The SEO Struggle: Search Engine Optimization, Part 3

Making SEO Work for You

Last updated on February 25th, 2021 at 01:33 am

Estimated reading time: 16 minutes

And finally, we hit the good part—making SEO work for you. Using everything we learned from the previous parts and applying them to the content you create. It’s taken a while to put all of the content together, but without further ado, here’s The SEO Struggle, Part Three: Making SEO Work for You!

Good SEO Doesn’t Have to Cost MONEY—It Just Takes a Whole Lotta WORK.

So let me tell you the good news—putting great SEO together for your site doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. But what it is going to take is a whole lot of time.

I’d picked this series back up from the unfinished pile after unexpectedly giving a talk on my SEO journey to my Black blogging peers and realising that I’d learned more than I’d really considered.

What some of the best tools are for SEO and where to find them. Effective ways to boost both your on-page SEO—or rather, the SEO affected by the way your webpages are put together—and your off-page SEO, or all the things outside of your webpages that affect their rankings.

In part one of The SEO Struggle, we talked about what SEO is and why it’s important. In part two, the focus was on all the things Google uses to rank your site and how they work. Now that you know all that, let’s work on getting you the search engine presence that you deserve.

Making SEO Work for You: What free tools can help you with SEO?

Let’s start at the beginning.

A shot of a laptop whose screen reads "Content is King", describing what is most important for SEO.

When it comes to search engine optimization, it’s worth remembering that you’re optimizing your site for two audiences—the people looking for your content, and the search engines themselves. Both have their own traits and considerations to keep in mind, but if you understand one thing before you understand anything else, it’s that all this action happens on Google.

Are there other search engines out there? Yes. But with over 90% of all the searches on the internet happening on Google, being a superstar on any of the rest just makes you a big fish in a very small pond. So despite everyone using “search engine optimization” as the term for what we’re doing, what you’re really doing is optimizing your site for Google, so why don’t we start our work there? Google ranks content based on five criteria—let me show you how to make the most of them.

1) Learn how to use keyword research so you can make the most of people’s search queries.

Remember, 70% of users search using keyphrases instead of keywords. To provide the best content possible for their searches; you need to see what they see in their search results.

So it’s about time we take it to Google!

Keyword Research, Step One: Choose a Keyword
  • So the first thing you’re going to want to do is to open an Incognito window in Google Chrome, so your results aren’t swayed by your own search history.
  • Next, type in the topic word(s) you’re looking to write about. Me, I write a ton about fatherhood, so I’ll start there.
SEO | Search Engine Optimization | Using Google search in a Google Chrome incognito window
  • You’ll notice immediately that Google suggests the top results for your keyword, and the first thing you should do is consider whether your topic fits under any of those. If not, you should then consider:
  1. Whether you should re-work your topic to better fit one of them, or
  2. If your topic is so important that you should try and rank for something else.
  • So either specify the term you want (and maybe find some new ideas in the process) or click the result that best reflects what you’re going for. I chose “fatherhood meaning”.
SEO | Search Engine Optimization | What Google search results can look like
Keyword Research, Step Two: Turn that Keyword into the Right Keyphrase
  • Now, Google will try to give you its best results for your query. You can feel free to take a look at the results to see who you’d need to compete against to get in the Top 10 for your topic, but if you really want to beef up your content with some extra Google juice, go check out the “People also ask” terms to see what else you can include in your content!
  • And bonus—if you expand the last term on the list, Google will give you even more—you can literally go down a deep rabbit hole with keyphrases if you’re looking for inspiration!

SEO | Search Engine Optimization - an expanded look at the People Also Ask section in the Google search results

And what should you do with those keywords? Put them in your title, your metadata, your headings and more!

2) Make your content as RELEVANT as possible by putting your keyphrases in all the right places.

So these rules apply to any website, but I’m a WordPress user (which, honestly, everyone should be, but that’s another story entirely), so I use Yoast SEO to help monitor my content and make sure that I’m putting my keyphrases in all the right places.

Every post should have the following if they don’t already:

  • A keyword or keyphrase as the first word(s) in the title
  • A meta description with the keyword(s) as early as possible to signal to Google what the post is about and give potential readers confidence that your result is worth clicking.
  • Headings with the keyword and any associated synonyms of the keywords to flag to Google not only that they’re related, but that your content should be ranking for them.
  • Organically written into your content so that Google has the proper context for your keywords.
  • Included in your URL with dashes between the words, but kept to a reasonable length.
  • And finally, in the filenames and alt text for the images you use in the post with a mix of keywords and their synonyms.

Sure—it sounds like a lot, but the internet’s a highly competitive space, and you must take every opportunity you can to rank for keywords if you want your brand to grow.

3) Make sure that you’re not only CREATING quality content but that everyone else KNOWS it.

“When you’re a racehorse, right? The reason why they put blinders on these things, ’cause if you look at the horse on the left or the horse on the right, you’re gonna miss a step… when you’re running after something, you should not look left and right—’What does this person think?’ ‘What does that person think?’ No. Go.”

