What Is SEO? Your Ultimate Guide

“What is SEO?” It’s a question that almost every website owner and blogger has asked, and understanding the answer is crucial.

In this guide, you’ll learn the basics and what tools you need to get your website to appear in search results.

But first, this post contains affiliate links. Read my full disclosure policy to learn more.

Understanding SEO Basics

Whether you’re just starting your first website or need to grow an existing one, a good understanding of SEO is vital.

For one, SEO stands for search engine optimization. That involves creating your website content so that it’s easy for search engine algorithms to detect and rank for relevant keywords.

How Search Engines Work

When you search for something on Google, it scrubs its entire database of websites to find relevant results. Then, it shows you the pages it thinks will answer your question.

Other search engines work in similar ways. Though depending on each one, the databases may differ, so what appears at the top of one search engine may be further down the page on another.

As website owners publish new content, search engines have to update their databases. That way, they can continue to show users the most accurate, up-to-date information.

Importance of Organic Search Results

Organic search results can make or break your website traffic. On my two music blogs, SEO has been the highest traffic referral source.

It’s amazing because you’re basically done with an article once you publish it. Google will work its magic and show it to users who need to see it.

You don’t have to constantly promote your blog on social media to get clicks. And if you need to take some time off, you won’t need to worry about your traffic taking a hit.

Finally, unlike search engine ads, you don’t need to spend money on organic search results. However, it can take some time before your content starts to rank.

On-Page SEO

On-page SEO refers to optimization that happens directly on your website. It’s something you and your readers can see.

Consider some strategies to improve your on-page SEO.

Keyword Research

Before you waste time writing a blog post, do your keyword research. It’s essential to validate whether a topic has enough interest to gain traffic.

If it doesn’t, you could waste hours of your time writing the blog post. You want to make sure enough people are searching for the topic each month, ideally at least 100 visitors.

On the other hand, you also want to avoid super competitive topics. A good keyword research tool will tell you how competitive a keyword is.

Unless you’re writing for an established website, look for keywords will low to medium competition. That will give you a better chance of getting your blog to rank first.

Content Optimization

The next vital step in good SEO is optimizing your content. Once you have your chosen keyword, be sure to include it naturally in your article or page.

If possible, add it to the following places:

  • Introduction
  • Conclusion
  • Body text
  • Header
  • Image alt text

NEVER force a keyword into any of those places, however. Search engines are smart enough to detect so-called keyword stuffing, so make sure to only use your keywords naturally.

URL Structure

You should also think carefully about how you’re structuring your blog post links. The URL structure should include the keyword, if possible.

Avoid URLs with strings of numbers as that doesn’t tell search engines about the content. Adding the keyword gives search engines more details about your content.

Internal Linking

Internal links can also do wonders for your on-page SEO. These are links to other pages and posts on your website.

They can help search engines understand more about your content. Internal links are also useful for keeping visitors on your website.

When someone clicks an internal link, it takes them from your blog post to another. That reaffirms to search engines that you publish quality content.

Off-Page SEO

Off-page SEO is just as important as on-page, though it’s a little harder to control. That’s because it refers to search engine optimization that happens on other websites.

You can control certain aspects of it but not everything. Here are a few off-page SEO strategies to implement.

Link Building

If you want to start getting traffic faster, consider a link building strategy. You can ask websites in your niche to link to your website.

A common way to do this is to pitch a guest post on a high-ranking website in your industry. You can write the guest post or hire a freelance writer for the job.

Either way, you’ll place a link to a page on your website in the article. Then, the other website will publish the article with the link on their site, which can help increase your traffic and SEO.

You can also do some link building by writing on platforms such as Medium. Medium articles rank highly in Google, so it can help build trust for your website.

Social Media Marketing

Social media is an essential tool to SEO, whether you like it or not. You can promote your blog posts on social media to get traffic and build an audience.

When you share your links to your blog, you’re sharing them on some of the largest websites and apps out there. The more clicks you get, the more your audience can grow.

That can lead to even more growth from social media. And all of that growth can turn into growth for your website and business as a whole.

Online Reputation Management

When building a business, you want to maintain a positive reputation for your brand. If you can do this online, it can help your overall SEO strategy.

Good online reputation management involves creating content that supports your brand. You’ll also want to monitor and negative press and respond to it in a positive way.

That way, you can continue to build a good reputation for your brand. And if you can do that, you can maintain good SEO.

Technical SEO

Technical SEO happens on the backend of your website. It’s not necessarily something you can see, but it’s definitely something that affects the user experience.

Consider some things that can make or break your technical SEO.

Website speed optimization

When’s the last time you waited more than a second for a website to load before clicking away? Never? Multiple years?

Yeah, I thought so.

If your website doesn’t load quickly and efficiently, you’ll lose viewers. And search engines can track that activity and determine where to rank your website in search results.

