This SEO Guide has been written to help beginners fully understand essential search engine optimization tactics that will help you rank much higher.
Follow these simple steps to increase your visibility in major search engines like Google.
#1 Enable SSL Certificate
Use your own custom domain with an SSL Certificate enabled. Your website should be using HTTPS opposed to HTTP. Google ranks websites much higher for using HTTPS (HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure) to encourage the protection of privacy. Back in 2014 Google announced that they would be using HTTPS as a Ranking Signal.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to be a developer to make this happen anymore. SSL Certificates have become best practice and much easier to install. In fact, most web hosting companies now use Let’s Encrypt and offer SSL support out of the box.
Another service I recommend for many reasons, including website performance and security, is CloudFlare. If you use CloudFlare to handle your DNS (phonebook of the internet) then you can easily add SSL support in a couple of clicks.
#2 Let Web Crawlers Index Your Pages
The internet is full of robots, also known as web crawlers or spiders. These web crawlers traverse the world wide web every waking moment mainly to help search engines like Google index newly created and recently updated web pages.
Use a Robots.txt (text file) to tell web crawlers what they are allowed to do on your web pages. In most cases you will either set a page, directory or sub-directory to “follow” or “nofollow”. Having a proper robots.txt file will tell google, bing, yahoo and others that your site is indexable.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to set this every time you create a page or post. Depending on the site builder or ecommerce platform you use, it will most likely be set up for your site automatically.
Use this tool ( Robots Tester ) to check if you are using a Robots.txt file.
#3 List All Pages in Sitemap
It’s important to give search engines a directory to navigate your web pages. For this reason you should ensure that you have a sitemap.xml implemented. This is not a guaranteed way to get indexed by search engines, but it will make it easier for search engines to find your content.
Most CMS (content management system) like WordPress have many free plugins developed to make this process seamless. If you have a static website or want to generate a sitemap yourself you can use a free tool like XML Sitemaps.
#4 Use Search Engine Tools
When you make content updates to your website you should use Google or Bing’s free search engine tools to increase search presence. Make sure to submit your sitemap to both major search engines (usually located at “yoursite.com/sitemap.xml” if you have one already). Check to see if you already have a sitemap with the Sitemap Testing tool.
Formerly known as Webmaster Tools, the Google Search Console is a highly valuable free tool offered by Google as a website servicing tool. It will help you improve your search performance by locating existing issues that can be addressed and highlighting impactful opportunities.
Yes, there are many search engines out there but I would suggest just focusing on Google and Bing. Which is why you should also sign up for Bing Webmaster Tools for similar reports, diagnostic tools, notifications and more.
#5 Create a Keyword Gameplan
We all know by now that keywords and keyword phrases are an important part of how web pages get indexed. That’s why it’s crucial that you plan out your keywords before writing an article or editing pages to include your targeted keywords.
Use the free Google Keyword Planner to discover keywords or keyword phrases that will rank and perform at a higher level. Most people think this tool is just for paid advertising, but the secret is using it for organic growth as well.
The winning search formula is simple, find keywords that have moderate to high search volume every month but very low competition. The Keyword Planner tool will help you to uncover a treasure trove of helpful ranking information.
That’s pretty simple, right?
Keyword Formula: High Search Volume + Low Competition = Winning Keywords
#6 Make Titles Attractive for Search Engines
The title tag within a web page specifies the title of your page. Search engines, social networks and other sites use this “Meta Title” as a preview along with the featured image and meta description. For several reasons the title of your page is considered to be the important hook.
Search engines prioritize the titles of your pages, so it’s never a bad idea to use your targeted keyword within your title. The optimal title length is under sixty characters, in most cases Google will display around 50-60 characters per result.
Creating a compelling title takes time, but I developed a basic title formula.
Our Title Formula: Buzz Words + Targeted Keyword(s) + Actionable Tactics = Attractive Title
#7 Write Rich Page Descriptions
The meta description is the excerpt of text you see below the titles in the search engines. This description is more of an elevator pitch for your page or post. This is not where you should focus your SEO efforts, rather make it about enticing your potential readers and becoming “click-worthey”.
Page descriptions should be around 50–300 characters. You can add a meta description by editing your excerpt in most cases and this is what the search engine will display. These short but rich descriptions should let your readers know what to expect from your page.
#8 Optimize Content Format for Search
When you first start writing content it’s somewhat of a mystery as to which tags to use for your copy. Although, there is a simple method I use to write these guides, articles and pages. It all starts with proper structure and it is important to stay consistent for the readers and search engines.
Use H1 (Heading 1) for your main title on the page, H2’s for your section titles, H3’s for supporting descriptions of your sections and P (paragraph) tags for general content. If you follow these simple blueprints for structuring your content you should see a significant difference in ranking and consumption of content.
