Beginner's Guide to SEO
Get found organically online
So you’ve done keyword research, know what your target marketing is searching for, and have picked out the best keywords and phrases for your business. Now it’s time to learn how to use that information to your advantage. The two big ways to do that are on-page SEO and off-page SEO. First, let’s take a look at on-page.
On-page SEO, what this chapter is about, is the practice of optimizing individual web pages in order to rank higher and earn more relevant traffic in search engines.
Off-page SEO, what we will cover next chapter, is the practice of getting links and other external signals.
When you think about on-page SEO, there is a lot that goes into it, but let’s start by thinking about the creation of the actual content.
Creating Your Content
Let’s apply all the hard work you did with your keyword research from the last chapter! Here are a few guidelines to follow to start off:
- Analyze the first SERP for each keyword and phrases to decide what format your content should be. While you’re analyzing these results, make sure to look for:
- Is the content long-form or short?
- Are there images, videos, infographics, etc.?
- How is the information formatted on the web page?
- Take a look at all of your possible keywords, phrases, and long-tail keywords you have so far, and group those with similar topics and search intent.
- You don’t need to reinvent the wheel here. Google obviously likes the content that is ranking high. What similarities do all of these web pages have in common?
Note: Don’t be mistaken, we’re not telling you to copy the content on these pages. As you’ve learned in chapter 1, that would fall under black hat SEO and would do the opposite of help.
Unethical On-Page SEO Practices
Your content should always have the human user’s best interest in mind. We keep repeating this in every chapter because it’s such an important concept to get across. Content ranks on the first SERP because of the need for it on the web by humans.
Like we just mentioned, we checked out black hat SEO in chapter 1, but we want to dive into common mistakes we see often with on-page SEO, and then the correct way to handle each situation.
There is definitely a time and place for shorter web pages but as a general rule, higher word count web pages rank higher. This is why it’s important to do your research and analyze SERPs for your specific keywords and see what type of content search engines want from you.
Older SEO practices would consist of creating a bunch of shorter pages and hit only one keyword hard on each page. Google caught on (they always do) and created an update to its algorithm known as Panda, which basically now penalizes low-quality pages and promotes high-quality content.
Google has been pretty open that they’d much rather have a more well-written, full web page, vs a bunch of shorter pages that could easily be combined to one. Instead of having a different page for both “chiropractic adjustments”, “benefits of chiropractic adjustments”, and “Are chiropractic adjustment dangerous?” you should create one page that includes all of this information broken down into digestible, well-written sections.
Tip: Search engines love questions since people ask a lot of questions on search engines. Adding sections answering common questions or FAQs is a great added bonus to most pages.
Auto-generated content is content that was generated by either some sort of software, website, or anything in between. Thinking back to chapter 1, we talked about ranking factors. If you recall one of the major factors was original, user-friendly content. If you think there’s a robot out there that can outsmart Google, you’re wrong.
All of your content should be written by a human, for a human.
Cramming a bunch of keywords on a piece of your content just isn’t going to cut it. If it were that easy, there would be no need for a guide like this!
SEOs used to be able to put an unnatural amount of keywords on a page, and Google wouldn’t care. While, yes, you should have mentions of your keywords across your content, it should be done is a natural way that is benefiting the user viewing the content.
I’ll give you a free SEO guide if you can guess what this one is… oh, wait! Another older practice is taking a piece of content, duplicating it, and making minor changes to the text to focus on regional areas or some other factor.. For example, check out this image.
While there’s a lot of rumors around whether or not search engines will penalize you for duplicate content, the truth is they won’t make you rank lower, but they will hurt you in other ways. If Google crawls your page and sees one, or more pieces of content duplicates of another page, according to Google, they will be crawled less frequently and will only show the original piece of content on SERPs.
Long story short, don’t be lazy. All of your content should be original.
A general rule of thumb is to make sure that any content on your website can be seen the same way from both search engine crawlers and human visitors. When you don’t comply with this, the term search engines have given it is, “cloaking”, which was categorized in chapter 1 as a black hat SEO tactic.
You need to make sure that all content isn’t hidden for either search engines or human users. An example of this would be to create a bunch of keywords on your web page with a white font while your background is also white. Hidden to the human eye, but there for search engines to see.
