Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
I always thought I understood the SEO struggle, but it turns out that there was so much more to learn about it than I’d ever imagined.
The SEO Struggle: 6500 words (and counting) on why we need to do EVERYTHING NECESSARY for the world to see us the way we want to be seen.
It was October 2020, where after more than twenty years of creating content in the digital space, I finally understood why I wasn’t reaching my potential with my work. It was well-written, sure, and I was doing well on social media, but what I didn’t realise is that the world wasn’t seeing in my content the things I saw in it myself.
Where I saw a Black man writing about his life spent juggling fatherhood, marriage, and a full-time job, the internet saw a guy who plays Candy Crush. And where I saw a blog that talked about life in Toronto and the stories that went along with it, the internet saw me talk about Whippet Sticks and that one time Emma Stone lip-synched on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Everything I stood for wasn’t shining through, and I didn’t even realise I was doing something wrong.
I didn’t understand that this was all under my control, and I could learn how to communicate better to search engines what my content’s about. There were repeatable steps I could follow to make sure my content had the best shot at getting favourable positions in search results instead of just putting it out there and hoping for the best. It helped me understand that I needed to do a better job using something I’d always assumed I understood already.
It was time to dive deeper into SEO than I’d ever gone before.
An Intro to SEO Strategy: What the Heck is SEO, ANYWAY?
Search engine optimization—or SEO for short—is exactly what it sounds like: optimizing your content to perform the best it can on search engines. Once upon a time, that referred to just searching on a screen, but as the internet evolves and the options for searching content keep growing, it means thinking about more than just the words you put together for your work.
With the rise of social media, many put developing an SEO strategy to the wayside, preferring to focus their efforts somewhere millions upon millions of people were visiting already.
Social media made content creation more convenient, reducing the barrier to entry to anyone who had a smartphone instead of all the equipment we needed in the past, between expensive cameras, studio equipment for audio recording, and a working knowledge of HTML so your thoughts had somewhere to live. The social media platforms stepped in to do the heavy lifting, offering the promise of a place to share without worrying about all the technical stuff.
They told us the blog was dead, but SEO experts know a little better…
And we all know how the story went—it really took off. No longer was the gratification of comments, shares and likes available to only a selected few—anyone could post something up and get attention if their content stood out enough. And people soon found it was easier to monetize since you just needed to provide things people wanted to see without handling the marketing to get them to a site or the back-end work to keep that site working. It made things so much easier than they’d ever been before… but that convenience? It came at a price.
We weren’t in control anymore—we were all subject to the algorithms, constantly scrambling to get even more likes. We scrambled to create new content since it only has so much shelf life on the platforms before the feeds push it down. But if you ask me, the most criminal part of all is that most social media content isn’t very searchable on the major search engines, meaning that you’ve got a very small window to get your content to the people who need it most.
Let’s break that down a little farther.
Social Media vs Website Content: Which Comes Out On Top?
|Social Media||Website Content|
What the future has in store
|Social media is on the decline, with fewer people trusting influencers than they used to. Influencers fail to disclose, come off as inauthentic, and have to work harder at selling to get paid than they would’ve had to for similar amounts in the past.||Searches for website content are on the rise, with the different types of searches growing over the years. Voice searches. Image searches. Searches with smart assistants and ones not on Google at all. Alexa, Cortana, Siri and more—people still want answers to their questions, and searching’s how they’ll get them!|
|Social media is rented space, which means not only do you not own the content you put there, but the rules are also entirely out of your control. So as algorithms change, as they change the way that social feeds work, and all manner of variables that impact public access to your content, there’s very little you can do to keep thriving aside from injecting as much quality into your content as possible and hustling to stay on top of all the new trends.||Though Google constantly updates its search algorithms and keeping on top of them is no small feat, your content’s performance is directly related to the work that you put in, and as long as you put quality content online that answers the questions that people are asking, Google will push your content higher in its search results, because it’s doing its job.|
The Lifetime of Your Content
|On social media, content lasts a few days at best—or even hours if we’re talking something like Twitter.||On a website, content can last forever, as malleable and relevant as you make it as long as you do your upkeep right.|
Tracking How Your Content’s Performing
|Metrics on social media are specific to each social network.||Google Analytics is the gold standard for digital metrics. If you’re not creating for YouTube or a website with Google Analytics tracking behind it, you’re leaving your content’s future up to chance.|
Lesson learned: start your SEO strategy as EARLY as possible…
Don’t get me wrong, though—brands still need social media; it’s just not as integral to brand growth as we often give it credit. With 5.6 billion Google searches made every day, if SEO isn’t part of your content strategy already, it’s time you go and make it happen.
