Beginner’s Guide to SEO

TL;DR

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is improving your website so that it ranks higher on a search engine’s results page… and gets more eyes on your products and services. There are 3 types of SEO you need to know about as a beginner.

Technical SEO is doing the housekeeping and making sure your website is clean and tidy behind the scenes. On-page SEO is jumping through the hoops to make sure everything on your web page is laid out in a way that search engines understand. Off-page SEO is everything you do outside of your website like posting on socials and building your brand.

A search engine crawls your website (and everyone else’s) and decides how to rank them depending on what a user is searching for.

Contents

Before we get started with the SEOyourself newsletter and take a deep dive into the world of SEO, it’s probably best to get a basic understanding of what it actually is, and how it works…right? 

This post is designed to be a beginners guide to SEO as a concept and a few of the main things that you should be aware of as a website owner that is trying to be more conscious of their SEO.

What is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation (don’t worry, it’s less complicated than it sounds I promise!) The basic idea is that you are trying to improve your website so that it ranks higher on a search engine’s results page. 

A search engine looks at your website (and everyone else’s) and decides how to rank them depending on what a user is searching for. They use a really complicated system that ranks the websites according to what they determine as useful or important (a.k.a. the infamous Google algorithm).

Google makes changes to its algorithm all the time, this means that the rankings update and change all the time. As a user, this is great because it means that you are always getting relevant search results that are useful to you. As a website owner who is trying to keep their website on page 1 for a super competitive search term, not so much. 

To put it even more simply, SEO is when you make changes/improvements to your website for the sake of boosting your pages up the Google search results. The goal: more traffic to your website and engagement with your pages! If you are on page one on Google, chances are more people will end up on your website.

Note: there are plenty of ways to achieve this goal (paid ads, social media marketing, etc.) – the main advantage of SEO is that you can learn to do it yourself and if you do, it’s completely free! Don’t worry about wasting money with paid ads, treat yourself to something nice with that money and let SEO do the work for you. OR why not do both? Be the master of your own SEO and smash some paid ads as well – really take over the world, you know? 

Types of SEO

SEO comes in a few different forms, but I’m going to break it down into 3 categories to (hopefully!!) make it a bit easier to digest. 

First, technical SEO, the bread and butter of your SEO strategy. Think of this as housekeeping, keep your website tidy and simple so that Google and your users can find what they are looking for without any stress!

Second is on-page SEO, the beauty of your SEO strategy. This is all of the parts of your website that you can see, your content and images being laid out in a way that Google can understand. Under on-page SEO falls how your pages appear on a Google results page as well, so this means titles and meta descriptions.

Finally off-page SEO, this is everything that you do outside of your website that is going to help boost your SEO. Examples are having a good social media strategy and presence , building a strong brand and having links to your website from external, third party websites (also known as backlinks) 

See below for a more detailed explanation of each of the 3 types of SEO..

Technical SEO

Think of technical SEO as your fundamentals, the bare bones of your SEO strategy, the behind the scenes stuff. A lot of the site audit tools that you could use will cover these aspects of SEO to make sure you are in the best position to get started. 

Technical SEO isn’t quite as technical as it sounds, a lot of it revolves around making sure that Google can get around your website as easily as possible. They decide the order of who ranks where on their search pages, so we might as well make it easy for them to get around all of our pages. 

Get a sitemap

Best place to get started with this is by having a sitemap and submitting it to Google Search Console – don’t worry, we have a full guide if you follow the link. A sitemap is basically a map that you can give to Google so it knows how to find all your pages. You can also help Google along by not having any broken links (links that don’t go anywhere or end up on a 404 error page) so it doesn’t get lost when crawling your website. 

Link it up

Another easy way to improve your technical SEO is having good internal links throughout your website. An internal link is a hyperlink on your website that takes you to another of your pages. Internal links are great because they keep your users engaging with different parts of your website, rather than going elsewhere. They also help Google to understand how your users will interact with and move through your website. THB has a handy guide that explains everything to do with links here.

Lock it down

Finally, making sure your website is secure is a great way to help Google recognise your website and improve its rankings. You can do this by making sure your website has a valid SSL certificate. Most web hosts take care of this for you but you can double check by reading our SSL certificate guide here

On-Page SEO

Once the technical SEO is all out of the way, it’s time to look at your on-page SEO. This is all the aspects of your website that you can change to improve its SEO. On-page SEO is covered in more detail in our Best Practice When Blogging guide.

