Actionable SEO basics – for busy people

Posted by Dave CollinsSEO

You probably understand at least some of the basics of SEO. Contrary to what many SEOs will have you believe – it’s not rocket science!

You know it’s all about choosing the right keywords, then using them properly in the title, description, content, links, images and so on.

But when I deliver our SEO training and am getting a feel for how much a group already knows, the same issue keeps emerging.

That the basics of SEO are, well… pretty basic. But when it comes to getting on with it and actually doing seo – even just optimising existing content, you don’t know where to begin.

If you can relate to that then I have some great news!

I’m going to show you precisely the steps that you need to take to optimise an existing piece of content, for example, a blog post.

I’ll show you how to select the content to optimise, how to choose the keywords and how to then optimise your content using the new keywords.

As I’m a big believer in teaching through demonstration, I’m going to show you all of this with a series of very short videos. They average around five minutes each.

For the videos themselves, I’m going to use our abandoned website that we use for training purposes: DaveTalks.com. So rather than having to blur any details, we can share the website in all its invisible glory!

A few important points.

What I’m going to show you is a very quick and basic version of SEO. It isn’t in any way advanced or in-depth, but using these techniques is feasible for anyone and will produce the results.

Also, the techniques below assumes that you’re going to be optimising content that you already have on your website.

I’ve tried to keep the videos as short as possible, as no-one wants to watch an SEO video for 45 minutes. But I do recommend that you watch all of them – not necessarily all at the same time.

There’ll be something useful in each one. I promise.

Step 1: how to choose your content to be optimised

I’m a big fan of sleeping well at night, so one of the safest SEO steps you can take is to find the content that gets very little organic traffic right now. That way you can tweak to your heart’s content without risking breaking a thing. This is how you find those pages.

If you prefer reading than watching & listening, a transcript of the “which pages should I optimise” video can be found here. And obviously this is also good for SEO.

Step 2: how to choose the right keyword themes

Keyword research is an odd sort of beast. Most people don’t do it. Of the few that do it, most make the mistake of jumping head-first into their keyword research tool of choice. This video shows an important step that should be taken first. And all you need is Google. And love.

You can jump to a transcript of this “choosing the right keyword themes” video here.

Step 3: how to find the most effective keywords

This is vital. Vital. Unfortunately, you’re going to have to spend a little money here. But $7 for a list of keywords that you can use for the next year or so? That’s pretty good value. Come on! It’s worth it!

You can jump to a transcript of this “how to find the most effective keywords” video here.

Oh and in the interest of saving you time, our recommended tool of choice for this (and most other SEO tasks) is ahrefs.

Step 4: putting it all together

Now that you’ve got your perfect keywords, how do you put them to work, without hideousising your website content. It should be a word.

You can jump to a transcript of this final “putting it all together” video here.

The final step: just do it

Most people who made it this far won’t get round to giving this a try.

Please prove how very uniquely brilliant you are and give it a go!

SEO works. It really does. And at this level, anyone can do it.

In case you’re a reader not a watcher, here are the transcripts of the four vidoes in all their glory.

How to choose the content to be optimised:

Okay, so the very first step in our search engine optimisation is to identify which pages on the website we’re actually going to optimise. Obviously, this is an important step.

There are of course a few different ways of doing it, so I’m going to show you what I consider to be by far the safest way to choose the pages.

So we’ve got our test site here, a very old neglected website, Dave Talks. The copyright is up to date, but almost nothing else is. This website sits there and rots, but it’s great for training and for this sort of video.

So if we go to the Analytics account, unsurprisingly we see that the site’s pretty much dead, but that’s okay. The default view in Analytics shows us all the visitors that have come to the website in the last month or so.

So what we want to do is to isolate the organic visitors, but specifically, we want to identify, which pages they’re not coming to, and there’s a surprisingly easy way to do this.

If we go down to behaviour, you want to select site content, then landing pages. Now, it’s important to use landing pages, because what we’re looking at is pages on the website where people land on from the outside world, if you like, but not from organic.

So this shows us what is working right now, this is all visitors. So, what we’re going to do, we’re going to click this little thing over here, which creates a pivot, and from there we’re going to choose the pivot by, and we’re going to change that to medium.

And what you’ll probably find is the first one will be organic, which is what we can see here. And then, I’m going to click twice to sort by the number of organic sessions, and this is what it should look like.

