Beginner's SEO:

Simple Guide to Everything You Need to Know [2021]

This guide is for SEO newbies!

 

In this post, we'll go over everything you need to know in a way that’s simple and easy to digest.

 

You'll learn all the major terms, best practices, and a few simple ways to make improvements today. 


Let’s get you up to speed.

Illustrated search query

By Samantha Ford⋅Published: 1.14.2021

What is SEO?

SEO (search engine optimization) is the process of getting a website to rank higher on search engine results pages (SERPs). 


A good way to think about SEO as a whole is: the practice of organizing your website to cater to the way your ideal user searches. 


Google models its ranking algorithm based on human activity and searching behaviors. So the simplest way to conceptualize SEO is to think about it in terms of your user…How do they search? How would they want my content to be displayed? How can I make my content easier for them to find? 

What goes into SEO? 

On-Page SEO

1) Keywords
2) Meta Tags
3) Alt Text (images)
4) URLs
5) H1s & H2s
6) Content

Off-Page SEO

1) Link Building & Backlinks

Technical SEO

1) Site speed
2) Broken Links

What is On-page SEO?

On-page SEO refers to the tactics performed on your website to help search engines understand your webpages better. Things like content, URLs, title tags, meta descriptions, and more are all categorized by what you can do on your website to improve your rank.

1) Keywords

Definition: the words or topics related to your business that a user types into search engines. 


Let’s say I own a coffee shop in Charleston, SC. Some keywords for my business might be:

- coffee shop 
- coffee shop in Charleston, SC
- inexpensive coffee in Charleston

A Google search query

There are two kinds of keywords to consider: short-tail and long-tail


Short-tail keywords (also called head keywords) are shorter, more general phrases. 

Ex) “coffee shop,” “organic coffee,” or “mocha latte”


Long-tail keywords are more specific phrases that clearly indicate a user’s intent. 

Ex) “Columbian coffee grounds for sale in Charleston” or “coffee shop with open seating COVID-19”


Short-tail keywords are often very difficult to rank for because they’re so frequently used. Every coffee shop is using the words “coffee shop” and “latte” on their website. There’s a huge amount of competition and it’s unlikely that my website will beat out more authoritative sites like Starbucks or Dunkin for a spot on the first page of Google results. 


Long-tail keywords are where my site has more potential to rank. Because long-tail keywords are so specific, there is less of a chance for competition and more opportunity for my site to rank for them. 


For example: I’m one of the few coffee shops in my area with free wifi and outdoor seating. Targeting the long-tail keyword “coffee shop with outdoor seating in Charleston, SC” will likely give me a better rank and more quality traffic than just “coffee shop.”

Graphic from Backlinko “How to Create an Effective SEO Strategy In 2021” (a fantastic resource if you’re looking for a deeper understanding)

Long-tail keywords will target a smaller, more niche audience that is likely to convert to leads/sales. Short-tail keywords target a broader audience and provide a brief indication of what your business does. 


The best strategy is to use a mix of both.

How do I find the right keywords to use?

A good place to start is to see what Google suggests. Start typing in the search field and see what Google predicts you’re looking for:

A Google search query autofilling with relevant keywords

You can also use Google’s related search suggestions in the middle and at the bottom of search results pages for more direction.

Google's People Also Search section
Google's Recommended search section

You can use free resources like Google’s Ad Planner, Wordstream’s Keyword Tool, or any of the tools outlined by Ahref in this post to discover more related keywords, compare search volume and competition, and see how much people are paying for advertisements with those keywords. 


Come up with 10 or so keywords that balance high/low competition and high/low search volume. 

Where do I put my keywords?

There are a few places where keywords should be prioritized: Meta Tags, Alt Text, URLs, H1s & H2s, and within your content. 


Let’s talk about each of those things and how to incorporate your keywords into them. 

2) Meta Tags 

Definition: information in the HTML that search engines read to better understand and rank a webpage. Meta tags are the texts that display in SERPs (search engine results pages). 


The two Meta Tags you should know are Tile Tag and Meta Description


A Title Tag (also the Page Title) is the clickable headline that displays on a search results page. It’s meant to be a concise and accurate description of the content on the page. This tag is also what gets displayed in web browsers.

Example of a Title Tag in a results page and in a browser tab

A Meta Description is the descriptive text displayed under the Title Tag on SERPs. It should provide a brief summary of the content a user would see on that page.

Example of a meta description on a search results page

Every page on your website has metadata specific to the content on that page. If you don’t write it yourself, Google will automatically pull text from your content that it thinks best describes the page. 


Hint: the text Google pulls automatically usually isn’t a good description. If you want to influence traffic you should write it yourself.

How do I write good Meta Tags?

