How to do SEO: Introduction
SEO is the most effective way to organically grow your website.
Whether you run a blog, a local business, or an e-commerce store, there’s no better way to bring consistent traffic to your website than to have it show up on search engines.
But how do you rank your website exactly?
Most people hire an SEO agency to get the job done.
But if you don’t have the budget to hire SEO services…
Or if your niche isn’t big enough for it to be worth it…
You can still rank your website on your own.
In this definitive guide, we’re going to show you how you can run a successful SEO campaign on your own website.
We’re going to break down what SEO is, cover the key elements, and show how you can do SEO to make your website satisfy all of them.
What is SEO?
SEO stands for ‘Search Engine Optimization’. It involves improving and tweaking your website to make it favorable to the algorithms of search engines.
Most of the world depends on search engines to find something on the internet. Unless you’re paying for advertisements or being discovered through word of mouth, showing up on search engines is what’s going to bring traffic to your website.
As a result, being one of the first websites people see is extremely beneficial to a business.
What search engine should you try to rank on?
There are a number of search engines on the internet. Bing, Yahoo, DuckDuckGo to name a few. However, your focus should always be on Google. They make up over 92% of the market share of all search engines in the world.
Most of what helps rank you on Google will also help rank you on other search engines anyways, so there’s really no reason to focus primarily on any other search engine.
How does Google work?
Every month at an unspecified time, Google sends out bots known as spiders all over the internet.
These bots will crawl every website they come across (hence the name), scan each page, and report back to Google with their findings.
Google processes this information and saves it in an Index.
When you enter a phrase into a search engine, you are basically accessing this Index.
The results Google chooses to show you along with the order is based on algorithms.
There are over 200 algorithms Google currently uses to decide which website deserves to be at what rank, and they add new algorithms all the time.
Google’s algorithms are a closely guarded secret, and no one knows exactly how they work. However, there are 2 criteria they tend to revolve around:
Satisfy these two, and you’ll always be found.
Keyword research is the first part of a successful campaign.
It involves finding every search term related to your topic along with the amount of searches it gets per month.
It’s also the most important part of any SEO campaign because it sets the foundation for everything you’re going to be doing going forward.
If you don’t do this right, you’ll either be using keywords that don’t match your topic or missing out on valuable traffic.
What is a keyword?
A ‘keyword’ is any word or sentence put into a search engine.
“Hammer” is a keyword.
“Best Hammer under $50” is also a keyword.
How to find keywords
There are generally 2 ways to find keywords:
- Using free tools such as Google Ads, Keyword Planner,etc.
- Using paid tools such as Ahrefs, Semrush and SERanking.
Paid tools can be VERY powerful for keyword research, but you can find keywords using free tools just fine as well.
The biggest difference between the two is that most free tools will just give you the monthly search volume of the keyword while paid tools will also give you metrics such as search intent, ranking difficulty, etc.
Every tool has their own process and the interfaces change all the time, so we’re not going to walk you through each of them.
But no matter what you use, the general process is this:
- Enter your keyword into the tool
- Log every keyword related to your niche that comes up along with the monthly search volume.
- Rinse and repeat until you have recorded every keyword related to your topic you can possibly find
Types of keywords
There are 2 types of categories a keyword can fall into based on the length:
- short tail keywords
- long tail keywords
Short tail keywords which consist of 1-3 words.
Long tail keywords which consist of 4 words or more.
What’s the difference between short tail and long tail keywords?
Generally, short tail keywords will have a higher search volume than long tail keywords and are more competitive as a result.
Long tail keywords usually have a lower search volume, but make up for it by not only being easier to rank, but also having clearer search intent behind them. Ranking for long tail keywords is great for accomplishing specific goals.
What is search intent?
Search intent is the goal you’re trying to accomplish with the search phrase you entered.
It is EXTREMELY important that your page matches the search intent of your keyword, as Google uses search intent to decide whether your page is relevant to what a user is looking for.
There are 4 different types of search intent:
- Informational intent, which is when you’re searching with the intention of trying to learn more about something. Ie. “Is Nike a private label brand”‘
- Commercial intent, which is where you’re searching with the future intention of buying something. Ie. “Best Nike shoes for running”
- Navigational intent, which is when you search with the intention of finding a particular page. Ie. “Nike Store Log-in”
- Transactional intent, which is where you’re searching with the intention of making a purchase. Ie. “Nike Air Max 97 under $250”
Which keywords should you use?
The keywords you should use depend on the goal of the page.
For example, most blog articles and guides would fall under “Informational Intent” and should satisfy such keywords. Whereas product pages for an online store should satisfy Transactional and Commercial intent.
In general, you’ll want to use short tail keywords on your homepage since they have the highest search volume and are more generalized.
