How To Use SEO: A Step By Step Guide
Intro to SEO
This guide will teach you how to use and implement SEO as a business.
But first, there are some statistics that you should know before you set out to create any pieces of content.
WordPress users publish 2 million blog posts a day. That is 24 blog posts per second (torquemag).
That is only counting WordPress users. To tally all blog posts, the number would be much higher.
This makes it tough to stand out. But you have to incur this competition if you want to leverage the power of your blog, SEO and a successful content strategy.
While we spend 4-5 hours writing a blog post, the ten minutes we spend optimising each post is easily the most important.
This is because millions of people Google the term “SEO” every month.
People conduct more than 2.2 million searches per day on Google (internet live stats).
Therefore, showing up on the front page of Google can be a deciding factor between a business that is thriving and one that doesn’t receive new clients.
But what does SEO even mean?
You probably know that it stands for search engine optimisation, but what do you need to optimise?
SEO involves all of the above plus more.
According to Wikipedia, SEO is the “process of affecting the visibility of a website or a web page in a search engine’s unpaid results”.
I.e. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the process of optimising you online content so that Google (and other search engines) likes to show it as a top result for searches of a certain keyword.
When it comes to SEO, there is you, the search engine and the searcher.
If you have an article about How To Use SEO, you want the search engine (which in 90% of cases is Google) to show as a top result to anyone who searches for the phrase “How To Use SEO”.
SEO is the magic you have to work on your article in order to make Google very likely to include your post as one of the top results, whenever someone searches for that keyword.
Here is what will be covered in this SEO guide:
1. How Search Works
White Hat vs Black Hat SEO
2. On Page SEO vs Off Page SEO
On Page SEO
Off Page SEO
75% of searchers start their searches on Google.
The first five results on Google get 67% of all clicks (ZeroLimitWeb).
Therefore, if your blog post, article, or product is not on Google’s first page of search results, then it is the equivalent of not ranking at all.
But to understand how to show up in the search engine results, you need to know how search even works.
How Search and SEO Work
Now that we have covered the basics of SEO, we will take a look at some of its components in further detail.
While Google guards their search algorithm well, and not all of the 200 determining factors are public, Backlinko did a great job of compiling as many of the factors influencing Google’s decision as possible.
First, there are two sides of SEO. You will need to chose which you start with.
White Hat SEO vs. Black Hat SEO
If you want to work SEO like a get-rich-quick scheme, you’ll probably end up doing black hat SEO.
This type of SEO focuses on optimising your content only for the search engine, not considering humans at all. Since there are lots of ways to bend and break the rules to get your sites to rank high, only businesses looking to get a quick surge of traffic use these methods.
Ultimately, this results in spammy, low quality pages and content that often get banned very fast. It will lead to penalisation for the website, ruining chances of building a long-term SEO strategy.
Do not use this strategy.
White hat SEO, on the other hand, focuses on building a sustainable online business. If you do SEO this way, you will focus on a human audience.
You will try to provide the best content possible. This will make your message easily accessible to your audience by playing according to search engine best practices.
But, SEO changes all the time – this means rules are often ill-defined.
Most of what we know as ‘the rules’ are simply just SEOs making predictions or looking at correlating data trends.
So there is a little room for supposedly ‘grey-hat’ SEO to sneak in.
Many classic link building techniques, like using multiple affiliate sites, can go either way.
Practical Search Engine Optimisers (SEOs), like Ross Hudgens of Siege Media, talk a lot about scaleable link building tactics.
All marketing tactics need to be scaleable of they are going to generate any ROI.
But the problem is; every ‘scaleable link building tactic’ is borderline black hat depending on how you do it.
Ross shows examples of this with some of the largest, most heavily trafficked brands and sites you visit daily, like The New York Times, have built links.
When it comes to linking, the three most important indicators that Google agrees on are:
1. More links to the page than your competition.
2. Higher domain authority than your competition.
3. Better on-page markup than your competition.
To find out what these mean and how to implement them, the WordStream founder, Larry Kim, has a list of predicted ‘engagement hacks’. These can be classified as grey hat tactics.
On Page SEO vs Off Page SEO
There are two broad categories of SEO: on-page SEO and off-page SEO.
