WHAT IS SEO? A SIMPLE SEO OPTIMISATION GUIDE FOR BLOGGERS & BUSINESS OWNERS
Whether you’re new to blogging or you’ve been at it for a while, there’s still a good chance you’re wondering what SEO optimisation actually is.
It’s no secret that Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is a big deal when it comes to being found on Google. But how important is it for you?
This ultimate guide has long been requested and now it’s finally here. It’s going to walk you through the main purposes of SEO and break down the key things you need to do in order to improve your ranking. Are you ready?
P.S. Don't forget to download the SEO action plan that comes with this blog post!
WHY DO WE NEED SEO OPTIMISATION?
Currently, there are over 1.8 billion websites out there and roughly 10 spots on Google’s first page of search results. And that’s what everyone’s aiming for. But getting there requires more than just a wish. You’ve gone to the trouble of creating great content and now you want people to connect with it. That’s where SEO comes in.
If you’ve done any reading on SEO optimisation before, it’s easy to come away feeling super confused. How many times have you tried to understand all the jargon or downloaded a PDF that’s just sitting in a folder somewhere?
Trust me, you’re not alone in wanting a more user-friendly method. In fact, “how to do SEO” is the one thing I get asked by every single one of my coaching clients. Let’s face it - you want to know what strategies work when it comes to increasing your traffic.
Having an optimised website is at the core of SEO. But still, even huge bloggers and professional business owners are failing to incorporate these best practices into their work.
Maybe you struggle to understand the technicalities or maybe someone else has built your website. Whatever your situation, it’s still important that you get to grips with SEO optimisation.
Don’t be afraid of this. This is your chance to ask tough questions and dig deep into this topic to lessen the risk of your online presence failing.
This is what I want you to know. A lot of people say you don’t need SEO - that you can just write content and be done with it. Many bloggers ignore basic SEO techniques because they’ve been told it’s spammy or they should just focus on quality writing. But it’s just not true.
SEO optimisation is fundamental when it comes to blogging, building websites and content marketing. Why? Because it WORKS.
Creating quality content is the single most important thing you should be doing, it’s true. But there are steps you can take to help search engines find it and get it in front of more of your target audience.
HOW DOES SEO WORK?
Here’s the usual scenario for a lot of bloggers out there.
You work your socks off building your website and writing blog posts. You’re really happy with it and you know you’re putting out your best content that serves a specific need. But after a while, your analytics don’t reflect that. In fact, your users and pageviews aren’t increasing at all.
It’s really easy to want to give up at this point and assume your blog is failing. But it’s not your blog that’s failing. You’re failing at SEO - and that can be fixed!
In it’s simplest terms, SEO is a framework of processes and steps you can take to help search engines understand your content and rank it in search results.
Google’s sole aim is to determine what content is going to be the best match for a user’s individual search query. So really SEO does most of the hard work when it comes to getting your content in front of the right people.
A solid SEO strategy means you’re leading a very well-lit path for your ideal reader to find your content.
It’s one thing to create high-quality, valuable content. But you turn it into something even more when you make it easier for your audience to find it. Think of Google as a machine. It’s very smart, but remember, it’s algorithms are still based on artificial intelligence. It needs signals. SEO triggers those signals.
For instance, search engines can’t see images. Instead, they need text to tell them what they’re about. That’s why you’ve probably heard that adding alt text to your images is so important (more on this later). It tells Google what each image is about and it’s also what screen readers users to describe an image to visually impaired people.
SEO optimisation is really about ticking a load of boxes, but it makes the internet a better place for everyone. If you play a smart game and deliver on all aspects, it sends the right signals to search engines which improves your chances of ranking.
WHAT ARE KEYWORDS AND HOW DO I USE THEM?
This is the way it works. Search engine bots crawl through the millions of articles on the web. They need clues to tell them what each one is about. When someone types a search term into Google, that’s known as a keyword.
When you think about it, Google is just like a matchmaking service. It serves to match the most relevant, quality content to each search term. So when you use terms people are searching for within your content (and use other closely related search terms too), it indicates that your content might be a good match.
But notice I only said it “might” be a good match. That’s because there are other factors that determine how search engines rank a piece of content.
Google also employs real people to evaluate the quality of websites too. These people help to “teach” the machines what constitutes quality content.
Each individual web page is given a Page Quality ranking based on these factors:
Main content quality and amount
Information about the website/information about the person responsible for the website
Expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness (EAT)
But what is a high-quality article? According to Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines, it’s this:
“Write irresistible, value-driven, long-form content that serves and delights your target audience. Focus on building a trustworthy, reputable brand and a strong profile of quality backlines.”
