Most people are scared of tackling Google SEO
Honestly, it isn’t that complicated, and understanding the basics can really set your website apart.
A lot of “experts” will make you think like you need all of these fancy tools and do a lot of technical work to make your site pop up.
They make it sound more complicated than it is to make themselves sound smart.
Heck, I don’t even use an SEO plugin on this site.
I don’t have anything against them, though, and they can be useful for some people, but they are not magic.
Google certainly won’t penalize your site for not using them.
In this article, we’ll go over the basics of Google SEO, starting with changes Google’s introducing in 2021.
- Core web vitals
- Google passage ranking
- Keyword research
- On-Page SEO
- Featured snippets
- Mobile Optimization
Disclosure: You should always assume that pretty much every link on this site is an affiliate link, and if you click it and buy something you like, I’ll earn some money to help me buy a DeLorean, build a time machine, and travel back to the 90s so I can watch Hey Arnold! and eat Dunkaroos again.
1. Core Web Vitals
In May 2021, core web vitals will become a ranking factor, according to Google.
What Are Core Web Vitals?
Core web vitals are three specific web page experience metrics that Google finds extremely important for users:
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) – how long it takes for the largest element on your page to become visible within your visitor’s browser.
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) – measures how much elements shifts while the page is being rendered.
- First Input Delay (FID) – the delay between when you click on something like a link or button, and the time that the browsers responds to the actions and begins processing it.
These web vitals will be combined with the previously introduce vitals, such as mobile-friendliness, safe browsing, HTTPS, and intrusive interstitials (popups, scroll mats, etc.)
Here’s what Google said about core web vitals and their impact on rankings:
Earlier this month, the Chrome team announced Core Web Vitals, a set of metrics related to speed, responsiveness, and visual stability, to help site owners measure user experience on the web.
Today, we’re building on this work and providing an early look at an upcoming search ranking change that incorporates these page experience metrics.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you can publish crappy content and expect to rank just because your website is fast and stable.
Content is still Google’s main focus:
While all of the components of page experience are important, we will prioritize pages with the best information overall, even if some aspects of the page experience are subpar.
So content is king, but page experience is very important as well.
Core Web Vitals Thresholds
According to Google, these are the numbers you should be aiming for:
- LCP – anything under 2.5 seconds is good, between 2.5 to 4.0 seconds needs improvement, and over 4 seconds is terrible.
- FID – this should be under 100 ms, between 100 to 300 ms needs improvement, and over 300 ms is pretty bad.
- CLS – the value should be under 0.1, between 0.1 to 0.25 needs improvement, and above 0.25 is a nightmare.
How to Check Your Core Web Vitals
You can enter your homepage, as well as one of the blog posts you consider the most packed, and see your results.
For example, here are Blogstalgia’s PageSpeed Insights results:
And here are the GTmetrix results:
How to Improve Core Web Vitals
Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for improving core web vitals since everyone’s website is built differently.
That being said, speeding up WordPress sites is one of my favorite things to do and keep learning about.
I’ve written a speed optimization guide you can read to help you figure out your areas for improvement and fix most of your performance issues.
2. Google Passage Ranking
Passage Ranking is another new ranking system introduced by Google in October 2020.
This new feature allows Google to rank a specific paragraph or “passage” from a page in search engine result pages (SERPs).
This is especially great for those who write long form content.
Basically, instead of Google focusing on the relevancy of an entire page, they’ll now focus on the relevancy of a specific section of the page as well.
Just to be clear, they will still consider your whole page and will not index individual passages independently of pages.
But they’re now also considering passages from pages as an additional ranking factor.
How to Improve Passage Ranking
If you’ve been organizing your blog posts with different sections and subheadings, there isn’t really much you have to do.
Passage ranking is more of an internal thing to help Google better understand the content on a page and being able to score different parts of it independently.
If you haven’t been paying attention to your headings and subheadings, then you might want to revisit them and make sure that they clearly communicate what each section is about.
However, Martin Splitt – developer advocate at Google – mentioned that even if you didn’t clean up your headings, Google would still be able to see if the paragraph is relevant to the query.
