What is a backlink? What is SEO? What is the best guide to search engine optimization?
So many questions, so little time. And as you progress in your search, you get deeper down the rabbit hole. To help you solve this problem, I will give you a rundown of SEO, and you will take no more than 15 minutes to read this tutorial.
Here are the things we will cover today:
- What is SEO?
- Why is SEO important?
- Two major types of SEO
- On-Page SEO
- Off-Page SEO
We will cover a lot; by the end of this tutorial, you would have a focused mindset as to how you will go about attacking your SEO strategy. If you find this content useful, please share it with your friends via your social media channels.
About 30 seconds have passed. Let us get started!
What is SEO?
SEO stands for search engine optimization. As the term implies, you have to optimize the search engines. I know this is a useless answer so let us dive deeper.
According to Search Engine Land, SEO is the process of getting traffic for free from search engines. This traffic is what we call “organic” or “natural” traffic.
Now, my turn.
I want you to think of the internet as a library—a library with billions upon billions of content. Each library has a librarian, and this librarian is you search engine. The most common search engines are Google, Bing, Yahoo!, and MSN.
So, you go to this librarian and asks her where you can find a book about Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The librarian tells you to go to Sector 45, Isle 47, Shelf 7, and look for a book called The Hierarchy of Needs by Abraham Maslow.
Now, that book is not the only book about the topic you were looking for. There are hundreds. But how did the librarian know that what you are looking for is in that book? Why did the librarian recommend that book?
Search engines work in a similar way. For the purpose of this study, I will use Google as a synonym to a search engine. Google is by far the largest and most trusted search engine in the world, so we will stick with it and use it whenever we are talking about search engines.
Google crawls the entire World Wide Web and indexes all the content that it can find, provided that it was allowed to index the content.
Whenever you type keywords or phrases on Google, it acts as a librarian and recommends the top content according to your search terms. If you type Abraham Maslow on Google, you will get this result:
At the top of the search engine result page, or SERP, is a link to Abraham Maslow from the website SIMPLYPSYCHOLOGY.COM.
But how does Google know what websites to show?
No one really knows. It is a trade secret that Google is never going to fully disclose. This secret is what makes Google the most reliable search engine. To my knowledge, Google uses more than 400 things to check and decide which of all web pages are the most relevant to a user’s query.
And because it is the job of Google to show users the most relevant content to your query, you need to know how you can optimize your website, or your website content, so Google will pay attention to what you published.
If Google pays attention to what you published, your website or content will rank on the first page of a search query instead of being on the succeeding pages.
Which brings us now to the question: why is SEO important?
Why is SEO important?
After a user types a query and gets the result, this user is most likely to click only on the links found at the top. At most, the user is going to click on the links found on the first page.
He has no reason to go to page ten, unless all the articles from pages 1 to 9 are that bad.
Based on studies, the first three links found at the top of the first page are clicked 100% of the time. The fourth link gets clicked 85% of the time, and this goes lesser as the link gets further down the bottom. And we are only talking about the first page.
If your blog or page shows up at the top three, then you have a guarantee that anyone who searches for a term related to your post will click on your link and go to your website.
And what does this mean?
And with free traffic comes the potential to earn money.
Therefore, search engine optimization is a process which will help make your website pages rank high on Google so you can earn money.
Just like any business, you need a lot of eyeballs. In the physical world, you want to put your business in a crowded area—places where people go so there is guaranteed foot traffic. In the online world, it does not work this way.
Your website or online store is just one among millions. Thousands of store owners and bloggers are trying to rank for the same keywords. What you want is to be on top so you get as many eyeballs as you can.
And if you get as many site visitors as you want, there is a better chance to make a sale. If you are not selling, then you can make money by putting ads on your site—ad networks will pay based on impressions or clicks.
On television, advertising spots are more expensive during prime time. This is the time when people are glued to their TV sets, which means that more people can see the ads at this time than at 12 in the afternoon.
Online advertising works the same. The more eyeballs you have, the more times an ad network can show ads. The more ads you can show to different people, the more money you will earn.
SEO is important for only one thing: website traffic.
More traffic = more money.
Two major types of SEO
Even if we do not exactly know what goes on behind Google’s algorithms, many people are smart enough to do some tests and draw conclusions from these tests. Even Google’s experts throw in breadcrumbs of information about how the Google search engine decides what to show to the users.
