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9 SEO Basics Every Beginner Should Know (Google Guidelines)

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seo basics

Who is this for?

  • This basic guide is for people who want to understand SEO better.
  • For people who have minimal or no previous knowledge of SEO.
  • People who have heard about this term “SEO” and want to shine a light on what it is.
  • Beginners who want an easy-to-understand SEO explanation without getting too “techie.”

Why?

The purpose of this article is to give a clear BEGINNERS guide to what Google looks for when assessing webpage quality. We’ll dive into SEO basics based objectively on Google’s publicly available sources.

*It is meant to be a basic overview and not an in-depth guide. It is also meant to explain some basics of SEO without too much technical jargon. There are many other sources that dive into the technical aspects and strategies for SEO.


Contents:

  1. It’s about the USER:
  2. Content Is King Really, Really Important
  3. Copywriting
  4. Keyword Research
  5. Useful Tools
  6. Mobile Responsive
  7. Title and Snippet Optimization
  8. Google’s E-A-T
  9. YMYL – Expertise

Introduction to SEO for Beginners

There’s a lot of information out there on SEO. If you search SEO you’ll be bombarded with courses, guides, companies, and tools. A lot of it can be very technical and incredibly hard to understand for a beginner. I wanted to figure out a way to explain SEO basics based on arguably the most reliable source on the internet: Google itself. In an effort to cut through the noise, the following information is drawn mainly on two highly credible sources from Google themselves:

What is SEO?

seo basics

Search engine optimization (SEO) is often about making small modifications to parts of your website. When viewed individually, these changes might seem like incremental improvements, but when combined with other optimizations, they could have a noticeable impact on your site’s user experience and performance in organic search results. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Starter Guide

So basically SEO or “Search Engine Optimization” is performing several actions or modifications on your website to impact user-experience and help you rank higher on Google.

Now is a good time to point out that Google has mentioned “user experience” before “performance in organic search results.” It is safe to deduce that performance or ranking higher is a direct result of user experience, or a highly contributing factor.

Best Practices & What To Avoid

In the SEO Starter Guide, Google has given us in a list of Best Practices as well as things to Avoid.

Here is a sample of things you should do in SEO which can positively impact user-experience and page ranking:

BEST PRACTICES
• Choose a title that reads naturally and effectively communicates the topic of the page’s content.
• Accurately summarize the page content
• URLs with words that are relevant to your site’s content and structure are friendlier for visitors navigating your site.
• Write easy-to-read text
• Choose descriptive text
• Use brief but descriptive filenames and alt text (for images)
• Test your mobile pages with the Mobile-Friendly Test50 to see if Google thinks your website works well on mobile devices.
• Know about social media sites (and how to link groups of people to relevant content on your website


Here is a sample of things to avoid in SEO which can negatively impact user-experience and page ranking:

WHAT TO AVOID
• Choosing a title that has no relation to the content on the page.
• Using default or vague titles like “Untitled” or “New Page 1”.
• Using extremely lengthy titles that are unhelpful to users.
• Stuffing unneeded keywords in your title tags. (*keyword stuffing is the practice of throwing words in your website repeatedly without purpose and contributing to poor user-experience in the hope that Google will rank your page higher or over many different search terms.)
• Creating fake reviews
• Going overboard with slicing and dicing your content (so that it takes twenty clicks to reach from the homepage).
• Writing sloppy text with many spelling and grammatical mistakes.
• Awkward or poorly written content.
• Rehashing (or even copying) existing content that will bring little extra value to users.
• Putting distracting advertisements on your pages.
• Using generic filenames like “image1.jpg”, “pic.gif”, “1.jpg” when possible—if your site has thousands of images you might want to consider automating the naming of the images.  

Ok, so now we know what Google has suggested we do and what to avoid, here are some SEO Basics you should know. The following will hopefully increase your understanding of SEO practices and the desirable results of good SEO:

9 SEO Basics Every Beginner Should Know (Google Guidelines)



1. It’s about the USER:

“Websites and pages should be created to help users.”Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines

As I alluded to in the introduction, SEO is really all about the user and their experience when browsing your website. Google explicitly states in its search quality guidelines that every website should have a purpose (whether it be news, advice, entertainment, or even humor). Your website’s ability to fulfill that purpose in a user-friendly way and with credibility will affect your ability to rank higher.

Google states that search engines should also be considered users so your SEO should be user-friendly and easy to understand for both “human” users and search engines like Google.

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2. Content Is King Really, Really Important

There’s no doubt that content plays a huge role in SEO. Your website’s content can significantly impact a user’s experience. Without getting into what the definition of good content is, here are some common elements of good content:

  • Engaging
  • Original thoughts or perspectives

For writing

  • Appropriate Length
  • Easy to read
  • Easy to understand
  • Well written
  • Short sentences

For example, a well-written article from a reputable doctor about safety practices in the workplace to minimize the spread of Coronavirus can be considered really good and useful content. Additionally, a video of cats falling off furniture can also be considered good content.

