Beginners Guide to SEO:
Rank Higher On Google
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19 Digital is a full-service digital marketing agency, one of our key digital services that we are passionate about is delivering an effective SEO services.
We made this post to help fellow small businesses, entrepreneurs, bloggers or website owners to optimise for search engines as well as use SEO effectively.
Here is 19 Digital’s beginners guide to SEO and how to rank higher on Google.
Before we take you to the actionable goods let’s just clear the air and lay the foundation quickly or skip to a section via the table of contents below.
Beginners Guide to SEO: Table of Contents
What is SEO?
So what is SEO? Is it just website optimisation? Or is it website copy and content? Or is it links?
Well, the short answer is yes to all of the above.
SEO stands for search engine optimization. Which is the technique of ranking high on a search engine in the organic listings.
Basically, it is the process of organising and optimising your online content in a search engine friendly way so that they show it among the top results for certain keyword searches.
If you want to know more on the topic we compiled a detailed article here: what SEO is?
Get it? Good!
Why is SEO important for online success?
It is important if you want to get organic traffic from trusted search engines like Google.
Google is the most widely used search engine in the world and the most used tool in South Africa
SEO is important for a wide variety of reasons but most notably:
- It creates a benchmark for websites online
- It ensures that users find what they are searching for online
- It creates “trust” in the eyes of the searchers (your customers / audience)
- It helps businesses with their brand presence, awareness and visibility
- It offers real brand credibility or value (If Google considers your website or content as valuable it will place it top of the pile you’ll be ranking first for the search term)
- “Gut-Feel”, users will go with the first page results because Google recommends them.
Here is an interesting stat:
Upto 60% of traffic (or clicks) are done in the top three results reflected on Google. Yes, you could be getting some serious targeted traffic coming from Google to your business by ranking in the top 3 results.
How do search engines work?
In the case of web search engines like Google, the database consists of trillions of web pages, and the algorithms look at hundreds of factors to deliver the most relevant results for the keyword or search terms.
Search engines work by taking a list of known URLs, which then go to the scheduler. The scheduler decides when to crawl each URL. Crawled pages then go to the parser where vital information is extracted and indexed. Parsed links go to the scheduler, which prioritizes their crawling and re-crawling.
Basically, if you didn’t get all the above jargon, when you search for something, search engines return matching pages, and algorithms rank them by relevance.
On-Page SEO is one of the most used methods to boost your rankings on Google.
We will cover some of the important areas you can take actions on. What this detailed section covers is:
- What is on-page seo?
- Page Structure
- Optimising for Search
- Image Optimisation
- Page Speed
What is on-page SEO?
On-page seo (or on site SEO) refers to the practice of ‘optimizing’ and organising web pages to help them rank higher in the search engines.
The end goal is to increase organic traffic to your site.
Let’s say you have a keyword (or search term) in mind and you have a fantastic bit of content.
How do you go about ensuring that optimising the page so that Google can understand what it is all about BUT, also positions it on that first page ranking space it deserves?
We will discuss some actionable On-Page SEO to do just that! Okay, let’s dive right in…
Optimising Your Page Structure
The title tag, an HTML tag that exists in the head section of each web page, provides a clue as to the pages topical subject matter.
It is featured prominently in the search engine results pages (typically used as the clickable link) as well as in the browser window.
The title tag by itself has little impact on organic rankings, and is sometimes overlooked.
That said, missing, duplicate, and poorly written title tags can all negatively impact your SEO results, so make sure you’re optimizing for this element.
Meta descriptions are considered important optimization points.
Meta descriptions, meta tags that provide a description of what the page is about, are often displayed in the SERPs underneath the title of the page.
Google maintains that it doesn’t help with rankings, there is anecdotal evidence that indirect attributes of better descriptions do help.
Optimizing meta description correctly can help improve:
- Click-through rate (CTR).
- Perception of the quality of the result.
- Perception of what your website offers all change.
Header Tag (H1)
Header tags are HTML elements (H1-H6) used to identify headings and subheadings within your content from other types of text (e.g., paragraph text).
Header tags aren’t as important for your site rankings as they used to be, but these tags still serve an important function – for your users and your SEO.
They can indirectly impact your rankings by:
- Making your content easier and more enjoyable for visitors to read.
- Providing keyword-rich context about your content for the search engines.