— Jimmy Iovine on The Defiant Ones, episode four (2017)

So you’ve written stellar content with well-researched keyphrases that show up in all the right places.

But how effective is it really?

You’ll need some tools to help you understand that.

So many SEO tools… but which one’s the right one to use?
SEO tools: An overhead picture of an iPad surrounded by traditional tools on a tabletop.

Now… this is where you need to be careful because you don’t want to fall into the same trap that you would with social media—constantly checking up on your competition to see how you’re performing against them. It’s obviously tempting—I’ve used my peers’ numbers as targets and benchmarked my success against them—but your goal should be to get so good at what you do that your only competition is yourself.

In measuring myself against myself, I use a list of tools to make it happen:

Let’s explore them all!

Google Analytics and Google Search Console: If You’re Going to RANK on Google, You’d Better Use Their Tools!

Understanding how your SEO’s doing should start with two of Google’s tools designed to do the job—Google Analytics and Google Search Console, the bare minimum for what any website should use to measure its success! While more people have heard of Google Analytics, Google Search Console is equally necessary if you want your site to do more than exist.

The Difference Between Google Analytics and Google Search Console:
  • Google Analytics tracks activity on your site to see how users enter your site, which site they used to get there, what they do while they’re on your site how much time they spend on your site, etc. Back when, people used to have hit counters on their sites to show how many people had visited, but things have grown much more sophisticated since.
  • And whereas Google Analytics tells the tale of what happens on your site, Google Search Console outlines the search journey they took to get there, measuring the clicks made on your site in Google’s search results, the number of times your site’s showing up in the results, and what position your site was in when users pulled their searches up.
How to make use of these:

These figures might not do much at first since you won’t have much to compare them against, but over time it’ll help you understand whether what you’re doing is working or if you need to try something else. As an example, here’s a look at my Google Search Console over several months:

The SEO Struggle, Part 3: Making SEO Work for You | A look at the last six months of the Google Search Console profile for Casey Palmer, Canadian Dad
What these results tell you: That while you don’t see large gains in the average position and total impressions over time (notably, the position is on a smaller scale compared to the other items), the total clicks shot up considerably, which means that the average click-through ratio went up as well.

You can see a clear spike in my traffic after implementing an SEO strategy, starting a trend that hasn’t gone down yet. And I hope to see more of the same as I continue cleaning my site up.

But that’s not all! (Some other features that Google Search Console has to offer!)

What Google Search Console also provides is information on things you can fix on your site to make it perform even better:

  • The Index section is a high-level look at how well Google is reading your site and the volume of content that Google crawls every time it visits your site.
    • It should be noted that the more pages Google has to visit, the longer it’ll take to crawl your site, so if you want your results to show up on Google as quickly as possible, it’s important you keep your site lightweight.
  • The Enhancements section measures whether things that are on your site are helping or hindering your rankings, like:
  • The Core Web Vitals, which measure how speedy your site is,
  • The site’s Mobile Usability and whether the site’s designed to work well on mobile,
  • And even whether it’s running their controversial Accelerated Mobile Performance plugin correctly—or AMP—if you happen to have that installed.

So both of those are useful for understanding your site’s performance and to make sure that it’s growing over time. But let’s be real—no site is an island, and it’s useful to know how they stack up against every other site on the internet.

Fortunately, there are a few ways to do that.

Alexa and Ahrefs and Moz, Oh My!: Follow the Yellow Brick Road to Site Rankings

Until this point, we’ve largely focused on the SEO for your content, doing what we can to make each piece as stellar as possible. But those pieces don’t exist in isolation from each other with SEO scores that don’t affect each other—they’re all part of an ecosystem. An ecosystem where everything comes together to help establish the authority your site should have online.

What’s important to note is that experts can’t really agree on one singular way to measure that authority online—several companies focus on website metrics. We’ll focus on a few below:

 
Domain Score
Page Score
Internet-wide Ranking
Moz
Domain Authority (DA), scored 0-100 and predicts how well the entire website will rank on Search Engine Result Pages (SERP).Page Authority (PA), scored 0-100 and predicts how well a page will rank on the SERP. 
Ahrefs
Domain Rating (DR), scored 0-100 and predicts how well the entire website will rank on Search Engine Result Pages (SERP).URL Rating (UR), scored 0-100 and predicts how well a page will rank on the SERP.Ahrefs Rank, determining how a site ranks against every other website on the internet.
SEMrush
Authority Score, scored 0-100 and predicts how well the entire website will rank on Search Engine Result Pages (SERP).  
Alexa
  Alexa Rank, determining how a site ranks against every other website on the internet.

These are only four of many different companies that put website metrics together, but it doesn’t take long to see that they all take different approaches to scoring.

Domain Score & Page Score

Let’s start by taking a look at domain scores and page scores.

