Last updated on August 13, 2021.
In this guide, you will learn the basics of SEO and get a basic understanding of what SEO is, how it works, what it involves, and why it is important.
If you are new to SEO and want to grasp the basics and fundamental SEO concepts, then this is the guide for you.
The guide to SEO basics is made of questions that every beginner SEO has, to-the-point answers, and a one-hour video where I discuss the fundamental concepts of SEO.
Absolute SEO Basics
In the videos below, I discuss the basics of SEO and share a lot of pro SEO tips. To learn SEO basics more quickly, I recommend you both read this article and watch the videos.
What is SEO and how it works?
SEO refers to the process of optimizing your website so that it will rank higher in the search engine results pages when someone searches for specific keywords. This gives your content exposure so people remain aware of your brand.
SEO has an enormous impact on your website traffic. If you want to receive lots of free traffic, you’re going to need to invest some time and effort into SEO. In turn, you’ll be able to attract more customers who are already searching for brands like yours and looking for offers like the ones you are offering.
There are hundreds of elements and factors influencing SEO, so it is not possible to cover all of them even in such a long SEO guide like the one you are reading now.
Why is SEO important?
SEO is important because it brings to your website visitors who are genuinely interested in what you are offering. These are the visitors who are exactly looking for information about the topic of your web page.
PRO INSIGHT: Did you know that Google receives about 65 000 searches every second? It means that all your current and potential customers are on Google. And you should be there too.
Every day more and more transactions and purchases are made on the Internet. This is especially true in 2021 and in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. More and more businesses are now going online and it’s mainly Google where customers come to look for what they need.
SEO is important! Hence this website.
What is the difference between SEO and SEM?
SEM stands for search engine marketing which refers to using paid strategies to gain visibility in search engines. This means paying for ads that appear directly in SERPs (search engine results pages) and look similar to organic search results.
The biggest difference between SEM and SEO is that with SEM your website stops being displayed in search results the moment you stop paying. Organic listings, on the other hand, are free and don’t disappear the moment you stop doing SEO.
In some highly competitive businesses, SEM makes more sense while in others it’s only SEO or the combination of the two.
PRO INSIGHT: SEM brings almost immediate results while SEO takes a lot of time and patience. Technically both are paid (unless you do SEO on your own) but it’s SEO that brings long-term results which can last for months or even years with little or no extra work.
What is organic traffic?
Organic traffic is the visits to your website that come from organic listings in SERPs (search engine results pages). The opposite of organic traffic is paid traffic which relates to visits that are generated through paid ads. Paid visits stop the moment you stop paying, which is not the case with organic visits.
PRO INSIGHT: Getting organic traffic to your website is the primary goal of SEO and the most reliable metric of your SEO success. Organic visitors are usually the most targeted and the most valuable visitors you can get to your website.
What are SERPs?
SERPs stand for search engine results pages which are the web pages displayed to users when they type in a search query (a keyword) into a search engine, such as Google or Bing.
SERPs contain 10 organic results on the first page, sponsored results (ads) usually on top, featured snippets (usually above organic results), and other elements like maps, images, videos, and others, depending on the query type.
PRO INSIGHT: The purpose of SEO is to get your website as high as possible on the first page of results for a given keyword. Only the first three results of the first page receive any meaningful organic traffic.
In the past, some 15 or more years ago, SERPs were made of 10 blue links. You probably noticed that this is not the case anymore. Try typing “Google in 1998” to see what SERPs looked like back then.
What is universal search?
Universal Search (also referred to as Enhanced Search or Blended Search) is the integration of different types of results within a SERP (search engine results page). Universal Search means that there are different types of media in a SERP instead of just 10 blue links. Universal search has been around since 2007.
Universal search results include assets like images, videos, local businesses, rich snippets, featured snippets, maps, shopping results, and more. These elements can be displayed among, below, above, or alongside regular organic listings in search engines like Google or Bing.
What exactly is displayed depends on the type of query, user location, or even their previous searches. Any clever SEO must account for universal search when doing SEO for themselves or their clients.
SEO basics: search engines & how they work
What is a search engine?
A search engine is a program (an online tool) that provides the results based on the query (keyword) a user submits. When a user types in a query, a search engine searches for relevant information in its database and displays it in the form of a SERP (search engine results page).
Search engines discover, analyze, understand, and organize the content on the web. Their main purpose is to provide the most relevant and the best results to their users.
PRO TIP: The main goal of search engines is to satisfy users’ needs and make them happy. To win in search engines, your goal as an SEO should be exactly the same.
The most popular search engine is – not surprisingly – Google with more than 75% of the market share. Other notable search engines are Bing (by Microsoft), Baidu (popular in China), or Yandex (popular in Russia).
Note that YouTube (owned by Google) is also a search engine and it’s the second-largest search engine in the world.
What is a keyword?
A keyword (also known as a keyword or key phrase) is a word or a combination of words that define and describe a given topic. They usually refer to online content, such as articles or blog posts.
In SEO, keywords are the terms and phrases that users enter into search engines to find the information they are looking for. Keywords understood as words typed into a search box in a search engine are also called queries or search queries.
Not all keywords are created equal, though.
What is a long-tail keyword?
A long-tail keyword is longer and more specific than a regular keyword. When users type in a long tail keyword they know exactly what they are looking for. Long-tail keywords are usually made of several words.
Long-tail keywords are usually much less competitive and are searched for much less frequently. However, there are many more long-tail keywords than regular keywords.
PRO INSIGHT: Did you know that about 18% of all the searches made on Google each day are completely new and have never been done before?
Examples of regular keywords:
Examples of long-tail keywords:
- How long does it take to audit a website
- WordPress plugin to speed up a website
- Different types of search engine optimization
PRO TIP: Long-tail keywords are usually quite easy to win. It is good to focus on optimizing your content for long-tail keywords especially if you have a brand new site that has not built its authority yet.
The definition of keywords would not be complete without digging a bit deeper into what’s behind a keyword. Yup, that’s search intent.
What is keyword research?
Keyword research is the process used by SEO professionals to find and analyze keywords (or search terms) that users type into search engines to find specific information, products, or services.
The easiest way to find keywords for SEO is to use one of many available SEO keyword tools. There are many both free and paid keyword tools you can use.
PRO TIP: With keyword research, you can learn what keywords are most often searched for, how competitive they are, and how difficult it is to rank for a given keyword.
