You offer an amazing product or service, and you know there are people out there who are willing to pay money for your solution.
But how do you connect with them and let them know you exist?
The good news is that it’s actually relatively easy to find these people. They search for relevant keywords on Google, Bing, and other search engines every day looking for your products or services.
For example, if you sell basketball shoes, more than 53,000 people search for them monthly:
Therefore, the key to getting to the top of Google or any search engine is search engine optimization (SEO).
Ready to learn about the key elements of SEO? Keep reading to discover how you can implement them to start capturing your audience organically.
What is SEO in marketing?
In marketing, SEO is a process that helps websites improve their rankings and visibility in search engines. Put simply, SEO will help you rank higher for relevant keywords, which will bring you more targeted visitors.
This works for physical products, services, blogs, and virtually any type of business where prospects search online.
For example, if you provide landscaping services, SEO can help you rank for a term like “landscaping services near me.” Similarly, a vegan blogger might want to rank for the term “vegan oatmeal cookie recipe.” Finally, an ecommerce shoe store might want to rank for “high-heel shoes online.”
Is SEO easy to learn?
The basics of SEO are easy to learn. As long as your website has a strong technical foundation (and most websites on standard platforms like WordPress and Shopify do), you can achieve great results by implementing simple SEO strategies yourself.
In fact, just following the steps in this guide will make you a more formidable competitor than most of the other companies and blogs in your industry.
Does SEO still work in 2021?
If you’ve done some SEO research, you may have heard the phrase “SEO is dead.” While most of the older tactics people used to use (such as keyword stuffing and spammy link building) no longer work, that doesn’t mean that SEO is dead.
Effective SEO strategies are certainly different for 2021 and beyond, and larger brands have the benefit of the doubt in search engine result pages. However, SEO will continue to be relevant as long as people use search engines like Google.
What are SEO basics?
The basics of SEO are:
- Technical foundation
- Keyword research
- Content creation
- Link building
- Measure and tracking SEO performance
We’ll cover each one in detail below with step-by-step instructions so that you can implement them yourself.
Therefore, when you finish this post, your website should be well optimized, and you’ll eventually see compounding results.
Similar to building a house, it’s important to have a solid foundation to build on. In SEO, your website needs to have a solid technical foundation.
While minor flaws in your technical foundation may merely annoy your reader, larger flaws could eliminate your website’s chances of ranking in search engine results altogether.
Therefore, here are a few of the key technical aspects you need to check.
If Google can’t crawl your website, it won’t be able to index critical pages. Unfortunately, if Google can’t index your pages, your website won’t show up in their search results.
Therefore, be sure to check that all of your pages are indexable. You can check for index errors in Google Search Console by looking at the “Coverage” report, or you can see which particular pages are indexed by using the URL inspection.
If you don’t have Google Search Console set up, you can also type “Site:www.example.com” into Google to see all of your indexed pages.
Google operates on mobile-first indexing, so regardless of how well you optimize your desktop version, it won’t matter if your mobile version is poorly optimized.
While most websites now offer responsive design, it’s still important to double-check that your website is indeed mobile-friendly.
To check if your website is mobile-friendly, you can use Google Search Console and check under “Mobile Usability.”
Here’s an example of a website that isn’t mobile-friendly:
Here’s an example of a website that is mobile-friendly:
While this will point out any technical errors, it won’t show you optimization techniques.
Therefore, it’s still important to manually go through your website’s mobile version and check that it’s easy to scroll and the text is legible.
Another critical component of a solid technical foundation is speed. Users hate waiting on slow websites to load, so Google made site speed a ranking factor in 2018.
However, improving your site speed will do much more than just help you rank higher. Studies show that your conversion rate will drop by about 4.42% for every additional second your webpage requires to load between 0–5 seconds and 2.11% for every additional second from 0–9 seconds.
To check your site speed, you can look at the Core Web Vitals tab in Google Search Console or enter your domain in PageSpeed Insights.
From there, you can hire a developer on Upwork to fix the issues for you.
Logical site architecture
Finally, it’s important that people can navigate your website efficiently. For example, they should be able to navigate from the homepage to any other desired page in (ideally) less than three clicks.
Most importantly, your site should be structured logically so that users can easily find what they need. This improves the user experience and enables search engines to better understand the topic of each page.
For example, as Summer Navel is listed under the category “oranges,” Google will better understand that Summer Navel is a kind of orange.
You can also tell that despite having many different products, it’s easy to access any type of fruit from the homepage in just three clicks.
While it may seem simple, a recent study found that improving their internal link structure increased organic sessions by approximately 25% for a total of 9,200 additional sessions.
Title tags and meta descriptions
When you perform a search on Google, the first thing that pops up is a list of title tags and meta descriptions that give brief snapshots of each website.
These are important for SEO, as they have a significant impact on click-through rate.
If your titles are enticing and receive many clicks and engaged users, Google is happy to move you up in the rankings.
