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SEO basics: a beginner’s guide to Search Engine Optimisation

By . Posted 28 January 2021

Last modified on 19 March 2021 at 5:10 pm

If you’ve just started your journey into learning about Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), or maybe you’re after a little refresher on some of the basics – we’re glad you’re here.

We’re going to summarise some of the most important elements of SEO to give you a basic understanding to build on, as well as recommending a few places you can continue to learn SEO for free.

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What is SEO?

Being the best at answering a user’s question (or need) is at the heart of SEO.

What is SEO GifIt’s about understanding the wants and needs of your audience and creating the very best content (and website) so they’ll want to come back for more. There’s a lot of complexity sitting underneath that sweeping statement, but always try to remember – it’s about the user.

So, let’s get specific: SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation, which is the practice of enhancing a website and its content to ultimately increase traffic to that website. Core to that is how well you “rank” (where you show-up) on organic search engines like Google, Bing, and DuckDuckGo, to name a few.

It’s a discipline that deals in the granular detail, so it can be very complex. But as you’re likely just beginning to learn SEO, let’s start with the most common tactics; like creating high-quality and relevant content, optimising it around specific search queries (or “keywords”) and securing backlinks from high-ranking websites (we’ll cover backlinks next time).

Now you know what it is, let’s get to some of the nitty-gritty…

What is “Domain Authority”, “Domain Rating” etc.?

SEMrush Domain Rating of BBC - example of what is domain authority

This is your “ranking power”: the likelihood a website is to rank on search engine results pages (SERPs). It’s scored from low to high, usually from 0-100. The BBC is an example (above) of a high authority website, which is 89 right now (a real powerhouse).

SEO solutions like Moz, SEMrush, and Ahrefs all have their own names for it, but Moz’s “DA” is one of the most widely known.

“Authority” is a very popular metric that people monitor to gauge success, and hopefully you’ll see yours keep on increasing. But there are other important things to monitor too, here’s just a few:

  • Clicks and impressions on Google Search Console
  • Volume and share of traffic (organic search) in Google Analytics
  • Keyword and SERP position performance – use a tool like SEMrush, Moz or Ahrefs to keep track of your ranking positions
  • Content performance – regularly audit your content and keep on improving. High bounce rate? Low amount of time on a page? Dig deeper and figure out how you can constantly make it better.

 

The three fundamentals of SEO

There’s a lot of great advice and information on SEO out there, and in some cases, there’s also conflicting advice which can be confusing. However, there are three categories or “pillars” all that complexity can be bucketed into – technical, on-site and off-site:

3 pillars of SEO

 

  1. Technical

This is “under the hood” of your website. It includes optimising how your website is built and improving its performance through a variety of ways. Here’s a few examples of some of the most common elements of technical SEO:

  • Page speed optimisation – how fast is your website for desktop and mobile users? Speed means money, especially for e-commerce websites!
  • International targeting – If your target audience is in multiple countries, then ensuring search engines understand that and rank the right content for the right country/language
  • Crawlability – can search engines easily access and crawl your website? Do you have a good XML sitemap?
  • Navigation – How users and search engines can navigate your website (think menus, breadcrumbs and information architecture)
  • Being “Mobile-friendly

There’s a lot, so we’ll leave this for the more advanced SEO folk (for now).

 

  1. On-site (or on-page)

This is about the content on your website and ensuring it’s the best it can be for your audience (see E-A-T below). Writing your content with SEO in mind is vital, so make sure your keywords are incorporated where it’s relevant – you can have brilliant content, but it’s of no use if no-one can find it!

It needs to be laid out so both users and search engines can quickly grasp what it’s all about, so structure the page correctly (think heading tags i.e. H1 > H2 > H3 etc., which you can find more info on further down in this article).

It’s also important to identify other pages within your website that could also be relevant, and link to them within the text (this is “internal linking”). This is especially useful when you have a highly successful page, and you want to improve the “ranking power” of an under-performing page. But, as we said before, the user is king here. So make sure any links you add are relevant and will provide value for your audience (making it clear in the text you link from).

 

  1. Off-site (or off-page)

These are things that aren’t on your website but directly influence your performance on search. Examples of this are other websites that link to you (also known as backlinks or external links). This is where link building comes into play. It’s the process of building quality relationships with higher-performing websites and influencers, and trying to get a relevant link back to your website (or leveraging Digital PR for the best results!). By gaining a link from a higher-performing website, they’re effectively vouching for you, and in doing so, they pass on a bit of their power to you – helping boost your Authority and performance.

What is E-A-T (EAT), and why is it important for SEO?

In 2013, Google published the ‘Search Quality Guidelines’ document – a 168-page guide that gave SEO’s an insight into what Google sees as a high-quality, trusted site (and would therefore value and rank highly). EAT is referenced throughout this document more than 130 times, so understanding EAT and its uses is vital for determining your SEO and content strategy.

 

What does EAT stand for?

EAT stands for Expertise, Authority and Trust:

Expertise

To have a high level of knowledge or skill in a particular field. It’s evaluated primarily at content-level, not at the website or even organisational level. Google is looking for content created by a subject matter expert.

Authority

It’s all about reputation, particularly among other experts and influencers in the industry. Quite simply, when others see an individual or website as the go-to source of information about a topic, that’s authority. This is where link building can help.

Trust

The legitimacy, transparency, and accuracy of the website and its content. Raters look for many things to evaluate trustworthiness, such as whether the website states who is responsible for published content. Being transparent pays.

Although it won’t be right for all websites, building an SEO-led content strategy based on EAT principles is a great approach and will pay dividends for most businesses.

Keyword research and intent: the backbone of successful SEO…

So, we’ve talked about the key things to consider and how EAT is important, but the backbone of this needs to be your keywords, and importantly, the “intent” for them.

What is search intent for SEO [infographic]“Intent” is all about purpose. Ask yourself “what is the user wanting to achieve when they search for this?”. Search intent is a very real thing, which can be categorised into a few categories:

  • Informational

This is when they’re looking for information about something, like advice, guides or news. People often add “how to”, “where”, “why”, “what is” and other questions to their queries to find the best answer for them.

  • Transactional

When a user wants to achieve an action, like buying or ordering something. For example, typical transactional keywords could include “buy”, “cheap”, “order”.

  • Navigational

This is when a user knows exactly what they want, it could be a brand name or even something like “Facebook login”

Thorough keyword research is a vital aspect of any SEO-led content strategy because it allows you to uncover the terms, phrases, questions and answers that are important to your users or customers – and their intent, allowing you to unlock them with your very best content.

A key consideration here is “search volume”. That’s the number of times a query/keyword is searched for each month. You may be tempted to go for something with a huge amount of searches, but these are often the most competitive and difficult searches to get a slice of the action. Try to focus your efforts on “long tail” queries (3+ words), anything under that is “short tail” (1-2 words) and usually has that larger search volume (because it could cover such a broad range of sub-topics). Mix in your users intent with your long-tail keywords and you’re off to a great start!

SEO takes constant care and monitoring and that includes keyword research. It’s essential because important keywords and phrases will inevitably change. Stay on top of what is changing and identify new opportunities or competitor gaps that may appear.

Similarly, your audience grows and evolves too, as does the way we, as audiences, use search engines.  Search engines evolve too, and algorithms get more advanced to better understand content to match users’ intent (we’ll cover algorithms another time).

There’s a variety of ways to do your keyword research, but we’d definitely recommend some type of SEO software (Moz is a good starting option for relatively low cost). They also have some great guides on how to do keyword research too!

Quick ways to optimise your website content today

Content consolidation

If two or more pages on your website have similar content, consider combining the best performing elements or both into one lengthier, more detailed page. As we’ve explained, search engines (and users) love quality content, so this is a quick win!

New content

This is an opportunity to use your lovely keywords research and SEO strategy to create new pieces of content that you know will resonate with your audience.

Content pruning

Sometimes your website needs some well-thought-out TLC. By pruning thin or low performing content, you’re effectively culling the weak spots from your site and making it stronger. Just don’t forget those redirects!

Once you’ve audited your content and either kept, consolidated or removed content – start thinking about how you can further tweak the pages. Incorporate your keywords and add those relevant internal links, but then think about the structure of the page. Here’s a couple more considerations:

Heading tags

Does each page have a clear title (H1), with clear sub-categories (H2’s and H3’s). Think of them as the H1 being the title of a book, with H2’s being your chapters.

Heading tags explained (SEO)

H1’s and H2’s etc are all “Heading tags”. Your CMS (Content Management System) page editor will usually have an option to apply these in your text.

Meta titles and descriptions

When you look at a search engine result page, you’ll see each result has a title and a bit of blurb underneath – your CMS should have this in a specific section (if you use WordPress, check out the plugin called Yoast, it’ll add what you need and then some). Incorporate your keywords (naturally) into both of these, but also remember that this is your unique opportunity to tell the world why your content is worthy of a click-through!

SEMrush have a great infographic that dissects what a good page (for SEO) looks like:

How to create SEO-friendly content infographic by SEMrush
SEMrush created this great infographic on how to create SEO-friendly content

 

Where can I learn about SEO for free?

Fortunately for eager learners, there are tonnes of useful resources to help learn more about SEO. One of our favourites for SEO beginners is Moz and it’s ‘Whiteboard Friday’s, which offers easy and digestible tips for those wanting to improve their understanding.

Similarly, SEMrush offers lots of tips on improving SEO knowledge and contains simple “how-to” guides and infographics, ensuring that you can become a Google guru in no time. Other notable resources include the Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress websites and The Ahrefs Blog, which offers more detailed tutorials.

Check out Twitter too, it has a large SEO community that shares amazing content every day, plus they always welcome newcomers – take a look at #SEO and start following (we’re obviously going to suggest our very own @lauraherself too!).