After years of offering SEO services, my team sees the same thing over and over again – business owners and managers who are confused about search engine optimization (SEO) but know that SEO is really important to their business success. But getting more search engine traffic is a total confusing mess for most people, like learning Mandarin Chinese or filing your taxes. Or filing your taxes in Mandarin! There are tons of SEO guides online, but most of them are complicated or trying to sell you something or both. So here is a free guide to SEO basics in 2018 that explains the essential concepts for beginners or anyone looking to learn more.

Read this guide if you want to learn to optimize your website for free. Or, read this guide if you’re going to hire an SEO agency to do this work for you so that you can learn more about SEO basics to understand the concepts involved – and where your money is going!

Table of contents

Why write this? Isn’t this giving away the secrets? Don’t SEO agencies rely on keeping their work a mystery? The answer is totally the opposite. Key SEO basics can be explained. Doing the actual work, though, takes time, experience and patience. We do the work for clients because they don’t have the time or experience or patience. But that doesn’t mean the work has to be a mystery. Knowledge is power. Let’s get to it!

visualization of websites and optimizing their connections for seo basics

The basics of SEO

It may sound obvious, but let’s define what we’re doing here. Search engine optimization – SEO for short – is the process of enhancing the content and structure of your website so that more visitors from search engines engage with your website. Most website owners think of SEO as making sure their website “shows up on page one of Google” and while that’s a noble goal, the ultimate objective is to attract more engaged visitors from search engines who are most likely to convert to being customers. Being “on page one of Google” isn’t necessary and actually doesn’t make sense, as “page one” of Google is very different for different people in different locations.

The tools at your disposal are the content on your website – words, media and even technical code – as well as the way that others are talking about your website. Optimizing the content on your website is called On-Site SEO. This is where most website owners spend most of their time, but it’s only part of the equation. Optimizing the way that others are talking about your website is called Off-Site SEO. This can be more difficult and isn’t what most website managers focus on, but the benefits are significant.

Let’s also touch on what exactly a search engine is. In most people’s minds, this means Google – clearly the most popular search engine. What’s the #2 search engine? It’s YouTube. What happens when someone searches for your business on Apple Maps on her phone and calls you but never goes to your website? And what about Instagram?

Yikes – it gets overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to. We can easily open up the definition of SEO to be the process of enhancing your digital content so that more visitors from any search engine find and engage with your business. The strategies can differ depending on the content and search engine, but the general concepts will stay the same.

In a nutshell, that’s it. Easy, right? It can be. It can also be complex.

Search Engine Optimization is the process of enhancing your digital content so that more visitors from any search engine find and engage with your business. That doesn’t mean being on page 1 of Google., though of course that’s nice.

While we’re discussing SEO basics, let’s cover some of the primary misconceptions and areas of confusion surrounding SEO.

  • Google doesn’t say much about how their search engine works beyond their quite helpful suggested best practices. Be wary of people who say they know how Google works. Many search engine professionals have spent years reverse engineering Google but others may just be spouting rumors. Experience or not, no one knows for sure how Google’s search engine works
  • SEO is mysterious in the way that science is mysterious – you have to try things and watch for results. The tricky part is knowing what caused what results
  • SEO is not mysterious in that there aren’t crazy tricks – there’s no secret checklist of things you do to “SEO your website”
  • In the end, focus on common sense strategies for presenting engaging content to regular people. The tactics of SEO are similar to organizing books in a bookstore and displaying a menu in a restaurant

On-Site SEO

On-Site SEO is the action of optimizing the content on your website so that search engines understand the content better and rank your website higher on searches. In most every way, On-Site SEO should center on the best practices of how to organize and display your website content for people. That’s to say that On-Site SEO should be human centered, not search-engine-robot centered.

It wasn’t always this way. In years past, people SEO professionals would do things to their websites favoring search engines above people. These were bad days. Websites were stuffed with awkward keywords, hidden text and other shenanigans. This worked because search engine robots weren’t so smart. But they’ve gotten a lot smarter, and these tricks no longer work. Google themselves say:

Basic principles

  • Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines.
  • Don’t deceive your users.
  • Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with you, or to a Google employee. Another useful test is to ask, “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”
  • Think about what makes your website unique, valuable, or engaging. Make your website stand out from others in your field.