Other great free or freemium keyword tools include AlsoAsked.com, AnswerThePublic, soovle, or simply Keyword Tool. When it comes to paid keyword tools there are tools, such as Ahrefs Keywords Explorer, Moz Keyword Explorer, or Semrush.
Keywords are more and more often analyzed in terms of search intent instead of just the meaning of a given word.
That’s why keyword research should also include the analysis of what type of content already ranks for a given keyword and what types of results Google displays.
What is search intent?
Search intent (also referred to as keyword intent or user intent) is the reason why a user types in a specific query into a search engine. Search intent describes the goal a user wants to achieve with the help of a search engine.
There are three main types of search intent:
- Informational intent is when a user is simply looking for information and wants to learn something. For example, a query like “how to learn SEO”.
- Navigational intent is about a user wanting to visit a specific website. Instead of typing the website’s address, they type its name into a search box. For example, “seosly seo guide”.
- Transactional intent is when a user is ready to make a purchase and is already in the buying mode. For example, “buy technical seo audit”.
PRO TIP: Search intent is becoming increasingly important for SEO. You should never optimize a web page for any keyword without at first analyzing the search intent behind it.
PRO TIP 2: The easiest way to check the search intent of a query is to simply analyze the results returned for it. If there are only informational guides there, then you can be pretty sure this is an informational query.
What is a featured snippet?
A featured snippet is a different form of presentation of a search result. Instead of being a link to the site, a featured snippet usually displays one or two sentences from a website in an attempt to directly answer a user’s query. A featured snippet can also be a list or a table.
Featured snippets are usually placed above organic search results and below sponsored results (ads). Another name for featured snippets is answer boxes.
What is a rich result?
Rich results (also called rich snippets) are regular search results with some additional information and data displayed. Rich results are displayed thanks to the presence of structured data in the HTML code of a web page.
Rich results provide additional information to the user and help search engines better understand the topic of a web page. Examples of rich snippets include recipes, reviews, or any other visually enhanced type of search result.
PRO TIP: Even though they don’t directly influence rankings, rich results make a web page look more attractive in SERPs. This may lead to a higher CTR which may influence the rankings of a web page.
What is CTR?
CTR stands for a click-through rate which is the ratio of users who click on a specific link to users who view a given link. CTR is often used in paid ads (Google Ads) to measure the success of an ad campaign.
In SEO, CTR tells you what percentage of users who viewed your web page in search results actually clicked on it.
What are ranking factors?
Ranking factors are the criteria that search engines use to assess and rank websites in search results. There are hundreds of both less and more important ranking factors (or ranking signals) influencing the website’s visibility in search.
Examples of ranking signals include a website’s backlink profile, technical optimization, speed, user behavior, content, internal linking, or security to name just a few.
Search engines rarely provide specific information on what is a ranking factor and what isn’t. However, they give a ton of useful guidelines on how to make your website the best of its kind making it friendly both for users and search engines.
PRO TIP: The 3 most important Google ranking factors are content, backlinks, and internal linking.
What is a backlink?
A backlink (also referred to as an incoming link, inbound link, or inlink) is a link from one website to another. Any external link pointing to your website is a backlink.
Google, Bing, and other search engines use backlinks as a ranking factor. They all admit it’s a ranking factor. In this respect, backlinks are treated as “votes of confidence” by search engines.
Since backlinks play a very important role in most search engine algorithms, they are very often overused or created purely with the purpose to mislead search engines.
PRO TIP: Building backlinks to increase rankings is against Google guidelines. Most link manipulations, such as links schemes are either ignored or result in a website being penalized.
What is a nofollow link?
Nofollow links are the links that you don’t want Google to associate with your website when determining your ranking. You add a no-follow tag to a backlink to tell Google that it shouldn’t pass any “link juice” to your website.
Nofollow links help you ensure that your website is only connected to well-reputed and authoritative sources. Unlike do-follow, no-follow is not a default attribute, and you have to add the tag to each link you don’t want to be associated with your website.
What is a dofollow link?
A Dofollow link is any backlink that Google considers when ranking your website. By default, all backlinks are dofollow. They have to be switched to nofollow (or you need to disavow them). If you don’t want Google to associate your website with those links, they might be coming from ill-reputed sources and get your ranking downgraded.
Do-follow links enable Google to determine which websites are linking back to you and calculate your ranking “worthiness.” You don’t have to add the do-follow attribute to make it a do-follow link as it’s the default configuration.
SEO basics: Google
Is Google the only search engine that counts?
There are search engines other than Google but Google is the search engine that counts the most. Google has over 75 % of the search market while its biggest competitor Bing has only about 10% of the market share.
There are, of course, other search engines like Baidu (the Chinese search engine), Yandex (the Russian search engine), or DuckDuckGo but it’s Google that we all care about the most.
PRO INSIGHT: The reason behind this is simple. Google simply provides the best and most relevant results. That’s why every SEO should know a bit about Google and what Google cares about the most.
In my list of alternative search engines, I show you all the most popular alternatives to Google.
What is Googlebot?
Googlebot is the name given to the algorithms and code (i.e., the “crawler”) that go through every website and tell Google what it’s about. Googlebot is responsible for discovering and indexing all the web pages on the internet so that Google knows about almost every piece of content (on all the webpages) that’s currently available online.
It allows Google to display the most relevant and up-to-date results when someone types in a term (or phrase) for Google to search. A website should be easy for the Googlebot to crawl through. Otherwise, Google won’t know about all the web pages you have on that website. As per Google, there are two different types of Googlebot crawlers:
- A Googlebot that stimulates and looks at the web from a desktop user’s perspective.
- A crawler that sees the web through a mobile user’s lens.
What are Google algorithms?
Google algorithms are very complex tools whose task is to retrieve data from the index and present it in the form of the best and the most relevant search results possible.Of course, Google uses combinations of different algorithms that take into account different types of signals to rank web pages.
Some of the most popular Google algorithms (or components of the Google search algorithm) are called RankBrain, BERT, or Caffeine.
I strongly recommend you read the article on how search works straight from Google to better understand how Google works.
What is Google algorithm update?
A Google algorithm update means a change (big or small) to the way Google algorithms assess, value, and rank websites.
Google algorithms are updated multiple times a day! It is not possible to track all of those changes and adjust your website to each one of them.
