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SEO Made Simple : The 2020 Guide

First of all, a fair heads up, this article is a introduction to what is SEO. It is connected to 3 other articles that go more in depth when you are ready.
I have referenced them at the end as well as in the side bar for easy navigation.
I have included in this article over 10 years of my experience in SEO which I have successfully and consistently applied with the major employers and clients I worked for over the years.
I included what worked, still works and what SEO methods, tips and techniques are fresh of the press and will give you great results for 2020 and beyond.

So,  the question is, are you ready to spend 30 minutes now or would you rather spend months if not years learning SEO through long, painful, time consuming and expensive mistakes?

No brainer right? But then again if you know me you know it is all about getting the best ROI out of all your Digital efforts and how best grow your online revenue.
So let’s get started.
Again and again, this is concentrating on getting organic traffic to your brand new or existing site.
Don’t get me wrong, Paid advertising has its place in Digital advertising especially for big sites with hundreds of thousands of visitors a month.
I am a fan myself of PPC advertising because it is intent as well as performance based and does not cost you anything if no-one clicks on your Ad but for the most part, I consider Paid advertising to be more a band aid or at the very least a short term solution.
So if you are in the game for a quick in and out, this article might not be for you.
On the other hand, if you want to build relatively quickly a durable, sustainable and scalable source of income, please read on!
In this article I am going to the main think you need to know about SEO, what key ranking factors Google uses as well as my personal keyword research strategy.

So first, let’s define SEO.

What is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and is the process of increasing the quality and quantity of website traffic by increasing the visibility of a website or a web page to users of a web search engine such as Google. SEO excludes all paid results as well as direct traffic and the purchase of paid placement.

What are search engines?

Search engines are algorithms that attempt to provide the most relevant answer to your query online. They go through the web ( this process is called “crawling”) and assess the content posted (Videos, Images, text, etc…) by using hundreds a various ranking factors. This process of ranking the content by relevance is called “indexing”.

I will be sharing later some of the most important ranking factors for search engines.

Search engine results pages are often referred to as “SERPs” and contain a combination of both organic and paid results since search engines make their money from advertising.

In order to sell more advertising, the search engines ultimate goal is to answer as well as possible searchers’ queries in an attempt to make them come back and spend more time on the SERPs and therefore see more advertising.

How do search engines crawling and indexing work?

Crawling is the content discovery process followed by search engines.
They send out multiple robots online (also referred to as spiders or crawlers) to identify new and up-dated pieces of content.
These bots start on a few web pages and then follow the links on these pages to discover new pages/ URLs.

The identified new content is added to their database also referred to as index.

Why is SEO important?

SEO is so important because over 97% of online experiences start by a search.
This is because a search appears way more credible to searchers than paid advertising.
In fact, according to a research by MOZ, SEO has over 20X more traffic opportunity than Paid Per Click advertising ( also referred to as PPC) on both mobile and desktop.

In addition to this, and although search engines are getting more and more sophisticated, they still require our help for their “crawling and indexing“ process in order to dis-play more relevant information in SERPs.

What are the 3 parts of SEO?

3 main categories exist in SEO :

what is SEO

These 3 categories are looked at by Google to determine your position in the SERPs ( Search Engine Result Pages).

I will start by explaining how Google works and ranks you on the SERPs, then cover the importance of On-page SEO, Technical SEO and finally Off-page SEO.

"White hat" vs "Black hat" SEO

White hat SEO refers to best practices and strategies aligned with the search engines practices of providing relevant content to searches queries.

On the other hand, “black hat” SEO refers to techniques and strategies aiming at fooling the search engines in order to appear on SERPs even if irrelevant content.

Obviously, search engines are on the hunt for these practices and have and will continue to shut down entire sites as a penalty for using these practices.

Stay away from these practices and if you hire agencies, make sure they follow the rules.

What search engines are available?

There are many search engines available but Google dominates by far the market with over 85% market share.

Another known one is Bing by Microsoft.

No matter who they are, the follow similar guidelines and principles.

Search engines guidelines

Basic principles

  • Write your content for the searcher not the search engine.
  • Focus on delivering quality content that answer clearly the request/question.
  • Make your site is engaging and content easy to find, this is often referred to as “user ex-perience – UX”.
  • Ensure your pages load quickly.( Also part of UX)
  • Be on social media as social influence has an impact on your ranking in the long run.
  • Image SEO practices are also valuable. ( check out my article on On-Page SEO for more details.)
  • Use Keywords in URL structures.

