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SEO Basics and Best Practices: The Ultimate Guide for 2020

If you want your content marketing strategies to be successful, you need to have a clear understanding of SEO basics and best practices. 

But given how frequent Google has been updating its algorithm, it can be very challenging to make sure that the SEO strategy you’re using will deliver the results you’re expecting.

This in-depth guide will teach you the SEO basics and best practices you need to have in place so that you can improve your website rankings and get more quality leads for your business. 

I’ll also be sharing tips and strategies on how to apply these to your website to improve your website’s search rankings and drive more traffic to your website.

This guide is going to be very in-depth. So, if you want to read this later, you can download a PDF version of this guide by filling up the form below. 

About the Author

Kevin Payne, Growth & Content Marketing Consultant

Kevin Payne is a content marketing consultant that helps software and ecommerce companies implement content marketing campaigns to increase their inbound leads.

 

He considers himself a lifelong learner that shares actionable insights by contributing content to publications such as HubSpot and many more (he’s been featured in 75+ online publications).

 

With over 5 years of professional experience, he’s worked in-house at software and ecommerce companies in both D.C. & San Francisco. One of which he helped increase their website traffic from 365K to over 550K within a 1 year time period.

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Chapter 1

SEO Basics

In this chapter, we’ll review what SEO is all about, how it works, and why it’s a must for business owners and marketers like you to know about it.

What Does SEO Stand For?

SEO is short for Search Engine Optimization

As the term implies, it involves a series of techniques and strategies designed to help you rank higher in Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). 

There are three types of SEO that are used:

On-Page SEO

This is the type of SEO business owners, and marketers are most familiar with. It involves choosing the right keyword to use and strategically incorporating this within a web page or article.

Technical SEO

This type of SEO includes properly setting up your website so that everything on here can be understood by search engine bots scouring the Internet each time someone searches on Google.

 

Technical SEO also includes improving your website’s performance, from how quickly the pages load to how mobile-friendly it is for your site visitors, and even your site’s security.

Off-Page SEO

As its name suggests, off-page SEO involves the techniques and strategies that are done outside of your website so that you can build your site’s—and your business’—credibility and authority within your industry. 

Technical SEO also includes improving your website’s performance, from how quickly the pages load to how mobile-friendly it is for your site visitors, and even your site’s security.

Why is SEO Important?

As of 2019, there are approximately 1.72 billion websites on the Internet.

Source: Statista

 

That’s a lot of competition, even for established multinational corporations. The only way for you to drive traffic and get customers to your website is to stand out from your competition.

 

And that’s where SEO can help, especially if you’re running a B2B business.


90% of B2B customers would start their buying process by searching on Google. But even if Google will include millions of websites in their search results, 88% of them will only focus their search on the first search results page. 

Source: Search Engine Journal

 

This tells us that it’s not enough for Google and other search engines to find your website. It should be listed on the first SERP. Otherwise, your potential customers won’t find you and will end up doing business with one of your competitors.

 

SEO also plays a crucial role in the success of other online marketing strategies you’re using in your business.

 

Take launching a content marketing strategy, for example.  

 

For it to generate the results you’re expecting, you need to make sure that the content you publish not only shows up on Google’s SERP but also that the person searching on Google matches your business’ buyer persona. 

 

These two must go together. If you’re only getting plenty of traffic to your website, but they don’t match your ideal customer, you won’t convert them into customers. Nothing can be more frustrating than that.

Chapter 2

How Do Search Engines Work?

Search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo, and DuckGoGo go through a series of stages to make sure that they provide their users with the most relevant search results to their queries.

 

The diagram below shows the entire process of how most search engines work in a nutshell:

Source: Ahrefs

Stage 1: Scheduling

Once you publish a piece of content online, search engines take note of the content’s URL. It then schedules when they’ll dispatch their bots and spiders to perform the next step, which is…

Stage 2: Crawling

When it comes to crawling, most marketers believe that this involves search bots and spiders following where each page or content links to. 

 

In reality, crawling involves the search bots and spiders regularly visiting known pages in your website where it “knows” new links are added. Each time they find unique content, they then download the information and send this to the parser.

