SEO Basics: The Ultimate SEO Guide for Beginners
SEO is a crucial part of B2B marketing. 49% of B2B marketers are using SEO as part of their marketing strategy, according to Sagefrog’s 2023 Marketing Mix report.
Even in the current saturated market, Search Engine Optimisation can significantly increase your website visibility, attract potential customers, and drive business growth. 61% of B2B marketers confirm this — SEO and organic traffic generate more leads than any other marketing initiative.
Not sure where to start with SEO?
Get a comprehensive understanding of SEO fundamentals in this beginner’s guide. From on-page and off-page SEO best practices to top-notch tools and essential KPIs, you’ll find everything you need.
Understanding SEO: Core principles
Before diving deep into the details, let’s start from the very beginning.
What is SEO?
SEO is an acronym that stands for Search Engine Optimisation. It involves a wide range of optimisation strategies to improve website visibility in search engines.
SEO’s primary goal is to boost web page rankings for target keywords, ensuring that the pages appear in front of potential customers when they prompt a relevant search query.
The 3 pillars of SEO: On-page, off-page, technical
In broad terms, SEO can be categorised into three primary groups: on-page, off-page, and technical SEO. Each of these plays a vital role in SEO. Here is a breakdown:
- On-page SEO: This refers to the strategies used to optimise the elements of your website that are under your control. These could include keywords, meta titles, tags, heading structure, internal linking, and content quality.
- Off-page SEO: This is the practice of improving rankings by optimising the “outside” of the website. Common tactics include link-building activities, guest posting, social media marketing, and more.
- Technical SEO: As the name suggests, this type focuses on the technical aspect of the website, ensuring that search engines discover, crawl, and index the web pages correctly. This involves activities such as page speed optimisation, structured data implementation, etc.
How search engines work: Crawling, indexing, ranking
Considering the fact that Google has over 200 ranking factors, you should understand that SEO is a long-term game. It takes time to see impactful results.
However, understanding how search engines work at their core will help you create a website that’s aligned with SEO best practices. This, in turn, accelerates the ranking process.
In a nutshell, search engines follow a three-step process to discover, categorise, and rank content (a.k.a. documents or web pages).
Crawling: Search engines employ crawlers, also known as bots or spiders, to crawl the website and collect information. During the process, they navigate links, read the content and HTML resources, and identify new or updated pages.
Indexing: After crawling, bots store the collected information in a large database known as an index. During indexing, Google analyses the web page content and its attributes, such as titles, alt texts, videos, images, and more. In other words, Google tries to understand what the page is about.
Ranking: When the user types a search query, search engine algorithms choose the most relevant and useful content from hundreds of billions of web pages within the Search Index. The ranking algorithms have numerous factors, and Google doesn’t publicly disclose the complete list.
As you see, these three phases are critically important and interdependent. Without first being crawled and indexed, the web page won’t be ranked by Google at all.
Listen to Liam Bartholomew, VP of Marketing at Cognism and Gaetano DiNardi, Growth Advisor, discuss Cognism’s SEO strategy 👇
Keyword research is the process of identifying the most relevant keywords that potential customers use in their search queries. It’s the backbone of the SEO strategy. If users aren’t searching for what you’re writing about, you won’t get any organic traffic.
In fact, Ahrefs’ research shows that almost 91% of web pages don’t get any organic traffic from Google.
The same source suggests that the average top-ranking page also appears within the top 10 search results for around 1,000 other relevant keywords.
How do you find keywords?
Keyword research tools are invaluable in identifying the right keywords and optimising pages around them. To get started, compile a list of relevant topics and create content pillars. Next, use the tools to analyse relevant keywords for each content cluster.
Free and paid keyword research tools are available. Some popular free options include Uber Suggest and Google Keyword Planner. These are good starting points, but free tools have huge limitations.
You can use them to analyse keywords, find their search volume and difficulty level, get competitor data, create reports, and more.
What are the different types of keywords?
Keywords can be categorised into different groups based on their intent, length, and search volume. Here are the most common types:
Short-tail: Short-tail keywords, or head keywords, contain one to three words and are considered generic. They also have a high search volume, thus intense competition.
An example could be the keyword “digital marketing” or just “marketing.”
Long-tail: Long-tail keywords are more specific search queries. They contain longer words and phrases, usually more than three or four words. These keywords have a low search volume but tend to have a higher search intent.
