SEO can be a beast.
Granted you need SEO to drive traffic to your site but keeping up with all the different aspects like Google algorithm changes, building links and measuring your effort can be challenging.
That’s is why we have created this SEO for dummies post.
If you are new to search engine optimization or you need a refreshes course for your student, you will find this guide useful.
Table of Content:
Chapter 1: What is SEO
Chapter 2: The SEO Process Plan
Chapter 3: What is SEO Keyword Research?
Chapter 4: What is On-page SEO?
Chapter 5: What is Off-page SEO?
Chapter 6: The SEO website Audit
Chapter 7: SEO reporting
Let’s start with the definition of what Search Engine Optimization or SEO?
Chapter 1: What is SEO?
Search Engine Optimization or SEO as it is popularly called is known as the process of optimizing a website such that the possibility of the individual web pages have a higher possibility of it showing up in a Google search engine result page or SERP as it is popularly known.
Most times people confuse SEO for branded traffic.
If a person goes to Google and type eg VTNS Solutions and our company website comes up, this is not SEO.
But if for example, someone types SEO Company in Nigeria or one of our services link building Services, and one of the pages of our website shows up, then that is a result of SEO.
“Therefore SEO can be described as the process of increasing visibility and ranking for a specific phrase so as to drive more organic traffic to a website.”
The important keynotes here are
- Increasing visibility which a lot of people call ranking
- Organic traffic which should not be compared to other forms of traffic from other channels like social media etc
Why is SEO Important?
We know that SEO is about driving organic traffic to a website but why do we need such traffic. Here are some great statistics to show the importance of SEO to a website.
- 61% of all online users do a research online before making a purchase (Source)
- There are over 160+billion searches conducted on Google monthly (Source)
- 93% of all online purchase begin with a Google Search (Source)
- 70% of users will click on the organic listing of a SERP (Source)
- 75% of users never stroll past the first page of a SERP (Source)
- SEO leads gets 14.6% more close rate than outbound calls (Source)
For any business to thrive online, it has to find a way to drive more targeted organic traffic to their website.
Important SEO Glossary:
To have a good grasp of SEO, it is important that we understand most of the terms you are likely to encounter as we progress in this guide.
This is not an exhaustive list. You can find some excellent glossary terms here but this few terminology will help you get started.
Organic traffic – Organic traffic refers to the means of driving visitors to your website through organic means which usually, in this case, is referred to as SEO or Search Engine Optimization
Non-organic traffic – Non-organic traffic is visitors that arrive at your website through other means of online marketing activities like social media, email marketing activities etc
Keywords – Keywords are phrases that or a group of words people use when they use search engines like Google to research information online
Keyword Research – Keyword Research refers to a series of process carried out to identify search phrases called Keywords which people use when they are researching topics online using search engines like Google, Bing etc
Backlinks – Backlinks are references to another webpage from any other web page
Link building – Link Building is the process of actively seeking means to earn backlinks
Dofollow link – This is backlinks that pass or give authority or what is known as link juice
NoFollow link – This is backlinks that do not pass authority or what is known as link juice
SERP – This is the abbreviation for a search engine result page which is the page a user’s sees when they search for information online
Google ranking factor – A series of factors that are believed to be used by Google when they consider how to rank web pages on their SERP
Chapter 2: The SEO Process Plan
When people begin to think of search optimization, they struggle a lot.
They struggle not because they don’t know what they are doing but simply because they don’t have a workable plan.
SEO is not something you just jump into. You must understand how each part works together to produce the result.
This strategy is what we call the SEO process plan.
For each SEO project, there are 4 basic stage
- SEO Audit to know which part of your site needs attention.
- Keyword Research to know the right term to rank for
- On page Optimization – this is when you actually make your website search engine friendly. People usually call it technical SEO
- Content optimization: This is when you write SEO content for your website.
- Link building – this stage is when you begin to build links either by earning them or getting them.
The final process is repeating the stages all over again but this time with a different mindset.
