So, people are telling you that you should know how to optimize your content for SEO if you want your online venture to be a success — but in your head you’re thinking, what does SEO stand for?
What they’re saying is absolutely true: a lack of SEO optimization reduces the chances of Google ranking your website, and this is something to be avoided.
So what is SEO, exactly? How do you make sure that your content has the highest chance to be shared with as many people as possible?
In this guide for content writers, we’re going to explain everything that you need to know about SEO and give you the tips you need to begin optimizing your content the right way.
Sounds good? Let’s begin!
What does SEO stand for, and what is it?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and can be defined as a strategy of driving quality traffic to a website from search engines by improving rankings in the algorithmic search results.
The latter is often referred to as “organic” search results, which are unpaid results.
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Simply explained, by optimizing your content for SEO, you’re making finding your content easier for Google and other search engines (because SEO optimization essentially means following a search engine’s guidelines for creating content).
As you’ll learn by the end of this guide, this is vitally important to the success of your online project.
There are a number of strategies involved in SEO optimization, and they are a result of years of experience analyzing content creation and preferences of the online communities.
While the strategies provide different ways to optimize content, their main purpose is to make content quality and good enough to meet the needs of search engine users, including you and me.
Why is SEO so important?
Clearly, the higher the position of a website in search engine results page (SERP) is, the better is the chance of getting traffic, that’s why practicing SEO has become a must for online businesses.
Since content competition isn’t getting any easier, proper SEO optimization can be your tool to outcompete a lot of other people writing about similar topics.
For example, if you look at how much content – blog posts – are published daily using a tool like Internet Live Stats, you’ll quickly realize that standing out from the competition is critical for the survival and success of your online venture.
For example, Internet Live Stats show truly mind-blowing stats: between 12 AM and 3:19 PM, there were more than 4 million posts published online, and the number was rapidly increasing at an incredible rate.
If you don’t understand SEO, are still questioning what does SEO stand for, and how to optimize your content to make it easier for search engines to find and rank, then you’ll face billions of competitors with little or no chance to win.
On the other hand, being able to optimize content in the right way, which dramatically increases your chances in the crazy content race, is impossible without a solid understanding of SEO.
That’s why we’re going to focus on this in the next section.
Understanding SEO for beginners
Now that we’ve established the importance of SEO, let’s now dig a little bit deeper into the technical stuff (I promise we won’t get too technical).
Even the basic technical knowledge can make a big difference in how Google and other search engines view your content, so you should gain enough knowledge to improve the performance of your content by the end of this article.
So, let’s begin by learning how Google works (I’ve chosen to focus on this specific engine because it’s responsible for most of the search traffic in the world).
It uses a wide range of factors to decide which websites to show in search results (this is called “ranking,” or the position of a website in a search engine results page), but in this article, let’s focus on some of the most important ones:
High-quality, relevant information
The search giant makes it very clear that providing quality, user-centered content is a critical thing to succeed. Here’s a part from the official “Steps to a Google-friendly Website” guide that describes this.
Google’s explanation of content quality. Credit: Google Blog
As you can see, writing high-quality content is “the single most important thing” for webmasters that decides whether your website will be shown in the search results. This means:
- Writing about topics your target audience is interested in
- Avoiding stuffing content with keywords in an attempt to entice Google to link to your site
- Avoiding irrelevant links in your content to guide visitors to unrelated websites
- Using text to display important headlines and content because Google doesn’t recognize text contained in graphics
- Lacking research and evidence to support your claims and tips for readers.
Scannable content to improve user experience
Another factor that contributes to content quality, as well as the desire to read your content, is its formatting. With so much content out there, Google users get bored with reading poorly formatted text (huge chunks, no clearly defined sections, no headings and/or subheadings, etc.) pretty quickly.
To make the text reader-friendly and easier to understand, you have to make it scannable by:
- Using headings and subheadings to allow readers to find content quickly
- Write in small, digestible sections to avoid overwhelming the readers
- Inserting relevant visuals such as images and videos to explain complex ideas, etc.
- Using bullet lists to improve the readability of content
- Structuring the content so it has a logical flow of information.
By following these tips, you’ll make sure that your content is much easier to consume, which is exactly what Google and other search engines appreciate. To illustrate these points, here’s an article from this blog created according to them.
If you have some experience with producing content for the web or doing business online, you know that keywords are another thing to consider for SEO optimization.
In fact, keywords are most commonly associated with SEO, which is only partially true because you need to optimize many other things, too.
