This comprehensive SEO guide will help you get started with SEO. It has been written specifically for beginners and will teach you in easy language what SEO is and how it works in 2023.
The guide was prepared by an SEO expert with over 20 years of experience ranking websites on top of Google and teaching about SEO.
The Beginners Guide to SEO
What is Search Engine Optimization?
Let’s get started with a simple definition of SEO. Search Engine Optimization is the process of optimizing a website to rank higher in Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).
When you perform a search on Google or Bing, you get a list of related ads at the top of the page and then the organic results.
Organic results are not limited to text results, but they may include rich snippets, images, videos, related questions, and other elements intended to help the user find the best possible answer or solution to their query.
With SEO, you can optimize your website and content to get maximum visibility in search engines.
SEO will tell you how to configure your website so that search engines can understand your content and rank it as high as possible for the search terms that matter to your business.
Why is SEO Important?
SEO is so important because most users (~70%) will click a result that appears closest to the top of the page and will not scroll down for further options.
This means you won’t get enough traffic if your website does not appear in one of the 5 positions of the results or one of the search results features (rich snippets, featured snippets, etc.).
In simple words, to get serious traffic from Google and other search engines, your website needs to consistently appear at the top of the organic results for related keywords.
Besides the traffic gains, other benefits of SEO include the following:
Brand awareness – brands appearing on top of the results are more trusted by users than brands that don’t have a presence in the search results.
Usability – when you follow good SEO practices, you’ll create a website that offers users a great experience, with additional benefits like increased conversions.
Sociability – websites appearing on top of Google are more likely to be shared in social networks and gain extra traction and traffic.
How Does SEO Work?
To understand how SEO works, you must first know how search engines work.
In a nutshell, search engines crawl the web to find and index all available public pages. Then they try to organize this information so that it can be accessed by the ranking algorithms during the ranking process.
When a user types in a search query, the search engine ranking algorithm decides which websites to show in the results’ top positions based on hundreds of parameters.
Search engines aim to satisfy the user intent so that users can come and perform more queries.
How Search Engines Rank Websites
When ranking websites, search engines look for specific elements, the most important are:
Content Relevance: Search engines look for webpages relevant to the user’s search query.
If the user asks for a list of items, in the results, they will show websites containing lists and answer the user’s question.
If the user asks how to do a specific task, in the results, they will show websites that contain how-to articles.
E-E-A-T (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness): Search engines look for authoritative websites in their respective fields. In particular:
Experience – This refers to the experience of the content creator with a particular topic. For example, suppose you’re writing product reviews. In that case, you should prove to Google that you have real experience using the product and not provide the same content available on the manufacturer’s website or elsewhere.
Expertise – refers to the knowledge and expertise of the content creator, publisher, and website as a whole. This could include factors such as the author’s qualifications, the website’s track record of producing high-quality content, and the overall depth and breadth of the content.
Authority – refers to the website’s reputation within the industry and among users. This could include factors such as the number and quality of backlinks pointing to the website. A website to be considered by search engines as authoritative about a topic needs to have backlinks from other related websites on the web.
Trustworthiness – refers to the overall trustworthiness of the content and the website as a whole. This could include factors such as the accuracy and completeness of the information presented, website security, as well as the website’s privacy policies, and overall transparency.
For more information about EEAT, read the Google Search Rater Guidelines document.
User experience and Usability: Search engines rank websites that offer a great user experience, such as fast loading times, easy navigation, and mobile responsiveness.
If your website is slow, insecure, and with a bad structure, it has fewer chances of appearing in the search results.
Content quality: Search engines look for websites with high-quality, original content that is informative and useful to users. If your content is a copy of what is already available on the Internet or written exclusively by AI tools, it won’t rank.
Every piece of content you publish on your website has to be unique and offer real value to the user.
Transparency: Search engines want to show real legitimate brands in their search results. This means you must make every possible effort to show users that your website is legitimate and not spam.
- An informative about us page with details on who you are and what you do.
