Learn SEO: an Introduction to Search Engine Optimization
There is a lot to know about Search Engine Optimization SEO. We’re here to show you where to start.
In this guide, we’ll cover:
- Search Engine Optimization Fundamentals
- On-page SEO
- Offsite SEO
- Technical SEO
- Local SEO
What is search engine optimization?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. The goal of SEO is to get more traffic from search engines like Google.
Google reviews web pages to see which pages are most useful for people to search for.
This is what makes up the results page that pops up when you do a Google search.
Google SERP example
Paid search results are ads; organic search results appear “naturally” if Google believes these pages best answer the search.
There are four common types of SEO you may encounter in your industry. Each type requires different skills, but cannot work in isolation. The four common types of SEO are:
- On-page SEO
- Technical SEO
- Offsite SEO
- Local SEO
Next, we’ll cover each type of SEO.
On-page SEO involves optimizing your web pages and the content on them. This includes:
- written content
- title tag
On-page SEO is sometimes referred to as “on-site” SEO. This is because it contains factors that you can change direction on your website.
Let’s take a look at some common on-page SEO elements and their best practices.
URL Tips and Best Practices:
Use your target keyword in the URL: Both search engines and users should be able to easily identify the content of your page based on its URL.
Use hyphens to separate words: URLs do not have spaces, and Google recommends using hyphens instead of underscores to separate words.
Avoid stopping words: Stop words (the, and, or, of, a…, etc.) can make URLs cluttered and hard to read. Avoid stopping words to keep your URLs readable. This also helps keep URLs short.
Keyword Tips and Best Practices:
Do keyword research: Before you start writing a blog post, use a keyword research tool. You can see which phrases people are searching for, how often people look for certain phrases, and more.
Place keywords strategically: To tell readers and Google which topics are important, consider including targeted keywords in places like the title, first paragraph, and title tags.
Avoid Keyword Stuffing: While it’s important to include your target keywords, avoid inserting them in the hopes of better rankings. This is a spam tactic that Google does not reward. It is also objectionable to the reader.
Written Content Tips and Best Practices:
Prioritize user experience: Make sure the written content is easy for users to digest. Use short paragraphs, bulleted lists, diagrams, and more.
Answer the question: Remember that searchers usually land on your page to find the answer to a question. If you wrote “Mercedes-Benz SUV prices”, those prices should appear at the top of the page.
Conduct competitor research: Before writing a post, look at the pages that are currently popping up when searching for your target keyword. Can you do better?
Title Tips and Best Practices:
Use lots of headings: Headings can help separate the content of the user experience. They also help Google determine how pages are organized.
Use H2s, H3s, and H4s: Subheadings can break up longer pages and improve user experience. Use H2 for the major part, H3 for the support point, and H4 for the minor part.
Use targeted keywords in the title: As mentioned earlier, this helps users and search engines determine what the page is about.
Title Tag Tips and Best Practices:
Keep it short: Once you hit 70 characters, Google will cut off your title tag. 50-60 characters is a good rule of thumb so you can include enough relevant information without cutting off the title tag.
Accurately represent pages: As a user, there is nothing worse than clicking on a page link and discovering that the content doesn’t deliver what the title tag and meta description promise.
Include your keyword once: While it’s usually a good idea to include your main keyword – because that’s what the page should be able to – avoid trying to include a handful of keywords just because there’s room.
Image tips and best practices:
Lots of visuals included: Many users won’t bother to read a wall of text. Include images and screenshots often, especially if you’re teaching users how to do something.
Use alt text: The alt text tells Google what to display in the image. It also allows visually impaired users to hear image descriptions.
Compressed images: Using large image files can slow down pages and create a poor user experience. Free tools like TinyPNG and ImageOptim can be used for image compression.
Search Intent Guide: Learn how to determine user intent and target the right keywords for your content goals
On-page SEO tools help you optimize your content:
On-Page SEO Checker: Compare your web content with Google’s top 10 competitors to learn how to improve your SEO strategy
Content Templates: Recommend your content based on your target keywords
Off-site SEO refers to actions taken outside of your website that help in rankings.
- link building
- social media marketing
- Guest blogs on other sites
- Manage customer reviews and testimonials
- Influencer Marketing
Unlike on-page SEO, website owners don’t necessarily have a direct influence on these efforts.
Having solid off-page SEO practices and a strong online reputation shows search engines that your website is trustworthy and reliable.
Link building is the process of obtaining backlinks or links from other sites. Think of backlinks as a vote of confidence that can affect rankings.
Link Building Tips and Best Practices:
Go for quality over quantity: Backlinks from untrustworthy sites are unlikely to improve your site’s performance. Focus on getting backlinks from high-quality, authoritative sites in your niche. (More on our link-building guide).
Don’t buy backlinks: There are various “link building schemes” out there. If someone tells you that you can pay to get backlinks, that’s great. This can hurt your site’s performance. Google is smart enough to recognize these spam practices.
Include infographics in your content: Research shows that infographics are 30 times more likely to be read by users than an entire article. Use compelling infographics or “linkable assets” to encourage users to link to your content naturally.
