What Is SEO: Search Engine Optimization Explained for Beginners

Do you ever wonder why some websites appear on the first page of a search engine result amidst hundreds or thousands of other websites when you type in your query? 

Maybe you have a website and want it optimized for search engines for maximum visibility, but you have no idea how it is done. It might be because of unclear explanations or too many search engine optimization (SEO) terminologies whenever you try to search for how it’s done. 

If you belong to any of these categories, we have good news for you. This article will give you a comprehensive analysis of search engine optimization and its best practices in  simple words eliminating those complex terminologies. 

What is a Search Engine?

It is a software program designed to carry out searches and  find information on the internet related to your queries such as “How to Make Money Online”, “The Richest Man in the World” or “Plumber Near Me” and more. There are lots of search engines out there but the most popular ones are Google, Bing, Yahoo, and Ask.

What is SEO?

SEO is an acronym for Search Engine Optimization. From the term, you can deduce it’s about improving and optimizing a website for search engines, such as Bing and Google. SEO refers to the techniques used in making your web page rank higher in search engine result pages (SERPs) for a particular query. 

It can make your website more visible to people who are typing queries related to your services or products and bring in organic traffic to your business website.

SEO is part of the expansive topic of SEM (Search Engine Marketing), a term used to describe all the marketing techniques (including both organic and paid search). 

For example, with paid search, you can secure a spot for your website at the top of the search engine result so that when someone types in a certain phrase or keyword you bid on, your website will appear. 

Organic and paid listings both appear on the search engine, but they are displayed at different locations on the page. 

However, the downside of the paid search is people hardly click on it because they feel the website owner is trying to use their money to promote low-quality content or services.

Why We Do SEO

If you create a new website, which has not been optimized for search engines, it’s difficult for it to rank, especially by Google. Why is it important for your website to have SEO done for it? Let’s use Google, the most popular search engine as an example. 

Every second, an estimated  63,000 searches are conducted on Google alone. What this means is you will miss out on a lot of opportunities  for every second that your website is not listed on Google. 

You could lose out on huge organic traffic, which means missing the opportunity for your target audience to read the contents that you spend valuable time creating and putting together for your website, as well as potentially see the services and products that you are offering. 

Having both basic and advanced SEO techniques as well as putting them into practice can improve the visibility of your website on the search engines and make them rank higher so your potential customers can easily find you.

How do search engines find relevant content on your website according to user search intent?

Site Crawling and Indexing

Let’s just begin with what site crawling and indexing are for SEO. Crawling is when search engines examine your website to understand and discover its content by following external and internal links. External links are links on your website that lead to other websites while internal links are links that lead to other pages on your website. 

When this process is complete, the search engines will add your website to their database, which is known as indexing. After indexing your website, your site will appear on the search engine result pages.

What is White, Black, Gray Hat, and Negative SEO?

You may have heard of the terms, black hat, white hat, gray hat, and negative SEO when people describe the various types of SEO, but what are they?

White Hat SEO

This is the method of doing search engine optimization by following exactly the guidelines set by Google in its terms and conditions. White hat SEO involves following the search engine’s requirements by  creating a long-term game plan that will withstand checks and audits by the search engine. 

An example of white hat SEO includes writing relevant content that offers your target audience the help they need and organically linking to relevant niche sites.

White hat SEO is the best practice, offers long-term benefits, and maintains the integrity of your site

Black Hat SEO

This method involves using shortcuts and risky practices to rank higher on a search engine. Black hat SEO uses tactics that can work in the short term but violates Google’s terms and conditions. The tactics often manipulate the relevance of a certain page which go against the guidelines set by search engines.  This  may result in a penalty or even a total ban.

Examples of black hat SEO include keyword-stuffing, plagiarised content, and thin content.

Although it seems cheap and fast, it is costly in the long run.

Gray hat SEO

This is the midpoint between the black and white hats SEO. They are tactics not specifically against Google’s guidelines but can be risky. You should be cautious of using any tactics not specified in Google’s guideline as it might also earn your site a ban.

Examples of grey hat SEO are clickbait and spun content. 

Negative SEO

This practice involves applying black or grey hat SEO techniques on a competitor’s website to cause harm. The idea is that by harming your competitors, you can rank higher on search results.

Types of SEO

The three main types of SEO are On-page SEO, Off-page SEO, and Technical SEO. These are the three main pillars of search engine optimization. Before we explore them in detail, let’s briefly define each one.

What is On-Page SEO?

This type of SEO focuses on website content optimization and therefore offers a great user experience for people that will visit your website. It usually involves writing unique, high-quality content. 

Also, it is mandatory to use certain words or phrases (keywords) in the content for them to be visible on search results whenever someone types the keyword into the search engine. 

When you implement on-page SEO best practices, you will help search engines learn more about your website and why it was created. Aside from that, you will also increase the overall user experience for the people that will visit your site.

