A beginner’s guide to SEO
As a blogger you come across the term SEO everywhere. Even though everyone seems to be talking about SEO this term is still kind of vague for most bloggers. It’s a topic that many bloggers try to avoid. Which is a pity, because a little knowledge about SEO is essential in order to create a successful blog with lots of web traffic.
I totally understand that – as a blogger – you want to spend all your time writing new blogs, instead of spending time on dead boring SEO tasks. That’s not why you started blogging in the first place, right?
For me, the concept of SEO and its necessity really needed some time to sink in before I started to understand it, and before I started to take it seriously. Something I regret in retrospect. I could have drawn a lot more visitors to my blog if I had had more knowledge about SEO before.
To make this part of your blogger’s life a bit easier, I will explain this topic to you in this beginner’s guide to SEO in Normal Human Language. I’ll explain what SEO stands for, how it works, and the simple improvements you can make to boost your Google SEO fast.
Disclaimer: This blog post contains affiliate links. I may earn a small commission to fund my coffee drinking habit if you use these links to make a purchase. You will not be charged extra. So it’s a win for everyone! Please note that I won’t link any products I don’t believe in or don’t resonate with my blog site. Thank you!
What does SEO stand for?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. In a nutshell; it’s the process of optimizing your blog for the search engines, with the goal to rank higher in the search results, without paying any promotional costs.
Makes perfect sense, right?? Yet, for many bloggers, this term doesn’t make sense at all. This is due to the fact that SEO is quite complex.
What makes search engine optimization so complicated?
First of all, it is helpful to understand how the search engines index and rank websites. They do this with the help of algorithms. The so-called “web spiders” crawl a site to determine what it has to offer and then decide where that page should rank in the search results, based on the algorithm.
In the past, these algorithms were mostly checking a post for keywords. This resulted in people “keyword-stuffing” their content: inserting a large number of the same keyword into the content of a page. Luckily, the search engines’ algorithms are much smarter nowadays. They can now recognize you’re using this trick to fool them and for that, your website can be penalized.
Today, the algorithms are getting smarter every day and now they can judge a site on aspects like speed, content quality, keywords, domain age, reliability, and a lot more. All these factors should be taken care of, to obtain a good position in the search results. And this is what makes SEO so complex.
To make this topic a bit easier for you to understand, I will divide SEO into 3 pillars: authority, content, and technique.
Why is SEO so important for a website?
Your best shot at getting free web traffic comes from the leading search engines Google, Yahoo, Bing, and DuckDuckGo. If you don’t work on optimizing your blog for the search engines, your chances of being ranked at the top of the search results are extremely small, if any at all. Every day millions of new blog posts are published worldwide. And search engines have to decide for all these new and existing pages where to rank them in the search results. So, you have to help them a little with finding and liking your site.
How does search engine optimization work?
Search engines strive to show only the best search results to their users for each search. Their objective is to present websites that give the most accurate answer to the question that is being asked. Websites with the best answer, content, speed, authority, and security are displayed at the top of the search results. And of course, that’s where you want your web pages to rank too.
SEO-Tip #1: Keep in mind that the algorithms are subject to constant changes. The SEO techniques you use today may be outdated tomorrow. This is why you should always stay up to date with the latest SEO tips!
For example longtail keywords helped many bloggers to drive lots of traffic to their sites in the previous years. However, in 2020, this doesn’t work anymore. Longtail keywords are still important, but now they only make up for a small part of the total package of SEO tasks that website owners need to focus on.
The 3 pillars of SEO
One of the aspects search engines look at when evaluating your website is authority. A website’s authority is measured by backlinks, domain age, the number of pages and content a website has, and other aspects.
The domain authority gives an indication of the strength of a domain. This score isn’t an official score acknowledged by Google, by the way. It’s calculated by specialized SEO websites like Semrush to give you an indication of your website’s strength. It’s a score on a 0 to 100 scale and gives an indication of how your website competes with other websites.
I like to check my score every now and then because it’s also a great indicator of how well my website is ranking in the search engines. And if you’re a member of Facebook groups for bloggers, if you want to write guest blogs, or want to exchange links (it’s better to avoid this by the way), the other party will probably take a look at your DA score.
Similar to domain authority, but this score is just rating a single page on a website instead of the entire website.
Another method to increase the domain authority of your blog is by working on your backlinks. A backlink is a link on another website that points to your website. The more websites that link to your site, the higher your score will be. You can think of it as a vote on your website from another site that says: “Hey Google, this is a high-quality website where you can find valuable content”!
Not every backlink is the same, though. A backlink coming from a high DA website has a heavier weight on your SEO than a backlink coming from a site with a low domain authority. So, the quality of your backlinks matters as well.
