Learn the Basics Before You Try Anything Fancy!

Flying Superman by bcbusinesshub, Flickr.comI heard something on the radio a few weeks ago that stuck with me and made me think about the basics of SEO. The line went something like this, “You have to have the fundamentals down before trying any of the fancy stuff. ” So before you go out and try to do things like PR sculpting or any of the other advanced techniques you hear about, get the basics down.

SEO can really be broken down into three essential areas: Architecture, Content, and Links. These are the basics of SEO that you need to understand and get right first. Let’s take a look at some key points to understand in each of these main areas.

Architecture – Can Your Site Be Crawled?

One of the first problems that a website has to address is whether or not their site can actually be crawled by the search engine spiders. You can have the best content in the world, but if the search engine spiders can’t get to it you won’t reap the benefits! Here are some things you can do to help your site be more crawl-able:

  1. Avoid things like JavaScript or Flash navigation. Both of these kinds of navigation are not crawled very well by search engines at this time. This could change in the future, but for now it’s best to just avoid JavaScript and Flash navigations.
  2. Keep your site’s architecture as flat as possible. Don’t have tons of levels in your architecture. Keep pages as close to the root as possible. In other words, mysite.com/folder/product is much better than mysite.com/category/subcategory/other-folder/product.
  3. Stay away from parameter strings in URLs. By having parameter strings in URLs you could have multiple versions of the same content and will have to learn how to properly use the canonical element. You can avoid this by not using parameters. Instead, have a static URL for each page whenever possible. For example, mysite.com/productname.html is much better than mysite.com/?prod-id=abc123&cat-id=def456.
  4. Use internal linking appropriately. Whenever it makes sense, link to other pages in your site from within the content of the page. Don’t just rely on your navigation to get people (and search engine spiders) to where you want them to go. Typically the greatest missed opportunity for optimization is links to and from web pages within your own site. An example of internal linking for variations on the keyword “swimwear” can be found here, here and here. Notice how different uses of this phrase are linking each to the home page. This is a case where the website is clearly optimizing these phrases for the page linked to. (More about internal linking.)
  5. Sitemaps are your friends. Make sure your site has both an HTML and XML sitemap. (More about sitemaps).

Content – Is It Optimized?

Once you have your website’s architecture set up the right way, the next step is to make sure that your content is well-optimized to help your site rank for your main keyword phrases. Here are a few basic guidelines to follow:

  1. Don’t target too many phrases per page. You may have a list of 50 keywords you want to target, but you should only focus on 2-3 main phrases per page. Create other pages around additional phrases as needed.
  2. No spammy stuff! Don’t do any keyword stuffing, alt stuffing, meta spamming, or any other spammy techniques. They don’t really work well anymore anyway.
  3. Use your keyword phrases in titles, header tags, etc. By using your keyword phrases in your titles and header tags you can give them more emphasis.
  4. Use your keywords in your content. Don’t just rely on your titles and header tags. Don’t overdo it; make the text read naturally but make sure you include your keywords and variations of them in the content.

Links – Getting Juice from Other Sites

Setting your site up the right way is one step, but getting traffic to your website takes a lot more than just using keywords on your pages. The other big key to getting a good rank on the search engines is to get other sites linking to you. By getting these links you are showing that your site has credibility and is worth ranking well. Here are a few quick tips to keep in mind when you’re building links:

  1. Use a variety of techniques. There are a lot of things you can do to build links: directories, articles, social bookmarking, forums … the list goes on and on. Mix up what you’re doing and get a variety of link types coming into your site. (More about link building)
  2. Spread your links over a lot of domains. It’s important to get a lot of links, but it’s also important to get a lot of links spread over many domains. If you follow tip #1 this shouldn’t be much of a problem for you.
  3. Use keywords in your anchor text. One problem that I’ve seen over and over is that someone will build links to their site using either their name, their business name, or their URL. This is nice if that’s what you want to rank for, but if you want to rank for a keyword phrase you have to use that phrase as the anchor text of your link.
  4. Use a variety of anchors. Don’t just use the same keyword phrase over and over again. Mix it up so that you aren’t spamming one phrase too much. This will help your link building look more natural.
  5. The work is never done. Don’t think you can just submit to a bunch of directories and your work is over. SEO is an ongoing process.

While these tips don’t cover everything you need to know about the three main areas of search engine optimization, this is enough to get you started. Spend some time looking over your site to make sure that you are doing these basics. Then, if you want, you can try to get a little fancy.

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  1. Andrew Melchior says

    Good thoughts here Dan! Just like in life, most things that offer a reward take some work to be good at and SEO is no different. I can’t remember a case of working with a single client where they had much, if any of these basics done before walking in the door, but they are so essential. Good Post.

  2. Clinton Power says

    Thanks for this Dan! I am just starting out learning the basics of SEO for my business and website, so I really appreciate you teaching
    me the fundamentals. I will be implementing your suggestions as soon as I can! Thanks again!