Google’s suggestions to focus on users rather than search engines makes sense. The search engine that provides the best links to the best websites with the best user experiences will be the search engine that more people use. As technology has gotten better, search engines have changed their strategies away from robotic mechanisms of indexing websites toward a strategy of understanding websites like humans do. And this strategy of making websites better for real people rather than trying to trick search engines makes sense for website owners as well – you’ll end up with a good website rather than a bag of tricks.

The lesson here is to focus on your users and the search engines will follow. It’s almost always correct. Search engines still need a little help.

visualization of the structure of websites and the related parts of on-site content optimization

Website structure

One SEO basics rule of thumb for structuring website content is that each page should focus on one thing, and that thing shouldn’t be spread out around a lot of pages. Stay organized. Sounds easy and it usually is easy when making the first version of a website. I could draw all kinds of diagrams about good website structure, but it’s generally obvious at first. Then things get disorganized quickly.

Where business owners slip up is what happens down the road when they want to add content to an existing website. That’s when things get sprawled out and viewers and search engines both start getting confused. An example that happens all the time to older websites is two (or more) pages about the same thing. This is confusing for both people and search engines that have to figure out which one to use in search results.

What we often deal with as an SEO agency is how to re-organize websites that have lost their organizational structure. Maybe a different content team came on board. Maybe the site owner just started adding pages on a whim. In order to avoid this slip into disorganization, it’s important to take a step back before adding content and remember the original structure. Before adding content, ask yourself:

  • Does content like this already exist in one or more places on the website?
  • Does adding new content mean that the existing content needs to be re-organized?
  • Is there old clutter that can be removed before adding new content?
  • Is the new content really useful to viewers, or is it being added for the benefit of the website owners or search engines?

Keep your content fresh, but remember the whole website structure when adding new content.

Page content

Optimizing page content is an essential part of SEO basics. The content on a single page of a website can be broken down into component parts, with each part helping search engines and people understand the page. Ideally the component parts all work together. Remember how each page should be about one thing? Each component part of the page then should add clarity to that one thing. Doing so will help the page rank better on search engines, and it will help people better understand the content.

Remember that while you know everything about your website, your product or your service, your viewers – and search engines – know none of these things. Put yourself in the shoes of your reader when thinking about the content on each page of your website. Be clear, descriptive and informative.

Keywords

A keyword is a term typed into a search engine. It can be one or more words. It can be a broad concept or a very specific question. Ideally each page of your website is about a single idea, and that single idea can be summarized in one or more search keywords. Taking time to think about, write down and research keywords for your page can help your page rank better on search engines and will definitely help readers understand and get the most out of your page. The page title, page description, headlines, body text and even images should all contain mention of your keyword without being awkward or unnatural.

seo basics display of page title and page description using a search engine results preview tool

Here’s a preview of how this post looks on Google search results. The larger text in blue is the page title. It’s currently limited to 600 pixels wide. The smaller text below is the page description. It was previously limited to 156 characters but now Google is sometimes displaying longer descriptions.

Page title

The page title is not actually very visible but the general consensus is that it is an important part of search engine ranking. The page title is displayed at the top of the browser tab and in search engine results. The page title should be between 40 and 65 characters long and describe the contents of the page. Most search engine optimization professionals recommend using the formula Keyword 1 - Keyword 2 - Website Title. A good way to find inspiration for writing compelling and descriptive page titles is to run a Google search for a similar keyword to what your page is about, look at the page titles of high ranking pages and identify the page titles that seem both descriptive and compelling to click on.

Page description

The page description is not visible at all on the actual page of your website and page description isn’t technically a ranking factor for Google and other search engines. So why pay attention to it? Because your page description shows up in search results and writing a good page description can increase the number of people clicking on your page in search engine results. It’s good practice to include your page’s keyword(s) in the page description because Google often highlights the search keyword if it’s included in the page description.

