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What is SEO? A Guide For Beginners

I’m a total geek; I admit it. SEO to me is like chocolate to you. I love it and the more I learn, the more the love deepens.

I thought it would be a good idea to cover what you need to know to excel at SEO and start gaining free search engine traffic to your site. SEO is not something that takes effect overnight. It does take some time, but the effort is worth it. Continue to write consistently great content to help boost your position in Google (and other search engines).

What I want to share with you in great detail is how you can improve SEO on your website today. The tips will work on whatever platform you decide to use. Some tips may be WordPress specific, and I’ll also show some Squarespace specific tools also.

SEO matters and should always be a part of your web and marketing strategy. There are certain things you should know about SEO; there are certain things you should do and things you need to avoid. I am going to cover all three.

What you should know

What is SEO?

SEO which stands for search engine optimisation is the practice of using tools and strategies to increase the number of organic visitors to your site. To increase the number of visitors to your site, you aim for the highest position possible on a search engine results page (SERPS).

When thinking of SEO, for maximum results, you should include all the search engines such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo.

SEO is not only about using keywords in your content but factors such as the quality of your content, the value to readers and the links from other reputable sites are some other factors that need to be taken into consideration. Search engines provide people with solutions. When offering results to people, search engines will list the results based on the content they consider as the best fit for the person searching. This means you need to have a whole lot more than keywords going on.

How does SEO work?

In basic terms, search engines crawl your website (as long as you allow it to) and collect data from your site. The crawl your site and rely on links to help make sense of the data. They then index the pages in a database. This database stores data from billions of websites ready to be called when someone does a search.

If your site appears to be popular, it will seem more relevant to search engines.

There are three types of search someone may perform;

Navigational Search Query

This is a query entered into the search engine when someone is looking for something specific. They could be looking for a particular website. For example, someone may type in ‘Nike’ or ‘Google’. The person searching knows precisely what they are looking for. Some people may even be looking for a particular page on a website. For example ‘Chase Bank Login’. The person searching this term wants to be taken directly to the login page of the Chase Bank website.

Informational Search Query

An informational search query is most probably the most common search that people do. This type of search means that someone has entered a general term in the search engine with the most probable intention of learning something or figuring out how to do something.

Example searches are;

’Social Media’
‘Marketing Plan’
‘Press Release’

In this instance, the person is not looking for a particular source of information, but they will be looking for the source that appears to provide the most relevant content for their needs. This is where a brilliant content strategy comes in. With a combination of keywords and relevant content, your chances of appearing as one of the first websites a searcher sees increases. There are so many content ideas out there as-as long as it remains relevant to what a person is searching for, your chances of being found through a search engine increases.

Transactional Search Query

A transactional search query is when someone knows exactly what they want to do.They have shown intent to make a purchase or some form of transaction (whether monetary or non-monetary). Examples of a transactional query could be;

Cheap tickets to Spain
Buy iPhone 6
Buy WordPress Hosting

When someone enters a transactional query, they are more than likely ready to buy. The search results that appear should be a business providing the solution for the person searching. This is why there is such a big emphasis on quality product descriptions on platforms such as Etsy. Millions of people are conducting searches every day, and it’s a missed opportunity when SEO is not done right.

What you should do

Keyword Research

The first thing I always do as soon as I have my blog post idea is to conduct my keyword research. I do this so that I have an idea of what people are searching for. What do they need help with? I research the keywords I should include in my article from the get go. I do know that some people conduct this afterwards, but the choice is yours. I wouldn’t say one way is wrong and one is right.

The reason I complete mine before is so that my content flows naturally. If I do my research afterwards, I have to start deleting and adding words and it becomes a nuisance. As long as you have included they keywords, conduct the research the way you find easiest.

There are several tools you can use to do your keyword research, but the free tool I recommend to everyone is Google Keywords Research Tool. It allows you to see Keyword Suggestions, the estimated number of monthly searches and how often people search for the keyword. You do not have to run an ad to use the Keyword Research Tool.

