What is SEO: The Basics Guide to Search Engine Optimization [2021]

Do you have a great internet presence but too few visitors? This could be because your website doesn’t make it into the top positions on the search engine results pages. You can solve this problem with search engine optimization, also known as SEO. In this article you will learn what it means, which measures are involved and how to proceed step by step.

Search engine optimization: the 5 most important questions at a glance

SEO is a complex subject. The following questions first give you a brief overview of the most important aspects of search engine optimization:

  • What is SEO
    SEO is the abbreviation for Search Engine Optimization. The aim of this is to position websites at the top of the search engine results pages for matching queries.
  • Why is SEO important?
    Search engines generate a lot of traffic that companies depend on. Most users find the offers they are looking for in this way.
  • How does SEO work?
    Search engine optimization is a combination of several measures from the areas of technology, content and backlinks.
  • What does SEO cost?
    If you commission service providers, plan one-off start-up costs from 1,500 € and ongoing monthly costs from around 500 €.
  • How fast does SEO work?
    Search engine optimization works in the long term. It can take three to twelve months before success occurs.

You don’t want to carry out search engine optimization yourself, but rather delegate it to an agency? Nevertheless, find out more about the topic so that you can better understand the service providers and communicate with you smoothly.

SEO: definition & why search engine optimization is so important

The aim of search engine optimization (SEO) is a good ranking of websites. If someone is looking for exactly what can be found on a page, then this should be displayed high on the first search results page. The search engine operators, above all Google, want to offer the best possible search experience. The search results should match the users’ search intentions as closely as possible.

Google positions the search results using a complex algorithm that considers over 200 factors. These are constantly being developed and not published. However, empirical values ​​show what Google attaches importance to, and this is where search engine optimization attacks. In addition to SEA (Search Engine Advertising), which is based on paid ads in the search results, SEO is part of SEM (Search Engine Marketing).

Search engine optimization is part of online marketing and is important for many companies. This is because site operators are dependent on sufficient visitors (traffic). Since most internet users use search engines, they can generate huge amounts of traffic. Search results positions that can be found high up on the first search results page are desirable for your own company, because very few users even click on the second page.

You might be interested in the following topic about choosing the right domain name:

ccTLD or gTLD: Which is Better for SEO?

The areas of search engine optimization: technology, content and backlinks

The Google algorithm is extremely complex. However, there are essentially three areas that are included and on which search engine optimization focuses:

  • technology
  • Content
  • Backlinks

Technology and content can completely influence website operators themselves in search engine optimization. Corresponding measures are called on-page SEOExternal websites also come into play with backlinks, which is why one speaks of offpage optimization.

What are the measures to optimize the site

One of the technical measures is to make it easier for Google to index the website, that is, to read and analyze the content. On the other hand, increasing user-friendliness falls into this area, as this is an important aspect of search engine optimization.

Indexability of the website

When you put a new website online, Google does not automatically find it immediately. You either have to register it for indexing via the Google Search Console or a link must lead to your page from an existing website known to the search engines (indexed). Then the search engine will find your page while crawling.

In order for Google to be able to evaluate (index) your website correctly, a few requirements must be observed. This includes:

  • Error-free HTML
  • No security issues (e.g. malware)
  • Clear page structure with clear navigation including correct internal links
  • No violation of the guidelines of the search engines (especially manipulative SEO measures)

If your website contains subpages that should not appear in the search results, you can prevent these individual pages from being indexed. This works either by inserting the noindex meta tag or a corresponding X-Robots-Tag header.

No duplication of content – technical optimization

If the contents of different pages match, this is called duplicate content. This has a negative effect on the ranking, as Google wants to avoid displaying identical results from different sources on the search results pages. Duplicate content can arise, on the one hand, from the fact that texts from other sites are deliberately copied or accidentally formulated to match.

Much more often, however, the causes of duplicate content are in the technical area. Among other things, the following sources of error are known:

  • The website is accessible via URLs with and without www.
  • An encrypted https and an identical unencrypted http variant exist in parallel.
  • Upper and lower case in the URL lead to the same search result.
  • The page is available with and without a trailing slash (slash at the end of the URL).
  • Different pages contain the same content (e.g. in the blog and as news).
  • Content is offered in a different format, e.g. a PDF file for download.

