Update: On April 21st, 2015, Google rolled out its mobile update. If your website isn’t mobile-friendly, kiss your Google search rankings goodbye. Here’s a good article from Moz on what you need to know about the update.
On May 5th, 2015, Google officially announced that there are more searches on mobile devices than desktop computers. If you don’t understand how huge that is, you’re behind the ball already.
This is a very large post at almost 4,000 words. Because SEO changes all the time, it would be impossible to learn every single SEO strategy in one weekend. Ineffective strategies fade away, and new strategies appear all the time. However, with the information in this post, you can learn all of the SEO “best practices” for starting off with a solid SEO foundation in a 48 hour period. This is all of the SEO work that should be done on every single website, no matter what else changes in the future.
Search Engine Optimization, or SEO for short, is simply the process of getting a website to show up when a particular term or phrase is entered into a search engine, such as Google. Google is by far the most popular search engine that people turn to when looking for information. In fact, you’ve probably “Google’d” several times already today in order to find a store, a restaurant, solve a problem, or find new information. You also probably didn’t even go past the first page of search results, because Google is very good at providing relevant websites for you right there on that first page.
The benefits of getting your website to show up on the first page of Google when people search for your product, service, or information cannot be understated. For a moderate amount of time and effort, you can put your website in front of a lot of people who are looking specifically for what you provide.
If your goal is to sell something, or promote your business or product on the internet, SEO is one of the best uses of your time and money.
SEO is a very frustrating and confusing topic for a lot of people, when it really doesn’t need to be.
For a very long time, I saw the entire field of SEO as complex, intimidating, and even scammy. There are a lot of people out there who are self-proclaimed “SEO Experts” that claim to know some sort of secret trick or insider information to get your website ranked highly in the search results. These “experts” usually promise spectacular results quickly, and charge very high prices. When the results don’t happen, and people get burned, it gives the entire SEO field a bad reputation.
Luckily, SEO is not as complicated as you might think, and Google usually punishes websites who use these shortcuts and tricks anyways. With a few, simple steps, and by providing quality information that will benefit your potential audience, you can achieve the results you’re looking for without wasting a bunch of time and money.
If you Google’d “bachelor’s degree in 2 years” for several years, my website was the first result that showed up on the first page (above an article on Yahoo.com):
I’d love to tell you that I was utilizing expert SEO knowledge to get that post ranked so highly when I wrote it, but the truth is, I knew absolutely nothing, and wasn’t even trying. This site started out as more of a brain dump for me to get my thoughts organized and publicly available in case something I wrote could help someone. (I’ve since removed that post, and focused my website and blog on helping small business owners with digital marketing instead).
So, why did Google rank that article so highly? Simply because it provides very high quality, relevant information to people who search for that term. Using WordPress as my blog platform also helped. Other than that, I did nothing but write it, and post it.
(WordPress has a lot of built-in features that make your site pretty optimized right out of the box without doing anything at all.)
As you can see, simply by providing high quality information, SEO can sometimes take care of itself.
Google uses several factors to determine what is considered “high quality”, and only shows websites that meet those factors in search results. No matter what SEO strategies you use, if your website doesn’t provide high quality, relevant information, Google will not display it in search results.
A lot of low quality websites that were ranking highly because of all of the scammy tricks people were using have been heavily penalized by Google with each update to their algorithm. Over time, Google is getting better and better at determining if a website is actually providing high quality information, or is just gaming the system. Because of this, it is very important that you build the foundation of your SEO strategy on providing the highest quality possible. This will pay off for years to come, and you will never have to worry about getting penalized by Google.
While I was able to rank highly for the search phrase “Bachelors Degree in 2 Years” simply by providing high quality content, it was largely due to there not being a whole lot of competition for that search phrase in the first place.
