What Actually Works for SEO?

Stephen_1 (1)

Today we’ll unshroud the most mystifying part of writing for your website.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is often met with fear by writers and frustration by developers. When you’re building your own website and have to fill both roles, the struggle doubles.

How do I turn my writing into something an algorithm understands?
What exactly do I need to do to get the algorithm to notice this page?

Don’t worry, this post will give you the answers to both of those questions. The trick to remember? There are no tricks anymore. Plus, if you’ve been reading our recent posts, you already have all the tools you need to optimize your content.

Old Myths Die Hard

Let’s start by going over the reason this post even exists: people still believe SEO is just a numbers game.

I don’t want to spend a ton of time on the types of tricks people used to use, because I don’t want to waste your time. However, it’s helpful to have at least a basic understanding of where all the SEO myths come from. The most prominent myth is that “keyword density” is the surefire way to getting better spots on search results.

The theory went like this: Google’s bots are just programs looking for pages connected to a search term, and the more I use that search term, the more I’ll get noticed. Keywords were crammed into links, headers, image tags, and meta tags.

If Google ever really behaved this way, they were quick to change.


Keywords Have a Legitimate Use

With all that being clear, we can talk about how you should actually use search terms and keywords.

Plan keywords by using 1) free tools and 2) some insight about your audience.

It’s important to realize that general and popular search terms are dominated by huge brands. There’s no reason to even attempt to unseat these brands. You won’t have the readers, link-backs, and social media shares that they will. It’s best to turn to a search term that is highly specific and unique to your business.

An example: imagine you own a new pub in a cool Atlanta neighborhood.

Don’t try to optimize a page around the keyword “french fries.” Your restaurant, even though it’s fantastic, is never going to beat McDonald’s at that one. “Best handmade fries in Atlanta” might get you somewhere. It’s specific, it’s unique to your area, it’s unique to your customers. This is a topic on which you can be an authority that McDonald’s never could be.

Keywords have to appear naturally in your writing.

If you spend your page about french fries repeating the phrase “best handmade fries in Atlanta” every few sentences, people will notice–and not in a good way.

Two bad things happens when you use search term keywords in an artificial way:

1). You sound like spam to your readers, who will be happy to look elsewhere.

2). Google thinks you might actually be spam and could take you out of their indexes.

To avoid these, write about subjects you know plenty about. Your keywords will come up on their own, and you will bring value to your readers.

Keywords related to your main topic need to appear in your writing.

Remember what we said in the last post about getting to know your customer so well you become a reflection of their ideal self? Keep what you know about your customers in mind when thinking up search terms. If they’re looking for handmade french fries in Atlanta, they might be looking for burgers, too. A big-screen to watch the game on would be nice, too.

Use your favorite keyword planner to see what search terms are used for topics related to the main idea and mention them in your content about fries. When Google sees the commonly related terms in the same place, they will realize you know what you’re talking about and nudge you towards the top.

Again, the most important detail is that the content on your page has to be natural and valuable.

Keywords Should be Prominent

Both your reader and Google’s algorithms are going to be looking for how you arrange your information. When you clearly define a path through your content by organizing it with well-written headers, both readers and Google respect your work.

Creative headers are great, but saying, “How we Make our Fantastic Potato Sticks” might confuse a customer. It will confuse Google, who thought we were talking about the best handmade fries in Atlanta. Use your headers to say what follows, and include key terms if it helps readers understand where they are.


It All Comes Down to Content

Google wants to provide valuable content to their users. To tell how valuable your content is they will look at things like:

1). Link-backs

AKA, how many people read your website, thought it was worth sharing, and created a link to it in another place. The more websites that link to yours, and the greater the importance of the website that carries your link, the higher Google rates your page.

If you think that going to every website you can find that has a comment section and pasting your link is a good idea, don’t. Google killed that trick years ago.