Page descriptions should be less than 156 characters, though this number is changing as Google experiments with adding longer page descriptions for some search engine results. Regardless of length, keep your page description concise, descriptive, non-spammy and keep the most important parts including keywords in the first 156 characters.

To preview how your page title and description will look on a search engine, use a preview tool like this one. It’s a great way to creatively visualize how others will see your page in search results.

Headlines

Headlines are often the most poorly optimized parts of On-Site page content when we review client websites, yet well written headlines are critical to ranking on search engines and conveying meaning to readers. Why do so many writers and website managers create headlines that are poorly optimized? My theory is that because headlines are big, many website authors think that headlines should be cute or clever or pithy or aspirational. Big text looks important, right? Magazines write headlines that are big, pithy and clever, right?

This is a mistake. Keep your headlines more like a newspaper than a magazine. Write headlines that convey a single who, what, where, when or why setup statement that summarizes the content that follows. Do not be overly clever, euphemistic or jargony. Many readers just skim websites. So imagine someone only reads your headlines. Will they get a brief idea of the content on the page? This is where magazine headlines differ from newspaper headlines.

Example: When describing a bike race, don’t write headlines like “Only The Best Can Make It To The Top” because that doesn’t add who, what, where, when or why information for people or search engines. Rather, use a concise informative headline like “Portland’s Toughest 12 Hour Uphill Bike Race” which is clear and helpful (and also painful sounding). Then use the body content to be more clever in the description of the bike race.

Write clear informative headlines that summarize the text on the page like you see in a newspaper. Don’t write overly clever but uninformative headlines like you see in magazines. If someone only reads the headlines, will they understand the page?

Body text

The body text is the regular paragraphs of text on your site. You’re reading body text right now. Some pages – like your home page – may not have a lot of body text and instead rely more on images, headlines and only use short snippets of body text. Other pages – like this blog post itself – can have hundreds or thousands of words of body text. This post clocks in at over 6,000 words of body text – yikes!

Both people and search engines read body text. People often read only the beginning of the body text before deciding to read further, and search engines emulate this behavior. It’s a good practice to make sure that your page’s key concepts – and keywords – are mentioned in the first paragraph.

It’s also a common SEO basics rule of thumb among search engine optimization professionals that a page should have a minimum of 300 words of text to add enough value and context for search engines to rank the page. This may be a struggle for some of your pages. While pretty pictures and clever headlines look great, make sure you provide enough useful content for search engines and people to know what your page is about.

Other pages on your website can be thought of as foundational pages that provide the bulk of the website’s meaning and context. Examples are:

  • pages that describe your main services
  • product description pages
  • blog posts

These pages should be longer than the minimum 300 words mentioned above and ideally be 900 words or longer with one primary headline, several subheads and body text that naturally uses page’s primary and secondary keywords. These longer pages can really help search engines understand what your website as a whole is about and these pages can often get more search engine traffic than your home page.

Links are literally key to the way the web works, and their use can be misunderstood. Google’s dominance over other search engines started waaaaay back in the late 90s with their development of the first and most famous of Google’s algorithms called PageRank. According to Google:

PageRank works by counting the number and quality of links to a page to determine a rough estimate of how important the website is. The underlying assumption is that more important websites are likely to receive more links from other websites.

What Google understood then that other search engines didn’t is that links are critical to understanding the value of content on the web. If enough people are linking to content, that content must then have some value. Links pass value both to people and to search engines.

Links are misunderstood and misused among many website creators because links are very easy to make and their use without a proper strategy can at best miss out on opportunities and at worst cause harm. To avoid this mistake:

  • Consider that each link has a small cost to the page it links from and a small benefit to the page it links to
  • Think about the flow of links on your website as a flow of this value
  • Don’t add links haphazardly

Pass link value up to your most important pages. For example, you may write a blog post related to one of your key services. Adding a link from the blog post takes a small amount of value from the blog post and adds it to the key service page, and this is generally good. The reverse generally isn’t good – linking from your most valuable pages to your least. Of course there are cases where it’s useful to break this rule. But at least think about the flow of value before adding links, especially links away from your most valuable pages.

