A Beginner’s Guide to SEO: 8 Steps for a Better Ranking

Smart Business Tips

I can hear you running from the computer! I have to admit I did the same thing when I first started reading about SEO… Just kidding, I dove right in. The concept of manipulating (in a good way!) a website’s position within search results has always been fascinating to me. #nerd

Read this if you want your website to have its best chance of showing up higher in search results. Or delegate someone else to handle it. But please do take care of your SEO for your best chance at success! 

SEO, as you probably know, is an acronym for Search Engine Optimization. It is a critical factor in organic searches and in ranking on search engines like Google. Ranking means where your website listing appears within the search results – page one at the top, page 500, etc. Implementing SEO boils down to making sure the words you use in your blog posts and on your web pages make sense to your website goals and theme, so a stranger can find your site when they search on Google.

That makes it sound very simple, but it’s not quite that easy. SEO isn’t just about using the correct strategic words. You’ll also need to format images correctly, use up to date code, optimize site speed, manage your site from search engine consoles, and link to helpful relevant content.

That might sound overwhelming now, but SEO can be broken down into simple steps with tools to help along the way.

With each of these steps, remember to think about how you’re optimizing for search engines, but really it’s for people. You want to help people find your website, navigate your website, and learn and/or take action on your website.

Here are 8 steps you can follow to get up and running with better SEO for your website.


OK so we established that it sounds complicated, but you can make it easier with a plugin for your WordPress site. The first thing you need to do right away is install the WordPress Yoast SEO plugin. It is incredibly useful and it is free. (There is also a premium version for around $69.)

Yoast SEO interface screenshot

Yoast SEO has tons of options, but it’s not overwhelming if you use their configuration wizard. Click Yoast in the left menu in your WordPress dashboard, then on the General tab within Yoast’s interface.

With the free plug-in you can take care of several issues that will greatly increase your SEO scores including:

  • Grading a page’s effectiveness for keywords or keyword phrases
  • Creating an XML sitemap – What is a sitemap??? I can hear you asking. A sitemap is just a list of the pages on your website. By creating one with the Yoast plugin, it will automatically update as you update your website, easy!
  • Creating metadata like page titles and descriptions
  • Controlling permalink structure
  • Making sure your tags and categories are web crawlable
  • Linking your social media accounts to your blog posts
  • Installing breadcrumbs. According to W3SchoolsA breadcrumb navigation provide links back to each previous page the user navigated through, and shows the user’s current location in a website.


Meta titles and descriptions are what show up in Google’s search results when you Google a topic. It’s a behind-the-scenes description of what the post or page is about. They’re useful because you might have titled your page something funky to grab attention, but need to be more specific so search engines can find it. Or maybe you began the article with a sentence that doesn’t accurately describe the content and you want people to see a more accurate description in the search results instead of “I can see you running…” haha 😉

As you can see on this example, the description is pulled from your first few blog sentences. If there are too many words, Google will place three dots at the end to signify there is more text. You can see the three dots at the end of the highlighted section below.

google search results for evergreen design studio

Once the Yoast SEO plug-in is installed, within your WordPress dashboard you will see at the end of every blog post and page a box in which you can enter a meta description (excerpt) to better describe your post or page than whatever your first sentence is. This helps search engines display your posts and pages when people search for specific keywords or keyword phrases. But what are those?


A keyword is one word that best describes what your post or page is about. You can think about it like this – If someone is searching in Google, a keyword is the word they enter in the search box. And a keyword phrase is simply more than one word.

When making your pages and posts, (on some, not all, depending on the nature of your site), you’ll want to target specific keywords or keyword phrases with the goal of having that page rank high in search results.

Yoast has a neat feature in which you can enter a keyword and then it will tell you all the ways in which you can improve the page or post for the best chance at ranking high. Don’t take this too seriously, though. Use it on a few choice pages and concentrate more on providing high quality content.

Tip – you want to use a different specific keyword or keyword phrase on each page. If you use the same one on more than one page, it spreads link juice and pushes the pages down in results.


What is an URL? According to Wikipedia an URL is:

A Uniform Resource Locator (URL), commonly informally termed a web address (a term, which is not defined identically) is a reference to a web resource that specifies its location on a computer network and a mechanism for retrieving it.

According to me, it’s your website’s address or a specific page address up at the top of the browser. The thing that start with http…

It is vital to ensure that your URL is ideal for all your pages and posts. The first thing you want to do is check your permalinks.

First, go to your WordPress dashboard and on the left menu go to Settings then Permalinks. There you will see a series of what are called Common Settings. Click the button that says ‘post name’ and now all your permalinks will include the title of the post instead of a series of numbers or just a date.

