SEO can be a complicated subject. A Google search for “SEO” returns almost 500 million results. Far more than anyone could hope to read in a lifetime. And a lot of that information is simply out-of-date or just not relevant to the needs of a beginner trying to get some basic, easy wins.
Today i'm going to outline the absolute SEO basics for 2020. This will be a series of simple, actionable SEO tips that you can use right now to improve your visibility in organic search and rank higher in Google.
For those of you hungry after reading this we also have a more comprehensive set of SEO tips for small businesses along with a buyers guide to SEO packages to help you effectively outsource your SEO.
Still with me? Right then. Here are five simple SEO tips for beginners to help you optimize your site and drive more organic traffic:
1. Research & Use Relevant Keywords
Keywords are the foundation of successful SEO. When your potential customers use a search engine what do they search for? For most small businesses this will be a combination of what you do and where you do it: SEO company in Birmingham or plumber in Sutton Coldfield.
There are some tools and strategies we can use here to make sure we get a good selection of keywords together.
Brainstorm potential keywords – here we simply write down everything that is relevant. What we do, the services we offer, and the locations in which we offer those services. Once you have all of these elements you can combine what you do with where you do it and form a basic list of keywords.
Use keyword research tool – there are a number of keyword research tools out there that can help you identify new keywords. Google has a tool that forms part of the AdWords PPC service. There are other tools like ubersuggest and keywordtool.io that are useful in their free and paid variations.
Search for your keywords – when you search for your keywords you will often see suggestions in the search bar as you type and there will also be a list of suggested keywords at the bottom of the page. Add any relevant variations to your list (and search them again).
What you are really looking to do here is end up with groups of keywords that have the same basic meaning and intent behind them. As an example, if we consider this article on SEO tips for beginners, we could group the following keywords:
Search engine optimisation tips for beginners
How to do SEO
The intent behind those keywords is all largely the same so they can be grouped together. Any given piece of content can then be optimized for (i.e. feature) those terms. This then ranks the article for the widest range of possible terms.
I would typically put these keywords into a spreadsheet with approximate search volumes and a score relating to how relevant they are. Don’t over complicate this – we are just trying to give a loose priority to the language we are going to use here.
Tip 1: Identify and priorities the keywords that your prospective customers use when looking for the products and services you offer.
2. Optimize Page Titles & Meta Descriptions
Once you have your keyword list then you will want to optimize your page title. Note that this is the behind the scenes HTML <title> element and not what is shown on the page. This is usually editable in your website control panel (CMS) or in your SEO plugin.
What we are trying to do here is get our keywords into the title of the page in a natural way. We have to remember that page titles are what is shown in search results so we are aiming to clearly indicate what the page is about and entice a user to click on our listing.
What I typically like to do is include the what, where, and who if possible. The keywords are the what, the location is the where along with your business name for branding purposes. In an ideal world, you want the keyword at the beginning of the title to aid click-through and for potential ranking improvements.
Plumber in Sutton Coldfield – Marcus’s Plumbing Service
If we look at service pages we can extend upon this:
Boiler Repair Service – Free Quote | Marcus’s Plumbing Service
Emergency Plumber – available 24/7 | Marcus’s Plumbing Service
In both of these page titles, I have included an element that is more for marketing than actual SEO: Free Quote & Available 24/7. These are elements we put there to increase the likelihood that someone will click your listing.
Remember that a search engine listing is still an advertisement, so we must get our marketing dialled in along with our SEO. And, as it so happens, engagement with your listing can have a positive impact on your rankings, so *shock horror* doing good marketing is also good for your SEO.
A word of caution here is not to over-optimize your page titles and just cram them full of keywords – eg:
Plumber | Plumbing | Plumber Company | Emergency Plumber Company
Your page titles should include your keywords but not at the expense of readability or click-ability (if that is even a real word).
When we are happy with our titles, the other component to consider is our meta description. Again, this should be editable in your website’s CMS.
Page titles can have the biggest SEO impact, however, the meta description acts as the description for the content on your page. Your title should grab people’s attention but your meta description should help convince them to click.
The page title and meta description we have used for this article are as follows:
Five simple SEO tips for beginners. Easily optimize your site, improve rankings and drive more traffic from Google. By Marcus Miller of Bowler Hat
With the title, I am detailing what the article is and then the meta description builds on the premise, which hopefully entices more people to click. I also include my name and the name of our business (Bowler Hat) to drive brand awareness.
Note: It is true that meta descriptions do not actually influence rankings directly. However, getting listed is only half the battle – you need clicks. And where a result is clicked more than another this can help improve your ranking through engagement metrics that Google looks at. More worrying, a result that is not clicked at all will lose position and drop from the search results. The takeaway here is that whilst SEO is important, it should never be at the expense of creating good copy.
Tip 2: Write descriptive titles and meta descriptions and weave in your key marketing messages to improve your organic traffic and rankings.
