What Is SEO?
SEO, in essence, is the science of optimizing your website to achieve higher search engine rankings.
Search engines like Google trawl the internet and rank all the indexable content, including your website.
These indexed pages are then ranked according to the search engine’s algorithm, with the ultimate goal being to give the highest rankings to the most valuable, trustworthy content.
But achieving high rankings is about much more than a series of best practices.
In the old days, Google ranked sites based on simple parameters like a site’s URL, keyword density, and the number of incoming backlinks. But this was easily exploited, and the early days of SEO amounted to little more than spam, hidden keywords, and junk content.
In the years since, Google has fine-tuned its algorithm to reward sites with good content and penalize those that try to abuse the system.
To best understand how it works, you can look at it from the perspective of the search engine and its users.
If you’re searching for a new laptop, your first step may be a broad search like, “Best Laptop for 2020”. Google will then show you video and web page results relating to this search term, which means you’ll get a catalog of comparison articles, top lists, and other useful content.
But anyone can write that article or publish that video; anyone can target that search term. Google wants to provide you with helpful, accurate, and trustworthy search results, but it doesn’t inherently know which websites meet that criteria and which ones should be avoided.
To determine the best sites and rank them accordingly, Google uses over 200 different factors, all of which feed into a vast and ever-changing algorithm.
Most of these factors can be boiled down to the following 5 elements:
1. Is Your Content Good?
The quality of your content is key and lends more weight to your ranking than any other factor.
Good content, in the eyes of Google, is informative, well-written, accurate, and helpful.
It’s not, as many so-called experts would have you believe, a standard 1,000-word article filled with awkwardly used keywords.
In the example of the laptop comparison, a good piece of content will be long and filled with relevant links to the machines in question. It will include multiple brands, positive and negative points, and specific system details.
It won’t simply be an article where you spam the title a few times, write 1,000 words about nothing, and then link to a single product on Amazon.
Keywords matter, but they work best when used to create genuinely helpful content.
If you find yourself having to crowbar every keyword into your article, you’re either using the wrong keywords or writing the wrong article.
2. Do Other People Link To It?
Good content isn’t enough for your site to rank highly. Google needs to know how it compares to the competition, and what people in your industry think about it.
This is where backlinks come in.
If a website in your industry links to one of your pages, Google knows you’re producing good, linkable content, and the more of these links you get, the more trustworthy your site will become in Google’s eyes.
However, it’s not as simple as spamming your site with backlinks. I discussed this topic at length with Neil and you can see the highlights of our conversion below in the “Understanding Backlinks” section.
3. Does It Load Quick?
This is not 1999. The average internet user does not have a dial-up modem and the patience of a saint.
Websites need to load quickly and if there is a delay of just a few seconds, it can have a massive impact on your search engine rankings. Speed is important, so keep things streamlined, use fast servers, and run regular speed tests.
4. Is The Site More Usable?
Google can be very pedantic when it comes to site usability. If you’ve ever used Webmaster Tools, you will have witnessed this firsthand, as warnings relating to clickable objects, image size, and other seemingly minor issues are every common.
But that’s because Google wants the best possible experience and these things frustrate many users.
5. How Do Other Users Respond To The Site?
How users respond to your site also plays a role in determining your search engine rankings.
Your “bounce rate” calculates how many users click onto your site and then leave without visiting another page. It may seem like a harsh way of judging value, especially when you consider that many users are looking for answers to simple questions and will leave as soon as they get them. But it’s all relative, and the bounce rate is a great tool for measuring value.
After all, if a site “tricks” users into clicking a headline, either because it doesn’t contain the information they seek or simply feeds them into an ad loop, that user will promptly leave. When this happens to 99%+ of all clicks, Google knows that something isn’t right.
It’s also indicative of content that isn’t engaging, and of websites that publish sparse, unrelated content.
How SEO Differs From Paid Ads
In addition to top-lists and comparison videos, your search for “Best Laptop for 2020” will also yield a few results marked with “Ad”. These results are displayed at the top of the search, above the organic listings.
On Google, these ads are processed through the Google Ads platform, where the world’s biggest companies spend millions of dollars to achieve the best rankings (for more information, see my recent discussion with a leading Google Ads expert).
