SEO for Beginners: A Complete Guide to Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
Updated: Nov 16
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is something of a buzzword online. Content writers and internet marketers pretend it's a complicated science – it's not!
Where you rank in search results determines how many people see your business. The higher your rank, the more visits your website receives. SEO, or search engine optimisation. With a few basic SEO tips, you can rank when people search for questions or terms related to your business.
Learn how to get ranked using SEO with this comprehensive guide. We'll explore all the basics behind SEO, from keyword research to on-page optimisation.
In this article:
What is search engine optimisation (SEO)?
Search engine optimisation (SEO) is a method for improving a webpage's ranking on a search engine results page (SERP). Using keywords, backlinks, content creation, and technical audits, you can see a substantial uptick in your site's organic traffic – meaning more visitors, more interest, and more sales.
Contrary to what SEO experts claim, no one – except the search engines – knows all the factors determining how websites get ranked. We, instead, focus on the critical factors known to have the greatest impact.
On-page SEO vs. Off-page SEO: What's the difference?
You'll find SEO techniques broken down into two main categories:
On-page SEO refers to your page's content and technical aspects. Content needs to contain keywords in the title, meta description, and headlines. Meanwhile, your page needs to be optimised to load quickly and be user-friendly.
Off-page SEO primarily refers to link buildings. Backlinks from high-value, authoritative sites, are used by Google to determine the trustworthiness and hence, your page's ranking. The more high-quality backlinks, the higher you'll rank.
You need to use both aspects of SEO to improve your ranking significantly. If you've optimised your keywords, but your page is glacial to load – you won't rank. Just a single factor can affect your ranking; the best SEO strategies balance all these factors.
Here's a guide to the industry SEO jargon you'll find tossed around:
Backlinks: Links from one webpage to another.
Black hat: SEO practices that violate Google's quality guidelines.
Crawlers: Bots that scour the internet identifying and indexing webpages.
Keywords: Words or phrases people use to find what they're looking for in a search engine.
Keyword research: Using search engines and specific tools to identify keywords relevant to your webpage.
Long-tail keywords: Longer keywords with low-search volumes.
Meta descriptions: The accompanying webpage descriptions are displayed below a webpage title on the search results page.
SERP: Search engine results page – the page you see after searching for a keyword.
Traffic: Visits to a website.
Why SEO matters
Think of the last time you clicked on the second, third, or fourth page on Google. Can't remember? That's the reason for SEO in a nutshell.
Let's be frank: if you're not appearing in the first two or so pages on Google, you're not getting noticed. If you're not getting noticed, why are you producing content? It's a waste of time and money.
You can pay to appear at the top of search results: pay-per-click advertising. It's a popular way to circumvent the SEO system. However, PPC advertising is nowhere near as cost-effective as a solid SEO strategy. With SEO, your content exists forever – and you've only paid once.
In contrast, PPC advertising makes you pay every single time a searcher clicks; and it gets more expensive over time as the competitiveness of keywords increases.
SEO is cheaper, more effective, and longer-lasting than any other digital marketing strategy.
How search engines work
To understand SEO, you need to appreciate how search engines work. Search engines generally use three steps to find, evaluate, and rank web pages.
Let's go through them:
Step 1. Crawling
Crawlers or spiders are a bot sent out to scour the internet for new and updated content. It could be a webpage, image, video, PDC, or more. Googlebots find these webpages and explore the links between them to develop an understanding of your site – to find new content.
To help crawlers navigate your site, it's important to create a sitemap. You'll also need to consider the number of links between your pages.
Sitemaps are a list of URLs on your site that crawlers can use to discover and index your content. You can create a file – fulfilling Google's standards – and submit it to the Google Search Console. You should only include URLs you want to be indexed by search engines.
You might also mark some pages as "off-limits" to crawlers. Because of the crawl budget – the average of URLs Googlebots crawls before leaving your site –you'll want to ensure they cover your main pages. However, you'll only need to worry about this if your site contains tens of thousands of URLs.
Finally, do not over include links between your internal site pages when creating content. It can make your overall site architecture confusing and lower your search ranking. You should include internal links – but only when most relevant.
Step 2. Indexing
After the Googlebots have discovered your web pages, it's time to index the content. Indexing means storing and organising the content found. It'll analyse the page's contents, looking for keywords, images, and more.
You can use "meta tags" (or meta directives) to instruct the search engine how you want the webpage to be treated. For example:
index/noindex tells the search engine if you want to be displayed in the search results or not.
follow/nofollow tells the search engine if the links on the page should be "followed."
noarchive tells the search engine not to save a cached page copy. For instance, if your prices change often, you might not want searchers to see outdated pricing.
Step 3. Ranking
Based on the indexed information – your backlinks, keywords, and other site features – the Google search algorithm ranks sites relative to a user's query. Precisely how the search engines do this is a closely guarded secret – sort of like Willy Wonka's secret recipe. It's why Google is worth millions.
In fact, Google changes its algorithm every single day – and sometimes, a major update can see a well-ranked page suddenly drop down the rankings for no apparent reason.