Firstly, (and this really should go without saying) get an actual domain. NOT a sub-domain like yoursite.wordpress.com or yoursite.wix.com
With the above said, let us continue with the URL structure:
Can you tell me what the above page/post is about just by looking at the URL? I doubt it.
Now take a look at this one:
It doesn’t take a genius to work out that it’s a post about loyalty programmes. That’s because this is an example of a descriptive URL—it tells you what to expect from the page.
There are a few reasons why this is good practice for on-page SEO.
- Descriptive URLs help cement your page as that result.
- Secondly, descriptive URLs tend to include the keyword(s) you’re targeting, as the above would be “loyalty programmes”.
Aim for short and sweet URLs that are as descriptive as possible (add your keyword naturally).
Get Optimised For Search Intent
So how do you figure out what searchers want?
Google’s entire business model relies on them serving the most appropriate result in the top spot.
You can use that fact to your advantage by checking your gut instinct against what currently ranks for your target keyword.
This “trick” is especially useful for less obvious queries where “search intent” isn’t so clear.
So let us give this a go: Type: “how to market your website.” on Google.
It’s clear that this is an informational query, but what exactly do searchers want to see? Do they want a step‐by‐step walkthrough? Do they want a list of various promotional tactics? Or do they want something entirely different?
Let’s check the top‐ranking pages.
You can see that Google overwhelmingly favors lists (like 9 ways to promote) of website marketing tactics. If you wanted to rank for this keyword/topic, that’s exactly what you should create. Google is literally telling you what searcher wants to see.
Use Google to understand user’s search intent. To have a chance at winning the game give the users what they want to see/read. Do not force pages where they don’t belong.
Google can better identify the topical relevancy of your content through the words and phrases that relate to each other. Okay, what? Well, let’s take a quick look at what these words below may have in common:
- Warm Water
- 20 litre Storage Unit
- Tartaric Acid
- Avoid Fermentation
For example, say you have a page with the title tag “Tasty Homemade Pineapple Beer!”
Google can probably guess what that page is about based solely on this. Google’s guess will turn to certainty if they see that your page also mentions all of the things mentioned above.
Include words and phrases that relate to each other to increase the “relevancy” of your page and help Google understand that your page is the best result for your target keyword.
Here’s a surprising fact:
“ Roughly 2.5 Million South African individuals (5% of the total population) self-reported that they had some form of disability. The largest proportion of individuals (32%) indicated that they had vision disability “
What does that have to do with image optimisation?
Globally there are roughly 1 in 30 search engine users have a visual impairment and may be using a screen reader and as a result.
Alt tags should be used to describe your images. That’s because this text will show on the screen should your image fail to load, or if your visitor is using a screen reader.
Here’s the HTML syntax for alt tags: <img src=”/cute-cat.png” alt=”A picture of a super cute cat.”/>
Use descriptive alt tags and filenames for all your images. It’s not much effort, and it’s totally worth doing.
Optimise Your Page Speed
So, have you ever searched for something and clicked on a Google result that took slightly too long to load?
What did you do? You probably did what I do. You hit the back button or the big x in the top right.
Google knows that people do this, because slow‐loading pages are annoying, right?
Page speed is well known ranking factor since 2010 and worth looking into. It’s been proven that faster load times correlates with improved conversions. This free tool from Google can be used to track and record your website’s speed on both Mobile and Desktop and also offers some tips.
Google states that 53% of users will abandon a page if it takes more than 3 seconds to load. So we would suggest aiming for 2 seconds or under as a general rule.
With that said, South Africa’s average page load time on fixed broadband connections is 3,721ms, while the average mobile page load time is 4,782ms. In general, South Africas are slightly more used to a slightly slower loading speed.
Audit your website’s loading speed and then take steps to make sure your pages load as fast as possible by reducing image sizes and eliminating unnecessary HTML. Remove as many third party scripts as possible.
Optimise For Usability!
Make it Mobile Friendly
Google also recently began rolling out their mobile‐first index, and they have confirmed that mobile page speed will be a ranking factor going forward. Make sure your website is mobile friendly and completely mobile responsive.
Think about it, most users are accessing the internet via their smartphones nowadays. Keep up with your users and put them first and Google will also put you first 😉
This nifty tool found in the Google Search Console lets you know if your site has any mobile usability issues & Google will let you know if mobile users have trouble using your site.