There are two important caveats to this description of the flow of links equating to the flow of value:

  1. Links that appear on every page – namely links in your main navigation and links in the footer of every page of your website – don’t pass the same amount of link value. Rather, the links that pass the most value are unique links from the body text of a page on your website. It’s generally understood that links towards the top of the page pass the most value
  2. There is a small snippet of code – rel="nofollow" – that can be added to a link to cut off the flow of value. A link using this snippet would look like <a href="https://example.com/" rel="nofollow">. This bit of code tells search engines that while you are linking to this content, you’re not assigning any value to the link

Especially consider the second of those caveats when linking to external websites. A link from any page on your website to any page on any website takes a bit of value from the source page and adds it to the destination page. If you’re linking to another website, ask yourself if you want to pass value to that website. If you do, great! If not, add rel="nofollow" to the link so you don’t pass value away from your website.

And if other websites link to your website, you get value from that link! Unless, of course, the link to your website uses rel="nofollow". We’ll cover this more in the backlink building section.

Think about links like a flow of value. There’s a benefit to the page that receives the link, and a little cost to the page that gives the link. This is true for links to pages on your own website as well as links to other websites. Don’t overdo it, but also don’t add links without thinking about the flow of value.

Images

Images aren’t readable (yet) by search engines, but they can provide a lot of value to your viewers and even to search engines. To get the full value of the images on your website, make sure you add a text description to your images for visually impaired visitors to your website that use screen readers or for situations where the image doesn’t load on the website. This text description gets added in a little snippet of code called the alt attribute for an image. It’s actually against the “rules” of HTML – the language of the web – to not include this alt text for every image on your website.

The alt text should be a clear description of the image as if you were describing it to someone else. Try to keep the alt text below 125 characters. Search engines can read this text description of your images, so most search engine professionals recommend structuring the description to include some of your page’s keywords, though don’t be tempted to just list out a disorganized blob of keywords. Make sure the alt text accurately describes the image while ideally including keywords in a natural way.

Examples of images without any alt text (blank alt text is the same as no alt text):

<img src="/image/of/horse.jpg">
<img src="/image/of/horse.jpg" alt="">

Examples of images with alt text that accurately describes the image and likely adds contextual meaning to search engines:

<img src="/image/of/product-12561.jpg" alt="battery part number 12561 for panasonic camera model a506">
<img src="/image/of/johan-mitchell.jpg" alt="johan mitchell, cofounder of dallas law firm mitchell and mitchell">

Page loading speed

Slow loading websites aren’t popular with people or with search engines. So if you want to rank higher on search engines and have more visitors that stick around on your website for longer, ensure that your page loads quickly on both desktop computers and mobile phones. Page loading speed is a key component of On-Site SEO.

Google’s own guidance about page loading speed is clear – slow loading websites lose page visitors. Google provides free tools for you to measure your website’s loading speed and they tell you what may be causing slowdowns so you can fix them. Many aspects of improving page loading speed are technical in nature and may require a professional web developer to diagnose and repair. Here are the basic areas of improvement for page loading speed:

  • Images comprise a huge portion of the overall download size of most pages on the web. Images that are not properly compressed or are too large can add significant delay to your website’s loading time. The best fix is to compress images as much as possible, use properly sized images and use responsive images to send different images to different devices depending on screen size and resolution
  • Code bloat can be a real problem especially for WordPress websites that use off-the-shelf themes and too many plugins that aren’t necessary. Regardless of your website’s platform, it’s likely there are unneeded styles, scripts and other code that’s slowing down your website. Whether you’re the website owner or a designer, consider how much additional code comes along with whatever you’re adding and consider how long it will take to download that code. It’s always a good idea to revisit your website’s content, styling and code platform to see what can be removed.
  • Fonts are also a cause of website loading slowdowns. Sure it’s possible to use lots of pretty fonts on your website. But each of those fonts needs to be downloaded by every viewer of your website. Think about people on a phone who abandon visiting your website due to slow loading time before adding lots of fonts. After all, it doesn’t matter what your text looks like if no one is reading it! Consider using only one or two fonts on your website and using system fonts that are already loaded on most every computer and phone.