PRO TIP: You can use one of many SEO “weather” forecast tools that show rankings fluctuations on a daily basis. One of such tools is Mozcast.
A few times a year Google releases a broad core update which is a major algorithm update that usually impacts the rankings of many websites.
In the past, Google algorithms updates received special names like Panda or Penguin. Now they are simply called core updates like January 2020 Core Update.
Moz has an interesting historical list of Google algorithms updates.
What are Google Webmaster Guidelines?
Google Webmaster Guidelines are a set of rules and guidelines provided by Google with regards to optimizing a website for search and doing it the white hat SEO way.
PRO INSIGHT: I see it time and time again. If a website complies with Google webmaster guidelines, then it usually has no trouble ranking.
Google webmaster guidelines should be your SEO bible. I’m not kidding. Make sure to read Google webmaster guidelines if you still haven’t done it.
What is Google penalty?
A Google penalty is a situation where a website drops out of the search engine index or its rankings for given keywords drop dramatically. A Google penalty is almost always the result of breaking Google webmaster guidelines. There are two main types of penalties you can get: manual and algorithmic.
PRO TIP: Google is giving a manual action only if it cannot punish a website algorithmically. A manual action happens when a website owner manages to mislead Google algorithms so that they are not able to automatically detect this manipulation and need the help of a human.
Google is getting smarter and smarter at recognizing different mischievous SEO techniques. That’s why more and more penalties are now handled algorithmically.
Your job as an SEO is to play by the rules so that your website or your client’s website never gets penalized.
If the website does get a manual action, your task as an SEO is to clean it up as quickly as possible and disavow spammy links that were created to boost rankings.
What is Google Penguin?
Google Penguin refers to a significant 2012 update to Google’s search engine and ranking algorithm, which went through several updates till 2017 and is now part of the core algorithm. The Google Penguin update penalized websites that boosted their rankings through keyword stuffing or black hat backlinking.
Websites that previously relied on buying or cultivating backlinks unrelated or low-ranking sites simply to rank higher by the sheer virtue of numbers had to revert to acceptable SEO practices to rank higher on SERPs. It affects websites as a whole, instead of just specific web pages.
What are Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines?
Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines (also called Google Search Quality Raters Guidelines) is a publicly available document that is given to raters, people employed by companies working for Google. The raters’ task is to rate websites based on those criteria.
The raters do not influence the rankings of a website. Their ratings are used to improve Google algorithms so that they can return better results in the future.
The guidelines outline all the necessary elements that should be taken into account when evaluating a website. One of the very important elements discussed within guidelines is E-A-T (expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness).
PRO TIP: You should understand the Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines as a place where Google algorithms want to go, not how they work, and how they assess websites.
Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines contain a ton of useful information and should be read by absolutely each and every SEO several times at least.
What is E-A-T?
E-A-T stands for expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness and is a concept originating from Google’s Search Quality Raters’ Guidelines.
PRO INSIGHT: Every type of SEO analysis you do should assess the website in terms of E-A-T.
Your task as an SEO is to make sure that a website has a decent amount of E-A-T. If it does not, then you need to provide recommendations on how to improve it.
E-A-T is becoming more and more important, especially for YMYL (Your Money Your Life) websites. In some niches like medicine or law, it is now practically impossible to rank without a decent amount of E-A-T.
What is PageRank?
PageRank (PR) is an algorithm for calculating and evaluating the web page based on the quantity and quality of links pointing to it. PageRank was developed by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the founders of Google.
Since its creation in 1998, PageRank has changed and evolved but it still operates on the same core principles. The PageRank score is not public and is now only used internally by Google.
PRO FACT: In the past, the PageRank score was public in the form of Google’s Toolbar PageRank which was regularly updated. However, the PR score was overused and manipulated by black hat SEOs, so Google removed it entirely in 2016 (and stopped updating it in 2013).
What is RankBrain?
RankBrain is a machine learning-based system within Google’s core algorithm. The purpose of RankBrain is to identify and determine the most relevant results to user queries. It also helps Google better understand user queries and their intent.
PRO TIP: According to Google, RankBrain is one of the most important ranking factors alongside PageRank and content.
What is Bert?
BERT stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers and is a Google neural network-based machine learning technique used for natural language processing and pre-training.
The purpose of BERT is to help computers better understand natural language and better discern the context of words in complex search queries.
PRO TIP: With BERT, Google is able to understand and process complex queries often in the form of complicated questions with a lot of context.
BERT is part of the Google search algorithm and is now used in almost all English queries.
What is Google Autocomplete?
Google Autocomplete is a feature available in Google Search designed to help users complete their searches faster. Once a user starts typing, Autocomplete starts to automatically predict the queries based on what is being typed.
Autocomplete allows for completing your search without the need to type all the letters and words of your query. This is a huge time saver, especially for mobile users.
PRO TIP: Google highlights that Autocomplete is about predicting what a user is going to type, not suggesting the query.
What are Google search operators?
Google Search Operators (also called search commands or search parameters) are special commands and characters that you can type straight into Google to filter, refine, or narrow down the results. With search operators, it is way easier to find specific information or search a specific website.
The most common Google Search operators include
site: (displaying the results only for the domain specified),
"" (forcing an exact word match), or
- (excluding a certain word from your search).
What is Google Search Console?
Google Search Console or simply GSC (formerly knows as Google Webmaster Tools) is a free Google tool that allows website owners to monitor the process of indexing and crawling their website.
GSC also provides a wealth of data about the rankings of a website, number of clicks, CTR, and more. It also helps website owners better understand how their website is performing, what issues it is facing, and how to troubleshoot potential problems.
⚡ If you have a new WordPress website, you might want to check how to verify Google Search Console in WordPress.
⚡ If you already have Google Search Console set up and want someone else to analyze its data, check how to add a new user to Google Search Console.
Technical SEO Basics
What is technical SEO?
Technical SEO focuses on technical aspects of a site when it comes to improving its visibility in search engines.
Technical SEO includes, among others, optimizations, such as accessibility to internet robots, or how robots understand a website’s content. Site performance and its speed are also part of technical SEO. And so is the security (using HTTPS).
When doing technical SEO for a website, you should know and understand terms, such as an internet crawler (robot), crawling, indexing, rendering, structured data, breadcrumb navigation, or internal linking. You also need to understand what a robots.txt file and an XML map are and how to fix possible issues with them.
