Getting Started with SEO
If you've come here from our beginners guide to getting started with SEO, then you have an excellent place to start with your website’s SEO. Start implementing these strategies immediately so that your ranking can begin to build straight away. SEO is not a quick fix online and is a long journey to continuously improve and reap the benefits. Stick with your strategies and utilise them to improve your websites performance, boost traffic and build search engine ranking over time.
Setting Up Your Website
Now you know more about SEO, here are some tips to setting up your website for the best search engine optimisation.
Choosing a Domain name can be one of the most difficult parts when starting off with your website. If you already have a brand name, then this would be a good choice as it is recognisable and will therefore, be easier to find in search results. However, you can also consider the main keyword associated to your business and if this can be another factor to consider as it can contribute to your SEO.
Keep in mind you want your audience to identify with your brand and your domain name is part of this. You want to make an impact to both, your audience and search engines, and it is a balancing act.
The design factor of your website can be the area that most people get carried away and find the most time consuming. Of course, good website design is essential to keeping visitors as it is the face and function of your business. So choosing a style that works for your audience and business type is important.
Start by choosing a theme that stands out and would function the best for your business, then you can start customising, adding your logo, colour palette, images and brand.
The structure of your website is important for 2 reasons: easy to navigate for your audience, links are easily found and followed by bots and pages are indexed. Links that are too far away are less likely to be indexed which can mean these pages do not get ranked for search engine results at all!
Therefore, you want to plan your websites structure during the design phase so that your website can function optimally. Start with your home page at the top, then the most important pages (the ones you want to include on your main menu) and then underneath will be subcategories individual pages. Even when starting your website with little pages, pre-planning will make it easier in the long run.
Meta Description and URLs
The meta description is the small descriptive excerpt shown in SERPs. Therefore, from the start you want ensure that your website and the pages you are creating have these. Start your keyword research early on in the process so that both, Long tail and LSI keywords can be inserted into the Meta descriptions. This will ensure that your SEO is starting straight away and can be built on after this.
Additionally, you want to keep the structure of your URLs simple and keyword optimised. You want them to be easy to remember, explain what is on the page and include the relevant keywords for SEO. For example, a page for an iPhone case in the shop section of your website may look like: www.mywebsite.com/shop/iPhone/cases
This, as you know, is a huge part of SEO and is a factor that can effect your ranking. Therefore, you want to ensure that the theme you choose is optimised for mobile and tablet. This not only positively impacts your ranking, it also improves the user experience for your visitors. You also want to ensure your content resizes correctly, is easy to navigate and can be seen clearly when used on other devices.
As you are building your website, you are going to start adding content and images. Optimising images means uploading images with a relevant and keyword optimised name and changing the alt attributions. This means the images are full of the relevant keywords and can boost your SEO. Remember that images also rank on search engines individually, so do not leave out this step.
Titles and Headings
Search engines use the titles of pages as the biggest indicator of its content. Therefore, ensure you are using the right Header (H1) for your titles, including keywords and making it as relevant and specific as possible. In addition, you want to use the subheadings to break up the content, highlight sections and reinforce the main keyword as well as LSI keywords for that particular page.
In a similar way to adding meta descriptions, you can also specify the title tag which is the title shown by search engines, usually 50-60 characters. This can a shorter version of the title, if it doesn’t fit, and can be edited to be further search engine optimised. For example, pages may rank higher if the keyword is at the beginning of the title like: Social Media Marketing: A complete guide.
SEO Monitoring Basic Set Up
Google Search Console (GSC)
Google Search Console is a very important and useful free tool to use to monitor how your site is performing, particularly in search results, as well as any errors and the keywords and queries your website is performing for.
How to Set Up Search Console
To set up your GSC account, you first need to head to https://search.google.com/search-console/about and click ‘Start Now’. You’ll need to log into a Google Account or create an account to be able to have a GSC account.
Once logged in you’ll be directed to the dashboard, which is empty as you have not added your website. To do this, click ‘Add Property’:
You will then select the Property Type, Domain requires verification via DNS and URL prefix can be verified by HTML tag, HTML file, Google Tag Manager or Google Analytics. Choose which you feel most comfortable doing. You can find more information on verifying your domain with Google.