Google Ad listings are a little more fleshed-out than their organic counterparts, as users can add sitelink extensions and other extras, ensure their paid ads feature more prominently than other paid and unpaid results.
If you finish your comparisons and decide that an Apple MacBook is the way to go, switching your searches to terms like, “New MacBook” and “Refurbished MacBook”, you’ll also see Google Shopping results.
These results are hosted based on a cost-per-click model (although, in recent months, Google has allowed unpaid results to appear here) and as above, all organic results, including product pages, reviews, and more, will appear underneath.
You don’t need to utilize paid ads to succeed and these ads have no influence (positive or negative) on your SEO.
So, if Google Ads gives you more exposure and doesn’t require any content marketing, why bother with SEO at all?
Why does SEO remain an important part of your marketing strategy when a properly executed Google Ads campaign can give you a positive ROI?
It’s important because it’s passive marketing. With Google Ads, you could spend $100 and generate $200 in sales. Every time you increase that spend, your sales will increase accordingly. You’re taking an active role, making regular changes, and generating a respectable income.
But if a well-written, well-appointed article goes to the top of the search results for a high-volume term, you could generate hundreds or thousands of dollars in daily sales without any additional marketing spend.
If you’re using writers, editors, and SEO experts, you’ll pay for the initial content, but you’re running a website, and websites need content, so you were going to have many of those expenses anyway.
That doesn’t mean that SEO should be used in lieu of Google Ads. They can—and in most cases should—be used together, and that’s exactly what the biggest sites do.
How Can SEO Benefit Your Business?
If you’re selling a product or service, SEO can help.
It places you front-and-center. It gives your brand maximum exposure and ensures that whenever people search for relevant keywords, you’ll be there.
Whether you’re an author, life-coach, or even an SEO expert, if your brand is your name, SEO can improve your position in the industry.
You’ll be introduced to more potential customers. Your name will also be seen by journalists and event organizers, greatly increasing your chances of being booked to speak at events.
In our interview, Neil Patel states that he receives over 200,000 clicks a month just from people searching for his name. And he doesn’t consider himself a celebrity (the only statement I disagree with!), so imagine how many searches and clicks the big A-listers are getting.
Many of these clicks are directed to sites like Wikipedia, IMDB, Amazon, and the countless news sites that have published articles on them.
If a celebrity can unlock the potential of SEO and start ranking highly for their own name, they can take control of those searches and direct millions of customers to their new products/services or their upcoming book/tour/film.
It’s why most major celebrities have a side gig, and it’s also why only a small number of them become successful, because to make it work, you need to take control of those searches and rank higher than the aforementioned sites.
The great thing about SEO is that there’s a niche for everyone, a keyword for every product/service, and as soon as you top the rankings, your company becomes the go-to provider for that product or service.
It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in business, how well or poorly your other products are doing; when you have the highest ranking for a single product or service, you’re the one that most customers will turn to.
It’s something that Neil Patel knows all too well. When you search for anything SEO related, he is the face you’ll see, and that’s why so many people are keen to book him and ask for his advice.
You don’t need to dominate a major keyword category like “SEO” to reap those rewards.
I recently spoke with a small business owner whose company sold over 20 different products. They were relying heavily on paid ads, as most of these products were nowhere in the organic rankings.
However, one product attained the highest ranking. It was niche, but it was big enough to generate multiple daily sales and account for over 50% of their revenue. They held onto that ranking for several months and in that time their site was referenced on several health blogs, two major newspapers, and they were also invited to partake in a TV documentary discussing that same product.
By virtue of having the highest-ranking, not only were they the number 1 choice for customers, but they were also the go-to source of information for everyone else.
In just a few months, that single high ranking, the SEO outlier, earned them enough exposure to significantly grow their business.
The best way to understand backlinks is to think of them in the same content as a like/follow on Facebook or Instagram.
Imagine that you’re trying to make a name for yourself on these platforms. You’re a fitness expert trying to muscle-in on the fitness community, but flashy pictures and informative posts aren’t enough.
You need endorsements from other users.
Every time someone likes your post or follows you, you get a little push in the right direction. But one like/follower from John Smith in Georgia isn’t going to do much for your reputation, not when John has only 12 followers and 3 posts.
By the same token, a like/follower from someone with 10,000 followers won’t mean much if they specialize in speed-eating contests and you’re trying to teach people about healthy eating.
