March 5, 2020

SEO Best Practices For Beginners

SEO is essential for optimizing your website to provide search engines with better information. That information is used to index your content correctly and display it in the top pages of search engine results.

As straightforward as it seems, getting it right as a beginner can be quite a hassle and disappointing when you haven’t done it right, especially when you know that 75% of users will not scroll past the first page of Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).

So, being on the first page wins. 

But how do you get there?

Before we delve into that, let’s first understand what SEO is.

What Is SEO?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the practice of gaining organic (non-paid) traffic to your website, following search engine guidelines.

SEO ensures that you increase both the quality and quantity of your traffic. 

You accomplish that by understanding what your target audience is searching for online, the words they are using when making a query, the answers they want, the type of content desired, and what your competitors use to target the same audience.

Simply put, you need to know the questions asked, and have the right answers.

So, what are the most common words used with SEO? 

There are over 200 SEO terms to learn, but we will look at a few basic ones.

SEO Glossary and Terms

Search Engine: A web-based tool that is an answer machine, enabling users to locate information on the internet. 

Examples include Google, Bing, and Yahoo.

A search engine works by crawling and indexing—a process where all information on the internet (including videos, web pages, images, and PDFs) are discovered, cataloged, then ranked depending on how well they match the search query.

Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs): These are the pages displayed by search engines after a user makes a query. See example. 

Organic search result: These are results strictly obtained through effective SEO, as opposed to paid advertising. 

While paid advertising seems like an easier way out, it is not a great option. 


Only about 2.8% of U.S. searchers click on paid advertisements. SEO offers 20 times more traffic opportunities.

Keyword: Also known as keyphrase, it is a word, group of words, or phrase used by internet users to look for information. This is also what a marketer targets when trying to understand what the target market is searching for. In the screenshot above, the keyword we used is “best cat videos

Branded Keyword: A keyword with an exact match to a brand or company name, or its variation. For example, “SERPtimizer” or “Coca Cola”’.

Keyword research tool: It is an online tool that offers SEO professionals keyword analysis to assess worst and best-performing keywords. A good example is SERPtimizer.

Keyword stuffing: A bad SEO technique where marketers repeat keywords unnaturally and add irrelevant keywords, hoping to increase variation. Search engines read this as a spam tactic.

Backlinks and Referring Domains: When one blog article uses another article as a resource and links to it, that website is giving a backlink to the other website. One website can link to another website as many times as it wants. 

For example, I can link to three Forbes articles within this guide. That means that Forbes got three backlinks from this domain. However, when we look at the number of referring domains that Forbes got—it’s just one. And that is the difference between backlinks and referring domains. 

Do-follow and No-follow Backlinks: The referring domains we just mentioned can be either followed or no-followed. If the backlink is passing SEO authority to another website, we say it is a do-followed backlinks. 

If a website chooses not to give any SEO authority to another website, this backlink will be no-followed. 

You can check how many DF or NF referring domains your website has with the SERPtimizer tool. Additionally, you can use various Chrome plugins that mark no-followed links on any page. 

Do-follow backlinks are ideal because they positively influence our next SEO term—domain authority.

Domain Authority (DA): It tells the SEO strength and authoritativeness of a website (domain). The higher the domain authority, the better positioning a website has on search engine results pages. 

Domain authority is sometimes referred to as Domain Rating. Domain authority is a metric calculated by the number of referring domains a certain website has.

Page Rank: Similar to domain authority, SEO tools can tell an approximate authority for an individual page of a website. Some pages have higher page ranks, some lower. You can influence the page rank by building direct backlinks to that page. 

Analytics: The art of collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data to make informed SEO decisions. For example, keyword analytics will evaluate the best-performing keywords.

Black hat SEO: SEO techniques and strategies used to improve rankings while breaking search engine rules.

White hat SEO: SEO techniques and strategies used to improve rankings while observing search engine rules.

Clickbait: Headlines or content created to entice people to click on a link, using intentionally overpromising and deceptive headlines.

Competition: Could be direct competitors who target a similar audience or indirect competitors who target a different audience but use the same keywords as you.

Word count: Total number of words in a copy of the content. Search engines use this to gauge content quality.

Types of SEO

Let’s look at three types of SEO.

On-Page SEO

On-page SEO refers to SEO strategies aimed at optimizing one page on a website to help search engines better understand the content and its value to the target audience.

