If you are struggling to rank on Google, you might lose hope that your website and content ever getting the attention of the search engine and the organic traffic that it sends your way. But if you know how to practice SEO (Search Engine Optimization) on your website and its content, you might see a rise in your rank and the number of site visitors.
Learning SEO is necessarily isn’t hard, especially the basics and the foundations. In this article, we are going to learn SEO in the easiest way possible. You’ll learn all the basics and will be able to optimize your website and content to rank higher on the Google search engine.
What is SEO?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and is a set of practices to optimize the website and content according to certain guidelines provided by the Google search engine. Google introduces these guidelines as ranking factors.
Content writers and site admins use these guidelines to do the necessary changes and optimizations to meet Google’s ranking factors and rank higher on the search results page for the keyword or topic.
SEO is not only required for written content and website, but also is practiced for any kind of content published online, no matter it is text, image, video, audio, or any other form of digital media.
Importance of SEO
SEO is a part of content marketing that is often referred to as SEO marketing. It is the cornerstone of all marketing strategies. The importance of SEO marketing can be summarized into the following five reasons:
- SEO marketing drives free organic traffic directly from the search engine
- Sales resulting from SEO marketing are the most profitable since the traffic is not paid
- SEO is a long-term marketing strategy with long-lasting effects
- Starting SEO marketing is often difficult and tedious, but in the long run, it requires little to no maintenance
- SEO marketing campaigns are often easy to manage in the long run
On top of all this, learning SEO, even the basics, is a good skill for becoming a freelancer. In fact, it is one of the top freelancer skills in 2023 and it will continue to be one since everything on the internet requires SEO.
In terms of executing an SEO campaign, three strategies are involved. Each of these strategies has advantages and disadvantages that we’ll talk about.
These strategies define the overall progress of the campaign and content quality and quality.
White-hat SEO is the standard strategy for websites. It involves producing informative quality content that is written for users and optimized moderately for search engines.
- It is a long-term strategy with long-lasting effects
- If your website ranks high, it’s a lot harder for competitors to outrank you
- It is free (unless you pay someone to write content)
- It takes months before the website sees any traffic from search engine
- It requires daily content production for a period of 6 months to 1 year for optimal performance
As opposed to white-hat, Black-hat strategy involves employing tricks and techniques to fool search engines to rank the website higher in a shorter period of time.
The goal of Black-hat SEO is to produce a lot of low-quality content. Black-hat content is often written for the sake of search engine rankings and not informing users. Therefore, the quality may be unbelievably low. Plus, this strategy involves bulk backlinking and PBN which have their own complexities and risks.
Lots of strategies are involved in Black-hat SEO but we’re not going to talk about it because of unforeseen consequences.
- It’s a short-term strategy that can yield results fast
- Websites can rank fast on the target keyword (a few weeks to a few months)
- It can drive a high number of organic traffic in a short time
- It is a risky strategy and the website may end up being penalized by Google
- Its effects are not long-lasting and can be outranked by more powerful competitors
- Executing Black-hat techniques often requires a lot of marketing budget
Gray-hat SEO is a strategy that sits between White-hat and Black-hat, hence the name. It is also the most popular strategy with big companies with a lot of websites and online presence.
The Gray-hat strategy employs some of the techniques from Balck-hat and mixes them with the quality standards of White-hat to create better-quality content in large numbers.
- It could be a long-term strategy
- Its effects last longer than Black-hat unless another big player steps in
- It is less risky than Black-hat
- It is almost always expensive, even more than Black-hat strategy
- It involves a lot of assets (sites, domains, content, etc.) that could be difficult to manage & monitor
When you decided which strategy you want to undertake, it’s time to start the SEO practice. SEO practice involves everything you need to do to optimize your website and your content for search engines.
There are three SEO practices, each including a set of tasks to help the website and content to rank on the Google search engine.
The name of this SEO practice is clear. It’s everything you need to do on your website’s pages. This mostly refers to the content on the website including texts, images, media, links, etc.
