4 Things that SEO Newbies Need to Understand Immediately

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4 Things that SEO Newbies Need to Know | SEJ

If you’re new to the SEO field, fear not. Everyone of us has to start somewhere, and there’s no other place to start than at the very beginning — the bare bones, basic essentials.

Every SEO has their area of expertise, but there are a few things that every SEO has to know. I’ve created the shortlist of these essentials. They are broad but nevertheless are absolutely important within the vast realm of SEO.

Pros and newbies alike will benefit from getting a quick refresher in these four basics.

1. SEO is About User Experience

User experience and SEO go hand-in-hand:

  • Things that enhance user experience will also enhance SEO.
  • Things that enhance SEO will also enhance user experience.

Why is this true? Because SEO is nothing less than delivering the most relevant content to the right users.

In order for the “right users” to get the “most relevant” content, you must create and deliver an experience that satisfies those implicit requirements. Most UX professionals are focused on the user interface, identifying visual elements, layout, information architecture, sizing, typeface, and other elements that the user sees.

SEO takes a slightly different approach to UX. SEO doesn’t just focus on what the user sees. SEO focuses on what the user wants.

Search engine optimization understands and addresses user intent. User intent is defined as “the goal of the user typing the search query.” Most of the time, a user has one of the following three intentions:

  1. Buy something – transactional search
  2. Know something – informational search
  3. Go somewhere – navigational search

SEOs need to back up and understand how to gain the right searches from the right users. The goal? To give those users the best experience.

Some people used to think that there was a conflict between SEO and UX. Sujan Patel plainly put this to rest in his SEJ article, “The Intersection of SEO and User Experience.” In his article, he pointed out some of the areas where SEO and optimal UX connect:

  • HTML sitemaps provide SEO crawlability and also help users find the right place to go
  • Navigational elements including breadcrumbs are essential for user experience. Plus, they provide great SEO features such as indexation, crawling, and site structure.
  • Text blocks are an integral part of SEO, creating longtail keyword indexation and semantic relevance. Obviously, users need these sections of text to understand the website, the product, etc.
  • Microdata, especially schema.org protocol, helps to create a user-friendly SERP. And, yes, they provide an optimized search experience to boot.

If you want to be a good SEO — professional, ethical, and kick-ass smart, here’s what you need to know. Focus on users. Give them the best you can possibly give them. The search optimization part? That comes secondary, and almost naturally, too.

2. Links are Important

I might get maligned for this. I might get criticized. But I have to say it.

Inbound links are still important for SEO.

You simply cannot have site that’s killing it in the SERPs without having authority. Sorry, but there’s just no way around it. Emerging trends such as brand signals, social signals, and co-citation/co-occurrence are important, but they haven’t yet replaced links as a ranking signal.

It’s obvious that Google, as the leading search engine, relies heavily on links to rank websites. They levy penalties on sites with bad links. They reward through rank upticks sites with good links. It’s just that simple.

Pretend there are two websites. They are exactly the same. Same content. Same structure. Same keywords. Same everything. (Don’t worry about the duplicate content issue.)

There’s only one difference. One website has 0 inbound links. One website has 100 authoritative inbound links. Which website will rank higher?

The answer is obvious — the one with the links.

Let me show you another example. Pictured below is the trust and citation flow for Forbes.com. Forbes has very high levels of authority online. Why? Look at the number of referring domains and external backlinks. Those numbers produce very high levels of trust.

4 Things that SEO Newbies Need to Know | SEJ

I will now show you another website called TheInternetMarketingRetirementPlan.com. Here, by contrast, is their citation and trust flow:

4 Things that SEO Newbies Need to Know | SEJ

You can see, at a glance, how the two sites compare. Now let’s make the test more concrete.

How will each site perform with an actual user query? I’ll pick a query that is tilted in favor of The Internet Marketing Retirement Plan.

Query: “Retirement income internet company.” Pretty much describes the website, right?

