SEO For Dummies: How To Do Search Engine Optimization In 2020 And Beyond


What is SEO?

SEO is a set of strategies that help users get their sites to rank in the SERPs Search engines like Google rank web pages based on their understanding of searcher’s intent and match it with the most relevant results.

With that in mind, SEO experts do whatever they can to outrank their competition.

By doing so, these experts are able to:

  • Increase website traffic — The more frequent your site shows up in the SERPs, the more people would visit your page
  • Build trust and credibility — The fact that Google ranks your site on organic search means that it trusts your content. This trickles down to users who are likelier to click on the pages ranking on top for their search query. The reason is because they uphold the belief that Google ranks the best page regarding their search on top.
  • Grow your revenue — The better your online traffic becomes, the more opportunities you have at closing a sale.

Compared to traditional forms of advertising, SEO is much more scalable. You can track the progress of your campaigns using different tools to monitor their performances. Using the gathered data, you can make changes to improve their results on the fly..

To better understand how SEO works, let’s look at a real-world example.

Let’s say we’re looking for information about protein shakes. Let’s perform a Google search.

seo for dummies - what is seo - protein shake serps

In this case, online marketers refer to “protein shake” as a keyword or search phrase. Their job now is to optimize their respective pages so they come out on top.

From this screenshot, you’ll see how they included the keyword liberally on their respective page’s title and description (also known as metadata).

seo for dummies - what is seo - protein shake kws

The purpose of doing so is to convince Google that they have the information their users are looking for.

And when you dive deeper into the individual results, you’ll find even more signs that these pages were engineered to perform better in the results pages.

However:

Adding keywords in the right places is not enough. A lot goes into building an effective SEO strategy. 

And we’ve barely scratched the surface.

Let’s now take a look at how you can perform SEO for your own online properties.

SEO for Dummies: How to Do SEO

Where do you start?

As in most cases, an SEO campaign starts with keyword research.

Keyword Research

Your journey begins with keyword research. But what is it exactly?

It’s the process of finding the right words or phrases to target based on data found online. 

Think of it this way:

People will use keywords to find the most relevant content online. As a site owner, you want them to see your content on top of search results. 

However, everybody’s different. 

If 10 people were looking for information about protein shake, they’ll likely end up using 10 different keywords in the process. This will be even more evident the more specific their queries become.

Therefore, keyword research tells you what search queries people are typing on the search bar to find your content. 

By using the right combination of keywords, your search traffic can go up by as much as 80%

There are different ways to research keywords. Online tools like Google’s Keyword Planner keeps the process simple, especially for beginners.

how to do seo - google keyword planner

Google Keyword Planner is free to use. All you need is a Google account.

Log in and select Discover New Keywords.

how to do seo - discover new kes

Next, the tool asks you for a product or service that’s related to your business. We’ll continue using “protein shake” as an example.

seo for dummies - how to do seo - google keyword dashoard

You can add more than one product or service. Alternatively, you can enter your domain instead and Keyword Planner will produce keywords through that.

After clicking “Get Results,” you will see the data for the keyword you used as well as other related keywords you could be targeting.

SEO For Dummies: How To Do Search Engine Optimization In 2020 And Beyond 1

The main dashboard has several sections that can help with your research.

Just above the results are several filter options that let you specify where you want to focus your search (by country or city), the date range, and language used.

The first column after the keyword reveals the range of monthly search volume for each.

seo for dummies - how to do seo - average monthly searches

These numbers tell us that all the keywords in this list were searched at least 10,000 times this month.

The Competition column lets us know the advertisers bidding for the keyword on Google Ads. The higher the number, the more difficult it is to bid for it.

However, this has nothing to do with organic search so you don’t have to concern yourself with it at the moment.

All in all, the Google Keyword Planner tool does a great job of letting us know how popular a keyword is through the monthly search volume.

But:

SEOs need to go on something more than that. Competition can be fierce so knowing the average monthly search volume is just the beginning for most marketers.

