SEO (search engine optimization) refers to the process of improving the visibility and ranking of a website or web page in search engine results pages (SERPs). The higher a website ranks in the SERPs, the more likely it is to be seen by target audience.
SEO is important because it can help you gain more traffic, reach more people and grow your business. When people search for terms related to your products or services on Google, the aim is to have your website ranking first as the source of the solution they are looking for. The higher you rank, the more likely they will click the link to your website and take some actions.
How does Search Engines Rank Websites?
Search engines use a variety of factors to rank websites, including the content of the website, the quality of the website’s backlinks, and the overall user experience. Use of relevant keywords is one of the pillars of these factors. Keywords are the words and phrases that people are likely to use when searching for information on a particular topic.
Search engines themselves do not use SEO in the same way that website owners and marketers do. Instead, search engines are recipients and evaluators of SEO efforts to determine how websites are ranked based on various SEO factors. One of the way search engines rank websites is through the use of complex algorithms. While the exact algorithms used by search engines are highly guarded intellectual asset, they can be broadly categorized into several factors that influence website rankings. Some of these factors include:
- Relevance to the Search Query
- User Behavior and Engagement
- Freshness of Content
- Keywords and Keyphrases
- Content Quality
- Website Authority and Trustworthiness
- Social Signals
Search engines also use automated bots called web crawlers or spiders to scan and index the content of websites across the internet. SEO practices, such as clean website structure, proper HTML markup, and XML sitemaps, make it easier for these crawlers to navigate and understand the website’s content.
Simple SEO Checklist for Beginners
- Keyword research – Identify the relevant keywords that your target audience is using to search for information.
- On-page optimization – Optimize your website’s content and structure for your target keywords.
- Link building – Build high-quality backlinks to your website from other relevant websites.
- Technical SEO – Make sure your website is technically sound and easy for search engines to crawl and index.
Allow me take you through these four factors in detail.
Keyword research is the process of identifying and analyzing specific words and phrases, known as keywords, that people use when conducting online searches. It is a fundamental component of search engine optimization (SEO) and content creation.
The goal of keyword research is to understand what your target audience is searching for on search engines like Google. This knowledge will then help you to optimize your website’s content and structure to increase its visibility in search engine results pages (SERPs). Fortumately, the emergence of keyword research tools such as Jaaxy, Ahrefs Webmaster Tools and Google Keyword Planner have made much easier to conduct this important exercise.
Keyword research involves the following steps;
- Identifying Relevant Keywords – this entails looking for words and phrases that are relevant to your niche. These keywords should reflect the language and lingo that your target audience use when doing out the search.
- Understanding Search Intent – search intent is the reason behind these searches. The search intent is an indicator of the type of solution the visitors are looking for.
- Evaluating Keyword Demand – Keyword research tools and techniques help you assess the demand for specific keywords. You can determine how frequently people search for these keywords which in turn gives you an idea of their popularity
- Assessing Keyword Competition – This involves evaluating the keyword competition. Highly competitive keywords are challenging to rank for, especially if you’re just starting. Analyzing the competition helps you choose keywords that strike a balance between demand and competition.
- Long-Tail Keywords – You can derive variations from your primary keywords to beat competition, meet search intent and ultimately make your content more relevant. For example, use of long-tail keywords make keywords more specific phrases that typically have lower search volume and easier to rank for.
- Keywords placement – Keywords play a role in on-page SEO, including optimizing meta tags (title tags and meta descriptions), headings, and image alt text. Proper keyword placement can improve the chances of your content appearing in search results for specific queries.
- Content Promotion – Keyword research can also inform your content promotion strategy. Knowing which keywords are popular can help you target them in paid advertising, social media, and email marketing campaigns.
- Continuous Monitoring – Keyword research is not a one-time task; it’s an ongoing process. You should continuously monitor keyword trends, changes in user behavior, and the performance of your content in search results. This allows you to adapt and refine your keyword strategy over time.
Keyword research is therefore a foundational step in improving your website’s visibility in search engines and attracting organic (non-paid) traffic. By understanding what your target audience is searching for and optimizing your content accordingly, you can increase your chances of ranking well in search results and reaching the right people with your content.
On-page SEO refers to the practice of optimizing individual web pages on a website to improve their search engine rankings and attract more organic (non-paid) traffic. On-page SEO focuses on optimizing various elements and aspects of a web page to make it more relevant, accessible, and appealing to both search engines and human visitors. Key components of on-page SEO
- Keyword Optimization – relates to conducting proper keywords research, relevant keywords and their strategic placement in your content.
- Quality Content – Creating high-quality, informative, and engaging content that provides value to your audience. Additionally, ensure that the content is well-written, free of spelling and grammar errors and formatted for readability.
- Title Tags – Crafting descriptive and compelling title tags that accurately represent the content of the page. Remember to include target keywords in the title tag to signal the page’s topic to search engines.
- Meta Descriptions – Writing concise and informative meta descriptions that provide a brief summary of the page’s content
- Heading Tags (H1, H2, H3, etc.) – Your content should be structured clearly with hierarchical heading tags. Using H1 tags for the main page title and subsequent heading tags (H2, H3, etc.) to organize subtopics.
- URL Structure – Create clean and user-friendly URLs that reflect the page’s content and include relevant keywords. Avoid lengthy or cryptic URLs with unnecessary characters. Use of lugins such as Pretty Links can help in making your URL more appealing.
- Image Optimization – Poorly optimized images slow page loading. One way to optimize your images is by using descriptive filenames and adding alt text that describes the image’s content.