Things to avoid – Black Hat practices

  • Do not exchange links with other sites that are not relevant. This is referred to as Link schemes. They ultimately disappoint the user and is being reprimanded by search engines.
  • Automatically generated content.
  • Duplicate content.
  • Keyword stuffing.
  • Cloaking which is the practice of showing different things to search engines and users.

How Google works : Key Ranking Factors

Several years ago, Google hired thousands of individuals to visit websites and answer a survey about how these websites were matching the search as well as many other criteria.
Google ended up publishing a document for their quality raters called the Quality Raters guidelines (QRG) that is Googles’ criteria for what a website needs to have to match the search as their focus is to deliver as accurately as possible what the person searching is looking for.
Of course, as you would expect from Google, this document has already been updated multiple times and I will cover here the latest modifications and the most important factors here.

Having said this, if you want to make this article longer to read, you can also go on my website to check out the complete version of the QRG document from Google.

Ranking Factor #1 : Relevance

I know it seems obvious right, but you would not imagine how many companies publish content based on what they believe is worth writing or publishing about versus what individual actually want to see in the same respective field.
For example, an insurance company might publish a price list with all the different coverage options they are offering when most of the searches is about comparing prices between various providers in which case a comparison tool might be way more useful and therefore bringing much more traffic, not to mention that this tool would also bring recurring visitors.
So the lesson here is to be relevant to the search.
You must create content that matches a search, if your content does not answer a question, Google will not care.
And I know you might want to talk about how great your vacation was last week in Cabo but truly if no one cares, no one will search for it and your content will fail like millions of others each year.
The way to understand what your audience is looking for is to run a keyword research.
And there are two methods you can use, one using a keyword research tool and one more manual. They have pros and cons and I will cover them both below.

What is a keyword research?

Keyword research is the identification of strategic keywords that must be used in your website’s content to answer searcher’s questions. It is the keystone of strategic SEO and helps better understand what your target audience is searching for and how it is searching for content. Its purpose is also to help search engines index your content.

Keyword research is a data based process that help you understand:

  • What is the intent of your audience?
  • How many people are looking for an information?
  • In what format does your audience need the content?

Before you start your keyword research

It is a common mistake for companies to bypass the keyword research stage in order to save time and money because they believe they know what keywords they should be using.

Truth is, what you want to rank for and what your audience is looking for are often very different.

Running a keyword research will ensure you do no waste your time and money to generate content based on keywords that your audience is not interested in.

This way, you can pinpoint the exact information your audience is looking for, deliver the correct answer and rank higher.

Keyword Research method #1 : Finding keywords with a keyword research tool

There are many tools you can use and most of them have free limited access for you yo try. You can find a complete list in my tool box section of my website.

Since you know your business, you probably have a few ideas of keywords that you would like to rank for.

For example, the products or services you offer is a great place to start for keywords ( also referred to as Seed keywords).

By entering these keywords into the research tool, you will uncover other related key-words, topics as well as questions.

For example, if your business is in “Oil paintings”, you would do a search on these seed keywords.

And would discover highly relevant terms and questions such as:

  • Oil painting
  • Oil based paint
  • How to clean oil paint brushes
  • How to oil paint
keyword research suggestions

You will notice that each keyword variation and question is associated with a search volume that indicate how many searches have been done within the period.

Before you get excited and decide to select all the keywords with high search volume, pay attention to the following factor.

At the top of the page there is also a keyword difficulty index that indicates how difficult it would be for you to rank if you were to use this keyword on your site.

The keyword difficulty relates to how competitive it is to appear on the SERPs for these keywords.

As a rule of thumb, the higher the search volume, the higher the keyword difficulty and therefore the amount of work to get ranked in a good position.

The goal is to appear on page 1 on SERPs and for that matter, not only on page 1 but in the top 3 positions.

Why the top 3 positions you ask?

Simple, the top 3 positions gathered over 75% of the clicks alone!

It is important to note that high volume keywords in addition to be more competitive and difficult to rank for, are also indicative of an ambiguous intent.

If you target them, you are taking the risk to bring people to your site where your content might not match their search or provide the answer they are looking for.

So, you might be tempted to go with very easy keywords.