Now, watch the SERPs:

4 Things that SEO Newbies Need to Know | SEJ

Forbes nails it. They have the number one organic spot. They completely outrank The Internet Marketing Plan website.

Why? It has to do with an amalgam of factors — site size, authority, trust, freshness, structure, content quality, etc. But all of those factors are affected in some way by links.

It is essential for a healthy site to have authoritative backlinks. This point brings up an obvious question. How do I get links?

This is a contentious point. There are some strong proponents of “linkbuilding” and others who insist only upon “link earning.” Others see the presence of any links as distrustful and dangerous, and insist on disavowing or nofollowing all links.

I won’t pretend to solve the debate here and now, so I’ll only refer to my experience. I’ve had amazing success in earning links through content marketing, including guest blogging. That’s why my sites have earned thousands of links, and that’s how my businesses have grown.

3. And, Yep, Title Tags are Important, Too

Let’s step back for a moment from the wild and woolly world of links, and talk about something far more tactical and down to earth.

If you were to ask me “What’s the one thing that I can do on my website to improve its SEO,” I would tell you this: Make a really good title tag.

The title tag is an HTML element that search engines look at when they index your page. It’s also what users see when they look at your website in the SERPs.

4 Things that SEO Newbies Need to Know | SEJ

The title tag should simply describe what’s on the page. To create the best title tag, follow these four simple rules:

  • Use your primary keyword
  • Use your secondary keyword
  • Use your brand name at the end
  • Keep it under 60 characters

That’s it.

In the title below, Consumer Reports uses the head term “gas grill” which builds the longtail keyword “gas grill reviews”. They use a dash (-) (instead of a vertical bar) to introduce the brand name, “Consumer Reports.”

4 Things that SEO Newbies Need to Know | SEJ

Here’s the HTML text in their source code:

4 Things that SEO Newbies Need to Know | SEJ

The title tag is important, but there’s no need to overthink it. Simply use the title that best describes the content. Naturally, that will probably include a keyword. You shouldn’t stuff it full of keywords, but neither should you entirely leave the keywords out.

4. It’s Cliche, but Content is King

I’m going to close this article out with a final point that you may find nauseating, but true.

Content is king.

I’m sure that there is a more beautiful and non-cliche way to say it. However, that’s the phrase that we’re stuck with.

SEOs sometimes get in arguments over which is more important, content or technical SEO. The answer is yes. Both are important. If your technical SEO isn’t in order than your site doesn’t work. Nil. But if your site is technically flawless, then your SEO is nonexistent. Nil again.

The solution is to have both. Neither one is more important than the other, and both are essential to creating a high-flying, well-performing search optimized website.

But what, really, is the point of all this content? That’s easy. It gets you more sales.

Let me show you how this works, using the example of KISSMetrics, the content marketing arm of the KISSMetrics analytics platform.

In January of this year, KISSmetrics released a handful of articles — at least one per day. Here is what our traffic looked like:

4 Things that SEO Newbies Need to Know | SEJ

Of those 727,984 visitors, Kissmetrics generated 2,033 leads from the blog. The blog was responsible for driving 62% of our total leads. Those leads easily generated more than six figures in revenue. Since we only spend a few thousand dollars on the blog each month, you can see the huge ROI levels that we’re gaining.

That’s the power of content marketing. Yes, you have to invest a lot of time and effort into the content, but as long as you have your conversion funnel set up and your pricing in place, it’s totally worth it.

To put it simply: Content marketing earns you money.

And SEO is all about the content. There is only one way to do SEO, and it’s through content.


If I had to add a final point to this article, it would be this: SEO is a huge field. I’m constantly fascinated with how SEO meshes with so many other areas of digital marketing.

Search engine optimization is not a standalone discipline. It is integrally connected with nearly every area of your online presence. It is the essential core of your digital presence.

And if I had to distill SEO down to a few key points, it would be this:

  1. SEO is about user experience.
  2. Links are important.
  3. And, yep, title tags are important, too.
  4. It’s cliche, but content is king.

What areas of SEO do you think are essential for SEO newbies to understand?