3. Optimize Page Content
Once our page titles and meta descriptions are optimized, we also want to optimize our page content. Our keyword research (#1) should have provided us with a list of related terms that all have the same intent behind them. We would now look to weave these keywords into our copy in a natural way.
There are various components to a page with the main elements being:
Header Tags – H1, H2, H3 etc
Body Content – the text on the page
Images – the images you use to support your copy
Firstly, consider the heading and subheadings on the page. These can be optimised to include your keywords where it is natural to do so.
Secondly, create copy that accurately describes and promotes your business and aim to use all of your keywords where it is natural to do so. Don’t worry about keyword volumes or specific instances of the terms – just write naturally and try to use the terms that you identified in your keyword research.
Images can also be optimized with the name of the image, the image alt text, and the image description being the primary factors. If the image also sits close to relevant text that can also help further.
When done well, your page will be visible for a wider array of terms and you will be speaking the language of a larger cross set of customers which should aid engagement (and generating more leads and sales from your website). Win-win.
Tip 3: Optimize your headers, content and images to improve visibility for a wider range of search terms.
4. Optimize Your Business Around the Web
Your website is central to your SEO efforts, however, this is not the only place where your business is listed. Social media and business directories like Yell.com will also have details for your business. Search engines use this information along with information on your business to help build trust and an understanding of what you do and where you do it.
You will want to update all possible business listings (often referred to as citations) that are relevant to your business with your correct address and a summary of what services you provide. You want to weave your most important keywords into these business listings along with a mention of any key locations.
You can also take a similar approach with your social media profiles. Whilst you may not be able to add a full address or comprehensive description here, you can still cover the essentials of what you do and where you do it.
Remember – these listings can rank well and potential customers can look at your business details here. Don’t just dial this in. Make sure you clearly describe what you do, where you do it and why they should consider your business. If you can weave in calls to action or any other marketing factors then do so.
Tip 4: Update business listings and social media profiles with what you do and where you do it.
5. Build Relevant Links
Link building is a crucial element to driving visibility for competitive keywords. However, link building has a bad reputation – and often rightly so. Links can help and hurt your search engine visibility.
Yet, developing strong visibility requires that you have the right kind of links pointing to your site. These links help Google and other search engines determine your relative importance and to order search results using these metrics.
If there is any confusion at all we can follow Google’s own advice here, which is to “make sure other sites link to yours”.
Google expands upon this point with the following:
“Links help our crawlers find your site and can give your site greater visibility in our search results. When returning results for a search, Google uses sophisticated text-matching techniques to display pages that are both important and relevant to each search. Google interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote by page A for page B. Votes cast by pages that are themselves ‘important’ weigh more heavily and help to make other pages ‘important.'”
So a good, relevant link is still a vote. And votes help show that you are important and relevant and help drive greater visibility in Google search results. It just that they must be the right kind of votes.
It goes without saying that link building is the hardest part of SEO and is where beginners often get stuck. There are, however, a few simple strategies you can use to obtain some safe back-links that will help improve your visibility in search results.
1. Highly Credible Directory Sites
Here we are talking about the likes of Yell.com, Thompson, and the big business directories and portals in your industry. Google around for your keywords and location, and any listings that rank on the first page of Google are worthy of investigation. A good measuring stick here is whether your potential customers will find and click on these listings – if the answer is yes then it is worth seeking out a listing.
2. Competitor Link Analysis
Reviewing your competitor’s links will often identify link opportunities. By looking at your top 10 competitors in a tool like MajesticSEO, aHrefs, or OpenSiteExplorer, you often find a variety of link opportunities. You are not looking to copy every single link here but rather to identify the cream of the crop from several competitors. Think quality rather than quantity, and again, ask yourself whether your prospects are likely to see and click on this link.
Some tools allow you to enter multiple competitors and see which sites link to 2 or more competitor sites – this can help you better identify links that are more closely correlated with high ranking competitors. Correlation is not causation but it does help you better sift
3. Testimonials & Existing Relationships
Offer to write testimonials for companies you work with. Your website designer. Your social media or SEO company. These are all sites that do work for you, are likely local, and can generate a relevant link.
Likewise, if you have existing relationships with suppliers or customers, investigate these sites to see if there is any way a link could be added to these sites.
Tip 5: Build relevant and quality links to your website and content.
Bonus Tip – Register with Google Search Console
As a final bonus tip, be sure to register your site with Google Search Console. This tool analyses your site and provides diagnostic feedback you can use to improve how your site appears in search results. This is information directly from the search engine so you would be foolish not to take advantage of this advice.
Here we have 5 basic SEO tips that even beginners can implement to improve your SEO:
Research & use relevant keywords
Optimize page titles & meta descriptions
Optimize page content
Optimize your business around the web
Build relevant links
So there we have it. Implement these basic SEO tips and you will see an improvement in your rankings and traffic. Often with SEO it is 20% of the effort that will get you 80% of the results and for most small businesses this is a great starting point that will help your site be more visible in organic search.