Ensure you are entering the correct version of your website URL for URL Prefix type. This could be because https and http are different, additionally, your website could be with or without www. This is to ensure you are receiving data on the correct website property.
Once you have decided which type, you then need to verify ownership. The HTML Tag is one of the easiest methods for those who do not know how to code.
Simply go to your website’s code, copy and paste the tag into the <head> section, before the first <body> section. Then click ‘Verify’. If verification is unsuccessful, GSA will show an error such as ‘HTML Tag incorrect’ and you will need to fix this before continuing.
Once verified, you’ll be taken to the GSA dashboard.
Features of Google Search Console
The Overview page is a quick glance at the Total web search clicks over the last month, coverage showing valid pages and any error pages, and enhancements.
The Performance tab provides in depth details of:
- Total amount of clicks from Google search results
- Total impressions made when your website is shown in Google search results
- The average CTR (click through rate) shows the percentage of clicks from impressions made
- The average position is your website’s average ranking in search results.
Below is a table which shows the clicks and impressions from certain queries, the highest performing pages, the countries the clicks originate, the devices used, search appearance and date break down.
This data is very important for SEO as you gain an understanding of how successful the page is in search results, does it have a high or low CTR? Which keywords you are ranking for and the most clicks have come from, and which pages are showing up most successfully in SERPs. You can then apply this knowledge to your SEO strategy, change some tactics and rework content so that it can be more successful.
The coverage section is more technical but shows how many pages have been indexed by Google, any errors that it has found and warnings with indexing your website’s pages. (shown below)
Below the graph there is a table which shows why some pages may not have been indexed. This can be caused by crawl errors, 404 pages, redirects that do not work correctly. You can click on these to find the URL and correct them. Once they are fixed, use ‘Inspect URL’ so that Google can correctly index the page.
This page is particularly useful to check that Google is indexing your site correctly as you are adding new content regularly, you should see the ‘Valid’ section increase along with it. Keep an eye out for any sudden drops or increases as this can mean that Google may be being blocked or their may be issues with duplicate content.
Sitemaps are important Google to be able to find your most important pages. An XML sitemap is like a guide for Google and its crawlers. To add a sitemap, add ‘sitemap_index.xml’ after your domain and click submit. This is a great thing to add to GSC so that your pages can be indexed as soon as possible.
Mobile usability highlights pages that may have usability issues and errors have occurred. Again there is a graph and table which shows the trend of errors to valid pages and allows you to look at each page that has an error, correct and retest for mobile usability.
The links tab is going to be very important for SEO monitoring as it shows you:
- Number of external Links, the top linked pages and where the links have come from
- The number of internal links
- Top linking websites and the number of links from them
- Top linking text (anchor text)
Therefore, this is a great resource to monitor your link building, identify new links, see your most linked pages and who is linking to you.
Not only is Google Search Console extremely valuable for its analysis of your website and search engine results, it is also a great tool to be linked within Google’s other tools…
Google Analytics (GA)
Google Analytics is a very useful, free tool to assist in analysing how your visitors use your website and their behaviours. As a new user to GA, it can be very confusing to use as there are so many tabs and it is very complex.
What does Google Analytics do?
The data provided by GA can be extremely insightful for website owners as gives you clues about your audience and the success of your website. You can discover:
- How successful your SEO is
- Your websites performance
- The behaviour of your visitors and where they come from
- How you can further optimise your website
Therefore, Google Analytics will be an essential tool to use at every stage of your website to continually improve and have a deep understanding of your successes and failures.
How to Set Up Google Analytics
To set up your GA Account, go to https://marketingplatform.google.com/about/analytics/ and select ‘Start For Free’. You will need to sign into a Google Account or create one then to be able to create and sign up to GA.
From there, you will be asked to sign up:
Then you will start creating your account and first adding your Account Name. It may helpful to keep as your company name so that you keep it consistent across multiple Google Tools:
You then select what type of data you are intending to measure, as this guide is about website SEO, you will probably pick Web:
Then you will add the details of your website including Name, URL and Category. The hit ‘Create’ to create your GA account:
Once you have agreed to the terms and conditions and shared data terms, you will be taken to your admin dashboard where you will find your Tracking ID.
