How To Begin With SEO – The 4 Key Steps

A Beginners' Guide to SEO Featured Image
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You are in the mood to have something different from what you usually eat. What will you do? Look it up, of course.

You are having an argument with your friends; how do you figure out who is right? Look it up!

Just like these, there are many other situations when people just look things up. People search everything, all the time, and everywhere. So, as a business owner, it is no longer enough to just be present online. You need to show up when people search (preferably on the first page). If you don’t know where to get started with showing up, this is for you- the beginner’s guide to SEO.

Here I will briefly touch upon all the topics you need to know about. Once, you are clear with the basics, you can dig deeper into each topic with the links provided at the end. So, let’s begin.

What is Search Engine Optimization and How it Works?

Simply put, search engine optimization is the process that enables your website and its individual pages to get ranked higher on the search engine results page or SERP. It involves changing and improving elements, both on and off your website, that affect your rankings. This will help your target visitors in finding you and subsequently converting them into customers.

Coming to how SEO works, it all depends on how the search engines work. This is pretty much the same for all the engines out there. So, if you are optimizing for one, you are automatically optimizing for others. So, if in this post I talk in reference to Google, it doesn’t mean these principles won’t work for other search engines.

When you look up something, Google will try to find the websites that most closely match the intent of your search. This means that Google won’t just try to find a word for word match for what you typed. It will show you all the results that might be relevant. Let’s take an example. Suppose you looked up “iPhone 13 features”. For this search, Google will mostly show websites that offer information about the tech specs for iPhone 13. Yes, you will also get some results that tell you the price of the phone, but that’s because the price information might be relevant to someone trying to understand the features.

Even in the screenshots, you can see most results talk about the features and not the price or where to buy.

Screenshot 5 How To Begin With SEO - The 4 Key Steps
Search Intent Example for SEO

But if you had searched “iPhone 13 buy”, you would get results related to where all you can purchase an iPhone 13. To know more about search intent you can read this post by SEMRush.

So, for your web page to show up, it needs to be relevant to the search query.

The other important factor determining the ranking of a web page is authority. As you would know, anyone can post anything on the internet, whether it is true or not. Search engines want to give their users the most trusted sources of information and thus, they try to determine which website provides the correct information.

One way search engines achieve determine a website’s authority or trustworthiness is by checking which kind and how many other websites link to you. When you link to another website, it is seen as a vote of confidence in the linked page by the search engines.

Now, the ‘how many’ parts is easy to understand, the more websites link to you the better. However, the ‘kind’ of websites linking to you is also important. If you write a blog on say, ‘How to Train Your New Puppy’. A page on a hotel’s website providing it’s pet policy linking to your blog won’t benefit you much. This is not to say the link won’t be counted, it just won’t have as much weightage as compared to a website that is related to your industry. What’s more, if the website linking to you already has high authority in your industry, you will reap more benefits from that link.

Apart from this, other things that search engines take into account are reviews on your website and the comments. This helps the algorithm determine the public sentiment about your web page, which in turn helps in figuring out if the search engine users will find the page useful or not.

Before we move forward, know this – the search engine optimization process is time-consuming, involves a lot of work, and requires you to be patient. You implementing the strategies today won’t give you the desired results tomorrow. It will take time for your efforts to translate into results and all this while you need to continue working on SEO, whether or not it seems useful.

Beginning with Search Engine Optimization

Now that we have an understanding of what SEO is, let’s talk about how to do SEO.

To begin your SEO journey, here is what you need to start working on:

  1. Keyword Research
  2. Content Optimization
  3. Long Term Content Strategy
  4. Building Link

How to do Keyword Research for SEO

You probably already have an idea about what you want to rank for. However, to improve your position, you need to know exactly what your target visitors are typing in the search engines. This is where keyword research comes in. According to HubSpot, “Keyword research is the process of finding and analyzing search terms that people enter into search engines with the goal of using that data for a specific purpose, often for search engine optimization (SEO) or general marketing.”