What’s great about Google now is that it focuses on semantically related phrases (words that are similar and related to the main search query). But the best ranking strategy is to optimise your content for long-tail keyword phrases, aka, a keyword phrase that is three words or more.
For instance, let’s say you wanted to write a post about setting up a bullet journal. Instead of choosing the keyword “bullet journal”, you’d choose the phrase “how to set up a bullet journal.”
Keywords aren’t the be all and end all of an SEO strategy, but they definitely help to get more eyes on your content.
SEO NOW AND IN THE FUTURE
SEO is so much more than just keywords. There are plenty of other things you need to be doing, including:
Getting backlinks to your website
Working to speed up your website’s load speed
Analysing the number of clicks to navigate your content
If it feels like a lot of work, just remember this: everything that revolves around SEO is based on the user’s experience. If you’re not focused on your reader, it could be time to rethink why you’re blogging in the first place.
To break it down, some SEO practices are more technical and others are more open to interpretation. But Google is getting smarter. Keyword “stuffing” no longer works and there’s still a lot of debate as to what you should focus on in your strategy.
It’s okay to experiment a little, but keep an eye on your analytics to tell you what’s working and what’s not. There’s no end goal for SEO - it’s an ongoing process. So as Google releases new updates, you’ll want to keep an eye on what changes are coming.
But once you get into SEO be warned, because it can become addictive. Hitting the first page of Google is such a good feeling and when you’ve achieved it once, you’re hooked. It’s great to get into SEO optimisation, but don’t let it get in the way of your priority which is creating great content.
The rest of this guide is going to focus on the key SEO strategies that most experts agree are necessary for ranking well in search engines.
I also want to point out something I tell my coaching clients - even if you follow these guidelines, you won’t get results overnight. SEO takes months to build up momentum, authority and for all your efforts to pay off.
Plus, competition is fierce. If your content isn’t amazing and loved by real humans, no amount of SEO will help you get the results you want. Write for your audience first and then incorporate SEO into your strategy. It’ll turn into second nature for you.
So are you ready to dig into the strategies? Let’s do this.
Don't forget to download your checklist so you can implement these strategies step by step!
WEBSITE SEO OPTIMISATION STRATEGIES
Good SEO starts with your website. There are lots of things you can do but if you focus on these tips, you’ll be well set up from the start.
EDIT YOUR URLS
Did you know you can (and should) edit the URLs of your blog posts? If you include a keyword that’s relevant to the topic of your blog post, this will helps readers and search engines figure out what your content is all about. And the shorter you can go, the better.
CHOSE A .COM DOMAIN
Unless your blog or business is focused locally, it makes no sense to choose a country-specific suffix. Lots of bloggers opt for .co or .org but .com is your best option. If your .com domain name isn’t available, it’s best to go back to the drawing board and have a rethink.
CHOOSE A GOOD WEBSITE PLATFORM
Wordpress is a good choice, but for me, Squarespace is the winner every time. It offers great flexibility and versatility and is great for SEO too. It’s the best decision I ever made for my online presence.
GO FOR A RESPONSIVE DESIGN
Your website has to be mobile-friendly or else Google will penalise you. On Squarespace, whatever template you choose will be responsive. You can always use Google’s mobile test tool just to be sure.
Google rewards secure websites and also now shows in the URL bar whether a search is secure or not. And in order to make your website secure, you need an SSL certificate. By doing this you should definitely see an improvement, particularly if you’re targeting lower volume, long-tail keywords.
Think of your website’s structure like a tree - it needs a clear, logical hierarchy that helps users and search engine bots navigate it easily.
A good idea is to physically map out your site’s structure on paper with the homepage at the top and then your other main pages underneath. Your blog posts would sit under your Blog page and you’d have your blog categories too (I’d recommend having no more than 6).
Categories are really useful because they help users and search engines determine your site’s topics. Each of your blog posts will be assigned a category when you publish or schedule it.
REMEMBER THE THREE CLICK RULE
A good user experience is a really important ranking factor. The standard rule is that users shouldn’t need to perform more than three clicks to reach any piece of content. E.g. Homepage > Blog > Blog post.
Your navigation should be easy and obvious. It should have a natural flow to it and your blog posts need to include plenty of internal links to direct users and search engines logically through your content.
Pop-ups are a very debated topic. Google hates anything that interferes with user experience. But marketers know pop-ups convert.
Now, if you want to grow an email list, you’ll probably be offering an opt-in. And pop-ups work really well for this - mine is the best performing form on my site.
