SEO Basics – The Fundamentals of Search Engine Optimization
Recently, I read a report by the guys over at Clutch.co stating that only 44% of businesses invest in a focused SEO strategy, making it the least popular digital marketing channel.
What about the other 56%… does your business fall into this bucket? If so, indulge me for just a moment… just for a few short paragraphs, and then make your decision as to whether or not you want to continue reading.
If your business falls into the 56% that aren’t doing SEO, I bet it’s for one of the following reasons:
- SEO takes a lot of people power
- SEO doesn’t “work” in my business
- SEO has no immediate payoff
The only one of those 3 objections that holds some truth is the last one.
It’s true that SEO results aren’t instant. And it’s for that reason that at AIM we always say: SEO is a marathon, not a sprint.
We say this so often that it has turned into an inside joke in the AIM office.
However, it rings true time, after time, after time.
That’s because it takes time to grow your website and to turn it into a marketing channel that brings in a steady stream of high-quality leads.
What if I told you that you can put in a minimal amount of effort into the fundamentals of SEO… and still build up a viable channel of leads over time?
In fact, SEO leads are consistently worth 3-5 times more to a business, over their lifetime, than leads brought in through Paid Search.
In addition, there’s no need to worry about staffing up or to invest any money into SEO.
All it will take is a small bit of effort to get you from a dead stop to at least a decent gallop when it comes to seeing results from your SEO efforts.
If that interests you… keep reading.
The AIM Guide to SEO for businesses that don’t want to do SEO
You probably know as well as I do that SEO isn’t like Paid Search, where you can bring in leads, at volume, pretty quickly. And probably why your business is not focusing on SEO as a marketing channel.
On the plus side, unlike Paid Search, with SEO, you have a lot more control over the content you post on your website, and the leads generated are of higher quality. For example, a client recently reported that they’ve seen their SEO leads monetize 6 times better than their Paid Search leads, over their lifetime.
This article will outline the fundamental components that you can put in place to allow your site to generate strong organic leads and to grow into a lead generation powerhouse.
By putting these components in place, it will allow you to start doing SEO properly in a few months, or even years, and make it a whole lot quicker, and easier, to scale.
I will break things down for you in 4 different sections:
- Technical SEO
- On-Page SEO
- Off-Page SEO
Having a good site structure is one of the most crucial aspects of a successful website.
No matter how great your content is, a poorly optimized site structure means your website will never reach its full potential.
You want to organize your website’s content in a way that establishes clear themes. Answering the following questions will give you a good idea of how you should structure your website.
- What are the topic areas you want to rank for?
- What are the topic areas that you write about most?
- What topic areas do your most valuable leads come into your business on?
A good site structure can go a long way towards improving your site’s usability and visibility.
The good news is that if you’re using WordPress, it does a pretty good job, out of the box, for optimizing your site structure. For content publishers, creating hub pages for the topics that you talk about most, and are most valuable to your business, is the best strategy. You can read more about how hub pages work, here.
Over the past 18 months, Google has been pushing two technical elements heavier than others.
The first is Structured Data.
Structured data is a standardized type of code that makes it easier for search engines to crawl, organize, and display your content in search results.
Structured Data has been one of the key themes at two SEO conferences that I’ve attended in the past 12 months, and it feels like not a week goes by without Google releasing a new type of supported structured data, or they aren’t giving advice on how to properly implement structured data on your website.
The guys over at Moz published an outstanding guide on structured data for SEO, which you can read here. Make sure you check it out.
Implementing structured data on your website is a must. It helps your site appear in knowledge graphs, for brand searches, it tells Google that you own your social media profiles, helps with Google News inclusion, as well as letting Google understand your content better amongst a host of other things. You can test your site for structured data errors using this Google tool.
The other technical element that Google pushes hard, is site speed.
Site speed is very similar to site structure in that, no matter how good your content is, or even how good your site is structured, if you have a slow site, you aren’t going to rank as highly as you should. It’s that simple.
If you aren’t sure if your website is fast enough, it probably isn’t, and you can improve the load speed. Aim for under 2 seconds load time.
I find that images, unused plugins, and slow loading paid search pixels are the usual culprits when there are speed issues on a website. You can audit your website speed using the free Pingdom Website Speed Test. I always recommend looking at more than your homepage when auditing speed. Look at a few of your most recent posts, your most trafficked pages, and the pages that are ranking on pages 2, 3 also. Increasing the speed of these pages will usually give a quick boost.
