Beginner’s Guide to SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
Have you ever looked at all the different things people recommend you do to improve search traffic with a bleary-eyed look of despair?
It is not that you do not believe that it would increase your search traffic. It is just, where do you find the time to do it?
That is why we came up with the Beginners SEO strategy guide. While you do not need to brew a pot of coffee and prepare for an all-night bender to work on this strategy, this guide breaks down different strategies you can do over 24 hours.
Understanding the Beginners SEO Strategy Guide
Before you dive into the SEO strategy, it is important to understand a few things here.
One, you do NOT have to do all the steps at once. Two, you should have an understanding of how SEO works. Three, if you can’t do this yourself, learn how to find a good SEO company.
- We assume you have a CMS platform. In this case, we reference WordPress because of its popularity and flexibility to help you get the most out of your search engine efforts. If you are not familiar with WordPress, then check out our beginner’s guide before you start on the beginners SEO strategy.
- Some steps only make sense for certain types of pages. You might not need to do them. That is okay. Better to be aware of them if you do need it in the future.
- We tried to remove the technical coding portion as much as possible. However, we will give you a heads up if you might need to do coding. If you see some major challenges with your SEO that require technical expertise, let’s chat about growing your business.
- Just because you do these steps once does not mean you are done. In 6 Inconvenient Truths About SEO that Will Double Your Traffic, we discussed how SEO is not just a one and done proposal. It is on-going. The work you do here gets you started, but remember that consistency over the long term will reap the greatest search traffic rewards.
Beginners SEO Strategy Guide
15 minutes – Create a Google Analytics Account
Before you do anything with your search traffic, you need to track your efforts. The easiest way to do this is to install Google Analytics (GA). Google has a wide array of tracking information that they provide for free. Create a free account at Google.Com/Analytics.
Fortunately, WordPress has some useful plugins to help you set this up quickly. Start with Google Analytics. It is a simple plugin where you just copy and paste the UA information from Google. This is a specific number that Google assigns to every website.
15 minutes – Set up Google Search Console
Google Search Console gives you direct information from search results data for your website (different than GA data). Some key information here is the search terms being used, Click through Ratio, Impressions, and Links to your website.
You can use the same account you created from GA to access the Search Console.
30 minutes – Ensure domain works with and without “www”
This is important for user experience, as most people just enter “company.com” instead of “www.company.com” to find your website. You do not want to serve a 404 for this entry.
This requires some coding experience; if you are not sure how to do this, consult with a developer.
15 minutes – Set up a favicon
This is a visual element in the search bar that helps with branding and makes people feel they are on the right page.
Most premium themes come with their own favicon options. You might need to consult with a designer to help you create a visually appealing favicon that fits in a small area.
1 hour – Set up social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn)
This is the best way to get visitors involved with the brand and gives the company a personality. Plus, Google picks up social cues to determine the relevancy of your page content.
Make sure that you take the time to set up each profile on social media correctly. You should have a profile on the three major social networks for visibility, but also determine which social networks are your greatest priority based on where your customers spend their time.
For example, Instagram might be very visually appealing, but if you work with a professional audience, you need to have a bigger presence on LinkedIn.
15 minutes – Test the speed of your website
The Google PageSpeed tool tests your website’s performance level. They provide specific recommendations on what can be improved for your website’s speed. While the test does not take long to perform, you need to evaluate the results to correct the challenges they list for your site.
In some cases, you might be able to fix the issues with better hosting, compressing images, or a host of other solutions to various performance-hindering challenges you have on your site.
Be aware that this is in the developer section of Google. Therefore, some of the fixes required here might require programming or technical knowledge.
The Google page speed for a desktop and mobile site should be at least 65/100.
2 hours – Fix website errors
Regularly check the Google Page Speed Insights. They provide detailed lists of how to improve the website’s speed. Make sure your website gets at least a passing score by correcting the errors on the page. Otherwise, your website might not run fast enough for Google and your visitors.
15 minutes – Create a Sitemap.XML
Once you create a sitemap, then you need to submit it to the search engines, as this makes it easier for pages on your website to be indexed in search results. Search engines will eventually list your pages even if you don’t do this, but this is the best practice.
One plugin that can make this process a breeze is Yoast SEO. While Yoast can do much more than just create a sitemap, it is one of the many SEO features of the platform.
1 hour – Check canonical URLs
Ensure canonicals are being used correctly and are pointing to the actual canonical version of the page.
Canonicals prevent duplication issues (negative SEO). This allows similar content pages to point to the page that has the highest page authority on your website.
30 minutes – Add a Robots.txt file
The Robot.txt file allows you to control which pages the search engines are scanning and which pages they should not. Some websites don’t want certain pages indexed.
For example, if you have a course that you sell on your website, you should tell Google to skip over those pages. Otherwise, potential clients could search for you and find your paid content instead of your free content first.
1 hour – Create a video sitemap
If you publish videos, set up a video sitemap and submit it to Google Search Console.
WordPress does have several video sitemap plugins. However, this might also require a programmer to get some of the more complicated parts of this set up.
1 hour – Avoid 301 redirects
Make sure internal pages link directly to pages and do not use a 301 redirect.
301 redirects are used when old pages are replaced, but you should just add the updated URL to the link and skip the 301, as search engines and users prefer this.
Ex: www.seomechanic.com/blog becomes www.seomechanic.com/seo-blog
Just update old internal links to the new URL instead of 301 redirecting.
Yoast Premium can help you speed up this process.
15 minutes – Check the mobile site
Does the website have a mobile equivalent? It can be either a responsive or a full mobile site.
It’s important to have a mobile equivalent of a website. Check to see if you have a responsive or a mobile website. Ideally, you should use responsive, as updating the website is infinitely easier and less time-consuming. Use the Google Mobile Friendly test.
The Google Mobile Friendly test was created a few years ago, when Google started to place greater importance on mobile technology. It reads your site to determine whether Google will index your pages on mobile websites.
If you do not pass the test, you need to correct the errors. Otherwise, you could lose valuable search traffic.
Also, make sure that the content is consistent across the desktop and mobile versions. Furthermore, you want to make sure these versions do not accidentally create duplicate content on each page. Follow Google’s best practices when setting up content.
1 hour – Research keywords
Instead of just repeating what we have discussed in previous articles, we strongly recommend taking a look at our article, SEO 101: Understanding Basic Keywords.
This article discusses in detail how to perform keyword research for your website. Because it is an in-depth topic, you should use this information as a starting point.
1 hour- Create alt tags
Ensure that the alt tags for images are set up correctly, per Google’s recommendations, when using a dedicated mobile site to signal to Google which pages are desktop and which pages are mobile.
Using Yoast, you can ensure that the alt tags are set up on the mobile site so the images are properly read.
1 hour – Use appropriate anchor text
While alt tags are important for getting search traffic from the images on your website, anchor text is for the link text. You should make sure that the anchor text you use is appropriate for the page you’re linking to.
Anchor texts are also an important signal for Google on the value of specific keywords. Therefore, you can put an anchor text to a specific link highlighting a keyword for that content. It is a small thing, but can add up over time.
1 hour – Write unique titles
Each page needs its own unique title. This title should represent the best possible explanation of the page.
Make sure you avoid duplicate page titles, because this can reduce the ranking of both pages.
On WordPress sites, the title is also the H1 tag for the page. This means you should write user-friendly titles. While keywords in the title are important, they should not interfere with the readability of the page.
1 hour – Write a meta description
Every page needs a unique meta description of 156 characters or less. A meta description is the little snippet summary of a page that is shown in Google search results. A quality meta description helps you improve the click through rate of your results as well as increase your rankings.
Because Google wants to make sure your audience finds the page relevant to the search result, your meta description should provide an accurate description of the page.
1 hour – Apply schema tags to relevant pages
Schema is the structured data that major search engines use for specific pieces of content. Often used for products, locations, events, and other content pieces, it is a critical part of your search strategy.
This is because structured data provides a better SERP experience for users looking for your business.
Furthermore, using structured data (schema) where appropriate helps search engines better understand your content. This allows your website to appear highlighted in search results and not as just part of a list.
At the same time, not every website page needs or requires schema. Make sure your page fits into a specific schema category before working on a page. Otherwise, you might be wasting your time sending irrelevant traffic to your page.
Google has several tools to test your schema structuring.
1 hour – Fix broken links
Make sure you remove or fix any broken links on your website.
One of the worst user experiences you can provide is to direct them to a 404 error because you have a word missing in a URL.
