What is SEO?
SEO stands for search engine optimization and is the process of optimizing a website to increase its position in the search engine result pages (SERPs) to increase organic traffic. SEOs do not manipulate Google, they manipulate websites in a way that exposes value to search engines.
SEO Basics & Best Practices in 2021
SEO is a way of doing things that is founded in best practices. A strong understanding of the basics of SEO will allow you to create content that people are searching for that results in steady organic traffic to your website.
Some of these best practices include:
You can create content and be rank 1 for keywords with little to no search volume, but that isn’t going to provide any value or return. That’s why keyword research is important.
The basic foundation of solid SEO starts with keyword research. Once you determine which keywords you want to target, then you can start creating content or optimizing content to improve your website’s ability to rank for those keywords.
Keyword research starts by understanding what your customers are searching for online. Sometimes it’s easy to find the keywords your potential customers are searching for when it’s a broad phrase related to your core business, such as “emergency room near me”.
Other times it can be more complicated and you’ll want to create content for someone who doesn’t know they need to go to the emergency room yet. An example would be creating a page about “what causes abdominal pain on the left side of your body?” to target people who may have appendicitis and need immediate medical treatment.
It’s not enough anymore to write a piece of content focused around your target keywords. You need to optimize key elements of the page if you want to rank.
Title tags: Creating a title tag around your keyword phrase can sometimes be tricky. You want to create a title that is human readable, catches the reader’s attention, and is optimized for your keyword phrases. For example, if your target keyword is “osteoarthritis diet”, you may want to make your title tag something like “The Best Diet for People with Osteoarthritis”.
URLs: Choosing a URL is easier, most of the time the URL can be an exact match to your keyword phrase. Using the same example as above, you would make your URL /osteoarthritis-diet/.
Headings: Headings are a strong signal to Google for what your content is about. It’s best practice to make your page title the only H1 on the page and to make each heading or subtopic in the content an H2. For longer pieces of content, you may want to use H3s or bold where it makes sense for the subtopics of the H2s. You’ll also want to keyword optimize these headings where you can. Avoid using the exact same keyword phrase used in the page title in these headings and do not force a keyword or a keyword phrase in a heading if it looks, feels, or sounds unnatural. For example, instead of using a heading that says “Symptoms”, add the keyword to improve clarity, so that the heading is “Bronchitis Symptoms”.
Content formatting: Break up large sections of text wherever you can. Instead of listing the symptoms of bronchitis in a long sentence, create a bulleted list to quickly display the information in an easily readable format. If the core content is a list of items, make an H2 for the name of the list and then make the list items H3s. For example, if the content is about “Types of Wound Dressings” then make the H2 “9 Types of Wound Dressings” and make the individual types of wound dressings H3s.
Internal linking: Link to other pieces of content on your website whenever possible. For example, on the page about “The Best Diet for People with Osteoarthritis” you could link to your page about “What is Osteoarthritis?”.
Meta descriptions: Meta descriptions are both query and page content dependent, which means that Google may create completely different meta descriptions for different queries even when the page content is the same. They are not a direct ranking factor but do impact the clickthrough rate (CTR), which makes it important to craft a meta description that entices the user to click through to your website. To do this, explain what the page offers, the unique proposition, and encourage users to click. Include your target keyword and synonymous keywords when possible because search engines will oftentimes bold these keywords in the meta description, helping your result stand out.
Images: If your page has images on it, they’re going to contribute to the page load time. In fact, images are one of the main reasons a page will load slow. You’ll want to resize your images to be only as big as they need to be and not a pixel larger. Save images in a JPG format unless you need PNG for a transparent background. Then you’ll want to compress the image as much as possible without impacting image quality. After the image is resized and compressed, rename the file using the target keyword phrase and optimize the alt text. Crawlers use the file name and alt text to better understand the image, so avoid keyword stuffing here and instead try to keyword optimize the image similar to how you converted the keyword phrase into a human readable title tag.
No matter how perfect the on-page optimization is, technical issues on a website can hold a website back from performing as well as it should. Basic knowledge of technical concepts will not only help you optimize a website for search engines but also allows you to communicate issues and changes with developers. Unlike on-page optimization, some technical SEO changes will require a developer to fix.
No-index: The biggest mistake you can make in terms of SEO is not having a website. The second biggest mistake is not having a website that can be indexed. Make sure that your site is indexable. For WordPress, this means unchecking a box under the Settings > Reading > Search Engine Visibility. But for other sites, this may mean having a developer edit the code to set the robots meta tag to “index, follow”.
301 redirects: Websites change over time through redesigns, changes in strategy, and for many other reasons. When a website changes, often the URLs change with it. When content moves from one URL to another, Google sees this as an entirely new page and you could lose all the rankings you worked to build up. In fact, if a backlink points to a page that results in a 404, it loses all of its value. It’s important to set up redirects not only to recapture all the link value but also to improve user experience and to let Google know that the content moved. For example, you may have had all of your blogs include the year, month, and date in the URL, creating unnecessarily long URLs like this “/2020/07/30/osteoarthritis-diet/” and someone made the decision to update these URLs to “/blog/osteoarthritis-diet/” instead. To prevent you from losing all the organic traffic, you’ll want to set up a redirect from the old URL to the new one.
Sitemaps: A dynamic sitemap is the perfect way to send search engines a list of URLs you want to be indexed. This will help Google crawl and index your site faster, and since it’s dynamic, whenever you change or publish new content, Google will pick up on that in the sitemap. A sitemap of pages allows you to see all the pages on your website that can be crawled and indexed. You’ll want to check your sitemap file and make sure test pages, auto-generated archives, and other pages you don’t actually want users to land on aren’t indexed. After auditing the sitemap, submit it to Google through Search Console.
Mobile friendly: Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you’ve probably heard that mobile traffic is on the rise and quickly trended to be more than desktop traffic. Google recently changed its index to a mobile-first index, meaning It’s important to optimize your website for mobile users. Make sure your website is mobile friendly and work with your developers to fix any issues. Here’s Google’s mobile-friendly test: https://search.google.com/test/mobile-friendly
Pagespeed: Pagespeed has been a ranking factor for a while now, but with the switch to a mobile-first index and the fact that mobile connections aren’t nearly as fast or stable as desktop connections, pagespeed is more important than ever. Google also announced a new ranking signal, Core Web Vitals, which uses real world data to show how your pages perform and gives you a score of Good, Needs Improvement, or Poor. You’ll want to work with your developer to improve your score as much as you can and have every URL pass with a score of “Good”.
Resources for Learning SEO
- Google Webmaster Youtube Channel – The truly valuable information is inside the webmaster hangouts. This is where other webmasters talk and ask questions about things that you may not even know about. You can learn so many random, valuable things from watching these videos because it’s true — you don’t know what you don’t know.
- Backlinko and Brian Dean’s Youtube Channel – Brian is well known in the industry because he practices what he preaches and ranks for highly competitive SEO terms. The content he produces is helpful for both beginners and experienced SEOs
- Search Engine Roundtable and Barry Schwartz’s Youtube Channel – One of the best places to catch up on SEO news. Barry does a weekly roundup on the most important news in the industry, including algorithm updates, bugs, updates, and more. He also interviews people in the industry in a vlog series.