The SEO Basics: What You Need To Know
A short guide to getting started with Search Engine Optimisation
If you’re a website owner, or small business owner, you’ve no doubt heard about SEO (Search Engine Optimisation).
When you hear those three little letters (yet another acronym!), do you act like an emu and stick your head in the sand? Hoping that by ignoring it, it will all just magically disappear or sort itself out?
The truth is, you can’t afford to ignore it.
If you take care of the SEO basics, you’ll be doing a whole heap more than many other websites manage.
And really, why wouldn’t you want to do at least the bare minimum? It’s not actually that hard. So why hamstring your website (and your business) by not doing it?
SO, WHAT IS SEO?
Search Engine Optimisation: The process of optimising your website pages so that the likes of Google know what topic each page covers (and what general area your website relates to).
There are two key parts that matter for SEO:
- On-page: page titles, meta descriptions*, content, speed, code.
- Off-page: backlinks, social mentions, online presence.
*Meta descriptions don’t impact SEO directly, but they do matter. Keywords in your meta description are bolded in search results, so it helps to draw attention to your page.
I’m going to focus on some of the on-page areas in this post.
Why you should care about SEO
When Google knows what your page is about, it can serve it up in search results.
So you can see, letting the search engines know what each page on your site is about is pretty critical if you want people to find your site organically.
THE SEO BASICS: START WITH YOUR KEYWORD
Keywords are how you let search engines know what your page is about. When we say ‘SEO’ – this is a big part of what we mean: Optimising your pages for targeted keywords.
You should target one keyword per page.
Note: When we say “keyword” we generally referring to at least two words. E.g. website copywriting, rather than copywriting. So for the sake of simplicity, think of it as a keyword phrase.
Your keyword could be ‘shoes’, but you’d be better off with something more specific – e.g. ‘ladies purple running sneakers’. If you’re Nike, you might stand a chance of ranking for ‘shoes’. But if you’re a little guy, the more specific (i.e. ‘long-tail’) your keyword is – the better your chance of ranking for it.
Please, please, please remember: Use your keyword phrase only as much as is natural – don’t stuff it in whenever you can. You can use synonyms and related keywords to help break it up.
Google uses something called semantic search. Which means it can put searches into context. This is ideal for you because it means you can use synonyms and related words to help you rank for your targeted keyword.
That’s why you don’t have to go overboard stuffing in your exact keyword phrase – you can use variations, and Google will understand it relates to the same thing.
E.g. ‘ladies joggers’ ‘ladies running shoes’ ‘women’s sneakers’, ‘running sneakers for women’, and so on.
How do you choose your keyword?
I recommend you check out this excellent post which outlines a neat process for keyword research. (I love it so much I’ve adopted it as my new method!)
USING YOUR KEYWORD
Rule of thumb:
Use your keyword phrase once in your title tag, headline, and meta description.
And 2-3 times in your content (just an approximation – varies depending on length of your content)
The point is to indicate to Google what topic your page covers. You’ll likely do this quite naturally simply by writing about the topic. You do not need to stuff in your exact keyword phrase all over the page. If you think you’re in danger of overdoing it, swap your keyword for a synonym or related keyword.
Page title tag
Length: up 70 characters (600px). The length is determined by pixels, so depending on which letters you have in your tag you may get a little less than 70 characters.
You can test this with Moz’s Title Tag Tool
(Note that the tool still uses the old character length – I imagine Moz will update it soon.)
You can also check how your title tag displays if you use an SEO plugin (like Yoast SEO – see below).
Meta description tag
Length: up to 160 characters.
The meta description doesn’t count for SEO, but the keyword will be highlighted in search results so it helps.The meta description’s purpose is to describe what the page is about in an engaging way. Its job is to get people to click on your page.
Again, you can check the appearance of your meta description if you use a plugin like Yoast SEO.
H1 and H2 tags
Use your keyword in your H1 heading.
You can use your keyword in your H2 sub-headings – sparingly. To mix it up (and avoid keyword stuffing) use synonyms and related keywords in your H2, H3, etc. sub-headings.
Include your keyword in the page URL. Try to put it as close to the front of the URL as possible.
Image title & alt text
Include your keyword in the alt image tag and your keyword or synonyms in the file name and image title.
Google primarily uses the alt image tag to determine what the image is about. It’s also the text that appears on screen when images are blocked.
Save your image file names with something meaningful and relevant, rather than for example “IMG0251.jpg”. Use a hyphen (not underscore) between words because it signifies a different word. E.g. banana-caramel-pie.jpg
The title provides additional info for your site visitors.
Anchor text for links
Include internal links on each page of your site.
Use meaningful and relevant anchor text for your links. E.g. instead of ‘click here’ say ‘more handcrafted timber dining tables here’. Google looks at the anchor text on links to further determine relevance on a particular topic.
Aim for three internal links per page (but only if you can make it work naturally). This not only helps to drive customers further into your website but also helps the search engines crawl your site.
INSTALL AN SEO PLUGIN
Installing a plugin to help you with optimisation is going to make your life so much easier.
I recommend Yoast SEO. There’s a free and premium version. I use the free version because it covers everything you need for a small site.
TAKING CARE OF THE SEO BASICS
Once you get a handle on the basics of search engine optimisation, it’ll become second nature to do all of the above tasks whenever you create a new page or blog post.
When writing your web pages, go ahead and write the content for each page first without worrying about your keyword. Once you’ve got a draft you’re happy with, then go back through your text and review how often you naturally used your keyword. AND identify any other opportunities to add it in (without going overboard).
Remember, you want to let Google know what your web pages are about. But you also want people to stay on the pages and read them. So write for your readers first, and Google second. That’ll work out just fine for you. Promise.
(And Google frowns on keyword stuffing. So just don’t, ‘kay?!)