What is the Global site tag?
The Global Site Tag is the piece of code that needs to be added to your websites code in order for GA to be able to track the data. However, if you use Google Tag Manager (explained in the next section), this can cut this step out and make it much easier for you, especially if you do not know how to change your websites code.
Once the tag has been added to your website, ensure it is working correctly by using the ‘Send Test Traffic’ as it may be up to a few hours before any data is received.
The tracking ID is important to note as it may be needed for other plug ins, for Google Tag Manager and to connect to other third parties. Your GA account can also be linked to your Google Adsense account, if you are using it to run ads, and also monitor your ads and data can be shared between the two tools.
Linking GA to GSC:
As explained before, working on SEO, you will want to see an improvement in your Organic Search traffic.
This is also the section where Google Ads and Google Search Console (further details in the previous section) data is found. Both must be linked and enabled in order to receive these analytics. To add your Search Console:
Head to ADMIN - PROPERTY SETTINGS and select ‘Adjust Search Console’, near the bottom of this page. Click ‘Add’, this will take you to a page to link your Search Console and Analytics through your property (your website). Once this is confirmed you can check they are linked by heading to ‘All Products’ and the green tick will show:
Features of Google Analytics
When you are set up, head to the Home tab on the left hand side. This is where you will find the overall performance of your website. This page includes:
- The Users, sessions, bounce rates and session duration in the past 7 days
- Sources of your traffic, for example: social, organic search and direct search
- Your user trend over the past 30 days
- User retention
- Times Users visit, their location, their device
- Most Visited pages
The home screen has a lot of information to offer and its is the graphs, data and how you use it that is important. As an example, you are trying to improve your websites SEO to improve your ranking, therefore, you want to see and increase in traffic coming from Organic Search. Similarly, if you were targeting an audience from a certain country, you want to see improvements of traffic originating there. All of these sections are looked at in more detail in their relevant sections.
Here are some of the other analytics GA offers:
Real Time Overview:
Shows how many visitors you have on your website right now, the top referrals, top Social traffic, Top Keywords, top Active Pages and top Locations.
The other tabs below overview, provide you with a more detailed analysis of the data on the Overview page. Real-time Overview is extremely useful for looking at what is happening on your website right now and how it is performing in that moment.
It can be great to gain insight into an ad campaign or social media campaign that you have running to see how it is performing in real time, how many referrals it is getting you, how long the visitors are staying and where they are located.
This is where you will find the most valuable data from GA, in the Audience tabs. This provides you with extremely detailed information about your websites traffic such as location, demographics and interests (need to be enabled), user flow, and device.
This section provides more detail in to how traffic comes to your website and where from. So, you can gain a better understanding of what is successful at driving traffic and areas that need to be improved to boost traffic from those sources.
Below Acquisitions is the Behaviour section, this might be the most important section to analyse your audience. Audience gives you the background to WHO is on your website, Behaviour shows you WHAT they do in great detail.
The Behaviour overview provides a quick glance at:
- Pageviews and Unique Page views
- Time on page
- Bounce Rates
- Top Performing Pages
You want to understand what pages are successful in the eyes of your audience, how they respond to your content, the links they click and the way they flow through your website. This is why Behaviour is important so that you can make changes, improve and continue to grow your website for your target audience.
Sections such as Site Search can show you want your audience is looking for and if you have the answer to their problem, if not, add it to your website. Or Events show you how many times an outbound link is clicked which could be essential for an affiliate campaign. Take your time to explore each section and build your understanding of your websites performance in order to increase it in the future.
The last analytics tab is Conversion which is important if you are selling products, digital products or services. However, this does need more advance set up of Goals and eCommerce and as a beginner may not be your concern right now.
The goals overview section gives details on goal completions and where they were completed, for example subscribing to your news letter on your home page. The eCommerce overview provides break downs from individual product pages and how they are performing.
This completes the set up and overview of Google Analytics, it is how you choose to use it and interpret the data that is really important for your website’s success.