To boost your profile, you need a like/follow from an established fitness personality; someone who has authority and is targeting the same audience as you.
The more of these boosts you get, the more authority your account will have, and the closer you’ll get to becoming a social media superstar.
Links work in much the same way. They tell Google that your site can be trusted, but only when they come from established, reputable, and well-liked sources. Very little consideration will be given to the smaller, less relevant websites; they won’t necessarily hurt your rankings, but they won’t do them much good, either.
Google understands that good sites will get good links eventually, just like a good Instagram user will get lots of followers eventually.
Sticking with the Instagram theme, what happens when a new account suddenly gains 50,000 likes/followers in a single day?
It’s suspicious, and the system knows that.
On Instagram, it doesn’t mean much, and simply means the user will have loads of followers but no real interaction. With a website, it tells Google that the webmaster is purchasing spam links, and so it penalizes them.
In other words, don’t be tempted to buy links and don’t get too many links at once.
Low-quality links will often do more harm than good. They’re fine if they appear organically, but if you’re buying them in large quantities, you’re treading a very fine line.
Google prefers that you don’t buy any links and it also takes a very dim view of those that sell them. Use this to your advantage and avoid paying for links.
Even if the site seems authoritative, if you’re being offered a paid link, you have to ask yourself how many other webmasters were offered the same thing. How many links have been posted to that site in recent days?
If Google determines that the site is selling links, its rankings, and by definition, its value will plummet. You probably won’t be penalized at this point, but at the very least you will have overpaid for a link that is now worthless.
Best SEO Tools And How To Use Them
The best SEO tools cost upwards of $99 a month, and once you add a few premium features, that price increases substantially.
The problem is, many of these tools are targeted toward full-time SEO experts and agencies. They can afford to pay those high subscription prices because they can benefit from all the features these programs provide.
If you have a small business and are operating a single website, it’s hard to justify such a high cost.
The good news is that there are many free tools out there and there are also some cheap and cheerful ways to utilize the premium tools.
Before we get into that, let’s look at some of the market-leading SEO tools:
- Ubersuggest (Free): A useful tool owned and used by Neil Patel, Ubersuggest can give you keyword ideas for your articles, helping you with your on-site SEO.
- SEMrush ($99.95 to $399.95): A premium SEO tool that lets you scan keywords, check rankings, monitor backlinks, and more. The keyword ranking feature is particularly useful in exposing potentially underused keywords that you can rank for.
- Google Data Studio (Free): Understand your data better and use it to optimize your website and your marketing.
- Majestic ($49.99 to $399.99 a month): For many SEO experts, a site’s “Majestic” score plays a big role in determining whether it can produce an authoritative backlink. Majestic uses markers like Trust Flow and Citation Flow to calculate whether a site is worthy or not and can also be used to check your own backlink profile.
- Google Analytics (Free): The go-to analytics tool for most webmasters, myself and Neil included, Google Analytics works by embedding a small code in your site. This code tracks all users, telling you who is using your site and how they are using it.
- SurveyMonkey (Free Plan Available): Neil Patel recommends using SurveyMonkey as part of a content and backlink strategy, creating surveys and gathering data on the users who complete them.
- Ahrefs ($99 to $999): Works in a similar way to SEMrush, providing multiple ways to monitor a site and optimize SEO.
- Webmaster Tools (Free): Both Bing and Google Webmaster Tools are essential for establishing yourself in the respective search engines. Submit URLs, fix errors, and see your site how the search engines see it.
Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics are essential for your SEO plan. It doesn’t matter how big your site is, these tools can help you to understand your customers and start building your search rankings.
Ubersuggest is also very budget-friendly and can help you find the right keywords for your products or services.
As for the other premium services, most of them offer free or paid trials. You’ll get anywhere from a few days to a month of access, during which time you can do all of your keyword research, prepare all future articles, and then revert to using the free tools once those trials end.
You get the best of both worlds and it doesn’t cost you $99+ a month!
If you’re looking for a more in-depth and long-term commitment, I recommend signing up for Majestic and then choosing one of either SEMrush or Ahrefs. These programs, when used with the free tools, will provide you with all the ammunition your business needs to succeed.
Why Content Is King
Content is king. It is the backbone of your site and your marketing strategy.
