SEO Basics — a big search engine optimization guide 2022

Definition: “Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving the quality and quantity of website traffic to a website or a web page from search engines.”

(Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Search_engine_optimization)

Searching for SEO…

There is a lot of truth in this anonymous quote, because from position five on the first page of the Google search you are demonstrably no longer noticed, neither clicked. Somebody has to look really desperately for something when he clicks on the second or third page of the search results.

With a market share of over 94%, Google is the most widely used search engine in Germany and it seems to be nearly the same worldwide. And since most bloggers generate the majority of their readership from exactly this source, it is definitely worthwhile to deal a little more with the topic of search engine optimization, or SEO for short.

Many webmasters and bloggers neglect this elementary building block in online marketing and write as they learned to do many years ago. But unfortunately that no longer works. The number of page impressions is usually correspondingly low and the number of visitors stagnates despite some actually interesting and helpful posts.

In the age of the Internet, anyone who wants to be found well has to adhere to some elementary principles and rules.

Google Core Updates 2021

The big Google Core updates in June, July and November 2021 once again messed up the search engine algorithm. For many blogs and websites, the search engine results (SERP = Search Engine Result Page) went downhill drastically. For an example these two changes have hit the entire travel industry hard, because the impact of Corona has made travel less relevant. The winners of these changes were pages with medical content, pure online offers and online shops.

But also here better times are sure to come and you should be well prepared for this in the digital age. This is why this article contains the most important factors in 2021 for a successful website that is as search engine compliant as possible.

The topic is now much more complex than it was 15 years ago and a science in itself. Since Google keeps its calculation bases strictly secret for good reason, it is a constant attempt and interpretation of the cryptic statements of those responsible at the market leader among the search engines. Some things have been known for years, but many of the effective measures outlined here are guesswork-based and the result of research, analysis, trial and error. All because SEO changes on your Website don’t usually immediately indicate success or failure, it is a time-consuming and tedious process.

Professional search engine optimizers who are well versed in the subject earn a lot of money with it and rarely reveal the secrets of their success. But there are others too, such as the very accomplished blogger Finn Hillebrandt. In his German-language blog you can find all of the more than 200 features and ranking factors for success on Google. Here it really goes into detail, but it is in German:

https://www.blogmojo.de/google-ranking-faktoren/

(english translation: https://www-blogmojo-de.translate.goog/google-ranking-faktoren/?_x_tr_sl=de&_x_tr_tl=en&_x_tr_hl=de)

Important tools to control SEO measures

With these three free tools from Google you should definitely register in advance in order to be able to evaluate the data of the website in detail. In addition to the number of visitors, you can also learn more about the flow of visitors, the length of stay and find suggestions for improving the performance of your own website.

Google Analytics

https://analytics.google.com/analytics/web/

The installation of the necessary tracking code should be done by a webmaster or administrator who is a little familiar with it. With the corresponding free WordPress plugin Google Site Kit, you can also display some reports and statistics directly in the dashboard of the WordPress blog. However, the evaluation there is nowhere near as detailed as on the Google Analytics website.

https://wordpress.org/plugins/google-site-kit/

The free Google Analytics App for smartphones is also recommended. You can download theme here:

Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.google.android.apps.giant

Apple App Store: https://apps.apple.com/de/app/google-analytics/id881599038

Google Search Console

https://search.google.com/search-console

Here you can really evaluate in detail how your own content is performing on Google. This console is also the first point of contact if you have problems with the page in the search engine.

Under manual measures you can see whether the page has been blocked (Google Penalty) and do something about it or where crawling errors generally occur. If there are major problems capturing the content, you will usually be notified by email.

In the menu for the links you can also see which domains are linked to your own project, but unfortunately only a maximum of 1000 entries. Everything above then falls into the professional field and requires a fee-based tool from alternative providers.

Brand new: Google Search Console Insights

https://search.google.com/search-console/insights/

Google Search Console Insights emerged from the combination of the first two tools mentioned tools. Here you get a graphically appealing first overview of the most important data about your own pages in the Google search. Incidentally, this page already displays the entire content in a mobile design, also on a PC or notebook.

Professional and paid SEO tools

Professional SEO tools such as

are expensive and should only be used if they are used professionally on a daily basis. Then it’s money really well invested. In return, these tools offer a lot more, for example deliver specific competition analyzes, make extensive keyword ideas from a huge current database available for download and show possibilities for better linking.