Stage 3: Parsing

In this stage, the search engine retrieves the links and other vital details from the page that the bot or spider downloaded. 

 

After that, it sends the extracted links back to the scheduler while the extracted data goes through the final stage, and that is…

Stage 4: Indexing

Here, parsed data coming from your website and is then grouped into different categories. After that, it’s included and cataloged into a massive database, ready to be retrieved when someone performs a search.

Ranking Signals

Each time someone searches for content using a search engine, its algorithm goes through this massive library to find the most relevant results. It then displays this on its SERPs with the most relevant result at the top of its SERPs.

 

For this to happen, search engine algorithms evaluate each web page using a long list of ranking signals. 

 

Google, for instance, uses more than 200 ranking factors or signals in its RankBrain algorithm to make sure that it gives you the most relevant search results. Some of these include:

  • your website’s domain age and authority,
  • keywords contained within your web content,
  • length and quality of the content on the web page, and 
  • frequency of page updates

 

Just to name a few.

 

Additionally, RankBrain takes into account the user’s search intent by reviewing past queries made using the same keyword phrase. 


I’ve previously written an article where I go more in-depth on how Google RankBrain works. So be sure to check this out.

Search Engine Penalties: Your Website’s Death Warrant

This is the most crucial reason why you need to be familiar with SEO basics and best practices. 

 

That’s because the moment your website gets penalized by Google (or any other search engine for that matter), none of the content coming from your site will be included in SERPs.

 

When that happens, your target audience can’t find your content, so you won’t be able to drive traffic to your website. And when you don’t have site visitors, you have no one to convert into customers. 

 

Ultimately, your business will die a slow and painful death.


To make sure this doesn’t happen, you need to make sure that you avoid the temptation of using what’s called Black Hat SEO tactics, which include the following:

Chapter 3

Keywords: The Lifeblood of Your SEO Strategy

A while back, I wrote an article talking about how Hubspot’s Topic Cluster model can boost organic search rankings and drive more traffic to your website. 

 

I still stand by this. But that doesn’t mean that keywords no longer play a vital role in your SEO strategy.

 

On the contrary, the keywords you use in optimizing your content can make or break your chances for success. 

 

And that’s why I’ve decided to dedicate an entire chapter here on how to find the right keywords to use to optimize your website once you’ve chosen the topics you want to cover on your site.

How and Where to Find Keyword Ideas

When it comes to finding the keywords to use for your website, one of the most common mistakes marketers make is that they don’t research the keywords that they use to optimize their content and website.

 

Big mistake!

 

In fact, keyword research remains an SEO best practice to observe if you want to boost your site’s rankings and drive quality traffic to your site.

 

That said, here are some of the recommended places where you can find keyword ideas to use for your website and content.

Google Search

Three specific places within the Google Search Results page are ideal places to find keyword ideas that you can use for your SEO strategy.

 

The first is the “People Also Ask” section. This is usually found right underneath the Featured Snippets when you search on Google.

The second place is the “People Also Search For” section. This is usually found either in the middle or bottom section of the first page of Google’s search results.

Third is the “Searches related” section. You can find this at the bottom of Google’s SERPs.

The reason why these three areas are a goldmine for keyword ideas is that these are the keywords that Google RankBrain determined to be the most frequently searched variations.

Google Trends

As the name implies, this is where you can find which keywords are trending in your industry or niche.

 

You can find this by clicking on the hamburger icon on the upper left side of the screen.

Then click on the Explore option in the side menu.

You can then customize the options to make the results specific to your industry or niche.

Quora

Quora is another great resource where you can find keyword ideas to use for your SEO strategy. That’s because this is where you can find questions that your target audience have about the topics you want to cover.

Amazon

Even if you’re not running an eCommerce business, Amazon is a great resource to get keyword ideas.

 

Like Google and other search engines, Amazon lists related keywords when you type in a specific keyword phrase.

 

For example, if you’re planning to write an article or guide about remote learning, here are some keyword ideas that Amazon recommends.

