Introduction to SEO
This post includes affiliate links. This means I recommend products that I have used and I get a commission if you buy through one link on my website (at no additional cost to you). I only recommend products I've used and I've found useful.
When you first start blogging, one of the critical elements that you need to focus on is traffic. You need traffic to be able to monetise your content.
There are several ways to get free traffic, and one of them is getting free traffic from search engines. Ranking well on search engines is not straightforward and is likely to take some work. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) will help you improve your ranking on search engines.
What is SEO?
SEO looks at optimising your website content to increase your ranking on search engine results.
When users run a search in Google, the first results that come up are adverts (companies pay to rank high for specific keywords) marked with the symbol. After these adds, you can see the organic search results. This is where you want to get your website ranking as high as possible.
Why is SEO important?
Internet users are more likely to click on those results that come up on top in search results. Smart Insights data indicates that 31.52% of the people that run a search on a desktop (24.05% on mobile) clicked on the first link in 2018. Higher ranking on search results means more free traffic to your content, and more traffic means more potential customers for your products.
So improving your ranking on search engines will help you attract more traffic and ultimately, more potential customers.
To be able to improve your ranking on search engine results, you need to have at least some basic understanding of how search engines work and what type of data they use to rank website content. In this section, I’m going to give you an overview of how search engines work and introduce some important SEO related terms.
How do search engines find and rank content?
Search engines have programs called bots or crawlers that go through the web looking through links and storing information. They then save this information in a database that serves as an index for all searches.
When a search is run, they use the information on that database together with a secret algorithm to establish what are the best pages on the database that match that search. They are trying to find the best content to serve the user’s request.
While many details behind the algorithms used by the different search engines are not known, there are some known components on those algorithms that can be used to improve the ranking of your content on search engines.
When you look around the web for some content about SEO, you will probably find a lot of mentions to Google. This is because Google is the search engine with the most significant market share. According to NetMarketShare, 76.14% of search engine traffic run through Google in Oct 2018. So if you want to focus on only one search engine, you need to focus on Google. However, I’m not suggesting that you ignore the remaining 23.86% of traffic!
Key SEO terms
Let’s take a look at some of the SEO related terms that you are going to find in all SEO related content. First of all, there are two types of SEO: on-page and off-page SEO.
On-page vs off-page SEO
On-page SEO includes everything that you can do on your site to improve your ranking. Off-page SEO covers other ways to increase your ranking such as increasing the number of links to your website from other websites (backlinks), guest blogging to promote your content, or promoting your content through social media.
Backlinks are links to your site coming from external websites. Backlinks show that other people consider your content relevant and trustworthy and a higher number of backlinks can increase your ranking in search engine results.
Search engine results
Now, let’s take a look at the type of data that an end user sees on search engine results. The summary result for a page includes a title and website name, an URL and a meta description. All these can be optimised to improve ranking.
This is an example of a Google search result:
Google shows the title (up to 70 chars) and website name on the first line, followed by the URL on the second line and the meta description (up to 160 chars) on the third line. We will cover the title and meta description in a bit more detail below.
The URL Slug is the last part of the URL that identifies a specific page on your site:
The URL slug is another element that you can optimise to improve your ranking.
If we look at on-page SEO, many elements within the HTML code are going to impact your ranking. Don’t panic yet! You will not have to do any coding, but you should be able to understand what the different elements are.
Some of the most important ones are your title tag and your meta description, which are part of your site’s metadata. Other important HTML tags are header and alt image tags. Let’s take a look at each one of them:
Your website’s metadata is formed by many html attributes that provide information about the site and its content. Search engines use this metadata to categorise and rank your content. There is a long list of meta tags that you can use, but the key ones for SEO are the title and the meta description.
The title tag is the most important piece of metadata in a page as it tells search engines what the content of the page is. The title should not be more than 70 chars.
A meta description is a summary of a page’s content that appears in search results to provide the reader with an overview of the content of that page. The text displayed is up to 160 characters.
Other HTML tags
Header tags and the alt image tag can also have a significant effect on your search engine ranking.
Header tags in HTML (<h1> to <h6>) are used to highlight text on a page. They are hierarchical elements, being h1 at the top of the hierarchy. Header tags help you improve the structure of your content and make it more readable.
Search engine crawlers use header tags to identify relevant content on your site and to understand what your content covers.
Alt image tags or alt tag
An alt tag is an HTML tag that is defined to describe an image. The initial purpose of alt tags was to be used instead of the image to improve accessibility for impaired users who use screen readers.
Alt tags are now also used for SEO. Crawlers used by search engines rely on text, so images within your web pages will only be taken into account by crawlers if you have alt text defined that crawlers can read. So adding alt tags to your images can improve your ranking,
An XML sitemap is a document that lists all the pages on your site that you want search engines to index. The sitemap includes the URL to the different pages, information about when the page was last updated, any associated metadata, and an indication of how important is that content within the site.
So now you understand some of the key SEO concepts and some of the critical elements that you will need to optimise to increase your ranking on search engines. The next step: “5 easy actions to improve your ranking on Google”.