It helps to have words in the URL because it is more of a hint to a search engine about the content of the page.

screen shot of the wordpress permalink page in the dashboard

Then in the Yoast settings, you can choose the option to remove stop words. Stop words are common words like a, the, in, with – they don’t really describe the page, but they add to the length of the URL and you want it to be shorter rather than longer.

Please note that if you have been blogging or using your site for a while and have sent out links to these posts before you change it you should download a plug-in such as Redirection, so that you don’t get customers seeing 404 errors or page not found.

You should also install a plugin called Social Warfare before you change your permalinks and it will track social shares from old permalinks. Yay!


What is an internal link? Well that is a link to text, stories and even media that you have published somewhere else on your website.

Internal linking is a great way to keep people reading all your other blog posts that relate to the one they are on. They can click on that internal link, which will open another page on your site for them to read. Internal links are another great SEO strategy because they do benefit the reader and they are extremely good for your search engine rankings. It also reduces your bounce rate, which will increase your website’s status.

It is also very helpful for your reader to see external links, or links to other helpful websites and blogs. Good quality external links can help Google decide if your site is trustworthy and can increase your ranking in the search engines.


What is an image alt tag and where do I find it?!

Image Alt Tag is the text behind an image that will be read by search engines and screen readers for the visually impaired. Most images are simply a mass of colored pixels to a search engine, so you have to add text that they can crawl so that they can be found. In an ideal world your img alt tag should include your keywords.

Check out the example below. The alt tag is “Alt Text: iPad mockup…”

screen shot to demonstrate the alt tag in wordpress media library

When I fill out the image alt tag, I like to think about it like this – Imagine someone cannot see the photo – how would you describe it to them? That’s what you want to put in the box.

7. Speed up YOUR SITE

Site speed is critically important, particularly with mobile and tablet viewers who now make up more website views than desktop users.

We’re in the future now and people can’t wait half a second for a website to load. They’ll click back and pick another. So search engines punish you for a slow site.

First, optimize your images to load fast. If you’re not doing it manually with Photoshop or Lightroom, compress your images with a plugin like EWWW Image Optimizer or Smush It to enhance your upload speeds.

Second, see how Google grades your site. Go to Google’s PageSpeed Insights and have Google instantly analyze your site’s uploading speeds. If you have a score of 75 or above on mobile and desktop not to worry that is a pretty good score. If, however, it is much lower, as in below 50, you have issues. Major issues. Follow Google’s recommendations on how to speed up your site and get a better grade.

Third, perform an audit on your plugins. It is possible that some of your plugins are slowing down your site. You can test these with a free plug-in called P3 Plugin Profiler. Evaluate the need of those slowing things down and look for faster alternatives if they’re necessary.

Fourth, cache your data. You can speed up your site with a cache plugin or service. Caching is simply saving previously visited pages and items so that when a visitor returns, that content is loaded faster than the first time. Ask your host if they offer this service. If not, install a plugin like WP Super Cache and/or invest in Cloudflare, which offers even more features to speed up your site.

8. Increase backlinks to your site

What is a backlink and how does it help SEO?!

Most search engines use an algorithm that searches backlinks and gives more weight to sites with more quality backlinks. Backlinks from your perspective are links to your site coming from other sites. They can be good if they come from high quality sites, but they can be bad if they are coming from spammy sites, so be careful. Backlinks are important to build credibility and reputation and you want to increase the good kind as much as you possibly can.

simple colorful visual representation of backlinks, copyright Evergreen Design Studio

How do you increase your backlinks I hear you ask? A great way is to create collaborative posts with other bloggers in your field or in complementary fields. If your business is about essential oils perhaps you can create a link partnership with a company that provides packing or labeling for the customers of your oils. You can ask other businesses that relate to yours if you can write a blog post for their website and create backlinks with this kind of collaboration.

Alternatively, check with your Social Media groups as to what collaborations are going on and are there any opportunities to guest post for another website or have someone guest post for your site. If writing isn’t your thing or you don’t have time, hire a freelance writer to help you out with this.

Those 8 steps are more than enough to get you kicking some SEO butt.

Don’t let it overwhelm you! If you get bogged down in the technical details, forget about them and think about SEO from a human standpoint. Think about it like “how can I most help a visitor to my site?”

And if you do find yourself overwhelmed, contact me for an SEO audit and I’ll tell you exactly what you need to do to your specific site and can even do it for you if you want.

Alright, get out there and start optimizing your site!