Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an ever changing world, mostly because the popular search engines like Google keep changing their website ranking formula to ensure relevant results for searchers and hence more advertising revenue for the search engine. If you are confused about where to start when it comes to optimizing your website for search rankings, this blog will help you understand the basics of the process.

Get Started with Step-by-Step Guide to SEO for Beginners

What is SEO?

SEO is the acronym for Search engine optimization. It involves making additions or changes to your online platforms – website, blog, social media. These changes have a significant impact on the user interaction with the online platform and also on its presence in search results.

Why bother with SEO?

It helps your website gain visibility. It helps the user find your website. It should be a natural process wherein the optimization involved adds value to the overall website, while also appearing in the search results of your target user.

Popular Search Engines

The top 3 as of 2014 are Google, Yahoo and Bing.

What are Hummingbird, Penguin, Panda?

2 birds and a bear. Apart from that they are also names of notoriously famous Google search algorithm updates that are constantly changing the rules of SEO.

How can you get started?

The two areas that need to be updated include — On-Page & Off-Page SEO


On-Page SEO

This involves adding or updating the following elements that appear on the website pages –

Meta Title Tags – The title tag helps drive ranking of your page. It is the clickable text that appears in search results. If this is not worded appropriately, people will not want to click on it. Thus try and build in keywords into the title tag that people are bound to use and identify with. Your brand name should appear in all the title tags, across pages along with the keywords for each internal page.

Meta Description & Keyword Tags – These are HTML tags that help describe the content on a webpage. The data stored as meta tags is used by search engines to index pages so that people looking for specific information are able to find it. Meta Tags include the description meta tag and the keywords meta tag. As the name suggests a description meta tag includes a brief description of the page. The ideal count for a description meta tag is between 150-160 characters. This is what a person looking for information is likely to read in the search results and click accordingly. The description should be crisp and compelling. Keyword meta tags include keywords to describe the content on a page. However these are completely ignored by Search Engines these days. Updating these is of no use.

Heading Tags – Heading tags as the name suggests provide a Header for the rest of your content. A Heading Tag is referred to as H1 tag and it appears on each page. The H1 tag indicates the theme or topic of the page. Often times the H1 tag also becomes the title tag, depending on the SEO plugins and software you are using. You can use keywords in your header tags H1, H2, H3 in a well-written way. These tags should not appear to be stuffed with keywords.SEO Audit Checklist

Alt Image Tags – Every image present on a page has a tag too. Alt Image Tags are used to appropriately describe the image and are used for SEO since the search words that tie back to the tag help in ranking the images in the Google Image Search. Ideally the tags should contain the keywords and if the appropriate keywords do not aptly describe the image then you may want to revisit your choice of image. The tags need to be well described for the reader to comprehend the image clearly.

BlogIncorporate an active blog with in-house images and valuable information or advice on your website. Post on a regular basis (roughly 2-4 times per week)

Google Authorship: Inclusion of Google Authorship which lends credibility to the writer / blogger. Create a Google+ profile and link it to your content and also the other way round. Add links of your content to the Google+ profile as “Contributor to”. And each time someone looks up your details, your profile picture too is displayed in the search results. This leads to better rankings and click through rates for your content which is always a plus.

Keywords: Keywords are important and so is the topic. While the appropriate use of keywords has been reiterated throughout this post, it is also important to avoid keyword stuffing and the use of words just for the heck of it. Google does not take too kindly to this practice. The use of synonyms helps avoid this hazard. On the topic of topics and theme, the current best practice is to establish a theme around your text which ensures the use of keywords more organically and also makes your content a lot more share worthy. This in turn helps improve your rankings.

URLs that can be easily found and recalled.

  • Ideally the word count for a URL is 100.
  • Use separators like hyphens.
  • URLS should not go beyond 3 subdirectories.
  • Include suitable keywords in the URL.

Must have website features for better SEO –

  • Should be optimized for mobile viewing
  • Must load fast
  • Should have a clear and easy navigation structure
  • Should implement a sitemap.xml file
  • Should avoid the presence of 404 missing pages
  • Must encourage cross liking of internal content
  • The content should be fresh and regularly updated.

Off-Page SEO

This takes into account your visibility outside of your own website. It gauges your popularity on the internet i.e. amongst other websites, social platforms and user profiles.

Activities like Link Building, Social bookmarking & Social Media are essential in building your Off-page SEO potential. Let us see how –

Link Building

This is one of the best ways to build your Off-page SEO. The idea is to host content which is of genuine use and interest to readers. Readers, bloggers, website owners, basically people with their own realty in the virtual world will read / view your content and link it on their space, thereby recommending a further read/ view to whosoever stumbles upon it. This creates an external link to your website and is a thumbs up for your content. It is a reference of sorts for search engines to look up your site when they are queried for that specific information.

Your content is classified as relevant and recommended, both of which are a good thing from a Search Engine Results Page (SERP) perspective. Guest Blogging – i.e. blogging on an external blog, instead of your own is also likely to work provided the frequency is not too much and the content is relevant. There are ways in which Link Building has been exploited and misused to build links to websites and increase the rankings. These are not in use today since they attract penalties from search engines, especially Google.

Some of these were –

  • Forum Comments – Viewers comment on forums and include links to their websites in their signature. This creates an external link.
  • Blog, Article, Shared Content Directories – All of these are listings of sites, blogs, articles/ content (original or not) that involve the sharing of information in turn for link backs to your website or blog.
  • Link exchange scams – This involves mutual consent amongst webmasters to exchange links and share them on each other’s sites. This was done in place of publishing original and useful content.

All of these links created artificially to sabotage the search engine rankings lead to what is known as black hat SEO. The subsequent Google algorithms (Panda & Penguin) can now identify these black hat techniques and counter attack their presence or use.

Link Building best practices include:

  • The “nofollow” link – Search engines have devised the concept of a “nofollow” link, which is basically a tag that can be added to a link, This instructs the search engine not to consider a link marked with the tag “nofollow” as a ‘vote’ to the site being referenced. This helps to keep out sites you cannot trust, forum comment links, ad links and any external links that could potentially cost you a penalty.
  • Natural Links – Try and foster the practice of publishing valid and useful content which in turn will attract natural link building. Always keep the viewer in mind while publishing content as opposed to which keywords in the content are likely to attract the best search engine results coz that is no longer likely to work.

Social Media – This definitely helps link building but all of the links from social media sites are “nofollow”. This may not help in the rankings but helps in creating visibility which in turn helps better your SEO.

Social Bookmarking – Social Bookmarking is another form of a social imprint with people tagging websites online and sharing their favorite bookmarks with friends. These sites help you sift through topics on the basis of popularity and based on categories such as sports, technology, news, shopping etc. Sites such as Reddit, Stumble Upon, Delicious, Digg have made this activity popular and also provide a platform on which you can share and promote your content.