What Your Content SHOULD Have
Alright, we’ve gone over a bunch of stuff to avoid, but let’s get into what you’ve all been waiting for – on-page optimizations to make your content stand out to search engines.
Relevant, well-written content
First and foremost, you have to make sure to focus on the actual content you’re putting on a web page. If it’s text, it should be easy to read, formatted in a digestible way, with relevant content.
Does the content on your web page help what the user was searching for to get to your page in the first place? If the answer is no, you either need to make sure the keywords are changed or the content is changed to solve the user’s problem.
Your content could be written incredibly well, but if it’s formatted in a crazy way, nobody may ever see it! Here are some key things to pay attention to:
- Text size and color – Your font should be easy to read by everyone, on a background that makes it pop. For example, if your background is black, a white font is a lovely option and vice-versa.
- Bolding, italics, and underlining – If there is a word that you’d like to stand out to your web page visitors, add some flair by bolding or underlining it, but use it sparingly.
- Headers – We’ll dive more into this soon, but you’ll notice in this guide that we break our content down by creating sections using headlines.
- Paragraphs – You’ll also notice that we use a lot of paragraph breaks. It’s easier to digest and keep your place when content isn’t in one big bunch.
- Bullet point and numbers lists – When you have a list of information to get across, like this, give bullet points a try!
All of the websites we create are WordPress, and WordPress has an awesome plugin called Yoast SEO, that we recommend absolutely everyone gets. It gives general rules to you for readability and will tell you where it sees room for improvement. Yoast also has a bunch of keyword tools to help you out.
The use of headers is very important for the readability of your page, but also to indicate important information throughout your content. Headers are broken down from H1 – H6. H1 being the “most important” header information, and H6 the least.
Every page should have an H1 header tag, that almost always should include the keyword you are trying to rank for. Usually, this H1 header is created automatically as the title of the page. You almost always shouldn’t have more than one H1 heater tag on a single web page or you’ll confuse search engines with what you believe the most important information on the page is.
The sub-headings H2 – H6 are used to introducing and organizing sub-topics. It can get quite confusing when you’re dealing with a bunch of different headings and trying to organize sub-topics, but it is a good way to plan your content and make it easily digestive for the user.
Tip: You do not, and most of the time will not, use every single sub-heading category, and that is 100% okay! Even in a long guide like this, we’re not using H5, or H6 header tags.
Grammar and spelling
If your content is full of misspellings and grammatical errors search engines will notice it and see it as poor user experience for those who visit your site. Make sure to find a process that works for you to avoid these errors at all costs.
We personally write all of my content in a Google Doc and spell check it before posting it to our website. We also use a plugin called Grammarly that is basically a spell and grammar check on steroids.
A page’s title tag is your way to briefly describe what your web page is about. It’s one of the first things that a search engine crawler is going to read, and the same usually goes for human users.
Every web page should have a unique title tag. Title tags are how search engines are going to label your content in SERPs. If you have a WordPress site and installed the plugin we just recommended, Yoast SEO, you’ll be able to edit your page title straight on your WordPress dashboard like this…
This title is what will showcase in SERPs like this…
It usually will show up is web browser tabs too like this…
Your title tag is one of the key practices with on-page SEO. It can be an awesome tool in your SEO belt when used correctly. So how do you use it correctly? We’re glad you asked. Here are some ways to make the most out of your title tag:
- Keywords – Having your targeted keyword in the title is a plus for human users, which means that search engines will also think it’s a plus. Everyone wins!
- The front holds more weight – The further down your title, the less important search engines assume the words are. So if you have a keyword you think is very important for users to see, make sure that keyword is up front!
- Length – You want to try and keep your title less than 60 characters in length. Why? Because Google said so. But really, SERPs will only show the first 50-60 characters of your title before they cut it off.
These are under the same family as title tags. They’re on the back end of your web pages and are a brief description of what your web page is about. You’ll also be able to edit these easily on Yoast SEO like this:
You’ll also see these on SERPs like this:
Your meta description is another one of the key practices with on-page SEO. Let’s dive right into how to get the most out of your meta description:
- Relevance – Your description should tell users exactly what they’ll find if they click to your web page. The better the experience a user has while on your web page, the more likely search engines are to improve your ranking.