Google Tag Manager
Google Tag Manager is a free tool that helps manage tags by adding, editing and removing tags from third parties, such as snippets of code or tracking pixels, without having to edit the code on your website.
Tags are segments of code that are created to integrate products into your website or mobile app and send information back to the third party. They are used to track certain events that occur on your website to gain information about visitor behaviour, purchases, heat maps etc.
This is where Tag Manager comes in. You are able to add the tags needed to your website without needing any coding knowledge, this includes the most common tags such as Google Analytics which allows you to collect much more information than when used on its own.
Tags will not work if there is no Trigger assigned. The Trigger is the event that occurs that you want to track, for example, file downloads or when an outbound link is clicked. Triggers rely on Variables which contain the value a trigger needs to know to fire or not.
With this in mind, you can see that, although Google Tag manager does not require you to edit your websites code, you do need some basic understanding of how it works and what it does. This is particularly important when setting up new tags, triggers and variables.
How to Set up Google Tag Manager
To start the set up of your Google Tag Manager, go to https://tagmanager.google.com/ and click ‘Create Account’. There you will enter the Company Name, country of location, website and the platform you are using. As we have been speaking about setting up a website, you will more than likely choose ‘Web’.
This is your container. It is usually recommended that separate containers be created per domain and some sub-domains (if they are treated as separate from the main site). It is best to keep the Container name as the domain and Account name as the Company name as suggested by Google. This is because mistakes can be made if everything is not labelled clearly.
Once your account has been set up and you have accepted the Terms and Conditions, you will see the below dialogue box to install Google Tag Manager onto your website. Add the code to your website’s code so that Google Tag Manager is able to place tags and monitor your website. Without completing this step, Google Tag Manager will not function correctly.
You’ll then be taken to your account dashboard:
Here you can manage, add and edit the tags that are already active on your website. To start adding tags, click the ‘New Tag’ box.
This is where you can set up the type of Tag, its Variables and its Triggering. Naming the tag is also a very important element to consider as you may have multiple tags of the same third party, but all monitoring different Variables.
Google suggests naming Tags in this format: Tag Type - Detail - Location. For example, if you were to use Google Analytics to monitor form submissions on your Home Page, it would be titled, ‘GA - Form Submission - Home Page’. This means it will be easier to define it from a similar tag but located on your Contact Page.
Then you want to choose the tag type. You are shown a list of all the tag templates, if the tag you want to place is not there, then select Custom HTML.
You need to think carefully about which tags you would like to add to your website and what you would like to the track.
Google Analytics is one of the most common tags added to websites so I will use this in the example below:
You’ve selected Google Analytics from the Tag Type List and it has been added to the Tag Configuration. You can change the tag type depending on what you want to monitor.
You now need to select a variable.
When first setting up the GA Tag, select a ‘new variable’ from the drop down box and taken to Variable Configuration:
Add your Tracking ID from your Analytics account so that the two tools are linked.
You then need to choose a trigger. If the trigger is not there that you want to use, click ‘+’ to add a new trigger type from the list. And configure it as desired.
You can test your tags are firing correctly by using the ‘Preview’ button on the right top corner. Head to your website and the page where the tag is active, you should see a ‘debug’ panel at the bottom of the page which shows information about your tags, triggers and data layer. There should be at least 3 events present: Page View, DOM ready, and Window loaded.
You can then submit and publish your tags!
You will see all the tags that are ready to fire when a certain event occurs, you can click on them for detailed information or to check for any blocking triggers. Whilst in preview, you are the only one that can see this information so do not worry about any visitors being surprised by the debug box.
Google Tag Assistant (GTA)
Google also provides a free chrome extension called Google Tag Assistance which shows information about the tags on any page. The colour coding system makes it extremely easy to use:
Green: All tags are working correctly
Blue: GTA has suggestions about improving the tags on this page
Red: Tag is not working correctly
This means you can make changes easily to any tag that is not working and identify any problems.
Yoast for WordPress
Yoast is a plugin available for WordPress users and is an excellent tool for both bloggers and sellers to make your website as search engine friendly as possible. There is a free and paid version of the tool which you can choose for yourself, although starting off you will more than likely go for the free plan.