Social Media Marketing Tips and Best Practices:
Stay active: Over time, you can build your brand reputation by regularly posting, responding to comments, and reporting newsworthy updates within your niche.
Post on various platforms: If you ignore social media platforms in your overall strategy, you may miss out on reaching your entire potential customer base. For example, your audience on LinkedIn may be very different from your audience on Instagram.
Repurpose your content: Once you’ve written a blog post, you’ll have many options for repurposing it on different platforms, including social media sites. Share educational posts on LinkedIn, create polls on Twitter, create relevant memes on Instagram, and more.
Guest blogging tips and best practices:
Choose your collaborators carefully: Do not write guest posts for any of the offered sites. If you’re only engaging with a link, it’s usually clear that you’re calling it. Choose a partner and collaborate to create useful content to fill the gaps in your niche.
Keep it original: Use raw data and research wherever possible. Guest post collaboration should offer your community something new, and collaborative research is a great way to do that.
Prioritize content over backlinks: Backlinks are great, but the focus should be on creating amazing content. If you link back to your site frequently, the post may lose credibility and may look like spam in the eyes of Google.
Customer Reviews and Testimonials Tips and Best Practices:
Set up your Google Business Profile: Your Google Business Profile (GBP) lets you reply to Google reviews, answer questions about your business, set your online hours, and more. We’ll dive deeper into local SEO later.
Reply to comments: good and bad! This helps build trust between your brand and your customer base. even potential customers.
Avoid generalizations: Instead of replying “thank you for your comment” to every comment, take the time to personalize your answer. This is especially important when users have complaints or questions about your business.
Influencer Marketing Tips and Best Practices:
Find influencers in your niche: Collaborate on mutually beneficial content like webinars or blog posts. Be sure to nurture these relationships—they can help you increase trust and brand awareness in your community.
Keep up with trends: Even if you’re not directly into influencer marketing, it’s a good idea to follow respected influencers in your niche. Stay up-to-date with what’s happening in your industry and what the big names have to say about them.
Becoming a Thought Leader: Easier said than done, right? But posting your thoughts on industry news and trends can help you build trust between community members and your brand.
Tools to help you build trust and authority off-site:
Link Building Tool: Easily research and explore potential sources of backlinks to build trust and authority for your website on the web
Backlink Analysis: Get an accurate backlink authority score, be the first to know when your competitors are launching campaigns, and measure your backlink performance
Backlink Gap Tool: Compare your site to your competitors to see new backlink opportunities you can target ahead of your competitors
Post Tracking Tool: Analyze guest blog post performance using metrics like reach, social media engagement, backlinks, and referral traffic
Social Media Analytics: Keep an eye on the performance of your Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn posts (including metrics like engagement, new followers, and post reach)
Think of your website as a theater. The background work will be the technical SEO components.
The show wouldn’t go on without this behind-the-scenes work.
To ensure your site has solid technical health, it’s important to conduct regular SEO audits. You can use a tool like a site audit to determine if there are any issues or bugs that need to be addressed.
Some of this behind-the-scenes work includes:
- website architecture
- page speed
- Hreflang tags (International SEO)
Website Architecture Tips and Best Practices:
Keep it simple: see the image above. With a clean website structure, it is easy to navigate to different parts of the website. This is critical for both users and search engines, as both need to move seamlessly through your website.
Consider your website in terms of categories and subcategories: let’s use the image above again. In this example, your home page will be the first row. The middle row will link to more specific sections on the home page – like a blog or the main product page. The third row will have subcategories of the middle row. Blog categories under “Blogs”, specific product pages under “Products”, etc.
Don’t miss any pages: A page that is not linked to any other page is called an “orphaned page” in the SEO world. If pages are orphaned, neither humans nor search engines can access them.
Simply put, a sitemap is a map of a website. They contain files that provide information about the pages on your website and their relationship to each other. Sitemaps can also contain videos and other files.
Sitemap tips and best practices:
Use tools to automatically generate your sitemap: Jumping into a technical SEO strategy can seem daunting. Fortunately, you don’t need to know any code to create a sitemap. Automatically generate one using a plugin like Yoast or XML Sitemaps.
Consider sitemap types: While there are different types of sitemaps, XML sitemaps are the most common. An XML sitemap is a list of URLs (and categories of URLs). Learn about the different types of sitemaps here.
Submit your sitemap to Google Search Console: By submitting your sitemap to Google, you can ensure that Google sees your site. This gives your page a chance to rank. However, this may be a more advanced step for beginners. To learn more, read Google’s Guidelines for Submitting Sitemaps.
Quickly check your HTML: In the Chrome browser, right-click a webpage and click Inspect. This triggers the HTML code for the page (see image above).
Find Free Coding Courses: You can learn SEO without learning to code. However, if you want to dig a little deeper, there are many well-known free coding courses out there, such as Codeacademy.
Crawlability Tips and Best Practices:
Identify crawl errors with SEO tools: Use Semrush’s site audit (shown above) to highlight any crawl issues or errors. On-site audits also provide advice on how to address these issues.
