We’ve written this post for anyone looking to learn SEO basics. It’s stage we’ve all been in and unfortunately, much of the SEO information scattered around the web is either too disorganized or too outdated to be of much value to a beginner.
We understand that not everyone starts their SEO journey at the same point, so we’ll start this post from the most basic level. Feel free to skip around as you wish. SEO is a fascinating, ever-changing world and there are millions of dollars to be made by anyone who commits themselves to mastering the craft.
Part 1 – Scoping Out Your Territory
The first step in any SEO campaign is to know exactly the keyword(s) you’ll be targeting. These keywords will help guide the rest of your SEO campaign. Here are some important considerations before you go out and try to rank for an impossible keyword like “CDs”:
Timeline: How soon are you expecting to make money? If you need money fast and you don’t have 6-12 months to wait for your keyword to reach that #1 spot, you’re better off targeting lower-competition keywords. Any keyword that receives over 5000 exact local searches per month is going to take a while to rank for, and you won’t get that instant gratification you might be looking for. If you’re looking to build a long-lasting business and you’re not planning on going anywhere anytime soon, the sky’s your limit.
Budget: How much money are you willing to put into this project? For beginners, I wouldn’t spend more than $500 on your first SEO campaign. You’ll make 95% of the most common SEO mistakes in your first campaign and a lot of your money will inevitably be wasted on things like “must-have” SEO software that you never really needed in the first place. Once you’ve begun to get the hang of search engine optimization and ranking sites, it’s OK to start investing more in your SEO campaigns and targeting higher-end keywords.
Skill: Are you well-versed in the basics of SEO? Do you know exactly what steps you need to take in order to beat out Coach for the keyword, “Designer Handbags”? If you’re already at this level, then there’s nothing stopping you from dominating the SERPs for any keyword you wish. But if you’re barely able to rank your site for “Sushi Restaurant Kalamazoo,” it might be a good idea to tone your SEO muscles before competing against the big boys.
Even 1,000,000 monthly searches is worthless if no one wants to spend money.
Profitability: I mentioned that you should think twice before trying to rank #1 for “CDs.” But actually, trying to rank #1 for “CDs” is probably one of the worst keywords you should try to rank for. The reason is because “CDs” is not a buyer keyword (more on buyer keywords here). People might search for “CDs” because they’re interested in learning about the history of the compact disc. Or maybe they want to learn more about Certificates of Deposit. “CDs” gets 135,000 exact searches per month, but most of those people have no interest in buying anything online. Even 1,000,000 monthly searches is worthless if no one wants to spend money. A smarter keyword to target would be “buy CDs.” You know that these people have their hands on their credit cards and they’re not looking to learn anything–they’re looking to buy. It might only get 4,400 searches per month, but you know that most of those people are looking for a site just like yours. Best of all, it’s 100x easier to rank for.
Global vs. Local Search Volume: This is a tricky one but it’s vital that you understand the difference. The Google Keyword Tool will tell you how many people are searching for a particular keyword both Globally and Locally. Global Searches means the total number of searches for that keyword around the world. Local Searches are how many searches were made in the particular country and/or language you have chosen. If you’re only serving clients in the United States, Local Searches is a much better indicator of keyword strength than Global Searches. If your business delivers products worldwide, Global Searches will give you a better picture of your audience than Local Searches would. Before you dive into SEO, know your audience and where they come from.
Part 2 – On-Page Optimization
Once you’ve got your keywords all picked out, it’s time to optimize the heck out of your website. Here’s a quick rundown of on-page SEO basics that will help guide you:
Title Tags: Optimizing your title tags is the single most important on-page SEO factor you can take care of. Even if everything else is perfect, Google wants to see your target keyword in your title tag or else you’re going to have a really tough time ranking your website. Don’t overcrowd your title tag, though. At most, you’re going to want to target 2-3 keywords per page. For example, if you want to target the keywords, “Buy CDs” “Country CDs,” and “Cheap Online CDs,” you can title your page, “Buy Cheap Country CDs Online.” But don’t make your title tag a paragraph long. If you want to target more than 2 or 3 keywords, just create a new page!
URL Structure: Your URL structure is also an important signal that Google pays attention to (and thus, so should you). Your keywords don’t always need to be part of your URLs, but if they are, all the better. A good URL for the keyword “buy cheap CDs” would be “http://www.tedsmusic.com/buy-cheap-CDs.html.” A poor one would be, “http://www.tedsmusic.com/post19414.html.” The second URL says absolutely nothing about the content of your webpage, and Google won’t reward you for it.
Interlinking: This is just a fancy way of saying, “Make sure all your inner pages have at least one link pointing to them.” This is important because links are the currency of SEO. Links allow Google to find all the pages in your site as well as determine how important they are, which in turn determines how high they’ll appear in the rankings. Make sure to liberally sprinkle inner links all over your site. This is also helpful for users trying to navigate through your site.
Freshness: One of Google’s main goals is to return a set of fresh results every time. If you type in “World Cup,” Google knows users don’t want to know about the World Cup that took place 12 years ago. In a world that changes so quickly, Google needs to be ahead of the curve in order to stay ahead. So just give Google what they want and update your site frequently. Even if it’s just a short, little blog post; make sure your site hasn’t gone stale and untouched for the past 6 months. An old homepage might rank well, but inner pages are tougher to rank on a stale site.
These are the SEO basics but by no means is this all there is to on-page SEO. If you’d like a more in-depth look at how to optimize your site for search engines, check out our post where we list and explain 29 of the most important on-page SEO factors.
Part 3 – Off-site Optimization
When it comes to SEO, the phrase “off-site optimization” is synonymous with link-building.
