Search engine optimization (or SEO) is a digital marketing technique that aims to get your website to the top of search engine results pages (SERPs). While SEO technically applies to all search engines, because of the company’s market dominance, it is often referred to colloquially as: “Getting to the top of Google”. And that is what it does: using high-quality, keyword-targeted content, SEO increases relevant traffic to your website.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why getting to the first page of results is beneficial. After all, when was the last time you looked on the second page of Google results?
In the early days of search marketing, SEO was a relatively straightforward task that involved using the right keywords for your domain. However, as indexing algorithms have become more sophisticated—considering factors like the authority and editorial quality of content—SEO strategies have had to adapt to keep pace.
In this post, we’ll provide 15 SEO tips for beginners. Use this clickable menu to skip ahead to any tips you like!
- Create a keyword strategy
- Stay on topic
- Prioritize long-form content
- Maintain a steady stream of content
- Update old content and avoid topics that date quickly
- Create a sitemap and robots.txt file
- Use SEO-friendly metadata
- Optimize any images
- Audit your site speed
- Devise a link-building strategy
- Consider a local SEO strategy
- Feed SEO content into your social media
- Track your progress using Google Analytics
- Avoid black hat SEO techniques
- Provide human-centric content
Let’s dive right in with tip number one:
1. Create a keyword strategy
The first of our SEO tips and the most important aspect of SEO is optimizing your content with appropriate keywords and phrases. These should strike a balance between your business offering and what your target audience is searching for. Google’s algorithms use these keywords to determine what your content is about and how best to index it.
Finding the best keywords (those with a high search volume and low competition) requires a suitable strategy. As a beginner, there are two main categories to think about: short-tail keywords (which are usually one or two keywords long and broadly topic-themed) and long-tail keywords (which are three, four, or more keywords long, and tend to be more specific but with a lower search volume).
If this sounds a bit overwhelming, don’t worry! You can learn all about keyword research in our guide to SEO copywriting.
2. Stay on topic
Next up, keep your content on topic. If you’re writing about the best car hire companies in Ireland, for example, your keywords might be something along the lines of ‘cheap rental cars in Dublin’. If you go off on a tangent about coaches, trains, or jetski hire, you’ll end up ranking for the wrong keywords! And, if too many people click away from your content because it’s irrelevant, this will negatively impact your search rankings.
It’s also good to be aware of a new(ish) technique called latent semantic indexing, or LSI. Hubspot put together a good resource on the topic here, but put simply, LSI involves algorithms crawling a website to analyze which words (or groups of words) typically appear together. It’s commonly used for topic matching, or to determine the themes of your content. While it’s a bit unclear if Google ranks content using LSI, it can’t hurt to use a keyword tool to pick out any LSI keywords you might have missed. At the very least, from a human perspective, focusing on related themes makes good sense.
3. Prioritize long-form content
Longer content ranks better on Google than shorter content. Google more or less admits this. While the exact definition of long-form content is less clear, according to a 2020 Backlinko analysis of 1.8 million search results, the average word count of a Google top 10 result is 1,447 words, so that’s as good a guide as any. We should stress that Backlinko found no direct correlation between search ranking and the content length itself.
However, it makes sense: long-form content offers more opportunities to include keywords and backlinks than shorter content. It also provides readers with more information than a thinner snippet would, hopefully encouraging them to stick around on your site. While it’s not just about length (things like editorial quality and plagiarism also matter) it’s one thing to keep in mind when you’re devising your SEO strategy.
4. Maintain a steady stream of content
Producing a stream of fresh content keeps your site up-to-date with the latest information, and helps you stay ahead of competitors for the top spot. More importantly for SEO, it tells Google that your site is still active. For an algorithm, no activity means fewer visitors, and that leads to poor rankings.
Creating a steady stream of high-quality, long-form content can be tough, though, especially for smaller marketing teams. Planning a six to 12-month schedule of upcoming material will help keep you ahead of the curve. There are other approaches, too. For example, if you can’t afford a team of copywriters, consider investing in a couple of high-quality guest bloggers instead. These should be well-known people in your industry with some authority in the field. This makes content as shareable as possible on social media and boosts your overall domain authority (see tip number 10). Regardless of your approach, the main thing is to be consistent, releasing new content at regular intervals.
