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What is SEO? Full guide

You’ll get the most out of this guide if your desire to learn search engine optimization (SEO) is only surpassed by your willingness to practice and test concepts.

This guide is designed to describe all the main aspects of SEO, from finding terms and phrases (keywords) that can generate qualified traffic to your website, to making your site search engine friendly, building links and marketing your site’s unique value.

The world of search engine optimization is complex and constantly changing, but you can easily understand the basics, and even a small amount of SEO knowledge can make a big difference. Free SEO education is also widely available on the web, including guides like this one! (Whooo!)

Combine this information with some skills and you’ll be on your way to becoming a savvy SEO.

The basics of search engine optimization

Have you heard of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? It is a theory of psychology that prioritizes the most basic human needs (such as air, water, and physical safety) over more advanced needs (such as esteem and social belonging). The theory is that you cannot achieve the above needs without making sure that the more basic needs are met first. Love doesn’t matter if you don’t have food.

Our founder, Rand Fishkin, created a similar pyramid to explain how people should go about SEO, and we affectionately call it “Mozlow’s SEO hierarchy of needs.”
In this beginner’s guide, we can follow these seven steps to successful SEO:

Crawl accessibility so engines can read your website
Compelling content that answers the searcher’s query
Keyword optimized to attract searchers and engines
Great user experience including a fast loading speed and compelling UX
Share-worthy content that gets links, citations, and amplification
Title, URL, and description to get high CTR in rankings
Snippet/schema markup to get noticed in SERPs
We spend time in each of these areas throughout this guide, but we wanted to introduce it here because it offers a look at how we built the guide as a whole.

Explore the chapters:

 

QUICK START SEO GUIDE
Hurry up to catch up

From zero to hero with our step-by-step refresher on the basics of setting up your site for SEO success.

CHAPTER 1: SEO 101

What is it, and why is it important?

 

For true beginners. Learn what search engine optimization is, why it’s important, and all the basics you need to know to get started right. Download your free Quick Start Worksheet.

CHAPTER 2: HOW SEARCH ENGINES WORK – CRAWLING, INDEXING AND RANKING
First, you have to show up.

If search engines literally can’t find you, none of the rest of your work matters. This chapter shows you how their robots crawl the Internet to find your site and add it to their indexes.
CHAPTER 3: KEYWORD RESEARCH
Understand what your audience wants to find.

Our strategy targets users first because that’s what search engines respond to. This chapter covers keyword research and other techniques to determine what your audience is looking for.

CHAPTER 4: ON-SITE OPTIMIZATION
Use your research to craft your message.

This is a heavy chapter, covering optimized design, user experience, information architecture, and all the ways you can adjust how you publish content to maximize its visibility and resonance in your audience.

CHAPTER 5: TECHNICAL SEO

Basic technical knowledge will help you optimize your site for search engines and establish credibility with developers.

By implementing responsive design, robot directives, and other technical elements like structured data and meta tags, you can tell Google (a robot itself) what your site is about. It helps to rank for the right things.
CHAPTER 6: LINK BUILDING & ESTABLISHING AUTHORITY
Turn up the volume.

Once you have everything set up, it’s time to expand your influence by getting attention and links from other sites and influencers.

CHAPTER 7: MEASURING, PRIORITIZING, AND SEO PRACTICE
Set yourself up for success.

An important part of any SEO strategy is knowing what works (and what doesn’t), adjusting your strategy as you go.

THE SEO GLOSSARY
Understand key terms and phrases.

Learning SEO can sometimes feel like learning another language, with all the jargon and industry terms you’re expected to know. This chapter-by-chapter glossary will help you understand all the new words.
SEO is not difficult, but it can take time to master many of the more advanced areas. In the meantime, you’ll want to make sure you’re set up with all the important SEO fundamentals so you can better capitalize on your results sooner rather than later, using this Bonus SEO Quick Start Guide.

Fortunately, when you’re starting out, there are basic skills you can do to cover the basics. Following these simple steps will help you avoid common SEO pitfalls, and set you on the path to success. They will also provide a starting point to learn the basics, so you can increase your SEO traffic levels to new heights down the road.

We’ll cover these points in more depth throughout the Beginner’s Guide to SEO (and other places on Moz) but for now, let’s get started.

1. Gather Your SEO Data

To do SEO you really only need 3 things to get started: a website, your brain, and data.

Hopefully, you already have the first two, so let’s make sure you have the right data.

Data is everywhere in SEO, from visitor analytics to keyword research, and especially link building. Your most important data will come from your website itself. To this end, we recommend making sure the following data sources are set up.

2. Check How Your Site Is Indexed

To be eligible to appear in search results, your site’s pages must first be “indexed” by search engines. Indexing basically means that a search engine crawls a page and makes a record of its content. (Sometimes search engines can rank a page even though it can’t crawl it, but this is rarer.)

3. Target Specific Keywords

The magic of SEO is that people can find your content at the exact moment they are looking for an answer using a search engine. If your content provides an above-average, targeted answer to a specific search query, you have a good chance of ranking and getting a click.

But first, you need to know exactly what people are looking for, e.g. the “keywords” they use.

Beyond that, you want to know if there are enough people looking for something to make it worth your time to create content, and how hard it is to actually rank for those keywords.

4. Optimize Your Search Appearance

When you rank in search, Google (and other search engines) take elements of your page to display in search results. These elements will not only influence how many people click on your result, but in some cases, they can also influence how well you rank.

Optimizing your appearance in search is an important part of SEO. Here’s a quick breakdown of the main elements you should consider: title tags, meta descriptions, breadcrumbs, rich snippets, and favicons.

5. Create Content Like a Boss

SEO is more than just putting keywords on your page (a lot more!) How your page is structured, how it relates to the query, and how it meets the user’s goal helps you rank and attract the visitors.

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