You don’t have to work SEO full-time to understand it. Some of the more technical SEO issues might require additional training and research, but a foundational knowledge in SEO isn’t out of reach for anyone. I often preach that SEO isn’t just my job here at Nu, that it’s everyone’s job (and that’s not because I’m lazy!). I’m fairly confident people are tired of hearing me say that, but I mean it. As with any skill, you should start basic and small before getting into more complicated ideas. Here are 5 SEO basics for everyone.
What is SEO?
At its core, SEO is about landing your website pages as high on search engine result pages as possible so that people find you and click through to your website. You want to be on the first page. No one clicks through to the second page on Google, unless they’re monsters of course. The immortal saying “If you’re not first, you’re last,” has never been truer than it is today. The first (non-ad) link on Google generally gets 33% of total clicks, with upward of 95% of clicks being on the first page. There are hundreds of ranking factors that search engines inspect when choosing to rank a page, but don’t let that scare you.
What can I do?
Let’s get started, shall we?
1. Fix your broken links
Very few things can hurt your search rankings more than web pages that no longer exist. Search engines thrive on providing helpful, correct results for what you’re searching. A high bounce rate (when someone clicks ‘back’ after landing on a single page) is generally a bad thing, and it’s even worse when the only page someone finds is a page that no longer exists. If the links you’re clicking all come back with the following, you might jump ship and go to another search engine:
One tool that I use when doing an SEO audit is SEO Minion. It does a quick scan of the page and color codes every link on the page, letting you know what is going on at a glance (hint: if it’s red, it’s bad).
As for fixing these, broken links (404 errors), it depends on the platform your site was built upon. Contact your web designer on how to properly handle this issue if you aren’t familiar. Once you know how to redirect a webpage, it’s usually a quick fix.
2. Update your Search Engine Results (SERP) data
Another foundational piece of SEO, and one that is often forgotten. What shows up on Google is incredibly important, but not for the reason you might think. The majority of users simply scan what is listed, but Google also scans this information and uses it as a signal to understanding what your page might be about. Let’s take a specific Wikipedia page for example:
There are three sections: the ‘Title,’ the ‘Slug,’ and the ‘Meta Description.’ The title is the highest level and gives a small amount of information as to the contents of the page. The slug is the actual address. In this case, it’s https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Legend_of_Zelda, and it actually signals what is on the page as well. Finally, the meta description is a brief explanation used to attract users, but it’s also an opportunity to insert specific keywords (naturally, mind you!) to let search engines know a bit more. Notice the bolded word? Zelda was what I searched, so Google showed me that this result was relevant.
It’s important that all aspects of the SERP be up to date and applicable to the content that you have on your page. Don’t stuff keywords, and keep it short and concise. This is the first thing Google and your potential users will see. First impressions are still important!
3. On-Page SEO Optimization
Any page you’d like to rank higher on a search engine should follow a similar structure. Google sends little ‘crawlers’ to each page and they read what is there. The trick is getting the little robots to accurately understand what you’re trying to portray.
This isn’t as scary as it sounds, I promise. Let’s take this blog post written by Abigail as an example of how a page should look.
First, look at the slug (or 'URL') : https://resources.nuexpression.com/blog/marketing/plan-seasonal-marketing-campaign
Can you guess what the post is about? If you can’t, the slug was poorly chosen (and that’s on me).
Second, here is the beginning of the post:
If you right-click on any text in the title ‘How to Plan a successful Seasonal Marketing Campaign’ and click ‘Inspect,’ you’ll see this pop up:
The important thing to note is the ‘h1’ above and below. This tells search engines that this is a type of header and an important one. More about that in a second.
Now if we do the same thing to the headline ‘Choose a specific holiday, event, or theme:
It shows ‘h2.’
Why are these important? The h-tags indicate to Google and other search engines the hierarchy of information. H1 says to Google that this is the broad purpose of the article. The h2 says that this is a supporting point to the h1. H3s should support any h2s they are listed under. This is how Google sees this post:
H1 - How to Plan a Seasonal Marketing Campaign
H2 - Choose a specific holiday, event, or theme
H2 - Create an incentive
H2 - Plan your content accordingly
H3 - What type of content will you use?
H3 - When will you publish and share your content?
H3 - Choose your calls-to-action wisely
H2 - Pay attention to your result
Not only is this structure vital to search engines, but it helps users understand your content.
4. Content, content, content
Each and every piece of content, from blog posts to services pages and product pages, should be built with the User’s Experience (UX) in mind. High-quality content that is relevant to what people search should always be the goal. Gone are the days of stuffing as many keywords as you can onto a page and writing in an unnatural manner to try and maximize the reach of your article. This will end up hurting more than helping.
Your content should be tailored not just to the keywords you’re targeting, but to why someone might be searching for them. The entire purpose of this very post is to provide helpful information to you, the reader. If I write my title, select my slug, and write this content in a way that is trying to hold information back to get you to buy Nu’s services, my odds are nearly zero at ranking this post on the first page of Google for my targeted keyword - SEO Basics.
Typing ‘SEO basics’ into Google will present you with a number of helpful articles geared toward getting the user started in SEO, not sales pages. The user’s intent in searching for SEO basics matters to Google. People aren’t looking to buy something, they’re looking for information.
Create content with purpose. If that purpose is to sell a service, write it that way, but make sure that’s what people are looking for when typing in the keyword you’re targeting.
5. Building Links
Link building. The Holy Grail of content marketing and every SEO expert on the planet.
When someone links to your website, preferably to a specific page, search engines love it. It says that your content is worth linking to, it’s relevant. Even better, when a site with a lot of authority (i.e. Wikipedia) links to something you wrote, it can be a huge benefit.
Meta descriptions, quality content, broken links - these are all things you can control. Link building, however, relies on others finding value in what you’ve written, or are selling, and linking to it.
This needs to be done carefully, intentionally. Start by linking to resources you find helpful (remember my link to SEO Minion earlier? That’s a backlink for them), and you might receive links in return. Be aware of this, but be careful to not push it too hard, instead focus on your content quality and social media efforts and eventually the backlinks will begin to happen.
*WARNING* Do NOT buy into the promise of some companies that will try and sell you backlinks. Google knows. They know everything, and they will penalize you for buying backlinks.
This is only a start. With hundreds of ranking factors, optimizing for SEO is never going to be a simple task, but at least you can start somewhere.
If you’re looking for additional resources, I strongly recommend the following:
Ahrefs. Data-driven and approachable in their writing style, Ahrefs provides regular, helpful insights into the world of SEO. I personally spend time on this blog with some regularity, though I will confess it can be a bit more technical at times.
Hubspot. We’re certified Hubspot partners, but we read their blog because we want to. Helpful SEO courses and foundational information on all aspects of marketing - not just SEO.
Neil Patel. Good ‘ol Neil. He’s managed to turn his visage into the very image of SEO and keyword research. He offers numerous free tools that can help you figure out what keywords to target.
Remember - SEO isn’t just for ‘experts,’ but everyone!