Often, a determining factor is the engagement of the users. Are many people visiting the web page and staying on that web page for a long period of time to consume your content? Or are they clicking on your webpage, seeing low-quality content (yes, that’s a euphemism!), or getting a bad user-experience and leaving straight away.

Google can measure these things and many more, and they can all factor into their algorithm and subsequent page ranking.

In relation to length of content, this can depend on the subject. See what Google says about it:

Provide an appropriate amount of content for your subject.
Creating high quality content takes a significant amount of at least one of the following: time, effort, expertise, and talent/skill. Content should be factually accurate, clearly written, and comprehensive. So, for example, if you describe your page as a recipe, provide a complete recipe that is easy to follow, rather than just a set of ingredients or a basic description of the dish.Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Starter Guide

In Google’s SEO Guidelines, they give us insight into how to optimize our content:

Make your site interesting and useful
Creating compelling and useful content will likely influence your website more than any of the other factors discussed here. Users know good content when they see it and will likely want to direct other users to it. This could be through blog posts, social media services, email, forums, or other means. Organic or word-of-mouth buzz is what helps build your site’s reputation with both users and Google, and it rarely comes without quality content.Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Starter Guide

SEO is not a bunch of tricks to make sure users click on your website. SEO is making sure that through you provide value and relevance for the user for their needs. It is providing answers to their questions and solutions for their problems. Usability, valuable information, and interesting, engaging content should be your priority. Users are naturally inclined to spend time on your webpage because of this.

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3. Copywriting

Leading on from content, another significant factor in SEO is the words written on your page, otherwise known as copywriting. Two things I should point out which helped me understand how Google works.

Firstly, without getting too technical, Google’s Search Engine is basically a robot that can only see text and code. It cannot see images the way humans do. Be clear in your copywriting as to what your site’s purpose is and who it’s for.

Secondly, a huge factor in how Google’s search engine works is relevance. It wants to provide you with the most relevant search results.

So what has this got to do with copywriting? The way you write and the information you give in your website’s copy can help Google understand what your page is about. If you provide valuable written content with a clear purpose and clear information relevant to that purpose, Google can more easily determine who should see your article in relation to their keywords. Which leads us to our next point:

Google encourages us to create new content:
Consider creating a new, useful service that no other site offers. You could also write an original piece of research, break an exciting news story, or leverage your unique user base. Other sites may lack the resources or expertise to do these things.Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

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4. Keyword Research

woman researching on computer

A primary purpose for SEO is to be found by users who are searching for keywords that relate to your brand or business.

Now, this is a massive area with businesses solely focused on Keyword Research so you can do your own… research. I just want to focus on one aspect of keyword research to keep it simple: Search analysis.

Search analysis

Basically, search analysis is, like it sounds, analyzing what users are searching in relation to your business. From that information, you can optimize your site through focus keywords, copywriting, and other things to increase your chances of being found by people. This is something overlooked by a lot of sites as they assume that simply by having a website users will just find them, and they’ll often be disappointed when people simply aren’t visiting their site. This is when some imagination and a bit of detective work comes in handy.

Imagine you’re a car owner wanting to get your car cleaned in the Philippines.  You go to google and enter search words to find a car cleaning service.  What would you search for? Perhaps [car wash], [car washers], [auto wash], or [car cleaner]?

There are several ways that people might search for businesses like yours.  Now we’ve run into a core SEO question: “What search terms are users searching for to find businesses like yours?”  Here is where the detective work comes in and we have a couple of tools to help us out:

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 5. Useful Tools

If you go to Google.com and type in a word or even part of a word, Google’s auto-complete will kick in.  A drop-down bar of suggestions will appear suggesting common search phrases to help you search faster.  This simple, often overlooked feature, is actually a powerful tool that gives us insight into what people are actually searching for.

So you type in [car wash] and Google will fetch you search results it considers to be relevant, useful, helpful, and credible.

Now scroll down to the bottom of the page and you’ll see related searches. This is yet another tool guiding you in the right direction of what users and potential customers are searching for.

google related searches section

Now another powerful tool to help us in our keyword research is something called Google Trends.

We can enter a keyword(s) and Google will show us if they have high or low search volume. We can also get country-specific and see if people are searching for those keywords in your country.

Aside from that, we can take multiple keywords and compare them to see what users are searching for more. This is handy in finding out whether users are searching for what you think they’re searching for OR you might be surprised that they’re typing in something different. Take the below example. You can compare [car wash] to [carwash] and [auto wash] and even [car cleaner]. And you can see specifically what people in the Philippines are searching for:

google trends search results comparing car wash search terms

We can see that the search term [car wash] is searched more often in the Philippines than the other terms. It’s followed by [carwash] as the next most searched keyword. [Car cleaner] and [auto wash] are hardly searched at all.

So instead of guessing what people are searching for, we can use this tool to provide us with data to support our SEO. Great right?!

Scroll down and Google trends can also give us related searches to help us. For example, [car wash near me] is another highly searched keyphrase:

google trends related queries

There are many other tools out there, some free and some paid, to help us out with SEO. That’s perhaps for another time.

Google’s advice is as follows:

Know what your readers want (and give it to them).
Think about the words that a user might search for to find a piece of your content. Users who know a lot about the topic might use different keywords in their search queries than someone who is new to the topic. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

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6. Mobile Responsive

As I mentioned in another article “How Much Does A Website Cost Philippines (2020 Guide)”:
-53% of web traffic worldwide came from mobile users in 2019 and
-60% of internet browsing is done through mobile in the Philippines and has been steadily increasing for some time now.

So it’s no surprise that Google has taken notice and lists being “mobile-friendly,” otherwise known as “mobile-responsive” as a factor in page ranking.  

Make your site mobile-friendly.
The world is mobile today. Most people are searching on Google using a mobile device. The desktop version of a site might be difficult to view and use on a mobile device. As a result, having a mobile ready site is critical to your online presence. In fact, starting in late 2016, Google has begun experiments to primarily use the mobile version of a site‘s content42 for ranking, parsing structured data, and generating snippets.Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

It’s important to make sure your website is mobile responsive and user-friendly when viewed on a phone otherwise you may receive a low page-quality rating for this. Google has a mobile usability test it runs which you can see in your Google Search Console.

Going back to our first point, we should SEO with the user in mind. So, if a significant portion of the audience is viewing your website through mobile phones, then make sure it’s optimized for ease of use. And while you’re at it, check it can be easily navigated on a tablet as well.

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7. Title and Snippet Optimization

Two things that can impact your ability to rank and users clicking on your webpage in Google’s search results are the title and snippet.

title and snippet in google search results

Titles are literally the title of your page or post which appears in large blue font in the search results. Having a catchy or informative title that matches closely with the searcher’s keywords will mean they are more likely to click through to your page. Don’t be vague in the title either. Make it specific and interesting, for example, [improve your workout] is a rather vague and boring title compared to [6 Easy Tips For Boosting Your Workout Routine] which is more specific, informative and appealing.

Now Snippets, just like they sound, are small phrases or sentences that appear below the title in the Google search results. Snippets help Google determine the purpose or summary of the webpage as well as users to determine if your page is the one that will help them in their query. I won’t get into the technical aspect of meta tags, but just know that having an informative and helpful snippet can positively impact your SEO. This is usually summed up in around 160 characters.

Google’s Best Practices for Snippets

Accurately summarize the page content
Write a description that would both inform and interest users if they saw your description meta tag* as a snippet in a search result. While there’s no minimal or maximal length for the text in a description meta tag, we recommend making sure that it’s long enough to be fully shown in Search (note that users may see different sized snippets depending on how and where they search), and contains all the relevant information users would need to determine whether the page will be useful and relevant to them.Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
(*meta tags are words you can code that Google almost always shows in the snippet.)

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8. Google’s E-A-T

Google understands that not all content is created equal. Having relevant search results isn’t enough. What’s to distinguish an expert film director giving advice on their website from a newbie giving an opinion? So, Google introduced E-A-T into its Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines.

E-A-T stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. This is used to determine the quality of a web page compared to others like it.

Google urges all websites to consider the following:

● The expertise of the creator of the MC*.
● The authoritativeness of the creator of the MC, the MC itself, and the website.
● The trustworthiness of the creator of the MC, the MC itself, and the website.

Keep in mind that there are high E-A-T pages and websites of all types, even gossip websites, fashion websites, humor websites, forum and Q&A pages, etc. In fact, some types of information are found almost exclusively on forums and discussions, where a community of experts can provide valuable perspectives on specific topics.
(*MC stands for Main Content, as opposed to sub-content or ads on a page.)

So what does this have to do with SEO? A lot actually. Google has implemented E-A-T as a way to sift through all the information out there to give us what it has determined to be the most reliable, credible, and useful information or content in relation to our search terms. Again, this goes back to their mission to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

A webpage with content backed with expertise and authority on a subject and is trusted by users will likely rank very high on Google’s search results.

I don’t want to get into technical aspects of how to show your website has high E-A-T, but determining factors can be:

Credibility and experience of your Author. A Pulitzer Prize-winning Journalist will likely achieve more EAT than perhaps a new Journalism student.
  Official Website – A Government website will likely have high EAT when it comes to a search for City Officials or Annual Budgets rather than a blog.
If users share your page on social media or link to your page from theirs.
  Resources used in your article: Are they credible or scholarly, or just hearsay?