Why is technical SEO important?
Technical SEO is important because it’s the opening door for a website’s visibility in search.
The purpose of technical SEO is to help search engine robots access, crawl, index, and understand your website.
If a robot can efficiently crawl and index your website, then your website stands a chance of better rankings and improved visibility.
It doesn’t matter how awesome your content is if search engine robots cannot access and understand your website. Don’t neglect technical SEO!
What is a technical SEO audit?
A technical SEO audit focuses mainly on technical errors and optimizations to be made within a website. A technical audit usually analyzes things, such as a website’s indexability, speed, performance, XML sitemaps, and robots.txt.
PRO TIP: The first and the most important step in any technical SEO audit is to make sure that the website is indexable.
Technical SEO audits should highlight quick fixes and quick wins, such as noindexing thousands of thin content web pages or implementing correct redirects from outdated and irrelevant web pages.
What is crawling, rendering, indexing, and ranking?
Crawling, rendering, indexing and ranking are four different processes that shouldn’t be confused with one another.
- Crawling is the process in which a search engine bot discovers and analyzes new or updated content on the internet. A web page, an image file, and a video are all a type of content. Search engine bots discover content via links.
- Rendering is the process in which a search engine bot retrieves a web page, runs its code, and evaluates its content to understand its structure and layout.
- Indexing means storing the content discovered during the process of crawling and rendering. The information and data gathered during the crawling process are stored in the index.
- Ranking is the process of determining where a specific piece of content (usually a web page) should appear within a SERP (search engine results page). Good rankings are the main purpose of SEO.
PRO TIP: Crawling is not equal to indexing and indexing is not equal to ranking. Google has a nice guide explaining how the process of crawling, rendering, and indexing works.
What is crawl budget?
Crawl budget is the number of pages that Google indexes (or go through) every time it crawls your website. Once your website exhausts that budget, the crawler moves on to a different website, but that doesn’t mean it would go through the “known” old webpage and miss any new ones you’ve set up.
The budget is set and updated automatically by Google. It’s based upon your website size (number of web pages), update frequency, website speed, and internal linking, so it usually takes into account any new pages you have set up and updates your crawl budget accordingly.
Crawl budget doesn’t impact most websites’ SEO or ranking (simply because crawlers are efficient and the budget is almost always adequate). But big websites with several thousand pages and where new pages are added very frequently should optimize for crawl budget.
⚡ Check my guide to the crawl budget optimization.
What is a search engine robot?
A search engine robot (also referred to as a bot, crawler, or spider) is a tool that search engines, such as Google or Bing use to gather information about websites and add it to its database.
Search engine robots are similar to web browsers in how they operate except that they don’t need human interaction.
Bots access web pages mostly through links placed on other websites or XML sitemaps. The most popular search engine robots are, of course, Google crawlers.
What is an XML sitemap?
An XML sitemap is a text file that tells search engine robots which pages should be indexed. An XML sitemap can also provide links to other types of content like videos or images.
An XML sitemap informs Google (or other search engines) about the most important web pages of the website.
The purpose of a sitemap is to help search engines discover the web pages of the website.
PRO INSIGHT: An XML sitemap is especially important for huge websites that have deep information architecture. Small websites (up to a few hundreds of web pages) can do without an XML sitemap. However, it’s still a good practice to have one!
You can learn more about XML sitemaps straight from Google here.
What is robots.txt?
A robots.txt file tells search engine bots which pages or files should or should not be crawled. Note that the purpose of a robots.txt is to protect your website from overloading it with requests. It’s not a way to keep a web page out of the Google index.
PRO TIP: A very common SEO mistake is to use robots.txt to block URL from indexing. To block a URL from indexing, you should add a meta robots “noindex” tag to it.
I recommend you read Google’s introduction to robots.txt.
What are canonical URLs?
A canonical URL (also referred to as a canonical tag or a canonical link) is the URL of a web page that is the main or the “preferred” version of a given piece of content.
It helps prevent the problem of duplicate content when there are many similar web pages on a website.
What is canonicalization?
In SEO, canonicalization is the process in which, out of a number of similar URLs, one URL is chosen as the main one and the representation of other URLs.
PRO TIP: To check what URL Google chose as canonical, you can use the URL inspect tool in Google Search Console.
One way to help search engines choose one URL over another is to use a canonical link element. This is, however, only a hit and Google may still choose another URL as canonical if it thinks it is more relevant.
What are meta tags?
Meta tags (also referred to as metadata) provide information about a web page to search engines. Meta tags are practically invisible to users from the level of a web page because they are actually small snippets of code.
The most important meta tags are meta title, meta description, meta robots, meta viewport, and meta charset.
PRO TIP: In the case of many websites, the optimization of meta tags is a quick win when it comes to SEO.
PRO TIP 2: Meta tags should contain important and relevant keywords.
Search engines use the information contained in meta tags to display a web page in SERPs.
Meta tags also help search engines better understand what a web page is about. High-quality and clickable content of meta tags may help improve the CTR of a web page.
What is the title tag?
A title tag is an HTML element that tells the users and the crawlers what the title of your page is. It’s what is displayed as the main clickable heading when you search for something in Google.
Title tags are important for both SEO and click-through, but they are more important for your users than crawlers because when they put a link in the top spot, they take the whole content of the page into account. In contrast, online users will probably make up their minds about clicking after reading the title.
What is the ALT text?
ALT text (alternative text) is the HTML attribute used to describe the appearance and content of the image used on a website.
PRO TIP: Remember that ALT text is not the place to stuff your keywords but to describe the image.
ALT text is important both for users of screen readers and search engine robots because it conveys the meaning of the image.
What are headings?
Headings help both users and search engine robots better understand the content of a web page. There are five types of headings (from H1 to H5) with the H1 tag being the most important one.
PRO TIP: Headings are also very useful for users of screen readers.
Headings define different parts of a web page and how they relate to one another. They should contain the keywords you are optimizing a given web page for.
You can treat headings as chapters in a book where the web page is that book.
What is anchor text?
Anchor text is the content (usually just a few words) that is hyperlinked to another webpage. Anchor text should ideally be relevant to the page’s topic or the content it’s linking out to. It’s clickable and usually stands out from the rest of the content because it’s a different color and underlined, though you may choose to blend it in the content.
