Estimated reading time: 11 minutes
If you’ve read the first post in The SEO Struggle, you’ll know why you need an SEO strategy and what it can do for your brand—but how good are you at actually understanding SEO?
My unexpected dive into the world of search engine optimization taught me that while SEO is a tangible and measurable thing, there’s a lot you need to do to take full advantage of it.
Many creators think they already have a handle on SEO because they use Yoast and strive to get as many green circles as possible, but really understanding SEO asks for so much more.
Let me tell you all about it!
Search engine optimization: some short-term pain for a VERY long-term gain!
The first thing you need to understand about SEO is that you’re not going to see results overnight. For one, when Google crawls your site is out of your control, so there’ll always be a delay between when you update your site and when Google ranks it in its results. This isn’t like the good ol’ days of Google Reader where someone could subscribe to your RSS feed and have updates ready at their fingertips when they wanted them. While you can get people to sign up for email updates when you post or even for a newsletter, most people who come across your site will do so in one of three ways.
Three Ways New Users Discover Your Content
- They came across your work on social media,
- They came across your content on someone else’s site, or
- Because your site showed up in some Google results for whatever they were looking for.
Now, 1 is the easiest to put together. You post a link to your content on a social media account or newsletter that you control and work to make the content enticing enough for people to click on it. Whether they click on it is another story, though, and has a lot to do with the three factors Google uses to measure a content’s quality—expertise, authority and trustworthiness, or E-A-T for short, but more about that later.
2 is a bit harder and is part of what’s called a link-building strategy—figuring out how to get other sites to link back to yours either by asking them or by creating content good enough that they do it themselves. But what’s important is that they link to you with a “do-follow” link instead of the “nofollow” links that have become more prevalent in recent years. “Nofollow” links give no authority to your site whatsoever.
Also—don’t pay for people to link to your site. Google’s algorithms are much smarter than you think and will actually penalise you for that kind of behaviour, so it’s best to not even try it in the first place.
And 3 is obviously SEO, the most work of the three, but if you do it right, it gets way easier to make 1 and 2 happen without you needing to lift a finger. Understanding SEO seems impossible, but honestly, it can help a site so much.
Let’s discuss what Google’s looking for to make that happen.
Understanding SEO: The Five Things Google Keeps in Mind When it Ranks Your Content.
- How it relates to the meaning of search queries,
- How relevant your webpage is,
- The level of quality of your content,
- How usable the webpage is,
- And the context and settings for the end-user searching for pages like yours.
The content that reaches the top of the Google rankings and stays there is the content that manages to hit all five of these factors and do it better than anyone else, and it’s important to understand them so you can work them into your content.
1) How it relates to the meaning of search queries
So we know that a big part of truly understanding SEO is finding the right keyword to match up to your content, but here’s the thing—people don’t look for things online by just using a single word; they use phrases. Instead of Googling “jackets”, they Google “the warmest jackets to wear in the winter”. And instead of Googling “bloggers”, they Google “the best food bloggers in New York City”. There might be 5.6 billion Google searches a day, but 70% of those use long-tail keywords, or keyphrases, to search for answers. So when you’re planning your content, make sure to get as specific as possible to what your content’s really about.
2) How relevant your webpage is
Now, using the right keyphrase is one thing, but all the information surrounding it matters, too.
Google’s only growing smarter over time, and it not only looks for the keyphrase you’re using, but it looks for other keyphrases associated with it as well.
And it looks everywhere. In your title. In your text. Google looks in your headings, file names, and even the alternative text used on your images for accessibility. You need to make both the content you’re trying to rank for and the rest of the website linked to it as relevant as possible for the keyphrase you want to rank for if you want to get to the front page of the search results.
3) The level of quality of your content
Just a little bit ago, I mentioned E-A-T—Google’s acronym for measuring content quality. Expertise, authority and trustworthiness—much like a personal brand—aren’t things you can establish independently. They are heavily reliant on what other people think of your brands, and it’ll take a lot of time and a lot of work to nurture and cultivate the necessary relationships to get all three. The good news, though, is that the longer you’ve been creating, the more likely you’ve already got a foothold on some of the factors needed to make it happen.
Let’s dive a little deeper.
Of these three, I’d say expertise is actually the most in your control, where you want to have enough content about your subject matter on your site so that people know you’re not just talking about that one topic but have insights on other topics related to it as well.
How do you do it? Create lots of content. Link those pieces of content to each other in a way that makes sense so that Google and other people understand what your body of work is about. And as you do your keyphrase research for the topic you’re creating on; it’s worthwhile to think of content you can create for the other keyphrases you discover in your search to build your expertise online as much as possible.
