SEO, or Search Engine Optimization covers a lot. And, let’s face it, for those who are new to this world and new to business in general, it can be difficult to take in. One of the biggest obstacles in understanding SEO is the fact that, like most processes and technology these days, things are constantly changing. And, that’s not just a saying.
In some cases, Google has updated its algorithm roughly 500-600 times a year. That comes out to about twice a day. However, it’s also important to note that these changes are usually small and insignificant. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some that can hit your site.
Just this year, 2019, Google has changed the order in which they crawl with canonical pages, updated site speed test, and adjusted reporting. Not to mention, SEMRush noted the possibility of a big Valentine’s Day algorithm shift. Again, some of these matters, and some of them don’t. However, no matter what, it’s important to monitor and understand these changes so you can be aware of how your site may be affected.
So, if all of these changes are happening, what can you do? Well, that’s where knowing and implementing the basics is going to come in handy. For example, despite all the little technical changes, SEO is always going to be about grasping searcher intent and ensuring that, when crawled, the content you provide is up to date, trustworthy, and authoritative.
Here are some key SEO basics to help you along the way:
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In service industries, the customer is always right. In SEO, the searcher is. Google can adjust how it crawls or how it categorizes content all it wants. But, at the end of the day, what searchers are looking for, clicking on, and absorbing is what really matters. You need to write for them.
When you first think about optimizing your site, think about your product/service from an outside perspective. What would someone search in Google to find this? What type of content would they want to see? The key is to put yourself in their shoes and adjust your way of thinking. It’s not about making your page flashy and attention-grabbing. It’s about making quality content that resonates with an audience, finding keywords that reflect that content well and displaying it in a way that is simple and easy to understand.
It’s already been stated that searchers should really be your focus, but that doesn’t mean that you can just ignore the bots. After all, they are the ones who crawl and index your site so that people can find it in the first place. In order to help your site, you first have to understand how Google, and other bots, crawls and ranks sites.
Unfortunately, most of these bots are pretty secretive and they don’t share actual “ranking factors”. A good rule of thumb – focus on the searcher. Create good content, build trust, build authority and reputation, and provide a great user experience.
Despite this unknown, there is something you can learn about how Google crawls and indexes sites. Think of your site as a web. There is one starting point – the home page. Then, Google follows links page to page and crawls in a certain hierarchy. This is one reason why organization and site navigation is so important. Not only are you helping visitors understand where to find information on your site, but you are also helping the bots relate pages and topics together to gather a better understanding of your site and how it should be indexed.
Now, Google doesn’t always crawl a site in order. In fact, it mostly grabs chucks and pieces at different times. However, that makes creating the right layout more of a must so that the Google bot can understand how this piece relates to the rest of your site. Is it an H1 or an image and are these things in the right place or do they contain the right information?
I’ve hinted at this throughout the article, but actually understand what it takes to make a page optimized (outside of the code of course) is crucial in understanding the basics of SEO. Every page on your site needs these key aspects:
- Focus Keywords. These are keywords that really describe the topic at hand. What is this page about and what will someone search in order to find this? There are plenty of free keyword tools out there to help you find the right ones. Ubersuggest is one of my favorites.
- Related keywords. These, like focus keywords, explain what the page content about but may be secondary to what the main topic is. For example, if you have a page all about Neuroscience you may also include related keywords within the site copy such as brain surgery, neurotransmitters, or any of the many chemicals within the brain and so on.
- Title Tag. If you have ever searched for anything on Google you’ve seen title tags. They are the big, blue highlighted section on any search results page and they tell you the name of the page itself and maybe a little about what the page has to offer. These are usually around 60-70 characters. I like to use Moz’s Title Tag Tool in order to be sure that all titles meet the max.
- Meta Description. A meta description is what you see right under the title within the search result. These are around 160-170 characters, although Google has been known to show up to 200+. These descriptions should focus on what the page has to offer, the topic at hand, and conclude with a CTA (call to action) to get people interested in clicking your result.
- H1 Headings. An H1 (or, Heading 1) is the very first piece of content that appears on your page after the navigation bar and maybe an image. This is the “About” on an about page, or a blog title at the top of an article. This should usually include your focus keyword.
If you’re new on the scene, this may seem like a lot for a “basic” on-page SEO article. But, the hard truth is, SEO is a lot and this only scratches the surface. The good news? Focusing on these key areas and really honing your skills in understanding what makes a good title or how to find the best keywords and providing excellent user experience, are all great starts and necessary for being an SEO success.