SEO 101: Part 1 (Content)

SEO what? This is the first of article of a series that will walk beginners through the most important SEO fundamentals and give you simple, actionable steps you can take to bring more organic visibility to your site.
Written by
Jennifer Chu
Published on
January 29, 2024

With over 5 billion searches performed every day, search engine optimization (SEO) stands as the guiding beacon for businesses seeking to enhance their online presence. Understanding and mastering SEO is akin to learning the rules of the road for online visibility and success. Being 'seen' now also means being 'searchable'.

This article is part 1 of a 4-part SEO series. In each part, we'll walk through the each of the four pillars of SEO and provide simple, actionable steps for anyone new to the field looking to increase their organic visibility:

  1. Content
  2. User Experience
  3. Authority
  4. Technical SEO

What is SEO

Picture SEO as the recipe that major search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo use to rank websites in their search results. It’s a collection of known elements and strategies that, when combined effectively, can enhance your website's relevance and authority.

SEO is the practice of improving a website to help it rank higher and more effectively in organic search results. The core concepts include on-page and off-page optimizations, technical enhancements, and content creation.

Search Engine Ranking Factors

Search algorithms consider hundreds of factors when ranking websites. While search engines try to keep these factors confidential, we know some factors to be more significant than others. Let’s delve into the key pillars that can impact your search engine rankings:

  • Content: Content quality and how well the content matches a user's search intent.
  • User Experience: How easy it is for a user to navigate through and interact with a website.
  • Authority: The credibility or trustworthiness of a website and its content.
  • Technical SEO: How technically sound is a website so that it can be crawled and “read” by Google

Addressing all four pillars will get your website higher rankings and more organic traffic.

1. Content

Content is queen, and high-quality content is SEO gold. It should be engaging, informative, and provide value to your audience. In addition to writing for your users, you are also writing for SEO, which means creating content that is both appealing and discoverable.

Keyword Research

Keywords are the foundation of any SEO strategy. They are the words and phrases that describe the content of your website and are what your target audience will use to find you.

Keywords connect searchers to websites. Crafting an effective keyword strategy means understanding your audience and their search behaviors. There are a number of free tools, like Google Keyword Planner, to more advanced paid platforms, like Ahrefs and SEMrush. And, don’t forget the old-school ways to conducting keyword research — talking with you customers, conducting surveys, looking at what help questions come up most, etc.

Search volume vs search intent

There are two general types of keywords:

  1. Head Terms:  Search phrases that are 1-3 words in length, topically more general in nature, and individually receive large volumes of traffic
  2. Long-Tail Keywords: Search phrases that are 3+ words in length, more specific, and receive a smaller volumes of traffic.

Here’s an example.  If you’re in the business of interior design, you may be tempted to target the keyword “interior designer” which has 33,100 monthly searches - that’s a lot of eyeballs! But, that’s also a lot of competition - a quick Google search yields results include how to become an interior designer, what is interior design, and a school for interior design. It’s clear that these users may also not be looking for interior designers and thus less likely to convert on your site.

Now let’s look at the term “how much does an interior designer cost”. The monthly search volume is much lower at 1,900, but a search on SEMRush tells me that the Keyword Difficulty (KD), or competition, is much lower. By targeting this long-tail keyword, I have a better shot at creating a web page that ranks highly and attracts users that will convert into a customer.

Source: Moz

On-page Optimizations

The three most important ranking factors on a page are:

  1. Title Tag
  2. H1 Tag
  3. Meta Description
Title Tag

Title tags describe the topic of a page and appear in search results as the clickable headline for users.

title tag in SERP and browser tab

They appear like this in your page’s HTML:

<title>How much do interior designers cost?</title>

Title Tags are THE most important on-page ranking factor.  Optimizing your Title Tag will have a high impact on your page’s SEO performance.

Title Tag Best Practices

  • Title Tags should feature the highest priority keyword in the beginning
  • Title Tags should be unique — no other pages on your site should share the same Title Tag. Google may perceive this as duplicate content, and your rankings can suffer.
  • All pages should have a Title Tag
  • Title Tags should be between 30-65 characters long

Note for SquareSpace users: you'll find this title in Page Settings > SEO where it's called "SEO Title (optional)

H1 Tags

Heading Tags outline the context or hierarchy of a page. They typically follow a top-down heading tag hierarchy, going from H1 to H6.

H1 Tags are the main header of a page or the title that you would see on a page (not to be confused with Title Tags which appear in the browser tab).  

seo h1 tag

H1 Tags appear in the HTML as:

<h1>Article Title</h1>

They are the second-most important ranking factor for on-page SEO.

H1 Tag Best Practices:

  • Each page should feature only one H1 Tag. Any more, and you run into the issue of duplicate content.
  • Supplemental heading tags (H2, H3, H4) should be used to contextually support heading tags above them although they are not required
  • Optimizing heading tags to include target keywords and follow atop-down heading tag hierarchy will help individual pagesincrease ranking signals for high priority search phrases.

Note for SquareSpace users: In blog article pages, the main title of an article is the H1 tag. There are options to assign an H1 tag in the rest of the article body, but as mentioned, there should only be one H1 tag on each page.

Meta Description

Meta Descriptions, like Title Tags, appear in the search results and summarizes the page content.  While search engines do not use meta description text as a ranking factor, well-written meta descriptions can influence click-through rates, which can influence rankings.

meta description of Best Mom Jokes on SERP

Meta Description Best Practices:

  • Meta descriptions should feature high priority keywords (which often appear bolded in the search results) and describe the content of the page
  • Descriptions should be between 70 characters and 150 characters
  • Include a compelling description, offer and/or CTA — anything that will entice the user to click
  • An empty or inaccurate meta description may result in Google pulling other text from the article that may or may not be fitting

Note for SquareSpace users: You can specify the meta description in Page Settings > SEO where it is called "SEO Description (optional)".

Authorship

It's not 100% clear how much authorship matters when it comes to Google, but I would venture to say that, in an era of exploding AI content and wide spread of misinformation, an author's authority will be increasingly important ranking factors for search engines. Maybe not for all content, but certainly any articles that require deep subject matter expertise or showcase original research.

Authorship Best Practices

  • Attribute the article to the writer, whether an individual or an entity
  • Establish author profiles, including their credentials and areas of expertise. These profiles should be linked to their articles.
  • Cite links to sources of information used in the content piece

Here's an interesting study on author names and how much they matter for SEO.

Other On-Page Optimizations

Title, H1 and Meta Description are the on-page optimizations with the highest return on effort.  There are many other optimizations that can be done depending on your business and whether you have the resources to get them all done.  Here is a short list of other optimizations to keep in mind and try to include when you’re creating content:

  • Anchor text
    Anchor text is the visible, clickable text in a hyperlink. For example, when linking to the mom jokes page like this, we use “mom jokes” as the anchor text. Search engines use anchor text as a signal to understand the context of the destination landing page. Include your priority keywords in anchor texts.
  • Alt text
    Alt text was original intended for people who are visually impaired and rely on the help of screen readers which can read aloud the alt text. Alt text also allows you to describe to the search engine what an image.  If your website relies on images to convey your offering or your audience frequently searches on Google Images to discover offerings like yours, then alt text may be more important for your SEO strategy.

Up next, we'll get into how UX plays a role in SEO.

Follow our beginner SEO 101 series

  1. Content
  2. User Experience
  3. Authority
  4. Technical SEO

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