Your 2020 SEO for Dummies Quick Guide
Take it from us – we were just listed as one of the Best SEO Experts in Atlanta in 2020.
Ranking a website or a blog doesn’t happen overnight, but why? What is it about Google’s algorithm that causes some pages to rank higher than others? And what’s a reasonable amount of time to expect your page to rank? In this SEO for Dummies quick guide, we’ll answer these questions and more as we pull back the curtain and de-mystify SEO.
You’ll be guided by Marketwake’s SEO Lead, Ian Hatfield. His dedication to studying search trends and experience in SEO marketing communities makes him an authoritative voice on understanding your SEO strategy for 2020.
We say “SEO for dummies” in jest – the reality is that Google’s algorithm understands your website better than you (or me for that matter). It’s able to consider and weigh 100’s of factors like site speed, internal/external links, helpful videos, etc. So, which of these factors should you be paying attention to? Let’s dive in!
3 SEO for Dummies Concepts
1. What is Domain Authority?
Domain authority for websites can be likened to influence on social media – the stronger a website’s particular authority is on a subject, the higher and easier it will rank in search engines.
For example, if two websites create nearly identical content (such as a recipe or blog) for the topic “Roast Chicken”, the Food Network will easily outrank a personal blog like Rita’s Recipes. Why? Because the Food Network is a food-media empire with lots of influence, expertise on all things delicious, and tons of content. As for Rita? We don’t really know her. Who would you trust?
This isn’t to say that Rita doesn’t have a chance to rank on the first page of Google, it just means that she’ll need to build her domain authority over time which is done by writing quality content. When employing an SEO for dummies strategy, keep this in mind.
If you consistently push out quality content, other publications pick it up and point back to you. This is what’s known as a backlink.
Ian’s Insight #1:
Make sure you always write quality content.
2. Backlinks and Internal Links
What are backlinks and how do they help inform your SEO for dummies strategy?
When Website A creates content and then provides a link to Website B, that’s a backlink. The backlink lives on Website A’s page, but tells search engines that Website B is important and authoritative. It’s typically used to show proof when a claim is made (like a bibliography in a research paper) or provide another resource that may go more in depth on a topic than the original post.
Backlinks are considered by search engines to be a vote of confidence and reliability in the content that you’re producing. The more backlinks you have from various websites, the higher you will rank in search. In fact, Google considers backlinks as one of the top 3 most important factors in SEO.
Ian’s Insight #2:
Internal links help Google understand the structure of your website.
So what’s an internal link?
An internal link is when Website A links to more content on Website A and is another great SEO for dummies quick hack.
Let’s say that Website A is an expert on window cleaning and offers products that help you clean windows quicker and easier. If Website A has a blog on the topic “5 Best Towels for Cleaning Windows”, they should provide an internal link to one of their product pages so that potential customers are offered a solution.
Aside from plugging sales opportunities, there are 2 benefits to doing this:
- Internal links help Google understand the structure of your website
- It has the potential to increase Time On Page, a metric that Google uses to weigh the quality of your content
When a user spends time clicking links and reading multiple different pieces of content that you post, that’s an indicator for Google that you have authority, provide solutions, and are matching the search intent of the user.
3. Search Intent
If there’s one thing that you take away from this SEO for dummies guide, it’s this: matching the intent of a user’s search with the right results is the one of the quickest ways to see a boost in your SEO strategy. Search intent is connecting the dots between what people are searching for and what you want to rank for.
“Don’t focus too much on stuffing your keyword as many times as you can on a page. Instead, focus on satisfying the intent of the search.” – Ian Hatfield
The structure of the results page needs to fit the content we’re searching for, which includes both the underlying intent of a keyword and the medium of your content.
Underlying intent is how content is matched to keywords. If a user searches the keyword “free range chicken”, the top results are informational and include articles answering the questions “what is free range chicken?” and “how to raise free range chicken.” Although the words “what is” and “how to raise” were not explicitly searched for, they match the underlying intent of the user’s search.
Ian’s Insight #3:
Choose the right medium – if the top results for a keyword are videos, then make a video.
The medium of your content also plays a heavy role in matching a user’s search intent. If someone searches “how to tie a bowline knot”, the top results are videos followed by blogs with step-by-step instructions with plenty of visuals. That’s because visuals are extremely helpful, moreso in this case than simple text or audio, and ultimately match the user’s search with the best possible content. As a result, audio tutorials and blogs without visuals will never outrank videos for this particular search, no matter how perfectly they answer the question.