WordPress has a plugin, WP Broken Link Status Checker, to help you find the broken links on your website.
30 minutes – Keep all pages within 3-4 clicks of the home page
Complicated URL structures do not work. You should do your best to have all pages within 4 clicks of the home page.
This is important because pages that are buried on your website are viewed with less authority by search engines. More important pages should be fewer clicks away from the home page.
Maintain a simple structure for your website to ensure that all of your pages get the most out of your SEO efforts. You can do this in the menu of your WordPress site quickly and easily.
3 hours/page – Add content to your website
Fortunately, you have several options to do this depending on your current website setup.
First, you could break long pages of content into multiple pages. While research on this is mixed, you might find it beneficial to break apart longer pieces of content into multiple pages.
Google traditionally ranked longer website pages (between 2,000-3,000 words) higher in the search results. However, if you have more pages on your site, Google can find more of them and provide more traffic to your site.
The key is to not add pages just to bring in more traffic. You need pages that provide quality information. By breaking them down into digestible pieces of content, you get more traffic and can encourage users to come back more often to view more of your content.
Second, start a blog. If you have thin content on your site, nothing can do more to combat this challenge than publishing regular blog posts. Not only does a blog provide an opportunity for regular content and feedback, but it is a great place to demonstrate your thoughts on various topics.
In regards to SEO, make sure that your blog posts contain unique content. To get the full value of your search engine optimization, your pages should be 80% unique.
Also, use keywords that are relevant and stay on topic. Some pages don’t need 500 or 1,000 words, but make sure the content is helpful.
Search algorithms today depend as much on readability as good keyword research and placement. This means a writer’s skill is vital. Focus on the readability score of your content to make sure it fits your audience. If you cannot write the type of quality content required, then you may need to hire a freelance writer.
30 minutes – Limit advertisements on the site
Too many ads on the page provide a poor user experience, especially when the ads are above the fold.
30 minutes – Incorporate a feedback tool for your content/website
One of the most important things you can do for your website is to ensure that prospects have a way of reaching out to you. The more they can engage with your site on a personal level, the more they will feel attached to your content.
Another benefit is that high quality forms provides some extra content for search engines to find about your business.
1 hour – Check internal linking
Pages should have less than 100 links per page. Anything over 100 links per page is typically a poor user experience.
The Check My Links Chrome Plugin can help you track all these links as well as find broken links quickly and easily. Broken links can reduce your search traffic. Google takes it as a sign that you are not maintaining your page.
The most important pages should be linked to and from the home page. This signals to search engines the importance of the page. Don’t bury pages because they won’t be viewed as important to search engines.
1 hour – Check outbound and inbound links
Check outbound links from the site. Ensure they are accurate and you’re not linking to anything you don’t want associated with your site.
You can enter link from domain: yoursite.com into Bing search engine to see the list.
Check inbound links in the Google Search Console for any inappropriate links or bad links. Review the sites linking to your domain to find any inappropriate linking to your website.
1 hour – Send a verification postcard (1-2 weeks) or make a phone call
If you have a local business with a public storefront, there are a few extra steps you need to take beyond making sure your website is ready for search traffic.
This is because search engines can provide direct traffic to your site with the right information. To claim this extra traffic, set up your Google My Business and Bing Business accounts for local search traffic.
It takes time to verify your information with the search engines, but it is well worth the wait. Make sure to provide contact information, images, your URL, and that the address appears in maps for driving directions.
15 minutes – Check local results
To determine whether you are listed in the local search results, perform location-specific queries to make sure your company is listed.
Furthermore, check to make sure your website is appearing for the terms that make sense for your business. If you search in your area of business, your website should appear as a search result. If not, you may need to modify the business description and ensure that the business has been verified.
Remember that this is not a one and done thing. If you want the best results, you need to ensure that the NAP (name, address, phone number) is properly configured across multiple platforms. You can monitor this 1-2 hours per week.
Driving search engine traffic is not hard, but it does take a lot of work to make it happen. All of the suggestions discussed in this guide help you break down the process into manageable chunks.
Remember that not all websites need every step in this guide. However, a good percentage of websites can use the strategies here to have an optimized website for search traffic.
The beginners SEO guide is a great starting point for your search engine optimization efforts. If you still need help optimizing your site for search traffic, then feel free to reach out to me to discuss how we can help you grow your business.