He mentioned that this change is meant to help those who aren’t very familiar with SEO or how to structure their content or content strategy.
Those who end up creating long-form content that has a hard time ranking for anything because everything is so diluted.
For example, if you’re writing an article on how to train your dog, you could divide it into different section, such as:
- Potty training your dog
- Teaching your dog how to sit on command
- Teaching your dog not to jump on people
Even though your article is titled “how to train your dog,” if someone searched for “how to make your dog not to jump on people,” Google could highlight this specific section of your article in the search results.
3. Keyword Research
Doing proper keyword research is one of the most important steps of Google SEO.
I mean, you need to know what people are searching for to be able to rank for those terms, right?
There’s no point in writing about the best winter coats for monkeys if no one’s searching for that.
For example, if you have a weight loss blog, you can pretty much assume that your target audience is searching for terms like:
- How to lose weight fast
- How to burn belly fat
- Best weight loss diet
It isn’t rocket science.
How to do Keyword Research
To learn how to do keyword research, we’ll imagine we are in the dog training niche and use examples based on that.
a) Brainstorm Keywords in Your Niche
The first step is pretty easy, all you’re going to do is brainstorm some terms you think people in your niche are searching for and write them down.
For our dog training niche example, we could use the following terms:
- Dog training
- How to potty train your dog
- How to stop your dog from biting
Don’t worry, I know this isn’t much, we’ll find more potential keywords on the next step.
b) Use Google Autocomplete and Recommendations
A few years ago, you would have to use many different tools to do proper keyword research.
Luckily, Google has gotten so smart and their algorithm so advanced, that you can do a pretty good research just by using Google itself.
With Google Autocomplete, you can simply start typing a word related to your niche and see what it suggests.
The recommendations you see showing up are based on what thousands of people have searched.
Google “People also ask”
Next, you can look under the “people also ask” section.
Google “Searches related to [insert keyword]”
Lastly, you can scroll all the way down until you see the “Searches related to [your keyword]” section.
c). Use Free or Paid Keyword Research Tools
There are a few free and paid keyword research tools you can use to see even more keyword data.
Here are a few of those tools:
- SEO Book (free) – allows you to see daily and monthly searches, compare Google, Bing, and Yahoo! searches, and check data for other related terms.
- SEMrush (free and paid) – with SEMrush, you can check out search volume, related keywords, organic search results, phrase match keywords, and keywords your competitors are ranking for. However, you can only make 10 searches per day in the free version and their Pro one is $70 per month. A little trick to get more searches is to use a VPN and change your IP address each time you want another 10 searches. Plus, you can watch Netflix from other countries as well.😉
- Ubbersuggest (free and paid) – allows you to search with no daily limits, reverse engineer your competitors’ pages, and export data.
Once you’ve gotten more experienced on keyword research, you can switch to more advanced and premium tools like Ahrefs and Moz’s Keyword Explorer.
d) Purchase a Keyword Package
If you’re pressed for time or don’t feel like getting into keyword research, you could purchase a KGR keyword research package for $99.
They do all the research for you and give you a list of low-competition keywords you have a higher chance of ranking for.
This is really great if you want to focus only on writing and promoting your content.
The price is pretty good as well, considering other advanced tools like Ahrefs start at $99/month and you still have to know what you’re doing.
e) Check Keyword Volume
After you’ve gathered a few keywords, you want to then see which ones are being searched the most.
You can use a tool like SearchVolume.io that allows you to check 800 keywords per day.
I actually just discovered this tool, so I’m not sure how cool they are.
I typically use the Keywords Everywhere extension, which used to be free, but it’s now paid.
It’s still pretty cheap, though.
But if you want something 100% free, try out SearchVolume.io.
When searching for keyword volume, try to look for keywords that have more than 200 monthly searches.
If you’re trying to monetize the keyword with ads, then try looking for ones that have more than 1,000 monthly searches.
This is not a set rule, but it’s a good guideline I like to use.
So feel free to experiment with different search volumes.
f) Check Keyword Difficulty
The next step is to look for the keyword difficulty.
