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What is SEO? The step-by-step guide

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SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is one of the best marketing levers. However, it is often experienced as a complicated, even impossible, task as it has many parameters. However, with the right method and regular work, SEO is within reach of all companies. Whether you are an entrepreneur, marketing manager, or new to SEO, you will discover all the knowledge you need to master to get started in this complete guide.

What will you discover in this guide on SEO?

Here are the six sections of our complete guide on practices related to search engine optimization. In this guide, we reveal the basics to you, but there is always more to discover. So, here are the essentials of SEO for beginners.

  1. First, you will discover a definition of SEO and an explanation of the importance of SEO on the pages of your website.
  2. Then we will see how search engines work. Google is undoubtedly the most used tool in the world. It is essential to know how it works to take advantage of it.
  3. Natural referencing is the next step. SEO techniques have evolved enormously since their beginnings. Apply good practices and avoid doing prehistoric SEO.
  4. On-site and off-site optimization (internal/outside the site): do these terms give you migraine? However, they represent the keystone of natural referencing. We explain everything to you, from definitions to techniques to adopt.
  5. The key elements of on-page optimization: let’s explore your site’s optimization in-depth. We will see what elements to create or modify to observe the first results.
  6. Finally, we give you the keys to the SEO action plan. How to plan your natural SEO strategy? How to measure the impact of the actions you put in place? You will then have all the knowledge to launch your strategy today.

Anyone can understand search engine optimization, so let’s make everything clear together.

Definition and importance of SEO

Let’s start with the first section and look at the definition:

“Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a set of techniques aimed at promoting search engines’ understanding of the theme and content of one or all pages of a website. The objective of this process is to guide the positioning of a web page in the search results of the engines on keywords corresponding to the site’s main themes.”

Search engine optimization is, therefore, a set of actions that aim to promote a site’s ranking in the so-called “natural” search results, as opposed to so-called “paid” advertising links.

At the heart of SEO are, therefore, search engines. In other words: as long as Google delivers natural search results, there will be SEO.

Techniques to promote SEO are evolving at the pace of search engine updates. The latter is constantly developing improvements to offer Internet users the best possible results. SEO is, therefore, not frozen: it tries to adapt quickly and efficiently to the changing requirements of search engines.

SEO means allowing Google to understand that your site’s content is best qualified to meet Internet users’ searches. This strategy takes time, and the profits do not come overnight but are sustainable. Unlike paid referencing, your site will continue to be well-placed in search engine results, even if inactive for a few weeks.

Why is SEO so important? Why do you need to invest in this strategy to improve your web presence? 93% of online experiments start on a search engine. In addition, visitors who come to your site through it are much more engaged than those who come from a social network. It makes sense: they typed keywords in the search bar because they had a real need, a real desire to find an answer to their question.

If we had to give you one number to convince you of the effectiveness of SEO, it would be this one: the leads from SEO have a conversion rate of 14.6%. This is almost ten times more than outgoing prospecting methods.

How do search engines work?

In this article, we will not really talk about search engines but rather about Google. Why? Simply because 94% of Internet users use Google!

The work done by Google

Google works according to a typical scheme that is broken down into several steps.

  • Initially, it browses the web from link to link using robots to index the pages that have just been created.
  • Then, it analyzes the sites and pages listed and observes keywords’ positioning and popularity.
  • Once this work is done, Google uses all the data it has to classify the different sites.
  • It saves the scanned pages in its cache memory.
  • Then Google interprets and compares the results with Internet users’ requests.
  • Finally, it delivers a list of answers: it is the Search Engine Result Page, better known as SERP.

Top trends

Google updates its algorithm regularly. It is, therefore, essential to keep up to date with trends to follow to stay on top of natural SEO.

Nowadays, special attention must be paid to the following:

  • The user experience.
  • The importance of rich snippets.
  • Voice search.
  • Mobile search.
  • The impact of the video.

And, of course, the content is always king! It is necessary to publish qualitative content useful to visitors to position yourself on the first SERP pages.

What is the zero position?

