Welcome to our SEO Basics course. After completing this course you should walk away with a firm understanding on what a search engine is, how they help organise the web and how webmasters can take basic steps to help drive traffic to their site via search.
This course should take you around an hour to complete, including basic tasks. We’ll also provide you will key tools to get started, if you wish to take your SEO studies further.
This course is for anybody who wishes to understand how search engines work; you could be a business owner looking to improve your digital presence, or a copywriter who would like to have more informed conversations with an SEO expert.
Or maybe you’re just a little curious as to how Google is helping improve the quality of the web — one step at a time.
Whatever your reason for completing this free course, we hope it proves beneficial.
All SEOs need to understand how search engines work.
Think about it — could you be a car mechanic without knowing how an motor engine works? No.
So let us start with the definition of an engine:
An engine then is ultimately a thing that converts something into ‘mechanical’ energy. In the case of an automobile it’s the process of turning petrol into heat — which in turn powers the wheels.
A search engine (such as Google, Bing or Yahoo) works in a very similar way. But instead of petrol its fuel is ‘keywords’ and its output is websites. Hence search engines provide a way for users to drive around the web, or so to speak, instead of manually inputting websites into a browser.
But the real question at this point shouldn’t be ‘what is a search engine?’, but instead ‘why do search engines exist in the first place?‘.
Why do we need to use search engines when we can just type the address of a website into a browser? Well, the answer to that is simple — convenience.
According to siteefy.com, at the time of writing, there are approximately 1,197,982,359 websites live. Each website has its own niche, target audience and purpose. Some perfectly innocent and some rather sinister.
And why you might know your favourite sites off by heart, maybe you want info on something outside your normal browsing habits. Maybe you’re looking for a new news website, business address, the weather in a specific country or even cheap flights to Asia.
Great. Let’s find a website. Oh, wait. There are potentially millions of sites that could do any of the above. Each fighting for your attention. Each looking to make a quick buck out of you.
How then can you find a reputable site without trawling through millions of websites? Answer: Google (and other reputable search engines — but it’s mostly Google).
Google is not only able to search millions and millions of website in the blink of an eye, but also determine which website best fulfils your needs. Google is ultimately ranking websites from best to worst based on what you search for.
Let’s take a typical search. Jeez, let’s even take the search I performed for the interesting titbit of info on how many websites are live.
For the search term ‘how many websites are there’, there are 1,180,000,000 results — or, pages on the web that Google feels are relevant to your search result. This is pretty much a vanity metric in my opinion. Google flexing just how much it can analyse under a second (0.79 seconds, to be exact). But it’s still pretty impressive.
The top ranking (also known as a featured snippet) goes to https://siteefy.com/how-many-websites-are-there/. This is for a multitude of reasons. And I mean, a MULTITUDE. (Sorry for the caps, but genuinely, the amount of what we call ‘ranking factors‘ that Google has nowadays is insane).
But for now it’s important to understand that siteefy.com is not at the top for any arbitrary reason, or the fact it was the first article produced about ‘how many websites are there’, or that Google has some special association with the website.
What is key to understand is that any web page, with the appropriate content, can potentially rank for ‘how many websites are there’, or associated search terms. And this extends to any search term.
A family-owned business could theoretically outrank a major retailor for a competitive keyword such as ‘cheap shoes’ — though beating one of the big boys would be no mean feat.
But by appreciating the fact that search engines base rankings on the quality of a page and its relevance to the search term itself, you can start to see why ‘search engine optimisation’ is big business and a very relevant career in today’s world of digital marketing.
This exercise should really take you 10 minutes, max.
Get a pen and paper, or open up a Google doc, and perform the following Google searches in incognito mode:
1) Cheap shoes
2) Free pet supplies
3) Masterclass discounts
4) PC parts
5) Manchester news
Just take a look at the SERPs (search engine results page) after you’ve completed each search and make some notes on which websites are ranking towards the top. Make sure you ignore the Google Adverts at the top — these aren’t relevant unless you’re interested in PPC (pay per click) marketing.
Click through and take a look at the content on the site:
Then scroll to the bottom and go through the next few pages of results.
Just look at how many other websites are fighting to be number one for each of the above search terms (keywords).
