Looking to create your own SEO strategy but not sure where to start? We’ve broken down the basics of what you need to know and actionable steps to get you started.
This guide is created specifically for Google, the world’s most popular search engine by a longshot, but is widely applicable.
What is SEO?
SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is a strategy to make your site more visible so that more people visit it. It can seem daunting, but don’t let internet-y jargon fool you. It’s actually more straightforward than you might think.
When you google something like “chocolate chip cookie recipe,” you get millions of results. 76,400,000 to be exact. There are a lot of chocolate chip cookie recipes out there—so why does JoyFoodSunshine.com’s version come up at the top? It’s probably not because their recipe makes the absolute best chocolate chip cookies out of all 76.4 million results (although there’s only one way to find out). It has more to do with how Google sorts through and ranks pages based on different qualities.
When somebody googles something related to your topic, you want to come up first, or at least in the top three responses which tend to get 85 percent of the clicks. People are much more likely to click on the first few results on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). If you wrote a blog about your chocolate chip cookies and why they’re the best, how do you get your recipe to show up above JoyFoodSunshine’s?
First, we have to understand a tiny bit about how Google works and why it displays results in the order that it does.
How Google ranks websites
The intricacies of the Google algorithm are still somewhat secret and mysterious, but here are the basics. The goal of any search engine, like Google, is to provide the most relevant answer to your search query. Since Google has sadly never tried your famous chocolate chip cookies, the only way it can decide which of the 76.4 million recipes to display first is by ranking them according to relevance and authority.
- Relevance to the search query is assessed based on factors like title, topic and keywords or phrases such as “chocolate chip cookie.” That’s why a recipe titled “oatmeal raisin cookie” (ew) is not going to rank very high in the results. It’s not the match we’re looking for.
- Authority is how trustworthy Google thinks your site is. Search engines assume that the more popular a site is, the more reliable it is.
With the help of complicated algorithms and crawling methods that we don’t need to get into, Google assesses which chocolate chip cookie recipe is most relevant and trustworthy and sticks it at the top. We can use SEO strategies to prove to Google that your site is highly relevant and authoritative. By making a few tweaks, you can start improving your rankings so that more people click on your cookie recipe.
We’ve broken down some simple techniques you can implement for your SEO strategy today.
1) Create quality content
Yes, there are lots of little ways to “trick” Google’s little bots into ranking your site higher, and we’ll get into that. But remember that search engine algorithms are designed for one purpose: to bring the most valuable content to users. Google is constantly doing its job to find the best answers to search queries, and it’s wary of low-quality, sneaky sites trying to scam their way to the top. So, the only certain way to increase your SERP ranking is to produce useful, quality content. With that said, here are some ways to optimize your content.
- Prioritize keywords/phrases: when creating a page or a piece, think of the keyword or phrase you want to show up under on the search results page (i.e. chocolate chip cookies). Identify terms that are relevant to your business/industry. Ideally, they’re specific enough to attract the right audience. If they’re too broad (“cookies”), you get lost in millions of results. Use your word/phrase in your:
- First 100 words of your text
- Meta description (the text under a search result title before you click on it)
- Image file names, ALT tags, and descriptions
- There are software and plug-ins you can get for your site to help optimize for key phrases. We use Yoast for WordPress.
- Internal Links: link to other related pages on your site to keep readers engaged longer and to lead search engine bots to crawl other parts of your site, both of which boost rankings. Try for 2-4 internal links per post if possible.
- External Links: link to other sites as well to prove that you are a valuable resource to readers and help Google determine the topic you’re writing about
- Include multimedia: elements like images, videos, diagrams and audio can signal quality and create a better quality user experience.
2) Make your site easy for Google to navigate
Google’s little bots work to “crawl” around the internet indexing all of the sites they can find on the web so they can be displayed for relevant queries. We need to make it as easy as possible for them to find your page and read it so it can be ranked.
Keep in mind that search engine bots basically just see your site as text. They sadly can’t see the photograph you uploaded of a super gooey, warm cookie fresh out of the oven. So, focus on these factors instead to make sure your site is relevant to queries like “chocolate chip cookie recipe”.
