This is the beginner’s guide to search engine optimization (SEO) in 2018. I’ll show you how to make your site better and rank your content on top of Google’s search results. You’ll love having more people discover your content in search engines.
What content creators need to know about how Google algorithm works
Google crawls the internet, looking for new content, and it then indexes the newly discovered content in its search results where it feels is appropriate. Google discovers new content by following links, reading sitemaps, and seeing social media shares.
Google wants to please its users. If someone uses Google to search for something and quickly finds a satisfying answer, both Google and that user will be happy.
This means that Google strives to provide the value to its users by displaying the most relevant and reputable content on top of its search results.
Google is actually trying to answer the user’s query directly on the results page so the user doesn’t even need to click on any of the organic results and leave Google.
See how the search results page now includes multimedia elements, featured snippets and knowledge panels directly in the search results. First page of Google’s search results does no longer mean that you get to see 10 organic results. In many cases, you only see one to three organic spots.
So when I say you need to be on the top of the search results, that’s what I mean. If you’re not on the top, you’ll struggle to get many visitors.
Eliminating unsubstantial and useless content
So how does Google make sure to only rank content that its users want? This is done best by reducing and eliminating any unsubstantial and useless content. This type of content won’t make the users find answers to the questions they’re asking.
Google’s search algorithms extensively evaluate different aspects of the content assess the value and quality when choosing what to rank in their results. Google values trust and wants to rank trustworthy sites only.
This means that you need to build a website that people love and trust. Your knowledge and experience help you create great content that will get other people to take notice.
You want your site to be a highly reputable place with relevant and useful content about the topic you’re covering in order to be considered for that coveted top spot.
There are no shortcuts and scams that can get you to the top of search results as some “experts” promise you. There are no easy ways and tricks that you can learn by buying their SEO products. Most of it is waste of your time and money.
It’s a long, hard way to the top of Google’s results and your focus has to be on the production of quality content. Google is very clear on that.
SEO TL;DR: It’s all about content relevancy and site reputation
To get your content on top of Google’s search results you need to take care of your content relevancy (internal elements of your site) and site reputation (external elements such as what others say about you on the web).
You can be highly successful with SEO just following these two steps:
- Publishing amazing content that visitors love and that truly answers questions real people have.
- Reaching out to influencers such as niche community admins and website owners and getting them to share your content.
That’s basically all you need to know about the SEO. Let’s look at both of these in detail.
1. Content that your audience loves is the SEO king
Google has published a list of evergreen questions that you can use to assess the quality of your website. This is how I summarise the elements Google sees as key to a search-friendly content:
Some content creators go wrong by being so obsessed with search engine optimization that they neglect the content quality. Google algorithms evolve continually, so it’s difficult to tweak and patch your site to keep up with the latest algorithmic update.
Forget about the SEO. Don’t worry about the search engines and their algorithms. Don’t publish tons of shallow content covering a long range of long-tail keywords and keyword phrases.
Fewer articles but of higher quality can actually result in more organic search traffic. This is because low-quality content on parts of your site can impact the rankings of the rest of your content. Quality trumps quantity.
Start with your audience in mind and focus on the creation of the best user experience for people who are interested in your topic instead. Publish quality content frequently so people come and visit you more often.
You want your content to feature enough of relevant material so that search engines can discover you. Without great content, there won’t be any visitors, no social media shares, no relevant links from reputable sites, and this means no traffic from the search engines either.
So what exactly is this great quality content?
The audience you are targeting will decide that. Quality content means original and comprehensive content that answers questions real people have. Content that “speaks” in the natural way that people in your target group would use when they speak.
One good way to get you on the right track is to think about what your target audience would type into Google to find the topic you’re covering. Use Google Keyword Planner to find the keywords and phrases people search for. Identify in-demand keywords, phrases and other topics that your potential audience is searching for.
Then create amazing content covering those topics and include the words people use naturally within it. Something educational, informative, educational. In-depth reports, analysis, insights and research. Studies show that the average post listed on the first page of Google’s search results contains almost 2,000 words.
