SEO Basics: The Beginner’s Guide to SEO From SEO Experts
Master the basics of SEO with our beginner’s guide, exploring the importance of SEO, how search engines function, and practical steps to kick-start your SEO journey.
Written by WebFX Marketing Experts
Last Updated November 14, 2023
Welcome to search engine optimization 101, your beginner’s guide to SEO basics! Here, you’ll learn:
- What is SEO?
- How do search engines and SEO work?
- How do I get started with SEO?
Keep reading SEO 101 to begin your SEO journey!
Chapter 1: The basics of SEO
Learn the basics of SEO, including:
Or, skip ahead to the next chapter on on-page SEO basics!
What is SEO?
Search engine optimization (SEO) is optimizing a website to improve its visibility in organic search results, like on Google. Typically, SEO takes three to six months to show results. Common optimizations for SEO include improving page speed, researching keywords, and creating content.
How do search engines work?
When it comes to SEO 101, understanding how search engines work is essential. That’s because search engines fuel search engine optimization, setting the standards that define the strategies, best practices, and tips that SEOs use.
You can break how search engines work into the following steps:
Learn more about these individual processes below:
Search engines are like a library, and to build their library, they need to crawl the web. Search engines rely on web crawlers (or spiders) to explore the World Wide Web’s content. Crawlers then return this content to search engines, which they then index.
The indexing stage is like a librarian reviewing, organizing, and shelving various books in the library. Here, the search engine’s algorithm catalogs the content, which the search engine then relies on to deliver results to searchers.
In SEO 101, ranking is the grand finale of how search engines work.
When someone searches on Google or Bing, these search engines rely on their algorithms to deliver tailored results that align with the user’s needs and preferences, like their location, previous searches, and more.
How content appears in the search results is based on these factors, plus more than 200 other factors. These ranking factors (which are not weighted equally) cover everything from website security and online reputation to content helpfulness and authority.
When you practice SEO, you optimize for these 200+ factors (or at least the most important ones).
How does SEO work?
Search engine optimization works by optimizing a website for more than 200 search engine ranking factors. Before you close the tab on this search engine optimization 101 rundown, SEO specialists do not optimize for all 200 factors. Instead, they focus their efforts on the most significant ranking factors.
You can organize these factors into three categories:
- Off-page SEO: Off-page SEO focuses on your site’s online reputation.
- On-page SEO: On-page SEO focuses on your site’s user experience.
- Technical SEO: Technical SEO focuses on your site’s backend optimization.
Within these categories, there are multiple optimizations to work on, which you can preview below:
Why is SEO important?
Search engine optimization is important for a few reasons, including the following:
SEO helps websites like yours improve their online visibility — without the cost of pay-per-click (PPC) or social media advertising. With that kind of visibility, you can reach your target audience at the perfect moment, as they search for products or services you offer.
Search engine optimization is also helpful because of its targeting capabilities. Whether you’re looking to reach people in a specific town (like Los Angeles) or people in the awareness vs. decision stage, you can do so with SEO.
Year-round SEO will work for your business and its website. Whether inside or outside your working hours, people can find your business online and start their journeys to become clients.
People from across industries, from business-to-business (B2B) to business-to-consumer (B2C), have seen consistent (and impressive) results from search engine optimization through traffic, leads, and sales.
Long story short, SEO is important because it helps website owners drive qualified traffic and sales.
Chapter 2: On-page SEO basics
Learn the search engine optimization basics of on-page SEO, including its:
Or, skip to the next chapter on off-page SEO basics!
What is on-page SEO?
On-page SEO is the optimization of on-site elements for search engine optimization, like:
- Keyword research
- Title tags
- Meta descriptions
- Header tags
- Internal links
As a cornerstone to the basics of search engine optimization, learning on-page SEO is critical.
Why is on-page SEO important?
On-page SEO is important because it helps search engines and users:
- Discover your content
- Understand your content
When it comes to SEO, you need on-site SEO to rank — and rank well — in search results.
How to do on-page SEO
Get started with on-page SEO with these basics:
Use Keywords Everywhere, Ahrefs, Semrush, or Google Search to research high-volume, low-competition search queries relevant to your business and target audience. Focus on long-tail keywords (queries with three to four words) for a more targeted reach.
Write compelling title tags for your content by following key best practices in SEO 101. For example, use your target keyword’s search results to determine the optimal format and phrasing. Then, include your target keyword while maintaining a length of 60 characters or less.