When selecting keywords, you want to choose the least competitive keywords. The reason for this is to allow yourself as much visibility as possible. If you pick a keyword that everyone is using, and you have industry leaders using the same keyword, you will have a difficult time being discovered in search engine results (if at all you do show up).

If you are looking for an alternative keyworf research tool, another tool you could use is called Long Tail Pro which can help you identify the best keywords to use and how compeitive they are by assigning a score of 0-100. Definitely check out the videos on their site for more information.

Use Long Tail Keywords

When you are choosing Keywords, you need to understand what other people are searching for. It used to be common practice to use one-word terms, but you may discover that this is not how people often search. People usually search like this;

‘What is Digital Marketing?’

You may also see Google present a box like this when searching for a keyword. Use terms and phrases that real people are using. This is how you are going to reach the most customers (because you are writing with intent).

Long Tail Keywords Examples

On-page SEO best practices

Optimise your H1 Titles

You want to include your keyword in your title if possible. This is one of the most important ranking factors. This is because it informs the reader what the content is about. If the content is what the reader is looking for but the title doesn’t demonstrate that, then the content is irrelevant as the reader did not get that far.

The post title should be relevant to the content. Google shows the first 50-60 letters of a title. For user experience, it’s best to keep it between these characters. I try and keep my post titles no longer than 55 characters long (try being the operative word). Try and put your keywords as close to the front as possible.

The quality of content is also important. As yourself, does your blog do a good job at capturing the attention of your ideal reader? CoSchedule has a fantastic tool you can use to check the impact of your blog post title.

CoSchedule Headline Analyzer

I strongly recommend checking it out. You have nothing to lose but all to gain.

Add your keywords in your permalink

Add your keyword into your URL link. The URL should help search engines understand what the information on the webpage is all about. Make sure that you have selected the best structure for your URL. In WordPress, you have to do this yourself.

If you look at the screenshot below which you will find in ‘Settings > General’, I have selected the ‘Post name ‘permalink structure’. When you at my URL, the blog post name will clearly be identified.

In Squarespace, the URL is set as the page title or the blog post name which you can go in and change to something more meaningful (which should hopefully include your keywords. The following screenshot shows where you would change the page name in Squarespace.

This following screenshot shows where you can create a custom URL for your blog posts when you go into blog settings.

Optimise your images to be SEO friendly

The alt tex of your images is really important. When search engines crawl your website, they cannot read images. The alt text will search engines what the image is about. Include your keywords in your alt text to help your page rank.

When saving your files, ensure you add keywords to your file name. This can also help your blog be found in image searches. What I have done here (in the following screenshot) is what a lot of people do and shouldn’t do. If you look at the ‘title’, you’ll see the image file name is ‘Screenshot 2016-07-24 01.06.59’

You shouldn’t do this. Make sure that your title includes your keywords or is your blog title. The file name should be What Is SEO. When saving the file, you need to add dashes between the words. You would save it as ‘what-is-seo.jpg. Search engines will read the dashes as spaces.

Bad Example of SEO File Name

Alt text is important for search engines to understand what information is being presented as it can not read images. When you search for images via Google, the images using alt tags are the images most likely to appear in the image search results. Also used to resolve accessibility issues for individuals using screen readers. The above shows the alt text I have decided to use. When adding the at text, ensure you add it ‘before’ you insert the image into the blog post. If you do it afterwards, WordPress will not include it. The main purpose of the alt text is appear if your images do not load for any reason

Ensure that your images are small. Search engines especially Google do not like slow running sites. Save your images as jpg’s where possible and make the file size as small as you can. There is a free plugin called WPSmush that can compress the image file size for you. If you do not want to use a plugin, you can also use a website called Tinypng which will compress the file size without you losing your images quality.

Add your keyword to your content but do not stuff your blog post with keywords

Adding keywords to your blog post is essential but do not stuff keywords into your blog post for no reason. For instance, this article is about SEO, but there is no need for me to add SEO in every sentence and every paragraph.