The opposite of high quality content is short content that adds no value to the visitors. Don’t just rely on keyword research and on publishing weak articles full of keyword phrases people search for.
Thin content is not useful, it’s copied from another source or it’s so keyword-optimized that only robots are interested in it. Don’t post content on topics that you don’t care about, that you have nothing interesting and useful to say about.
See my full guide on the topic: 15 To-Dos To Publish Awesome Content That Attracts Visitors And Shares.
Your design is the queen: Fast, mobile and user friendly
The design of your site and the way you present yourself and your content play a big role in building trust with a first time visitor. It’s about creating real and lasting connections with people in your audience.
And this connection is what Google values. You keep your visitors happy. Google keeps their users happy when they click on your content and find answers they are seeking optimally designed and presented.
- Using WordPress is a good first step as it features a large selection of great designs that are SEO-optimized out of the box.
- Look for a quality theme. Something clean, simple, effective, pretty to look at and fast to load. Make sure your content is fast to load as that is another factor that contributes to people staying longer. See more advice on speeding up your site.
- Google is expanding the use of mobile-friendliness as an important ranking signal so find something mobile friendly too. Consider activating the official WordPress plugin for Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages to speed up your loading time on mobile devices.
- Avoid designs with fancy, complicated navigation as they tend to turn visitors away quite quickly.
- Present yourself. Show your face. Create an about page. Include full information, address, phone number and other contact details. Tell your story, your achievements, experience and explain why you are worth listening to.
- If you are providing services or selling products, include testimonials and reviews from real customers and people.
- Include the list of sites and other media that you have been featured in.
- Display social proof. Your social media follower counts and the number of times your content is shared. Use one of the many WordPress plugins to do this.
- Limit the number of banner ads (remove them entirely if possible), especially those prominent banners above the fold. Google downgrades sites with a high number of prominent banner advertisements. There are other revenue sources with more potential.
See my guide on what you need to know: How To Design Your Site And Make It Look Pretty.
What to do if I’ve already published tons of bad content?
You may not have followed the above advice when you started your site and find yourself in the situation where you don’t get much search traffic. It’s not too late for you though.
If you’re unhappy with your current performance in the search results, you can do a content audit to get your site back on track. The idea of the content audit is to review your entire content archive and get a good overview of your current content.
Do a search on Google for “site:yourdomainname.com” to get a list of pages within your domain name that Google knows about. Do the full audit of all of these pages and consider quality and relevance of each and every one of them. For each article in your current content archive you need to consider if you should:
- Keep it as it is
- Upgrade and improve it by adding more recent info, more useful examples, better imagery and other media
- Merge and consolidate it with other posts to create a more substantial and higher quality post
- Delete it from your site
Are there any very short and shallow articles that don’t really answer any user questions? Are there bad and unsubstantial guest posts that you have featured that link out to some irrelevant and dodgy sites? Are there any duplicate posts that you just copied from another site on the web?
Are there several posts that cover the same or similar topic? Are there posts which have low visitor engagement such as little time spent on them or high bounce rate? (Bounce rate is the percentage of readers who navigate away from the site after only viewing one page.) Are there inappropriate posts that have nothing to do with the topic you’re covering or the audience you’re looking to attract?
Review everything in detail. Be tough and very critical. Don’t be afraid to remove any bad or irrelevant content. You may just see a spike in search traffic coming in the weeks following the content audit.
2. Your site’s reputation and what you need to know about links
A major component of increasing your search rankings is the quality of links you get to your content from other sites. The original idea behind Google’s results was based on the citations and the fact that the number of citations a research paper has is a good way of judging its quality, credibility and influence.
Links give your site that authority, trustworthiness, credibility and influence that Google wants to see. It’s not all about the number of links pointing to you. It’s about the quality and the importance of places that link to you.
The quality of links depends on the relevance, context and popularity of the site that is linking to you. The higher the quality of a site that links to you the more importance that link gets.
Publishing quality content is step one towards high quality links. Proactively reaching out and doing marketing for your content is step two to acquiring links and shares.
