Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of making a website rank higher in the search engines.
If good SEO principles are put into place, an optimized website will have a better chance of appearing higher in the search results pages (SERPs) when someone searches for relevant terms.
Search engines use complex algorithms to determine the relevance of a website based on things like the site’s metadata (title tags and descriptions that aren’t usually visible to site visitors but are read by search engine bots) and text.
While it isn’t possible to know exactly how these algorithms work (though some of us have tried), there are certain things that have been shown to improve a site’s rankings.
Let’s dive into what these SEO basics are and how they can help your site rank.
Having worked in the SEO industry for 5+ years, I’ve compiled a list of what I think are the top SEO basics that will help lay the proper foundation for anyone looking to learn how to do SEO.
This list consists of 8 important pillars that, if mastered, will allow you to have an edge on people who may know how to build a great website but not know how to get the website to rank.
A website must be accessible to both Google’s web crawlers and users in order for it to rank well.
Unless your website has certain code blocking web crawlers, your site will naturally be picked up by Google and indexed.
You can check this within Google Search Console.
Takeaway: A site must be accessible to people in order for it to both be indexed and have a higher chance of ranking well in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
A site must be crawlable for the search engines to read them and index them.
If a website is heavily flash-based, image-based, etc. or lacking content it will have trouble being indexed (though Google is getting smarter and smarter each day).
If you have crawlers blocked within your robots.txt or your .htaccess file then they won’t be able to index your site.
Takeaway: A site must always be accessible to the search engines’ crawlers in order for it to rank.
How users interact with your website is a very important ranking signal.
A website with great UX is clear, concise, and doesn’t require users to think to find what they are looking for.
Good usability principles include ease of navigation, clear calls to action, and high-quality design.
Always use a responsive design for your website so that it is formatted well on desktop, mobile, and tablet.
Your audience’s engagement with your content is extremely important, so making it extremely obvious how they can perform tasks like sharing a post, signing up for a newsletter, etc. will promote good UX and signal to Google that people like your website.
A great book to read on Usability is Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug.
Takeaway: You can improve a website’s usability by making the website easy to understand and navigate, displaying clear and concise calls to action, and ensuring that your site’s design is responsive and looks great on all devices.
Good page structure includes having a clear hierarchy of pages, and not too many categories and subcategories.
It’s good to keep your categories between 2 and 7.
The navigation bar (usually) at the top of the page should have the most important pages listed along with the categories and subcategories (e.g. About, Blog, Category>Subcategory, Contact, etc.)
Your site’s URLs should be structured nicely as well using short phrases like /best-seo-specialist.
Never use URL structures that have lots of unnecessary information like /blog/2017/8/14/selling/cold-calling/best-cold-calling-methods
Takeaway: You can improve a site’s structure by limiting the number of categories, listing important pages in the navigation so they don’t get buried, and having a clear and logical URL structure.
Simply put, Google loves authoritative websites.
A website’s authority is determined by several factors: the website’s age, its reputation, the quality of backlinks it has, etc.
Authority is also determined by the topic of the website (e.g. if someone searches for “best tactical belt” a tactical website with an article on this topic is more likely to rank than a cooking blog with an article on this topic).
One of the best ways to improve a website’s authority is to receive links from other authoritative websites within your specific niche (e.g. if you are a cooking blog a link from another authoritative cooking blog would likely be better than a link from a tactical gun shop).
Takeaway: You can improve a website’s authority through receiving high-quality, related backlinks, letting the website age, and building the site’s reputation as an authority within its respective niche.
In order to rank well for a specific keyword, a page’s content must be relevant to the search term (e.g. someone searching for “neoprene ankle holsters for sale” wouldn’t want to click on a page that is about TY beanie babies).
If a user finds what they’re looking for when they search for a specific keyword and they click on your website, this sends a signal to Google that your page is highly relevant to that keyword.
This is evidenced by a user clicking through to your site, not backing out to return to the SERPs, and performing an action on your page.
Do not think on a keyword level, instead, think on a topic level (e.g. don’t try to stuff “tactical gun holsters” the right amount of times into the page, instead make your pages relevant to those search terms by providing topical information).
Takeaway: You can improve a site’s relevance by ensuring the content on your pages correlates well with the search term, achieves the user’s search intent, and ensuring that the page has topical content that isn’t stuffed with the same keyword over and over.
Google does not want to have a website rank well that isn’t trustworthy.
Untrustworthy websites include sites riddled with ads, viruses, low-quality content, brand new websites, scam websites, etc.
The more transparent you are on your site, the more likely Google will trust it.
Takeaway: You can improve a website’s trust by including the above-mentioned list of signals on your site and being transparent.
Short, poorly written content usually doesn’t rank well in Google.
Writing lengthy content that is easy to read, has little-to-no mistakes in spelling and grammar, is formatted well with headings and subheadings, and contains credible sources linked throughout the content are a few good quality principles to live by when creating content for a website.
A website’s design is also extremely important and should be unique and well-designed.