What is Off-Page SEO?

Unlike on-page SEO, its main focus is to build the authority and reputation of your website. Off-page SEO’s main elements include acquiring high-quality backlinks from trusted, reliable, and reputable sources. Another important factor in boosting your website traffic is through social media, guest posting, and other channels.

What is Technical SEO?

This is your  tool for ensuring a good user experience on your site. This means understanding and improving the technical side of your website such as fast page loads and making it easy for  search engine robots to crawl and index the contents on your website. The various aspects of technical SEO include optimizing the performance and security of your website, as well as optimizing your content for mobile devices.

Best Practices for On-Page SEO

There are various practices you can implement in on-page SEO, and these include:

Keywords for SEO optimization

Keyword means a word or phrase that narrates the content of your website. For instance, if you have an online shoe store that sells black shoes for men. Your keyword would be men’s black shoes or any other similar phrase you can think of. Yet, this sample keyword is just the opening.

When you type “men’s black shoe,” on google, you will find that the search engine has found this phrase being mentioned in its database over 300 million times. This number represents the number of web pages with that phrase. 

This could be an indication of how many people want their website to appear at the top of the search engine result pages for the phrase “men’s black shoe”.

Aside from paid ads, there are ten options on the first page of Google search results. This means that there are more than ten entities or businesses competing for the attention of a particular audience. 

Keywords Search Volume and Competition

For you to discover the best SEO keywords, you have to focus on these two metrics: keyword volume and competition. The perfect recipe involves low competition and high search volume.

Using keywords on your website is one of the ways to tell the visitors and search engines what your website is all about. This is why you must not use keywords that are not relevant to your content just because it gets a lot of traffic and few competitors rank for those keywords.

Keyword Types – Short and Long-tail keywords

Before the explanation of what to look for when finding the best keywords for SEO optimization, it is important to distinguish between the different types of keywords that exist. An important classification of keywords is based on their length. Short and long-tail keywords fall into this category.

Short-tail keywords fall between one and three words, based on the word short. Lots of people start their searches online with short keywords, which are often broad. The more information they get, the longer their search queries will become. In fact, about 50% of all searches contain no less than four letters.

This is the scenario where long-tail keywords come in handy. They are very specific and consist of more than three words. A perfect example of a short-tail keyword would be “women’s T-shirts”, while a suitable long-tail keyword example would be “black casual T-shirts for women”.

Finding the Perfect Keywords for SEO?

The procedure involved in finding the perfect keywords for your website can take a lot of time. Fortunately, there are several free tools online that can make this task easier. These free online tools include Google Keyword Planner, Google Autocomplete Function, Google Search Console, and Google Trends.

Paid Keyword Research Tools

As much as free keyword-focused tools are great when it comes to finding and analysing keywords that could help your website rank higher in SERPs. Paid keyword tools, however, offer way more options. They offer some extra features like cost-per-click, keyword difficulty, and broader keyword idea results.

A few of the most popular paid tools are SpyFu, Majestic SEO, Ahrefs, etc. Always check if a paid keyword research tool offers a free trial so you can know how effective it is. With that, you will be able to test it and see if the options available match the research criteria of your keyword. Ensure the search volume is from the country you are targeting.

Content Quality and Keywords

Now, let’s assume you’ve found the perfect keywords that are profitable and can generate a lot of traffic for your website. Will a visitor find valuable and informative content when they land on your website?

When your website doesn’t have high-quality content that matches users’ search intent, the best SEO companies cannot even prevent visitors from leaving your site as soon as they open it. Also, your site may not rank well in the search engine result pages if it doesn’t provide relevant and informative content, the number of those visitors will even be small initially.

For this reason, we encourage you to take the time to create contents that are informative around your keywords. Have it at the back of your mind that your content is the foundation of all the efforts you are putting into SEO. 

Make no mistake, you always have to use keywords to appear in the search engine result pages. However, ensure your content has a natural flow when writing for SEO. 

Furthermore, avoid creating difficult and illogical content for the sole purpose of adding keywords. That is keyword-stuffing and it’s against Google’s guidelines.

How to Optimize Content for Search Engines

First, you need to have engaging and informative content on your website. Secondly, you need to optimize it for the search engines so it can rank on search results. Now, the question is how will you balance the two? 

To improve your website ranking on search engines, here are some things you can do right away.

Use Meta Tags

Meta tags are included in the HTML version of your site which is why they are not visible on your web pages. To see if your site is using meta tags, right-click on any webpage and pick “View Source” from the options that will appear. You will see various meta tags ranging from meta descriptions to meta titles and meta keywords in the HTML code. 

Ensure You Add Title Tags to Your Pages (the Blue Link Text in SERPs)

In a search engine result, the title tags are the first thing a user notices. It is an HTML element displayed as a clickable link that directs the user to the connected page or website. Title tags are also visible in the tab and bookmarks of the browser.

