(Search Engine Optimization) SEO Basics

SEO - Search Engine Optimization for Online Marketing Concept. Modern graphic interface showing symbol of keyword research website promotion by optimize customer searching and analyze market strategy.

Do you feel like SEO is hard and confusing?

Here are some SEO Basics to help you understand

There are some basics that will give you a limited understanding of SEO, that will make a big difference.

There are five fundamental SEO basics to help with your success:

  • How to figure out what your customers are searching for
  • How to optimize your web pages for your target keywords
  • How to make sure your website is accessible to both search engines and humans
  • How to get other websites to link to your site, and finally
  • How to start measuring your SEO success

Step 1: Learn what your customers are actually searching for

You can’t optimize your website without knowing what your customers are searching for.  You might think this is obvious, but sometimes it’s more confusing than you might think.

How do you figure this out? The best starting point is to use common sense.

Imagine that you run a hotel in Santa Barbara, California. It doesn’t take an SEO genius to guess that your customers are probably searching for things like:

  • ‘hotels in Santa Barbara’
  • ‘place to stay in Santa Barbara’
  • ‘accommodation in Santa Barbara’

a) Figure out the way most people search for your business

It’s likely that some of your customers are searching for your business using the words and phrases that you might first guess.  Whether the majority of people are searching this way might not be the case.

So the first step is to figure out the most common way people search for what you do.

Start by doing a Google search for one of the words or phrases on your list. It doesn’t matter how ridiculous or long the phrase is. I’ll use a purposely silly one to prove it.

seo santa barbara

Here are the top few search results for that query:

seo search engine optimization santa barbara

You can see the phrase Santa Barbara Hotel in the titles. This matters because websites tend to optimize their title tags for SEO, so it’s likely that these particular ones have already done some research and found that “hotels in Santa Barbara” is the most popular way people search for their business.

But that’s only a guess at this point, especially for a small business trying to do their own research, we have no idea if they know what they’re doing.

To really know, you need to use the proper tools:

b) Understand other ways people might search for the same thing

There are many ways people search for the same product or service.

In other words, there are hundreds of keyword phrases related to Santa Barbara Hotels. That means not everyone types “Santa Barbara hotels” into Google when searching for a place to stay in Santa Barbara. Other people search for the same thing in different ways.

You can start to get a sense of what these other keywords are by analyzing more Google search results.

Look for more similar and related phrases that pop up over and over again.

In this instance, we see such phrases as “hotels in Santa Barbara,” “Santa Barbara city hotels,” and “cheap hotels in Santa Barbara.”

These businesses have likely identified these keywords and phrases already, hence the reason they include them in their title tags.

c) Take a deeper look into the details of the searches your customers are making

Now that you know how people search for your business, it’s time to dig deeper into the details of the searches people make when trying to fine the service or product you offer.

The easiest way to start is to look at Google autocomplete results.

Simply go to Google and begin typing a query in the search box, but don’t hit Enter. Google will automatically suggest some additional search terms that people have used:

d) Find popular and engaging topics related to your business

Content marketing is the art of creating useful and valuable content to attract your target customers or clients. But don’t just start a blog and hope for the best—figure out what topics are popular and engaging in your field and create content related to said topics.

For this, I’d recommend starting with Reddit.

Find a subreddit related to your industry. Look at what people are talking about and which threads are the most popular. You can even filter and sort by the top threads of all time.

e) Expand your keyword list by looking literally anywhere else

Google search results and professional keyword tools can give you a lot to get started to understand SEO basics, but it’s not enough.

To be successful with SEO basics, you need to understand how people are talking about your industry. Use every opportunity to speak to customers and take notice of the language they’re using.

Doing this in person is great, but also very time‐consuming.

So here are a few places where you can find the words people use while talking about your topic of interest:

Forums: There are quite a few communities where people discuss traveling. For example, a simple
search led me to the

Quora/Reddit: Quora is probably not the first place that comes to mind when you’re looking for travel
advice, but you’d be surprised by the amount of information you can find there even on this topic. Where
it comes to Reddit, the adage that there’s a subreddit for everything is generally true.

Facebook/LinkedIn Groups: LinkedIn is more geared towards B2B markets, but when it comes to
Facebook, there are groups for almost everything.

Any website or social network with a large number of visitors and user‐generated content can serve as a source of inspiration and keyword ideas.

Podcasts can also be a good source of inspiration…

f) Understand the metrics behind the keywords you are targeting

Most people focus entirely on the following two metrics when doing keyword research:

     Search Volume (the number of monthly searches, on average), and
     Keyword Difficulty (an estimate as to how easy or hard it will be to appear on the first page of search results
     for that term).

These are important as they provide useful insights into the potential of the keyword and how difficult ranking for it is likely to be.

However, instead of looking solely at search volume, you should try to figure out the true search traffic potential for each keyword. That way, you can focus your efforts on ranking for the ones that are likely to send the most targeted traffic your way.

This tells you the estimated total monthly search traffic to each of the top-ranking pages.

