In this episode of Sites, I walk you through a critical mistake related to SEO that too many website owners are making. Then I will provide you with 3 action steps that will help you compete in the modern, and future, SEO landscape.
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- Are You Attracting Search Engine Users at the Moment They Need You Most?
Jerod Morris: Welcome to Sites, a podcast by the teams at StudioPress and Copyblogger. In this show, we deliver time-tested insight on the four pillars of a successful WordPress website: content, design, technology, and strategy. We want to help you get a little bit closer to reaching your online goals, one episode at a time.
I’m your host Jerod Morris.
Sites is brought to you by StudioPress Sites — the complete hosted solution that makes WordPress fast, secure, and easy … without sacrificing power or flexibility. For example, you can upload your own WordPress theme, or you can use one of the 20 beautiful StudioPress themes that are included and just one click away. Explore all the amazing things you can do with a StudioPress Site, and you’ll understand why this is way more than traditional WordPress hosting. No matter how you’ll be using your site, we have a plan to fit your needs — and your budget. To learn more, visit studiopress.com/sites. That’s studiopress.com/sites
Welcome to Episode 7 of Sites.
Last week, we discussed design. I explained three ways that web design can help you better connect with your audience.
So let’s say you followed the call to action in that post, and you came up with a design change that will achieve one of the three goals we discussed: help your site be read more easily by human visitors, evoke emotion, or tell a better story.
How do you leverage your website’s newfound power of connection?
Simple: you have to get more people to it.
If your website is ready to connect, and you’re targeting your ideal audience member (as we discussed in Episode 5), then you simply need to get more such ideal audience members to your website so you can connect with more people.
Makes sense, right?
And one way to do that — one proven way to do that, which isn’t going away anytime soon, if ever — is search engine optimization.
In this episode of Sites, I’m going to walk you through a critical mistake related to SEO that too many website owners are making. It’s a mindset mistake, and fortunately it’s an easy one to fix.
Then I will provide you with 3 action steps that will help you compete in the modern, and future, SEO landscape.
Let’s get to it …
The Big SEO Mistake Too Many Website Owners Make
Let’s begin by defining what we mean when we say “SEO.”
You probably know the words that make up the acronym: S is for search, E is for engine, and O is for optimization.
But here’s the critical mistake too many people make when thinking about SEO: they group the first two terms together.
And, even more critically, they then simplify those two terms down to one term … Google.
And then, people often simply it down even more … because when most people think about Google, they think going to Google.com and typing in a search, or typing a search phrase into their web browser’s address bar.
And that makes some sense. I get it. I do it too.
In fact, the entire reason I am doing this episode, the way I came to understand this mistake, is because I myself have been making it!
It’s easy to see why.
We’re all so used to typing in our searches. And Google remains the clear #1 search engine. More searches are done there than anyplace else. Google matters. It can make or break some businesses.
But typing is only one way searches are being done these days. And Google is only one place where search happens in an increasingly fragmented web where people are always looking for meaningful stuff.
So, if you’re not doing this already, I urge you to correct this easily correctable SEO mistake and actually think about SEO in terms of its component parts:
Let’s start with Search — meaning all the ways in which people can search for something.
It could be typing, it could be voice, which is becoming increasingly popular with Google’s own voice search function, and virtual home assistants like Alex.
Heck, at some point when we all have little chips implanted into our brains it could be just thinking, with the search results appearing right there in our sightline via special contact lenses.
Good lord, can you imagine? Well, based on some of the podcasts I’ve listened to recently and articles read, it’s not as far-fetched as it sounds.
Anyway — the key here is to remember that the way people type in a search term will likely be different from the way they say it out loud (or, how they think about a query, in the future).
Context matters. And your site needs to be prepared for all semantic contexts.
How do you do that? I’ll share a simple tip coming up.
Next, let’s consider Engine — meaning all the places where people can search for something.
We talked about Google. And you know the other traditional search engines like Bing.
But what about YouTube? What about Apple Podcasts? Those are massive search engines for video producers and podcast producers. If you focus only on Google and never consider these engines, you’re limiting the potential exposure to your videos and podcasts.
And it gets even more micro and focused than that.
What about the email newsletter you sent many months ago? Will it surface easily, and be clicked on, if someone searches their archived email for a relevant phrase? Better use that subject line wisely, right?
And what about the helpful forum post you submitted the other day? Will it surface when someone comes to the forum next week and uses the forum search to find past answers about a related question? It should.
Where else could people go for answers and potentially find you?
Wherever it may be, chances are there is some kind of search function to help them narrow down their field of vision and find the stuff relevant to them in that moment. You want to give yourself every opportunity to surface and be the result that gets clicked on.
