SEO for Beginners: Search Engine Optimization Made Simple
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is such a daunting world to the newcomer. Its mysteries seem to run vast and deep. And with each new Google algorithm update, SEO strategies seemingly change in stride. How, then, can a newcomer ever get a grasp?
Today’s post is going to share that knowledge, so get ready to take some notes. If you’re short on time, here’s a simple SEO checklist you can follow as well.
When it comes to ranking organically on the first page of Google Search, you’re going to have to play the long game. There’s no immediate way to rank on the first page unless you pay to play – I’m speaking of Google Ads. That’s a whole topic in and of itself. For now, let’s stick to the basics.
Although it’s hard to rank on page one of Google, it’s not impossible. Don’t believe me? See for yourself.
Ranking high on search engines isn’t rocket science. SEO experts make it seem complicated, but the process can be simplified into three primary categories:
- On-page SEO
- Off-page SEO
- Technical SEO
On-page SEO is the optimization you do for keywords you want to insert into your page or blog post. We’ll cover this in a second. Off-page SEO is comprised of the amount of influence your page receives from other websites that link to it. Lastly, technical SEO is website structure optimization that help search engine spiders crawl and index your website more effectively.
Now, you have a basic understanding of the two different types of SEO you need for your website and web page to rank in search, let’s get into how to increase your rank.
What is On-page SEO?
On-page SEO is all about which keywords you’re targeting and how you incorporate them into your website.
Every keyword or keyword phrase (consisting of multiple search keywords) carries distinct qualities that either make it attractive or unattractive. These qualities are:
- search volume
Search volume is very important to judge the amount of incoming traffic you’d like to receive for your website or web page. If you target five keywords, all with 10,000 searches a month, hypothetically, you’ll be eligible to receive 50,000 searches to your website a month.
However, you have to take the 50,000 with a grain of salt because, often, high search volume keywords (short-tail keywords) have high competition. This means others are competing with you for the same keyword traffic, so if you don’t already rank high in searches, you’re unlikely to get a good portion of that traffic – more like scraps.
Lastly, relevance is how well Google measures whether your website or web page is fulfilling a user’s search intent. Is your content relevant to a user’s keyword search? If so, how relevant? Do you answer their search in full or do you leave them wanting?
These three qualities will judge how well your website will perform in search. To understand more about keyword research, see our Digital Marketing: Keyword Research 101 post.
Now that you understand what to look for when targeting keywords, you’re probably asking, “how do I use this newfound information to get more searches?” The answer to your question is creating a content strategy.
Beginning Your Content Strategy: Pillars and Topic Clusters
Every business, no matter how large or small, needs a content strategy. Content is what attracts, qualifies, and, most importantly, motivates potential customers. Without it, your business will experience a hard time growing a loyal customer base. Loyalty and trust is everything. Content works because it builds trust; and trust builds sales.
For this reason, you need to create valuable content, pertaining to your business, you can give to your potential customers that will build their trust. Once you have a couple of ideas of what topics you can write about, write down the top three topics that are most relevant to your business and customers.
Those top three topics should be large enough topics that you can search them as short-tail keywords and easily write five to ten subtopics for each one. The top three topics your choose will be known as your “pillars” and your subtopics will be your “topic clusters.”
Every pillar keyword will be the title for a long post between 2,500 and 3,000 words long. Topic cluster keywords, on the other hand, will be the title of a smaller blog post. You will make each topic cluster keyword the title of a blog post.
An early mapping of your content plan should like something like this (in this example, there’s one pillar and three topic clusters):
Each topic cluster should be targeting not only the title keyword, but between five to ten long-tail keywords that are related to it. Take a look at the example below to get a better picture.
Lastly, you will also include volume and competition metrics to understand which keywords are worth targeting. In the below example, I’ve also included average monthly searches from the Google Keyword Planner, as it’s a great way to visualize how many potential visitors you’ll receive month to month. It’s also free to use for keyword research; however, you’ll find you can get even greater keyword ideas, search volume, and competition data from SEO tools such as SEMrush and Ahrefs.
