Beginners “How to” Guide for SEO

Overwhelmedconfusedstressedhopelessdon’t know where to start?

These where the words that sprang to my mind when I first start to consider search engine optimization (SEO). However, it is these words that made me research a basic method that even I could stick to and understand. Are you the same? Does it seem like… well… just way too much effort?

If this is the case, or you even if you are just looking for a few new ideas to implement, then I hope that with my straightforward beginners guide to the do’s and dont’s of basic SEO that I can clear a few things up for you. After you have read it make sure you get going on implementing some of the ideas and begin to enjoy more search traffic.

This SEO starter guide comes from my personal experience, experimentation, reading and what I have noticed about visitors to my site up to now. This is written specifically for WordPress bloggers but the principles can equally apply across all platforms. I hope it is useful in at least showing you how to start getting a steadier flow of relevant search traffic to you site. It has already made a difference to me.

What exactly is SEO?

SEO is basically the process of improving internal and external aspects with regard to the your website and web pages, in order to increase the traffic your site receives from search engines. When doing this you are looking to increase the volume and quality of traffic to a web site from search engines via “natural”,”organic” or “algorithmic” searches.

The higher up the list you are, the higher you “rank” and the more click throughs you are going to get to your site. Obviously, you want this stream of visitors to be targeted and appropriate for your siteotherwise it is pointless. By looking at and then following through on the steps and ideas shown within this article, you can learn the basics of how to set up for effective SEO and so naturally get all the visitors you want.

If you feel you want to know more then check out the SEOBook by Aaron Wall. But, hopefully I can help remove some of the mystery and fear commonly surrounding search engine optimization.

Why do I Need SEO? Can’t they just find me anyway?

The Internet is a huge place and when people are looking for new things they more often than not start out with a search.

If you are providing the product that the person is looking for then you owe it to yourself and to them to make sure you appear high up on the results page so that you can meet.

Search queries, which are the words people type into the search box when they are trying to find your site, contain a lot of inherent value. This are the specifics the searchers are looking for, their basic needs. If you can meet these needs then you have found yourself a new customer. Well targeted visitors to a site can provide regular sources of low cost revenue, new customers and general exposure that is second to none.

Search engines are never going to have the ability like a human to determine what is good content or not. That is why SEO is necessary.

SEO is not trying to trick the search engines, it is trying to make sure your quality product or information gets the exposure it deserves to the users who are looking for you.

In order to achieve that deseried exposure, it is necessary to understand how the search engines work and so make the most of them and in fact also help them improve at the same time.

If you are writing a blog it comes with a natural advantage, a lot of what search engines like is provided naturally within the blogging platform. It is always fresh, bloggers naturally link to each other and it allows you to provide a lot of content to target different niches.

What are the Basics of SEO I Need to Know?

When you are trying to implement a search engine strategy, these are 10 basic things that you need to be aware of and apply now to make sure you get the kind of ranking your content or product deserves.

