Search engine optimization can seem overwhelming even for an experienced blogger. This guide to SEO basics will explain all you need to know.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving your blog's ranking in search engines. For beginner bloggers, it can seem scary and hard, but if you know the SEO basics, you can start implementing it on your blog.
There are a couple of things that you need to keep in mind when it comes to SEO basics.
First, SEO (just like blogging) is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s something that you need to put time and effort into. You won't see great results immediately, but if you've done the work, it will pay off over time. To set your expectations, blog posts may take months (or even years) to rank on the front page of search engine results.
Second, SEO is an ongoing process of making small improvements over time. It isn't a “one and done” type project. Those small improvements may be to your individual posts, or they may be site-wide changes.
Before we talk about search engine optimization, you need to understand a bit about what search and search intent are, what search engines do, and how they do it.
What is Search?
Think back to the last few internet searches you've done. What were you looking for?
- Subway hours
- When was Adam Lambert on America's Got Talent?
- How to mark up an image in Evernote
- How to schedule driver's test in Tennessee
Those are just a few of the things I've searched for in the last few days. Not all of them are phrased as questions, but that's basically what internet searches are–questions that we have that we want answered.
What is Search Intent?
Internet searches are just questions. Search intent (also called user intent) is why we want those answers.
Here's my why for those searches I mentioned above.
When my younger son and I left his orthodontist appointment a few days ago, he wanted to go to Subway. It was 10 AM, so I wanted to make sure it was open before we drove over there.
Last night, I watched a couple of videos of Adam Lambert. I remembered that I first heard about him when he was on America's Got Talent, and I was curious as to how long ago that was. In case you're wondering, it was 2009.
Two days ago, I was working on a new course I'm creating. One of the images I wanted to use was in Evernote, my note-taking app. I needed to put some text on it before I put it in the course.
My older son leaves for college next month, but my younger son won't be 16 until about a month after he leaves. That means I won't have an errand-runner for at least a month! The driver's license place is always booked up, so I want to make sure my son's driver's test is scheduled for as soon as possible after he turns 16.
It's important to know what someone's search intent is so that we can try to answer their question. Read more about search intent over on my other blog.
What do Search Engines do?
Search engines want to give people the most relevant answers to their questions.
Search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing are companies that provide a product to consumers. What is the product that those companies are providing for us? They want to give us the answers to our questions.
As consumers, we continue to do business with companies whose products we like. Search engines are no different. If a search engine gives us the most relevant answers to our questions, we'll keep using them. If they don't, we'll look for an alternative.
How do Search Engines Work?
I used to think that when I did a search, Google searched the entire internet in real time. But when you think about the fact that there's 1.86 billion websites in 2021, that would be impossible.
Let's take a closer look at what actually happens.
First, Google crawls the web looking for new or updated pages. Crawling is done using software called GoogleBot. The URLs of these pages are stored in a list to be reviewed later.
Next, Google indexes the pages that it found by crawling. Google will visit those pages and will try to analyze what the page is about by reviewing the content, images, and videos. The analysis is stored in the Google index which is a database.
Finally, Google serves search results. When we perform a Google search, Google tries to find the best and most relevant content on that specific topic.
This is done using Google's algorithm. No one knows exactly what factors are in the algorithm nor the weight of each factor, but Brian Dean from Backlinko has put together a list of 200 important ranking factors.
The article tells us that the list includes factors that have been proven, some that are controversial, and some that are speculations by SEO experts. What we don't know is how much weight is given to each of these factors.
Now that we know how search engines work, let's talk about a topic that should be included in our SEO basics strategy.
Are you ready to learn more about all the information Google Search Console can tell you about your blog? Sign up for my course, “The Nuts & Bolts of Google Search Console!”
What is Keyword Research?
Keywords, sometimes called keyphrases, are the exact terms that people use when they do an internet search. In my examples above, “Subway hours” is the keyphrase.
Keyword research is the process by which we identify and select the terms that we want our blog posts to rank for. There are many options (both paid and free) to choose from when selecting which keyword research tool you want to use.
How to actually do your keyword research is beyond the scope of this post, but this should be your first step in your SEO work.
After you've identified your keyword or keyphrase, you'll use it strategically in your blog post to help your SEO efforts. Read on for some best practices in using your keywords.
What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO Basics)?