After all, backlinks can only exist if they have content worth linking to and that content is also what search engines index.
We’ve discussed some of the key elements of content marketing already, noting how writing informative, helpful content is essential, but Neil had so much more to say on this matter.
Long-Form Vs Short-Form
Should content be several thousand words or just a few hundred? Which is better?
It’s a question that frustrates a lot of people, and I’m going to frustrate you even more by telling you that there is no simple answer.
The truth is, it depends.
Google wants the content to be as in-depth as a user needs it to be, so the ideal length will change from site to site and from article to article.
Neil uses a tie seller as an example. You don’t need a 3,000-word article about tying a tie, not while a few images or a single video will suffice.
Consistency and frequency are also important.
You need to post consistently to show Google that your site is active and to ensure your readers always have new content to read; you need to post frequently to target as many keywords as possible.
The more content you have and the more keywords you target, the better your rankings will be and the more clicks you’ll get.
What About Headlines?
Neil recommends reading magazines to understand what the perfect headline looks like. You can also use yourself as a guinea pig.
Every time you click a sponsored post or an article on Facebook or Twitter, pay attention to the headline.
What made you click it? What was so enticing?
Neil recommends using the classic “number 6 will shock you” tip. It has become a little cliched at this point and has featured on countless listicles, but it’s cliché because it works.
In fact, I guarantee that you’ve fallen for this one yourself.
Specificity also helps.
Take a look at the following two headlines:
- Top Tips on Losing Weight
- Lose 30 Pounds in 30 Days!
Which one will you click?
Probably the second one, right?
And you’re not alone. I would expect the second headline to generate at least 5 times as many clicks because users love specific timeframes and amounts, whereas the first headline is as generic as you can get.
Finally, Neil recommends using the current year in your headline. It makes your article seem more relevant and recent, even if it’s not. Again, you only need to look at the following two examples to understand just how much of a difference this can make:
- Tips for Buying a New Home
- Tips for Buying a New Home in 2020
Recommended Content Systems And Plugins
Content management systems like WordPress and Shopify are tailormade for SEO.
Not only do they make it easy to keep producing content, but they do so in a streamlined way, with multi-platform page optimization and no junk code.
These platforms can also be used to sell products and services. It’s what Shopify was built for, in fact, and thanks to the Woocommerce plugin, it’s just as easy on WordPress.
There are plugins, widgets, and other features to help you meet your goal, including Yoast, which is used by Neil, myself, and countless other writers and webmasters
Most product searches start with Amazon, not Google. Amazon is also one of the highest-ranked sites on Google.
It’s a double-whammy, and if you have a product listed on Amazon, it needs to be optimized.
Use a clear image that shows your product in a good light and, most importantly, looks great as a thumbnail. Add how-to videos and other media to enrich your page and give your customers the information they’re looking for.
Keywords are also crucial, and you can use Amazon search suggestions to create these, but don’t forget about the description. If you’re not a writer, pay one to do the work for you. No one is going to buy a product with unintelligible text and typos.
Once the page is live, it’s time to get reviews.
Give your product away for free, reduce the price—do what it takes to get genuine reviews and don’t be tempted to buy fake ones. Not only are the fake ones easy to spot, but they’re getting Amazon sellers in a lot of trouble and could do more harm than good.
If you’re worried about negative reviews, don’t be. They’ll help you to tweak the product, to learn, and to make something better.
Finally, whatever you do, don’t leave bitter and angry comments on negative reviews. One of the biggest turn offs for customers is a company that responds to negative reviews with bitterness and childish accusations.
Internal links are an essential and often overlooked aspect of on-site SEO.
They can help you in two ways.
Firstly, when you create long-form, cornerstone content and then link to this content every time you write shorter blogs, you’re telling Google it’s important and should rank higher.
Secondly, every internal link is a potential click, sending a user further into your website and improving your bounce rate as a result.
How many times have you found yourself going down a Wikipedia rabbit hole, clicking link after link, moving from topic to topic? This is the power of internal links, and when used properly, they’ll boost your rankings.
Once you have established your cornerstone long-form content, you need to make sure it’s updated regularly.
Let’s return to the example of the “Best Laptops for 2020”.
As relevant as that article is for 2020, it will stop being relevant when all the laptops you discussed are obsolete. In 2022, the specs you’re discussing will look pretty dated and the laptop you recommended will be old (in tech terms).
