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SEO Basics: My beginners guide to optimizing your content for Google in 2020

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  1. Get the basics right
  2. Answer what people are asking
  3. Know your competition
  4. Take advantage of Local SEO
  5. Leverage structured data
  6. Make your website super fast

Introduction

Search Engine Optimization (SEO), has been an interest of mine ever since I started designing websites.

Having the ability to control your page rank on Google is by no means an easy process, however, the results can be very rewarding.

But before I explain exactly how you can have control over your page rank using SEO best practices, it’s important to define what SEO actually is…

“Search Engine Optimization (SEO), is the practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search engine results.”

Moz.com

In my first two years of practicing SEO, I thought I understood everything I needed to know.

I had achieved good results on client websites by applying “once-off” SEO basics including adding relevant keywords and adding alt tags to images etc.

However, It wasn’t until I read The Art of SEO, (also known as “the SEO bible”), that my perspective changed.

I began to think of SEO as less of a once-off task one applied during the development of a website, and more of long term strategy that involves planning, creating, and optimizing high-value content over long periods i.e. 6-12 months.

Screenshot fo Google Analytics Dashboard
The outcome of good SEO is a steady flow of organic web traffic

You might be wondering how one actually does SEO, and what one has to do to be good at it?

Well, I can tell you from experience that a lot of it comes down to creating high-value content for your audience.

This type of content always ranks well on Google.

In today’s competitive landscape, the days of simply re-writing your competitor’s posts, then scattering a few unique keywords across your article, well sorry guys, this approach will not do well in 2020.

Google has been investing heavily in improving its algorithm to understand user intent, identify duplicate content and improve the overall user experience for its users.

Therefore if your game plan is to trick the search engines in order to rank better, you’ll lose!

Being good at SEO also involves having the time, patience and passion to create high-quality content on an ongoing basis.

You will also need to adopt simple best practices, as well as stay up to date with search engine news and updates.

The rest is just practice.

Further reading

Check out the following credible SEO sources which have helped me stay sharp and up to date on seo best practices, tips, and tricks:

SEO is alive and well

You may have read some of the articles online over the years claiming “SEO is dead”, and that social media is the new driver of web traffic.

Well, I can confirm that this is simply not the case.

While social media does play an important role in promoting your content, it does not mean you can simply ignore SEO and expect to do well on Google, or any other search engine for that matter.

In fact, the demand for search is greater than ever in 2020 as voice services like Google Home and Alexa becomes more advanced.

Voice-based services have made it easier than ever for people to search for what they are looking for.

Also, brands that have optimized their websites with structured data are benefiting from increased voice search traffic, as well as standard search traffic.

Therefore it is important today more than ever to ensure your business is optimized for web, mobile and voice search.

Here are the steps you’ll need to take in order to perform well in SEO in 2020…


Step 1 – Get the basics right

Setting a good foundation by applying the following basic best practices right from the start is essential to the success of your overall SEO strategy.

Title tag

The title tag is one of the main things search engines look for to determine what the page is about. 

Therefore it’s important not to overlook the power of the title tag and describe each of your webpages using relevant keywords.

WordPress makes it super easy to add and edit title tags using a popular SEO plugin called Yoast.

Gif showing someone updating the SEO title using Yoast snippet preview tool

What makes Yoast especially useful is its strength meter, which tells you if you are adding not enough, or too many words to the title or description tag.

Meta description tag

The meta description tag is also a key tag that the search engines look for to understand what the webpage is about.

screenshot of editing a meta description using Yoast snippet preview tool

Just like the title tag, it’s important to remember to ensure every webpage has a unique meta description.

Having the exact same description across your website could be marked as duplicate content by the search engines and could affect your click-through rate.

Heading tags (H1-H6)

It’s important to keep your headings in the correct order and maintain a common hierarchy throughout your article.

Search engines are known to have a preference for keywords in headings. Therefore it’s important to spend some time researching the keywords you want to add to your headings.

Screenshot of sample blog post from WordPress, highlighting correct heading hierarchy i.e H1, H2, H3
Example of good heading hierarchy

Search engines are also known to weight higher-level headings (H1, H2) greater than the headings below these (H3-H6).

Usually, I only use H1 and H2 titles as I don’t feel the need to add any more heading types, which is perfectly fine.

For a complete list of all the basic best practices in SEO check out my related article SEO Basics: How to optimize your content using simple best practices

Step 2 – Answer what people are asking

An essential part of any content marketing strategy is having a good understanding of the types of questions people are asking on Google.

This will help you create more relevant content for your audience, as opposed to guessing and creating content in the dark.