The reason the algorithm changes isn't to frustrate businesses; it's to improve the overall search quality.
There's a temptation to "trick" the search algorithm to improve a ranking. Purchasing backlinks, using hidden keywords, and other "black hat" techniques can work temporarily, but once discovered, they'll see your site severely hampered going forwards (perhaps forever).
The fundamental problem with most content writers and SEO marketers is they misunderstand SEO. They presume the aim is to get ranked. As Google has always said, it's about providing value:
You should build a website to benefit your users and gear any optimization toward making the user experience better.
Think about it: quality content contains keywords for which customers are likely to search. Webpages should load quickly, and the site should prioritise the user experience. You'll accumulate backlinks from being a well-written and authoritative source of information.
Voila! You're a top-ranking webpage – without resorting to dodgy, black hat techniques.
SEO basics: Keyword research
Keywords are the bedrock of SEO. Without keywords, your customers won't find your content. Finding and deciding which keywords to use is as simple as it sounds; and it's more of an art than a science.
Here's a depressing fact: 90.63% of webpages receive no traffic from Google, according to Ahrefs. Why? Because most content involves topics, people never search for. Contrary to the age-old adage, "build it, and they will come," your content needs to fulfil a need.
Ask yourself these questions:
Is there enough interest in this topic?
Do the keywords related to this topic get enough traffic?
How competitive are these keywords?
Will the people searching for these keywords become a customer?
Let's explore each of these questions in turn.
Brainstorm topic ideas
What comes first: the keyword or the topic? Honestly, it doesn't matter. A bit of both? When developing ideas for topics, I spend some time flicking through competitors, keeping abreast of industry developments, and conducting random searches using a keyword searcher (more below).
Like any research, it's best to start basic.
Use a "seed keyword," e.g., a basic industry term, and type that into Google. Explore and experiment as you begin to come across ideas. You can also write content about questions or queries you've had in the past.
It could be a "how-to" guide, a beginner's tutorial (like this article), or a product comparison. Most of all, the content should have value for the reader.
Perform a keyword search
As you brainstorm content ideas, run the topics through a keyword planner. There are lots of free keyword planners available:
You can also run your questions through Google and look at the recommended searches. These are common searches people make and typically have a good search volume.
When deciding on keywords, you need to balance two factors:
Search volume. The average number of times a keyword gets searched per month. The more searches, the more likely your page is to get seen. (Remember: seasonal keywords will appear lower as the search volumes are calculated from annual figures.)
Competitiveness. The relative number of web pages trying to compete for this keyword. The more competitive a keyword, the harder to get ranked it is.
However, the best keyword would have a high search volume and low competitiveness – we don't live in Wonderland. You'll usually balance these two factors to find a keyword somewhere in the middle.
There are exceptions.
Long-tail keywords can be low for search volume AND competitiveness – yet, they're highly desirable. Because the goal isn't to get visitors but to make sales, the more specific your keyword is, the more likely a person searching for it will want to use your business.
"Best Lawyers" is likely to be highly competitive with a high search volume. "Best criminal lawyers in Denver" will be much less competitive with a lower search volume, but people searching for this keyword are highly likely to purchase your service.
You'll often notice several variations on a single query as you search for keywords. For example, for the term "French omelette," you'll also see keywords like:
French omelette recipe
French style omelette
Classic French omelette
Perfect French omelette
Do you need to create a single page including all these keywords? Or should they each of a separate page for each one? Does Google consider them as a single chunk of keywords? Or are these separate topics to the algorithm?
Search for these terms, and you'll find almost identical pages. Google considers these terms all part of the broader "French omelette" topic. The closer the search results are between two pages, the less need there is to create a separate page.
The term "French mushroom omelette" delivers wholly different results. Despite the similarities, this is a separate keyword topic and would deserve its own recipe page.
Another factor to consider is search intent. Someone searching for a French omelette is looking for a recipe, not the history of its creation. Whereas, if someone searched "green tea," the results would include green tea products (shopping), health benefits of green tea (information), and green tea recipes.
Your keywords should match the topic and intent of the page. So, when a searcher clicks on your site, the page matches the intent behind their initial search.
SEO Basics: Creating SEO Content
Once you've completed your keyword research, it's time to integrate them into your content. However, SEO content isn't just about throwing in a bunch of keywords and hoping for the best. Your content needs to be engaging, valuable, and readable – both for your audience and search engines.
Understanding Your Audience
Don't write for the sake of it. Every piece of content you create should have a target audience in mind. Consider what they want: What information are they looking for? What problems do they need solutions for? What search terms are they using?
Use these insights to guide your content creation, ensuring every word you write resonates with your audience and drives engagement.
Once you've identified the right keywords, it's time to weave them into your content. However, don't just stuff your content with keywords – they should be used naturally and contextually. Be sure to include your keywords in the following areas:
Title tag: This is one of the most crucial on-page SEO elements and is displayed in the SERPs and browser tabs.
Meta description: This is a brief summary of your content that appears under the title in the SERPs.
URLs: Include keywords in your URL to make it more user-friendly and search engine friendly.