Try as much as possible to keep the length of the title to around or less than 60 characters. Use your main keyword here whenever possible. Suitably, your main keyword should be placed at the beginning of the title, however, shun stuffing it with keywords to maintain perfect title tags.

Avoid Using the Same Keywords for Multiple Title Tags 

Always ensure your content is humanly readable and engaging. This makes it very attractive to both visitors and search engines. Header tags also give you the ability to break up large blocks of text into smaller paragraphs which further increase the readability of your website with the overall user experience being enhanced.

Highlight Your Text With Various Formatting Options

You can make your website content easier to read by adding various formatting options like italic, bullets, bold, and more. An additional simple trick that will enhance the readability of your website is finding the font size that is suitable for it. The font size on your website should be 12 pixels at the minimum.

Paragraphs are also vital for blogs and other types of content-rich websites from an SEO perspective. The ideal standard is between 3 – 4 lines per paragraph.

Image Format and Compression

While the goal of optimizing images is to reduce a website’s load time, you need to make sure that the images look good on your website. Don’t overly focus on reducing their size without paying adequate attention to their quality. Else, you will end up with blurry images that will give bad impressions to visitors.

The default image format on your website should be JPEGs except in cases where you have text within images or need the image to be transparent. It is better to use PNG for transparent images. 

GIFs lets you add animated images to your website content while the SVGs are perfect for logos and icons. We recommend that you occasionally use GIFs as they can considerably slow down the loading times of your website.

When it comes to image compression, there are two types, which are lossless compression and lossy compression. In lossless compression, there is no loss of image quality and you always get a smaller image size. 

However, lossy compression reduces both image size and quality. There are tools made for image compression. Nevertheless, if you are good at using Adobe Photoshop to edit images, use the ‘Save For Web’ option to reduce their sizes.

Optimize Your Page URLs for SEO

There is an increasing need for SEO for small businesses. So don’t miss an opportunity to optimize your content for search engines and visitors to your website. One of these opportunities is making your URL SEO-friendly. Your page URL should be concise and describe the subject matter of a webpage, same as description tags and Meta titles. 

Generic URLs like www.yoursite.com/124955789760 should be avoided. Instead, readable URLs are what you should always create.

Next, don’t use underscores or capital letters in your URLs. Include your main keyword if possible. Don’t just enter a series of keywords, and never use a keyword that has nothing to do with the subject of a page in the URL.

Off-Page SEO Best Practices

How can you improve your website’s SEO with the best off-page practices? 

Build Authority with Backlinks from Reputable Websites

Guest posting or guest blogging is among the ways to get other websites to link to yours. This is an exchange that occurs between two website owners, while the elements exchanged are links from their page and content from you.

This is how it’s done. Write a piece of content by yourself or hire someone to write it for you and find a reputable website to post it on. That website you choose will publish your article with a link that will take people to your website. 

If you don’t see yourself as a good writer, hire a freelancer with a good knowledge of SEO or a company that offers SEO services to handle your content writing.

Use Social Media 

Build a strong social media presence and be active. You can do this by posting valuable content regularly and interacting with your audience. This will help you in building brand authority and connecting with your targeted audience. 

Using this strategy will increase user engagement for your social media content, resulting in direct traffic from your social media channels to your website. Always encourage users to share your content, especially when it’s of high quality.

Technical SEO Best Practices

This aspect of search engine optimization will discuss safe browsing, sitemaps, among other areas of technical SEO. 

Add a Robots.txt File and Sitemap to Your Site

For search engines to get easy access to your website, two files will be needed: a Robots.txt file and an XML sitemap. There are many free and paid SEO tools that you can use to generate these files. 

Provide Your Visitors with Secure Browsing Experience via HTTPS

Most search engines, especially Google, treat site security as one of the factors used in ranking websites. HTTPS and HTTP are both used to send and receive information via the internet. However, HTTPS stands out as it uses a technology called SSL (Secure Socket Layer), or TLS (Transport Layer Security) – the latest upgrade, to secure your website information.

Fix Broken and Dead Links

Broken and dead links can negatively influence your site’s ranking. A broken link takes a visitor to the wrong URL and shows a 404 page instead, while a dead link points to a URL that no longer exists on the website. 

Fortunately, you can detect both broken and dead links with some of the best free SEO tools. Simply replace bad links on your site with live links, or eliminate them.

Conclusion

Your website visitors should be your primary concern. Taking this into consideration, you should research your target audience, make sure your site has a simple navigational structure, and deliver valuable information to them. 

Since you now understand SEO, you can audit your site based on this valuable information and determine the status of your website from an SEO perspective. After that, start immediate implementation of the best SEO practices you’ve learned here or hire an expert to do it for you.