There are usually good reasons why the same content can be accessed via different URLs. That doesn’t have to be a problem either, because you can solve this problem with the canonical tag in the source code of the page or a 301 redirect in the configuration of the web server. The canonical tag tells the search engine which version of the page should be indexed. The 301-redirect reference permanently redirects a page to another URL.

SSL encryption is indispensable for search engine optimization

The security of data transmission stands for user-friendliness, which is why SSL encryption is now the standard. Back in 2014, Google confirmed that it also influences the ranking. In addition, some browsers display a warning when accessing pages without encryption, which unsettles many users. If you still operate an unencrypted http page, a switch to https is strongly recommended, not only for search engine optimization.

SSL certificates are issued by approved certification authorities for a limited period of time and are sold through various providers. With DV, OV and EV, there are three different security levels. There are also certificates for single and multi-domains. Many Webhosting offers already include SSL encryption.

If you want to install an SSL certificate yourself, proceed as follows:

  • Install the SSL certificate on the server.
  • Select which pages or domains should be protected.
  • Test the encryption with an appropriate tool and across multiple servers.
  • Set up a 301 redirect from the http to the https version.
  • Make sure that canonical tags point to the https version.
  • Adjust internal links so that they lead to the https page.
  • As far as possible, have backlinks from external sites adjusted accordingly.
  • Create the https version of your website in the Google Search Console.

Website title & meta description

The title tag and the meta description together form the snippet that is displayed on the search results page. How informative and clear this is presented has a great influence on how often users click on it and how satisfied they are with the search result. The optimization of the snippet is therefore an important SEO measure.

The title tag can be seen as a link marked in blue on the search results page. It should not be longer than 65 characters and should start with the keyword if possible. A natural structure and the information content for the user are also important. The quality of the website title can affect ranking on Google.

The meta description is on the search results page as descriptive text under the title. Your quality influences the click rate and thus also the success potential of your internet presence. Make sure that the meta description accurately informs the user about the content of the page and encourages them to click. Their ideal length is between 130 and 160 characters.

Internal linking

In contrast to backlinks that refer to your own web presence from other websites, internal linking is about references to other pages of your own online presence. You are therefore completely in control of the structure. A meaningful and appropriate internal linking increases the added value of your content for the visitors and is therefore also an aspect of search engine optimization.

Please note the following requirements for internal linking :

  • Anchor text that matches the content of the linked website (not: “Click here”)
  • Formulate anchor text, of course
  • If possible, include the keyword of the linked page in the anchor text, but do not use it too often
  • Pay attention to the correct link target
  • Important subpages should be linked internally more often than less important pages

Optimization of the loading time

The loading time of a website is an important factor in user-friendliness. Above all, the increasing importance of mobile devices for Internet use has contributed to the fact that search engines regard a short loading time as a positive ranking signal. There are various tools that you can use to analyze and optimize the loading time of your page. One of them is Google’s free PageSpeed ​​tool.

Regardless of this, the following measures are suitable for shortening the loading time in terms of technical search engine optimization :

  • Keep file quantities and sizes low
  • Compress images
  • Remove unnecessary comments, spaces and redundant tags from the source code
  • Use server caching (caching of frequently requested elements on the server)
  • Activate browser caching (caching of individual content from the web browser)
  • Apply GZIP compression

We have explained this topic in detail in the following article. Check it out.

PageSpeed: Optimization of the Page Loading Speed & Core Web Vitals

Logical and clear content structure

Visitors should be able to orient themselves intuitively on your website. For this, it is important that you can grasp the structure quickly. Flat hierarchies in which each content can be reached with no more than four clicks are advantageous.

The logical content structure is an important aspect of user-friendliness and therefore important for search engine optimization. Pay attention to the following details:

  • Clear navigation at the top or left
  • Breadcrumb navigation in the upper area of ​​every website (shows the current path)
  • Links to important content in the footer (imprint, terms and conditions, etc.)
  • Linking of the logo to the homepage in the top left corner of each subpage

You should avoid the following mistakes when structuring your content:

8 Content Creation Mistakes – And How To Avoid Them

Talking URLs

Also, check that your URLs meet SEO requirements. Not only for better user orientation, but also for search engine optimization, it is advisable to use so-called speaking URLs for every website. These have the following properties:

  • Readable words that provide information about the content and path of the page (use keywords)
  • Not too long
  • Lowercase letters only
  • No special characters and umlauts
  • Minus sign between each term

An SEO-friendly, speaking URL would be : new-furniture.com/kitchen/small-kitchen-furniture.html.