There are different types of anchor text, including exact, partial matches, and generic (like click here). Relevant anchor text helps both users and crawlers understand how the current content is connected to the webpage it’s linking out to. For example, my link to the technical SEO audit guide contains a relevant anchor text.
What is structured data?
Structured data in the context of SEO simply refers to providing information about a web page or a piece of content on it in a specific format, which is, in this case, Schema.org.
Structured data do not directly improve rankings but they influence how a web page looks in search results.
PRO TIP: Thanks to structured data, a web page becomes eligible for rich results, which can improve the attractiveness of its snippet in SERPs and make it more clickable.
In this way, structured data help search engines better understand what a web page is about and what other topics or entitles it relates to.
What is breadcrumb navigation?
Breadcrumb navigation (also known simply as breadcrumbs) is a secondary type of navigation that helps users better understand their location within a website’s structure.
PRO TIP: Breadcrumbs are an important element of the correct internal linking structure.
It’s usually located on top of a web page and contains links to higher-level pages like category or homepage.
What is mobile-first indexing?
Mobile-first indexing means that Google takes into account the mobile version of a site when it comes to crawling, rendering, indexing, and ranking.
In the past, users mostly viewed websites from their desktop computers, so Google primarily used the desktop version to index and rank a site.
Now the majority of Internet users use mobile devices, so the mobile version has become the new “default”.
PRO TIP: You should think of mobile-first indexing as “mobile-only” indexing.
In Google Search Console, you can check if your website has been switched to mobile. Just go to Coverage and check if Primary crawler says Mobile or Desktop.
What are Core Web Vitals?
Core Web Vitals are a set of Google performance metrics that highlight the key aspects of the user page experience.
Core Web Vitals include the 3 following metrics:
- Largest contentful paint (LCP) which focuses on loading time
- First input delay (FID) which is about interactivity
- Cumulative layout shift (CLS) which focuses on visual stability
Whenever you are thinking about mobile SEO and website speed, Core Web Vitals should always come to your mind first.
SEO Basics: types of SEO
What types of SEO are there?
There are lots of different types, categories, and subcategories of SEO. I really mean a lot! Let’s take a look at the most popular and the most important ones.
- SEO is often divided into on-site SEO and off-site SEO.
- On-site SEO refers to the optimizations of the elements of the website, such as meta tags, content, speed, URLs, internal links, and more.
- Off-site SEO refers to optimizations made outside the website, such as link building.
- There is also on-page SEO and off-page SEO which work analogically but relate to one specific web page instead of the whole site.
- SEO practices are often divided into back hat SEO and white hat SEO depending on whether you comply with Google webmaster guidelines or prefer manipulative techniques.
- Another common division of SEO is into technical SEO (focused on technical optimizations), mobile SEO (focused on optimizing a website for mobile), and local SEO (focused on local visibility).
In most cases, SEO simply refers to optimizing a website for search. But not always!
- That’s why we also have YouTube SEO, Instagram SEO, or App Store Optimization (ASO) which focus on increasing the visibility of a YouTube channel, an Instagram account, or a mobile app.
What is off-site SEO?
Off-site SEO refers to optimizations made outside the website with the purpose of increasing a website’s rankings and visibility in search engines. Off-site SEO aims at collecting external signals, such as backlinks.
There is also off-page SEO which aims at collecting external signals to a specific web page instead of on the whole website.
PRO TIP: A good SEO strategy relies on both on-site and off-site SEO.
Off-site SEO is most often associated with link building which is its main part. But there are other off-page SEO techniques as well.
Off-site SEO includes any promotional activities that take place off your website. It’s (high-quality) guest posting, getting mentions from other experts in the field, your activity on social media, or even being trusted and recognized by other authorities.
What is on-site SEO?
On-site SEO refers to the optimizations made on the website itself, such as meta tags, headings, ALT tags, content, speed, URLs, internal links, and more. It includes both the optimization of the website’s content and its HTML code.
PRO INSIGHT: Many on-site SEO optimizations fall within the scope of technical SEO which we will talk about in more detail below.
On-site SEO should focus on making the website accessible and easy to understand both for users and search engine robots.
Check my on-page SEO checklist.
What is black hat SEO?
Black hat SEO is the exact opposite of white hat SEO. It refers to the practices that are against search engine rules and recommendations. The purpose of black hat SEO is to deceive a search engine so that it ranks a website higher than it deserves.
PRO INSIGHT: Black hat SEO is an old-school type of SEO which is a very risky and short-term strategy.
Some common black hat SEO practices include keyword stuffing, link schemes, cloaking, or hidden text. Google is quite clear about what it considers black hat SEO and describes it in detail in its quality guidelines.
Black hat SEO techniques often result in a website being punished either algorithmically or by means of a manual action. A penalty is usually connected with a huge drop in traffic or a website being removed from search results.
What is white hat SEO?
White hat SEO refers to the website’s optimization tactics and methods that comply with official search engine recommendations and practices, such as Google Webmaster Guidelines.
In practice, this means playing with Google instead of trying to trick it into thinking that our website is better than it really is.
PRO INSIGHT: White hat SEO is a long-term strategy that requires a lot of patience and persistence but which pays off well.
PRO TIP: A good place to start your white hat SEO is from Google Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide.
White hat SEOs focus on providing valuable and useful content thanks to which they can build trust and authority. They care about users and their experiences, at the same time making the website as friendly and accessible as possible.
What is grey hat SEO?
Grey hat SEO is an area somewhere between back hat SEO and white hat SEO. More often than not it is being on the verge of breaking Google webmaster guidelines or breaking just a few of them without going to a total extreme.
PRO INSIGHT: It is very easy to go to the back hat side of SEO once you start to see that some of your grey hat SEO tricks work.
A grey hat SEO may have quite a decent site with nice content but still rely on tactics, such as buying relatively cheap links from guest posts on blogs that are part of a PBN (private blog network).
And now another interesting SEO type. Did you know that SEO is not always about improving rankings? It’s sometimes the opposite.
What is negative SEO?
Negative SEO refers to black hat SEO techniques and practices which aim at harming a competitive website’s rankings and visibility in search engines.
Some negative SEO practices include building thousands of spammy links pointing to a competitive website, hacking the website, or copying its content, and putting it in tons of different places over the Internet.
PRO INSIGHT: Doing negative SEO is usually a waste of time in addition to being unethical.