The resulting spreadsheet should look something like this.
After you have built your content strategy spreadsheet, you’ll find the best keywords to target based on upon how much volume and competition they have. This part of the the planning process will be a little more subjective; although, it doesn’t take a genius to understand a smaller volume keyword with far less competition will yield greater results than a high volume keyword with higher competition. Do your best and follow your gut. You’re looking to find the highest search volume keywords relative to the lowest competition.
If you later find your performance is suffering, you can always keep record of which keywords you have used, switch out the ones you haven’t used, re-optimize your post, and see if you can improve your results.
Executing Your Content Strategy: Pillar Content Linking
The most important part of the pillar content strategy is how you create your pillar content page and how you link to and from it.
Your pillar content page will be made up of all the topic cluster posts that fall under it. In the above example, you can see that out pillar page is called “Website Design.” Its topic clusters, “Usability, User Experience, and User Friendly,” are all individual blog posts that will also comprise sections of the pillar page.
When these topic clusters are written as sections in the pillar page, they will be a fraction of the size (500 words) they normally are when they are published as blog posts (1000-1500 words). However, these topic cluster fractions will link back to the full blog post from the pillar page. This will create a master document (pillar) that will link out to all of its attached content (topic clusters). On the flip-side, your blog posts will have a link to your pillar page, with anchor text containing the pillar page keyword, “Website Design.”
This bilateral linking creates an effect on Google that helps to boost relevancy of not only your blog post keywords, but your pillar page keyword as well. Google sees your pillar page is providing detailed answers to searchers through linking to blog pages to better fulfill search intent.
Measuring Your Content Strategy: Organic Growth
In order to see if your content strategy is effective at driving more organic traffic to your website, you’ll need Google Analytics.
The measuring process is simple. Since Google has a reflection period of about three months, you can measure your organic growth over business quarter cycles.
To see your organic traffic, go to the “Acquisition” section of analytics, choose “Channels,” and select “Organic Search.”
Here, you’ll see the number of sessions and new users to your website. Below, you’ll see an example of Bookmark’s quarter one organic traffic metrics.
In the second example, you’ll see quarter two’s metrics.
Seeing as the organic traffic increased, we’re moving in the right direction.
If you’re curious how much we grew our organic traffic, take Q2’s new user number (9,851) and subtract it by Q1’s (8,565). Take the resulting number (1,286) and divide it by Q1’s new user number (8,565). Take the resulting number (0.15) and multiply it by 100 to get the percentage (15 per cent).
If you’re growing your organic traffic by 10 per cent or more, you’re doing well. If you’re beneath that number, you should consider targeting different long-tail keywords.
What is Off-page SEO?
Off-page SEO refers to building your website or web page’s influence outside of the keywords you’re using.
It usually refers to other categories of SEO like building backlinks and local SEO. Off-page SEO can be summed up as the following: anything you do outside of your website to generate traffic to it. This could be getting posts you have created to be posted on other websites, getting links back to posts or pages on your website, or even getting reviews on Google My Business. A large percentage of your off-page SEO will come from building backlinks. For that reason, we’re going to teach you how to build backlinks.
How to Build Effective Backlinks
In this demonstration, we’re going to use SEMrush. On a side note, Ahrefs is just as good a service for SEO. No matter which service you use, you’ll be able to find and create backlinks for your website.
Getting into it, we’re going to, hypothetically, find website pages that could benefit from including our new post. After you’ve created your free account, head over to the “Projects” tab on the left-hand side navigation menu. Once you do, you’ll see a big green button at the bottom of the field that says, “Create my first project.” Click it, enter your domain, and proceed to the next step.
Once you begin your first project, you’ll be prompted to add the keywords you want to target. For this example, we’re going to continue with our website design pillar page from earlier; therefore, we’ll add a couple keywords centered around website design.
After you’ve input your desired keywords, it’s time to enter in competitor URLs. This is where you’ll have to do a little bit of research. We’ve provided some of our competitors in the web design space below for example.
Once you finish and click “Start Link Building,” SEMrush will take a few minutes to compile the data. After it completes, you’ll be presented with a dashboard that looks something like this.