  1. Links – search engines regard links into your site as pretty much the most important thing there is. Why? Simply because of the fact it is harder to manipulate these off site factors than on site factors. People used to take advantage of this through link farming (submitting sites 1000’s of low quality directories) but search engine algorithms have now advanced to try and avoid this link manipulation. The power of these links into your site is shown by the fact that it is possible to rank for words not on your site purely through the anchor text (anchor text = visible text in a hyperlink) that is used to link to it. If you want to see more on this, take a look at the description of a “Google Bomb“. Knowing this power, it shows how having relevant and respected sites that link to your website will obviously give a huge boost to your rankings.
  2. Title tags – these are the most important thing you can do on site regarding your search engine placement. Ignore them at your peril. When you are choosing your title use words that are clearly related to your topic and that most importantly people will use when searching. You should also try to make sure these words appear at the start of your title in the browser window and not after your site name.i.e. it should be “SEO :Million Dollar Blog” and not “Million Dollar Blog: SEO”. If you are working for a business, you need to choose the 1-3 keywords you want to target and put them in your title. If you want to mass edit your titles in WordPress then you can use this plugin which will do the job for you.
  3. Keywords – these are the words you are targeting for your site. The basic advice here is to put them in your introduction and in your summary. There is no need to splatter them everywhere. In fact I have found the best thing is to try and use synonyms throughout your article so as to broaden the range of your audience. Nowadays as web users become more savvy with their searches this is going to become more important as you pick up more users for less common terms or the “longtail” of the web search as it is becoming known. The benefit of this is that these are the visitors that are the hot prospects, the ones who are more likely to be making purchases.
  4. URLs – basically, you need to optimize them by using related words. This means using “pretty permalinks” as they are called, i.e. no question marks (such as .com/?=p55) and also that the URLs relate to your keywords.In WordPress just go into the options>>permalinks menu and put in a permalink such as /%category%/%postname%/ (note: if you don’t use a host with an Apache server then you are going to run into difficulties doing this). If possible you should get rid of irrelevant parts in the URL such as the date or month. Using the category and postname as shown is a good way as it is going to include terms useful in the search. However, depending on your site layout, what is best may differ.
  5. Meta Tags – yep, they are very dated, but if you look at the search page in Google then it is the meta tags which are used for the description below the title. It means you should make sure you use the meta tags to your advantage in the description and make it one which is going to pull people into your site. Again, take this chance to use the description to broaden the search terms you can rank for. It is also highly recommended that the meta keywords you put in are ones that DON’T appear in your post (such as misspellings). There is no point in using it for a full range of keywords as webmasters did years ago. In order to adjust your meta tags in WordPress just use this plugin.metatags
  6. Quality content – in your content you need to pay some attention to your grammar and layout (even if it’s cool not to). Don’t use profanities, the search engines don’t look to well upon these. Doing this is this not only good for yourself and your readers and likely to encourage more links back to your posts (which is what you want), but nowadays search engines also use algorithms associated with quality writing to try and judge your content.
  7. Headings – first of all the use of headings (and heading tags) makes it much easier for readers to scan and enjoy your work (as people do when reading on the computer screen). This in turn makes it more likely they will link back. Secondly, in addition, they can be used to emphasize the keywords or topic to the search engines and give your article a more solid structure.
  8. Design – generally it’s recommended to keep it clean and easy to navigate, both for your readers and the search engine. SEO pros recommend keeping the style and content separate using CSS and making sure the content is at the top of the sources so the search engine doesn’t have to trawl through to much to get to your message.An important thing here is to try to make all pages accessible in less than 3 clicks, the search engine most likely won’t go any deeper.
  9. Sitemaps – provide a Google sitemap (which will help Google index your site). If your site has good navigation it isn’t necessary but it doesn’t hurt either so you might as well do it. This plugin will build anXML sitemap for you. Also provide a sitemap for your readers. It’s good manners as this will help their navigation and has an added benefit in that it provides good anchor text linking back to your articles. This WordPress plugin will build a WordPress sitemap on a page for your readers to access.
  10. Archives – related to the above, it is suggested to move your archives to a category based archive with related anchor text. I think it is a great idea, but I am still working out the best way to do this one myself – any help and suggestions would be appreciated.

SEO Mistakes to Avoid:

Along with making sure you are doing the right things you also have to make sure you aren’t making mistakes that could send you to the forgotten land of the search engines. All your hard work will be for nothing if you don’t avoid these 9 simple but common mistakes. Some things may be repeated, but the first thing is to make sure you are avoiding these mistakes before you work on what you SHOULD be doing.

