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When you start a blog, there’s so much fun stuff to do like creating your content and making a brand for your business.  When you start talking about SEO fundamentals, people either get a slightly terrified look or their eyes glaze over.  And that’s cool, search engine optimisation isn’t the most exciting topic for everyone – but it is a crucial one.  You need to learn the basics of SEO, so you can get your blog or business website in front of eyes. 

What is SEO and how it works

Search engine optimisation is the discipline that focuses on growing visibility for your online presence organically – in other words, not from paid advertisements.  There are technical and creative elements to it and the aim is always get move up in the search rankings, those results you get when you search for something on a search engine such as Google.

There are a lot of different aspects of SEO and some of them are beyond what you need to know to get the hang of the basics.  The ones you do need to learn about are what I think of as the SEO fundamentals – the stuff you need to at least understand if you have a website of any kind.

The key to understanding modern SEO is that Google and co are a lot smarter than they were a decade ago.  When I first started content writing, keywords stuffing was still slightly around, and people were looking for a certain percentage of repeats of the keyword in a piece.  It sounded terrible every time.  Nowadays, keyword stuffing will get you dumped out the bottom of the search engine pile – because Google is smart enough to recognise this is a tactic and that real people don’t like the content it creates.

Analytics showing sources of traffic - SEO fundamentals

Black hat vs white hat

Another term you will run into when you start looking at SEO fundamental is black hat or white hat tactics.  If you have watched TV shows with devious hackers in them, you might have an idea of what these terms mean.  In SEO terms, it is the difference between tactics that search engines will accept versus those that can get you penalised or worse.

Examples of black hat strategies to avoid include:

  • Duplicating content
  • Using invisible text
  • Keyword stuffing
  • Cloaking or redirecting to another site or page
  • Using links to sites that are irrelevant to your content

The tactics and strategies talked about in this post and on this blog are white hat strategies.  They take the best practice advice from Google and other search engines and work to create quality websites within these guidelines.  Examples of these include:

  • Creating relevant content for the theme of the website
  • Well labelled images
  • Links that are relevant
  • Complete sentences with good grammar and spelling
  • Unique and relevant page and post titles

By using white hat tactics and strategies, you can grow your website presence correctly, legitimately and don’t have to worry about a big ban that takes your website down permanently.  That’s what black hat tactician risk.  Not for me, thanks.

On-page versus off-page

Another term to become familiar with is the idea of on-page SEO and off-page SEO.  What this means when it says ‘page’ really means any part of your website whether a page, a post or other type of content.  This is looking at the main boxes to tick on your website and relating to your website to get the search engines to positively recognise you and show you in search results.

On-page SEO is what you can largely control.  It includes some of the topics discussed below and are the things you can directly work on.  Off-page SEO is a little more complex because it often can’t be ‘worked on’ but needs to build over time.  Examples of off-page SEO considerations include:

  • Trust and authority – also known as domain authority, this builds over time as your website is offering high quality content and a great user experience
  • Domain age – you can’t make a website ‘age’ but the longer you have been around, the better
  • Identity – this is about having an identity for your blog and yourself that is credible, legitimate and trustworthy – connecting to things like social media can help with this as well
  • Bounce rate – this is a complex one but basically the more people visit your site and ‘bounce’ straight off somewhere else, the lower your website will rate because Google thinks it isn’t good quality. Interlinking between posts and website load time are important for this
  • Links – link building is a complex topic but basically, the more sites that organically link to yours, the better it can be. Don’t pay for links and aim for quality over quantity

Design and development (site architecture)

To look at some of the on-page SEO fundamentals that you can influence, I thought we should start at the top with the design and development of your website, also known as site architecture.  According to Technopedia:

Website architecture is used in creating a logical layout of a website in line with the user and/or business requirements. It defines the different components that will make up a website and the services each component or the website will provide in whole.

Some of the elements that fall under website architecture include the functional aspects of it, the visual appearance and the security of it (the new SSL certificate requirements are an example of this).  For the less technically minded, site architecture is about creating a website that is easy and logical to get around, works properly and is secure.

A well designed website is about more than just looking good

Organising your content

A great example of good site architecture is how you organise your categories, subcategories and posts.  Let’s say you have a food blog and you have recipes, ingredients, drinks, health matters and seasonal food as your categories.  Good site architecture would include subcategories including chicken recipes, fruit, smoothies, summer food and such.  Into these would go your posts.

You don’t need to add a post to both the subcategory and the category.  So if you have a subcategory on smoothies, then your post would go here.  But if you had a standalone post on green tea and no tea subcategory, it would just go into the category directly.

