5 Things I Wish I’d Known About SEO When I Built My First Website

Updated 13 Mar, 2024 | SEO

SEO wisdom — lessons learned from the trenches

Embarking on a journey to create and optimise a website or blog can be both exhilarating and daunting. As someone who’s navigated the complex world of SEO for more than a decade, I’ve gathered invaluable insights that I wish were in my toolkit from the beginning. And now I’m sharing them in the hope you’ll gain a shortcut to SEO success.

1. The power of title tags and meta descriptions

A monitor showing on screen a SERP with Unique SEO title, meta description and 5 star rating.

Your website’s introduction to the world often starts with two critical elements: a page’s title tag and meta description. They’re not just mere components of your site’s code; they’re the frontline soldiers in the SEO battlefield, determining whether your page stands out in crowded search results. Think of title tags as the bold headlines of a newspaper article and meta descriptions as the enticing summary that urges readers to dive deeper.

When I first embarked on my website journey and worked with my husband to code a website from scratch, I neglected these SEO heroes. Ignorant of their power, my pages languished in obscurity, unseen and unclicked in search results. The moment of epiphany came when we switched to WordPress and I tried my first SEO plugin.

I started crafting compelling title tags and meta descriptions because that’s what the plugin told me to do. This small but potent change was like flipping a switch, illuminating my website in the search engine’s eyes and skyrocketing its performance.

Here’s a vital truth: a well-crafted title tag can be the difference between a user reading your search listing or scrolling straight past it. Meta descriptions, though not a direct ranking factor, play a pivotal role in conversion. They are your pitch to the searcher, your chance to tell them why your page contains exactly what they’re looking for and are often the deciding factor in whether a search user actually clicks through to your page.

So, delve into the art of creating magnetic title tags and irresistible meta descriptions. This is not just about stuffing keywords; it’s about understanding your audience’s intent and speaking directly to their needs. Make every character count, and watch as your click-through rates climb, bringing a surge of traffic to your site.

If you want to master the art and science of creating click-worthy search listings, our completely free, no-strings-attached, ‘Write Better Search Listings’ course will teach you everything you need to know.

2. Unlocking efficiency — the SEO plugin game-changer

A four piece puzzle with S, E, O and Plugin on each puzzle piece.

When I reflect on the early days of my website journey, I recall the tediousness of manual SEO optimisation. It was a time-consuming process, akin to assembling a puzzle without the picture on the box. This all changed when I discovered the world of SEO plugins — tools that transformed complexity into simplicity.

SEO plugins like Yoast SEO and Rank Math are more than just add-ons; they’re your personal SEO assistants. They guide you through the intricacies of SEO, making what once seemed daunting, effortlessly manageable. My transition from hand-coding every SEO detail to leveraging the power of these plugins marked a significant turning point. Tasks like generating sitemaps, optimising for keywords, and ensuring content readability became streamlined, almost intuitive.

The real game-changer, however, was when I invested in a premium SEO plugin. It felt like a leap at the time, but the value was immediately apparent. Advanced features like automated redirections, comprehensive content analysis, and detailed SEO scoring systems made fine-tuning my website’s SEO not just more effective, but also more enjoyable.

For those who’ve experienced the frustration of a forgotten redirect or the painstaking repetition of an on-page SEO checklist, consider this: a good SEO plugin is not an expense; it’s an investment. It saves time, reduces errors, and most importantly, it empowers you to optimise your site to its fullest potential with ease. In the SEO toolkit, plugins are indispensable, transforming the overwhelming into the achievable.

I started out with the free version of Yoast SEO but didn’t invest in a paid SEO plugin until Rank Math came along, offering just enough value for money to tip me over the edge 😃.

3. How misguided it is to focus on keyword density in modern SEO

A SERP with the question on search bar 'Keyword density number one?' and results are top 1 answer: Content quality, top 2 answer: Keyword integration and top 3: Keyword placement.

There was a time when keyword density was the cornerstone of SEO content writing. However, like many, I once believed in the myth that a certain ‘magic’ density could propel my content to the top of search rankings. This myth was perpetuated by rigid guidelines from content mills (a part of my marketing journey that’s best left forgotten most of the time), where the rules demanded specific keyword frequencies that often compromised the natural flow and quality of writing.

However, the landscape of SEO has evolved. The keyword density paradigm has shifted, giving way to a more nuanced approach focusing on keyword placement and content quality. My personal breakthrough came when I began to prioritise strategic keyword placement over density (and I escaped the horror that is the content mill). This change led to content that was not only more engaging and readable but also more effective in ranking (and more enjoyable to write).