Another keyword metric you’d want to check out is keyword difficulty

It reveals to you how easy or hard it is to rank for the keyword on the first page of search results.

Right now, we want to determine a keyword’s competitiveness rating to be based on organic results.

To do this, you want to use either Ubersuggest (which is free) or Ahrefs (paid).

seo for dummies - how to do seo - ubersuggest

With Ubersuggest, you only need to enter your keyword in the tool to generate results. You will also see a bunch of useful metrics to help you break down the value of each keyword.

But as for the keyword difficulty, you’ll find it in the SD column.

seo for dummies - how to do seo - ubersuggest sd

The higher the number is, the more competitive it is in the SERPs.

As for Ahrefs, you need to login and head on over to Keywords Explorer.

seo for dummies - how to do seo - ahrefs kw explorer

Here you’ll find the keyword’s difficulty rating.

seo for dummies - how to do seo - ahrefs kw difficulty

The higher the number, the more difficult it is to rank for the keyword you provided.

An honorable mention goes to KWfinder as another resource for keyword research.

Each tool has its own way of determining its keyword difficulty rating. Here’s is Ahrefs’ explanation of their metric.

As you may have noticed, the term “protein shake” has a high keyword difficulty. So while there may be a ton of searches for it, it will be hard to rank for it because of all the competition.

The main reason for its high difficulty is because the keyword is too broad.

In other words, it’s not clear what searchers want to learn about protein shake. 

From the perspective of a search engine, it will show results of all pages that talk about protein shake.

And that’s 171,000,000 of them!

google search protein shake

Therefore, you need to refine your research by finding keywords that have low keyword difficulty and have relatively high search volume.

In this case, focus on long-tail keywords instead.

These are search queries composed of more than four keywords that people don’t search as often but are much easier to rank.

Despite their low search volume, long-tail keywords are valuable because they are more specific.

Using Ahrefs, you can find keyword suggestions to help you narrow down your research.

seo for dummies - how to do seo - ahrefs kw suggestions

On this part, you will see the Questions section. It features long-tail keywords that you should consider optimizing for your site. The search phrases include “protein shake” but come in the form of a question.

Due to the specific nature of long-tail keywords, it’s easier for you to create content for them. You can simply answer the question that they keyword is asking to satisfy what the user is looking for.

From here, you should be able to find keywords to help your site rank higher on Google and get more clicks in the process.

On-Page SEO

According to a study, on-page SEO is crucial in helping a website increase its traffic and rankings.

But what exactly is it?

On-page SEO is basically optimizing internal pages to boost your chances of ranking on search engines. Unlike other SEO strategies like link building (more on that later), you have complete control over on-page tactics.

Let’s begin on-page SEO with internal pages.

These are your homepage, blog posts, about page, category pages, and other sections that fall under your domain.

What you want is to optimize these pages so more people will find them on Google.

And below are ways on how you can do on-page SEO on them:

Keywords and Relevant Phrases in the Right Place

Using the keywords you researched, optimize your posts and pages with the best ones you found.

If you don’t have existing content for your chosen keywords, then create new ones for them.

We already discussed how placing them in your meta titles and descriptions can be beneficial for SEO. But you also need to place them in the URL (if possible) and in the content itself.

The top result for “protein shake” is from Men’s Health Magazine. Let’s look at the URL for the top post.

seo for dummies - how to do seo - men health

The URL contains the keyword. And it’s also been used throughout the article.

seo for dummies - how to do seo - men health protein shakes

You’ll also see related keywords thrown into the mix. Terms like “protein supplements” are not exactly what the user searched for but Google understands the correlation between supplements and protein shakes.

Men’s Health has also done a great job at internal linking. This is the practice of adding links to related pages from your own domain.

seo for dummies - how to do seo - men health internal linking

All the underlined links (in yellow) point to another page within the Men’s Health domain. The keywords you use in hyperlinks also plays a small role in SEO.

