Almost all search traffic goes through Google — more than 85% according to recent estimates. Bing and Yahoo combine for less than 10%.

Graph showing search engine market share with Google at 85%.

So when we talk about search engine optimization, we’re talking mostly about search engine optimization for Google specifically.

Though other search engines have been known to command different audiences, the biggest and most diverse belongs to Google. So it only makes sense that most of your efforts will go toward making your page appear high in Google search results.

To do that, Google offers a beginner SEO guide, which we’ve combed and condensed into 27 actionable tips you can use to start driving more organic search traffic.

1. Search for your results

You can’t rank on search engine results pages if Google doesn’t know about your site. If Google does know about your site, your web pages will be “indexed” — processed by Google’s crawlers and stored in a database.

To find out if your site has been indexed by Google, try searching for it. Google recommends a site: search for your home URL. If you don’t see your site, it’s because Google hasn’t yet crawled and indexed it yet. Here are some common reasons that might be…

  • The site isn’t well connected to other sites on the web
  • You’ve just launched a new site and Google hasn’t had time to crawl it yet
  • The design of the site makes it difficult for Google to crawl its content effectively
  • Google received an error when trying to crawl your site
  • Your policy blocks Google from crawling the site

The first thing you should do to help Google find your content is submit an XML sitemap. This is like a road map to all your pages that Google can use to crawl and index your entire website. You can submit one through Google Search Console.

Outside of that, there are other ways to get Google to take notice of your site, like creating quality content that focuses on search intent, and promoting your site through other platforms like social media. We’ll get to those later.

2. Tell Google which pages shouldn’t be crawled

A robots.txt file tells Google which content you don’t want to be indexed. While some of it may be useful to get the site displaying and working the way it should, it won’t always be useful to Google or its users. Google provides some guidelines on which content you should use robots.txt for.

3. Help Google understand your content

When Googlebot (Google’s collective name for its crawlers) crawls a page, Google wants it to be able to consume the page the way users would. Since your page is made up of many different kinds of code that make it look and work the way it does — like JavaScript, CSS, and image files — you have to make sure Google can access it. If there are any underlying issues with your site, you’ll be able to detect them with the URL inspection tool.

4. Create page titles that are unique and accurate

The title tag is an HTML element that describes the title of your web page.

Page titles shown in browser tabs.

When you name your web page, you should name it in a way that sufficiently sums up what’s on the page. Visitors should be able to figure out what your page is going to have on it just by seeing the title.

At the same time, while your title should be descriptive, it should also be brief. Otherwise, Google may truncate it in search results, which means users may not get the full idea of what your page is all about.

It’s also important to use unique title names across your website. If your page titles are similar or identical, it will be harder for Googlebot to determine how one page is different from the others.

5. Create a descriptive meta description

Title tags show up on search engine results pages in big bold underlined text. Underneath those titles, you’ll often see smaller text formatted in sentences. This is called a meta description.

Your meta description is good for elaborating on what your page is about. It can give more information to searchers since Google allows you to use more characters to describe your page here. Even though it doesn’t directly contribute to SEO, it does have an effect on SERP click-through rate, which can affect search engine ranking. So your SEO efforts spent writing good meta descriptions are never wasted.

6. Use headings to emphasize important text

Headers and subheaders help you organize your content. The header above, “Use headings to emphasize important text,” communicates the topic of this section to you. This is important not only to inform your readers and allow them to jump to the content they’re interested in, but also to search engines which look to headers to help them understand the content of a page.

What effective header and subheader structure looks like.

7. Add structured data markup

Schema markup is code you can add to your content to make your pages easier to crawl and understand for search engines. It can also enable Google to show rich snippets of your pages in search engine results. Rich snippets are bigger, more versatile versions of traditional search results. They allow you to attract more attention to your result while conveying additional information about your page.

8. Organize your site hierarchy

The same way you organize your content with subheaders, you should organize your site with category pages and subcategory pages to help users find what they want quickly. This also benefits search engines, which can better rank your pages contextually based on how your pages relate to each other. Start broad with your homepage — the launchpad for every website — and determine the path users take to more specific pages on your site. What do they want to find out and how can you give it to them quickly?