The rest of this book is going to be based on the four process listed above. We will take a look at each of the process and look at the activities that are involved when each phase is been implemented.
Chapter 3: What is SEO Keyword Research?
Now that we have understood what SEO is all about, let us get into a very fundamental part of an SEO project – identifying the keyword phrase to use in your campaign.
Most searches online begin with a set of phrases.
A typical searcher who is seeking for answers online whether looking for just information or seeking to actually make a transaction online, that is bought, will begin their search with a set of what is referred to as keyword.
It is important that we understand how to so these research very well.
Not all keyword phrases are the same. Some are purely transactional, otherwise are information.
It is essential that you differentiate between these three types of keyword i.e. choosing the right one for the different pages on your website So that you are able to
- Get people who are actually ready to buy to make the transaction on your site
- Get people who are in the early phase of the purchase funnel (top of funnel customers) to get to see your website so you can now further nurture them and eventually convert them.
Most marketers make the mistake of focusing on just one segment of the customer but to be able to see the result, you have to do focus on both sides of the divide.
Ready to learn how to conduct these keyword research?
- Write down the most important phrases to your business. One or two phrase is okay.
- Go to Google and type it in. List the website ranking for these phrases. We will come back to this information later
- Look at the bottom of Google Search Engine result page. Add relevant phrase you find there to your initial list
- Prune down these list to a maximum of 4
- Go to your favourite keyword research tool. For this exercise, we will be using Google keyword planner.
- Input your phrases.
- Click get ideas.
- Download your files
- Go back to the result in 2 above. Plug each of these competitors into SEMrush.
- Download the keyword using the keyword analysis tool.
Now you should have a massive list of keywords to play around with.
The next step is crucially as important as the steps you took to create your list.
Now go through the keywords.
- You want to select keywords with high volume, high commercial value and use them on your home pages and services page. Note here that volume is relative. Depending on your niche, your criteria for volume will be different from people with a lot of volume in their niche.
- The second set of keywords you want to pull out are keywords with low commercial values but high volume. These sets of keywords are going to be used as building blocks for the blog’s content. If you carefully look at these sets of keywords, you will find that it contains phrases that match top of mind marketing content. The purpose is to drive people who are still researching solutions to their problem and are still in the early stage of the customer journey visit your site.
By a creative combination of different offers and great landing pages, you can get them to subscribe to your newsletter or use re-targeting to drive them back to relevant pages on your website that you want them to visit.
Now that you have these set of keywords, it is time to build out the layout of your site using information architecture to match relevant pages to the best keywords.
Chapter 4: What is On page SEO?
Understanding how keywords work and finding them is usually a very interesting process for most people.
I see this every time I teach or share the process above with newbies to SEO at our SEO Training Academy.
But having a huge list of keywords without knowing how to optimize them for your website is just a wasted effort.
If you remember, the reasons we are doing Search Engine Optimization in even the first place is to identify series of phrase we want our website to show up for so we can drive more organic traffic to our website in the first place.
This means we really have to identify the right pages on our website and then make the web page we have identified right for that keyword phrase.
That is why in these sections, I will be sharing with you how to optimize a particular web page on your site for a target keyword.
If you like, you can get this on-page SEO Checklist so you have it handy.
How to optimize A website for your target keyword.
Optimizing a keyword is usually what most people call technical SEO. When conducting technical SEO, you want to ensure that your page meets the minimum Google requirement for a website.
You need to understand that a full technical SEO goes beyond just optimizing a webpage for a keyword but getting these on-page issues right is at best, the minimum thing to do.
So let’s assume you have identified a particular keyword e.g dog training collar and you want to optimize your web page for it.
What are the things you should look for and where should you put those keywords on any particular web page on your site?
Where to Place Your Target Keywords on a Web Page
For you to be able to complete this chapter, you will need a good SEO plugin for your website if you are using a Content Management System (CMS) like WordPress. If your site is hand coded ie bare PHP or simple HTML, then I assume you should know how to implement the suggestions below.
This is a guide on how to add an SEO plugin to your site.
