I haven’t written before about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) because I think it’s mostly bunk.
But first, let me lay some groundwork:
- SEO is the art of structuring your content so that it’s “Google-friendly,” i.e., most likely to be found by the major search engines and (hopefully) appear on page 1.
- As of December 2016, Google handles ~78% of all search engine traffic.
- So let’s assume that SEO and “Google-friendly” are synonymous.
My issue with SEO is that the discipline skirts a very fine line between merely putting your content on the best possible footing vs. trying to game the system.
The former is useful; the latter not so much.
This is true because the engineers at Google are smart. Every year or two they roll out a new update that changes how content is ranked, and penalize those websites found to be gaming the system.
The penalties are given without notice, but effectively tank how visible your site is. Offending sites can drop from page 1 of the search results to page 14 instantly.
And that’s a good thing – in a just world, cheaters are punished.
Thus, I’m a big believer in ignoring SEO.
Rather, the way to eventually rank is a function of two things:
- Publish quality posts frequently; and
- Distribute those posts via social media.
Eventually, as your site both ages beyond the six-months (and then, one-year) mark, the search engines will trust it more.
More importantly, HubSpot and others have shown natural jumps in search engine traffic after you publish 40-60 posts, then 90-100 posts, then 120 posts or so.
Since more than 90 percent of bloggers quit in the first six months (i.e., with less than 50 posts), simply pushing to 50 puts you well ahead of the curve.
Social media is also key for alerting the search engines that your new pages or blog posts exist.
The reason is simple: it help drive traffic to your site.
And the more traffic Google (or Yahoo, or Bing) sees you have, the more trusted you become, and the higher you climb in the search rankings.
My most developed social following is on Twitter (currently 5,000-some followers).
But my most loyal following and engaged following is on Facebook (~450 friends).
Together, these two sites account for some 60 percent of my traffic.
The core of natural SEO is backlinks.
That is, the number (and quality) of other websites that point back to your website via a hyperlink.
These external links are valuable for sending traffic to your website. They also send powerful signals to the search engines that your site is a trusted authority.
Thus, the core of most modern SEO strategy revolves around gaining backlinks from trusted authority sites.
For the new blogger, this can seem daunting, if not impossible.
One method is simply to continue to push out high quality content on a regular schedule.
Regardless of what many digital experts say, if it’s good, your content will be found eventually.
However, your content might not get found—resulting in significant search engine traffic—for 8-9 months or more.
This is okay.
Why? Because most beginning bloggers need at least 8-9 months of consistent practice to even begin to get truly good in the first place.
Example: Think of blogging like practicing an instrument:
You wouldn’t practice piano for six months and then be disappointed that you can’t play as well as those who have practiced for 7 years.
Yet so many beginning bloggers hold themselves to this standard. And that’s why more than 90 percent quit within just six months.
Enter guest blogging.
This is the easiest way to gain natural backlinks and drive traffic. Simply post your best posts as guest articles to older, more established blogs.
Your work will gain far more visibility than if it were published on your own blog. And you’ll be effectively networking with luminaries in your space.
Remember, it’s not who you know – it’s who knows you.
Not that I’m one to talk on this score. I my whole first year of blogging I was focused purely on not quitting – on finding a rhythm and establishing the discipline to merely to write and post.
In my first 12 months I published just 9 guest posts compared to more than 90 to my own blog.
“Best practice” dictates that I should have published more of 1:1 ratio – about 50 of each (i.e., 2 posts per week – one to this site and one to another).
However, guest blogging and backlink building is far from the only way to build an audience for your site.
If you are already famous – or have an existing network of fans – you can build a new blog nearly instantly.
Case Study: Jon Morrow
Jon Morrow is a relatively recent addition to the giants in the blogging space.
He writes about blogging best practices, how to build an audience, and how to eventually monetize your site.
His primary site is SmartBlogger (formerly Boost Blog Traffic).
Morrow first launched Boost Blog Traffic in September 2012 with a killer long-form post, The 7 Dumbest Mistakes You Can Make When Launching a New Blog.
Launching a brand new blog with a post about dumb mistakes new bloggers make is ballsy.
But here’s the secret: Morrow had already been writing (and editing) for CopyBlogger.
Through writing for that and other sites, he had already amassed a fan base, and an email list of more than 13,000 subscribers before his blog even launched.
While I believe that if you publish quality work consistently, the audience will come, even in this age of content overload – it’s not the only way.
If you have the network or already known in your niche, your fans will follow you from the jump.
As if to prove this point exactly, Jon Morrow did it again last month, when he launched a new microsite called Unstoppable.Me.
As of today, Unstoppable.Me has a single 4,500 word post, 7 Life Lessons from a Guy Who Can’t Move Anything but His Face.
First, it’s the most inspirational post I’ve read in literally years.
Jon Morrow is paralyzed from the neck down, and can move only his eyes and lips.
He’s managed to succeed wildly as a professional writer despite this.
First – I recommend that everybody read this post.
Second – I challenge anyone to read it and not come away instantly inspired.
Given what the author has accomplished, what excuse do you have?
Jon Morrow stands out as a shining example of the power of will and perseverance to succeed despite all the obstacles one may face.
As of today (January 28), his single post has been shared on Twitter more than 3,000 times and on Facebook more than 60,000 times.
According to Alexa, the site Unstoppable.Me ranks in the top 175,000 globally. The site is ranked in the top 24,000 in the U.S. alone.
It’s ranked # 2 and # 3 on Google for the phrase “Unstoppable Me,” despite there being a 10-year-old best-selling children’s book by the same name. That book currently occupies Google ranks # 1 and # 4-9 of the first 10 spots on Google.
And yet – Morrow’s site has achieved those rankings with zero backlinks, zero external sites linking in.
Rather, Morrow built a site with instantaneous world-class traffic by:
1. Leveraging his built-in, extensive network.
Today, Jon Morrow has an email list of more than 100,000 people, an extensive social media presence, and is connected to dozens of the biggest bloggers in the world.
So, he has a signifcant distribution network that he can leverage for any new site launches.
With apologies to Ms. Porter Gale’s book, “Your Network Is Your Net Worth.”
But I don’t mean to diminish that – he put in years of work and extraordinarily hard work to gain that network.
There is no such thing as an “overnight success.”
2. Having a truly compelling and unique story to tell.
This was killer content, that also happens to be incredibly helpful to readers.
In an internet landscape littered with self-help “gurus,” I dare you to show me a more inspirational story.
And it is unique – few, if anyone else, has overcome challenges as seemingly insurmountable as Mr. Morrow. So few, if any, could have authentically written such a post.
3. Drafting a massive post of more than 4,500 words.
Search engines like Google prefer posts longer than 2,000 words.
At more than 4,500 words, this post screamed authority from the moment it was published.
4. Helping readers.
Lesser entrepreneurs would have released this single post as an ebook.
As Gary Vaynerchuk and others have emphasized, the way to succeed – in business and in life – is to give give give before you take.
Give away massive value for free and it will come back to you later on.
Here, the value is obvious — this post helps anyone having a bad day or who has experienced a massive setback.
Because if Jon Morrow can succeed despite his physical challenges, so can we all.