What we’re going to cover
After this lesson you’ll understand what and why content marketing is important and how to build a content marketing strategy for your site.
Before we dig in I want to quickly clear up the difference between paid and free (organic) listings in the Google search results – as most people mix these up.
Take a look at this image. Everything in an orange box is a paid ad, while everything else is organic. You cannot pay Google directly to increase your organic ranking, which is how high your site appears in the search results.
Let’s now cover a quick overview of what’s been happening in SEO these last few years – it’s literally like the online marketing worlds version of a Hollywood Blockbuster!
1. The BIG Changes
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has changed drastically almost every 3-6 months over the last 8 years or so. These changes happen when Google updates their search algorithm – which is effectively how Google rates which websites are most relevant for different search queries.
E.g. if someone searches “buy red Nike sneakers” from a city in Texas, Google will display the site they feel most relevant at the top of the search results first, the second most relevant second and so forth. These results will be very different for someone searching from Sydney, Australia.
In it’s most simple form, SEO can be described as a voting system. Google scans all the pages of the Internet it has access to and then follows all the links on those page to see where they lead.
If Google finds lots of pages that talk about “red Nike sneakers” and they all link to your website, the algorithm assumes that your page must be a great resource about “red Nike sneakers”.
Google also takes into account what types of pages are linking back to you (backlinks) – which can help build your “authority”. Meaning, if the New York Times writes an article about Nike shoes and links to you, that link is much more valuable (and trusted) than if a brand new and unknown website links to you.
In the wild old days of the Internet, pre 2010, it was common to use nasty tactics (known as black hat tactics) to rapidly build up lots of links to your site to trick Google into thinking your site was the most authoritative place for your given keywords.
The tactic of choice was known as “article marketing”. Whereby people would simply post the same article on hundreds/thousands of different sites to build backlinks.To combat this spammy tactic Google created the duplicate content filter, which would only give credit to the first occurrence they found of a piece of content. The spammy marketers (known as black hatters) then realised that Google couldn’t actually read, so they would run one article through a program that would change the wording just enough so that the content seemed originally – known as “article spinning”. These spun articles made no sense to a human, but successfully slipped passed Google…well, for a while!
Things were going great for those practising in the nasty black hat techniques until Google released two updates, lovingly known as Penguin and Panda. Almost overnight websites dropped from top positions – to non existence. Many companies had relied on their high rankings as a sole income source, so this was a serious wake up call to stop trying to trick the system.
2. What about SEO today?
If you have had any black hat SEO done in the last 4 years, you may be out of luck – you may have never even known your SEO was black hat! Google is now preventing many sites from ranking high on the search results until they remove all their bad links. Sometimes this is as easy as logging into various websites and pulling down these spun articles, yet on other occasions, you’ll need to contact the owners of websites directly and ask them to remove your links – very time consuming.
If you’re building a brand new website you’re in a great position! Not only do you have the advantage to start with “white hat” SEO from the get go, you may also have competitors that are busy getting rid of their bad links, giving you an opportunity to get up there faster!
3. The Building Blocks of SEO
SEO is broken up into two main components – onsite and offsite.
Onsite SEO is conducted on your actual website, while offsite is done on other peoples websites – such as building backlinks.
Onsite optimisations have become more and more important and should be your initial focus.
These changes are all made in the backend/admin area of your website.
Different website platforms (content management systems – CMS’s) will often have plugins or extensions to help with the process. For those following our course and using WordPress we’ll be using an exceptional plugin called “SEO by Yoast” to make these changes. You’ll still be able to make the changes on other sites, you’re just missing out on some really powerful features!
All the SEO components we are going to cover use special a code to tell web browsers which component is being used – known as HTML tags.
HTML tags are denoted by the <> symbols in the backend. Some tags will require two sets of tags, known as an opening and closing tag:
<tag>content goes here</tag> – the text in the opening and closing tags must be identical, yet with a “/” before the text in the closing tag.
Other tags will not need to be closed. For each component we’ll show you what the code looks like to help give you a better idea. You most likely will never need to actually write the code yourself, it’s just very handy to know!
Core Onsite Elements
Hidden Elements: These are elements that will show up in search engine search results, but not on your actual website’s visitor facing side – they are hidden behind the scenes.
Title Tags: Just like the cover of a book, “title tags” tells Google what your page is about and are one of the most important onsite SEO elements. You have a 70 character limit and can break up your text by using – and | symbols. The best practice is to start with the most important keyword for your page, then the name of your site like “How To Install WordPress Plugins | Mighty Little Startups”
Code: <title>Checkout My Great Site | An Awesome Website</title>
Meta Description Tags: Think of “meta description tags” as a mini blurb about your page. These tags don’t have any SEO weight, but are still displayed in the search results, so you instead want to focus on short, snappy copy that will make people want to click through to your site. Your site may not even be the first search result, but if you have persuasive text, you can get more clicks! Limit your description to 155 characters or Google will cut it off.
