Search Engine Optimization 101

Search Engine Optimization 101: 9 Basics of Ranking Well

by Nicholas Tart on April 13, 2011 · 23 comments

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


Alex April 13, 2011 at 5:23 pm

Amazing post Nick. 😀 Also, loving the blog.

I am reworking Kolakube in a lot of ways, and the #1 thing I have emphasized on the new design is SEO (you know, without making it user unfriendly). I read through this post to make sure I was doing the 9 things you talked about, and I think I’ve nailed everything so far. 🙂 My sites never receive a lot of SEO traffic, and for the niche I’m in – I think I should start changing that.

Nicholas Tart April 13, 2011 at 9:08 pm

Alex Mangini! That’s a comment from Alex Mangini, ladies and gentlemen.

I’m glad you approve. I know Blogussion ranks well for a few Thesis articles because I keep finding them. I’d like to see more tutorial-based articles over there. Plus, tutorials show people how complex this stuff is. If they’re overwhelmed, they’ll want someone to do it for them. All of a sudden a premium skin seems like a great option. Just my two-cents. Thanks for checking things out over here.

Tanya Hamilton April 13, 2011 at 6:27 pm

This was a GREAT post! Really enjoyed it…loving the new website 🙂

Nicholas Tart April 13, 2011 at 9:11 pm

Hey Tanya! I’m glad you liked it. As I was writing this, I thought it was leaning towards being too technical. But then I thought, “Nah, entrepreneurs love the nitty gritty of how stuff works.”

Dinesh April 18, 2011 at 10:23 am

By far the best and well structured SEO article.
What if i’m not getting enough backlinks but i write good articles, that should i do?

Nicholas Tart April 18, 2011 at 10:33 am

Try guest posting for some larger blogs and be patient. The guest blogging will give you a few backlinks, but its just a matter of getting more traffic. There are plenty of bloggers out there who just post links to other blogs. If you truly have the content they’re looking for, they’ll link to it.

The Epic Coder August 30, 2011 at 2:54 pm

Hey Nicholas, thanks for this article. I’m going to apply these skills and techniques to my two sites, which are fairly new. They both have a lot of content, unique content, and all I need now is traffic from search engines. Hopefully these tips will help me in the long-term, but the only one I find hard is getting backlinks. I understand a lot of other people have the same problem. I guest post on one other blog at the moment but I really want to guest post on bigger blogs! It’s hard to get accepted though.

Nicholas Tart August 30, 2011 at 8:00 pm

Hey James, sure thing. My other site, JuniorBiz, gets about 80% of its 18K uniques per month from implementing these SEO tactics.

Backlinks are more important to rank for high-profile keywords. You should be able to rank for most long-tail keywords without even a single backlink.

Gina Geraci September 27, 2011 at 10:40 am

So much great detailed information! Thanks for sharing it. I am an amateur web designer that came up with the idea to sell NY bagels, gift baskets, college care packages, crumb cakes etc. online and ship them nationwide. I would be forever grateful if you could take a moment to review my site and tell me how to drive more traffic. I believe people ordering fresh New York bagels online include a small audience but I want to get the word out to parents of college students and anyone sending gifts or looking for a unique alternative to the typical gift basket. Thanks in advance..
SEO advice would be greatly apprciated..maybe a back link to my site? Hey, you can’t blame a girl for asking!:)

Nicholas Tart September 28, 2011 at 4:24 pm

Hey Gina! I love NY bagels. I used to live there and that’s one of the things I miss the most.

The first thing I’d recommend is a blog. Blogs drive traffic. Unless you’re paying for advertising, it’s hard to get a bunch of traffic without one. Here’s a post about the benefits to regular blogs posts.

I also ran an SEO analysis on your site that you can see here. After taking a look at that, let me know if you have any questions about it.

Backlinks should come naturally. If I had a bagel-ly site, there’s really not much on your site that I’d like to link back to. Unless I bought your bagels, had an incredible customer experience, and linked specifically to the bagels I bought. It’s just all sales pages. This is another reason you need to blog or start paying for advertising.

Hope that helps.

Gina Geraci September 27, 2011 at 10:46 am

I will safely assume that anyone on this page is looking to improve their rankings?! If anyone would like to exchange links please email me at and I will promise to add a keyword rich phrase that links to your site from my page 1 ranked site within 1 day! I am on a mission to be #1 by December! Lets help each other out..

Nicholas Tart September 28, 2011 at 4:28 pm

As I mentioned in the previous reply, backlinks should come naturally. Link exchanges are both considered grey hat SEO (which could eventually get you bIacklisted) and it’s essentially a zero-sum game. No reason to risk it. I appreciate your tenacity though and good luck with your mission.

Floyd October 19, 2011 at 10:49 am

Couldn’t have said it better myself. This post would be great to use as a primer for anyone getting into SEO, or for someone teaching someone else about SEO. Deffinitely worth a bookmark.

Nicholas Tart October 19, 2011 at 2:34 pm

Thanks, Floyd! That was my goal with this post. Everyone who asks me about SEO gets sent here. Did you learn anything new?

C Gainsford December 2, 2011 at 5:42 am

I started a website as a hobby.The fact is I like to write.Some people enjoy my stories and I have a small following. I would like to encourage more people to visit. I am not trying to make money and there is no cost involved.
I don’t know how to share links or any of that stuff.

Nicholas Tart December 2, 2011 at 11:40 am

Hey Mr. Gainsford… The best way to start getting traffic to your site is to reach out to other storytellers and ask if you can write a story for their website. Then you’ll get a bio and you usually get a link in that bio.

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