4. Time to Rank
So, what’s an appropriate amount of time to rank?
Seeing this answer in an SEO for dummies guide might drive you bonkers, but it’s the reality. We know you want concrete answers but complex questions call for creative solutions and agile strategies.
If your content has been live for 3 – 4 months, you may already be beginning to rank. However, if you’re competitive for a specific keyword and you’ve written net new content, then allow 1 – 6 months to reach the first page. If you find your content is ranking anywhere from the 2nd to the 5th page of Google, then you’ll want to republish your content every 4 – 6 months.
Ian’s Insight #1:
Republishing content is a key way to improve your SEO.
Republishing content involves adding more quality content and updating any statistics you may have used. Additionally, if your content is specific to a year (Best XXX of 2020) and the calendar year has changed, you’ll want to update that as well.
If you’re below the 5th page of results, then republishing won’t have much of an effect. You should rethink your strategy and might consider targeting a different keyword that’s easier to rank for.
For more information on republishing content, check out our Marketing Director’s guide, Republishing Content 101: The Definitive “How To” Guide.
Differences in SEO Strategies
This is an important SEO for dummies subject to flesh out because depending on where you are in the process will inform what strategies you’ll want to employ. These strategies aren’t necessarily either/or – you can employ many of them at the same time.
One way to understand these concepts is by employing them in conjunction with your overarching time-bound goals – an Organic SEO strategy is best when shooting for long-term results while a Paid SEO strategy will yield short-term results.
So what’s the difference between the two? And how do they apply to your overall SEO for dummies strategy?
Paid search is a way to get your content in front of searcher’s eyes immediately. You can jump to the front of the line as long as you’re willing to shell out money for the privilege to do so. This is a great short-term strategy, especially when you’re just starting out with net new content (more on that below) or need a boost when refreshing and republishing older content, because it increases your exposure immediately and inexpensively (if done right).
The upside to paid search is that it’s employed via a pay-per-click (PPC) model, meaning that you won’t pay for the advertisement until someone actually clicks on it. The downside is that they need to be managed closely to avoid inflated costs and that they actually return the results you want.
Organic search is how users find your website and content naturally with keywords (a.k.a. by looking up something on a search engine). Obviously, it takes time to improve your rank and climb to the first page of results, which is why it’s considered a long-term strategy. You might be inclined to skip this for more immediate results, but consider this: 70 – 80% of users ignored paid ads in favor of organic results.
It’s also important to understand that these two SEO for dummies strategies are not mutually exclusive!
Ideally, you’ll want to do both. We suggest setting up your organic search strategy first by following our “How to Rank Quicker” steps. Once you’re set up with that, then you can pivot to a paid search strategy that will give you a quick boost – you can do this for sprints of a few weeks at a time or on a month by month basis..
Eventually, as you begin to rank higher, you can lean more on your organic search strategy and results. But if your paid search strategy is also successful alongside it, then keep it going!
When using an organic search strategy, you should overlay a keyword strategy to help your ranking. Depending on where you are in your SEO for dummies timeline will determine which strategy you use.
If you’re just starting out with your digital marketing strategy and content creation, you’ll go with a net new keyword strategy. If you already have a lot of content (20+ blogs, webpages, etc.), then you’ll want to reposition yourself since your content is already out there but not ranking.
When new content goes live, you need to give it time to “saturate” on Google. So what does that process look like?
First, let’s quickly define some terms that you may have heard before: Crawl and Index.
- Crawling is when Google visits your website to track your webpages. Think of it like exploring an open-house when you’re in the market for a new home. You go inside every single room and open every single door to see where they lead.
Just as this process gives you a better understanding of the house you might buy, crawling gives Google a better understanding of your website and where every link leads (both internal and external).
- Indexing is the next step after your website has been crawled – Google will place your web pages into its search results (or which pages are omitted via a NO-index meta tag) and determine where each page gets ranked depending on a number of factors.
This can be likened to describing the house you explored to friends and family. You would highlight major rooms (web pages) such as it being a 4 bedroom, 3 bath house with a laundry room, mud room, and media room (indexing). You would also probably omit certain information (NO-index) regarded as unimportant or extraneous, such as how many individual cabinets and drawers there are (you could technically argue that a cabinet is a “small room”, but that wouldn’t be useful in describing the house).
