Somewhat Simple

A Beginner’s Guide To SEO

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SEO Keywords

What Is SEO

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization.  This is just a fancy way of saying that search engines, like Google, are scanning the internet trying to provide users with the best resources for their search queries. They do this by evaluating countless factors on your site, and then they use that information to decide if they will include your page in the results they give their users.

We all create content that we feel is useful to our readers, but how do we help Google see this value and show it to more people?  That’s where the art and science of SEO comes in.  Unfortunately, there isn’t a magical checklist that exists, that, when followed, guarantees your content will show as the first result in a Google search. But there are steps we can take that will help improve our odds of being seen.

A Practical Example

I want you to think back on the papers you wrote in your English classes.  Before writing, you were taught the proper steps of writing an essay; including proper formatting, and structure.  When you wrote your paper you tried to follow those guidelines as best you could.  However, when your essays were returned, you didn’t always receive an A.

This happened for a variety of reasons.  Maybe your essay was disorganized and difficult to read.  It’s possible your paper was too broad and didn’t focus on the topic.  Or maybe it didn’t fully answer the question that was being asked.  Just because you have the proper structure in place, doesn’t mean you wrote what the teacher was hoping to read.

The same holds true for the posts you publish on your site and what people are searching for. And while there isn’t a universal solution, there are plenty of ways that you can optimize your site for search engines.

Keyword Research

The first step to showing up in search results is to research the keywords people are searching for. Researching keywords can provide you valuable insight into what people are looking for that’s relevant to the topic you’re writing about.  This can also give you additional inspiration for things to include in your article. While you might make the best chocolate covered squash lasagna, if no one is searching for that recipe, you probably won’t get traffic from Google.

Example – Let’s say you’re writing an article about all the best museums in Paris.  As you research the keywords “Paris museums”, you notice people are also looking for a pass they can buy that gets them into the museums.  You also see that people are asking “when is the best time to visit the Louvre”.

By including this relevant information in your article, you are making your blog post a more valuable resource to the reader.  And as your post becomes more valuable, you increase the chance that Google will recommend your page to those searching for that topic.  Also, it’s now possible that your post will show up in the search results for those additional terms that you would have previously missed out on.

Tools – There are several ways you can conduct keyword research.  My favorite paid option, SEMrush, will provide you with keyword data and many other valuable tools.  There are free ways to do keyword research too. Google Keyword Planner, Answer The Public, or simply typing a term into Google’s search box to see other popular search terms is a great way to get free keyword results. Regardless of the tool you choose, you should always do some keyword research before you start writing your content.

Optimizing Each Page

When you’re writing a blog post, there are things to consider that can optimize your page so your readers can find what they are looking for, and so Google sees your post as a good resource for their users.

Focus On The Reader – As you work on optimizing your page for search engines, it can be easy to forget what’s most important; your readers.  While you may want to include the term “easy pasta salad” ten thousand times so Google knows just how easy the recipe is, that may not be what’s best for your readers. Focus first on your audience and what reads best for them.

Organization – Organize your content in a way that’s easy for the reader to consume it.  This is especially helpful since more people are searching on smaller devices.  Here are a few things to consider –

  • If your pages are difficult to read, people will leave your site and look elsewhere. Readers that bounce off your page too quickly could signal to Google that your article may not be the best resource for their users.
  • Use headings to break up each section so that it’s easy for the reader to find what they’re looking for.
  • Use numbered lists or bullet points to organize relevant information.

Meta Titles – These are the titles of your articles that show up on the search results page.  You may have the best chicken enchilada recipe but if the title doesn’t catch the reader’s eye, they may never find it.  Instead of using the title, “Pretty Average Chicken Enchiladas”, try using “Easiest Chicken Enchiladas (Prep In 10 Mins)”.

Meta Description – This is the short caption that appears after your title on the search results page. This is your elevator pitch!  If your title catches their eye, they’ll read the description and usually decide then whether or not to click over to your article.  Use this valuable space to tell them just how easy and delicious your enchiladas really are.

Images & Video – The images and video you use in your posts should provide additional resources to your readers.  You’ll want to include what you feel is best for your audience.  While 10 pictures and a video may be beneficial for one post, 2 pictures and no video may be perfect for another.

General Optimization Of Your Site

Search engines look at several other factors when determining their search results, beyond what’s on a given page.  Let’s pretend you’ve just finished a blog post that’s been researched, optimized and has great information.  What else can you do to show Google just how great it is?  Here are a few recommendations:

Social Media – Now that you’ve published fantastic content, it’s time to let everyone know.  When people visit your site from social media, Google sees that as a positive signal. Just because your audience didn’t find you through a search engine doesn’t mean the content is any less valuable. As it continues to gain traction and more visitors come, Google will place more value on that page.

Internal Links – Consider adding links inside your articles to other relevant content. By linking to more information that you find valuable and useful, you are providing your readers with additional resources to help them on their journey of discovery.  As you do this, search engines will better understand how your content is connected and the value it can provide for their users.

External Links – As other sites link back to your pages it will help you establish yourself as an authority within your area of expertise.  Unfortunately, this is not something that’s directly within your control.  However, as you engage and become more active within a community on a certain topic, others will naturally link back to you as they strive to provide their readers with helpful information.

Structured Data

Search engines are getting better at understanding what we write.  However, we have to remember that robots are what are actually reading our sites and they don’t always understand everything correctly.  Thankfully, we have the ability to create structured data to help provide context to search engines.

To do this, we need to add additional markups within our posts so that search engines can better understand what we’ve written. Fortunately, there are plugins that make it easy to add these markups.  When we do this, search engines can easily pull relevant data to display in their search results.   This allows search engines to include our images and data more frequently in things like photo carousels, featured snippets and other more engaging search results.

Final Thoughts

Search engines, like English teachers, are a fickle bunch.  While they may like something today, they may like the opposite tomorrow.  It can definitely be frustrating at times but don’t give up.  Take a quick minute to scream into a pillow and curse Google’s name, then get back to work and keep providing your readers with the best content possible.  After all, we chose this line of work to help others solve their problems.  Gaining Google’s affection is just the icing on the cake.

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