On-Page SEO practice involves the following:
- Choosing the right niche for the website
- Choosing topics of individual posts & titles for pages
- Writing the blog post with the correct formatting & structure
- Conducting keyword research before writing the content
- Include the keyword in the blog post URL and the main title (H1 title)
- Include the keyword once or twice in the first paragraph
- Include the main keyword, its variations, and synonyms all over the text body (a few times)
- Dividing the content into different sections & subheadings (H2, H3, …, H6)
- Including content navigation (table of content)
- Placing internal links to other content on the website (internal link building)
- Providing the source of claims & facts in the content (external links)
- Writing content in short sentences and in active voice to engage readers
- Use structured data markups for better search result presentation (FAQ, Howto, recipes, rating)
- Including bullet points, quotes, and other text stylings (highlighting, bold text, italic test, etc.)
- Including media (images, charts, tables, and infographics)
- Writing content informative content that adds value to the readers
- Writing content between 800 to 2500 words (unless it’s necessary)
- Engaging readers by asking them to take action (call to action or CTA)
- Constantly update blog posts with new information
There is more to On-Page SEO than the items above, but these are enough to get things going. When you get more visitors and readers, you’ll learn how to optimize the content even more.
Technical SEO refers to optimizing the entire website in terms of overall site styling, theme, speed, etc. The list below points to the most important tasks you should do for technical SEO:
- Introducing efficient cache policies to increase site loading speed
- Make the website mobile-friendly & responsive for smartphone screens
- Optimizing images for fast loading (image size & dimension)
- Serve media in new formats with optimal performance (WebP for images, MP4 for videos, etc.)
- Include Lazy-Load scripts for image-heavy content
- Use light-weight theme and stylings on the website
- Use efficient and short URL structures
- Implement Google Analytics & Google Search Console
- Create a Sitemap for search engine bots
- Use structured data markups for brand awareness (company name, address, phone)
- Make the website backend secure and constantly scan for issues and malware
- Frequently audit the website for SEO issues and indexability problems
Again, there are more things to do for technical SEO, but the tasks above are the most important ones that should be optimized for any website.
All the optimization you do outside your website boundaries that are still related to the website is called Off-Page SEO. The list of Off-Page SEO tasks isn’t as long as the other SEO practices, but each item involves constant attention for Off-Page SEO to pay off.
The most important practice in Off-Page SEO are as follow:
- Backlink building (link on other sites that leads to yours)
- Establishing an online presence on social media
- Building a relationship with social media followers and subscribers
- Constantly update social media and forum profiles with content
Backlink building is one of the top three ranking factors for websites. It is important to choose the right websites with good authority in your website industry to get backlinks.
Establishing social media presence and constantly posting updates and news help your website and your brand to be notified by others. It helps brand awareness which is an important goal for the long-term operation & monetization of any company.
With the strategy and practice methods set, it’s time to start writing content and post it on your website. Well, maybe it’s better to have a few words about selecting the website niche before jumping into topic research for blog posts.
The first thing you should do even before buying a domain for your website is to determine what niche & topics you want to work on. This is basically the first step of creating a new blog, establishing a new business, or anything else that has monetization motives behind it.
One of the best tools you can use to do niche research, apart from Google search, is Google Trends. This tool allows you to see what topics are trendings, what topics are losing their heat, and what topics are seasonal. It also helps you determine the target audience in terms of the region.
Google search engine also helps you determine a niche for your website. You can search for what you have in mind and see how much the competition is. As a rule of thumb, you have to select niches that are high in search volume and low in completion.
Also, there are niches that are defined as YMYL by Google. This stands for Your Money Your Life which refers to a set of topics that Google won’t easily rank websites on because of their importance to readers’ safety. According to Google, YMYL topics & niches are:
- Important news & ongoing events
- Shopping (not every category)
- Health & safety
- Kids & minorities
- Groups of people
Google ranking guidelines for YMYL topics require the website to have E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness).
E-A-T requires a lot of effort to be established for a website, and it generally twice as long to yield results as non-YMYL topics. It is highly recommended to avoid these niches unless you have a big budget for content marketing and brand awareness.
And last to mention, select a niche for which you can create at least 50 to 100 blog posts for the first three months.
With the niche selected and the site created, it’s time to fill the blog with some content. To do that, you have to choose topics for each blog post you’re going to publish. Topic research helps you select the right topics related to your niche.