Here are places you should place your target keyword on your website.
- Title tag – Perhaps the most important point on your website, your keyword must appear in the title of your page.
The title tag is the first place a search robot will look at to understand the content of your site so you want to make sure you give them this clue as early as possible.
There are different formats for writing the title tag of your page.
For the home page, use the following format
Brand name/keyword phrase
For other pages, use the format
Primary keyword/brand name
So using our example, if we were optimizing our home page, we will have something like
My brand name / Dog training collar
While if it was other pages like a service page, it will be
Dog training collar/brand name
If it was a landing page or a page where you expected them to convert, you will
Buy dog training collar/brand name
For most people, the title tag is just enough. But you want to give your web page a fighting chance, so we are going to use the same phrase and optimize the remaining sections on the web page
- 2. Meta description- The second place you need your keyword phrase is the Meta description of your website.
The Meta description is the part a web user sees when they search for information online.
A Meta description is important because they prepare a searchers mind on what they expect to see or the value they will get when they visit the page.
That is why we believe that the Meta description is as important as the title tag.
If you write a better Meta description for your page, searches are going to be curious and what to see what you have to offer.
When searches start clicking on your website and they don’t bounce, Google is going to reward you by pushing your website high up on the SERP.
This is why it makes a whole lot of sense to write a good Meta description.
So how do you write a good Meta description for your website?
- Take a look at the page. What is the page all about?
- What is unique about the content or the offer on the page?
Now write a great sentence, communicating why your page should be a preferred destination for the searcher.
Once you have done this, now add your target keyword phrase to the statement.
The rule of thumb here is not to force anything in but to make sure that together with the statement, your keyword reinforces the value anyone will get out of the page if they visit it.
Now that we have talked about how the two pivotal point on your page, let’s look at other key considerations for your keyword.
- H1 tag- The H1 tag or header tag is a tag on your site that re-enforces what the page is all about. Simply put your target keyword here.
- H2- H6 – H2 – H6 tag are not as important as H1 tag but you want to make sure that you use all the important places on your site to tell Google how relevant your page is for a keyword.
The logic here, therefore, is to use variations of your target keyword in the H2- 6 tag.
So for our example, I can have Affordable Dog Training Collar as my h2 and move down the chain
- Image Name– We live in a visual world. Image add more context to your page just like videos so you want to make sure that every page on your site has at least one image. Name the image with your target keyword for the page
- Image alt tag – Spiders can’t read images so having an image on your site is for your human visitors.
How best then can we tell spiders what the image on our site is? By using the image alt tag.
So go ahead and add your title tag or a variation of it to your image alt tag.
- Content – Now to the meat of a website. You see, people go online majorly to consume content. This means that each page on your site must have an appropriate Content for it.
To make your site optimized, your page must have content that is at least 300- 500 words long. And this rule is flexible. For a most blog post, the minimum length of content should be 1,200 but when dealing with product pages, you want to strive for a balance.
At this point, don’t over think keyword density which refers to the number of times a particular keyword appears on your page.
Rather ask yourself these questions
- Did I write these for humans? This means is the content meaningful and logical?
- Have I written enough about this topic to make anyone reading it take the desired action I want them to take on these pages?
- Is this page’s content useful?
If you can answer yes to these questions, I assure you, you have written content that human and search engines will love and they will reward you for it.
- Web page URL– Finally the last checklist on these points. Do the pages’ uniform resource locator or otherwise called URL match the keyword. Eg a URL for my page on dog training collar will be dog-training-collar
Once you have done the On-page Optimization for your website, you have fulfilled one of the many challenges of implementing SEO on a site.
Unfortunately, one of the core challenges with SEO is that there are different moving parts. If you look at our SEO process, there are about 4 core SEO process that we identified. Therefore implementing on-page elements on your website is not enough to guarantee to rank.
On-page SEO element is good only because it tells search engines what your website is all about but it does not make the web page rank position 1 which is the holy grail of SEO.
Therefore before we look at another technical aspect of SEO, we will take look at what people call Off-page SEO or link building.
