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A Simple (But Complete) SEO Tutorial for Beginners in 7 Steps

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A Simple (But Complete) SEO Tutorial for Beginners in 7 Steps

Starting with SEO can be overwhelming—many technical terms, checklists of tens of tasks to do, learning resources contradicting each other, and the list goes on. I remember when I got into the game.

This SEO tutorial should get you on the right track. We’ll go through seven essential steps to help you increase organic traffic and ensure you have the right foundation to advance your SEO skills further.

Let’s dive into it.

1. Understand what keywords people are searching for

People look up information around your brand, product, or service in tons of different ways.

Our job is to find these keywords and choose the best ones to target with relevant content. This process is known as keyword research.

You’ll need a keyword research tool to do that. There are a bunch of free ones, such as our free keyword generator, so you can get started right away. Simply plug in keywords that describe your business, products, or problems your audience might need to solve.

Let’s say we have a coffee equipment shop, so discovering what people look up regarding espresso machines and how frequently is a good starting point:

Keyword ideas from Ahrefs' free keyword generator tool

Are you used to saying “espresso maker” instead? Well, this is exactly why we do keyword research because “espresso machine” has 15 times the monthly search volume:

Monthly search volumes of "espresso machine" and "espresso maker," respectively
Screenshot from Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer, which allows you to get data for many keywords at once.

To me, these two keywords are synonyms and can be used interchangeably. But maybe others imagine two different things? Let’s use Google as the best verification method here since its goal is to deliver the most relevant results to any search query.

If there’s a big overlap of the search results, then Google sees these two keywords as synonymous, meaning that most people think that way too.

You can either open up two Google search tabs or use the SERP overview comparison feature in Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer. As you can see, the overlap is huge and there’s not a single page targeting the keyword “espresso maker”:

SERP overview comparison of two synonymous keywords in Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

So clearly, “espresso machine” is the right keyword to target here. And we also just touched on the topic of the next step.

Learn more: How to Do Keyword Research for SEO

2. Create content that searchers want to see

Chose a keyword that you want to rank for? Then you need to create a piece of content that aligns with search intent. In other words, figure out what people searching that keyword are looking for and deliver it to them.

We just went through the example of people searching for “coffee makers” actually meaning “coffee machines,” which is more commonly used. In general, we can assume that what already ranks at the top for any given keyword is something most searchers want to see.

Let’s keep up with the coffee equipment theme and target the keyword “burr coffee grinder.” Here’s what Google’s top results in the U.S. look like:

SERP overview for "burr coffee grinder"

We’ve got two types of pages here: product reviews with recommendations (in blue) and e-commerce category pages (in yellow). Since the category pages are in the minority and only the biggest players like Amazon or Target rank with them, I’d go with the listicle kind of post recommending multiple coffee grinders.

If you look closely, some of those review pages don’t even specifically target the “burr” grinder type but focus on the best coffee grinders in general. Those naturally mention a few burr grinders, so they’re relevant too.

Both ways here are fine, although focusing on “burr” specifically will likely result in a higher chance of ranking well for this keyword, especially for websites that aren’t huge authorities in the niche yet.

Last but not least, it should go without saying that searchers also want to see valuable and trustworthy information. A good rule of thumb is not to cover topics that you’re not very familiar with and can’t provide value. There’s too much regurgitated information on the internet already, so don’t just create content for the sake of it.

3. Get more clicks with compelling titles

Want to squeeze the most clicks out of your SERP impressions? You need to catch searchers’ attention.

Now, the truth is if your page’s title is plain bad to begin with, you’ll have a lower chance of ranking well. It’s hardly a surprise that search engines assess title tags for ranking the pages since the title is the most visible SERP component:

Google's SERP for "grinding coffee for moka pot" search query

Which result would you click on here? The second one caught my attention immediately because the title promises I’ll find the answer quickly in some sort of chart. The rest of the titles are good too, but they don’t stand out to me despite higher relevance to my search query.