Image Credits

Featured Image: Bloomua/Shutterstock
All screenshots via Neil Patel. Taken June 2015.

Neil Patel
Neil Patel is the co-founder of KISSmetrics, an analytics provider that helps companies make better business decisions. Neil also blogs about marketing and entrepreneurship at... Read Full Bio
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  • Great post, I am new to SEO and your tips are valuable for me. Found some new information, thanks!

  • R.Rogerson

    Nice foundational intro to SEO 😀

    Personally, I still segregate the fields.
    To my mind, UX is not truly part of SEO.
    SEO is the focus of influencing Search Engine Rankings.
    As there are few established UX features that influence SEO, the overlap is minimal (above the fold being an example).
    That said, I’m not suggesting people don’t pay attention to UX … it is important!
    But the field itself is Huge! Some aspects fall into SEO (such as site structure, navigational structure, clarity of titles/headings etc.), but others come under Design (layouts/composition, image dimensions, responsiveness (SEO/Design/UX cross :D) etc.).
    There’s also overlap between UX and CRO!
    So though people should (need!) look at UX, the primary focus should be on more established and known-to-be effective/influential areas.

    Links are important.
    Anyone that says otherwise should stand up (else they are likely mumbling).
    Links are not going to go away – they are a fundamental aspect of the net, and pass/influence more signals than any other ranking signal known.

    Titles are more influential than most people realise.
    It;s not just the Ranking influence, it’s the Click Through Rate impact.
    So it’s more than just making sure you have a keyword in the title – it’s making sure that it appeals to searchers. That’s when knowing the type of search and the logic behind it comes in. Knowing a bit of psych/sales principles can help too (including triggers, emotional tugs, justifications etc.)

    Content is King … but the work is done by many an underling.
    The best content in the world will do nothing if everything else fails … so true.
    (sadly, the inverse is not as true as we would like – some shoddy sites still convert with naff content but good SEO … but far fewer than 5 years ago :D).

    Personally … I’d go for….

    Crawlability … make sure you don’t stuff up bot access.
    That would include robots.txt, robot meta, header responses, canonical link elements, URL removal requests etc.
    Stop the bot, tell it to look elsewhere or telling it to go away are the fastest ways to drop out of the rankings.

    On-Site/On-Page … get your foundations right, you can build to the stars.
    If you don’t have control over Titles, Headings, Internal Link text (and title attributes), Navigational Link text (and titles), the ability to interlink pages/posts etc., then you are likely to be far less effective than you could be. This can be easily off-set by external influence … but to get the most out of it, a good structure is key.

    Social Media Marketing … though technically not SEO (separate like UX, though could be viewed as part of Content Marketing), it is by far the quickest way to get a few “safe” links for most content forms.
    Doing social right takes time, effort, research and practice … but it can pay greatly.

    Market Research … to my mind, one of the most important factors (and applies for multiple related fields :D).
    This is when you figure your audiences, what they need/want/desire, how they want it (short/long content, video, pod-cast, graphical, downloadable etc.), what type of language, where they can be found, how responsive they are etc. etc. etc.
    Stalk your competitors. Stalk their customers. Stalk your customers. Make lots of notes and observations. Get the data right, and everything else gets to be sooooo much smoother and easier! You’ll know what words and phrases to target, which ones are heavily competed for and which ones you can easily win, who is likely to see them, who will share, who may link if asked. Research is your best friend!

    • Your contribution is very important as well, thanks for that!

  • Excellent content by you my friend. If I have to choose only factor among the 4, I would say SEO is about user experience. That’s all for me. Do quality onpage and off page SEO for humans.

  • Hi Neil,

    Glad to see you on SEJ blog. As beginner to seo you need to understand that there is no magic way to rank your web site in the first page of Google. Here you nicely describe seo tips for newbies.

    I loved your tips on seo is about user experience and internal links are important. Internal links are most useful for establishing site architecture and spreading link juice. Many thanks for your informatice content.
    Kind Regards
    Yasin Rishad

  • Neil,

    Fantastic post about SEO 101 for a newbie like me.