Many website owners collect backlinks by swapping links with other websites, or by buying backlinks. However, the increasingly smarter algorithms are becoming better and better at detecting practices like this. These backlinks are not earned in an honest way and that’s why search engines don’t like them.
I strongly advise you not to engage in practices like link exchanging anymore. Organic backlinks are the type of links you should aim for if you want your blog to be truly successful in the long run.
How to get more backlinks organically?
Make sure you have link-worthy content that people want to share. You can do this by writing in-depth, well-researched articles. Do a fact check to make sure all the information in your blog post is accurate, link to relevant websites with a high domain authority for additional information, create infographics for your readers to share, and write guest blogs for other websites with a high domain authority within your niche.
You can also join Help a reporter out. This is a platform that will send you requests by e-mail from reporters who need information on a certain subject. Write answers to questions in your niche, and wait if your piece is selected. If your piece is selected, it will be posted with a link to your site. Backlink in the pocket!
Start building relationships with other bloggers and influencers. When you’re friends with other bloggers, you can help each other to spread each other’s content on social media. Facebook groups are great for meeting other bloggers! Search for groups for Bloggers on Facebook and sign up for the groups that suit you and your niche best.
SEO tip #2: Don’t forget to add social share buttons to your website! I use Sassy Social Share for the share buttons you see on my site. (It’s free)!
The domain age of your website is another factor for SEO. Unfortunately, it’s not something you can influence, but it’s something to remember when you’re wondering why the blog traffic is still not coming. New websites almost never end up a the top of the search results. Probably because Google doesn’t take newer sites really seriously yet. You need to build some credits first.
Experts say an older domain ranks better on a keyword than a newer domain. When a domain has been around for a while, Google knows that this domain is not a spam site, and has a lot of valuable content.
Having a lot of useful content and an easy-to-link-through website also increases your rankings in the search results. It also helps if you publish new content on a regular basis. When you publish new content, you show the search engines that your site is always updated with the newest information.
So, post as many posts as possible, especially in the beginning. But, if you don’t have a lot of spare time to write posts, remember that quality is still more important than quantity. It’s better to publish one quality post than ten crappy ones. As soon as you have established a solid foundation of posts, you can choose to post a bit less and spend more time promoting your blog posts.
The second pillar of SEO is about content; titles, meta-descriptions, headers, the actual text, and keywords.
To check if your posts are SEO-worthy, ask yourself the following questions when writing your posts:
- Did you write all your meta descriptions correctly?
- Have you included long-tail keywords in your text, in the title, and in the H2 headers?
- Is the text well-readable on all sorts of devices?
- Is it a well-researched, in-depth article with lots of valuable information?
- Is your content unique?
Layout & Readability
Use headers and don’t forget to include your keywords in the headers as well (H2, H3, H4). Headers give your blog posts a clear structure, which makes them easier to read. Readability is also a factor in the calculation of the SEO score of a website.
Why adding a description to the meta-tags is important for SEO
Web crawlers analyze the smallest details of a website. To get a complete picture of your site, they will look into the descriptions of your meta tags too. Therefore, make it a routine to add text in the meta-descriptions for each blog post you publish.
The meta description is the small text the search engines show below a link in the search results. See the image below. The search engines show the search results and then the user chooses the best option based on the meta-descriptions they see there. Based on the meta-description they will either choose to visit your site or your competitor’s site. That’s why you have to choose your words wisely! Describe the subject of the post and include your keywords in this text as well.
I have already pointed out the importance of creating valuable content earlier in this post. But what makes content to be seen as valuable when it comes to SEO?
What makes content valuable?
Very simple; when a website visitor benefits from it. When a problem is solved for the visitor. When you do the research for the reader and summarise the answers in one post. When your reader does not have to do any research by himself/herself.
To find out which questions your future readers have about the subject you’re writing about, use Google autocomplete or Answer The Public.
Use this question as the main subject of your text and make sure you answer the question well. That way, your readers will actually benefit from your blog and then Google will start to see it as valuable content too.
Why detailed, long blog posts are good for your Google rankings
Long, detailed blog posts are more likely to rank high for more long-tail keywords at once. Simply, because they have more text to find keywords in.
I’ve been a member of Tailwind – an online community of bloggers where you support each other’s content on Pinterest and Instagram. What struck me there is that many of the blog posts I came across there were so brief.
While the title sets great expectations, those expectations are barely met in the post itself. Posts like that may get clicks, but once, but those visitors will never visit that website again if it’s not interesting enough.
Do some research. Put time and effort into your posts. Put in some effort for your readers, take them seriously, and take your work as a blogger seriously if you want to be a professional blogger. Then your efforts will be rewarded eventually.
By long and detailed I, by the way, mean at least 700 words per post. And if you really want to stand out from the crowd, try to write blogs of at least 2,500-3,000 words.