Visibility on the World Wide Web

As a basis for the visibility of a website on the Internet, various providers such as Sistrix create a so-called visibility index using their own algorithms. This shows how well a site is in competition with ALL other sites on the Internet in the top 100 search queries of the search engines. The more important and sought-after keywords are shown in good places in the organic search, the better this value is.

Here you can have your status quo in terms of visibility for free:

https://app.sistrix.com/en/visibility-index

Without a direct comparison with the competition, however, this number does not say anything for the layperson. Comparisons of cherries with melons should be avoided if at all possible. The online presence of a national daily newspaper with all its articles is of course much larger than that of a small travel blog. In addition, full-time SEO professionals are at work every day to ensure that the digital newspaper articles are easy to find. If you don’t want to dive deeper into this matter, you can save yourself that.

SEO principle: unique content is king

Of course, high quality and unique content is still at the top of the ranking factors. Artificial intelligence (AI) is the magic word of search engine operators, because thinking computers evaluate the texts and images in the index for relevance. There would be no other way of dealing with the daily mass of content. But you still have to write great content for people and not for machines.

“Write unique, interesting and well-researched articles that are more or less shared by themselves and always keep them up to date, then you are on the safe side!”

… at least that’s what Google has been saying for years. Easier said than done. And sometimes that is still not enough to stand out from the sheer flood of articles and contributions or it simply takes too long. The next challenge is to keep the good position.

However, if you pay attention to a few of the most important SEO basics from the beginning, then with a lot of luck a post will rank high on its own pretty quickly and will be shared diligently. Let’s get started…

Keyword research as a basis

A well-founded keyword research should be before the first lines of the new article in the successful on-page optimization. Often you don’t know exactly what users are looking for on the Internet or you have a search term in your head that is rarely searched for. Usually there is even a complete keyword phrase, a so-called long tail keyword, which consists of several terms and fits much better with the published content. It is seldom a single word, in many cases it is even related terms and whole questions around them that lure visitors to the site.

If it is actually such a simple word, then a small website rarely has the chance to play at the top. In such cases, it is better to concentrate on alternative search terms for your SEO, which are nowhere near as fiercely competitive.

Relevant keyword ideas can only be found with your own search on Google and the search suggestions displayed when you type in.

The related search queries category shown at the bottom of the Google search also provides important input for keyword ideas in the draft article.

Additional inspiration is provided by free tools such as Google Ads and Google Trends.

Google Ads is the portal for paid advertising in Google search results, or SEA (Search Engine Advertising) for short. In order to provide the advertiser with a basis for the chargeable booking, the most important data is made available here. The keyword planner not only gives you great ideas for synonyms and related search terms, it also shows the approximate volume of search queries for them. The costs behind the keywords give a rough indication of how competitive the respective term is.

https://ads.google.com/intl/de_de/home/tools/keyword-planner/

Another free tool for keyword suggestions is Ubersuggest, which has since been bought up by the SEO tool provider Neil Patel and acts as an appetizer for its paid services. A daily limited request for keywords is still possible.

https://neilpatel.com/ubersuggest/

The W questions in search engine optimization are now also important. Already active suggestions can often be found in the Google search results on page 1.

The partly free tool Answer the public provides further ideas. Please do not forget to set the search to your preferred language. The data determined here can be downloaded both as an image and as a table in .csv format.

https://answerthepublic.com/

Anyone looking for keyword input on the current search trends in general will find what they are looking for on Google Trends. On this page Google let you take a look into the maps and shows regionally where in the world which topics are currently being accessed very often.

https://trends.google.de/trends/

With the help of all these tools, you can now create a keyword list of all search terms and questions that are relevant in your own eyes, so that these can later be incorporated into the article at a suitable point.

However, really good tools for keyword research and competition analysis are not free. From at least 100 Euros or Dollars per month you can join the aforementioned providers such as Sistrix, Searchmetrics, MOZ or ahrefs. You have to decide for yourself whether it is worth it to you and use it accordingly. When it comes to targeted SEO writing (copywriting), i.e. advertising copy specially optimized for search engines, such tools are indispensable.

The speaking URL

The two to five most important keywords, i.e. preferably those with the most anticipated search queries, should now be the first in the link to the planned post. The words are separated with a simple hyphen (no underscore) so that the reader can immediately see what the page is about. (Keyword: speaking URL)

The space for this is limited, however, the URL including the domain name should not be longer than 75 characters, everything after it could be cut off in the search results. Lower case is mandatory and too many sub-folders in the path are to be avoided, even if WordPress had this earlier as the default setting.