For example, a popular keyword like “weight loss” would be difficult to rank for if your website is fairly new and without any backlinks. (we’ll talk about backlinks later in this Google SEO guide)
To find how difficult it is to rank for a certain keyword, you can use Ahrefs’ free Keyword Difficulty Checker.
I consider anything under 30 to be okay to go after if you’re just starting out.
You might, however, be on a difficult niche.
If that’s your case, you might have no other option than to go for tough keywords and fight against the big websites.
If you have a higher domain authority, you can go for more difficult keywords.
4. On-Page SEO
After you’re done with keyword research, the next step is to, well, use those keywords inside your blog posts.
And this is what we’ll talk about in this on-page SEO section.
What is On-Page SEO?
On-page SEO is optimizing each individual page and blog post on your site to rank higher in search engine result pages (SERPs) and get more organic traffic.
On-page SEO refers to both the content and HTML of a page that can be optimized.
What is Off-Page SEO?
Off-page SEO, however, focuses on things that are external to your website, such as backlinks.
How to Improve On-Page SEO
Here’s how to improve your on-page SEO:
a) Satisfy Search Intent
To satisfy search intent means to give users exactly what they’re looking for, not what you think they’re looking for.
Let’s take the keyword “dog training” as an example.
After searching for “dog training,” you can see that most of the search results are dog training schools.
They are not articles on how to train your dog or lists of dog training tips.
So, if you wanted to rank for the keyword “dog training,” writing a guide on how to train your dog would probably not be a good idea.
Google has figured out that people searching for “dog training” don’t want to learn how to train their dogs themselves, but want to find someone to do it for them.
This doesn’t mean that a “dog training tips” article won’t rank for the “dog training” keyword, but it’s unlikely.
Before you start writing your blog post, you want to search the keyword you’re targeting and see what kind of content Google wants to see.
Is it a listicle? An in-depth review? A “how-to” guide? A comparison post?
b) Use Your Keyword Within the First 300 Words
If you’re using Yoast SEO, you might get a red light if you’re not using your target keyword in the first sentence of your blog post.
But you don’t have to place it right at the beginning.
As long as you use it within the first 300 words, you should be okay.
c) Use Descriptive URLs
By default, your URLs will be something like this:
However, you want to change this and make them more descriptive. For example, something like:
This will help both Google and your visitors better understand the content of the page.
Here’s what Google has said about URL structure:
A site’s URL structure should be as simple as possible. Consider organizing your content so that URLs are constructed logically and in a manner that is most intelligible to humans (when possible, readable words rather than long ID numbers).
They’ve also mentioned that overly complex URLs, especially those with multiple parameters, can cause problems for crawlers by creating unnecessarily high number of URLs that point to similar content on your site.
How to Change Your URL Structure
Now, you don’t want to constantly change your URL structure, as this can create 404 errors (page not found) if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Changing your URL structure should be one of the first things you do when launching your site before you get a ton of content and people linking back to your site.
If you’re using WordPress, changing this is pretty easy.
Just go to your WordPress Dashboard > Settings > Permalinks > select “Post name” or the structure that you want > Save Changes.
d) Write Optimized Meta Descriptions
A meta description is a 160-character summary of the content inside your page that appears in search engine result pages.
This snippet allows users to see if the content on the other side of the link is relevant to them and worth reading.
A good meta description doesn’t have a direct impact on rankings, but it can increase your click-through rate.
However, I don’t believe they’re necessary anymore, and here’s why:
Your article can rank for several keywords
You might craft a great meta description for your main keyword, but the issue is that your article could rank for hundreds of different keywords.
So that meta description you wrote for your main keyword might not make sense for the rest of the keywords you’re ranking for.
For example, you might have an article titled “How to Train Your Dog” that’s ranking for the following keywords:
- How to train your dog
- Potty training
- Stop biting
You optimize your meta description for “how to train your dog,” which is your main keyword, and write something like this:
“Learn how to train your dog in less than 90 days and just 1 hour per day.”
However, when someone searches for “potty training” and that same meta description shows up, it won’t really make much sense since potty training isn’t mentioned anywhere.