- Details about the experience and expertise of the authors with dedicated author pages.
- Contact information.
- Presence in social media networks.
- User reviews, awards, or other social proof elements.
Help search engines distinguish good websites from spammy websites.
What’s the Best Way to Learn SEO?
From what you have learned so far about SEO, one thing is certain. There is a learning curve to go through for beginners. There are many concepts to master, which require a lot of practice.
When I started with SEO (20+ years ago), there were limited online learning resources, so we had to learn everything by trial and error. Fortunately, this is not the case today.
The best way to approach learning SEO today is the following:
1. Start with a free SEO Course – This will allow you to see if SEO is the right career for you without paying anything. You will also learn the basics.
2. Get an SEO Certification – Going through the process of getting an SEO Certification will help you learn everything there is to know about SEO and put your knowledge to the test. You’ll also get a certification that can prove useful when applying to work as an SEO.
Use the resources below to get a list of great sources you can use to start your SEO training.
How to Get Started with SEO
Now that you have a good idea of what search engines look for when ranking websites, let’s see how to use SEO techniques to help them rank your website in the top positions of the search results.
Step 1: Keyword Research
The first step is to perform thorough keyword research to find which keywords (words or phrases) users type in search engines that are relevant to what your business or website is offering.
You must do this from day one to provide users with the right content to satisfy their intent. Here is an overview of how the keyword research process works.
1. Start with a broad topic or idea: To begin, identify a broad topic or idea related to your business, website, or blog. For example, if your website is about fitness, your broad topic might be “exercise”, “weight loss,” or “health and fitness”.
2. Find relevant keywords: Use tools like Google’s autocomplete feature, related searches, people also ask, and your own knowledge to brainstorm potential keywords related to your broad topic. Make a list of all the potential keywords that come to mind.
3. Conduct keyword analysis: Use a keyword research tool like Google Keyword Planner, Ahrefs, or SEMrush to see how many people are searching for each keyword, how competitive it is, and what other related keywords people are searching for. This will help you to narrow down your list of potential keywords.
4. Analyze search intent: Analyze the search intent behind each keyword. This will help you understand why people search for that keyword and what content they want. For example, if someone searches for “how to lose weight”, their intent might be to find tips and advice on weight loss.
5. Research your competitors: Using a keyword research tool, you can analyze the keywords used by your competitors and get more ideas for keywords you can use on your website.
6. Choose your target keywords: Based on the search volume, competition, and search intent, choose a set of target keywords that you want to rank for. These should be keywords that are relevant to your business, have high search volume, and are not too competitive.
7. Be realistic: Unfortunately, due to the competitiveness of the Internet, it’s impossible to rank for all the keywords you want. If you’re starting now, you’ll have to compete with big websites that have gained Google’s trust, making it very difficult to rank for high-volume keywords.
What you should do instead is to set realistic goals f from the beginning and go after keywords that you can actually rank for. These are known as long-tail keywords, and with the right keyword strategy, you can gain your share of the precious organic traffic.
Keyword research is not a once-off process. You must repeat it regularly to find trending topics and uncover new keyword opportunities.
The following guides will help you learn more about SEO Keyword research.
Step 2: Writing SEO-Friendy Content
Once you have a list of keywords you can potentially rank for, the next step is to create optimized content around those keywords.
Optimized content means providing real value to the users and satisfying their intent while giving the right signals to search engines to help them understand the context of the content.
This process is also known as On-Page SEO.
Each piece of content (blog post, page, etc.) you create should target a single keyword from the list of keywords identified in step 1.
This is extremely important these days because of the increased competition on all topics and keywords. If you try to rank a page for multiple keywords, you’ll end up ranking for nothing.
When writing your content, besides trying to showcase your experience and expertise about the topic, you should also use the following techniques to help search engine crawlers understand your content.
Add your target keyword in the page’s title tag, preferably at the beginning.
This will give crawlers a strong signal about the page content.
Be creative when crafting your titles, and make them interesting for users but don’t forget about search engines. Here are a couple of examples of great page titles.