Google is getting smarter and smarter at recognizing when someone tries to harm a website with negative SEO techniques. In most cases, Google simply ignores these practices and the website under the attack hardly ever experiences negative results.
What is mobile SEO?
Mobile SEO refers to the practice of optimizing the website with a focus on mobile users and mobile-first indexing.
The purpose of mobile SEO is to make sure that a website is mobile-friendly and the page experience of mobile users is just as good as in the case of desktop users.
PRO INSIGHT: More than 50% of website traffic worldwide comes from mobile devices, which means that you cannot neglect mobile SEO.
Mobile SEO includes optimizations, such as a website’s speed, responsiveness, and the above-mentioned page experience of mobile users.
What is local SEO?
Local SEO is the process of optimizing a website for visibility in local search results. Local SEO, just like regular SEO, is about increasing organic (also called free or natural) traffic to a website.
However, the difference between SEO and local SEO is that the latter focuses on increasing the visibility of local and usually smaller businesses that have physical locations.
A geographic location is a vital component of local SEO. An example of a local query might be “pizza near me” or “pizza in London”.
All of the technical and mobile SEO techniques, of course, still apply to local SEO. However, there are a few local SEO-only tactics as well. The basic and the most important component of local SEO is to claim your firm’s Google My Business listing, which brings us to another question.
What is ASO?
ASO (App Store Optimization) refers to the process of improving the visibility and rankings of mobile applications (apps) within app stores (mainly Google Play and iTunes).
ASO is also referred to as mobile app SEO or app store marketing. The purpose of ASO is mainly to increase app downloads.
There are a lot of similarities between SEO and ASO as both rely on similar ranking signals, such as quality, user experience, indexability, user signals, etc.
Similarly, lots of traditional SEO techniques are also true for mobile app SEO. These include doing keyword research, optimization of app name and title, indexation of apps in Google, app ratings and reviews, optimization of app CTR, and more.
What is social SEO?
Social SEO refers to the process of gaining signals from social media with the purpose of improving the visibility of a website and its rankings in search engines.
PRO TIP: Signals from social media websites do not directly influence the website’s ranking in search engines.
However, social media can bring a website a lot of valuable traffic and users if, for example, a piece of content goes viral. This may indirectly help improve the overall visibility of a website.
What is YouTube SEO?
YouTube SEO is the process of optimizing a YouTube channel (along with its videos) so that it ranks highly in YouTube (and Google). SEO for YouTube involves techniques, such as optimizing a channel (its description, metadata) and its videos (optimizing keywords, title, description, adding transcriptions).
YouTube is the second-largest search engine in the world (guess who the number one is). That’s why, if you produce video content, then it’s definitely a good idea to invest your time or money in this type of SEO.
What is WordPress SEO?
WordPress SEO simply refers to the search engine optimization of a WordPress-based website. The general SEO recommendations apply to any website regardless of its CMS.
However, the methods of implementation of some of these SEO optimizations differ depending on the CMS used. In the case of WordPress sites, the implementation of SEO optimizations is usually very quick and easy.
PRO INSIGHT: 30% of websites on the internet are powered by WordPress, so it’s certainly a good idea to know how to do SEO for WordPress sites.
The beauty of WordPress is that it lets you optimize many advanced and technical aspects of a site even if you are not a technical person.
SEO basics: SEO tools
Do you need SEO tools?
SEO tools make it so much easier to collect, analyze, and draw conclusions from data. They also let you do a deep analysis of any website. Most SEO tools will also highlight the major SEO problems of a website and suggest possible fixes.
However, your human interpretation of what they are saying is crucial.
Tools are also invaluable when it comes to analyzing competition, choosing the keywords to target, creating the strategy for your website, or simply checking how it’s doing in comparison to other websites.
SEO tools give you the knowledge & data you need to grow a website and turn it into a profitable business. However, the catch here is that you need to know what tools to use and how to use them. I know the number of available SEO tools is overwhelming. But don’t worry. That’s why you have SEOSLY Pro and me.
What tools should you start with?
There are so many SEO tools out there that choosing the right tools for a website may seem overwhelming. Fortunately, many of these tools are quite similar and it’s really about choosing the tools you like the most and learning how to use them.
Here are some tools you may want to start with:
I know that there is an overlap between the tools I show you below but some tools belong to several categories (i.e. a given tool is free, essential, and comes from Google).
What free SEO tools are there?
What free SEO tools are there?
Fortunately, there are lots of awesome free SEO tools you can use to improve the SEO of your website. Here are some free SEO tools you might want to check:
- Basic Google tools such as Google Analytics, Google Search Console, Google PageSpeed Insights, Mobile-Friendly Test, Rich Results Test, or Google My Business.
Check my full list of Google SEO tools.
- Bing Webmaster Tools and Clarity from Microsoft.
- Ahrefs Webmaster Tools.
- Keyword research tools like Google Keyword Planner, AlsoAsked.com, or AnswerThePublic.
- Tools for checking links, such as Link Explorer by Moz, Backlink Checker by Ahrefs.
- Technical tools for crawling the website like Screaming Frog SEO Spider (there is a limit with a free version) and Sitebulb (you can get a 60-day free trial).
Check my full list of SEO audit tools.
- Useful Chrome SEO plugins like Link Redirect Trace, Detailed SEO Extension, and SEO Indexability Check.
Check my full list of SEO extensions for Chrome.
- Free WordPress SEO plugins, such as Rank Math, Yoast, or All in One SEO Pack.
- SEO “weather” tools like Mozcast or Semrush Sensor.
- A bit advanced Google SEO tools like Data Studio, Disavow Tool, Lighthouse, and Chrome DevTools.
This is just a preview of what a list of free SEO tools might contain.
SEO Basics: the practice
What are the top techniques for SEO?
Based on my experience, the top techniques for SEO include:
- Making sure the website is accessible to search engine bots and there are no obvious technical issues, such as a noindex tag.
- Optimizing meta tags and headers so that both users and search engine bots can understand the main topic and subtopics of a web page.
- Creating high-quality useful in-depth content that helps users solve their problems or answers their questions. In other words, content that meets users’ needs.
- Earning (not building) high-quality backlinks that actually bring traffic to a web page.
- Building a website’s E-A-T.
- Following SEO and webmaster guidelines provided by Google.
PRO TIP: I put accessibility to search engine robots at the beginning because this is the foundation without which a website does not stand a chance of high rankings no matter how great it is.
