Lesson 7: Introduction to SEO

Learn how to use Search Engine Optimization to increase your online visibility.

SEO is a variety of practices both on your site and offsite that increase the chances people will land on your site through a Google or other search engine query. There’s so much to say about Search Engine Optimization, and if you want to gain traction and visibility on the internet, it’s crucial, no matter what kind of website you run. 

Google loves a fast website

Let’s start with overall website health. One of the top metrics Google looks for when ranking websites is page speed. They know visiting a slow website is a painful experience, so they will demote sites that make visitors wait. Make sure you are hosted with a fast web host, and that you’re not doing things that can slow down your site. This includes hosting large files on your site. I recommend hosting videos on another platform and embedding them on your site, and always compress and reduce the size of your photos before you upload them to your site. Huge photos are often unnecessary anyways and imagine your poor end-user visiting your site on their phone. Not only will it take a while to load, but it will also eat up their data. 

Index your site

You want to make sure that your site is indexed, and that Google can access your sitemap. The Yoast SEO plugin can help control those settings.

By setting the metadata on your site, you can communicate to people scrolling a Search Engine Ranking Page or SERP, what your page is about and entice them to click. You can also control your URL permalink parameters, and I recommend using the simplest form available. 

permalink structure in WordPress

Optimizing posts and pages

When creating a page, here are some things to look out for to really optimize your page.

Keyword research

First, and this goes for posts and pages alike, you’ll want to narrow in one some keywords that will be effective in representing your content, and matching up with user’s search queries. Here’s a useful guide on keyword research.

Let’s say, for example, you’re blogging about biking in Montreal, sharing bike paths, blogging about scenic bike routes, cyclist bylaw updates, and reviewing bike shops. Your blog keywords might include “cycling, biking in Montreal, and bike paths” and you’ll want to make sure those appear in your metadata throughout your site. For specific blog posts, you’ll want to zoom in on keywords specific to that blog post content, like “best 10k bike rides in Montreal” and “scenic bike paths”. You can research keywords using special tools like SEMrush or even just by googling and seeing what the top suggestions are.

The balance is to find keywords and key phrases that have a high search volume, meaning lots of people are looking for those words, and low competition, meaning, not many blogs are ranking for those searches. You might not find a balance on both of those parameters for every post, but it can help to break out in a specific niche. 

Follow Yoast’s suggestions

With your keywords in mind, you can start writing the content of your post or page. With Yoast, you’ll get writing recommendations, like writing a minimum of 400 words, keeping the active voice, breaking up your content with headers, and using your keywords throughout the text. Make sure you place extra importance on using keywords in your title and paragraph headers. On the web, these are referred to as H1, H2, and H3. 

yoast prompts

Optimize your images

Your images can also be optimized for search engines. First, make sure they aren’t too big when uploaded and make sure the file name reflects the content. You should also make sure your images have alt-tags, which you can add in WordPress. These give an extra description to your images that Google can read and index in Google image searches and also make the description available to screen readers and other accessibility tools for assisted web browsing. On that note, if you’re tempted to make all your website content beautifully laid out content in image files, don’t do this. Keep that content as additional resources and for Pinterest. Make sure the main content of each page is text, or else you’ll lose all that searchability. 

Link to other posts from your site and other sites

In your post, you’ll want to make sure you’re linking to other posts from your own blog, as well as reputable resources on other websites and blogs. The reason is that building that network of backlinks with websites with high domain authority, meaning, a good reputation in Google’s eyes, will boost your own site too. What’s even better is if other high-ranking websites link to you as well. This backlink strategy is really powerful, which is why blog owners will often hire third-party services to reach out to get links to their site added to other blogs. As a blog owner, I get about 1 email like this a day. It might be worth your time to do some of this outreach too, if you want to boost your Google ranking.

Steady wins the race

Remember that website traffic doesn’t happen overnight, but there are some things you can do to speed up your site’s discoverability. Start sharing your blog on social media! If you already have friends and followers there, this is the best way to get more eyeballs on your content. Building Pinterest into your blogging strategy is also a great way to drive traffic. In fact, Pinterest is the second biggest source of traffic to my blog. Experiment with joining Facebook groups that allow content sharing and other forums. 

With things like Jetpack Stats, you can track which blog posts are the most popular and build off of what’s working to keep producing great content that people want to read. 

One final piece of advice: don’t get too caught up in SEO to the point of zapping all the joy out of your website. Remember the reason you started your site in the first place and never lose sight of that.