I’ll offer you a useful tip for how to do this too, coming up.
But first, it’s essential that we consider the final element of S-E-O: optimization.
You need to structure and deliver your content in such a way that all relevant engines will be able to locate it, understand it, and serve it up in that critical moment of high impulse and action-oriented curiosity when people perform searches for relevant terms.
And while there are always subtle tweaks that can be made at different engines to improve your chances of ranking higher, based on the particular algorithms each engine uses, don’t let this intimidate you.
The reality is that the vast majority of the factors any engine will use are similar.
- What basic, relevant keywords are in the title or subject line?
- What basic, relevant keywords appear in the body text?
- Has this piece of content proven to be helpful to people — as shown by other people linking to it, or voting it up, or favoriting it, or accessing it often and for substantial periods of time?
- And are basic technical requirements in place? For example, is the website mobile responsive? Is the podcast file type playable across podcatchers?
Frankly, once you internalize this, it isn’t a lot to keep track of.
Search engine optimization is better viewed as a habit you want to practice repeatedly over time than some kind of quick fix that will help you make an immediate splash.
And when you think about each component of search engine optimization individually — search, then engine, then optimization — you realize that its importance will not diminish anytime soon … if ever.
Because even as the Internet trends move toward experiences with virtual and augmented reality, content will always be a fundamental feature of the web. There will always be massive amounts of it, and we’ll always need reliable functions for sifting through the morass to find the specific piece we’re looking for, at the specific time we need it, in the specific context we’re requesting it.
So your goal, as a content creator, is simply to make your content as optimized for being found in relevant engines for as many different types of search inputs as you can.
That is search engine optimization on the modern and future web.
And if you’re thinking about SEO in any other way, you’re making a critical mistake.
You’re also making a critical mistake if you’ve started to believe that SEO no longer matters. It does. Perhaps even more so, and in a more wide range of ways, than you realized.
And it will matter for as far out on the horizon of the Internet as I can see … it always will.
Okay, now that we have corrected this critical mistake in how we view SEO, let’s close this episode by discussing three critical action steps you can take right away to improve each of the three elements of your SEO practice.
These are steps that will help you maintain a smart, consistent SEO practice into the future that will deliver reliable results.
3 Important SEO Action Steps to Begin Taking Right Away
The first step — which relates to the first term in SEO: search — is to make sure that you are actively working to understand the language that your ideal audience uses.
This is how you ensure that your content has as good a chance at surfacing for text-based searches as it does for spoken searches and, eventually, for thought searches.
Certainly, using tools to search Google’s keyword database is helpful. For example, the Content Optimizer tool that is built into StudioPress Sites helps with this. This is a valuable window into the terms and phrases people actually search for when looking for content related to your subject matter.
But remember: this is just one context.
What about when people talk about and converse about your topic? What about when they ask casual questions?
This is where social media can be a great listening tool. This is where going to meetups and talking to real people in person can be helpful. This is where free response audience surveys can provide great insight.
True masters of search engine optimization are masters of listening and empathy.
When you know how your ideal audience talks about your topic, and what kinds of questions are most pressing, you have the knowledge you need to create titles, and subject lines, and body content that will be relevant for a wide variety of different semantic contexts.
I know you’re a content creator if you’re listening to this podcast. Starting today: be an even more active listener than you already are.
The second action step you should take is to brainstorm all the different engines where people may be looking for your content … and then figure out a way to get yourself into a new one.
For example, I mentioned YouTube earlier. It’s actually the second-most popular engine behind Google itself.
Do you have any videos uploaded to YouTube that answer the kinds of questions that a subset of your ideal audience is almost surely typing into YouTube?
If not, get one in there.
Seriously, start with just one. Do it as a test.
It can even be crudely produced: Just take a portion of a blog post and turn into some text and basic imagery that has a voiceover or background music. If you want some help doing this, check out a site like lumen5.com.
Then make sure you choose your title wisely and provide a useful description so that YouTube will know what kind of searches your video is relevant for.
Try it out and see what happens. Then keep identifying different engines you aren’t currently available where it makes sense to provide access to your content.
And finally, the third action step you should take, which will help immensely with your optimization, is to make sure your website itself is on the most solid footing it can possibly be on.
Because when it comes to any search context (text-based or voice), and when it comes to any engine that may deliver your website as a result (so think Google or Bing), you need to make sure that the hosting and design infrastructure of your site has all the basic elements in place:
- Your site needs to load fast — a factor that actually influences several different ranking factors because of how it impacts visitor experience
- Your site needs to be mobile-responsive
- Your site needs to be safe and secure
- Your site needs to be coded clearly and cleanly
I could go on, but I think you get the point.
It’s not just about the words on the page. It’s also about every single element of the page that will impact the experience that search engine robots and real-life visitors will have on that page.
This is why, for example, StudioPress Sites was built to be fast and secure.
And this is why, for example, the Genesis Framework was built to be mobile-responsive and as clean as possible in terms of code.
I use those as examples because they’re each what I use for my personal websites. And sure, I work for the company who makes them, so that’s easy for me to do.
But the fact is that I am a serious website owner. My side projects are important to me. If I thought I was compromising my site’s optimization just to use Genesis themes or StudioPress for hosting, I wouldn’t.
Take this opportunity to review your current theme framework and hosting. Make sure you aren’t making any optimization tradeoffs either.
So there you have it.
We discussed the critical shift in your SEO mindset that you should make right away, which will help you get better results today and well into the future.
And we’ve discussed three action steps you can begin taking immediately to put that new mindset into practice:
- Listen better and empathize more
- Identify new engines where your content should appear
- Make sure your hosting and design are as optimized as they can be
So, the question is, now that you’re motivated by your fresh, new mindset, which action step will you implement first?
Here is this week’s hyper-specific call to action …
Call to action
It’s pretty simple: pick one.
I just outlined three different steps you can take right away to start improving your SEO … once you make the mindset shift we described in the first part of this episode.
So, I guess, if you haven’t yet made the mindset shift, start there. 🙂
Break the term SEO up into its component parts and really consider what that means for not just your website, but your content overall.
And once you feel comfortable that you’re thinking about SEO in the proper way, choose your next action step:
- Listen better and empathize more
- Identify new engines where your content should appear
- Make sure your hosting and design are as optimized as they can be
Once you do one, and you’re ready to tackle the next one, proceed. And you can always reference this episode or the show notes if you need to. The show notes, transcript included, will always be available at studiopress.blog/sites07.
Coming next week, we transition from technology to strategy. We’ll discuss 10 Content Marketing Goals Worth Pursuing.
That will certainly be an episode worth listening to, so I hope you’ll join me.
That’s next week, on Sites.
Finally, before I go, here are a couple more quick calls to action for you to consider:
Subscribe to Sites Weekly
If you haven’t yet, take this opportunity to activate your free subscription to our curated weekly email newsletter, Sites Weekly.
Here’s how it works: Each week, I find four links about content, design, technology, and strategy that you don’t want to miss, and then I send them out via email on Wednesday afternoon.
Reading this newsletter will help you make your website more powerful and successful. Go to studiopress.com/news and sign up in one step right there at the top of the page. That’s studiopress.com/news.
Rate and Review Sites on Apple Podcasts
Also, if you enjoy the Sites podcast, please subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts (formerly known as iTunes), and consider giving us a rating or a review over there as well.
One quick tip on that: to make the best use of your review, let me know something in particular you like about the show. That feedback is really important.
For example, one of our recent reviewers, the awesomely named teagoblet, says: “Sites immediately stood out from other podcasts I’ve listened to … the focus on content, design, technology, and strategy makes the overwhelming job of building and maintaining your website easier. You have to check out Episode 3 to hear Jerod Morris’ background with website hosting. An incredible business story.”
Thank you teagoblet. Yes, in Episode 3 I described a horror story I experienced when I tried to maintain a massively growing sports blog on cheap hosting. It didn’t go well and was an important lesson I’ll never forget.
To find us in Apple Podcasts, search for StudioPress Sites and look for the striking purple logo that was designed by Rafal Tomal. You can also go to the URL sites.fm/apple and it will redirect you to our Apple Podcasts page.
And with that, we come to the close of another episode. Thank you for listening to this episode of Sites. I appreciate you being here.
Join me next week, and let’s keep building powerful, successful websites together.
This episode of sites was brought to you by StudioPress Sites, which was awarded “Fastest WordPress Hosting” of 2017 in an independent speed test. If you want to make WordPress fast, secure, and easy — and, I mean, why wouldn’t you — visit studiopress.com/sites today and see which plan fits your needs. That’s studiopress.com/sites.
Andrew Aki says
HELLO JEROD MORRIS!
I never knew you had such an informative website/blog here, I always read your nice post on copyblogger. Honestly understand the fact that Google is not the online search engine is a moving force to work on your website to rank for your keyword on other search Engine too. Many of us value Google too much.. Thanks greatly for sharing this!
Icy Sedgwick says
Listening is absolutely CRUCIAL. I blog about folklore and weird topics like Ouija boards so a) I tend to ‘listen’ for new horror films including things people may be curious about and b) I just have conversations with people and make note of ‘I always wondered…’ and ‘I was always fascinated by…’. Chances are, if they always wondered…so did someone else!
Jerod Morris says
Absolutely! Great observation Icy. 🙂