For example, “digital marketing strategies” and “seo best practices for small businesses” are long-tail keywords with specific intent.
Competitor: These are the keywords your competitors use and rank for. To analyse your competitor’s keywords, you should use keyword research tools.
Branded: These keywords contain the company’s name, brand, or product. For example, “Cognism.”
You should use branded keywords to establish your brand and increase your traffic potential.
Money (Transactional): Money or transactional keywords have the highest buying intent. This means users are ready to take immediate action if the product page is well-optimised.
For example, “book hotel room.” It’s a clear indication that the user wants to book a hotel.
📚 Learn how Cognism updated its SEO strategy targeting more money keywords and saw a record-high number of conversions from blog pages — 16% higher in Q1 versus Q4 last year.
Crafting on-page SEO
As mentioned above, on-page SEO is about optimising the elements of the website so search engines find and understand it better.
Here are some tips and best practices for crafting on-page SEO.
Why is quality important in SEO content?
High-quality content is aligned with user intent and is one of Google’s most important ranking factors. Having quality content means that you prioritise users and address their needs.
In return, you receive a lower bounce rate as good quality content receives high engagement, and users don’t want to leave the website after a few seconds. Learn the criteria for high-quality pages by Google.
Furthermore, well-researched content makes you an industry expert in front of your potential clients and builds trust. This leads to higher conversion rates.
Advice for optimising page titles, headings, meta descriptions
Optimising page titles, headings, and meta descriptions is essential for effective on-page SEO. Why?
Because Google first assesses these elements of a page.
Read on for some tips and best practices to follow in your on-page SEO.
What should you do?
- Use the target keyword in the main title.
- Place the keywords at the beginning of the title.
- Create unique title tags to avoid duplication.
- Organise headings with a hierarchical structure — use H2 for sections, H3 for sub-sections, etc.
- Make titles catchy and attractive to drive CTRs.
What you shouldn’t do:
- Don’t use generic, dry titles that aren’t aligned with the main context.
- Don’t overload titles with exclamation marks, emojis, etc.
- Don’t do keyword stuffing; place them naturally.
Good title ✅
Poor title ❌
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What should you do?
- Insert relevant keywords in the description.
- Maintain a word count under 160 characters.
- Include a CTA to encourage users to take action.
What you shouldn’t do?
- Don’t exaggerate the content to avoid misinterpretation.
- Don’t use the same meta description for different pages.
- Don’t include HTML codes; stick to plain text.
Good description ✅
Poor description ❌
Need help finding quality leads for your B2B business? We’ve rounded up the 9 best B2B lead generation tactics.
B2B lead generation is the process of attracting other businesses to purchase your product or service.
Advice for optimising images and alt text
Optimising images and alt texts greatly impacts a website’s overall performance, user experience, and even load times.
Here are a few best practices to help you optimise your images:
- Use appropriate image formats: CVG and PNG are the best formats for website images as they maintain image quality at any size and have universal browser support.
- Implement lazy loading: Ensure the images are loaded only when they come to the users’ viewport. This improves page load time significantly.
- Give images descriptive names: Avoid generic titles such as “image_1”.
- Compress images: Reduce the image size as much as possible to improve load speed without compromising quality.
- Keep alt texts short and on point: Write concise text that accurately describes what the image is about.
- Avoid keyword stuffing: Use keywords naturally, without overusing them.
Good image name ✅
Poor image name ❌
URL structures and internal linking best practices
URL structure and internal linking play a vital role in SEO. They help search engines and users understand your site’s structure. They pass authority (aka link juice).
URL structure best practices
- Use hyphens to separate words.
- Include the target keyword.
- Use canonical tags to indicate the preferred version of the URL.
- Opt for static URLs.
- Use lower-case letters to avoid confusion.
Eugene Zatiychuk, Head of SEO at Belkins Agency, shared some best practices for effectively implementing internal linking:
- “Every important page of your website should be prioritised — with more incoming links vs. your non-priority pages.
- Diversify anchor texts and add links from relevant posts and/or relevant contexts.
- Add links from your power pages (those with a strong backlink profile) to your priority pages.
- Create navigational (header, footer) links to your most important pages.
- Avoid using generic link anchor text like “article,” “click here,” or “read more.” Use descriptive anchors to make it easier for Google (and the user) to get the context of where the link leads.”