Create informational meta descriptions for your content by following similar best practices. For example, answer your target keyword’s search intent and incorporate your target keyword. Maintain a meta description length of 150 characters or less.
Develop SEO-friendly header tags, like your H1, H2s, H3s, and so on, by reviewing the top-ranking URLs for your target keyword to better understand its search intent. Then, use your header tags to target your keyword, plus help users find the information they need.
Use images, from screenshots to graphics to stock photos, to meet search intent and optimize the user experience. Optimize your images with short, descriptive filenames and alt text. Then, compress them before uploading them to your site with a free tool like Squoosh.
Help search engines and users navigate your site with internal links. Add your most important URLs to your navigation and footer, and ensure every page on your website receives at least three internal links (with descriptive anchor text) from other internal URLs.
Organize your website with a logical site architecture, like placing informational content in a /blog/ folder and product pages in a /products/ folder. Use hyphens to separate words and brief, concise URL slugs, like /google-pixel-case/ vs. /123456-google-pixel-case/.
Learn more about on-site SEO with our on-page SEO guide!
Chapter 3: SEO content
Learn the search engine optimization basics of SEO content, including its:
Or, skip to the next chapter on off-page SEO basics!
What is SEO content?
- Blog posts
- Longform guides
- Interactive content
Common optimizations for SEO content include:
- Using targeted keywords
- Optimizing content structure
- Improving readability
- And more
Why is SEO content important?
SEO content is important for a few reasons, including the following:
- Helps search engines evaluate a URL’s usefulness
- Attracts qualified, targeted traffic to a website
- Builds a website’s authority and trust in its online sphere
- Establishes (and nurtures) relationships with readers
In search engine optimization, content is non-negotiable — you need it to attract, nurture, and convert leads.
How to do SEO content
Get started with SEO content with these SEO basics:
Speak with client- or customer-facing team members (you can also browse online forums) to understand your target audience’s needs and then use keyword research tools to find the best keywords to target for these topics.
Lean into your experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (a confirmed Google ranking factor) by writing content that shares your first-hand experience and opinion, plus highlights your brand’s years of experience, certifications, and other trust factors.
Optimize your content’s structure by referencing the top-ranking URLs for your targeted search term. You can determine which questions to answer first, second, third, and so on based on the search intent.
Help users navigate your content by optimizing its skimmability. Use header tags, three-line paragraphs, ordered and unordered lists, and text formatting features (like bold, underline, or italics) to help people find what they need faster.
Use free tools like Grammarly, Readability Test, and Hemingway Editor to proof your content. These tools can help you find grammar and spelling errors, plus opportunities for improving your content’s readability, which you should tailor to your audience.
Learn more about this basic of SEO in our SEO content guide!
Chapter 4: Off-page SEO basics
Learn the search engine optimization basics of off-page SEO, including its:
Or, skip to the next chapter on technical SEO basics!
What is off-page SEO?
Off-page SEO is the optimization of a website’s off-site SEO. Off-site optimizations include acquiring reputable backlinks, claiming and optimizing local listings, managing online reviews, and engaging in online communities.
Why is off-page SEO important?
Off-page SEO is important for a few reasons, including:
- Helps search engines understand your site’s online authority and reputation
- Gives users background on your site through online reviews and local listings
- Serves as one of the most influential SEO ranking factors
As one of the most important ranking factors in SEO, off-page SEO is critical to learn in SEO 101.
How to do off-page SEO
Get started with off-page SEO with these SEO basics:
Produce original content, from research-based blog posts to interactive tools, to generate interest and attract authoritative backlinks. You will struggle to acquire backlinks without original content (or content that does it better than anything else).
Practice outreach to connect with publishers in your industry, from news sites to bloggers to industry influencers. Offer value by providing an alternative to a broken link on their site or suggesting a compelling content idea (that you’re willing to write). Expect to get rejected.
Claim and optimize local listings like Google Business Profile and Bing Places. Besides linking to your website, these listings will help demonstrate to search engines (and users) that your business is genuine.
Engage with your user base through local listings and relevant online forums, like Reddit or Quora, to build your reputation as a trustworthy information source. Avoid selling or over-promotion on online forums, which can backfire by creating distrust.
Learn more about this crucial factor in SEO 101 in our off-page SEO guide!