On-page SEO includes Google’s ranking factors determined by looking at the page that you try to optimise. This includes headlines, content, and page structure.
Off-Page SEO refers to all variables Google views that aren’t exclusively in your hands. They depend on other sources, such as social networks, other blogs in your industry, and the personal history of the user.
They’re different, but you need to get both right in order to do well with SEO.
To give you an idea of what this looks like, here is an example:
You have a house with a garden around it.
Scenario #1: Your house is super clean on the inside, but your front yard is a mess.
Even if your house is tidy and beautiful – because your garden is uninviting – no-one will come into your house in the first place.
Its the same if you have a beautiful looking website, but you haven’t optimised it for SEO.
Scenario #2: You have a beautiful and well presented garden, but your house is a mess.
While having a nice front garden will attract plenty of people to come visit your house, having a war-zone for a living room will having them leaving immediately.
When a visitor leaves your site after having viewed only one page, Google considers that a ‘bounce’. The higher your ‘bounce rate’ (number of visitors who leave your site instantly), the worse your page will rank on Google (Neil Patel).
That’s why you need to use both on-page SEO and off-page SEO.
Below are a few things that you can do to ace both the former and the latter.
There are three main categories of on-page SEO that form the base of a successful digital content strategy. The first and most important is your content strategy.
A Content marketing strategy refers to the management of any tangible media that you create and own: written, visual, downloadable (Hubspot).
It is the piece of your marketing plan that continuously demonstrates who you are and the expertise you bring to your industry.
Your content marketing strategy needs to have a well-planned purpose.
This purpose should be orientated to your Google search engine customer, by providing the result that serves his needs in the best way.
While creating your strategy, some important points to consider are:
Who you’re creating your content for
who’s the target audience for this content? Which audiences do you intend to help with this content?
Businesses often have more than one target persona. Your content strategy needs to cater to these different personas, with a variety of content types and subjects.
The problem your content is going to solve for that audience
Ideally, your product or service solves a problem, or creates a want you know your audience has. By the same token, your content educates your audience through this problem as they begin to identify and address it.
A good content strategy supports people on both sides of your product: those who are figuring out what their main challenges are, and those who are already using your product to overcome their challenges.
What makes you unique
Your competitors likely have similar products to yours, which means your potential customers need to know what makes you better. Or at least different. This is where your content feeds in.
To prove you’re worth buying from, you need to prove you’re worth listening to.
The content formats you will focus on
What mediums will your content take? You’re formats should supplement your content, so you can best express what you’re saying.
The channels where it will be published
Channels can include owned properties, such as your website and blog; and social media properties, such as Facebook and Twitter.
How you will manage creation and publication
Vital to any content strategy, is knowing who will create what, where it is published and when it’s going live.
To ensure that this process is clutter-free, make sure you manage content from a topic standpoint.
This will feed into your content calendar around topics, where you can easily visualise your company’s message and assert yourself as an authority in your market over time.
Here is a video from hubspot that explains the different elements of your content strategy further:
But what forms the core of a good SEO content strategy?
Creating the best-quality content isn’t the only ingredient to help you stand out from your competition. However, it is still the starting point for any successful SEO effort (and business).
Coming up with great, unique content is not easy. It means that you have to become a teacher – one that sticks to the curriculum of your business.
Yet, you don’t have to start from scratch. You can often start by conducting secondary research, collating points and facts – then making it better, longer, and more in-depth.
If you have your own ideas already, make sure to come up with a compelling headline, and include all of the important ingredients of great content covered above, and here by Neil Patel.
The best recipe for creating good content is to make writing a daily habit. Then work your way up in increments from there.
this is a crucial part of great content.
Since you ideally want to include your targeted keyword in your post’s headline and throughout the article, you need to choose your keyword before you start writing.
If you have never done keyword research before, you might want to read through Hubspot’s guide for beginners.
Out of all on-page SEO factors, this is the one you should spend the most time learning.
Backlinko’s definitive guide to keyword research will provide more insights into your keyword research direction.
Google has gotten smarter since its inception, or even within the last month. While you should use your keyword in your text as much as possible – it is important that you do not jam your content with it.