How to do this all? Eugene suggests the following workflow:
- “Get Screaming Frog and go to “Bulk Export > Links > All Inlinks.”
- Download the file and trim columns you don’t need.
- Sort out navigational links - focus on In-Content links only.
- Sort by URL and analyse how many links each URL has. Also, check if the anchor texts are diversified. Is any important anchor text missing?
- To find high-authoritative relevant articles to link from, go to Google and search for [your keyword] site:[your domain].”
Technical SEO unveiled
Technical SEO is about optimising the technical aspects of your website. Proper execution helps search engines find, crawl, index, and rank your website for search queries.
Best practices for mobile-friendly websites/responsive design
Creating a mobile-friendly or responsive website is critical to a good user experience.
Irina Maltseva, Head of Growth at Aura, recently noticed that desktop traffic started regularly dropping while mobile traffic grew. Since the attention span on mobiles is significantly lower than on desktops, you need an ultra-fast loading website.
Thus, Irina suggests:
“Make the mobile version as light as possible and avoid heavy plugins. Remove long intros and focus on essential content. Everything needs to be clear and concise.”
“Additionally, make CTAs more aggressive. The best practice would be placing them at the beginning or in the middle of the website to immediately grab the attention of mobile users.”
Best practices for page speed
Page speed directly impacts user experience. According to a survey conducted by Unbounce, 82% of consumers say that slow page speed impacts their purchasing decisions. So every second counts!
There are some proven techniques that developers use to improve page load times. Here are some actionable strategies:
- Use CDN (Content Delivery Networks) to reduce the distance between the user and the server, thereby improving load times.
- Use browser caching to reduce the loading time for returning users.
“Google’s mission is to deliver the world’s information to users in an accessible and useful way.”
“Page speed is becoming increasingly important in achieving this mission, especially on the mobile web. We’re now seeing strong correlations between fast page load times and higher search rankings.”
Best practices for Schema
Schema markup, also known as structured data, is a language that search engines use to process and comprehend your website content on a deeper level and provide rich results. Rich snippets, rich cards, or knowledge panels can only be displayed with structured data.
Google recognises 32 types of schema markup, including:
- FAQ, and many more.
While there’s no guarantee that you’ll win featured snippets or rich cards, structured data gives a lot of opportunities to improve visibility.
To create a schema markup for your website, go to Google’s structured data markup helper, generate markup, and add the code to your website.
Mastering off-page SEO: Building your online authority
Learn the basics of off-page SEO to build your online authority more effectively.
Why are backlinks important in SEO?
A backlink is an incoming hyperlink from one page to another website. They’re a crucial component of off-page SEO, as their quantity influences the website’s authority, visibility, credibility, etc.
The greater the number of quality backlinks your website has, the higher its potential to rank in search engines.
If you’re still sceptical about backlinks, here is a case study from Bivvy, a pet insurance company.
After generating high-quality backlinks to their primary web pages and constantly creating blog posts, the company grew its organic traffic by 773.58% and increased its domain authority from 14 to 30. It achieved this in just 3 months.
What are the top white hat link-building strategies?
White-hat link-building uses legitimate methods to gain backlinks and boost the overall website authority. Here are the most actionable tactics to earn backlinks:
- Create joint case studies: Partner with industry experts with the same target audience and create joint case studies or research surveys to attract passive links.
- Broken link building: Collect a list of websites that have broken or outdated links and offer your content as a better replacement.
- Write guest blogs: Reach out to reputable blogs in your industry and offer guest posts for a link back to your website.
- Implement the “Skyscraper technique”: This technique included finding trending content, creating a better version of it, and suggesting that website owners replace the original link with your enhanced version. It requires a lot of work but can yield great results — especially if you offer data-driven content.
- Two-way listicle link building: This technique involves curating listicle articles on your website while featuring content from other relevant websites. After or before publishing, you contact the owners of the websites you’ve featured, suggesting they reciprocate by linking back to your listicle. This creates a mutually beneficial relationship that enriches both websites with valuable backlinks.
🔥 Here are 33 expert-proven advanced link-building tactics to inspire your growth in the SERPs.
The dangers of black hat SEO: What strategies to avoid
Black Hat SEO is the practice of using manipulative techniques to artificially boost website rankings. They can harm your brand and result in a permanent ban from Google.
