A Beginner’s Guide to SEO: How to Start Optimising Your Website for Search

Are you about to create a new website for your business? Or maybe you have a site already but haven’t done anything with the SEO and want to show up more on Google.

If you’re DIY-ing your website and/or the content, then you need to know a little bit about Search Engine Optimisation to give yourself the best chance of ranking well on Google and other search engines. This guide aims to give you step-by-step instructions to help you get started with SEO on your website.

All these tips are easy to implement, even if you’re a complete beginner. You can also browse my other SEO for Beginners blog posts for further tips.

1. Research some keywords

Google Ads keyword research tool

Before you get started on anything else, you need to know what your ideal audience is searching for. You may think you know this already, but some research could surprise you. Even if it confirms what you think, it’s better to do this now rather than have to start again down the line.

There are plenty of paid tools out there for researching keywords, but there are a good number of free routes you can take too.

Pick a few phrases that relate to your business and use these as starting points for keyword research on the following platforms.

Keyword Research on Google and other Search Engines

The best place to start for free keyword research is on Google Search itself. Type in a phrase relevant to your business, hit search, and see what results come up. Look through the content in the top results (ignoring the ads if there are any) and pick out the kind of phrases they use in their content.

You can also look at the Related Searches at the bottom of the page and the ‘People Also Asked’ results. Altogether, these will give you a good idea of possible keywords.

Related Searches on Google Search
Related searches on Google Search

You can run similar research on other search engines such as Bing in order to cover more ground.

Also Asked and Answer the Public

When you enter your starting phrases to Also Asked and Answer the Public, they’ll provide a selection of questions that people are searching around your topic. You can use these to create FAQs, pick out the kinds of information people are looking for, and make sure your website provides the information they want.

Google Ads and Microsoft Advertising Keyword Planners

Both Google Ads and Microsoft Advertising offer useful keyword planning tools. While these are primarily aimed at helping you target your adverts, they’re just as useful for planning content for your website. You will need accounts in order to access these, but it’s free and you don’t actually have to spend money on ads in order to use the tools.

2. Create a website structure

This is an often-overlooked step that is vital for effective SEO. Website structure determines how a user finds their way around your site and a good structure means they will find it easier to get where they want. Search engines love it when you make a website easy to use, so this is a great way of sending good signals.

If you have a fairly small website with only a handful of pages, website structure will be quite easy. You may simply have all your pages on one menu at the top of the page.

However, if you have more pages than can reasonably fit on one menu, or you have a complex site such as for an e-commerce business, getting your website structure right will take longer. But it’s well worth doing.

To create a good structure, you need to find a balance between making it easy for users to find what they want, and not crowding your page with too many links and menus. Create a list of all the pages you need on your website, and group them you can. For example, if you have an online shop, you could divide pages by type of product.

Feather and Stitch website menu
The website menu for e-commerce site, Feather & Stitch

Once you’ve grouped your content, pick the most important pages to display on your main menu. Use sub-menus and links within your content to help users get to other related pages as they need to.

It’s also important to make sure you don’t have any orphan pages. These are pages on your site that don’t have any direct links to them and it means that Google’s bots can’t crawl (find) your page. If they can’t find your page, it won’t show up in search results. It also means that your users can’t find the page and could be missing out on valuable content.

3. Write suitable copy

Woman typing on laptop

Once you’ve done your keyword research and decided on a site structure, you can start creating content for each of your pages. This should generally be at least 350 words long per page and provide as much information as required. If you have other pages on your website with related content, it’s a good idea to create links to one another.

Such links are called internal links and can help search engines work out the structure of your site. They can also keep users engaged and on your website for longer.

Make sure you incorporate your keyword research where relevant. Pick a small number of target keywords per page and include a couple of mentions of each as naturally as possible within the text. Don’t overdo it, though. Adding the same keywords too many times is called keyword stuffing, and search engines don’t like it.

If you have a lot of text on your page, break it up using headings.

4. Use headings

Headings help break up your page to make it more readable and scannable.

