In this comprehensive SEO tutorial for beginners, I will cover the essential fundamentals of Search Engine Optimization.
This tutorial is divided into 3 sections:
- Section 1: Introduction to Search Marketing
- Section 2: Internal SEO (On-page SEO)
- Section 3: External SEO (Off-page SEO)
If you finish reading this entire guide…
You will understand SEO better than 90% of beginner internet marketers out there.
Section 1: Introduction to Search Marketing
When you enter a keyword into any search engine, you instantly get results (webpages) that are closely related to or match your search query.
To an average user, this doesn’t seem like anything out of the ordinary. But to many businesses, being right in front of their customers every time they show interest in a related product or service can mean big bucks… and I mean steady, monthly recurring income.
First, what is SEO?
What is SEO?
SEO or Search Engine Optimization is the process of optimising a website’s visibility on the organic search engine results pages (SERPs) for a target set of keywords/keyphrases.
The higher the position of a webpage on the organic search results pages, the more “visible” the page will be.
How do search engines work?
Search engines use algorithms to calculate how worthy a page is to a relevant search query. There are hundreds of factors (Google uses over 200 ranking factors) that are used to calculate the authority of a webpage, and PageRank (based on a scale of 0 – 10) is one of them.
Google assigns PageRank to every webpage it crawls. When another website links to your website, some of its PageRank is passed on to you. The more sites there are out there linking to you, the higher your PageRank will be and the more trustworthy your site will look to search engines.
Search engines use bots or “spiders” to crawl billions of pages across the web by following links they find from billions of pages around the web.
Search engines then store the information it collects into its index.
When a search query is entered, a search engine digs into its index for pages matching the user’s search query, then sorts and displays the most relevant results to the user.
The order in which the pages are displayed are calculated by search engine algorithms, taking into account hundreds of ranking factors. Each page is then given a ranking score.
In order to rank highly on the search engines, your site needs to score higher than all the other sites that are eligible to show up for a relevant search query.
However, be warned that if you engage in shady methods and try to deceive the search engines, you will get yourself burned. Google is very strict on sites that try to manipulate their rankings and if you’re caught doing so, your site will get penalized and removed from the SRPs a.k.a. the “Google Slap”.
Google Major Algorithm Updates: Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird
Every year, Google changes its algorithms some 500 times, that’s 1 – 2 times on average each day. Every once in a while, Google rolls out a major algorithm update, and when they do so, many sites suffer a drop in rankings while many others enjoy a raise in rankings.
Lower the rankings of low-quality sites.
Decrease rankings of sites that engage in black-hat SEO.
Relevancy and knowledge graph update (Semantic search).
Machine learning to improve search result quality.
A revolutionary natural language processing model to better understand the meaning and intent of user search queries.
Read Moz.com for more details on the Google algorithm change history.
What are some Black-Hat SEO techniques?
Cloaking – Displaying different results to search engines and users with the intent of manipulating SE rankings.
Mass acquisition of low quality links in a very short period of time.
Overuse of keywords in article title and/or content body in a weak attempt to boost rankings for relevant target keywords or keyphrases.
View Google’s content guidelines on various link schemes to avoid.
How do you do White-Hat SEO?
Well, just avoid doing Black-Hat SEO and you’ll be doing White-Hat SEO!
We will cover essential on-page SEO such as image optimization, good internal linking structure, quality and uniqueness/originality of the content, and more later on.
SEO is divided into two parts – Internal SEO, and External SEO
To give you a better picture of SEO, let’s pretend you’re building a new shopping mall.
Before constructing your shopping mall, you first have to take into consideration internal and external factors. Most importantly, you have to take into consideration what makes a great visitor experience.
Internally, what is your shopping mall about? Is the theme of your shopping mall unique? Are different shop themes categorized into different levels? Do visitors find it easy to find their way around the mall?
Externally, have you taken the steps to put the word out that your shopping mall exists? Is your shopping mall listed in map directories, roadside signboards, or brochure stands in neighbouring malls?
If you’ve taken good care of both internal and external factors, chances are your mall will be booming with business.