As I mentioned earlier, Google is getting smarter.
So it’s better to let them pull up whatever information they think is more relevant.
They don’t need you to spoon-feed them stuff.
Google grabs what it wants
On my fitness site where I still have Yoast SEO installed and have crafted meta descriptions for all my articles, I noticed that Google completely ignores my meta descriptions and instead shows what it finds more relevant anyway.
e) Use Headers Correctly
Headers also help search engines like Google better understand the structure of your blog posts and each different section.
There are 6 different headers (H1 – H6)
- Header 1 (H1) – this should be reserved for the title of your blog posts and pages. The rest of your content should use H2 – H6. The title of your blog post should include the main keyword you’re targeting.
- Header 2 (H2) – these should be used for the main sections of your articles and pages. It’s also a good idea to include relevant keywords whenever possible.
- Header 3-6 (H3-H6) – these should be used to further organize sections within your sections.
Here’s an example of how you could use headings:
I even recommend writing a great outline like this before starting to write.
Besides making it easier on search engine and users, it will also make the writing process easier for you.
f) Optimize Your Images for Search Engines
When it comes to SEO and images, you want to make sure to use a descriptive file name as well as adding an “alt text” attribute.
Image File Name
The thing is, Google and other search engines can read the file name of your images.
So instead of uploading an image called DSC_1990.jpg, you want to change the name and include relevant keywords (if you can) before uploading it.
For example, training-collar.jpg.
Alt Text Attribute
Alternative text (alt text), also known as “alt attributes,” are texts used to describe the appearance of an image.
- Visually impaired users using screen readers better understand an image on your page.
- Users understand what an image is about even when your site wasn’t able to load it.
- Search engine crawlers understand and index an image properly.
How to Add Alt Text to Images
Once you upload an image to WordPress, you can simply look for the “Alternative Text” field in the image editor and add your desired text.
g) Enable Schema Markup
Schema is another feature that won’t necessarily help with Google rankings but can increase your click-through rate.
Schema will basically grab important parts of your article and show them nicely in search results.
For example, if you have an event schedule, the dates and events will show up in search engine result pages like this:
Honestly, most SEO features should be taken care of by your theme.
If your theme doesn’t have built-in schema markup, you can use a free plugin like Schema by Hesham.
h) Find the Ideal Blog Post Length
How long your blog post should be depends on your niche and the type of post you’re writing.
To find your ideal blog post length, simply google the topic of your post and check how many words the articles ranking for that keyword have.
If all the articles on the first page of Google have 2,000 words, then your article should be around that length.
You can maybe add an extra 300 words and infographics to provide more value than your competitors.
You can use a free browser extension like Word Counter Plus to find this information.
Another way is to copy and paste the articles on Microsoft Word or an online word counter like WordCounter.io
5. Featured Snippets
Feature snippets, also known as “position zero,” are short snippets of text that appear at the top of Google’s search results to quickly answer a user’s question.
Here’s an example from my fitness site:
There are three main types of feature snippets:
- Paragraphs – 81.95% of all featured snippets are paragraphs
- Lists – 10.77% are ordered and unordered lists
- Tables – 7.28% are table snippets
Should You Optimize for Feature Snippets?
Since feature snippets appear on top of the #1 result on Google – position #0 – you would think that it drives more click-throughs than position #1.
However, a study done by Ahrefs found that not to be true.
They found that the “natural” #1 results get about 19.6% clicks while position #0 gets 8.6%.
They also found that on pages where there aren’t any featured snippets, the #1 spot gets around 26%.
This means that position #0 is not generating more clicks but stealing clicks from the #1 spot.
Often times when I find myself looking for stuff on Google and there’s a feature snippet, I instinctively tend to skip it and go to the first “natural” result.
I guess I’m not the only one?
So, should you optimize for feature snippets?
Google only shows featured snippets from pages that are already ranking in the top 10.
Therefore, I would consider optimizing my pages that are ranking anywhere from #2 to #10, as it would be easier to get on that featured snippet spot.
If you’re ranking #1 behind a #0 snippet, it’s up to you if you want to go for the #0 spot.
