Search engine optimization (SEO) can feel really daunting. Trust me, I’ve been there. With all of the technical jargon and experts speaking in what feels like foreign languages, it can make you feel overwhelmed. But doing SEO yourself doesn’t have to be daunting. In fact, you can easily do this, and better than many of these “so-called” experts.
Can you do SEO yourself? You can easily master the skill of search engine optimization by writing best-in-class content, publishing consistently, and routinely answering great questions. As Google continues to improve search intention and blog content analysis, great content will continue to rank best.
SEO is a winnable game. It’s not a hard game. And you can win with only a few tools in your belt. As long as you keep a first things first approach, you’ll nail your blog content every time. Let’s learn a proven formula to get you up and running with search engine optimization.
1. Understand what SEO is and isn’t
The first step in winning with search engine optimization is to know what it is. “Search Engine” is where people go to search for things. Think Google, Yahoo, Bing, or even Youtube. “Optimization” is making sure your website is optimized to show up on the search page when people are searching. That’s SEO in a nutshell.
What SEO is:
SEO is all about doing the big things that matter first. You only have so many hours to put into your website each day or week. It’s vital that you do things that push your website forward.
After you build a basic site, your only focus should be:
- Creating phenomenal website content.
- Answer questions better than your competitors.
- Become more helpful than anyone in your niche.
- Always focus on building, creating, and helping through content.
- Don’t do anything that Google would penalize your for.
And there you have it. You can go home now. That’s the recipe.
Wait, don’t leave. It’s true, but don’t leave. I’ve got some gems for you yet.
What SEO is not:
SEO isn’t tweaking your websites code all hours of the night after watching a youtube how-to video and then waiting for your rankings to climb. SEO isn’t wondering why no one is coming to your site when you only have 10 articles published. SEO isn’t painfully browsing through your Google Analytics report to find data inflection points when your website is 2 months old.
SEO isn’t some “SEO guru” from no where Idaho trying to convince you they know how to “outsmart” Google. You know the Google I’m talking about right? The one with the world’s brightest engineers working to create self-driving cars. Yah, that’s who they are convincing themselves they are outsmarting. Mmkay…
I realize this point is more “soapbox” than “application”. But it’s important for you to understand that SEO blog experts will try to convince you that creating great content isn’t nearly as important as becoming a new-age data scientist. And if you become a better data scientist you’ll suddenly rank with little effort.
This violates everything Google has tried to accomplish and it works against their business model. If you want to win traffic, you need to think like a Search Engine.
2. Think like a Search Engine and write great content for semantic search
The advancement of semantic search is every bloggers dream. In the early days of search engine optimization, browsers like Google weren’t advanced enough to know what a webpage was trying to say. They did their best, but Big-Data wasn’t invented yet.
SEO was trial an error. It was the wild wild west. You throw a website hack at the wall and see if it stuck.
At this time, Google relied on things like keywords, heading, and sitemaps to try and determine what an article was all about. Marketers were trying to figure out what was important to Google’s ranking algorithm and started looking for their own solutions.
This was the birth of keyword research: tools invented to help marketers find things people were searching for. A keyword is a word, phrase, or sentence people type in a search bar.
Bloggers started to realize that the more keywords they stuffed into their article, the more likely they were to rank. Bloggers were going as far as making keywords the same color as the webpage background (keyword stuffing). This worked for a while, but Google got smarter. They were soon able to spot this and penalized these websites, sending them much less traffic.
Around 2013, Google released a series of updates that began knocking the lights out of shady SEO practices like keyword stuffing. I won’t rant about all the ways SEO experts were trying to “out-smart” Google, but let’s just say they are buried deep in the Google penalty graveyard. Overnight, their traffic halted and their incomes zapped.
These updates were focused around something called semantic search. It revolutionized search engine optimization and the way marketers approached website content.
What is semantic search and why is it important?
Semantic search is a catch-all term that describes how search engines are now able to understand the context of your webpage in relation to the keyword search. Google is much better at analyzing your webpage and knowing exactly what it is about. It no longer has to search for a hundred repeated keywords in your blog post.
Semantic search is great news for you. With Google getting better at reading your webpage, you can stop focusing on the minutia of keyword stuffing and get back to writing the most helpful content possible.
Google’s semantic indexing is getting smarter by the day. A few things semantic analysis understands:
- What someone is searching for and what they most want to see
- The overall context of the keywords that are being typed in. Google now knows that “Best cabins to live in” is referring to a log cabin and not the cabin in an 18 wheeler truck.
- The relationship between all the words on your page and how they match the intention of the searcher.
Think and write like google:
With semantic search on your side, you need to think like a search engine. Why would they show your page to a searcher and not someone else’s?
Well, Google is a business. They like to show ads. They make money when you go to Google and not somewhere else to search for things.
