Basic SEO Principles for Beginners
SEO is the acronym for Search Engine Optimization. It simply refers to the tweaks and modifications you do to your website to improve its chances of higher ranking in the search engines. Because Google is the dominant and leading search engine, most discussions on SEO centers around the prescriptions and recommendations of Google and this post will not be different.
So, in this post, we will cover the following:
- What is SEO
- The importance of SEO
- SEO Categorization
- Why SEO keeps changing
- What is good SEO
- What is bad SEO
- What are the basic principles of SEO
- What can frustrate your SEO efforts
What is SEO
According to Wikipedia, Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving the quality and quantity of website traffic to a website or a web page from search engines.
Search Engine Land defines SEO as "the process of improving your site to increase its visibility for relevant searches".
Another industry leader, Backlinko defines SEO in these words: "Search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of getting targeted traffic to a website from a search engine’s organic rankings"
One underlying denominator is increased traffic from search engine rankings. How does the traffic come, it comes through higher rankings from the search engines so website optimization should be geared towards driving traffic to a website and and encouraging a click.
The Importance of SEO
There is just one dominant way people find content on the web - they use Google search. Data published by Statistica shows that as at February 2021, Google controlled about 86.6 percent of search traffic. Google itself does not just enlist websites and display search results randomly. They have a complex algorithm that scans the search engine and responds with the results perceived to be the best answers to a query. The ability of a website to display those results depends on how much the website or page has been optimized for the search engines.
The importance of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) can be better appreciated by considering how much traffic and business will come to a website that ranks well in the search engines. That is considering the fact that not all searches end up in a click. An estimated 68 percent of searches do end up without a click. So, only about 32 percent of the search traffic will result in a click.
These figures spell out the importance of Search Engine Optimization and the need to clearly map out a strategy for success. Here are some more interesting stats that further spell out the importance of SEO.
A study by Chikita showed that the top ranking website in a search result gets 33 percent of the search traffic. That means if a keyword gets 1,000,000 searches, an estimated 320,000 will likely result in a click out of which the top ranking site will get 102,400 clicks. Now, given that search traffic gets far more clicks than paid search, you will see that paying attention to SEO which can increase your organic traffic than paid advertising is far more rewarding to your website.
In another study by Sixtrix which is reported by Search Engine Journal analysed 80million websites, and found the click-through-rate for the first position in Google search results was 28.5 percent. The same study showed that the click-through-rate will diminish when the top of a search result page is filled with Google ads.
The bottom line is ranking top in the search engines will guarantee good traffic which can translate into customers.
On-Page SEO are practices within the control of the webmaster to improve the page. On-Page factors will include page title, description, site speed, content quality and freshness, URL canonicalization, image optimization for speed, keywords and several other factors.
Off-Page factors are the factors that boost your ranking but not directly within the control of the site owner. These factors would include external links from other websites, website authority and relevance, trustworthiness, social media promotions, social shares and content popularity and much more.
Most off-page factors tend to reflect how users relate with the website. If the website is linked to, it suggests that the content is relevant and impresses the user and that is the reason the content is considered worth linking to. If a content is shared on social media by a large number of readers, it suggests it is of good quality and contains some relevant information. All of these build authority and trust for the website and increase its chances of ranking higher in the search engines.
On the other hand, the on-page factors like website content, title and description will give the search engines a good understanding of what your website is all about and help the search engines categorize your website properly.
On-page factors like speed improvements can have tremendous impact on user experience. People love fast websites and there is a correlation between site speed and bounce rate. When people spend more time on your website and visit a couple more pages outside the landing page, it tells search engines that they enjoy the content, the content answers their queries and therefore deserve to be ranked higher.
All of these considerations should be brought to bear in the design and management of websites.
On-Page and Off-page SEO, Which is More Important?
This question is like asking who is more important in the operation theater, the doctor or the nurse. They are both relevant and interdependent, each having a role to play and fundamentally required for the success of the operation. The same applies in SEO. Both off-page and on-page factors and required and have to be properly done to boost the ranking of the website. Neither the on-page factors alone nor the off-page factors alone can guarantee the top ranking desired for a website.
It goes that the webmaster must take both factors very seriously and give in the best to also expect the best results. Having said that, it should be mentioned that most off-page factors like external links and massive social shares will depend on on-page factors like content creation and keyword use. If you build good quality content, then people are more likely to link to it and share it with friends and on their pages.
Why SEO Keeps Changing
The fight for the top position in the Google search engines is competitive,, so also is the competition among search engines to outdo each other.
On the part of website owners, what matters is to rank at the top. Some webmasters will use all techniques including unethical practices to outsmart competition. All that worked before now and one of such spammy techniques which we will discuss later in this article is keyword stuffing. The search engines responded by updating their algorithm and started penalizing for keyword stuffing and other sharp practices.
Another classic example is the use of exact match domains and keywords in content. This practice once worked but today, the case is different with Google is now devaluing websites and domains for exact match domains and keywords.