Here is what you should avoid:
- Keyword stuffing: Overusing keywords and placing them in inappropriate places harms user experience and might trigger penalties from Google.
- Cloaking: This black-hat SEO tactic is used to show different URLs to search engines and users. Since it provides false information to crawlers with the aim of ranking higher in the SERPs, it’s a violation of search engine guidelines.
- Link farms: Link farms are low-quality websites designed to exchange or sell backlinks and are another way to cheat Google’s algorithms to get higher rankings.
- Deceptive redirects: Misleading users and sending them to pages they weren’t expecting. This trick is not only frustrating but also can lead to penalties.
Measuring and analysing SEO success
Choosing the right key performance indicators (KPIs) is essential to evaluate the effectiveness of SEO campaigns.
While different companies implement different KPIs based on their needs, here are the most significant metrics and KPIs in SEO.
- Organic traffic: The number of visitors who land on the website through unpaid channels.
- Organic conversion rate: The percentage of organic visitors who complete a pre-defined goal — sales, demos, sign-ups, etc. The most important metric for your business growth.
- Branded vs. non-branded traffic: The balance between visitors who land on the website searching for a brand name versus those using more generic keywords.
- Organic click-through rate (CTR): The ratio of clicks your site received on a search engine result to the number of times it was displayed.
- Bounce rate: The percentage of visitors who leave the website after viewing only one page.
- Backlinks and referring domains: The number of links from other sources pointing to your website.
- Keyword rankings: The number and positions of your most meaningful keywords.
- Page load speed: The time it takes to fully load the website and display its content.
- Mobile-friendliness: The score that shows how well your website is optimised for mobile users.
- Page authority: The score that predicts how well the webpage will rank on search engines.
- Domain authority: The score that estimates how well the entire domain will rank on search engines.
How to adapt to SEO trends and updates
SEO is always evolving as search engines regularly update their algorithms. Keeping up with these changes is crucial for long-term successful SEO.
And the universal way to prep for search engine updates is to learn what the update is about and compare your site against new rules.
To stay informed on SEO trends, follow well-known resources like Search Engine Journal, Moz, Ahrefs and Semrush blogs. Network with peers on Twitter and LinkedIn and learn from industry leaders and influencers, such as Rand Fishkin, Aleyda Solis, Barry Schwartz, Neil Patel, Kevin Indig, and Brian Dean.
Tools and resources for beginners in SEO
There are numerous tools in the market, but we’ve curated a list of those we use at Cognism and are popular among our peers. Let’s take a look.
What are the best keyword research tools?
Google Keyword Planner
This free tool helps you find keyword ideas, see their search volumes, and understand the competition. It’s a great choice for beginners who don’t have much experience and budget but want to start their keyword research journey.
Semrush is a comprehensive keyword research tool that offers tons of features to step up your SEO game.
From keyword suggestions and competitor analysis to keyword search volume and difficulty, the data is available within seconds. There is a 7-day free trial. The pricing packages start at $129.95/month.
While Ahrefs is more known for its powerful backlink analysis features, it’s also an excellent choice for keyword research.
It provides keyword suggestions, search volume, difficulty scores, and insights on specific keywords.
There is no free trial, and the pricing starts at $99/month.
What are the best on-page and technical SEO tools?
This powerful desktop application crawls your website and finds the errors hurting your website’s performance. You get a detailed report on broken links, duplicate content, redirects, etc.
The tool has a forever-free plan with limited functionality. To access the advanced features, you’ll have to pay $259 per year per license.
What are the best backlink analysis tools?
Ahrefs offers the world’s largest backlink database — 35 trillion live backlinks updated with fresh data every 15–30 minutes.
It helps you find low-quality, spammy, or broken backlinks and wrong anchor texts to optimise your backlink profile. It also provides detailed information on competitor backlinks.
Majestic is a backlink checker tool that allows you to evaluate the quality of your backlinks and find out who links to your website.
You can sign up for free, but their cheapest plan costs €46.99.
SEO for beginners: key takeaways
SEO is an ongoing process. To implement a successful SEO strategy, you’ll need to take an iterative approach. Follow the best practices discussed in the article and conduct SEO experiments.
Don’t forget to define clear goals and have relevant KPIs in place. This will help you monitor your SEO performance and take action accordingly.
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