In addition to a domain name that matches the content of the website and speaking URLs, the top-level domain is also not entirely unimportant. Well-known endings such as .de or .com arouse more trust than less familiar ones and are clicked more often.

HTML for headings

A correct and logical heading structure is not only important for the comprehensibility of the content, but also enables Google to evaluate your online presence more accurately. This has a positive effect on the ranking. Therefore, as a search engine optimization measure, mark all headings with the appropriate HTML tags, whereby a gradation from h1 to h6 is theoretically possible. However, it is advisable to limit yourself to the levels up to h4.

Use the h1 heading only once on a page. It should contain the keyword for which the corresponding subpage is optimized and not match any of the other headings. Use the other headings to structure the text logically. Put yourself in the shoes of your visitors, who first orient themselves using the headings.

If possible, use secondary keywords in the subheadings for search engine optimization. Also make sure that the wording is concise and understandable.

Learn how to write catchy headlines to grab the readers attention:

7 Incredible Headline Strategies You Need to Make Content Really Effective

Search engine optimization with images

Pictures loosen up texts and illustrate the content. Many users capture images faster than text and feel more attracted by them. This is also why Google image search is very popular.

In order to get your website among the first search results, you should extend search engine optimization to your images as well. This includes the following measures:

  • Select an image that is thematically appropriate to the surrounding text.
  • Image files with a small size are favorable, but this should not be at the expense of image quality.
  • The file name should describe the image realistically and include a keyword.
  • Both the title tag (appears when you touch the mouse pointer), the alt tag (alternative text) and the caption should be worded correctly and contain the keyword.

Learn how to optimize images for the web in our extensive guide:

How to Optimize Images for the Web

SEO with rich snippets

Rich snippets are organic search results that contain additional information. Google shows these extensions if the algorithm rates them as particularly interesting for the searcher. They do not influence the ranking, but can generate higher traffic. Therefore, corresponding measures can also be included in search engine optimization.

Typical examples are the star ratings in the search results or event information. Thanks to the additional information, rich snippets attract the attention of users and motivate them to click.

If you are interested in search engines enriching your snippets with additional information, you have to use structured data in the HTML code. The standards for this can be found on schema.org. However, you have no right to demand that the information be displayed. The search engine always decides that itself, depending on the search queries.

Featured snippets for search engine optimization

Featured snippets are short, concise information that users often search for and that Google itself compiles from the offers on the web. These are still displayed above the organic search results, even if the original page ranks lower. Typical examples are the answers to W-questions, which Google often outputs to match the search.

Even if the ranking of your website is not directly influenced by this, it is very advantageous if featured snippets are created from your content, because the traffic potential is high. You can influence this to the extent that you formulate frequently asked W-questions on your website and answer them concisely. However, there is no guarantee that Google will create featured snippets from them.

We have discussed the topic of “featured snippets” in the following article. Check it out.

Featured Snippets: No Further Mention on the First Page

Content – the most important factor for a good ranking

Even with the technical SEO measures described so far, you will not achieve much if your website does not offer good content. Google can now see very well which content is high quality and offers users added value in connection with their search query. In the following, you will learn how to plan your content strategy and what is important when creating it with regard to search engine optimization.

High quality and unique content

Google always strives to deliver the best results for users’ searches. The competition on the Internet is great it is correspondingly strong. This is why it is important for search engine optimization to create not only high-quality, but also unique content.

The fact that duplicate content in the sense of copied content is a taboo has already been explained above. In terms of content, a website should always offer something new compared to the competition. You can of course take up topics for which information is already available on the Internet. However, it makes sense to include new aspects that have not yet been treated in this way on the competing sites.