Cryptic links such as the following fictional, but often reluctant negative examples must be avoided if SEO should succeed:

Keywords in title and description

In addition to the URL Google also evaluates the title tag, i.e. usually the <H1> heading, as well as the description, i.e. the description of the page in the meta tags.

Use only one H1 heading per page or blog post here.

These three components are extremely important in search engine optimization because they are your figurehead in the search results. If these features are designed in an appealing way, they increase the so-called click through rate (CTR) by the visitors, i.e. the number of hits increases.

The number of characters for the title and the description of a website or blog are also limited, but unfortunately it is no longer as clearly defined as with the URL. At one point or another, 60 characters were used as a guide for the title and 160 characters for the description, but Google converted this into pixels for reasons of space. Since a W takes up much more space than an I, the calculation is no longer that easy.

In the case of the slightly wider title, there are currently 580 pixels for desktop and 920 pixels for mobile, that means around 49 to 60 characters. In the description, written in smaller format, 990 pixels for desktop and 1,300 pixels for mobile are included. It is generally recommended to use between 100 and 155 characters for the description. So here it is important to think carefully about what should come in. Above all, the description should also contain a call to action, ergo animate the user to click. The two free WordPress plugins from Yoast SEO or Rank Math SEO mentioned below help you comply with these requirements.

Despite all the effort you cannot control what Google includes in the displayed in the post preview, the so called snippet or rich snippet. A completely different excerpt from the text or the alt tag of an image can be rated as more important and, if necessary, simply replace the carefully thought-out description.

Distribution of keywords in the content

Relevant keywords must also be distributed throughout the text, especially in the subheadings (H2-H6). But please don’t overdo it, because keyword stuffing / overloading the content with search terms, is something Google doesn’t like at all. Remember here too: We still write for people, not for machines. The clue used to be 2–3% of the text should contain the exact keywords or keyword phrases, but that is no longer so important. Google now recognizes and evaluates different word forms and synonyms, as well as words that are not directly next to each other. Free WordPress plugins such as Yoast SEO or Rank Math SEO help to find the right balance.

https://yoast.com/wordpress/plugins/seo/

https://rankmath.com/wordpress/plugin/seo-suite/

In particular, the structuring through subheadings with the associated table of contents (TOC) including jump mark links at the beginning of an article are another important ranking factor. If Google thinks these are good, they will even appear in the rich snippets, which is an eye-catching and outstanding post preview.

All of this makes a post much more interesting in the eyes of the searcher, because the link thus receives an award for content particularly well suited to the search query. Even links to individual sub-pages or sections directly from Google are possible with it. Unfortunately, this function is also not controllable, but the use of the specifications in schema.org (https://schema.org/) is the basis for this. The above-mentioned plugins do this work and there is also automatic help for the table of contents with the jump labels. Simply search for “table of contents” in the Install plugins area and select a graphically appropriate one.

Evaluation according to the E-A-T principle

Expertise (technical knowledge), authoritativeness (authority), trustworthiness. Ideally, Google would like to provide its users with trustworthy content from proven and trustworthy experts. Concerning this reputation of the author, there is even a separate Google internal AuthorRank, which cannot be viewed anywhere.

The following measures have been shown to have a positive effect on a page being classified as trustworthy and the author being classified as an expert:

  • the site is encrypted with SSL (https: // = Positive User Experience)
  • the page has a complete, real imprint with contact options
  • The site has a privacy policy and complies with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)
  • The site has a detailed About me / Team introduction
  • the individual contributions have a meaningful author’s box including a brief introduction and photo
  • the page shows no or only a few advertising banners
  • the page has no or as few outgoing broken links as possible

The latter should be monitored with a free Broken Link Checker plugin, because such an outgoing link can change from time to time. There are also helpful tools online to check your website for broken outgoing links, such as https://www.brokenlinkcheck.com/.

Backlinks for your website or blog

Links from other recognized, topic-related websites are also considered to be external characteristics for the trustworthiness and specialist knowledge of an author. Your own articles on other websites, for example from magazines, publishers or broadcasters, should therefore, if possible, also receive a backlink to your own website. This strengthens the actual author as an authority in his subject, that is how SEO works.

