a no-no. This begs the question: What makes good content?
Great content engages the audience in such a way that the reader stays hooked from the first word to the last. Without it, people will quickly move from your blog to the next relevant one, increasing the bounce rate and reducing the rankings in the process. Sites with a bounce rate higher than 76% tend to rank lower compared to the other sites. A higher bounce rate primarily means that your content is terrible. A separate study by Brian Dean from Backlinko showed that longer content ranks higher in search engines. All the posts featuring on the first page of Google averaged to about 1890 words. So always try publishing at least 2,000 word posts for best results.
Ensure your content is original and 100% relevant to the keyword phrase. Today’s Search engines have been customized to pick out duplicate/copy-pasted content. This applies not just to text but images, videos, info graphics and voice content as well. Plagiarism even on the internet can actually lead to a penalty in court and that is definitely bad for business.
Another key aspect of quality content is the research; how well does the article answer the reader’s questions? Is it exhaustive enough?
If you are writing a product review for an electric toothbrush, then you should start by telling your reader how exactly an electric toothbrush works and why they should budget for one the next time they are at the shopping mall. The ‘why’ includes the specifications of the brush such as power it consumes, controls and so on and so forth. If writing an opinion piece, say on feminism, you should cover both sides of the story first to give a general public feeling, before justifying your own argument with facts.
Editing is a rule of thumb before any works of writing go to press. Nothing turns a potential subscriber off like grammatical errors and poorly done sentences in your work. Remember to dot the I’s and cross the t’s before clicking ‘upload’. There are many tools available online at your disposal to do all the homework for you. Still, a manual human perusal is necessary to identify areas of correction that computer program would miss.
In Summary, content should be:
- Without grammatical errors
- Solve a problem with the user in mind
- Well-written and easy to share
- Useful and relevant
4. Targeted Keywords and Semantically Related Words
The first 100-150 words of the article should contain your specific keyword that will enhance the article’s visibility among the many blogs written on the same thing. The main keyword should appear here as well as in the last paragraph. Throughout the rest of the article other keywords are to be highlighted within the text and images in the most natural and relevant way. Keyword density no longer counts in SEO.
As long your primary keyword is in the first 100 words and you have sprinkled the text with other LSI keywords, you are good to go. The goal is to optimize the article in a smart way that helps the search engines easily pick out the words that are most searched by users.
Image search is quite popular and can be a valuable asset in driving traffic on its own. We incorporate images in text to break the monotony of prose and keep the reader engaged. Images contribute to SEO through the alt tags given to them.
I am a fan for leaving feedback on websites and one thing I always note with websites is lack of images in the text and lack of alt tags in the images included. Alt tags are used to describe what the image is to both search engines and people. Include your keyword at least once in your ALT tags for the images on your blog post. This is a sample ALT tag for an image.
Since larger images tend to slow down the loading of a page, smaller images or compressed versions are better. For emphasis’s sake, images used should be original and in the case that they are not, reference should be made to the source.
Video is another multimedia asset that not only boosts user engagement but also promotes the content in the blog post. While embedded videos on the web page many not contribute directly to Search Engine Optimization, they keep the audience interested enough to stay longer and probably, click on more links than initially planned, all to the benefit of the blogger.
Check out Neil Patel’s ranking strategies.
Embedding videos has its own optimization rules/guidelines for best result, which should be adhered to.
6. URL Structure
The URL appears on the browser and is an important on-page metric. URLs are both useful to the computer and the human user. By using human language, they provide meaningful information that guides the user who intends to access the page addressed.
We want our URL to be as efficient and neat as possible. To achieve efficiency in terms of SEO, the URL should ALWAYS contain the keyword somewhere in the permalink. The search engine has an easier job this way. For it to be neat, some people prefer shortening the link-though this is not mandatory. Funny characters such as dollar signs should not appear in the actual URL. Other things to avoid include brackets, commas and symbols.
It is recommended to use dashes in between the strings of text or numbers.
7. Internal linking
Backlink building can be a drag when you want to dive into quick engine optimization. In its place, internal linking is a good way to go. Internal linking is the technique of inserting links in one page to refer the user to another page or pages on the website.
Interlinking pages on a website goes a long way in influencing the search engine’s behavior. Crawlers follow links. When the site is interlinked, it is easier for search engine robots to pick out new content in other pages and display them as options to the user. Several pages might contain a similar keyword phrase that the user has searched for, in turn enhancing the whole site’s visibility.
Apart from boosting the click-through rate on the site, internal linking makes the reader spend more time on the blog since they are provided with additional information on top of what they asked for. When linking to another page it is better to use clear terms of explanation in explaining where the link leads to rather than using vague admissions such as “Click here for more”.