If SEO were like football, link-building would be the quarterback. You simply cannot survive in the SEO world without strong link building. Any old teenager can optimize a site’s title tags or URLs with enough training, but only authentic sites can acquire high-quality links from trusted sites like CNN or the New York Times.
Link building isn’t easy but with a few key strategies in mind, you should be on your way to developing a winning link-building campaign.
Anchor text: If I were asked to sum-up Google SEO basics as simply as possible, I might just say, “anchor text.” For those unfamiliar with the term, anchor text is the clickable text in a hyperlink. So for example, if I want to link to an earlier post where we talk about cheap SEO, the anchor text I just used was “cheap SEO” because that is the text you clicked on to jump to that page.
The anchor text that other websites use to link to you is of paramount importance. If all your links say, “this website,” Google is going to think your site has to do with “this website.” Clearly, that would be worthless. As much as you can, try to make sure that other sites link to you with anchor text that includes some keyword(s) you’re looking to rank for.
Want some undeniable proof that anchor text matters? Check this out:
That’s what we thought. But think about it. How many times have you seen “Click here to download Adobe Reader”? 9 times out of 10, the link would be on the phrase “Click here.” Here’s the thing: the words “click here” aren’t anywhere on that page. What’s happening is that Google noticed that a whole bunch of sites were linking to the Adobe page with the anchor text “click here,” so the Google algorithm just assumed that the page has to be about “click here.” So now whenever anyone searches for that phrase, Google returns what it thinks is the most relevant result.
It’s one of the basics of SEO: you don’t even have to mention your keywords anywhere on your site for you to rank for it as long as thousands of people link to you with the same anchor text. It’s not a strategy we recommend, but it proves the point.
Authority Links: What you’ve heard is true: one great link is more valuable than 100 crappy ones. The reason is because popularity online tends to fall on a exponential curve. If you took every single website online and ranked them on a scale of 0-100, the scale would need to be logarithmic in order to accurately portray how popular one website is relative to another. This is because sites tend to be viral: gains in popularity are extremely slow at the start and then lightning fast toward the higher ends of the spectrum.
What you’ve heard is true: one great link is more valuable than 100 crappy ones.
Long story short: spend as much time as you can to gain links from authoritative, trusted sites because these are the links that will get Google’s attention the most. You might get 100 of your friends to link to you, but if you’re able to get CNN to link to your site, that tells Google that your site isn’t just popular among the people you know, but that it has global significance.
IP Diversity: This one might seem a bit contradictory to the previous one, but successful SEOs see them as complementary. While I’d rather have 1 authority link than 100 non-authority links, it’s actually a much better strategy to get them all. This basic SEO tip is called IP diversity, something that Google takes very seriously. You’re going to want to gain links from as many different websites (specifically, as many different IPs) as possible. This shows Google that your site is valuable to many different people all over the country and maybe the world. By the same token, receiving multiple links from the same IP address will bring diminishing returns. Don’t quibble over getting your 5th or 6th link from the same domain. After the first link, the rest won’t be nearly as important, so don’t even bother. Get you link and move on to the next site.
Dofollow vs. Nofollow: All links are either dofollow or nofollow. Dofollow links will help you rank your site; nofollow links will not. You can tell if a link is nofollow if the source code reads something like:
The purpose of the nofollow tag is to block search engines from counting the link as a “vote.” The most common place webmasters use nofollow links is in blog comments, where bloggers cannot control what sites their commenters link to.
If we’re to believe what Google says, nofollow links are worthless from an SEO perspective. I’ll let Matt Cutts explain:
(It must be said that “dofollow” is a bit of a misnomer. There is no such thing as a dofollow tag, but SEOs call links “dofollowed” in the absence of a nofollow tag. In other words, all links are dofollow by default.)
Part 4 – Monitoring Your Progress
On-Page Optimization and Off-Page Optimization make up the two different elements of Search Engine Optimization basics. All that’s missing is some way of monitoring and keeping track of your website statistics to know what’s working and what isn’t. Well, there’s a solution to that, as well:
By far the most popular web analytics out there is Google Analytics. I could spend hours explaining to you all the wonders of the Google Analytics tool, but I’ll let Google themselves explain what it’s all about:
Everything you ever wanted to know about how visitors interact with your site, you can find out with Google Analytics. Want to know where your visitors come from? Want to know how long your average visitors stays on your site? Curious to find out your most popular pages? What’s your bounce rate? What links are people clicking on? How’s your traffic this week compared to last? What keywords are people typing into Google to find your site?
The answers to all these questions (and tons more) are a click away with Google Analytics.
Of course, there are plenty of other options if you want to shop around. Personally, we like to use a similar script called Clicky. It has all the same features but is a bit easier to navigate in our opinion. It’s basically a simplified version of Google Analytics.
No matter what you choose, you absolutely need web analytics for your website or else you’re blind to all the forces that make your website as popular (or unpopular) as it is. Checking out your web analytics is like going to the doctor for a routine check-up. You need to know what’s going on.
In most cases, all you need to do is sign up (for free) and insert a simple piece of HTML into your site’s source code. Couldn’t be easier.
SEO is such an immense topic and this post just lists the most basic SEO tips as simply as you’re going to find anywhere online, and you should be able to rank sites for low-competition keywords with the basic SEO techniques in this post alone. Once you’re ready to tackle more intense keywords, you would need to receive some further SEO training and/or do more in-depth research into what works and what doesn’t. What works in 2011 may not work in 2012, and in 2013 it may work again. You need to keep abreast of all changes in the SEO world.
And if you should need any help ranking your sites, Emineer is proud to offer some of the most comprehensive SEO packages available. We encourage all webmasters to try to rank their sites themselves using just the basics of SEO, but of course, some keywords will demand more attention than others.
In any case, we wish you the best of luck in your SEO journey. The work can be grueling but the rewards are definitely worth the effort.