SEO Basics – A Comprehensive Guide For Beginners

At ThinkTraffic we often find that clients know a little bit about SEO already, but have some misconceptions; mainly due to the vast amount of information out there on the internet. As a beginner it can be a bit overwhelming to get your head around everything.

So here is a quick(ish) lesson in SEO. Just the basics in a simple, easy to understand form. If you have all of these bits covered, you will get most of the results without too many headaches.

Planning

Before you start any project you should plan your approach. SEO is all about rankings in the end, but rankings are a means to an end. What you actually want is traffic, and more to the point; targeted traffic.

Keyword Research

This is the first step. Getting your keyword research right will ensure that if you get the rankings you will actually get some quality traffic from them. Additionally, picking relevant keywords will make it a whole lot easier to actually achieve those rankings.

This is a big topic, so I’m not going to cover it in this post. But as it happens I wrote another post recently about how to do your keyword research. Go read that post and then come back here.

Keyword Mapping

This comes right after your keyword research and it’s important to get it right. You have a list of keywords that you would like target and you need to decide which pages on your website you will optimize for each keyword.

Ideally you should assign one or two phrases to each page (3 at a push). The phrases should be totally relevant to that page – don’t try to optimise a square page to fit a round keyword (if you see what I mean).

If you don’t have a page that is suitable for a given phrase, either create a new page or discard that phrase, you don’t have to optimize for every single phrase that you find.

On-Page SEO

Once you have picked your keywords and figured out which pages you are going to optimise, you can start the on-page bits. On-page SEO should be pretty simple, just go through each page in-turn and follow these steps.

Page Title

The page title is the most important part of on-page SEO. It doesn’t actually show up on the page, but it will appear at the top of the browser window when someone views the page.

More importantly though, it is the text that Google (and the other ones) will use as the main title-link in the search results if you actually show up in a search. Clearly this is your first chance to convince a search-engine user to actually click on your link.

Google will show up to 70 characters;
So make sure every title is as long as possible without going over 70 characters.

In that space you should try to fit one of your keywords (2 if you want, but be careful…) You have to write the title for the user, NOT for Google. So read it back afterwards and if it sounds obviously SEO’d try again.

Meta Description

This is another tag which doesn’t actually show up anywhere on the page, but Google will spot it. Again; if your page turns up in a search results page, this description will be used as the main bit of text-excerpt right below the page title.

The meta description has no direct effect on your rankings, but it will be seen by searchers and if your keywords are in it, they will be bolded. Writing a good description will get you more clicks – and that CAN improve your rankings.

Content

The actual content of the page is obviously pretty important. Ideally your content will contain your keywords, but it’s NOT essential. Only insert your keywords as and when it is relevant to do so (and if it isn’t relevant to do so, maybe you should reconsider whether you are optimising for the right keywords?)

In general, the longer the text-content the better. Your main priority here is to make your content as good as possible. Spend as long as you can on all content and especially blog posts or information type articles.

Functionality

This kind-of goes hand-in-hand with content. Some pages don’t need to have a lot of functionality, others do. If you want to rank for “How to paint a wall” then all you need is a thorough article on painting walls…

But if you want to rank for “flight price checker” you had better have some sort of price checker on your page, otherwise you will NEVER rank for that phrase.

Off-Page SEO

That’s the on-page SEO basics covered. There is other stuff you can do, but this article is long enough already. Once you have those bits sorted you can move on to some off-page.

Link Building

Link building is another one of those topics that could be a blog post in its own right. I will be working on a more thorough post soon, but for the time being, I will discuss the basic principals of good link building:

Basically, all of your link building efforts should be ethical. When you build links, pretend that SEO doesn’t exist, and the only benefit you are getting is brand exposure and traffic.

Try not to worry about keywords, link to the pages that would naturally attract links (clue; don’t link to the home page constantly) and try to get yourself in-front of your target audience as often as possible.

That’s basically it, but to get you started; guest posting is a great way to build ethical links. Blog commenting and using forums can (sometimes) be worthwhile for brand building, but the links themselves will probably not benefit you.