Read the guide below to learn more how to create great SEO titles that are both search engine and user-friendly.
Shorten and optimize the page URL.
Although this is no longer a strong signal, short URLs containing your target keyword (or related keywords) is a good SEO practice.
For example, the title of this article is “The Easy SEO Guide For Beginners,” and the URL is /seo-guide/.
The shortest version tells you exactly what the article is about, is easier to remember, and includes the main target keyword.
Read the guide below for some unique tips on creating SEO-Friendly URLs.
Optimize your H1 Tags and other page headings.
A well-structured page should have one H1 Tag on top of the page and then several H2 or H3 tags for the page headings.
The value of the H1 tag can be the same as the page title or slightly different (see the example above).
The value of the sub-headings should ideally include related keywords and be informative enough to help users while scrolling through the content.
Read the guides below to learn how to optimize your H1 tag and the differences between page titles.
Optimize the image’s ALT text.
A good piece of content can become even better with the use of high-quality images.
When using images, make sure that you optimize their size so that they won’t slow down the website (squoosh is a great free tool you can use) and that you provide a meaningful value to the ALT tag.
Read the guide below for actionable tips to write ALT text for your images.
Optimize the content of the page.
If you are a beginner to SEO, the above tips are enough to start writing content that search engines can understand.
To level up your content creation process and SEO, you should also pay attention to the body of your content. Enriching the content with related, long-tail, and semantically related keywords will make the text even better for search engines and users.
You should be careful not to cross the line and start doing keyword stuffing that will eventually decrease the quality of your content and produce the opposite results.
The two guides below will help you master this process by avoiding common mistakes made by inexperienced SEOs.
Step 3: Technical SEO Basics
The next step in the SEO process is to deal with some technical issues related to indexing errors, site speed, mobile responsiveness, site architecture, XML sitemaps, canonical URLs, and more.
This stage is known as Technical SEO.
Fix Indexing Errors
To start with technical SEO, you should register your website with Google Search Console. Google Search Console is a free Google tool that will help you find and fix any technical SEO errors.
Login to Google Search Console and go to PAGES under INDEXING.
Look for the section “Why pages aren’t indexed”. This gives you a list of all pages of your website that are not in Google’s index.
If a page is not indexed, it won’t rank in Google for any queries.
Click on the errors to see which pages are affected and the INSPECT URL button to find out the exact reason why a page is not indexed.
While it’s normal for Google not to index all your pages, you should page special attention to Not Found (404) and Soft 404 errors as these may affect the user experience.
For more details on troubleshooting each error, click the link below.
Core Web Vitals, Mobile Usability, and HTTPS
Next, click on PAGE EXPERIENCE from the EXPERIENCE menu and look at the page experience signals for both desktop and mobile.
Page Experience Signals are a set of factors that Google has identified that contribute to a positive user experience.
The Page Experience Signals include:
Core Web Vitals: these are a set of specific metrics that determine the quality of user experience on a website. It mainly concerns page speed and user interaction with a website.
Mobile-Usability: This refers to how well a web page is optimized for mobile devices. A mobile-friendly page can be easily navigated and viewed on a mobile device without zooming in or out.
HTTPS: this refers to whether a web page uses a secure connection. Pages that use HTTPS encryption provide a more secure browsing experience for users.
If there are any issues, you can use the Core Web Vitals, and Mobile Usability reports to see which pages are affected and recommended actions.
To learn more, read the following handy guide from Google.
XML sitemaps help search engines discover all website pages you want to appear in their index. Think of an XML sitemap as a list of all the pages/posts on your site that you want search engines to know about.
Creating and submitting a sitemap to search engines is a straightforward process that you need to do only once. Depending on your CMS, the sitemaps are automatically updated when new pages are added or changed.
Read the step-by-step guide below to learn how to create an XML sitemap, what to include in your sitemap, and how to submit it to Google.