Chapter 5: What is Off-page SEO?
Off-page SEO is primarily the process of promoting your website without having to work physically on the website.
This activity is what people refer to as link building.
So let’s define link building!
Link building is the process of conducting manual activities to get links to a website.
The internet world live on links and links are how people get to know a web page exists or to visit a page. Now when a site exists online, it has the potential to automatically generate links if:
- You doing something so spectacular that everyone is talking about it
- You the only one existing in your space
- The industry you operating is closed
- You have existed so long although this sometimes does not even guarantee links
- You manually doing some activities to get links
So if you want to get links, you could simply pay attention to my first 4 points. The trouble with this approach is that there is not any guarantee that the links will come.
So if you want to get the ranking you want on time so that your website can rank high on Google, you want to be building links.
Unfortunately, building links comes with its own set of rules and there is a different way you can do this.
You can go the white hat method, the grey hat or simply do black hat.
Let’s define some of these terminologies so you have a good understanding of what we are talking about.
White-hat link building Method- All the supposed right way of building links which will be taught in this guide
Grey hat link building Method – A middle muddy water mid-point way between white hat and blackhat
Blackhat link building Method – All the wrong way of building links eg buying links, manipulating links etc
Our advice. Do white hat link building. It is less time consuming and you do not have to worry about Google’s algorithms
The Google Ranking Factor:
Before we discuss actual techniques that you can use to build links to your site, it is important to discuss how search engines actually rank a website.
No one for sure knows which combination of factors that come to play when search engines need to rank a website for particular keywords.
But what is known is that search engines like Google use a combination of signals called Google ranking factors.
The list of these signals is exhaustive. Over 200 signals are used but we strongly believe at VTNS Solutions that is signals are just metrics that are interwoven based on scenarios and case based.
This is why we are the option that no one can predict the actual ranking signals that is been used.
Backlinko did a study and listed these signals as shown in the Infographic below.
What we are sure about is that three signals are always constant. These signals combine with other ones determines the actual site that ranks for particular keywords at any given point in time.
The three core ranking signals we believe are
Content, backlinks and on-page factors.
Content – How relevant is the content on your site to the searcher’s needs. This some people call rank brain.
On-page element- Google search engines are good at figuring out what content exists on a site but won’t it be better to make it easier for them by properly optimizing your page for your target keyword.
Backlinks– Links are votes when it comes to online issues and the more the quality and quantity of links that point to your website, the higher your ranking.
Based on these, let’s look at some link building techniques that can earn you some backlinks to your site.
- Guest posting – guest posting is the process of writing content and publishing it on other people’s website. Identify sites that are related to what you do but not direct competitor to you. Eg if you run a real estate website, you might want to go to Google and search for “business websites”, “business blogs” or “real estate blogs”. Now study the site you find. Identify what they write about and see how you can contribute to writing for them.
- Writing guides on your own website – Creating spectacular content that people in your industry find interesting and useful. Eg this guide is an attempt at doing exactly what I preach. Instead of having 100 short blog post on SEO on my site, I have decided to create just one big spectacular blog post on the same subject matter. I am sure you have found it interesting so far.
- Infographics – Presenting useful information in a graphical form. Look at topics in your industry and see how you can present it in a graphic form.
- Survey/ Data – conducting a survey that is relevant and useful to your community. Conduct surveys eg “link building survey 2016” and make it a regular habit for your industry.
- Broken links- My favourite. Fixing links on your site and other people’s site.
- Mention – If you big enough, finding people who have talked about you and convincing them to add a link to their mention of your brand on their site.
- Directory –Getting listed in relevant directories. Every industry has them. You just have to make sure the directory is relevant and useful. A simple Google search for “local area directories” replacing the local area with your location can yield meaningful directories you can submit your website to.
- Expired domains – Business come and go online and also their identity which is their domain name. Use sites like expireddomain.net to find such name and register them. Once you do that, redirect the domain name to your own domain.
