Note: This is old content from GarrettMickley.com. I am no longer pursuing a digital marketing career, but I didn’t want the content to go to waste, so I’m relocating it here. I hope the Dev.to community finds it useful.
I often tell people that SEO is dead.
Like Gary Vaynerchuk says, “marketers ruin everything.” But we're musicians, right? We're not marketers.
And like my friend Scott Russell said, “you don’t need an SEO specialist. You need a writer that can convey your message clearly enough for a bot to get it.”
Wait, let's backtrack a bit. I might need to explain SEO to you. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization.
Have you ever wondered what makes things appear in Google in the specific order they do?
When you Google search, or Bing, or whatever you use, there's a method to the madness that is SERPs, or Search Engine Results Pages.
Go search for “David Lynch Quinoa Recipe” (that third word is pronounced “keen-wah”). For a lot of people, the first thing that comes up is an OpenCulture.com article. Cool.
For some people, you might get something else. If you're logged into your account on whatever search engine you're using, you probably have results custom tailored to you. If you're not logged in, or if you’ve never searched the keyphrase before, then you'll get the same results as anyone else in your shoes.
(Note: I added "&pw=0" to the link above, so if you clicked that, you will receive the results that show for logged-out users even if you're logged in.)
These results are decided based on an algorithm that is a secret except for a few people who are working on it at the company.
For the sake of simplicity, let's just stick with Google for the sample company and search engine. They all work the same, though have different algorithms to decide the ranking of websites.
There was a time where we used to spam content networks with articles full of backlinks to artificially raise the ranking of websites so we could make more money. We gamed the system. I wouldn't say it was wrong, but maybe I'm just biased because it kept food on my table for a few years. I definitely wouldn't say it was right, either.
The search engine algorithm is getting smarter and previously mentioned systems that used to game the algorithm are no longer working. On top of that, the search engines are learning to build SERPs that benefit the user more and more. There's far less "SEO trash" showing up on page one than there was 5-10 years ago.
Of course, SEO's (Search Engine Optimizers) are trying out new things to game the system more and more, and there will always be new things, but it's definitely not like it was back in 2009, where all you had to do was slam content aggregators with backlinks.
Backlinks are links in an article that link back to your main content (or, as marketers call it, “the money site”) with the sole purpose of increasing ranking. Backlinks still help your ranking, however getting good backlinks is very difficult these days.
SEMRush found in 2017 that "having an exact match keyword in your on-page SEO elements is not crucial."
I don't know how that works considering our brains are awful at storing information (great for processing it, though).
But here’s what’s going on: people are starting to remember sources (read: brands) more. A lot of people will go to a specific source to find information about a subject now.
For example, I am a big fan of the brand seanwes and the information they provide. I frequently search for things on their site rather than a broad Google search. To speed things up, I’ll still use Google, but search it with a “+seanwes” which makes sure it only searches for things on the internet that include the word seanwes in them.
When you're logged in to your Google account, it's tracking the things you search and the pages you go to, and may or may not track what's saved to your bookmarks (when using Chrome).
Then, when you search for things, your history plays into what results are provided to you. This has been, and will continue to get more and more custom tailored as times goes on.
People are sharing things through social media, and a lot of people will use the search engines built into the social media to find the information they’re looking for.
An example of that is how a large portion of people no longer conduct Google searches for news. Instead, they go straight to Twitter to find out what’s going on. Twitter moves way faster than CNN or Fox and most internet savvy people know that.
Next, we’re going to discuss how to actually write with SEO in mind, despite the fact that SEO is dying, because it’s still going to benefit you.
Despite the fact that SEO is dying thanks to smarter algorithms, tailored experiences, and the always increasing popularity of social media: it's still worth knowing basic SEO practices and employing them in all of your online content.
The first thing you need to do when writing SEO friendly content is to figure out the main point of the article, blog post, or page.
The point of this blog post, for example, is to teach you how to write SEO friendly content so that you can get more traffic on your webpages. More traffic leads to more exposure leads to more money.
Now that you have established the purpose of your article, it's time to figure out what people are searching for in regards to that. This is called keyword research and it's a whole art in itself, but we'll keep it simple here.
Just go to Google and start typing what you think people would search regarding your topic. Check out those autofill suggestions. Those are the kinds of things people are searching.
Hit enter, or grab one of those, and then scroll to the bottom of the first page. Look! more suggestions. Awesome.
Compare and contrast those with what you wrote first. You should get a good idea of what people are searching for regarding your topic, and especially what type of language they're using (how they word their searches). You want to be mindful of all of these different suggestions when writing your content.
Your title needs to have this sort of language in it, as does the rest of your content. In fact, you want it to be as close to the front of your title as possible. However, you also need to make sure that the title and content make sense when read.
“Reader-friendly content” means that it reads well, is relevant to the topic, and is useful. When people are searching stuff, it's because they want to learn something. They need to know the thing. What is the thing? That's whatever you wrote about.
You're targeting their thirst for knowledge. Google will lead the horse to water, but you have to provide the water for them to drink it. And of course, as the saying goes, you can't make them drink it. But we're going to do our best by making sure our content is friggin’ awesome.
Write good content! Write what you would want to read.
Imagine you're sitting down with your best friend and they ask you about the thing. Explain it to them. Write it the way you explain it to them.
Seriously. Like, imagine you're teaching them how you design a home page. Open up your email and start a new email draft and say "Dear..." whoever it is. Write to them. Then copy and paste that content into your blog (and remove the “Dear…” part).
Okay, but what about the optimization part? Didn't we look up those suggestions so that we would have better content optimized for the search engines? Yeah, throw it out. You've already learned it and subconsciously ingested it into your brain.
If you didn't naturally use that language when writing your content, it's probably because it feels unnatural to you. And if it feels unnatural to you, then it's going to be unnatural to other people.
Before we write content for the search engines, we need to write content for the users.
Studies show that content written with the user first, rather than the search engine first, will rank better for longer. Content written for the search engines tends to turn off users, and the users stop reading, stop buying, and stop coming back to your site.
There's lots of other stuff you should know, at least according to SEO's, such as keyword density and crap like that. Don't worry about it today. We're writing for the user, not for the search engines.
And today, I'm more concerned with getting you writing than how “SEO perfect” it is.
One thing that used to be important was to make sure your keyphrase is in the title and at least one subheader. If you’re writing for people, it might not fit naturally in, and injecting the keyphrase where it doesn’t flow is not good for the reader.
You shouldn’t be building your headers and title around what is SEO friendly. You should be building your headers and title around one thing: what are the key takeaways for the reader?
For example, instead of titling an article "SEO for musicians", I would title it "Attract new fans through search engines", because most musicians don't know what SEO is or why it's important. But they do know they want new fans, and they know what search engines are.
Another thing that used to be important was bolding the keyphrase. Again, it doesn’t always work out that injecting the keyphrase in somewhere and bolding it is going to help the reader any.
You shouldn’t be bolding things just to have the keyphrase bolded. You should be bolding key takeaways for the reader.
SEO is not the way it used to be, and these old SEO guys are stuck in their old ways and wondering why I’m ranking better than them.
Check out my case study on writing regular content and I'll show you that my system for writing content is better and consistently improving every website I write for.
SEO is dying because if you do everything right, your content will automatically be Optimized for Search Engines and you won’t have to worry or even think about it.
Backlinks will come naturally, because you wrote good, useful content that people want to share.