SEO for Beginners: The Ultimate Checklist
Many people have questions about SEO, but it is certainly not a mysterious field. Everyone can and should learn SEO, especially if you manage your own website. That's why we've written this blog post to share our knowledge and provide a bunch of handy SEO tips. This way, you can learn how to best allocate your time and attention when optimizing your website.
What is SEO?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, which refers to the process of improving a website with the aim of achieving higher rankings in the organic search results of search engines. The higher your website ranks for relevant keywords, the greater the chance that people will visit your website. And because SEO doesn't involve costs per click, unlike SEA, it is a sustainable way to attract more website visitors.
SEO for Beginners
This blog post is specifically aimed at beginners who don't yet have a budget for professional SEO or marketing tools. But don't worry, we only share free tools that you can use to learn how to optimize your website. So what are you waiting for? Start improving your website today by putting our SEO tips into practice.
How Does SEO Work?
With SEO, we aim to make our website perform as well as possible in the search results. Unfortunately, we don't have a direct line to Google or a magical tool to make that happen. With SEO, we need to take into account various factors that influence our position in the search results. Google uses around 200 factors that influence the search results and their order.
An example of an SEO factor
However, not all SEO factors are equally important. An example of an important factor is 'short loading time'. A website that loads quickly offers a better user experience than a website that takes ten seconds to load each page. Therefore, Google gives websites that load quickly a higher rating than slow-loading pages. Fortunately, there are various free tools available to test and improve the loading speed of your website. A commonly used tool is Google PageSpeed Insights. This tool not only indicates how fast your website loads, but also offers suggestions for improvement and optimization.
SEO and specific website desires
Sometimes, the desires of a website owner or developer actually conflict with the best SEO practices. For example, when someone wants to have a slider on their website. Often, a slider is an external plug-in that adds extra files and makes a website unnecessarily heavy. This leads to a slower loading page. Sometimes, a website owner has a desire that is not favorable for SEO. As SEO specialists, we try to find a compromise between:
The desires of the website owner;
The desires of the website visitor;
The requirements to score well in search engines.
The interesting thing is that the search engine often keeps the desires of the website visitor in mind when determining those requirements. Therefore, SEO is often automatically beneficial for the user experience you offer to website visitors.
SEO: how to do it?
With SEO, it's not about simply ticking off a checklist and being done. The web and the playing field we are in are constantly changing. Each change can bring new opportunities and obstacles. For example, the transition from http to https. When it became known that this would count in scoring search results, many websites switched. However, such a transition must be carried out carefully and can give your site an advantage over the competition.
This constant change makes SEO so fun and challenging. No day is the same, and it requires continuous adjustment and optimization. As SEO specialists, we must remain alert to every change and take advantage of new opportunities. This way, we continue to help our clients improve their online presence and achieve more success.
How to get started with SEO? Tips and advice
If you want to start with SEO, it's important to first create a plan. This can help you have a clear goal in mind and avoid getting lost in the optimization process. Below are some tips to help you create a plan:
Get the right tools
Make sure you have the right tools to measure your progress, measure the effects, and discover opportunities. Without the right tools, it's difficult to determine if you're following the right strategy.
Get access to the CMS
To make changes to the website, it's important that you have access to the Content Management System (CMS) of the website.
Set Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to help you determine your goals. These KPIs may relate to the growth of organic traffic to your website.
Remember that SEO will not have an immediate effect. It may take some time before you see results. Therefore, set realistic goals and take small steps to achieve them.
Allocate time and resources
The optimization process takes time, and it's important to allocate sufficient resources for it. Involve the right people within your organization and regularly evaluate progress and make adjustments as needed.
If something isn't working, don't be afraid to change course. There are multiple ways to achieve success, and it can take some time to find the right strategy.
A good start is important if you want to start with SEO. Get the right tools and resources, be realistic, and stay flexible. This way, you increase the chance of success.
Step 1: Conduct keyword research and determine focus words
Performing keyword research and determining focus words is the first real step in executing SEO. Here, you investigate which keywords your target audience uses when searching for your product or service. This is always the first step because it helps you understand which pages need to be optimized and what content needs to be written.
For example, if the keyword research shows that your target audience uses terms that currently do not appear on your website, you need to create new content. However, if you already have pages for the most important keywords, but still don't rank high enough, there may be something wrong with the technical aspects of your website or the website's authority may not be high enough. In that case, it is advisable to choose a less competitive keyword. Choose a keyword (or multiple keywords) with less competition.
SEO: what tools do you need and can you use?
As a beginner in SEO, it can be difficult to invest in expensive tools. That's why in this blog post we'll show you a number of useful and free tools that you can use to improve your SEO activities.
One of the first tools you can use is Screaming Frog. This is a crawler that can scan your website and clearly display the results. The free version is suitable for small websites and can crawl up to 500 URLs. With Screaming Frog, you can actually simulate the search engine and get insight into any problems with your website, such as heavy images or pages that don't work.