Do note that this plug in is only available for self hosted, wordpress.org websites and not wordpress.com websites.
Installing the Plugin
From your dashboard, hover over the Plugins on the left sidebar and select ‘Add New’.
There, search for Yoast and select ‘Install Now’ to start the installation process for the plugin. On ‘Installed Plugins’ you’ll be asked to activate the Yoast Plugin before you can begin to use it.
The Yoast Plugin will now be shown on your sidebar where you can access all of its settings. Now you need to set up and configure the plugin before using it.
Yoast General set up
The first place you may want to go is to General. Here, Yoast has their Configuration Wizard which can automatically configure the settings of your plugin for your website. It is up to you whether your want to use it or not.
The general tab is also the place, that once configured, will show you the problems in your websites SEO and any notifications from the plug in. So, use this constantly to check for any problems.
The next setting to consider is ‘Search Appearance’. This controls how your website appears in search results including the meta description for your home page, the titles and they way they are configured.
We definitely recommend filling out the meta description here for your websites homepage to ensure it is not missed and it is easily accessible to change it in the future. Remember, this is where you want to add in keywords and make your website as relevant and specific to your niche as possible.
Content Type + Taxonomies
Under ‘Content Types’ and ‘Taxonomies’, you can control similar settings for your individual posts, pages, tags, categories and formats. You can choose what you want on and off and how you want these to appear in search results. This is what makes Yoast such a beneficial plugin as it allows you to configure these settings with ease and all in one place!
Generally, you would want to show Posts and pages in search results and the meta box which is essential for SEO. Showing the date in SERPs can be really useful as it shows how up-to-date and relevant your content it, especially if you update it regularly for SEO.
Breadcrumbs & RSS
The Breadcrumbs and RSS tabs are for more advanced settings which you may want to use in the future.
Yoast + Google Search Console
If you have not added your Google Search Console Tag to your website yet, Yoast can do this for you! Go to ‘Webmaster Tools’ under the General tab.
There you can add the tag for Baidu, Bing, Google and Yandex and not need to alter your website’s code yourself. Another tool to aid you in placing tags easily.
Here you need to authenticate your google account by selecting ‘Settings’ and then ‘Get Google Authorisation Code’. You’ll need to log into your Google account and allow Yoast to access your Search Console data.
This section shows the pages crawled by Google, however, it no longer shows any Crawl Errors. So, make sure you do not rely on this section for any errors and keep checking your Google Search Console to keep on top of any errors your website may have.
Yoast + Social Platforms
In the Social section you can add your social accounts including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Youtube. This notifies search engines that these social profiles are linked to your website. From this section you can also manage how your content is shared on Facebook, Twitter and add your Pinterest meta Tag. Again this takes a lot of pressure off of you setting up your websites and not needing to edit any code.
From here you are able to control how your content is shared on platforms including a default image, the title and description of your website.
Using Yoast SEO
Now that you have the plugin configured, you can now use it! The plugin is the most useful when creating pages or posts and shows at the bottom.
This is the dashboard where you get the most SEO information. In the SEO tab you can start but entering your Focus Keyphrase, this is your long tail keyword, and Yoast provides and analysis of the content based on this keyword on the SEO Analysis. This analysis includes:
- Word Count
- Number of time the keyphrase is used
- Image alt attributions
- Inbound and Outbound Links
- Meta Description and slug
- Headings and Title
As you can see, this analysis provides hugely valuable information for on-page SEO. Bare in mind that some suggestions may not be relevant to every single type of content so each one does not have to be green. What Yoast does, is remind you to optimise your content as much as possible and this is dependent on what are creating.
The SEO Snippet editor is where you can edit your title, meta and slug for each post or page and see a preview of how it appears in SERPs.
The colour coding shows if your title or meta is too long for search engines as only a certain number of characters is shown. This gives you a target to meet and ensures you edit effectively for SEO.
Here you can take out stop words in your slug that do not add to the page or post and edit the title. Editing the title is an excellent idea, especially if it is too long, and make it more SEO specific. So, you could have a post title that is really effective for your audience but not for SEO and you can reformat and edit the title here just for search engines.
