When I first started learning search engine optimization (SEO), I thought it was a foreign language created by rocket scientists. Some cruel mix of advanced mathematics and hieroglyphics or something.
SEO is indeed a very complex topic, but I think it’s actually a lot less complex than a lot of people think it is, especially if you can think about it in the right way. I’m not going to go into a ton of detail in this piece, but I am going to give you my most essential SEO advice in dead simple terms. In terms that really helped me to wrap my head around what SEO really is.
But does SEO even still work? Hasn’t Google made it harder to “game” the system? What about all these “panda updates” – why bother trying?
Yes, Google has made it harder to make crappy content rank highly on it’s search engine. A lot of the quick hacks don’t work anymore. But, Google has not stopped being a starting point for people looking for information, and it has not stopped trying to provide searchers with the most relevant and high quality results.
Almost 12 billion searches are made on Google per month (and that’s just 67.5% of the market). It’s estimated that 64% of all web traffic comes from organic search. That’s presents an amazing opportunity to capture traffic!
When one of the 1.17 billion people who search on Google each month search for something you offer, do they find you? Below, read how I would explain SEO to a child, along with the simplest and most high impact hacks I’ve used to rank on Google.
What is Google’s Job?
What has helped me the most in understanding SEO, is to first think about it in terms of what Google’s job is. What is Google trying to accomplish?
Essentially, Google’s job is to give searchers the most relevant and high quality search results. That’s what searchers want, and that’s probably why most of us use Google – because we want to find information that’s relevant to us when we search, and because Google does a great job of providing that.
That’s Google’s job, they want to make sure they’re giving back the best possible information based on what we are searching for.
So, to improve its ability to return the most relevant and valuable information possible, Google needs to rank the massive, massive, massive amounts of content on the web by order of the quality and relevance to the searcher.
But there is so much content on the web that Google could not possibly manually screen every site and rank it and of course that would be insane. So, they use an algorithm to do it automatically. And if you understand what that algorithm is, you can produce your content in a way that is going to appeal to that algorithm and therefore make you show up higher in search results, and therefore get more traffic.
While how Google determines what is good and relevant content and what is bad content might change, I don’t see it’s mission of providing searchers with the best results ever changing. In fact, I think Google will continue to get better and better at surfacing the best content. Therefore, creating great content will always work. Thus, content marketing and SEO are essentially becoming synonymous. In other words, if you want to rank on search engines, you have to create awesome content.
How does Google determine rankings?
Instead of hiring a team of people to manually evaluate every page of every website available on the web to determine where it should rank on a nearly infinite number of potential searches, Google looks for indications that the content is relevant (given what was searched) and valuable. It uses many proxies or indicators for relevance and value.
Some of the factors it uses for ranking are matching keywords, how popular it is, whether it is being linked to externally and a few others. So the tactics to rank on Google are really just to appeal to those factors.
Popularity indicators that Google uses: Google+1s, this is actually one of the number one factors that will influence your search ranking on Google — how many times it’s been “+1’d” on Google Plus. So if you’re not on Google+, and you’re doing content marketing, you should go there ASAP. Facebook likes is another one, the number of comments it gets and social shares. Link building is another massive one.
To improve a website or page’s ranking, a marketer can make some optimizations to tell Google that its site is the best result for the searcher. We’ll get to some tactics you can use to boost your search ranking later.
Backlinks Are Like Endorsements
Think about it in the real world…How do people find products and determine which are the best to buy? They often get recommendations from their friends.
When one site links to a page on another site, that’s basically a recommendation. Many bloggers, myself included, link to external sources that either elaborate on key concepts, provide evidence for statements, or otherwise provide additional value to readers.
So, Google uses that as a proxy for quality. Links are like endorsements, and Google really likes endorsements.
There are a number different ways to build links and there have been entire books written on it, but guest posting (there’s a backline/recommendation for ya) is one of my favorite ways to build links. Not only does it provide backlinks, it has a number of other benefits that I’ve talked about in other posts.
Guest posting is a great way to build links. First, you reach out to blogs in your space and offer to write a guest post. Then, you link back to your domain or a page (ie blog post) contextually within the post, and/or in your bio section of the blog.
Press is another good one, though more challenging, way to get linked to. If you are a startup, have a unique story,or have accomplished something big, some blogs might be interested in writing about you. Most media companies have an email address or form for submitting news.
The last, and most organic way to build links, is to to simply create awesome content that is worthy of being linked to. What happens here is that other people will use your great content in their posts and articles.
What The Heck Is Keyword Research?
The next core SEO concept is understanding“keyword research.” As I mentioned, text relevancy is another factor used to determine what results to show to a searcher. Searchers want not just the best content, but content that is relevant to what they’re looking for.
For example, if you search for “sports scores,” a blog post titled “sports scores” is probably going to be closer to what you want than one titled “Yankees defeat Red Sox 6-1” (all other factors being equal). Even though the Yankees post is indeed a sports score, it doesn’t have as many of the keywords (in this case, “sports scores”) included within the article.