When you are focusing on your on-page SEO, there are 2 key aspects to focus on. First, your users – this should go without saying, the whole reason you want to boost your website up the rankings is to get more users, right? Be clear and consistent with your message, your pages should be easy to understand and your users should know what it is that you do, straight away.

The other aspect to focus on when thinking about on-page SEO is the search engines. Google needs to be able to understand what your pages are about as well, you can do this by having a good keyword strategy. Picking the right keywords for your pages can make a huge difference in your websites overall SEO, but what is a keyword?

Keywords

Keywords are the words/phrases that people are typing into Google to find what they are looking for – you need to find the keywords that are relevant to you and your business and try to use them in the content of your pages.

‘Female personal trainer in Manchester’ or ‘Web design for women in York’ – you want your ideal clients to be finding you, so figure out what they are typing into Google when they are looking for your products/services.

Now this is easier said than done…big companies spend millions on keyword research to really drill down into what people are typing into Google. We don’t need to go that far, just try and summarise your business in a few short words. Getting a location in there can really help too, especially if you have a physical location.

One thing to mention when it comes to adding keywords into your content, DON’T OVER-DO IT! Try to make the keywords/phrases appear in your content in a natural way, don’t just go throwing it in every sentence. If Google thinks you are overdoing the keywords they will knock you down for ‘keyword stuffing‘.

The golden rule in all SEO is that you always need to prioritise your users – if you can get a page to the top of Google but it isn’t actually useful or relevant to your target audience, it still isn’t going to help you or your business. 

You need the best of both worlds, well written content, full of relevant keywords so that it ranks well with Google, but is also something that your readers want to engage with and find value in. 

A well optimised piece of content will be both useful and engaging while clearly letting Google know what it’s about. 

Meta descriptions, titles and alt-text

The other aspect to on-page SEO is managing how Google views and displays your content. I will quickly touch on the main 3 components: Meta Titles, Meta Descriptions and Alt Text.

A meta title and description is the link and explanation that appears on Google’s search page, shown below. If you don’t set these yourself, then Google will choose one for you from the content that is available on your page. It’s a great opportunity to sell the page to the world and get some keywords in there as well!

It’s also important to add alternative text (or alt-text) to the media on your pages. Put simply, this is a short description of the media that can be used for accessibility/inclusivity reasons. You want your website to be accessible to as many people as possible so features like this are massively important! Google also reads your alt-text to help them get a clearer picture of what your page is about, so it can help with SEO as well. 

Off-Page SEO

Google can be aware of you and your website through other sources than just your website. If Google can find, not just your website, but a social media presence that links to that website, all tied together with a strong brand, these are all big brownie (SEO) points for you!

Building a brand is a journey and it can be tough at times but it is so worth it once everything clicks together and you start to see the results!

An off-page SEO strategy that gets mentioned a lot is backlinks. A backlink is any other external website that links back to you. In general, Google views a page with a high number of backlinks as a valuable resource that should be ranked highly (there are a few exceptions to this rule!) – if loads of people are referring back to your website, you must have something useful to say that people want to hear, right? 

A good place to get started with backlinks is adding your website to industry-specific directories, there are loads available online and the majority of them are free! You can also look into writing guest blogs, hosting a podcast or adding featured articles for other content creators that are in your industry, but this takes a bit more time to get started. 

Off-page SEO can be tricky to get right at times, but if you manage to be successful with your off-page SEO it can boost your rankings massively.

Building your brand and online presence brings in so many rewards so it is definitely worth investing time in this side of things. Sometimes it can feel like you are putting time and effort in for no reward but if you stick with it you will begin to see the results!! 

How does a search engine work? 

So, now we have a better understanding of what SEO is all about, it’s also probably best to have a basic understanding of how search engines work behind the scenes. 

Everyone knows how search engines work, you probably use them everyday…I mean how search engines work. To get started here there are 3 main things you need to know – crawling, indexing and ranking. Don’t worry we will explain each below!

