5-Step Organic Search SEO Beginners Guide

February 2020

There is no doubt that being on the first page in Google for a competitive keyword or phrase is akin to digital marketing gold. People will go to extraordinary lengths to snag a coveted front page position.

Always stay focussed on Google’s primary goal.
To rank well in Google, it’s important to focus on Google’s primary goal, which is to return a relevant match to a user’s search query. For example, let’s say you head to Google to search for a banana cake recipe. The search engine will attempt to return a list of webpages that each include a “banana cake recipe”. You won’t see apple cake recipes, or recipes for soup, since these would not be relevant matches to the original search query.

While this seems like stating the obvious, it’s impossible to write a beginners guide to SEO without reiterating this point: The fundamental principle of relevancy underpins all search engine optimisation efforts (in fact, it underpins everything Google). SEO, by default, becomes the process for setting up your website so that you maximise your opportunity to rank – and this relies on understanding Google’s key ranking factors and incorporating them into your SEO strategy.

When you’re ready to focus on organic search or are embarking on search engine optimisation (SEO), before you begin, read Google’s Quality Guidelines. Know the rules first, since the penalty for breaking them isn’t worth it.

1. Avoid Black Hat SEO.

See those ads offering you 1000 links for $10? Be warned, it’s the worst $10 you’ll ever invest. Participating in dubious SEO activities, like link farming, are contradictory to Google’s quality guidelines and the search engine is smart enough to determine quickly what you’re doing and it may penalise you accordingly. Link farms, along with other dubious techniques, form part of “black hat” SEO. What’s black hat SEO? It’s using techniques and tricks that try to dupe Google into ranking your website higher in contravention to the search engine’s quality guidelines. There are several techniques that are frowned upon including publishing substantial blocks of duplicate content, creating content that adds no value, using doorway pages and other techniques that are outlined in the guidelines. If you’re unlucky enough that unscrupulous competitors or dodgy SEOs have added bad backlinks to your website, you’ll need to disavow the links, which can be painful because it’s time consuming. If Google does penalise you, it’s extremely bad, you’ll have to apply for a reprieve. It’s at Google’s discretion if it restores you to its index.

2. Focus on Technical Website Set-Up.

Once upon a time, in an era when mobile phones were the size of bricks, you could set up a website, do very little, and watch it rank. Except for your domain name, this is extremely unlikely to happen these days. It’s virtually impossible if you’re trying to rank in a highly competitive category.

Here are 5 technical set-ups that support website organic ranking:

  1. Mobile-friendly: Your website must be mobile-friendly. In other words, it must load fast and be responsive (display well on smartphone and tablet devices). If it  isn’t mobile-friendly, your ranking dreams are over. Since 2018, Google has been mobile-first indexing. In other words, Google looks to see how well your website works on mobiles and ranks your website (desktop version included) accordingly.
  2. SEO-specific functionality: If you’re using WordPress, you’ll find many plugins freely available that you can incorporate into your website. Start with a plugin like All-in-One SEO or Yoast that enable you to add meta titles and descriptions to each page and post (and make global settings). Rely on an xml sitemap, not spiders, to index your website. By activating an xml sitemap functionality, you are providing search engines with the fastest, most efficient of indexing the bulk of your website. Make sure it auto pings the search engines when you update the site.
  3. Website security: Your website must be protected with a SSL security certificate. It used to be mandatory for eCommerce websites, now it’s mandatory for everyone. If you don’t have one, speak to your website hosting company to arrange it.
  4. Schematic mark-up: Talk to your website developer or SEO about schematic markup. If you want to understand this largely technical topic, you can dive in by reading Moz’s schematic markup overview.
  5. Search console integration: Lastly, but certainly not least, you must set-up Search Console (formerly called Google Webmaster) so that Google can verify your xml sitemap. Search console will also tell you what keywords people use to find your website.

3. Content is King.

Most websites include a variety of content, most of which can help your website to rank. Towards the very top is content. Fresh, interesting, engaging content that people read, share and like. There is no escaping the need to generate good quality content if you want your website to rank in Google. (Follow the link above to better understand Google’s algorithm (which it constantly changes)).

Written Content:
How does Google know what a page is about? It reads source code and then looks to analyse keyword density. Using a favourite tool, WebConfs Keyword Density Checker, we ran a simple test on the first organic listing in Google (Australia) for “buy online dog food”. Look at the keyword cloud – Google has looked at this webpage and it can see that it’s all about cats, dogs and food (amongst other things). It uses keyword density to determine what a webpage is about and what’s most important. When you write content, keep your main keyword density below 6%.

Try analysing your own website below:

Keyword Density Checker
Enter a URL to analyze

Image search:
If you want to be found in Image Search, label your image files with a keyword or your brand. For example, name your images “digitalMarketing.jpg” instead of “IMG1234.jpg”. If you don’t want people re-using your images, add your brand or logo as a watermark. If you need images, try Unsplash or Pexels for free stock imagery. Unlike text, Google does not “read” copy on images.

Video:
Video is fantastic for keeping people on a webpage for longer – and dwell time (the amount of time that a person spends looking at a webpage) is a ranking factor. To keep bandwidth costs to a minimum, host externally and embed. Video hosting platforms include YouTube or Vimeo (where you have much more control over how your video is presented and Vimeo is ad-free).

PDF files:
If you want your PDF documents to rank in Google, give them a keyword-friendly name. If you are creating your PDFs using Adobe Acrobat, try these searchable PDF instructions.

4. Off-page Optimisation.

The main focus of off-page optimisation for SEO is link building. Why are links important? It’s one way that Google uses to judge the popularity of your website or its webpages. If you have many good quality backlinks, Google thinks you are popular. If you are popular, the search engine will rank you higher. The key to successful link building is that links have to be high quality and need do follow robots text to add value.

Let’s go a bit deeper. How does Google decide whether a site that links to you is good quality? An important weighting is the originating website’s domain name. If your website receives a backlink from an edu or gov website, it is automatically considered a high quality backlink. If the website is very popular (such as Wikipedia) and it links to you, this too is very favourable. Try a free online backlink checker to see who is linking to your website. (If you have a backlink that is not desirable, you need to disavow it through Google’s Search Console.

Link building is an extremely time-consuming exercise and is the reason why companies invest in outsourced SEO programs over time. To rank well, you want to continually build good quality content and backlinks, which is a resource-intensive activity. Consider outsourcing if your internal resources can’t cover the time investment.

Don’t forget. While you’re not investing in your organic ranking, your competitors continually are.

5. Websites are only one way to rank in Google.

While this is a post about organic ranking, more broadly, Google offers a variety of ranking opportunities.

  • Google Maps, which is free and which is ideal for location-based businesses. To help your ranking in maps, encourage your customers to leave reviews.
  • Google Images, which is free. You need to follow the instructions above to create images that can be easily found by searchers.
  • YouTube videos, which is free. You need to “tag” your videos and give them keyword-friendly names for them to rank on Google.
  • Google Advertising, which is paid. Advertising has the advantage of delivering immediate front page ranking, while SEO typically takes time to work.
  • Google Shopping, which is another paid Google advertising program. You are required to join Google’s merchant center. You’ll be billed for each clickthrough. Read this advice about shopping campaigns and shopping ads.

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About us: Digital Koalas is a Melbourne-based Digital Marketing Consultancy.
We work with businesses, marketing teams and agencies to develop digital strategy, conduct independent digital audits, manage digital media buying and campaign optimisation, and provide assistance with digital team & talent recruitment.
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