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SEO for Beginners: What Are the Basics of SEO?

Everything You Need to Know to Get Started With SEO

There are many online marketing strategies to choose from if you’re interested in promoting your website. But there are few strategies as popular, as accessible, or as effective long-term as search engine optimization (SEO).

Despite being a relatively accessible and learnable strategy, SEO has the unfortunate reputation of being both complicated and risky. In this guide, we’ll dispel some of these myths and introduce you to all the basics you need to begin an SEO strategy of your own.

What Is SEO?

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a set of strategies and practices designed to make your site rank higher for relevant online searches (usually in Google). Google (and other search engines) are motivated to give users the best possible results for their searches. Typically, that amounts to giving users websites that match the content of their query (relevant websites) and websites that are trustworthy (authoritative websites).

Accordingly, webmasters all over the world use tactics to increase their relevance and their authority—at least as perceived by Google.

Key Elements of SEO

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You can boost your relevance, authority, and overall ranking potential with these key elements:

  •         Technical optimization. First, your site needs to be “technically” optimized. In other words, it needs to be structured in a way that lends itself to higher rankings. Google relies on an index of web content when it processes queries; part of your technical optimization is all about making sure your content can be found and properly indexed. Another part of it is ensuring that your site is as functional and user-friendly as possible (such as ensuring that your site is mobile optimized).
  •         Onsite content optimization. If you want to increase your relevance, you need to ensure that your site is optimized for keywords and phrases that match potential user queries. In other words, you should make it easy for Google to understand what kind of website you are.
  •         Onsite content development. Additionally, you’ll need to write high-quality content on your site on an ongoing basis, ideally optimizing for keywords and phrases along the way. This will build not only your relevance, but also your authority.
  •         Link building. Next, you need to have some kind of link building strategy in place. The most reliable way to increase your authority is to earn links from external sources; the more links you have, and the more authoritative the sources of those links are, the more value you’re going to get. Most modern strategists rely on the development of high-quality offsite content to accomplish this.

Quality and Penalty Avoidance

On the surface, SEO seems pretty simple. However, Google is actively aware of webmasters that would abuse the system, given the chance. Accordingly, Google’s algorithms are designed to detect instances of ranking manipulation and other “black hat” practices. If you spam links, write low-quality content, or engage in “unnatural” practices, you could face a penalty.

That could mean a literal penalty, where a representative from Google issues a manual action against your site to prevent it from appearing in search rankings altogether. Or it could mean a colloquial penalty, wherein your search rankings drop (often temporarily, until you fix the issue).

In any case, it’s important to put together a strategy that focuses on quality and penalty avoidance. Generally speaking, if you do things that are good for web users, you’re not going to be penalized. If you write good content, offer valuable information, and construct links in ways that help users find information they’re looking for, you’re not going to be flagged as a spammer or rank manipulator.

Doing the Work

As you might imagine, SEO is a lot of work. If you want to be successful, you’ll need to research various keywords and your competition. You’ll need to put together a strategy. And you’ll need to spend many hours developing content, building publisher relationships, and establishing links—not to mention measuring and analyzing your work.

It’s possible to do this on your own, but most people need outside help. You might choose to hire someone full-time, or hire a team of part-time independent contractors to help you with execution. However, most people turn to the help of a full-time SEO agency. If you find a reputable agency, they can help you with every stage of the SEO development process, from start to finish, and practically guarantee results.

One other thing to keep in mind about SEO—it’s a long-term strategy. This isn’t something you can dabble in, nor is it ideal for generating a short-term, immediate boost in traffic to your site. If you want to get the best results from your SEO strategy, you need to be prepared to invest months of your time and effort. If you can do that, and prioritize quality along the way, you’ll be thrilled with the results.