A free and easy way to get an idea of the commonly asked questions is to use Google itself.

Screenshot of Google search suggestions and related terms
Researching keywords from Google’s search suggestions

Notice when you type a search phrase into Google, you also see a bunch of related searches below it.

As a Google searcher, these suggestions are intended to provide you with additional search ideas. However, as an SEO practitioner, this will help you understand the types of keywords people are using to find the content they want.

You can use these keywords as a reference when building your own content strategy.

Document your keyword ideas

A quick and dirty method I practice before I start to write an article is to capture the keywords in a Google Doc as shown in the screenshot below.

Once I add keywords or create content related to each topic, I simply strike-off the keywords — A special shoutout to Andy from Orbit media for this quick and dirty yet practical method.

Screenshot of keywords being added to Google doc
Record your keywords to Google Doc

This is doing keyword research the manual way, however, it is still very effective, as it gives you a good idea of the words, synonyms, and related topics your audience is searching for.

In the section below I will explain how you can use paid tools to do all of this for you, and a whole lot more!

However, as a beginner starting out, I recommend keeping your costs low and leverage free tools like Google itself, Google Keyword Planner or keywordtool.io.

This will give you a high-level understanding of the types of searches your audience is performing, without breaking the bank.

Another free tool I recommend checking out is Google Trends which gives you an insight into trending topics and search terms.

Google trends comparison screenshot
Google Trends keyword comparison

Although the trends are holistic and general, they will give you a fair idea of the interest in a topic or search term over time.

Step 3 – Know your competition

Before you embark on any SEO project, you’ll need to have a solid understanding of the market you are competing in.

You’ll probably have an idea of the types of brands and websites that rank well for the search terms and topics you plan to compete with, however, to compete with high ranking competitors, you’ll need to dig a bit deeper.

Research keyword competitiveness, the free method!

When researching your competition, it’s important to pay particular attention to the keywords, phrases, and synonyms they use to describe their products and services.

You should assume that the words they have chosen are the outcome of these brands doing both keyword planning and competitive analysis.

Luckily there are both free and paid tools that will help you learn valuable insights into your competitors.

One of the best free keyword research tools is Google’s Keyword planner.

Screenshot of entries in Google Keyword Planner tool
Keyword research using Google Keyword Planner

It allows you to get a quick understanding of the keywords and search terms that are popular with your competitors.

Although it’s primary use is to allow advertisers to buy and manage AdWord campaigns, it can also be used by anyone to research keyword competitiveness based on search volume, and cost per click, etc.

Paid tools that give you a whole lot more

Of course, there are tools that make the competitive analysis process a whole lot easier.

If you are starting out on the web, and your competitors are maintaining the top 10 results on Google, it may take months, or even years to achieve top positions.

Therefore, if you’re eager to expedite the research process and get access to the right information immediately you can leverage competitive analysis tools like SEMRush, or Ahrefs.

Screenshot of SEMRush Dashboard
SEMRush Dashboard

Both tools give you valuable insights into the keywords your competitors are investing in. SEMRush also gives you helpful research tools like:

  • Keyword analytics
  • Traffic stats
  • Backlink insights
  • Gap analysis

and a whole lot more.

Although these tools give you exactly what you need to compete with the best, bear in mind that these tools are not free.

A basic plan with both SEMRush and Ahrefs is $99 USD / month. Not cheap by any means, especially for someone who is starting out.

However, the insights you get are invaluable and can save you a lot of time.

SEMRush pricing page screenshot
SEMRush pricing page

My advice is to do what I did and sign up for a free trial with SEMRush and with Ahrefs. Once you have evaluated both and you’re in a position to afford it, just pay for the one you prefer, and you’ll never look back.

My personal favorite is SEMRush as I find their features are a bit more robust, and I find their interface is easier to work with.

However, a lot of it comes down to personal preference.

To summarize, Google Keyword Planner is a great free way to research keyword competitiveness and get you started when planning your content strategy.

Make use of it until you can afford to pay for SEMRush or Ahrefs.

Step 4 – Take advantage of local SEO

It is a common misconception that only brick and mortar businesses should think about local SEO.

In reality, anyone who wants to attract and target a local audience should be optimizing their brand for local SEO.

So what is Local SEO? Well, put simply, it is the method of optimizing your website and/or brand, so that it is easily accessible by a local audience.

There are a number of ways you can do this:

Google my business

The goal behind Google My Business is so that businesses can connect with a local audience, and showcase details about their business on Google search results and on Google Maps.