You’ve heard about the zero position, but you don’t understand how we can be even better than the first?

This is the Holy Grail of natural referencing. This is the result at the very top of Google’s SERP. It is framed and can contain an associated image or video. Its visibility is much greater than the result in the first position. Internet users, therefore, tend to click more on it.

Successfully reaching one or more zero positions is a sign of your site’s authority. This means that Google recognizes it as reliable and relevant. If you are here – congratulations, your SEO has been well conducted… and must continue to be! Otherwise, your zero position will quickly become a distant memory.

Natural referencing today

As you can imagine, SEO has not always had the same face. In the early days of the Internet, search engines worked differently, and keywords were the only indication to classify the content put online.

Those who understood this then had fun stuffing their pages with keywords without worrying about the meaning of their content or the user experience.

This type of practice, called “keyword stuffing,” is of another age and does not satisfy Google, which was the first to develop an intelligent SEO system.

Do not be influenced by the people who tell you that your main keyword must appear every 100 words in its raw form. It doesn’t make any sense today. Google, as well as other engines, are much smarter than that!

The four areas to work on to be well-referenced

If you want to have a well-referenced site and hope to reach the zero position, four points must be worked on simultaneously.

  • The relevance of the content: do your pages respond well to questions from Internet users? 
  • Popularity: is your site quoted by many other websites?
  • The technique: can search engines interpret your site easily?
  • User experience: are your visitors satisfied with navigation on your site?

The importance of backlinks

Are all these points equal? Not really. You must prioritize incoming links because, among the 200 criteria used by Google to classify pages and websites, popularity is the most important. The search engine star considers that one site is better than the others if it has more backlinks.

But be careful! Google does not just count the number of incoming links on your site; it also judges their quality. Basically, it is better to have ten qualitative backlinks than 100 from sites that are not interesting from an SEO point of view.

But then, what exactly is a quality link? It’s a link that comes from a site that has the following characteristics:

  • Popular and therefore has a lot of traffic.
  • Authoritative.
  • Related to the theme of your site.
  • The one you did not pay to place a preference link: Google does not recommend it. The search engine may penalize you for this.

But that’s not all; links must also appear in the body of the page and use a relevant anchor.

Understand the concept of keyword

Now let’s move on to an essential part of SEO: keywords.

A keyword is simply the word (or words) that users type in the Google search bar or any other search engine. It is also called a request or a key request.

Keywords are divided into two categories:

  • The main keywords are directly related to your business or products. We always choose only one per web page. Essential to work with, these requests are the ones that will most attract your customers. 
  • Secondary keywords are those on which you would like to position yourself to gain wider traffic. They represent a welcome complement but are very numerous. You must therefore know how to choose them carefully.

How to find keyword ideas?

Finding suitable keywords may be a different process. Several solutions are available to you. You can use the following tips:

  • Determine the words used by your Buyer Persona.
  • Study the pages of your competitors.
  • Observe the searches made in the search bar of your own site.
  • Browse social networks.
  • Use SEO tools: Google Trends, Google Ads, Semrush, etc.

How to sort the keywords found and choose the best-performing ones?

First of all, you will have to compare the search volume of the different keywords expressing the same need. The search volume is the number of times a keyword has been typed in a search engine in a month. Your main keyword must be the most popular.

For example, let’s imagine that you sell little black dresses in your online store. Which keyword will you choose? Here is the volume of 2 of them:

  • Little black dress: 250,000.
  • Black dress: 13,000.

Of course, the first solution is the most interesting because it can potentially attract 20 times more traffic than the second. You can find this type of information thanks to tools like Semrush, for example.

But is it as simple as that? Unfortunately not! Now let’s look at another important criterion to take into account: competition. You must also pay attention to this indicator when analyzing keywords. Competition scores show the presence of competition. If your site is relatively recent, you will have a lot of trouble positioning yourself on the first page of the SERP using highly competitive keywords.