Here, you’ll find all the pages that reference your keywords and the competitive landscape you’re in. These web page prospects are all opportunities for you to reach out and pitch your new content. Add whichever pages you feel could benefit from your new pillar page to your “In Progress” section by clicking the blue “+” button on the right-hand side of the corresponding page.
After you’ve finished selecting prospects, head over to the “In Progress” section and begin working on your pitch. SEMrush already has automated pitch templates created for you. In order to access them, click the blue “Send” button on the right-hand side of the corresponding page you want to pitch to.
Every now and then, SEMrush won’t be able to come up with an email for the page, so you have to go out and find the email. If this happens, we recommend looking at the post, finding the author, and contacting them through LinkedIn.
When you’re ready to send your pitch, all you have to do is personalize the email for your company and content, include the content link in the email, and hit the green “Send” button at the bottom of the page.
Prior to sending out your pitch emails, you’ll head over to the “Monitor” page to track the status of every accepted backlink. It’s in this section where you’ll see if your backlinks are active, broken, lost, or rejected.
If you want your website to grow and prosper, you’ll need to put just as much effort into your off-page SEO as you do into your on-page.
With tools likes SEMrush and Ahrefs, you can make improving your off-page SEO an easily manageable task.
Don’t Forget About Technical SEO
Aside from the above, you also need to pay attention to the following:
- Title tags – optimize the tag of your website by including a keyword that describes the main theme of the website.
- Meta tags – this is not a ranking factor, but it tells people what the content of the page is all about. You need to include a keyword there, too.
- Headlines – your page should have a headline and sub-headlines, i.e., h1, h2, or h3, depending on how you want to subdivide the article. If possible, the headlines should have the post’s focus keyword or LSI.
- Sitemaps – it is basically a road map to your website. It tells search engine bots about the structure and content of your website. You can have either XML or HTML Sitemaps. You should generate the sitemap using a site map creator tool, then submit it to Google or Bing Webmaster.
- Domain name – a domain name with a keyword you want to rank will appear high on search engine results.
- URL structure – it should be simple, memorable, and contains the focus keyword. It should not contain extraneous characters.
- ALT tags – all images must have ALT tags. This makes it easier for the search engine to index images.
Generally, when you consider all these, you can perfect your new website’s SEO without spending a lot of money.
Again, don’t forget to list your website on various online directories or bookmarking websites. Social media and online marketing play a pivotal role in SEO too.
This may seem like a tedious process, especially if you’re doing it for the first time. With practice, however, you will definitely find this as part of your publishing routine, making your new website rank high on search results faster than others.
Craft Quality and Informative Content
We don’t want to leave you without mentioning how important quality and informative content is. With Google’s recent search engine algorithm updates, Google aims to provide useful content to its users. Its bots crawl your website to find what users are potentially looking for; therefore, you need to conduct thorough research on what your potential customers are looking for most. Even though, you’ll be targeting keywords to attract potential customers to your website, you need to write something of value to get them to stay and interact with your business.
This means don’t write specifically for search engines. You should aim to convert visitors to customers. In order to do that, creating quality content, that helps to alleviate a customer pain points, should be your first priority.
To optimize content for better SEO ranking, consider the following SEO techniques as well:
- Content titles – Write the focus keyword as close to the beginning of the title and use division techniques to separate title words.
- Keywords – should be relevant to the content. You should include latent semantic indexing (LSI) keywords, too. These are phrases or words related to the focus keyword.
- Links – focus on both inbound and outbound links. For outbound links, target reputable websites within your niche. Choose anchor text that describe your website.
- Content quality – content must be high quality, original, and informative and cannot easily be found anywhere else on the web.
- Update your website regularly.
Bookmark’s SEO e-Learning Class
Bookmark offers free e-Learning to support your small business success as well. If you’d like to learn more about SEO, sign up for the free course and make your mark!
Check out the below video to get a better idea of the course. You’ll learn how to use keywords, other ways to build backlinks, and even more cool SEO tips.
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