Organising your posts

How you organise the HTML of your post is also important – this is the technical stuff happening behind what you see.  This sounds complex, but it is things we most all do without things about it.  Examples include:

  • Header tags – H1 for the title, H2 for the main headings, H3 for the subheadings and so on
  • Meta description – that snippet of 150 characters that tells search engines what the post is about
  • ALT attributes on images – not for the Pinterest description! These tell search engines (and people who are blind or partially sighted) what the image is
Examples of header tags and links in action

Link structure

Another part of site architecture is the link structure you use to link together your content.  This is important to help people find more of your great content and is also a big part of user experience.  So going back to that smoothies post, you should link it to other smoothies posts but also to posts on strawberries (which are in the smoothies) and to why fruit is good for you (in the health section) because these are related topics.

Keyword research and content quality

Keywords are funny things – you need them for your website but they can be tricky little things to find.  Or at least, to find the right ones.  However doing some keyword research is an important part of doing your on-page SEO.  Keywords are the signposts that tell Google who to send to your page or post and for what purpose.  So the wrong keywords sends the wrong people, who bounce straight off and the whole things misfires.

The thing you need to do then is to create quality content that uses these keywords – in natural ways.  I use a few tools for keyword research and one is called LSI Graph.  It uses latent semantic indexing which is what Google also uses.  This is clever stuff where search engine bots can recognise words relating to your keyword.  For example, it would be able to tell me the kind of words that Google would expect for an article on SEO fundamentals including:

  • SEO basics
  • SEO for beginners
  • On page SEO
  • What is SEO and how it works
  • How to do search engine optimisation

By including these naturally in the content where suitable, keywords are reinforced.  This is the system that has replaced keyword stuffing and is a million times better for the reader (and the writer!)

Freshness of content is also important.  This doesn’t mean posting a new blog post every day but does mean you should regularly update content, add new content and make sure it all remains relevant and up to date.  And ensure if it is providing answers that these are still the right ones.

User experience

At the heart of what Google and co do is the urge to create a great user experience.  That’s why good website design and architecture is important – it creates the right experience for the user.  User experience can be a little vague because we all like different things but there are some general metrics that are used to help search engines rate content:

  • Engagement metrics – bounce rate, how long users stay on the page, if they go elsewhere
  • Machine learning – those clever bots that understand what our content is about and how easy the website is to use
  • Linking patterns – solid interlinking and quality links from other sites

SEO tools (HTML, Sitemaps)

There are a few technical things that you need to learn about as part of the mystery of what is SEO and how it works.  Some of these can be set up and largely forgotten but it is important that you are at least aware of what you need to do with them.

  • Sitemaps – like it sounds, these tell search engines all about your site and makes sure they are aware of all of it. If you have a plugin like Yoast, it will handle these for you.
  • XML – extensible mark-up language is a recommended format for sitemaps and should be the standard used on your site (which if you use something like WordPress will be the case)
  • txt – this is a file that tells search engine bots what content to look at and what to ignore when it comes to indexing your website
  • No follow links – these are links such as to companies who have paid for a sponsored post that are no follow, so they don’t build up the link profile of the sites (you can’t pay for links to make your site increase in the rankings, well you can but it is a black hat tactic)
Looking at a website from the coding view is pretty scary but you can have good SEO without resorting to this

Site speed

A lot has been said about site speed of late and with good reason – people tend to bounce away if a site takes more than 3-5 seconds to load.  So Google now rate your site on how quick it is.  There are different ways to tackle this but at the heart are a few things – quality of hosting, how many big images you have on your site and how well optimised it is. 

I use Siteground for my hosting and theirs is a good system with 100% uptime in the last year and excellent responsiveness.  I know as the blogs grow I might need more dedicated hosting, but it is great for my current needs.

You can get plugins to help with the others.  For example, I use WP Rocket (paid plugin) to handle all the technical stuff to speed up the site and WP Optimize (free) to do a weekly clean-up.  I’m also sing Imagify (paid) to shrink images on the blogs and Optimizilla to shrink them before I post them.

Ongoing job

There’s no doubt that some elements of the SEO fundamentals are an ongoing basics.  You learn SEO for beginners and instantly have a job list of regular tasks to carry out like making sure the site is optimised and quick.  Others become habits and you go through your SEO basics before you post – headers, meta description, compressed images.  Whatever you do, don’t ignore SEO because it isn’t going to go away!

Have you started with SEO optimisation of your site?  What’s your biggest hurdle so far?