9. Create a simple navigational page for users

XML sitemaps can help search engines find all your pages, but these don’t help users. For visitors on your site who are looking for specific pages but can’t find them in your navigation, there are sitemaps. A sitemap page is a very basic page that contains links to all your pages. Think of this as like a basic bulleted outline of your site’s pages, complete with hyperlinks that allows your visitors to jump to any page they need instead of having to search for them in your navigation, or on other pages of your site. Here’s an example from Varvy.

10. Create simple URLs

Your URLs help keep your site organized. Like your page titles, these should be short, simple, and informational. Your visitor should know what your page is going to be about just by looking at your URL. Follow these guidelines and your URL will also be easy for search engines to understand, which can help Googlebot better categorize and rank your content.

11. Make your site interesting and useful

Of course, search engine optimization is just a starting point. It’s nothing more than a way to boost the visibility of content. So, great SEO won’t matter if your content isn’t interesting and useful.

“Creating compelling and useful content will likely influence your website more than any of the other factors,” says Google. “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.”

12. Know what your readers want and give it to them

Once your visitors arrive at your page, you should do the best you can to satisfy search intent. Why did they search the term they did? What do they want to find? This is search intent. Should you create a blog post? A video? Infographic?

Do some research. Find out what other top-performers are offering on page 1 of Google, see what the featured snippet shows, and look in the “people also ask” section.

"People also ask" module on Google SERP for "high intensity interval training."

Then create an even better resource. High-quality content marketing that satisfies search intent is the most important element of on-page SEO.

Google rewards pages that “close the loop,” meaning, ones that don’t require the visitor to keep returning to the SERP to click another result to find supplementary information. To Google, great content answers the search query comprehensively, it’s easy to consume, and it contains relevant keywords in important places throughout the page — like page title and headers.

These short-tail keywods with high search volume and long-tail keywords with high value can be uncovered with keyword research. And there are plenty of SEO tools that can help you identify search terms and optimize them in your content, like Google Keyword Planner, Ahrefs, Moz, Clearscope, and even plugins for WordPress like Yoast.

13. Act in a way that cultivates user trust

Users get information from websites they trust. So be transparent about your business practices and emphasize trust signals: Use HTTPS, make your privacy policy accessible, and showcase trusted partners that help keep user information secure (like Norton Security badges).

14. Make expertise and authoritativeness clear

To prove to Google that you’re an authority in your subject area, the content you publish should be focused around your area of expertise. Publishing across a variety of unrelated topics will communicate to Google that your site is unfocused and you have no one single area of authority. The more effectively you present yourself as an expert in your area, the more positively it will affect your search rankings.

15. Provide an appropriate amount of content for your subject

When people search “search engine optimization definition,” they want to find a short definition of “search engine optimization.” When they search “SEO guide,” they want to find a more comprehensive guide on SEO. One piece of content will be relatively short, the other will be long, but they’re both appropriate amounts based on what the searcher is looking for. Consider this when you’re creating content for search topics.

16. Avoid distracting advertisements

If you’re running ads on your site, they should be visible, but they shouldn’t degrade the user experience. They shouldn’t distract users or keep them from consuming content. Interstitial pages, for example, can make a website difficult to use. This can negatively impact search ranking.

17. Use links wisely

Internal links help visitors explore topics related to the content they’re consuming. They can also help crawlers navigate to other pages on your site. They can even send “link juice” from higher ranking pages to ones that need a boost in search engine results. When you’re hyperlinking anchor text, make sure that text is brief, descriptive, and accurate. Visitors should know where they are going to end up before they click your link. For examples of effective internal linking, check out Wikipedia.

Internal linking on Wikipedia SEO page.

18. Use HTML images

Using CSS to display your images can make them hard for search engines to process. Instead, use the HTML <picture> or <img> elements to showcase images on your site. You might also consider using the loading=”lazy” attribute on your images to boost your page load speed.