You can also see that these pages (which rank for Dublin hotels) also rank for many other related keywords.
Looking at these stats gives you an idea of the kind of traffic you can expect to get to your page if you manage to rank.

Note that true traffic potential can significantly exceed the search volume of the keyword you’re researching.

For this, I’d recommend starting with Reddit.

Find a subreddit related to your industry. Look at what people are talking about and which threads are the most popular. You can even filter and sort by the top threads of all time.

Step 2: Optimize your pages for search

Keyword research is only the first step towards attracting more organic search traffic.

You also need to make sure your website design and pages are structured well and satisfy the person behind the search to rank for the keywords you selected.

Your optimization efforts should start with making sure that your visitors are enjoying the user experience (UX) your website provides. Use design and typography that makes it easy to consume the content, and remove any unnecessary elements that can annoy your readers.

Even targeting the most profitable keywords with the “best” content won’t help you if your pages are not optimized for search engines.

There are many ways to implement these features, but if you’re using WordPress for your website, I first recommend installing an SEO plugin like Yoast SEO. It’s free and simple to use, and it’s perfect for those who are new to on-page SEO.

Setting up your pages for success in the search engine involves the following:

a) Create content that aligns with search intent

Wanting to rank for a keyword doesn’t mean you deserve to, even if your traditional on-page SEO elements are on-point. That’s because of something called search intent.

In short, there are three main ‘types’ of searches people make:

  • Navigational: They’re looking for a specific website, e.g., ‘Santa Barbara airport’
  • Informational: They’re looking to learn more about a specific topic, e.g., ‘things to do in Santa Barbarara’
  • Transactional: They’re looking to purchase a specific product/service, e.g., ‘book hotel in Santa Barbara’

Naturally, searches with a high level of commercial interest are more valuable from a business point because the people doing them are closer to purchasing 

But search intent isn’t always crystal clear from the search query itself.

For example, take the query “best hotel in Santa Barbara.”

Now, you might be thinking “my hotel is the best hotel in Santa Barbara, so this is probably a transactional term for which I can rank my homepage,” right? Maybe not.

The best way to understand the intent behind any search term is to see what pages rank for it.

The logic here is that because Google’s primary goal is to satisfy its users, their algorithm keeps a close eye on the behavior of people searching for a particular term and tries to offer results that will meet the intent of their search. Thus, you can infer search intent by looking at the commonalities between the current top-ranking pages.

Never create content without first understanding the search intent behind the query you’re targeting.

b) Use short descriptive URL’s

The web address of your site sends a signal to search engines about its topic. Getting this right the first time is recommended because you should avoid changing it, if possible.

Here’s Google’s advise about URLs:

A site’s URL structure should be as simple as possible. Consider organizing your content so that URLs are constructed logically and in a manner that is most intelligible to humans (when possible, readable words rather than long ID numbers).

In other words, don’t go for…

domain.com/56285402_86737256.asp

…when you could go for something descriptive like:

domain.com/santa-barbara-guide

The other benefit of descriptive url’s is that they often include your target keyword (or at least words and phrases from it). That said, don’t shoehorn keywords into URLs if they look unnatural.

c) Make sure you add meta titles and descriptions

Web pages have two specific features that search engines use when building up search results:

Contrary to what the name suggests, the meta title tag does not appear anywhere on your page. It merely sets the name of the browser tab, and Google and other search engines use it when showing the page in search results.

SIDENOTE. Google doesn’t always respect the title tags you set. They sometimes choose to display something slightly different.

The title tag is a great opportunity to write a headline which:

  • includes the keyword you want the page to rank for, and
  • is compelling enough to make searchers click and visit your site.

Conventional wisdom also suggests keeping yours under 60 characters to avoid truncation in full in search results. 

Meta descriptions are also important, mainly because they too can affect the click-through rate.

d) Use headers and subheaders to create a logical structure

Use the standard HTML format for headers (H1 to H6) to make it easy for search engines to understand the structure of your page and the importance of each section.

Header 1 should be reserved for the on‐page title of your content and should ideally include the main keyword (or something closely related to the main keyword) that you’re targeting.

Header 2 should be used for the titles of the main sections on your page. They should also include the main keyword you’re targeting (whenever possible and natural) and are a good place to add additional (longer‐tail) keywords for which you want to rank.

Every time you go a step deeper in your content, use the next type of header, e.g., Header 3 for subheadings within an H2 section, and so on.

Following a clear and exhaustive structure makes it easy for search engines to categorize your content and also helps human readers.

e) Optimize your images

Images are great for humans, but search engines can struggle to make sense of them.

To illustrate that point, here’s what happens when you upload a photo of butter, their machine‐learning image identification tool:

seo basics

Google is 91% sure that this is a photo of cheese, which is wrong.

To help Google (and other search engines) understand your images, you should use the alt tag to describe and explain them. In this case, a good alt tag would be alt=”Butter”.

In WordPress, editing the alt tag is done by using the Alternative Text field in the image editor.

f) Set up schema

Schema has become a popular way to improve how your website looks in search results. For example, you can use it to add ratings to your search results entry, making it more noticeable.

