SEO traffic still tops any other source of traffic to the blogs and websites of solopreneurs who do content marketing. Even though getting Google listings and rankings are getting to be very tough against competition (because of the many changes in Google’s ranking algorithms), bloggers and content marketers still do need search engine-driven traffic to survive and thrive. Social media does bring you quite a bit of traffic, but not to the same degree.
How best can you, as a solopreneur, cream the search engines (notably Google) to get enough traffic and more to your website? Essentially search engine optimization still largely operates by the same rules as it used to. It is still about aiming for high search engine rankings for the most searched keywords in your niche. Content & Traffic Generation from SEO also continues to involve doing both onsite and offsite optimization. And SEO is even today about acquiring enough backlinks to your blog or site. But while the goal posts haven’t quite shifted drastically, the game has to be played slightly differently than we have all been doing before.
Google has become so smart that content marketers have to become as smart – or smarter!
Slowly, over time, Google (and the other search engines) have grown to understand search terms better. No longer is Google just a machine. There is now great intelligence (called Latent Semantic Indexing or LSI) working behind the scenes, whereby Google understands the intent behind a searcher’s keywords, and supplies the right answers to satisfy that intent.
For example, if Google saw a search term like “light weight summer salads”, it may make the connection that a possible “fitness-or-slimming-concerned-person” may be searching … and you may find Google giving priority of listing to articles related to the health and slimming value of garden-fresh organic salads.
This therefore suggests that if we, content marketers, are too keyword-literal, we will miss the traffic that Google can send our way. We too have to think about “topics of interest and searcher intent” rather than just the searched keywords.
Now comes the big dilemma for content writers who used to look for profitable keywords to inspire their posts and articles. Taking a keyword literally makes sense no more. Neither does writing your article after finding a suitable keyword to write about.
For instance, it won’t do any more to just list some salad recipes in your article for this keyword search term “light weight summer salads”. If, on the other hand, you were to write an in-depth article for the health and slimming value of salads, along with salad recipes, Google would obviously rate it high …
… but then, again, which would be the search term under which you would be listed? Would it be “obesity diets” or “slimming foods” or “organic salads” or “health and fitness” or “light summer food”? Or all of these?
Naturally, as our articles get more in-depth, they will qualify to be found under many related search terms, wouldn’t they? So what then do we do to see if we are going to reap traffic from the profitable keywords or not?
The new keyword research is about writing first, and then find traffic-generating mother lodes!
To have some control over how and where Google ranks you (under which keyword search terms), the old tenets of keyword research have now to be abandoned.
Earlier marketers would first look for keywords in their niche that were “highly popular” and “low on competition” and then they would write articles to fit these keywords. Now marketers need to work the exact opposite way … they have to see what “topics” would be of great interest to their niche target audiences and write those articles first, as if they were least worried about keywords.
They should then look at their articles and see what the “dominant concept” behind the article is, and look for possible keywords that best match these dominant concepts, while also offering the best combination of popularity and competition. Having found the best concept keyword to use, they should then tweak their articles to use that keyword wherever the dominant concept of the article demands it can be used.
Let’s say, we have done no keyword research, but have written an article on salads for slimming because we are in the fitness niche and our audience is people who want to lose weight. We have decided on the article we want to write, and we know we are going to write in-depth on the subject and include loads of theory and practical tips.
After we write the full article, we look up keywords in the related areas of slimming, fitness, salads, obesity and weight-loss. From among the choices we find, we then pick the best keywords with the ideal combination of popularity and competition.
We may, for example find “weight loss foods” to be a very competitive keyword, whereas the keywords around “slimming foods” may be a better choice (good enough traffic, less competition). We can therefore tweak our headline to sound more like an article on “slimming foods” and use the idea of slimming and lightweight foods more often in the text to re-orient our article more towards “slimming foods” than “weight loss foods”.
The moral of the story is therefore this: Article first and keywords second. No more of keywords first and article second.
On-page SEO is not about keyword-stuffing. It’s now about site structure and interlinking!
The days of keyword-stuffing are thankfully over. We now do not need those plugins that count how many times we have added the keywords into our posts and then tell us to add another ten variations of the keyword in bold text, underlined text and italicized text. In fact, indiscriminate use of a keyword in a post is a negative, and Google will sharply deduct brownie points. So try not to overdo keyword usage, even if old habits die hard!
What do you need to still do for on-page search engine optimization to stay within Google guidlines and get the best prospects of good traffic from Google? Here are seven things to do …
1. Your page title: Make sure you include your keyword in the earlier part of your page title, if possible.
2. Your first paragraph of text: Again, make sure the dominant concept keywords are near the beginning of the first text paragraph.
One more tip: See if you can link out to an authoritative site in your niche using words in your first paragraph that are not your dominant concept keyword.
There may be other nice words in the first paragraph of your text that let you link out to a great site that’s of high domain authority in your niche. This sends signals to Google upfront that you like being bracketed in the company of the greats in your field. But it also does not link out using the keywords dominant for your own article, which is very important, because you don’t want to show Google that on this keyword topic you think other sites are better sources than you.
