Search Engine Optimization 101

Search Engine Optimization 101: 9 Basics of Ranking Well

by Nicholas Tart on April 13, 2011

I’m not a SEO expert. But I know how search engines work and I know the fundamentals to ranking well. 57.86% of my traffic comes from Google.

Whether you have a blog, an ecommerce store, or a website to host your pucker-faced-mirror-shots, it’s critical that you know the basics of search engine optimization if you ever want to creep up Google’s ladder.

If you plan on hiring someone to build your website, make sure they know what they’re doing when it comes to SEO. Because, frankly, most web development companies are building websites the same way they did five years ago and they don’t have a clue when it comes to search engine optimization.

First I’ll show you how search engines work then I’ll walk you through the nine basic fundamentals to ranking well.

How Search Engines Index Websites

Google, Yahoo!, Bing, and all other search engines are responsible for providing web pages that are relevant to their users’ search terms with the most relevant results at the top.

That’s it. That’s the main service that they provide and they all strive the be the best at it.

I’m using Google as an example, but they all work similarly if not exactly the same.

The Googlebot Crawl

Google has virtual robots called Googlebots or spiders that constantly crawl the web and automatically index web pages.

If you have a website with a single link from another indexed website, Google will find it and index it automatically. But if you want to speed up this process for a new site, you can submit it to Google here.

Interconnected Web

The Googlebots find new web pages by traveling through hyperlinks. So it’s important to get other sites to link to you.

You’re also responsible for interlinking all of your internal pages. Every page should have a few links to other pages on your site.


PageRank is Google’s way to rank the importance of a website on a scale from 0 to 10. All sites start at 0. As you build up your site and get links from other sites, your PageRank will increase and all of your pages will start to rank higher in the search results.

Here’s the general breakdown for PageRank (PR):

  • PR 0-1 means you have a new site or maybe it’s been Google slapped.
  • PR 2-3 is average.
  • PR 4-5 is good.
  • PR 6-7 is great.
  • PR 8-10 is nearly impossible to reach.

As of April 2011, there are only 17 sites with a PR 10. If you want to check your PageRank, click here.

Shoot for the Long-Tail

For a new site, it’s practically impossible to rank for those 1-word keywords (e.g. “entrepreneur,” “business,” etc.). Too many sites have been around for too long.

But luckily for you and me, 70% of searches are for long-tail keywords (two or more words that get searched less than 100 times per month). This means, you can still get substantial traffic from search engines by ranking well for long-tail keywords.

In fact, every post I write is designed to rank for 2-3 long-tail keywords. Over time, this’ll add up to a lot of traffic.

Strictly through SEO, JuniorBiz’s traffic is increasing and I’ve hardly touched it in five months.

The 9 Basics to Ranking Well

Now that you know how sites are indexed, here are the nine fundamentals of search engine optimization that’ll get you ranking for the long-tail keywords of your dreams.

1. Keyword-Rich Domain

The keywords in your domain are by far the most important SEO element you can have.

Let’s say you own Pearly White Dental Office in Denver, CO. You’ll be much better off building your website on than because the former will almost always come up first when someone searches “Denver Dentist.”

Unfortunately, doesn’t have any of the keywords that people will be searching for to find a site like this.

But I own and that site will always be at or near the top when someone searches for my name. This is one of the reasons I switched my name from Nick to Nicholas on all my sites.

Another domain-related metric to ranking well is your registration length. Always register your domain for more than two years. This tells Google that you intend to be around awhile and they’ll rank you slightly higher.

2. Title Tag

After your domain, the title tag is the most important SEO element. This is the blue text that shows up when you Google something.

Search engines allow a maximum of 70 characters for the title tag.

Every page on your website needs to have a separate title tag. The keywords at the front of the title tag are viewed as the most important. It needs to simultaneously include the keywords people are searching and entice their curiosity so they click it.

The title tag should always be the same as the actual headline that shows up on a page. This way, when a Googler clicks the link, they’ll be taken to a page with the same words that they just clicked.

The title for this page is:

<title>Search Engine Optimization 101: 9 Basics of Ranking Well · 14 Clicks</title>

This title tag has all the long-tail keywords I want:

  • Search Engine Optimization 101
  • Search Engine Optimization Basics
  • Search Engine Ranking
  • Rank Well Search Engines

3. Meta Data

Meta data includes your meta description and your meta keywords.

The meta description is the text that appears directly below the blue link in a Google search result. The purpose of the description is to summarize the page while including keywords and convincing searchers that your page will have the information they’re looking for.

Sometimes Google pulls other sentences from your page as the meta description if it believes another phrase is more relevant to the search.

Search engines allow a maximum of 150 characters for the meta description.