HubSpot recommends that you focus on one or two long-tail keywords that match user intent. You should also insert those keywords in the title tag, header sections, URL, and meta description. 

You can also insert keywords in the alt text section of your image.

Site Architecture

Site architecture is how you arrange your pages so that site visitors can easily find the information they’re looking for.

Aside from site visitors, search engines can also benefit from a clean user experience.

If both search engines and users are able to navigate your site without getting lost, your retention rate will go up. Retention rate refers to how long a user stays on your site. This will lead to improved search rankings. 

A good site architecture will look like this:

seo for dummies - how to do seo - site heirarchy

Your homepage is the most important page of your site so it should hold the most value.

Level 1 would be your less important pages while level 2 would be your least important. 

Each letter represents a different page/article/blog post in your domain.

The lines tell you what pages need to link to one another.

Here are some of the fundamentals that you have to keep in mind as you set your site architecture.

  • Don’t make your visitors think — Everything should be intuitive. Don’t make it hard for users to navigate through your site. Make all pages easy to access
  • Make pages accessible in 3-4 clicks — If you have a lot of pages, it will be hard to get them available through your homepage. You can place your pages inside others so long as they’re accessible from within three to four pages
  • Link to internal pages — Find an effective way to link all your pages together so they are easily seen by search engines when they check your pages. For an effective link building strategy, you can try the reverse silo principle as explained in this YouTube video

Mobile-Friendliness

Most search queries come from mobile devices now. By 2020, there will be 211 million mobile search users in the United States alone.

Naturally, Google wants webmasters to improve their mobile experience.

seo for dummies - how to do seo - men health mobile

For a site to be mobile-friendly, websites should be able to load no matter what device is being used. It should load just as fast on a phone or tablet as it does on a desktop computer.

Google didn’t put much emphasis on mobile use in the past. So SEO marketers were caught by surprise when Google suddenly announced an update that would prioritize mobile experience. This change improved the rankings of sites that were designed for mobile users.

seo for dummies - how to do seo - google mobile update

It was also around this time that Google announced that mobile-friendliness was now part of their ranking signals.

So now, webmasters are making sure that their sites comply with Google’s new requirements.

The ideal solution to this problem is to make sure you’re using a responsive theme.

When you have a responsive theme, pages automatically shrink down to fit the user’s screen without compromising your site design.

If you need more information on responsive design, check out this post from Google.

So how do you know if your site is meeting mobile-friendly standards?

There are a few ways to find out. But Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test is a good place to start.

seo for dummies - how to do seo - google mobile test

Just enter your domain and it will check what you can improve on. 

seo for dummies - how to do seo - google mobile test results

But if your site is already optimized, Google will let you know that you are good to go.

Aside from using a responsive design, there are other ways of making your site mobile-friendly. 

One is by using a simple design. Your site uses more elements if it has a complicated design. This makes it harder to load on mobile devices.

If you are using images, you’d want to reduce its image size so they can load faster.

Content Quality

You can create as many pages as you want and optimize all of them the right way. But without quality content, all your efforts will lead you nowhere.

What kind of content is Google looking for? 

It wants content that passes its EAT standards. That’s expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness.

  • Expertise — Your pages need to be expertly written. That means fully knowing what you’re talking about
  • Authoritativeness — You need to come off as a reliable source of information. This includes where the topic is posted. You wouldn’t trust a medical article if it came from a car repair site, right?
  • Trustworthiness — If people are sharing your article on social media and posting them on other platforms, Google sees this as an indication that your article can be trusted

There are tons of resources online that detail how you can create great copy for your post. So we’ll no longer get into that in this post. But here are great tips from Inc.com

Site Speed

When was the last time you stuck around for a page to load?

People have a tendency to go away if your site takes more than a second to load. In fact, pages that take three to five seconds to load will increase its bounce rate probability by 90%.

seo for dummies - how to do seo - bounce rate probability

So what can you do?