Ultimately, the aim of this exercise is to help you appreciate just how much is taken into account when ranking websites for specific search terms. I mean, imagine if your business could rank number 1 for ‘cheap shoes’. Just imagine how much business that single keyword alone could bring you.
Now you’ve got to grips with how search engines work generally, next up we’ll cover why SEOs (the collective term for everybody who works in the ‘search engine optimisation’ field) care so much about keywords.
Keywords are words that people use in search engines. And as you can imagine, there are millions of keywords across all the main languages in the world. This is because there are 70,000 Google searches a SECOND!
Yes, with each tick of the clock, 70,000 people around the world are typing something into Google. Each of those searches represents an opportunity
An opportunity for a Googler (or a ‘Binger’ or ‘Yahoo-er’) to find come across a brand new website.
An opportunity for webmasters to snatch some of that potential traffic for themselves.
An opportunity for Google to do a good job in delivering the relevant websites for that particular search.
And while there are millions of potential searches, and just as many potential websites out there to rank, as an SEO marketer you really need to know which keywords to target to ensure you’re driving the correct people to your site.
After all, while ranking for the search term ‘latest news’ (a very popular keyword) might seem lucrative, if you sell customised cravats it’s basically pointless.
Nobody is searching broadly for the ‘latest news’ in the world of cravats. The BBC, Washington Post, NY Times, Reuters — they’re all going to beat you.
That’s why it’s firstly important to work out which keywords you should be targeting. And pro tip: they’re going to be ridiculously obvious depending on your niche.
If you sell shoes, aiming to rank for ‘cheap shoes’ is a grand opportunity. If you sell beds, then ‘cheap beds’ is the one to go for. Maybe you’re a local news website, then ‘[city] news’ is a wise keyword to aim for.
Professional SEOs will have the skills to research the best keywords for you to target. And while this might be too advanced for a beginner, at least if you understand the approach your SEO colleague is taking when they’re asking you to add ‘cheap shoes in Manchester 2021’ six times within an article, then you might feel better about it.
Sure thing. Though it would appear I’m a poet, and I didn’t know it.
An SEO, when performing keyword research, will look at three things normally:
1) Is the keyword relevant for the page we’re about to create.
2) How many people have been searching for a keyword in the last month — otherwise known as ‘search volume’.
3) How competitive is a keyword — as in, how difficult would it be to rank for the target keyword.
As you can imagine, ‘best cheap shoes online for boys’ (a long-tail keyword) is going to be much less competitive than ‘cheap shoes’ (a money keyword).
But then again there are some websites which put more effort into ranking for long-tail keywords, because they don’t have the budget to keep up with the big retailors.
Woah! Ashley. If Google naturally ranks pages based on their content quality and relevance, why do budgets matter?
You have much to lean my friend. Much to learn indeed. But this isn’t important for now. As long as you understand that content quality matters above all, and that some keywords are less competitive than others, you will be off to a flying start.
This exercise should really take you 10 minutes, max.
Get a pen and paper, or open up a Google doc, and jot down potential keywords you’d like to target for your website. Think of, say, ten.
If you don’t have a website, imagine you’re about to launch a new pet food retail website. You will stock a wide variety of pet foods, of which people can jump on your website, place an order and you’ll ship it out. You want to be the ‘Amazon of Pet Food’. This is your mission statement.
Once you’ve got your target keywords, search for them in Google. Note down how many websites are ranking for a specific term, looking specifically for the same competitors popping up time and time again. Have a think in particular about:
1) The size of the business competing against you — large, or small?
2) The age of the business outranking you — young, or old?
3) The quality of the websites outranking you — great, or poor?
Now if you find your initial list of websites was dominated by large businesses with a lost of prestige and a top-quality website, consider refining your keywords to those they don’t rank for. Maybe you’re going in too deep with the money keywords and have to think outside the box.
Also, check how relevant the content is to each of the keyword searches on your competitor’s ‘landing pages’ (the page you land on after searching for a keyword). How much effort are they putting into ranking for the keyword you’ve just searched for?
Once you’ve made notes on all of the above, start to reflect on your own website (or imaginary pet food store) and consider how you can improve your pages to be more relevant to the terms you’re ranking for.
