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Basic SEO Tutorial for Beginners

Though some try to categorize SEO as a science, the reality is that SEO is as much art as it is science, perhaps more so. If you already know the basics of SEO, or would like to dive in with a comprehensive beginner's guide, then download our free SEO GuidePDF. If you are a bit rusty, you can brush up on your SEO jargon by reviewing our SEO Glossary.

Basic SEO Tutorial

Fixing SEO Problems

Optimized websites must not be plagued with basic issues that can negatively impact the search engine friendliness of the site. To accomplish this, there are some basic guidelines to follow in order to address the most important of these issues.

Fixing Duplicate Content

Many sites suffer from lackluster rankings because of duplicate content and the mistaken belief that any content is good content. Good content may be king, but duplicate content is poison to the health of a website. Eliminate all and any duplicate content you may have on your site, whether the content was generated intentionally or it is just a function of bad information architecture design.

Short, yet descriptive URLs which are free of session IDs

URLs are a good way of telling visitors what the page is all about (if nothing else). A URL such aswww.example.com/article.php&id=48887464579876412 tells the user nothing about the page. Why not use something like www.example.com/blue-widgets.html? There is no good reason for not using the short and descriptive URL. Aside from making the site more user-friendly, the short descriptive URLs will also be search engine friendly. The keyword in the URL will contribute to improved rankings.

Customizable titles tags

As the most important element of the on-site optimization process, the title tag should be utilized to the fullest extent, and this cannot be done unless each and every page on your site has an independently customizable title tag.

Independently customizable description and keyword meta tags

Even though the meta tags are the (much) weaker of the title tag, it is still advisable to customize the keyword and description meta tags. If for nothing else, the description meta tag can be used to provide the search engines relevant and optimized marketing text for the snippet displayed on the search engine result pages (SERPs).

Complex and non search engine friendly navigation

The search engines must be able to index your pages before they can rank them. So if the architecture of your website is a roadblock to the indexing of your pages, no amount of content optimization will help the ranking potential for your website.

Develop a simple to use and logical site structure, and make sure the navigation is not a hindrance to the search engine spiders (e.g. don't hide your navigation in Flash or JavaScript), but a map for finding each and every page. Note: Even with a perfect navigational structure, you will still benefit from having an actual sitemap.

Keyword Research

Before doing any search engine optimization for your website, it is necessary to set goals towards which you can strive. The most basic of these goals is ranking for a particular set of keywords. Though you may think the most popular keywords in your industry are the ones for which you should rank, it is important to keep in mind that quality (like in many other things), as opposed to quantity, is what is important.

To illustrate, let's say you have a website that sells blue (and only blue) widgets. Your first thought, when it comes to rankings and keyword selection, may (and most likely) will be that your site has to rank for the word 'widgets' in order to be successful. So let us see if that is in fact true.

Let us say that the keywords 'widgets' has a monthly search volume of 5,000. And let's also say that through incredible efforts (since 'widgets' is going to be a pretty difficult keyword to rank for) you (or the company you hire) manage to get your site to rank in the #1 position in all search engines. Let us also assume that every search engine user who searches for the keyword 'widgets' ends up clicking on the #1 listing (which is not the case). Now, the 5,000 searches conducted by search engine users for the term 'widget' can be broken down into two very broad categories: those who are looking to buy a widget (of some color), and those who are simply looking for information on widgets. What is also true, is that those looking to make a purchase are likely going to be interesting in a variety of colors, no only blue widgets. It should be clear by now that a big portion of the 5,000 visitors that will be coming to your site by the virtue of your unlikely high rankings are not going to be interested in what you have to offer since your website offers only blue widgets. This is the most fundamental reason, why keyword research and selection are vital for a successful and sustainable search engine optimization campaign.

