Learn SEO with this start-to-finish SEO Course. This tutorial covers all the basic elements of on-page optimization and off-page optimization that you will need to start ranking.
Table of Contents
What is SEO?
Search Engine Optimization referred to as SEO is the process of improving the visibility of a website in the search engines. In other words, SEO is getting a website or web page to rank higher in the search engine results pages (SERPs). Google has a complex algorithm that decides what web pages show up in the results and in what order. The algorithm is extremely complex and uses hundreds of different variables to decide the results. While no one really knows the algorithm and exactly how it works, there are many things that we DO know.
Two great resources to pay attention to are Matt Cutts’ blog and Google’s Webmaster Central. When a Google employee tells you something about Google, LISTEN!! This info is coming straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. Yes, sometimes you have to read between the lines as they will not directly tell you how to rank higher, but it is still a good idea to stay on top of the most recent updates and how they choose to explain them. Another great resource for learning SEO is the blog at SEO Moz. Even the user created section, YouMoz, sometimes has very informative and current posts.
Learning SEO can sometimes feel like jumping onto a moving train. Things change constantly, but the basic SEO principles don’t change too rapidly. If you get a grasp of everything in this free seo course you’ll be in good shape.
Why should I bother learning SEO?
- Approximately 90% of all web traffic originates from Search Engines
- Search engines send you targeted traffic
- SEO increases brand awareness
After reading through this seo course you will likely see my site and this guide quite differently. I practice what I preach, and it’s clear on these pages. Feel free to look around and observe these SEO techniques being used on my site right now after reading. So lets get started!
**I recommend bookmarking this page – you won’t memorize everything you read here the first time through.
The Two SEO Categories -On-page & Off-Page Optimization
Search Engine Optimization can be broken into two different categories, On-page optimization and Off-page optimization. On-Page optimization refers to the content and structure of your site and you have complete control over it. Everything from your domain name to the titles of your posts/pages and the actual content on your site affects the way your site ranks in the SEs. Off-Page optimization refers to the links that point to your site and their context. We’ll get more into that later, but right now let’s take a closer look at On-Page optimization.
Part One: On-page Optimization
Your on-page optimization creates the foundation for all of your off-page efforts. Don’t sell yourself short by skipping over the relatively easy steps to optimizing your site properly. If you have an in-depth knowledge of how to optimize your site correctly AND you provide great content, you will have an easier time than most ranking.
Having quality content will help your rankings because people will link to you more often i.e. they’ll do a lot of the backlinking for you. By optimizing your site for the keywords you’re targeting, you will benefit greatly from the links you get. You probably won’t be able to rely only on links that others build for you right away, and that’s why there is a second half to this SEO course.
Google looks at many different factors when determining the meaning of your site and whether it is relevant to the keyword you are targeting. Let’s look at some of the factors now.
Your domain name has a noticeable impact on how your site ranks. If you search for almost any keyword you will notice that the first page is dominated by authority sites and niche sites with the keyword in their domain. You don’t have to have a HUGE site to outrank some of the giants out there. If you have optimized your page properly and follow an effective backlinking strategy for your SEO you can beat sites like Amazon or even Wikipedia for your keyword.
As a testament to what I have just said, I want you to do a Google search RIGHT NOW for “dog training”. The first two results both have the keyword “dog training” in their domain. Also, scroll down the results page you’ll see Wikipedia near the bottom. This is a trend for many long-tail keywords. As you can see, your domain name is quite important when targeting a keyword.
Not so Fast: So I have to have my keyword in my domain? Not at all! Having one of your main keywords in your domain is helpful, but is by no means necessary to rank. Pay close attention to the type of domains that show up whenever you use Google and you’ll get a better idea of how important a domain name is.
Title tags are a very important and easy to master part of on-page optimization. The title essentially states what the topic of the webpage is. There are three places where your title tag will appear:
- At the top of your content
- In the browser tab. Mine says “Free SEO Course | SEO Discovery”
- In the SERPs. The title is the large blue text above the green URL and black meta description text.
To optimize your title for your keyword, include your keyword as close to the beginning as you can. If your keyword contains a few words, try to keep them all together rather than splitting them up.
