So often when people encounter seo and want to start optimizing their sites they are lost as to where to begin. Filled with a few helpful and a few not so helpful comments from a forum or article they set out looking for the magic formula that will take their site to the top of the search engines only to get lost in a tangle of misinformation that can often do as much harm as good. To help you get started on your seo journey I have decided to write this tutorial on the basics of seo.
The subject of seo is not one that can be covered in a single post so I will continue this tutorial over several posts for the rest of this week and into the next. Even a few posts can’t hope to cover everything there is to know about seo, but a few posts can give you a solid foundation on which to build and add to your seo knowledge.
What Is Search Engine Optimization?
Ask 10 search engine optimization consultants what seo is and you might get 10 different responses. Different consultants define seo differently. The industry is still in it’s infancy and not all agree yet as to what is and isn’t included in seo. I define seo as optimizing a website both on page and off page in order to achieve a better organic ranking in search engines and consequently driving more traffic to your website.
My definition doesn’t include pay per click advertising, which I consider part of the larger search engine marketing (SEM). I see seo as a subset of sem and while both can complement each other very well here we’ll just be considering seo or at least my definition of seo. SEO consists of four main areas which are keyword research and selection, site building, on page optimization, and link building. We’ll discuss each one briefly in turn and then cover each in more depth over the next few posts.
There’s one important point I want to make before continuing. There is no magic formula that will get your page to rank #1 on any of the search engines. There isn’t an optimal keyword density or a perfect place to use a keyword. And if there were don’t you think all the other sites that came before you would already be using that magic formula? SEO is about developing a strategy and tactics to help the pages of your site rank well enough to bring traffic to your site. For some keywords it will be relatively easy to get your pages a high rank, for others it will seem impossible. Good seo will take time and instead of looking for a way to be #1 tomorrow you’ll be better off simply working to bring in more traffic to your site next month than you are bringing in this month.
Keyword Research And Selection
All seo starts with keywords. Choosing the right keywords is perhaps the most important part of your optimization efforts. You may think it obvious what keywords you should be using for your site, but think again. Yes some will be obvious, but more often than not those obvious keywords will be the most difficult to to achieve high ranking for. Begin to identify keywords simply by brainstorming. Write down as many keywords as you can think of and then look for more. Fortunately there are some good keyword suggestion tools you can use to help build your list. Two of them are the Overture Keyword Selector Tool (Note that Overture’s tool is no longer active.) and the Google AdWords Keyword Tool. Both offer many suggestions for other keyword phrases you can use on your site.
You should be able to build your list into hundreds if not thousands of possible keywords. No you won’t use them all. You’ll actually combine many of them into longer phrases, but before you can determine which keywords are going to bring the most traffic to your site you need to list as many possible candidates as you can. Once you’ve assembled your list you’ll narrow it down by comparing how many people actually search for those phrases and also what competition is out there on each of the phrases. Let’s skip the details of narrowing down your keyword list for the moment and move on to site building
Site Building For SEO
The way you structure the pages of your site and the way you code your pages will have a great impact on your seo efforts. Before any of your web pages can be found for a given search it needs to be indexed by the search engines. While you should always think about real people first when developing a site you must also make sure that search engines can spider your site and find and index all of your pages.
On Page SEO
On page seo includes everything you can do on a given page to increase its chances of being found in a search engine. It includes all of your content and the way you present that content. It includes where, how, and how often you use your keywords on your page and even what other pages of your site and other sites you link to and how you link to those pages.
By far the most important piece of writing you’ll do on any given page is your page title. Search engines consider your page title to be very indicative of what can be found on the page so you’d better make sure to get some keywords in your pages titles. I’m not talking about spamming your page title with a long list of keywords, but your most important keyword for that page should be included in your page title.
You’ll also want to use keywords in your page headings and throughout your page content. Don’t worry about keyword density or looking for the perfect amount of keywords to use on a page. Use them where they are appropriate in the text and you will most likely be using them in the right amount. Do make sure you use keywords in your page headings.
Link building will prove to be what has the greatest effect in your seo efforts. That doesn’t mean you should ignore any of the above, but in the end it will probably be the number and quality of links pointing to your site that will be what gets your web pages found in search engines. It certainly will be for competitive keywords and without many many quality links pointing to your site you will not be able to consistently rank on any competitive keywords.
Link building is a never ending process. It’s not something you do for a few weeks and then stop to rest on your laurels. You should always be looking for other sites that will link to yours and doing what you can to get other sites to link to yours naturally. While in general more links are better not all links are created equal and there are some you don’t want to spend your time trying to get. Free for all (FFA) links pages and link farms are best to stay away from. Most will simply do nothing for your site, but some will be harmful to your efforts.
There are many different ways to get links to your site and often it can be hard to decide where it’s best to get links. As a general rule if you think about that other site and if the visitors of that site will likely find your site useful and interesting and even better if visitors on that other site might be likely to click on a link to your site then you do want a link on that site back to yours. If visitors on that site probably couldn’t care less about your site then you might just want to move on to the next site. If the time it takes to get that link is short then go ahead and try to get it anyway. It probably isn’t going to hurt, but if it will be time consuming process to add a link on that site where people aren’t likely to click on it then your time will more than likely be better spent getting a link on another site.
Keywords, site building, on page content, and link building are the four cornerstones of seo. We’ve just scratched the surface of each here and I’ll expand on all four over the coming days and posts. Remember that this seo tutorial is about the basics of seo and there will be a lot more detail to learn, beyond this tutorial, but hopefully this seo basics tutorial will lay down a solid foundation from which you can begin to build your experience and knowledge.
I’ll pick things up next time in part II of this seo basics tutorial with Keyword Research and Keyword Selection.
SEO Basics Tutorial
Part II: Keyword Discovery And keyword Selection
Part III: Site Building For SEO
Part IV: On Page SEO
Part V: Link Building
Part VI: Tips For Getting Backlinks
Part VII: Summary And Thoughts
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That is a great post. I think any beginning seo person should read it.
Thanks Steve. I’m glad you found it helpful. Did you read just this post or the entire series?
Very cool. I just found this and am recommending it to a friend.
Thanks Emory. I guess I need to link to this post more often.
this is a great article on SEO basics. its one of the best i’ve come across
Thanks. It’s a couple years old now and can probably use an update, but I’m glad it’s still helpful.
Nice, this article is page one (was googling SEO basics to link a friend)
Thanks. I think this post has been ranking #1 for seo basics for awhile now. It has some good links pointing to it.
The series might need an update. Something I need to find some time to do.
Another great recantation of basic on page SEO we all need drilled in so we don’t forget! 🙂
Basically, I was forced into seo a little over a year ago: I own a PC/Apple repair company and I contacted a local seo company to perform some basic seo strategies to our website for a ‘standard’ rate. Well, they offered seo for computer support, and after we fixed all of their server & network problems, we basically never heard from them again. So, I was forced to perform seo for my company on my own (yes, they paid us after sending a collection’s agent on them). They still consistently rank #1 or 2 (although they are also ‘randomly’ removed from Google completely)for a reasonably difficult search term (i.e. cityname web design), and use wordpress for their CMS. The last time that I spoke with their CEO, he said ‘the only thing I can tell you right now is to use Wordpress on your site’.
Sounds like they weren’t the best SEO company to work with. Good for you to learn for yourself.
Perfect for beginners of SEO. Though there are a lot of basic SEO here that even those who are already an SEO specialist must always remind themselves. After all, complexity and knowledge start with the basic.
Yep definitely beginner stuff here. I think it’s all still true, though this seo basics series could probably use some updating.