A couple years ago, I had absolutely no idea what SEO was or what it did. As a new female blogger, I was totally lost when it came to SEO basics. Over the years, I slowly learned about the power of Google to drive target traffic to my website and blog posts and began optimizing my content for maximum reach.
Today I’m sharing the SEO basics I’ve learned over the years!
What is SEO?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. SEO is the practice of optimizing web content to rank as high as possible in Google search results.
The idea is that the higher your website ranks in a user’s search, the more likely they are to click on your website, giving you more traffic.
Google looks at many factors when deciding how to rank your website in its search results. After all, they need to show the best results to users no matter what they are searching for. Since Google cannot be an expert on every topic that exists, they created an algorithm to sort through the billions of web pages and organize them from best to worst so that the public can find the information they are looking for.
Some of these ranking factors you can control, while others you have less control over. There are two main strategies when it comes to SEO: On-page SEO and Off-page SEO. I’ll walk you through what each one means.
On-page SEO is the term for improving your blog’s SEO. It involves work that is 100% in your control. How can you improve your blog’s on-page SEO? A few different ways.
Here are the main aspects of your website that Google looks at:
- Your domain name
- The age of your domain name
- The title of your blog article
- The article slug (URL ending)
- The content of your blog article
Let’s dive into each of these and see how we can improve them:
The Domain Name
Though it isn’t the most important factor, Google does look at your domain name. A domain name focused around a specific niche topic will likely rank higher for keywords related to that topic than a generic domain name. Don’t worry though, this isn’t a deal-breaker for SEO.
The Age of Your Domain Name
An older domain is seen as having more “authority” and therefore tends to rank higher in Google searches than a brand new domain name. Many experts say you should not expect much Google traffic during the first 6 months of your blog’s creation because the domain is simply too new. Google just wants to prevent spammers from getting too high in the rankings too soon. Older domains also tend to mean that the person writing the site is passionate about the topic and is considered an expert due to the long experience they have writing on the topic.
The Title of Your Blog Article
Suppose you have a beauty blog and one of your articles explains how to apply liquid foundation. Your first instinct might be to call your article “How I apply my liquid foundation” or “The best way to apply your liquid foundation”, but neither of these are really optimized for search engines.
The reason for that is because Google looks for similarities in your content to the phrases that people are searching for, known as “keywords.” So the keyword most likely to be searched is: “How to apply liquid foundation” and thus that’s the best option for your blog post title.
Now you may realize that Google-optimized blog post titles aren’t always user-friendly. Sometimes you may have a listicle that gets good clicks from Pinterest (10 Best liquid foundations) but isn’t really search engine optimized.
The good news is that you can actually have two titles: One that appears on your blog for your readers, and one that is assigned to only appear in Google search results! You can change these titles by using the Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress.
The actual keyword you are trying to rank for should be present in the slug of your blog article. (ie. yourblog.com/how-to-apply-liquid-foundation)
Ideally, the keyword that you’d like your blog article to rank for should appear in about 2% of your blog article text. You should mention it a few times and include it as a subheader in one of your sections.
Longer posts (more than 1,000 words) tend to rank much better in Google’s search results. Google rarely shows its users thin content, unless there’s absolutely nothing else available.
There are a few more on-page factors that Google uses to determine where to rank your site, but these are the main ways you should understand today.
Google doesn’t only look at your website when deciding what to rank. With hundreds or even thousands of bloggers trying to rank for the same keyword, it relies on several external factors to decide which articles to feature in the first-page results.
Some of the external factors that Google considers are:
- The number of links to your website from other websites
- The authority of the websites linking to your website
- The anchor text used in those links
- Whether the links are dofollow or nofollow
Optimizing these external factors is what’s known as Off-page SEO, because they deal with improvements that don’t happen directly on your site. They aren’t entirely in your control either, but you can certainly do things to encourage external support.
Number of Links Pointing to Your Site
The number of links pointing to your site from other sites on the web is extremely important for Google. These are referred to as “Backlinks.” Essentially, a backlink to your site is similar to a “vote” from that site owner, or a nod of credibility. It’s someone saying, “this blog is worth a read” to their readers. Google uses this unofficial internet voting system to rank blog posts, but it’s not all they use.