Because of this, we know that there are two major types of SEO: on-page and off-page.
On-page SEO refers to things and activities that you do on your website—anywhere on your website—to make it rank on the SERPs. On-page SEO is not comprised of just one action, but a whole lot.
On-page SEO is a process where you do what you can on your pages to help them rank, such as using the right keywords, making your pages indexable and crawlable, and making people stay in your website—but we will discuss more about this later.
Off-page SEO, on the other hand, refers to the things you do to drive inbound traffic to your website. These are things where you try to make a connection between you and the World Wide Web such as social signals, page speed, and anything else that has nothing to do with the content of your web pages.
Guide to Search Engine Optimization: On-Page SEO
Now, let us take a look at several components of on-page SEO. This section should give you a basic idea of the important things you need to focus on.
What is a keyword? A keyword is not just one word. It can be made of several words. No matter the word count, a keyword is what a user types on the search engine to look for something.
What you want to do is to use the keyword in your blog post or product page. If you do this, Google will index that page for that keyword. And if someone searches for that keyword. Google will know that one of your pages contains those words.
Here are the first three links on the search results page if you type the keyword “red drone” on Google.
I highlighted the texts that contain the words “red” and “drone”. Google showed this because these product pages contain the keyword “red drone”.
Now, do not get ideas here. You cannot fill a page with the keyword “red drone just to rank. This is called spamming and keyword stuffing, and Google knows about it.
Long keywords are called long-tail keywords. An example is “how to bake lasagna with white sauce” or “how to make a Labrador sit”.
If you are ranking for these keywords, you need to use them in your post content, the title, and some other areas which I will describe later.
How do you choose the right keyword? Well, you use keyword tools, which I will discuss on another blog. But in nutshell, you have to use tools that tell you if the keyword of your choice has a search volume or not.
If you use a keyword that nobody is searching for, then no one is going to find your website.
2. Content quality
Over the years, a lot of SEO experts gamed the system. They stuffed their articles with keywords, but their content did not produce value. This, of course, is bad for user experience.
Imagine yourself looking for information, and then you clicked on the first sites shown on the Google SERP. Then you find out the websites you clicked are full of garbage. You are be disappointed.
Google knows this, and the made an update on their algorithm. Now, the search engine is smarter, and will only show posts and product pages that are the most relevant to the user’s query.
It is not perfect, but it works.
How does this happen? Does the Google search engine read the whole post, and then decide if it is of good quality? Yes and no. Google scrapes or reads the content, but it is still a robot.
It is the user behavior that matters.
Google knows how long a person stayed on a web page, or if a person closed that page so soon to read another one.
These metrics are called time spent per session and bounce rate. If people spend a long time on your web page, it just goes to show that you are adding value. Why else will the person read your blog post if he does not find it useful?
If people almost immediately close your web page, it is a signal to Google that your content is not what the user was looking for.
This is why you cannot create content that is useless. You may be able to game the system for a little while, but Google will find out soon and you will lose your rankings.
We are now in the Information Age. And with information comes change—quick change. The advice you wrote about last year may no longer be effective today.
This is why Google pays so much attention to fresh content. Google loves websites that create fresh content because new content are timely and accurate. To Google’s eyes, fresh content always delivers the best experience to users.
This is why bloggers strive to produce content as much as they can. If you are operating an online store and you want to rely on organic traffic, then fresh content is your best bet to rank on SERPs.
There is no magic number as to how many times you need to blog per month. But if you think about it, top news sites publish not just one post a day but dozens.
No, you cannot do this. You are a one-person team and churning out 12 blog posts a day is just not on the menu.
What you can do is to write a few and outsource the rest to a freelance copywriter.
Learn the Secrets to Writing Copy That Converts.
Here is the good news: Google does not care how many times you post for as long as you are consistently publishing content. You can publish posts once a week, twice a week—it is up to you. Just make sure that you stick to a schedule and maintain it.
If Google finds new content every time it crawls your website, Google will know that you are producing new content consistently, and will give you preference over others.
If you want to learn more about how many blog posts to write, here is a good video on YouTube by Neil Patel:
4. Page load time
People have short attention span and they hate waiting. If your website takes an eternity to load, the user is going to close his browser—no traffic for you.
