SEO Basics - the Who, What & Where
SEO is an acronym that if you have a website, no matter what niche, you have heard of it. If you haven’t then this is for you. A lot of bloggers and creatives get all of their work and referrals from word of mouth and that’s bad ass! Keep doing that!
However, you’ll never go wrong with having an SEO plan to back you up.
Just like a social media strategy, having a solid SEO plan helps you reach so many more people that you wouldn’t have reached otherwise. People are googling all types of foolishness (don’t act like you don’t!) and making sure that Google can see and find you when people search for something serious is the goal right?
Right. Grab some coffee, or your favorite wine, and settle in.
Ok, I'm interested. But what the hell is SEO?
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is exactly what it sounds like: being optimized for search engines to increase your site's visibility and traffic. If you're in the business of monetizing your blog or site, having everything optimized will get more eyes on your content which could in turn drive sales (cha-ching!). Overall, SEO is making sure that your website is structured and organized in a way the search engines can understand.
We’ll get to the habits and best practices later, but let me give you some basics so you can know what you’re dealing with.
OK BUT GOOGLE IS HELLA SMART. WHY CAN’T IT FIGURE OUT MY SITE WITHOUT "SEO"?
Because the internet is competitive as hell and to be as real as possible, we’re all little fishes floating in a big pond of noise. What SEO does, is try to level the playing field even just a little bit.
What I mean is, Google and other search engines are becoming smarter and smarter everyday, and they understand that it’s not about who has the most money to throw around to get to the top, it’s about content and substance.
So how do they organize a bunch of business and websites trying to get on the first page for the same topics?
Through keywords, ranking factors, popularity, trust, and relevance.
So what do search engines do?
At the basic level, they answer your questions. I like to think of them as a big ass file cabinet and each topic or keyword string has it’s own specific file folder. In each folder, are a bunch of websites that those search engines have “crawled” and have found these keywords on.
After you search something in Google, it does two things to try to get you the results you need:
First, it pulls everything relevant to your search terms.
That’s why when you search for “Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Cookies” a blog page or a recipe for Shrimp and Grits doesn’t show up. Sure they’re both food, but are completely different.
Can you imagine every time you searched for a new cookie recipe, Google only returned recipes about shrimp?!
Then it puts them in order from most relevant to least relevant. As Google grows and adapts to more and more people using the internet and competing for space in search engines, it had to find better ways to rank everyone.
THE COMPONENTS OF SEO:
Search engines work off of popularity and relevance and the both of them depend on each other.
Search engines assume that the more popular a site is, the more relevant and valuable the information must be.
There are many ranking factors including: social, HTML, trust, architecture, and content factors. With a great combination of all of these, the SEO gods will love you.
Some of these factors take a while to take effect, and usually changes to your SEO plan take time to take effect as well.
so what can i do?
Let's get into some habits that you can start to implement NOW along with some other components of a well rounded SEO strategy:
THE BEATING HEART OF THE WHOLE THING
LONG TAIL KEYWORDS. No SEO strategy is complete without long tail keywords and the strategic and honest use of them. Let’s get into: what keywords are, strategically using them, and honestly using them.
When talking to others about SEO, I usually give this analogy: say you’re a food blogger. You’ll have an easier time getting on the first few pages of Google when someone searches for “Gluten Free Flourless Chocolate Chip Cookies” rather than “Cookies”. Why?
The term Cookies is very general and the first pages will be filled with the top dogs like Betty Crocker, Toll House, and more.
However, since the long-tail keyword “Gluten Free Flourless Chocolate Chip Cookies” is more specific, there may be less competition for it; making it easier for you to rank higher.
To me, keywords are one of the biggest components of a great SEO strategy.
This is where you have to put yourself in the mind of your reader. What specifically are they searching for?
Once you find keywords that are relevant to the post you’re writing or to your industry, use them naturally and logically throughout your posts and website.
PRO TIP: Try to use a bulk of the keywords in your first paragraph of your blog posts (you can keep using them but your first paragraph is prime real estate to search engines).