    I’d love to learn more about your strategies for appoaching influencers within your niche once you have produced content that is engaging, educational and informative on a blog post!

    Best wishes,


  • I do realize that links are important. I like it how Matt Cutts explained something important in one of his videos. He would rather reward a site with an article pointing towards it that is long and of best quality then a site that is receiving 1000 minimum low quality links that have only 300 words in each of them. I believe brand isn’t as crucial yet because google has not yet found out how to replace it as you said. I think it might be because there aren’t enough brands to trust in every single category so they have to still go off of links. Then again, I could be wrong. I still am a learner since I barely started doing SEO this year. I hope that my audience will find my articles helpful to them. I basically want to get the message out to my users that they are not alone when they think about certain things that relate to many people when they hear the music they search for. I have been through situations in my life that helps me understand it better when I listen to music. I would hope that I am not alone in my journey so I would hope that others would blog on my site about their experiences. I know that I can see many things in different ways which should allow me to continue making fresh and up to date content easily. I definitely am a newbie to SEO but would hope that I am stepping in the correct path to becoming great at it.

  • I’m not completely sold links are an important ranking factor like they used to be but yes they do help. Before the argument starts please look at one of my clients sites, feel free to dig into their inbound links, not many at all. To find them google “sell my car” and other related words, you will find them sitting if the first few results next to KBB and Auto Trader. To avoid linking to them the clients name is “Instant Car Offer”. Google treats them as an authority because of content, conversion, speed and mobile readiness. Rule of thumb should be… Build a great website with the user in mind.

    • I have to agree with Adam about links not being as important as they once were. I have some relatively new (past year or so) clients where we have minimal links and excellent rankings and traffic. The first time I saw that, it was for a law firm and I thought that we ranked well because the site was new, and all the other local firms had been spamming for so long that the least spammed site wins. But I have had similar experiences with about 6 other sites since then.
      UX, and near-perfect technical on page optimization are the common traits.

      Titles… this is where I am about to become a SEO heretic. I have always felt that click worthy titles are more important than making sure keywords are in the title. Over the past several months, I have put this to the test. My own site ranks very well for several competitive keywords which do not appear in the title, and only appear once or maybe twice on the page. That’s right – barely any keyword usage at all, yet top rankings. Not a ton of links, either, now that I think about it. Well, there are many links which are disavowed from a failed negative SEO attempt over the past few years, but non-disavowed links are not many and frankly not very good. Hooray Semantic Search!
      I think we all need to re-test the so-called best practices we have all come to accept as standard before teaching them to “newbies” as being of utmost importance.

      • R.Rogerson

        G have a patent (or two) for Title performance in the SERPs.
        In one of them, the main concept is to reward SERP listings that get clicks outside/above the general average for their existing position.

        A couple of years ago, G blatantly denied it being an influence … but current thought-trends suggest it may be in place.

    • R.Rogerson

      “… Before the argument starts please look at one of my clients sites…”
      Ooooh – that sounds like fun 😀

      You said one of the primary terms is “sell my car”…

      1) Lets do the typical “SEO SERP Check”, search for [sell my car] … initial result volume is stated as;
      “About 465,000,000 results”
      … but we know that such a search is mostly useless, as it includes results for each word independantly, or in various combinations/permutations (sell, my, car, sell my, my car, sell car, car my, my sell, car sell, my car sell … etc.).

      2 Lets try for a slightly more accurate Search, lets search for [“sell my car”] … shows initial result volume of; ”
      “about 10,200,000 results”,
      but as we all know, that figure is often utter baloney… by the time I reach page 23, I’ve hit the omitted, with a result volume given of;
      “Page 23 of 224 results”
      So, for that exact phrase, with the words in that order (in the content!),
      we have only 224 competitors…

      3) Lets try a far more grown up search… [intitle:”sell my car”], which gives us an initial result volume of;
      “About 61,400 results”
      … and if we pager through … we get this;
      “Page 17 of 165 results”

      So now we have a better idea of just how competitive that search phrase is.

