A Beginner’s Guide to SEO
This post on a beginner’s guide to SEO is part of a broader series on how I am working to improve my blog traffic, engagement, and reader experience. I only recently started implementing SEO practices on my blog, and have already seen a 20% growth in page views, which rules.
Learning SEO is such a big topic, so I plan to do multiple posts on this in the month of June. Unless of course you want a 5,000 word post. No? Didn’t think so. With that in mind, let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start. When you write you begin with ABC, when you blog you begin with SEO. <— I just wrote that all by myself. No inspiration from anywhere else. 😉
Biggest question for easily 90% of you right now is “what in the hell is SEO”? Good question. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. There are so many definitions out there of what it actually means, but what I have drilled down is basically it is making sure your posts and blog are easy for search engines to find and use. There are thousands of ways to make this happen, but for the “layman” blogger out there like myself, understanding the basics can be a strong foundation to build on as you grow. I have been blogging for seven years, and only started giving a crap about SEO in the last two weeks. As I delve in to this craziness, I realize I should have been doing it all along. I can’t help that now, so hopefully I can help others who are just getting started.
What piqued my interest in learning more about SEO was this podcast on Food Blogger Pro. That podcast led me to search their archives for more SEO info, and this podcast episode and this one were incredibly helpful as well. Ohhhh, and this episode as well. I am going to delve more deeply in to the topic of how to apply SEO to your site next week, so I highly recommend you listen to those podcasts before reading future posts if possible. I read online guides, watched presentations, and have been working hands on with SEO, but those podcasts made me understand the process in a much less mind-numbing way. If you want to read something online, this 10 part tutorial from Moz gives a broad overview.
When someone goes to Google and types in a search word, they are looking to do one of three things – do, know, or go. They want to do something (like buy a pair of skis), know something (like watch a video on how to ski), or go (purchase a season pass for skiing). Per Moz, “the search engines’ primary responsibility is to serve relevant results to their users”. Google, Bing, and Yahoo want you to find what you are looking for, and they want to provide it to you quickly. Do you remember that scene in the amazing cinematic masterpiece The Rock, when Sean Connery beats up everyone who is guarding him and is escaping in an elevator? The man who just cut his hair is incidentally trapped in there with him. As the man cowers in the corner, he says “all I care about is if you’re happy with your hair cut”. That’s Google. Even with all the chaos going on, they just want you to be happy with the results they give you based on your keywords.
If you search for “how to ski” a search engine will display a page with results. Let’s say you click on the first one, realize it isn’t want you want, so you go back to Google and look through the other results. Google considers that a problem because they weren’t serving your needs. If your site was the first one listed after that result, they will then re-evaluate how relevant your content is for that topic. If it happens too often, they will downgrade your site in their results when someone is searching for that same topic. According to Moz, “it is both relevance and popularity that SEO is meant to influence”. So, how you structure and write your posts will either help or hinder search engines when they’re trying to produce results for users.
If you’re working on learning SEO for your own site, here is your homework for next week:
- Listen to those podcasts! And maybe read that online guide. Like if you can’t sleep or something.
- Find out what SEO options are available to your for your site. If you have WordPress, I am using the Yoast plug in, which is free. They have a premium version that is $69 a year, but I’m not ready for that yet. That would be like giving a Ferrari to a new driver; more power than is needed.
- Install Google Analytics on your site. Also totally free.
- Hopefully your blog already had some sort of stats plug in installed on it. I use Jetpack on WordPress, which is friggity, friggity, free. I used Blogger as my platform for almost five years, so unfortunately my available stats history only goes back two years. But something is better than nothing! That is what I tell myself when buying bras.
- If you already have stats and data you can review, spend some time poking around in that area. For Jetpack, you’ll hover over Jetpack, and then click on “site stats”.
- Then go over to “Top Posts and Pages” and click “summaries”:
- Then sort by clicking “all time”:
- Then make note of your top 10 posts. Those are the ones we’ll work on updating over the next few weeks. Sure you’ll eventually want to update and apply SEO to most of your old posts, but that is overwhelming. Ten seems manageable(ish).
- Go and read those ten posts before next week. If you’re like me, you’ll do a lot of cringing. Make notes about what you’d like to change, what still works, and what could be polished a bit more.
SEO is a long-term investment in your blog. In most cases, it takes months or even years to see the dividends of your work paying off. I noted at the start of this post that my pageviews have increased by 20% since I implemented these changes. While that is true, it doesn’t tell the whole story. I updated some popular old posts, and republished them with a current date. Increased traffic/pageviews could be a result of simply having new posts on the homepage when I republished them. The only way to know for certain whether changes I implemented are making a difference, is to track traffic to individual posts. In Google Analytics, you can look at individual posts and track the pageviews over time. Even then, your post could have been pinned by a popular pinner on Pinterest and that drove more traffic. Your SEO could have nothing to do with it. Another metric I will be checking are the search terms that bring people to my blog. Let’s say that “oil cleansing method pictures” was a term that used to drive about 30 visitors to my blog per month. It will be interesting to see if my search traffic increases based on the SEO changes I made to that post.
Ok, you have your homework and marching orders. This beginner’s guide to SEO is just the first step in learning a vast amount of mumbo jumbo over the next few weeks.