SEO - A beginner's guide, best practices

SEO beginner's guide - SEO best practices to optimize your website for search engines/higher rankings.

• 1520 words

• By Scott Mathson

SEO - A beginner’s guide to optimizing your website

My intentions in this article are to lay out some basic SEO (search engine optimization) best practices, relevant not only at the time of this article being published, but presumably far beyond. I’ve been building websites for a while now, starting with diving in heads-first into my first WordPress site back in 2007.

Though I’m not currently, personally using WordPress.org, save for working on some client’s or previous employer’s sites, it truly is a great place to begin. If you’re building and maintaining websites, and you are currently using WordPress, I highly recommend that you check out the Yoast SEO plugin.

Most importantly: set yourself up for success, don’t overlook SEO.

This article isn’t about WordPress or plugins therein - go check em out, though.

Onward!

SEO best practices

If you’re new to building websites, then SEO may be a foreign term. In your research of SEO, I’m sure you’ve discovered that optimizing your website for search engines, with intentions of ranking higher and ranking for specific keywords is truly an amazingly, vast topic.

That’s why I’m here to lay out some SEO basics.

I want to lead with an important note, something that you should avoid doing in your SEO strategy.

Always avoid “keyword stuffing”. Search Google for more, in regards to a deeper definition and examples of what keyword stuffing is - although I know that you can define what this is by the name itself.

Instead, focus on writing content that provides value and is readable by your website’s users (humans). Search engine’s advanced algorithms and indexing bots will decipher and rank your website’s page or post based off of the content itself, the content’s relevancy to a specific topic, among many other factors.

There are a lot of different ranking factors. Let’s take look at these SEO best practices and basics that you should not overlook.


The Foundation

Keywords:

Often the first step in SEO is defining the keywords that you want your whole website, alongside individual pages to rank for. There are a lot of resources for doing keyword research: narrowing down the exact terms or phrases that are actually being searched, alongside their search volume, and how competitive that term will be to try and rank for.

At a basic level, and for the sake of a consistent example in this article, let’s select the term/phrase “SEO for beginners” (not the exact keyword phrase I’m trying to rank this article for, FYI).


Semantic URLs:

It’s important to have the keywords incorporated into URLs to increase relevancy, stay semantic, and for higher rankings.

The structure of your URLs is truly important.

Semantic URLs are written with hyphens (-).

In structuring and naming of your website’s URLs, it’s important to be semantically correct by using hyphens to separate words, not underscores, periods, or anything else (save for referencing files - index.html for example).

Here’s an example of a blog post with a semantically correct URL string, with our “SEO for beginners” keyword phrase:

https://scottmathson.com/blog/seo-for-beginners/

An example Google SERP (search engine results page):

SEO Beginner's Guide - Semantic URL in Google SERP

Certain website CMS or tools will add category, date, or tags to URLs.


Page titles:

  • Keep titles under 60 characters
  • Lead with the keywords/phrase you’re trying to rank for
  • Again, don’t keyword stuff

An example of a page title for this keyword phrase chosen, alongside adding more, relevant keywords to the page or post title could look like:

SEO for beginners - Search engine optimization strategy

Google SERP example:

SEO Beginner's Guide - Page Title in Google SERP

Just as we do in naming the URL, it’s important to add definitive keywords in the page or post’s title tags to signal relevancy.


Meta descriptions:

  • Keep meta descriptions under 160 characters
  • Include keywords/phrase, but write naturally, for humans
  • Again, don’t keyword stuff

Meta descriptions provide information to your potential readers and if you get them to click-through to your website, therein lay the SEO value. They should be incorporated and optimized on every single page.

Optimized meta descriptions are 160 or less, they’re unique to that page or post (not duplicated across many), and provide an opportunity to rank for terms and keywords, alongside grabbing your potential reader’s attention.

Again, a good SEO strategy to develop is to ensure you avoid the presence of duplicate meta description text content.

Write meta descriptions for:

Every.

Single.

Page.

SEO for beginners: develop a strategy to optimize your website for search. Learn how to optimize page titles, meta descriptions, alt tags, file names, and more.

Google SERP example:

SEO Beginner's Guide - Meta Description in Google SERP

These pieces make up the search engine results page (SERP), and items like the page title are also used in browser tabs, when shared on social, and more. I hope I’ve illustrated how starting with this foundation is important to optimizing websites for usability, accessibility, and SEO.

Always spend the time writing and adding relevant and semantic URLs, page titles, and meta descriptions.

There’s more!


On-page elements: Images

File names:

  • Semantic URL structure with hyphens
  • Concise, with descriptive keywords/phrase included
  • Yet again, don’t keyword stuff

Something I’ve often seen over-looked are images, their file names and alt tags. Label images “what they are” so as to tell indexing bots, as well as anyone working on your website what these images are. Images should be named relevant to the content of the page they’re being shown on.

Avoid labeling “how they are” (dimensions, editing programs used, etc.) and “when they are” (dates).

Bad: “SEO4529DHH_PHOTOSHOP.jpg” or “SEOForBeginnersInfographic:1920x1080px.jpg

Good: “seo-for-beginners-infographic.jpg

Have consistency in this.

Adding the photos’ dimensions into the file name or not including hyphens do not help with SEO. Ensure that any image file you’re uploading to your website are logically named, making sense to both search engines and users.


Alt tags

Meta data such as alt tags (alt text) and title tags in images help with SEO and accessibility. In adding alt text to images, search engines are able to have more context as to what this image is, in relation to the rest of the content.

Most importantly, write alt tags/text for humans and you should not use hyphens.

Alt text displays in a couple of instances.

One case: a broken image. If the page that is trying to display an image cannot for some reason, it will display the alt text in place of it.

Second case: for accessibility’s sake. For visitor’s that are using screen-readers, the alt text gives context for those people that cannot see images.

*Bonus tip: Use the title attribute to add even more SEO value and when hovering over the image, it will display this attribute. <img src="example.jpg" alt="example image" title="This is an image title" />


Recap:

  • URLs: ‘/category-page/page-or-post-with-relevant-keyword/’
  • Titles: ‘Title of Page or Article (with keywords/phrase) - Company’
  • Meta descriptions: Under 160 characters and written naturally, for humans.
  • Image File Names: image-of-keyword.jpg following URL structure with the hyphens
  • Image Alt tags: Accurate image description

SEO tools and resources

As I mentioned above, if you’re somebody who is a) new to building and maintaining websites and b) you are using WordPress, then I highly recommend that you check out the Yoast SEO plugin. Here are a few other must-have tools when focusing on SEO and building websites, in general.

  1. Raven Tools Site Auditor
  2. Google WebMaster Tools
  3. Google Analytics
  4. PageSpeed Insights
Raven Tools logo Tools Free Site Auditor
Audit my site

Why haven’t I written about SEO yet?

Twofold: time and this site’s focus. Though SEO is something that I am very passionate about and practice daily, I’m usually doing just that: working on optimizations, not writing articles about them.

I’ve been unsure exactly where I’ve been wanting to go with my personal website here, as well. Portfolio site? Digital journal/micro-blog? I do regret not spending as much time writing quality content for you readers, but fret no more!

I’ve purchased the .com (previously .me domain) and am completely re-focusing the site and it’s content. I look forward to providing insight and quality content in the way of website optimizing, designing, developing, and more. Thank you, to those of you reading and I’m looking forward to providing more and better quality content!

chevronLeft icon Previous Next chevronRight icon