Personally, I would just keep my #1 spot.
How to Optimize for Google’s Feature Snippets
a) Find Feature Snippet Opportunities
First thing is to do some keyword research and find keywords you’re already ranking top 10 for in Google.
You can use Ahrefs Site Explorer. (you might have to create a free account and verify your domain before you’re able to do so)
After you’ve created your account and logged in, enter your website > click “Organic keywords” on the left sidebar > in “Position,” enter from 1 to 10 > Apply > under “SERP features,” select “Featured snippet” > Apply.
For example, the above screenshot shows that my fitness site is ranking top 10 for 48 keywords that include a featured snippet in the search results.
Now you want to search for those keywords and see which type of feature snippet (paragraph, list, table) Google is showing and create a better one.
This could be done by creating a more up-to-date content and including both the question and answer on your blog post.
b) Write Long-Form Content
Several studies show that the majority of featured snippets are triggered by long-tail keywords.
If you’re writing in-depth, long-form content, there’s a good chance that you’re throwing in some long-tail keywords that have a featured snippet.
What are Long-Tail Keywords?
Long-tail keywords are keywords that have a lower search volume but higher conversion rates and typically more words.
Hence appearing at the “end” or the “long-tail” of the search demand curve.
The word “long” in “long-tail” is not referring to the length of the keyword, but it’s placement in the curve.
Since longer/more specific keywords tend to be less popular, the long-tail is often comprised of them.
This is why people often have the misconception that long-tail keywords mean “longer keywords.”
c) Optimize for Paragraph Featured Snippet
If you want a specific section of your blog post to show up as a paragraph snippet, consider:
- Writing a paragraph that’s between 40-60 words
- Including the question as a heading (H2-H6)
d) Optimize for List Featured Snippet
If you want to optimize for list snippets, you should use headings for each item on your list.
Google will automatically pull those headings and show them in the featured snippet.
e) Optimize for Table Snippets
For this, you can create a simple table with whichever block builder or page builder you’re using to design your site.
I use the default Gutenberg Table block.
Google will automatically pull the data from the table.
What is E-A-T?
E-A-T stands for expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. These are three factors used by Google human reviewers to evaluate the quality of pages ranking in Google’s top search results.
What do E-A-T Reviewers Consider?
They take into consideration:
- The main content of the website they’re evaluating
- The website as a whole
- The authors of the content
Is E-A-T Important?
E-A-T is more important for some websites than others.
For example, if you have a blog that talks about how cool the 90s were, then E-A-T doesn’t matter too much, as this is a subjective topic.
However, if you have a blog that talks about medical or financial advice, then E-A-T is very important.
This is because inaccurate information on these topics can affect someone’s health, financial stability, safety, and/or happiness.
These types of topics are what Google calls YMYL (Your Money or Your Life).
This is why, in 2018, tons of health and wellness websites’ traffic took a dump.
How to Improve E-A-T
a) Be Open About Who You Are
Here’s what Google said about this:
we expect most websites to have some information about who (e.g., what individual, company, business, foundation, etc.) is responsible for the website and who created the MC, as well as some contact information.
MC means “main content.”
So, you should:
- Write a detailed about page
- If you have several people writing guest posts, make sure they each have a thorough bio page
- Make things like your contact information and legal pages easily accessible
- Add an author bio on every article (if you’re using the GeneratePress theme, you can create one easily with their Elements feature without having to install a bloated plugin)
b) Get Backlinks
Here’s the thing.
Anyone can write a fake bio and pretend to be an expert.
That’s why Google pays attention to the links and mentions you get from authoritative sites.
For example, if you have a health and wellness blog, getting a backlink or mention from WebMD will help increase your domain authority.
Now, Google is good at understanding which links count, so make sure to seek links from authoritative sites, not random, low-quality ones.
Don’t worry, we’ll talk more about backlinks in the next section of this Google SEO guide for beginners.
c) Hire Expert Writers
If you’re hiring random people from Fiverr to write your content, that’s not going to help you much.
If your site covers YMYL topics, you want to hire writers that have the right qualifications.