Google’s algorithms have grown incredibly sophisticated, prioritising relevance, context, and user experience. The once-prevalent practice of stuffing keywords has become obsolete, even counterproductive. Today, mentioning a keyword just once is often enough for Google to consider showcasing your content. The focus now is on the quality of the content — its relevance, authority, and value to the reader.

During my journey, embracing this paradigm shift was liberating. It allowed me to create content that resonated with readers and search engines alike. Gone were the days of awkwardly forced keywords. Instead, I focused on crafting content that naturally incorporated keywords only in places where they actually added value for human visitors, providing a seamless and enjoyable reading experience.

The lesson here is clear: in the realm of modern SEO, keyword density takes a backseat to the art of skillful keyword integration and high-quality content creation. It’s a testament to the evolution of search engines and a reminder to us all to adapt our strategies accordingly.

4. Take a balanced approach to navigating the SEO tool landscape

A scale with the words 'Ahrefs' and 'SEMrush' on the left side and 'Google Keyword Planner' on the right.

In the world of SEO, keyword tools are akin to navigational charts guiding you through the vast sea of online content. My journey through various marketing roles exposed me to a spectrum of keyword research tools, from high-end solutions like SEMrush and Ahrefs to the basic, yet functional, Google Keyword Planner. Each tool brought its unique strengths and limitations.

For beginners and small businesses, the allure of premium tools with their extensive features can be tempting. However, it’s crucial to weigh the cost against the practical benefits. In my experience, while these tools offer nice-to-have functionalities, they may not always provide a proportional return on investment for smaller operations or those just starting out.

Conversely, relying solely on free tools like Google Keyword Planner can limit your SEO potential. These tools, while useful, often lack the specificity and advanced features needed for a finely-tuned SEO strategy. The middle ground, I found, lies in tools like Ubersuggest. Offering a balance between functionality and affordability, these tools provide a practical solution for those seeking to enhance their SEO without breaking the bank.

The key takeaway is this: your choice of keyword tool should align with your SEO needs and budget. While free tools are a great starting point, investing in a moderately priced tool early on in your career, can significantly streamline your SEO efforts, offering a blend of utility and value that benefits most small businesses and individual entrepreneurs.

5. The importance of image optimisation

Monitor screen showing a webpage still loading the blurred image.

In the initial phase of my digital marketing journey, the significance of image optimisation for SEO was a lesson learned gradually. Like many, I focused primarily on textual content, allowing images to fulfil educational and aesthetic roles and overlooking the power that images wield in enhancing a website’s SEO performance.

Image optimisation is an often-underestimated aspect of SEO. It involves more than just selecting visually appealing pictures. Proper sizing and compression are crucial to ensure fast loading times, which is essential for both user experience and search engine rankings. My early websites, laden with high-resolution, unoptimised images, suffered from sluggish performance, a mistake I quickly rectified upon understanding the impact of image size and compression.

But the scope of image SEO extends beyond just technical adjustments. The real game-changer for me was mastering the art of crafting effective image filenames and alt text. This not only aids in making your site more accessible to those who rely on screen readers but also provides additional context to search engines, enhancing your content’s relevancy in image search results.

In my case, the transition from basic image uploading to a more strategic approach, especially in writing comprehensive alt text, was a turning point. It not only improved my website’s SEO but also aligned with my commitment to inclusivity for all users.

As you embark on your SEO journey, remember: don’t underestimate the power of optimised images. It truly is a critical, yet often neglected, component of a robust SEO strategy. Learn the nuances of image SEO and watch it boost your overall online success.

Empowering your SEO journey — key takeaways

A map showing the word 'SEO' at the start and the 'GOAL' at the end.

As we come to the end of this exploration into the pivotal SEO insights that shaped my digital journey, it’s clear the realm of SEO is both dynamic and nuanced. From understanding the importance of title tags and meta descriptions to harnessing the power of SEO plugins, each element plays a critical role in the tapestry of successful online visibility.

Reflecting on these lessons, the key message is one of balance and strategic focus. Whether it’s choosing the right keyword tools, debunking keyword density myths, or recognising the value of image optimisation, each insight offers a piece of the larger SEO puzzle.

For you, these insights aren’t just stories from my journey; they’re stepping stones to elevate your own SEO efforts. By integrating these strategies into your website or blog, you’ll not just be improving its search engine performance; you’ll be setting a foundation for sustained online success.

As you apply these lessons, remember SEO is an ongoing journey, one that requires patience, adaptability, and continuous learning. Embrace these insights, and watch as they transform your website into a beacon of digital excellence.