  1. Using Javascript or Flash menus – the search engine crawler usually can’t follow these menus as it can’t see them, which basically means it isn’t going to get very far in your site if you have them. Most menus which use flash can be replicated using CSS, so if you have flash menus you should try to look into this as soon as possible.
  2. Unoptimized URLs – the most optimal URLs contain relevant, popular keywords and a minimal number of slashes, without any question marks. As mentioned before, when using WordPress, be sure to change your “Permalink Options” to use rewritten URLs rather than the default of your post IDs
  3. Too much reliance on images and flash – if the content is hidden away in images and flash then the search engine is going to miss it and that means you aren’t going to rank for it. It’s as simple as that.
  4. Not using the meta-tags – back to these meta tags. These are like the guidelines for the search engine. They are little used nowadays but they DO provide a guide as to the site and are still used to varying degrees by some search engines. Make sure you don’t leave them empty and so open to fate.
  5. Multiple homes – make sure you use either just WWW. or just HTTP: The search engine will rank both if you don’t and you can lose half or more your power. The trend is moving towards omitting the WWW so hop on the bandwagon and save your rank.
  6. Unoptimized content – if what you write doesn’t tell the search engine what it’s about then it’s useless. You could write a 10,000 word article on global warming for all the search engine cares, but if you don’t mention that word then it is next to useless. You need to show the search engine what is important in terms of that page as well as informing the reader.
  7. Not trying to get links to your pages – you are not an island, links allow people to find you. You owe it to your site to try and get people linking in to you. It’s what makes the Internet go round. read further on for ideas and help on getting these links.
  8. Letting pages be indexed that shouldn’t – there are pages on your site that are just duplicates, such as the archives, the post page and the category page. There are also pages which are of no value such as the contact form or the printer friendly page. Check out what is showing up in the search engines using the site: operand in Google and then disallow unnecessary pages using your robots.txt file. If you need help regarding this then you can find a neat header php trick here and some other examples of robot.txt for optimizing for search engines which should point you in the right direction.
  9. Unoptimized anchor text – interlinking within in your site let’s you link to your articles using the anchor text you most want your article to be associated with. Take advantage of this fact and also know that it has the added benefit of keeping users on your site for longer.

How Can I Structure My Article for Maximum Effect?

What it takes to be a good writer is the desire, the desire to revise the text until it meets your high standards. When writing on the net, it needs to fit in with your site and design. It is more like a song than an article. More so than in print it needs to be easy to read, few people are going to wade through solid text on their computer screen.

To ensure your page gets ranked for what you want it to, then there are some simple guidelines that it pays to follow.

  • Make One Stop resources – these might sometimes be called pillar articles. These are what your site should be built around. It can be of huge benefit to write extended articles of exceptional quality that can become a one stop shop for people looking for information on a certain subject. These articles can become like an ‘industry standard’ and generate huge amounts of traffic to your site as well as increasing the respect of your opinion and expertise within your niche. It is better to have one industry standard article than hundreds of articles that are rarely read or referred to.
  • Put Your Keywords prominently in the document – don’t worry about stuff like keyword density and the like, that’s pretty 1990’s, just try and put them in as naturally as possible, but make sure they are there.
  • Keep the post on topic and of high quality – nowadays, search engines are moving towards lexical analysis in order determine the contextual value of words within the post (through Latent Semantic Indexing or LSI) and so help determine the relevance of a post on a certain subject. If you aren’t focussed on your topic then your rank is going to drift. They are also developing algorithms to identify the components in high quality writing. Thus, great writing can now provide benefits to your rankings, AS WELL as visitors. Keeping on topic will help ensure you rank well for your chosen target audience.
  • Structure the document effectively – basically at the start say what you are going to talk about, next you talk about it and then at the end review what you have just said. Just like any report or newspaper article, it needs an Introduction, a body and a conclusion. That is the 3 easy steps to a well laid out document that you need to remember.
  • Keep text together – Most SEO people recommend using CSS in your site as it helps keep content together rather than being broken up by tables or even worse “frames”. It can also be achieved through tables if you want, just as long as you focus on the layout and don’t use to many nested tables which will break up the flow.
  • Use sub headings and images – these help with the flow and make it easier to read on the screen as well as providing a kind of summary of the key points in the article for the search engine. Also make sure you use the “alt text” in the images to tell the search engine what they are.

What is The Value of Links?

Everybody talks about links and pagerank, but what exactly is the value to a webmaster?

Generally speaking, search engines are built to follow humans and so this is where the power of links come in. Search engines operate a map of the Internet that can show them not only who is linking to a site or page, but also the relevance and what they are saying about that page or site.

Search engines like Google also have a good idea of who is affiliated with who as they have been involved in the game a long time and so have a lot of historical data to draw on and use it to determine factors such as what sites are worthy of being trusted and so carry more weight (links from .edu, .gov pages and long established sites generally have a higher trust value).

Using the power of links also allows pages deep within a site to get ranked – the benefit of this is that usually a lot of a sites rank is just carried on the homepage. Links to articles deeper in the site allow these pages to get a rank boost and so appear more prominently in search rankings.