The main title of your page should be H1, and it should be the only H1 on that page. You can use lower-level headings like H2 and H3 to break down content further.

There are six levels of heading tags but, generally, if you go below H3 or H4, you may need to rethink the structure of your page and find a neater way of putting it together. In general, H1, H2 and H3 and the only headings that have an impact on SEO.

Try to include some of your keywords in the headings where they fit.

5. Optimise your images

Images create more interest on your page and can help break up chunks of text. Before you even add them to your site, though, you should resize them so they’re not too large or heavy. Big images will considerably slow down your website, which creates a poor user experience.

Examples of good and bad SEO image filenames

You should also create a filename for your image that describes the image in 3-5 words separated by hyphens. And, once uploaded, describe the image further with the alt tag. Ideally, both the alt tag and filename should include a keyword.

Read more about optimising images on your website.

6. Add an SEO Title and Meta description

The SEO Title and Meta description of a page isn’t shown on the page itself, but provides important information to search engines within the code of a website. They’re often used to display titles and descriptions in search results, and can impact your ranking.

Most common website builders, plus WordPress SEO plugins such as Yoast, make it quite easy to add this information to your site. All you need to do is create good text for it.

The SEO Title should generally be the title of your page, and often includes the business name too. It generally needs to be 60 characters or less.

The Meta description provides a space where you can tell users and search engines more about your page. It’s a mini sales pitch as well as a description of what can be found on your page, and it can be helpful to include a Call to Action. You should only use around 155-160 characters, though, so keep it short and to the point!

Remember to include your keywords as far as possible, too.

7. Add your contact details

Contact details and social media icons in website footer

While it may seem obvious, a lot of sites fail to include this information. While that’s frustrating to customers who want to get in touch, it can also negatively affect your SEO. Contact details help verify your website as belonging to a bonafide business. You can include them on either a dedicated page or in the footer of your site and you should cover:

  1. Business name
  2. Business address
  3. Telephone number
  4. Email address

8. Link to your social sites

Though your social media presence doesn’t directly affect SEO, it can work well with good SEO practices to boost traffic and send the right signals to Google. By sharing your social media links on your website, you tell search engines they’re linked and can build your audience by encouraging users to follow you.

LinkedIn is also particularly useful for building credibility, so if you have a LinkedIn page or profile, remember to include that too.

9. Add an XML sitemap

The XML sitemap for the Charlotte Davies SEO website

An XML  sitemap is a breakdown of the structure of your website. It lists all your pages – and often media items – and shows search engines how everything is connected. WordPress plugins such as Yoast will automatically generate a sitemap for you, and other common website builders such as Wix will also create one for you.

If your website builder doesn’t automatically include a site map, you can use a service such as XML-sitemaps.com to generate one.

10. Install Google Analytics

Even if you don’t understand or use Google Analytics, it’s important to have it connected to your site. It tracks information such as website traffic and user behaviour and can be extremely useful for growing your business. If you don’t use it now, you may do so in the future and installing it straight away means that you will have historic data to compare.

Google Analytics 4

You will first need to create a Google Analytics account, which is free. Then follow the instructions for creating and connecting Analytics to your website. WordPress’s Yoast plugin (or similar) and website builders generally make this easy for you, simply requiring you to enter a simple code instead of full code.

If your website builder doesn’t have this simple option, you may need to get the help of a developer or someone tech-savvy to install the code for you.

Read my guide to setting up Google Analytics.

11. Start collecting reviews

Start collecting reviews early and you can build up user trust and a good reputation. You can use Google Business Manager, Facebook, LinkedIn, TripAdvisor, or any number of other sites and then display them on your website through the use of a plugin or widget. Google and other search engines can recognise the value of good reviews and boost your ranking as a result.

Charlotte Davies rating on Google My Business

Conclusion

Even as an absolute beginner to SEO, there are lots of easy steps you can take to help your website appear in search results. Whether you follow all of these steps or just pick a few to focus on, you’ll be on your way to SEO success.

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