When does SEO start working?
SEO takes time and requires a lot of patience. There are lots of variables influencing how quickly you can see the first effects of SEO. It depends on the size, type, or age of a website. It also depends on the niche and how competitive it is.
- In general, you can expect the first results after a few weeks.
- New sites usually need to wait a few months.
- The greatest effects (and the snowball effect) usually come from consistent white hat SEO actions taken for a couple of years.
PRO INSIGHT: My own experience shows that a brand-new website usually starts to take off after about 8 months. Of course, I mean 8 months of creating new high-quality content.
Unfortunately, many people want immediate results and are unwilling to wait for the big and real SEO effects to come. As a result, they either engage in black hat SEO techniques or choose an SEO “expert” who guarantees quick and awesome results. This is usually a shortcut to a website penalty instead of SEO success. Don’t take this road.
Remember that there are no guarantees in SEO. If an SEO specialist or an agency guarantees rankings, run away.
Why does SEO take so long?
SEO takes so long because it is about establishing your position as an expert in your niche, building authority and trust, adding value, and meeting your visitors’ needs. Just like in any other field or industry, this is not a quick process.
If you are looking for instant results and bringing traffic to your website immediately, then PPC (pay per click) may be a better option for you. However, it’s SEO that brings long-term results and steady free organic traffic to a website.
⚡ You may want to check my article on how long SEO takes to work.
How can you tell if SEO is working?
You can say that SEO is working if your business is growing and new customers are coming. SEO success should never be measured purely by keyword rankings. This is a rabbit hole!
A website’s ranking for a particular keyword or keywords brings a lot of useful information but it should never be an SEO goal in itself. It is a common situation where a website has high rankings for hundreds of low-volume and low-demand keywords that bring no traffic or no new customers.
But it is sometimes enough for a website to have high rankings for just a bunch of high-volume and high-demand keywords that bring lots of traffic that converts easily.
The SEO success metric is organic traffic that is converting and turning into happy customers. It does not matter so much if it comes from tons of long-tail keywords or a few highly competitive search phrases.
How often does SEO need to be done?
SEO is not a one-time process that you follow and complete. This is an ongoing process that needs to be done on a regular basis and that requires constant monitoring and supervision.
However, contrary to PPC (pay per click), SEO doesn’t stop the moment you stop paying for it. An excellent website (in terms of content, E-A-T, and technical SEO) may do well for many months without much work on the SEO side except for some basic monitoring and regular creation of new content.
However, I believe that any serious business that relies on organic traffic should have an SEO or an SEO agency taking constant care of the SEO side of things.
What is link building?
Link building is the process of acquiring links to a website from other high-quality and thematically-related websites.
Acquiring does not mean buying but rather earning those links by creating such high-quality content that others genuinely want to link to it.
PRO INSIGHT: Examples of high-quality shareable content are stats reports, in-depth guides, or research results, to name just a few.
Whether you like it or not, content marketing is an integral part of SEO.
What is a link audit?
A link audit is a process of analyzing all the incoming links to a website in an attempt to assess if they may be hurting the website and negatively impacting its rankings.
Doing a link audit and submitting a disavow file to Google Search Console may prevent a website from being punished for link manipulations.
PRO INSIGHT: Disavowing backlinks is a must if a website gets a manual action for unnatural linking.
What is an SEO audit?
An SEO site audit (or simply an SEO audit or website audit) is the process of analyzing and evaluating a website in terms of its search engine optimization and visibility in search engines.
PRO INSIGHT: The purpose of a website audit is to detect any issues that need fixing to improve a website’s ranking and visibility.
An SEO audit checks if a website complies with webmaster guidelines and other best SEO practices.
What is disavowing?
Disavow means telling Google (or another search engine) not to consider specific backlinks when ranking your website. You cut any positive or negative ties to a backlink when you disavow it, so even if it’s functional (still points to your website, and you might get traffic from it), it’s “dead” in terms of SEO. You disavow any backlinks that you think are doing your website more harm than good.
When used effectively, disavowing a link prevents a spammy site from bringing your website ranking down by backlinking to it. But it can also be a double-edged sword because disavowing a link also means that it stops passing any link juice to your website/webpage.
Disavowed links are not removed, and you would need to contact the webmaster of the site or original poster to get them removed.
Is SEO difficult to learn?
Whether SEO is difficult to learn depends on where you start and how computer-savvy you are. I would say that SEO isn’t difficult to learn provided that you are ready to spend many hours studying, experimenting, and drawing conclusions.
PRO INSIGHT: SEO may be quite difficult to learn if you don’t really “feel” it and are not genuinely interested in it.
It’s like with any other craft. If you dig deep, are curious, educate yourself in many ways (books, online courses, videos, podcasts), then SEO becomes easier and easier. All the necessary SEO resources and materials are available online, so it’s really all up to how easy and effective your SEO learning path is.
Can you learn SEO on your own?
Of course, you can learn SEO on your own. In fact, most SEOs out there are self-taught (especially those with many years of experience).
SEO, at least as of now, is not taught at universities. Neither is there a course of studies with a major in SEO. However, there are plenty of online SEO resources. Google alone provides so many tutorials, articles, and books on SEO that you will probably not have enough time to read all of them. A great place to start is Google Search Central.
You are very lucky if you’re starting out your SEO journey now because the number of courses and SEO materials available is so huge and diverse. That was not the case when I was starting out.
In addition, there are also lots of friendly and helpful SEO communities or SEO experts who are willing to share their knowledge. All you need is persistence, motivation, and consistency. A good place to learn SEO is the place you are now in!
How fast can you learn SEO?
The answer to how fast you can learn SEO is the most hated SEO answer: it depends. But that’s true. It depends on how much time you’re willing to spend and how serious you are about your SEO journey.
- If you plan to spend a few hours a day learning SEO, then you can master the basics within a few weeks or even less.
- If you have only a few hours a week, then be ready to spend a few months before you have fundamental SEO knowledge.
And remember that once you learn the basics and have a basic understanding of SEO, you need to start learning it the practical way. Practice and experience are vital to SEO.
⚡ Check my article on how long it takes to learn SEO where I share my experience and best practices on learning SEO.
How can you get experience in SEO?
The best and the quickest way to get experience in SEO is to set up your own website and start experimenting. Your first website probably won’t be “the website” you are going to be proud of but it will help you get the SEO experience you need.