Although I did mention the misconception above related to brick and mortar businesses, Google guidelines only recommend creating Google My Business account “if you make in-person contact with in-person contact with customers during its stated hours.”

Therefore, if you’re a blogger or digital marketer who sells digital products to an international online audience while working from home, a GMB page may not be necessary.

However, if you’re a growing business like an agency, and have one or multiple addresses, creating a GMB page can be hugely beneficial for your business.

The power of reviews

Reviews are important as it shows that you are a trusted source. Businesses with lots of good reviews also enjoy better click-through rates (CTR) as they feature more prominently in the search results.

Google My Business Screenshots

It is also a great tool for SEO as it helps to promote your brand directly on Google search results. Here are a few points to be aware of when creating your Google My Business profile:

  • Make sure your profile is 100% complete – It’s important to remember to complete all of the sections in the GMB profile i.e. photos, business hours, services etc.
  • Make sure your information is accurate – The information you put on your GMB profile should be consistent with any other info you have on your own website.
  • Be specific with your primary category – Try and avoid selecting category names that do not properly describe your business.

Build local pages

If you have multiple locations, create a page for each location rather than having multiple locations on the same page. Each location page should have a map with directions as well as hours for each location. As well as being better for SEO, it also creates a better experience for the user who is searching for a specific location.

Acquire backlinks

Acquiring local backlinks is another way to validate that you are a trustworthy brand/website. There are many methods to acquire backlinks and I won’t get to every method in this article.

However, generally, your goal should be to engage with local non-competing businesses. Here are a few examples of website you could target

  • Local news and media websites
  • Partner with local bloggers
  • Non-competing sites in your market
  • Universities
  • Sponsor local events

Step 5 – Leverage structured data

You may or may not have heard about structured data and rich snippets, however, If I was to recommend one thing to prioritize in 2020, it is to understand the value of it and learn how you can leverage it to improve your rankings — All of which I will summarize in this section.

Rich snippets are the outcome of properly implemented structure data and make it easier for Google to crawl your content and find meaning from it.

This is especially helpful for Voice Search i.e. when people perform a search using voice assistants like Google Home, Amazon’s Alexa, or Microsofts Cortana.

But before I go any further, I’d like to explain in the simplest terms what structured data actually is…

What is structured data?

Structured data is metadata that allows Google to better understand the data it is indexing.

In other words, it allows Google to index the information on a website and find more meaning from the content.

Websites that have added structured data properly, enjoy higher click-through-rates, as Google rewards these sites with rich snippet features that stand out on Google’s search results. See example below… 

Screenshot of rich snippet on Google
Example of Google Rich Snippet

Rich snippets or “rich results” are the outcome of properly implemented structured data.

This includes features and interactive elements that make the information stand out in Google’s search engine result pages (SERPs).

How to add structured data in WordPress

Implementing structured data models to a website manually is a technical process and can be very time-consuming.

However, if you have a WordPress website, there are a few helpful plugins that will make your life a lot easier.

If you don’t already have the plugin called Yoast installed, I recommend installing it, as it makes the process of optimizing your website a lot easier.

Once of Yoast’s latest features support for adding structured data blocks to your articles as shown below…

A gif animation showing how to add structured data snippet in WordPress
Adding a structured data block using WordPress’ Gutenburg editor

Currently, Yoast only supports FAQ and How-to blocks, however, I expect more blocks will be added in the next version of WordPress’ Gutenberg editor.

Another plugin I highly recommend checking out is Schema for WordPress.

It is a popular and well-supported plugin with a 4.5-star rating, and gives you more control over the structured data you add to your website

The plugin uses the JSON-LD format, which isolates all of the schema.org information into a single string of code, rather than embedding the markup in the HTML code itself (microdata).

Also, JSON-LD is the format Google recommends when implementing structured data on a website.

I use this plugin for this website, as I find it easy to use and it doesn’t get in your way when writing.

Screenshot showing installation of Schema plugin
Installing Schema plugin in WordPress

Although this may seem very technical, the plugin itself does not require too much technical knowledge.

The set up is also super easy, especially if you use the setup wizard which guides you through each step of the initial setup process.

Screenshot showing Schema setup wizard
Schema plugin setup wizard in WordPress

Step 6 – Make your website super fast

The speed of your web pages is another critical factor Google looks at when determining the quality of a website.

The reason for this is that Google wants their users to have the best possible user experience.

Therefore, websites that invest the time into improving the speed of their webpages will be rewarded.

In other words, these websites will enjoy higher click through rates (CTR) due to ranking higher on Googles Search Engine Results Page (SERPs).

Google takes page speed so seriously, that they have even created a tool so you can test the speed of your webpage.

