SEO for Beginners

Gavin Hirst - Thursday 11th November 2021


5 essential tips for SEO beginners

At Digital Hothouse, we have over 30 years’ experience in SEO between us and over that time, the industry has changed significantly. What was relevant 10 years ago is unlikely to be as relevant today and even looking back 5 years, things have come a long way.

If you are completely new to SEO, we understand it can be daunting. At Digital Hothouse, we all have our own areas of expertise, whether that’s technical, content, development, or link building – that’s what gives us a head start when it comes to optimising clients’ websites.

There are so many facets to SEO that it can be tricky to know where to start. Our first suggestion would be to reach out to a specialist SEO agency like Digital Hothouse, but we are also very aware that not every business has budget for SEO services so it’s important to have an understanding of the factors that can make the biggest difference if you are new to SEO and looking to carry out your optimisation work in-house.

At this point, we are going to assume some basics. We are going to assume that you are working on a website that is mobile-friendly as that is an absolute essential for any business today. We’re also going to assume you probably don’t have the time for activities like link outreach which are not only time consuming, but that also requires a specialist skillset to deliver results.

Beyond this, below are the tactics that we feel are essential for beginners to SEO and the ones we think are the easiest to action whilst delivering the best return on the time invested.

Let’s dive in.

Essential tips for SEO beginners

These are five of the tips we would recommend any beginner or anyone looking to improve their SEO should focus on if they want to see the biggest return on their time investment.

1.      Target long and short tail keywords

Businesses often obsess over short tail, “head” keywords that are extremely difficult to rank for. These will typically be one or two words with high search volume but crucially, high competition.

Brands that rank for these short-tail keywords drive high volumes of traffic to their website, however, it can take a lot of time and effort to rank on the first page for these types of terms.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t target them – it’s more that you need to be aware of the other opportunities out there and start off with some longer tail keywords that are more likely to drive traffic in the short term.

Long-tail keywords are, as the name suggests, longer and more specific. They are phrases with much lower search volume, but crucially, lower competition and higher search intent. Searchers are more likely to be closer to the purchase stage of the buyer funnel when they are using long-tail keywords so the conversion rate from these keywords can be much higher.

Examples of both short-tail and long-tail keywords include:

Short Tail: mens sneakers (US search volume – 74k per month)

Long Tail: mens nike sneakers (3,600 per month)

Longer Tail: mens nike sneakers size 12 (90 per month)

We can see how the search intent is much more focused as more keywords are added to the query and someone searching specifically by size and brand is much further down the sales funnel than someone just looking for “mens sneakers”.

2.      Optimise your page titles

Page titles are one of those SEO tactics that probably haven’t changed all that much over the past 10 years. They are still as important today as they were 10 years ago, however, the way we optimise the content in the page titles needs to be brought up to date.

One of the main reasons for this is the way that Google is now displaying page titles in the search results pages (SERPs). In August 2021, Google announced an update to the way they generate web page titles. The update means that a lot of the page titles that have been specifically created for SEO purposes are now being changed by Google as they attempt to present the most relevant title to searchers.

They have gone beyond using simply the HTML text to create page titles, “In particular, we are making use of text that humans can visually see when they arrive at a web page. We consider the main visual title or headline shown on a page, content that site owners often place within <H1> tags or other header tags, and content that’s large and prominent through the use of style treatments.”

Why is Google changing the way they display page titles?

According to the Google Developers post cited above, “HTML title tags don’t always describe a page well. In particular, title tags can sometimes be”:

  • Very long.
  • “Stuffed” with keywords, because creators mistakenly think adding a bunch of words will increase the chances that a page will rank better.
  • Lack title tags entirely or contain repetitive “boilerplate” language. For instance, home pages might simply be called “Home”. In other cases, all pages in a site might be called “Untitled” or simply have the name of the site.

Whilst this change caused some consternation in the SEO community, the change should benefit users and for SEOs, it means rethinking the way we generate title tags to bring them more in line with what searchers are actually looking for.