Yes, you should absolutely use your primary keyword in your title. Also, the example above just proves that there are other variables at play. Here’s a short list of the best practices for writing great titles:

  • Include your primary keyword in a natural way – This means you can transform “grinding coffee for moka pot” into something like “How to Grind Coffee for a Delicious Moka Pot.”
  • Make it descriptive – It should perfectly sum up the core of your content.
  • Try to stand out – Always check pages that already rank for the keyword and think how you can differentiate your own.
  • Avoid overpromises and clickbaits – Try your best to deliver what you promise in the SERP snippet.
  • Fit into Google’s pixel limits – Titles truncate (or even change) when you go over a certain pixel length in your title tag. Use a SERP snippet preview tool like this.

4. Provide a good user experience (UX)

Ever came across a promising search snippet that you clicked through and then a messy website that you didn’t really want to engage with appeared? Yeah, me too.

That’s why Google is looking at multiple UX factors when it comes to ranking its results. Visitor satisfaction isn’t only dependent on the provided information but on the whole experience of your page and website.

Think about these UX factors as a solid foundation for your other SEO efforts, not a silver bullet to skyrocket your rankings:

Mobile-friendly website 

How your website looks and behaves on mobile matters more than its desktop version. Most searches take place on our small devices, and that’s why Google predominantly uses mobile versions of pages in its index.

Yet this factor is easy to overlook since we use our desktop devices to create websites. Here are a few tips to make both human and robot visitors on mobile happy:

  • Use a modern CMS that can easily make both desktop and mobile versions of your pages look good. Most popular CMS choices should be fine here.
  • Keep the important content visible on both mobile and desktop. Small variations are fine.
  • Check and troubleshoot mobile reports in the Experience section of your Google Search Console:
Page Experience report in GSC

Learn more: Mobile-First Indexing: What You Need to Know

Solid website structure and navigation

Website structure is how your site is organized and webpages interlinked. Having a logical site structure helps visitors and search engines easily find and navigate content while improving conversions and supporting your SEO efforts.

We could go really deep into creating an optimal website structure. But listen—don’t go deep here. Instead, choose a flat website structure like this:

Flat vs. deep website structure

The top-level pages should be your most important ones, and they should be linked from your header navigational elements that are accessible at all times. Since we just talked about mobile versions, here’s an example of the popular “hamburger” menu at the top-right corner:

Hamburger navigation element on mobile

Learn more: Website Structure: How to Build Your SEO Foundation

Easy-to-read content

Would you get this far if this article was all just a block of text? Probably not.

Notice how we’re making use of headings and subheadings (from H1 to H3s) to add proper hierarchy to the content. But that will still make for a rather dry-looking page. Here are the three most important tips to make your content easy and enjoyable to read:

  1. Add relevant visual elements to cut through the text.
  2. Use multiple text formatting options (like I just did with this list and bolded words).
  3. Write like your audience talks to avoid trying to sound smart with big words and overcomplicated terminology.

By the way, even your URLs could be considered part of your content. It’s something people see on the SERP, along with the title and description. Making your URLs short and descriptive is the best way to ensure they’re SEO-friendly.

Ads and pop-ups in moderation

The best way to ensure your visitors leave your pages ASAP is to overwhelm them with stuff they didn’t come for. Like here:

Example of a page with too many ads and pop-ups

By all means, monetize your website with ads and grow your email list with pop-ups—but do them in moderation. Potentially higher short-term gains are not worth losing in the long run.

HTTPS

Providing a secure connection between your server and visitors has been a must for many years already.

New websites should come HTTPS-enabled by default with good hosting providers. Just double-check that there’s a “lock” icon next to your domain name in your browser signaling a valid TLS certificate that’s needed to run on this secure protocol:

Secure connection via HTTPS

Internal links are links within the same website. Their main roles in SEO are to provide paths for search bots to crawl websites and pass link equity from linking pages.