If you are trying to rank highly for a search term that is more competitive, it is essential to cover these 4 steps to improve your chances for success:
- Keyword Research
- Competitive Analysis
- On-Site Analysis
- Link Building
Another word often used for “search term” or “search phrase” is a keyword. From an SEO standpoint, a keyword is a word or phrase that people are entering into Google that you want your website to show up for. For example, if you are a real estate agent in Kansas City, you obviously want to make sure your website shows up when people type in the keywords “real estate agent in Kansas City”, or “homes for sale in Kansas City”.
If you want to outrank all of your competitors, you have to make sure your website is the best and most relevant website on the entire internet for those keywords. How do you do that? By offering the best content on the entire internet that people can’t help but sharing and linking to.
The problem is, because those keywords are going to be very competitive, it will take a lot more effort to get ranked highly. If there are big, national companies with huge marketing budgets all competing for those same keywords, it’s going to be nearly impossible to outrank them. They have brand recognition, have been around longer, and are likely using the same SEO tactics you are.
That’s where Keyword Research comes in.
When you conduct Keyword Research, you are trying to find other, more obscure keywords that are related to those highly competitive keywords, but have less competition, and are easier to rank for.
In the long-term, you will want to eventually rank for those competitive keywords, but you can achieve a lot of success in the short-term by targeting and ranking for several less competitive keywords.
Obviously, those high-traffic, high-competition keywords are the most lucrative, so you must find that sweet spot between traffic and competition. Be realistic. If you are just starting out, it’s going to take a while to start showing up in search results, especially if your competition is SEO savvy and has been around for a while. That said, aim for the stars regardless. Over time, when you start ranking for those competitive keywords, you will have more traffic than you can handle.
Keyword research is its own massive topic to cover. For the sake of brevity, I will provide you some fantastic resources where you can learn more:
- Keyword Research: The Definitive Guide
- Chapter 5 of Moz’s “Beginner’s Guide to SEO”
- Chapter 6 of QuickSprout’s “The Advance Guide to SEO”
- HubSpot’s “How to Do Keyword Research” Guide
- KISSmetric’s “How to Do Keyword Research the Smart Way”
Market Samurai — If you are going to get serious about SEO, then you may want to consider more serious software. This is the only SEO tool that I pay for, because it allows me to do all of my keyword research within the program.
You can sign up to try Market Samurai for free here.
(Full disclosure: I get a small percentage of the sale for referring you. Your price is unchanged, and buying stuff you were going to get anyway through affiliate links is a great way to support this blog.)
Market Samurai Dojo — Whether you buy Market Samurai or not, this keyword research tutorial is very useful. These tools and guides will provide you with everything you need to know in order to successfully research your own keywords.
People search for 3 primary reasons:
- Navigation — They want to be directed to a website.
- Information — They need information.
- Commercial (or Transaction) — They want to purchase something.
Try to keep in mind that search traffic doesn’t necessarily equate to conversions and revenue. Some keywords may have a lot of search traffic, but the people searching for those keywords have no interest in purchasing anything, which ultimately doesn’t help you much if you’re trying to make money online. You want your keywords to have “Commercial Intent”. Ideally, you want to rank for keywords that people are searching for just before purchasing something.
To determine whether your keywords have “Commercial Intent”, I highly recommend checking out BacklinkO’s article here.
Once you’ve found the keywords you want to rank for, you will want to go ahead and enter them into Google and see what your competition looks like. There are a few benefits of competitive analysis:
- Seed Keywords: By looking at your competitor’s websites, you can often discover other keywords they are using that you might have missed. For this reason, I usually do keyword research and competitive analysis hand in hand.
- Competitor’s Level of Competency: Some of your competitors might have their own SEO/Internet Marketing Department within their company. Others might have paid a third-party company thousands of dollars to optimize their website. However, in some industries, your competitors might not even know that SEO exists. By doing competitive analysis, you can get a good idea of how hard of a job you have in front of you.
- Capitalize on their Weaknesses: Not only can you find out what is working well for you competition, you can also see what they are doing wrong, or not doing at all. Any holes they haven’t filled are opportunities for you to outrank them.
Competitive Analysis Resources:
- Raven Tools Competitive Analysis Checklist
- HubSpot’s “How to Conduct a Competitive SEO Audit to Outrank Industry Rivals”
- Search Engine Watch’s “Competitive Analysis: How to Become an SEO Hero in 4 Steps”
- Web Pro News Competitive Analysis
By now, you can probably see that SEO is multi-faceted, and no single strategy will ensure success. Even if you have a list of keywords with a lot of search traffic, and relatively low competition, you will get nowhere if your website itself is not optimized properly to be “friendly” with Google’s search engine. There is a lot you can easily do on your website, especially if you are using WordPress, that will ensure you have optimized as much as possible.
Here is a list of just a few things you will need to make sure you have covered(if you’re not sure how to do this yourself, get your web developer or webmaster to look over it and make necessary changes):
- URL -This is the address (.com) people type in to get to your website. Make sure your URL includes your business name, and is short and memorable.
- Title — Make sure the titles of all the pages and blog posts on your website include your keyword near the beginning, and are also short and memorable. You want it to be attention grabbing, but also descriptive, and not misleading.
- Meta tags — Meta tags are special HTML tags that provide information about your web page. Google provides some great information about meta tags here. Make sure to provide informative descriptions in your meta tags that include your keywords.
- Keyword Usage — Make sure that you are using your keywords not only in the Title, URL, and metatags, but also a few times in the main body of the website or blog post. Don’t go overboard. Google can tell when you are just “keyword stuffing”, and the page looks over-optimized and unnatural.
- SEO WordPress Plug-Ins — When using WordPress as your blog or website platform, you can easily install plugins that take care of a lot of your on site optimization for you. My favorite is WordPress SEO by Yoast, which I will talk more about later on in this article.
- Unique Content — Providing high quality, unique content in the form of blog posts, pictures, videos, eBooks, infographics and podcasts on a regular basis, that link to your website, and are all optimized for your keywords, is probably the best strategy to gain a big audience that will keep coming back to your site over and over again. Once you have their attention, and have gained their trust as a knowledgable and authoritative person in your field, they will willingly and eagerly buy your products and services. And, of course, this will also greatly enhance your authority in Google’s eyes, and give you a big boost in your search engine rankings.
- Page Load Speed — If your page loads slowly because it is packed full of large image or video files, people are going to quickly click away from your site, and move on to another. Attention span is never shorter than when people are browsing the web. In fact, Amazon’s calculated that a page load slowdown of just 1 second could cost it $1.6 billion in sales each year.
- Bounce Rate — If people click on your website, and then quickly click (or “bounce”) away, that indicates to Google that either your website does not offer relevant information, or it is low quality, and people are quickly leaving to find the information they need elsewhere. You want your website to be filled with great, relevant content, and have a user-friendly design in order to keep people reading, clicking, and browsing around, instead of going to someone else’s site.
- Design — If you’re going to design your website yourself, but have no programming skills, I recommend that you find a nice, clean, responsive template. Make sure your menu structure makes sense, and people can find what they need to easily. Apple is famous for the clean, simple design of not only their products, but all of their advertising, their brick and mortar stores, and their website. My advice is to take as many notes from them as you can when it comes to the design and layout of your website. The more user friendly your website, the more people will share it with their friends, and keep coming back themselves.
- Sitemap — Luckily, I don’t have to worry about generating an XML sitemap, because the SEO plugin by Yoast does it automatically for me. For more on what an XML sitemap is, and how to generate one, Google has provided a good article here.
- Rich Snippets — Moz has an amazing infographic on what rich snippets are and how to set them up here.
- Social Media Share Buttons — The more your website and blog posts are shared, the more traffic you will get, the more people will link to you, and the higher search engine rankings you will attain. Because of this, you want to make it as easy as possible for people to share your website with everyone they know. WordPress has many free plugins that add social share buttons to your website.
This part may seem overwhelming and complicated, but it’s much more simple than it looks. Here’s a nice keyword-focused checklist form Salesforce:
Elements of a Perfectly Optimized Page from Moz:
Here are some more resources to get you started:
- SEMRush is an awesome Search Engine Marketing tool with a US database of 40,000,000 keywords. Learn everything about your competitors.
