A Beginner’s Guide to Mastering SEO Basics: A Step-by-Step Breakdown

Phil Singleton

Phil Singleton

Phil Singleton is a Google Marketing and SEO expert in Kansas City. Contact Phil today for a free SEO strategy consultation.

seo beginners guide

Table of Contents

As an SEO beginner, understanding and mastering SEO techniques are crucial. In this comprehensive guide, we will walk you through every step needed to rank on Google’s first page. We’ll dispel common SEO misconceptions and highlight a critical SEO action that many get wrong.

Are you ready to dive in?

Let’s do this!

SEO – The Big Picture

First, we need to understand what SEO is. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, and it involves the process of improving your site’s rankings on Google’s organic search results. SEO is vital as it captures user intent. When someone searches for something specific, such as a “best roofing SEO companies,” their intent is crystal clear.

SEO outperforms other inbound marketing channels because it aligns with user intent. For instance, the keyword ‘SEO’ garners double the number of searches compared to other marketing channels like Facebook ads or even social media marketing.

According to SEMrush, three out of the top five most popular websites globally are search-driven. YouTube is the premier video search engine, Amazon rules e-commerce searches, and Google dominates the traditional search engine realm. In fact, as of 2021, Google claimed an astounding 90% of the search market share.

Having grasped the opportunity SEO presents, the big question now is – how do you harness it?

The Four Core Pillars of SEO

Our proven SEO process revolves around four pillars: keywords, technical aspects, content, and backlinks. Each pillar is integral to your SEO success.

Keyword Research (Like a Pro)

Keyword research is undeniably the cornerstone of any successful SEO strategy. It’s the compass that guides your content creation and marketing efforts, ensuring they align with what your target audience is searching for online. While its importance is undisputed, the process can seem overwhelming without a detailed guide. So, let’s dive deep into the expanded realm of keyword research.

Understanding the Importance of Keyword Research

To appreciate the significance of keyword research, one must first understand its role. In the simplest terms, keyword research involves identifying the specific words and phrases that potential customers are using in their online searches. These insights help guide your content creation, ensuring it matches what your target audience is looking for. However, the true power of keyword research extends beyond this basic understanding.

By effectively identifying and targeting appropriate keywords, businesses can drive targeted traffic – potential customers – to their websites. These are people who are already searching for the products, services, or information that you provide. Therefore, performing keyword research isn’t just about increasing traffic in general; it’s about increasing the right traffic.

Getting Started with Keyword Research

Commencing your keyword research journey begins with brainstorming. Consider your business niche, your products or services, and what queries or topics your potential customers might search for online. This foundational step helps generate a broad list of potential keywords.

Once you’ve got a rough list, it’s time to explore these keywords further. Several tools can help you delve into each keyword, providing data on search volume, keyword difficulty, and more. Tools like Google Keyword Planner, SEMrush, or Ahrefs can be instrumental at this stage.

Refining Your Keyword List

As you explore your list of potential keywords, you’ll start to get a better understanding of which ones are worth targeting. Here, the metrics provided by keyword tools play a crucial role.

Search Volume

This refers to the number of times a specific keyword is searched for in a given timeframe. High search volume keywords can offer greater potential traffic but are often more competitive.

Keyword Difficulty

This is an estimate of how challenging it will be to rank well for a particular keyword. Keywords with high difficulty are often highly competitive, but they can also offer high rewards.

Cost Per Click (CPC)

This metric is especially important for PPC campaigns, but it can also provide insights for SEO. A high CPC can indicate that a keyword is valuable (and hence, likely competitive).

In addition to these, consider the relevance and intent behind each keyword. Relevance is straightforward – your chosen keywords must be relevant to your business and the content you offer. Intent, on the other hand, refers to what the searcher aims to do. Are they looking to buy, research, or find a solution to a problem? Matching your content to the searcher’s intent can improve your conversion rates.

Long-tail Keywords

One common strategy in keyword research is to target long-tail keywords. These are longer, more specific keyword phrases that visitors are more likely to use when they’re closer to the point of purchase or when they’re using voice search. They can be a goldmine as they tend to have lower competition yet higher conversion rates.

Keeping Track of Keyword Performance

Your keyword research efforts shouldn’t stop after the initial process. SEO is an ongoing strategy, and so is keyword research. Keeping track of how your keywords are performing can provide valuable insights that can guide your future content creation and SEO efforts.

Google Analytics and Google Search Console are two of the most common tools for monitoring keyword performance. They can show you how much of your traffic is coming from organic search, which keywords are bringing in the most traffic, and how your traffic is converting.