Some websites have higher authority than others and thus, a backlink from them is far more valuable. Sites like the Huffington Post, Forbes, Vogue, and other major media outlets have a much higher authority than a new site by an unknown blogger in the middle of nowhere. A link from a high-authority site is valued much higher by Google than a link from a random blogger. It’s kind of like a Senator endorsing a candidate as opposed to your next-door neighbor. The Senator’s endorsement will carry a higher weight in terms of public opinion.
DA: You may hear bloggers talking about websites with a “high DA” in podcasts. They mean high domain authority. Sites gain authority due to many factors like domain age and number of links.
The anchor text used in the link is important as well. Anchor text is the word or phrase that is used to form the link. Here is an example. In the previous sentence, the word “example” is the anchor text because that is what is linked. Google is more likely to show the website that is linked when someone searches for the word “example” if many websites also link to that page using the word “example.”
Dofollow or Nofollow
Lastly, there are two types of links: dofollow and nofollow.
A “dofollow” link confirms that Google should give that link credibility. A “nofollow” link tells Google to treat it as a simple link to another website, and not a link that the website is intending to give credibility to.
Most links are dofollow by default, but occasionally you may need to use a nofollow link, like in these two scenarios:
- Unsure of Website Quality: You can insert a nofollow link into your post when you are unsure of the quality of the website, but you’ll like to share certain information with your readers on the site. If the site has spam on it, you definitely don’t want to lend it your credibility by linking to it normally.
- Sponsored Posts: You should use a nofollow link when linking to a business that has paid you to write about their products in a sponsored post. It is against Google’s policies to pay for dofollow links, and if you are caught, your entire site could be de-indexed from Google search results. It doesn’t matter that the company is paying you to review their products, because money is involved, it’s best to use a nofollow link. Google wants links to be created naturally. Read more about sponsored posts here.
It’s good to have a mix of dofollow and nofollow links pointing to your site. For example, when you leave a comment on another blogger’s website, it is most likely a nofollow link. That is because most bloggers who receive comments from the public can’t really vouch for the person’s site, so the “website” link is made nofollow.
Basic SEO Tips
Now that you have a good understanding of basic SEO ideology, what tips can you implement as a new blogger?
Here is what I recommend when you’re just getting started with SEO:
Target a Specific Keyword
Do basic blog keyword research to learn what your readers are searching for before writing your blog articles. Target that one keyword. Longer keywords with at least 3 words are easier to rank for than 1 or 2 word keywords.
Go to Google and start typing what you think someone would be looking for when they land on your article. Pay attention to what Google suggests in the search bar. What are the posts in the search results titled? What are the post slugs? Use this information to narrow down your keyword.
Scroll to the bottom and analyze the related searches section. What other keywords appear there? Can you incorporate those topics into your article? If so, you’re putting yourself in a better position to rank!
Structure Your Posts for SEO
I recently wrote a guide on how to properly structure your post for search engines. Read about blog post structure before writing your next post!
Install an SEO plugin
The Yoast SEO plugin is an easy way to see how well your article targets your chosen keyword. Pay attention to the suggestions listed for each article you write. It also helps control how each page of your site appears in the Google search results. I recommend adding a Meta Description for every post and page on your site. You should also disable the indexing of Tags and leave Categories indexable by Google.
Sign up for Google Search Console
Google has an SEO tool specifically for web publishers to track how well they’re doing for certain keywords. This tool is invaluable and will even help you come up with new ideas for posts! Sign up ASAP if you have not already.
As part of a good on-page SEO strategy, ensure that your posts are well linked internally on your website. This can take a while, so start off by adding links to your most important posts from other blogs posts on your site, and work your way through all your posts. Be sure to link the keyword you are trying to rank for. You can search through your published posts for keywords, or you can buy a tool that can automate the process like Link Whisper.
The majority of WordPress themes are mobile-friendly these days, but make sure your site appears properly on mobile devices just to be sure.
Add Key Pages
Improve Your Site Speed
Google strongly prefers sites that load fast. If you add any images to your website, make sure they are not so big that they slow down the time it takes for your site to load.
Those are the major SEO basics, concepts and tips to help you succeed with ranking your posts in Google. What are your favorite SEO tips?