You’ll want to rank for long tail keywords on pages that correspond with their intent.
Once you’re done doing Keyword Research, the next step is to start doing Onpage SEO.
Onpage SEO is the process of making alterations to your website in order to make it more favorable to Google’s algorithms.
This involves a number of tasks, but the biggest needle movers are going to involve using the keywords from your research.
3 of the most important places you need to have your keyword are:
- Your URL
- Your Title tag
- Your H1 tag
Onpage essential #1: Your site’s URL
A URL is simply the address people need to enter to access your page.
Optimizing your URL simply involves making your keyword a part of the URL to that particular page.
You can do this either by selecting a domain that includes the keyword, or by creating a url to that specific page that has the keyword as a part of it.
So for example if you have a dental practice and have a page dedicated to teeth whitening, you could have the url be dentalpractice.com/teeth-whitening/
What if I’m doing Onpage SEO on a pre-existing page?
If the page you’re working on already exists and has been around for a while, most of the time you’re better off NOT touching the URL.
This is mainly because the page could have links to it and changing the URL would break these links. In which case, making a change to the url would do more harm than good, so you’re better off leaving it as it is. Especially when it comes to the domain.
Potentially sacrificing domain authority to make your URL more relevant is not worth it!
Just remember to include relevant keywords in any future urls going forward.
Onpage essential #2: Your Page title
You want to edit the title of the page so that it contains the keyword you’re trying to target.
This helps signal to Google that your page is about your targeted keyword.
It also helps people looking for your keyword on Google know what the page is supposed to be about.
For best results, put the keyword as close to the beginning of the title as possible. This is known as “Keyword loading”.
Onpage essential #3: Your H1 tag
H1 tag is short for “Header 1”. It’s the biggest header size and often the first bit of text people will see on a webpage.
As a result, Google puts a lot of weight on it and you should include your keyword here to help signal to Google what the page is about.
Similar to Onpage essential #2, putting the keyword as close to the beginning of the title as possible can provide the best results.
Web Content for SEO:
From an SEO perspective, your content plays an essential role in how well your site is going to rank. The value of the content you provide is directly correlated with your site’s ability to rank. Everything from the length to the readability of the content to whether or not you’re actually answering people’s questions needs to be taken into account.
Best Onpage SEO practices for writing content:
Writing content from an SEO perspective can seem intimidating when you consider the amount of factors to keep in mind, but it’s actually VERY hard to accidentally do something that can get you in trouble.
In general, as long as you’re adding your keyword when it would sound natural if you were having a conversation with someone, you should be fine.
Here is a brief checklist for writing SEO content that can rank while also keeping you out of trouble though:
- How many times are you using your keyword?
- How often have you used related terms and concepts?
- Would the sentence with your keyword in it sound NATURAL if you were to use it in a conversation?
- How often do you repeat yourself?
- Is your content giving value to the reader?
In general, you want to keep the wordcount of your content as long as the pages ranking for your keyword at the absolute LEAST. Avoid walls of text and keep paragraphs limited to 3-4 sentences MAX. When writing, aim for content that reads at a Grade 4 level.
How often should I be using my keyword in my content?
You generally want to be mentioning your keyword at least 2-3 times on your page.
You also want to make sure your content includes not only the keyword you’re trying to rank for, but enough related terms to give Google a clear understanding of what your page is supposed to be about. These related terms are often known as ‘LSI Keywords’.
However, you also want to make sure you don’t overdo this, otherwise you can be accused of what is known as “Keyword Stuffing”.
What is keyword stuffing?
Keyword stuffing is the process of using as many keywords in your content as possible.
Many years ago, this used to be a powerful strategy. SEO’s would repeat the same keyword over & over in their content and this would lead to terrible pages ranking at #1.
Then in 2012, Google introduced an update known as Google Penguin.
One of the main features of this update was that Google would now start penalizing websites for keyword stuffing. It resulted in many websites and businesses disappearing overnight, one of the biggest and most infamous cases being JCPenney.
Other essentials to Onpage SEO:
Internal linking is when you link to other parts of your website. This is VERY important to practice, as it shows search engines you are running a website that’s complete and intact.
Without internal linking, Google will have to use more of its crawl budget to explore and make sense of your website. Because there’s a limit on the amount of crawling the spiders can do on your website, without internal linking, you can end up with parts of your website being undiscovered.
An Image Alt-Text is basically a description of a picture you’re using on your page. It allows viewers to know what the picture is supposed to be even if it doesn’t load or if they have trouble seeing it for whatever reason.
Image Alt-Texts in general are incredibly underutilized even though they give you another opportunity to add your keyword. As a result, adding them can help give you an edge over other websites.