The most important thing in any case is the added value for the user. It is advisable to limit oneself to one topic and to treat it as comprehensively and in detail as possible. This requires good planning for a new website, in which you proceed as follows:

  1. Formulation of your own goals (sales, brand strengthening, income through affiliate marketing )
  2. Definition of the topic (e.g. health, finances, travel)
  3. Identification of user maintenance
  4. Subject and keyword research
  5. Building a thematic structure
  6. Time and personnel planning for content creation

The topicality of the content also plays a role in search engine optimization. Therefore, publish new content regularly. The topics should also be dealt with as comprehensively as possible. For example, you should plan more than 1,000 words for advice texts. However, the scope also depends on the topic and the target group.

Identify and meet user expectations

In order for it to be among the first hits on the search results page, your content must solve the user’s problem in the best possible way. Therefore, analyze which search intentions are typical for your target group. There are the following options:

  • Intentional purchase of a product or service
  • Information on a specific topic
  • Download files or other transactions
  • Search for local offers
  • Calling up a known website without having to enter the URL

Align the type of content with these expectations. Think about whether the users want to read a detailed text, watch a video or use a comparison calculator, for example.

One keyword for each page

Keyword research is the basis of any search engine optimization. This tells you what users are looking for frequently and can align the content of your pages with them. There are various tools for this analysis, e.g. the free Google Keyword Planner.

It is advisable to optimize every single subpage of your web presence for a different keyword . Include the corresponding word in the main heading and also in the text with a frequency of 1 to 2 percent. But also use some other contextual keywords to help Google better assess the website’s content.

WDF * IDF analysis

You can carry out keyword research in a particularly professional manner with a WDF * IDF analysis. This not only allows you to determine several subject-relevant keywords, but also their optimal distribution in the text and the weighting of the individual terms. This form of optimization is more complex than just focusing on keyword density.

There are tools for the WDF * IDF analysis. Based on the main keyword, they analyze the pages with the best ranking for this term. The result is secondary keywords , which are often used in context with the main keyword, and their frequency distribution. The closer your text comes to this ideal state, the greater the chances of a good ranking.

A WDF * IDF analysis thus also offers clues for the thematic orientation of the text. Because the keywords relate to information that users expect.

Clear text structure

Whether visitors to your website deal with your posts or click away again immediately depends on the first impression of your website. Reduce the bounce rate by designing the text so that it invites you to read. Divide it into clear paragraphs, as large blocks of text are off-putting to many users.

The main heading should not only contain the main keyword of the subpage, but also arouse curiosity and encourage reading. Short subheadings indicate what the sections are about and provide orientation for the reader.

Formatting the content

As part of search engine optimization, increase the readability and understandability of the texts through formatting. In addition to the headings, you have the following options for this:

  • unordered and ordered lists
  • Tables
  • Bold italics

The bold type is suitable for highlighting particularly important words and word combinations. You also use the strong tag to point out the highlighting to the search engines. Italics are mostly used to emphasize individual words or phrases within a sentence.

Content in several variants

It has already been mentioned how important suitable images are for the comprehensibility of your posts and for search engine optimization. In addition, there are other types of content that loosen up your texts and with which you offer added value to the visitors of your website. Use for example:

  • Infographics
  • Videos
  • Interactive elements (e.g. calculator)
  • Download material
  • Podcasts

However, it is not important that you include as much different content as possible in your posts. Instead, think about what your target audience can expect. Do your users prefer to watch videos, do they want to download PDF files or do they value meaningful graphics?

Content is King. Learn more about this topic in the following articles:

Content Marketing Tools 2021: What Are Some Content Marketing Tools

Evergreen Content Does Not Need any Additional Labeling

Storytelling in Content Marketing – This Is How Companies Captivate the Readers of Your Website

Backlinks – Optimization with Offpage SEO

Backlinks are links that refer to your own content from other pages. Google rates many and above all high-quality backlinks as a quality feature, which has a positive effect on the ranking. There are ways to generate backlinks such as:

  • Guest articles on other sites
  • Press releases on online press portals
  • Entries in business directories
  • Forum posts
  • Comments on other articles

This sub-area of ​​search engine optimization is the focus of offpage SEO. In contrast to on-page SEO, this is not carried out directly on your own website.

quantity

Basically, the more backlinks refer to your website, the better it is for search engine optimization. However, this is subject to natural link building and trustworthy and high-quality sources. Google is interested in the links being used to offer users real added value. Therefore, the search engine now recognizes manipulative backlink construction very well and punishes the respective pages.