They want you to always “Google” your needs. They want you to replace the word “search” with “Google” in your vocabulary. You might already be there. “Just Google it,” sounds familiar…
Showing people the best possible content is super important to Google. If they start showing you things that are of no interest to you when you search, you’ll go to another browser like Firefox, Safari, or Yahoo. With that information in your back pocket, your only focus should be CREATING GREAT CONTENT.
You need to win the affection of Google and they will reward you. Seriously, they will. There are millions of examples all over the internet of neighborhood blogs who amass millions of page views on their website each month because they produce amazing content—and probably from their kitchen table. They are flat-out WINNING traffic and out writing bigger brands everyday of the week.
3. Skip the SEO keyword tools
In short, you don’t need keyword research tools to be great at SEO. Seriously, you don’t. They are expensive and unnecessary for most people.
I once believed that you needed a keyword tool for SEO and rolled my eyes at any YouTuber or blogger who said otherwise. I wanted to believe in the hype-train. I seriously did.
But then I began noticing an interesting trend: many of the people who were devout keyword-tool zealots had very little traffic and the neighborhood bloggers who couldn’t afford those tools had hundreds of thousands of page views per month.
Hmm, interesting. A pattern emerges…
Take for example Camperreport.com. This site is written by two gentleman, Jim and Ricky from Idaho. They are average guys who write well and answer great questions everyday. They do not use keyword research tools on this site. And, well, they are performing quite well. They are ranking for tens of THOUSANDS of keywords with HUNDREDS of THOUSANDS of visitors and getting huge traffic to this site.
Anomaly you say? Weird, because they did it again on Cabinfreedom.com. Thousands of keywords, thousands of pages, thousands of dollars in their bank. All because they write great content everyday and show up consistently. And their magic keyword tool? Keeping Google happy.
Compare that to this local marketing firm here in Orlando. I am not going to reveal their name, but their specialty is Search Engine Optimization. They are getting 300 page visits per month. If that were your brick and mortar business, it would die.
4. Use Google search suggestions for keyword research
You can easily search for great keywords and topics to write about by using Google search. They are literally giving you things people are searching for. It’s amazing. Too simple? Just do it and watch your blog flourish.
To use Google for keyword research, you’ll only need a couple step process.
First, get used to typing questions into Google search. Very short questions and terms are called short-tail keywords. A short-tail keyword would be something like “Best Fishing Pole”. This will be so competitive, you’ll never rank on the first page. Just look at those giants ranking in the first 6 results. You’re dead in the water before you’ve even started.
Instead, focus on longer searchers (long-tail keywords). These are questions you would probably ask a friend or someone for help. You’d want a good answer, so you’d ask your question with more detail.
A long-tail search is more like “best fishing pole for large mouth bass fish”. More words, increased clarity, and sounds like a specific question that someone would ask you if you worked at the counter of sporting goods store. Take a look at the results. Less competitive.
Second, type that long-tail question into Google search bar again and see what type of results you get. If it looks to competitive (more on that below), then look at the auto-suggest feature. It’ll give you more ideas to think about. It’s an amazing tool.
5. Use Google Related Searches for keyword research
If you need even more ideas, scroll down to the bottom of the search page and you’ll see more related search terms. Google is trying to find out what you are looking for.
They want you to stay inside their ecosystem and so they are trying to keep your attention. Look at those terms and see if any spark great keyword ideas.
You’ll see here that the term “best bass fishing rod for the money” is something you may not have thought of. You can even go a layer deeper by going back up to Google search and seeing if it gives you more auto-suggest options.
At this point, there is no way you should be running out of ideas. They are literally as plentiful as Google’s database—which I’m sure is on Mars because Earth couldn’t fit it.
6. After finding your potential keyword, check the competition
You can tell pretty quickly on a search page if the competition is too stiff. Again, if you see big time brands in the first 5 results, don’t even try. Make your search more specific, longer, or think outside the box.
Your site most likely isn’t ranking very well and you lack authority. If you try to go up against the big boys, Google won’t trust sending people to your site because you lack authority.
Google has to say, “yep, these newcomers are definitely better than these big websites that have been here for 10 years making content.” Which, they won’t. So don’t try.
“So I don’t go after competitive searches. How do I know what are competitive search terms?”
How to analyze search engine competition quickly:
- Did the first 3 or 4 results sufficiently answer the question? Click on the site, is it 1000 words or more? Does it have images and graphics? If no, continue on.
- Do you recognize the first 3 or 4 webpages as big brands? If no, continue on.
- Do some of the search results have publish dates that are within the last 6 months? If yes, you are probably on to something. Newer sites are ranking for this term.
- Look at your long-tail keyword one more time. Is it so specific that no one is likely to search for it? Something like, “Do electric lawnmowers save more energy in Nebraska than an electric lawnmower in Florida?” See what I mean?