Code: <meta name="description" content="Write your description here">
Meta Keywords: These were previously used to tell search engines what your webpage was about. Yet they got completely abused as people would add hundreds of keywords, and often irrelevant ones.
If you see this option – do not use it. The keywords are publicly viewable, which includes to your competitors, and can give prying eyes insight into what your attempting to rank for.
On the flip side, be sure to look at your competitors keywords!
Code: <meta name="keywords" content="keyword 1, keyword 2, keyword 3">
Visitor Facing Content
Viewable Elements: These components will be viewable by visitors on your website, just like what you’re reading now.
Heading tags: If you have ever used headings before in word processing software like Microsoft Word, SEO headings work in a very similar way. SEO uses various header tags to determine the important parts of your webpage. H1 tags being the main heading, H2 important sub headers, H3 points within those sub sections…and all the way down to H6.
I’ll personally rarely go beyond H3. On top of telling search engines the important topics of your page, the tags will automatically style your text. H1 will make text the largest, while H2 smaller and so forth.
A great feature of this type of heading tag styling, is that if you decide you want to change the look of all your main headers, you can update all elements across your entire site by changing one setting – and not having to change each heading individually!
Code: <h1>Main Title Goes Here</h1>
<h2>Secondary Title Goes here</h2>
Written Content: Google loves pages with lots of original content. Many artsy designers don’t like written content as they feel it’s ugly – especially on pages like the homepage. I’ll tell you what’s more ugly, getting no visitors to your site because you’ve got bad SEO!
Back in the old days people would stuff their content full of the keywords they wanted to rank for, you’ll now be penalised. As a rule of thumb you should write all content naturally for your readers, rather than trying to trick Google – it won’t work. You may hear a term “keyword density”, which relates to the amount of times a keyword is mentioned in one body of text. You should stick below 3%.
Is more better? Yes. If Google found two pages of original content about, for example, Dolphins, and one page had 300 words and the other 1000 – all things being equal, the longer page will most likely outrank the shorter page as Google assumes it’s a higher quality resource.
Here’s an interesting breakdown of how Google gives pages with more content higher rankings:
Code: No code here, just write some great content!
Alt Tags: Are “alternate” tags which have two purposes. First, Google is still not great at visually determining what an image is about, so alt tags help tell Google.
Alt tags are also used by visually impaired people that use screen readers that literally read out what the images are. You definitely want to be using alt tags.
Code: An “alt” tag is used within a tag used to display images. To keep things simple, look out for: alt=”your text here”
Title Tags: As the name implies, these tags are used to more descriptively explain what your image is about.
Code: This code is also used within an image tag and looks like: title=”your title goes here”
By using these two images tags you can get your images ranking up high in Google’s image search – an often neglected source of traffic!
Anchor Text: This is the text used instead of displaying an entire link. Rather than listing the full link on your page, such as http://www.awebsite.com/myfavouritepage.html you can describe what the link is, so instead the link looks like “My Favourite Website” – which will be identifiable as a link from it’s different colour.
Anchor text was previously how people would create backlinks to their website. They would simply use their keywords as the anchor text to tell Google that the page i’m linking to is about “this anchor text’. Google is now moving rapidly away from anchor text, because it yet again got abused.
Ensure that any anchor text you use is not repeated too often and is descriptive. Try to use different variations of anchor text, even for the same page – so you don’t have a 100 links all saying “what are the best wordpress plugins” – Google won’t be nice to you.
In order for Google to crawl your website properly, it’s crucial to link your pages to one another. As Google starts at your homepage, then follows all the links on that page, then the links on the next. If you have a page that is never linked to Google may never find it.
This is also essential in enhancing your visitors experience, as you never want to leave someone on a page with nowhere to go next!
A classic example of onsite linking is to use “footer links”, which are the links down the bottom of your website. These links remain there no matter what page someone is on and typically link to all the important pages such as contact – so people are never stuck.
If there’s one thing Google loves it’s fresh, original and regularly posted content. The regularity of posting shows Google that you’re here to stay and are providing value to our digital world on an ongoing basis. You also have the opportunity to cover interesting topics related to your niche that can attract traffic. And as per the Keyword Research lesson, this is a perfect opportunity to target long tail keywords that you can rank for much quicker than the ultra competitive generic keywords.