Try taking a minimalistic approach to web design as these sites tend to look better on both mobile and desktop.
Install the Grammarly plugin for Chrome if you are writing your own content as it will help you identify spelling and grammar mistakes.
Takeaway: You can improve a site’s quality by ensuring the pages’ content is long, easy to read, free of spelling/grammar mistakes, contains credible sources, and is designed well.
SEO Checklist for Your Website or Client’s Website
Here are a few of the most important aspects of SEO that you’ll want to pay close attention to in order to help your website (or your client’s website) rank well in the search results:
Keyword research is important because your idea of what keywords are important to your site may be different than what people are actually searching for.
Determine the search terms that people are using to find sites like yours, and then you can target those keywords within your site’s content.
Proper Metadata in Place for Each Page
Metadata includes page titles and descriptions that are indexed by search engines and appears in search results.
This metadata should contain relevant keywords and be complete on every page in order to make your pages more relevant to the search engines.
Usability is a factor in SEO because a user-friendly website will typically get more visitors than one that is difficult to navigate.
A site that people like to use will get repeat visits and longer stays, which will help it rise in the rankings.
These days, up to half of all web traffic comes from mobile devices.
Make sure that those users have a good experience on your site by ensuring your website is mobile-friendly.
Many premium WordPress themes nowadays are responsive meaning they look good at any size, but always make sure this is the case before buying one.
All Crawl Errors Fixed
Crawl errors happen when the search engines robots that crawl and index websites can’t reach a page that’s supposed to exist.
You can use tools like Screaming Frog to scan your site for crawl errors and the Redirection plugin to create a redirect to fix the issues.
Image Alt Tags Implemented
Alt tags are code that is attached to images on pages that provide a description of the image.
This is another opportunity to use relevant keywords and improve the relevance of your pages.
It also helps visually-impaired users get the most out of your site, so don’t neglect to use alt tags for your images.
Important SEO Tools to Use
It may seem overwhelming to make sure that everything I’ve mentioned above is addressed throughout your website.
Fortunately, there are many tools available that can help you with SEO.
They will help you analyze your site’s performance both with visitors and with search engines, determine how your site is ranking for a variety of target search terms, and what you can do to improve that ranking.
Here are some of these tools that you can utilize to optimize your site:
Google Analytics is a tool that you can add to your site in order to track how visitors get to your site and what they do on your site.
This data is all collected and you can review it to determine where your website traffic comes from and how well any promotion you’re doing is paying off.
You’ll be able to see information like the number of page views, the average duration a user stays on your site, and what pages within your site get the most visits.
You can also track what countries people are visiting from, the referral websites that are sending you traffic, and what kinds of devices people are using.
Google Analytics is invaluable for understanding your site’s visitors and will help you make decisions about how to promote your site.
Google Search Console
Google Search Console will help you measure your site’s performance and notify you of any issues that Google finds.
Fixing these issues will help to improve your site’s rankings.
The suite of tools that Google Search Console provides will help you test and improve your site with everything from crawl errors to site clicks and the ability to submit your sitemap to Google.
Screaming Frog SEO Spider is a tool that will crawl your website in much the same way that search engine robots do and help you analyze the results.
You’ll be able to see what the search engines see.
Any broken links, duplicate metadata, missing metadata, and other issues that hurt your site’s SEO will be highlighted and you’ll know what to fix to quickly improve your rankings.
Moz Pro is a suite of SEO tools that will help you with many aspects of SEO, including website audits to find issues, determining which keywords you should be targeting, linking opportunities, and tracking which shows you how your rankings have changed over time.
These tools all help you optimize your site without guesswork so that you can make the most of your time and effort.
SEMrush is another tool that provides an analysis of your website and SEO solutions.
It gives you customized reports about your own website’s performance, and it also provides information about competitors’ sites: what keywords they’re ranking for and how they’re running PPC campaigns.
It will help you with keyword research, backlinks, and more.
If you want an online solution that makes it easy to analyze your sites and understand your competition, SEMrush might be the right tool for you.
Majestic is a link index database that will help you analyze backlinks to your website, compare keywords, and get in-depth information about why search results rank the way they do.
You’ll be able to see the strength of any page on your site based on inbound links and more.
You’ll get a picture of your site’s searchability that will help you make decisions about what content is doing the best and what keywords could use some work.
SEO Takes Time to Learn
Don’t be discouraged if you’re feeling overwhelmed – SEO basics can take a while to fully comprehend.
You will likely make several mistakes at first when trying to optimize your sites, but stay the course and keep reading and learning more about SEO as its an invaluable skill to master if you’re wanting to build an online business.
Here are the top resources that I’ve used to learn SEO basics over the years:
An SEO expert, web designer, and writer, Thomas writes on topics he deems fun such as digital marketing, entrepreneurship, and personal development. Since 2014, he’s worked with countless business owners to help them improve their organic presence online. When he’s not writing about online business or geeking out about the latest Google algorithm update, he spends his free time playing the piano and working out with his wife.