Permalinks are your permanent URLs. You can change a permalink, but then you have created a redirect for it. Which is something you want to avoid. Make sure you have a good permalink structure from the very start of your website. You should use your keywords in the URLs as well, but avoid words like “the”, “a”, and numbers and try keeping your permalinks as short as possible.
Link to other sites
Refer your visitors to known websites within your niche on a regular basis. I get that it’s a bit scary to redirect your visitors to sites that are doing much better than yours because… what if your visitor doesn’t come back, right?
And yet, when it comes to search engine optimization, referring to important websites within your niche is incredibly important. By doing this, you tell the search engines that you understand your niche and that you know where to find more useful information on a subject. You’re also showing that your intention is to sincerely help your visitors. Even if referring to additional information on another (better) website is necessary to reach that goal.
I’m not talking about affiliate links, by the way. Affiliate links, on the other hand, should be marked as sponsored links. You need to let the search engines know you might earn money on them when they are clicked on. You can do this in the WordPress editor or in Elementor when you create the link. There’s a box you can tick in Elementor to indicate that it’s a sponsored link.
Click on Insert link -> enter your URL -> click the wheel icon to edit the link -> then tick all 3 boxes: ‘open link in new tab’, ‘add rel = “nofollow” ‘, and ‘add rel = “sponsored” ‘.
Google prefers the “sponsored” tag over the “nofollow” tag, but both are accepted. That’s why I just use them both. After checking these boxes, the Google spiders will know what your relationship is with the site you’re linking to. Linking to interesting content without having any ulterior motives is not the same as linking to a page that you might earn a commission. Remember to do this, as Google punishes sites that don’t clearly disclose these connections in their posts.
Use Prettylinks for pretty-looking links
You’ve probably already noticed that most affiliate links don’t look so nice. On top of that, your readers can immediately see it’s an affiliate link. Prettylinks lets you create your own link, with your own domain name, cloaking the true link.
A key factor in SEO in 2020 is user intent. Where search engine optimization used to be all about the right keywords before, it’s now all about the user intent. What is the user looking for?
I still recommend you do keyword research and include keywords in your posts. But if you really want to create the type of content that makes the search engines – and of course, your readers – happy – understanding the user intent is a must.
Once you know what the user’s intention is, you can find the right keywords to match with that. This will help you to increase the relevance of your posts and increase your ranking in the search results.
The last pillar of SEO, but definitely not the least! The technical aspect of your SEO strategy, like speed, mobile-friendliness, infrastructure, sitemap, HTML code, internal links, and basically everything else helps the search engines to crawl and understand your website better.
Did you know that when it takes more than 3 seconds to load a page on a mobile device, 40% of visitors leave that website? Check out these statistics on Neil Patel’s website if you want to learn more about the importance of fast loading times: Statistics load times
Your website’s speed is a crucial factor when it comes to attracting more blog traffic, and a greatly underestimated factor by many bloggers, too. This is a pity because you can easily find out how fast your website really is and which steps you can take to make it faster with Google’s PageSpeed Insights. This tool is completely free!
Definitely don’t skip this step, because it’s a ranking factor as well. Google ranks faster websites higher than slower websites.
One thing you can already start with to improve your website’s speed is by optimizing your images with the help of a plugin like ShortPixel.
Interlinking of pages
Make sure you link your content together so that your readers can click on hyperlinks to easily link through to other interesting content within your website. This way you make your website user-friendly for your visitors and for the web spiders, allowing them to rank you better.
When pages aren’t linked to other pages, they don’t become like “orphaned pages” that aren’t related to anything. And that’s not good for your website’s SEO.
Can your visitors surf your website safely? You’ve probably come across the “this site is not safe” notification when you tried to enter a website. The website then only opens when you choose to proceed to open it anyway. This is what happens when a website doesn’t have an SSL certificate. An SSL certificate shows your visitors that your website is secured and can be visited safely. If you don’t have this certificate, you can miss out on a lot of visitors.
Don’t have an SSL certificate yet? Click on the Namecheap image below. Their certificates are very affordable!
Also read: why I made the switch to BigScoots hosting
Is your website mobile, tablet and desktop friendly?
Since websites are viewed on all kinds of devices, it is important that your website has a responsive design. This means that the design of your website adjusts itself to the format of the device it’s displayed on. Elementor is great for websites with a responsive design. You can switch the responsive mode to instantly see how your pages are displayed on different types of devices.
Optimize for snippets and voice search
Why you should start optimizing your content for Google Voice
About half the searches entered in Google will soon be voice-driven. Therefore, Google looks for answers within content that answers the questions that are being asked via Voice-search as accurately as possible. When you conduct a search in Google, you often see featured snippets at the top. These are the search results that are displayed at the top of the 1st page.