  3. Brandon Buttars says

    This is a great list to start SEO efforts. SEO can be overwhelming when you factor in all the variables you are up against. Just getting a regular process down with the basics is a good starting point for sure. I love the MX rider. I for sure wouldn’t start out doing a superman on a bike without mastering the basic ride first and some.

  4. Dan Patterson says

    @Andrew – I think we all take it for granted sometimes, until we look over a site and realize how many times the basics are overlooked.

    @Clinton – Glad the post was helpful for you. Check out our forum for a great way to connect and learn more about SEO.

    @Brandon – I thought the image was fitting as well LOL. Starting with the basics is the best idea, then learn from there.

    Thanks all for the comments!

  5. Nick Stamoulis says

    This really breaks down the basic nicely. Many people just over think SEO a bit too much sometimes. If you take a step back and focus on the core issue stemming around SEO you can really learn a lot.

  6. Miguel Gomez says

    Agreed, nice article and the tips about link building are right on. It is probably one of the most important parts of SEO, yet seems to be missed by a lot of people. Good work!

  7. Dan Patterson says

    @Mark – Agreed, if the client has already done a lot of the onsite work and understands link building it makes everything go so much smoother.

    @Nick – I agree that a lot of people try to over-complicate things. They try the ‘fancy’ stuff without understanding the basics. Learn the basics and then go from there!

    @Miguel – I think a lot of people overlook the link building because it’s the ongoing work and people don’t understand it’s importance in the bigger picture. The fact is that if you have two sites that have both done a great job with their architecture and content, but only one does link building it will be pretty obvious which one will get the better rankings over time.

  8. Mei says

    Great article. A lot of times we forget the basics when we’re too entrenched with ‘how to we optimize more’. This is also a great basic list to show designers 😉 Thanks!

  9. Arnie Katz says

    Informative article. The basic knowledge to do SEO is really quite simple. Many Internet Marketing companies try to make it seem harder than it is to justify their fees. Anyone who has website online should try to learn the basics.It will help them in the long run.

  10. Dan Patterson says

    @Mei – I really do wish that more designers understood these basics. It would make my life so much easier!

    @Arnie – I agree and believe that goes for a lot of things. If you know at least a little bit about the topic then you know what questions to ask to make sure you’re getting what you need.

    Thanks for the comments!

  11. SiobhanFromDragon says

    @Arnie – I agree with you as well. I think that people try to do the same for PPC by making it seem like its way more difficult than what it really is.

    About keyword stuffing: It may still work if done correctly.

    Nonetheless, great piece!

    DragonSearch Marketing

  12. Jacob Stoops says

    Great tips! I think that a lot of people have to get a good understanding of SEO fundamentals before jumping in and trying to do it. If you’re not getting the basics right, how can you expect to get the rest right?

  13. Matt Siltala says

    I like simple reminders like this Dan, its way to easy to forget and (think beyond) the little things, and I am amazed at how many people just completely forget to DO the little things. I see way to many sites failing at the little things, when I know they know better! Good article man!

  14. Dan Patterson says

    @SiobhanFromDragon – Sure, keyword stuffing ‘may work’, but I’d consider it a very gray area to just avoid. Glad you liked the article!

    @Jacob – The way I see it that’s the way it is for most things in life. Hence the motorcycle picture. I wouldn’t recommend anyone try something like that until they know what they’re doing! And the same goes for SEO – learn the fundamentals first, then you can start trying the more complicated things.

    @Matt – Yeah, every now and then I talk to someone who starts going on like they know all the crazy things you can do, but they have no understanding of the basics. They miss the boat. Thanks for the comment!

  15. Krystal says

    Great post. When it comes to the architecture of the site i will most likely continue to outsource that. But knowing what specification to send them will help. I didn’t know i could use a keyword phrase as my name…i thought it might get rejected…but it can’t hurt to try. Almost did it for this comment. Thanks for all the great info, but keeping it fun yet specific.

  16. Dr. Arnie Katz says

    Nice article. Covers most of the important basic requirements of good search engine optimization for any website.

  17. Spunky Jones says

    I was very surprised the other day when I was on a well known forum and someone asked about getting more search engine traffic.

    I went and looked at their site. It was almost two years old and the title was “Home”. I thought that by now, everybody knew this spelled trouble.

    As I read more of the forum thread, I was shocked of how many people don’t have a grip on “basic SEO” strategy.

  18. Riaan Aggenbag says


    I’m just reading some of your older (but really helpful) articles and can”t help but ask you this question relating to link building.

    Using SEO.com as an example:

    You obviously want to rank high for the term SEO.
    So you would naturally build those kind of links to your home page.

    But, you also have a services page with URI http://www.seo.com/seo/ where you elaborate on the service etc. for which you rank highly for the same keyword as well.

    What would you recommend is the best strategy for a new site with the same scenario? Where the main service is also a separate page and can be optimized for separately to the Home page) Is there a best practice in splitting the links between the two pages etc.

    Your thoughts would be much appreciated.

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