Social Media

This aspect of SEO is mostly done very poorly. Don’t feel like you have-to use social media. If you can do it well then you definitely should, but doing a poor job is often worse than just not bothering.

Your best bet in SEO terms is Twitter (Facebook has no direct impact on Google rankings). If you are already a Twitter user, then set up an account for your business (or blog etc…) and take it slowly.

If you are new to Twitter, get a personal account at first and take the time to learn how to use it. Once you feel ready, set up a business Twitter profile, link it to your website and set a schedule to make sure that you actually participate.

House Keeping

Other than the obvious on-page and off-page tactics, there are some more general things you should be doing to help your SEO efforts. Again this stuff can get very technical, but the following are some basics that are worth your time.

Site Links

As well as links coming into your site you should consider links around your site. A well designed site will have links on most pages going to other relevant pages. Navigation is primarily a user-issue, but Google will use those links too.

Your most important pages need to be easy to get to. If you have a site that is growing (such as a blog) take the time to revisit old pages and add links to newer content. Don’t let sections of the site get stale or forgotten about.

Canonical URLs

This is basically a posh way of saying that a given page can be found via more than one URL (web address). The classic example is your home page:

www.example.com and example.com (with the www. part) are two different web addresses. Visit your site now with and without typing the www.

One of those 2 URLs should automatically redirect to the other. If it doesn’t, you need to make it so that it does. Otherwise you may be losing ‘link juice’ (which is bad).

The fix is very simple, but you may need someone with some tech know-how to implement it. Again, it is beyond the scope of this post, but a quick Google search for “htaccess canonical url” should point you in the right direction.

Webmaster Tools

This is Google’s interface for website owners to manage their presence on Google. There isn’t a huge amount that you can do, but it can be helpful for monitoring your links and seeing if your site has any problems.

Go here to sign-up, you will have to jump through some hoops, but it shouldn’t be too tricky and it is helpful to register your website.

Pitfalls Of DIY SEO

So that’s all of the basics of SEO. This isn’t a complete list by any means, but if you are a business owner trying to do your own SEO then it is probably better that you do this stuff well rather than worrying about trying to faff about with the more advanced stuff.

Of course, there are pitfalls and mistakes to be made, so being aware of the commonest might help to avoid a penalty, or at least a load of wasted time.

Keyword Stuffing

There was a time when keyword stuffing meant literally shoving as many keywords as possible into your pages. Now-a-days no-one does that because it doesn’t even sort-of work. But you can still make a similar mistake.

The modern version of keyword stuffing is trying to fit a keyword into a sentence where it doesn’t fit. It may be that the wording just doesn’t sound right and by putting in that phrase that you are targeting you ruin the flow of the content.

Instead, just use a synonym or break up the phrase. You don’t have to use your exact phrase every time. Every time you SEO a page, do a sanity check and make sure you haven’t ruined the user-experience in the process.

Spammy Stuff

This is a whole class of mistakes and it’s impossible to cover all the eventualities. To be a good SEO you need to be able to recognise dodgy tactics and avoid them. Spammy SEO isn’t always obviously bad, sometimes it seems ‘clever’.

Typical examples of SEO spam are:

  • Optimising for not totally relevant phrases
  • Building links on sort-of relevant sites
  • Taking any sort of a short cut
  • Overdoing it with anchor texts (link building)
  • Optimising for mis-spellings of phrases

Abandonment

Our final pitfall is ironically the commonest, especially for business owners or part-time internet marketers. SEO, and all types of internet marketing take time. Not only do they take time, but they need to worked-at consistently.

If you start doing your own SEO, but you forget about it, get side-tracked or just don’t keep it up, your effort will be wasted. Equally; if you start a Twitter account and then lose interest after a month or two, it may actually harm your brand.

Only do things that you know you can finish. Make a schedule and stick to it. Don’t try to do too much too quickly, but be consistent. If you can do that, you should get along just fine.

Pay It Forward!

I really hope that this guide will help you with your own SEO, this is the basics, but it should get you a long way if you follow it all. If you have found anything in this post helpful, please show your appreciation by leaving us a comment below.

If you didn’t enjoy the post, let us know that too! Tell us what we missed, chip in with your own advice and make this resource even better!

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