How to Choose the Right Keywords

This is the next obvious question you’ll be asking once you’ve come up with a list of keyword ideas.

 

There are several factors you need to consider when choosing which keywords to use in your SEO strategy to boost your site rankings.

  • Monthly Search Volume (MSV). A high MSV tells you that the keyword phrase is commonly used by people when searching for content online. 
  • Keyword Difficulty (KD). This tells you how much competition there is when it comes to getting your target audience’s attention and for your content to land on the first page on Google. The higher the KD score, the more difficult it’ll be.
  • Cost per Click (CPC). This is essential if you’re planning to run paid ads as part of your marketing strategy. The amount shown here is the minimum average amount you’ll need to budget for each click to generate results.

Ideally, you’d want to choose keywords that have high MSV, low KD, and low CPC. 

 

For this, you’ll have to run your keyword ideas through a keyword research tool. Here are some suggestions.

Google Search Console

If you’ve published a fair amount of content, using Google Search Console can help you boost your search rankings by finding your opportunity keywords. These are the keywords where your site’s ranking is between 8-20 on Google’s SERPs.

 

Neil Patel shows you exactly how to do this in the video below:

 

 

And the best part? It’s completely free to use!

Ahrefs Keyword Explorer

This next keyword research tool is great for two reasons.

 

First, it gives you more in-depth information about the keyword phrase you’re researching so that you can decide whether or not you’ll use it as part of your SEO strategy, particularly when it comes to the keyword difficulty score.

 

While most keyword research tools will either give you an average grade or description (e.g., “easy,” “difficult”), Ahrefs tells you the level of difficulty based on how your content is currently ranking on Google. It’ll also explain to you what you’ll need to achieve so that you can rank on the first page of Google.

 

For example, this was the keyword difficulty level I got when I researched the keyword phrase “SEO strategy”: 

The explanation’s pretty straightforward. It’s telling me that I still need to build over 200 backlinks if I want to rank on the first page of Google’s SERP for this keyword phrase.

 

The second reason why this is such a great tool to use is that you can get in-depth information about the keyword phrase you’re researching on other search engines.

This comes particularly helpful if you’re using Youtube for your social media strategy, or you’re running an eCommerce store and are planning to sell your products on Amazon.

Google Keyword Planner

No SEO guide would be complete without mentioning Google Keyword Planner.

 

This is a “no frills” keyword research tool compared to other keyword research tools. Still, it’s worth using because it’s created and owned by Google. So, not only is the information you get here accurate, but also the most current, especially if you’re planning to use Google ads in your marketing strategy.

Source: Backlinko

Keyword Research Best Practices

1. Create a negative keywords list

Negative keywords are variations of your targeted keywords that you don’t want your site to rank for. These ensure that you drive the right kind of traffic to your website to improve your conversion rates. This is essential, especially if you plan to run Google ads as part of your marketing strategy. 

 

Relevance is one of the factors that affect your Google ad placement. If you don’t have negative keywords in your list, your ad can be featured in searches that aren’t related to your products or services. 

 

When that happens, it’ll cause your page’s bounce rate to spike, and Google will take this as a signal to demote your ad to a less prominent slot. 

2. Don’t discount keywords with low search volume

I mentioned earlier that having a high MSV is one thing to look for when choosing your keywords. But that doesn’t mean you should discount keywords with low search volumes.

 

Long-tail keywords like those in the example below are a perfect example:

Even though these keywords only have a few hundred searches per month, those using these keywords to perform their searches have a specific goal or purpose. So, they’re easier to convert and move down your marketing funnel.

3. Don’t forget to add local keywords

46% of people searching on Google are those looking for local businesses. Adding local keywords in your keywords list allows you to target them for your marketing campaigns.

Chapter 4

On-Page Search Engine Optimization

Now that you know how to find and choose the keywords to use for your SEO strategy, let’s find out how to use this to optimize your web content and boost your site’s rankings.

 

The power of on-page SEO lies in strategically positioning your targeted keywords within your content so that it’s easy for search bots to find and understand without you sounding like a robot.