To keep an eye on your website’s page loading speed, remember to test your website on different computers and mobile devices. Your computer at work and your phone aren’t good indicators of an average user’s experience because your computer and phone’s web browsers have already put much of your website’s content into their memory – called a cache – from previous times you’ve viewed your own website. Load up your website on different phones, tablets and computers and use any of the free page loading speed test tools out there.

70% of the mobile web pages Google analyzed took more than five seconds for the visual content at the top of the page to load, and it took more than seven seconds to fully load all visual content for the whole page. As page load time goes from 1 second to just five seconds, 90% more people just abandon the site. Think about that before adding bloated code, too many fonts and images that aren’t properly sized and compressed.

Okay! That’s it for the On-Site SEO section that focuses on the overall structure of your website, the actual content on each page and the speed of your website. From here, Search Engine Optimization moves to Off-Site SEO where you can focus on how other websites interact with your website.

Off-Site SEO

Off-Site SEO is the action of optimizing the ways that other websites interact with your website. Off-Site SEO mostly focuses on increasing the number of links from other websites to your website. As with On-Site SEO, Off-Site SEO techniques have been abused by search engine optimization professionals attempting to game the algorithms used by search engines. These nefarious techniques – commonly referred to as black-hat SEO – are now viewed as doing more harm than good. Also as with On-Site SEO, there are acceptable and beneficial techniques – commonly referred to as white-hat SEO – that abide by best-practices and can greatly improve your website’s search engine rankings.

In many ways, Off-Site SEO is more difficult than On-Site SEO because the tools of On-Site SEO are your own website, which you’re in control of. You can modify your site’s structure and content as well as increase your website’s loading speed and general user experience. With Off-Site SEO, your tools are more limited and always face the same obstacle of relying on external websites that you usually don’t have control over.

Off-Site SEO simply can’t be ignored. Google took over its rival search engines in the early days by building a search engine that counted links from other websites in order to calculate each website’s relative authority. Google has gone on to refine that critical early advantage and other search engines use similar techniques. Valuable links from other ideally high authority websites are critical to increasing your own website’s authority, traffic and search engine rankings.

There are two primary strategies used for Off-Site SEO to increase the number of valuable links from other websites to your own. Content creation is the technique of creating killer content on your own website that is so good that it is naturally shared by other websites, linking back to your own. Big news outlets and blogs use this strategy – they are surely more busy creating content than they are going out and asking others to link to it. Backlink building is the strategy of actively increasing the number of other websites that link to yours. When done in a targeted, natural and non-abusive way, backlink building is a great fit for small and medium sized websites to increase the number of websites linking to your own and therefore increase website authority, traffic and search engine rankings.

Content creation

The strategy of creating awesome content that others naturally link to is surely the most obvious and beneficial form of Off-Site SEO. If content is so good that others are naturally linking to it, you’ll get a benefit of more visitors coming from other websites that link to yours, higher search engine placement based on the links to your website and your own website will benefit from the awesome content. This content creation strategy is the leading method for promotion as advised by search engines like Google. Large websites with existing large audiences as well as teams of professional content creators make great use of this strategy.

Smaller websites starting out with a smaller audience often struggle to use this strategy. You likely have awesome content on your website that isn’t attracting a giant audience, right? It’s a classic catch 22.

catch 22

noun

a dilemma or difficult circumstance from which there is no escape because of mutually conflicting or dependent conditions

In the real world, smaller websites have a harder time using the strategy of creating great content to build a large audience because already having a large audience is a pre-requisite of others finding and sharing your great content. To get around the mutually conflicting or dependent conditions of this catch 22, you’ll need to both create great content and work on other ways of building your audience to help others find your great content.

Backlink building is a great way of building your website’s audience when used in a natural, non-abusive way. Years ago, it was a common practice of some search engine professionals to create entire networks of fake blogs that all linked to each other to build link authority. Then – for a price – the creators of these fake blog networks would then link to their clients’ websites. This practice worked for a while until Google caught on. This kind of fake linking is strictly against Google’s guidance and participating in any part of schemes like this will surely do your website far more harm than good.

