Marketing, SEO, Website Design

SEO 101: Breaking Down The Basics

While Search engine optimization (SEO) can be frustrating and look like a massive mountain that cannot be climbed. While Google doesn’t openly publish how the search algorithms work, there are hundreds of variables that can determine how your site ranks. This can feel like a complicated mess if you don’t have any experience with website design & building, Schema structure, site structure, and XML sitemaps. It is true that experience pays off and someone who is just beginning will not see the same results as someone with years under their belt, this does not mean that SEO to not learnable. The reality is that SEO is more learnable than you probably would think. This guide is for someone who is new to SEO or unfamiliar with coding and website structure.

Overall View

When websites are ranked, it is based on the combination of two (very) broad categories: relevance and authority. Relevance is related to how close the content on a page would meet the needs or expectations for a user. An example would be if a user asked a question, Google wants to find a website to answer it. Authority is a way to measure the trustworthiness or authoritative of the source. You would probably want to involve building your authority while increasing your relevance for targeted searches.

On-site optimization: This is the process of making your website more visible (authoritative) and easier for Google’s web crawlers to understand the pages. Tweaks and strategies usually involve changes to your website to your backend code or other structural site chances.

Ongoing content marketing: This is one of the best ways to build your site’s authority and relevance. With this, you would be able to choose topics and optimize keyword phrases that your target audience will use, while simultaneously creating content for your website’s authoritativeness.

Off-site optimization (link building): This is the tactics used to promote your on-site content and improve your authority by building links to your website. Quality is more important than quantity. Links pointing to your website have a direct influence on the authority of your website.

Technical

While there are hundreds of SEO elements, in this section, there will be a few talked about. These are the changes you’ll want to make, factors to consider and/or monitor, and potential issues that you may experience. 

Search Indexing

While there are hundreds of SEO elements, in this section there will be a few talked about. These are the changes you’ll want to make, factors to consider and/or monitor, and potential issues that you may experience. 

Think of Google as a library. When you go to a library to find a book, the librarians can help you find the book you need. However, no matter how relevant the book may be to you, you’ll never find it if it is not currently on the shelves. Libraries must add new books and update old copies to keep the information up-to-date on the shelves.

Search Indexing works similar, the goal is to provide results. To maintain the search results, Google uses automated bots, known as “crawlers” or “spiders” to continually search the web for new page entries. Just as a library would search for new or updated books. This is important for any website and if you want to be listed accurately, you need to make sure your site is indexed correctly

There are three main approaches you can take for search indexing:

Passive: If you want your book on the shelves at the library, the library needs to know that you have a good first. Google wants all the new books on its shelves updated, so it will try to crawl sites completely on its own. In this passive approach, you’ll simply wait for Google to index your site, and trust its best judgment when it comes to canonicalizing your URL structures. This is the easiest way for most people who are new to SEO. For this method, you don’t have to do anything. The only potential disadvantage here, other than some degree of control over the indexing, is that it sometimes takes more time for Google to update its index this way (up to a few weeks for new websites)

Active: This approach allows you to update the URL structures on your website by using an on-site sitemap. This is known an HTML sitemap. It is easy to create, as long as you are familiar with coding or if you are using WordPress, you could use a plugin. Create a page called “Sitemap” and list all the pages on your site you want Google to index. Separated the categories and subcategories to provide hints to bots as to how your links interact with one another. Also, include short descriptions to identify what each link is used for. This doesn’t guarantee Google will index the pages, but can the overall process. The major disadvantage is that you’ll need to adjust the sitemap page every time you make changes to your website. unless you use an automatic sitemap solution that updates on its own.  

Direct: This is the route that most websites use by creating an XML sitemap, which is different from an HTML sitemap. This is essentially a text file that contains a list of your website’s URLs and descriptions that help search engines index your links, in relation to one another. There are WordPress Plugins that will automatically generate an XML sitemap for you. Once you are done setting up your XML sitemap, you’ll need to upload it directly to Google. You also want to create a robots.txt file for your website and add your sitemap to it. Please the code in it: Sitemap: http://www.example.com/sitemap-index.xml (remember to have your domain here “example” is and what your sitemap file name it). Once you are done, upload it to your site’s root directory


Site Speed

Website loading speed is always a topic when talking about any website. While there are many studies that show a website that takes over 3 seconds to load will lose some visitors, you should not be only stressing about loading speed. This is just one more part of SEO. A blazing fast website is not the only way to rank well in search engines. Loading speed is still all around important. Google does reward website that provides content faster, that is part of the “user experience”. However, it only penalizes around one percent of sites for slow loading speeds.