So, as people get smart and try to game the Google system, so also the search engines are being updated to preserve its search quality.
On the side of its competitors, you will recall we once had popular search engines like ASK and Scrub the Web. The launch of Google, being a better search engine, got everyone to turn to Google and today, Google controls over 70percent of search traffic. So, the search engines themselves have to improve their search quality and integrity to continue to satisfy the needs of searchers. That means updates and changes will continue to roll out to stay competitive.
What is Good SEO
A short answer to this question will be that a Good SEO is one that complies with the Google Search Quality guidelines. The advice is that you keep an eye on the changes to the Google webmaster guidelines and subscribe to the latest updates from Google so you will know what to expect and what changes you need to make in compliance.
Generally speaking, maintain a good speed for your website. You can check your speed performance with the Google Page Speed Insights. Ensure that you have a mobile-friendly website. You can also verify your mobile friendly status with Google with the Google Mobile friendly test.
Ensure that your website titles are unique and do not let your keywords and pages compete with each other. Keep your website focused and avoid a jack of all trade website. Avoid exact match domains and keywords and instead go for partial matches.
You may want to read more on how Google Assess Website Quality.
What is Bad SEO
On the other hand, we also have what constitutes bad SEO. Bad SEO is anything you do contrary to the specifications and acceptable practices of the Google Webmaster Guidelines. This will include all practices considered unethical including every spammy practice that tries to game the system. We will recommend that you do not try to make Google feel impressed by what you do, do not try to manipulate Google to rank your website high, never be in a hurry with Google, do not try to be on the fast lane to the top. just let Google access your website naturally and rank you accordingly.
One black hat SEO practice which can land you into real big trouble is link purchases, link exchanges, link farming and any other practice that builds low quality links to your website. Google has become very smart with its advanced machine learning system and anything you do to game the system will be detected and punished. It will only take some time for Google to catch you and so the best advice is that you avoid any smart move. Google has become smarter.
Bad SEO is commonly referred to as Black Hat SEO - all the sharp practices which are unacceptable to Google. This will include but not limited to cloaking, keyword stuffing, crawlability issues, poor use of keywords, mobile-friendliness issues and incomplete business information.
Grey Hat SEO
Grey Hat SEO is a term used to describe unethical SEO practices that are not known to the offender as an unethical and unacceptable practice. Here, the intention is not to game the system but the conduct is not acceptable by Google. An example will be removing an analytic software which slows down your website. While Google has said it does not use Google analytics as a ranking factor, our experience shows that Google analytics can slow down websites and so some webmasters will prefer to remove it to gain speed which is a ranking factor. The presumption is that since it is not a ranking factor, having it not does not matter But removing it seems to affect how Google can track activities on your site and that has some effect on user experience.
In the example above, if you are rated higher because you deleted Google Analytics while a competitor is disadvantaged for using GA then that is unfair. We have found that deleting GA to gain speed turns counter productive and we will advise that GA should be used to help Google understand user behaviour on your site. The fact is that user behavior metrics are ranking factors and if Google cannot properly understand user behaviour on your site, that should count against your site.
Here are the basic principles that should guide your SEO efforts. Most of them have been mentioned earlier however, it is still necessary we emphasize because they are fundamentally important for any successful SEO
- Ensuring your website is Mobile friendly
- Website security is important. Make sure your website runs on https protocol.
- Avoid buying links or link exchanges
- Focus on quality backlinks. Don't engage in deliberate link building especially on forums and low quality spammy sites
- Create Unique page titles
- Avoid URL cannibalization
- Use minimal redirects
- Avoid keyword stuffing
- Use Google analytics
- Provide complete business information
What Can Frustrate Your SEO Efforts
There are few things you will do that can really frustrate your SEO efforts. One of them is getting impatient and making frequent changes. Google John Mueller has said SEO results need time and even Google needs time to crawl and update your changes and improvements.
If you are persuaded to think that your changes will produce immediate results and when you do not see the results, you make changes again, then you will be making a mistake.
The biggest SEO mistakes you can make is not abiding by the recommendations of Google, trying to be smart at Google or to game the system. Google hates any action that tries to force it to do something and we recommend that you just make the necessary changes and allow Google to crawl and update its search index.Do not try to be smart at Google.
Good SEO is key and will significantly determine the success of your online campaign and business. But SEO keeps changing and you need to follow the acceptable trends and practices by aligning strictly with the recommendations of Google.
SEO is not so static and so it changes regularly with new ranking factors being added to the ranking algorithm while some existing factors are being depreciated. It also involves some testing and you can never be so sure of what will turn out to be the best until you test some strategies.
You will also need to be patient to watch how the various tests perform before you draw conclusions. Do not try to achieve high ranking by struggling with just some few factors. Instead try to improve the overall performance of your site because there are so many factors taking into consideration including keywords, content updates, quality of content, security especially the use of the SSL protocol, website speed, trustworthiness and domain authority.
This post is a guide that should help your ranking and keep you safe in the eyes of Google. Follow it diligently and success will come.