Long-tail keywords

How do you position yourself if you have just launched your site? Fortunately, solutions exist! You can rely on long-tail keywords. These are longer queries (from 3 or 4 words) and, therefore, more targeted. Their advantages are numerous.

  • They have a smaller volume, but the competition is also lower.
  • They convert better because they are used by Internet users who know precisely what they are looking for.
  • They are numerous, almost infinite, and make it possible to set up a powerful SEO strategy. 
  • They support the work of head keywords (short and generalist like “dress”) in parallel because they are included in the long-term query.

With the help of keywords of this type, you are, therefore, more likely to position yourself well on the SERP. In SEO, it is better to start small and impose yourself gradually, especially if your budget is limited.

On-site optimization

On-site optimization concerns the entire site from the point of view of search engines. It mainly works on two levels.

Technical SEO

The technical aspect of SEO must meet a number of requirements:

  • The code must be optimized.
  • The loading speed of the site must be fast enough.
  • The site must be “mobile-friendly” and must therefore use a responsive design that allows you to adapt your pages to the size of your visitors’ screens. 
  • It must also be “https”, i.e., secure.

If your website meets all these criteria, Google will tend to favor it over the competition. These points are, therefore, essential to reach success!

The user experience

To meet the expectations of Internet users and please Google, your website must offer easy and convenient navigation. This includes a logical and organized site architecture.

Off-site optimization: link building

As its name suggests, off-page optimization concerns everything that happens outside your site. It plays a role in the development of your reputation.

The quantity and quality of the links pointing to your site is Google’s first ranking criterion. The search engine will always tend to favor a page with more incoming links of equal quality. Taking the time to create a link-building strategy is, therefore, essential.

How to get incoming links?

Different options are available to you. You can, among other things, do the following:

  • Create quality content and wait for sites to find it naturally.
  • Offer exchanges of links or invited articles to your partners.
  • Buy links via special platforms.

Beware of the last possibility: Google does not recommend doing thing like this.

Other techniques to improve your off-page SEO

To work a little more on your natural SEO, you can also:

  • Share as much as possible the images of your site.
  • Get reviews on Google Business.

Focus on on-page optimization

On-page optimization concerns all the actions you will implement directly on your pages to strengthen your SEO. This is where the keywords you have searched for and listed will take on their full importance. Because they allow search engines to fully understand what each page of your site is talking about.

The golden rule of on-page SEO

If you only need to remember one rule of on-page SEO, it is this one:

one page = one keyword

Each page must be used to position one keyword and only one! Why? To facilitate the work of search engines. If you are looking to address different topics on a page and do not stay focused on a specific keyword, Google and other engines will not be able to understand what your text is about. When in doubt, they will not bother and classify your page in a place where no one will pick it up.

What should be optimized on your pages?

Different areas of your page must meet the SEO criteria.

  • The URL: this is the address of your page.
  • The SEO title is also known as the meta title. It should not be confused with the title of your page that fits into the h1 tag. It must contain your main keyword, which, if possible, must be placed at the beginning of the title. 
  • The meta description: it is the small text present under the title of the different pages that appear in Google results. Search engines do not take this into account for natural referencing, but it can convince the user to click on your link. It is therefore important to write it carefully. 
  • The titles of your text: h1, h2, h3, h4, etc. They must contain your main keyword or its variants. It is also a good place to place secondary keywords.
  • The alt tag texts of the images on your page: same; they must include your keywords.

The semantic field: cultivate it on all your pages!

Inserting keywords is essential to help Google understand your text but it is not enough. Let’s say you want to position yourself on the word “traffic”. What are you thinking about when reading this word?

  • Visitor traffic on your site?
  • Road traffic?
  • Drug trafficking?

In your opinion, what will Google think for its part? The engine won’t know what you want to talk about.

For Google to understand what you are talking about, you must help it by semantically enriching your text. In concrete terms, what does it mean? This means that you must use words that help define the subject accurately.

Of course, by writing your article, you will naturally use these words, but you should do it necessarily as much as your competitors.