Tips for writing Title Tags:

1) Use 1 or 2 of the most relevant keywords
2) Put those keywords first
3) Keep it under 60 characters long
4) Make it unique from your other Title Tags

More advice on how to write Title Tags: Moz - Title Tags

 

Tips for writing Meta Descriptions:

1) Use call to actions 
2) Keep it between 50-160 characters
3) Make it unique from your other meta descriptions

More advice on how to write Meta Descriptions: Moz - Meta Descriptions

3) Alt Text for Images

Definition: alternative text in the HTML that accurately describes an image’s appearance or purpose within the content. 


When you upload an image to your webpage, the text defining that image in the HTML often stays relatively similar to the file name. 


Alt Text is the description you would use for an image instead of the file name (or instead of other HTML that isn’t accurate enough).


Say you use the image below on your webpage. Its file name is: coffeecup-shoot02.jpg.

A coffee cup demonstrating the inadequacy of an image without Alt Text
Image from Unsplash by Jarek Ceborski

When you embed the image, the HTML description would likely stay “coffeecup-shoot02.jpg,” which doesn’t provide a user (or search engine) with any context or indexing information beyond “coffee cup.”


Instead, write Alt Text like “Frothy espresso in a glass coffee mug” to accurately describe what’s in the image.

Why should I use Alt Text for images?

Alt Text is important for three major reasons:

1) Accessibility

Visually impaired people use screen readers to understand your content. So if the only reference to your image is “coffeecup-shoot02.jpg,” it’s not going to provide any context. 

2) SEO 

Alt Text helps search engines understand your image and index your webpage. Hint: it’s another place to use keywords and get your images to rank in image searches. 

3) As backup

If your image doesn’t load, your Alt Text will display instead. If it accurately describes the image, then user experience won’t be as significantly impacted.

4) URLs

Definition: a human-readable web address that identifies the location of a page on the internet. 


You’ve likely heard the term URL before. It’s the line that starts with www. or https://. A URL appears above your webpage content and on SERPs along with your Title Tag and Meta Description.

Example of a URL on a results page and in a browser

The best URLs are ones that are:

1) Short: as simple and concise as possible.
2) Human-readable: no random symbols, numbers or characters.
3) Specific: a human user should be able to track where the page is within your site. 

 

Let’s break down the URL of this page: www.madedaily.com/blog/beginner-s-SEO-simple-guide-to-everything-you-need-to-know-2021


We have our domain in the beginning (which will never change): www.madedaily.com

We have the location within our website: /blog

We have the post title broken up by hyphens: /beginner-s-SEO-simple-guide-to-everything-you-need-to-know-2021


It’s short, specific, and human-readable. 

 

Now, let’s look at an example of a bad URL (sorry Neil):

https://neilpatel.com/blog/h1tag/#:~:text=The%20h1%20is%20an%20HTML,a%20heading%2

0on%20a%20website.&text=Tag%20%E2%80%94%20An%20HTML%20tag%20is,h6%20is%20t

he%20least%20important

 

This URL isn’t good for a few reasons:

1) It’s too long. Your URL should never go beyond what gets displayed above your webpage. 
2) It’s complicated. There are too many numbers, symbols, and characters to be easily read by human users. 
3) It’s not specific. It’s hard to tell what kind of content is going to be on this page. 

 

URLs are a great place to use keywords strategically but limit your use to one or two of the most relevant. Packing URLs with keywords can hurt SEO because search engines will find it difficult to index the page correctly.

5) H1s & H2s

Now we’re getting into the actual content of your webpages. 


H1s and H2s are the primary and secondary headlines on a page. H1s indicate the main topic of your page and H2s (and H3s) are headlines that further break up the content. 


These headlines are important for SEO because they’re the first webpage copy Google crawls to gain an understanding of your content.

Image credits Neil Patel: “How to Create the Perfect H1 Tag for SEO”

H1s, H2s and H3s are a great place to put your most important/relevant keywords. But, the key is to keep it natural. 


In the example above, “perfect H1 tag” and “SEO” are keywords that have been naturally woven into the content. It doesn’t feel forced or sales-y. It’s descriptive of the content to follow and search engine optimized. 


Be warned: Google is excellent at identifying headlines that have been keyword-packed solely for manipulating SEO (and it's quick to penalize those pages). So, make sure to balance keyword use and brand copy.

6) Content

Content is most likely the biggest influence on SEO. After crawling your headlines, the next place Google looks for information is in your page content. 


Some tips for optimizing your content:

1) Write your keywords into the copy.

Because Google places high indexing priority on the content of a page, it’s important to work your keywords in the copy as early as possible (while still sounding natural, of course). 


Let’s go back to our coffee shop example. 


We want to rank for the keywords: coffee shop, outdoor seating and free wifi. To rank for those topics, we would write them into the first 100 words or so of our copy so that Google crawls them first and indexes our page as relevant to those search queries. 


2) Don’t use duplicate content. 

I know, writing website copy can be difficult. It’s very tempting to reuse content where you can. But don’t do it!


