The staircase of SEO
In this blog post: learn practical principles to climb the steps of search engine rankings

Not getting seen = not existing

It’s 2018. At this point most business owners have realised they need a website to stay in business. Of course, the more business owners that stake their claim on the Internet, the higher the bar to stay competitive becomes.

Your website isn’t much use at all if no one can find it. You know that saying, “If you build it, they will come”? Well, they won’t—unless you start making some serious noise. And unless they come, it might as well not exist at all.

There are many ways to get people to see your website:

  • You can pay for ads
  • You can build a social media following
  • You can stage PR campaigns
  • Or, you can get ranked organically on search engines like Google

The art of getting ranked on search engines like Google and Bing is called Search Engine Optimisation—or SEO for short.


Demystifying the subject

“Search Engine Optimisation”. With a name like that, you’d think it’s something super technical and complicated. And sure, it can be. If your website has thousands upon thousands of pages, this technical aspect of SEO is very important.

But most websites do not have thousands of pages.

In fact, if you’re reading this, I’m going to guess it’s closer to six or eight pages. If your website also has a blog section, it might even have fifty or even a couple of hundred pages.

If either of these descriptions describe you pretty well, this article is for you.

As with most things, there’s a lot of misinformation about SEO on the Internet. Search engines are constantly changing and evolving, getting better at identifying relevant websites and pages for users, so whatever specific shortcuts people have found to cheat the system very soon are rendered irrelevant.

Instead of pedantically examining those shortcuts, this post will focus on the general principles of SEO—principles that will more or less remain just as relevant two years from now, as they are right now (in June 2018).

The principles can be intuited fairly easily (but I will provide official sources for each) by asking yourself this:

What pages does Google want to show users?

Well, the answer is pretty simple. Google wants to display results that:

  1. Are relevant to the search query and solve the user’s problem

  2. Will not frustrate the user

1. Relevant, high-quality content

In order for your content to rank for a given search query, it needs to be relevant. But that’s usually not enough: it also needs to be high-quality.

In Google’s introductory “Steps to a Google-friendly site,” this is the advice they choose to put front and centre.

That is not a coincidence: The relevancy and quality of your content matters infinitely more than anything else.

In other words, the content needs to address the search query, and it needs to go in-depth to solve the problem implied by the search query.

For example, if you wanted to rank for “cold email”, you’d better create the best damn piece of content about cold email that the world has ever seen. Why?

Because you’re competing with millions of others who are trying to rank for the same query. A great deal of them are going to be sites like Wikipedia, Harvard Business Review, Forbes, as well as authoritative industry websites like Close.io and Copyhackers.

The higher the competition is for a search query, the harder it’s going to be to create the most relevant, highest-quality content for it. Far better to aim for search queries with less competition. There may not be as many people searching for them, but at least they’ll find your website when they do.

So instead of creating the greatest content ever made about “cold email”, you might want to write a solid post helping people who search for “outreach email for consultants” instead. Makes sense, right?

Side note: The process of identifying search queries that are worth going after is called “keyword research”. There are many ways to go about it, some more effective than others. I recommend this video from Income School that covers perhaps the most basic (yet effective) method.

2. Frictionless user experience

OK, so your content is relevant and high-quality.

Next, you need to make sure that your website provides visitors with a frictionless and enjoyable user experience.

Google doesn’t want to display results that are going to frustrate users and cause them to hit the back button just after landing on your page. That’s why most of the contents of their “Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide” covers user experience-related factors like site hierarchy, mobile responsiveness, and user behaviour.

Put yourself in the shoes of someone who’s visiting your website for the first time.

Open an incognito window in your browser (this will flush any cached files and cookies saved from your website, emulating the experience of visiting it for the very first time).

Now visit a page you’re trying to rank for. What do you see, and what do you feel?

  • Is the website served securely over HTTPS?

  • Does the page load in fast?

  • If you wanted to visit other parts of the website, is it easy to navigate?

  • Does the website look good and inspire trust and confidence, or does it look old/cheap/sketchy?

  • Is the text easily readable?

  • Is the reading experience distraction-free, or are there ads or pop-ups asking you to do this and that?

  • Does the content match your expectations, answer your questions, and solve your problems?

  • Is the content referring to other websites or sources that are considered credible?

  • Does the website look good on mobile, tablet, and desktop screens?

These are some of the questions you might ask yourself when you do this exercise. If your answers were all “yes”, you’re doing a great job. If not, you still have some things you might need to work on!

Simple, but not easy

If I’ve made SEO seem super simple in this guide, that’s because it is. Unless you have a Frankenstein’s monster of a website, you don’t need to get bogged down in technical SEO techniques.

Just deliver great content on a great website, and you’ve done 99% of the work.

With that being said, the fact that SEO is so simple does not mean it’s easy.

If you actually care about ranking organically in search engines—which you should—you will need to invest significant resources—either in the form of your own time, or by contracting someone to do it for you—into content planning and production.

There are no quick ways, no shortcuts, to get ranked immediately. Here’s what Google themselves have to say:

“Some companies claim to “guarantee” high ranking for your site in Google’s search results. While legitimate consulting firms can improve your site’s flow and content, others employ deceptive tactics in an attempt to fool search engines. Be careful; if your domain is affiliated with one of these deceptive services, it could be banned from our index.” (Source)

So put in the work, have patience, and watch your website soar past the competition.

Until next time,
Jon

PS. Got any questions about this post? Email me!