On-page SEO techniques include:

  • Keyword research to find the best target keywords
  • Keyword optimization to correctly implement the target keywords
  • Creating content focused on the target keywords
  • Writing content. In August 2019, Google’s John Muller said that word count isn’t a ranking factor, but research shows that less than 300 words is bad for SEO.
  • Writing for 8th-grade reading level
  • Making content scannable
  • Adding at least one image and optimizing it
  • Writing an SEO-friendly URL

For creating content that adheres to all the above-mentioned standards and streamline your SEO efforts, you can use website plugins, such as Yoast.

Off-Page SEO

Off-page SEO refers to techniques used to influence how your website affects and relates to other websites. These are ranking factors that happen off your website, including backlinks and various promotion methods. 

Building direct backlinks to your homepage and blog posts is a surefire way to boost the SEO authority of your website and increase its search engine performance. 

Every do-follow backlink is like a vote for your website. The website that links to yours is passing an SEO vote, telling Google that your website is a good, relevant source of information for a particular topic and that it should be ranked better. 

Technical SEO

Technical SEO affects the non-content aspects of your website, such as usability and readability.

Technical SEO relates to these areas:

  • Security
  • Indexing
  • Site architecture
  • Site speed
  • How mobile-friendly the site is
  • Site crawlability
  • How structured data is

SEO practices can also be grouped into two categories: white hat and black hat. One of these is legal while the other is not.

Let’s find out which one you should avoid.

White Hat vs. Black Hat SEO…. and What is Grey Hat SEO?

White hat SEO techniques align with the terms and conditions of search engines, such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo. 

These techniques improve ranking while maintaining your site’s integrity, without breaching the search engine’s terms of service.

White hat SEO tactics include:

  1. Fast loading times
  2. Original quality content
  3. Mobile-friendliness
  4. Great user-friendliness such as ease of navigation
  5. Using descriptive meta tags full of keywords (don’t stuff them, though)

Black hat SEO techniques, on the other hand, are deceitful, aimed at fooling search engines and your target audience. Common practices are cloaking, spam comments, plagiarized content, article spinning, invisible text (putting a list of keywords in white text on a white background, invisible to readers but visible to search engines), and purchasing links.

Why should you avoid black hat SEO?

  • Google’s algorithms are evolving, making black hat SEO practices less successful.
  • Once caught, rankings will suddenly drop, and your site could get banned by the search engine.

Grey hat SEO is SEO practice that is technically legal, but ethically dubious

It includes:

  • SEO squatting- buying expired domains relevant to your keywords, stuffing them with content, and putting backlinks to your site.
  • Overusing sharing buttons- placing them all over your site, clicking on them a few times to link back to your site
  • Fabricating news
  • Engaging in negative SEO- forcing other websites to get lower rankings to improve yours.

While some grey hat SEO tactics seem like a smart move, avoid them as these legal highs can quickly turn into black hat practices, resulting in penalization. Other methods might not necessarily lead to penalization, but they are not ethical, for example, negative SEO.

Now that you’ve got a glimpse into the world of SEO and some basic terms let’s move on to best SEO practices.

SEO Best Practices

Let’s look at some of the best SEO practices to remember as a beginner.

Google is the most widely used search engine in the world with a market share of 70%, so, in a nutshell, we’ll look at Google’s basic SEO principles and techniques to avoid.

Google’s SEO Principles & What To Do

Create content for users, not search engines. For example, stop keyword stuffing.

Don’t lie to your target audience. Avoid clickbait titles, especially if the content following those titles will not be valuable. You will have high bounce rates, which will negatively affect your search engine rankings.

Don’t use illegal (black-hat SEO) tricks aimed at improving ranking. There are no quick wins in SEO. Quality methods take time. 

Aim to create content that makes your website unique, engaging, and valuable to visitors. Google rewards quality content with good ranking. 

Create a mobile-friendly site. You shouldn’t ignore mobile optimization. 57% of all web traffic comes from mobile devices, and according to Google, 40% of visitors go to a competitor’s website after an unsatisfactory mobile user experience, and 57% will go ahead and NOT recommend a business that’s not optimized for mobile.

Google’s key points for going mobile:

  • Ensure that resources are still crawlable
  • Let Google know when your site goes mobile
  • Refrain from common mistakes that annoy users, such as unplayable videos
  • Understand the difference between devices and optimize accordingly

Use long-tail keywords. They have a good click-through-rate (CTR), as over a third of Google search queries have more than four keywords.

Don’t ignore content marketing. Google had a major algorithm change in 2018 that had a renewed concept on Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E.A.T). 