You should conduct topic research for every single post you want to publish, but the process isn’t that difficult and time-consuming if you learn how to do it. Tools like AnswerThePublic and AlsoAsked help you a lot in this process. Just enter the main keyword for each post to see some good topic ideas. Then check the competition by googling it.
Search intent is the notion of users’ motives behind searching for a specific keyword, key phrase, or question. It is the answer to why someone searches for it. Is it for getting more information, finding a product, comparing something, or buying it online?
By understanding the search intent (a.k.a. user’s intent) you can structure your content according to what users want and what goal they are looking to accomplish by reading your article.
When content writers decide to write a blog post, they usually have some ideas and the main keyword, to begin with. But that isn’t enough. So they conduct keyword research to find more similar keywords and key phrases to include in the content and optimize their content even more for search engines.
The process isn’t hard at all. You can use a variety of keyword research tools available online, and most of them are free to use. Keyword research may also provide you with more topic ideas that you can use for later posts.
Apart from the varieties, you can also use keyword synonyms across the content to rank for them as well. However, even if you don’t use synonyms, Google may rank you for them as well provided your content is absolutely great compared to other competitors.
Writing the content is where everything gets interesting and all On-page SEO optimizations come into play. After you’ve done all your research and determined the article title and created a list of keywords to use, it’s time to start writing.
When you are writing the content, pay attention to the following items to make your content better and more helpful.
The post structure is closely related to the topic of the article and the search intent. There are a number of standard post structures you can use to write your content:
- Long-form articles (e.g. informative articles, product/service reviews)
- HowTo articles (e.g. tutorials, DIYs, cooking recipes)
- List-posts (e.g. top 10 X, best X)
- Comparisons (e.g. A vs. B)
Other post structures usually include about pages, company goals pages, price lists, services pages, and any other content related to a brand or business, but they are not similar to blog posts & articles.
To be honest, readers and site visitors are impatient. They like to get to the point quickly when they clicked on a search result to find what they were searching for. To do this, you have to engage readers at the beginning of the article so they don’t leave the website after reading a few paragraphs.
It’s best to start an article with a hook. A hook is a sentence that engages the reader and gives him/her a reason to stay and read the entire content.
A hook can be an interesting fact, a mutual issue, bizarre data, or simply the end goal of the article. It should be short, to the point, and target what the reader is looking for. For example, the sentence below is a hook I wrote for a client back when the Covid-19 pandemic cases hit 300 million cases in the world.
300 million people caught Covid-19 because they didn’t do a simple thing. Let’s see how we can avoid being a number in the recent stats WHO announced.
It’s a simple statement of data that increased readers’ time-on page from 30 seconds to 5 minutes, which was the reading time for the entire article.
Writing a hook isn’t something you just do. No one can write once and call it a day. You have to develop a hook to make it perfect. The sentence above was selected after A/B testing. I constantly changed in a period of one month until this one got the best results for the article.
Make it Easy
You have to remember that you are writing a blog post, not a book or an academic article. Don’t use sophisticated grammatical structures, words, or sentences.
Go with shorter sentences written in simple English. Avoid using complex words. Remember your target audience might be from any educational level, and even English might not be their native language, so you have to cut them some slack.
Also, use an active voice when expressing the sentence idea. this helps with the reader’s engagement a lot.
Next, divide the content into various sections by introducing subheadings for each section. It’s best for each section to have 300 to 500 words.
End paragraphs after a few sentences. Three to Four sentences are perfect for a paragraph. This helps readers to easily read the content and understand what it is about. It also helps with mobile-friendliness. If the paragraph on the desktop screen is longer than 4 or 5 lines, then it’s better to divide it into two or more.
And last, include a table to show data clearly. Make the important portions of content with text stylings like Bold, Italic, or Different Colors. Bullet points and numbered lists are also some of the best attention grabbers in content.
Link building is one of the best tools you have in your content writing arsenal. In cases where fully explaining something is irrelevant to the main topics or makes the content long & boring, link it to another content within your website where it is explained in detail.