      Lets see about Links using that phrase…
      A quick search for [inanchor:”sell my car”] gives us a final result volume of;
      “Page 27 of 269 results”
      So there aren’t that many links with that exact phrase.

      A quick dip on Ahrefs shows that you have only a few links using that exact phrase…

      …but when you consider the low number of exact match competitors, the low number of links using that link text …
      … yes, you likely will rank for the term 😀

      So there you go … it’s not a huge number of links, but for a low-competition term,
      you really don’t need that many. Get the right link text, from the right type of page/site, to the right type of page … and it pays.
      (Note: I’m not saying you shouldn’t focus on the user, or that content is not important … but I’m yet to see content rank for a semi-competitive term without any links. Not one – and I’ve been doing this a long long time :D)

      G Trends suggests a sustained rise in usage for that term – so you may see more traffic as time goes by, good move!

      Question – why do you have so few links?
      Just a few good bits of content and some social pushes could easily increase that link count, including relevance.

  • Hitendra Pratap

    I like the customer segmentation pat based on query.
    Neil – I also agree with you on link value however the definition of good and bad link building change time to time. 5 years back a major technique was to use exact match anchor text for linking however at this point of time this can led your website into a trouble.
    Getting natural links of exact match is not safe now these days so my question is how should we plan the link building campaigns that should not suffer after couple of years.

  • I think head tag optimization, image alt tag and meta description are also common factors and important which can be understood by newbies.

  • Hey Neil,

    Another interesting post from your end. The way you explained how search engine understands user intent is by far true. You nailed it on the head, when you mention that a user ideally uses search engine mostly for the three category of searches.

    A great post for everyone to read.

    Best Regards,


  • This is so useful. I’m not a newbie, but as I freelance and the way Google moves, it’s great to have updates. I’ve been a proponent of quality content for awhile. I’m seeing an uptick in clients now ready to pay for that now, as they are getting lost in the search engines.

  • Wow, this has come in handy for me. I have a blog that I started in 2013 but it has a pagerank of 0 because when I started it, I didn’t know a thing about SEO. Now, I’m writing better content (500+ words), I’m including keywords in my content as well as tags and I have just started submitted my site to web directories. Getting backlinks is quite difficult so I guess I will try guest blogging. Great post, and thanks:)

  • Hello Neil, magnificent stuff for newbies as well as experienced SEOs. I do agree with all your valuable points. Today in SEO, the title is a very important part of SEO, it is quite difficult to make the title meaning full and cover all targeted keywords under 60 characters with company name. But if you able to make it for your whole website’s pages, then easily you can get top position in the SERP.

  • I’m a big fan of your blog and you write reality. Most of the people spending a lot on Paid marketing leaving all the Optimization behind. That’s too bad and I have to educate them with your blog and awesome articles. 🙂

  • Thanks for the share Neil. This is an helpful post for newbies.
    SEO is all about user and the content. For better SEO you should use unique and informative content along with catchy title and description.

  • Satrujit

    But i need to know one thing , if a business niche has more than 100 keywords . How to put those in tittle and meta ? will the robots crawl if we use it in content @ 2-3% density ? And will googl+ & youtube contents help ?

  • Thsnk you for these posts. I have learned so much reading them! I have a long company name. Would I be better off marketing/branding with the initials so my title tag remains under 60 characters? Or if the company name gets cut off that is ok?

  • Hi Neil,

    Great article as always. SEO Newbies need to understand two main areas. First is the fact that SEO is not a 30 minutes dash and second link are way more important. No matter how many people brand themselves as content marketing agency etc, it is still all about the link.

  • Hi Neil,

    I found this post really interesting.

    For newbies, i think one of the first things that they have to understand with SEO as a whole is that they will make mistakes and their success will be determined from how well they learn from those mistakes.

    I am currently redesigning my website because i had noticed that i was doing quite well in ranking (Alexa) but not showing up for my relevant keywords in google search. i realized that my heading tags didn’t have my keywords and the structure of the site was wrong for SEO.