Think about the link equity as votes that pages get in the form of links from other pages throughout the whole internet. Since internal links are fully within your control, it’s something we should tackle first.

Simply find suitable internal link opportunities every time you publish a new piece of content. Then add the links.

The easiest way to find these opportunities is to use Google. Surprised? With the help of the site: search operator, Google will show you all your website’s pages that contain a certain keyword (or similar ones). Like this:

Looking for internal link opportunities with Google

I even narrowed down the search to our blog section of the website and used the quotation marks as another search operator to return exact matches on that keyword. Voilá, we get a list of pages that talk about “internal links” to internally link our articles on this topic. OK, we’re getting too meta here.

Replicate the process for each new piece of content and its target keyword, and you’ll get ahead of many competitors.

Learn more: Internal Links for SEO: An Actionable Guide

6. Get high-quality backlinks

Now we get to the part of links you don’t control because they come from external websites: backlinks.

Backlinks are one of the most important ranking factors, meaning that there’s a huge demand for them. Getting worthy backlinks isn’t a piece of cake.

There are tons of ways to build links. The overarching rule of thumb is to provide enough (non-monetary) value to motivate the other side to link to you.

Let me explain the “non-monetary value.”

If you’re trying to get backlinks to subpar content or products, then you’ll most likely have to buy the link or provide something else in exchange for it. Not only would you be unlikely to even get responses to such pitches, but Google could also penalize you for this unnatural link acquisition that violates its webmaster guidelines.

Your biggest asset for building high-quality backlinks is stellar content others find valuable and interesting. Not only can asking for links become quite effective, but you’ll also have a chance to grow your link profile passively without having to write a single email.

Take a look at our five most popular linked-to pages (excluding the homepage):

Best by links report in Ahrefs' Site Explorer
Screenshot taken from the Best by links report in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer.

Two of them are free tools providing valuable data, and one is a data study with important insights for our industry. This type of content is called link bait, and it’s arguably the best way to land high-quality links—as those often come naturally, not from you asking for them.

So how do we qualify backlinks as high-quality?

Generally speaking, the best links you can get are “followed” links placed within the main content that’s published on a highly authoritative website in your niche.

To sum this up: Building links is an important part of SEO, and you’ll do well if people find your pages so valuable they’re naturally inclined to link to it on their own.

Since link building is a whole SEO discipline, I recommend you also check these two guides to learn more about it:

7. Ensure your website has a good technical foundation

Perfecting all the steps above won’t matter if search engines can’t access your content. You need to make sure a search engine can discover, crawl, and store the pages in its index.

Luckily, severe technical errors that could cause your content to not rank at all are rather rare. Unless you click on random things in your CMS, you’re probably fine.

But there are quite a few issues that can hinder your success in search engines.

Well, the good thing is that you don’t need to have any deep technical knowledge to discover and troubleshoot technical SEO issues yourself. All you have to do is to use a tool like Ahrefs Webmaster Tools, set up a regular SEO audit, and keep an eye on the issues it finds.

You could do this for free right now. Ahrefs’ Site Audit tool will crawl your website (like search engines) and check it for more than 130 SEO issues. It will then give you a comprehensive overview showing all the issues with explanations on how to fix them:

Issue example in Ahrefs Webmaster Tools

This will guide you on the spot. If you first want to learn the theory, we have a guide for you too.

Learn more: The Beginner’s Guide to Technical SEO

Final thoughts

There are multiple guides referenced throughout the tutorial, so come back to each step whenever you want to learn more. But don’t fall into the “learning” rabbit hole, as nothing can beat hands-on experience.

Go and apply what you just learned. Then monitor your progress, learn from your mistakes, and double down on what’s working. Once you get stuck, try to perform an SEO audit.

We could go on and on. So here’s my last important piece of advice: be patient. SEO takes time, and there are no guarantees.