There is a distinction between your webpage’s title and it’s title tag. While the search engines will use your title tag for the search results, this doesn’t have to be the title you display on page. You can create a title that will share better on social sites and appear on your site, but then be more optimized for the search engines with the use of the title tag.
If you use WordPress, this is all very easy to do with WordPress SEO by Yoast.
Header tags are tags used to give search engines a better idea of what your site is all about by highlighting the headings inside an article or other content.
To view live header tags on other websites to see how they’re used, simply right-click on a webpage and choose “View Page Source” to see the code that is the website. Now, don’t get overwhelmed if you’re not familiar with html – you don’t need to be. Just click ctrl+f to use the find function and search for “h1”. The tag will look something like this: <h1>Header Text</h1>. You will be able to quickly find that text on the page with the ctrl+f function as well.
Header tags are numbered from 1-6 with the h1 tag being the most important. You can repeat any of the header tags besides the h1 tag. For example, you could use the h3 tag twice before moving to the h4 tag. For most webpages, an h1 and a couple h2 tags are all you will need to provide structure for your content.
Including your keyword or very similar words/phrases in your header tags will help your webpage appear more relevant to your keywords in the eyes of the search engines.
Okay, if you are feeling intimidated by the term “meta tag”, don’t be. It’s not super complicated or technical, and you will have a full understanding of meta tags in a few minutes.
Simply put, meta tags tell people and search engines about the content on your page. There are three main types of meta tags, let’s go over them now.
Your meta description is used by the search engines to provide the short description of your site that appears in SERPs. Here’s an example:
(That’s what happens when you try to draw a straight line without a mouse )
A good description will give people a reason to click through to your site, but a GREAT description will absolutely compel them to visit. So how do you write a great description? Know your audience!
Include your keyword right away because it gets bolded in the SERPs and then make a quick and appealing description of your content. Ending with a question or arousing curiosity can help increase your click-through rate.
This is what a meta description tag looks like:
<meta name=”description” content=”put your page description here” >
Robots Meta Tag/Robot.txt File
Now, I know you just got over your fear of meta tags, and I throw the term “Robot.txt File” at you. You might be reliving some of that initial fear right now. Once again, you’ll quickly master the robot.txt file.
A robots meta tag and a robot.txt file both accomplish the same thing. The only reason to have a robots meta tag is if you can’t upload a robot.txt file to your site for some reason. They both tell search engine bots (hence “robot”.txt) whether or not they should index your website/webpages. Here’s an example of a meta robot tag:
<meta name=”robots” content=”index, follow”>
You can place this in your code, or simply add a robot.txt file with this line in it. To do this, simply open notepad and paste that code into it, and save it as “robot.txt”. That’s it! If neither of these is present, Google will assume that everything should be indexed and followed.
For further information on how to alter robots meta tags you can visit http://www.seoconsultants.com/meta-tags/robots.
Among many other examples, when you upload a video to Youtube, post a link on Reddit, or publish a post on WordPress you will see a “tags” box. These are meta keywords. They have very little (possibly zero) impact on your rankings, but shouldn’t be neglected since they can help you rank for additional long-tail keywords.
For instance, if you examine the results for “learn SEO” Vs. “learn about SEO”, you will see that webpages that contain the word “about” rank a bit more favorably. If your site publishes your tags on-page, including additional long-tail keywords like this can help your webpage become more relevant to a wider variety of search terms.
Presence of a Sitemap
Having a sitemap is helpful to getting your site crawled and indexed by Google. Just like a road map helps you get to your destination, a sitemap tells Google where to find all of the pages of your website and how it’s organized. Having a sitemap allows the Google bots to know the structure of your site and where to go. This results in your site being crawled faster and guaranteeing that all of your pages get crawled and indexed. They are not absolutely necessary, after all, crawling websites is kind of Google’s specialty, but most people think they help.
Luckily, creating a sitemap is very easy to do. You can simply go to http://www.xml-sitemaps.com and create one in a few easy steps. If you use WordPress like me, there is an even easier way to do this. Simply download a plug-in called “Google XML Sitemaps”, install it, and activate it. There are a lot of plug-ins and other features that make WordPress an excellent platform to use for your website, and I highly recommend using it.