When talking about the value of links there are two main factors:

  • The Trust factor – recently the basic idea of a page rank is moving to that of a trust rank, where pages which come from areas of trust will rank higher as will those receiving links from there. One of the main ideas here is that a good site rarely links to a bad and the quality of links is usually in inverse proportion to the number.
  • The Page Rank Factor – the rank of your page is largely due to the quality and quantiy of links coming in. The more you have the higher you are going to rank.This is how Google describes it.

From Google: PageRank relies on the uniquely democratic nature of the web by using its vast link structure as an indicator of an individual page’s value. In essence, Google interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote, by page A, for page B. But, Google looks at more than the sheer volume of votes, or links a page receives; it also analyzes the page that casts the vote. Votes cast by pages that are themselves “important” weigh more heavily and help to make other pages “important.”

So, can you tell me how to get these high quality links?

Getting links requires effort, if you aren’t prepared to put in some sweat them it’s next to impossible unless you get into some less reputable methods. Here is an outline of 14 commonly accepted ways to start generating links back to your site.

  1. Most simply write quality content – if you want people to refer to you and link to you then what you write about has to be of high quality in terms of the information provided as well as the writing.
  2. Link to others – link to others and click on the link a few times so it shows up on their stats. You will start to create some Karma back to you. This is especially true with smaller blogs as they will notice the links in and will take a look at your site and often return the favor. In addition to this it is also a good way to build new relationships as well.
  3. Interact on do follow blog – in fact, it is a good idea to interact on all blogs and get yourself noticed and build relationships, but by interacting on do follow blogs (that means adding quality comments and value to them) you get some automatic links back to your site for your effort.
  4. Submit articles to article directories – submit rewritten articles (you don’t want to be penalised for duplicate content and to have all you best stuff all over the web) to article directories such as go articlesand ezine articles and you can build up links with related anchor text and topics.
  5. Create a Contest – a great way to generate interest in your blog or site and get appropriate links back to your site and certain pages. If you have a contest simply go to contest blogger and get it listed to start creating the buzz.
  6. Writing Projects – using writing projects can introduce you to new bloggers, new readers from their sites and provide great content and generate links back to your site from contributors.
  7. Tell other bloggers about your articles and ask for their feedback – bloggers don’t like being asked for links, but if you ask for their feedback, they will most likely give it to you and at times also a link. Even if you don’t get a link you are building up relationships which is as important in the online world as offline
  8. Submit to quality directories – don’t submit to link farms, but being in high quality directories can get you some link juice. If you want to find some high quality ones just head over here to see some of thestrongest linking directories.
  9. Signatures in forums – join a forum and use your signature to direct people and search engines to your site. Forums are a great place to learn and to get yourself known as an expert, if you aren’t a member of a forum or two in your field then it is well worth considering joining one.
  10. Guest Blog – there are loads of blogs out there which are in need of material. Write a few posts on other blogs and you will find it introduces you to a new audience as well as helping getting your name out there and some links back.
  11. Do in an interview – do a short interview, analysis or expose of a respected person in your niche and you can generate a lot of interest as well as appreciation from the person invlolved.
  12. Create a tool – create a tool or a plugin or something that people need and you will get a pile of visitors and links. You could hire someone to do it for you if you don’t have the expertise. This one is for the ambitious.
  13. Disagree with an authority – controversy sells, if you have the guts, simply choose to disagree with an established person in a reasonable and well thought out way and you can get linked to as people either support or disagree with you
  14. Offer your expertise in return for some PR – if you have a sellable skill such as copy writing, write to some other bloggers or websites and offer it around in return for a link or review or some other kind of help.

These are some great and natural ways to get links. If you need help finding links and want to analyse what your competitors are doing and who is linking to them, then some software that makes the job easier is SEO elite. Personally though, I prefer to do it the old fashioned way, through hard work and gaining respect. However, it’s up to you.

Finally, how can I put this all together and boost my SERP?

With this guide I have tried to cover all the basis for effective SEO for people just starting out so make sure that you can get the notice that you deserve. Obviously it is possible to go into more detail and more depth, but I think for 95% of people that is unnecessary.

The important thing to remember is you don’t have to take it all on board at once, but if you start implementing these strategies now step by step then you will begin to notice a difference. First up, just make sure you aren’t making any of the SEO mistakes listed and then move on from there.