Crawling

No, not like what babies do on their hands and knees…

Crawling is Google’s way of poking around the internet. While you are wasting time watching cat videos on Youtube, Google’s crawlers are exploring every corner of the internet (not a job I would want!)

Google creates a program to ‘crawl’ through web pages and catalogue them (known as indexing, but more on that later!) 

Here’s how Google describes them…

“Crawler” (sometimes also called a “robot” or “spider”) is a generic term for any program that is used to automatically discover and scan websites by following links from one web page to another. Google’s main crawler used for Google Search is called Googlebot.

This crawler uses your sitemap and the internal links (we mentioned these earlier) on your pages to get an idea of what your website is about. This is why a sitemap is so important for your website, it makes it so that Google’s crawlers can get around your website nice and easily, without getting lost or confused. This helps them to index your website…

Indexing

Okay, so now that Google has had a look around your website, it decides what pages are useful or important and adds them to its database (also known as their index). 

Even with a full, up to date sitemap and loads of well placed internal links, Google might not be able to find and index all of your pages. You can check this and submit pages for indexing by using Google Search Console. If you need a hand getting set up with Google Search Console we have a guide to help you get started here

Google stores a copy of the content on your website in its index, ready for ranking…

Ranking

Google takes a look at the pages on your website and compares them to other websites that are similar to yours. Then, using a really complicated system of ranking factors, it sorts them into an order, ready to be displayed on their search results page. This is Google’s ranking algorithm, and they change how it works all the time, this is why it can be difficult to stay on top of your SEO. 

The rankings are constantly being updated to make sure that the user is constantly being provided with useful and up to date information, not just which page is best optimised. Google is trying to make their platform as useful to the end user as possible, this means that the factors that they take into consideration when ranking websites are changing constantly. 

How do people use search engines?

Seems like an obvious question right? However, there are more ways to interact with search engines than ever these days, it’s not just typing questions into Google anymore.

A lot of the time you can find the info that you are looking for without ever having to leave the Google search page. Search engines can give you a detailed breakdown of pretty much any topic with key info usually shown at the top of the page, frequently asked questions and top ranking pages all shown to you on Google’s main search page.

Voice searches are becoming more and more popular as the technology that they rely on becomes better and more advanced.

It’s easier than ever to ask Alexa, or your phone, a question rather than having to type it into a search engine…but is your website ready to be found by voice search? – read our full guide here, but i’ll give you the main headlines to get you started.

There are 3 main things that you need to focus on to make sure your website is voice search ready.

First, making sure that your website is using as many accessibility features as possible – and that you are using them correctly! These features mean that your website is as inclusive as possible and usable by everyone.

If you make sure that your website has the appropriate accessibility features, this not only means that your website is usable by as many people as possible, but it also means that search engines can find all of the info they are looking for and display it when people search.

Secondly, think about the way that people use voice search. You ask questions and talk to the virtual assistant. It is entirely different to what you would type into a search engine. This is what you need to focus on, longer keywords and phrases that focus on the types of questions that people might ask their Alexa about your business/industry.

A great place to start is adding an FAQ section to your pages or maybe even an entire, dedicated FAQ page. For longer, more complicated questions/answers, you could always add a blog post with all the details.

Finally, making sure your SEO is in the right frame of mind for voice search. People often ask the “…near me” questions when they are using voice search. Make sure your local SEO is set up – mention the areas that you serve and if you have a physical shop, great! Let your readers know where it is!

Another important part of your local SEO is making sure that your Google Business Profile is up to date and has as much info as possible on there. Voice search might display this info in its results to make sure it is ready or the world to admire!

For more detail on Voice Search and how to get your website ready for it, read our full blog on the topic here – Get your website voice search ready

Conclusion

Getting started with your SEO can be overwhelming for sure, but at the end of the day, that’s why you’re here! Sure it can be scary at first but you are well on the way to being able to SEOyourself!

Whether you are just getting started with your SEO journey or you are a seasoned SEO pro, this newsletter will help with easy to implement and useful tips to help boost your SEO.

Maybe you just need the regular reminders to put time aside to actually do your SEO updates? Or maybe you would like us to guide you through the process, step-by-step? Either way, we’ve got you covered. 

P.S. If there is anything you would like to see covered in the future, please get in touch! Let us know what would be most useful to you so that you can SEOyourself! 

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