Meaning if everyone who clicks on your site clicks back, that doesn’t look good. It could negatively affect your search traffic.

You can maintain fast speed in a few ways. First, consider condensing images so that they don’t take as long to load.

And if you use WordPress, get rid of unnecessary themes and plugins. The simpler your site, the faster it will load.

Mobile Responsiveness

Almost two-thirds of all web traffic comes from a mobile device. If your website isn’t optimized for a smaller screen, you could lose out on two-thirds of your potential audience.

When designing your site, make sure you consider the mobile version. Keep the navigation menu simple and don’t let it cover half of the screen.

Any good website builder will let you preview the mobile version of your site. Take advantage of that preview to ensure everyone will be able to access and enjoy your content.

Site Security (SSL)

The security of your website can also have a huge impact on your SEO. A secure sockets layer (SSL) certificate is vital if you want to appear in search results.

Luckily, you can get a free version, especially if you host your website with SiteGround. This adds that “s” to the end of the “http” at the beginning of your website.

The S stands for secure, and it means your site is encrypted. Visitors can feel safe about viewing your content, especially if you accept payments on your site.

How to Measure SEO Results

As you start to implement various SEO strategies, you need to track your results. Key performance indicators (KPIs) for SEO include:

  • Website traffic
  • Sales
  • Leads

Consider a few programs and tools that can help you analyze your SEO data.

Google Analytics

You can install Google Analytics on most self-hosted websites. The program tracks the number of visitors to your website and the sources of those visitors.

When you review your analytics, you can see which traffic sources are the best. Ideally, that would be organic traffic from search engines.

Other analytics tools can also work, but Google Analytics is the industry standard. It’s also free to use, so you don’t need a massive budget.

Google Search Console

Google Analytics tells you where your traffic is coming from. Meanwhile, Google Search Console tells you what keywords are performing best for your website.

You can review what your top pages and posts are. That’s a great way to get ideas for new content, but it can also help you know which posts to optimize.

For example, maybe your top page doesn’t have any affiliate links. When you find it’s your top post, you’ll know to add some affiliate links so that you don’t miss out on future earnings.

SEO Software

You can also use paid tools and SEO software, such as Semrush, to analyze your SEO strategies. The nice thing about these tools is they can also tell you about your competition.

So if you’re struggling to get results, you may find it’s because your competitors are doing something different or better.

That tells you to change your strategy to stay up to date with trends. And when you make those changes, you may see an increase in traffic and/or revenue.

Common SEO Mistakes to Avoid

You know what to do to build your SEO. But do you know what not to do?

Here are some common problems that you don’t want to include in your SEO strategy.

Keyword Stuffing

I mentioned it briefly, but keyword stuffing is what it sounds like. You stuff keywords into your content with the goal of tricking search engines.

But search engines are getting smarter by the year. While keyword stuffing used to work, it’s no longer an effective strategy.

Instead, you want to write for humans and search engines. Use your keywords as you would if you were speaking to someone.

Ignoring Mobile Optimization

You spend all your time designing the desktop version of your site, and it looks fantastic. But once you publish it, you get crickets.

That’s because you neglected to design a mobile-friendly version. So everyone who visits your site on their phone struggles to see your content.

Spend just as much time designing the mobile version as you do the desktop site. That way, people will be able to read your articles on any device they choose.

Neglecting User Experience

Poor mobile optimization is one example, but there are others. If your site loads slowly or crashes constantly, people won’t want to visit it.

You need to prioritize a good user experience when building a website. Make it easy for people to get to the page or post they’re looking for.

The easier it is to navigate, the longer you’ll keep people on your site. And the more that happens, the better your site will look in the eyes of search engines.

Lack of Quality Content

You can’t just publish your website with one blog post and expect to blow up. Similarly, you can’t just publish a ton of garbage articles written by non-experts or poor AI tools.

Instead, you need a lot of content and a lot of quality content. That’s part of why choosing a niche is so important: it determines what you’ll post about.

It’s much easier to grow a website about something you enjoy and know about. You can create good content that will draw in readers.

Black Hat SEO Tactics

Keyword stuffing is probably the most well-known black hat SEO tactic. Others include:

  • Adding white text (text that’s visible to search engines and invisible to readers)
  • Low-quality pages that redirect users to irrelevant content
  • Posting the same content to multiple websites (without using something like a canonical link)
  • Otherwise trying to manipulate search engines

You may get away with some of these tactics for a while. But eventually, search engines will catch on, and it could negatively affect your website.

Final Thoughts

SEO is a crucial part of getting traffic to your website. You can use multiple types of SEO to boost your rankings.

But be sure to avoid spammy black hat SEO tactics.

If you want help with your SEO, get an SEO content audit.

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