- WebConfs 15 Minute SEO Check is how I get started when optimizing a website. It lists everything you need to pay attention to, and ranks each site component by importance. WebConfs also has a variety of other useful tools that can be found here.
- SEO Workers Site Analysis is another one of my favorite resources for on site analysis. It is going to do a basic analysis of your website, as well as tell you what you did right, and what you need to fix.
- SEO Moz Tools. I’ve mentioned SEO Moz a few times so far because they are my go-to place to find answers to my SEO questions. I highly recommend that you sign up for a basic SEO Moz account so you can get access to their free tools.
- SEO Book Tools. SEO Book offers three premium Firefox plugins: SEO Toolbar, SEO for Firefox and Rank Tracker. SEO for Firefox is particularly useful as it includes great SEO information right in the search results.
Start by taking all of your starting keywords and run your site through Moz’s Rank Tracker. Make a spreadsheet of the results, and then do it again in a few weeks to track your progress. Start by optimizing all of the “+3″ items on the 15 Minute SEO Check.
I can’t recommend WordPress highly enough. If you already have a website that utilizes HTML or any other platform, at least set up a WordPress blog that you can create great content on, and then link back to your main site.
Once you get your WordPress site set up, I highly recommend installing the WordPress SEO Plugin by Yoast which can be found here.
This simple plugin allows you to enter in an SEO title, meta description and focus keyword for each blog post, and will do a “Page Analysis” in one click that tells you what needs to be fixed. It also gives you a “Snippet Preview” of what the post will look like when it shows up in a Google search result. Here’s what it looks like for this post:
Just by utilizing this simple plugin, I have already significantly optimized my site. This plugin also automatically generates XML sitemaps and includes many more technical improvements to your site that you don’t even have to look at, all for free.
- Copyblogger’s “How to Set Up Your SEO-Friendly WordPress Website in 15 Minutes”
- The Top 30 Most Popular WordPress Plug-Ins
One of the biggest ways that Google determines if a website is high quality or not is if other high quality websites link to it. In essence, when a high quality website links to your site, they are giving your site an endorsement as another high quality website. So, how to you get those websites to link to you?
YOU HAVE TO EARN IT
How do you earn it?
BY PROVIDING HIGH QUALITY CONTENT
When you provide high quality content, people will naturally share your website, and as more people discover it, more websites will begin to link back to yours.
For a long time, you could use all kinds of “link building” tricks to push your website up in the rankings, including purchasing links from spammy blogs and websites, or building a backlinking “network” of websites that all linked to each other. While some of these tactics might still give you some results, the risk of being penalized by Google and losing your rank is just not worth it.
Google is cracking down more than ever on unnatural, low-quality, and spammy backlinks, so my simple advice to you is to create content that people value, and want to share and link to naturally. With that said, you can boost your exposure by posting your high quality articles on social media, answering questions and linking to your relevant content in LinkedIn, on Quora, using Web 2.0 sites like StumbleUpon and Reddit, and building relationships with other bloggers within your industry, and then doing guest posts on their sites.
Take some advice from Google’s own Matt Cutts:
As long as you are building relationships and adding value, and not just spamming these sites, you will have very good results from these strategies. Google is putting more and more emphasis on websites that are shared naturally through these avenues. I have gotten tremendous boosts in traffic to my website simply by spreading my articles around on Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit. Whenever something goes “viral”, this kind of social sharing is usually how it happens.
Social Media Sharing Resources:
- Buffer’s “The Ideal Length of Everything Online, Backed by Research”
- Buffer’s “Guide to High Quality Social Media Sharing”
For each blog post I write, I do keyword research, competitive analysis, on site analysis, and link building. Regardless of what industry you are in, you can find topics to write blog posts about that will help boost your website’s search ranking, and get you in front of your ideal audience.