If you’re stuck when writing your title tags, consider looking through some of the headlines at BuzzFeed. Most of these can be templatized and dramatically improve your CTRs.
However, it’s important to avoid clickbait headlines with empty promises as that will cause readers to bounce (which is a negative signal to Google). Therefore, be sure that your content delivers what you say it will.
Finally, always include a keyword at the beginning of your title and somewhere in your meta description. We’ll discuss keywords in detail below, but remember this as you’re writing your headlines.
The next step is to ensure that your images are properly optimized for search engines and readers. In fact, more than 22% of all Google searches are Google Image searches, so it’s a relatively untapped resource for additional traffic.
In fact, one study found that optimizing a few images on their blog post helped them experience record-breaking traffic and an additional 5,500 visitors in just 10 days.
The first step to optimizing your images is to add alt text. Alt text simply describes what the image is about so that if the image is unavailable, the reader still knows what the image contains. While you can use keywords, it’s best to describe the image in a few words as simply as possible.
In the case study above, the only difference they made to their images was adding alt text. So while it may seem simple, it is important.
If you use WordPress, you can add alt text when you upload an image:
Ideally, if the picture is of a pair of pink fuzzy slippers, the alt text should simply be “pink fuzzy slippers.”
The next step to optimizing your images is to reduce their file size. The smaller your file size is, the faster they will upload, and as page speed is a Google ranking factor, this will improve your overall SEO.
The next step is keyword research. Keywords are essentially a few core phrases that describe the page topic and (ideally) align with search terms users type into Google.
For example, “protein powder” is a keyword for these websites, as it describes the core focus of all of these pages, and searchers frequently type it into search engines:
However, as you can see, the search engine results are very different. While the ads and shopping results are mostly protein powder for sale, the first organic result (from Healthline) is informational.
Therefore, it’s best to start with more specific keywords (called long-tail keywords), such as “protein powder for women weight loss.”
This will bring you more targeted traffic than a broad keyword like “protein powder,” as some of these searches may be men looking for a different kind of powder specially designed for muscle growth rather than weight loss.
You will also notice that it is easier to rank for long-tail as you’re competing against a fraction of relevant websites.
While there are plenty of different ways you can do keyword research, it makes sense to start with your core keyword. For example, if you’re a divorce lawyer, “divorce lawyer” would be a great starting point.
In Ahrefs, you can type “divorce lawyer” into the Keyword Explorer bar, and it will show you some variations that might be useful:
In this case, there are three core keywords you’ll want to target: “divorce lawyer,” “(state) divorce lawyer,” and “(city) divorce lawyer.”
However, you’ll notice that it doesn’t include other great potential keywords like “divorce attorney.” Therefore your next step should be to do some competitor research to uncover other core keywords.
To do this, type your website’s URL into the main dashboard on Ahrefs and click “Content Gap.”
Now you can type in your largest competitors’ URLs.
Here’s an example of some new core keyword ideas you may decide to target:
Note that this only shows keywords that you don’t rank in the top 10 for, though if you rank 10th for “divorce attorney nyc,” you likely won’t show up in the top search results.
Therefore, the next step is to look at keywords you already rank for.
To do this, enter your URL in Ahref’s dashboard and click on “Organic Keywords.”
These are all of the keywords you currently rank for, but you can track their positions.
Therefore, between the Content Gap tool and this set of keywords, you should be able to make a list of core keywords relevant to your business.
Ideally, if you have a choice between two similar core keywords (New York Divorce Lawyer vs. Divorce Lawyer in New York), you should choose the one with a lower keyword difficulty (KD).
Even if it has a lower search volume, you’ll still probably generate more traffic ranking high for a low volume search term than ranking low for a high volume search term.
Note that most websites only have a few core keywords (usually between 2–3).
For example, these might be your core keywords:
- New York Divorce Lawyer
- Divorce Lawyer New York City
- Divorce Lawyer Free Consultation
However, you’ll also have a subset of slightly more specific keywords that typically describe your services (or, in ecommerce, specific products).
And these might be your subset of keywords:
- Military Divorce
- Contested Divorce
- Same Sex Divorce
It’s typically these subset keywords that bring in more targeted traffic (and are easier to rank for), so be sure to do the same process with them. For example, look for variations on “military divorce,” and choose a couple of relevant keywords.
So, what should you do with these keywords now?
You should also include your other core keywords in the first 100 words of text on your website.
In total, you’ll probably include each core keyword one to three times on your page, but don’t overdo it as “keyword stuffing” (unnaturally adding a keyword many times to a page) can harm your rankings.
In addition, it’s simply unnecessary. For example, this lawyer currently ranks first for the term “NY Divorce Lawyer.” As you can see from the highlighted control F search, that exact keyword is only included once on the page (in the H1 tag).
Therefore, while keyword research is an important step in the process, don’t get carried away and stuff keywords unnaturally into your page.
Now that you have your main keywords and subsets of keywords in place, you’re probably expecting to see immediate results, right?
Unfortunately, that’s not really how it works.
In fact, you may even notice that the website ranking above you isn’t as well optimized as your website.
This is usually because Google prefers to rank websites that have a strong brand.
For example, if you had the option of choosing between a surgeon with a lot of experience and high reviews and one with no experience, you wouldn’t really care if they both said the same thing during the consultation.
Rather, you would naturally choose the surgeon with more experience and reviews.
Google ranks websites the same way. If one has a lot of traffic and high user engagement, they’ll naturally pick it over a website with similar keywords.
So, how do you generate more relevant user engagement?
The answer is content marketing. Content marketing is essentially creating content that addresses your audience’s burning questions.
For example, people who are considering hiring a divorce lawyer ask all of the questions below.
Therefore, it would make sense for a divorce lawyer to write a blog post answering these questions to give potential clients an introduction to their brand.
In addition, Google would see that they drive a lot of traffic and engagement for divorce-related terms and begin to view their brand as an authority on divorce.
In time, Google will begin to rank their entire domain higher for their core keywords and individual blog posts.
Wondering how you can find great content marketing ideas?
Generating content marketing ideas
However, competitive analysis is another handy method. For example, take a smaller competitor’s domain (ideally one with a lower domain authority than your website’s) and enter it into Ahrefs. From there, click on “Top Pages.”
You can click each of their top performing links and see if you can write a better blog post.
Writing your content
So, what makes a better blog post?
A better blog post might have:
- More depth (cover topics with better examples and additional details)
- A better user experience (includes more images/screenshots, clear headings, legible text)
- Simpler language (no more than a 6th grade reading level)
Therefore, if you think you can write a better blog post and the website has a lower domain authority than yours, you should be able to outrank them and get some of their traffic.
Another strategy you can use is updating your content (if you already have content). Updating your content is another underrated SEO strategy, and those that do leverage it have seen their current traffic nearly double.
However, studies show that it’s generally only worthwhile to update content that already performed well at one point.
Therefore, take your URL, enter it into Ahrefs, click “Top Pages,” and update the pages that drive the top 50% of your traffic. You’ll probably find that only a few pages drive a lot of traffic, so it shouldn’t be too overwhelming.
The last major element of SEO is link building. Google has directly stated that backlinks and content are the two most important ranking factors they look at, and this still holds true in 2021.
So, what is a backlink?
A backlink is a hyperlink on one website that enables the reader to navigate to another website. The above text “Google has directly stated” is an example of a link.
However, the website that the reader lands on is the one that benefits from the link (rather than the website sending the reader to the website).
This is because Google uses backlinks to understand which websites are popular within an industry. They assume that the more relevant people talking about a source (in other words, linking to the source) means that it is probably a reliable authority on the topic.
Based on why Google uses backlinks as a ranking factor, it’s easy to understand that not all backlinks are equally helpful. Rather, you want to have backlinks that are:
- From websites relevant to your industry
- From high-quality websites
For example, if you’re a travel blogger:
- 🆇 Backlink from Apple.com = High quality website but irrelevant to your industry
- 🆇 Backlink from unknown travel blog (DA 10) = Low quality website but industry relevant
- ✅ Backlink from Nomadic Matt (DA 70+) = High quality website and industry relevant
Unfortunately, earning links from these kinds of websites can be difficult. But you do have two options:
- Build them manually.
- Earn them organically.
If your website is relatively unknown, you will probably have to do some manual link building. This usually involves direct outreach to websites and asking for a link. However, in order to get a link, you need to offer some value from linking to your website.
Therefore, most people choose to do:
- Broken link building (if the other website has a broken link and you have a similar resource, you can ask them to replace the link)
- Link replacement (if they have a link to a mediocre guide and you have a better guide, you can ask them to swap the links)
- Unlinked mention outreach (if a website mentions you or uses an image from you, ask them to add a link to the source)
- Guest posting (writing on an industry-relevant publication)
While these methods are somewhat effective, response rates usually hover around 5%. Therefore, your best bet to build links is to simply create content that attracts links.
What kinds of content attract links?
Typically, original research, statistics pages, case studies, and other data-driven posts drive links, as content marketers need data to support their claims.
In addition, a study of 400 of the most linked-to blog posts across a variety of top marketing blogs showed that list posts are extremely effective at generating lists. In fact, more than 31% of the most linked-to blog posts are list posts.
Another tactic you can use to generate links organically is to use quotes from industry leaders. Sometimes the industry leaders will link to it, though often times, other content marketers will use the quote and link to your post.
Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media uses this strategy a lot.
As your website gains popularity and your content marketing starts working, it won’t be long before you earn links naturally. Until then, these tactics should help your new blog posts gain popularity.
Get started with SEO basics
There you have it — the basics of SEO. If you follow each step in this guide, you’ll be well on your way to SEO success. While it isn’t difficult to implement an SEO strategy, consistency is the key to success.
Most websites require many months of consistent SEO practice before they see strong results, but the good news is that these results compound over time.
So create a schedule to implement each of these tactics and get started on it today.