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Let me preface this with some of my stats. My house plant website receives 30,000 page views per month, most of them (a good 95%) from SEO.
Which means that I didn’t have to do ANYTHING to get that traffic EXCEPT write.
Isn’t that the dream for writers?
No social media, no networking, no syndication, no ads. Just content. I’ve done no backlink building, and I had very few Instagram followers. Although people are actually following me because of my website.
AND IT ISN’T DIFFICULT.
If you’re looking for a catch, there are three:
- You need to pay for web hosting (I use Siteground) and a domain name. £100, tops
- You will need to write a lot of content. I have over 100 articles, all of which are over 1000 words
- You need patience. I’m about 9 months in on the plant blog.
If you too are an introvert that loves to write, I highly recommend you do what I did – pick a niche and create a website. This article will teach you everything you need to know about SEO.
TL;DR: factors affecting SEO
- Domain age and authority
- Mobile optimised
- Dwell time
- Bounce rate
Not everything about SEO, by the way. A lot of people that create and flip niche sites concentrate a mot on building backlinks, affiliate marketing, and outsourcing writing to make a lot of money.
Since I just enjoy the writing part, my aim is to write A LOT, so I can get a lot of traffic and make money from ads. And maybe even write a book or two.
What is SEO?
SEO stands for search engine optimisation.
A lot of traditional bloggers share their articles among their friends and followers and build themselves a tribe of followers.
That’s great if that’s what you enjoy doing, but a lot of us don’t. For years, I published article after article, in a succession of blogs that all basically failed, purely because I didn’t know how to make SEO work for me.
When it finally clicked, it was like a dream come true. I research what people what to know about in my niche, write it, and they find it.
Why is SEO important?
Firstly, it’s free traffic. You don’t have to spend all your time researching and executing social media strategy. There’s no fees for programmes like MeetEdgar or Tailwind. You can spend a good 95% of your working time writing content.
Secondly, it’s high quality traffic. When was the last time you googled something and didn’t read the article it suggested?
Google’s whole job is to connect searchers with information.
You can leave traffic up to Google – it’s like a free automation tool
Thirdly, it’s sustainable traffic. So long as you write high quality content and don’t try to hack the algorithm with black hat strategies (don’t worry, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to do this by accident) you won’t get punished too harshly in algorithm updates.
You may lose rankings if your competition writes a better article than you, but you can always update and improve your articles.
Is SEO hard?
Yes and no.
If you do your keyword research and competition analysis well, on-page SEO is pretty simple, once you’ve picked up the main principles.
Off-page SEO (like other sites linking to your sites) is more difficult and time consuming. But in my experience, you can still rank highly on Google with out back links – it just may mean you have to produce more articles and wait longer.
That’s fine by me. The time will pass anyway, and this is how I like to spend my time.
Factors affecting SEO: technical stuff
This is all the stuff that you can sort out in the beginning to ensure that Google is confident that you’re going to provide your user with a great experience, but doesn’t actually have much do with content.
If you don’t have this stuff sorted, Google will be extremely slow to rank you, even if your content is amazing.
How secure and well-coded your site is
If you’re new, I recommend using Siteground as your host, WordPress as your content management system and get yourself a quality theme. I use GeneratePress. Note that quality doesn’t mean expensive. A free theme is perfectly fine – that’s what I use.
I also like to use Antispam bee and Wordfence plugins to keep my site secure.
Siteground gives free SSL certificates (the padlock in the search bar that reassures users that the site us secure).
Page speed isn’t actually a factor Google is that bothered about – in established sites. But if you’re new, having a fast site might be just enough to put you above your competition.
So, how do we improve the speed of our website?
Hosting – avoid EIG companies
Your blog host will the biggest impact on the speed of your site. EIG is a company that owns a lot of the cheaper hosting companies, like Bluehost and Hostgator. Godaddy are also notoriously slow, though I’ve never had a site host with them.
I recommend Siteground, not because they’re absolutely superb and amazing (I actually think their customer service isn’t as good as it once was), but because they’re cheap for beginners, and are really fast.
The SG optimize plugin is a really great perk too.
Make sure you enable Cloudflare on your Siteground Cpanel. I set the SSL support from flexible to full strict to prevent endless redirect loops.
Go for fast, not looks. I urge to at least give GeneratePress a go. Yes, it’s an affiliate link, but I only get money if you upgrade to the paid version, and you do NOT need to do that to get a great theme that lightweight andfast.
A lot of people recommend Divi and Elementor for beginners, but they can be EXTREMELY SLOW if you don’t really know what you’re doing.
I usually measure my page speed (on GT Metrix) before and after adding a new plugin, and if I’m honest most are fine.
The issue is that a lot of popular plugins are super slow, so I would avoid:
- Monster Insights for Google Analytics (get the insert headers and footers plugin and put the GA tracking code in the head section)
- Contact form 7. I just leave my email address on my about page
- Broken link checker (there are websites that’ll do this)
- Most social sharing plugins. I don’t use them. If people want to share, they don’t need buttons to do so.
Domain name, age, and authority
This has a massive affect on SEO, which is why it can take so long for Google to start ranking you.
A lot of people buy expired domains in a hope to bypass the sandbox stage, but I personally wouldn’t bother, unless you’ve found one you really want.
New websites crop up every day, and most of them are abandoned within a few months. Even more are pure spam
Why would Google waste its time ranking sites that are only going to return a 404 error within a few months? Or take the time to check sites that are worthless?
So it waits a while for you to prove that you can create quality content.
Is it optimised for mobile?
A lot of themes claim to be optimised for mobile, but it just means they’re responsive, i.e. they can adapt to fit the screen of a mobile without cutting of words or looking weird.