- HubSpot’s Blog Topic Generator
- Buffer’s “How to Write the Perfect Headline”
- Buffer’s “The Complete List of Evergreen Content Ideas for Your Blog”
In an article on Forbes.com entitled “The Simple Truth About SEO“, Bret Beshore writes the following:
I set up a meeting with a small group of highly experienced entrepreneurs who had built multiple Inc. 500 companies with SEO as a primary marketing strategy. Here’s what they explained:
The secret is that there is no secret. SEO isn’t complicated. Like anything, there is a depth of knowledge that helps fine-tune strategies, but 90 percent is merely about consistently doing what feels natural and testing. They specifically cautioned against trusting anyone who claimed to have an inside track. Instead, they recommended focusing on amplifying what feels like a natural extension of the business.
Do the basics. Google needs to be able to determine a general ballpark of where your organization is relevant. Proper site structure, meta tags, and keywords still matter, but they’re just the start.
Everything is moving to quality. Search engines want to provide the most relevant information. It used to be far easier to game the system with loads of links and specific anchor text. Times change. Now, the signals of relevancy revolve around a far more diverse set of information like social endorsement, repeat traffic, frequent mentions, and helpful content.
SEO is a powerful skill that you can use to drive a lot of traffic to your website with a moderate investment of time.
Please leave a comment, or contact me if you have any questions, suggestions, or feedback!
Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you decide to purchase any of these awesome tools or products. I only recommend tools and products I personally think are valuable, that I have used hands-on in my business. Please do not purchase any of these products unless you feel they will help you achieve your business goals.
Originally published at launchyourrevolution.com on February 15, 2016.
If you can learn SEO for a couple of hours every day, then you can master the basics of SEO within 4-8 weeks and land your first SEO job in 3-6 months. If you can learn SEO full-time, then you can master the basics even within 1-2 weeks.How long does it take to learn SEO optimization? ›
Average Time it Takes to Learn SEO
Experts say it usually takes one to three months to learn the foundations of SEO and a year or more to master the practice fully. The length of time it takes to learn the basics of SEO depends upon several factors.
Learning all the intricacies of SEO in a single day is not a realistic goal. SEO is a multifaceted and constantly evolving field that requires significant time and effort to grasp fully.How hard is it to learn search engine optimization? ›
SEO is not necessarily hard to learn, but it does take time, effort, and persistence. If you are just starting and know nothing about search engines and how they work, you can expect to feel a bit overwhelmed initially, especially if you are trying to learn SEO on your own. However, it is important to keep trying.Can a beginner do SEO? ›
SEO is not easy. But it's no rocket science either. There are things you can implement right away and there are concepts that will take much more time and effort. So yes, you can do SEO on your own.How many hours per week does SEO take? ›
You'll also need to regularly update your sitemap when it changes dramatically. These things don't take much time, unless a problem emerges that you'll need to solve. Estimated Time: About three to 12 hours a week, depending on the size of your site and whether any problems arise.Can I learn SEO in one month? ›
While it's a career-long journey, you can indeed learn SEO in about a month — enough to make a huge impact on your website and thus your business as a whole.Can I do SEO on my own? ›
Search engine optimization does not require a professional. Companies with small-to-medium websites and an SEO-friendly content management system or ecommerce platform can do much of the work in-house. Here are my top 10 do-it-yourself SEO tips.Can I learn SEO from Google? ›
Google does not provide any kind of general SEO specialist certification. However, they do recommend some SEO courses and have their own learning platform called Digital Garage, where you can improve your knowledge in the areas of digital marketing, career development, and data analysis.Why does SEO take so long to work? ›
It takes a lot of observation and data collection as well. Due to competition, SEO takes a while to become higher up in the rankings. It can also be difficult to catch up with competition because of the fact they have been around for longer. If a website is continuing to work at SEO, they are still many steps ahead.
There is no overarching best word count for SEO. However, we recommend aiming for at least 1,000 words for standard blog posts, 2,000 for long-form content, and 300-500 for news posts or product pages.