Now you might well find all this sort of junk at the beginning, so in this particular case, we’ve got this FBCLID. If that’s a problem and it’s getting in the way, just filter on it. Click on advanced, choose to exclude, a landing page containing, so in this case it’s FBCLID. We choose to apply, and that should be removed and cleared up, then we’ve got a clearer viewpoint here.

That’s the first step. Now let’s just get our heads around what we’re looking at. What this information’s telling us is that, in the last month or so, this particular content, this article copywriting for developers, has not had any visitors from organic. So, it’s actually had a staggering one visitor, but not from organic.

Now, bear in mind, why this is so useful.

This is the safest sort of search engine optimisation you can do. Why? Because we’re going to choose a page that gets zero traffic. So whatever we do to it, it can’t make it any worse than it is, right? It can’t break it, it’s already getting zero organic traffic. So we’ve got nothing to lose, and obviously a huge amount to gain.

Now, if you’re a little unsure of how safe this might be, or dealing with a low-traffic website, then it’s worth opening up the date range a little bit. All we have to do is go up here to the date, click on there, so instead of just looking at the last month, we’re looking at about the last eight months or so.

So now we’re looking at a broader date range, so this makes it even safer. This particular post, for instance, has had no organic traffic, at all, in the last, six or seven months, and that’s pretty safe.

So we found a page that could certainly do with some optimisation, any of these will do really.

What we’re going to do is select one that I think makes the most sense for the purpose of this example. So we’ll go for number one, the fifteen reasons to analyse server logs.

So, there we have it, we have our page. Ready for optimisation

How to choose the keyword themes:

Choosing which keywords you’re going to want to optimise your content for is, of course, a really important aspect of SEO. And the first thing that many people do, unfortunately, is make a mistake, or sometimes even a series of mistakes.

So, at risk of sounding like I’m stating the obvious, one of the mistakes is that people forget that you are competing against anyone else who is ranking for these keywords.

It sounds obvious, but it’s easy to overlook. We’ll look at some examples in a moment. The other mistake that they fail to realise is that, in a sense your SEO efforts are to help Google understand the content of your website, your blog posts, and so on. These act more or less an advisory to Google, but Google get to pick and choose, first of all, what your content’s really about, not what you’re saying it’s about, and also how they’re going to present it to people searching.

So, let’s see this in action.

So this is a product you may or may not be familiar with, Vicks First Defence Nasal Spray. The way it works is that it’s some sort of gel-type spray. You spray it up your nose and the theory is, it acts as a barrier against cold and flu.

I’ve no idea whether or not it works, I’m not working for them or affiliated with them, but it’s an interesting product.

Now, if you were commissioned to do the SEO for this product, one obvious mistake would be to try and rank for a phrase such as virus protection.

Because what we see is everything that shows up when we search for virus protection is all about antivirus software. So, again Google are analysing what they think I’m searching for. Virus protection is fairly vague, so Google are assuming I’m searching for something to do protecting my PC from virus.

Similarly, if I tried to rank for cold protection, this first listing, “6 Ways Can Protect Yourself From Illness During Cold Season” that’s pretty good. That’s on target. But look at the other things. Cold protection body virus, cold protection protective wear, cold protection gloves. Ways to protect your home. So, even though common sense and, possibly, your intuition, would suggest this is relevant. This is right on target. Google in a sense thinks otherwise.

Now, if we search for flu protection, again, this is obviously highly relevant, but look what we’ve got here. We’ve got some CDC content, we’ve got cold and flu pretence advice from Vicks, which obviously has more than a bit of overlap. Is it actually this product? No, it’s just general information

Then we’ve got general flu information, avoiding the flu without getting an injection, and so on. Possibly, we’re getting a little bit closer with this sort of phrase.

Now, if we search for cold and flu protection you spray up your nose, lo and behold, not only do we have this at the top, Vicks First Defence Nasal Spray, we’ve got that page listed underneath, we’ve got other people talking about whether or not products like this works. We’ve got a competing product. So, this is obviously on track. However, how many people a month will be searching for the phrase “cold and flu protection you spray up your nose”? We’ll look at that in the next video.

Okay, a little bonus point here. You see here where it says, “about 6.2 million results”? That is in no way an indicator of how much demand there is, how many people are searching for this phrase.

It just means that in Google’s index, there are about 6.2 million results for this particular phrase.

The takeaway point from all this is that some of these seed ideas, these base ideas, for your keyword efforts, you’ve got to run them through Google to see what shows up in the results.

If the listings that show up are competitors, or very closely related to what you’re doing, then chances are you’re on the right track.

How to choose the keywords:

Now that we’ve chosen the right themes for our keywords I’m going to show you exactly how to find the right keywords that will become the basis for all of your on-site optimisation efforts.