This is called an internal link and it helps you make your content more engaging by eliminating unrelated stuff and helps your readers discover more of your content. Internal links also help search engine bots to discover and index more of your website’s content.
On the other hand, if you provide some data or stated facts or claims, it is important to provide the source. Highlight the piece of text with that statement and link it to the website where you read it in the first place.
This is called an external link that helps readers understand your content is reliable and helps search engine bots to mark your website as trustworthy and your content as informative.
Length & Wordcount
Content length is a subject that is debated a lot, especially during the past 3 years. Although Google announced on August 2022 that there is no minimum or maximum limit for word count unless the content is helpful, there are some standards you should follow when writing content.
There is no ideal word count for all sorts of blogs and articles. The result of research conducted by Wix claims that 1500 to 2500 words per post with 2450 as the sweet spot is the best word count, but this can be more or less for different topics & niches.
If you look at this matter logically, you can easily assume that content shorter than 800 words might not provide enough information on the subject. On the other hand, content longer than 2500 to 3000 words may be boring for ordinary readers.
This, again, might be different. There are always exceptions. For example, a detailed long-form article (like this one) may exceed the 3000 words limit (and even 5000 words) and still rank high. It depends on the topic, niche, and also the readers’ level.
Before I restarted this website, I wrote a 23,000 words article that talked about three business models, and it ranked high for many keywords. It was a book-length article but still ranked and drove organic traffic to my site.
Content with only text and subheadings is boring. It is not engaging. To fix this, of course, you need to include some images in the content. Related images, especially infographics & charts that summarize data for readers, can help engagement a lot.
Similar to bold texts, tables, and bullet points, visual media such as images are great attention grabbers for readers who are skimming the content and scroll fast to the end. If they see an image, they’ll wait a few seconds to look at it and check the surrounding paragraphs to get more information about it.
So insert a few images between paragraphs and let the image tell the story of the text. It doesn’t have to be images only. You can insert videos, audio files (podcasts), GIFs, digital downloads, ebooks, etc. to add value to your reader’s knowledge.
Also, pre-optimize images to save time and energy. Compress the image size according to its dimension and level of detail, and save them in newer formats like WebP. I usually compress images until they reach below 100 Kb to 50 Kb depending on the image dimension.
Include a Table of Content
To help your readers find what they are looking for in the content, It’s best to include a table of content at the beginning of the blog post. The table of content lists all the main sections (subheadings) of your content and if readers click on them, they’ll automatically be scrolled to the section. (e.g. the table of content at the beginning of this article)
It also lets readers see what they’ll read in the article and understand the overall goal of the content. If they see what they are looking for in the table of content, they might even begin reading the entire content to get to the section they want. A table of content is an element of user experience that can help your website rank higher.
End with Conclusion
This one is not necessary but it is better to end the content with a conclusion. This prevents cliffhangers! Write a conclusion of fewer than 300 words at the end of your article with the heading “Conclusion” or similar wordings.
In the conclusion section, restate the purpose of the article, summarize what the article was about, talk about the important points, and, if there is a comment section on the website, ask readers to participate in sharing their thoughts about the content, answer a simple question, or share a memory or two.
After writing the content and publishing them on your website, you may need to do a few things to optimize your website and keep the content fresh and engaging.
What follows are some of the tasks you have to perform to make your content better and rank higher in the process.
Site-wide optimization refers to the Technical SEO practice that we talked about in this article. As mentioned before, technical SEO is an ongoing process and never stops. You should constantly audit your website for indexing issues and optimize whatever requires more optimization.
For example, some of the Google guidelines regarding article titles and descriptions may change over time and you have to keep up with them to apply the necessary changes. Or maybe you need to optimize images with better compression methods that prevent quality loss.
Formattings & Styling
This refers to the overall formatting and styles of the entire website. Optimizing the site’s styling is important, especially for mobile users. Here’s a list of what you should check and optimize:
- Website Font – Choose a font that has a standard design, is easy to read, and is customizable. You may also use different fonts for headings, text bodies, site titles, etc.
- Text Size – Set the right text size for text & headings. Too-big texts are weird and too-small texts are hard to read, especially on mobile. An industry standard is between 15px to 19px.