In early July, Google released their mobile speed update so if you see your mobile traffic declining in Google Analytics, it’s probably related to that. I also recommend the Google Lighthouse tool, and Google mobile speed test tool, Dareboost.com, it’s an outstanding tool to audit mobile speed. Dareboost gives you a waterfall view that tells you exactly what’s slowing your site down, on mobile. Ask your web developer to check it out.
I wrote an article on how to audit the mobile experience of your website in Google Analytics last year that still holds true. Check it out here.
The technical aspects that I’ve spoken about so far, can be set it and forget it fixes for your website, and fixes that your web developer can help with.
You should, however, monitor your site speed, and structured data setup regularly, but once initially fixed or implemented, it only takes a few minutes to check everything is still going OK.
On-Page SEO will never be set it, and forget it, but if you work it into your content posting workflow, it can take as little as an extra 5-10 minutes to get the basics right.
And guess what, I’ve created an on-page SEO checklist just for you. You can download it here.
Let’s briefly talk through each question on the checklist.
a. Is the primary keyword in the page title?
Title tags are a huge signal in helping search engines understand what your page is about. They’re arguably the most important on-page SEO ranking factor and should contain the main keyword(s) that your page is targeting.
Title tags should be 50-60 characters in length and the optimal format is optimal format is Primary Keyword – Secondary Keyword | Website name.
When I say page title, I mean the meta title of the page. The Yoast SEO plugin calls this the SEO title.
The WordPress page title that appears when you’re on the page itself can and should be different. It’ll rarely make sense to format that page title like this.
Primary Keyword – Secondary Keyword | Website name. Do however, try and place your primary keyword in this page title, also.
Here’s the WordPress page title.
b. Is the URL short and keyword rich? (Does the URL explain what the page is about?)
URLs need to be easy to understand, and tell search engines, and humans what the page is about. URLs should be under 115 characters, but the shorter the URL, the better.
Aim for 60 characters or less and include keywords as close to the beginning of the URL as possible.
c. Is there a H1 tag present on the page? (Is the primary keyword in the H1 tag?)
The first question really only needs to be done once. In WordPress, the WordPress title tag is the default <h1> tag, and this is perfect.
However, sometimes the WordPress theme can strip out the <h1> tag. You can search for <h1> in the source code. If your <h1> is the page title, perfect. If it isn’t, or if there are multiple <h1> tags present, let your web developer know.
Like the page title, try to get your primary keyword in near the beginning.
d. Is there an image on the page? AND Is the image optimized? (size < 50kb, Optimized file name & KW rich alt text)
A little while back, I created a guide to optimizing the images, on your website. You can check it out, here.
If you’re posting an image in your content, at minimum, you should run it through https://compressor.io/ before posting.
Compressor.io is a free tool that reduces the size of your image while keeping the quality. It takes less than 30 seconds to do. As I mentioned earlier, images are one of the big causes of a slow website.
Your image file name should explain what the image is about, as should the alt text. Working a keyword into these, if relevant is best practice.
e. Are subheadings wrapped in H2 tags? (Is the Keyword in at least 1 subheading?)
Think of your heading tags as if the webpage is a book. In a book the chapter-title is a <h1> tag. All the subchapters have an <h2> tag.
If these subchapters have another sub-area then this would be marked up with an <h3> tag and so on. Best practice is one <h1> tag per page. Pages can and should have multiple <h2> tags.
There are no character limits for <h2> tags but you should try and keep them under 70 characters. You may not have subheadings on all your articles, but if you do, you should try to squeeze your primary keyword into at least 1 of them.
f. Is the primary keyword in the opening paragraph?
As well as placing the main keyword of the page in headings, and subheadings, it’s best practice to squeeze it into the opening paragraph, also.
The first paragraph should tell the reader, and Google what the post is about, and should contain the main keyword of the page. Sometimes this is easier in theory, rather than practice, especially when posting eLetter content on your website.
If it doesn’t fit easily, or naturally, skip this check. You can read more about text structure here.
g. Have you linked internally? (Have you linked back to the category page/hub page?)
As the name suggests, an internal link is a link from one page to another page on the same website. Internal links allow you to pass link equity to your most important pages, as well as allow you to push visitors to your money pages. A good internal linking strategy will let Google know what your most important pages are and help them rank higher.
Internal linking isn’t complicated, and it’s really beneficial to your SEO efforts. If you post an article talking about a specific topic on your website, you should link from that article back to the hub page for that topic on your site. The hub page is going to be the page that drives the most conversions, too.