Since your website specializes in blue widgets, wouldn't it make more sense to ignore the deceptively large search volume of the term 'widgets' and instead concentrate your efforts behind ranking for the term 'blue widgets' (and variations thereof)? If you are unsure of the answer, it is "Yes, it does make more sense to ignore the deceptively large search volume." Aside from lack of specificity, the term 'widgets' will be very difficult to rank for, since it is a more generic term compared to 'blue widgets'.

The level of competition of a keyword will dictate the amount of effort it will require to attain high rankings for said keyword. So given the fact that a generic term like 'widgets' is extremely difficult to rank for, and is much less likely to help create a conversion for your website compared to a term such as 'blue widgets', wouldn't it make sense to pursue rankings for a keyword which has less competition, and a higher potential to send well-converting traffic? The Answer, again, is "Yes, it does make sense."

There are a variety of tools you can use to research keywords, but one of the keyword research tools which has to the most up-to-date and reliable data is the Google AdWords Keyword Tool. You might say, "But, Mr. SEO article writer guy, that is a keyword tool specifically designed for AdWords, which is a pay per click advertising platform." And Mr. SEO article writer guy would say, "What is the difference? The tool still provides the same exact data you would need to evaluate whether or not to pursue rankings for a particular keyword."

Now that we have that settled, make sure you pay attention when it comes to keyword selection, making sure the keywords for which you will expend effort in order to rank are not going to be a waste of your time and money.

Understanding your niche, the competition, and what your site is capable of

If you've recently started an auction site, ebay is not your competition. Keep that example in mind when you are trying to figure out what keywords to pick. If your site (a single page is not a website) is new (less than a year old), you will need to make some compromises about the type of keywords you can start your optimization process with. Going back to the auction site example, you would be well advised to stay away from the keyword 'auction'. This is not to say that you should ignore the prominent keywords for your industry, but you also should not expect to see results for a long while.

Developing a list of 80 to 100 words (the list will be narrowed down)

Start with a large list of keywords and narrow down to pick the ones best suited for your site, product (service) type, service area, and so on. What follows is a list of quick tips for narrowing down the list of keywords.

Start with the most popular keywords in your industry

Use the myriad of research tools available online (e.g. Google Adwords Keyword Tool) to expand your list based on what you think are the most popular keywords.

Narrow down the list to areas you specialize in (if any)

If you sell shoes and specialize in walking shoes, don't use the term "women's shoes" just because it has more searches. This by no way means that you should not include "women's shoes", but perhaps your optimization will be better served if you used "women's walking shoes". The search numbers may be much lower, but you'll get the type of visitor that is much more likely to buy, once on your site.

Don't choose keywords solely based on the search volume

As stated above, don't be swayed by big numbers. A keyword with a search volume of 20,000 per month will have a high level of competition and it may take your site a year or two to get to the first page of the listings (not even #1) , and even then you will only get a fraction of the 20,000 visiting your site. What if you pick a keyword that has only 1000 searches but you are able to rank #1 for it within a few months? Getting all or a big chunk of 1000 within a few short months is much better than getting little to none of the 20,000.

No matter how many products you have, don't start the initial stage of your optimization with more than 30-50 keywords

Selecting a reasonable number of keywords will help you better utilize your resources, and to build long term and sustainable success on short term achievements.

Choose a balance of low, mid and high competition keywords (based on your site's ranking potential*)

Though you should not ignore the high end keywords even if your site is brand new, the proportion of the hyper-competitive keywords should be smaller compared to the mid-range and low-end keywords. Remember, do not get distracted by large search numbers.

Optimizing Your Website

These instructions are meant to be an introduction into the world of SEO. They can also be used to make sure that the SEO company that you have hired is doing a thorough job.

Customized Titles

In 'Eliminating Problems' portion of this tutorial we spoke about the ability to independently customize each and every page title. Take advantage of this capability and customize the titles of your pages to accurately describe the content of your pages.

Customized description and keyword meta tags

Similar to the title tag, but less important (as far as SEO is concerned), the description and keyword meta tags should be customized to reflect the content of the page they represent.