- Text Color – Select a text color that is easy on the eyes and is not in contradiction with the background color. Also, use a different color for links to make them noticeable.
- Theme Color – Similar to text, the theme’s overall color (a.k.a. accent color) should be easy on the eyes and doesn’t contradict text & link colors.
- Buttons & CTAs – Button & CTA (Call to Action) should be styled similarly to your website’s overall theme’s color or colors that increase Click-through Rate (CTR).
Selecting the right configuration for the website’s formatting and stylings may require some A/B testing, which is talked about after the next item.
Layout & User Experience
The importance of user experience (UX) to website rank is expressed by Google and many researchers in the marketing industry. Positive user feedback is a signal that Google tracks to measure a website’s expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness and ranks websites accordingly.
When it comes to UX, website designers try to create a layout on the website that makes navigation and understanding the structure of a website easier for visitors. Here’s a list of some of the design factors that should be considered.
- Including website logo & name in the header section
- Placing a navigation menu of the website’s main pages in the header section
- Using a table of content for articles for easy navigation throughout the content
- Adjusting the size of website elements (e.g. buttons) for desktop and mobile
- Including navigational links in the footer section
- Adding an additional layout that may help visitors find what they are looking for
- Choosing the correct formatting and stylings (we talked about it)
The ideal layout with the best user experience is selected after testing various models. This process involves A/B testing, which we’re going to talk about next.
A/B testing refers to testing the original work with a different version with slight changes to see which one performs better.
For example, you change the website’s stylings and see how performance differs from the previous version. If it shows better results, then you go with it. Otherwise, you revert back to the original version and change it again to run another A/B test.
It is also used for layouts and user experience. You change the website layout to see how it performs. If the new version (B) performed better, even a little bit, then you put the original version (A) aside.
Website content and blog posts require A/B testing too. Well, not the entire article, but only some of the most important parts readers interact with first. Here’s a list of what you can put to the A/B test in written content:
- Blog post main title & subheadings
- The Hook (or the introduction paragraph)
- SEO title & SEO description tags
- Blog post thumbnail (a.k.a. featured image)
The important thing about A/B testing is the time of measuring results. If you are working on a new website without much traffic, A/B testing requires a longer time to yield results, but if the website is already receiving visitors after the publishing of a new post, one week to one month is a good interval between test and making decisions.
Rarely can you write a topic that doesn’t require maintenance and updates. The information writing content may get old and even obsolete and needs updates. So it’s best to frequently check blog posts and see if any updates on content, data, numbers, charts, tables, and even images & screenshots are required.
Frequently checking content for updates also help you find external dead links and replace them with new sources. Plus, it helps you find mistakes within the content that you’ve missed before.
Sometimes, when you read the content you wrote a few weeks or a few months ago can help you see mistakes or unrelated information that went unnoticed. This way, you can start editing the content and making it better and more optimized.
Backlinks are one of the most important Google ranking factors that should always be one of the top priorities for Off-Page SEO strategy.
When you start a website and publish content, you have to start getting backlinks from other similar websites with higher authority. There are five standard (and safe) ways to do that.
First, get on similar websites and post comments there. The comment or your name should be linked to your website. This also works on forums, provided the forum posting policy hasn’t prohibited inserting external links.
Third, contact website owners within your niche and ask for link exchange. This means you give their website as a reference in your content and they do the same for you. This way, both will receive a backlink. This usually works with websites with lower authority, but still has positive effects on your ranking.
Fourth, you can contact bigger websites and ask them to take a look at your content and provide feedback. Hopefully, if your content is written perfectly and includes some new insight, they’ll be happy to use the information in their articles and provide a backlink to your website.
Fifth and last, create social network profiles for your website and leave the link to the website’s homepage in the corresponding field in the profile setting. This is not only a powerful backlink for the website but also helps with local SEO optimization (SEO optimization for a specific region). Also, you can share a link to every article you publish on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.
There are other strategies like buying backlinks from PBNs (Private Backlink Networks) but due to the nature of these techniques (which is black hat & spammy), Google may penalize the content or the entire website and remove it from the search results page.