Your punishment does not end there. Google knows that your website gave the user a bad experience, and Google will penalize you for that.
Why would Google recommend your page if it knows that your website takes forever to load?
If you do not fix your page load speed, Google will keep on pushing your rankings down.
So, how do you fix it?
The best thing that you can do is to integrate your Google Analytics account with your website. Google Analytics will show you how your website is performing, and you can make corrections to make it faster.
Here is an example of a report from Google Analytics:
As you can see, I fixed my page speed from April to May. My page load speed now is less than1 second.
To see the same report, just go your Google Analytics Dashboard> Behavior > Site Speed > Overview.
The other thing you can do is to go to websites like GMETRIX and then test your website. You just need to enter your site address and you will get a report.
You do not need to score an A or a green. A yellow should suffice if you have a small website. Many websites will always score yellow because of the themes they use—you cannot just help it. What matters is that you are not in the red.
Sometimes, all it takes is to replace some of your website images. You have to compress your files to make them smaller
The last step I recommend is to use optimizer plug-ins. This is what I love about SiteGround. It has a built-in tool that helps you make your site load faster. This tool is called SG Optimizer, and it comes free if you host your dropshipping store on SiteGround.
Here is a screenshot of SG Optimizer performance check:
If you scroll below that, you will find areas that you need to fix like the one on the screenshot below. You cannot fix everything, especially so if you are not a coder. The reason being is that sometimes, it is your chosen theme that causes the slowness.
What matters is that you test your website speed from a phone or laptop that has not visited it before. If the page load speed is less than 3 seconds, you should be good to go.
Learn How to Explode Your Traffic
5. Headers and Meta + Alt Tags
Each blog post or product page has a header. A header is called H1, H2, H3, and so on. A header is a title—it is the text on top of a document.
To make use of headers in SEO, your keyword must be at the header. If possible, the keyword must be as close to the start of the header as possible. You must also take into account the number of characters that make up your blog or product page title, as Google truncates it if it is too long.
If you search for “best Shopify themes” on Google, you will see the results below.
The highlighted areas are the headers. As you can see, the keyword “best Shopify themes” are in there.
Why is this important? As Google indexes your website, it records the title of your blog post or product page. If your keyword is not in your header, the search engine may not realize that the topic of your blog post, or the content of your product page, is what the user is looking for.
Ideally, you should also put your keyword at least once in any Header 2. You can only have a Header 2 if the way you write uses lists. A Header 2 does not apply if you are writing an essay.
The two highlighted areas below are examples of Header 2 inside an article.
Remember, do not spam your content with keywords. Use them only on the appropriate places.
The URL is also called the permalink. It is the technical identifier for every blog page. Ideally, the permalink must have the keyword. Search engines also love short permalinks, but you cannot do this without a plugin.
Google no longer shows the permalink in the SERPs, but they are still part of the things Google indexes.
Here is a URL or permalink example:
As you can see, they keyword “best Shopify themes” is in there.
Why is this important? A permalink is an identifier, and Google uses it to identify if the URL contains the keyword that a person is searching for.
To make your permalink SEO-friendly, you can change it from the blog post itself, or use a plug-in like Rank Math. Rank Math is free.
As you can see from the screenshot below (Rank Math tool), I have some updating to do to make my permalink SEO-friendly.
7. Search Engine Indexing
Because of the sheer size of the internet, it is not possible for Google to know that you launched a website today. It can take weeks before Google even finds out that your website exists.
The solution, of course, is to tell Google that you have a website. The old way of doing this is by submitting a sitemap. Today, what you can do is to sign up for Google Search Console, and just type the URL of your website to integrate the two.
Essentially, you are integrating your website with Google Search Console, and Google Analytics for that matter, to let Google know that you have a website.
The other way to do this is to just install Site Kit in your WordPress. Google owns SiteKit, and it will allow you to integrate your website with Search Console, Analytics, and even AdSense with just one plug-in.
If you are using Shopify or other web-builder tools, they have one-click installation processes to integrate your website with Google Search Console or Analytics.
Guide to Search Engine Optimization: Off-Page SEO
Now, I know we have covered a lot of bases for on-page SEO. Each component has deeper aspects that you need to explore.
For now, let us move on and discuss off-page SEO. As mentioned earlier, off-page SEO refers to things that you do outside your website to help you drive traffic to it.