Another useful tool is Google analytics. This is a suite of tools that allows you to see what visitors are doing on your website. This provides easy insight into the percentage of visitors who come to your website via search engines (organic traffic). You can also see, for example, which pages are popular and which ones are not performing well. Google Analytics is also an excellent way to measure the results of your efforts. For example, you can see if you've achieved that desired 10% growth in organic traffic.
Google Search Console
Google search console is a free tool that you can link to your website if you have a Google account. This can be done in various ways, but the connection with Google Analytics is often the easiest. Within Google Search Console, you can see what happens in the search engine before someone comes to your website, such as for which search terms your website is found. You can also submit your sitemap or have a new web page indexed by Google here.
Google Tag Manager
Google Tag Manager is a manager for all your tags. But what is a tag? This can be anything, but is often a script. Within Google Tag Manager, you can create tags that are loaded on your website. If, for example, you want to have Google Analytics on your website, you can place it in a tag. The only thing you then need is for a developer to place the Google Tag Manager script on your website. After that, you hardly ever have to bother that developer again, because all the other tools and trackers you would ever want to place on your website are facilitated by Google Tag Manager. This can save you time and money.
Google Business Profile
You can sign up your business with Google Business Profile and create a page for your website and organization. If you have a physical location where your office or store is located, you can sign up for Google Business Profile. This makes you clearly visible with your business in the search engine and quickly found.
Answer The Public
This tool is perfect for keyword research. It provides insight into the questions your target audience asks about a particular topic. This allows you to ensure that the content you are going to write exactly matches the searcher's questions and expectations.
Yoast SEO (for WordPress)
Since many websites are built on WordPress, Yoast SEO is a popular plugin that we would like to mention. This plugin makes it very easy to optimize texts for a specific keyword. Read more about this handy tool here.
The three SEO pillars
Now that you have gone through all the above points, it's time to look at where you, as a beginner SEO practitioner, can best optimize your website. Within SEO, there are three important pillars: website technology, content, and authority. We'll provide more information on each of these topics below.
Website technology is crucial for SEO for two reasons. First, website technology contributes to the user experience and affects how users perceive your website. An example of this is a page that loads slowly and thus creates a negative experience. Google only wants to show pages to searchers that provide a positive experience, which is why it's more challenging to rank high if your page loads slowly. Often, technical adjustments are necessary to make a page load faster.
Secondly, technology is important for crawling and indexing. Crawling is the process where Google searches your website page by page to determine what your website is about. Indexing is the next step, where Google decides if your content is good enough to be found. This is called "indexing" because the Google database is always called the "index." In other words, it's about whether this content ends up in the index and if so, for which search terms.
In the following sections, we'll delve deeper into the two elements of technical SEO.
In this beginner's guide to SEO, we won't go too deep into the various elements that are important for user-friendliness. However, we can give you some tips to optimize website technology for user-friendliness:
Ensure fast page loading times, as mentioned earlier.
Use a clear, organized, and simple menu structure.
Add a "breadcrumb trail" to large websites, so users can easily navigate.
Ensure that the mobile version of the website is usable, with buttons and links that are large enough and not too close together.
Try to help website visitors navigate the site as best as possible.
It can help to put yourself in the website visitor's shoes. Consider what questions they have. For example, consumers on an online store often want to know what the return policy is. Is this information easy to find or hidden on the site? The easier information is to find and access, the better the user experience will be.
Are your web pages already included in the Google index? It's important to know that Google doesn't cover the entire internet. The internet is much larger than just Google, which is a good thing, otherwise, everyone would have access to your private emails. Emails are an example of content that can't be found in the Google index.
Even if your website is optimized, non-indexed pages won't appear in search results. Fortunately, you can easily check if your website is indexed by using site: in Google.
For example, type site:iodigital.com into Google's search bar and see which pages of our website are indexed. As you can see, a considerable number of pages are indexed. But what about your website? If there are no or few pages indexed, this can have various causes:
Specific settings in the Robots.txt
The robots.txt file is a small document in the root of your website that gives crawlers information about which parts of the site should not be crawled. For example, a news archive where old articles are stored. You want visitors to be able to navigate to it through the site, but you don't want Google's crawler to spend a lot of time indexing these pages.
Sometimes, the robots.txt is set up so that the entire website cannot be crawled. An example of this setting is:
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In the example above, you can see the following happening: the "User-agent" represents the robots (such as Google) that visit your website. The asterisk indicates that this rule applies to all robots, including Bing, for example. Then it is indicated that nobody has access to the website by means of "Disallow: /". If you see this rule in your robots.txt file, you should adjust it to, for example, "Allow: /", or you can remove the entire rule.
With robots metatags, you can indicate on a page-by-page basis whether you want to index a page or not. For example, you can indicate that a page should not be included in the index (no-index) or that the links on a page should not be followed (no-follow). You can make four combinations of these two elements. The combination of no-index/no-follow ensures that a page is not included and that the search engine does not follow the links on the page.