The more you enrich your text with words that are part of the semantic field of your key query, the more Google considers your content rich and relevant. And so, it positions you better. It is sometimes possible to win a few places in the SERP just by improving the pages of your site in this way.

Different tools exist to help you here. We can mention YourTextGuru or Semrush. Both give you a list of relevant words to insert into your article. But be careful! Don’t overdo it, either. If you simply copy and paste the indications of these tools without trying to write about your subject carefully, you will be penalized.

Google puts user experience at the center of its approach and therefore wants to offer qualitative content to its users. Nobody wants to read a sequence of words or even a text that is poorly written because it is filled with meaningful terms in the eyes of Google!

So always think about humans when writing your content. Make your content pleasant to read and maximally engaging. You will lower the bounce rate, promote the sharing of your content and thus increase incoming links.

The ideal way to successfully insert many terms in relation to your keyword is still to write long texts. They will be more diluted and do not hinder reading.

Internal links

To be well optimized, your pages must be put together by links. This is called internal linking. The page must also offer external links, preferably pointing to popular sites, and be considered a reference in the theme worked on.

Engines appreciate links because it allows them to navigate well within and between sites and, therefore, to exhaustively reference all existing pages.

Your SEO action plan

You now have all the theoretical knowledge in hand to create your perfect SEO strategy. At this stage, you need a roadmap if you don’t want to get lost on the way. As we have already said, SEO is a long-term job, and it can sometimes be challenging to keep your goals in mind.

Here are some tips to help you prepare your action plan in a relevant way.

Before working on the SEO of your site: determine your target audience

You will create content, look for incoming links, and best work on the user experience. But do you at least know for whom you will do all this?

The first step in an SEO strategy is the definition of your Buyer Persona. This is your ideal customer or your target. No matter what name you give this imaginary person, you must know him to succeed in attracting his attention and retaining him.

The more you know about your target client, the more you will be able to offer him relevant content that touches his heart and makes him want to trust you. Here are several options to create points of contact with him:

  • A blog.
  • A forum.
  • A podcast platform.
  • Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, etc.

Set up a content strategy

You are ready to think about a relevant content strategy if you have a list of keywords and an idea about the target audience. This step is crucial if you want to achieve your goals.

To establish your strategy, you must first determine the main themes of your blog. List between 6 and 12 topics to deal with, taking into account your keywords.

This way of proceeding will create a hierarchy and consistency in your content that will be very appreciated by Internet users but also by Google. This is called a semantic cocoon.

Think first of all about your Buyer Persona when choosing article topics. What are the problems he is trying to solve? How can you help him concretely? Spend more time answering his questions than highlighting your products or services.

Then, you have to ask yourself different questions. Here are some examples.

  • What type of content will I offer: articles, podcasts, videos, webinars, or infographics?
  • From an editorial point of view, what type of texts will I propose: blog articles, press reviews, customer cases, practical sheets, or testimonials?
  • Where will I distribute my content? When and how?
  • At what rate will I publish?

Create a corporate blog: one of the best ideas

Once your content strategy is established, you will have to move on to creation and distribution. The perfect option is to create a blog in which you can publish articles regularly. 

The corporate blog has several advantages: 

  • It allows you to value your brand against competitors. 
  • It improves your natural SEO.
  • It increases your traffic.
  • It develops your growth and notoriety.
  • It favors links that point to your site. 

The creation and maintenance of a blog cannot be improvised. You must build this powerful tool around a strategy defined upstream in order to remain consistent and effective. First, you must define the editorial line of your blog: 

  • The tone used.
  • The editorial levers associated with their lexical fields, etc.

Then comes the editorial calendar that will help you maintain the course but also the pace of publication. Create a table or enter the publication date of all your articles in an agenda several weeks or even months in advance. 

This will allow you to anticipate and organize yourself as well as possible, especially if you delegate the writing work, which is quite time-consuming.

Constantly optimize

Your site has been launched for some time now, and you have reached the heights of the SERP! Congratulations, you managed to listen to your target audience’s needs and showed perseverance.