Therefore, refrain from offers where you can buy a large number of backlinks. Linking to the websites of good friends can also be problematic, unless there is an actual thematic connection.

quality

More important than the quantity of the backlinks is their quality. Links from well-known and frequently visited pages significantly increase the probability that your website will be accessed via them. With unknown sources, this effect, which is also called link juice, is not so great.

There are also other quality characteristics that affect how Google rates a backlink. Therefore, pay attention to the following when doing search engine optimization:

  • There should be a thematic connection between both sides.
  • The backlink must offer added value to the users of the exit page.
  • Google rates the linked website as trustworthy.

You cannot 100% influence who links to your website. In the best case scenario, you will get a lot of backlinks from high quality sites without having to do a lot to deliver quality content. But it can also happen that links refer to your page from dubious sources, which degrades your ranking. For these cases there are SEO tools with which you can track down and devalue unwanted backlinks.

Natural link growth

Google can consider it a manipulation attempt if there is a conspicuous accumulation of backlinks that refer to a website within a short period of time. Because these are often bought or otherwise artificially built. The consequence of this is a penalty and a significantly worse ranking as a result.

There is nothing against promoting backlink building using the methods described above. However, you should attach importance to a natural link growth. This usually happens automatically if the value for the user is the focus of all actions.

Variety of links

As far as you can influence the structure of backlinks, it is important that they come in from as different sites as possible. In this context, you can also consider backlinks from lesser known sources to be valuable, even if they bring little link juice with them.

The link targets should be distributed as evenly as possible across the entire website. It can seem suspicious to Google if a single page is linked unnaturally often.

The right anchor text

If you are writing a guest article for another website for the purpose of building a backlink, look for natural anchor texts. On the one hand, it is advantageous for search engine optimization if you use the main keyword of your page to which you are linking as the anchor text. On the other hand, this must not happen too often, as it can lead to a penalty by Google.

Therefore, pay attention to natural anchor texts that announce to users where the link leads. Use both individual words and phrases that briefly describe the content of the link target.

Backlinks are important for ranking; however, you should pay attention to the following:

Forum Links Can Degrade Reputation

Link Building as an Important Component of Online Marketing

Search engine optimization step by step

Would you like to tackle the search engine optimization of your website? This is a complex topic that consists of many individual measures. So proceed systematically and follow these steps:

  1. Strategy development :
    Plan the search engine optimization measures in terms of content and time. Start with the question of what you want to achieve. Is it mainly about increasing traffic, strengthening the brand, or are specific transactions the focus?
  2. Keyword research :
    Use suitable tools to analyze which keywords are relevant for your offer, how they are used by the competition and how often users search for them. This is the most important basis for your SEO.
  3. On-page analysis : If you already have a website, analyze it with the help of suitable SEO tools. This gives you an indication of what is already working well and where there is a need for change.
  4. Content creation :
    Based on the keyword research and target group and competition analysis, plan which content will be created and when. Publications should be done regularly, so you always have to come up with new content ideas that ideally build on each other.
  5. Backlink structure :
    First, analyze your backlinks with suitable SEO tools. Then encourage natural backlink building using the methods outlined above.
  6. Monitoring :
    Constantly check the success of search engine optimization, the development of rankings, backlinks and user behavior. The use of suitable tools is also useful for this.

You have to keep an eye on the search engine optimization of your website on a regular basis. However, the effort is highest at the beginning.

7 tips for successful SEO

Among the many tips about search engine optimization, there are some that are particularly important or sometimes neglected. Read here what is important in SEO and how you can influence the success of your website most effectively:

  • Note mobile SEO :
    Since Google introduced the Mobile First Index in 2018, the mobile versions of websites are primarily used for indexing. The reason for this is the increasing importance of mobile search queries. Therefore, pay attention to a mobile-optimized display or use a responsive design that automatically adapts to the output device.
  • Avoid manipulation :
    In the history of search engine optimization, many methods have been used to manipulate search results, from keyword stuffing to the mass purchase of backlinks. Google has therefore developed methods that detect manipulation. These ultimately lead to the respective website being penalized.
  • SEO takes a long time :
    Don’t expect short-term success once you’ve started with search engine optimization. It often takes several months to show satisfactory results. SEO comprises sustainable measures that are geared towards long-term effects.
  • Content before technology :
    As already explained, there are many technical possibilities for search engine optimization. Most important, however, is always high quality, appropriate and unique content. The search engines are now very good at recognizing the quality of the content.
  • Keyword research as a basis for success :
    The selection of the right keywords plays the greatest role in search engine optimization. Thorough research is the basis for high quality content.
  • Answer voice searches :
    Voice searches are gaining in importance. Provide content for this, for example by answering simple W-questions on your website. You can get suggestions for this with the tool ” Answer the Public “.
  • Seeding to support :
    When you’ve created new content, your target audience should know about it. Do marketing and share on social media channels. In this way, you ultimately also promote the ranking.