There are plenty of forms of backlink building that are non-abusive and can help increase the number of websites linking to yours. Examples are:

  • Associations that your company belongs to that may provide a directory with links to its members’ websites. Make a list of all the associations or memberships that your organization belongs to and examine their websites to see if they provide directories with links.
  • Blogs in a related field that have guest blog post opportunities. Reach out to these blogs offering great unique content and the author link for these guests posts will often link back to your website.
  • Mentions of your website on another website that don’t link to your website. Many websites may be talking positively about yours without a link. Contact the website owners letting them know about your website and the mention and the website owner will often add the link to the mention of your organization.
  • Directories of local businesses or business organizations in a related field will often add links to related organizations. Keep an eye out for these directories and make sure your organization is listed properly with a link to your website.

Regardless of the strategy used, be aware that links from other websites to yours are valuable votes of confidence in the eyes of both search engines and users of the web as a whole. Find and make use of opportunities for other websites to link to yours and you’ll watch your natural audience grow along with your search engine rankings. Just make sure the links are natural and related. If it smells fishy, it is.

For those who want to take backlink building to the next level, there are online services that can help you find backlinks to other websites that are in your field to help guide you to potential targets for natural backlinks that you may not have known about.

Local SEO

Local SEO is technically a form of Off-Site SEO in that the action happens off of your website. But it’s different from the other forms of Off-Site SEO described above because Local SEO focuses on optimizing the visibility of your business on local directories like Google Maps, Yelp and Apple Maps as well as social media sites like Facebook. Local SEO is also different because it doesn’t necessarily target potential customers to go to your website – they could call, ask for directions or read reviews.

Local SEO isn’t for everyone – it’s only appropriate to physical storefront businesses or businesses that deliver products or services in a specific geographic area. Restaurants, hair salons, plumbers, law firms and laundromats are good examples of businesses that would benefit from Local SEO – they all have an address, phone number and sometimes a geographic region of service. eCommerce websites, airlines, and software companies are an examples of businesses that may not benefit from Local SEO – sure, their headquarters could be listed on a map, but they don’t interact with customers at their headquarters.

If you run a business where customers interact with you at a physical location or if you offer services in a specific geographic area, you should absolutely pay attention to Local SEO. The main concept is making sure your NAP – Name, Address and Phone – are listed correctly (to the letter, literally) on all directories. Additionally, your website should be listed properly and your business should be properly categorized. If you have multiple branches for your business, it’s important that each is listed individually with a unique location name and ideally a unique web link back to a location page on your website. Moz Local – listed just below in the Free SEO Tools section – is a great place to start to get a feel for how accurately your business is listed across many different directories and sites.

Local SEO is a great example of the changing landscape of search engine optimization. Now, Google Maps and Facebook are search engines, and a request for directions is a customer interaction even though that customer may never see your website. Think about all the ways customers find and interact with your business online – that’s today’s SEO.

Free SEO tools

We spend a lot of money every month on SEO tools to track our clients’ keyword rakings on a daily basis, crawl websites to find errors and automate some Local SEO tasks. Thankfully you can go pretty far with these free SEO tools. These tools aren’t fly-by-night sketchy sites that are going to try to steal your identity – we use these tools all the time, and we’ve avoided listing tools we don’t trust. Have fun!

Free SEO audit and analysis tools

upcity logoUpCity provides a really useful free SEO analysis tool. We’re one of the highest rated agency partners on UpCity, so we put their free SEO analysis tool directly on this website. Fill out your website and the websites of some competitors and we’ll email you back a report card. And don’t worry, we won’t send you annoying emails – it’s a free tool!

moz logoYou can’t talk SEO basics and not talk Moz. Their Moz Local tool is really awesome if you’re a local business and want to see how well your business is listed on local directories. And their Link Explorer is awesome for finding out data about a certain website. Both require a free account to use and have limitations but if you’re serious about your SEO, it’s a great place to start.

moz logoThe fun and colorful Found SEO Analyzer Tool is a free way to audit your whole website. They provide an astonishing amount of data about headlines that are too long, images with missing alt tags and all kinds of great information.