Despite the tremendous benefits of interlinking, bloggers should be careful not to overdo the same by inserting links unnecessarily. The tip is to keep them natural and to an allowable minimum, depending on the length of the blog post.
Links do better when added to the main body rather than the footer or sidebar. It is not compulsory that only keywords should be used on the hyperlinks. As long as the link leads to a page that is relevant to the content of the parent page, then whichever wording in context is just fine.
8. Outbound/External Links
Still on the subject of linking, external linking is another great idea to increase site optimization. Outbound links give a rank of relevancy that translates to curiosity and more clicks.
It is upon you as a writer to link your page to other websites that are trusted and that provide information that supports the topic of discussion.
For trusted sites, a follow tag would suffice for users to subscribe while a no follow link is more viable for those sites that are less trustworthy.
9. Site Speed
Research shows that 47% of target audience expect a website’s page loading speed to be under two seconds. Delay as tiny as a millisecond will get most users shifting to the next link on the search engine results. For this reason, ensuring that site speed is seamless is crucial for maximum performance.
One of the factors that slow down a website is the size of images attached in the webpage. Larger images can be compressed to a smaller size using available software on the internet. Deleting unused plugins and duplicate content will also make that graph shoot like magic.
Lastly, implementing a CDN (contact delivery network)-a network of servers distributed in different locations in the world-overrides the issue of distance by delivering content over a series of servers. In turn, the site experiences faster load times and less traffic spikes hence stability.
On-Page SEO Checklist
These are the marking points for a well-optimized blog page in a nutshell:
- Does the keyword appear in the title?
- Does the keyword appear in the URL?
- Does a keyword appear in the first 100 words?
- Is there a keyword in the image alt tag?
- How have LSI keywords been used in the body?
- Has an LSI keyword been used in H2 and H3 headings?.
- Is the content original?
- Is it in-depth and well-researched?
- Does it answer the question posed exhaustively?
- Is the title unique to that particular page?
- Is the meta description unique and not more than160 characters?
- Is the text well formatted?
- Is it split into small well-structured paragraphs?
- Is the image size of all images optimized?
- Do all the images have alt tags defined?
- Is the Image filename descriptive?
- Does the permanent links use single dashes to separate the strings?
- Does it contain at least one keyword?
- Is there is an HTML User Sitemap?
- Does the page have internal links?
- Are the links broken or working okay?
- Do the links use both keyword and non-keyword anchor texts?
- Do the outbound links lead to trusted websites?
- Do they contain anchor texts?
Speed and Mobile Friendliness
- What is the page load time?
- Does the site score 90% or above in Google pagespeed insights?
- Does the Website pass the mobile-friendly test?
Off-Page SEO checklist
- Have you used email outreach as a means of increasing visitors to your site?
- Do you write as a guest blogger for other sites and you include links to your own works while there?
- How seriously do you take feedback submissions from your clients and other experts?
Social Media Accounts
- Is your website accessible from all relevant social media platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter?
- Do you study and act on the info graphics from your social media links to the website?
Social Book marking
- Have you bookmarked your pages by creating back links to the site?
- Is there a chance that your content could go viral if shared amongst users?
Verifying your Site
Before worrying about Search Engine Optimization, you are advised to first sign up for Google and Bing Webmaster tools. These tools will guide you to make the right changes to your site and improve web traffic by providing useful backend information. The procedure of linking your site account with the Google Webmasters tools goes as below:
- First, obtain your DNS record and map it into the Google system by adding it to the domain’s configuration. You can do this by telling your hosting provider or by signing into your domain registry.
- If you have access to the HTML Structure of your site then add a meta tag to the site homepage.
- Once you add a Meta title tag to the page, upload a new HTML file to the server.
- Lastly link the Analytics account for your site to the Google Webmasters Tools This can only be achieved if you are an administrator of the Analytics account which should have a tracking code of its own.
An almost similar process applies to Bing Webmaster tools. Some of the metrics that are analyzed by these tools include the sitemap, keywords, crawler access, site links, search queries and so on and so forth.
So now you know how search engines operate and what you can do to keep those numbers streaming in. What next?
As we have seen, search engine optimization is no rocket science. The key ingredient to success as far as SEO is concerned is to prioritize. Perfection is not easy to achieve as regards all the tips explained above. The next order of business would be to identify the things that seem to be working fairly well for you and polishing them. This way you get the best returns for your investment using the least effort. Remember that what works for the site next door may not work for you site. If your forte is in promoting products, then find the keywords that rock in this area and run with them. If you are managing a larger, more complex website, focusing on the technical SEO would be a better priority for you.
Patience is needed while working your way up to the SEO’s high table. Keep in mind that SEO is not so much about traffic than it is about quality content for the people who visit your site daily. If these two blend very well, you will get to enjoy the fruits of SEO done right the first time and then finesse as you grow. Best of luck!