- Internal Linking – When you apply relevant internal links within your content, it guides users to other pages on your website.
- External Linking – When you cite and link to authoritative external websites, your website gain credibility. Ensure that the external links open in new tabs or windows to keep users on your site.
- Mobile-Friendly Design – Mobile-friendliness is a ranking factor for search engines.
- Page Speed Optimization – Optimizing page loading times by compressing images, using browser caching, and minimizing code. Faster-loading pages are preferred by both users and search engines.
- Schema Markup – When you implement schema markup (structured data), it provides additional context to search engines about the content on the page. This can enhance search results with rich snippets and other enhancements.
- Content Formatting – Using proper formatting elements like bullet points, numbered lists, sub-headings and bold/italic text to improve content readability.
- Security and HTTPS – Ensure that your website uses a secure HTTPS connection to protect user data and enhance trust. Search engines may give preference to secure sites in search results.
- User Experience (UX) – Enhance user experience by providing easy navigation, clear calls to action, and a well-structured layout as well as reducing intrusive pop-ups.
On-page SEO is thus a critical aspect of SEO strategy because it directly affects how individual web pages perform in search engine rankings. By optimizing these on-page elements, you can improve your website’s chances of ranking higher in search results and providing a better user experience to your visitors.
Links Building (Backlinks)
A backlink is a hyperlink on your website that points to another website. Backlinks are a critical aspect of SEO because they influence a website’s authority and trustworthiness in the eyes of search engines. They serve as ‘votes of confidence’ or endorsements from other websites. Search engines like Google consider backlinks as indicators of a page’s Expertise, Authority, & Trustworthiness (EAT) and relevance.
Types of Backlinks
- Natural Backlinks -These are links that are created organically when other websites find your content valuable and decide to link to it without any incentive.
- Manual Backlinks – These are acquired through deliberate efforts, such as outreach to other websites, guest posting, or participating in link-building campaigns.
- Editorial Backlinks – When a reputable website or publication links to your content because they believe it adds value to their audience, these are considered highly valuable.
- Nofollow and Dofollow Links: Nofollow links tell search engines not to pass authority from the linking page to the linked page. Dofollow links do the opposite and allow authority to flow.
Qualities of Quality Backlinks
- Relevance – Backlinks from websites in the same or related niche are more valuable.
- Authority – Links from high-authority websites carry more weight.
- Anchor Text – The text used in the hyperlink (anchor text) should be relevant to the linked page’s content.
- Natural Growth – A gradual, organic increase in backlinks is more trustworthy than sudden spikes.
How Backlinks Benefit SEO
- Improved Rankings – Websites with a strong backlink profile tend to rank higher in search results for relevant keywords.
- Increased Organic Traffic – High-quality backlinks can bring in direct traffic from the referring websites.
- Enhanced Credibility – Backlinks from reputable sources boost your website’s credibility and authority.
- Faster Indexing – Search engines often discover new content through backlinks, leading to quicker indexing.
- Create high-quality, valuable content that others naturally want to link to.
- Guest posting on relevant websites within your niche.
- Participate in industry forums and discussions, including a link to your site in your forum signature.
- Outreach to other website owners or bloggers in your niche for collaboration or guest post opportunities.
- Use tools like Google Search Console to monitor your backlinks profile.
- Regularly check for any negative backlinks to prevent negative impacts on your SEO.
Backlinks are thus essential element of SEO that can significantly impact a website’s search engine rankings and visibility. However, it’s crucial to focus on acquiring high-quality, relevant backlinks through ethical and sustainable methods to ensure long-term SEO success.
Technical SEO focuses on optimizing the technical aspects of a website to improve its search engine rankings and overall performance. It deals more with the back-end elements that impact a website’s crawlability, indexability and user experience.
- Website Speed and Performance – Optimize your images and multimedia elements and implementing browser caching and content delivery networks (CDNs) to improve website speed.
- Mobile-Friendly Design – Making the website responsive to mobile devices.
- Crawlability and Indexability – Ensuring that search engine bots (crawlers) can access and index all important pages on the website.
- Site Architecture and URL Structure – Organize your website’s content with a logical and user-friendly site structure.
- Schema Markup and Structured Data – Implement schema markup (structured data) and enhancing search results with rich snippets, featured snippets, and other visual enhancements.
- Security (HTTPS) – Obtain an SSL certificate to enable HTTPS on the website.
- Duplicate Content and Canonicalization – Identify and resolve issues related to duplicate content
- HTML Markup and Semantic Structure – Use clean and semantically structured HTML code to improve the readability and accessibility of web pages.
- XML Sitemaps – As you add new content, update and maintain the sitemap regularly.
- Website Security and Hacking Prevention – When you invest in a reputable web hosting service such as Bluehost, this aspect is well taken care of.
The position of technical SEO in laying a strong foundation for your website’s SEO efforts cannot be ignored. By optimizing the technical aspects, you can ensure that search engines can crawl and index your content effectively, leading to better search engine rankings and improved user experiences for your website visitors.
As a beginner content creator, the first step is to understand the position SEO occupies in creation of content that ranks. Content creation is like an assembly line with SEO being a central cogwheel. Keyword research for example cannot be effective without undertaking technical SEO. Its therefore important that you do not miss out on any of the four aspects in the checklist lest the potential gains of your efforts are eroded.
It’s important to note that search engine algorithms are constantly evolving, and what works today may not work tomorrow. SEO professionals and website owners must stay informed about algorithm updates and adapt their strategies accordingly.
Additionally, different search engines have unique ranking algorithms, so that you must align your content accordingly.