So any keyword that you use or are going to be working with it has two satisfy three different criteria.

It has to be 100% relevant; not “kind of related to”, but a precise fit. The second criteria is there have to be a sufficient number of searches and the third criteria is the level of competition.

So if you are competing with the likes of Wikipedia, Amazon, they are obviously going to make it very difficult for you to rank highly.

So these are the three important criteria. Now you might wondering, how do you find out these metrics?

The tool that we use is Ahrefs – our main SEO tool of choice. Ahrefs no longer have a free trial, but they do still offer a seven-day trial for seven dollars. Seven dollars will give you incredible results for a ridiculously low price and this is how we’re going to use it.

Ahrefs have a lot of different tools, but we’re only going to be looking at the keywords explorer here.

The idea is that you put in your seed terms here, so in the interest of keeping it simple we’re just going to stick with the Vick’s product.

Don’t start by entering a whole load of terms, we’re going to put one term which is “flu”. We’re going to select United States and then we’re going to search for it.

What I’m interested in here is these keyword ideas on the left-hand side.

So if we have a look at all the keyword ideas, we get all sorts of data for terms and phrases that are associated with the word flu. Ahrefs have given us over half a million keywords. So it’s safe to say there are going to be some good opportunities in there.

Now how do we make sense of this? Well, the easiest way is to use filters so, for instance, I might decide that I’m only going to be interested initially in terms containing the word “protection”, which is obviously going to greatly reduce the number of terms, so that we go from about just over half a million searches to 354 keywords.

Because we’re looking at “all keyword ideas”, it’s not phrase match, so some of these are absolutely not relevant but some of them absolutely are! So I’m going to pick flu protection, flu shot protection, these are all related.

Let’s just keep it simple, we’ll pick just a few keywords from here and I’m going to choose add to, we’re going to make a new list and we’re going to call it flu.

Next, I’m going to go back to the filters, but instead of filtering for “protection”, this time I’m going to use the word “stop”. So there are a small number of potential terms here. For instance, “how to stop a cold when you feel it coming on”, “how to stop a sore throat”, “how to stop flu”, this is all quite useful. And again, we could keep going here but just stick with a small number for illustrating the principles.

I’m going to add those to our flu keyword list. Next, we’re going to pick the words “avoid”, and we see there are a fair number here too. So “how to avoid the flu”, “how to avoid getting the flu” and so on. Some of these are misspellings, which can definitely be a good opportunity when they’re there. “How to avoid flu”, these are all really good options.

We could keep going but for now I’m going to go to the list and see where that takes us. So when we go back to our flu list, what we can see is we’ve only got 14 keywords here. Again, this isn’t an in-depth example – I’m just illustrating the principle. For each of these, we’ve got some really important metrics.

For now, there are really only two that you need to worry about. KD is keyword difficulty – how hard it’s going to be to rank in the top ten for a given keyword. In other words, when you see “flu shot protection” keyword difficulty of 80, that means to rank in the top 10 is very hard compared to “how to stop a cold when you feel it coming on”, which only has a keyword difficulty of nine.

The second column is also very important – the volume. This is the average number of searches for the keyword for each month.
So what we can see here is that according to Ahrefs, “how to avoid the flu” isn’t too competitive, but there are 2,000 searches a month for this term, so when it comes to choosing these keywords, we’ve got to factor in the difficulty and the volume.

How difficult it’s going to be to rank for the top ten results, and how many people each month are going to be searching for it.

There are different ways to do this. Personally, I like to export into a spreadsheet and then you can start slicing and dicing as you see fit.

The key point about tools like Ahrefs is that they give you a good feel for these two really important metrics.

Critically, this is something that common sense won’t be able to provide.

You won’t be able to tell how difficult a phrase is to rank for. You certainly won’t be able to guess how many people might be searching for it each month.

So this data, just on this screen alone, gives you the information that you need to move forward and take your SEO efforts to the next step.

Putting it all together:

The final part of the process is all about putting everything together. So for this example, we’ve got a fairly basic article about how to prevent flu. Now, this has been set up in a fairly basic, fairly standard WordPress installation. If you’re using a different system than WordPress, the principles here should very much apply.

Let’s start by going back to our keyword list that I’ve exported into Excel.

Now, we need a bit of a reality check here. These are the keywords that we’ve chosen in one of the previous steps. We’re not going to be able to take every single of these keywords, all 14 of them, and put them in the page.