Similarly, before building your website, have you considered…
Internally, what is your website about?
If you don’t even know what your site is about, it’s very likely search engines won’t as well.
Is your site’s theme unique in any way?
Search engines love unique content and will reward high quality content. On the other hand, duplicate or scraped content will not do well on the SRPs.
Are your content themes properly organized and well interlinked?
Websites that have clean site structure with content properly organized into different categories enable search engine spiders to easily crawl through internal pages and index them appropriately.
Do users find it easy to navigate through your site?
Search engines can detect whether users will find it easy or not to navigate through a site. A well-organized site provides a good user experience, which is precisely what search engines were built for in the first place. Sites with a clean structure and a clear purpose tend to rank higher on the SRPs.
Externally, have you made the effort to communicate with other webmasters in your related niche?
Search engines encourage you to actively participate in your community and provide value. Providing value to your community boosts your reputation and increases the chances of attracting inbound links to your site.
Are the chances of them linking to your site high?
Have you taken the initiative to share your content through popular social networking sites? If your content is interesting, share-worthy, and of high quality, chances are you will attract a lot of inbound links.
Do you have a lot of other sites linking to your site, increasing your popularity?
The more inbound links (backlinks) you acquire, the more trustworthy search engines will deem your content.
If you answered yes to all the above questions, you’re doing great SEO!
Search engines were built by humans, for humans. Focus your site on delivering a great user experience and you can rest assure that your site will do well on the search engines.
How Can SEO Enhance Your Overall Digital Marketing Strategy?
Improve Overall User Experience On Your Site
Having good knowledge on the topic of internal SEO and on-page ranking factors will help you better organize your site structure (arranging different categories according to specific themes) to deliver a great user experience, construct a good internal linking structure for better user navigation, and make your site more engaging, resulting in higher conversion rates.
Increase Offline Sales
Help your customers find you better with local directory listings such as Google Places, Yelp, and Street Directory.
80% of internet consumers in the product awareness stage conduct research online before deciding whether or not to make a purchase.
Online Reputation Management
Protecting your online reputation is getting more and more important these days as more and more consumers search for brand names on search engines instead of just entering the direct url i.e. “brandname.com” and the last thing you want them to see is a bad review of your company ranking above your company website.
Section 2: Internal SEO
Internal Optimization Process
There are 4 main steps when it comes to internal SEO – Keyword Research, Organizing Site Structure, Constructing Content, and On-Page Optimization. Let’s go through each step one by one.
Step 1: Keyword Research: Competitive Market Research
When starting out, you want to look out for as many long-tail keywords as you can. Long-tail keywords (more words) are not as difficult to rank highly for as generic keywords (fewer words). Long-tail keywords are also more specific to a user search query and are more likely to result in a conversion.
Start with a generic theme i.e. “Website Design”, if you are a web designer, then expand your list of keywords from there i.e. “Ecommerce Web Design”, “Affordable Web Design”, etc…
Researching for new keywords
If you’re building a brand new site, keyword research should be the first thing you do before filling up your site with content. If you’re already running a site, it is also good practice to constantly expand your list of target keywords.
Keyword research can help you discover what consumers are actually searching for. When you know what your consumers are looking or asking for, you can better design your content to answer their queries by speaking to them in their language. For example if you know people are searching for the exact keyphrase “How do you make a website”, you can create an article titled “How to Make/Create a Your Own Website”.
You can develop a variety of content ideas just by going through your list of keywords.
You want to build a long list of keywords before you start constructing and organizing your articles.
Below is an example of a list of keywords generated by a web design firm:
Referencing the above list of keywords, a web design firm will have a good idea of which keywords to optimize for and how to structure their website (SEO Siloing). i.e.
Web design packages
=> custom web design
=> affordable web design
Analyzing existing keywords that your site is already ranking for
If your site is already up and running for some time, you may want to sign up for Google Analytics (if you haven’t already) and check which keywords your current visitors have been using to get to your site. These keywords in your analytics report are likely the keywords that you are already ranking well for, so you want to put more focus on them first.