But the consensus is to avoid anything that pops up immediately upon entry or cannot be easily dismissed. That’s why it’s best to have an exit-intent pop-up. The penalties for interfering with a mobile user’s experience are harsher to, so just be warned.
URLs must be clean, obvious and ‘human readable’. So avoid having numbers in your URLs or anything that doesn’t make sense. Remember what we said earlier. An example of the URLs I use would be abranchofholly.com/blog/time-blocking. Short, simple and includes a keyword.
CREATE A CUSTOM 404 PAGE
This is such a useful SEO optimisation trick. Customise your 404 page where you tell visitors that the page they’re looking for can’t be found and include links to popular pages or posts instead. Genius!
CREATE A SITEMAP
A sitemap is a map of every piece of content on your site and it’s actually fairly easy to do. You can head to Google’s Search Console and Bing’s Webmaster Tools to submit it. This allows search engines to build up a picture of your site’s structure and content. You can do this via XML Sitemaps.
ADD A FAVICON
You know the tiny icon shown in the far left of the URL field or tab? That’s a favicon. It looks professional and pleases search engines. You should be able to add this to your website easily.
Schema is structured data that you can add to your website. You know when you’re looking for a recipe and you type it into Google and you see a recipe at the top of your search results? Or when you search for instructions and see a step-by-step list at the top? They are posts formatted using structured data and are intended to create a better search experience for users.
Structured data supports a number of formats including recipes, articles, reviews, products etc. You need Google Search Console to make all this happen.
INCREASE SITE SPEED
Your site’s load time is a really big deal. Bounce rate along with time on site and the number of pages visited are among the top four most influential ranking factors, along with direct website visits. This is important because it shows a clear correlation between user behaviour signals and their affect on rankings.
You should really aim to get your site load time to under 3 seconds as the minimum. Start by checking your site’s speed with Pingdom and start working on the errors.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the errors. Keep in mind that some are more critical than others but all collectively act to slow your site down. Don’t try and understand what they all mean. Here are some key places to start:
OPTIMISE YOUR IMAGES
Oversized images are what slows a website down the most. Your best bet is to either compress images or upload them in the exact pixel dimensions required to fit the space. Stick to JPEGs for regular images and PNGs for logos.
REDUCE THE NUMBER OF PLUGINS OR CLUTTER ON YOUR SITE
While plugins and other various items in your sidebar can be useful, they can also cause security issues, slowness and crashes. Your website needs to be clean with very few plugins or added clutter. For plugins, try not have more than 15-20 or else you’ll run into speed issues. And remember to update them.
LINKING SEO OPTIMISATION STRATEGIES
You may think this is a random thing to focus on. But links are a really vital part of any SEO strategy. This is because they’re fundamental from a structural standpoint within your website’s content to the number of quality sites linking to yours (inbound links). So understanding link best practices and link building strategies will really help you up your SEO game.
This is all part of the three click rule. Internal links are links from one blog post to another. They’re how search engine bots build up a profile of your content and each post’s hierarchical relation to others. Think of it like a trail of breadcrumbs.
Internal links keep readers engaged, entertained and make them want to dig deeper into your content. The longer they stick around, the better this looks to search engines as they view this as a sign of quality of relevance.
If there’s one SEO strategy you can start implementing today, it’s internal linking. Context and relevancy is everything so don’t link to any old post just for the sake of it. Keep it stuctured and relevant.
Don’t use phrases like “click here” - use the actual words you’re writing in your blog posts. ANd keep in mind that it’s okay to occasionally use the focus keyword of the page you’re linking to but do this sparingly as you risk being penalised.
As with internal links, search engines need context to determine what your content is about. If you provide helpful and relevant links to high quality, authoritative, external posts, this provides value for readers and context to search engines.
Again, anchor text is critical to SEO optimisation when it comes to your external links. The phrase must be directly related to the topic or point being discussed and, more importantly, the content being linked to, so get specific.
FOLLOW VS NO FOLLOW LINKS
Search engine bots crawl through your site and they might come across a ‘follow’ link (a piece of HTML code). This is a green flag tellIng them to keep crawling and pay attention to the site and content you’re linking to.
Now, when a site with a higher Domain Authority (DA) links back to your content - called an inbound link - you get some of the juice from that because it passes authority onto your site.
Most of your organic links (so all internal and external links) should be ‘follow’. It’s far better for your SEO optimisation strategy to create a natural looking ecosystem that references other quality content.
Inbound links are probably one of the most important signals for search engines in determining the popularity and quality of your content. This is one SEO strategy you definitely need to implement moving forward.