The first thing I will say about Page Rank (PR) is don’t get too hung up on it! Many people place too much importance on it. Page Rank is assigned by Google and is determined by yet another complex algorithm that decides the importance of a webpage based on many variables. Here’s what you need to know:
1) Toolbar PR is not PR: when you look at a sites PR you are seeing its toolbar PR A.K.A its Public PR. This is only updated a few times a year. However, your actual PR is constantly being readjusted by Google.
2) It is PAGE Rank not WEBSITE Rank: PR applies to a single webpage. Most websites will have a higher PR on their home page and much lower PRs on their other pages.
3) You can outrank a site with a higher PR: this shouldn’t be surprising. PR is the overall importance placed on a webpage by Google. Ranking in the Results Pages is based on a webpage’s importance in terms of the searched for keyword ie its relevance. I have personally outranked domains and webpages that have a higher PR – it is impossible not to do and it happens naturally.
Be aware of PR and keep the above points in mind when gauging your competition. Just don’t worry about it too much as you will gain PR naturally and outrank higher PR webpages naturally. Google says themselves not to worry too much about it: http://sites.google.com/site/webmasterhelpforum/en/faq–crawling–indexing—ranking#pagerank. Page Rank is just one of over 200 variables that affect your ranking. You can have a high PR and not rank for any terms. Contrarily, you can have a PR of 0 and rank #1 for a keyword.
On-page optimization can be like putting together a puzzle, especially when working on keyword density. You have to write in an understandable and compelling manner while still appealing to the search engines. I suggest just writing everything the way you normally would first, and then optimizing it. That’s what I did for this seo course! If you haven’t noticed yet, this site is a bit of a case study It’s easy enough to throw in your keyword and LSI keywords at the end and have some well-optimized content that is still exceptionally written. On-page optimization is easy if you know what to do. Consider each header in the above content a step in your path to complete on-page optimization. Make a checklist of the things you must do – make a sitemap, work on keyword density, add meta keyword tags etc. If you’re working hard on making your content, you deserve to get the most for your work, on-page optimization does just that.
Part Two: Off-Page Optimization
We’re halfway there! Now might be a good time to get a cup of coffee/tea/whatever-floats-your-boat and get ready to finish putting together your SEO foundation! Now that we know how to optimize a site for the Search Engines, we can look to off-page optimization. Essentially, off-page optimization is backlinking. What is backlinking? Backlinking is simply creating external links that point to your site. For instance, a link on another website pointing to this site would be a backlink for this site. This link: Wikipedia, is a backlink for Wikipedia.
Why do backlinks help my ranking? Think of it like this, if a website has great content and people like it, what do they do? That’s right, they link to it. So, if a site has a bunch of links pointing to it from all over the web, Google notices and realizes that people want to see this site. Thus, it will rank it higher in the results pages. In general, sites that have more or a better quality of backlinks will rank higher.
There are two ways to get backlinks – create them yourself, or have other people link to you. The first option is the one everyone always discusses and the one that we will discuss in detail, but I want to make a quick point on this. If you take the time to create GREAT content, people will do a lot of the linking for you! I’ll repeat this
If you take the time to create GREAT content, people will do the linking for you!
But I assume you’re here to learn about SEO because you already know how to create great content, so let’s talk about getting some backlinks!
Not All Backlinks are Created Equal
The first thing to know about creating backlinks is that they are not all equal. 1,000 Backlinks is not better than 100. It totally depends on where the backlink is coming from, the relevance of the backlink, and other factors. Keeping this in mind, there are many places where you can get backlinks, here is a list of a few:
- Yahoo Answers
- Forum Commenting (ex. Warrior Forum)
- Blog Commenting
- Profile Links (Forum/Blog Profiles)
- Web 2.0 Properties (worpress, hubpages etc)
- PDFs/Documents (Slideshare, Scribd)
- Videos (ex. Youtube)
- Articles (ex. Ezinearticles)
- Blogs/Websites (your own)
Simply posting a link to your site on any of these web properties will get you a backlink. I won’t get in-depth on specifc backlinking strategies here. Rather, we will discuss the fundamentals of backlinking that you will use in all of your backlinking efforts.