You must find a balance of the amount of keywords in you text.
Too few and Google won’t register that you’re ranking for it.
Too many and it will think you’re spam.
Today, the use of keywords is much more about semantics. Google has gotten so good at interpreting the meaning of searchers’ keywords that is can spot the context in which you use it.
It not only looks at your keyword, but also synonyms of it to understand what you mean when you type in something like ‘freedom’.
Google probably knows you’re not looking for the definition of freedom or instances where freedom has occurred. But rather, it guesses that you’re looking for the furniture store “freedom furniture” by looking at similar searches that include the keywords ‘rugs’ and ‘kitchens’.
As long as you make sure your keyword is present in strategically-important places – these include headlines, URL and meta descriptions – there is no need to keyword stuff.
Freshness of content
Hubspot has done a benchmark this year that showed that posting more frequently improved Google rankings.
However, posting new content is only one way to signal updated and consistent copy to Google.
There are multiple ways you can use exiting content that you’ve already published to make it more up-to-date.
Backlinko, has only published around 30 posts in two years. Yet, he keeps all of his posts up to date by rewriting them and adding new information as he finds it.
While is it important to publish regularly, you can still get great results by posting once a month as long as your content is through and in-depth.
When users search for solutions Google will try to keep them on their website for as long as possible. To do this, Google will provide snippets from your website’s text to answer user’s questions.
Matt Cutts, former head of Google’s spam team, announced last year that by cutting the jargon and getting straight to the answer brands will improve their SEO.
This is why detailed guides and how-to’s have become more popular. By simply and clearly answering queries around your chosen keyword, you are catering to Google’s push to direct answers.
Moz has listed out all critical aspects you have to keep in mind if you want to do well with direct answers.
SEO KEYWORD SELECTION
Despite touching upon keywords briefly above, SEO experts like Neil Patel agree that the selection of specific keywords can make up 90% of your SEO ‘effectiveness’.
Keywords dictate what each piece of content is about.
It dictates what every piece of copy on your website is geared towards, and how you describe your brand online.
Keywords even dictate how you build links, including tactics to beat your competition and how you plan on implementing them.
The most common mistake people make is that they stop.
Businesses will often implement a 2+ week campaign, redesign their website or build out their service pages, then stop their SEO efforts there.
They think research is a one-and-done deal.
In reality, it is the exact opposite.
The best SEOs are constantly doing keyword research.
They’re also constantly reevaluating if the keywords on their existing content still make sense.
Keyword research tip #1 – Focus on search intent
Most people focus on keywords.
Counterintuitively, that’s not what your want to do.
Instead of looking at what people are typing in, you should be trying to identify what they’re searching for.
This is known as ’search intent’.
It is the difference between getting a bit of traffic and driving real revenue.
Here is an example to highlight this difference:
You on a job site.
Your income is based on getting companies to run job listings on your site.
This means you need to get job pages ranking well, so people come to your site instead of Indeed or other competition.
Simply put, the more people that find jobs through you, the more you’ll get paid.
But what about a keyword like “engineering jobs”
The results don’t address a specific instance of the keyword.
Some refer to entry-level positions, others refer to mechanical engineering jobs.
So what you need to pinpoint is what exactly is the user looking for? Which type of engineering job are they interested in?
Fortunately, by being more specific there is a way to solve this, by coming up with keywords that aren’t too competitive.
Indeed.com might be a tough competitor, but you’ll need to find different alternatives based on search intent.
These are the other common searches that people perform.
“Mechanical”, “Civil” and “Electrical” might be highly competitive. But what about “audio” and “software”?
Scroll down to the bottom of the SERP to get more suggestions from Google.
Here is another example of keyword search intent:
The search query we will type into Google is “best marketing automation tool”.
That person is looking for a marketing automation tool. But, they are not ready to commit to one just yet.
Instead, they’re looking for a way to evaluate alternatives and compare products within the industry.
The highlighted first paid result and first organic, because they are going after ‘search intent’.
They’re understanding what people are looking for by typing in the keyword, and they are provided a page as a direct answer.
Expand your options as outlined above, with Google’s own suggestions.