19. Use the “alt” attribute

Image alt text is designed to help users with visual impairments, but it can also help with SEO. With the “alt” attribute, you can describe your images in a way that allows screen readers to read them aloud. Since search engines still aren’t great at understanding images, image alt text can also help search engines better process your imagery to rank it. Make your alt text short but descriptive. Write it like a sentence, and include your target keyword if you can but don’t force it.

An example of good and bad image alt text.

20. Help search engines find your images

The same way you provide an XML sitemap to lead Google to all your pages, you can also create one for your images. An image sitemap helps Google process all your images efficiently, and it also increases the likelihood your image shows up in a Google image search.

21. Use standard image formats

Most browsers support JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, and WebP image formats. If you’re going to use images on your site, it’s a good idea to choose from one of these formats. Google also recommends making the extensions of your image match its file type. So if your image is a PNG, its file name should be in the “NAME.PNG” format.

22. Make your site mobile-friendly

More people access Google from their mobile device than from desktop. Today, Google has already committed to using mobile-first indexing, which means they’ll index the mobile version of your site first, then crawl the desktop version. Mobile-friendliness is an official ranking factor, so if your user experience on mobile is poor, it will negatively affect your position on SERPs.

23. Choose a mobile-friendly strategy

There are multiple ways to make your website mobile-friendly:

  • Responsive web design
  • Dynamic serving
  • Separate URLs

Google supports all three, but they recommend using responsive web design. Once you’ve decided on a strategy, use Google’s mobile-friendly testing tool to assess the quality of your mobile readiness. Also consider using AMP (formerly known as accelerated mobile pages) to improve page speed, which is also an official ranking factor.

24. Configure mobile sites so they can be indexed accurately

Depending on your mobile strategy, there are several ways to make sure your site is indexed accurately. You can do this by keeping resources crawlable, making sure your data is structured on mobile the way it is on desktop, telling the browser how to adjust content, along with a few other common methods which you can find in the “configure mobile sites so they can be indexed properly” section.

25. Promote your website

If you’re a new site, it’s going to be a while before you see consistent organic traffic in search, so you shouldn’t rely solely on your SEO strategy. To speed up the process of earning traffic, views, and backlinks, consider other ways of website promotion, like PPC, email marketing, link building, social media, and guest blogging.

Not only will this get you traffic and potential customers, but it will also improve the likelihood you grow and develop an organic audience. Though guest posting for backlinks is frowned upon by Google (and the reason why many guest blog backlinks are nofollow), as long as you’re treating the guest blog as an extension of your own — publishing only the highest quality content — it’s a legitimate way to earn more traffic.

26. Analyze your search performance

To know how to improve your search performance, you have to identify campaigns deficiencies. Metrics that will give you an idea of current performance can be found in Google Search Console. This a free tool offered by Google that anyone indexed in Google can use to manage their search presence. According to Google, you can use it to…

  • See which parts of a site Googlebot had problems crawling
  • Test and submit sitemaps
  • Analyze or generate robots.txt files
  • Remove URLs already crawled by Googlebot
  • Specify your preferred domain
  • Identify issues with title and description meta tags
  • Understand the top searches used to reach a site
  • Get a glimpse at how Googlebot sees pages
  • Receive notifications of quality guidelines violations and request a site reconsideration

Although using the tool won’t guarantee you a better search position, it can help lead to better improvement by identifying things that need optimization.

27. Analyze user behavior on your site

A crucial thing to remember about SEO is that it’s only a means to an end. As in, search engine optimization can earn you visibility in search engines, which can drive more traffic to your website; but if you don’t convert that traffic into revenue, your efforts are wasted.

To make your website more effective, you have to understand how people use it. For monitoring user behavior, there’s no more robust free tool than Google Analytics. With it, you can track the ways people get to your site, how long they stay there, what they interact with, and even more advanced metrics like paths to purchase. Understanding these metrics is key to optimizing your site so it performs to its full potential.

Use these beginner SEO tips to climb to page 1

With Google’s tips and SEO tactics, any beginner can start improving their SEO to hurdle competitors on the way to page one. For a deeper dive into modern SEO, check out our Complete 2020 SEO Guide for Beginners.

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