(I don’t know how far this is all true, but I was told on good authority from someone inside Google, and it works well for me!)
3. Your subheadings in the text: It would be a good idea to make the first subhead directly related to the main concept keyword of the article. After that, use some other related keywords in your subheadings to show that you’ve covered your topic nicely.
If you take our main dominant concept keyword to be “slimming foods”, for example, the first subhead could be about “slimming foods and their value to a rounded diet” and the next three or four subheads could cover all the related ideas we saw during keyword research … like “obesity and foods that really help”, “why weight loss in summer is easier”, “which foods really help slimmers lose weight without fatigue”, “what is the new definition of weight and fitness” etc.
See how we can cover the possibilities of getting good rankings for all these kinds of topic-related keywords by enriching our subheads with terms closely connected to the broader slimming foods topic!
4. Your SEO title and meta description: Big tip here: Use the Yoast SEO plugin for your WordPress site for there is no other as good as Yoast! For the SEO title and meta description, use the main concept keyword close to the beginning.
5. Your body text: You should ABSOLUTELY not stuff your keywords here, but you can use a few variations of the keywords.
For example, instead of always using “slimming foods” you could use “foods that help you stay slim”, or “dishes safe for slimmers”, and other similar variations that sound like naturally written language. In other words this paragraph below is how NOT to do it:
“You need slimming foods because slimming foods help you lose weight and further slimming foods also help you stay healthy, provided you eat just the right quantity of SLIMMING FOODS and no more than your daily quota”. That’s the old way. Thank God, that era has gone!
6. Your images and their alt tags: It’s still a very good idea to make your image alt tags directly about your dominant keywords, for the very first image on the page … but if there are more than one image, use variations of your dominant keyword concept. Avoid naming the alt tags like this: “Slimming-Foods-Pic-1”, “Slimming-Foods-Pic-2” and “Slimming-Foods-Pic-3”.
7. Interlink your pages: Now this is a whole new science so read this carefully. Your site structure should be like this image below where you have chosen certain main topics connected to your niche, and made some important topic clusters.
Image courtesy: Matt Barby
Each cluster should have a main pillar page that is really in-depth. The pillar posts can be connected to a collection of related posts that use ideas or keywords that add further depth to the main topic. Now after you have the cluster formation in mind and have created the posts accordingly, you need to interlink the posts in each cluster so that they all link between themselves and with the pillar post and are thus a tightly knit interlinked cluster.
One more thing: Google expects to see pillar pages always fresh with content. So make sure to add a lot more new content every so often, both to the pillar post itself, plus also adding to the cluster of posts around it.
The case for and against aggressive backlinking for off-page SEO
One of the main signals Google previously counted on to check the quality of webpages it ranked high was the number of backlinks the site had from other sites of high authority. When a lot of quality peers in your field were linking to you it showed Google you too were a noted “somebody” and worth ranking up there on listings pages.
But now the question has arisen: If articles are more in-depth and broadly written around topics rather than just specific keywords, and if these articles can be ranked for many related keywords, then how much do backlinks count for anyway?
For instance, if your article was ranked for “slimming foods” which had good popularity but also high competition, the number of backlinks you have would help you pip the competition to Number One spot on the listings page.
But if the same article also was ranked for “obesity reducing salads” where there was not so much competition and yet there was a good amount of traffic, you’d need no backlinks at all to be at Number One listing – because the competition may be very poor in matching the intent of that keyword and your article depth!
So what this means is that the same article may struggle to get rankings for some search terms, and not struggle at all for some other search terms, even if it had zero backlinks!
That said, I would still aim to get a few good backlinks to my site and internal pages, because I would want to be in the running even for the more difficult search terms. The difficult search terms are probably where the masses of traffic are to be had.
But I sure wouldn’t be as fretful as before if I couldn’t get a minimum of 1 million backlinks! That sort of banklink-anxiety is no longer needed. You may not need as many backlinks as before, so focus on quality instead of quantity.
Also make sure that you get more editorial backlinks that are naturally written as part of text in other articles, and don’t get into a lather to churn out dismal guest posts just for backlinks. Google has said clearly that guest posts are good for branding but not for backlinks – and if Google thinks guest posts are getting too spammy (as they already do) they may start discounting all backlinks coming from author bios (if they aren’t already doing that).
In the final analysis, try everything you can do to get organic (i.e. free) traffic from search engines. Beyond doing what you can, you have to hope and pray, I’m afraid.
As Brian Clark of Copyblogger had written once about Google, it’s wrong to think Google will give you popularity and traffic. On the contrary, Google rewards traffic to those who are already popular (well linked-to for their quality of content).
So don’t count on Google lifting you out of the morass of mediocrity into the heights of stardom.
You have to make yourself a star with consistent eye-catching high quality content that people will rush to link to – and then the Great Google will maybe think about placing a small crown of traffic on your expectant head!
So what are your thoughts on this topic? Do share!
This post is incomplete without your input. The community of aspiring digital solopreneurs would feel galvanized to hear from you … so do share your thoughts on this topic with us in the comments field below this post.
Other articles in our series “Content & Traffic Generation”: