You want your website to rank high on Google, and you’ve heard search engine optimization (SEO) is the key to making that happen. Yet, as a beginner with limited tech experience, SEO seems a bit daunting, and you’re not sure where to start. No worries; this quick guide offers top SEO tips that will give you the jump-start you need.
What Is SEO?
Your website’s success relies heavily on people actually finding your site. That’s why you want your site optimized for search. SEO gives you the very best chance that search engines will find your site when people search online for related content.
You may have heard that you need more organic traffic. Traffic gained from unpaid searches (as opposed to paid ads) is called organic traffic. SEO is all about boosting organic traffic.
Def Organic Traffic: Visitors that come to your site as a result of unpaid (i.e., organic) search results.
I’m sure you probably already know that Google is the king of all search engines. In fact, according to 99Firms.com, globally, Google accounts for 76% and 86% of desktop and mobile search traffic, respectively. Given Google’s dominance, we’re going to focus on how to optimize your website for Google search. However, the principles discussed also apply to other search engines like Bing, Yahoo, or Baidu.
Do Your Goals Align with Google’s?
You want people to find you on Google. Google has other goals that may or may not align with yours.
When someone types a word or phrase in the Google search bar, Google’s goal is to deliver the most relevant content for that user. Google also wants to only recommend content from expert, authoritative, trustworthy (EAT) sources.
The more confidence Google has that your content is the BEST answer to a user’s search, the better your chances for being ranked high on Google’s Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).
Eye-Opening Fact: 90.63% of Pages Get No Organic Search Traffic from Google
According to a study of over a billion website pages, ahrefs found that 90. 63% of pages get no organic search traffic from Google. You can keep this from happening to your site by mastering just the basics of SEO.
The Traffic-Boosting Power of Ranking High on SERPs
Ranking high on Google can be a make-or-break proposition in terms of generating organic traffic for your website. The first position on Google earns 31.7% of all clicks. First page results (position 1 through 10) get more than 99% of all clicks. This means that fewer than 1% ever scroll over to page two of Google SERPs.
Great SEO Starts With High-Quality Content
Google doesn’t want to share junk content with its customers, so your first step to optimizing your site for search is to create excellent content that delivers the answers and solutions people are searching for. Give the people what they want!
You simply can’t effectively optimize a site that’s packed with sub-par content. To rank high in search engines, you must develop content that satisfies search intent — in other words, give visitors what they came to your site hoping to see.
When developing content for your website, think like your ideal prospect is thinking.
- Are they looking for answers to a question? Provide an undeniably great answer to that question.
- Are they hoping to solve a problem? Offer a solution that saves time, money, and headaches.
- Are they in the process of buying something and want to compare options? Make sure you have what they want to purchase and showcase the product’s features and top selling points. Also, make it easy for your site visitors to buy from you.
Google can tell whether your site visitors are satisfied with your website by how long they stick around on your site. Google also looks at whether visitors leave and go on to other sites to find answers to their original search query. When searchers quickly move on to another site, that’s called pogo-sticking, and it’s a sure sign you are not delivering what website visitors want.
High-Quality Content Demonstrates Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T)
There are several ways that Google evaluates your website’s quality and hence decides whether your site is rank-worthy. One way Google judges your content is known as Google E-A-T, which is short for expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness.
SearchEngineJournal.com offers five ways to improve your E-A-T for Google:
- Link to authoritative sources and include clear source citations and credits.
- Create content that’s different from what already exists; be unique.
- Audit and update your content regularly.
- Demonstrate business transparency.
- Moderate user-generated content; don’t let your site become polluted with spam or inappropriate user content.
In addition to these tips, I have a few more:
- Increase the number of high domain authority (DA) sites linking to your website (these are called backlinks). When quality sites link to you, it builds your credibility in Google’s eyes.
- Logically organize your site content, so it makes sense to users and Google.
- Add testimonials, reviews, certifications, and other authority-building content to your website.
- Include information that competitors don’t include.
- Eliminate low-quality content on your website (most websites have some of this, some have lots!).
- Provide a great user experience in every way possible.
Don’t Write for Search Engines; Write for Humans
The days when you could just add a bunch of relevant keywords to your online content and rank high on Google are long gone. Google can tell when content is written for humans instead of search engines. If you’re doing backflips to shove keywords into your content in a way that doesn’t sound natural to the reader, you have little to no chance of ever ranking high on Google SERPs. [Learn more about Google’s Natural Language Processing]
The Difference Between On-Page and Off-Page SEO
High-quality content that delights users is the main ingredient to ranking high on Google. But, there are two sides of SEO ‒ on-page and off-page ‒ that you need to understand to optimize your website.
What On-Page SEO Is & Why It Matters
On-page SEO refers to the steps you take on each page and post on your website to ensure it is optimized for search engines. Using effective on-page SEO tactics ensures Google knows what the content is all about and convinces Google you’re offering the best solutions possible.
Every time you add new content to your website, you need to optimize that content for search. If you have a WordPress site, you can install an SEO plug-in like Yoast SEO or RankMath to guide you through the basic steps of on-page SEO.
Important note: many people mistake what an SEO plug-in can and can’t do for you. If you decide to use an SEO plug-in, know that the application on its own does nothing to improve your SEO or boost your website’s Google rankings. An SEO plug-in is merely a helpful tool that guides you through what actions you need to perform to optimize your content.
Specific On-Page SEO Tactics
There are specific actions you want to perform with every page and post you create. Here’s a list of the most critical on-page SEO tactics:
- Establish a primary keyword (PKW) for your page/post; your keyword is the top term that best describes your content and that you feel searchers are using.
- Include your primary keyword (PKW) in your URL
- Limit URL length to 75 characters or less.
- Include your PKW in your title — preferably at the front of the title.
- Make sure your title includes power words. [See Sumo’s list of 401+ Power Words]
- Add your PKW in one H2 header and, if appropriate, again in an H3 or H4 header.
- Include your PKW in alt-tags for images.
- If it fits naturally, include your PKW in the first or second paragraph.
- In addition to using your PKW, add other relevant keywords to your content.
- Create an irresistible meta tag for your page/post that includes your PKW.
- Add internal links to your content (these are links to other pages on your website)
- Use external links to authoritative sites in your content
- Use categories on your site and assign each page to a primary relevant category.
- Tag the most essential/foundational content on your site as cornerstone content.
- Keep track of the PKW you’re using; don’t have multiple pages on your site targeted to the same keyword.
Does Content Length Matter?
Relevant content is essential for ranking high in the SERPs. Content length isn’t always a factor, but more times than not, longer content ranks higher on Google than shorter content.
What’s the ideal length? The sweet spot seems to be between 2,000 and 2,500 words. Again, though, this is a generalization; there are many instances where shorter and longer content ranks high.
What Off-Page SEO Is & Why It Matters
Off-page SEO includes all the activities you perform off-page to increase your website visibility in search engines. Many websites do a stellar job with on-page SEO; not nearly as many take advantage of the traffic-building benefits of off-page SEO. That’s a mistake. Off-page SEO is just as critical to ranking on Google as on-page SEO is.
Here are my top tips for stellar off-page SEO results:
- Make sure your website is secure.
- Create a responsive, mobile-friendly website.
- Get backlinks to your site from credible websites.
- Eliminate broken links on your site.
- Make sure every page on your site loads quickly (Use the free Google PageSpeed Insights tool to check page load times)
- Eliminate page errors.
- Eliminate duplicate content.
- Organize site content for a great user experience (and so search bots can understand what your site is all about)
High-Quality Backlinks Matter (They Matter A Lot!)
A backlink is when another website links to content on your site. Backlinks from highly credible sites with high DAs can increase your site’s credibility. The more credible your site is in Google’s eyes, the more likely you will rank higher, which in turn will drive more visitors to your website.
You don’t just want any backlinks; you want quality backlinks. Toxic backlinks come from questionable sources of dubious character. You can use a tool like Ahrefs to identify the quality of backlinks coming to your site.
Perform Outreach to Build High-Quality Backlinks
Mastering the art of website outreach is one of the best ways to increase backlinks. Outreach is when you reach out to influencers in your niche and other experts and ask them to link back to your site. The process requires finesse and persistence.
Several tools can help make your outreach efforts a little easier and a lot more effective. Two that I recommend are Muck Rack and BuzzStream. These tools help you find media contacts and social media influencers that you can content directly to help you get more visibility for your website content.
Another way to get more backlinks is to actively promote your products and services on social media channels, podcasts, and anywhere else you can get your business in front of your target audience. When more people come to your site, more people will love and share your posts — and you’ll increase the number of backlinks to your site.
Should you ever buy backlinks? Under most circumstances, buying backlinks is seen as a big no-no. If Google finds out you did that, it will negatively impact your rankings. Also, Quid-pro-quo arrangements for backlinks (e.g., I’ll link to your site if you link to mine.”) are a big no-no in Google’s eyes. In fact, link exchanges like that could lead to Google penalizing your website by reducing your exposure in SERPs.
Organize Website Content for SEO & an Optimal User Experience
Poorly organized sites that don’t demonstrate hierarchy among pages makes Google wonder what your site is all about. Weak site organization harms your website’s E-A-T, as Google can’t tell where your expertise and authority lie. Poor site organization also makes for a lousy experience for site visitors.
Eliminate Error Pages, Broken Links, & Duplicate Content
A quick and easy way to locate broken links, errors, redirects, and duplicate pages on your website is by using the Screaming Frog SEO Spider tool. Screaming Frog offers free plans that work great for small websites.
How Long Will It Take for My SEO Initiatives to Work?
The intensity of keyword competition has a big impact on when or whether a web page will ever achieve a top ranking on Google. In addition, the quality of the post — as perceived by Google’s secret algorithms — also factors into whether a post can ever achieve a top position on Google SERPs.
The SEO process is a lot like planting a tree. You put a seedling in the ground and nurture it, but it will still take a while before you can rest under its shade. Just like different types of trees grow at different rates, SEO efforts take effect at different rates, too.
Many businesses give up on SEO before it’s had a chance to work its magic. In most cases, expect three to six months before you’ll start gaining traction from your SEO initiatives. A study by ahrefs found that the average age of URLs that achieve Google Top Ten rankings is well over 650 days; it takes nearly 950 days to hit #1 on Google. However, the beauty of SEO is that your work can pay off in free website traffic for months, even years, which makes SEO a brilliant business investment.
SEO is a long game, not a short game. If you need to get more website visitors immediately, try paid advertising or promote your site on social channels instead of relying on Google organic traffic. If you want to increase your organic traffic exponentially over the long run — without paying a dime for advertising — SEO is the way to go.
Never forget, content is king. When you develop content that’s better than anyone else is producing, you always give your website a better chance to rank high on Google.