Getting featured in news articles and industry websites shows expertise; positive user reviews and backlinks in industry websites show authoritativeness and an FAQ page on your website shows trustworthiness. It’s also good to have an author’s bio for blog articles on your website. 

What To Avoid

  • Doorway pages. These are specifically created to rank well for specific searches, to lead traffic to the website.
  • Google hates doorway pages because even though they create a larger footprint on SERPs, they are frustrating to users. They are led to similar pages in SERPs, where each result essentially takes them to the same destination.
  • Google ignores such pages and penalizes site owners, leading to lower rankings.
  • Taking part in link schemes
  • Plagiarized content
  • Automatically created content
  • Using hidden links and texts
  • Cloaking: showing Google different content than what you normally show your site visitors.

Keyword Research

We’ve already mentioned types of keywords and the importance of keyword research. Now let’s dive deeper into the why and how.

What Is Keyword Research and Why Do It?

Keyword research is used in SEO to find, analyze, and assess the words or phrases used by online users to find information on the internet. For example, a user interested in learning about white hat SEO tactics will probably search, ‘white hat SEO practices’.

This means that only blogs and websites with this kind of information will show up on the user’s search results.

Keyword research is, therefore, essential in understanding potential visitor language, the most popular words used to search for information around a particular topic, and leveraging those words to lead relevant traffic to your site.

Additionally, you get to see what keywords your competitors are using, so you can find keywords in the same niche that will help you outrun the competition.

Keyword research is done as the first step in SEO as you look for a new niche, compile content ideas, or need to optimize existing content on your website.

So, how to approach your research?

How Do You Do Keyword Research?

There are online keyword research tools, some of which are free, while others are paid options with a free trial period.

Once you settle on a keyword research tool, you should find a keyword to assess by knowing your niche. 

Let’s say you have a blog on baking. One of the keywords you’d be interested in is ‘baking tips’. This is a short-tail keyword that would probably be too competitive.

Long-tail keywords consist of 3 or more words, have low search volume (hence less competition), and are more specific, resulting in higher engagement and conversion rates.

You could decide to be more specific and check for long-tail keywords such as ‘baking ideas for spouse on Valentines’ or ‘Easter cake decorations’.

Let’s see what keyword research will reveal about ‘Easter cake decorations’ 

From the screenshot above, you can see that our target keyword was ‘easter cake decorations’, and the results give us enough information to make an informed decision on whether to use the keyword or not.

It even further suggests alternative keywords we can use.

The monthly search volume for our target keyword is low, between 101 and 200 searches in the US. Maybe this could be because Easter is specific to April, hence not frequently searched all year round.

But you should also remember that low competition keywords are the best.

The keyword difficulty is 52. This shows how difficult it is to rank higher than the competition, using the target keyword, the scale being 0 (easy) – 100 (difficult).

The organic click-through rate (CTR) is at 38%. This estimates the percentage of clicks available on organic links on SERPs.

The target keyword priority is 41 on a scale of 0-100, 100 being a high priority, i.e. better chances of the keyword to have a high search volume, higher organic CTR, and lower difficulty.

Don’t forget:

Although long-tail keywords are great, don’t go for keywords that are difficult to rank. Find long-tail keywords with low competition for SEO success.

Are short-tail and long-tail the only type of keywords? Let’s look at them a little deeper.

9 Types of Keywords

Short-tail keywords contain one to two words. Mostly used when a user is at the very first step of researching. For example, Easter cakes.

Short tail keywords don’t clearly show the user intent, as they are very general. Take our example: when a user searches for Easter cakes, we don’t know if they want a decorated cake, chocolate cake, is baking for babies, or egg-intolerant people.

It gets worse when the search term is just ‘Easter’, as it could range from gift ideas, the history behind the celebration, dinner ideas, breakfast ideas, or even Easter service schedule at the local church! It could be anything about Easter.

So, to convert better and match searcher intent, long-tail keywords do the trick.

Long-tail keywords consist of 3 or more words, better describing the kind of information a searcher seeks. A good example is ‘Easter cake decoration ideas’. 

From that keyword, the search engine understands that the user specifically wants information on how to decorate a cake meant for Easter, sending more relevant search results, hence better engagement, and conversion.

Short-term fresh keywords are keywords used when something was recently hyped and is viral. For example, when the eighth and final season of the fantasy drama series, Game of Thrones, hit the theatres, the search volume for ‘Game of Thrones’ peaked.