With a tool like Screaming Frog, you can quickly see an overview of these metatags and take action if important pages contain these tags.
The elements mentioned above (robots.txt and robots metatags) can cause indexing problems. Once you have resolved these problems (or never had them in the first place), you can do a few things to promote indexing:
Submitting XML sitemap to Google Search Console
In Google Search Console (GSC), you can submit your XML sitemap to Google. This is a list of all your pages and is very useful to mention in GSC because Google then knows which pages can be indexed.
Obtaining more referring links
Google's algorithm used to place a lot of value on exact keyword matches, but nowadays, more emphasis is placed on referring links. These links are still important and have everything to do with link building. It is essentially about online word-of-mouth advertising.
If many websites refer to you on a particular topic, then it is likely that you are an authority in that area. If you have not submitted your sitemap to GSC, links can help Google to find your website. If other websites link to your site, this is an opportunity for Google to find your website.
Island in the Ocean
Imagine that your website is an island in the middle of the ocean. If no boats are sailing towards that island and it is not on any map, then the island is almost impossible to find. But if ferries are sailing towards the island and the island is on the map, then it is easier to find the island. You can compare these boats to links to your website. So make sure you are found by search engines!
Once your website is online and attracting visitors, it's time to focus on improving its visibility. The key to visibility is relevant content, as it contributes to relevance, which is a crucial factor for successful visibility.
When your website is relevant to users, search engines will consider it valuable. Search engines rely on users, and if search queries don't yield relevant websites, users will conduct their searches elsewhere.
So make sure your website is relevant. It's a simple statement, but what makes your website relevant? A relevant website provides users with answers to their questions and problems. This can be a product that offers a solution to a problem, or additional information on a specific topic. By knowing what questions people have, you can answer those questions with your content, which makes you relevant.
One of the methods we use to create relevance is keyword research. This is a technique we discussed briefly above. By researching the keywords people use to search for answers to their problems, we can focus our content on those keywords. With Google Search Console, we can perform search analysis to see which keywords we're currently being found for and better understand our visitors' search intent. This allows us to further optimize our content.
Put yourself in your target audience's shoes
If your competitors are missing opportunities, there is much to gain in the search engine. Unfortunately, we often see companies not doing this well. On their web pages, they only talk about the product or service itself, not the solution. But if someone doesn't (yet) know about a product or service, they won't search for it. It's important to put yourself in your target audience's shoes and find out how to best reach them. Then write content that is relevant to that audience and their search queries.
When writing content, if you take into account your target audience's needs, you understand the playing field. Relevant content is incredibly powerful because it provides answers to users' questions. Therefore, make sure your web pages contain valuable and unique content, supplemented with images and videos. This way, the target audience doesn't just have to read text, and there is a balance between text and visuals.
To improve your visibility in search engines, we can create special landing pages focused on specific search terms. If we then submit these new pages to search engines, this can sometimes yield surprisingly fast results.
Optimize page titles
Just like a book has a cover with a title that tells you what it's about, every web page has a title. The page title is important for content and is displayed in two places: in your browser tab and on Google's search results page. It is therefore essential that the page title is relevant and catchy. Google sees this as an important element for SEO. Our tips for optimizing your page titles are:
Keep the titles short (maximum 60 characters)
Place the search term you want to be found for at the beginning
Write an attractive and inviting page title
Link building is an important part of Google's algorithm. Your link profile determines the authority of your website. If you are seen as an authority in a certain area, you increase your chances of better visibility in search engines. It is therefore essential to work on your link profile by getting referring links from other websites. There are different ways to do this.
An option is to ask partners or suppliers if they want to place a link to your website.
You can also look at your competitors and their referring links. By Googling 'competitor name -site:www.competitorname.com', you get an overview of the websites that write about your competitor. If these websites also offer space for a link to your website, you can use this as a referring link.
It is also smart to look at websites that write about you but have not yet made a link. In that case, you can contact these websites and ask for a link. This way, you can easily strengthen your link profile and increase your authority.
Relevant and interesting content on your website is not only good for search engines but also for other websites that want to refer to it. This also happens in this blog. It can even happen that your content is placed on other websites, which not only gives you a referring link but also appeals to a new group of visitors.
Although we are not very enthusiastic about directories, they can sometimes help to easily obtain referring links. Startpagina.nl is an example of this. Usually, something is asked in return, such as money or a return link. A return link can be placed from your own website, or you can have a second domain with which you link partners. This way, the value of the various referring links is well distributed.
At the beginning of this blog post, we asked the question: "How does SEO work?" Hopefully, you now have a better idea. It is understandable to ask this question because as a beginner SEO, it can be overwhelming to know where to start and what to do. It is important to work in a structured way. The different steps we have discussed can help you start your SEO career. Set a clear goal, build a good foundation, and create a tight plan. Don't be discouraged if something doesn't work right away; there are always other ways to achieve your goal. If you are still not making progress and would like advice, feel free to contact us
Dit blog is geschreven door de specialisten van Orangedotcom.
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