5. Update old content and avoid topics that date quickly
Freshness is a key ranking factor for Google’s algorithms. However, as touched on, it can also be challenging to maintain a constant stream of new content. One solution is to regularly update existing content. Check old posts, freshen them up with the latest information, then republish or update them. This only needs to be done once a year, and will maximize the SEO potential of your content without you having to produce something completely new.
Another tip is to include the year in the title. For example: “The best car hire companies in Ireland in 2022” could easily be updated with new data, and republished as: “The best car hire companies in Ireland in 2023”. On the flip side, avoid content or copy that goes out of date quickly. While news commentary or references to transient events are great for responsive marketing on social media, they’re less useful for SEO because they are usually out of date six months or a few weeks down the line. And if the content is out of date, it receives fewer hits—and, again, this negatively impacts your rankings.
6. Create a sitemap and robots.txt file
A sitemap is a file that provides information about different pages and content on your website and how they relate to one another. You might have stumbled across one in a web page footer and wondered what it was for.
Humans don’t typically navigate websites using sitemaps, but they are beneficial for SEO. As an example, check out CareerFoundry’s sitemap. As you can see, it’s not designed for human consumption. But it does tell web crawlers what content is on the site and informs them about new or updated pages.
In addition, for good basic SEO, you should include a robots.txt file. While a sitemap tells web crawlers about your site’s content, robots.txt files provide instructions on which pages to crawl and which to omit.
While robots.txt and sitemap are basic techniques, they can help Google rank new content more quickly. And because these files are unobtrusively tucked away on the backend of your site, they can boost your SEO without impacting the human experience.
7. Use SEO-friendly metadata
Metadata describes web page features such as titles, headings, subheadings, and descriptions of every page on your website. Like sitemaps, much of this data is tucked away on the backend, where human readers won’t see it. Nevertheless, metadata is crucial for helping web crawlers determine information about each page on your site, and how to index and rank it. That’s why it’s necessary to optimize this content.
For example, you can optimize your titles by ensuring they contain the main keywords for that page. You should also include these keywords in the meta descriptions (the content you often see under the headings on the search results page). Note that there are optimal lengths for different metadata. Page headings, for example, should be around 60 characters so that they are not cut off on SERPs. And don’t forget to optimize your URLs. According to Google’s advice on URL structure, it’s best to use simple, descriptive words, and avoid long ID numbers and particular characters, like underscores.
8. Optimize any images
Using images in your content can make it more engaging for readers, breaking up the copy and generally adding a little pizazz to your blogs or articles. However, web crawlers often find imagery tricky to navigate. It’s therefore essential to use appropriate alt text.
Alt text, another type of metadata, is the written copy that appears when an image fails to load online. The text is always there, though, even if you can’t see it, and it helps search algorithms index content. It also increases the chances of your image appearing in Google image searches, potentially driving more traffic to your website.
Most importantly, though, alt text is necessary for accessibility purposes. E-readers are a type of software that reads out website content for visually impaired web users, which includes alt text. As such, your alt text should always be human-friendly, and should accurately and concisely describe the image.
In particular, avoid special characters. E-readers often convert these to code in the form of long strings of numbers, and reading this out can be very irritating for a visually impaired user.
9. Audit your site speed
One factor people often overlook when optimizing their websites is site speed. With long-form content and regular updates being the key focus for many marketers, domains can quickly grow unwieldy and slow to load. Simultaneously, site speed is a known variable in Google’s indexing algorithms.
Fortunately, Google’s developer site has a free tool called PageSpeed Insights that measures how fast your site loads. It has options to test your site on desktop and mobile devices and is accompanied by a diagnostic tool. This offers SEO tips on how to increase your site’s performance when it’s running too slow.
10. Devise a link-building strategy
Another metric contributing to a website’s ranking is its domain authority. This measures a website’s relevance to a particular topic or subject area. It considers factors like: the perceived prestige of a website and its authors, information quality, and the competitiveness of content. One way of boosting your domain authority is via a link-building strategy. From a digital marketing perspective, there are three categories of links to consider:
- Internal links: These link your domain’s different content, building an interconnected web that informs crawlers which pages on your site are the most important and how they relate to each other.
- External links: Linking to popular, related, and relevant external pages can also boost your rankings (especially if these external links rank highly).
- Backlinks: When external domains link back to your website, this tells search algorithms that your content is considered authoritative and high quality.