Understand redirects: If you have two similar pages on your website, you can redirect the less important page to the preferred page. This is called redirection. However, if you redirect pages incorrectly, you may accidentally cause crawl errors. Learn more in our redirect guide.
Make sure your page is indexed: Unless you don’t want Google to see a page, it should be indexed. That is, submit to Google. See the sitemap section above. You can submit a sitemap through Google Search Console to index all relevant pages.
Page speed tips and best practices:
Familiarize yourself with Core Web Vitals: Google’s Core Web Vitals, launched in 2020, confirm that Google puts page speed and user experience first.
Use Google’s PageSpeed Insights Tool: You can use this tool (pictured above) to get an overview of how your site is doing. It also provides suggestions for improvement.
Using Site Audit: Semrush’s Site Audit also has a Core Web Vitals report. You can also switch between different reports or view all technical issues at once.
Schema markup is a structured data vocabulary that helps search engines better understand the information on your website, providing users with rich results. Here we see an example of an event pattern marker.
Architecture Tips and Best Practices:
Explore Schema.org: This site is the main hub for different types of schemas. This is a great place to start if you want to start exploring what’s possible through patterns or even test it.
Check your schema: On the same site, you can check that the schema on your web page is working by visiting the schema markup validator.
Be aware of architectures when using search engines: Start training yourself to recognize architectures when you search on Google. In addition to the usual links, what types of questions trigger information? Recipes and reviews are great examples. You’ll often see recipe boxes or star reviews for these types of searches — these are examples of patterns.
Healing is an HTML attribute that tells search engines what language you are using on the page.
Hreflang tips and best practices:
Learn more about International SEO: More Advanced with the hreflang attribute. We recommend reading this thread before addressing it directly. Read our Hreflang attribute 101 guides for more details.
Determine if your site needs hreflang tags: Does your site have content in multiple languages? Then you need to dive into the world of international SEO.
Learn how Google handles hreflang tags: Google uses this HTML attribute to determine the relationship between different pages on your site. For example, let’s say you have two versions of the same page. One is French and the other is English. These HTML tags tell Google which is which so that search engines can serve the correct page to the correct area.
Technical SEO tools to help optimize your website:
Site Audit: Check your website and content for 130+ technical SEO errors
Log File Analyzer: Gain insight into how Google interacts with your site as it crawls
Local SEO is the practice of expanding your local search presence. This can include finding and optimizing local keywords, optimizing your Google business profile, and building local citations.
This can involve a mix of on-page and off-page SEO strategies, as well as optimization of external directories and maps.
In this section, we will focus on two main pillars:
Google Business Profile
- local reference
- Google Business Profile
- Google Business Profile (formerly Google my Business) is an important factor when it comes to local SEO.
Google Business Profile example
Think about your daily life. How often do you search Google for locations, reviews, and more? The odds are, often.
If you don’t optimize your sterling, you may miss out on exposure and foot traffic.
Typically, a local search triggers results that make up a “map package” or “local package”:
Example of local search results
Here’s an example of a Google result for the keyword “coffee near me.”
This appears at the top of the page above organic search results, including local businesses and maps.
In addition to displaying business information, GBP allows you to view business reviews, see when they’re busy, and view photos of customers.
Local citations are references to your business in other parts of the Internet.
In many cases, these are NAP (name, address, and phone number) references in the local directory.
NAP consistency is important because if your clients can’t find you, you could lose potential business.
Here is an example of a NAP citation for a pizza restaurant on Foursquare:
You can use tools like List Management to automatically manage your NAP citations, submit your business information to over 70 local directories, and sync your GBP.
Local SEO Tips and Best Practices
Perform local keyword research: Find out the local keywords you want to target and see which competitors are popping up on Google for those keywords. Say you own a Honda dealership. If you don’t appear in “[insert your city’s Honda dealership here]”, you may be missing out on valuable local traffic.
Find Your Digital Competitors: You may think you know your key local competitors, but maybe future competitors aren’t optimizing their online presence. This means that your brick-and-mortar local competitors may not be the same as your online local competitors.
Keep your GBP up to date: As a user, there’s nothing more frustrating than getting the wrong business information, especially when it comes from a business’s verified profile. If you change your business hours, update your address, have holidays, etc., these should all be reflected in your GBP.
Local SEO tools to help customers find your business:
Listing Management: Automatically manage citations, link your GBP profile, and submit your business information to 70+ directories
Position Tracking: Track your site’s ranking position for a set of custom keywords, down to the local level
Top 5 SEO Blogs
SEO is constantly changing, so it’s a good idea to keep up with reputable sources. Here are some of our top bloggers:
Search Engine Journal: As one of the most popular SEO blogs, Search Engine Journal (SEJ) brings you the latest search news, guides, webinars, and SEO how-tos
Search Engine Land: Search Engine Land also provides how-to guides and the latest developments in the industry
Keyword: Google’s blog is the place for all Google news and updates
Backlinko: Brian Dean breaks down complex topics into actionable tips so anyone can learn SEO and apply it to their website
Semrush: The Semrush Blog also keeps you up to date with the latest news, industry developments, and strategic tips for SEO, PPC, and SEM.