Duplicate content and the canonical tag

In the course of this, it should be mentioned that duplicate content on the Internet must also be avoided at all costs. If an article can be found online several times, the meta tag canonical tag in the HTML code of the original would be very important. This defines the original URL (canonical URL) of the author. (https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canonical_Link)

Google Disavow for Bad Links

Not every link is a good backlink; there are also bad links and they are poison for your SEO. This should be avoided as far as possible, which is unfortunately not easily possible these days. Who is linked from where to a page is not in the hands of the page owner, but is still rated. With the Google Search Console you can at least determine in the Links area which domains are linking to your own website. If there are black sheep among them, you can devalue them. Unwanted backlink sources include:

  • Hate speech and hate speech websites
  • Websites with fake content and fake news
  • harmful websites with viruses and malware
  • Phishing websites for data theft only
  • suspicious sex, trading and gambling sites (if your are not in this business)
  • SPAM links from meaningless, automatically generated content with aggressive advertising

For all of them Google offers a possibility of countermeasures by declaring these links in the index to be invalid:

https://search.google.com/search-console/disavow-links

Please use this tool very careful.

The robots.txt and sitemap.xml files

The two important files robots.txt and sitemap.xml tell the web crawler (also called spider, crawling bot, searchbot or robot) of the search engines whether and where they can find, crawl and index the content on a page. This can be used to selectively block entire areas of a website from the search engine index or specifically exclude unwanted bots. These files are also generated automatically using the useful Yoast SEO or Rank Math SEO plugins.

Optimize content for Google image search

In its Universal Search, Google offers its own search engine for images, which is very popular and can bring many visitors to the website. It is therefore essential to label these media with the most important keywords in the file name and in the alt tags (alternative text / image title attribute).

DSC_0815.jpg becomes sunset-venice-italy.jpg.

This alternative text not only helps visually impaired blog visitors but also the bots. But you shouldn’t overdo it here either, three to five descriptive words are enough.

Fast + mobile-friendly website = positive user experience

The user should have fun on one side and the most positive user experience possible. The (positive) user experience (UX) has been an integral part of the Google algorithm since the middle of the year. First of all, this means that a website for good SEO has to be responsive and mobile-friendly, because the majority of search queries have been coming from smartphones for many years. Google recognizes this with the principle of mobile first.

It should also be clear that the context of a search query that has not been typed in also plays a major role. Where and when someone queries from which device is also decisive for the delivered search result, at the latest for a request from a mobile phone such as “Where is the next drug store?”.

In case of successful SEO he website should also load quickly, which not only depends on your webhoster, but also on the entire programming and source code of a theme (design). Sometimes it is essential to replace an outdated template or you even have to move your WordPress installation to another server.

Caching (preloading) and lazy loading (delayed loading of images and comments when scrolling) also contribute to an optimized page structure and thus to the speed of a page. Google also likes to see the self-developed image format with the ending .webp (https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/WebP). All of this contributes to the desired user-friendliness and ensures a lot of effort on the part of the webmaster.

A loading time of less than one and a half seconds would be the goal worth striving for. How quickly a website loads can be tested here: https://tools.pingdom.com/ (Please select your nearest server to receive comparable data.)

You can test for yourself how good or bad Google rates it here:

https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights/

A lot of money, time and effort go into a good result. Sometimes you can’t avoid a paid new design and a few expensive premium plugins. Once you have passed the Core Web Vitals test, it sends an additional positive ranking signal to Google. The following free WordPress plugins can help improve loading times:

These paid WordPress plugins deliver even better results:

ShortPixel even independently converts the existing images into the optimized .webp format.

Attention: The detailed settings apart from the default settings should be made by a webmaster or administrator who has at least a little knowledge of webdesign.

Backlinks from other websites and blogs

A good backlink should surprise you! But unfortunately you often wait in vain if you are not active in the industry yourself and have the necessary contacts. As already mentioned above, good backlinks make a decisive contribution to the reputation of a website and the author on the Internet.

However, these links should not have the additional attributes nofollow, sponsored (paid) or ugc (user generated content) in the source code, because then they are not really counted. This often happens with posts from forums or blog comments. It used to be a popular tool for SEO, but it was used too much. These comment links and links from forum posts may bring some direct traffic to the site, but no permanent improvement in the ranking. The only exception is a nofollow link from WikiPedia, which makes it correspondingly difficult to get. By the way, the tags noopener and noreferer are irrelevant.

The type of link in question can only be recognized in the source text of a website. To do this, simply press the right mouse button on the relevant page and select Show page source text. Here you have to use the search function and look for your own URL.