Once you’ve identified these keywords, the next step is to focus your internal optimization efforts on these keywords in the next 3 steps – Organizing site structure, constructing content, and on-page optimization.
Step 2: Organizing Site Structure: SEO Siloing (Website Theming)
Remember the shopping mall example? Let’s say you love electronic products and your focus is on building the largest electronics shopping centre in town. If your shopping mall has a specific theme i.e. Electronics Centre and all retail shops in your shopping mall are dealing with electronic goods and categorized into different electronic themes at different levels, as opposed to a generic theme i.e. Downtown Shopping Mall with only a few electronic retail shops, chances are your Electronic Centre will stand out in consumers’ minds whenever they think of buying any electronic products.
Similarly, Google and other search engines like Yahoo! & Bing give preference to theme-specific sites when deciding which results to show for a relevant user search query. But if you’ve already built a multi-themed site and want to rank for themed-specific search terms, it’s not the end of the world.
Introducing SEO Siloing/Website Theming/Content Hubs
Therefore it is safe to assume that you do not need to have only one topic on any one site in order to rank well for a theme-specific keyword.
Another scenario would be a box of macarons.
1st Scenario: A box of Green Macarons, Brown Macarons, and Red Macarons mixed together.
In this scenario, search engines will likely classify this site as “A box of Macarons”.
2nd Scenario: A box of Green Macarons, A box of Brown Macarons, A box of Red Macarons all separated into different boxes.
In the second scenario, search engines will likely classify these 3 sites as… A box of Green Macarons, A box of Brown Macarons, A box of Red Macarons.
3rd Scenario: A box of Green Macarons, Brown Macarons, and Red Macarons organized into separate sections.
In the third scenario, search engines can clearly distinguish between the 3 different themes of macarons and index them according to their specific themes.
So what is a silo in terms of SEO?
A silo is a group of theme-specific subjects or topics in a website.
What is SEO siloing and why is it important in search engine optimization?
SEO siloing is the process of organizing different groups of content topics into specific categories. Much like a bookstore organizing different genres of books into different sections.
In terms of SEO, this organizational structure is very important in order for the search engines to understand the theme and intention of your website and rank your site accordingly.
There are two methods of SEO siloing. Physical siloing and Virtual siloing.
Physical siloing is organizing similar-topic content into similar categories or directories. Much like organizing your computer files into different folders.
Virtual siloing on the other hand, is utilizing internal links to relate subject-specific content to one another. i.e. linking from one blogpost to another, whereby both blogposts exist in different directories or categories.
Diagram of a Silo-ed Site Structure:
Above example: How a dating niche content site organizes its site structure.
Bruce Clay on SEO Siloing – http://www.bruceclay.com/seo/silo.htm
You also want to create a HTML or XML sitemap and submit it to the search engines. It’s recommended to include a HTML sitemap for your visitors to refer to and an XML sitemap to submit to the search engines.
You can create your sitemap using free sitemap generator tools like http://www.xml-sitemaps.com/
In order to submit your sitemap to Google, you will need a Google Webmaster Tools account.
Step 3: Constructing Content: Creating Your Landing Pages
What are landing pages?
Landing pages are the pages that your visitors directly land onto when they click on a search result. It is important that your landing pages capture your visitor’s attention and lead them to the inner pages of your site.
If your landing page doesn’t answer the search query or isn’t compelling enough and majority of visitors landing on your landing page click the “back” button and go back to the search results, you’d likely see your rankings dipping over time.
There are three steps you should follow in order when constructing your landing pages:
1) Plan your article using your researched keywords.
2) Write your article, keeping your keywords in mind.
3) Insert your keywords where appropriate. In the title tag, content body, image alt tags, and subheadings.
Step 4: On-Page Optimization: On-Page SEO Factors
Once you’ve completed steps 1 to 3, you’re ready for step 4 of the internal SEO process.
Also take note of page loading speed (a ranking factor), as Google is obsessed with page speed.