The series premiered on April 14, 2019, and concluded on May 19, 2019. A look at Google trends shows us how the search volume peaked around this period and dropped sharply after.

Businesses take advantage of these short-term fresh keywords to chime into the conversation, attracting more organic traffic, breaking away from their usual audiences.

Long-term evergreen keywords are the opposite of short-term fresh keywords. They are relevant all the time, with occasional search volume fluctuations but no severe changes.

A great example is ‘search engine optimization’, as shown in the screenshot below.

Content around long-term evergreen keywords is educational and informative, requiring you to craft evergreen content that is factual and helpful to set you up as an authority, improve your ranking, expose you to a wider audience, and earn you loyal readers and customers. 

Product defining keywords are specific keywords, targeted to users interested in a particular brand. 

For example, a male runner looking for Nike shoes could be specific in his search, looking for ‘Nike Air Zoom Pegasus’. So, Nike should have this search term in its product pages.

This type of keyword is great because it has a clear search intent, low search volume, low competitive rate, and high conversion rate. 

LSI keywords– Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) keywords are thematic words or phrases, closely related to your main keyword. They have a high correlation degree to your keyword.

The easiest way to find LSI keywords is by looking at a Google SERP, and you’ll find keywords related to your search.

To do this right, you need to settle on the main keyword.

We have been talking about baking. Let’s see Google’s end of page suggestions when ‘baking’ is searched.

LSI keywords are great for content creation because they fit a broad theme, targeting smaller branches, all based on a simple root keyword.

Geo-targeting keywords are used to target audiences from specific locations. For example, if you wanted to invite Seattle bakers to your event, a good keyword would be ‘Seattle bakers’ or ‘Seattle Baking Fair’.

Intent targeting keywords are used to respond to customer intent, and there are usually 3 when performing a search. The user could be seeking information, such as ‘Cheesecake baking guide’; when shopping, they could search for ‘non-stick baking tins free shipping in Seattle’; or to transact, for example, ‘non-stick baking tins discount’.

Customer defining keywords target a persona. This requires you to understand your target market better. 

Are they male or female? How old are they? Where do they live? Are they interested in events?

So, if the target persona would be 40-year-old males, living in Seattle and interested in events, our customer defining keywords would be ‘Seattle Baking Fair for 40-Year-Old Men’.

These nine types of keywords are great at mastering SEO. But, you also need to know how to find keywords for each funnel stage.

How To Find Keywords By Funnel Stage

So, let’s say you decide to sell baking tins. Here’s how you’ll get great keywords for each funnel stage:

You’ll notice that at each funnel stage, the keywords used are specific to reviews at the top, best stores in the middle, and buy at the bottom of the funnel.

The words used by a searcher will tell you what stage in the funnel they’re at.

On-Page SEO: Taking Care Of The Most Important On-Page Elements

On-page SEO takes care of SEO on a particular page on your website. Let’s look at the most important on-page elements and how to tackle them.

Title tags are HTML elements specifying the title of a webpage. This is what the page signals to a search engine as the clickable heading or title for a result.

The code looks like this:

<h1>Page Title</h1>

So, if your page has a blog post on best baking tins on a low budget, we would code like this:

<h1>Best Baking Tins on a Low Budget</h1>

We use H1 tags for the title of the page, the H2-H6, for subheadings, with regards to importance in descending order.

There’s no need to stuff your page with up to H6 tags, as H1 is the most important, describing the main topic of the page.

The H1 should contain a primary keyword or phrase to rank on SERPs.

Meta description gives the target audience a 155-character long snippet, summarizing a page’s content.

A search engine result will have your meta description if the keyword is within the meta description, making this type of optimization crucial.

Here’s how a meta description looks like when you search for ‘cupcakes for Easter’:

Keywords in content – Your content should have the target keyword naturally placed on the webpage. Please remember that you are optimizing for consumer use, so avoid keyword stuffing and create unique, valuable content.

Internal page linking – Linking to other pages on your website makes your website better crawlable by passing link equity to other pages on your website.

External page linking are links to webpages on other websites. Also known as outbound links, these affect your site’s reputation. When you link to spammy websites, your site will be associated with spammy content. (This is why we earlier discouraged buying links).

On the other hand, outbound links to authority websites help establish you as an authority.

Outbound links also encourage backlinks. When you link to credible sources, they will likely also link back to your website.

Relevant anchor text: An anchor text is a text with which you link to pages. Search engines use the information on anchor texts to learn the topic on the targeted page.