The tool is called PageSpeed Insights, and be aware, it can be quite unforgiving!

Google PageSpeed tool

Screenshot of Google's page speed tool

There are many factors to consider when testing the speed of a website, and I won’t get to cover all of them in this article, however, some of the areas that impact speed of a webpage include:

  • Images: Having too many uncompressed images will slow down your website.
  • CSS/Javascript – If you have lots of js and CSS that is not minified it will affect the load speed on your webpages.
  • Browser caching – Caching is when images and other data that make up a webpage, is store on the browser. This process speeds up webpages. Therefore if your website is not caching data (i.e images etc) it will slow down your website.

I will explain solutions for all of these issues later in this section.

Choosing the right web hosting

The performance, speed and reliability of your web hosting can have a huge impact on your SEO efforts, for better or for worse.

Therefore it’s important to choose a reputable and well-reviewed web hosting provider to ensure you can minimize downtime and ensure the best webpage performance.

So how do you know which web host is the best one for your business?

Well, it all comes down to doing your homework, and having some idea of what you want from a web host. This is the criteria I use to evaluate web hosting providers:

  • Reliability
  • Performance / Speed
  • Scalability
  • Customer Service
  • Value for money

When searching for web hosting for this website, FounderCopilot, I wanted a web host that exceeded my expectations for all of the criteria on my list.

I evaluated well-reviewed providers including, NameHero, Siteground, WPEngine, Kinsta and more.

Siteground price plans screenshot
Siteground WordPress Hosting Plans

In the end, I went with Siteground’s “GoGeek” plan as it gave me everything I needed, including the option to scale up to a dedicated cloud hosting package when necessary.

I had read good things about Sitegrouds server speed, even on basic shared hosting plans, so this was one of the main selling points.

Once I have reached the 3-month mark with Sitegroud I plan to post another article highlighting my experience, so stay tuned!

For more information on website scalability, check out my related article 3 reasons WordPress is the best platform for building a scalable online business, where I discuss scalable web hosting for WordPress in more detail.

Dedicated Cloud Hosting

Cloud hosting is another way to ensure a fast, reliable service from your website. This usually means your website sits in a separate container on a cloud-based server, which does not share any resources with the other websites.

Because of this, the costs are usually a lot higher than shared hosting.

Kinsta, WPEngine, and even Siteground all provide scalable cloud hosting packages to fit growing businesses of all sizes.

Kinsta hosting homepage screenshot
Kinsta homepage

Cloud hosting also has lots of other benefits including:

  • Automated backups
  • Stronger security
  • Expert support
  • More scalability

…and a whole lot more.

A good way of looking at it is that if you’re investing time in building a well-optimized website that aims to rank well, you shouldn’t have to worry about slow webpages that affect rankings.

Therefore, whether you are noticing poor performance from your current web host, or you simply want to launch your website with more confidence, you should consider WordPress VPS or Cloud Hosting from providers like Kinsta, WPEngine, or Siteground.

You may pay a bit more, however, they all offer fast and reliable that will give you more peace of mind in the long run.

Conclusion

I hope this article has given you some insight into the scope of SEO and how to get good at it, however just like anything else, mastering SEO and building an audience organically is all about practice.

Once you have analytics on the content you publish you will be able to perform experiments and continue to do more of what works, and less of what doesn’t.

However, whatever content you plan to create, it’s important to be passionate about it.

This point is as important as any other step in this article because if you want to perform well on Google and attract the right audience, you need to create lots and lots of high-quality content.

And it’s very hard to create high-quality content on topics you are not passionate about.

Take me for example, when I started this website, I knew I could write and talk a lot about the following topics:

  • Online marketing
  • SEO
  • WordPress
  • E-Commerce
  • Paid Advertising

I knew this as I have a lot of experience working in these areas, professionally, as a freelancer, and as an entrepreneur.

My point is, I enjoy creating content for these topics because I am passionate about them, and it’s what I do on a daily basis.

With so much content out there on the same topics, ranking well on Google has become a lot harder.

Therefore you should make it easier on yourself and create content you love.

This way, you won’t consider the work you are doing as actual work, and it will be a lot easier in the long run.

Niall Conway

Niall Conway

Founder & Marketing Director
FounderCopilot.com

I am an online entrepreneur who helps people build, launch, optimize and monetize their online business with Wordpress, SEO, Affiliate Marketing, Adsense and a whole lot more.

On my website and on my Youtube channel, I share the skills and insights I have built up over the last 10+ years while working as a freelance designer/developer and while founding several digital businesses of my own. Read more...

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