To begin this process of finding the appropriate keywords you need to first brainstorm what all your target audience will search for. This means thinking like a customer and not like a business. You, working in your industry, must have picked up the jargon, but the same is not true for your audience. So, you need to make a list of words and phrases that your potential customer might use to find you.

Once you have an initial list, it’s time to use some keyword research tools like SEMRush, Ubersuggest, Moz etc. to find more keywords and additional information about the keywords you came up with. To understand how exactly how to find relevant keywords you can read Keyword Research for Blogs and Advanced Keyword Research Strategies You Need To Know.

Once you are finding keywords, it’s time to group them. In the end your keyword list should look something like this, but with a lot more keywords.

Keyword List Example for SEO

How to do Content Optimization for SEO

Finding the right keywords is just the beginning. Next comes writing the actual content. However, you can’t just write as you please. To make sure you show up on SERPs (Search engine results pages), you need to optimize your content.

Content Optimization for SEO involves improving the quality and relevance of your content. As discussed before, search engines determine your content’s trustworthiness (the authority your website and page have) and its relevance to the search query. And so, when writing content, you need to focus on these 2 key concepts: having relevant themes and building trust. However, this does not mean you write your content in a way that is not engaging or easily understood by your users.

Writing content involves keeping your users in mind first and the search engines second. If your users are satisfied, search engines will automatically pick up on this and send more traffic your way. This will benefit you not only in getting the search engine to rank you higher but will also benefit your visitors.

The various elements involved on content optimization are:

1. Optimize your site structure:

Make it easy for your user and the search engine to navigate around your website. Suppose a user was looking at the various kinds of rooms a hotel offers and now wants to book one. He/she should be able to find the booking option with minimum clicks and without looking too hard for a way to book. At the same time, if there is a form your user can fill out to book a room, the search engine crawler (the thing that basically scans and collects information about your website) should also understand what the form does.

2. Work on Technical SEO:

Technical SEO involves optimizing URLs, Title Tags, Links, Images, etc. This helps in making sure that the search engine crawler understands all elements of your website. Search engine crawlers can’t see images or hear the audio, they understand the content on the website based on the text and the code. So, we need to make sure that the code behind a webpage is optimized for the search engines, while the front end is optimized for the human users. 

3. Write with reader in mind:

You should always write content with the user in mind first and search engine second. Your user should be able to understand what you are trying to convey. Apart from other things, this means using simple language and keeping the industry jargon to the minimum amongst other things. 

4. Redirect users to the correct URLs:

Do this in case there has been any kind of change. For example, you have a post on a topic that is a year old and is now outdated. Now you have a new post on the same topic with updated content. In this case, it is best to redirect your users who have opened the old post to the new one. Another example can be a 404 error page. Suppose you have removed a page from your website and added a new page in place. Redirect your users who open that deleted page to the new page. 

5. Using the appropriate servers:

Search engines want to give their users the best experience. This includes showing pages that will load quickly. If your web server can’t handle the load of the number of users visiting your website, your web pages will load slowly. This will give the search engines a reason for lowering your SERP rankings. Another example of a server-side factor you should keep in mind is the location of your server and the location of the majority of your users. The closer the server is to where your users are located, the faster your website will load. If you have users all over the world, consider using web hosting that distributes requests to a network of computers globally. Another way to speed up your website is by cashing your web pages. You can read more about cashing here

6. Google Search Console:

Lastly, it is recommended that you regularly use Google Search Console to find out the problems with your website. The fewer errors and problems your google search console account shows the more chances of you ranking higher. Tip: Use the HTTPS version of your website as it is secure and thus more preferred by search engines.

Now we won’t be going into any further detail about the various content optimization techniques in this post. You can understand each point in depth by reading these dedicated posts on them.

How to plan a long term content strategy

Okay, so your current content is optimized. What next? Again, as discussed before, SEO is an ongoing process. This means, that you need to regularly post content too. Whether you like it or not, if you want your business to be visible online, you need to have a long term content plan. This doesn’t just mean blog posts. It includes everything from videos and social media posts to PDFs and presentations for your users. Everything that will benefit your existing customers and bring in new customers needs to be taken into account.