Step 4: Links (Internal, External, Backlinks)
When optimizing your website for SEO, an element that plays a huge role in rankings is links. In general, we can have three types of links:
Internal links: An internal link points to a page within your website. For example, a link on your homepage points to an article on your blog.
External links: links on your website that point to other domains. For example, a link in one of your blog posts points to a page on another website.
Backlinks: these are links from other websites that point to your website.
Let’s see why these links are important for SEO.
Internal links serve three main purposes. They help search engine crawlers discover more pages of a website. They help algorithms identify the most important pages of a website and help users navigate a website better.
I strongly recommend you read my previous guide on internal links to understand how to create your internal linking strategy.
External links help users learn more about a topic and make your content more relevant to your target keywords.
Backlinks are the most important type of links and act as “votes of trust” used by search engines during the ranking process. A website with high-quality backlinks from other websites has more chance of ranking higher in the search results.
The process of getting backlinks to your website is called link building, and it’s one of the most complicated processes of SEO.
To get a good idea of how to set up a link-building strategy, read my previous guide on how link-building works.
Step 5: Structured Data
Another element that is very important these days for ranking websites on top of search engine results is structured data.
In simple terms, structured data is a way to describe your content to search engines in a language they can understand.
You can add small pieces of code within your HTML code that gives crawlers extra information on your content.
A good example is recipes that appear as rich snippets in Google search results.
To help search engines identify the elements used in a featured snippet, like the featured image, name of the recipe, the number of reviews, and time to complete, you need to provide a script that looks like this:
This technical task may require playing with small pieces of code. If you’re using WordPress, there are plugins that automate this process for you. For other CMS, you can check their documentation or get the help of a developer to do this for you.
Read the following guides to learn more about how structured data works and how to implement it on your website.
The five steps outlined above are more than enough to help you get started with SEO, but that’s not the end of the story. There are many more elements that you need to configure to increase your chances of rankings as high as possible.
To help you go through all the steps without missing any important SEO settings, you can view (and download) our SEO checklist.
Starting an SEO Career
To start a successful career in SEO, besides having excellent technical SEO skills, you also need to build other skills that will help you become more efficient in your job.
A good SEO expert has the following skillset:
- Excellent copywriting skills
- Basic development skills
- Analytics skills
- Communication skills
- Presentation skills
In addition to skills, you also need hands-on experience with SEO projects. Knowing the theory is great, but what differentiates good SEO specialists from great SEO specialists is experience.
Experience in the SEO industry doesn’t necessarily have to do with how many years you’ve worked but with experience in SEO projects.
One of the mistakes beginners make is not building their practical experience but expecting to get high salaries on theory alone.
If you want to apply for a high-paying SEO job or work as a freelancer and make money from client work, you must first prove to yourself and others that you know SEO. And the best way to do this is to start a website
e and rank it at the top of Google.
SEO Tools and Software
A good SEO professional must learn to use various SEO tools to perform the tasks needed to run SEO campaigns successfully. To start with, you should become familiar with the free tools provided by Google and Bing like:
- Google Search Console
- Bing Webmaster Tools
- Google Analytics
- Google Looker Studio
Then, for automating tasks and deeper analysis of SEO data, you need to use one of the paid tools available in the market, like Ahrefs, SEMRush, SERanking, SiteChecker Pro, and more.
We’ve reviewed the most important tools in the guides below:
Getting started with SEO is like climbing a big mountain. It may seem difficult initially, but as you become more experienced and knowledgeable, everything becomes easier. Don’t try to do everything at once but follow a step-by-step approach. Work on your website consistently by avoiding shortcuts and eventually, you will start seeing the merits of your work.
Aziz Malek says
I really appreciate the time and effort you put into creating this SEO guide for beginners. I’ve been struggling to understand SEO and how it works, but your guide has helped to clarify a lot of the confusion I had. The step-by-step instructions make it easy to follow along and implement these strategies on my own website. I’m excited to see the results of my efforts and improve my website’s visibility in search engine results. Thank you again for this valuable resource!