Indexing Your Backlinks
A lot of people assume that once they’ve made a backlink that’s it. Sometimes, this is the case, but most of the time you have to put in a little more effort. Here’s the problem, you make a link to your site, but then it has to be found by Google (indexed), and that doesn’t always happen quickly or even at all. I know, it’s enough that you’re trying to learn how to make backlinks and now I’m telling you they’ll be worthless, but I’m going to give you some tools to make sure your backlinking doesn’t go for naught.
If you post a link on a really popular page it is going to get found quickly by Google by because highly trafficked sites get crawled frequently. However, if you’re blog commenting for example, and you comment on a low-traffic blog, ehh good luck. Here’s the solution: you ping the page that the link is on.
What is pinging? Think of it as an alert to the search engines that your site has new content. Just because you add a new post or page, doesn’t mean everyone automatically knows about it, so you ping it to let everyone know, or more specifically the search engines. This goes for your backlinks too. If you ping the page the link is on, you’re telling the search engines to look at that page, and then your link will likely be found. So how hard is pinging? What if I told you it takes all of 3 seconds? Here are my 3 favorite pinging services (yes they’re free).
NOTE: Do NOT use all 3 at once! One is plenty and only do it when you have added some new content. You run the risk of suffering a minor penalty if you ping too much. Remember how penalties only stem from spamming – over-pinging would be spamming. In all honesty, you may not incur any penalty by using all three, but it is overkill. There is no added benefit to pinging with more than one of these sources at a time. To restate – ping once with one of the following sites every time you add new content so it gets found quickly.
NOTE 2:WordPress is pretty SEO friendly and automatically ping when you add new content – the problem is that it sometimes pings too much. I update my pages over and over again while editing, and WordPress pings everytime, yikes. Luckily, like always, someone has always made a cool plug-in to solve this problem. It’s called “cbnet Ping Optimizer.” You can choose to limit the pings to only when you post new content or turn pings off entirely.
Here are the Pinging sites:
If you create a backlink, ping it, and if it is still not indexed after a week or two, ping it again. You want to get the most out of your time and try to get all of your backlinks indexed, and pinging is the perfect tool for it. If you have a long list of URLs to ping you can use PingDevice.com to ping up to 100 URLs at once.
Pinging is also great for getting your site indexed. For some reason people freak out about getting their websites indexed – it couldn’t be easier. Ping it or… Point a backlink to it! Remember how popular pages get crawled a lot? Harness this power! One bookmark on digg will get you indexed in no time, and social bookmarking backlinks are also great for getting other backlinks indexed. It can be any kind of backlink, but digg is a great example because it is crawled so frequently.
If you want an even faster and more powerful means to get more of your backlinks (not your site) indexed faster, there are a few paid tools that can help. Here are a few that I have heard great things about: Backlink Index Express, Backlink Energizer, and SEO Fast Indexer.
This is a very important concept to understand. It’s pretty simple – anchor text is the text that appears in the link. Example: Search with Google. “Google” is the anchor text.
You want to use anchor text as often as you can, and the text you use should be your main keyword or an LSI keyword. Why is this important? A link with the words “dog training” in it lets Google know that the webpage being linked to is about dog training before they even get there. The anchor text makes the link appear to be more relevant which makes your site appear to be more…here I go again… RELEVANT to that keyword. To restate from earlier, increased relevance = increased rank in SERPs. You can visit one of Google’s own webpages right now to read that relevant matches are Google’s #1 interest http://www.google.com/corporate/tech.html. You can’t always use anchor text when linking to your site, but you shouldn’t miss an opportunity when you can.
IMPORTANT:Anchor text reveals another reason why having your keyword in your domain name is powerful. Let’s pretend your site is about “dog training” and your site is called www.k9obedience.com. Now, if you can use “dog training” in your anchor text, that’s great. However, if you can’t, your links will just be your domain name which doesn’t have the keyword “dog training” in it. On the contrary, if your domain is www.dogtraining.com and you can’t choose your anchor text, you still have your keyword in the anchor text! This is also helpful because if other people choose to link to your site they will probably just use your domain name and not your keyword.