Free search engine preview tools

We often use preview tools to see how a page’s title and description will look on a search engine. It may sound laborious, but we use these tool anytime we’re custom writing a page title and description. The page title is currently limited to 600 pixels wide, and because each letter can have a different width, it’s not possible to know how many letters will fit without using a preview tool. The page description can be shown at different lengths but we usually stick to 156 characters. And it’s often inspiring to look at how your page title and page description will look on a Google search result.

portentPortent offers a free tool to preview how your page title and description will look on Google search results including the ability to simulate how Google may highlight matching keywords.

yoast logoIf you use WordPress, the popular and free Yoast SEO Plugin offers a built-in tool to preview how your page’s title and description will look on search engine results.

Free keyword research tools

Keyword research tools are great for a variety of things – figuring out which words in a headline are more popular search terms, figuring out the average search volume of a list of different keywords and even brainstorming “how to” type questions related to a certain keyword. Remember, though, that it’s not always better to go after the most popular search terms, as lots of others are targeting those keywords as well. Longer phrases of words meant to target a very specific audience – commonly called long tail keywords – can be less competitive to target. String together a bunch of long tail keywords and you’ll have an audience! Either way you go about it, these free keyword research tools are sure to help your search engine optimization.

serpstat logoSerpstat has an awesome free keyword research tool – and more. It’s a bit like Google itself – you can simply type in a keyword (or a full website if you want) to get information, metrics and great data. Once you’ve typed in your keyword, explore the tools to the left to find out related keywords, search volume and even search questions related to the keyword. Great stuff for free!

google trends logoGoogle Trends is a really fun tool once you get the hang of it, and you can find yourself comparing all kinds of search terms. It works better for more popular search terms. The greatest thing is that you can see trends over time. Be careful, you can get lost in here forever. But it’s certainly a great – if not somewhat non-traditional – keyword research tool.

google logoImagine how cool it would be if Google actually told you what keywords people typed in to get to you website. Well they do – sort of. If you’re not using Google Search Console, you need to. You’ll need to validate ownership of your site then you’re off to the races … to find out most of the keywords people use to get to your website, with somewhat vague information about them. Why is this a keyword research tool? Because you can see the keywords that your site is ranking for in order to get ideas about terms that your site doesn’t include. Bam – keyword research!

Free page speed analysis tools

Page loading speed is like the new form of mobile optimization. Remember a few years ago when everyone realized that everyone had phones that they used to look at websites all day long and all the people who had websites scrambled to make their websites “mobile friendly”? Well hopefully everyone got their websites to load on mobile, but now the trick is to get your website to load on mobile really fast. Why? The average website takes a whopping 15 seconds to load on a phone, yet as page load times go from just 1 to 5 seconds, the rate of people just closing the website goes up a whopping 90%! Get your website snappy!

google logoTest your mobile website speed with Google. It’s a really pretty interface, and they’ll show you some amazing statistics as they analyze your site then they’ll email you tips to improve the page loading speed.

web page test logoNot the prettiest, but WebPageTest is a great tool for analyzing what really happens when a browser loads up your website. Pick a location and enter your website address and wait a while then look at a lot of data that comes back. The data’s often good for the more experienced developer, but the raw test times are more actual than theoretical. If someone is building a website for you and you think it’s slow, head here to prove the point!

google logoBack to Google – they have two test sites that are becoming more or less the same. The new web.dev and the older PageSpeed Insights are now based on the same backend tool and display similar data. The great thing about these tools is they will tell you what on your page is slowing things down.

Whew, that was a lot

Yeah, that was a long read. Think about it this way – they say it takes 10,000 hours to master anything. You’re now about 3 hours further along than you were when you started!

How are you using SEO to build your business? What’s working for you? What are you still confused about? Was this guide helpful to explain SEO basics? Ask questions in the comments below and we’ll keep the conversation going.

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Written with by Alex Wright

Runs a creative digital marketing, web design and SEO agency in Austin, Texas   |   Likes good looking, fast performing and high ranking websites   |   Doesn't want to understand Snapchat   |   Wants nothing to do with bananas   |   Wishes he were a BMX superstar

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