No matter what product or service you offer, making sure your business pops up first when your clients do a Google search is critical. After all, what’s the first thing you do when you want to buy a new car? Get reviews on an apartment building? Figure out where to have dinner?
You turn to Google.
Google has grown to become a major part of sales. In fact, a research project by Google shows that 59% of participants admitted to using the platform to study purchases they were planning to make.
If you want your potential customers to engage with your business, you need to make sure your website stands out on searches. It can become a powerful tool for engaging with your customers, and with search engine optimization (SEO), you can ensure that your website becomes visible and competitive.
The problem is, when you look for guides, even the most basic are chock full of jargon and complex ideas. After all, SEO is complicated. Even the so-called “basics” can be a pain in the neck.
We have your back.
In this guide, we’ll be tackling the nuts and bolts of search engine optimization (SEO), and make sure that you have all the fundamentals you need to make your business stand out in this competitive environment.
Any search engine has to churn through massive amounts of data in order to return a match to a search keyword.
SEO helps in two ways. First, it structures websites to be easier for programs called crawlers to understand. Crawlers go through all of the text content in a web page, and collect all the links to store in its databank. Eventually, the crawler will go through each of these links and visit them, moving from one website to the next. Through this process, it creates what is called an index of websites.
It also helps search engines by including keywords that people are most likely to search for.
Let’s face it: search engines are competitive. To rank for a hot keyword (say, “Greek restaurant Sydney”) you need to prove to Google that your content outclasses all others. The best way to do this is to show that your website has what your potential customer is looking for.
This is why a big part of SEO is fulfilling search intent and providing Google’s users with the best possible answers to their questions. Think about the last Google search you did. Say you searched “otter.” You probably wanted to know about an animal. On the other hand, if you searched “otter logo,” you were most likely looking for a graphic.
There are four basic types of search intent. Searchers may want to go to a website, know more about a product, do research, or do a purchase. Part of SEO is making sure your web page fulfills the need of your potential customer
Here are some ways to boost your rank:
The first thing you can do is check SERP reliability with tools such as Ahref's Keyword Explorer. Look out for fluctuations in the search ranking of your keywords. Low fluctuation means clear search intent for the keyword, while fluctuation can indicate changes in intent over time.
Another way is to pay attention to your content. This has four basic aspects: style, angle, type, and format. To put it more simply, make sure you’re aware of what type of media is in your content, your unique selling point, what kind of page (blog, product page, etc.) it’s in, and how the content itself is arranged.
It also helps to look at some of the top ranking pages when you look up your keywords. Keep an eye out for “people also search.” Nothing beats visiting top-ranked pages to see what makes them stand out.
Simply put, the best mindset for approaching the fundamentals of SEO is to think like Google.
How would Google best serve its users? For Google to be useful, it needs to connect searchers with the content they’re looking to see. For you, this means doing two things: creating useful content that adds value, and proving that your content has authority and reliability.
Let’s look at how Google does that in more detail.
The first main aspect of SEO that Google looks at is what is called “on-page SEO.” On-page SEO, in a nutshell, is everything you can do to optimise a web page that you own. This includes meta tags, keywords, and content.
Meta tags are features of a web page that don’t show up on the pages themselves, but are useful for crawlers. This includes page titles, meta descriptions, and the header structure (ex. H1, H2…) These are seen in the html of a web page, and are useful for Google’s crawlers.
Some of the meta tags you need to take note of include viewport, meta description, meta content type, and title.
Header structure is another big factor. First and foremost, headers make your content scannable by breaking up text and organizing your ideas. This is key. Forbes puts it best, saying scannability is one of the “most overlooked factors of content management.”
A header is also a good place to put keywords. If used in an interesting and consistent manner, they go a long way in boosting the quality of your content and keeping readers on your page. (Not to mention showing crawlers that you have the content a searcher is looking for. )
This is the part of SEO that most people are familiar with: using keywords to signify that your content is relevant—only it’s never that simple. You need to be careful about a few key aspects, like placement, synonyms, “stuffing,” and of course, which keywords people will actually use!
Keyword placement is very important when signaling your relevance to crawlers and users.
Do your best to make sure it appears in your page title, url, meta description, body text, and image alt text.
It also helps to use synonyms and related terms. Google’s crawlers are quite advanced, and can check your pages for synonyms to your keywords to decide whether your content is likely to provide a comprehensive answer to a search query.
Keep this in mind, as there’s such a thing as, “too many keywords,” and it can do a lot of damage to your ranking. Avoid keyword stuffing—the present consensus is that you’ll do fine with 1 keyword per 200 words of body text.
Free tools like Google’s Keyword Planner can tell you what keywords are popular among people in your target areas, so do your research.
We mentioned search intent earlier, and it bears repeating: the best way to rank is to create content that adds value to search users. This means content that users will read and find useful. Besides scannability, make sure your writing reads naturally, and is written with your target audience in mind.
When it comes to actually reading content, length is a key factor, and the optimal length for an article has been the subject of debate for about as long as SEO has been around.
We say that the length naturally varies depending on the implicit search intent of your keyword. You wouldn’t read a novel on “how to change a tire”, and you wouldn’t settle for a short answer when searching for the “history of philosophy”. Make sure what you’re writing about has hits the Goldilocks spot for your topic: not too long, nor too short.
Whatever the length, it pays to stay focused and comprehensive.
Another way Google determines the authority of your website is through off-page SEO. This refers to ranking factors that exist outside of your website.
You earn what the industry calls a “backlink” whenever a web page from an external domain links to a web page that you own. Google uses this as a measure of your domain authority and quality. Think of these links back to your site as a sign that other websites trust you as a source, much like in academic citations.
There are some more proactive ways to get backlinks. Guest posting, linking your website on your profile, and sending out top-tier content for publishing are just some ways you can build backlinks.
Take note: making websites just for feeding backlinks is not advisable. This can drop your ranking, and even get your website permanently blacklisted on indexes.
It’s been discovered that how people interact with your website can affect your SEO.
The amount of web traffic your site receives is said to have a positive effect on your pages’ ranks, so it’s good to pair SEO up with other marketing tactics.
Likewise, Google knows when people click on your site, hate what they see, and proceed to navigate away faster than you can say “bounce rate”.
At the end of the day SEO is complicated, and can take a lot of hard work. While the basics are easy to grasp, it’s a dynamic field. Things change quickly, and the technicals can be tough to master.