How do you know if a site is a quality site? You can understand that by asking yourself these questions.
- Does it rank in Google’s search results for relevant keywords phrases?
- Are there many social media shares and conversation around the posts they’re publishing?
- Is there a lively discussion in their comment area?
I have a guide on figuring out how to identify the quality websites: Guest Blogging: The Definitive Guide.
You need to be ready to put in a lot of hours getting yourself and your content out there.
Commenting on other posts, in relevant forums and other niche communities. Being active in the conversations around your topic on the social media platforms that are important to people you’re trying to target. Syndicating your content to bigger and more influential sites relevant to your audience.
Your marketing work is just as important as the work you’re putting into the production of amazing content. Perhaps even more important. I recommend you spend at least half of your time on promoting your content.
This is why I have published this detailed guide: 40 Places To Share, Promote And Distribute Your Content.
Help visitors discover and explore more of your content
You need to link to your own content within your articles. It’s the best way of directing your visitors from one story to another and make the traffic flow.
Internal links are a great service for your visitors. They introduce them to relevant articles, provide them more detailed information and get them to look deeper and further explore your content.
Internal links lead to an increased stickiness of your content and improve the usability of your site. Time spent on site and the number of pages per visit should increase with an increase in the number of internal links. The bounce rate should decrease too. Your visitors will love your content and stay on it for a longer period of time.
WordPress makes it very easy to link within the content so do it whenever it makes sense to help your visitors explore your relevant content further. Click on the “Insert/Edit Link” button. It lets you search for keywords that you are writing about and easily discovers relevant internal pages to link to. Select the relevant article and click on the “Apply” button.
You don’t necessary only have to link from new to old posts. You can also do it the other way around. If you have a good, older post that is relevant to something you have written more about lately, go back and edit the old one and include a link back to the new post.
Your internal links should indicate and describe what it is that you are linking to in order to attract visitors to click on them. Phrases like “click here” or “go here” may work sometimes but as the link anchor text does not indicate what you are linking to it does not help your visitor know what will happen after they click.
This is a much more effective method for encouraging people to explore deeper than making them have to use the “back” button to search for relevant content.
- Every page should be reachable from at least one static text link.
- Enable breadcrumbs as they are a great internal linking tool. Install this plugin or use one of the themes that enable breadcrumbs by default.
- Show related posts at the end of your articles. Several plugins are available for this including YARPP.
- Link to your popular posts and latest posts from your sidebar.
- Use your header and footer to place links to contact us, about us and other similar pages
How to optimize WordPress to make it 100% search-friendly
Matt Cutts, the former lead of Google’s web spam team, praised WordPress for being an SEO-friendly platform that automatically solves a ton of issues you might have.
It’s a fantastic piece of software, makes your site easily crawlable by search engines, solves some 80-90% of mechanics of SEO and is the first big step anyone can take towards creating a popular online business.
Here’s how to fully optimise your WordPress for search engines:
1. Enable pretty permalinks.
Create a custom permalink structure of your posts and pages. These are the options you have:
Having keywords from your post titles in your URL is a very important step in ranking well in search engines. The majority of search traffic that I get contain keywords closely related to the words in my domain name.
You could help yourself by using a descriptive domain name and pretty permalinks too. Go into Settings – Permalinks and choose “Post Name” or “Custom Structure”: /%category%/%postname%/
2. Tag or categorize the posts to make them more discoverable.
This will make sure that your new post is displayed in the relevant sections of your site. Every one of your posts should contain a descriptive category or a descriptive tag link.
3. Manually edit the permalink of the individual posts to make it nicer and cleaner.
Make a different post title from the URL itself to help cover more keyword alternations that you wouldn’t cover if they were both identical. It’s easy to edit the URL of your post, so it’s more concise and clean compared to your headline. Make sure to click on that “edit” button and do it.
4. Activate WordPress SEO plugin to add meta tags to your posts.
WordPress SEO plugin helps you optimize your individual posts by adding the meta tags. A description meta tag on an individual post gives search engines a summary of what your content is about. The meta tag is often also the snippet description that gets displayed underneath your page title in search results.