H2, and H3 tags
Anything with an H2 or H3 tag attached to it is basically a subheader. While not as powerful as the almighty H1, these tags do play a role in Onpage SEO and should be used to organize your content while supporting your main keyword. To reduce keyword stuffing, avoid adding the main keyword of your website to these tags unless it naturally makes sense to do so.
A meta description is a paragraph telling readers who come across your page in the search results what it’s supposed to be about.
However, it still wouldn’t hurt to have. An attention grabbing meta-description can get people to click on your page from the search results. And even if Google tries to re-write your description, at least it will have something to refer to.
Once you’re done doing Onpage SEO, the next step is to do Off Page SEO.
What is Offpage SEO?
Off Page SEO involves making tweaks to the page outside of it. This will generally involve linking back to your website.
Off Page SEO is considered the most challenging aspect of SEO. Since you’re not directly making the changes, you’re not in control of the outcome.
What it gives up in lack of control however, it makes up for in the effect it has in ranking your website. Backlinks are considered one of it not THE biggest ranking factors for a website.
If SEO was a car, Offpage SEO would be the engine that makes it move.
In general, the more links back to your site, the more powerful your site is in Google’s eyes and the higher it will rank as a result.
However, this task must also be taken with care as overdoing the link building can lead to your site getting penalized and losing rank.
Chase links from quality websites back to your page, and you’ll be fine.
Types of links:
There are 2 types of links you can get back to your site:
- ‘Do Follow’ links, or simply ‘Follow’ links
- ‘No Follow’ links
What type of links should I be trying to get?
You want a combination of both. However, you want to focus more on ‘Do Follow’ links. Google considers these to be a HUGE ranking factor.
‘No Follow’ links should still be a part of your Offpage strategy though.
Google expects growing sites to receive a combination of ‘Follow’ and ‘No Follow’ links. If you’re only receiving ‘Follow’ links, it’s going to deem your link profile as unnatural. As a result, it’s going to assume you’re trying to cheat the algorithm and penalize your page.
How to get links to your website
There are many ways to get links back to your website.
The most common and reliable ways to get Follow links back include Guest Posting and Broken link building.
The most common ways to get ‘No Follow’ links are through directories and social media.
Guest Posting involves reaching out to other websites in your niche and offering to provide them with content in exchange for a link back to your website.
This creates a win-win situation for both parties and is a very effective tactic as a result.
How to do Guest Posting
In order to Guest Post, the first thing you need to do is find websites who are accepting them.
These sites will usually be blogs and similar sites that are either related to your niche or cover it.
If the site is accepting guest posts, they’ll usually have a page outlining what they need in order to accept one from you.
The next step is to reach out to site owners and ask to submit a proposal. Some sites will have a submission page while others will ask you to contact a specific person.
After they accept your request for a guest post, get to writing right away. Make sure your content is as well made as possible.
After writing and editing your article, submit it to them to post on their website. They’ll usually let you know once the post goes live.
Broken link building
Broken link building is another very effective and common link building strategy. It involves finding links back to pages similar to yours that no longer work. You would reach out to the owner of the website, notify them of the broken link, and suggest they link back to you instead.
This is very effective for two reasons:
- You can get a link without having to write up an article or do any major work
- You’re helping them by pointing out something that can hurt THEIR page’s ability to rank
How to find Broken links
To find broken links, what you need to do is look up pages similar to ones that would be linking back to you.
Some of the best types of pages to look up include Resource pages and Round up pages. These type of pages are typically full of links and are most likely to have at least one that’s broken. They’re also typically linking out to other websites similar to yours, so they’re most likely to agree to link back to you as well.
Once you’ve found a page to look up, audit the links on it.
There are a variety of tools you can audit the links on a page. Our favorite is actually a free tool called Check My Links.
Check My Links is a downloadable Chrome Extension that lets you see broken links in your browser.
All you need to do is install it, then click the button and it’ll start showing you all the broken links on a page by highlighting them in red.
If you find any broken links your site could potentially replace, reach out to the owner of the website. Bring them to the owner’s attention and offer your site as a replacement. Usually, the owner will thank you for the heads up and link back to your page instead!
Online directories are websites containing lists of other websites & businesses for people to access. Some examples of directories include the Yellowpages, Yelp, and Foursquare. Depending on the niche of your website, there can either be a few directories, or dozens. Regardless of your niche though, you want to get your site on as many directories as possible. Most directories will provide a ‘NoFollow’ link which will do very little to increase the rank of your website. However, they increase the trustworthiness of your website which will go a long way towards protecting it from penalizations by Google’s algorithms.
How to find directories
Many of the directories you want to get a listing on will be major, universally known directories. Search Engine Journal, a well-known SEO publication, has a list of the biggest online directories you’ll want to get a listing on.
Outside of the big names, there might be more opportunities for listings in either your niche or your area.