Chapter 5: Technical SEO basics
Learn the search engine optimization basics of technical SEO, including its:
Or, skip to the next chapter on the basics of SEO analytics!
What is technical SEO?
Technical SEO is the optimization of on-site technical elements. These elements include:
- Page speed
- Page experience
- Site security
- Robots.txt file
- Sitemap files
- Structured data
- And more
This area of SEO often requires collaboration with web developers and web designers. Just check out our web design services to learn how we can help you optimize your site for the above elements and more!
Why is technical SEO important?
Technical SEO is important for SEO beginners for a few reasons, including the following:
- Allows search engines to crawl a URL
- Helps search engines better understand a URL and its context
- Shapes a URL’s usability and accessibility
Optimize for technical SEO, and you can help your site rank (and even convert) better.
How to do technical SEO
Learn how to get started with technical SEO below:
Use your robots.txt file to direct search engine web crawlers on what to crawl. A robots.txt file can prevent your site from getting crawled and indexed, so check your setup with Google’s free robots.txt tester tool.
Generate an XML sitemap to provide web crawlers with a map of your site. Use a free third-party tool like Yoast SEO to speed up (and even automate the process). Submit your sitemap to Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools.
Create a secure, trusted website by purchasing an SSL certificate (which stands for Secure Sockets Layer) and moving your site from HTTP to HTTPS. Follow Google’s HTTP to HTTPS guidelines for your migration to minimize risks to your search engine optimization efforts.
Build a fast-loading, fast-to-respond website by following best practices like compressing images, minifying code, enabling browser caching, and using a Content Delivery Network (CDN). Use Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool to get URL-specific recommendations.
Create a better page experience by optimizing your site’s accessibility and usability. For example, use text and background colors with optimal contrast and have a responsive design that adapts to the device, like desktop vs. tablet.
Add structured data to relevant URLs to provide search engines greater context. Use Google’s free Structured Data Markup Helper tool, plus its Rich Results Test tool, to create and verify your markup before installation.
Learn more about this basic of SEO in our technical SEO guide!
Chapter 6: SEO analytics basics
Learn the search engine optimization basics of SEO analytics, including its:
Or, skip to the next chapter on getting started with search engine optimization!
What is SEO analytics?
SEO analytics tracks, measures, and evaluates your SEO performance. Google Search Console and Google Analytics 4 offer a free solution for tracking rankings, traffic, conversions, and other valuable SEO metrics.
Why is SEO analytics important?
SEO analytics are important for a few reasons, including the following:
- Support a goals-driven SEO program by tracking and measuring your performance
- Understand on-page, off-page, and technical SEO performance
- Measure return on investment (ROI) from search engine optimization
- Make data-driven decisions about your SEO strategy
SEO analytics lets you find what’s working, what isn’t, and what to do next.
How to do SEO analytics
Learn how to get started with SEO analytics in this SEO beginners’ breakdown:
Use free platforms like Google Search Console and Google Analytics 4 to track your SEO efforts. You’ll receive position, impressions, and clicks data with Google Search Console. Google Analytics 4 will provide traffic and user metrics, like bounce rate, time on page, and more.
Choose your most relevant metrics for measuring your SEO success. Avoid using too many vanity metrics and include data points that affect your business more broadly, like the number of leads or sales from organic traffic.
Outline SEO goals based on your tools and metrics. Understand what your company’s stakeholders want from search engine optimization and use those as a baseline for creating specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely goals.
Set regular intervals for evaluating your SEO performance (keep in mind SEO can take three to six months to work). Look for trends and outliers while considering seasonal factors to brainstorm what’s working and where to improve.
Learn more about tracking and measuring SEO as an SEO beginner in our SEO analytics guide!
How to get started with SEO basics
If you’re ready to bring all the above together, check out these brief SEO basics:
- Read Google’s guide on how to start appearing in Google search results
- Register your website with Google Search Console and Google Analytics 4
- Build your knowledge with reputable guides, videos, and blogs (like ours!)
Then, put your knowledge to use on your website and measure your performance with the above tools!
Start practicing the basics of SEO on your site
Congrats, you’ve learned the basics of SEO! Now, you’re ready to start practicing SEO on your site. As you get started, remember that SEO can take three to six months to show improvement — in some cases, it can take up to a year.
If you need professional help, though, our SEO company can help! Just contact us online, and we’ll see how we can help! Alternative, feel free to check out our SEO FAQ for quick answers to common SEO questions!