Ultimately, the aim of this exercise is give you a quick intro into how keywords work. Your SEO strategy should be based entirely on initial keyword research. Each page needs to have a target keyword, which people are searching for, and is relevant to your website. Do your competitor pages hone in on the specific keyword you searched for, providing you with the info you need? No. Then produce a page that does. It’s likely to rank if you fulfil search user intent.
The final lesson of our SEO Basics Course is about backlinks. If you work with SEOs, it’s something that will often come up in conversation. If you own a moderately successful website you will have people trying to sell you ‘links’ all the time.
In fact, it’s likely you’ll find yourself simply nodding along when SEOs or agencies speak of this mythical thing called ‘link juice’, which isn’t a refreshing beverage, but instead crucial to your website’s success. You will hear terms like ‘off-page’, or ‘outreach’, or ‘link-targets’, or ‘domain authority’, or ‘link-profiles’. It will sound like absolute nonsense to you as a non-SEO. It will be sold to you, almost constantly, as an instant way to improve your web traffic.
But what they won’t tell you is that it’s very naughty. Google does NOT want people building links to websites. But everybody does it, so you know, screw the police.
ASHLEY, YOU’RE CONFUSING ME JUST AS MUCH AS MY SEO. WHY WOULD I BUILD ‘LINKS TO MY SITE’? WHAT ARE ‘LINKS’? AND WHAT IN THE WORLD WERE YOU JUST TALKING ABOUT.
I’m sorry. it’s easy to get carried away. Let’s start with why Google is bothered about how many other websites link to your website.
Remember me talking about ‘ranking factors’ before. I briefly mentioned it in Lesson 2. Google ultimately needs ways to determine how ‘good’ a website is. One of the ways it does this is by looking at how many other websites link to yours.
Why? Why does Google care whether different websites link back to mine? Well, it’s a simple way to determine how popular your website, or a specific page, is.
Think about it this way. You write a WICKED study on ‘Coffee and its impact on the proletariat’s gross production cap’. It has detailed data, graphs and awesome infographics galore. You decide to stick it on your website ‘coffee4communists.com’. A rather niche website indeed.
It sits around for a few months, not generating much traffic, until one day somehow an editor of a major news website stumbles upon your article. A capitalist rag like ‘The Telegraph’, for example. They cite your website (mocking it, but still) and add a link from their article to yours.
Wow! The Telegraph, arguably one of the most reputable news sources in the UK, is linking to your daft article on caffeine in the workplace.
And so it goes, Google gets a sniff of this great news a few days later, and your article is now on its radar. Its cogs start to whirl, checks out your page, and notices that your content might be relevant for the search term ‘can giving free coffee to my staff improve results’. Why would it do this? For many reasons. But for now just accept it does.
Because of this you’re now ranking in the top ten for search terms related to coffee in the workplace.
Your article is being shared in the coffee drinking community. Bloggers are referencing it in their articles. More and more, Google is starting to recognise, purely because of the amount of people linking to your piece, that ‘Coffee and its impact on the proletariat’s gross production cap’, is a genuinely useful piece of content.
And then the motherload! A number of independent coffee retailors are referencing your study on their websites — including Starbucks. Wow! This must be a top piece of content for the world’s largest coffee shop to reference — though for filthy capitalistic reasons.
And while you’re being filled with a mixture of pride and resentment, in the eyes of Google (and the thousands of SEOs out there), you’ve done a brilliant job.
Now, think about this, but on a much larger scale. Google, every minute of every day, is checking and re-checking how other websites reference each other. Naturally, the larger websites will attract the most backlinks, further boosting Google’s theory that the most linked sites are often the best.
It is the aim of very Off-Page SEO (because they’re trying to control events off your page… i.e. not your website) to get as many links to your site as possible.
And that in a nutshell is how backlinks work. The more links that link to your site, the more authoritative your site appears to Google.
Now, just think — how could webmasters possibly fake this? Hmmmmm… One for another day, I’m sure.
Honestly, just kidding.
Though, if you’ve enjoyed this quick course (though, it was in the written form — so old school), then feel free to share with your friends.
And if you want to add a link to this page from your blog, I wouldn’t say no.
Thanks for sticking around! Hope it was useful.