You might be wondering where this all fits into your SEO for dummies strategy.
Well, indexing and crawling are the first two steps you should take after your content has gone live. You’ll want to submit a sitemap in Google Search Console and tell it exactly what to crawl and index (and what not to). Your website’s homepage, products and services pages, and blogs are examples of web pages that you want crawled and indexed.
When you’ve created new content, such as writing a new blog, you can also submit that URL to be crawled. Normally, Google will crawl your website once every 1 – 2 weeks but by manually telling it to do so through Search Console it will move it up in the priority line.
So how does this differ when you already have a bunch of content and you need to improve your SEO?
In that case, you’ll want to leverage a repositioning strategy.
This strategy includes doing a content audit to make sure you aren’t using any duplicate keywords, analyzing the performance of your current keywords, potentially targeting new keywords, updating title tags and meta descriptions, and more. For more details on what to look for and how you can take these steps, check out How Republishing Content Can Optimize Your Marketing Strategy.
How to Rank Quicker
You understand the concepts. You’ve learned the strategies. Now how do you put it all together to rank quicker? Below, Ian outlines the 6 things you need to do to rank quicker and fully apply this SEO for dummies guide. With each of these 6 steps, you’ll also find a recommended tool or guide that will help you easily implement each action for the most success.
1. Do Keyword Research
Research is always going to be a crucial first step before deploying any type of SEO for dummies strategy. Why is keyword research so important?
Keyword research helps give your content strategy (and site mapping) a direction to move and allows you to leverage data to make the most of your efforts. It’s highly likely that the keyword you had in mind is extremely difficult to rank for. Through research, you’ll be able to find keywords that have a relatively high search volume, a low difficulty to rank, and align with what you’re offering.
So what’s considered high search volume?
It depends on how niche the product/service is that you’re offering and how the keyword relates. In most cases you’ll want to choose a keyword with a monthly search volume greater than 1,000, but 20 searches a month might be enough if the keyword matches exactly what you’re offering.
In that case, you’re probably offering something very niche and the keyword is most likely a long-tail keyword (more on that in the next step). If the difficulty to rank for that keyword is low, then go after it! You might only get 3 – 5 clicks per month, but they could be really high quality leads that end up converting (for expensive products).
Also, if you’re a local business that relies heavily on traffic from a certain area, include local keywords on your about page and your contact page. These can include city, state, and even regional level (i.e. New England).
You can kickstart your SEO for dummies strategy using a free keyword research tool, or you can use paid options that deliver deeper insights and year-round results.
2. Follow Keyword Best Practices
Using keywords is a little like dating, you must be tactful and tasteful. If you try to use your keyword every other sentence, you’ll appear spammy; use it too little and you’ll get drowned out by competition. To make the most of your SEO for dummies keyword strategy, make sure that you’re following these best practices:
- Use only 1 keyword per piece of content, and use it once every 150 – 200 words of content. Be careful not to overuse your keyword.
- You may target multiple keywords on a page via secondary keywords that speak to a subtopic, but first make sure that your core keyword is used tactically and organically.
- Once you’ve used a keyword on a page, retire it. Never, ever produce another piece of content with the same keyword or you’ll risk keyword cannibalization (i.e. you’ll be competing against yourself).
- Cast a wide net by using similar but different keywords across your content. For example, if you’re targeting the keyword “home workout routine”, you might also target “home fitness routine.” Same concept, different keyword.
- Use long-tail keywords to attract the most qualified and relevant users to your page. If you have a blog on “home fitness routine”, you might also consider targeting “home fitness routine for men over 40” in another piece of content if that’s your target audience (or one of a few target audiences). That way, the information you’re providing matches the user’s search intent even better.
Are you already following these best practices but not seeing results? Do you have a lot of content (more than 20 webpages) that needs organization? Then your SEO would probably benefit from a republishing strategy. See how you can do a content audit and weed out underperforming pages that hurt your rankings.
3. Use Title Tags and Meta Descriptions
These phrases get tossed around pretty often, but few define them the way our SEO for dummies guide does. Let’s quickly break them down:
A title tag is the blue title text that appears in search engine results (this can, and probably should, differ from the H1 on your webpage) – it’s designed to be a short but accurate description of the content on a webpage.
