If nothing else, remember:
SEO is a tool—it’s a marketing and lead generation channel. It should never be at odds with your branding or your morals.
SEO is ABOUT your website, but it ISN’T your website.
She’s a tool, capisce?
Table of Contents
The SEO Myths
Let’s Talk About Keywords
Exact-matching keywords are a thing of the past. Google now uses semantic search—basically, it understands synonyms.
For example, as we did in the workshop, a search for “fat-burning foods” and “foods that burn fat” show the exact same results in the top 5 slots.
You and I know that a fat-burning food is a food that burns fat…these two keywords mean exactly the same thing.
Google used to not know that.
But it does now.
This means you should write about topics, not keywords.
Syndicating content (posting to Medium, Quora, Linkedin, or other publishing platforms) is a great way to expand your audience.
But from an SEO perspective, you might not rank for the keywords you should rank for.
Let’s look at Geraldine’s cinnamon rolls.
So even though everything is technically right here—Medium has the proper HTML tags to signal to Google that this isn’t the original version of the post—the Medium post is still a page above the original post.
So, for Geraldine, syndicating that post to Medium wasn’t the best SEO move.
But guys, it allowed the post to explode. It put the post in front of a bigger audience. It probably landed her a speaking gig at WDS and at 7-in-7.
From an SEO perspective, this was a bad move. But from a marketing or business perspective, it was fucking brilliant.
Publish or Perish (according to academia)
Does publishing more content help rank you higher on Google?
Rand Fishkin, one of the best SEOs out there (and, coincidentally, Geraldine’s husband), did a video on this. (Start at 4:34 if you’re only interested in how often you should publish.)
(Note: If you’re thinking about doing video for your business and you deal with anything remotely technical, whiteboard videos like this are perfect and they’re pretty low-cost.)
Rand makes an aside for new bloggers at the very end of the video (around 7:11), and I have one thing to add: the more content you publish, the more quickly Google understands what your site is about.
But, like Rand said, consistency > raw frequency.
(Also, both Geraldine and Rand are amazing. They’re #goals.)
Does More Content = Better Rankings?
Are websites like cars? That is, if I load my website with content and blog posts, is its ability to rank at the top of Google affected?
The short answer is: probably. That’s what my mentor, Brian Dean, found when he deleted over 10,000 pages from Proven.com’s website.
It’s also what the writers at Moz found.
(To clarify, this is only a problem when you have both a lot of backlinks pointing to your website and a lot of content. If you’re just starting out, you’re fine for now.)
There are lots of technical reasons as to why this is the case…shoot me an email if you’re really dying to know. 🙂
Who should I write for? People or Google?
Write for people.
Think of it this way: Google is growing up. In the past, Google was a 4th grader. Then it graduated to middle school and got smarter.
Right now, I’d say Google is in high school. Understands topics and concepts but its analytical abilities aren’t there yet.
That means: today, writing for Google might be a bit better than writing for people.
But I like to take a long view of time, and I encourage you to as well. As Google updates, it actually penalizes websites that “write for Google.” (Research the Penguin and Panda updates for some war stories. That’s outside the scope of this question.)
Think of it this way: what does Google actually want?
Google wants to give its searchers the best answer to their question.
The best answer is going to be different for each question, and over time, Google learns what people consider as “the best answer” based on their behavior.
But let’s forget about Google for a second.
Who are your customers?
Write for them. Screw Google. It’ll figure itself out.
From the Q&A
How do I hire someone to do SEO for me?
Man, if only I knew the perfect answer to this question so I could become that person. 🙂
Here’s my take:
As an Ahrefs survey found, SEO costs, models, and scope of services are all over the map.
Some SEOs only offer SEO and don’t offer anything else. Others are like me and offer SEO bundled with more holistic marketing (I also help my clients with copywriting, email marketing, marketing automation, market research, and user experience design.)
Some SEOs only offer technical SEO (i.e., the bones and muscles of your website.)
Others care more about your content marketing and have a very small technical background.
Some charge per project. Others on a retainer. Still others per hour.
Prices run from $500 to $10,000.
But let’s back away from pricing and packaging. We have a bigger problem.
Since there’s no industry standard, how do you know you’re not getting ripped off?
Personally, I don’t care about credentials. I’ve hired and paid people with no credentials and no skills…but I was confident they could figure it out. I don’t necessarily recommend that for SEO.
Here’s what I would ask a potential SEO vendor:
- What’s your approach to SEO?
- Here you’re really trying to understand: does this person seek to understand my business and serve my clients/customers?
- Watch out for the word “black hat”. Black-hat SEO is akin to “bad cop” SEO—these people game the system. This might give you an immediate short-term gain, but if Google catches on, bye-bye website rankings…possibly for years. Not worth the risk.
- Specific tactics. Drill down here. If someone says “We optimize your web pages for SEO,” you need to ask them: BUT WHAT THE FUCK DOES THAT ACTUALLY MEAN?! Specificity > nebulous promises.
- They should be able to explain their process in a way that makes sense to you.
- Beware an over-reliance on vanity metrics. “Ranking on Page 1” doesn’t mean anything. (This is also nebulous: Page 1 for which keywords? Are they information-intent or buyer-intent? Are they brand mentions? How many searches a month do they get? Of those searches, how many people actually click? Does Page 1 mean “position 10” or “position 1”?) As a business owner, you care about dollah bills. How does this person’s approach to SEO help you earn more cash money and serve more people?