They key thing is writing valuable content that people enjoy, and people can share. Google will give you credit for relevant content that is shared and linked to by authoritative sites, and they will penalise you for overusing keywords as it can appear as spam. It is very hard to recover once Google have penalised you.

It is also important to add your keyword to the first paragraph of your content. If it is at the beginning of your blog post, this is even better!

Make sure your blog post has one focus. If someone is reading your content to find out how to resolve a certain issue, make sure your content focuses just on that. You do not want to be all over the place and confuse people.

Having an http is a positive factor but it is not essential

Having a secure URL is a positive factor as it shows that you are keeping user data safe but this is not essential if you are not selling items. There is no negative impact for not having a secure URL. There have been discussions about Google making this a ranking factor but I have not seen any solid evidence to confirm this as yet.

Link to other content on your website

A site without links is nothing to a search engine. Links allow the search engine to crawl your site. Links do not only helps with SEO, but it also helps keep people on your site for longer and reduces your bounce rate.

There should be a link from your content to the homepage (this is done through the navigation menu). There should also be a link allowing the user to go from your blog post, back to the main category. Again, this can be achieved through your navigation menu.

Link to other relevant authoritative sites

Linking to other sites with authority can help position your sites as a useful resource for others. By linking to more reputable sites, you are showing you are offering value, thus having a positive impact on your rankings.

Having spammy or low quality links does not help your website rankings. This is why at times, you need to add a nofollow value to links. This requests that the search engines do not use the link target to influence ranking in the search engine’s index.

If you are adding a link manually, you would use the following code:

<a href=”” rel=”nofollow”>Link Text</a>

The nofollow part will ensure the seach engine will omit this link when allocating page ranking.

Create Quality Content – Write for humans and not a computer.

This is the most important of them all. Ensure that your content is unique and directly related to the keywords. The content should be relevant and help your reader achieve what they set out to do when they clicked on your website.

It is has been documented that longer (and quality) content does better on search rankings. The top 10 results have an average of 2000 words. I prefer wiring longer posts, and I find that my longest posts are what keeps readers on my site for longer!

Make your content easy to share

I would say it’s a must to have social sharing buttons on your website. It doesn’t matter if you are a blog or a product based business, social sharing is imperative. The more people view your site; the more likely search engines are going to see you as a useful resource.

Off page SEO practices


Linking is more important than many people know. Do you know why people recommend guest posting quite often? Guest posting for an authoritative site that links back to your site can help your site rankings. It is important that the sites that link back to you are relevant. There is no point of BMW linking back to you if you are writing about cats, is there? It has to remain relevant.

The trick here is to link to websites that search engines consider high value within your field. If you link to a website that is new like yours, this will not affect your SEO ranking negatively, but it will have no effect. If an on topic website with high authority links to your site, then this can boost your rankings.

Consider other search engines and not only Google

Everyone thinks of Google and how they can reach for page 1 of Google but did you know that Google is not the number 1 search engine in every country? It’s a good idea to ensure that you submit your XML sitemap to other search engines like Bing and Yahoo and not just Google.

If you are a local business, utilise local SEO

If you offer products or services within an area, it’s a good idea to utilise local SEO making it easy for people in your local community to find you. You would need to list your website on Google+. People also have the ability to rate your business, and this can boost your rankings as Google tends to give priority to the business with the highest reviews.

Make sure your website is mobile responsive.

More than half of Google searches are done on mobile. If your site is not mobile friendly, you will get a very high bounce rate in return. If you get a very high bounce rate in return, it may make search engines assume that your content is not useful, and you won’t be seen at the top of search engine results.

A mobile-friendly website can help you move up in the rankings, and if your site is not mobile responsive, it will bring your website down. Most Themes for WordPress sites are mobile responsive and Squarespace templates are automatically mobile responsive.

If you have not updated your website now, it’s high time you did.