The meta description for this page is:

<meta name="description" content="The nine basic fundamentals of search engine optimization that’ll get you ranking for the long-tail keywords of your dreams." />

The meta keywords are the long-tail keywords that you want your page to rank for. Nobody (except Google) knows exactly how they impact search rankings but they are becoming less important as people use meta keywords to manipulate search results.

Include 3-5 keywords per page and separate them with commas.

The meta keywords for this page are:

<meta name="keywords" content="search engine optimization 101, search engine optimization basics, search engine ranking, rank well search engines" />

4. Permalink Slugs

Your permalink slug is the part of the URL that shows up after your domain on any particular webpage. This is the third part (green text) that shows up in a Google search result.

Like in the description, if the keywords you search for are in the slug, Google will bold them.

Traditionally, most websites generate a random series of letters and numbers to create the slug. With WordPress you control the permalinks to include the long-tail keywords within the slug to rank higher.

The permalink slug for this page is:


5. Headings and Subheadings

When a Googlebot hits your page it starts at the headline and moves through the headings and subheadings to determine what that page is about. Similarly, when you first see a book you start with the title then open up to the table of contents.

Google likes well-structured pages. Headings and subheadings provide a structural outline for both the robots and your readers.

To create headings within your content, use the <h2>, <h3>, and <h4> tags. The title and main headline of the page should be the one and only <h1> on the page.

For example, <h2>How Search Engines Index Websites</h2> and <h2>The 9 Fundamentals to Ranking Well</h2> are both <h2> tags. All the other subheadings are <h3> tags.

6. The First Third

Googlebots don’t read every word on every page of your website. That would take too long.

Instead, they get a grasp of what your page is about by scanning the first third of the content. So you need to include those exact long-tail keywords a few times in the first third of your article/web page.

Don’t include the keywords too many times though. This is called “keyword stuffing” and it’ll get you Google slapped.

Optimal keyword density is 2-5%. Meaning, include your keywords 10-25 times for every 500 words.

Hopefully the 135-word introduction read smoothly, but you may not have noticed how I weaved in the keywords:

  • Search is included 4 times
  • Engine is included 4 times
  • Optimization is included 2 times
  • SEO is included 2 times
  • Basics is included 2 times
  • Rank is included 2 times
  • Google is included 2 times

Within your content, Google gives more weight to the keywords that are bolded or italicized. But don’t go all willy nilly bolding and italicizing all the keywords because that’s annoying.

7. Backlinks with Anchor Text

Quality backlinks are the number one contributor to increasing your PageRank, and thus, improving the rankings of every page on your website. Google considers it a vote of confidence every time another site links to your website, especially if they have a high PageRank.

Ideally you want keyword-rich anchor text within those backlinks. Anchor text is the phrase that is hyperlinked.

For instance, it’s more important for me to get backlinks with the anchor text Become Successful Young Entrepreneur than click here.

To see a list of all your backlinks, use Yahoo! Site Explorer.

In addition to backlinks, it’s important to link internally to other pages on your website. You should be able to access every page on your website within three clicks from the homepage.

Another factor that Google considers is the number of times a webpage has been shared through social media. That’s why you need to include Facebook Like and Twitter Tweet buttons on each page.

I speculate that these numbers will eventually become more important than backlinks. Whoa? I know. It’s just speculation loosely based on an opinion.

8. Loading Speed

Google wants to share high-quality web pages to its searchers. One indication of quality is how fast it loads. Therefore, fast-loading websites will rank higher.

To decrease your load time, limit the number of images, use WordPress for clean code, and set up a content delivery network.

What’s a good load time?

  • Less than 1 second is great.
  • 1-2 seconds is good.
  • 3-5 seconds is okay.
  • 5-10 seconds is sluggish.
  • More than 10 seconds is archaic.

My image-heavy homepage usually loads in 2-3 seconds and most other pages load under 2 seconds.

9. Optimizing Images

There are only three ways to optimize images:

  • Filename Search-Engine-Optimization-101.png
  • Alt alt=“Search Engine Optimization 101”
  • Title title=“Search Engine Optimization 101”

For example, here’s the optimal code for the post image on this page:

<img src="" alt="Search Engine Optimization 101" title="Search Engine Optimization 101"/>

The #1 Rule of SEO

Create content that people like.

It’s easy to get into SEO-writing mode by meticulously maintaining a perfect balance of keywords, links, and subheadings. The technical ways to improve your rankings are important, but the best way to rank well in search engines is to write for humans.

Google’s job is to give people what they want. If you do that, they’ll find a way to rank you higher.

If you want me to take a look at your site and let you know what you can improve from an SEO perspective, leave a comment below with any questions you have.

Post image by: Grant MacDonald

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