Now—authority relies on others seeing you as an authority and showing this by choosing to share your work on social media and link to it from other sites. As I mentioned, you can try to get links by reaching out to others and asking them to post your link, but I’ve always thought it better to create amazing content and let people decide for themselves.
Another point on authority is that it matters where the link is coming from, as Google simultaneously measures every other website on the internet by the same standards. If a site with a higher authority ranking links to a lower one, then that lower-ranked site gets a boost in the search result from that connection. Which is why the higher your ranking goes, the more others will seek for you to link their content, even willing to pay for it.
But don’t give that authority out willy-nilly because it can be diluted—what Google giveth, Google can taketh away, so make sure you’re linking to sites that’re worth the Google juice!
And finally, let’s talk about trustworthiness, which is a mixed bag of things you can do to show people why they should trust your site, and other people flagging that your site’s trustworthy.
Things You Can Do To Show Your Site is Trustworthy:
- The most important thing to do to instill trust in others as a website owner is making sure your website’s secure. In mid-2018, Google made the push to prioritize HTTPS sites over HTTP sites in its rankings, meaning that you could still do everything right on this list and still be penalized because your site isn’t secure enough. So if you haven’t purchased an SSL certificate and secured your site, really… that should be the first thing you do.
- Include documentation that explains exactly how your site works, such as:
- Terms & Conditions
- An End-User Licence Agreement
- General Data Protection Regulation (for your European users)
- Ensuring enough details that help understand that you’re a real person or business, such as:
- A contact page for people who need to inquire further
- A street address and phone number if you have a public brick-and-mortar location
- And an “About Me” page and author biographies that give further context to who you are. In my case, I’ve also established a portfolio page that offers context to what I’ve done for anyone interested.
Things Others Can Do to Show Your Site is Trustworthy:
- Collecting ratings and testimonials from your users
4) How usable the webpage is
The fourth factor is making sure that your site works as expected because the internet is an ever-changing and evolving place, and Google rewards the websites that have things under control.
- Making sure your site works really well on mobile, including load times, image sizes and the scripts on the back-end of your site. In recent years, Google moved to rank sites based on their mobile performance alone instead of including desktop performance as well, so if your site doesn’t work well on a mobile device, you’re not about to rank well.
- Ensure that there aren’t any broken links on your site because the longer you create, the more likely you’ll outlast plenty of sites who won’t. So keeping on top of the links on your site is always a good idea.
- And ensuring that your site works correctly on all different browsers and devices.
Basically, there’s a lot you can optimize on the back-end of your site to make it run as smoothly as possible, but it can get pretty technical—if you’re not ready to look under the hood yourself, maybe this is one you want to hire out.
5) And the context and settings for the end-user searching for pages like yours.
And finally, the context and settings—the geographic location, Search history and Search settings for your users, and what content is the most relevant for them at any given time.
While absolutely none of that is under your control, what you can do is understand your desired audience and create content that caters to them so that your results show up for them as often as possible. So if you’re a hair extension expert operating out of Atlanta, Georgia, you’re going to want to make sure to rank for things like “hair extension experts in Atlanta” or “where to find great hair extensions in Georgia”. That way, your content will show up higher for someone in Atlanta than it would for someone in Albequerque. Context truly matters.
And That’s What it’s All About!
So that, my friends, nearly 2000 words later, should help you out at understanding SEO. “But how,” you ask, “Do you implement it?”
Well, that… is a whole different story.
Now that you know what drives SEO, you need to know what you need to get it. I often say that social media is a young person’s game, built for those willing to keep up with the ever-changing rules and algorithms that come with it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spent this past year tuning out people telling me to embrace Instagram Reels and develop fun and engaging content for my TikTok.
But SEO? SEO’s potentially forever, and if you learn how to harness it for your brand, you may get better results than you ever imagined.
SEO is YOUR answer to every question Google’s going to ask—will you be there to answer???
What Google’s trying to do is answer every question ever asked, and if you’re willing to help them with that mission, you’ll find them willing to share it with the world, whether you’re at the helm of your brand or not. Understanding SEO isn’t necessarily difficult, but it is necessary because there’s a whole lot of noise on the internet, and it takes something special to cut through it. The next step is figuring out how to create content that can do just that.
Please join me for The SEO Struggle: Search Engine Optimization, Part 3—Making SEO Work for You. I look forward to seeing you there!