- Do you think you can provide a robust enough answer to beat the no-names you see ranking on the first page? If yes, get to writing.
This search term is a good example. The first result is a really short, 270 word blog post. The second result is 274 words. You could probably rank for this with a bit more effort.
7. Write long form content for better search engine performance
It’s been said many times in the marketing community that the longer the post, the more likely it is to rank. There is definitely some truth to it. There are many case studies showing this is a relevant point. In fact, the Search Engine Journal made the following statement:
Average content length for Page 1 results is around 1,900 words, according to a 2016 study.
I think the 1900 word content length is spot on. We aren’t suggesting you start writing until you hit 1900 words and then hit publish. But we would keep track of your word count on each blog and see what you are averaging.
I keep track of a spreadsheet and when I’m done, I enter my post name and length. It’s oddly satisfying to see all your posts on a list anyway (#BlogTrophyCase).
The more competitive the search term, the longer your post will need to be. We’ve written blogs as long as 4000 words. If it’s a competition-free keyword, we might write a little over a 1300 words.
The main point here is to answer search queries thoroughly. Some will require a more thorough article and others will not.
We wouldn’t suggest you write monster articles (5000 words +) early on and we wouldn’t recommend you put up a bunch of useless 300 word blog posts either. That’s what social media is for.
8. Build your website content, not your website
We know, designing is fun. It really is. And we feel like we are getting somewhere when we get our logo, font, and header images looking amazing. I’m guilty of it, everyone is. But early on, it’s a waste of time.
As long as your website doesn’t look like 💩, you are going to be just fine.
What should my focus be with site design SEO?
- Pick a solid web platform (we love WordPress)
- Pick a quality/flexible theme (we love Astra)
- Give yourself permission to design for one whole weekend
- Get a logo off Fiverr.com or create it yourself if you have design skills (<4 hours)
- Post within the first 7 days, keep posting, and never look back.
The majority of your organic traffic will come from creating great content. Google isn’t judging your website on aesthetics. They don’t care about your logo or if you picked harmonious triadic colors for your theme. They don’t care. You do care. But…they don’t care.
But what they do care about is making sure you serve up awesome content for their readers.
Not to mention, if you aren’t getting any traffic right now, you are only designing for yourself. If you are getting loads of traffic but your page bounce rate is really high, you may have a design issue—but that’s probably not you if you’re reading this article.
9. Keep your site speed on point
This isn’t hard, but it’s important. There are few things you need to focus on here. This step shouldn’t take you long to get right.
Google really values site speed. They don’t want to send people to your site and wait for the site to load 7 for seconds. They know people will leave. They are keeping track of your site speed and performance.
To know if this is an issue for you, go here: https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights/
To speed up your site immediately:
- Replace bulky themes. Is it super fancy with a bunch of crazy moving parts. I had an Avada site that looked amazing but it was SLOOOOWWW as molasses. I took the same content and put it on the Astra theme and it sped up my sight DRAMATICALLY.
- Improve hosting speed. If you get super cheap hosting like GoDaddy basic plans, you’ll be crawling to the finish line. I was working on a client website recently who had GoDaddy—I cried. Like fetal-position cry. Even the WordPress editor was slow. We recommend GreenGeeks out the gate. Their entry plan is fast. We’ve had great success these guys.
- Optimize site caching. Some platforms have this automatically, but if you WordPress like us, it doesn’t. Our favorite is a premium plugin called WPRocket. There is no substitute. It’s the best. We use it on every site. WPFastestCache, SuperCache, and W3 total cache are all good freebie plugins.
- Relocate videos. Do you put your videos on your own hosting server? Meaning, you upload them to your website. If you do, consider putting them on Vimeo or YouTube and then just use the URL inside your site. You won’t have to worry about loading the video from your server anymore.
- Check your website images. If you are uploading huge images, you need to compress them. Many platforms have compression plugins. If you are on WordPress, WPSmush is good. Our favorite is by TinyPNG. We’ve tested a bunch, this one compresses the best.
Does my site need to have authority to rank?
No, young sites or even old sites with minimal content can rank for uncompetitive keywords if there is little competition. As your site ages and produces consistent content, you’ll be able to rank for more competitive keywords eventually. Keep in mind, you’ll still need to produce better content, or at least more relevant content than your competition.
In the early stages, we suggest stacking wins by writing blog posts for low competition keywords. Do this for 100 blogs and then check your traffic.
Do I need an SEO specialist?
If you are a small company or a one-person operation, it’s our belief that if you follow this guide, you are going to be fine. Keep producing content. 1 or 2 long-form articles per week over the course of a few years will produce dramatic results. We would advise you to hire a writer before you hire an SEO specialist. Good content creates a snowball effect over time. SEO specialists can snowball your bank account. 🤷🏻♂️