Section 3: External SEO
What is external SEO all about? External SEO, more commonly known as off-page SEO is basically link building/marketing – Acquiring the most relevant backlinks from as many relevant high authority sites to achieve and maintain high rankings on the SRPs. A relevant backlink is an inbound link from one of the pages (with relevant meta information such as the title, description, etc.) of another similar-topic website.
Planning a successful link building campaign
In order to plan and execute a successful link building campaign for your site, you first need to understand that link building is a long and tedious process. One that requires skillfulness and extensive knowledge on the topic of SEO.
However if you persevere, stick to white-hat rules of SEO, animal-proof (Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird) your SEO campaigns by staying updated, you will eventually taste the fruit of success.
Fundamental off-page SEO concepts
Before we begin the link building process, let’s first go through and understand some fundamental concepts.
What is a backlink?
A backlink is an inbound or incoming link (hyperlink) to a particular website, referenced from another website. Search engines rely on links to crawl the web and evaluate the authority and relevance of millions of websites.
What is an anchor text?
An anchor text is the text you click on that takes you to a referenced url. i.e. (This sentence is an anchor text).
It is recommended that the anchor texts of inbound links be diverse (mix of target and non-target keywords, brand mentions, synonyms of target keywords, non-related words, etc.) and not all “exact match” to the target keyword that a site is aiming to rank highly for on the SRPs.
A link profile with majority of inbound links that have exact-match anchor texts looks very unnatural, and search engines will devalue these inbound links or even de-index the site.
Anatomy of a Strong Backlink
- High domain authority
- High PageRank
- High TrustRank
- Relevant co-citations
- Relevant page title
- Relevant content topic
- Target keywords in anchor text
- Placed in main content area
- Age of page
- Age of backlink
- Dofollow link
High Domain Authority
All inbound links pointing to a website’s main domain (www.example.com) as well as its internal pages contribute to the domain authority.
Getting a backlink from a high domain authority site is always valuable. Sometimes, that is all you need in order to get on the 1st page of Google for a target keyphrase.
PageRank is only one of over 200 ranking factors which Google uses to calculate and decide which page should rank over another.
Inbound links pointing specifically to an internal page of a particular website contributes to the PageRank of the specific page.
However if a page of say PageRank 6 has two outgoing links, the outgoing PageRank is diluted into half (PageRank 3 each).
With everything else equal (i.e. Relevant page title, equal number of backlinks, etc.), a site with a higher PageRank will rank above the site with a lower PageRank.
Sites that receive a lot of quality relevant inbound links are more trusted than sites that receive lots of inbound links from low-quality, spammy sites.
Getting a link directly from a very trusted site such as Entrepreneur.com will increase your site’s TrustRank tremendously. Obtaining a second-tier, third-tier, or fourth-tier link will also increase your site’s TrustRank but the value starts to drop the further it goes.
Let’s have a look at the following scenario:
Your website provides financial consultation and you are not able to get a link directly from Entrepreneur.com. However you’re able to obtain a third-tier link from one of the websites that Entrepreneur.com links to.
Entrepreneur.com => Financesite.com => Bizservices.com => Yourfinancialsite.com
100% TrustRank => 50% TrustRank => 25% TrustRank => 12.5% TrustRank
The above figures are made up and only used to demonstrate the point.
If you are getting inbound links from an external page (Page A) and it is linking to Page B and Page C which are both relevant to your site’s content topic, this is a strong signal to search engines that your site is relevant to that particular topic.
Relevant Page Title
The page title should summarize the page’s content topic. Or rather, the main content topic should reflect the title of the page. Search engines use the page title as an important ranking factor when it comes to displaying relevant search results to the user.
Relevant Content Topic
Similar to the above Relevant Page Title ranking factor, an inbound link from a page with relevant content topic to your site will increase your relevancy score.
Target Keywords in Anchor Text
The anchor text of a link is another ranking signal that search engines use. The wide-spread belief before the 2012 Google Penguin Update was that a keyword rich anchor text was a strong ranking factor.
As a result, many webmasters started over-optimizing their inbound anchor texts by stuffing their target keywords in (exact match), in attempt to manipulate their rankings. Majority of the sites with over-optimized keyword-rich anchor texts who were hit by the update saw a big drop in rankings.