Unfortunately, they often come with very little search volumes (At least according to these keyword search tools, more about this further down).

So, the soft spot here is to target highly specific, lower competition search terms that we call long-tail keywords.

What are long-tail keywords?

Long-tail keywords are three to five keyword phrases which are very specific to the product or service you are selling. Long-tail keywords get less search traffic, but usually have a higher conversion value because whenever a customer uses a highly specific search phrase, they tend to be looking for exactly what they are actually going to buy.

In fact, long-tail keywords gather 70% of all search volumes and are much less competitive, hence why your strategy should be built around them.

What is the best Long-tail keyword strategy?

No, now you have your extensive list of keywords, how to you rank them to know where to start?

There is no one answer fits all here but, here are a few ideas that you might want to consider :

Keywords by competitor

In this case you can prioritize the keywords that your competitors do not rank for and push at the bottom of your list the ones they already rank for.

Regional keyword strategy

You can assess the interest for your keywords by regions to adjust the terminology you use by region and therefore increase your targeting.
For this, you can use Google trends, which is a free tool to use.

For example, a “truck” would be more suitable in the US than a “lorry” that would work far better for the UK.

Keywords strategy by season

This is where Google trend is again very useful as some keywords might become popular at certain times of the year which should guide you to create relevant content at the right time

Understanding the user intent

This is where, the suggested “questions” in your keyword search tool come into play.

They identify clearly the intent of the user searching for your keyword and can provide many different routes for content creation.

In the example we took previously you can see that “How to clean oil paint brushes” and “How to oil paint” are two very different intent yet related to the see keywords.

These keyword questions are extremely specific and therefore very valuable and will convert higher if you provide a suitable answer through your content.

Most often you will find that the most popular ones start by : “how”, “what” and “why”

Keyword Research method #2 : Finding keywords manually

Keyword research tools are used widely both for paid advertising and SEO purposes alike.
They are intended to give you a search volume on search terms for you to see if they are popular or if you would be wasting your time writing about them.
SEMrush,MOZ, AHrefs or Spyfu are such tools and you can check a more exhaustive list of these tools in my toolbox.
But these tools are not perfect though and you need to know their weaknesses to make sure you do not use them blindly :
First, know that these tools are based on keywords and not semantics. And Semantics is really what Google cares about.
Second, these tools do not have access to Googles database and have created their own and these databases are insignificant in size compares to the size of Google’s.
And because their database are very small, they used extrapolation which means that they are only able to assess with any kind of accuracy, the search volumes of keywords with very high search volume.
And these are traditionally the kind of keywords you want to avoid since they are already so competitive.
Also, I countless times, created content that the keyword research tools told me I would be wasting my time on but yet, managed to prove them wrong 90% of the time and this by using the method I am about to share with you.
This method is truly different and really identifies keywords that these research tools undervalue and yet bring significant traffic every time which means also that you have very little competition on these since most people use the tools telling them there is no volume to be found there.
Once you read this technique, you will be tempted to completely ignore it !
Because an effective and efficient solution can not possibly be that simple, but yet it is and there is no need to spend thousands of dollars on softwares to do this.

Here’s how to run a quality keyword research :

4 Steps for a quality keyword research

Step 1: Run a search for your keyword in the Google search box.

Let’s say as an example,  I am doing a website on oil painting.If I want to know what the biggest searches are online, Google has autosuggest, which are the suggestions that appear son screen as you start typing your search.

These suggestions are best guesses by Google to help you get to your search as fast as possible in order to give you a great user experience.

The awesome thing about these suggestions is that they are actually based on Google’s enormous database unlike other tools that extrapolate and may end up suggesting random words..

Step 2: Select the search suggested by Google that seems the closest to you.

Let’s say to continue with the example of the “oil painting tips” is very relevant as we want to become thought leader in the subject matter.

Step 3: Now we have selected the suggestion, scroll down all the way to the bottom of the page where Google has all the related searches.
This should look like this :

Step 4: Check each of these relates searches.
If the content is provided by major websites, the competition is high and not worth looking into.
But If the search gives you a list of Forums which is the lowest form of content, or articles that do not exactly answer the question, that is an opportunity for you to create superior content on a subject that generates a lot of volume.
And this is how you can determine the topics that are going to be relevant to people searches and assess competition.
And I know using the other tools I mentioned previously seem to be more attractive because they seem quicker but the difference of quality between using tools that extrapolate data and a process that uses actual data is like night and day although a little more manual.
So that there is no confusion, I, myself have used Ahrefs, SEMRush, MOZ, SPyfu and others and these tools are great.
I would recommend them for links analysis, technical SEO or even analyzing competing Ads if you are doing paid advertising and much more but not for keyword research analysis.

