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:
- Buy something – transactional search
- Know something – informational search
- 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.
I will now show you another website called TheInternetMarketingRetirementPlan.com. Here, by contrast, is their citation and trust flow:
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:
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.
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
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.”
Here’s the HTML text in their source code:
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:
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:
- SEO is about user experience.
- Links are important.
- And, yep, title tags are important, too.
- It’s cliche, but content is king.
What areas of SEO do you think are essential for SEO newbies to understand?