A key message of The Art of Search is to listen to the voice of the Customer. I want to share with you the text of some DMs between me and a person who tweeted with request for a little SEO help. The framing of their question was a joy to read because their SEO questions succinctly mirrored the mental process that I routinely hear people (maybe you too?) put themselves through as they start-out getting to grips with SEO. So, in this blog, I take a sip of my own medicine and listen carefully to the voice inside their head.
Our enquirier is a freelance journalist and I opened our DM with the question: "Is your challenge with the mouse clicking aspects of SEO - ie writing/publishing pages? /S"
No, I can produce content – when I find time – but whether it is the right content, I don't know.Now, what follows below is a verbatim copy and paste of my replies. So let's look at this genuine request for SEO help bit by bit. Maybe you can recognise something of your own situation in this explanation? <!-- starts -->
But in general, I would have thought it's more about what I need to do to the site, how I go about doing it, determining what is missing, etc.
My website – [mywebsite.co.uk] – has only ever been a brochure as in nine years, I am always too busy to learn how to make more of it.
But I have known for some time it needs to be improved and I am going to be doing some video content as well, so I want to optimise for that as well.
I have been approached by many SEO 'specialists' spamming me offering, well, I'm not entirely sure what, but it was big bucks for little and seemingly unnecessary for my little site.
I don't mind spending money, but am trying to understand what I need to spend it on. I don't sell anything from this site, directly, so there isn't a revenue stream to offset ongoing management costs.
I have also considered [a web analytics subscription service], as I thought it might help me determine what is wrong/doesn't work and then have someone(thing) correct it for me while I get to grips with all this.
Any advice gratefully received to point me in the right direction.
A. That, as we've already agreed, is the 'stuff' your Customers are interested in and searching for. The easiest way to discover this is to ask them. This isn't as hard or as scary as it might at first appear. A phone call to [your Customer] with a warm and supportive question about [her|his|their] plan and agenda for the year ahead shows that you're thinking ahead and conscious that preparation is everything. The answers your Customers give you will not only give you the topics but the terminology and phraseology they use and are extermely likely to search with. In a word? Relevance.
It's OK. You do have the time. I understand and accept that what you write is seen elsewhere - published by those who pay for and secure the rights to your insight and experience. Copying and pasting the entire article is clearly taboo. So, instead, copy and paste chunks of the article and publish an abstract of the article just like a learned or scientific journal would do. Where possible, put a link from this abstract on your website to your client's. This strategy offers a set of manyfold benefits: you're letting your prospects and Customers see who trusts and commissions you; you're condensing your own text and forcing yourself to publish a keyword-rich synopsis of your work; you're giving your clients an inbound link that'll be good for their own SEO. In essence what you'll be doing is creating mini press releases for each bit of work you're able to identify as yours.
Now then. The site. Don't let this become a big thing. Most of the snakeoil salespeople who spam your inbox with offers of help won't be able to deliver what they promise. Snakeoil salespeople fall into one of two categories: linkbuilders or sitewranglers. Linkbuilding is regarded by many as a so called "black-hat" technique that attempts to trick Google into thinking your website's more popular than it is. Google's not that dumb or gullible. Sitewranglers claim to be able to improve your website's performance by making the site's HTML cleaner and your content richer. Most people (maybe you too) have read so many of the sitewranglers' email that you now assume there's something wrong with your site. I'm not going to say that it can't be improved but any such 'technical' improvements won't improve your rank. I often use the analogy of an F1 car. Your website can be the fastest, most technically advanced in the race but if your driver doesn't know where they're going then you'll never get off the starting grid.
When it comes to being too busy to learn how to make more of a website, this most recent blog post lays-out why I think now is the best time to be doing something about it.
You might see what I've been able to do here: share with you a blog that's been written in such a way that it supports a sales discussion. That, in itself, gives you a massive clue about what content you should be putting into your website - impressive content that you'd be able to drop into a sales discussion. You need to drop the notion of your website being a brochure, it's so much more than that. [Follow the Just Do It link at the foot of this page for more on this subject.]
[The web analytics platform] won't have the easy answer you're looking for. All it'll tell you is what your site is presently doing and make you feel bad that it's not doing as well as the websites of your sector peers. Ultimately, all it's going to tell you is to do more - you already know that's what you have to do, you don't need to subscribe to a service that'll make you feel any worse than you may already do.
The Art of Search costs £16.00 and takes a couple of days to read. It'll tell you that the way to get seen on Google is: to build the energy of your website; to take a close, hard look at the websites of your competitors and decide what you think their websites are missing; to write about the things they'll not be found for and to understand when and when not to pick a fight.<!-- ends -->
There was one more point from the original query that I didn't answer and, as it's one we hear a lot, this aspect of SEO deserves some airtime: that of video.
…I am going to be doing some video content as well so want to optimise for that as well.
Broadly speaking, Google trawls words, counts links and monitors traffic. If you're going to embed video into a website then do it because video is what your Customer wants to find and use on your website. Many websites looking for a no-cost video option embed video in from YouTube - Google owns YouTube so it's fair to argue that video helps SEO in some little way. We have learned that many people in business who find themselves in charge of a website regard video as an easier, softer content option because it means not having to write. Big mistake.
We've all watched and LOLled at complete howlers and video nasties. Truth is, it's actually easier to write than it is to create video content. Words are editable so, if you make a mistake, corrections can be made at a later date whereas it's incredibly tough and costly to recall and repair a video. Video isn't the soft option many believe it to be; when uploading a video you need to supply a meaningful title and a description - 'salesPromoVID' just won't do. The video title and description need to be meaningful but, critically, if you want the (optimised) video to add to your SEO energy then you'd need to make certain that the video meta data matches the content of the web page it's to be included in. Web pages sporting a video but little matching text just look, well, dumb.
There's no getting away from it. If you're serious about SEO you'll have to accept that words are not only important but vital and, at some point in time, you're going to have to write some great sales content. Rich, engaging content; written to show the incredible things your Customers can do and not written to tell them what you do. The 'what' you do is only one sixth of your story and, to your Customer, the 'what' isn't half as important as the 'why', the 'how' or the 'when'.