To find directories in your niche, simply go on Google and make one of the following searches:
- “(your niche) directory”
- “(your niche) listing”
- “(your area) directory”
- “(your area) listing”
Any of these searches should bring you a bunch of websites you can potentially submit your listing on and get a link back to your website.
You can use social media to create links back to your website. To build links using social media, simply add the link of the page into the social media account. Additionally, you can post about the page and just add the link to it.
Similar to Directories, the links are usually going to be ‘No Follow’ (aside from Twitter for some reason) but they’re still necessary to have if you want Google’s algorithms to trust you.
Considering that most businesses and sites in general have social media nowadays, zero backlinks from sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter can look suspicious.
While Technical SEO is not really a process of search engine optimization, there are specific aspects of your website that NEED to be satisfied in order to have a chance at ranking. These have become increasingly important over the years, and not taking care of them will lead to your site losing rank & relevancy.
Having an SSL certificate
Your site MUST have an SSL certificate in today’s day and age. If you don’t have one, visitors will get a safety warning when they visit your website and most of the time this will get them to pick a safer site.
How to tell if you have an SSL certificate
Checking for an SSL certificate is actually very simple. All you need to do is look at the full URL of a page on your website. If it starts with HTTPS, you have one. If it starts with HTTP, you need to get one.
How to get an SSL Certificate
In order to get an SSL Certificate, you need to consult the host of your domain. Most domain hosts will have one available for purchase if your domain didn’t already come with one out the box.
Because every domain host is different, we can’t offer a step by step guide on how to install it. Any host offering SSL Certificates should have an instruction manual though, so it’s best to consult them for assistance on properly setting one up.
The loading speed of your website is VERY important for ranking on Google. If your website takes too long to load, people will just hit the Back button and visit another site. This will increase what is known as the Bounce Rate of your website, which signals to Google that your website is not particularly valuable.
If your site takes more than 3 seconds to load, you need to address it.
How to test for site speed
There are a number of sites on the internet that will tell you the speed of your website. Our recommendation is GT Metrix.
It will test the loading speed of your website and grade it based on how long it took. It’ll also tell you what parts of your website took the longest to load and what you can do to speed it up. Not just that, but if you make an account with them, you can even test how fast your website loads in different parts of the world!
Best of all, you can do all of this for free.
The web is becoming more and more mobile everyday. As of August 2023, approximately 55% of web traffic comes from mobile phones and this number is expected to increase as time goes on. As a result, you want to make sure your website is mobile friendly.
To test if your site is mobile friendly, use Google’s free tool. You can access it by clicking here.
If it isn’t, consult your web developer to make sure it is.
Google Analytics and Google Search Console
You would also need them set up if you’re trying to run Google Ads, which is well worth the investment even though SEO has numerous advantages over Google Ads.
Google Analytics vs Google Search Console – what’s the difference?
While both of these tools seem similar, they’re actually very different.
Google Analytics will give you insight on how visitors are interacting with your website. Google Search Console will give you insight on how Google is indexing it.
If you’re interested in knowing things like how many people are visiting your page, how they’re discovering it, how long they’re staying on your page, you would be checking Google Analytics.
If you’re interested in knowing things like what pages Google has added to its database, if your site is mobile friendly, and if there are any technical issues that’s keeping Google from ranking your site as well as it should, you would be checking Google Search Console.
How long should you expect to start seeing results from SEO?
Some keywords take months of diligent work to rank for while you can rank for others completely by accident.
There’s no way to tell exactly how long it’s going to take though. All we can do is estimate how long it might take based on outcomes from best practices.
In general though, you should expect to start seeing results from your SEO campaigning in at least 4-6 months.
This mainly due to the fact that Google updates its index approximately once a month. So if you’re putting in a consistent effort, you probably won’t see any changes in your rank for as much as 30 days later.
Do not get impatient and try to rush the process though. Not only can you end up setting yourself back further, but you can also end up getting a penalty that will take additional time and energy to recover from.
Ranking a website is a lot like losing weight.
If you try to rush the process by doing more than you should or by using questionable tactics, you can end up getting injured or sick and end up taking longer than you should.
The key is to exercise healthy weight loss practices and stay as committed.
Similarly, if you try to get too many links at once or add too many keywords to your content in a forced way, Google might consider penalizing your website over what it believes to be unfair practices. You can end up losing rank or even disappearing from Google for a while. This will lead to your website taking longer to rank than it should.
The key is to write quality content and get backlinks naturally and from quality websites.
We hope you found this definitive guide to ranking your own website useful!
Ranking websites is extremely rewarding, and we’re hoping you can experience some of the same joy we experience at the agency.
If you run into any problems or have any questions as you try to rank your own website, feel free to contact us!
Additionally, if you need a site ranked but you don’t have the time to do it yourself, reach out and we can do it for you.