AnswerThePublic is a great tool to do this because it uses actual search queries to build a list.
Search for “best marketing automation tools,” and it will break the list down even further.
Each of these is a completely different audience.
They each have their own budgets.
Each audience also has their own needs.
Depending on what specifics are attached to the keyword “best marketing automation tool”, it will directly effect your keyword choice.
The pages you build or the blog posts you create will address subsets of each one to compete for the best keywords in each space.
Once you’ve made sure that your content addresses the intent your users are expressing, the next part is slightly more technical.
You don’t have to be a coder or computer wiz to action these changes. But, running an online business without knowing the basics of HTML would be the same as driving and not knowing what the colours of traffic lights mean.
You could also use a simple cheat sheet such as this one.
Below are the four parts of HTML that you should optimise for each and every single piece of content you produce.
Title tags are the online equivalent of newspaper headlines. They are what appear in the tab of your browser when you open a page.
When this comes to blogs and pages, these become your H1-tag, which acts as the main headline for that page.
Every page should start with, and only have one H1-tag to make the title clear to google.
If you optimise a meta description, Google won’t cut off and end your result with “…” to finish your description mid-sentence. Having an optimised meta description is vital for SEO and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) alike.
Optimised meta descriptions also often mentioned the content’s keyword up-front.
Don’t overthink this 160 character text snippet though. When writing it, you should keep the searchers in mind much more than the search engines.
The best way to edit both of these is through the YOAST SEO WordPress Plugin.
This is the most popular SEO plugin on the market. It will help you create a checklist for each of your posts or pages, before sending them live.
The two key tools you will use within YOAST are the Readability and Keyword Analysis tools. These help pull simple benchmarks from Google to the content you are writing.
Neil Patel has identified subheadings as one of the seven things every great landing page needs.
Not only do they help format and structure your content and give your readers easy reference points, but they also affect SEO.
Compared to your h1-tags, your h2, h3, h4, and further subheads have less SEO power. But they still matter, so you should use them.
Plus, it’s one of the easiest SEO wins you can get on WordPress.
SEO SITE ARCHITECTURE
The third and final part of on-page SEO is architecture. While this part can get technical, there are a few simple steps everyone can action to improve their SEO rankings.
A good website architecture leads to a better user experience for when they navigate your page.
This focuses on metrics such as fast load times, a safe connection (http vs https) and a mobile friendly design.
Ideally you will map out the architecture of your site before you even buy your domain (Yoast).
This allows you to reverse-engineer your way to a great user experience. This is what your site’s UX feeds into.
Easy to crawl
Depending on how well Google can ‘crawl’ your site, you will be deemed as a good result.
The more web links you have between pages, the easier it is for Google to reach all of them, giving Google a better understanding of your site.
A common mistake is to think that everything on your page should be original.
Re-posting your content on other websites or publishing your guest posts again on your own site doesn’t hurt your SEO. Unless you treat it like spam or do it the wrong way.
By reposting articles on more authoritative domains such as Medium, you will hurt your rankings, because Google will read your Medium article first, as it is a more authoritative domain.
This problem is called “canonicalisation’.
It’s likely already happening on your site without you realising it.
Because Google can pull back-end descriptions of each page, images, posts or code from your site (which might all be the same) it will inevitably lead to some duplicate content.
Search Engine Land dive deeper into this issue, how to resolve quick wins and slightly harder fixes here.
If your page isn’t mobile friendly, you’re losing.
Over 54% of Facebook users access the network exclusively on their mobile devices. Considering that Facebook now has 1.65 billion monthly active users, that number represents nearly 900 million mobile-only users! (Hubspot)
Mobile is simply a must to keep in mind these days.
Most WordPress themes are mobile friendly now from installation. However, there might be some dynamic changes to your site that you will need to address. This will require specialised dynamic design expertise.
Even before considering its effect on SEO, this is vital.
Today we value our time more than anything. Long loading times can kill conversations.
Google’s recent speed industry benchmarks proved this point. Their research shows that the “probability of someone bounding from your site increases 113% if it takes 7 seconds to load”.
You can use Google’s Test My Site tool to get a quick read on how well you’re doing, and if you need to improve.