 

In this chapter, you’ll learn the strategies on how to optimize your content so that you can boost your rankings on Google. 

On-Page SEO Best Practices

1. Add your targeted keywords in your page or article title.

Even though Google’s algorithm has gone through several updates, it still crawls your sites and content to find exact matches of the keyword phrases used by someone searching on its platform.

2. Include your primary targeted keyword within the first 100 words of your content.

Studies show that you only have eight seconds to convince your site visitors to keep reading your content. Otherwise, they’ll opt-out from your website, increasing your bounce rate and affecting your overall site rankings.

 

So how do you convince them to keep reading? Tell them right on the onset how your content will help them solve the challenge they’re facing. 

 

Doing this also ensures you mention the keyword you’re targeting within your content’s first 100 words.

 

Another reason to implement this SEO best practice is that Google likes it if it can quickly find exact matches of your targeted keyword.


This guide, for example, was optimized using the keyword phrase “content marketing strategy” by mentioning the keyword in the very first sentence.

3. Use the correct header tags within your content

Header tags give Google insight into the overall structure and flow of your content. So, you want to make sure that you use the right header tags for the headings and subheadings within your content.

 

As a rule of thumb, the H1 tag should be used for your title while H2 and H3 tags should be used for your content’s subheadings.

 

This is why it’s crucial to begin your content writing process with an outline. Not only will this keep you on track when researching and writing your content, but also show guide you on which header tag you’ll use.

 

And of course, make sure that you include your targeted keyword in as many of these header tags as possible.

4. Avoid stuffing your content with keywords

Too much of a good thing is bad. And that’s true when it comes to adding your keywords within the body of your content.

 

Yes, Google will consider your content relevant when it finds your targeted keyword mentioned several times within your content. But when you overdo it, it’ll turn Google off so much that your content can get flagged for keyword stuffing.

 

Besides, doing this will make your content sound unnatural. Some of your readers may even find reading it annoying. 

As a rule of thumb, the H1 tag should be used for your title while H2 and H3 tags should be used for your content’s subheadings.

This is why it’s crucial to begin your content writing process with an outline. Not only will this keep you on track when researching and writing your content, but also show guide you on which header tag you’ll use.

And of course, make sure that you include your targeted keyword in as many of these header tags as possible.

4. Avoid stuffing your content with keywords

Having a healthy dose of internal (links that go to other content in your site) and external (links that go to other sites) can boost your site’s rankings.

 

Internal links help organize your web content, so it’s easy for your readers to find related content and stay longer on the page. And when one of your articles or blog posts ranks high on Google, it’ll also give those other content on your site a boost.


On the other hand, external links help boost your site’s rankings by reinforcing the credibility and quality of your content, as one study recently conducted by Reboot Online showed.

Source: Reboot Online

 

That, of course, doesn’t mean that you can link to any website. You also need to make sure that the sites you’re linking to are authoritative in your industry. This will signal to Google and your readers that you’ve done your homework and made sure that the information you share is reliable.

6. Include an Alt Text for all your images

Image alt texts tell Google and other search engines what each of the images is on your web page or blog post. This allows them to properly index and display images on your website separately in their search results.

It’ll be easier for your customers to find your products on your eCommerce website or an infographic you’ve recently published.

 

Adding alt texts in your images also helps your visually impaired site visitors using screen-reading tools to view specific websites. 

 

By adding an image alt text, their screen-reading tool can describe the images on your web page or blog post, improving their user experience.

7. Don’t forget to include a meta description

The meta description is a short blurb of text that appears underneath the Title Tag in Google’s SERPs.

While Google and other search engines would generate a meta description by including the phrases where they found the exact keyword phrase, it’s still considered an SEO best practice to write your own meta description.

 

That way, you can give your target audience a better insight into what they’ll expect to find in your web page or blog post and convince them to click your link on the SERPs.

 

Here are some tips to help you create your content’s meta description:

  • Keep the length at 150 characters. This ensures that Google and other search engines won’t cut the meta description you’ve written.
  • Add your targeted keyword as close to the beginning as possible. As explained earlier, Google and other search engines prefer it when they can find the exact keyword phrase early in the content.