You can also use Google’s Mobile-Friendly test .
Just pop your URL into the tool and get a full report.
As you can see, I passed. But the tool let me know that mobile Googlebot had trouble loading all of the resources on my page:
Desktop Googlebot had no issue crawling these resources. But the mobile version couldn’t do it. And with Google’s Mobile-first index now live, this is a potentially serious issue. And it’s something I wouldn’t have known about without this tool.
Make it Easy To Read
Google looks at user signals (dwell time, time on page, bounce rate etc.) to influence rankings. So if your copy is complicated and difficult to understand, your visitors will be heading straight for the back button. This is not good for your rankings and definitely not good for your user experience.
Avoid “big” words. Don’t say “proximity” when you could say “near.”
Use short sentences and paragraphs: This is a sentence. As is this. And this. See what I mean?
Keep things relatively informal: Write how you speak. (also niche dependant)
Use Schema Mark-Up
Schema markup helps search engines to better understand what your page is about.
If you’ve ever seen Google search results with star ratings, reviews or images, then you’ve witnessed firsthand the effect of Schema markup.
Below we can see the use of Schema: The top image has made use of schema mark-up. The one below it has not made use of Schema.
Which one would you click on?
The above example illustrates how schema markup increases ‘click-ability’ of web pages in the SERPs.
People tend to be drawn to visuals, so anything that helps your page stand out should have a positive effect.
But you can do way more than that with Schema…
You can go as far as marking up specific mentions of objects, places, things and more. That means if you have a web page selling a book, not only could you use Schema markup to specify that it’s an ecommerce product page. But you can also specify the books title, price, ISBN, etc.
Is Schema markup a direct ranking factor? Not exactly.
Add Schema markup to increase your Click-Through-Rate and to help search engines better understand the content on your web pages.
Off-page SEO might seem harder than on-page SEO because many off-page factors aren’t entirely under your control, but that’s the whole point.
The harder something is to earn, the more reliable it is as a ranking factor.
It’s also important to note that traditional online and offline marketing activities can indirectly influence many of the factors above.
What is Off-Page SEO?
Off-page SEO includes activities done off of a website in an effort to increase the site’s search engine rankings.
Common off-page SEO actions include building backlinks, encouraging branded searches, and increasing engagement and shares on social media.
In other words: off-page SEO is all the stuff that you do off of your site to get Google and other search engines to see your website as trustworthy and authoritative.
Consider this the online reputation of your website OR how Google perceives your online reputation.
Basically it is how other websites interact with your website, a little bit of a “digital referral”.
Start In-house: Linking Structure
Optimized internal pages can make a huge difference in your overall rankings. This includes interlinking your pages using random keywords (with more emphasis on your brand name).
Brian Dean’s famous post, “Google’s 200 Ranking Factors,” refers to the number of internal links to a page indicates its importance relative to other pages on the site.
None of your internal pages should stand alone. Make each page an integral part of your site and include seamless navigation. This is essential to your site users and your appeal to search engines.
Ideally, pages addressing the same or related topics should be linked together in order to provide a rich experience for the users.
Link Building or Backlinks
Building backlinks is considered the heart of off-page SEO and a powerful ranking factor.
Search engines use backlinks as indications of the linked-to content’s quality, so a site with many high value backlinks will usually rank better than an otherwise equal site with fewer backlinks.
We broke it into three categories based on how they are earned:
- Natural links are editorially given without any action on the part of a page owner. Actionable steps to getting these is to create fresh content that people are actually searching for, can find helpful or even insightful.
- Manually built links are acquired through deliberate link-building activities. This includes things like getting customers to link to your website or asking influencers to share your content.
- Self-created links are created by practices such as adding a backlink in an online directory, forum, blog comment signature, or a press release with optimized anchor text. Too many self-created link building tactics are frowned upon by search engines, so tread lightly here.
The back links that matter most are the ones that transfer the most meaning full “link juice”, authority or traffic.
With that said, pick your backlinks carefully as it does create a linking profile of your website, brand or company.
There are many signals that positively contribute to the equity passed, we have found that these are the ones that actually matter:
- No. of Domains Linking: The number of and the variety of links pointing back to you is one of the important ranking factors. Link diversity is also considered to have a impact when building your back link profile.
- Linking Page: The number of links from one domain can be important but it is more valuable to have one link from various domains.