If you have more than one page with the same content, you’re actually making those pages compete against each other. 


Google won’t display more than one result with the same content. It will choose which page it thinks is best and show only that one as the “original.”


The result is a lower rank of the “original” page (because your other pages are competing with it) and a terrible rank for the other pages not identified as the “original.” 


3) Produce original content.

Content production is a massive part of improving SEO. In fact, without consistent content publishing, your SEO efforts are likely to fall flat. 


Publishing content like blog posts, graphics, videos, podcasts, eBooks, etc. all help you gain visibility and authority in your industry. It’s another way to rank for keywords and drive traffic to your website outside of your static website copy. 


How?


Let’s say our coffee shop has a blog that posts new at-home recipes every Monday. Someone searches: “Best coffee recipes to make at home” Our website copy doesn’t mention any recipes, but our latest blog post (15 of the best at-home coffee recipes) does! So our post is likely to rank for that user’s search. 


Content like blogs, videos, and social media drive traffic to our website that we wouldn’t have ranked for with just our website copy.

What is Off-page SEO?

Off-page SEO refers to the practices done outside of your website to influence ranking. Off-page SEO tactics are the steps taken to build your website’s authority, trustworthiness, and credibility.


A good way to think about it is: getting your website content “vouched for” by more authoritative businesses and gaining the trust of users.

1) Link Building & Backlinking

Definition: links on a third-party website that link back to a page on your website.


Backlinks (also called inbound links or external links) are links on someone else’s website that lead to a specific page on your website. 


There are countless reasons why someone would link your content on their website. Take for example this guide. I’ve backlinked Backlino, Neil Patel, and Moz because I trust their expertise on SEO.


Your product or business could also be linked in a blog or video reviewing similar offerings, on social media, etc. 


Essentially, when someone backlinks to your website they’re vouching for your credibility and trustworthiness. 


So, what does this mean for SEO? 


Google uses how often your website is backlinked as evidence of authority. The more qualified backlinks you accumulate, the more credible Google thinks your website is. The more credible Google thinks your site is, the more likely you are to rank on the first page of search results.

How do I get backlinks?

1) Write great content.

This has to be priority #1. No one wants to link to content that isn’t well formulated. 

2) Publish consistently.

Consistent content will help you organically build some authority in your field. 

3) Reach out to reputable sites.

Personally contact a site or business you’d want your content linked on. 

 

Some tips on getting backlinks: 

- Ask for a video or written review of your product, service, or business
- Ask them to guest write for you (content will be linked on both websites)
- Ask them to share your products or business on social media
- Find a page of theirs with outdated content that your original content could replace
- Offer research or insight that’s missing from their content and could benefit their piece

What is technical SEO?

Technical SEO refers to the technical aspects of optimizing your website for search engine indexing. Things like page load speed, broken links, and crawlability all play into your website’s technical SEO. 


Technical SEO usually requires a more complex tool like SEMRush or Ahrefs to analyze/provide direction for improvement. But understanding a few essential aspects can be helpful in the early stages of your SEO endeavors and learning.

1) Site Speed 

Site speed is how quickly your webpages load for a user. You’ve likely experienced a slow site before, it can be extremely frustrating. Most of the time, users click the back button before a slow page even finishes loading. 


For a human user, slow site speed tanks user experience. 


For SEO, Google uses load speed in its ranking algorithm. If your site is slow, search engines aren’t going to direct traffic to it. 


Additionally, Google (and other search engines) have a given “crawl budget” for every site. So, if your content can’t be crawled within an allotted time, your indexation might be negatively affected. 


A few easy ways to speed up your site are to:

1) Compress images.

Large images often take a while to load, compressing the files can help reduce the time it takes for a page to fully load. 


2) Reduce redirects.

Every page that redirects to another decreases site speed.

2) Broken Links

Broken links (also called dead links) are pages on a site that aren’t working. You’ve probably seen a 404 Error code on a page you were expecting to have access to. 


Broken links are terrible for user experience and for SEO.


There a few reasons why a link may not be working properly:

1) The URL changed and a redirect wasn’t added to the old page
2) The website is no longer available
3) There are broken elements within the page

 

Google uses the number of broken links within your website to evaluate how active the site is. If there are many broken links, Google will think that it has been abandoned and will direct traffic away from an “in-active” site. 


By now, you should have a stronger understanding of what goes into SEO and what to look for on your site! SEO can be a complicated beast. Our MadeDaily team will continue to simplify your learning as indexing algorithms and best practices evolve. 


Remember, improvement is going to take time. No one builds authority overnight. 

I’ve included a glossary of all the important terms covered in this guide.

 

Print it out! Keep it for any time you need a hand making sense of the industry jargon out there.


Want help launching a full-scale SEO Campaign? Get in touch with us! We’d love to help you improve your SEO and overall site performance.

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