One simple way to see how Google is treating your existing page titles is to run a site: search in your browser. If you simply enter site:yourwebsite this will return a results page full of all the pages on your website Google has indexed. You can then run a simple check to see if what they are displaying is what you have set as your title tag. If they are different, have a look at what Google thinks is the best title and see if that works for you and make updates where relevant.

It is definitely still important to include the keywords you have identified in your page titles – both short and long-tail – but try not to stuff multiple synonyms into your title tag.

3.      Write more content

Even if you think you write a lot of content, write more.

Content is such an important element of SEO today and a lot of the clients we work with for the first time simply don’t have enough of it to be authoritative on a particular topic.

To clarify, we are not saying write more content for the sake of it.

You need to be writing or creating content that helps your customers to find out more about the products and services you sell, about your business, about the people in your business, about your suppliers, your commitment to sustainability…tell your story and help people that land on your website to make an informed decision about their purchase.

You need to understand what people are searching for within your sector and put together a content plan that answers their questions.

Not all your content will be conversion-led. In fact, most of it will be targeted towards the research phase of the buyer journey – this is the place where the most online searching is carried out and this is where you need to be present.

People need to discover you early on in the journey and your content needs to meet their search requirements. They might then go off and do more research on other sites, however, if your content was high quality, engaging and informative, you will have sewn a seed in their mind that means they are much more likely to come back to you further down the funnel, especially if you have created content across each stage of that funnel.

4.      Write longer content

As well as writing more content, we also highly recommend writing longer content. The internet is saturated with content and it’s important that you are able to stand out with the content you are writing.

It’s hard to stand out in 400-500 words.

If you want to be an authority on a topic, you have to cover that topic in-depth and that means writing longer content.

According to HubSpot data in 2021, the ideal blog post length for SEO should be 2,100-2,400 words. This is not to say that every single post you write should be that long. It just gives you an idea of the type of depth you need to go into to cover a topic in detail and to have a better chance of ranking well.

Writing longer content is not simply about adding more words that don’t mean anything. Your posts need to focus on answering all the searcher’s questions when they type a query into Google.

One great way to add meaningful content to a post or page is to review the SERPs. Enter one of the primary keywords you are targeting with your post or page and see what sort of results are returned. Is there a featured snippet box? If so, what is the format – numbered list? Paragraph? Image? This will help to guide the layout of your content piece.

Then look for People Also Ask (PAA) results on the page. These are a great way to uncover subheadings that can be included in your content piece as you know that these are questions that people are asking that relate to the primary keyword you want to rank for. We will sometimes add an FAQ section to the bottom of a post and look to answer as many of those PAA questions as possible where relevant.

5.      Be aware of your competitors but don’t obsess about them

We see too many businesses obsess about what their competitors are doing. What tactics they are deploying. Where they are advertising. What content they are publishing.

And then they try and copy them.

Even if it is not relevant to their business or it could potentially hurt them from an SEO perspective. They just go ahead and copy a tactic because a competitor happens to rank well for a particular term.

This is not a good way to improve your own SEO.

Competitor research is hard. It’s time-consuming and Google results are ever-changing so your research is out of date almost as soon as you complete it.

It is important to be aware of your competitors and what they are doing, however, you need to make your own path when it comes to SEO and follow best-practice guidelines like the ones set out above. If you get the basics right, you won’t need to worry about your competitors as you will have the strong foundations from which to build authority and start to rank well for the keywords you are targeting as well as a whole bunch of keywords you didn’t even think about.

Summary

There are so many areas to work on when it comes to improving your SEO that it can be difficult to know where to start. Hopefully, this list gives you a good idea of some of the basics that are essential for beginners in SEO.

None of the five tactics listed above are difficult. Sure, they require time and energy, however, they can be performed by anyone starting out in SEO and they can really help you to optimise your website, improve the user experience and ultimately, drive more sales.

If you do have the budget to spare, we would recommend working with an SEO agency, even if it is just to carry out some initial audits, and they can point you in the right direction when it comes to keywords you should be targeting, content you should be creating as well as highlighting any technical issues that need to be resolved.

At Digital Hothouse, we work with clients large and small and would love to chat with you about improving the SEO of your website. Fill out our contact form and we will be happy to jump on a call and see how we can help.

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