2) How much time people spend on your page

Google can see how long someone stays on your page after they click to it from a Google search. If Google sees people leaving the second they show up, they will determine that your website is not the right fit for the search term and you will fall in the rankings. This means you need to have good content, and that you aren’t attempting to use the wrong terms to get your site attention. It won’t last long.

Content has the biggest effect on these aspects of SEO because these are reflections of the human element. The more you can do for the people who land on your site, the more you are doing for your SEO rank. Content that is useless and hard to read will not get shared, no matter how popular your brand is. And no shares means no links and no increased page rank.

Planning is Important

Earlier in the post I mentioned using free tools to find the right keywords. When it comes to knowing what a search engine is seeing, there is no better resource than the search engine itself. The Google Adwords Keyword Planner is one of the best free assets you have and can teach you some valuable things about your keywords.

Take a look at these shots of the Google Adwords Keyword Planner that I used when working on my personal blog.

I typed in what I thought people would search for and Google gave me the terms people have actually used that were similar to mine.

My personal blog is about my upcoming wedding, I figure people will be searching for weddings when they find it

It shows me how much competition there is around a term. Because my blog is pretty new, and not widely read, I am going to go for the lowest competition terms. I’ll have a better chance at winning for these terms. If your business or non-profit has a relatively small Internet presence you should follow suit.

Avoid the high and medium terms unless your brand is well established online

It also showed me that my relatively generic two-word search term was not good enough. All of their keywords had three or more words in a string. That’s probably one of the biggest takeaways here: a keyword is almost never just one word.

Realistically I should go with this multi word search term that has a high average of searches but a low number of people competing to be first for that term

Following what this tool showed me I can make a smarter decision about what terms to include in my blog post, and when I know my readers well enough to know what they are really searching for, I can make sure my page has it.

Deceptive use of keywords will get the wrong people to your site. They will immediately leave when they find themselves on the wrong site, and Google will start to ignore you.

To avoid these things, focus on everything we’ve written about so far for content, purpose, value, … and above all, don’t forget to tell Google where you live.


The Technical Side is Easier than You Think

The benefit of having all your content ducks in a row is that the technical side of SEO becomes a breeze. If you’ve focused on creating valuable, easy-to-scan and -read content, the technical side practically takes care of itself.

Using a WordPress plugin like Yoast SEO can help you bring all of these elements together without having to be fluent in any coding languages. Yoast allows you to automatically place the keywords you have researched through Adwords into the proper places on your site. Yoast also checks for bad links and other code issues, which make it difficult or impossible for search engine robots to crawl your site. This makes it look like you are an untrustworthy source. If you don’t have the proper training in coding you might not even know you are making these mistakes.

One of the most important things Yoast can do for you is:

Create a Sitemap

This is a positive for both Google bots and your readers. A Sitemap is a file that shows everyone, human and algorithm alike, where everything goes on your site.

You can create a sitemap on your own, or (because you have a business to run) you can have an online tool like Yoast make you one in seconds.

Now, submit that sitemap to Google.

Google will crawl your website within 48 hours. All your stellar content will be well-optimized and ready for reading, sharing, and propelling your business.

Here’s Everything You Need:

Use keywords carefully and include information that is related to your main topic to increase the value of your page to both robots and humans. Plan keywords by checking how much competition is around those terms. Also check to see if the people you want to click on your site are searching using your terms. Remember that a keyword is almost never just one word.

Create valuable content. Our previous posts talk all about the steps you need to do that. Make sure you understand what works and what doesn’t for Internet writing. Don’t be afraid to ask for a second pair of eyes to see if your content is valuable.

Make sure Google et al. are able to crawl and index your site.You need to send the search engine your sitemap. Free tools are available to make sure your site is structured correctly for search engine robots to find information about it.

If you have any questions about possible myths you may have heard about SEO, send me an email at [email protected] and I will be happy to bust them for you.

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Written by Stephen Krauska. Last Updated 9 years ago.
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