Beginner's Guide to SEO – Chapter 1: SEO 101

Beginner's Guide to SEO – Chapter 1: SEO 101 Mars664

Beginner's Guide to SEO – Chapter 1: SEO 101

Beginner's Guide to SEO, Chapter 1: SEO 101

Beginner's Guide to SEO, Chapter 1: SEO 101

Back in mid-November, Moz began a campaign to rewrite most of its content: the Beginner's Guide to SEO. He offered a lot of useful tips and ideas regarding his outline, and today we are here to share with you his first chapter.

In many ways, the Beginner's Guide to SEO belongs to each and every member of the community; It is important that we do it well, for our own good. So without further ado, here's the first chapter - let's dive in!


Chapter 1: SEO 101

What is it and why is it important?

Welcome! We are excited to have you here!

If you already have a solid understanding of SEO and why it's important, you can skip ahead to Chapter 2 (although we'd still recommend discussing Google and Bing best practices at the end of this chapter; they're helpful for remembering important things).

For everyone else, this chapter will help you build your foundational SEO knowledge and confidence as you move forward.


What is SEO?

SEO means “search engine optimization”. It is the practice of increasing both the quality and quantity of website traffic, as well as the exposure of your brand, through unpaid (also known as “organic”) search engine results.

Despite the acronym, SEO is as much about people as it is about search engines. It's about understanding what people search for online, the answers they seek, the words they use, and the type of content they want to consume. Leveraging this data will allow you to provide high-quality content that your visitors will really value.

Here is an example. Frankie & Jo's (a Seattle-based gluten-free vegan ice cream shop) has heard about SEO and wants help improving how and how often they appear in organic search results. To help them, they must first understand their potential customers:

What types of ice cream, desserts, sandwiches, etc. are people looking for?

Who is searching for these terms?

  • When do you look for ice cream, sandwiches, desserts, etc.?
  • Are there seasonality trends throughout the year?
  • How are people looking for ice cream?
  • What words do they use?
  • What questions do they ask?
  • Are more searches done on mobile devices?
  • Why do people search for ice cream?
  • Are people specifically looking for health-conscious ice cream or are they simply looking to satisfy a craving?
  • Where are potential clients located: locally, nationally or internationally?

And finally, here's the trick: how can you help provide the best ice cream content to cultivate a community and fulfill what all those people are looking for?


Search Engine Basics

Search engines are response machines. They search billions of pieces of content and evaluate thousands of factors to determine which content is most likely to answer your query.

Search engines do all this by discovering and cataloging all the content available on the Internet (web pages, PDF files, images, videos, etc.) through a process known as “crawling and indexing.”


What are “organic” search engine results?

Organic search results are search results that are not paid for (i.e. not advertising). These are the results you can influence through effective SEO. Traditionally, these were the familiar “10 blue links.”

Today, search engine results pages, often called “SERPs,” are filled with advertising and more dynamic organic result formats (called “SERP features”) than we have ever seen before. Some examples of SERP features are featured snippets (or reply boxes), People Also Ask boxes, image carousels, etc. New SERP features continue to emerge, driven largely by what people search for.

For example, if you search for “Denver weather,” you'll see a weather forecast for the city of Denver directly in the SERP instead of a link to a site that might have that forecast. And, if you search for “Denver pizza,” you'll see a “local pack” result made up of Denver pizzerias. Convenient, right?

It is important to remember that search engines make money from advertising. Its goal is to better resolve search queries (within the SERPs), to keep searchers coming back and to keep them in the SERPs longer.

Some SERP features on Google are organic and can be influenced by SEO. These include featured snippets (a promoted organic result that displays an answer within a box) and related questions (aka “People Also Ask”).

It's worth noting that there are many other search features that, while not paid advertising, typically cannot be influenced by SEO. These features often have data acquired from proprietary data sources such as Wikipedia, WebMD, and IMDb.


Why SEO is important

While paid advertising, social media, and other online platforms can drive traffic to websites, the majority of online traffic is driven by search engines.

Organic search results cover more digital real estate, appear more credible to savvy searchers, and receive far more clicks than paid ads. For example, of all searches in the US, only ~2.8% of people click on paid ads.

Bottom line: SEO has ~20x more traffic opportunities than PPC on both mobile and desktop devices.

SEO is also one of the only online marketing channels that, when set up correctly, can continue to pay dividends over time. If you provide a solid piece of content that deserves to rank for the right keywords, your traffic can increase over time, while advertising needs continuous funds to send traffic to your site.

Search engines are getting smarter, but they still need our help.

Optimizing your site will help you deliver better information to search engines so that your content can be correctly indexed and displayed within search results.


Should you hire an SEO professional, consultant or agency?

Depending on your bandwidth, willingness to learn, and the complexity of your website(s), you can perform basic SEO yourself. Or, you may discover that you would prefer the help of an expert. Either way is fine!

If you end up seeking help from experts, it's important to know that many agencies and consultants “provide SEO services,” but they can vary widely in quality. Knowing how to choose a good SEO company can save you a lot of time and money, since the wrong SEO techniques can actually hurt your site more than they will help you.


White Hat vs Black Hat SEO

“White Hat SEO” refers to SEO techniques, best practices and strategies that are governed by the search engine rule, its main focus to provide more value to people.

“Black hat SEO” refers to techniques and strategies that attempt to spam/trick search engines. While black hat SEO can work, it puts websites at tremendous risk of being penalized and/or deindexed (removed from search results) and has ethical implications.

Penalized websites have ruined businesses. It's just another reason to be very careful when choosing an SEO expert or agency.