For example, if you’re selling water filters, write articles about the health impact of drinking water to avoid sickness, or where to find water when lost on a trek. If you’re selling consulting services write blog posts on the top most influential people of the 21st century, or the most inspiring people in business today. The aim here is to have content so useful and interesting that people will want to come back to your site and share what you’ve written!Tip: Make sure to link to your most important website pages from within your blog posts and also your blog posts to each other.
Offsite SEO is done on other websites, making it much more of a challenge as you don’t have free reign to make whatever changes you want like you do with your own site.
The voting system that Google uses puts a large weighting on offsite SEO. In the most basic sense, offsite SEO is about getting high quality and relevant websites to link to your website.
As mentioned, these links to your website are known as “backlinks”.
You may be thinking that you could just login to your Facebook account and post links to your site all day long. It’s not quite that simple.
Links can have a particular attribute called rel=”nofollow” which is code that tells Google not to give you a vote for a particular link. If you’ve ever make a comment on a blog, or post on social media, your link will be a no follow link. This is done so people don’t spam the system – which they would!
It’s EXTREMELY important to note that the aim of the game is QUALITY not QUANTITY.
There are website that we’ve mentioned through the course, such as Fiverr, where people will offer to sell you 100s or 1000s of high quality “dofollow” backlinks for $5. DO NOT DO THIS. It’s very hard to get a second chance in the SEO game, so never, ever, ever, opt for a quick fix.
Enough of my ranting!
What sites do you want backlinks from?
As mentioned, not all sites are treated equally. Google will determine the “authority” of a site based on many of the factors we’ve touched on:
- Amount of high quality links to the site
- Age of the site
- Amount of content
- Regularity of new content
Certain domains are also given a significant advantage, such as .edu and .gov as you need to be a legitimate institution or government body to obtain them. Sites like Fiverr will also try to offer you .edu backlinks, sorry, but they’re all spammy.
How can you tell if a site is high quality?
Google historically used a metric called “Pagerank” which would rank sites on their authority out of 10. Each step on the scale being exceptionally harder to achieve than the previous. Google has a 10, Facebook a 9, while eBay and Amazon an 8.
Extremely popular sites like large blogs or banks will have between 4-6.
Reputable sites will have between 2-4.
New sites will have between 0-1.
You can use this site to check your rank: http://www.prchecker.info/ or alternatively install this Google Chrome Browser extension (which I use for a number of SEO/site related functions): Pagerank Checker. (If you’re not using Chrome as your browser, start now!)
To get a more accurate idea of a sites authority you can use a tool named Open Site Explorer (3 free searches a day). Their authority rating takes a host of other factors into account such as your type of backlinks, and also allows you to sift through some of your actual backlinks.
So how do you get backlinks?
Guest Posting: Guest posting has been very popular for a number of years and involves you writing content for another blog in exchange for being able to add a link back to your site, either in the body of the post and/or in an author bio included with the post. Expect to write a 300-800 word post for free.
The real benefit here is that you’re not only getting a backlink, but also real people reading about you – who will hopefully click through to your site.
The easiest way to find guest posting opportunities is to simply search with Google using a phrase such as [your industry “guest post”] the “” ensure the exact words “guest post” are found on that page. Some of the results will be the actual web page of the site you can submit an enquiry while other results will be actual guest posts from other people – yet this tells you the site accepts guest posts.
Some other searches you can use:
- “guest post opportunities”
- “write for us”
- “submit your story”
- “write a post”
- “writers wanted”
- “share your story”
When researching for blog posting opportunities I will use a spreadsheet that includes the site name, a brief description, the link to submit a post, their pagerank and a score out of 5 of how good an opportunity I think the site is. My personal score is based on the quality of content, the social metrics, such as how many shares and tweets the posts have and importantly, the number of comments posts have. A high number of comments indicates a highly engaged readership – a big winner.
Tips for getting accepted
The bigger and more popular a site, the harder it’s going to be to get accepted. Unless you have personal connection with an editor at one of the big sites like The New York Times, i’d try and get in touch with smaller sites first.
Even with these smaller sites it can be hard when you’re first starting, as you may not have much content on your own site, let alone other sites!
So instead of just jumping right in and asking to guest post you should try to get acquainted with the sites current writers/editors by commenting on the articles, tweeting their posts on Twitter or sharing on Facebook and also saying a general hello/thanks for the great content on which ever social network they are most active on.
They are much more likely to take notice of your request when you have already become acquainted.
When I get in touch I will say saying like,
I’ve really been getting a lot out of your content. I first found out about your site when I stumbled on your “Title of article” article. [insert comment - I’ve started using some of the tips and are having some success already!”
I’ve recently started my own blog/site with the aim of helping to spread the word about X.
I’d love the opportunity to share some of my findings on your site. I feel my content and your readers will be a great fit.