Start by reducing the number of average requests to fewer than Google’s recommended 50 if possible.
These ‘requests’ are the amount of information items Google uses to load your page content. When someone types your web address into their browser, they’re “requesting” that your servers send over information.
The smaller the data their shipping out, the faster you servers will send it.
Most websites today are full of high-resolution images. However, the better they look, the bigger the size.
WP Smush.it (WordPress) can also help you reduce image sizes prior to uploading.
Keywords in URLs
Including your target keyword in the URL of your blog is a must.
HTTPS vs HTTP
SEOs consider the security of your site a key ranking signal.
Google are now actively warning people when a site is not secure.
This information tells users not to give their personal information or payment details to the site.
Moving from a non-secure connection to HTTPS is a bit of work, but it’s worth your time. If you’re starting out with a new domain, consider purchasing it as an option from your domain registrar or web hosting service.
Going back to the example used previously, this part will look at the front yard of your house.
Here is a concise overview of Off-page SEO and how it fits into your Google rankings.
PageRank, a formula invented by Google, isn’t the only measure they take when ranking pages.
Trust is becoming increasingly more important.
This is why Google updates have ht spammy and obscure websites.
TrustRank is a way for Google to see wether your site is legit or not. If you look like an authority on your given products, services and keywords – Google is likely to trust you.
Below are the four parts of building trust for SEO.
Google determines the overall authority of your site by a mix of two kinds of authority that you can build:
Domain authority, which has to do with how widespread your domain name is. Coca-cola.com is very authoritative, for example, because everyone has heard of it.
Page authority, which relates to how authoritative the content of a single page (for example a blog post) is.
You can check your authority here on a scale of 1-100.
To improve your authority, use Quick Sprout’s cheat sheet to increase your authority (without cheating).
Your bounce rate is simply a measure of how many people view only one page on your site before immediately leaving again.
Content, loading times, usability, and attracting the right readers are all part of decreasing your bounce rate. The math is simple – the right readers will spend more time on a site that loads fast, looks good, and has great content.
Having a brand or personal identity online is a huge trust signal for search engines, but it takes time to build.
You know you’re a brand when you Google yourself and something like this pops up.
You don’t have to have a brand name. Creating your personal brand works just as well.
What’s more, building brand signals prevents you from future penalties through Google updates.
This partly explains why Google gives big brands preferential treatment.
It’s that more often than not, people prefer brands they recognise over ones they don’t.
How far you’re into this SEO guide shows that the common conception of “backlinks are everything” is false.
They’re only a part of SEO just like all the other areas covered above. There are plenty of ways to get backlinks.
It is important to remember: don’t just wait for people to link to you. You’re going to have to take the initiative and ask for them.
Quality of links
While links are not everything, when looking at links, their quality is everything. The quality of your links matters much more than the number of links you have.
The anchor text is the text that other sites use when they link to you. Differentiating between the types of anchor texts is detailed, but a good rule of thumb is:
The more natural the link text sounds, the better.
SOCIAL & SEO
Besides social signals directly from the searcher, there are other ways good results on social media will help you rank better.
Whether that’s directly through more links or indirectly through a PR boost, social matters.
I’ve done several case studies on Quick Sprout, proving that social media is well worth your time.
There are two main factors of influence.
Quality of shares
As with the quality of backlinks, who shares matters more than how often. Google recognises influencers, and when they share your content, their share has more SEO power than any random site.
Number of shares
The secondary social metric is the number of shares. Landing a viral hit is every marketer’s dream, but it is overrated.
The best way to increase this is by making great content.
While this is subjective, Marketers find that long-form content almost always outperforms shorter-form.
This guide should have helped you realise that SEO is not optional in 2019.
While there are some quick wins covered above, you will need to invest time into realising your search potential. It will kill your online presence if you don’t.
Some reading this might have actioned SEO strategies in the past, and while they might not been exactly on the mark, you can still use previous content to dovetail in with future SEO plans.
Just commit to making that change, or starting today.
Do your keyword research before you write your next blog post. Then, use your keyword data to optimise the basics of on-page SEO.
If you follow these steps, the next time you press publish you’ll be on your way to standing out.