In the readability section, Yoast provides an evaluation of the written content. This suggests that you simplify your writing, have a good flow and is easy to read.
Yoast does say, ‘the readability section is not the be-all and end-all advice’, so take it as advice in ways to improve but not law.
The subheadings section is a great highlight as it makes you realise the break up of your content, if the keywords are present enough and brings your attention to what crawlers will see the most. Therefore, be considerate about your writing for both search engines and your audience.
The Social sections is where you can specify what you want to be shared on Facebook and Twitter. These social medias can post the content and choose the title, a section of the text and an image. However, if you want it to be more specific, edit it here.
Add your own title, description and image that you want to include on your social media feeds and that is tailored to your audience more closely and really stands out.
In addition to the plugin at the bottom of your editor, it is also present on your WordPress dashboard when looking at your posts or pages lists. The traffic light represents the SEO score and the feather represents the readability score. Therefore, green = good score, orange = needs improvement and red = bad score.
If you have content already written before you install Yoast you can get a glance of its success (note: the SEO score requires the focus keyphrase for a rating) and choose to improve your content from there. This colour indication is also very good to remind you to use Yoast effectively and keep improving your content if you need.
SEO Best Practices
Once the groundwork is laid during your website set up and initial search engine optimisation, you want to make sure you are consistent in SEO best practices:
Keep it Unique
You want to ensure that none of your content is duplicated or near-duplicated. This includes: titles, slugs, meta descriptions, product pages, landing pages, alt text and category pages. With a blog this can be quite easy as most content will be different.
However, it can be tempting to copy old content, or anyone else’s, when you are running low on ideas. Alternatively, update any old content, including the publish date, so that it appears like new content and SEO can be improved along with its value.
As noted previously, updating your old content is an excellent way to improve it’s SEO and also updating the publish date also makes it appear as new, fresh and current content. Additionally, you want to make consistent updates to everything for SEO and it is not just blog posts that need updating. Any page that no longer provides value, is out dated or does not get a lot of traffic could be low quality and negatively impact your SEO ranking.
Meta Descriptions, images, website description, the website theme and navigation and any other pages that do not provide value. There are so many areas of a website that can be updated to continuously improve SEO, keep up with any changes and also ensure you have the best chance at success.
Therefore, performing site audits and tracking your websites progress shows what needs optimising or any errors that have occurred. You can also test different keywords in content, titles and website description to see if they bring better results.
This is a key element of SEO set up and is a practice that should also continue. Page speed, image loading, navigation, and mobile optimisation can change with updates or even uploading new content. This is why it needs to be monitored and improved over time.
You want your viewers and target audience to rely on your website to provide more than just quality and valuable content. Repeat visitors are key growing your website and therefore, first impressions are important. This does not just mean the first impression when launched, new visitors will discover your website all the time.
Therefore, it is important to keep onto of user experience and updates to ensure visitors come back again and again.
Once the Ground Work is Laid
Of course you know the importance of keywords in your content. Make sure you conduct thorough keyword research, for both LSI and Longtail keywords. Include them naturally within your content but also be considerate in titles, slugs, meta descriptions and image alt attributes.
Keywords are highly important for SEO so maintain your focus and detail when it comes to creating and editing any content for your website. Keyword research should be started from the beginning so that you can tailor your website, its descriptions, images and pages to your niche to the best of your ability.
As there are many factors that contribute to SEO, make sure you are not neglecting your link building. At the beginning, it may not be as important as optimising your website and content, but once you are confident in the groundwork, be consistent with outreach and building online relationships.
It will be difficult to be part of a community (your niche) if you sit on the outside. Get involved, share and comment and show the value you add to the community. As links are so important, this best practice is essential and key for success.
Monitor Your SEO
Using free, paid tools and Google Tools is something that needs to be done consistently so that you learn from your current techniques and improve them. Monitor your:
- User Behaviour
- Site speed
- Bounce rates etc.
Keep it up, keep monitoring your website and if it is growing successfully through your SEO strategy. If not, you will discover which areas are suffering and focus more closely on this area.