Keyword research is much more than just finding high volume keywords. It’s about understanding your audience, their needs, and how they search for solutions online. It’s an ongoing process of exploration, refinement, and adaptation. The right keyword strategy can drive targeted traffic, boost conversions, and help your business grow online. Remember, your ultimate goal should always be to provide valuable content that meets your audience’s needs and matches their search intent.

Technical SEO 101

To simplify, think of technical SEO as the process of optimizing your website for crawling and indexing, but it also involves other elements. It aims to help search engines access, interpret, and index your website without any issues. It’s the job of technical SEO to ensure your website meets the technical requirements of modern search engines with the goal of improved organic rankings.

Key Components of Technical SEO

Now, let’s break down the components of technical SEO that you need to focus on:

Crawlability & Indexability

At the heart of technical SEO lie two key terms – crawlability and indexability. These are foundational for any website because if search engine bots can’t crawl your website or if your pages aren’t indexable, then your site won’t appear in search engine result pages (SERPs).

Crawlability refers to the search engine’s ability to access and crawl through all the content on your website. If the search engine bots encounter a dead end while crawling, that part of the site becomes inaccessible and hence cannot be indexed or ranked.

Indexability, on the other hand, refers to whether or not a page can be indexed. Even if your site is perfectly crawlable, you may have pages you don’t want to be indexed. Control this through the robots.txt file and the use of noindex directives.

Website Architecture & Internal Linking

Next on the list is website architecture and internal linking. Your website’s structure should be intuitive and easy to navigate, for both users and search engines. A well-structured site encourages longer visits and more page views.

Internal links help distribute page authority throughout your site, but they also help search engines understand the context and relationship between different pages. Using descriptive anchor text can offer additional insight into the linked page’s topic.

Page Speed & Mobile-Friendliness

User experience has always been a priority, and it’s more important now than ever with Google’s new Core Web Vitals update. A part of this update is page loading speed. Google has confirmed that page speed is a ranking factor, and slow-loading pages provide a poor user experience.

Mobile-friendliness is another critical ranking factor. With mobile searches outnumbering desktop searches, it’s crucial that your website looks and performs well on all devices.

Secure Sockets Layer (SSL)

An SSL certificate is a crucial factor for any website today. Not only do they help in securing the connection between the website and the user’s browser, but Google has also marked SSL as a ranking factor since 2014.

Structured Data

Structured data is a way of formatting HTML that uses a specific vocabulary, telling search engines how to interpret content and how to display it in the SERPs. It can help to enhance your listings (known as rich snippets), potentially boosting click-through rates.

Technical SEO is the unseen champion of a website’s SEO strategy. It’s all about improving the infrastructure of your site to help search engine bots understand and rank it. Remember, the better the technical SEO, the easier it is for search engines to access and index your content, leading to potentially higher rankings and more organic traffic. Ensuring your technical SEO is in order paves the way for success in your other SEO endeavors.

Content Mastery

The third critical element of a successful SEO strategy is content. Once you have pinpointed relevant keywords and ensured your website’s technical performance is up to par, it’s time to delve into content optimization. The process I follow when trying to optimize a webpage is straightforward yet effective, and here’s how it works:

Avoiding Keyword Cannibalization

Keyword cannibalization is an SEO pitfall where two or more pages on your website target the same exact keyword phrase. This is harmful for your SEO performance as it puts Google in a position to decide which of your pages is most suitable for that keyword. As SEO professionals, it’s our responsibility to guide Google rather than leaving it to make those choices. John Mueller, the search advocate at Google, once said about keyword cannibalization: “We just rank the content as we get it and if you have a bunch of pages with roughly the same content, it’s going to compete with each other.” It’s akin to having multiple children scrambling to be at the front of the line, only for someone else to cut in front of them. My personal strategy leans towards creating fewer, stronger pages instead of populating the site with many weaker ones.

To identify keyword cannibalization, you can employ tools like SEMrush’s position tracking tool. Simply navigate to the keyword research tab and click on position tracking. Start a new project, enter your target keywords, and once the scan is complete, open the project and click on the cannibalization tab. This will show instances of keyword cannibalization for the keywords you’ve entered.

Upgrading Existing Content

Next, determine whether the page needs an upgrade. Your SEO-driven pages should not just be unique but also superior to what already exists. Simply put, your content needs to stand out amidst the competition.