- Make the structure readable: Google uses elements like structure and length to determine the quality of the piece when bots scan and index your page. People do, too—nobody wants to read 3,000 words of unbroken text. We don’t want to scare anyone, human or Google bot, away! So, make sure to:
- Keep sentences short: many SEO strategies suggest 20-25 words or less
- Keep paragraphs short: optimally 150-200 words according to Yoast.
- Use headings and subheadings: break texts into readable sections no longer than 350 words.
- Keep length appropriate: the optimal length of a page or blog is hotly debated and depends on your topic. Some say 300 words or less, others more than 2,500 for more complex topics. What’s important is that you make your piece readable and inviting no matter what you’re talking about.
- Simplify your URL: search engines like short URLs more than long ones. So, make sure your title contains the keyword or phrase you want to optimize for and not too much beyond that if possible.
- Speed up your page: the time it takes a page to load is one of the ways Google assesses reliability. Things like large images can slow your site’s load time down. See Google’s Page Speed Insights for ways to speed things up.
- Make sure your links work: if any of the links on your page lead to dead ends, it’s hard for bots to crawl and index your site, which could make you rank lower. Make sure anything you link still works–bonus points if you include internal links that direct visitors to more of your own content!
In addition to these easy tips, check out this HubSpot resource if you want to do your own technical SEO strategy audit.
3) Build trust with backlinks
As we established, relevance and authority determine your rankings. Backlinks are one of the ways Google judges authority. When someone mentions your page and links to it on their site, that’s a backlink. For example, if you want a longer, more in-depth guide to link-building, check out 77 Link Building Strategies for SEO in 2022. That’s a backlink. The more links that lead to you from other sites, the more trustworthy Google thinks you are. Basically: more popular = more reliable in a search engine’s little robot eyes.
However, quality matters too. You really want a site with high domain authority to link to you. For example, a reliable source such as the Food Network mentioning your cookie recipe in one of their articles is going to really boost your rankings. So, how do you get quality backlinks?
Some first steps for good link building:
- Reach out to similar sites to get your link featured on their page. You want your link embedded in other similar, quality content to build authority. Networking is a way you can make that happen. Pick a blog or website that might benefit from your content and email it to them. Suggest exactly what link they can use, and if they find it valuable they might mention you. Go for publications that tend to do roundups or publish lists of resources, like Eat This Not That’s 50 Recipes You Need to Try. Look for bloggers on your topic. This strategy is time-consuming, but also an important way to slowly build value for your page.
- Guest posting: if you can get featured on another site as a guest by writing a blog or article for them, they will often allow you to provide a link back to your site in your author bio. This is a great way to build authority.
- Profile links: when you make a profile for yourself on sites like LinkedIn or other platforms, there’s often a place to list your website. This is a quick and easy way to build up backlinks.
Focus on building high-quality links to your site on other reliable, popular domains. Link building takes time, so think of this step as an ongoing process. The more people discover how great your content is, the more it will be organically mentioned and featured. Soon, the whole world, and Google, will know your cookies are the best.
4) Track your SEO strategy progress
Want to see how all of your new SEO practices are working? There are many indicators you can look at. Here are a few you can track and how.
- Ongoing traffic: how many visitors go to your site from organic search results. Google Analytics is a great way to see this–go to the ‘Audience > Overview’ report, click on the ‘Add Segment,’ and select the ‘Organic Traffic’ field.
- Search rankings: see how your domain ranks for relevant keywords with easy-to-use tools like Serpstat. Just enter your domain and import keywords.
- Search visibility: with Google Search Console, you can see how many times your site comes up on someone’s results page in the Impressions Score
- Backlinks: check out the quality of your backlinks with Majestic, Ahref, Moz’s Links Explorer or Serpstat’s Backlink Analysis tool. A higher score means better quality backlinks.
- Click-through rate: CTR is basically the ratio of clicks on your site to total users who viewed search results. High CTR means high traffic, and you can see yours with Google Search Console.
- Bounce rate: how many users click on your site and immediately leave/don’t take further action. You want a low bounce rate, Google Analytics helps you track this metric.
We hope these tips help you get started with your SEO strategy. Remember, SEO doesn’t have to be anything too complicated—the basis for good rankings is creating good quality, readable content. Focus on that and try some of these tips to watch your rankings grow. Good luck with whatever content you are creating, chocolate chip cookies or otherwise.
While you’re optimizing your website and strategy, make sure you don’t get caught up in an SEO scam. Read our guide to know what you should avoid.