You might be thinking, now how am I supposed to come up with so many content ideas. Well, the answer is, as you work more and more on writing content, you will figure out what other content your users will benefit from. But, to give yourself a start, here are a few broad categories:

  1. Educational Content: This kind of content will help your users understand how to do something or perhaps use your product or service. You are basically teaching your customers about something they probably didn’t know about.
  2. Statistical Content: You can use some kind of statistic from your industry and explain it. Or you can provide an expert’s opinion on the number.
  3. Technical Content: This kind of advanced content will attract savvy users and industry experts.
  4. Procedural Content: This involves giving your users step by step instructions on how to complete a task, etc. This type of content will basically, walk your user through a certain process.
  5. Informational Content: Informational content can be any kind of information, like directions to your store, or about your company. The information doesn’t have to be ground-breaking, it only needs to provide value to your visitors at the minimum.

These are just a few categories out of the many out there. To find more content ideas you can visit websites like Answer the Public or Quora and check what questions people are asking. You can also analyze your competitor’s website to find which keywords they are trying to rank for. This may give you an insight into what content you are missing. Another route you can take is guest blogging. You can read more about guest blogging here.

The last SEO strategy we are going to talk about in this blog is link building. This is not to say that these strategies discussed are the only SEO strategies, however, these 4 can get you started.

Once you have your content ready and posted on your website, it’s time to provide your content opportunity to be seen as trustworthy. This means you need to get other people to link to your website. As discussed before, any website linking to you is seen as a vote of confidence. However, keep in mind the quality of the link also matters. A link coming from a website that already has a lot of authority in your industry will be given more weightage than a link from a blog not in your industry.

Another thing that crawlers look at is the text in the link itself. The anchor text (the blue underlined text that will take you to another page when clicked) is supposed to give a clue about what content that page will contain. Inbound links like these are the most overlooked in SEO, so make sure to keep them in mind when optimizing your pages.

The next thing you would want to keep in mind is the pace at which your website is receiving links. If your website had a ton of people linking to it 5 years ago, but barely any since then, it gives search engines a signal that your content is stale.

Similarly, if you currently only have a few links and the next day you suddenly have a hundred random, probably spammy websites linking to you, the search engines will again see this as a bad sign and reduce your rankings. The same goes for buying a few links periodically. On the surface, it might seem that you are consistently gaining links, but when the crawlers dig deeper, they will know those links are not from trustworthy sites.

Another way of gaining trust and establishing authority is through links from social media. When people share your website over and over on any social media platform, crawlers pick up on it. For the crawlers, more people sharing your website means more people find your content valuable and thus it is relevant and a good source of information. Now I say people sharing your website’s links, I don’t just mean links that are shared organically. You can also work with an influencer to direct more traffic to your website. When influencers link to your website on their account, it will also be counted as a vote by crawlers.

Don’t know where to start with influencer marketing? I have the perfect post for you. Click to understand how to build a influencer marketing strategy.

While all the link building techniques I described are mostly out of your hand, internal linking is something that you have full control over. Apart from getting other websites to link to you and you linking to other websites (yes, you linking to other websites is also important) you should link your content internally too. This involves directing your visitors t other pages or posts on your website that they might find useful.

One way of doing this is by providing a navigational menu, where you can list all the broad categories and pages on your website. Another way is to include links within your content itself. (You would have noticed this in this post too. I have linked to other posts I have written that prove in-depth information on different topics.) This type of cross-linking not only helps your visitors but also the crawlers in establishing topical relevance between various content you have.

So, this was a brief of all the techniques you can use to begin your SEO journey. To better understand how to apply each technique, I recommend reading a dedicated post for each of them.

Here are some posts that you might find useful:

  1. Editorial Calendar
  2. Common Content Writing Mistakes
  3. Social Media Marketing Techniques
  4. Internal and External Link Building
  5. Measuring SEO Performance
  6. Local SEO
  7. Technical SEO
  8. Canonical Tags

I hope you found this post useful. If you did please consider sharing. Thanks

*Vector in Featured Image Taken From Application icon vector created by macrovector – www.freepik.com

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