    From my research, relevant keywords should be in the title, headings and page URL. whats your take on this Neil?

    • R.Rogerson

      May I suggest doing some light reading on basic SEO practices?
      Though there is a huge wealth of misinformation regarding in depth/clever SEO practices,
      the fundamentals are pretty well covered and correct.

      Things like Link Text, Titles, Headings, URLs, OG tags etc. are all well covered, and should help you get up to speed with the basics.
      (when it comes to reading up on the more advanced stuff, try to take a pinch of salt with it, as many out there still get things wrong)

  • Tina Charleson

    Hi Neil, your article is incredibly enlightening for a newbie like me, especially #3 basics-Making a good title tags- which i find most interesting. Although an example of what a good tag looks like would have been most helpful, thanks so much!

    • R.Rogerson

      Titles are pretty common-sense when you boil it down.
      Remember that there is only so much space,
      so people need to know/understand from around 60 characters what the page is about (for SERPs).
      That means you need to include the primary topic/keyword/keyphrase as early as you can.

      [Page Name – Section Name – Site Name]
      [Page Name – Site Name]
      [Page Name – Section Name]
      [Page Name]

      As well as the primary topic, you need to look at “hooks” – wording that will catch peoples interest.
      Look at these 2 sets, and decide which ones are “better”;
      * Food for your cat
      * The Best Food for your cat
      * Cat Food that is scientifically proven to be the best
      * Scientifically proven the best cat food
      * 10 tips for grooming your hamster
      * 10 secrets to grooming your hamster
      * Groom your hamster easily with these 10 tips
      * 10 easy hamster grooming tips to make life easier

      Remember – though there are some good general guidelines – you may find that your audience prefers a certain format. You will have to test it out and see which ones get more Clicks in the SERPs.

  • It’s been quite a while before I have tried to optimize my size. Thanks for the article. I’m invigorated!

  • Abhishek

    I heard from my friend that title and description length is reduced to

    is that true ?

  • How about domain choice? Is it important too? And if it is, which should I choose: .com or .us?

  • These tips are indeed helpful but can anyone tell me how to earn link through content marketing. It had been 6 months while working for a startup codmedialert.com and we are still unable to drive traffic or create a strong online presence. I would apprecaite if someone help me it. Well, we provides medicine reminder service.

  • Great article Neil! SEO is definitely even more important that Google is changing algorithms to favour mobile sites. I’d just like to add that Responsive Design and coding is now considered an integral part of SEO as Google is downgrading non mobile-friendly sites and those with more than one URL.

  • Heyya..Great post, I am new to SEO and your tips are valuable for me.If I have to choose only factor among the 4, I would say SEO is about user experience. That’s all for me. Do quality onpage and off page SEO for humans.For better SEO you should use unique and informative content along with catchy title and description.

  • Neil, as SEO consultant myself you always make it seem sweet and easy and yet many still find ways to screw this up for themselves and their clients. User experience have become a huge factor when ranking websites. I’ve seen Google change over the years but everything is always a good thing. Less useless sites out there.

    Great post Neil. I’m a loyal follower.
    Jose Lopez

  • Many SEO experts say the same about content; content is king. But one thing that is not certain and which I have read many different views on is the length of the content. So am wondering is there an ideal length of an article in terms of numbers? This is because there are some who say longer articles rank higher while others say that is not necessarily the case. So is there a ‘magic’ number of words that can lead to higher ranking on SERPs?

  • Awesome – SEO is About User Experience. It’s all about the game about understanding the User Intent.

  • tittle tag is 60 characters if we use | | | symbols | | | will it affect the SEO ? because it already takes few characters . And its kinda like coma separated . Will it affect anything?

  • Marney

    I agree that Neil,Onsite must always a priority first before offpage campaign.I think Website that are not SEO friendly and onpage its not properly optimization is just wasting money and time.And i like to suggest that SEO plug-ins is working well.