The quick is, a faster loading website can help with higher tanking and more conversions. Google has a Speed Test Insights that you can run and see how your website tests. The following can help improve your website speed overall: 

Use a good caching plugin: On WordPress, each page is generated when a user visits it. This can put stress on the database and slow down the website overall when enough people are visiting your website at once. What a cache plugin does is creates a static copy of each page to be loaded, taking stress off the database. The caching plugin allows users to store certain pieces of information about your site on their browsers. This won’t do much for the first page that loads, but the next page loaded will be able to load much quicker. All the website we make, the cache plugin we use is WP Rocket. Oneof the first things we do with any website we work with is set up that plugin. There are many caching plugins too. Comet CacheWP Super CacheWP Fastest CacheW3 Total Cache (requires a lot of set up), and many more good free ones if you are on a budget. 

Limit the number of plugins you use: Each plugin will add weight to the website, meaning the more plugins being used, the more stress on the server (your hosting plan). It is always safe to keep the plugins the minimum and try to find a theme with most, if not all the features you need. Depending on your level of coding, you can add some codes, like a site analytics to the theme directly with the function file or in the PHP file of the child theme directly. Plugins like cache and SEO are a must, but try to limit the others.

Compress what you can: Some caching plugins will have GZip built in. This reduces the size of files on your website so that overall it will load faster. That is not GZip’s only main faction, but it does help little. Imagines are always going to be the largest files a person has to download when viewing your website. While you still want to keep the plugins to a minimum, am Image compressor will make a large impact on their file sizes. There are many good free ones to check out: OptimusSmush Image Compression and Optimization (a popular one), Imagify Image OptimizerShortPixel Image Optimizer, and many more good free ones. 

Limit your redirects: A Redirect is something essential for correcting an error with a page that as a 404 error, making sure pages load with https and other issues. However, this is something you want to try and limit.

Consider your server choice: This is an important part to any website. While there around countless hosting providers, some cheaper then others, you want to make sure you pick the right one for your needs. If you have a smaller blog website, will work well for you. We use Dreamhost for our server(s) and websites that we design or that wanted to use our hosting plans. We try to limit the websites per server, giving more resources to each website. Dreamhost also has a WordPress hosting plan called DreamPress that is made for WordPress website, big or small. BlueHostGoDaddy, and there are countless others. We like to make sure that the host uses at least PHP version 7, as some still use 5.6. Check around and read about what each one offers. Make sure it fits your needs.

Clear unnecessary site data: WordPress by default will keep drafts on changes to pages and post. As long as you don’t need them you can clear them. WP Rocket has a database optimizer built into it for this purpose. WP-Optimize will do the job, keep the settings default unless you know what you’re doing. 

Consider a content delivery network (CDN): This is an automatic service you can sign up for that allows you to serve, or distribute, your site content from multiple different locations simultaneously. Every website we host we use Cloudflare on. They have a free version that you can use. It will help with website loading speed and has some security features; most premium cache plugins will have a way to set up CDNs (Cloudflare works differently) in them. From there you can set up Amazon CloudfrontKeyCDNMaxCDA, or any other that the plugin works with. It’s an additional add-on but doesn’t require much technical knowledge. It should help you achieve a faster loading time if you’re struggling to hit your goals with other tactics.


Mobile Optimization

Every year this becomes more important. With more people using their smartphones, having a website that is mobile ready is super important. Mobile searches now outnumber desktop searches, so Google has taken extensive efforts to reward sites that optimize for mobile devices and penalize sites that don’t. This means if your website is mobile “friendly” you’re going to see an increase in authority and rankings over the same website without it. You’ll also become more appealing to people, as your website will be easier to use across devices.



Here are a few main “optimized” for mobile devices:

Content visibility: The most basic part is making sure your website’s content visible to a user without the need to scroll or zoom. On a non-optimized website, written text will often be off-screen to the right, forcing users to scroll to read the rest of it.

Content readability: Your content should be easy to read. This could mean that you might need to choose a bigger, cleaner font. Mobile devices have smaller screens, users don’t want to squint or zoom in to have to read it.

