SEO Basics for Optimizing Your Website

SEO Basics 2016 search bar

On-page optimization doesn’t have to be hard. In this article, I’ll teach you some SEO basics that you can use right away to rank higher in search engines.

With on-page optimization, you improve your website content one page or post at a time. You are optimizing that page to rank high in Google for a specific keyword.

If you’re not an SEO professional, that can seem daunting. But you don’t have to be an expert to improve your website SEO right away. Even beginners and non-techies can use this information to rank higher.

I’ve made a simple PDF checklist which you can download for free and print out. Use this to get some quick wins and strengthen your web presence today. Read on to learn more about the basics of SEO in 2016, and the free PDF is at the bottom.

Choose a keyword you want to rank for

Globally, you may want to optimize your entire website for many different keywords. But at the individual page level, you will choose one keyword. This could be a single word or a longer phrase.

Keywords with three or more words together are long-tail keywords. The advantage of long-tail keywords is there are less people trying to rank for them. This gives you a better chance of ranking high in search engine results.

Use a unique focus keyword for each page

Don’t try to optimize several different pages for the same focus keyword. You’ll be competing against yourself. You want to optimize each page for a different unique keyword, and let them all work together.

Example: The focus keyword of this article is SEO basics. Since this is my first article about SEO, it’s okay to stay general. When I write more about SEO in the future, I can use more specific focus keywords.

Your page title is what users and search engines see first

After choosing a focus keyword for the page, you should write an appropriate page title. When a user sees a Search Engine Results Page (SERP), they scan the results and click the best title. Make yours count.

SERP page title ranking for SEO basics 2016

Use an appropriate title length

To rank high on SERPs, don’t underestimate the importance of how your page title looks. The ideal length is between 40 and 70 characters. Anything longer gets cut and replaced with an ellipsis (…). Anything below this range wastes valuable space you could use to attract visitors.

Write unique page titles including your keyword

If you can place the focus keyword at the beginning of the title, that is ideal. But definitely include it somewhere in the page title. Just as your focus keyword is unique for every page, make sure the page title is unique as well. And do not start every page title with your company name.

Example: The page title of this article is SEO basics for optimizing your website in 2016 | Paul Shryock. This is 61 characters, so it’s right in the middle of the 40-70 character range.

It also places my focus keyword right at the beginning. I placed my name last instead of first. This way you can see who it’s written by, but my name isn’t the main focus. My focus keyword is.

Optimize each page’s unique URL

Every page and post of your website has a unique URL. If you’re dealing with a static HTML website, this is the page’s file name. For Content Management Systems (CMS) like WordPress or Drupal, this is the permalink.

SERP URL ranking for SEO basics 2016

Each page’s URL should include the focus keyword. All words should be lowercase, and separated by hyphens rather than underscores or spaces. Shorter URL’s are better, and you can remove stop words if it’s readable.

Example: The URL of this post began as I optimized the URL by shortening it to It uses my focus keyword, “seo basics”, and remains easy to read by humans.

Describe your page or post in the meta description

The description appears below the page title on SERPs, so describe what the page or post is about. Don’t stuff it with keywords, and don’t just make it about your business. Think of this as a summary of your page’s content. It should be unique on every page and post.

Don’t fill the description with false click-bait

When someone clicks your link, they want to read the content they just saw described. Don’t trick people into clicking by writing about something else in the meta description. It provides a poor user experience, and visitors will leave.

Optimize the description for search engines

Much like page titles, there is an ideal character length for meta descriptions. Stay between 130 and 155 characters, and your description won’t truncate on SERPs. Also be sure to include your focus keyword once anywhere in the text.

SERP meta description ranking for SEO basics 2016

Optimize it for people too

Use an active voice in the page’s description to show the benefits of reading. When someone searches your focus keyword, they’re trying to get something done. Include a Call To Action (CTA) and describe what they can do with this information.

Example: This article’s meta description is the same as the first paragraph.

On-page optimization doesn’t have to be hard. In this article, I’ll teach you some SEO basics that you can use right away to rank higher in search engines.

I’ve included my focus keyword once, and made it exactly 155 characters. I’ve described exactly what the article is about, and what are the benefits of reading it. My CTA is last: rank higher in search engines.

Use headings to create document structure

It may be tempting to use H1, H2, H3 and H4 tags to make text on your page larger or bolder than regular paragraphs. But these tags are not intended for presentation. Use them to create structure in your document.

Your page or post’s title should be inside an H1 tag. In most cases, this should be the only H1 on the whole page.

Next use H2 tags, and under those use H3 tags. Imagine you’re writing a real outline, and heading tags are the points on the outline. The lowest level headline you should use is H4. Also, make sure to include your page’s focus keyword in at least one heading besides your page title.