Back links are important for off-page SEO. The way Google sees it, a back link from one website to your website is a vote of confidence. It tells Google that your content is credible enough that people are linking back to you.
If you thing about it, why would a website send their site visitors away, and lead them to you? The normal practice is for them to keep their readers inside their website.
If they link back to you, it only goes to show that they trust you enough, and they want their readers to see proof—a link to your website is that kind of proof.
Here is an example of a backlink:
The article is about SEO techniques and it is a blog post by Neil Patel. In this blog, Neil used the anchor text “80% of a website’s traffic” and then lined that anchor text to another website, which I highlighted in red at the bottom.
The more back links you get from authority websites, the more Google will think highly of you. But if you get backlinks from crappy websites, Google will think it is spam. You see, this need for backlinks created a lot of ways for people to game the system.
Here are some of the things they do to get backlinks:
- They buy backlinks from sellers
- They pay bloggers for backlinks
- They create back links from PBNs (private blog networks)
- They spam forum websites
As you can see, all of these are either unethical or downright unfair—those who have money to burn can buy backlinks while those who don’t cannot get any.
Google knows this, and they have created algorithms that can spot, or calculate, if the backlinks to your website are suspicious.
If they are, you will get penalized, and it will be difficult for you to recover.
Do not buy backlinks. It is a waste of money. Instead, create great content—content that will make people proud in linking back to you.
Authority refers to how credible your website is. You cannot just write about medical topics without showing somewhere on your website who you are.
This is why an About Us or About Me page is important. It is a page that allows you to build trust and confidence. In the internet, search engines use content and links to determine your authority.
We all know that Wikipedia is an authority in many things. The articles you find there are written by professionals. It gets a lot of backlinks and is often cited as a source of information by a lot of people.
“But—I am only selling fish tanks,” you say.
It does not matter. Search engines are robots that work according to how they are programmed to work. Even if you are just selling fish tanks, you need to build trust and authority.
In so many was such as, but not limited to:
Relevancy – you have to create content that is relevant to your target traffic. If your website is about fish and you write about cars, you cannot expect to rank
Back links – one misconception about backlinks is that the more backlinks you have, the higher your authority goes. One backlink from a high-authority site can be worth a million back links from low-authority sites. This is why you should never buy backlinks—they are worthless.
I want to add social media shares in building authority. It is also called social signals in SEO parlance.
Ever wonder why many websites encourage you to share their content? It is precisely because it is part of off-page SEO. Google knows if people are coming to your website from social media channels—it is good of you get content clicks from these. It simply tells Google that you are a trusted brand and people read your content.
Here, look at this sample report from my Google Analytics:
As you can see, Google knows where my traffic is coming from. It also knows which social media channels are driving the most traffic to my site.
Again, there are black hat or shady techniques that people do to get around this. They buy fake followers, buy fake traffic clicks—the list goes on and on. Black hat techniques just do not make any sense. They defeat the very purpose of SEO.
The purpose of SEO is organic traffic—natural traffic.
If you stop buying these fake clicks and likes and shares, what is going to happen? You will have no traffic. Any paid traffic is a leak in your pocket—never buy them.
SSL stands for Secure Socket Layer. It is an encryption method that protects users if they access your site. What it does is it jumbles information that customers enter through your site, and only your host or web-builder, or your payment processor, has the encryption key to read it.
There was a time when this was not an issue, and many websites started with HTTP://.
If a website is encrypted, it starts with HTTPS://.
The “s” stands for secure.
Today, browsers and search engines warn users if a site is not encrypted. Some will not even let the user go to that site.
Why did this happen? Well, hackers took advantage of vulnerable sites that were not secure. They stole personal and financial information. Also, it has now become a standard practice for store owners and bloggers to get a site visitor’s email address, which puts a user’s information at risk.
In response to this, browser creators and search engines have to do something to protect consumers.
A website that has no SSL is risky, and Google is not going to take its users to a risk like that. And this is what SSL is crucial component of off-page SEO.
SEO is not simple. It is made of a complex set of rules and influences that cover a wide gamut of the World Wide Web. My take is that you need to start your journey with writing great content. You do not need to go too technical on SEO.
I have laid out the most important aspects of both on-page and off-page SEO, and these should serve as a good foundation for your online journey. If you need to learn more, focus your search and study on the things I pointed out today.
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