This is what the nofollow link looks like in the HTML source code:

<a href=”https://backlinkgui.de/” rel=”nofollow”>free backlinks</a>

However, this is how the perfect DoFollow link looks in the HTML source code:

<a href=”https://backlinkgui.de/”>free backlinks</a>

A topic-relevant DoFollow backlink with a suitable anchor text (link text) from a recognized site is the ideal case sought. This link has no invalidating attributes in the source code and passes on its link power (link juice) unchecked. The reward for this is a better rating by Google. You can usually set these attributes when linking from the text in the editor of the CMS (Content Management System) used.

Open your eyes, traps lurk here for laypeople too: Using another code in the meta tags at the top of the site, you can devalue the links of an entire page in one fell swoop:

<meta name = ”robots” content = ”nofollow” />

Now you could get the idea to start the big link exchange with God and the world or even the targeted backlink purchase. But Google doesn’t like that at all and punishes anyone caught with the dreaded Google Penalty. (See also: “manual measures” in the Google Search Console).

https://developers.google.com/search/docs/advanced/guidelines/link-schemes

So it is better to be aware of this popular type of offline optimization, as others have tried. Getting out of the so-called sandbox takes months and requires a lot of correspondence with Google. Although they rarely answer, in case of doubt only to a letter from a lawyer.

On this blog you will find really good sources of high quality free backlinks in the near future. First step are these link building basics.

If you speak German you will already find a lot of backlink opportunities on my travel blog:

Relevant links for your own posts are often difficult to find. Insights into how the competition is doing can be obtained from paid tools such as ahrefs. https://ahrefs.com/

Don’t forget about the internal linking

Incidentally, the topic of link power is a little more in your own hands, because the internal DoFollow linking of posts with the associated anchor text also brings you a good bit further forward in your SEO. Where it fits well, you should unrestrainedly link the blog posts to one another and show Google what is important to you.

The subsequent search engine optimization

For a simple website with only one defining topic, subsequent page optimization is relatively easy to implement. Optimizing a complex blog with all the different articles and topics, on the other hand, is much more demanding and time-consuming. Every single blog post has to be analyzed and individually revised.

Anyone who is now even thinking of a complete redesign with a new page architecture and menu structure that is as flat as possible should be warned: Here you can crash quite a bit before things get better after a few months.

It is extremely important that every old URL is forwarded to the new URL with the HTTP response status code 301 for moved permanently. It’s like the relocation order at the post office. Everyone knows the status code 404 — page not found (broken link) from their own experience and Google would like to spare the user this negative user experience. Plugins such as Rank Math SEO even do this permanent redirect automatically when the URL is changed.

Do not be afraid of the task that seems insurmountable at first glance — SEO works!

Three final helpful SEO tips

  1. Keep the start page / homepage as free of external links as possible, such as the popular blogroll. Selected outgoing links to your own social media channels, on the other hand, are fine. You can let off steam as you please on the sub-pages and in the blog posts. However, there should not be more than 100 outbound links per page, otherwise you will be classified as a fairly safe SPAM page.
  2. Selected bold keywords in the blog posts, such as this one, also contribute to the good ranking. This signals important content to Google.
  3. You cannot only rely on supposedly strong backlinks from self-created profile pages, entries in free web catalogs or simple forum posts. Google quickly recognizes these as such and also gives them the appropriate lower priority. Better a topic-relevant backlink from a recognized medium than ten such links.

How quickly do the SEO measures work?

A lot of patience and perseverance are required here. Quick changes in the title and description of existing posts can result in a visible improvement in findability within a few days. But normally, all of these SEO measures take effect after four to twelve months at the earliest.

Staying on the ball and keeping yourself informed about the most important innovations is urgently needed. Often it is only small changes that quickly show visible effects and make a contribution stand out from those of the competition. The reward for this is steadily increasing visitor numbers, if Google wants it.

Author’s note: This blog post, in spite of its length, doesn’t contain everything that makes SEO today — that would simply go beyond the scope of this article. Despite its deliberately extremely search engine-compliant spelling, it will not appear in the Google Top Ten on SEO in two weeks. That would be a wasted effort given the huge competition from professionals on the Internet. Although I now have the SEO Professional award, I am still at the very beginning of a hard and rocky uphill path.

Here we start with the link building strategy:

https://backlinkgui.de/link-building-basics/

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