Pay attention to your page speed

Page speed is a HUGE ranking factor. It has been confirmed that it is important, and a slow website does not help your SEO. Luckily page speed can be improved, and you can ensure that your page is a decent speed by using tools such as PageSpeed Insights.

You will be given a rate, and you will also be told what needs to be done to reduce page loading time. Things such as large images can increase page speed. You can reduce this by doing things such as using jpegs instead of PNG’s where possible and deleting plugins that are not being used (if on WordPress).

Create more video content

Video content is becoming more and more popular and with platforms such as YouTube, you can quickly upload a video and add your keywords to it, so that your video comes up in SEARCH results. According Cisco, by 2017, video will account for 69% of all consumer internet traffic.

[clickToTweet tweet=”By 2017, #video will account for 69% of all consumer internet traffic” quote=”By 2017, #video will account for 69% of all consumer internet traffic”]

SEO tools to help you step up your game

Yoast SEO

If you are on WordPress and are not using a Plugin to help with SEO, you really should check out Yoast SEO. If you have installed it and are not using it, you should start using it immediately. This will help you assess your content to make sure it’s as SEO friendly as it can be.

The only thing I would say you need to be aware of is the fact that Yoast does not take into condition variations of keywords whereas Google does. I am sure other search engines do too.

For instance, if my keyword was Silver Spoons and I entered Silver Spoon, Yoast will consider these are two different keywords whereas the search engines would allow for this. So do not worry too much if Yoast says your keyword density is too low.

With the latest update, Yoast now gives you a score on the quality of your content. It helps you ensure that your text is using enough heading, short sentences, reasonably sized paragraphs, and it also checks the language of your text.

It can appear difficult for some to get the Yoast like to turn green so I am going to give you a few pointers. Yoast can still show you a good SEO score, even if some of your properties are red or amber. Here is a screenshot of the SEO Analysis on this post.

Screenshot of Yoast SEO WordPress Panel

Yoast uses the key metrics that affect your SEO so to increase your chances of getting a green light; you need to do the following;

  • Make sure you enter your focus keyword otherwise no matter your efforts, the light will always remain red as it doesn’t know what you are trying to rank for.
  • Ensure your keyword is in your blog post title
  • Ensure they keyword is in your URL
  • Ensure you have changed the meta description to include your keyword
  • Add an <alt tag> which should include your focus keyword
  • Include the focus keyword in the first paragraph (try within the first 100 words)
  • Add a couple of relevant outbound links and a couple of inbound links too
  • Add some subheadings for a greater user experience.

Google Keywords Research Tool

As already mentioned before, the Keyword Research Tool allows you to research relevant keywords and find out how popular a keyword is. The keywords will have one of three popularise assigned to it.

High – This means that this is a very popular keywords and you will find it very hard if not impossible to rank for this keyword.

Medium – These are keywords that are not as difficult to rank for but still difficult. You can try and rank for these keywords, but you may struggle/

Low – These are keywords that will be relatively easier to rank for (assuming quality content) and these are the keywords you should be using for your content strategy.

Go for keywords that have had a few thousand searches a month. If a keyword has only had a few hundred, then this means that is it not a very popular keyword, and there may be no point attempting to rank for this keyword.

Remember, the monthly search volumes are estimates. This means that it may be higher or lower than recorded. Saying that, do not use take the figures shown as face value.

Now I have told you the basics, why don’t you perform a site audit on your own site with my free checklist and give your website and SEO boost.

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  1. youglowgal says:

    Once of the most useful SEO articles I’ve read, thanks so much!

    • Rose Guthrie says:

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it and I hope you were able to implement some of the tips I mentioned.

  2. youglowgal says:

    Once of the most useful SEO articles I’ve read, thanks so much!

    • Rose Guthrie says:

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it and I hope you were able to implement some of the tips I mentioned.

  3. Zarana says:

    Hi! Thanks for a great article! I treid to find google jeyword research tool as suggested; but it keeps taking me to adworks. Could you explain which tool are you recommending.

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Hi, I'm Rose.
Your Digital Marketing Strategist + Media Buyer.

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