I talk a lot about how internal linking is vital, in my article on SEO hub pages article (See what I did there). Check it out. Neil Patel has a really good article on internal linking, also. You can read it here.
It’s best practice to use the keyword that your targeting for your hub page in the anchor text of your internal links.
The Yoast SEO plugin also gives some recommendations for internal linking to other relevant content on your website. Sprinkling a couple of internal links in your content will help keep users on your website longer. Have you ever been on Wikipedia reading an article, and then suddenly 30 minutes have flown by, and you’re reading something completely different but still on Wikipedia? That’s due to their awesome internal linking strategy.
h. Is there a Meta Description present?
Meta descriptions have no bearing on rankings, but they’re vitally important. Think of them like you would a Paid Search ad. You want to grab the searchers attention.
Your meta descriptions should be under 156 characters in length, and be actionable.
They should also be unique and contain your primary keyword.
A couple of years back I wrote an article on optimizing meta descriptions to help increase your website traffic. Check it out.
H3: Should this content be ranking? (Is it cannibalizing another piece of content on your website?)
Keyword cannibalization occurs when you have two, or more pages on your site targeting the same keywords. This should never happen. It confuses Google and the end result is usually neither page ranks as highly as it should.
This isn’t always easy when you’re posting eLetter content on your website on a daily basis. Over time, keyword cannibalization issues will occur.
I highly recommend auditing your full website for keyword cannibalization issues, but on a daily basis, you just need to figure out if there are cannibalization issues present with the content you’re posting, and if there are, no-index the page you’re posting or canonicalize to the preferred page for keywords this page is targeting.
The guys over at Yoast SEO have produced an outstanding guide on how to find and fix keyword cannibalization issues which you can read here. It’s a step-by-step to find cannibalization issues.
We’ve just gone through the checklist, and although it seems like a lot of work, once it’s in your workflow, and you’re up-to-speed on everything it entails, it’s pretty straight-forward and will only add an extra 5-10 minutes to your workload for each post.
If it still feels a little daunting, reach out, and we can discuss some custom on-page SEO training that’ll get you up to speed in no time.
If you don’t have a focused SEO strategy in place, you aren’t going to be doing any off-page SEO, really. Off-Page SEO is resource heavy and can be quite difficult at times.
There are two easy wins, however.
1. Track brand mentions & claim unlinked mentions.
A couple of months ago, I wrote an article on how to track brand mentions, and also gain easy backlinks to your website by reaching out and asking for a link back to your website when you get mentioned. You can read that article here.
I find that the quicker you reach out after you’re mentioned, the more likely you are to get a link back to your site.
2. Sign up for HARO.
HARO stands for help a reporter out. When a journalist is looking for advice, or a quote on a topic that your gurus specialize in, they’ll send you an email asking for your input. It’s used by over 55,000 journalists worldwide, and awesome for building backlinks to your site in high authority websites. You don’t always get a link back to your site, but a lot of the time, you will.
I’ve added a miscellaneous section because I want you to make sure that you have the basics crossed off. I want you to make sure the following are setup and configured correctly. I want you to answer the following questions.
- Is Google Analytics set up correctly?
- Is it tracking correctly?
- Is Google Search Console set up?
- Is Google Search Console set up for all versions of your website?
- Have you chosen your preferred domain within Google Search Console?
- Have you told Google what country you’re targeting in Google Search Console?
- Have you submitted your XML sitemap to Google through Google Search Console?
- Have you connected Google Analytics to your Google Search Console?
- Is the Yoast SEO plugin setup and configured correctly?
- Is there an SSL cert installed on your website?
- Has your site been hit with a Google penalty or negatively by an algorithm update in the past?
- Is your website mobile friendly?
- Is your backlink profile OK?
If the answer to any of these questions is no, or you aren’t sure, please reach out, and we can help you answer them, for free. Making sure these elements are set up, and your site is Google penalty-free is vital for helping your website grow.
I’ve gone through a lot in this article. I’ve mentioned site structure, and structured data. Two key technical elements to help Google understand your website. I’ve also mentioned site speed, and how no matter what else you do, if you’ve a slow website, you’re wasting your time.
Remember: SEO is a marathon, not a sprint.
But if you walk that marathon, you aren’t going to win.
I’ve also gone through my on-page SEO checklist, and outlined what each section entails.
I’ve talked about easy off-page SEO wins that can help grow your website, and finally, I’ve asked you 13 questions that you need to answer before you really start your SEO efforts.