Got any questions? Ping me on Twitter.  



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AI Content In Search Results

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AI Content In Search Results

Google has released a statement regarding its approach to AI-generated content in search results.

The company has a long-standing policy of rewarding high-quality content, regardless of whether humans or machines produce it.

Above all, Google’s ranking systems aim to identify content that demonstrates expertise, experience, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-E-A-T).

Google advises creators looking to succeed in search results to produce original, high-quality, people-first content that demonstrates E-E-A-T.

The company has updated its “Creating helpful, reliable, people-first content” help page with guidance on evaluating content in terms of “Who, How, and Why.”

Here’s how AI-generated content fits into Google’s approach to ranking high-quality content in search results.

Quality Over Production Method

Focusing on the quality of content rather than the production method has been a cornerstone of Google’s approach to ranking search results for many years.

A decade ago, there were concerns about the rise in mass-produced human-generated content.

Rather than banning all human-generated content, Google improved its systems to reward quality content.

Google’s focus on rewarding quality content, regardless of production method, continues to this day through its ranking systems and helpful content system introduced last year.

Automation & AI-Generated Content

Using automation, including AI, to generate content with the primary purpose of manipulating ranking in search results violates Google’s spam policies.

Google’s spam-fighting efforts, including its SpamBrain system, will continue to combat such practices.

However, Google realizes not all use of automation and AI-generated content is spam.

For example, publishers automate helpful content such as sports scores, weather forecasts, and transcripts.

Google says it will continue to take a responsible approach toward AI-generated content while maintaining a high bar for information quality and helpfulness in search results.

Google’s Advice For Publishers

For creators considering AI-generated content, here’s what Google advises.

Google’s concept of E-E-A-T is outlined in the “Creating helpful, reliable, people-first content” help page, which has been updated with additional guidance.

The updated help page asks publishers to think about “Who, How, and Why” concerning how content is produced.

“Who” refers to the person who created the content, and it’s important to make this clear by providing a byline or background information about the author.

“How” relates to the method used to create the content, and it’s helpful to readers to know if automation or AI was involved. If AI was involved in the content production process, Google wants you to be transparent and explain why it was used.

“Why” refers to the purpose of creating content, which should be to help people rather than to manipulate search rankings.

Evaluating your content in this way, regardless of whether AI-generated or not, will help you stay in line with what Google’s systems reward.


Featured Image: Alejandro Corral Mena/Shutterstock



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Seven tips to optimize page speed in 2023

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Tips-to-optimize-page-speed-in-2023

30-second summary:

  • There has been a gradual increase in Google’s impact of page load time on website rankings
  • Google has introduced the three Core Web Vitals metrics as ranking factors to measure user experience
  • The following steps can help you get a better idea of the performance of your website through multiple tests

A fast website not only delivers a better experience but can also increase conversion rates and improve your search engine rankings. Google has introduced the three Core Web Vitals metrics to measure user experience and is using them as a ranking factor.

Let’s take a look at what you can do to test and optimize the performance of your website.

Start in Google Search Console

Want to know if optimizing Core Web Vitals is something you should be thinking about? Use the page experience report in Google Search Console to check if any of the pages on your website are loading too slowly.

Search Console shows data that Google collects from real users in Chrome, and this is also the data that’s used as a ranking signal. You can see exactly what page URLs need to be optimized.

Optimize-to-Start-in-Google-Search-Console

Run a website speed test

Google’s real user data will tell you how fast your website is, but it won’t provide an analysis that explains why your website is slow.

Run a free website speed test to find out. Simply enter the URL of the page you want to test. You’ll get a detailed performance report for your website, including recommendations on how to optimize it.

Run-a-website-speed-test-for-optimization

Use priority hints to optimize the Largest Contentful Paint

Priority Hints are a new browser feature that came out in 2022. It allows website owners to indicate how important an image or other resource is on the page.