Well, to meet this requirement, you need to perform keyword research.
Keyword research for SEO includes analyzing words and word combinations used by search engine users to find specific products or services as well as the frequency of the use. It’s a core SEO task whose purpose is to identify the most relevant words and phrases to rank for.
Here are the steps that you’ll need to take to perform keyword research:
Step #1: Start with an idea relevant to your blog/business, e.g. “wine knowledge for beginners”
Step #2: Make a list of relevant topics based on that idea. For example, here’s a list of examples for the above mentioned “wine knowledge for beginners:”
- Wine basics
- Different types of wine and their taste
- Wine knowledge
- How to categorize wine
- How to select wine.
Try Googling each of these options and seeing whether they enjoy high traffic volumes. If they do, you can confidently use them for further planning of your SEO strategy.
Step #3: Expand topic ideas with keywords
Now that we have a number of specific, popular knowledge areas to focus on, it’s time to improve them by adding keywords. These keywords will increase their ability to rank in search results because they are used by people to find information.
Let’s continue with the example of the wine blog and use the above topics to illustrate how to expand your keyword reach:
1. Wine basics:
- Wine basics for servers
- Wine basics for beginners
- Italian red wine basics
2. Different types of wine and their taste
- A guide to wine types and tastes
- Common wine types beginners need to know
- The different types of white wines
3. Wine knowledge
- A beginner’s guide to red wine
- Wine knowledge essentials
- How can you apply knowledge of wine
4. How to categorize wine
- A full guide to wine classification
- How to organize a good wine list
- How to organize a home wine collection
5. How to select wine
- How to choose a wine for a party
- How to select red wine for drinking
- The guide to selecting the best wine for dinner.
The lists of options go on and on, but the main point here is to move you closer to the final list of keywords that you’re going to be targeting with the SEO strategy.
By testing these options using tools like Google Keyword Planner, you’ll know which options are the best to target.
Important: as you can see, the combinations got longer and longer, which is a deliberate tactic. The main purpose here is to define narrowed down, long-tail keywords that can bring you quality traffic while reducing the competition.
For example, “wine guide” is a high-competition head keyword combination, but narrowing it down to “a complete guide to Australian red wines under $50” ensures fewer competitors and more quality traffic.
SEO tactics for freelancers
Now that we know SEO essentials and what SEO stands for, let’s summarize some of the above tactics and talk about even more tactics that can help you boost the traffic on your website/blog and advance your freelance business.
Always do keyword research
While looking for keywords is easy enough – and can be free – using them can advance your content effort in a big way. That’s why you should always perform keyword research before starting to implement your strategy.
Tip: the easiest and totally free way to research both short keywords and narrowed long-tail keywords is Google. For example, as you search for a head keyword combination, take a look at Google’s Related Search section as well as the options given when you’re typing your request.
Since Google uses only evidence-based options to give you this advice, you can confidently include them in your keyword list.
Optimize website speed
Google has released the so-called “speed update” last year, in an effort to improve the experience of its users by minimizing website loading time. That’s why websites loading for more than three seconds (that’s the value that many SEO experts out there think is the best one to aim for) have a greater chance of being outcompeted.
Checking how your website performs with Google’s own PageSpeed Insights would be a good first step to defining potential problems preventing you from ranking higher.
This is your specialty right here. If a website gets links from other reputable, high-traffic resources, then it has more chances to rank higher in search engine results. Here are a couple of strategies that can help you out:
- Write highly relevant, original content. One way to entice reputable websites to link to your website/blog is to write amazing content that their readers can benefit from
- Submit content to create backlinks. Try to submit guest posts to high-traffic websites to get your content published, and include links to your resource. However, make sure to follow submission guidelines to increase the chances of getting published.
If you find unnatural, spammy links to your website coming from other resources, you should definitely remove them because they can undermine the ability of your site to rank.
Google’s official content guidelines have a section on removing low-quality, spammy backlinks, which can be helpful, and a special tool for disavowing them. This can be a full-time job and you might want to consider hiring an seo company to help you with this critical task.
Now that we’ve answered the question what does SEO stand for, you can start creating a strategy for your content to increase its effectiveness. Hopefully, this guide has inspired you to learn about the art of SEO and ranking, and you’ll use this knowledge to produce search engine- and reader-friendly, engaging content that deserves high ranking.
So here you go, it’s over to you now, and remember: only SEO-optimized content can increase your search visibility and bring more people to your website.
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