It would be a shame to lose all this work done! So here is the big question: how not be dislodged by the competition? The answer is simple: by carrying out maintenance operations of your SEO. 

You must permanently do the following: 

  • Perform an SEO watch to keep you informed of the evolution of good practices.
  • Improve the user experience (UX).
  • Optimize the content.
  • Take care of your popularity.

SEO is, therefore, a daily or almost daily effort. Your positions in search engines may change at any time depending on Google updates and your competition’s activity. Optimizing your site must therefore be a constant preoccupation.

Watch the situation

You allow yourself to react quickly and effectively to the slightest changes by constantly watching the news. You can subscribe to newsletters or specialized blogs to follow SEO news.

For example, Semrush’s articles are also very clear and rich in information. There are also many other helpful blogs and other pages of this type.

If you like tools that make your life easier, opt for a standby application like Feedly, Flipboard, etc. It allows you to gather all the blogs and social media accounts you want to follow in one place. You can quickly read what interests you the most as soon as you have 5 minutes free. Such tools are perfect for making transport times profitable. 

Competitive intelligence is also essential: you must keep your friends close to you, and your enemies must be kept even closer! Do not hesitate to subscribe to their newsletter or follow them on social networks to follow your competition. Regularly monitor their positioning on keywords important to your business and react when necessary.

Track your positions in Google

Many tools allow you to track the location of your pages on Google. Your goal is clear and simple: to have a maximum of main keywords on the first three positions of the SERP because they alone concentrate 60% of clicks. 

Of course, the zero position remains the most desirable, but the place is expensive! If you set up a consistent keyword strategy and regularly publish relevant content, your chances of getting there are real.

What indicators to follow? 

To analyze the result of your efforts in terms of SEO, there are many KPIs to follow. Here are the ones that seem to us to be the most important: 

  • Tracking your positioning.
  • The share of traffic from search engines.
  • The bounce rate.
  • Visits duration.
  • The number of referring domains and backlinks.
  • The authority of your domain.

Other indicators may also be interesting; it depends on your situation. Depending on your strategy and activity, you must determine the data that provides you with the most relevant information to best organize your actions. For example, if you are very present on social networks, it will be important for you to monitor the share of traffic from each of them.

As you can see, SEO is not complicated. These are, above all, relatively simple and precise procedures to follow. You will achieve your goals by applying all the recommendations we presented in this article. 

But above all, remember that natural referencing is built over time. Do not imagine having results in a few weeks unless your theme is innovative and unique. Take your pain in patience and stay confident: you will eventually get great results from your work with good practices. 

The guide you have just read gives you the SEO basics, but it is always possible to go further. So, as we have mentioned, become an explorer!

FAQ

Will Google Ads (PPC) help my SEO?

No, it won’t help your SEO at all. Unfortunately, sponsoring Google won’t do you any good in getting better organic positions. But PPC can be useful in finding new keywords and testing which keywords work best in driving traffic and conversions.

Does duplicate content affect SEO?

Of course, it can. There are a number of scenarios where duplicate content issues can hurt your SEO:

  • Duplication of the entire domain. For example, the site is available with both http and https or with www and without www.
  • Duplicate pages. Often this happens by accident when a person can access pages at different URLs. Filters can also cause this problem.
  • Copying content to multiple pages of a site and only changing the keyword. For example, generating pages by city.
  • The presence of template content on each page.

Luckily, duplicate content can be dealt with:

  • Adding no index tags to all takes.
  • Adding canonical tags to duplicate versions of a page that point to the original content source.
  • A simple removal of duplicate pages.

What is better, SEO or PPC?

PPC is a great way to get traffic to your site instantly and can be turned on and off. The downside is that it costs money. Sometimes you have to pay a lot of money for it, making it difficult for small businesses to compete. That being said, as long as advertising spending generates a return on investment (ROI), PPC may work well as a temporary alternative while waiting for longer-term marketing strategies to take effect.

On the other hand, search engine optimization takes a lot of time, but the profit is higher since the more visible a site becomes organically, the less you will have to spend on paid advertising.

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