Search Engines Share Similar Goals with the SEO Industry

Search engines want to help you succeed. They are actually very supportive of the SEO community's efforts. Digital marketing conferences, such as Unbounce, MNsearch, SearchLove, and Moz's own MozCon, regularly attract engineers and representatives from major search engines.

Google helps webmasters and SEOs through its Webmaster Central Help Forum and by hosting live office hours hangouts. (Bing, sadly, closed its webmaster forums in 2014.)

While webmaster guidelines vary from search engine to search engine, the underlying principles are the same: Don't try to trick search engines. Instead, give your visitors a great online experience.


Google Webmaster Guidelines

Basic principles:

  • Make pages primarily for users, not search engines.
  • Don't fool your users.
  • Avoid tricks aimed at improving search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you would feel comfortable explaining what you did to a website to a Google employee. Another useful test is to ask: “Does this help my users? Would you do it if search engines didn't exist?”
  • Think about what makes your website unique, valuable or attractive.

Things to avoid:

  • Auto-generated content
  • Participate in link schemes
  • Create pages with little or no original content (i.e. copied from somewhere else)
  • Cloaking: The practice of showing search engine crawlers different content than visitors.
  • Hidden text and hidden links
  • Entry Pages – Pages created to rank well for specific searches to funnel traffic to your website.

The full version of Google's webmaster guidelines can be found here.


Bing Webmaster Guidelines

Basic principles:

  • Provide clear, deep, engaging, and easy-to-find content on your site.
  • Keep page titles clear and relevant.
  • Links are considered a sign of popularity and Bing rewards links that have grown organically.
  • Social influence and social shares are positive signals and can impact organic ranking in the long term.
  • Page speed is important, along with a positive and helpful user experience.
  • Use alt attributes to describe images so Bing can better understand the content.

Things to avoid:

  • Poor content, pages that primarily display ads or affiliate links, or that redirect visitors to other sites will not rank well.
  • Abusive link tactics that aim to inflate the number and nature of inbound links, such as buying links and participating in link schemes, can lead to deindexing.
  • Ensure clean, concise, and keyword-inclusive URL structures are in place. Dynamic parameters can mess up your URLs and cause duplicate content problems.
  • Make your URLs descriptive, short, keyword-rich when possible, and avoid non-letter characters.
  • Bury links in Javascript/Flash/Silverlight; keep content out of these as well.
  • Duplicate content
  • Keyword padding
  • Cloaking: The practice of showing search engine crawlers different content than visitors.


Guidelines for representing your local business on Google

These guidelines govern the do's and don'ts of creating and managing your Google My Business listing(s).

Basic principles:

  • Make sure you are eligible for inclusion in the Google My Business index; You must have a physical address, even if it is your home address, and you must serve customers face-to-face, whether at your location (such as a retail store) or theirs (such as a plumber)
  • It honestly and accurately represents all aspects of your local business data, including your name, address, phone number, website address, business categories, hours of operation, and other characteristics.

Things to avoid

  • Creating Google My Business Listings for Ineligible Entities
  • Misrepresenting any of your core business information, including “stuffing” your business name with geographic or service keywords, or creating false address listings
  • Using post office boxes or virtual offices instead of authentic addresses
  • Abusing the listing review portion of Google My Business, through false positive reviews from your business or false negatives from your competitors
  • Costly rookie mistakes from not reading the details of Google's guidelines


Fulfilling user intent

Understanding and fulfilling user intent is critical. When a person searches for something, they have a desired result. Whether it's a response, tickets to a concert, or a photo of a cat, that desired content is your “user intent.”

If a person searches for “bands,” do they intend to find music bands, wedding bands, band saws, or something else?

Your job as an SEO is to quickly provide users with the content they want in the format they want it.


Common types of user intent:

  • Informative: seeking information. Example: “How old is Issa Rae?”
  • Navigation: searching for a specific website. Example: “HBOGO unsafe”
  • Transactional: looking to buy something. Example: “where to buy”

You can get an idea of ​​user intent by searching Google for desired keywords and evaluating the current SERP. For example, if there is a photo carousel, people searching for that keyword are most likely searching for photos.

Also evaluate what content your high-ranking competitors provide that you don't already provide. How can you increase the value of your website 10 times?

Providing high-quality, relevant content on your website will help you rank higher in search results and, more importantly, give you credibility and trust with your online audience.

Before doing any of that, you must first understand your website's goals to execute a strategic SEO plan.


Know your website/client goals

Every website is different, so take the time to really understand the business goals of a specific site. Not only will this help you determine which areas of SEO you should focus on, where to track conversions, and how to set benchmarks, but it will also help you create talking points for negotiating SEO projects with clients, bosses, etc. .

What will be your KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) to measure the return on investment in SEO? More simply, what is your barometer for measuring the success of your organic search efforts? You'll want it documented, even if it's this simple:


For the ________________________ website, my main SEO KPI is _______________.

Here are some common KPIs to get you started:

  • Sales
  • Downloads
  • Email subscriptions
  • Contact Forms
  • Phone calls

And if your business has a local component, you'll also want to define KPIs for your Google My Business listings. These may include:

  • Clicks to call
  • Clicks to website
  • Clicks-to-drive-directions

Notice how “Traffic” and “Rating” are not in the lists above? This is because for most websites, ranking correctly for keywords and increasing traffic won't matter if the new traffic doesn't convert (to help you meet your site's KPI goals).

You don't want to send 1,000 people to your website per month and only have 3 people convert (to customers). You want to send 300 people to your site per month and convert for 40 people.

This guide will help you become more data-driven in your SEO efforts. Instead of randomly throwing arrows all over the place (and getting lucky once in a while), you'll put more wood behind fewer arrows.

Take a bow (and some coffee); Let's dive into Chapter 2 (crawlers and indexing).