- Page Rank (PR): Not all page are the same. Strive to get links from high PR pages.
- Link Relevancy: We highly recommend that you link with pages related to your pages topics to carry more relevance from search engines.
- Domain Authority: A domain with high authority, is believed, to carry more worth. Similarly to the above mentioned PR.
- Home Page Links: We believe that back links from home pages (or front pages on WordPress) tend to carry more weight that inner pages.
- DoFollow vs NoFollow: Google states that they do not count nofollow links. That means that dofollow links carry more value and weight in terms of back link strength.
- Contextual links: Links within the content of the page carries more wight than comment links and or sidebar links etc.
- Anchor Text Links: Too many anchor text links can be considered a sam indicator, so beware and tread lightly.
Make use of one of the many back link and domain checking tools available. Like SEMRush, the tool give you amazing insights into your SEO backlink profile and even make suggestions as to how to go about improving it.
Brand Signal Links
While earning links from external websites is the most commonly practiced off-page SEO strategy, almost any activity that,
- Occurs outside of your own website and
- Helps to improve your search ranking position could be thought of as “off-page SEO.”
These include things like:
- Social media marketing: A strong social media presence can definitely help your backlink profile. Social media is a great tool to engage with our audience and drive traffic to your site.
- Guest blogging: This is a content marketing strategy, where you write a blog or article on a another site to promote your brand, company, idea or share information. This is an attempt to drive traffic from one source to your website. Also effective if you are posting on a topic relevant to parties involved (Your site, the third party site and then their audience).
- Brand mention (linked & un-linked): Brand mentions can happen in a lot of different ways. Think of a mention as a shout out for your business. For example, someone might mention your company in a blog post. That’s a brand mention.
- Influencer marketing: This is a little self explanatory.
BONUS: Ranking For Local SEO
Local SEO is definitely one of the quicker forms of boosting your SEO and can be a very important asset when building your SEO campaign.
We have written a detailed Local SEO guide previously, feel free to find out more by having a look here: Local SEO for SME’s in SA
We’ll have a quick highlight run through here:
“If you have a local business, like a shop, or have people visiting your office frequently, optimizing your website is also about making sure people are able to find you in real life. But even if you’re not actively getting visitors in your building, but are targeting an audience that is located in the same geographical area as you are, you need to optimize for that area. This is what we call “local SEO.”
What is Local SEO?
Local search engine optimization is a branch of SEO that focuses on optimizing a website to be found in local search results.
Local search encompasses all those nifty search terms that scream local, such as:
- SEO services near me
- Website design agency near me
- Seo agency in Stellenbosch [city name]
- Web design services in Stellenbosch [city name]
Basically, local SEO is a strategic process that focuses on emphasizing the optimization efforts of local brick-and-mortar businesses.
DID YOU KNOW? According to Google, 46% of searches have a ‘local intent’.
How To Start Your Local SEO Campaign?
This is one of the best “tricks”available when trying to rank for local SEO.
Google My Business (GMB): Get your business a GMB profile right here, fill out your profile in detail and wait for the verification to take place.
It says 22 days on the platform but expect delivery in 30-40 days in South Africa. (This was our experience.)
Our Tip: Now that you have a GMB profile ensure you add some valuable content via the post section and add some well written articles and blogs on your GMB profile.
Start Building Citations
Citations are any place your business’ NAPW (Name, Address, Phone number, Website URL) information appears together online, typically in an online directory or business listings website. Citations are extremely important to get in place for local SEO.
Understanding The Local SEO Pack
So now that we have enlightened you as to what Local SEO is all about, you probably want to know how to successfully get it?
First, we’d recommend familiarizing yourself with the three core elements of local search ranking BUT more importantly we recommend that you optimise your local SEO to focus on the 3 key local seo areas listed below.
- Proximity: How close is your business to the searcher?
- Relevance: How relevant to the search query are your products and services?
- Prominence: What do other consumers say about your products and services?
Let’s Warp This Up
Optimising and organising your website to become Google friendly is very important. Not only will it increase your rankings, impact your brand perception, niche influence and credibility. If you need help, try our SEO services and start ranking higher on Google and search engines.
I hope that this guide will help you step us your SEO efforts and it definitely is an actionable guide to helping you improve your business visibility on search engine platforms.
Leave us a comment, has this helped you with your SEO?
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