- Web 2.0 – Setting up web 2.0 sites eg having a WordPress site or a blogspot site for your brand and using it to send links to your main site. The problem with this approach is that most people can abuse it because it is so easy to do.
- Resource link building – An offshoot of broken link building. Either creating a resource guide and reaching out to people listed and telling them about the resource guide or looking for resource guide online and seeking inclusion.
These top 10 link building technique will set you on the way to build links to your site that has the potential to push your website further to the top of Google. Remember, a good backlinks should not be “manipulative” and must be able to get you two things
- Increase in ranking
- Increase in referral traffic
Now that you understand the core pillars of SEO, it is time to look into some core technical aspect of an SEO project.
Optimizing the on page element of every single page on your sire us good. In fact there is nothing much better that you can do for your site if that is not done.
But optimizing it is only scratching the surface. There are some other things you should be paying attention to when looking at technical SEO of a site and we will talk about it in the next section
Chapter 6: The SEO website Audit
An SEO audit specifically is designed to look at various aspect of an SEO ecosystem with an aim to fixing issues that might be preventing Google from crawling, indexing and presenting the site when needed.
That is why it is important that an audit takes a look at these three process.
Besides a full SEO audit which might be done at the beginning of an SEO process, you may also want to do a link audit to identify gaps in your link building campaign and a content audit to identify gaps in your content campaign.
How to conduct A Full SEO Audit
So you need to conduct a full SEO audit. Here is a step by step guide to conducting your SEO Audit step
- Crawl your site – Using a tool like screaming frog, you should crawl all the pages on your site. What you are looking for here are web pages that do not fully meet the technical SEO requirement set in our on-page section and then improve them by properly optimizing them
- Check that all important pages and category on your site are accessible and do not have the no-index tag on them
- Use Google analytics to check for pages with high bounce rate and find ways reduce the bounce rate. You can do this by making the content more useful.
- Use Google search console to ensure that duplicate on-page elements are fixed. Login to Google search console and under the HTML improvement, look for pages with duplicate title tags, meta description and fix it.
- Validate your sitemap. Ensure it is located in the right directory and contains important pages of your website. Generate a simple sitemap using a sitemap plugin or online www.xml-sitemap.com . Make sure you upload it to the root of your site and submit it in your Google Search Console
- Use robots.txt file intelligently. Ensure no page that should be accessible is blocked. Most CMS like WordPress automatically generate a sitemap for you.
- Make sure you use the right www version of your site in your Google search console and that it is appropriate to the version currently having more backlinks on your site.
Remember to continuously conduct an audit every 6months so that nothing slips under your radar.
If you have carefully implemented the recommendations above, you should have a website that is well optimized and have a chance of ranking for your target keywords.
What now remains is how to report and monitor your SEO effort so you can see how well your site is performing.
Chapter 7: SEO reporting
Knowing what to report is essential but knowing what to measure is the key to a proper reporting. As marketers, we are usually over aptly concerned with traffic and ranking metrics but if your traffic and ranking are not converting into desires business objectives, then you need to fix your marketing.
Every website has a goal or what we refer to as business objective and that is what the CEO is concerned about. They want to know how your activity is helping them bring more money to the table
No matter what type of site you have, your goal will either be
- Direct sales on your website eg ecommerce
- Lead gen – collecting leads from your website contact form, then sending it to the sales team eg B2B
- Page views eg publishing sites.
Now that we have identified the business objective, we will report the following in our SEO Report.
- Goals – How many people from your organic channels are actually meeting the business objective
- Traffic from organic sources- How much traffic is coming from your organic channels
- Ranking position of important keywords – Where are you ranking for your core keyword phrases
- Referrals – How much traffic are you getting from your other SEO activities eg link building activities
There are different SEO reporting tool but to get started, a simple Google search console and Google analytics can give you this sample report.
SEO can be a beat but once you understand how it all works especially the moving parts, you are on your way to getting more traffic, ranking and conversion on your website. Getting started with SEO is not difficult. All you need do is understand all the moving part and you are on your way to better traffic, ranking and conversion.