Step 3: Make sure your website is accessible to search engines as well as people

 

When doing SEO for your small business, it’s important to remember that you’re working for two separate customers—your human readers, and the bots search engines use to index your website.

While bots are becoming more intelligent, many differences still exist between the two. Therefore, your goal should be to create a positive experience for both humans and bots.

Understanding how to create pages optimized for bots can be challenging. That’s why, while it’s important to have a strong understanding of the features we discuss in the following paragraphs, It is very smart to delegate them to a professional.

Here are a few tips to get you off on the right foot.

a) Make sure your website loads fast

Both humans and search engines prioritize the loading speed of websites. Studies suggest that up to 40% of people leave sites that take longer than 3 seconds to load.

Using Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool to help you find out how quickly your pages load and give you actionable advice on how to further improve their speed.

b) Make sure your website is mobile-friendly

According to many studies more than 60% of searches are now from mobile devices.

Use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool to make sure your website is mobile-friendly. Here’s what you want to see:

c) Install an SSL certificate

HTTPS is officially one of the ranking signals Google uses.

You can tell when a site uses SSL because there’ll be a padlock in the URL bar:

seo santa barbara

Not using an SSL certificate can also be a security issue—especially if you’re running an ecommerce site or accepting form submissions.

d) Create a sitemap

A sitemap is an XML file which lists all the pages on your site. Search engines use it to find your content and understand how your pages are connected (i.e., see the overall structure of your website).

If you’re using Yoast SEO, the plugin will generate a sitemap for you. You can then follow Google’s guidelines on how to test and submit it. 

e) Upload a robots.txt file

While the sitemap lays out the full structure of your website, the robots.txt file gives specific instructions to search engine crawlers on which parts of the site they should and shouldn’t index.

f) Internally link between relevant posts and pages

The strategic linking of various pages on your website is a great way to increase the speed at which search engines crawl your site, and point them to your most important pages.

There are various strategies for doing this. These work but they can get complicated. For now, focus on creating a strong structure with plenty of links between relevant pages.

Step 4: Building backlinks from other websites

 

Link building is critical for the success of your SEO strategy, so if you’re prepared to spend resources (time, money, etc.) on producing content, you should also be prepared to commit at least as much time to promoting and generating links to your content.

Why? Because there’s clear evidence showing that backlinks are one of the factors with a strong influence on Google’s ranking algorithm.

There are many tactics you can use to get other websites to link back to your web pages. Some are more legitimate than others. Take the time to review and analyze how your competitors are building links.

When done with this, consider some of the following tactics.

a) Take links from content that isn’t quality

Let’s say that we’ve just published an excellent Santa Barbara travel guide.

We put our heart and soul into this guide. It’s extremely thorough, the user-experience is on-point, and the information and recommendations are as up-to-date as it gets. 

You can find similar content that is not as good as the guide we’ve put together. So it may be worth reaching out to the other sites linking to those pages and seeing if they are willing to link to us too.

b) Broken link building

Broken link building is where you find relevant broken pages (with backlinks pointing to them) on other sites. You then reach out to the people linking to the dead resource to suggest that they swap out the dead link for a suitable replacement on your site.

c) Guest blogging

Guest blogging is where you write for another website in your industry.

Many people think guest blogging is dead because a while ago Google published a “warning” about using guest posting for link building.

But Google does not discourage these types of articles in the cases when they inform users, educate another site’s audience or bring awareness to your cause or company. However, what does violate Google’s guidelines on link schemes is when the main intent is to build links in a large‐scale way back to the author’s site.

Step 5: Tracking your SEO progress

The final step in setting your SEO strategy is figuring out how you’ll track your performance. There are many methods and metrics you can use, so it’s easy to get confused.

Focus on the basics.

The most important metrics when it comes to SEO are a) organic traffic, and b) the average ranking position for the keywords you’re targeting.

Why? Because there’s clear evidence showing that backlinks are one of the factors with a strong influence on Google’s ranking algorithm.

There are many tactics you can use to get other websites to link back to your web pages. Some are more legitimate than others. Take the time to review and analyze how your competitors are building links.

When done with this, consider some of the following tactics.

a) Measure organic traffic

If you’re using Google Analytics, you can quickly view your organic traffic by going to:

Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels > Organic Search

b) Track your rankings

Another important thing you should measure in your SEO strategy is how your content ranks on Google over time.

One way to do this is by using Google Search Console where you can find data about the average position, impressions, and clicks you get for various keywords.

There’s also the option to schedule a weekly or monthly email update with all of the important.

Final coments

Search engine optimization (SEO) can be competitive, but it is still by far the most effective way to drive sustainable traffic to your website. The efforts you put in optimizing your website for search add up over time, helping you get even more traffic as long as you’re consistent with SEO.

If you are a small business owner, it is important to understand the SEO basics, but it’s also important to spend your valuable time building your business.  There are 7 reasons to hire a digital marketing agency to help with SEO.  We provide free a free consultation and free website audit.

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