If you can’t afford to hire experts, you could try interviewing them or asking them to write a guest post for your website.
d) Cite Your Sources
If you’re writing about news or scientific content, you should make sure that everything is factually accurate.
Link to reliable and trustworthy sources, not random blogs.
For example, on my fitness site, I almost only link to studies found on the National Library of Medicine (National Center for Biotechnology Information).
I simply write a number between parentheses at the end of the claim I’m making.
Another option is to just list all your sources at the end of your articles.
e) Show Your Credentials
I know you might not like to brag about your credentials, but that’s what Google wants to see.
If you have a degree, certification, or have won industry awards, be sure to mention those in your about page and author bio.
If you want to increase your Google rankings, building backlinks is where you’ll spend most of your time.
What are Backlinks?
A backlink is when a website links to an external website.
For example, if you were writing an article about Google SEO and decided to link to this article or my website, I would be getting a backlink.
Are Backlinks Important?
Yes, as mentioned earlier, getting backlinks from high-quality and trustworthy websites will tell Google that your site is also trustworthy.
They’re basically “votes of confidence” from other websites.
Backlinks are great for increasing your domain authority and getting more organic traffic.
How to Get Backlinks
Building backlinks to your site can take a lot of time and effort, but it’s extremely rewarding.
Here are a few ways you can get backlinks:
- Guest posting – this is the best but most time-consuming way of getting backlinks. Guest posting is writing content for another website with the goal of adding a link back to yours. You can read my full guest posting guide here.
- Search and replace – this consists of looking for blog posts that rank for the keywords you want to rank for and see which websites are linking to them. Then, you want to write a better post and reach out to those websites and ask them to link to your blog post instead.
- Create infographics – infographics tend to get a decent number of backlinks. They also get shared a lot on Pinterest.
- Interview bloggers in your niche – most bloggers love sharing their experience with others. When you interview someone, they’ll likely share a link with their audience to the interview.
- Do round-up articles – for example, you could write a listicle about the best “dog training” blogs. The owners of those blogs might share a link to your article after you’ve mentioned them.
8. Mobile Optimization
Today, more and more people are consuming content on their phones, and Google knows this. (obviously)
Google’s mobile-first index means that Google uses the mobile version of your content for indexing and ranking.
So making sure that your website is mobile friendly and loading fast on every device is no longer a choice.
It’s something you must work on if you want Google to show you some love.
Here’s what Google has to say about it:
Historically, the index primarily used the desktop version of a page’s content when evaluating the relevance of a page to a user’s query. Since the majority of users now access Google Search with a mobile device, Googlebot primarily crawls and indexes pages with the smartphone agent going forward.
How to Optimize Your Website for Mobile
a) Use a Mobile-Responsive Theme
A great theme should allow your website to be displayed perfectly in mobile and desktop without you having to change too much or anything at all.
b) Make Sure Your Site Loads Fast on Mobile
The first thing we covered on this Google SEO guide was the core web vitals.
So you already know the importance of making sure that your site loads fast and provides a good user experience.
Again, to fix speed issues on your site, you can check out my full speed optimization guide.
c) Check Your Ad Placement
If you’re running ads on your site, you want to make sure that you don’t put them above your main content.
This creates a terrible user experience as it pushes the main content below the fold.
I know it’s one of the places that generates the most income, but it can affect your user experience, and therefore, your rankings.
If you want to keep them, you could at least show them on desktop, but not on mobile.
d) Check Your Images
Use images that have a good resolution on mobile devices and make sure they have the same “alt text” as the desktop version.
e) Match Mobile and Desktop Content
The content on your mobile version should contain the same content as your desktop version.
You should also use the same clear and meaningful headings on the mobile site as you do on the desktop site.
Final Thoughts on Google SEO
Google SEO might take a bit more work and time to bring traffic, but it isn’t complicated.
It’s also by far the most reliable and stable source of traffic.
I would focus on Google SEO first, and once you’ve gotten good at it (or at least know the basics), you can diversify your traffic and tackle another platform like Pinterest.
Because we don’t want to put all of our eggs in one basket, do we?