Not only do you get social proof that comes with links from quality websites, the link juice is also proof that real humans are loving your content. That’s the way to win Google’s heart.
The way to get more inbound links is through
Forging relationships with other bloggers
This will get your content in front of a wider audience too.
ON-PAGE SEO OPTIMISATION STRATEGIES
SEO optimisation isn’t just technical jargon. It’s also about how you format and structure your blog posts. This is a key factor in how search engines view and rank your content. Think of the following as a checklist that must be adhered to every time you create and publish a post (I go through this in a lot more detail with my coaching clients).
I like to do some keyword research prior to writing a blog post and only when I’ve planned what I’m going to write about.
I find a keyword first and then write the content. Google’s Keyword Planner is a great free tool to help you research the competitiveness and search volume of a key phrase. Whatever stage you’re at with your blog, it always makes sense to target long search phrases containing ‘moderator’ words such as ‘how to’, ‘find’, ‘where’ etc.
Your main goal is to match the searcher’s intent. So you want to target phrases people are actually typing into Google to find things. You can also drop a few semantically related phrases into your copy too. Just remember to keep things natural and not spammy.
It’s best to always use different subheadings and headings throughout your content. The different sizes you use will denote their importance in relation to the page’s content (e.g. the bigger the size, the more important it will be).
Subheadings are really important for a couple of reasons:
They break up your text so it looks better
They help your readers skim easily through your content to get a better idea of what it’s about
They also help search engines determine what your content is about too. When it comes to the title of your blog post, definitely include your keyword and include it in at least one subheading too. I’ve got a full tutorial on how to create amazing headlines that you can find here.
Here are a few guidelines on formatting your blog posts that help with SEO optimisation:
Use bullet points and numbered lists to break up chunks of text.
Add images, infographics and videos to create visual interest.
Go short for your paragraphs. Write them with a couple of sentences and that’s it. Two to three sentences per paragraph is enough for a screen.
According to a study by Backlino, the average results on the first page of Google is 1,890 words. This means long-form content is performing best when it comes to rankings. The longer you can keep people engaged on your site, that’s a strong signal telling Google that your content is of a high quality.
Search engines love websites that update their content regularly, so having an editorial calendar in place is a must. I’d recommend once a week. You can read more about implementing a content writing creation workflow here.
Really, it’s all about what works best for you and your schedule. But 500-word fluff-filled posts aren’t going to cut it in Google’s eyes and aren’t going to be worth your time. Take your old content, make it longer and better, and then republish it. That’s how you’ll improve your SEO optimisation results.
There are a lot of rumours that make their way around about SEO. One of these is that social media doesn’t help to improve your SEO ranking.
This, my friends, is a lie.
Social signals are a big indicator that your content is loved and of a high quality. So add some social share buttons to your blog and tell people to share it! People are more likely to share content once they can see it’s already been shared. I use Sumo to do this and I’ve got a full tutorial here.
A meta title is the short, one sentence title that shows up in a user’s browser tab and as the title in search engine results. The meta description is the short, descriptive text that sits underneath.
You can control what people see and this is important. If you don’t, Google can simply lift whatever it can from your page instead.
You only get a small amount of room to work with, so make it count. Metadata isn’t a huge ranking factor. But it’s important because what you write could either make a user click through to your website or a competitor’s instead.
On the other hand, direct website visits are a key indicator of SEO optimisation. So metadata is something you need to consider. Use this space to sum up the benefits of your blog post to the reader and the outcome they can expect. This is a place where you’ll want to add your keyword too.
You don’t need to caption your images, but you do need to add alt text. This should contain your keyword and read as though you were describing the image.
If you keyword-optimise your image descriptions, this can help you rank higher in image search results. This is a lesser-known traffic boosting strategy but can give you an edge over your competitors.
That was a lot of info, right?
We covered a lot then so I hope your brain isn’t too frazzled! SEO is a big topic and I’ve got something coming out over the next few months that will go into even more detail for you. But for now, I hope you can use this post as something to refer back to. If you start to implement these points in bite-sized chunks it’ll feel a lot less overwhelming.
Hopefully, this has shown you why SEO optimisation for bloggers and business owners is so important and how it can help drive traffic to your website. A social platform might be your top referrer, but relying on one method of traffic generation is a risky game.
SEO is way more than just getting found in search engines. It’s a framework that will help to make your website, blog, writing and all-round user experience even better.
Be sure to download the free checklist to cut out the guesswork and find out what order you should tackle these different steps in!