 

Finger-friendly interactions: When using a mobile device, your users will not have a mouse. Your content needs to be easily assessable with their fingertips. The buttons, tabs, menus, and others should be easy to tap.


Image and video visibility: Recent years we have seen more web browsers block flash from loading, phone browsers included, this means that if you want all of your content to load correctly, you need to make sure that your images and videos are optimized for mobile devices.

Loading speed: You want to double check your websites loading speed on mobile devices, as they can be a little slower at loading web pages. Fortunately, mobile speed improvements are mostly the same as desktop speed improvements

Modern websites are “responsive”, meaning depending on the screen size the website will load for that device. Updating your website to a responsive design will help make it easier to manage because you will only have one website to update. You can also create a separate mobile version of your site, but this isn’t recommended; especially now that Google is beginning to switch to mobile-first indexing.

Most modern WordPress themes and mainstream website builders are responsive by default. If you’re building a site from scratch, you’ll need to work with your designers and developers to ensure they’re using responsive criteria. If your site is responsive, you should not have to worry. If you’ like to double check, you can use Google’s mobile-friendly tool to evaluate your domain and see if there are any mistakes interfering with your mobile optimization

Sitemaps

As stated before, Sitemaps are an important part of a website’s SEO. This lets you control the content that you want on search engines. Here the emphasis will be on the XML sitemap, as they are more important and Google does not use HTML sitemaps to index your website’s pages.

Google explains that XML sitemaps are especially useful for the following types of sites:

Your site is really large. As a result, it’s more likely Google web crawlers might overlook crawling some of your new or recently updated pages.

Your site has a large archive of content pages that are isolated or well not linked to each other. If you site pages do not naturally reference each other, you can list them in a sitemap to ensure that Google does not overlook some of your pages.

Your site is new and has few external links to it. Googlebot and other web crawlers crawl the web by following links from one page to another. As a result, Google might not discover your pages if no other sites link to them.

Your site uses rich media content, is shown in Google News, or uses other sitemaps-compatible annotations. Google can take additional information from sitemaps into account for search, where appropriate.

 


While you could make your sitemap manually, when using a WordPress website, there are SEO plugins that have a sitemap generator built them. Yoast SEO, All in One SEO Pack, and The SEO Framework to name a few. This website is using Yoast SEO. From within the plugin, you can set which pages can be listed on the sitemap and excluded custom ones you would like not to list. Then when you add a page or post, it will automatically be added to the sitemap.

This is not to say you cannot make your sitemap manually if you’d like. For that, you can view “Build and submit a sitemap” from Google.

Meta Data and Alt Text

Meta data is how search engines and social media website like Facebook display the title and description of a URL or page. The text describes your pages and exist in the code of your site, not visible on the pages. When Google’s crawlers check the information on pages, this makes it helpful for optimizing your site for specific keywords and phrases. This is also used to produce the entries in search engine results pages (SERPs) that users will see on search engines. it’s important to optimize your meta data to ensure that potential visitors are encouraged to click on your links and visit your website. The title of your page will appear on top, followed by your domain URL in green, and then your meta description, as shown in the example photo below:



The goal of using Meta data is to optimize your website’s information to ensure that Google is getting an Accurate description of your content, and second to make sure that search engine users click though to your website.

Titles: The First and most important part of the description of your website’s pages. This is where you can use keywords that are relevant to the page, your website, and your brand name that make sense to your visitors. Don’t just used random words.

 

Descriptions: The secondary ways of describing your pages on search engines. Here there is more room to add secondary keywords, long-tail phrases, and more conversational phrasing.

 

Alt text: This is specific to images and is important for both search engines and visitors. When you upload an image to your website, first make sure that the title of the image’s file name reflects what the image is, and this will function as the image’s title in search engines. After an image uploads to WordPress, you’ll notice an option for “Alt Text”. This helps Google “understand” what’s happening in your image. The alt text will also appear, instead of the image, in any case where a user attempts to load the image but is unable.


Fortunately, when using WordPress or anther CMS optimizing your meta data becomes easier.



Technical Errors

There will be times when a component of your SEO has an error. The following are common potential things that can go wrong and could cause something to go wrong. If you ever notice your website changed how it ranked dramatically, here are a few places to start the troubleshooting.