So if you provide content and resources that cultivate trust and are clear with your expertise and authority on a subject, you will likely rank higher based on Google’s E-A-T guidelines.

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 9. YMYL – Expertise

Google understands that there are certain topics that have the ability to affect the future happiness or health of an individual. For example, medical advice on a subject can have a significant impact on someone’s life rather than a funny video of a cat (although some would debate this!). Therefore, Google has implemented YMYL to take extra measures when determining the authority of certain topics or search terms.

Google has explicitly stated on its Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines that: We have very high Page Quality rating standards for YMYL pages because low quality YMYL pages could potentially negatively impact a person’s happiness, health, financial stability, or safety.

Some types of pages or topics could potentially impact a person’s future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety. We call such pages “Your Money or Your Life” pages, or YMYL.

YMYL TOPICS
The following are examples of YMYL topics:
News and current events: news about important topics such as international events, business, politics, science, technology, etc. Keep in mind that not all news articles are necessarily considered YMYL (e.g., sports, entertainment, and everyday lifestyle topics are generally not YMYL). Please use your judgment and knowledge of your locale.
Civics, government, and law: information important to maintaining an informed citizenry, such as information about voting, government agencies, public institutions, social services, and legal issues (e.g., divorce, child custody, adoption, creating a will, etc.).
Finance: financial advice or information regarding investments, taxes, retirement planning, loans, banking, or insurance, particularly webpages that allow people to make purchases or transfer money online.
Shopping: information about or services related to research or purchase of goods/services, particularly webpages that allow people to make purchases online.
Health and safety: advice or information about medical issues, drugs, hospitals, emergency preparedness, how dangerous an activity is, etc.
Groups of people: information about or claims related to groups of people, including but not limited to those grouped on the basis of race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, age, nationality, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender or gender identity.
Other: there are many other topics related to big decisions or important aspects of people’s lives which thus may be considered YMYL, such as fitness and nutrition, housing information, choosing a college, finding a job, etc. Please use your judgment.

If your website falls under one of these categories, then the standards are inherently higher. Establishing a high level of E-A-T and overall credibility will be needed to rank high on Google’s Search Results.

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Summary:

So there you have it. Through analyzing a couple of Google’s resources we’ve been able to draw some conclusions on SEO guidelines and factors that come in to play when it determines page quality and ultimately page rank. It’s important to note that everything I’ve explained is based on guidelines and best practices from Google, and not hard facts. Remember Google is quite secretive when it comes to its search algorithm. However, it does its best to advise us on how our websites and content should be delivered to the billions of internet users around the globe. Hopefully, you learned a thing or two about SEO basics and have a better understanding of this fascinating digital discipline. I’ll leave you with a couple of Google’s important factor and characteristics of high quality pages:

Most important factors and characteristics of high quality pages:

Page Quality Rating: Most Important Factors
Here are the most important factors to consider that contribute to overall Page Quality
● The Purpose of the Page
● Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness: This is an important quality characteristic. Use your research on the additional factors below to inform your rating.
● Main Content Quality and Amount: The rating should be based on the landing page of the task URL.
● Website Information/information about who is responsible for the MC: Find information about the website as well as the creator of the MC.
● Website Reputation:reputation about who is responsible for the MC: Links to help with reputation research will be provided.
Characteristics of High Quality Pages
What makes a High quality page? A High quality page should have a beneficial purpose and achieve that purpose well. In addition, High quality pages have the following characteristics:  
● High level of Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T).
● A satisfying amount of high quality MC, including a descriptive or helpful title.
● Satisfying website information and/or information about who is responsible for the website. If the page is primarily for shopping or includes financial transactions, then it should have satisfying customer service information.
● Positive website reputation for a website that is responsible for the MC on the page. Positive reputation of the creator of the MC, if different from that of the website.  

https://static.googleusercontent.com/media/guidelines.raterhub.com/en//searchqualityevaluatorguidelines.pdf

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Resources:

The Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Starter Guide
https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/7451184?hl=en&ref_topic=9460495

Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines (last updated December 5 2019)
https://static.googleusercontent.com/media/guidelines.raterhub.com/en//searchqualityevaluatorguidelines.pdf

Webmaster Checklist
http://g.co/WebmasterChecklist

How Google Search works
https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/70897

Mission
https://www.google.com/search/howsearchworks/mission/

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Laurence Mossman

Laurence Mossman

Hi, I'm Mossie! I have a keen fascination with digital skills and learning. So, I took this passion and created Build Digital Space to help others like me who also want to learn the basics or to be pointed in the right direction of building their own digital spaces.

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