Here are our best tips on reducing load time:

  • Use a better web host — A bad web hosting solution will not do anything to address your lagging site speed. If you experience downtime no thanks to your web host provider, it’s time to switch to a better one
  • Use a content delivery network (CDN) — CDNs make it possible for pages to load faster by improving latency no matter where the original server is located. Servers that are in North America, for example, can serve pages in Asia if a cached server is found in the region. If you wish to read up on how CDNs can help you, you can refer to this article
  • Use a caching tool — Caching is important because it helps load pages faster by preloading elements for users who have been on your website before. You are basically storing data on the user’s computer or phone so they don’t have to download elements more than once. Caching is easy, especially for WordPress users, as there are already a handful of plugins you can download to assist you

Site Audit

A site audit is a process where you go through your site and find factors that could negatively impact your SEO performance.

An SEO audit should find things like:

  • Link status — See if your internal and external linking works. Make sure you’re not linking to dead pages
  • Indexing — Check if search engines can index your pages 
  • Metadata — See to it that all pages have meta titles and descriptions. Also, make sure that they are not too long that they’re cut off when shown in search engines. The recommended length is 50-60 characters for titles and 160 characters for descriptions
  • URL structure — Make sure URLs have your target keyword in it

Use a tool like Screaming Frog to assess your website.

Screaming Frog lets you enter a domain and inspects its entirety to find any of the issues we mentioned above.

seo for dummies - how to do seo - site crawl

It gives you an overview of your site’s health and finds issues that are worth investigating.

seo for dummies - how to do seo - screaming frog results

You can export the results for easier viewing.

Scrolling left will reveal more information about each page.

SEO audits can be intensive but the rewards are worth the trouble. In one case, an e-commerce site increased its transactions by as much as 336% thanks to their SEO audit.

Off-Page SEO

Off-page SEO is optimizing your page through external factors. Primarily, it’s what SEO experts refer to as link building.

Links are arguably the biggest ranking factor in SEO. In Google’s view, your pages are worth ranking if there are a lot of pages linking back to your content.

To this day, there is still a strong correlation between links and rankings. And there are studies that prove this to be true.

As far as off-page SEO goes, a lot of experts have resorted to using black hat techniques which are basically practices that Google frowns upon. These are shady tactics that eventually get sites penalized after a short burst in SERP rankings.

What we recommend is for users to stick to white hat techniques which are the exact opposite.

White hat off-page SEO practices include:

Competitor Research

Find competitors that are ranking for the keywords that you want to rank for. Then find the domains that are linking back to them. 

The idea is to get these domains to link back to you instead. 

Ahrefs wrote a detailed post on how you can accomplish this.

Guest Blogging

Find bloggers who welcome guest posts on their site. Create content that’s catered to them and their audience in exchange for a link going to your site.

Blogging Basics 101 shares tips on how to go about guest blogging the right way. 

Broken Link Building

Here you’ll be hunting for broken links on high-authority sites.

Your goal is to get these sites to update their broken links and replace them with ones that are pointing to your domain. It’s a win-win for both parties. 

Follow this guide from Backlinko to get started.

Unlinked Brand Mentions

It’s almost the same as the broken link building strategy. Only this time, you’re looking for any mention of your brand that is not linking back to your pages.

Since they are already linking back to you, that means these webmasters are already aware of who you are. In theory, you won’t have to convince them too hard to give you a backlink. 

Moz has an in-depth article covering this very topic.

Conclusion

Let’s be honest here: SEO is a complex practice.

It requires technical analysis and knowledge on your part to get your website to rank on top of Google search.

However, you don’t have to take everything in about SEO all at once.

You can take as much time as you want until you get comfortable about one step before moving on to the next.

This post should guide you through the different steps until you get more familiar with the practice as a whole.

Take our advice to heart and pretty soon, you’ll be making your way up the SERPs along with the best of them.