Customized headings and sub headings for your pages

Headings (H1-H6) can and should be thought of as titles and subtitles (or headings and subheadings), and should be used exactly as they were intended. The most important topic of your page would have an H1 heading, followed by a subsection of that topic which should have an H2 heading (and so on). This structure assumes that you have subsections to your topic on a particular page; if you do not then of course you would simply use an H1 as the main heading and leave it at that. Just like the title, and meta tags, the headings should be descriptive.

Well written, user-centric content

When writing content, the most important thing is to make sure it is of high quality, unique, and useful in some way--it can be full of facts, ideas, entertaining prose or something that sets it apart from the other pages on the Internet that cover the same topic. If your content brings nothing new to the table, it won't be allowed at the table at all--the table being 'good rankings'.

Do not spend your time worrying about keyword density, and concentrate the quality. If you are writing about widgets, you cannot help but mention widgets in your text, just be mindful of the variety of keyword you are targeting and when appropriate use keyword variations to avoid overuse of a particular keyword.

Logical and helpful internal link structure (in-line links)

As with most (if not all) things in search engine optimization, logic is king. So when it comes to internal linking, logic should be your main guide. You should be able to justify In-line links in your content by the benefit they provide to the reader. Does a particular keyword mentioned in your content on page 'A' have a dedicated page (page 'B') on your site? Why not link that keyword to page 'B'? In some cases you may want (or need) to develop new content to facilitate this process.

Things To DO Things To Not DO
Make your titles and headings descriptive but simple. Stuff your titles with keywords, or repeat the same keyword multiple times.
Make sure your textual content is well researched, well written, and useful in some fashion. Write content that is stuffed with keywords, but offers little value to site visitors.
Create content that addresses a specific topic while using relevant keywords. Select a list of keywords and create "optimized" pages for each individual keyword, which consists of nothing more than rehashed paragraphs with mainly the targeted keyword as the only variation. You shouldn't have pages like "Blue Widgets Los Angeles", "Blue Widgets San Francisco", "Blue Widgets New York".
Include keywords in your file names. Stuff your file names with keywords, creating monstrosities such as "cheap-blue-widgets-in-los-angeles-blue-widgets.html"
Always work on improving your content and keeping it up-to-date. Constantly add new pages to the site which offer no useful information, nor are interesting nor entertaining, but are there only to serve the search engines and to show them how much optimized content you have.

Link Building

Before you embark on a link building campaign, ask yourself whether you have anything worth linking to, otherwise you'll be stuck doing the same thing millions of other website owners do, which is low quality linking campaigns (e.g., free directory submissions, blog and forum comments, etc). Every successful link building campaign starts with a website that has content worth linking to. If you don't have that, your time and money will be better spent on developing such content.

Assuming you have some wonderful, and unique content on your site, there are some basic linking strategies you can utilize to get you started on the right track.

Niche directory submissions

Manually researched niche directories which can usually be found on industry related sites. These types of directories can either be free or offer a paid option. In either case, you'll get a link from a relevant website. These types of links are not of the highest quality, but will do well in establishing a nice foundation for your website's link profile.

Link requests

vSending link requests to manually researched websites which offer complementary content, whose users could benefit from information available on your site.

Paid directory submissions

High quality paid directory submissions which offer a category suitable for your product or service. Examples of such directories include Yahoo! Directory, Business.com, and Best of the Web.

Creating linkable content

If you are an expert in your field, you can utilize your expertise to write helpful articles for other websites which might benefit from your work. In return for providing such websites with original content, you would request backlinks from bylines included from within those articles or blog posts. Keep in mind that you would not want to publish an article at more than one location, as the effect created by the duplicate content will be counterproductive, as search engines only assign value to the content they perceive to be the original version.

Links from organizations

Join industry organizations (such as local chambers of commerce) which include a link to their members' websites. This list represents an introduction of what is possible when it comes to link building.

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