Learn from my mistakes. I did the bare minimum for years, thinking I was doing everything right—that a good score in Yoast meant I’d covered all of my bases. It wasn’t until I heard the talk “SEO Like a CEO” at Dad 2.0 Digital that a lightbulb finally went off in my head, and I understood that my content could be doing so much more for me if I only set it up correctly. I could be as well-known in Toronto as I wanted for my social media content, but I didn’t see the bigger picture—that I could only work so hard, and if I needed to always be at the wheel with my content in an age that champions as much automation as possible, I was obviously doing something very wrong.
…because good SEO makes a WORLD of difference.
I started figuring out what SEO actually is—a way to tell the story for your site, so you don’t always have to. To make sure that you show up on search engines for the topics that really matter to you. We think we market ourselves well thanks to our well-curated social media accounts and the engagement we see there, but that’s only good for the people who consume our content because they’re into what we’re about. They either choose to follow us because they like what they see or stumble upon us due to a hashtag… but what about everyone who doesn’t know that we’re what they’re looking for?
It’s time to treat your content like the way you would your money—for your content to drive traffic even while you sleep.
So… How Important is SEO, REALLY?
Before I knew what I was doing, my site would get ten or less Google hits a day, many of them by random chance. If I had stopped to think about it, though, I’d have realised that ten was a laughable amount—with over a thousand posts live on my site, that’s a thousand posts that were underperforming, sitting on my site doing nothing but take up some space.
The problem was that I was performing the cardinal sin of blogging that most bloggers don’t even know they’re doing—treating my content with a “set it and forget it” mentality, thinking my moment would come in content that struck the right chord at the right time instead of continuing to develop what I already had. And so, armed with just a little knowledge I learned from the talk, I started putting in work, linking between my posts till I was falling asleep at my keyboard each night. I cleaned up my titles, meta descriptions and URLs as I went, and in a month? My Google hits went up by eight to ten times a day.
The thing I’d failed to see is what my site could accomplish when its SEO was positioned correctly. My improved traffic numbers shot me up in global site rankings like Ahrefs and Alexa by millions of places, and even found me ranking on page one of Google alongside Casey Neistat for my name! And remember that this was with just one of the many SEO strategies out there—it made me wonder how much more I could accomplish if I wound up using more.
It was time to understand what SEO strategy was really about.
Search Engine Optimization: The Rabbit Hole of SEO Strategy Goes So DEEP.
So now you have an idea of what SEO is and a bit of an idea of why we should use it, but how do you even go about it?
By understanding your keywords and the links that point to them.
If keywords tell search engines what your content’s about, links tell them how it fits in with everything else.
Imagine writing an article about the pet you had while growing up. You might put together a well-written piece about your life growing up with them that wouldn’t leave a dry eye in the room, but if no one links to it, Google won’t see your piece as necessary. On the flip side, you could be the first person to share some breaking news and not worry about writing very well at all, but because it’s about something people really want to know about, your piece rockets to the top of the search results!
A Lesson in SEO Strategy: Get Ready for the SEO Struggle.
The SEO struggle is all too real, but good SEO requires a balance between creating content that’s high-quality and sharing information that’s in demand. Journalling’s okay if you’re writing something that’s just for you, but if you want to build any awareness that your context exists, you’ll have to create a strategy around the things people are actually looking for to do it. SEO strategy is literally something creators should pursue from day one, despite so many believing that it’s something they’ll get to when they “find the time”.
But we’ll go into that in the next post.
Please join me for The SEO Struggle: Search Engine Optimization, Part 2—Understanding SEO. I look forward to seeing you there!
Until the next, I remain,