A few ideas I have for articles are:
“Insert another headline”
Please get in touch if you’re interested in these ideas, or even another topic you feel could work well.
Notice there that I gave them some ideas for articles, without having to actual write an article. If you have published posts that you are proud of you should mention where they can check them out.
Niche Directory Submission
Generic directory submission was another spammy technique used in the past, whereby massive directory websites would be created not for people to actually use, but to generate masses of backlinks. These sites would then charge premiums for so called higher quality listings. Generic directories are obvious to spot out, as they have all imaginable categories for all types of companies. Do not use them.
Instead, search for [“your niche” directory], here you will find some high quality sites that will actually have some value. Some of these directories will charge, others will allow for a fast online submission, while others will be free but require a manual submission. If it’s not super easy to submit your site – that’s generally a good thing, as it means they have standards – and the quality of the backlink will generally show.
What about sites like Yellowpages?
Despite being large generic directories these sites generally have high authority. The main reason is that to list your business you’ll need a phone number and address, which helps filter out of the spammers. If you can list these details it’s well worth it. You will receive a “nofollow” link, but you’ll benefit from simply having the associate of your link on a high authority site.
These metrics are known as citations and are becoming more and more important when Google looks at the context of a page as well as the actual link.
This is a great one. By using a tool like Open Site Explorer add your main competitors website and look at what sites are linking to them. Go to all those sites and see if you can get a link too. It’s not uncommon that a quick email request can get you a link. This is a great way to neutralise any positive SEO your competitors have, while using more tactics to outrank them.
My objective with this lesson was not to turn you into an SEO expert, but rather give you the tools you needed to get started. Becoming exceptional at SEO is a specialised skill, and personally something I leave to the experts. I love writing and sharing content on my sites and other, so that works for guest posting, but I much prefer spending my time of the aspects of business I love.
When looking for someone to use I prefer to go local. I find that companies with an actual address treat SEO as a real business and are much more accountable. They have the capital to hire experts and the necessity to keep clients – which means they have to behave ethically.
I would NOT recommend using freelancing websites to find an SEO agency or person. Yes, there are decent people out there, but the chance of getting burnt is way too high.
Instead use sites like http://www.topseos.com/ and look in your local region. It is so valuable being able to talk to someone in your own time zone and even in person at their office or yours.
How much should I pay and what should I expect?
You used to be able to get results for many industries for $500 a month. Now you’re looking at $1200 minimum – reason being, that money is now being spent on top quality writers to produce and distribute content on your behalf. A time consuming and expensive – but highly effective task.
Results also used to be a lot faster. If you’re bidding on longer, less competitive keywords, you could see your rankings appear on the 4 or 5 page within a few months and progressively move closer to page 1 in 6 months. With good SEO you could then expect to be in the top rankings within 12 months. Keeping in mind that if the top competitors are all conducting good SEO, it’s going to be competitive!
4. Is SEO for you?
I may have painted a rather bleak outlook for SEO – yet I was more intending to give you a realistic outlook of what to expect. The challenge is that SEO will require a large investment and take sometime before you see a return on your investment.
HOWEVER – If you know your agency is good, don’t get cold feet and jump out early because you’ve seen no results in 3-6 months – you’ve got to stick with it and trust them. It’s an all in or nothing game.
Once you are in the top rankings for your given keywords you are set to start driving some serious traffic. There have been many studies that have found over 60%-70% of search traffic will go to the top 3 organic (SEO) results. This means that even if you are running paid ads, the vast majority of clicks will go to organic results. If there is a keyword directly related to what you do, and with a lot of traffic, you really, really, really need to be in those top 3 spots!
One of the easiest ways to work out your potential return on investment for each dollar you spend on your SEO is to use to the Google Keyword Planner that we discussed in the keyword research lesson. All you need to do is find the most relevant keywords that you wish to rank for and look at how many monthly searches there are and the average cost per click.
Lets say there are 480 searches a month for “catering companies sydney” – and the average cost per click is $6.59 (what you would pay for each click on your ad if you were running a paid Google ad,). If you are in the top position, you’ll be getting around 35% of those clicks, being 168 clicks, at $6.59 that comes to $1107. And that’s just one keyword. Good SEO would aim to have you ranking for a large variety of keywords related to your site – generally over 20.
This dollar amount obviously doesn’t mean sales, but it does give you an idea of the value of the traffic. If you’re getting that traffic and you’ve followed all the previous steps for building your site, you’ll be getting some great results!
If you would like to learn more about SEO I highly recommend checking out this course by Point Blank SEO.
If you’re really interested in SEO, by all means have fun digging in, but if you’d like to dedicate your time to other aspects of your business, be very selective with who you choose and be very patient.