Search Engine Optimization is the process of improving your site so that your web pages will appear in organic search results and will rank higher on the search engine results page (SERPs).
There are three main types of SEO:
- On Page SEO
- Technical SEO
- Off Page SEO
On-page SEO refers to the strategies we use to optimize an individual page on our site. These are primarily content-related.
Here are a few of the tactics you can use in your on-page SEO basics strategy.
- Write high-quality content that provides value to your readers. If your content isn't good, you won't rank. Make sure that it's comprehensive. While longer content typically ranks higher, don't add a lot of extraneous information just to increase the number of words in your post.
- Ensure that your great content meets the intent of your users. No matter how awesome your post is, if it doesn't meet your users' intent, it won't rank very high.
- Use your keyword in the first paragraph of your blog post. Google will start to get an idea of what your post is about by the terms you use in that first paragraph.
- Use your keyword several times within your content, but don't go overboard with it. Including your keyword too many times is considered keyword stuffing and could negatively impact your ranking.
- Include a few subheadings with your keyword. You don't need to include it in all of them–just a few will be fine.
- Optimize your URLs by including your keyword.
- Use a unique meta description that includes your keyword. This can also help with your click through rate.
- Ensure that your content is easily digestible with shorter paragraphs, lists, images, etc. We tend to scan, so making it easier to do that will improve the user experience on your site.
- Use internal links. After you publish a post, add a link to that post from a few of your older posts. This gives the search engines another indication of what your post is about. I use a tool called LinkWhisper to make this super easy.
- Use external links to other sites about your topic. By doing so, you're positioning yourself as a source of information about your topic–not just one person who's writing about it.
Technical SEO involves any non-content strategies we use.
- Site structure or architecture should be easy to follow and use. SEMRush has a great article detailing what's included in SEO-friendly site architecture.
- Site security is super important. If your URL starts with http instead of https, stop reading this post, contact your hosting company, and ask them how to add an SSL certificate to your site. While they used to charge an extra fee for them, most hosts now provide them for free.
- Mobile-friendliness is a must. Most of us use our mobile devices more than we use an actual computer, so Google wants the mobile version of our sites to be easy to use. If you have a fairly new WordPress theme, this will be built in.
- Site speed has been a ranking factor since 2018. The Mediavine blog has some great resources to help you with this. While there are some fairly technical parts of improving your pagespeed, some of the improvements are simple to implement.
- Use structured data and schema markup in your blog posts. This also gives the search engines an indication of what your post is about.
Off-page SEO is any SEO activity that happens, well, off your site. Link building is the most predominant off-page SEO activity.
Learning about the best way to build links to your site could be an entire series of blog posts, so I won't cover that here.
Why do Bloggers Need SEO?
When you create a blog, you want people to find it. Search engine optimization (SEO) is how bloggers make sure that their blog shows up in search results for relevant topics. Your goal is to have your blog rank higher than the blogs of your competitors. SEO takes time and patience, but with the right strategies, you can get to the top of the search engine result pages.
What are Some Easy Ways to Incorporate SEO Basics into your Posts?
When you first start learning about SEO, it's easy to be overwhelmed trying to decide what are the most important things that you need to do. This is especially true when you read a long post like this that is supposed to give you the SEO basics.
I recommend that you start with these 10 tips for SEO success. They're easy to understand and to implement.
What are Some Potential SEO Pitfalls?
Some of us get so wrapped up in content optimization that we forget who we are trying to serve with our blogs. We aren't trying to serve any of the major search engines–well, at least we shouldn't be trying to.
Our blogs are there to provide valuable content to our readers. People search for answers to their questions, so our blog should provide relevant information to answer those questions.
Let me give you an example of how we may focus too much on SEO and not enough on our readers.
Yoast is a plugin for WordPress that can help you with your SEO efforts. It serves as a checklist to help remind you of some of the important factors for SEO. Yoast will rate your post based on the inclusion of these factors using a red, yellow, or green light.
But here's the problem. Some bloggers get hung up on the Yoast “green light.” Don't assume that you'll rank if you have the green light or that you won't rank if you have a red light. It's a good idea to only use Yoast as a checklist to make sure you haven't forgotten anything.
SEO basics can be hard to understand and implement. I hope this blog post has given you a good overview of what they are. I encourage you to learn about one thing at a time. After you've mastered that item, then move on to the next.
Good luck in your SEO endeavors!