And my stomach clenches as soon as those three little letters come out of their mouths.
S. E. O. (O… O… echo… echo… echo…)
I think Search Engine Optimization is one of the least-understood terms that’s thrown around in Internet marketing. Here’s how Moz.com defines it:
SEO is the practice of improving and promoting a web site in order to increase the number of visitors the site receives from search engines. There are many aspects to SEO, from the words on your page to the way other sites link to you on the web.
Now, I am—in no way, shape, or form—an SEO expert. If you want to learn more about SEO, I highly recommend Moz’s free beginner’s guide to SEO from whence that definition came. It’s 10 chapters long, if that gives you some hint as to just how complicated this topic is.
Back in the olden days, when SEO was young, loading your website with keywords and doing a few other tweaks actually could get you on the first page of Google results. But things have changed, and that’s just not true any more.
When I first struck out on my own as a freelance writer, I was scared and desperate and I was applying for any work I could get—including a job writing SEO articles for a guy for half a penny a word.
(Pro tip: Never allow anyone to measure your worth in half-pennies. It’s incredibly demoralizing.)
He would send me the name of a client, what they did, and a list of keywords I needed to stuff into a 500-word article about, say, men’s shaving products or LA nightclubs or hotels in Mumbai. The idea was, the more times I could say a particular keyword phrase that a client wanted to rank for, the more likely they would rank for that phrase.
But that’s an outdated mode of generating content—and clicks.
SEO is dead. Long live SEO.
Google is getting smarter all the time. I mean, let’s not make any direct Skynet comparisons here, but our benevolent overlords are getting bigger and better every day.
What they’re specifically focusing on now is voice search. Basically, it’s the difference between having to type or say something like, “coffee shop, zip code 80021” and “Where’s the nearest place to get a latte?”
This is good news for bloggers and content producers, because we aren’t in the business of writing keywords. We write sentences and paragraphs and articles.
And Google is getting better at actually reading what we write. It’s getting better at finding the right answers when someone types a question into the search bar instead of a string of keywords.
Because humans don’t speak in keywords.
So, that’s why I cringe when people tell me they want to blog for SEO—because usually what they’re talking about is stuffing with keywords. And that just doesn’t work that well any more.
Blogging and SEO—You can’t have one without the other.
But here’s the good news: Blogging is SEO! Blogs give websites 434% more indexed pages and 97% more indexed links. (Source) You can check out this post I wrote that rounds up a bunch more impressive statistics like this one, but the bottom line is that blogging is good for your bottom line.
In a nutshell:
- Google (and all the other search engines—yeah, there are other search engines) have little programs called spiders that crawl the web and look for new content.
- The more content you have, the more opportunities those spiders have to tell Google that they found something useful on your site.
- Google’s spiders have lots of different things they look for (part of that pesky algorithm people talk about) that help them decide which pieces of information are most useful including (but not limited to): when it was posted, who posted it (Google’s authorship), what other sites link to it, and yes, what keywords you use.
So, when you blog, you’re hitting a lot of those Google spider sweet spots all at once: You’re providing those little spiders LOTS of opportunities to look at your content; you’re updating regularly, giving Google timely content; as you become more of an authority in your field, Google will recognize that with author rank; the more useful stuff you post, the more people link back to you…
And, yes, the more you write about your topic, the more keywords you will inevitably use—without even trying!—including the “long tail” keywords you couldn’t possibly research or anticipate that happen when people type questions into the search box.
(This is INCREDIBLY simplified, and there are lots of other parts to SEO, but you get the gist.)
So what is the RIGHT question?
Rather than asking yourself, “How do I do SEO for my blog?” you should be asking, “How can I be more useful to my ideal readers?”
Because one might get more people to see your link in their Google results, and the other will earn you raving fans, loyal customers, and a solid base on which to build your business.
If you focus on generating incredibly useful content, and do a few very simple SEO tweaks, your audience will grow—naturally, organically, and with no need to pay someone half a penny a word to stuff keywords on your site.
Here are the basic SEO tasks you can do to support your blog:
- Install YOAST for WordPress. It analyzes each blog post and gives you simple suggestions on how to improve the SEO, plus it puts all your keywords and meta data in a format that Google likes.
- Do some very basic keyword research to understand what your ideal customers are searching for. For example, if people search for the exact word “ghostblogger” I do great, but I know that they’re actually more likely to search “blog writer.” That makes a difference in whether I write a sentence like, “Hire a ghostblogger,” or “Hire a blog writer,” more often.
- Consider writing your blog posts and headlines to answer a question your ideal reader has in mind. So, for example, if their question was “How do I choose a wedding photographer?” then your title might be, “The Easiest Way to Choose the Perfect Wedding Photographer,” or “7 Simple Steps to Choose a Wedding Photographer.” Remember: Write for the humans, not the spiders.
- Get in the habit of using subheadings (H2 html tags), bullets, and bold words in your copy. Google pays particular attention to any keywords it finds in those places—plus, they help break up your article and make it easier for humans to read. Win/win!
You don’t need to be an SEO expert to have your site show up on Google more often. In fact, I believe that’s putting the cart before the horse if you don’t have great content, because if someone finds you on Google, but you don’t deliver what they need, that’s almost worse than them never finding you at all.
Do you do any SEO for your blog or website? What’s your best tip or trick? Let us all in on the secret in the comments below!