Ensuring Optimal Page Optimization

Ensuring optimal page optimization involves checking that your primary keyword is included in essential areas such as the URL, title, H1 tag, first sentence, and last sentence. To further optimize your page, I recommend using SEMrush’s on-page SEO checker. This tool offers insights on optimizing your target page from several perspectives, including strategy, content, semantic, technical, user experience, and link building.

Checking Internal Link Coverage

Another important factor is whether the page has sufficient internal link coverage. If your target page lacks sufficient internal links, it might not rank as high as it could.

Boosting Topical Authority

The last checkpoint in this process involves assessing whether the page needs to enhance its topical authority. If the page doesn’t have much internal link coverage, it likely lacks topical authority as well. This means you’ll need to create more keyword-driven content to support your primary asset.

Now, as we transition to the last and fourth pillar of the SEO process – backlinks, it’s important to note that while content is king, backlinks play a significant role in enhancing your site’s visibility and ranking. I’ve been doing SEO consistently since 2011, and it’s evident that backlinks still hold the top spot as a ranking factor.

Mastering Backlinks

The fourth and final pillar of a comprehensive SEO strategy is backlinks. Since my journey into SEO began in 2011, I’ve witnessed the unwavering relevance and influence of backlinks in search engine optimization. Even today, backlinks remain a critical ranking factor, substantiated by an extensive study conducted by SEMrush. The study suggests a direct correlation between the number of backlinks a domain possesses and its ranking on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP).

However, it’s crucial to remember that not all backlinks contribute positively to your SEO strategy. In fact, certain backlinks can negatively affect your rankings and potentially lead to penalties by search engines. Understanding the complex nature of backlinks and their impact on your website’s SEO performance is paramount.

Auditing Your Backlink Profile

Before embarking on the quest to acquire new backlinks, it’s essential to scrutinize your existing backlink profile meticulously. To do this, you can rely on SEO tools like SEMrush’s backlink audit tool. This tool not only simplifies the audit process but also offers an overall toxicity score for your website’s backlink profile. This toxicity score allows you to gauge the health of your existing backlinks and take the necessary steps to enhance the quality of your profile.

If your backlink profile shows a high percentage of toxic domains, there are two effective methods to address this. First, make a concerted effort to acquire high-quality backlinks to counterbalance the impact of low-quality ones. These high-quality backlinks serve to offset the detrimental effects of the toxic backlinks, thereby boosting your overall SEO performance.

Second, if your profile includes highly toxic backlinks, try reaching out to the sources to request the removal of these links. Outreach may not always be successful, but it’s a worthy attempt to cleanse your profile. If outreach proves unsuccessful, resorting to disavowing these backlinks with Google is a viable option.

Disavowing Backlinks: A Double-Edged Sword

Disavowing backlinks is a potent tool but should be your last resort. This is because disavowing backlinks can potentially decrease your website’s overall authority, leading to a negative impact on your SEO performance. Hence, while you’re in the process of disavowing low-quality backlinks, it’s critical to simultaneously work on acquiring new, high-quality backlinks to maintain and improve your website’s authority.

The Qualities of a Good Backlink: What to Look For

In this comprehensive SEO journey, I’ll delve deeper into effective backlink acquisition strategies in a dedicated video within this free training series. However, for the time being, it’s beneficial to aim for backlinks that exhibit three fundamental characteristics.


The backlink should be from a website relevant to your niche. For instance, if you own a coffee shop, aim to acquire backlinks from related websites such as coffee blogs, food bloggers, etc.


The backlink should originate from a real website that boasts genuine organic traffic. The reasoning behind this is simple – if a website garners organic search traffic, it’s likely trusted by Google. Conversely, if a website has little to no organic search traffic, it’s a cause for concern.


The backlink should come from a website that holds authority and high-quality backlinks. Essentially, you should aim for backlinks from websites that have a strong, high-quality backlink profile.

While these three factors serve as a good starting point, remember that there are many more qualifying factors that go into determining the quality and efficacy of a backlink. SEMrush can facilitate this evaluation process, allowing you to ascertain whether a potential backlink source possesses organic search traffic, holds authority, and maintains a high-quality backlink profile.

The End of the SEO Beginners Guide It Your First Step to Better Rankings

Well that’s it, we’ve covered the basics of SEO, discussing its importance and the four core pillars that you need to master.

By consistently working on these four pillars, you will slowly but surely see an improvement in your site’s rankings. However, it’s vital to understand that SEO is a long game. It’s not about immediate gratification but long-term, sustainable results.

Remember, the key to mastering SEO is not about using every tactic under the sun but understanding and implementing the right ones effectively.

As the legendary Bruce Lee once said, “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

SEO is much the same.