Check them for speed. A site can get a 93 on desktop but a 30 on mobile, so you need to check. A good 75% of my traffic is from mobiles (think about the number of times you google random stuff on your phone).
If your site doesn’t load on mobile, people will leave your site and click the next result, and Google will sure as hell make a note of that behaviour.
Factors affecting SEO: content
After Google’s checked that your site isn’t super slow or insecure, it’ll (eventually) send bots to crawl your contents.
Don’t worry too much about content length. If you feel you’ve exhausted a topic and the article is only 1000 words long, that’s fine. If you can’t write more than 750 words, the topic may work better if lumped in with another blog post.
Most of the time, your content won’t be read by humans, it’ll be read by bots.These bots are cleverer than you’d think, but more focused on the keywords.
Stay on topic.
Make sure any long stories you tell contain at least part of the keyword or leave them to the end.
I have a post here that goes into more detail about optimising blog posts for SEO, but in a nutshell, you need to be making sure your keywords are being included in subheadings, and write short paragraphs.
Don’t stress too much about using the exact keyword. Google isn’t stupid, and recognises synonyms, and relevant alternatives to specific keyword.
If your keyword is ‘how long do poodles live?’ you don’t need to keep repeating that, just don’t stray too far from the factors that the longevity of poodles.
Links are crucial for SEO.
Backlinks are amazing (when another site links to yours) but time consuming to get.
Guest posting is an option, but unless you score a guest post with a high authority website, it probably won’t make too much difference.
Guest posting is not a good strategy to build traffic. It’s time consuming, and the content is better off on your site.
So why do I mention links?
Because there are two other important linking strategies that you can implement right from day one, that will help Google to see what your site is all about.
This is where you link to other sites, usually as a way of providing evidence or further information for your readers.
Do not link to other sites for any reason other than helping your users. I don’t take into account the authority of the website I’m linking to in my niche, rather, the quality of the content.
I regularly link to a Blogspot blog that hasn’t been updated in years because the girl was a botany student and has some great explanations for certain processes.
Google will check what you’re linking to, so make sure it’s helpful. If you’re in a YMYL niche, link to authority sites when you can. Government sites, official data sites, and university publications are all good options.
Don’t ever link to anything remotely dodgy or unrelated.
Make sure that everyone of your websites is linked to at least one other. Make it easy for users (and crawlers) to navigate around your site.
I keep a handwritten list of links to add to each post, but a spreadsheet would be a better idea.
I also use the plugin ‘related posts with thumbnail widget’ so my sidebar has links to 30 of my other posts.
Interlinking is crucial if you have a lot of cornerstone content on your site that has a lot of competition. It won’t rank in Google unless it has traffic and backlinks, so interlinking is the only way to get the ball rolling traffic-wise.
This can take a long time, by the way. Not everyone is going to visit multiple pages of your site. I have 5,000 word articles that are only just starting to get a bit of traffic, because the competition was so fierce.
As well as provided a clear path through your content, interlinking your posts also shows Google that your website is relevant to your niche, you’re an expert, and your site might be extra useful to users.
This is why sticking to one niche is CRUCIAL. I’m not saying that multi-site niches will never rank, but it will take YEARS or a lot of hard work writing hundreds of articles.
Factors affecting SEO: User behaviour
This doesn’t matter too much in the beginning, because no one will be coming to your site.
But once that traffic starts trickling in, Google will be making notes of what that handful of people are doing.
How long are people spending reading your articles?
A lot of people skim and are in need of a fast answer, which is why I like to leave a little lit of the contents of the article near the top.
But you also need at least a few people to spend a while reading your articles.
This is where word count comes in, but not in the way you think. Like I said, some people are in a rush, and they’ll leave if they can’t find what they want quickly.
But the way to keep the others on your page for longer isn’t to write 10,000 words of waffle – it’s to entertain them.
Right at the beginning, you don’t have any traffic, so Google can’t look at bounce rate or user behaviour.
This is where your skills as a writer come in, and you can get people to return to your site because it’s more fun than your competitors that outsourced their content writing to freelancers who have no interest in your niche.
Don’t panic too much about bounce rate, unless it’s 100% (and even 100% is pretty normal in the beginning). Anything below 90% is fine.
You see, if someone wants to know how many pellets to feed house rabbits, they’ll google it, find out and then leave the site. That’s bad for bounce rate, but the website fulfilled its purpose by answering the question.
What you need to make sure doesn’t happen, is someone leaving our site and visiting the next result on the SERP, because that shows Google you didn’t answer their query properly, and they’ll rank you lower.
Why doesn’t Google tell us exactly what it wants?
Google holds its cards very close to its chest, and likes to keep quiet about exactly how to ensure you rank highly, and exact numbers for keyword search volume.
The reason for both of these things is that Google doesn’t want to give people the opportunity to hack the algorithm.
If someone could find a way to exploit the system to ensure they ranked number one (rather than the highest quality content), then Google is defunct. Users would go to other search engines.
And yes, Google doesn’t reveal search volume data. All those expensive keyword tools are using educated guesswork.
Is it possible to hack SEO?
There are various black hat techniques you can employ to hack the system. You could buy backlinks… and probably other stuff that I don’t know/care about.
The problem with attempting to hack the system, or bypass the Google sandbox, is that you have no idea what’s coming in the next algorithm update. What if Google stops using backlinks as a ranking factor?
By concentrating on creating a lot oh high quality blog posts, you pretty much make your website and traffic future proof. You could get negatively hit by an algorithm update, but you’re unlikely to have all your traffic wiped out overnight.
But you absolutely could if you employ dodgy methods.
Learn keyword research, and write quality content that people looking for. Add in a secure host, and a fast website and you’re on the road to success in a very cheap and very reliable car. Albeit a slow one.