- What models or packages do you offer?
- Look for what makes sense. $2000/month for a retainer might sound expensive, but that’s like hiring a part-time employee. Conversely, someone charging $75/hour might sound like a deal, but you’ve underestimated the amount of work to be done and now you have a $12,000 bill at the end of the month.
- I like to keep my life simple and I only offer a monthly retainer.
- What are your guarantees?
- This is a total trick question. Like I said in our meet-up, I’m not an oracle. (If I was, I wouldn’t be in the SEO game. There are much more lucrative fields.) Therefore, I cannot predict what the demand for your product or service is going to become in 3 months or a year. THEREFORE, I cannot guarantee you anything.
- If someone says they guarantee you first page Google rankings, they probably mean you’ll rank on Page 1 for a keyword that has no competition and gets 10 searches a month (totally useless) or they’re actually doing something black hat. Hang up the phone.
- If someone offers a money-back guarantee that seems legit to you—it’s time-bound, it’s a full refund, etc. etc.—then drill down a bit further. But generally, these guarantees are weird.
- I usually “dodge” this question and instead frame the guarantee in terms of lead metrics (the conditions for success) and lag metrics (the actual payoff). This keeps me honest, and I can say: while I can’t predict anything, I do know the conditions for success. If we optimize for those conditions, then success should follow. But since I don’t control the Google algorithm or the market demand, that’s the most of a guarantee I can give you.
- Can you back up X claim?
- Everything I mentioned above pertaining to SEO myths was backed up with a case study, an experiment, or an authority figure.
- It helps to know the basic SEO sites. I trust Backlinko, Moz, and Ahrefs for in-depth SEO. (I also trust Kinsta, but they’re not an SEO shop.) For industry news, I trust Search Engine Journal and the Twitter profiles of Google employees.
- My point is: you should be able to corroborate almost everything. Hold your SEO vendor to the standard you wish you could hold your doctor to. (I’m not the only one who asks about all the clinical trials of the new medicine I just got prescribed, right?)
If you’re still feeling wonky, either listen to your gut and hang up or ask me to take a look. I’m more than happy to help you weed out the good from the bad. 🙂
A Note on Words
Another thing: I’ve met a lot of smart, eloquent, and shrewd people who get triggered when they talk about computer/technical things. SEO, like every other industry, is fraught with jargon, industry speak, and Words You Don’t Understand.
If you’re going to pay for SEO, you should be comfortable asking about these.
Let’s start with the most common one: algorithm.
Do you know what an algorithm is?
No, really. Can you give me a definition?
How about an example of something that is an algorithm by another name?
Let’s look at an example:
Mix the eggs and flour and sugar in a bowl. Pour into pan. Stick in the oven at 350ºF for 25 minutes. Bam, now we have a cake.
We have a cake-making algorithm.
AKA a recipe.
And, given the same ingredients, I get the same (or a very similar) cake.
An algorithm is the same. It’s just a recipe. A set of instructions that gives the same result every time.
Your SEO vendor should be able to explain technical concepts so that you understand them.
My Website is New. At what point should I start with SEO?
Listen, SEO is a long game. It takes time for Google to trust your site and learn what your business does and what you blog about. It takes time to build trust in your field and get those important backlinks that signal to Google that other websites also trust you.
The sooner you get methodical with your SEO strategy, the better.
That said, the great thing about intangible mediums like blogs is that anything can be modified or deleted at any time. So if you’ve been blogging for a year without any strategy, you can always correct course and clean up.
But I’d rather you not create too much extra work for yourself. 🙂
How do I do keyword research if I should be writing about topics?
I have a blog post about this coming up, but here’s the quick and dirty:
- Look at which of your competitors’ pages are bringing in the most traffic. You can use a free tool like Similar Web to see their top keywords and then Google those keywords to see what comes up.
- Figure out what topic this page is on. (Hint: this should be really, really easy.)
- Look at the social shares and comment numbers.
- Here you’re looking for social proof that this post actually resonated with their audience.
- I.e., you’re looking for a proof of concept. If these bitches could do it, so can you.
- Ask yourself: can I make something better, or can I write about this in a way that would better resonate with my audience?
- Don’t let the imposter syndrome show up here. I think Gary Vee is annoying and I’d rather listen to someone else. Maybe that’s you. There’s always room in the market for another unique voice.
- Do the thing and make something on that topic that is objectively better for your target audience.
- Think: examples, content organization, your superpowers (can you make a video? Do you have awesome writing skills? Can you talk about your own experience and use a personal case study?), etc. It’s easy to get hung up on this, especially when you’re competing with a big brand. That’s just the imposter syndrome and the fear. It’s all in your head, understand?
And then you promote and you’re all good. 🙂
I Want Weekly Emails
If these notes were helpful to you and you want weekly, bite-sized chunks of SEO and marketing wisdom, I think you’re a great fit for my email list.
Click the button below and fill out the form. You’ll be all set. 🙂
Schedule a Free Consultation
My gift to you, my friends in World Domination, is a free 30-min consultation call.
Full disclosure: if you’re looking for someone to help you out with SEO, let me know. If I feel like it’s a fit by the end of the call, I’ll make you an offer and we can decide together whether or not we’d like to move forward.
If you’re not looking at the moment, I promise not to sell you anything. But take the phone call anyway, deal?
— Jake Ballinger