#9 Add Alternative Text to Images
The most common SEO mistake is not adding ALT descriptions to the images included on web pages and posts. Yes, it’s tedious and you could come back to it later, but don’t wait. It’s as simple as looking at the image or graphic and adding description based on the image portrays.
Do yourself a favor and get in the habit of adding those ALT descriptions to your images. It’s used by search engines and the visually impaired to understand what they should be seeing.
#10 Appropriately Categorize and Describe Content
Many web platforms like WordPress use Categories and Tags to help organize and describe the post content. In doing so, you can easily create an archive of searchable topics.
A category is used to group several posts under the same topic. Usually your posts will only have one category assigned that defines it’s topic.
Tags are used to better describe the content at a birds eye view. Multiple tags can be used on a single post. Tags were a much bigger part of search engine optimization back in the day. It’s still important to learn how to use Categories and Tags to help search engines scan and accurately place your posts and products in the most relevant results.
#11 Create Content Release Schedule
If you’re looking to rank higher in search engines you will need to write juicy content. After all, content is king and consistency is queen. Hold yourself accountable by setting days of the week that you’d like to release content.
Try to publish at least one blog post around 700 to 1500 words at least once a week. The more quality content you produce, the more organic search results that will appear over time. Just remember to be unique and try not over do the keywords.
#12 Avoid Messy URL Structures
Permalinks (Permanent Web Addresses) are what most people refer to as links. It is important to use a clean URL structure like “mysite.com/request-info” where we use dashes instead of spaces. This method is often referred to as Post Name URL structure. There are several URL structures like day/name, month/name and even numeric. I suggest using the Post Name structure for the best results.
#13 Enrich Posts With Rich Snippets
Rich Snippets are basically structured data that give search engines more information about your post. This data is often represented on a search result below the title and permalink along with the meta description.
There are many rich snippet content types like reviews, people, products, businesses, recipes, events, music and videos. Also known as Schema.org Markup, these rich snippets can be used to return more relevant search results.
Many website owners who implemented rich snippets have reported more click-throughs, less bounces and higher engagement rates. This can be attributed to giving users a quick preview of what to expect.
If you’ve read about SEO, then by now I’m sure you’ve heard all about backlinks. Backlinks are simply other websites that link back to your website. The more quality backlinks (high PR websites) that are pointing to your content, the higher it will rank. It is considered the holy grail of organic traffic. It will allow your website to grow at an accelerated rate if done properly.
It’s important to note that quality over quantity also applies in the backlink world. A backlink’s quality score is based on the authority of that referring website. In some cases your ranking could be impacted negatively if you try to game the system with spammy backlinks, so be careful or you will be penalized by search algorithms.
Here’s are several tips to start building quality backlinks:
- Find opportunities to write guest blog posts for high ranking websites in your industry.
- Keep track of where your competitors are getting backlinks.
- Use Internal Links as well, meaning point back to your own content.
- Write testimonials that will include backlinks to your website.
- Use services like JustReachOut to find relevant journalists to pitch your product, services or articles. Also sign up for Help a Report Out (HARO) and start responding to requests.
- A surprisingly effective way to build backlinks is donating to non-profit organizations that have pages to recognize the businesses that have contributed.
- Agree to do blog and podcast interviews that use backlinks on their pages.
- Promote sharing on your blog posts.
- Add your website link to all your social accounts.
- Comment on high authority blogs.
- Find websites with broken links on related topics and offer to link your content.
- Join related Facebook Groups and Forums
- Create Google+ and Youtube Accounts
#15 Avoid Multi-Submission Tools
I would suggest staying away from Submission tools that promise to submit your site to 50+ Search Engines, Forums and Directories. These tools cause more harm than good and nothing beats good old fashioned hard work. Let’s just don’t and say we did, use the tools the search engines have to offer like I mentioned above.
#16 Improve Website Speed and Performance
Believe it or not, Search Engines also score the speed and performance of your website. Get in a good routine of testing to make sure your website is fast and performs well with Pingdom Tools.
There are many things you can do to make your website load faster, here the top three:
- Reduce requests and redirects (optional)
- Minify and Compress files, this can also be done with CloudFlare automatically (suggested)
- Reduce the size of your images with a compression tool like Compressor (highly recommended)
- Google PageSpeed Tool
- Yoast – SEO Plugin for WordPress
- SpyFu – Get Competitor’s Most Profitable Keywords
- Guest Post Tracker – The Largest List of Guest Blogging Opportunities
- MilkShake – I Use For Cold Emails For Backlinks
- Remove’em – Monitor and Remove Bad Backlinks to Avoid Penalties
- WordPress Sitemap Generator
- Google Trends – What People Search for on Google
I’m proud of you, this was a massive seo checklist and you made it! Skimming the article is fine, but if you didn’t absorb the information you should really go back and make some notes for yourself! You’ll be on your way to ranking higher in search engines in no time.
If you’re looking for a shortcut and you need to be visible ASAP, check out The Best Paid Ad Strategies article for the next step in your search engine adventures.