PRO TIP: Set up a WordPress site and start experimenting without worrying that you may break things!
That’s how I got my first job in SEO. I showed the recruiters the websites I built myself and their GA traffic reports to prove that they indeed rank. And I got hired as a junior SEO!
What skills do you need for SEO?
What skills you need for SEO is another “it-depends” type of question but generally, you need basic knowledge of computers and how they work, basic knowledge of how websites are built and how they work (HTML, CSS), knowledge of how the internet works, an analytical mind that likes data, being stubborn and eager to learn.
And, above all, you need to have a “feel” for computers. If you have it, you know what I am talking about.
Who is an SEO?
An SEO is a search engine optimizer, a person whose task is to audit and analyze websites in terms of their compliance with search engine standards and guidelines. An SEO is also often the person who implements on-page optimizations on a website or at least verifies their implementation.
My work as an SEO is mainly made of doing extensive and technical SEO audits. However, what you will exactly do as an SEO depends on your specialization in SEO, the company you work for, the type of clients you have, and more. I am an SEO and I really love it!
How do you start a career in SEO?
SEO is one of these professions in which experience is way more valuable than formal education. You don’t need to have a master’s degree in computer science to become an SEO. To start a career in SEO, you need to do the following:
- Learn SEO by yourself. Master the basics using tons of free SEO resources and materials. The SEOSLY website is a great place to start.
- Put your fresh SEO knowledge into practice by setting up a few websites and optimizing them for SEO. You can also help a friend with SEO.
- Reach out to other experienced SEOs and pick their brains.
- Analyze the results you achieved with your first SEO projects.
- Start applying for junior SEO specialist positions. And you’re there!
Does SEO pay well?
With SEO and whether it pays well is like with any creative profession. The more value you generate, the more you earn. The average base pay for an SEO specialist is about $50 thousand per year. Whether you go above or below this is totally up to you.
Just like with most professions, you will earn many times more if you have your own SEO firm instead of working as an SEO in someone else’s SEO agency.
If you are very good at SEO, it pays well or even beyond well. If you are mediocre, then your earnings will almost always reflect that. So, yes. SEO does pay well if you provide real value and do your absolute best in any SEO task you do.
Does SEO require programming knowledge?
No, SEO doesn’t require coding. You will be perfectly fine doing SEO without knowing how to code. There are lots of great SEOs who don’t code. However, if you are an SEO and you know how to program, then you will have an advantage.
There are lots of great online courses that will teach you the basics of programming. It is really worth taking a few of those courses.
In my opinion, every ambitious SEO should invest some time in learning at least the basics of coding. This will make their work not only easier but also way more valuable
SEO Basics: hiring an SEO
Should you hire someone to do SEO for you?
If you are serious about growing your online presence (and in most cases, you should be), then you should think about hiring someone to do SEO for your website.
A company owner usually has little or no extra time that they may spend learning and doing SEO on their own. Not to mention the fact that an experienced SEO specialist will have all the necessary knowledge to do SEO without experimenting with your business.
Having experts do SEO for you can really give you a great competitive edge. The knowledge and experience of a good SEO specialist are almost always worth paying for. Even if it’s huge money.
Note that practically any company with a good online presence and high visibility in search engines has an SEO or an SEO team on board. You should too. Google has a nice article about whether or not you should hire an SEO.
How can you find a trusted SEO company?
Finding a trusted SEO company isn’t very easy as there are still lots of black hat and unethical SEO firms that guarantee awesome results at very competitive prices.
Below are the criteria that may really help you. A reliable and trusted SEO company:
- will never promise you specific rankings for specific keywords.
- is willing to share with you the results they achieved with other customers.
- has a lot of good testimonials.
- has been on the market for a few years at least.
- has a decent and SEO optimized website that looks professional.
- always wants to start with doing an SEO audit of your website.
- is quick to respond to any of your questions or doubts.
- focuses on your income and traffic to your website, not keyword rankings.
How much does SEO cost per month?
The cost of SEO per month depends mostly on the experience of an SEO hired, the competitiveness of the industry, and the specific goals you want to achieve through SEO.
In places like Fiverr you can find lots of SEO “specialists” that will audit your website for 50$ and offer SEO services for $100 or $200 per month, but do you really want to do that?
A few years ago it was enough to pay a few hundred bucks to a random SEO agency that would rank your website with mostly black hat or dark grey hat techniques, such as building hundreds of spammy links to your site or stuffing keywords on your pages.
PRO INSIGHT: Any decent SEO expert will rarely charge below $2000 a month for complex SEO services. That’s because high-quality SEO requires hard work and is extremely valuable.
It has changed a lot since then. Now it’s all about authority, quality, expertise, and relevancy. That’s why you need to be ready to pay at least a few thousand dollars a month for a high-quality SEO service and at least a few thousand for an in-depth high-quality SEO audit.
In many cases, it’s 5000$ and up. Some known SEO experts charge even $10000 per month for SEO. Provided that you find an excellent SEO firm or an SEO expert, it’s money well invested.
What do SEO services usually include?
Contracted SEO services usually include some or all of the below:
- An in-depth SEO audit at the start to diagnose the website
- A technical SEO audit at the start and then at least 2-4 times a year
- A content audit
- A link audit
- Competition analysis
- Keyword research
- Visibility analysis
- Analysis and monitoring of data in Google Search Console and Google Analytics
- On-site SEO optimization, such as optimization of title tags, meta descriptions, H1 tags, etc.
- Off-site SEO, such as building your website’s reputation and trust online
- Technical optimizations, such as creating or updating an XML sitemap and robots.txt
- Speed analysis and optimization
- Monthly reporting
- Link building (or rather authority building)
This list, of course, isn’t final. The exact scope of an SEO service depends on the SEO company, the website, its industry, its competition, its business goals, and many other factors.
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Olga Zarzeczna is a senior SEO specialist with 8+ years of experience. She has been doing SEO for both the biggest brands in the world and small businesses. She has done more than 100+ SEO audits so far. Olga has completed SEO courses and degrees at universities, such as UC Davis, University of Michigan, and Johns Hopkins University. She also completed Moz Academy! And, of course, has Google certifications. She keeps learning SEO and loves it. Olga is also a Google Product Expert specializing in areas, such as Google Search and Google Webmasters.