This is actually a bit of a controversial topic. Some people say that the relevance of a backlink matters, others say it doesn’t.
The biggest cause of misunderstanding and confusion is how we use the word relevant. Without getting too off subject, Google does not index sites, that is what a website directory does. Google is a search engine, it indexes webpages. This means that it doesn’t look at the topic of a website – that is abstract and not calculated or understood by Google’s algorithm. This means that something that might seem irrelevant at first to us could be seen as relevant by Google. For example, a site about dogs could for whatever reason have a page about and optimized for the keyword “tennis” and a link to a page about tennis on another site and it would be relevant. What we don’t know for sure is whether or not Google looks at the content surrounding a backlink, or if it only looks at anchor text. I don’t see why Google wouldn’t look at the content around a backlink – they do for images (Google looks at surrounding content for images – http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=114016). But we’re getting speculative now… I know things just got real complicated all of a sudden so let me summarize the whole situation:
- For On-Page optimization, relevancy is the most important thing
- For Off-Page optimization, relevancy IMO is still the most important thing
The relevance of the links pointing to your site is often overlooked. Let me restate a few points about relevance:
1) If your site has good on-page optimization that means that it looks like it is all about a certain keyword(s). In other words, it appears to be more relevant
2) If your site looks relevant to your keyword, you will rank higher.
With these two points in mind, let’s pretend you have a site and your keyword for your home page is “photography”. YOU know that your site is all about photography, but how does Google know? You guessed it – you have to have good on-page optimization to tell the Big G! You have to use the word “photography” frequently and your LSI keywords as well as use titles correctly and all that jazz.
Why would Google neglect to look at the content surrounding your backlinks when they clearly have the capability? Everyone agrees that anchor text is powerful and alone can make a link relevant, but there is debate about the surrounding text. It is my opinion that Google looks at the surrounding text and on-page factors when looking at your backlinks. To elaborate, do you think publishing an article optimized for the keyword “fishing” on your home page would help you rank for the keyword “photography”? Likewise, if there was an article optimized for “fishing” with a link to your “photography” page, how helpful do you think it would be? The article would not help you rank for your keyword. Yes, you could possibly increase your PR by getting some “link juice” from the article directory the article is posted on, but PR ≠ ranking for keywords – it is just one of over 200 factors.
This is why it is so important to separate PR from ranking for a keyword. The two often get muddled together when PR is just one of many factors that affects your ranking for keywords. To conclude, relevancy is the name of the game. Use it on your own site, use it with your backlinks. To be clear, if you are targeting the keyword “tennis”, a backlink from a page optimized for “tennis” on a site about dog’s would be relevant – Google only looks at individual pages, not sites. Furthermore, a link from a page optimized for “dogs” with your keyword “tennis” in the anchor text would STILL be considered relevant because of the anchor text. A link from a page optimized for “dogs” without relevant anchor text would NOT be considered relevant.
Creating a backlink is as simple as posting a comment on a blog with a link to your site. It’s important to come up with an effective backlinking strategy that works for YOU. If you like writing, submitting SEO optimized articles to article directories is an excellent way to backlink. Here are a few tips to help you create a great strategy to get a high ranking:
1) Diversify: just like investing in stock, you want to diversify your backlinking portfolio. Don’t rely only on articles or forum comments. Learn the ins and outs of one method and then move to the next. If one method doesn’t work well for you, move on! I personally would rather make a video than write article, so that is often what I elect to do.
2) Come up with a system: if you have a system in place things will go much faster and you will use your time more efficiently.
3) Backlinks can also drive traffic: don’t think that just because you write an article for a backlink that’s all that it’s good for. Most backlinks can also be used to drive traffic to your site. How about that? 2 birds with 1 stone.
4) Get creative: once you feel you have a grasp on what backlinking is all about, come up with something unique or different from anything you’ve read about. There really is an endless amount of strategies for backlinking, so don’t be afraid to do things in a new way. If you’re reading this it’s because you don’t yet have a firm grasp of SEO and so I am ushering you into the world of SEO. However, it is a firm belief of mine that at a point you must take a break from learning and reading and figure some things out on your own.