This is especially important when optimizing the Largest Contentful Paint, one of the three Core Web Vitals metrics. It measures how long it takes for the main page content to appear after opening the page.

By default, browsers assume that all images are low priority until the page starts rendering and the browser knows which images are visible to the user. That way bandwidth isn’t wasted on low-priority images near the bottom of the page or in the footer. But it also slows down important images at the top of the page.

Adding a fetchpriority=”high” attribute to the img element that’s responsible for the Largest Contentful Paint ensures that it’s downloaded quickly.

Use native image lazy loading for optimization

Image lazy loading means only loading images when they become visible to the user. It’s a great way to help the browser focus on the most important content first.

However, image lazy loading can also slow cause images to take longer to load, especially when using a JavaScript lazy loading library. In that case, the browser first needs to load the JavaScript library before starting to load images. This long request chain means that it takes a while for the browser to load the image.

Use-native-image-lazy-loading-for-optimization

Today browsers support native lazy loading with the loading=”lazy” attribute for images. That way you can get the benefits of lazy loading without incurring the cost of having to download a JavaScript library first.

Remove and optimize render-blocking resources

Render-blocking resources are network requests that the browser needs to make before it can show any page content to the user. They include the HTML document, CSS stylesheets, as well as some JavaScript files.

Since these resources have such a big impact on page load time you should check each one to see if it’s truly necessary. The async keyword on the HTML script tag lets you load JavaScript code without blocking rendering.

If a resource has to block rendering check if you can optimize the request to load the resource more quickly, for example by improving compression or loading the file from your main web server instead of from a third party.

Remove-and-optimize-render-blocking-resources

Optimize with the new interaction to Next Paint metric

Google has announced a new metric called Interaction to Next Paint. This metric measures how quickly your site responds to user input and is likely to become one of the Core Web Vitals in the future.

You can already see how your website is doing on this metric using tools like PageSpeed Insights.

Optimize-with-new-Interaction-to-Next-Paint-metric

Continuously monitor your site performance

One-off site speed tests can identify performance issues on your website, but they don’t make it easy to keep track of your test results and confirm that your optimizations are working.

DebugBear continuously monitors your website to check and alerts you when there’s a problem. The tool also makes it easy to show off the impact of your work to clients and share test results with your team.

Try DebugBear with a free 14-day trial.

Continuously-monitor-your-site-performance

 

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What Is User Experience? How Design Matters To SEO

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What Is User Experience? How Design Matters To SEO

User experience is the foundation of a site’s usability, and it’s an aspect of on-page SEO that many people overlook.

If your site lacks the positive user experience and ease of use that end users require to navigate your site, you’ll push visitors to your competitors.

In this guide, you’ll learn what user experience (UX) entails, the types of experiences, the difference between UI and UX, and why it matters to SEO.

What Is User Experience (UX)?

UX is how people interact with your website.

You’ll also find this term used for products, but we’re focusing strictly on websites at the moment.

If you have a, intuitive user interface design, users will have an easier time navigating your site and finding the information they want.

If you do have a digital product, such as a SaaS solution, this interaction will also occur on your digital product.

User experience elicits a couple of things:

In short, user experience can provide a positive experience with your website – or it can lead to frustration among users.

Note: Usability is not UX design. It’s a component of UX that works with design to create the experience your users desire.

What Are The Types Of User Experience?

User experience evaluation must look at the three types of UX design to best understand the needs of the end user.

The three types of UX include:

  • Information: One aspect of a content strategy that goes overlooked is information architecture. Time must be spent on how information on a site is organized and presented. User flows and navigation must be considered for all forms of information you present.
  • Interaction: Your site has an interaction design pattern – or a certain way that users interact with the site. Components of a site that fall under the interaction UX type include buttons, interfaces, and menus.
  • Visual design: Look and feel matter for the end user. You want your website to have cohesion between its color, typography, and images. User interface (UI) will fall under this type of UX, but it’s important to note that UI is not interchangeable with UX.