User-friendly URLs: URL structure is sometimes underrated, but can affect on-page SEO. Creating user-friendly URLs is simple. Make them short, ensure that they each have the target keyword.

Image ALT tags are also known as alt descriptions or alt tags. They are text that appears when an image on a webpage fails to load.

Image ALT tags are important to visually-impaired readers who use screen-reading tools to describe the image. 

This information is also used by search engines when crawling and ranking a webpage.

Image file name: Image optimization includes image file names that are descriptive and keyword-rich, further helping achieve SEO success because search engines not only crawl webpage text but also image file names.

User-friendly content: Create content that is easy to read. White space increases a page’s legibility and readability. Include section headers, create shorter paragraphs, ensure that your fonts are legible, include bullet points and numbered lists, bold and hyperlink texts, and don’t forget to add images.

Off-Page SEO: Growing Your Authority

Off-page SEO grows your site’s authority by guiding how your site relates to other websites. These are links leading to your website from relevant and authoritative websites.

While on-page SEO will tell the search engine crawlers what your website is about, off-page SEO will stamp your authority to search engines by showing search crawlers that your site is valuable and important.

Think about off-page SEO as endorsements people give you, telling Google what they think about your site.

The fact that a lot of other websites link back to your site is a signal to Google that you offer quality and useful content. 

Let’s look at two key off-page SEO elements.

Backlinks are somewhat the backbone of off-page SEO.

Also known as inbound links, these are links from one site to a webpage on another website. Search engines love backlinks. In Google, for example, backlinks have the highest correlation to rankings, according to a study by Backlinko.

Aim for quality backlinks. These come from relevant authoritative websites in your niche. A bad backlink comes from untrusted and unrelated sources.

Have a link building plan and always do a website audit of the websites you plan to build links on to assess their authoritativeness and trustworthiness.

Once you settle on websites to build links with, remember, backlinks don’t have to point to the homepage. Instead, use backlinks to direct web pages to rank better for the target keyword. 

You can get backlinks by guest blogging, influencer marketing, and regularly creating high-quality shareable content.

When you guest-post, try to make the anchor text linking back to your site as natural as possible. Avoid overly commercial anchor text, and keep in mind that search engines value user intent more than direct attempts at selling your product or service.

As we mentioned before, Domain Authority is a search engine ranking score that shows your site’s ability to rank on SERPs. 

To improve your domain authority, you need to:

  • have quality backlinks
  • improve your link profile by increasing external links pointing to your domain (for example, guest blogging)
  • build trust by creating engaging, factual, and valuable content, and reduce the bounce rate

Domain bounce rate affects SEO by telling the search engine how relevant the search results were. 

Google looks at the time spent when someone clicks on a result on the SERP, and if people quickly hit the back button, Google takes that as a signal that there might not be much valuable content on the page.

So, to reduce this bounce rate, ensure that your content provides as much valuable content concerning the target keyword as possible.

Domain age also affects SEO, but thankfully, to a low extent.

Value Great Content

In a nutshell, what is great content?

It should educate the reader, answer their questions, and help them find viable solutions.

It should be of high quality, written for humans, not machines. Proper grammar is non-negotiable.

The article should be thought-provoking, and it should be engaging, telling a story, and offer valuable lessons.

Definitely, it needs to be original. Although the concept of duplicate content is straightforward, we have to deal with the issue of originality. Rehashing other posts repeatedly or the same concept lacks luster.

Create a strong headline. While 80% of people will read your headline, only 20% will read the content. Make them want to read more by creating a strong headline.

It should be easy to read. Add more white space, create shorter paragraphs, use simple language. An eighth-grader should read it and understand.

Your content should have authoritative sources. Source information from quarters that only report facts.

It should be visually appealing, not just a block of text. Include videos, images, and illustrations.

Content should be regularly updated. Readers value fresh content. Regularly update your blog, offer fresh content, stay in tune with how much the field or niche has evolved. Let your readers think about you when they need to catch updates.

Stick to the rules of SEO. White hat SEO techniques should be your best friend.


By now, you probably understand that SEO takes time and effort. 

To make the most of your website content, you need to do a lot of things: understand the basics of how search engines work, do proper keyword research, create top-notch content, and make sure your website is built to offer an excellent user experience.

Even though SEO may initially take up a lot of your time, be prepared that you won’t see results overnight. 

However, the benefits from optimizing your website for search engines will pay off gradually over a long period of time. Just make sure to stay consistent in your content creation efforts, and vigilant in avoiding dubious SEO practices.