5) Test Test Test: there are proven methods that work well, but with so many variables in play you just never know. If something isn’t working or even just working okay, see if you can’t make adjustments to make it work better. For example, change the keywords you’re using in your tags.
If you want to learn more about specific ways of effective link building, you can visit the Link Building Strategies Page.
No follow Vs “Dofollow” Links
Okay, we’re on the final stretch here. Understanding nofollow links is the final step in your seo training to mastering the SEO basics. This is yet another very misunderstand concept, so I’m going to make this as clear as possible. The funny thing is, I’m willing to bet that once you’ve grasped this and all the above concepts, despite the fact that they really are the basics, you will know more much more than most people. You’re the one who chose to actually read about it! Now let’s get to the meat and potatoes of the issue.
Nofollow links were created in order to stop authority and relevance from being passed through a link. This is part of an effort by Google to stop people from gaining authority on their pages from links that are typically suspect of coming from untrusted content or are paid links. Yeah, like spam. By the way, here’s the page this info is coming from: http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=96569.
Google also states that nofollow links will sometimes still be indexed and followed. The important part is that PageRank AKA “link juice” AND anchor text is not transferred. If PR is not transferred, you cannot gain authority from a nofollow link. If anchor text is not transferred, then you have an irrelevant link on your hands that will not help you rank for any keyword.
“The essential thing you need to know is that nofollow links don’t help sites rank higher in Google’s search results.”
– Matt Cutts, http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/pagerank-sculpting/
Many people argue, “a link is a link”. Maybe it sounds cool when they say it, but how does that make sense? Right, a link is a link, which is why a PR8 link is the same as a PR0 link?? You will also see people claim that backlinks are like votes – every backlink is just a vote for your site, so they all count. Okay, if you were running for governor and I gave you a vote for “Best Hair”, would that help you win the election? It’s a vote is it not? A backlink relevant to the keyword “fishing” will not help you rank for “dog training.” They are over-simplifying to the point that it is just silly to say. Hold on, one more analogy – If you told someone a car was just a box with wheels and then told them to build one, do you think they’d come back with a car? If you think every backlink is the same or that everyone counts, you will not build effective backlinks.
Variables make a difference, that is why they are called as such! If a nofollow link produced the same results as a “dofollow” link, why would they even have such names? A practical use for a nofollow link is for traffic purposes. To explain, if you post a nofollow link on a high trafficked page then you can probably get click-throughs, but it won’t help your SEO at all. To conclude, you’re going to end up with nofollow links no matter what, and some people will say this makes your links appear more “natural”…whatever. Also, if you’re wondering why I put “dofollow” in quotes it is because there is no such thing. All links by nature are “dofollow”, nofollow is a tag that can be added to a link to give Google special instructions on how to treat it. So, avoid saying do follow when you can
SEO can be quite complex and intimidating, but that doesn’t mean that without a little time and dedication you can’t know as much or more than the next guy. In fact, I’d say you already do! The most important thing to keep in mind is that no one has a perfect knowledge of SEO besides Google. Demand proof or results, or in the least some sound logic from those making claims outside of the commonly accepted SEO knowledge base. Specifically, people love to use the “P” word (Penalty) and claim the sky is falling. Keep your head on straight and demand logical evidence from them – there is often a simple explanation.
I’m making a big deal about this because there is so much nonsense about SEO out there and people just accept whatever they hear without any skepticism, and then they start spreading the same rubbish. Take what you have learned and share it! But also be skeptical and continue to learn! I know I’m supposed to pose as the all-knowing omniscient authority on SEO, but there is still much I have to learn, and learn I will!
Thank you for taking the time to read through this seo course to learn about SEO. Without tooting my own horn too much, there are a lot of people selling this same information for $60+ and providing less detail. I have personally purchased ebooks like this. If you know anyone who is interested in learning about SEO, please share this site with them – it would mean the world to me.
You might be a little overwhelmed and feeling the burn of information overload, but there is so much more! Take your time, but when you’re ready there’s a ton more content here waiting for you
Now get out there and rank some sites!