5. Use the alt attribute to optimize your images.
When uploading an image, WordPress allows you to include a descriptive alt text. Optimizing your image names and alt attribute makes it easier for search engines to better understand your images.
6. Upgrade your software to keep your site secure.
Older versions of WordPress are easier to hack and that will negatively affect your site. More tips on making your site secure.
7. Check for broken links.
Search engines and your readers do not like broken links so use the Broken Link Checker plugin to discover and fix broken links. It is a simple plugin that automates the process for you.
8. Secure your domain with HTTPS.
Especially if you’re an online store selling products or services. Or if you’re accepting payments. Or if you ask users to submit personal info using forms.
Google prefers encrypted and secure sites (HTTPS and not HTTP) as these protect the users better. Chrome browser is showing a “Not Secure” warning against sites that are not secure. The warning shows up on any page that includes text input fields such as comments area, search box or contact form.
Google Search Console is a valuable free tool that you should use
Search Console (formerly known as the Webmaster Tools) is a free web app created by Google that’s an essential part of optimizing your site for search engines. It can help you improve your site and thereby get more visitors.
With Search Console, you connect your site to Google and share information directly with the search giant. In return, Google provides you insights into how they “see” your site and many other useful details:
- You can see how your site appears in the search results
- See which search phrases and queries people use to find your content
- See which of your posts get most visitors from search
- View clicks, impressions, click-through rates and average search positions for your content
- See which sites link to you, which posts they link to, and what words they use to link to you
- See which internal pages you link to and how many times you link to them
- See “page not found” errors that Google has discovered on your site
- See any other HTML, usability and security issues detected
- Get notified if you’re running an old version of WordPress
- Google notifies you if and when there’s something you should fix to rank higher or even to regain your lost rankings.
All this means that you can learn about specific problems Google has with your site. Many of these are also issues that may annoy your visitors. Alongside the tracking code from Google Analytics, verifying your site with Search Console should be one of the first things you do when starting a new site.
How to add and verify your domain in Google’s Search Console
- Visit Google Search Console and log in using your Google account.
- Click on the “Add A Property” button in the top right corner.
- Type in the domain name of your site in the window and click “Add”.
- Verify the ownership of your domain name. Choose the method you prefer and go through the process. Google’s recommended method is to upload a verification file to your server, but a plugin such as Jetpack can help you do this too. Alternative options are to verify your domain through Google Analytics (if you’ve already set it up), or add an HTML tag to the <head> section of your site.
- After you verify the ownership of your domain name, your setup is complete.
Four things to do after connecting to Search Console
These are the things you should do after signing in to your profile for the first time:
1. Add your sitemap
In Crawl > Sitemaps you can add your sitemap file to tell Google about your content and help them learn which pages are most important to you and how often those pages change. An XML sitemap is a file that lists URL’s of your pages with additional metadata such as when the post was last updated.
Several plugins can help you create an XML sitemap. This one is one of the most downloaded. Install a sitemap plugin, activate it and submit it to Google Search Console.
2. Create a permanent redirect of your domain name
Decide what is the URL of your website. In Settings – General in WordPress choose either www version or non-www version and stick with it. If you decide your main URL is yoursite.com (without www) you need to always link to yoursite.com, and not to www.yoursite.com.
Then set your preferred domain in Google Webmaster Tools. Click on the Settings button on the top right and then “Site Settings“. Here you can specify your preferred domain.
3. Are you targeting a specific language or a specific country?
In Search Traffic > International Targeting, you can inform Google if you are targeting a specific language or a specific country. This could be the case for those that run multilingual sites.
4. Subscribe to get email notifications
You should subscribe to get email notifications if you don’t plan to check the Search Console regularly. Click on the Settings button in the top right corner, choose “Search Console Preferences” and enable email notifications. All the valuable insights will now be delivered to your email inbox.
That’s it. Google is the biggest search engine and a very important referral of traffic for most content creators. Make sure to follow these SEO tips for your content to get ranked and get traffic from search.