Headers and body content: Incorporate keywords in your headers and body content to help search engines understand the context of your content.
Images Alt text: This helps search engines understand what the image is about.
Remember, your goal is to create content for your users first and search engines second. Avoid keyword stuffing, which could harm your SEO and ruin the user experience.
Create Quality Content
High-quality content is paramount. It should be well-researched, well-written, and provide value to your audience. Here are some ways to ensure you're creating top-notch content:
Originality: Don't just rehash what's already been said. Add your unique perspective and insights to the conversation.
Accuracy: Fact-check your content to ensure its credibility.
Relevance: Ensure your content aligns with your audience's interests and the keywords you're targeting.
Engagement: Create content that encourages interaction. Ask questions, include calls to action, and encourage comments and shares.
How you format your content plays a vital role in both user experience and SEO. Well-structured content makes it easier for search engines to crawl and understand your content, and it's also more user-friendly. Here are some formatting tips:
Use headers and subheaders: Headers (H1, H2, H3, etc.) help structure your content and make it easy for readers to skim. They're also crucial for SEO. Always include your keywords in your headers.
Use bullet points and numbered lists: They make your content more digestible and help highlight important information. In fact,
Use short paragraphs: Break up your content into smaller chunks to make it more readable. Aim for 2-4 sentences per paragraph.
Use images and videos: Multimedia enriches your content and makes it more engaging.
There's no definitive answer for the perfect length of SEO content. However, research suggests that lengthier content ranks higher in the SERPs. Longer content allows you to provide more value, cover a topic more comprehensively, and incorporate more keywords. However, every piece of content doesn't have to be a long-form blog post. The length should be dictated by the content's purpose and the needs of your audience.
SEO isn't a one-and-done strategy. You need to regularly update your content to ensure it's accurate, relevant, and valuable to your audience. Regularly updating your content can also improve your SEO, as search engines favour fresh, updated content.
SEO Basics: Link buildings
Even if you do everything right, getting ranked is still a slow process. A key factor that businesses neglect is link building. Links are the principal way to bolster your website's authority and visibility in search engines.
Link building is much more than a number game, however. Always prioritise high-quality, relevant, and context links over a slew of lacklustre links.
For online content, there are three main types of links:
Internal Links. These links connect pages on your site. For example, if you mention a keyword related to another blog post, you could add a hyperlink to that page.
External links. These links connect to external, third-party sites. Adding 2-3 external links not only boosts your ranking but it's also a great way to evidence any claims or statistics you cite.
Backlinks. The holy grail of link building – backlinks are links from other people's sites to your site. Get a handful of backlinks from high-quality, authoritative websites, and you'll find your content does substantially better.
Why do backlinks matter so much? Google's algorithm uses links as one of the many factors to determine the rank of a webpage on its SERP. The logic is simple: a link from another site to yours is viewed as a vote of confidence, a nod towards your website's credibility, and an endorsement of your content.
Don't overload your pages with internal or external links. Nor should you trust some companies' promise of dozens or even hundreds of backlinks. Quality is everything in link building. Google's algorithms will detect and penalise sites garnering as many links as possible, with little regard for relevance or quality.
Fewer but higher-quality links from authoritative, trusted websites are far more valuable than hundreds of low-quality ones.
Strategies for Effective Link Building
Content Creation & Promotion: Create compelling, high-quality content that people will naturally want to reference, link, and tell people about.
Reviews & Mentions: Put your product, service, or site in front of influencers in your industry, such as popular bloggers or people with a large social media following.
Links from Friends & Partners: Ask people you know and people you work with to link to your site. Remember that relevance matters; links from sites in the same general industry or niche as your site will have more value than links from random, unrelated sites.
Guest Blogging: Write high-quality posts for other sites in your industry. Not only can this gain you backlinks, but it can also position you as an industry authority.
The Risks of Link Schemes
Google has clear guidelines about link schemes and manipulative link-building practices. Participating in link schemes in an attempt to manipulate PageRank is a violation of Google's Search Essentials (formerly Webmaster Guidelines) and can result in your site being penalized.
Some practices to avoid include:
Buying or selling links, including exchanging money for links or posts that contain links; exchanging goods or services for links; or sending someone a "free" product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link.
Excessive link exchanges or partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking.
Large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links.
Using automated programs or services to create links to your site.
Remember, it's not just about the number of links you have but also where they come from and where they're going. The key to successful link building is to create naturally occurring links that provide value to users.
Boost Your Rank With Impeccable SEO Content
Search engine optimisation is a marathon, not a sprint. Don't worry if you can't master all these skills in a single month. Getting ranking takes time, and slowly refining your site is the best approach. Few techniques work better, however than creating captivating SEO content rich with keywords. And the more content you publish, the more keywords you can rank for and the more high-quality backlinks you can earn.
Except: who's got the time to write even four blog posts per month? That's where Impeccable Writing comes in.
We perform all the keyword research, develop a complete content strategy, and create compelling content month after month. We've got a track record of getting content ranked; and our expertise spans numerous industries.
Want to learn more? Book your free consultation to explore how we can supercharge your SEO content marketing and help you rise up the rankings.