Using Google Keyword Planner can help you increase the likelihood that you will be the answer to your customers’ search queries. The tool will show you the exact words and terms that people are searching for, and how often, so that you can use those in your content.
For example, to determine what I should title this post, about SEO 101, I came up with a few ideas for what someone who would be looking for a beginner’s guide to SEO might be searching for. Google Keyword Planner then shows me how often each of those terms are searched, and provides some additional ideas about related searches that might be more relevant or higher volume.
This is contrary to what most people do. They brainstorm a few titles, ask their friends what they think, tweak it a few times, and then post it. By doing this, they often don’t realize that they’re not optimizing the SEO for their post. They can easily increase traffic simply by choosing a title that gets more search traffic.
Keyword Research, Demystified
So, before you publish, do some keyword research to determine what people are searching for as it pertains to your niche. Here are some things to look for when evaluating keywords:
If a large number of people are searching a given keyword, that’s an indication there is demand for websites, pages, or content related to it. Google Keyword Planner measures and displays this as “Avg. monthly searches.”
Does the keyword indicate buying intention? For example, “buy [product]”, “hire a [profession]” or “[product] [size/specification]” is probably more likely to be from someone with the intent to buy. A search like “[product]” is probably from someone who is more in the research or casual browsing phase. “How to [activity]” shows more intent to learn how to do that activity than “[activity].” So if you’re selling a book, or course, that could be a great term to target.
Little or no competition is actually probably a bad sign. It probably means that there’s little money to be made in those keywords. Or else another marketer would probably be targeting them. Too much competition means it may be harder for you to rank for those terms. That being said, trends are always changing so you never truly know what is going to be a popular search term in the future.
Google Keyword Planner displays the relative competitiveness of the term in the “competition” column. In addition, the “suggested bid” column shows how much people are willing to pay for those clicks. It’s likely the more someone is willing the pay the more they’re making back in return.
Do some qualitative research to see how strong your competition is. For example, if you search for the keyword and multiple big name blogs come up, such as the New York Times, etc., it may be hard to compete with them. Why? They are huge companies that have big budgets, and already have a high page rank, so it would be really hard to out rank them. They’ve also established a high ranking on SEO by using a lot of content, so it’s not easy to outshine them. Conversely, if your search returns some small niche blogs, you may have a chance at out-ranking them.
The Quick Hacks
Okay, so I gave you some core principles, but I’m guessing you still want to know how exactly to rank #1 on Google. Well, that would require an entire book, but let me give you a few quick hacks:
a. Use relevant, high volume, low competition keywords in your headlines, meta descriptions, title, etc., to optimize your site.
b. Pick a domain that matches a keyword you want to rank for if possible, and if it doesn’t completely sacrifice your image. A site’s actual domain name has an effect on search rankings.
Having an exact match, .com domain name will provide a boost. For example, “turkeytrees.com” will rank higher than “bushchicken.io” when someone searches “turkey trees”, all else being equal. .com, .net, and .org domains rank higher than other domain endings. Country relevant domain endings, such as .us, will rank higher for searches made in that given country.
Domains with numbers are penalized. Longer domains also rank lower than shorter domains.
c. Use WordPress. WordPress is a blogging platform that makes it really easy to improve SEO. It’s easy to edit link structures, meta descriptions etc. Yoast, and other WordPress plugins make it easier to improve SEO.
d. Create awesome content that’s valuable, not too short, and contains relevant keywords. You don’t just want to attract traffic, you want to convert it.
e. Build links by creating content that’s worth linking to and by guest blogging.
Google was not the first search engine. In fact it was about the 12th. It entered a highly competitive market, but managed to come out on top by having one crucial competitive advantage…it actually provided searchers with the results it wanted. One of the biggest ways its process was different from other search engines in that it focused on ranking pages that had more links pointing to it.
There is so much content on the web that Google could not possibly manually screen every site and rank it. So it uses an algorithm to do it automatically. It’s not always perfect, but given Google is the largest search engine and the number one visited site on the web, people seem generally happy with the results they get when they search. I’m happy with it to0, that’s why I still use Google everyday.
Before you start worrying about “meta data” and “h1 tags,” understand the basics and understand what the ultimate goal of a search engine is. While I surely can not provide you with everything you need to know in order to get your page ranking higher, the above information is pretty much the “80/20” of what you need to know — these tips will provide some of the biggest results.
Search is not the only way to get traffic. You may not want to sacrifice on quality even if it means a slightly higher ranking. Especially since as Google gets better at it’s job, the hacks will have lesser and lesser effect. However, there are certainly a lot of people searching on Google, so by “showing up,” you can massively increase the amount of relevant traffic you get.
So, hopefully after reading this post you’re able to understand the basics of SEO and get a leg up on your competition.
However, SEO isn’t the only thing that you need in order to have a successful blog/website. If you’re interested in learning more about getting traffic and growing your email list, make sure you sign up for my email list below and receive a free ebook on guest blogging.