Offer the solution. With so many other options, telling those searching on Google how your content will help them with the challenges that they’re facing will convince them to click your content’s link.

Chapter 5

Technical SEO

If on-page SEO focuses on optimizing your website’s front-end, technical SEO focuses on optimizing the technical aspects of your website.

 

You’ll often need to hire a website developer to help you out with this to boost your site rankings on Google.

 

In this chapter, we’ll look at the technical SEO basics and best practices you need to know to make sure that you’re on the same page with your website developer.

Technical SEO Best Practices

1. Reorganize your site's structure

When you first launched your website, your site’s structure was very organized. But as your business scales and you begin creating more content, your site’s structure turned from looking like this:

Source: Backlinko

 

To this:

Source: Backlinko

 

Having a cluttere

d site structure not only makes it difficult for your visitors to find the content that they’re looking for. Search bots will also “lose” their way as they crawl your website.

 

Running a site audit on Google’s Search Console can help you check the status of your site’s structure and help you and your web developer reorganize it. 

 

This video by Neil Patel shows you how to do this:

 

<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/fZua-GGvdX8″ frameborder=”0″ allow=”accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture” allowfullscreen></iframe>

 

Implementing the Topic Cluster model to your content is another way to ensure your site’s web content.

 

First introduced by Hubspot, Topic Clusters group your content into specific topics. This makes it easier for search bots and your site visitors to find related content on a particular topic. 

 

Here are a few helpful resources on how to organize your web content using the Topic Cluster model:

2. Include a breadcrumbs navigation bar on your website

In case you’re not familiar, a breadcrumbs navigation bar looks something like this:

Screenshot from Yoast

 

Adding this to your website can help boost your site’s ranking in several ways:

 

First, it tells Google exactly how your site’s structured. It also helps build more internal links within your website. 


More importantly, it helps improve your website user’s experience by giving your site visitors an easier way to navigate through your website.

3. Make sure that your site’s got an XML Sitemap

Google representative confirmed that having an XML still plays a vital role in technical SEO. 

 

That’s because having an XML sitemap makes it easier for search bots to crawl and index the links and pages on your site faster, and make sure that nothing is missed. 

 

Google’s Search Advocate, Daniel Waisberg, walks you through the steps on how to use Google Search Console to check and submit an XML sitemap for your site.

Meta tags are snippets of HTML codes that describe to search engines what your page is about, and looks something like this:

Source: W3Schools

 

Earlier, we’ve mentioned three of these meta tags: header tags, meta descriptions, and image alt text. Here are other meta tags you need to make sure that are present on your website:

  • Robots meta tags. These tell search engines if the page should be indexed or not.
  • Canonical tags. These notify search engines which of your web pages are the primary ones and which ones are subpages.
  • Open graph meta tags. These ensure that the images and links properly show up on Facebook and other social media accounts.

Responsive design meta tag. This tells Google whether or not you’re using a responsive theme.

Chapter 6

Link Building and SEO

Link building generates links from external websites (backlinks) that drive traffic back to yours. 

 

It’s one of the many SEO strategies businesses use to boost site rankings because these tell Google that your website provides quality resources worthy of reference. That’s the reason why sites with more backlinks tend to rank higher in SERPs.

 

In this chapter, you’ll learn tips and strategies on how to build quality backlinks to boost your site rankings.

Link Building Strategies and Best Practices

1. Submit guest posts on sites within your niche

One of the most effective ways to generate quality backlinks to your website is by submitting guest posts to authoritative sites within your industry.

 

This will further boost your site rankings by helping you build backlinks for your website. At the same time, you also establish yourself as a thought leader and expert in your industry. 

 

This was the same strategy that helped me boost the site rankings of my website and generate qualified leads for my business.

 

If you want to learn more on how to do guest posting, here are a few resources where I detail the exact process that I used for my website:

2. Get active on social media.

Social media is now one of the best marketing distribution channels for your content. 