My Moz Domain Authority of 28 is an Ahrefs Domain Rating of 30 is a SEMrush Authority Score of 35. My Moz Page Authority of 40 is an Ahrefs URL Rating of 41. For what it’s worth, Moz tends to be the most widely referenced with its Domain Authority and Page Authority scores, so prepare to be disappointed 😂

Internet-Wide Rankings: Alexa and Ahrefs Ranks

While Alexa and Ahrefs haven’t explicitly given the range of their rankings, there are more than a billion sites online, and if you look at Alexa’s Guide to Improving Your Alexa Rank, you’ll see that it goes to at least 30 million.

The Alexa and Ahrefs Ranks score in the opposite direction from the Domain and Page Scores, where a lower number’s better, with #1 being the best-performing site on the internet.

Several factors go into these scores, so it’s difficult to say exactly what you need to do to rise in the ranks, but reading between the lines on the Alexa and Ahrefs guides to improving your ranks, some quick things come to mind:

How to rank well in the rankings:
  • Creating unique, purposeful and engaging content will lead to page views, shares and backlinks.
  • Having a site that invites users to explore further and read multiple pages, improving your bounce rate and show that your site is appealing
  • And, of course, find the keywords and keyphrases that help your content rank as highly as possible in the SERP, as it feeds into the other factors.

You can find free access to these tools at the links below:

4) Make sure your site is as USABLE as possible by cleaning up the TECHNICAL side on the back-end.

Despite how important it is in the grand scheme of SEO, technical SEO doesn’t get much love because of how tedious it can be. As creators, we all want our sites to be as unique as possible, but functionality that goes beyond the basics for a website comes at a price—it requires extra code and scripts to make it work, which means extra loading time. So it’s worth considering what you really need to run your site.

That said, it isn’t easy—while the internet evolves and its algorithms along with it, if you’re a professional solo creator like I am, you’re probably too busy creating to keep up.

But creating without an SEO strategy and neglecting your site can lead to a whole heap of issues, like:

  • Broken links for resources outside of your site that’ve grown outdated
  • Old internal HTTP links, which make Google see a secure HTTPS as unsecure
  • Uncompressed photos that weigh down your site speed
  • Or even posts that are structured incorrectly, making it hard for Google to break down what they’re about.

Honestly? The list of things you can do to improve the technical SEO on your site is near-endless (which is why it’s some people’s jobs to do just that specifically), but here’s a look at some of the tools I find useful in making sure I’m not leaving anything to chance with the ebbs and flows of the internet.

Tools to Improve Your Site Usability
  • PageSpeed Insights, Google’s tool for scoring your site and outlining what your site’s doing well and where you need to work
  • WebpageTest, for those who want to dive even deeper and understand what’s problematic with their site specifically
  • Broken Link Checker for making sure you don’t have any broken links on your site
  • ShortPixel for optimising the photos on your site
  • And a great text editor for find and replace on your code, especially when you need to replace your HTTP links with HTTPS ones, or remove a WWW prefix wherever needed. I use Atom, myself because it’s so flexible.

So there you go… that’s SEO!

I didn’t expect to become an SEO advocate after decades of creating content, but that talk from Eric Hochberger at Dad 2.0 Digital sent me into a site-cleaning frenzy, and nothing’s been the same ever since. Finally realising that there was more I could do with my content than just set it and forget really opened my eyes, making me want to go back and improve everything I’d ever done. Fact is, I’d grown too comfortable in being a well-established blogger, but there will always be work to do.

Google will change its algorithms. Best practices mature and evolve. What works today may not necessarily work tomorrow, so you need to keep on top of how SEO works if you don’t wanna be left in the dust.

But it’s not too late to start your SEO journey—those who fail to understand how it works still vastly outnumber the few who do. Even the most seasoned bloggers can find themselves stuck pining for the days where things were more straightforward, but the digital world’s grown a whole lot smarter—it’s time creators follow suit.

But that’s only the beginning…

Now—these are just the first steps. The path to real SEO dominance requires far more than an internal link here and some extra content there—it means an SEO strategy from people who do this kind of thing for a living, like Gemma and Laura from Make Traffic Happen. While I picked up a handful of tricks from their ebook SEO The Easy Way to improve my SEO techniques, it was really their later book Revive Old Content that helped me work at my content’s potential and truly grow what I was doing. I suggest them both if you want to do this the right way.

But for an intro to SEO, this feels like a pretty good place to stop. If you apply this method to any new piece of content you create, you give it a fighting chance to rank well in Google’s results and bring your site the traffic it actually deserves.

But if you have existing content that you haven’t applied these steps to? Well. That’s a whole ‘nother post.

Be well, everyone, and good luck with your SEO journeys!

Until the next, I remain,

cep wrap-up logo

By Casey E. Palmer

Calling the Great White North his home, Casey‘s spent the last few decades in pursuit of creating killer content. From novels as a kid, comics as a teen, to blogs and photos once he could grow a beard, he’ll use whatever’s around him to create amazing stuff.

When he’s not creating, he’s parenting, exploring and trying to make life as awesome as possible for everyone around him.

Because a boring life’s not a life worth living!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *