SEO: How to Sweat the Right Stuff

Search engine optimization helps people find the useful content you’re creating. But does it need to be a full-time job?

Today’s guests don’t think so.

This week on Hit Publish, I’ve invited three Copyblogger experts to share their best advice on optimizing for search the easy way.

Discover how to make SEO part of your content routine so the content you create will stand out.

Tune in to hear from Sean Jackson, Katy Barrileaux, and Jerod Morris as we discuss:

  • Why the term “SEO” is out-of-date, and what we should be calling it instead
  • The bare minimum requirements you need to optimize a page or post
  • How to target older content and optimize it so it’s easier to find

The Show Notes

SEO: How to Sweat the Right Stuff

Pamela Wilson: I wanted to call this episode “SEO in Ten Minutes a Day,” which might seem a little hard to believe, so I’ll find another name.

But between you and me, I’m pretty sure that ten minutes a day spent applying what you are about to learn will make a world of difference to how easily your site can be found on the web.

Welcome to Hit Publish, where I cover simple ways to get better results with your online business. This is Pamela Wilson of Copyblogger Media.

This week I’m bringing in Copyblogger team members to share their answers to your online marketing questions and show you how to build a business that grows your profits.

I want to thank you for downloading this podcast and I want to thank Rainmaker.FM for hosting it. Ready to talk SEO? Let’s Hit Publish.

Why the Term “SEO” is Out-of-Date, and What We Should Be Calling it Instead

Today we’ll start with Sean Jackson. You know, just about everyone at Copyblogger has multiple skills: I think it might be some kind of requirement for working here. Our Chief Financial Officer, Sean, has a strong background in search engine optimization (SEO). He helped develop our Scribe SEO product, which makes optimizing your content for search really easy. And that’s why I wanted to tap Sean for this first question because it’s kind of a biggie.

You see, SEO is always changing, so I asked Sean to tell us about the state of SEO today.

Sean Jackson: The reality is, I’ll make it change even more. SEO is dead.

Pamela Wilson: Oh, no!

Sean Jackson: I know. It’s something I wrote about last year on Copyblogger. There was the number one post on Google+, and it’s where I outline why the term SEO is really just not applicable anymore.

It used to be this idea of a black box and a mystery, and you had to know some secret formula to get your stuff to the top of Google. It always inevitably had some spammy connotations and quite frankly I think the term is no longer useful. I think the tactics are, but I don’t think the term is right. I think there is a new term we should be using.

Pamela Wilson: All right, I want to hear about this new term then.

Sean Jackson: That new term really cuts to the heart of anything that you do in content marketing, which is once you have written that content, you are going to want people to see it. You want to do things that maximize this exposure.

So I’ve come up with a new term called MCD (Maximizing Content Discovery) because at the end of the day, that’s what it’s really about. It’s not a black box. It’s not a mystery. It’s not a spammy thing. It is the things that you need to do to maximize the ability for people to discover your content.

You know, if I said to you “SEO,” people immediately think Google, right?

Pamela Wilson: Right.

Sean Jackson: But reality is that we discover content in a lot of different channels now. We go to Amazon and that’s a way to discover content. We go to Instagram. We go to Pinterest. We go to LinkedIn. We go to Twitter. We are now discovering content in a variety of different sources and sure, Google has a big chunk of that content discovery, but they are not the only ones anymore.

A recent shift has happened where Google has lost some market share, and now Yahoo is coming back to be important. But I think that will fracture more. I know a lot of mommy bloggers out there that swear that Pinterest is one of the best ways for their audience to discover their content.

So let’s stop using this term “SEO” and really focus on — which is what we all want — the ability to maximize the discovery of this content. Our MCD.

Pamela Wilson: I love that idea.

So what does that break down to on a daily basis? What do we need to be doing to make sure we can maximize content discovery?

Sean Jackson: That’s a great question and I think the good news is, you may already be focusing on this type of off-page strategy. But sometimes it’s always in the details. I’ll give a great example.

If you’re trying to maximize your content, then one of the ways to expose your content more is by putting share buttons on a post.

In Rainmaker we have these really nice ways and elegant ways of putting share buttons on a post. So you want to make sure they are there and they are obvious. You need to make sure that people know they can click it. But even more important is the text that you put into those share buttons, that would appear in that tweet stream or on that LinkedIn post. Because that’s also something that people need to concentrate on. It’s not the headline that you put on your page.

The nice thing about a page is it has context, it has imagery, it has more that could establish that headline but if you are trying to share something out there, that title and description that you put on that page has got to sustain itself with all the competition that is out there.

So I think that is a very easy way of looking at this MCD approach. You know, making sure that those titles and descriptions that are put into those sharing capability are exactly what you think will draw the audience in. It doesn’t have to match and probably in some cases shouldn’t match what the headline on the page is. And I think that’s really important. I think focusing on those two elements helps people to discover your content easier.

Pamela Wilson: I always tell people that the title and the description are like an ad that you are writing for your content. So it sounds like I’m not too far off.

Sean Jackson: You’re 100% correct. And I think let’s go a little deeper in that because they are the ad for your content.

But you know, search engines are discovery engines. They are also very smart but they need help. And out of all the years that I have been doing optimization efforts and I have read a lot of academic papers on information retrieval, there’s a lot of algorithms out there. There’s a whole society of information retrieval scientists out there, and while I am not smart enough to be a member of it, I can at least read what they write.

I want to tell you some things that have never changed in the numerous years that I have been researching this.

Number one: what type of keyword you use really does matter. Now there are some changes that Google did in their discovery engine but certainly some of the other sources are not as sophisticated but it doesn’t matter. At the heart of it is the keywords you use, and they will always will matter. And not only do they matter to make it something that the user can identify with, which is the most important, but also so that these algorithms and indexing systems can properly take your content and put it in its place.

So keyword is very important but it’s important, not just for the term itself, but it’s also in its usage. You want to use it in the title. You want to use it in the description. You want to use it frequently in the content.

Now discovery engines are getting a lot better but at the end of the day, they still have to have a term or long-tail keywords to center off of. And if you are not taking the time to put those keywords in your title, in your description, so they appear in your social media sharing, so they appear in the HTML of your page, and you are not using those terms frequently in your content, then you are really hamstringing yourself.

Pamela Wilson: So we can’t ask them to think for us. We really do have to help them along.

Sean Jackson: That’s true.

And the other thing that helps them along is if you write long content. That’s another thing that blows people away. The more content you put in a post or in a page, the easier it is for a discovery system to understand what you are talking about.

So if you are using images, describe those images. If you have a post that you are writing, you don’t just want 200 or 300 words. At a minimum you want 500 to 700 words. This seems to be the most optimal amount because you are giving more information to these discovery engines so they can properly understand it. “Okay, you are using this term. You are using other terms related to it. This page/post etc must be about that.”

So it’s keywords, it’s frequency of those keywords and it’s the length of the document. In the 15-20 years that we have been really talking about this idea of SEO, it really hasn’t fundamentally changed. They really just don’t change.

Pamela Wilson: It’s good to know that some of the basics are still around but we also need to focus on maximizing content discovery, by making sure that as we spread things around, the right message is getting out to people.

Sean Jackson: Absolutely and each of these discovery engines … and I like to think of them that way. It’s not search engines but discovery engines. Each discovery engine has something that it keys off of.

In the case of Twitter, it’s about the number of retweets that you had. It’s the number of people that are talking about that particular thing that you put out there.

In the case of Google, it’s links.

In the case of LinkedIn, it’s shares.

And in the case of Pinterest, it’s pins.

See, that is something that I think people who grew up with SEO started to understand. This content that I am creating has to have some sort of engagement, so that these discovery engines can figure it out and put it on their radar screen. “This is something that other people find valuable.” We all know about links with Google, right? But Twitter, Pinterest, there’s a lot of pinning or retweeting to amplify discovery.

That’s why I really go back to this idea that it’s not just SEO anymore. It’s like when I started in technology. I use to run a bulletin board system. Anybody talk about BBS these days? No, of course not because the term no longer applies, even though the technology is very similar to what we call forums.

Pamela Wilson: Right.

Sean Jackson: What I look at is, how do I as a novice understand this stuff? SEO was too scary but maximizing the discovery of my content through discovery engines, where I know my audience is, that’s something you can control. That’s something you can do today and it doesn’t require anything more than understanding your keywords and making sure they are easy to find.

Pamela Wilson: It sounds like you’re doing some of the heavy lifting and you are letting other people who share your content do some of the heavy lifting for the search engines?

Sean Jackson: Of course, because again, I’m not saying that the number of retweets matters in the discovery system but what does matter is that the more people retweet something, the broader the ability for you to have your content discovered, right?

Pamela Wilson: Right.

Sean Jackson: That’s why the terms we use matter because I’m not worried about gaming a system or trying to get a 1000 bots on Twitter to like something, or whatever the thing you are trying to black hat or spam something. What you are really trying to say is, “You know what, if I can get someone like a Chris Garrett to retweet something that I have posted out there, his reach is going to be substantial, or Brian Clark who has a huge following.”

You know, that to me probably matters more that I’m maximizing the discovery, the content discovery process by getting one person out there to use whatever engagement that channel has, and then they replicate it and they replicate it and they replicate it. That’s what matters more than a black box type of thing.

Pamela Wilson: Sean’s radical recommendation? “Stop being obsessed with SEO and spend your energy writing good, solid content instead.”

Here’s a hint, that’s not the first time you are going to hear that advice on this podcast — it’s kind of a running theme.

Before we continue with my other guests, I want to let you know that will still have some tickets available for the Authority Rainmaker event in Denver, Colorado this May.

I’ll be speaking, but I’m one of just many, many speakers. You’ll hear from Dan Pink, Sally Hogshead and — in what I am quite sure will be a memorable presentation — punk legend Henry Rollins. This event is so cool. It’s set up so you can get a really firm foundation under your online business.

We’ll be covering design, content, traffic, and conversion in that order. You’ll hear from some of the best in the industry and we’ll have a chance to hang out during three daily meals, which are included, and also at some amazing parties. I mean, you can’t be in study mode the whole time, right?

Authority Rainmaker is held in Denver, Colorado. As I said, it’s this May and it’s going to be at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, which is a beautiful space and a great place to get inspired and think big about your business.

If you are a Hit Publish listener, I would love to see you there. Learn more at

The Bare Minimum Requirements You Need to Optimize a Page or Post

Katy Barrilleaux is next. Katy is head of Quality Assurance and has been steeped in the development of our Scribe product since day one, which means of course that she’s up-to-date on what works for search.

I found myself scribbling notes as we spoke. Katy’s answer is full of pragmatic advice that you can use right now. So get your pencil ready, and listen to Katy tell us what the minimum requirements are for SEO on a page or a blog post.

Katy Barrilleaux: There are a few things you can do that will really help your content rank well and fortunately you don’t have to have a lot of technical knowledge.

The one most important thing is to write quality content. The saying is, “Write well, to rank well.”

Everyone says that. Google says that. It’s the one most important thing. If you are writing content for the readers and not the search engine bots, it has to be content that is ideally focused on a singular subject matter or topic.

You have to provide a lot of really valuable information on that topic, that when a human visitor comes to that page and finds valuable information, then the search engines are going to find that that’s a valuable page that they should want to include in their search results.

Pamela Wilson: It’s almost like search engines are behaving more like people now than they used to.

Katy Barrilleaux: Oh, absolutely. That’s what they are trying to do. Their goal is trying to pretend they are a human searching for this word and if I’m searching for “content marketing,” then what are the pages that as a human I want to see. What will give me the answer to that question?

Now they are having to look at longer search terms and some words can mean different things, in different context and so that’s what the search engines are trying to figure out. And they are doing a really good job of it.

But you know, the bottom line is, for all these people who are trying to trick search engines and trick keywords and things, if you just focus on your writing being valuable pieces of information, then it’s going to do well.

A lot of times I hear people asking, “Well, how long does it need to be?” And there really isn’t a minimum or maximum. There’s not a set limit.

Pamela Wilson: I’ve always heard like 300 words but actually that number seems to vary, so it sounds like it’s more about quality than links.

Katy Barrilleaux: Absolutely. I tend to tell people to shoot for at least 300 but sometimes that’s hard to do. And that’s okay if you can’t do that but the more you can do, the better. As long as it’s valuable information and you are not just sticking words on the page just to have some length there.

The other thing you need to try to do, as I mentioned before, you want to have one subject matter that this page or post is focused on, and ideally you want to use the keyword or the key phrase of what this is about throughout your page.

There’s really not a set number of how many times you need to say it but you know, you should try to throw it in every once in a while. You definitely want to make sure you have it up towards the beginning. The sooner the better because people are going to come to this page too and you want to make sure that they see right away that this page is in fact what they were searching for.

Pamela Wilson: So what else should we be doing with keywords on the page or on the post?

Katy Barrilleaux: Well the other thing is, you want to be sure that you include it in the page title. So as I said, when the person gets there, they will see what this is about.

You also want to include it in the title tag and meta description that you associate with that page. So that the person on the search results page will see that and say “Oh, this is about content marketing. Let me click on that link.”

Pamela Wilson: It’s a very reassuring feeling when you are searching for something, to find the exact word that you just typed into the search engine appearing in the results. I think it makes people feel like, “This will have what I’m looking for.”

Katy Barrilleaux: Yes, and especially in that meta description.

I think a lot of people tend to take the easy way out on the meta description and a lot of websites will just put in the first 100 words or 65 characters from the post or page and people will just say, “Okay, there is is. That’s good. I’m done.”

But that’s not necessarily what’s going to get someone to click on that link. So really you need to put in your own description that really says, “This is what this page is about” so that person will want to click that link. I think that helps quite a bit.

Pamela Wilson: All right. So we have our keywords down. What else do we need to be doing on our pages and posts?

Katy Barrilleaux: Well the other thing is, you want to include some hyperlinks. A few different kinds of hyperlinks.

The first thing you want to do is, you want to find other pages on your own website that you have previously written about this subject, and hopefully they are already indexed by the search engines.

You want to go back to those pages that are already published, and you want to add a link from that page to this new page. And ideally you want to use what’s called anchor text, which is just the word you click on, which is your keyword.

For example, say I’m writing about content marketing and I have an earlier article that I published and it has already been indexed by Google on content marketing, I go to that page, I find one of the instances where I used the term “content marketing” and I add a hyperlink on that page to this new page, and publish that again.

Pamela Wilson: So you’re going back in time and making sure that your older content is linking to your newer content.

Katy Barrilleaux: And that’s going to help this newer content get indexed by the search engines. And it’s also helping by linking more of this content on the same keyword. It also helps build up the overall authority of your website for this keyword. The more content that you can have, that’s ranking for the keyword and linking between each other for the keyword, is going to help.

Pamela Wilson: That makes so much sense. And we also talk about this as internal linking, right? That’s another way of talking about it?

Katy Barrilleaux: Exactly.

And then on your new page, you can have links that go to other pages in your website that are talking about this same subject. So more internal linking but from the new page to older pages.

Pamela Wilson: That’s great. You are creating this net of content that’s referring back and forth over and across your pages. So that takes care of internal linking but then, what about linking to outside websites?

Katy Barrilleaux: Yes, absolutely. It is a good idea to include some links that go out to other websites.

Look for websites that are talking about the same subject matter, that are preferably indexed for that keyword.

You don’t necessarily want to go to the home page of that website. What you want to do is find an actual post or page inside the website that is optimized for that keyword, and has content that you think your audience will find valuable.

So maybe it expands on what you have been talking about, or dives a little further into it, and you really think your audience would find that valuable.

Not only is it going to help your page, but it’s also going to help your readers, which should really be your ultimate goal. But link off to that page and again, use anchor text. So use one of the keywords and set that as your anchor text. You shouldn’t see any “click here” on your page. It should be “content marketing” and that word is a hyperlink off to this other page.

Pamela Wilson: So is there anything else that we need to keep in mind?

Katy Barrilleaux: Well the other thing I want to mention about links is this.

The goldmine of linking is if you can get an outside website that is an authority for that keyword, linking to one of your posts or pages.

It’s not necessarily easy to do, but when you link to their site, that can help.

They will tend to notice people who are linking to them and that can help you to eventually get a relationship with them, where they might link to you at some point.

That would be the ultimate goal is to look for sites that can link to you. But that takes some work, it takes some effort, and it requires that you have solid, valuable content on your site.

So again, it all goes back to this “write well to rank well” and you’ll also get links if you are writing well, as well.

Pamela Wilson: That makes a lot of sense. So it sounds like it all starts with good quality content.

Katy Barrilleaux: It does, and then you also don’t have to worry about how Google is changing their algorithm because they are not going to ever do anything that is going to harm someone who is writing quality informational content about a subject.

Pamela Wilson: Right. It’s like our insurance plan for Google, right?

Katy Barrilleaux: Right.

Pamela Wilson: I love the advice to go back to older posts that are already ranking well and link them up to newer content on your site. Can you imagine what would happen if every time you posted something new, you linked it to an existing page, and then you link the existing page to your new content? That’s kind of like having your website pull itself up by its own bootstraps, and you’ve got to love that.

How to Target Older Content and Optimize it so it’s Easier to Find

We are finishing up today with Jerod Morris, VP of Marketing who’s continuing on this optimization theme, because the idea here is to get your content working for you.

I asked Jerod what else we could do to make our older content easier to find.

Jerod Morris: There are a few places I would focus.

The first place I would focus is the headline. You know, I think if a post isn’t performing quite like you want it to, or maybe it’s not attracting traffic from the keywords that you want it to, I would adjust the headline.

Either make sure you get the right keywords at the beginning of the post, or make sure your keywords are in there at all.

You know, sometimes you want to use a more clever headline and we leave out the keywords and then it doesn’t quite drive the traffic that we want. So maybe getting those keywords in there, even at the expense of some of your cleverness, can help with SEO. So if that’s the goal, that’s one place I would look.

And then another place I would look is your linking. From what I know, the very first link that you put in a post is really looked on by Google, in terms of SEO.

So I think making that an internal link to somewhere on your site, on a relevant keyword, typically to some kind of cornerstone content (but not necessarily).

Making sure that first link is to a relevant post on your site and linked on a relevant keyword phrase for that post can really help both posts.

And then beyond that, it’s really just making sure you have good internal linking in there. So finding any other opportunities.

Maybe the post you are looking at is from a year ago and since then you have had some other posts come out that can now fill in spots in that old post for links, so now would be a good time obviously to add those as well.

Pamela Wilson: So you really need to keep an inventory of your content in mind, as you are looking at these older posts?

Jerod Morris: Yeah, I think it’s important. It will really help you because whether it’s boosting the SEO of those old posts or the new post, or just making the old post more relevant, because if you are providing more relevant links in there, that’s going to boost your internal linking structure. It’s going to make that post itself even more valuable to the readers and as we know, when it comes to SEO, the first person that you focusing on is the reader.

Make the content more useful for the reader and as you do that with some of these technical tweaks, I think your improvement in SEO will follow.

Pamela Wilson: Right. And I want to ask you to back up just a moment to make sure that everyone understands this.

You mentioned cornerstone content. And I wonder if you could just take a moment to define what that is, in case someone doesn’t know.

Jerod Morris: Sure. Those are the pillars of your site. The pillars of what you are about.

To use Copyblogger for example, content marketing, SEO copywriting and landing pages, are the topics where we have expertise and they are the keywords that we really focus on.

So we have specific landing pages for these shorter-tail keywords, so we know if the term “content marketing” comes up, we know we are linking to that page.

So all of that internal link juice, if you will, is going to that one place because it’s such a cornerstone forest. It’s a topic that people look for. They are looking for information and we can provide, so we want to make sure we are directing people there.

Pamela Wilson: All right. So the idea is these are like your rock star pages that you link back to frequently, so that you are always directing people to these pages and trying to position them as the ultimate authority on that topic. Is that right?

Jerod Morris: Yes, that’s a good way of describing it.

Pamela Wilson: Okay, that makes sense. Thank you.

Sean said we should focus on creating high value content. Katy did too, and recommended linking between old content and new content, among other great SEO habits. And Jerod showed us how to polish up older posts and make them easier for search engines to find.

Here are my questions for you:

How can you make the SEO practices we talked about today, a new habit? It doesn’t have to take long. If every time you create a valuable and new page, or new post, you spend just a few minutes going back and linking between your new and old content, that single habit will help your site get found on the web.

I’m going to do it. Are you?

This is Pamela Wilson. I want to thank you being one of the many gorgeous Hit Publish podcast subscribers.

Take a look at the show notes for more information on today’s topic, and if you like what you heard, take a moment and leave a review for Hit Publish on iTunes.

Type in a quick rating, say a few words that will help other’s to find this podcast and I have to tell you, I would love to hear from you also.

Until next time, take action and Hit Publish.