One study shows that as many as 81% of marketers share links to their posts and other pages on their sites on social media to build quality backlinks to their website. At the same time, 88% of marketers include links to specific pages on their social media profiles.

3. Repurpose your top-performing content

People consume content differently. Some prefer to consume infographics or videos. 

 

Repurposing your top-performing content into another format allows you not just to widen your reach to your target audience while creating more backlinks to your website.

Chapter 7

Developing and Implementing Your First SEO Strategy

Now that you got all the SEO basics in place, it’s time to put them all together and develop an SEO strategy for your website to boost your site rankings.

Steps to Create Your First SEO Strategies

1. Conduct a site audit

Before you can create an SEO strategy for your website, you’ll need first to get your bearings. Running a site audit is the best way to do this.

 

site audit refers to the process of identifying issues and errors on your website that’s affecting your site rankings. These include your page loading speed, broken links, and the overall performance of your website.

 

In addition to boosting your site rankings, running a site audit also helps your web developer identify vulnerabilities within your website that cybercriminals may 

 

Conducting a site audit can be tedious and too time-consuming if you do it manually. Fortunately, there are several tools available that you can use to do this.

 

Some examples of these include:

2. Decide on which type of search traffic will you prioritize

There are two types of search traffic that you can drive to your website.

 

The first is organic search traffic. This traffic is made of site visitors that decided to click on one of your links displayed on Google’s SERPs. 

 

On the other hand, paid search is where Google will post your link in premium positions within its SERPs in exchange for you paying a fee each time someone clicks on the link.

 

The chart below details the differences between organic and paid search further:

Source: Brafton

 

While both paid and organic search traffic can boost your site rankings and drive more traffic to your site, choose one that you’ll prioritize based on your business goals and budget.

3. Clearly communicate your SEO strategy to your team

Like all strategies, everyone in your team should be on board when you implement your SEO strategy for it to become successful.

 

If you’re not getting everyone to support your SEO strategy, don’t immediately conclude that they don’t care. Often, it could be that they just don’t understand. 

 

To make sure that they’re willing to come on board, it’s important to explain why you’re going to be using this strategy for your business. After all, people don’t buy what you do; they buy into why you do what you do.

4. Monitor and evaluate your results

It’s imperative to always monitor your site’s performance. That way, you can immediately make adjustments to it so that you can avoid penalties and move closer to your goal. 

 

There are several metrics that you can monitor to track the performance of your SEO strategy. Here are the most common ones:

  • Bounce Rate. This metric refers to the percentage of your traffic that visit a page on your website, but immediately leaves. This is one of the few metrics where the lower the number, the better.
  • Domain Authority (DA). This is the rating that search engines give to your website based on their ranking factors. The higher your DA, the more authoritative and reliable your site’s content is.
  • Page Loading Speed. Ideally, you’d want to make sure that your web pages load within three seconds. Otherwise, your site visitors will become impatient and leave.

Click-Through Rate. This is the percentage of the number of people that clicks on your links, both on SERPs and within your web content.

Chapter 8

Key Takeaways

In this guide, you’ve learned the SEO basics and best practices you need to create you first SEO strategy to boost your site rankings. 

 

As you’ve seen, a carefully researched list of keywords remains the cornerstone of a successful SEO strategy. Even if you follow all the best practices and tips shared in this guide, if you’re using the wrong keywords, you won’t get the results that you’re expecting.

 

Optimizing your website is also all about balance. 

 

It’s true that Google and other search engines have their requirements on how and where to use the keywords you’ve selected within your website to rank higher in their SERPs. But never forget that every content you published should focus on providing solutions for your target market. 

 

After all, the ultimate goal of every search engine is to provide resources to its users that they’ll find informative, helpful, and relevant.

Are You a Digital Marketer?

We’re always looking for the best digital marketers to join our growing team. If you have experience working at software or eCommerce companies and believe you got what it takes, let us know by clicking on the button below.

Are You a Digital Marketer?

We’re always looking for the best digital marketers to join our growing team. If you have experience working at software or eCommerce companies and believe you got what it takes, let us know by clicking on the button below.