A meta description is the grey text below the title tag on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) – it’s like an elevator pitch for your website and is intended to entice users to click on your link (think of it as free advertising!).
So, how should you make use of these two features?
First, make sure that the keyword you’ve chosen for the webpage is included in the title tag. This will give your page a boost in SERP ranking and help align with a user’s search intent. Then, double check that your title tag is less than 60 characters, otherwise you risk it being cut off. Also, this is not a hard and fast rule since it’s based upon a sizing standard of 600 pixels. Since M’s and W’s are wider than letters like “i” or “t”, they will take up more space meaning that your title tag will need to be much less than 60 characters to avoid being cut off.
Your SEO for dummies strategy should then write a meta description by playing off the title tag. Use this opportunity to write enticing ad copy that increases user click-through rates, while continuing to match the user’s search intent as closely as possible. This is best achieved by including a commonly searched keyword phrase or by leveraging a long-tail keyword. Also, make sure that your meta description is less than 160 characters for best results.
Writing a great meta description will not only help your search ranking, it’ll help instill trust in users before they even click on your webpage – especially when your link is shared on social media! Also, make sure that you’re varying the copy of your meta descriptions. Self-plagiarism (yes it’s a thing) is a quick way to hurt your rankings.
If you need help visualizing and testing your title tags and meta descriptions to ensure they fit these SEO for dummies guidelines, you can use this free Google Search Engine Results Page (SERP) Simulator.
4. Speed Things Up
Did you know that page speed is a major factor in your SEO ranking? Page speed is how fast your website and content pages load – the faster your pages load for users, the better for both of you!
The reason page speed is so important to search engines is because it makes for a seamless user experience as a visitor clicks from page to page. So how can you tell if your page is fast enough? This free website speed checker tool will analyze your site speed and make recommendations on how to improve. With just a few minor tweaks you can make your website blazing fast!
So just how fast is fast enough?
If your website is able to load in less than 3 seconds, you’re good to go! Anything slower than that will require some adjustments.
5. Optimize the User Experience
User Experience (UX) and designing for conversion is an entire marketing discipline that deserves its own time and space for understanding, but it’s certainly worth a quick mention in this SEO for dummies guide.
Because of the continued rise of smartphone usage, it has become important now more than ever to design your website with a “mobile first” mindset. In fact, Google explicitly states on their developer site that you should be designing via mobile-first indexing. This means that your SEO ranking will be directly impacted by just how easy a user is able to tap buttons, scroll your website, and load new pages.
So how does this differ from designing a desktop version of your website? Here’s a few quick tips to keep in mind:
- Assume Everyone Has Fat Fingers
Make sure your buttons are large enough to easily tap, keep them out of the path of a normal finger scroll, and do your best to leave ample space between buttons to minimize accidental clicks.
- Avoid Using Pop-Ups
Although great for creating marketing opportunities on desktop (such as a sale), pop-ups are frustrating when scrolling on a smartphone. They can be hard to exit out of and could cause your users to bounce.
- Stick with HTML5
Trying to make your site stand out from the rest? Use HTML5 instead of Flash. SEO for dummies is all about staying on top of current trends. Are you already using Flash? You’ll want to expedite the change as Adobe will end Flash in 2021 and Google Chrome will stop supporting it.
Are you looking for a comprehensive UX strategy that employs more than just “best practices” and actually leads to conversion? Check out Ian’s preferred UX strategy!
6. Leverage Google Search Console
What exactly is Google Search Console and how does it play into our SEO for dummies guide? Well, it’s kind of like having a very intelligent robot as your personal SEO consultant.
Even after you’ve understood and applied every concept, implemented every strategy, and used every tool, you need to monitor your performance! You can’t afford to “Set It and Forget It” – we just don’t live in that kind of world. Plus, how will you even know if your efforts are working?
Google Search Console is an extremely powerful tool that’s able to specifically analyze your search performance and offer suggestions on how to improve. Additionally, it measures and studies key aspects of SEO such as your click-through rates, backlinks from external websites, and any errors in crawling or your HTML.
Make sure you use a detailed guide to get Google Search Console up and running as smoothly as possible (and avoid any potential set-up errors). This guide is Ian’s Preferred Guide.