Ranking Factor #2 : User Experience (UX)

What is User Experience?

User experience (UX) is a person’s emotions and attitudes about using a particular product, system or service. It includes the practical, experiential, affective, meaningful and valuable aspects of human–computer interaction and product ownership.User experience is important because it aims to provide positive experiences that keep a user loyal to your product or brand.

It is basically looking at how long visitors stay on your page, what content is being consumed, for how long, how they navigate on your site etc…

All of that to see if the search has been satisfied by the website Google provided from the Search.

And all of that is rather easy for Google since they have access to so many data sources such as Google Analytics, Google Chrome, Android devices and many more.

Ranking Factor #3 : E-A-T

What is E-A-T?

E-A-T stand for Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness and  is a factor measured, amongst others, by backlinks.

It is important to note that the E-A-T factor applies independently to the website and to the author of the website or content creator.

You can find in the Off-page SEO : the 2020 Guide how to establish a strong EAT for a website.

Also,  keep in mind the E-A-T has been at the forefront of Google’s communication lately and has taken an even more important role in its algorithm.

What are Quality Backlinks?

A quality backlink is a link placed on a website that is considered by Google to be an authority on a specific subject.

When this quality website links back to you for a subject it is considered to be an authority on, it passes some of this authority to your own website. It is a little like a battery giving you a little of its juice.

When you have plenty of websites/batteries with high authority on a specific subject linking back to you, it piles up and ends up making your website an authority as well.

It is a little like a vote of confidence from your peers, a certificate of excellence or a proof that the content on your site can be trusted.

It is important to know that although Domain Authority (DA) is a critical factor in SEO, it also has major impact on your paid campaigns.

As an example, if you decide to run a Google PPC campaign, your Cost Per Click would decrease as your DA gets higher for the matching search term.

If you want to know more about this, checkout my Google Ads Made Simple: The 2020 Step-by-Step Guide article on my website.

There are many views on the right backlink strategy, and I will share my personal favorite in the Off-Page SEO Made simple : The 2020 guide.

You will see, not your average cup of Joe, even chocking at times but damm powerful !

In addition to these 3 ranking factors, there are many others that are considered like the images used on the sites or the outbound links which are the sites you are linking to from your site.

For example, if you are linking to site that only have obsolete content, your site might be considered to be obsolete well by Google or if you link to spammy sites, Google might think that your site is also spammy.

Social signals, showing if there is a lot of social activity on social platforms related to your site of even the structure of your site itself meaning how easy it is to navigate or are the various pieces of content are connected with each other.

Now we have covered a few important ranking factors on Google, let’s discuss how long it takes to be ranked by Google.

How long does it take to be ranked by Google?

If you do not want to be disheartened when you create content, read this :
From the many new websites I worked on that contain great content it takes around 8 months to see your traffic shoot up.That’s how long it takes from Google first assessment of your site to other finding and linking to your content to achieve critical mass and get good traffic.
If you expect earlier results organically, I am sorry to say that you might turn grey quickly my friends!
Of course, you could accelerate this with some paid advertising but you will have to decide if this is worth the investment and I can tell you that if your website is not set to actually sell a product or service at that stage, you are taking a huge risk to loose money quickly in doing this in that order.
If you have a blog, 8 months is usually the mark when it really start to grow rapidly and this all the way to the 18 months mark in some cases.
So the lesson here is that if you embark on a journey to create a new website and create relevant and superior content to grow to organic traffic, keep in mind that the commitment will be at least 12 months long.

So, That’s it for this introduction to SEO.

Check out the related articles if you are interested in knowing more.


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About Gilles Argivier

picture of Gilles Argivier standing with crossed arms

He is an International marketing expert and visionary entrepreneur.

For over 20 years, he has been entrusted by world class organizations as a driver of top and bottom line growth through transformational business development, brand’s sustainable strategy, product innovation and powerful online customer centric experiences

He owns and operates his marketing consultancy firm out of the US.

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