  • H1: The title
    • H2: First level 2 headline
      • H3: First level 3 headline
    • H2: Second level 2 headline
      • H3: First level 3 headline
      • H3: Second level 3 headline
    • H2: Third level 2 headline

You should not have an H1 followed by an H3 or H4. Likewise, an H2 isn’t followed by an H4. Use the proper semantic order to structure your document.

These rules are not arbitrary. Following a proper document structure lets search engines understand how your content fits together. It also creates a simple user experience for readers.

Use simple taxonomy to relate your pages and posts to each other

Many bloggers may be familiar with applying categories and tags to their blog posts. These are taxonomy terms for organizing and structuring your website. This makes it easy for users to find the content they are looking for.

CMS article taxonomy including categories and tagsA regular website should have no more than 8 or 10 regular categories for posts and articles. Some cases, like eCommerce websites with many kinds of products, may call for a lot more than that. The point is to keep things simple.

In an attempt to be thorough, many writers and editors will tag articles with about 50 different tags. If you click any of them, you won’t find any other content that even uses the same tag. This comes from a misunderstanding about what tags even do.

Tagging articles with more than 5 tags isn’t necessary and does more harm than good. Choose tags that you will use again and again, so that people can actually find related content.

Example: At the time of writing this article, my website uses 4 categories. I write about Web Design, Marketing, Business and my Personal Life.

This article is in the Marketing category. It uses SEO and writing as tags. In the future when I write more articles about SEO, they’ll have the same tags. This way when someone reads this article, they can find more content about the same topic. Novel idea, isn’t it?

Don’t underestimate the value of visual content

You’ve heard that pictures are worth many words. You can immediately say a lot by showing instead of telling. This makes it valuable to readers to have visual imagery interspersed throughout your writing. It also reaches those who are prone to skim, better than any 50-word paragraph.

But besides improving user experience, images with simple alt tags also improve SEO. Every image should have an alt tag. Even decorative graphics should have empty alt tags. This is proper semantic code.

The alt tags of images should describe in simple terms what the image is. Keep it simple. Search engines rank images higher when they have correct labels.

Example: A photo of a blue car on the road could have an alt tag that says Blue car on the road.

If you can include your focus keyword in an image’s alt tag or caption, that’s also a plus for that page’s SEO. Just make sure it’s appropriate and makes sense. Don’t stuff keywords where they don’t belong.

A blue car on the road
A blue car on the road

Use links to tell search engines what content is about

Your page or post should link outward to other related websites. These are outbound links. Search engines will understand you share similar content, and it is better indexed. Do what makes sense. If you’re writing an article about blue cars, link to some blue cars for sale at a couple dealerships.

Never buy or trade links with others in an attempt to fool search engines. It will do more harm than good. Just link to content that’s actually related to what you’re writing about. Make it a good reading experience for users and provide further resources using links.

Pass link juice around within your website

You should also create inbound links to your other related content. This creates website hierarchy and structure that search engines can understand.

When I write more articles about SEO in the future, they will link back to this article. That will verify to search engines that this article is about SEO basics.

Links should describe their content

Don’t use phrases like “Click here” and “Learn more by clicking this link”. Just label the link with what it actually does. If I wanted to link to another article about SEO basics, I might do it this way:

Example: Learn more about SEO basics and on-page optimization.

Optimize your content for search engines

Write content for every page and post on your website that is longer than 300 words. If your pages are only a paragraph long, you need to rework and provide more content for search engines.

Be sure to include your focus keyword more than once in the content. Place it once in the first paragraph, and then use it a few more times throughout the body of the page.

The ideal keyword density is 0.6%. So if you’re writing 1,000 words, use your keyword six times. Don’t overuse the focus keyword, and don’t keyword-stuff your content.

Remember to write for humans

Search engines aren’t the only ones you should be optimizing for. They’re the means, not the end. Everything you write should be easy for humans to read and receive value from.

Try to say more with less. If you can communicate a concept in one paragraph, you don’t need to write three.

It’s actually better to write more than less. There is a correlation between how long page content is, and how well it tends to do in search engine results.

But don’t ramble or write filler content. Simplify and shorten your paragraphs, and then add more. Always provide value in your copywriting.

Use this SEO Basics 2016 checklist to optimize your website today

SEO Basics 2016 checklist

I have compiled the concepts from this article into a simple PDF checklist. Download it for free below. Print the list and hang it by your work computer to start improving your SEO today.

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For more in-depth lessons about SEO optimizing, check out The Beginner’s Guide to SEO by Moz.

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