Post-Penguin, anchor texts should not be over-optimized. i.e. If you want to rank for “financial consultation”, your anchor texts shouldn’t all be “financial consultation”. There should be a good mix of different types of anchor text. It should sound natural as if someone were to mention your brand name in a conversion.
Here are a few examples of the different types of anchor texts a property/real estate website should have a good mix of:
Exact match – “Properties for sale”
Broad match – “List of properties for sale” or “Properties for sale in [country]”
Synonyms and related search terms – “Condos for sale” or “Private property for sale”
Brand mentions – “Realtoria Property Investment Firm”
Non-related – “visit this page” or “click here”
It’s good to have a couple of inbound links with exact match anchor text from high domain authority sites. Just make sure it looks natural and doesn’t make up the majority of your backlink profile.
Placed in Main Content Area
The location of the backlink is also an important factor. A footer link isn’t worth as much as a sidebar link, and a sidebar link isn’t worth as much as an editorial link in the main content section.
Age of Page
How long a page has been in Google’s index is also a ranking factor. Creating a website is getting much simpler. There has been an increasing number of fly-by-night sites and many webpages come and go frequently. Therefore the older the page, the more trustworthy it is (provided it is frequently updated).
Age of Backlink
Similarly, the older the backlink, the more TrustRank it gets.
Dofollow links are regular links without the rel=“nofollow” attribute in the HTML code and they allow PageRank or Link Juice to be passed on to the linked page.
Example of a regular dofollow link (allows PageRank to be passed on):
<a href=“http://example.com/”>anchor text</a>
Example of a nofollow link (doesn’t allow PageRank to be passed on):
<a href=“http://example.com/” rel=“nofollow”>anchor text</a>
While you’re in the process of acquiring dofollow links, you also want to obtain nofollow links.
Although you won’t get any PageRank from a nofollow link, the main reason you also want to include nofollow links in your link profile is that search engines are able crawl a nofollow link and read its anchor text.
Even though you don’t get any PageRank flow, you’d still be awarded points for relevancy. Not to mention a link profile with thousands of dofollow inbound links and without a single nofollow backlink looks a little fishy.
In a Nutshell…
Basically you want to acquire as many backlinks from other sites that are closely related to the topic of your site and your site’s internal pages.
You also want a diverse and natural-looking link profile;
Links from different types of sites (blogs, news sites, .edu & .gov sites, forums, directories, social media, etc…) with natural linking patterns, and a good mix of dofollow and nofollow links. (No heavily keyword-optimized anchor texts!)
External SEO is basically link building and creating social signals for search engines to determine the authority of your site as well as the context of your site. Here’s a guide to SEO link building you should really check out.
Do be careful however not to violate any of Google’s Content Quality Guidelines or participate in link schemes (A.k.a. Black-hat SEO) while in the “joyous” process of link building. As long as you avoid doing any Black-hat SEO, you’re most probably doing White-hat SEO.
If you’d like to learn practical techniques on how to search engine optimize your website internally (on-page SEO), as well as externally (off-page SEO), you may want to attend our hands-on SEO course in Singapore.
I hope this beginner’s SEO tutorial has given you a better understanding on the topic of SEO as a whole. To have a more holistic digital marketing landscape, we cover the core modules of Digital Marketing that includes :
- Digital Marketing Strategy
- Content Marketing Strategy
- Search Engine Optimisation
- Digital Advertising
- Social Media Marketing
- Digital Marketing Analytics with Google Analytics
with an optional inclusion of a Capstone Practicum Project that provides you with an opportunity to apply actionable strategies to your next digital marketing campaign. All these courses with the project will lead up to a Certified Digital Marketing Strategist (CDMS).
Dylan Sun is the Founder of Equinet Academy, a SkillsFuture WSQ-Accredited Digital Marketing training organisation. Passionate in all aspects of Digital Marketing and SEO, he extends his passion to helping people implement effective digital strategies to their businesses. Follow his blog at Equinet Academy to learn more about Digital Marketing.