SEO in Long-Term
As I mentioned before, SEO is a long-term strategy with long-lasting effects with a lot of potential for growth. If you play the SEO game right (white-hat SEO), at first you might struggle to see results, but when it happens and your website ranks, organic traffic will flow into the website for your content.
As the final part of this rather long article, let’s talk about SEO in the long term and how it helps us as business/website owners.
E-A-T stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness and it is a quality ranking factor that Google measures for websites, especially those within the YMYL niche.
When you are working on your website SEO for a long time and constantly publish new posts and update the older ones, the E-A-T of your website increases based on many factors like content freshness and backlinks.
In the long run, SEO improves your website E-A-T and your website slowly become a source of information within the operating niche. Therefore, smaller websites cite your content as their source of information when they are providing the content. This brings you a load of quality backlinks that boost the E-A-T even more.
It’s like a snowball effect. Many of the leading sites in pretty much all niches no longer deal with backlink building. They just work on their content and publish really great articles with new insights. Other websites cite leading sites as a reference in their content and quality backlinks come without any effort.
Another long-term effect of SEO is brand awareness. Everyone within your niche will know your brand and your publicity will increase as a result. The process is kind of simple. I explained very briefly what happens below.
As you constantly publish content on your website, its Google rank will increase and more audience come to your website. If you implemented simple CTAs like “follow on social media”, “newsletter signup”, etc. you’ll slowly create a community of those who like your content and your brand (website).
At this point, you have a level of brand awareness in your community. Every time you publish new content and share its link on social media or send the newsletter to readers, a surge of traffic will come to read the new post. Many will potentially share the content on their social media profiles and give you this free publicity.
This is where your brand awareness goes beyond your community and other people will see your brand, read your content, and join the community if they like the content or find it relatable. Brand awareness will increase and more opportunities will pop up.
One of the perks of brand awareness is making more money. No matter the business model or website niche, more brand awareness equals more audience, and more audience always equals more money. In the next section, I talked about this in detail.
The end goal of every business or website is to make money. This is where SEO comes to help by what we’ve been talking about above (E-A-T & brand awareness). Also, SEO is free or the cheapest marketing strategy, so you keep all or most of the revenue.
Now, let’s talk about how SEO leads to making more money. Online businesses that sell products or services benefit from SEO marketing by having more sales as a result of more traffic visiting the website.
Websites and blogs benefit the most from SEO. In fact, all of their revenue depends on this form of marketing. Blogs make money with 4 different approaches.
- Showing ads on the website
- Selling products/services through affiliate marketing and earning commissions
- Selling digital downloads (info products) related to the niche including tutorial videos, ebooks, etc.
- Selling membership subscription for premium content (not popular though)
It also could be a combination of two or more models. SEO helps all of these business models for websites by driving more organic traffic.
Let me explain how each of these models benefits from SEO marketing.
- Websites that show ads will make more money because more audience equals more ad time and ad impressions.
- Those who sell products or services via affiliate links will make more sales which means more commission and more money.
- Websites selling info products and digital downloads will make more sales as a result of more traffic. It’s similar to a business selling products.
- Membership subscription increases as the result of more traffic and, especially, brand awareness and E-A-T
The best practice for monetizing a website (blog) is to show ads and sell via affiliate links. Number 3 and 4 are also good but it requires more work and effort to effectively impact revenue.
To wrap up this post, let me give a summary of a summary of a summary of this +5500 words article about SEO. But first, let me tell you that this is the easiest guide for SEO. I’ve tried to keep everything short, to the point, and simple so that no matter your background, you’ll understand it.
Believe me, if you read other SEO guides, they’re going to be longer and more difficult to understand. That is the nature of SEO.
In this guide, we covered all the basics of SEO in 2023. From here on, everything is practicing, implementing, and testing that turns SEO beginners into SEO experts.
In this article we cover the following subjects on SEO:
- SEO definition
- Importance of SEO
- SEO strategies
- SEO practice
- The research phase for website & content
- Writing the content & optimizing it
- Tasks to do after publishing the post
- Benefits of SEO in the long term
Everything was explained moderately & easily and examples were provided wherever required. That was everything about SEO basics for creating a website in 2023 and it can help you make money in the long run, and that’s about it.