You can see that the answer is already displayed and the user doesn’t even need to click a link anymore to get the answer. And a large part of the answers that Google gives to questions that are asked with Voice-search come from these featured snippets that Google has selected.
If you want your content to be eligible to appear as a search result on a voice-based search, you need to make sure your content is customized for it.
How do you qualify for a featured snippet?
Build your content around questions and answers. Place the questions in the headers and answer it in the paragraph that follows. Be clear and concise (use between 40 and 60 words). Make sure that both the question and the answer are well formulated. And again, make sure the loading speed of the page is optimized.
Too many plugins
WordPress plugins are extremely handy and you really need some of them. Just make sure you don’t install too many plugins. They can slow down your website tremendously.
Want to learn more about plugins and which plugins you need for an optimized website? Read my blog about the best plugins every blogger needs!
My favorite SEO Tools
As the algorithms of search engines are constantly evolving and are of course not made public, it can be difficult to determine if you’re on the right track with your website’s SEO. Fortunately, there are many SEO tools that make search engine optimization a lot easier for bloggers like you and me. Before I end this post, I’d like to name a few of my favorite SEO tools that I use a lot and really benefit from.
Even though keywords are no longer the only criteria for a strong SEO, they still matter for your SEO. That’s why you should always do keyword research with a keyword tool before you start writing your blogs.
Google Keyword Planner
This is a free tool, but it does a great job. As a starting blogger, you might not want to spend too much on your blog. In that case, I think this tool is the best option.
For me, this is the God of SEO tools. You can use it to do keyword research, but SemRush is actually an all-around SEO tool that you can use for a lot of other things related to improving your SEO. I have to admit that it does come with a price tag, but the good news is that you get a 7-day free trial when you sign up. No strings attached!
Use that to your advantage! Especially if SEO is still a bit complicated for you. SemRush is really straightforward and you don’t need a lot of knowledge to be able to understand this tool.
Analytics shows you how many people visit your site, what your bounce rate is, the type of audience that visits your site, the duration of the visits, and much more. Again for free!
Google Search Console
Search Console gives you insights into your Google rankings and the keywords you rank for. And like all Google tools, Search Console is again for free!
The short version of this beginner’s guide to SEO: the SEO trend for 2020 is actually quite simple to explain; honest and valuable content published on a reliable, optimized website is the best way to rank high in the search results.
Search engines are getting better and better at recognizing valuable, high-quality content and if you put your focus on that, you’re on your way to the top of the search results in the future!
stumbled across this on pinterest. such a great read! definitely bookmarking this! thank you for the info! i use yoast seo but it’s nice to have it in words that i understand. thank you!
Thank you so much for your kind words, Jade! Always happy to hear my posts are helping other bloggers who are struggling with SEO. 🙂
Thank you for this post. The amount I have read to try learn and improve my SEO and not understood most of them I’ve lost count. Yours is in simple terms, easy to follow and super useful and helpful, thank you.
Thank you so much for reading and commenting! Happy to hear this post has been helpful to you. :))
As a current digital marketing student I’ve found this very helpful, and have created a blog with more information regarding the subject of keyword research/search engine optimization.
What great advice and for once it seems a bit clearer to me where I have always been winging it. Thank you.
Thank you so much, Zac, glad to be of help!
Angie, this is a great post filled with amazing actionable tips. I’ve been blogging for a while, and I agree with you regarding the need to always be on the lookout for algorithm changes. For one, I just picked up that I need to optimize my site for voice search. I need to start learning and applying that!!
Thanks for sharing!!
Hi Nadim, thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment, and I’m so happy to hear I inspired you to start optimizing for Voice search. I also want to thank you for pointing out there was no option to leave your website link with your comment, so I fixed it and added your URL manually to your comment. Have a great day!
Angie, Wow excellent explanation, and your pinpointed explanation have touched each and every part of SEO.
Amazing work and great article thanks for sharing😍😍
Thanks for sharing such a wide post about SEO. In the beginning, it might seem really complicated and difficult to learn. However, when you start learning it step by step it starts to look much more clear. SEO is very important and every blogger should know at least the basics about it.
I have been writing about SEO on my blog as well.
Thank you so much! Love your post about SEO-terms as well!
As a new blogger I found this extremely valuable. I have Yoast SEO which helps. But I found this post a great way to highlight the key areas I am unknowingly targeting. Thanks
You’re welcome, glad to hear this was valuable to you! And yes, it’s true, it’s exactly what you’re targeting with the Yoast plugin. It helps, but you can make it work so much better for your site when you have a deeper understanding of SEO.
Thank you for this post. I am just starting to get into SEO. I’m still new to the SEO game, and this post has been very helpful.
You’re welcome! So happy this was helpful to you. SEO can be so complex in the beginning. But the faster you understand it, the faster your blog’s successes will follow.
Found this at the absolute perfect time – bookmarking for later!