SEO tools: our 3 recommendations

SEO tools are essential for search engine optimization, mostly due to the complexity of the subject. They carry out analyzes and evaluate the individual SEO aspects. In this way you can see which factors may have a negative effect on your ranking and where action is required. The tools differ in their scope of services and costs, with mostly different packages being offered.

  • Mangools offers a wide range of SEO functions, from classic keyword analysis to checking external links. Among other things, you can use the SERPChecker to analyze the top 10 results on Google for certain search queries. And the SERPWatcher supports regular keyword monitoring. There are three packages, each with all features.
  • Pagerangers is a toolbox that supports your search engine optimization from keyword research to monitoring. WDF * IDF analysis are also possible. With the help of the content suite, you can optimize your content. Three variants are also offered.
  • With Seobility you use comprehensive analysis and monitoring options, including response time analysis, competitive comparisons and the detection of duplicate content. If serious errors or server problems occur during regular monitoring, you will receive an email notification. There are three tariffs with a monthly contract term.

Find a suitable SEO agency: selection & costs

You can of course take over the search engine optimization for your website yourself. But there are also specialized SEO agencies that do this work for you. The following table shows the advantages and disadvantages of the two options.

 Do SEO yourselfHire a service provider
benefitsLower costsMore time for the core business
 Development of personal expert knowledge in the field of SEOSEO by up-to-date experts with extensive experience, also from other projects
 Independence from SEO service providersNo time spent on training until the SEO implementation
disadvantageTime consumingHigher cost
 Detailed specialist knowledge required (extensive training)Dependence on SEO service providers
 Time requirement to stay up to date 
 There is no time for the core business, which may result in financial losses 


Have you decided to hire a service provider? Then it comes down to finding a good SEO agency. A comparison portal can help you with the search. Pay particular attention to the following selection criteria:

  • Several references with details of the specific service
  • Good reviews or recommendations
  • Range of services and focus
  • Duration of previous activity in the field of SEO
  • SEO experience with your own industry
  • Contract term
  • costs

When it comes to the costs for an SEO agency, a distinction must be made between the one-off costs for analysis, strategy development and ongoing support costs. With the start-up costs, you have to reckon with around 1,500 to 5,000 euros, depending on how extensive your website is and which services you agree on. The running costs for backlinks, content and technology, can vary between 500 and 5,000 euros per month, whereby the minimum contract period is normally six months.

Is SEA an alternative with Google Ads?

The search advertising with Google Ads, also known as Search Engine Advertising (SEA), is also a way to generate on the search engine traffic. In this case, your snippets are at the top of the results pages for matching search queries, marked as advertising. Only then do the organic search results follow. You only incur costs when users click on your ad. You can also set a maximum monthly budget for this.

The question of whether SEO or SEA is more promising cannot be answered clearly. SEO is much more efficient in the long run, but only takes effect after a while. With SEA, you can also achieve short-term successes, but they wear off again after the campaign ends.

It is often worthwhile for marketing to combine the two. This is especially true when it comes to highly competitive keywords. Even if quick successes are important for time-limited offers, support for search engine optimization by SEA is appropriate.

The topic of SEA is explained in detail in our extensive guide:

What is SEA? What You Should Know about Search Engine Advertising!

Conclusion: SEO measures for more user-friendliness and success

When companies take search engine optimization measures, they automatically make their website more user-friendly. They ensure that it is found with suitable search queries and that it offers high quality and well-structured content.

For many companies, SEO is essential. However, what value it has in the individual case also depends on the specific business model. In niches with less competition, these measures are less important than in highly competitive markets.

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