Note that there are rules to follow when link building. Firstly, avoid link stuffing. This is where you fill your content with links to artificially boost your rankings. In reality, too many links will have the opposite effect, while also making it unreadable for humans.
Another common technique that should be avoided is link farming. This is where groups of websites get together and link to one another to try and trick Google’s algorithms. It’s considered bad practice.
11. Consider a local SEO strategy
Although not appropriate for all businesses, implementing a local SEO strategy is another potential way to boost your rankings. Local SEO involves ensuring that your business appears in local search results. This has two benefits. Firstly, it cuts out a large proportion of your competitors (who presumably will be based in different regions). Secondly, it targets a specific customer base in your local area. While this may represent a smaller proportion of people, targeting them more closely may lead to improved sales.
A local SEO strategy isn’t suited to all companies. For instance, it probably won’t be of much use for online-only e-commerce providers, or those with an international presence. But it’s ideal for any business with a physical storefront, or those that serve particular geographic needs (such as a cheese shop, bakery, or a local moving company).
12. Feed SEO content into your social media
Social media doesn’t directly influence search rankings, but it’s valuable for influencing it indirectly. Sites like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and LinkedIn (and other social media platforms) can boost traffic to your site, gradually improving your rankings. While your social media strategy is probably separate from your SEO strategy, there are a few quick ways to link the two together.
Firstly, create a schedule to disseminate selected content from your website on social media. Use relevant keywords and hashtags in your social media posts to boost the chances that they will be found through organic search. To simplify matters, you can also use social media management tools like Hootsuite, Sprout, or Buffer.
Another tip is to include social media share buttons on your website. This is usually just a case of inserting some pre-generated code, and it will encourage readers to share content for you.
13. Track your progress using Google Analytics
Many analytics tools track website landing page metrics, such as click-throughs, bounce rates, page views, conversions, and more. But if you’re trying to get to the top of Google, what better tool than Google Analytics itself?
Using Google Analytics, you can track your domain’s success over time, comparing past performance to present data, tweaking your SEO strategy accordingly. One easy win is identifying your highest-performing web pages, and further optimizing them with additional keywords or calls to action.
You can also use Google Analytics to compare other metrics, such as organic vs. non-organic visitors, to see what works, and to spot other missed opportunities to boost your rankings.
14. Avoid black hat SEO techniques
We’ve indirectly touched on SEO ethics throughout this list, but it’s worth stating it explicitly: whatever you do, avoid ‘black hat’ SEO techniques. Black hat SEO refers to unscrupulous tactics designed to artificially boost a website’s search engine ranking by manipulating Google’s algorithms.
Hold on, we hear you say, isn’t that what SEO is all about? Well, not quite. White hat SEO techniques (like those outlined in this article) abide by Google’s guidelines. Meanwhile, black hat techniques include keyword stuffing, link farms, hidden text, spamming comments sections, plagiarized content, and so on.
Ultimately, while black hat techniques can work in the short term, they are no substitute for a solid and ethical SEO strategy. Black hat techniques will damage a company’s reputation and can lead to penalties and even blacklisting. In short: no matter how tempting it might seem, don’t do it!
We talk about black hat SEO and other SEO techniques in this article.
15. Produce human-centric content
Although SEO is about optimizing content for search engines, try not to lose sight of your main objective: that all content is written for the human eye. Although it is fine to strike a balance between optimizing for search engines and humans, if you must choose between the two, humans should always come first.
Your content should read naturally and provide visitors with whatever they came for. This isn’t just an ethical issue, it’s also practical. At one point, we’ve all found ourselves on a site that felt like it was written for machines and not people. Did you hang around or come back? Probably not.
The hard truth is: Human readers don’t care about your SEO; they just came to your site to get what they need. And if they don’t find it, they’ll leave! One of the best SEO tips, then, is that the strategy should be invisible to human users. But get it right, and you can keep both your humans and your algorithms happy!
Wrap-up and further reading
This concludes our list of 15 simple but powerful SEO tips for beginners. There’s no doubt that SEO is a big topic, powered by an entire industry in its own right. And while there is always more you can do, following even a handful of these SEO tips will help you get where you need to be: to the top of Google!
If you want to get more hands-on with the topic of SEO, check out this list of free SEO training options.
To find out more about careers in digital marketing check out this free, 5-day Intro to Digital Marketing short course. You can also read the following introductory guides: