Do you know exactly how Google ranks the search results for your search queries? If you build a website and want tons of traffic through search engines, do you know what you should do? If you’re looking for a thorough walkthrough about SEO for beginners, keep reading.
If you follow a few essential guidelines for search engine optimization, you can be sure your website gets the traffic it deserves. And since SEO traffic is 100% free, you should at least understand a few fundamentals about SEO for beginners.
Therefore, in this post I’ll share with you some of the most powerful SEO fundamentals for absolute newbies. If you’ve never launched a website or blog before and want to learn some SEO basics, you’re in the right place. I’ll also reveal a few valuable tips for making sure your website stands out from the competition.
Here are a few related posts you should read, too:
- How Do Search Engines Work Exactly?
- 9 Top Reasons Why You Should Use WordPress for Building Websites
- How to Use the Yoast SEO Plugin for WordPress SEO – Step-by-Step Tutorial
Please note: This post contains affiliate links to products I use and recommend. I may receive a small commission if you purchase through one of my links, at no additional cost to you. Thank you for your support!
SEO For Beginners – Intro to Search engine optimization
Anyone who is looking for something online, is going to find it with Google.
If you wish to have your website show up at the top in Google’s search results, you need to have a well-managed long-term search engine optimization (SEO) strategy.
To help you understand the fundamentals of SEO for beginners, we’ll go through a few key points about how SEO works and how you can get started with search engine optimization in this post.
If you’re going to build websites and want to see traffic on them, this SEO for beginners article will help you save tons of time. You’ll know what to focus on and how to create great content for your website visitors.
Also, you will learn more about how Google and other search engines work. This will help you understand the optimal anatomy of a SEO-friendly website to apply to your own websites.
The post will cover the following points:
- Why is search engine optimisation so important?
- How does Google deliver its search results?
- How does Google rank its search results?
- Google’s rules for SEO
- What is black-hat SEO?
- How Google adjusts its ranking factors
- How to start doing SEO, where to begin?
Let’s jump right in!
Why is search engine optimisation so important?
Whoever wishes to generate traffic to their website through Google, needs to be aware of how people use their search engine.
For any search done with Google, the first page or search results (SERP) is where you need to be. This magical first page displays the top 7-10 search results.
Most users will find what they are looking for right then and there. Thus, they do not even look at pages 2 or 3.
Therefore, if your website does not make it to the first page, you may kiss the idea of Google users finding their way to your website goodbye.
Globally, Google has the absolute power when it comes to search engines. With market shares anywhere between 80% and 95%, it is quite clear who the big boss is.
As a result of the huge amount of traffic it processes, Google can provide everyone with more tailor-made, detailed search results.
Therefore, each user receives more exact and relevant results – especially if they have an account with Google. In that case, the user is feeding Google’s hungry algorithms with more and more information about their interests and preferences with every search they make.
How does Google work?
So what does Google do then exactly? First of all, to be able to deliver any search results to its users to begin with, Google needs to have a directory of all the websites out there.
But how does Google find all the web pages in the world? Furthermore, how does Google find the best search results for a given search keyword?
To shed some more light on what happens behind the scenes, let’s take a look at the three different tasks Google carries out.
- Gathering information by crawling
- Building an index
- Ranking web pages
Step #1: Finding information by crawling websites
It all starts with finding out what web pages are out there. After all, Google has to know what it can deliver to its users.
To look for web pages, Google uses small programs called crawlers. The most well-known crawler is the Googlebot.
These bots find their way to a website by following hyperlinks from other websites. Then, they analyse the contents of the website and send this data back to Google’s servers. After that, it is time to follow all the links on that website to find new ones yet again.
In this initial process of building the index, Google does not treat one page differently from the others. Each web page that the crawlers visit ends up on Google’s servers with all of its contents.
However, websites with regular updates and high-quality content receive visits more often by Google’s bots. (Even Google itself has to optimise its websites for its own bots!)
Step #2: Organising information by building an index
Now, once the bots have done their job, the crawled websites need to be organised into a directory. This directory is called an index. It is sort of like a giant phone book – just for web page contents instead of phone numbers.
Thus, whenever you look for something using Google, you are not searching through the entire Web.
Instead, you are only searching through the index that these crawlers have built for the search engine. And this index is massive: according to Google itself, the directory contains over 130 trillion individual pages.
Now imagine having a phone book with 130 trillion phone numbers in it. Do you know how thick that phone book would be? While you are reading, I will do some counting…
Step #3: Ranking web pages for search results
Once the web pages have been crawled and their contents organised into an index, there’s one more thing to do. That is to determine which web pages deliver the best search results for a given search.
Of course, the exact recipe of how Google ranks its search results is confidential.
There are hundreds of different factors that determine how good of a match a website is for a given search.
Hence, these factors are the magical components of the science called SEO, which curious SEO experts around the world are trying to figure out.
However, Google does occasionally give hints about which factors count as ranking signals. This information is official and therefore plays a big part in search engine optimisation in general.
Let’s have a closer look at some of them next.
If you are interested in the technicalities of search engines, check out my previous post on how search engines work!
How does Google rank its search results?
The exact science behind Google’s ranking algorithm is of course highly confidential. Thus, the tips and tricks you hear about SEO for beginners are based on research by SEO experts and agencies.
These days, Google (most likely) uses hundreds of different ranking factors. They vary in their weigh for the final outcome – and they’re never static. That means new factors come in and old ones become obsolete.
Let’s take a look at some of the most important Google ranking factors next. Keep in mind that all of them are points you can apply to your own website, too.
Ranking signal #1: Inbound links
First of all, links pointing to a web page from other pages is one important ranking factor.
In fact, it was this idea of considering inbound links that sparked Google’s success in the first place.
Back in the late 1990s Google developed its original PageRank algorithm. It was heavily focused on inbound links and this idea more or less turned the world of search engines upside down.
Hence, PageRank was a major boost for Google’s success. That’s when AltaVista, the market leader at that time, had to step down from its pedestal and give way to a new winner.
Of course, the exact ranking algorithm is light years away from the original one. But inbound links still remain a critical part in the ranking process.
Ranking signal #2: Technical aspects
One further ranking signal is the technical execution of a web page. This is everything that the user can’t necessarily see directly.
For instance, in April 2015 Google announced that its search engine would prefer mobile-friendly web pages for its mobile users in the future.
This announcement started a new wave in web design, too, as web developers started to focus more on responsive design.
Basically this means that websites created with HTML and CSS need to look good and work smoothly on any device. In other words: the individual elements and sections on a website adapt to different screen sizes.
If you’re new to HTML and CSS, this book is the perfect all-in-one guide for beginners.
One of the most prominent tools for responsive design is Bootstrap, a framework developed by Twitter for building websites that look great on every device.
Ranking signal #3: Encryption with SSL
Another important technical ranking factor is website encryption.
A few years back, Google made it clear that HTTPS would also count towards a higher ranking in search results.
Thus, if you are in the process of launching a website, you might want to consider adding an SSL certificate to it. But not just for Google: an encrypted connection is above all a good idea for the security of yourself and your visitors.
Ranking signal #4: Page loading speed
One further technical ranking signal is the loading time of a web page.
If a page loads slowly, making its potential visitors yawn and lose their patience, they return to Google’s search results.
Of course, Google sees this as a negative ranking signal: the user didn’t find what they were looking for on your website. The page was loading too slowly or it did not offer the content the user was looking for.
Hence, the longer a visitor stays on a web page, the more likely it is that the user found good content.
Therefore, when you’re building your first websites, make sure you choose a reliable web hosting provider. If their product is poor, you’ll pay a high price in lost visitors.
I host my websites with Bluehost and never had a problem. And since I know you’ll love them as much as I do, here’s a link to a special web hosting deal starting at just $2.95 per month. (They’ll even let you register a domain name for free.)
Ranking signal #5: Valuable, relevant content
Ok so I saved the best for last – pay attention!
By far the most important SEO ranking signal is the quality of your content. And by quality I mean simply that it’s helpful and valuable to your visitors.
When someone does a search on Google, they’re looking for something, right? Either they have a question or a problem and they’re looking for information.
That being said, what matters most in terms of ranking well on Google is this: How well can you solve their problems and answer their questions?
That’s all there is to SEO for beginners, really. If there’s only one lesson you learn today, then this should be it.
Whatever you do for search engine optimization, focus on helping your visitors. Make sure you understand what they’re struggling with. Then, give them the best possible solution on your website.
Thus, help your visitors and offer them answers to their questions. Or make them spend time on your website by making them smile or laugh.
That is what the Web is about these days – people are looking for either information or a good time. And trust me, Google will know where they find what they are looking for.
Rules for the SEO game with Google
As the most popular search engine on the planet, Google obviously has power. Lots of it.
It can therefore define the rules for its own game. Therefore, Google also published a few guidelines for web masters. They’re a great place to start learning SEO for beginners, since they define what’s allowed in search engine optimisation and what isn’t.
First and foremost, Google is interested in good content. The whole idea behind their business is to help their users. In other words, they want to deliver the best possible information that’s available online for any given search query.
Check out the webmaster guidelines here for some fundamentals on SEO for beginners.
Google updates their ranking algorithm regularly
It does not come as a surprise that Google is constantly adjusting and updating its ranking algorithms.
Occasionally, these updates tend to cause some grey hair for SEO experts: a high-ranking web page can suddenly lose its position to a bunch of competitors.
For example, the Panda update in 2011 was a major step towards a more user-friendly ranking. If a web page was optimised solely for Google instead of human beings, its ranking dropped with Panda.
Hence, Google sent a clear message with Panda: websites should be developed for people, not for search engines.
Another well-known update, Hummingbird, was released in 2013. It aimed at starting a new era of interaction between Google’s search engine and its users.
With Hummingbird, the search engine is able to understand longer, more conversational searches and put them into context. This goal of trying to judge the intent of a user in order to determine what they are trying to find out is called semantic search.
With Hummingbird, Google’s ambitious mission of enabling a more natural conversation of their users with the search engine made a big leap.
RankBrain: artificial intelligence adjusting the algorithm
As of October 2015 Google has been using a self-learning artificial intelligence system called RankBrain.
RankBrain takes search queries with multiple meanings and tries to understand them better to deliver better search results.
According to Google itself, RankBrain was among the top three ranking factors only after a few months of operation – alongside with inbound links and high-quality content.
The AI system does its learning offline, analysing historical search queries and making predictions on new ones. If it does a good job, an update goes live and the findings are incorporated into the ranking algorithm.
The exact future implications of RankBrain for SEO are difficult to predict. But one thing is crystal clear: tricking the algorithm for higher rankings will only become harder.
Remember: Never try cheating with your SEO
The top position in Google’s search results is a coveted spot. Whoever ranks #1 for a given query will attract a large share of traffic for that keyword to their website.
And since that traffic is 100% free, virtually every business wants to achieve the top spot. After all, free traffic that could generate sales and more revenue is not a bad thing to have, right?
Needless to say, some players are willing to do whatever it takes to increase their rankings – at any price. Although the temptation to cheat can grow big, Google will find out if something looks funny…
Black-hat SEO strategies
There are a number of tricks that can be used to deliberately break the rules of the search engines. These so-called black-hat strategies are used to improve the ranking of a website.
One well-known strategy back in the day was to spam a web page with keywords.
By setting the text color to match the background, users would not see the keywords but the crawler would still find them.
Yet, thanks to the Panda update in 2011, this trick is long obsolete.
Nowadays, most black-hat strategies focus on fast ways of building inbound links.
For instance, you could stuff one website with keywords and illegally copied content and then create links to the target website. By doing this, you could boost the target website’s ranking.
Of course, Google is smart.
They will find out about any dubious activities and reward the website owners with a well-deserved prize: Most often, the search engine identifies such tricksters automatically and removes their websites from the index.
Additionally, Google has an entire team (or more!) doing manual controlling, trying to spot potential ranking manipulations by hand.