Crawl errors: This happens when Google or any other search engine attempts to crawl your site but is somehow unsuccessful. Luckily Google has an easy to figure out what’s happening within Google Search Console, you can run a “crawl error” report. This helps narrow down what is going on. There are many causes for this problem and even more potential fixes. It could be as simple as your robot.txt blocks the crawlers or harder like a DNS error. No matter what it is, running a “crawl error” report will help narrow down the potential problems.

 

404 errors: the 404 error is when a page link is broken and does not load. 404 errors won’t seriously hurt your SEO but can be annoying for users and may be an indication of a bigger problem. If the error is on a page that you have recently deleted, that, of course, is normal. Search engines might still have that page listed. If the errors are on pages that should still be loading, you’ll want to restore a page that if it was accidentally deleted, diagnosing any problems with your hosting provider, or creating a 301 redirect. 301 redirects take incoming traffic to a page and forward it to a different, more relevant page. You can do this in the htaccess file on the root of your website or for WordPress use a plugin, Quick Page/Post Redirect Plugin works well and Yoast SEO Premium also has a feature for this. Also, on WordPress, check the permalink settings and make sure that they are set up the way you’d like and even if they are, save the setting anyways, if every page has a 404, this can help fix that problem. Make sure that you have a 404 error set up and ready for any error that may happen.


Broken links: When a link becomes no longer available for users and a 404 error happens, this is a broken or “dead” link. Why the links are broken is another story, but no matter the case the links no longer load the content of the page. If the links exist on an external site, you can set up a 301 redirect to an active page. You can use Google’s internal links report to check for broken links on your own site.


Duplicate content: 
When duplicate content is brought up, it normal is about duplicate content on the website. instead, it’s usually due to a single page of content being indexed with multiple URLs. An example would be if your website was indexed as both a http:// and http://www. Google Search Console has a duplicate content report that can help you track down these instances. This isn’t going to hurt your ranking, but it is always smart to clean up anything unnecessary. You can also use a canonical tag to help bots better understand your website. To do this, add a canonical link to the page’s code, it looks like this:

<link rel=”canonical” href=”https:// www.seoyourbusiness.com/examplepage/”>. Make sure you set up the link to be the way that you want your website represented by search engines, WordPress plugins like Yoast SEO do this automatically.

There will be some other technical issues that you may encounter: Imagines not loading properly, css or js problems, and others, but most of them are preventable if you follow best practices and can be a quick google search to fix.

Non-Technical

SEO is not only about having a beautiful fast website that is all set up for search engines, there are still tactics that don’t require coding. While you are not going master the non- technical overnight, with practice, you will become better and it will pay off for your website’s SEO.

High-Quality Content

Without high-quality content, your SEO campaign will fall right on its face. You need at least 300 words of highly descriptive, concisely written content on every page of your site (blog posts), and you’ll want to update your website’s blog at least two or three times a week with quality content. Try for at least 700 words or more. This content will give search engines more pages and more content to crawl and index. Collectively, each added post will provide more opportunities for your website visitors to interact with your brand and website.



Keyword Optimization

Every word that is in the content gives an opportunity to be optimized for specific target keywords. When performing research on keywords, you’ll want to choose terms with high potential traffic and low competition that are relevant to your brand. Then you’ll include those terms throughout the website while favoring your page titles and descriptions. Try not to over optimize and remember that your visitors need to understand your content.



Link Building

Authority is partially calculated based on the quality and appearance of your site, however, the bigger factor is the quantity and quality of links you have pointing to your website. Link building is a strategy that enables you to create more of these links, and therefore generate more authority for your brand. Quality is more important than quantity. You do not want to “buy” links, as they tend to be spam related and Google will penalize, or even remove your website from their search results.



Analysis and Reporting

All the tactics are going to be worthwhile if you cannot measure and interpret the results. At least one a month, you’ll want to run an analysis of your work, measuring things like inbound traffic, ranking for your target keywords, and checking for any technical errors.  By interpreting these results and comparing them to the amount of money you’ve invested in your campaign, you’ll get a clear picture of your return on investment (your ROI) and can then adjust improve your profitability.

 

Conclusion

Hopefully, this guide helps you get started with our website and helps make technical SEO details a lot less technical. If you’ve followed the guide step-by-step, you should have been able to tackle tasks robots.txt files and improving your site’s speed even if you don’t have experience in creating or managing websites.

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