Now, this is a really important point. You can physically take all these keywords, all 14 of them, and find a way to squeeze them into the content. If you do so, you’re going to make that content pretty awful for the users. A good rule of thumb is to read the page out loud once you’ve optimised it. If it doesn’t sound right, if it doesn’t seem right or feel right, then it isn’t right. Don’t do it.

Now when we have a look at the content, the title is “How To Prevent the Flu”. And we already know that our number one keyword in terms of volume is “how to avoid the flu”, so there’s a really easy fix.

Instead of “How To Prevent the Flu”, we’re going to simply change that to “How To Avoid the Flu”. Now sometimes, changing the URL can be a good idea, but like all SEO tactics, the principle is not to take it to an extreme level. But we see here the link, what WordPress call the permalink, is “how to prevent the flu”. That’s a pretty easy fix there. The next step is to have look at the keyword list again, and we’re going to see if we can find any easy places to slot this into. And again, the really important point is it’s got to be seamless.

What I tend to do is I first look at the big opportunities. You can see here, these are heading two, H2s. I look to see if there’s anything particularly good in there. If you find the H2s, the headings twos that we have are things like “Get Vaccinated”, “Know the Vaccine Types”, they’re not in our keyword list, but they’re actually really relevant. That’s a very good sign; that’s a thumbs up if you like, that what we’re doing here makes sense. The phrases that we have that we’d like to optimise, they’re complementary, and that’s exactly what we’re looking to achieve here. What I can see is there’s nothing too important missing. “Get vaccinated”, “know the vaccine types”, “build a germ barrier”, “take care of yourself”.

So far, what we’ve done is optimise the actual title, we’ve changed the URL, we’ve had a look at the headings. The content’s obviously worth skimming over to see if there are any good opportunities.

“Flu protection” is quite low down. We can see it’s fairly difficult and the volume is low, but the signal we’re sending to Google if we use a phrase like that is it’s reinforcing the theme, and I think “flu protection” should be fairly easy to implement, so let’s have a quick look.

I’m not going to labour the point, but we’ll see if we can find a good opportunity, a good simple one for the example: “If you can’t steer clear of the virus, at least use good hygiene to create a barrier against flu germs.” Our keyword that we’re looking for is “flu protection”, so we can simply change it to “at least use good hygiene to create a barrier for flu protection.” Not the most beautiful piece of prose, but it illustrates a point!

If there were images, I’d be optimising them, whether it’s through title tags or alt tags. But there aren’t any in this article. The obvious opportunity here is the title and the description. Again, we’re using the standard Yoast plugin, which is pretty good. By default, it’s taking the title of the article, and it’s using an excerpt. Don’t let it do that; you want to regain control here.

Now, when I’m playing around with titles and descriptions, I like to do this in a text editor because it makes life easier. I use Sublime text editor. You can use whatever you like.

A really important point when it comes to your titles and descriptions is to make them compelling for people. What I mean by that is if you are advertising, let’s say on the Google Ads platform, I guarantee you’re going to spend some time there.

You’ll make sure that your titles look good, your ads look good. That same logic applies to your organic listings. If you have a title that looks appealing, you’re far more likely to get those clicks. So “How To Prevent the Flu”, which is what we had before, isn’t so good. Something like “How To Avoid the Flu, Stay Healthy This Year”, in my opinion, that’s a whole lot better, so we’re going to use it.

For your titles, you want to be aiming for around 50 to 60 characters. If it’s too long, Google will go and chop the end off. If it’s too short, they might ignore you and use their own. And it’s all about keeping control!

I’m going to delete the default, and I’m going to paste mine in: “How To Avoid the Flu, Stay Healthy This Year”. I think that’s reasonably compelling.

And the same principle applies to META descriptions. You want to be aiming at around 150 to 160 characters. And the same idea applies; if it’s too long, they’re going to truncate it, if it’s too short, they might ignore it completely and pull out their own.

One of the (many) reasons I like Sublime: you can see over here, if I select this text, it tells me 169 characters selected. So that’s too big, so I’ve got to trim that down a little bit. “Actionables”… is probably good enough, and then we can see this time, it’s 158 characters, which is perfect. I’m going to copy that, I’m going to paste it in, again getting rid of the default, the excerpt.

I think that’s a whole lot better. That’s more likely to actually get some clicks. Then I’m going to close this.

There’s obviously a lot more that can be done, a lot more tweaking, but the idea of this video is just to show you the basics. But I hope it gives you a reasonable starting point for when you’ve got your keywords, how you actually go and start using them in some of your content.