YOU ALREADY KNOW WHAT TO SAY
You already know what keywords are in the traditional sense, and they mean the same thing here. They usually come in the form of blog topic ideas, titles, etc. For example: “Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Cookies”, “San Francisco Wedding Photographer”, “Personal in-home Chef in Houston” etc, etc.
Keywords are what people use to find search results when they use Google.
How do you find these keywords? I personally use Google Keyword Planner and sometimes Ubersuggest to find my keywords for my blog posts.
USE EM RIGHT, OR IT WON’T MATTER:
Here are the best places to put your keywords:
In your content
In your URLS
Make sure you do the first three with every blog post you create.
PLEASE give each image an ALT tag. When search engines crawl your site, they don’t see all the flash and the pretty images. What they see is actually pretty bland! Since they don’t see images, all they see in place of images are ALT tags (or the lack there of). These ALT tags can help with your page rank.
What does this mean?
Make your ALT tags MEANINGFUL Y’ALL. Don’t upload “screenshot 4.3.2017 10.34.44 AM.jpg”! Add in an ALT tag that has your keyword in it in a meaningful way.
Not only do these help search engines crawl your content better, they also help those that are use screen readers.
Another big ranking factor is user friendliness.
This deals with the actual content your write about and how that content is presented. Is your site loading quickly? (You can check that in Google Analytics or in Google Fetch). Are your images loading quickly? Is your website mobile responsive?
After these questions we get into the meat of the site:
Do you use too many colors or hard to read fonts? Is there are lot of clutter in your navigation or sidebar?
People will get fed up and leave if they can't legibly read your words or are too distracted.
Components of an SEO strategy/plan:
I like to think of backlinks as social proof. I remember when I first moved to Houston, I wanted to try this burger spot up the street from my apartment, but I wasn’t sure if it would be good. I asked my co-worker about the place and she highly recommended it.
That’s social proof: a trusted referral. If you write guest posts for blogs in your niche, get included in link round ups, participate in an interview, or a multitude of other types of features: that is a social proof.
The blogger featuring you already has an audience that trusts them, so if she/he says you're amazing, their audience is more likely to believe it.
They will go back to the source to see what else they can find. Search engines are pretty much the same: they see that another established blog or site trusts your content and your site, so they do too.
CREATE WELL WRITTEN CONTENT:
This is a no brainer. If you’ve been in this big wide world of blogging, you already know all this.
Well written and valuable content makes people very happy and we all know what happens when you make your readers happy.
They tell their friends, their friends friends, their followers, their cat, and next thing you know everyone knows you. This gives you points in another ranking factor: Trust.
You’ve heard this one all of the time too but I’m just going to remind you: CONSISTENCY IS GOLDEN.
You’ve got to get your content (your well thought out and valuable content) out there frequently.
This builds trust with search engines and your readers. They want to hear from you. If people trust you, they will share and market your content for you.
OK I HEAR YOU, BUT ARE YOU SURE THIS IS NECESSARY?
YES! Social media and other types of traffic will always be helpful to your business, but not having an SEO foundation in place is like leaving money on the table. People are literally searching for information/info that you have to offer - but if they can’t find you when they go looking or when they’re ready to buy, they will find someone else.
do this before you publish your posts:
To wrap things up, throughout all of my stages of blogging (brainstorming, writing, editing, etc) here are some of the things that I keep in mind to make sure I am SEO optimized:
- Are there any related keywords or keyword variations for this topic that I can use in my post?
- Now that I have these keywords, how can I structure my content around them while keeping the flow of the content?
- Can I make any graphics or other forms of visual content that could hammer home the most important aspects of the topic?
- Is my headline catchy and does it have any keywords in it?
- What is the URL for this post and does it have at least one keyword?
The thing about SEO is that it’s not a "get rich quick" type of thing. Just like blogging, you have to have a strategy. A consistent strategy filled with the habits we talked about today.