What Is The Difference Between UI & UX?

Speaking of UX and UI, it’s important to have a firm understanding of the difference between the two to better understand user experience.

User Interface

UI design is your site’s visual elements, including:

Visual elements on your site are part of the user interface.

UI definitely overlaps with UX to an extent, but they’re not the same.

Steve Krug also has a great book on usability, titled “Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability.” It was first published in 2000, and the book is a #1 bestseller today.

Steve’s insight from over 20 years ago (although we’re now on the 3rd edition of the book) provides guidelines on usability that include:

  • Desktop.
  • Mobile.
  • Ease of use.
  • Layouts.
  • Everything UX.

If there’s one thing this book will teach you about usability, it’s to focus on intuitive navigation. Frustrating website users is the exact opposite of a good user experience.

User Experience

UX works on UI and how the user will:

  • Interact with your site.
  • Feel during the interaction.

Think of Google for a moment.

A simple landing page that is visually appealing, but Spartan in nature, is the face of the Internet. In terms of UX, Google is one of the best sites in the world, although it lacks a spectacular UI.

In fact, the UI needs to be functional and appealing, but the UX is what will stand out the most.

Imagine if you tried performing a search on Google and it displayed the wrong results or took one minute for a query to run. In this case, even the nicest UI would not compensate for the poor UX.

Peter Morville’s user experience honeycomb is one of the prime examples of how to move beyond simple usability and focus on UX in new, exciting ways.

The honeycomb includes multiple points that are all combined to maximize the user experience. These facets are:

  • Accessible.
  • Credible.
  • Desirable.
  • Findable.
  • Usable.
  • Useful.
  • Valuable.

When you focus on all of these elements, you’ll improve the user experience dramatically.

Why User Experience Matters To SEO

By this point, you understand that UX is very important to your site’s visitors and audience.

A lot of time, analysis, and refinement must go into UX design. However, there’s another reason to redirect your attention to user experience: SEO.

Google Page Experience Update

When Google’s Page Experience Update was fully rolled out, it had an impact on websites that offered a poor user experience.

The page experience update is now slowly rolling out for desktop. It will be complete by the end of March 2022. Learn more about the update: https://t.co/FQvMx3Ymaf

— Google Search Central (@googlesearchc) February 22, 2022

Multiple aspects of UX are part of the ranking factors of the update, including:

  • Intrusive adverts.
  • Core Web Vitals.
  • HTTPS Security.

You can run a Core Web Vitals report here and make corrections to meet these requirements. Additionally, you should know whether your site has intrusive ads that irritate users, and if your site lacks HTTPS.

Page performance works to improve your SEO. Google’s research shows that focusing on UX can:

  • Reduce site abandonment by as much as 24%.
  • Improve web conversions.
  • Increase the average page views per session by as much as 15%.
  • Boost advertising revenue by 18% or more.

When you spend time improving your site’s UX, you benefit from higher rankings, lower page abandonment, improved conversions, and even more revenue.

Plus, many of the practices to improve UX are also crucial components of a site’s on-page SEO, such as:

  • Proper header usage.
  • Adding lists to your content.
  • Making use of images.
  • Optimizing images for faster loading times.
  • Filling content gaps with useful information.
  • Reducing “content fluff.”
  • Using graphs.
  • Testing usability across devices.

When you improve UX, you create a positive experience for users, while also improving many of the on-page SEO foundations of your website.

Final Comments

Customer experience must go beyond simple responsive web design.

Hick’s law dictates that when you present more choices to users, it takes longer to reach a decision. You’ve likely seen this yourself when shopping online and finding hundreds of options.

When people land on your site, they’re looking for answers or knowledge – not confusion.

User research, usability testing, and revisiting user experience design often will help you inch closer to satisfying the SEO requirements of design while keeping your visitors (or customers) happier.

More resources: 


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