- Length – The meta description also has a recommended length for the same reason the title tag does. Users want to be able to quickly skim your information to make sure your content is the content they want, and if your description is too long, SERPs will cut them off.
A URL is the web address for pieces of content on the web. They’re used to organize your web pages throughout your website, and search engines and savvy users use them to make decisions to click through to your web page on SERPs.
So what things can you do to get the most of your URLs? Let’s dive in:
Clean and clear page naming
One of the first things we do anytime we make a new WordPress website is, go to the settings and change the way URLs are automatically created. WordPress sites are set up to create URLs in a weird way. Usually something like this:
We change it to something like this:
Searchers are more likely to click on the URL that reinforces the decision they’re about to make.
Setting up your URL organization from the getgo is a smart idea. It helps you, users, and search engines stay organized with content and it makes working with analytics on the tail end much easier. An example of this might look something like this:
Seeing an organized website is something that makes search engines happy.
Another opportunity to use your keyword! In the URL. Don’t get crazy and try and jam a bunch of different keywords in your title, though. Keep it reasonable and relevant so users and search engines know what’s going on.
Something to mention is about the length of your URL. We just brought up that the organization of your website is a good tactic for your URL and SEO, but we do mean this within reason. We don’t mean creating a sub URL for everything and anything like:
Having shorter URLs makes it easier to copy and paste, share, and makes it more enticing to click.
In chapter 1, we discussed how important it is to have a crawlable website. Creating a crawlable website is done by having an efficient internal linking system. The best way to start is by creating navigations that link to and from the most important pages of your website, which is usually a website navigation bar. We’ll talk more about this next chapter.
Another common way to internally link your pages is to create links in the text of your content. An example for us might be linking to this SEO guide in the copy of our SEO Services page of our website.
The “alternative text” used to describe media, usually images, to the visually impaired via screen readers. Think of them kind of like a caption. Search engine crawlers also use this alt text to understand what images are, and if they’re relevant to the rest of the content on your page. This is an opportunity that many people miss and can help set you apart.
This is another chance for you to naturally plug your keywords, not cram them.
Technical On-Page SEO
Some more on-page SEO techniques that are more technical and usually require at least some web development skills or a web developer. But if you’re using WordPress, there are plenty of plugins you can install to help out here if you’re not too familiar with the backend of your website.
These are the most important technical SEO factors you should focus on:
Website speed is one of the key ranking factors for search engines. With that being said, you should always monitor your website performance and, if it is lacking, aim to improve it. Your goal load speed should be as fast as possible but less than 3 seconds. Here are some quick tips to monitor and improve site speed:
- Run an SEO analyzer and see the tips they have for you.
- Make sure to use the smallest file size for images and compress when possible, without losing the quality of the image.
- Quality web hosting can play a big role in website speed, so many sure to go with a renowned provider.
In today’s world, you have to create your website with a mobile-first mentality. Most web searches today are done on mobile devices and search engines obviously know this, so they reward websites that are mobile optimized.
Think about it this way – If your site isn’t mobile optimized and Google is going to give you a bunch of traffic, most of these people will be mobile, and most of these people will leave immediately. A lose-lose. Test your site on mobile, make sure absolutely everything works.
A sitemap helps search engine crawlers navigate through your website. It’s a file where all of your website pages are listed.
Some people recommend that not all websites need sitemaps, but it won’t hurt by having one (but it can hurt your site by not having one), and it’s as simple as installing a plugin, like Yoast SEO, on your WordPress site to do it for you automatically.
This is another file that directs search engine crawlers through your website. A robots.txt file does the opposite as a sitemap. It tells these crawlers which pages to not crawl. Most average users won’t need to use this, but it can be handy when you don’t want a script heavy, slow page, to be indexed.
Google announced back in 2014 that they give a slight boost in rankings to sites that have active SSL on their website, making them “secure” and give them the HTTPS URL option.
We recommend absolutely every website to do this. Not even for the slight SEO boost, but because if your website isn’t secure and when new people enter the site, they can get a huge NOT SECURE badge, which makes it hard to even enter the site.
Congratulations! You made it through the longest and most difficult chapter. This next one is still incredibly important, Chapter 4: Link Building.