So be warned: Aiming at the top spots in search results using black-hat strategies is like playing with fire. More often than not, you’ll pay a heavy price for cheating.
Grey-hat SEO strategies
The so-called grey-hat methods are not quite as naughty as the black hat ones.
For instance, one could create specific SEO content that is not written for humans but rather for feeding the hungry crawlers with keywords.
Perhaps you have been on a website some time, thinking the text sort of makes sense but it is not easy to read. Or that you need to read one sentence over and over again to understand it.
Text like this is actually readable but it is not particularly valuable to a reader. Instead, it is most likely written for the Googlebot.
All in all, here’s what Google recommends you should do:
Whatever it is you do with search engine optimisation, ask yourself two questions:
- Am I doing this to help my visitors?
- Would I do this if there were no search engines?
If the answer to either one of these is anything else than a straight “yes”, you want to give it a second thought.
Google’s rules are changing
To keep black-hat strategies at bay and to improve its search results, Google is constantly updating and changing its rules and guidelines.
Old tricks from the dark side of SEO can suddenly become obsolete because too many web pages have used them already.
For Google, the user is the focal point of the entire search engine. The user, the curious customer.
And thus, in order to be able to offer them better search results and high-quality information, Google is doing more and more thinking.
For example, they’re putting search queries into context based on the location of the user. Whenever you search for “gas station” using your phone, it is important that you find a gas station close by. You don’t want to see a gas station on the other side of the world – the one that has hired the world’s leading SEO team.
Additionally, it isn’t even necessary anymore to click on a link to a website in the search results. For certain queries, Google can already answer your question itself.
Alternatively, if you search for a supermarket close by, Google will also show you how long you still have to get your groceries before they close, for example.
SEO for beginners: Where to start?
All in all, implementing SEO for beginners is so much more than simply creating a website with a nice structure and making it look pretty.
SEO entails so much more than just the technical aspects of web design. It has become a comprehensive, diverse field of different measures for managing the value of your website to its visitors.
However, not all website owners have the resources to stay on top of their game with SEO by analysing every update Google releases.
Furthermore, SEO is above all a strategic measure for the long run, requiring time and effort. It will take a minimum of 3 to 6 months to harvest the first fruits of your optimisation efforts and see more visitors finding your website using Google.
Of course, if you’re not interested in learning SEO for beginners, you can always hire someone to do it for you. However, as a general rule of thumb for choosing between the ones out there: any agency that is serious about what they do, does not promise quick results or top rankings to their clients.
You can of course do your search engine optimisation yourself, too. For instance, start with Google’s own guidelines for web masters, that is SEO for beginners at its best!
Final Thoughts: SEO for Beginners
SEO is here to stay. It is an exciting and interesting way of managing your website and the traffic you generate through search engines. I hope you found this guide about SEO for beginners helpful for understanding the very basics.
To wrap it all up, here are the three most important points to keep in mind if you are new to SEO:
- Always make sure your focus is on the user, with both the visual and the technical side of your website.
- Try to build some inbound links, start by doing some networking in your field.
- Take good care of your visitors. Happy visitors send a positive signal to Google, so provide them with interesting and engaging content.
To start off, consider using a Content Management System (CMS) like WordPress and pair it with the right plugin. That alone will already get you quite far.
When I started building websites, I used this course to learn all about WordPress and how to create full-scale websites with it. A couple of months later, I was able to become a freelance Web Developer, building websites for my first clients.
Oh and btw, remember that phone book I was talking about earlier? Well, assuming 160 web page URLs on one page, the phone book with the entire Google index in it would be around 50,000 miles thick!
That’s TWICE around the globe!
Here are a few related posts you might want to read, too:
- 4 Essential Tools You MUST Learn to Become a Web Developer
- 10 Biggest Coding Myths You Should Ignore
- How to Learn Coding Faster? Understanding Computer Science Basics
If you enjoyed this article about SEO for beginners and search engine optimization fundamentals, just drop me a line in the comments below!
P.S. Please share this post with others, so that they can find it, too! Thanks!
I’ll see you in the next post! Happy coding!