At least once per year you need to tweak the article to include the latest laptops and specs and then change the year in the title.
Although this sounds like a chore, it’s relatively simple if you have a good foundation.
For instance, let’s assume that you highlighted the latest 15 inch MacBook as the best laptop. One of those gets released every single year, and very little changes.
You can keep most of the same text and simply change the specifications and other key details.
You can even keep the same picture, assuming the case and keyboard didn’t change.
What About Small Businesses?
It may feel like you’re at a disadvantage if you run a small business, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
It’s actually easier if you have fewer products as you can build your site around them.
Patel discusses a client who sold insoles and quizzed him about SEO. His advice was not to optimize for many different keywords, but to cover everything about those specific keywords, including articles about high heels, shoemaking, etc.,
Your goal is to become the best source of information about the product you sell, and this is much easier when you sell a single product in a single niche.
When creating content, remember that it doesn’t always have to relate to your product but should have some connection.
In the above example, the content doesn’t always need to relate to insoles for high heels, but at the same time, it shouldn’t deviate into content about designer handbags and hats.
Ask yourself whether a potential customer will be interested in reading the article? If so, write it; if not, you’re on the wrong path.
$100,000 SEO Strategy Hack From Neil Patel
When my chat with Neil was drawing to a close, I asked him what advice he would give to SEO marketers looking to make $100,000.
What strategy would he recommend?
This is what he advised:
- Create Blogs: Blog three times per week and target new keywords with each blog (see the SEO Tools section for help finding keywords and content ideas). Make sure you stick with relevant content and don’t venture away from relevancy just because you’ve found a high volume keyword.
- Create Guides: Once a month, write a detailed guide covering some of your main keywords. This content can be longer, more detailed, and contain more information than your blogs.
- Infographics: Create 1 infographic a week. Find relevant data, research, and articles, and turn these into detailed infographics. You can use sites like Fiverr and Upwork to find designers capable of turning this data into detailed, aesthetically-pleasing infographics.
- Discover: Use backlink tools to discover which sites are linking to your competitors and email all of them asking them to link to your infographic instead. Keep it relevant, and if the infographic is good enough, they’ll heed your call.
Although it sounds pretty simple, it’s a strategy that has worked for Neil and for countless other webmasters and SEO agencies.
It works because it provides Google with a steady stream of high-quality content and links. Everything is nicely paced, and as a result, Google begins to trust your website as an authoritative source and gives it the rankings you need to thrive.
Before you rush off to test your new SEO skillset, one that will hopefully leave you with better results and higher profits, take a look at these frequently asked questions to fill in some of the blanks.
How It Content Marketing Changing 2020?
More people are looking for free and educational content in 2020, and the number of cooks and gardeners has increased as well.
Trends are constantly changing and by staying on top of them you can capitalize on these changes. Pay attention to the news, use Google Trends, and monitor your data to learn about the latest trends as soon as they appear.
Truth About Duplicate Content
Everyone knows that original content is important for your content marketing strategy and that duplicate content will destroy you.
It’s common knowledge, but it’s also a fallacy.
Original content is important, and you should never steal someone else’s articles or reuse your own. However, contrary to popular belief, you will not be penalized for posting duplicate content.
The trick is to let Google know that you created the content, after which you can start spreading it around, syndicating it on sites like Medium and LinkedIn, where you can get some additional exposure without writing new articles.
If you post the content on Medium and LinkedIn immediately after hosting it on your site, Google will likely index the syndication before the real deal, in which case your site won’t benefit from all your hard work.
What Should I Do First?
If you have already launched your website and are looking to make some improvements, signup for Webmaster Tools, check your Search Console, and focus on the errors.
All errors should be fixed before proceeding, as these will hamper your chances of attaining high rankings. Once you’ve fixed the errors, focus on the warnings, and only when they have been dealt with should you start implementing on-site and off-site strategies.
What’s A Good Clickthrough Ratio?
Neil says you should always pay close attention to your impression count and how this compares to your click count.
If you have 1 million impressions but only 5,000 clicks, it means just 0.5% of the people who see your listing are clicking it.
This isn’t always as bad as it sounds. If you’re at the bottom of the search results, it’s natural, as users will always devote more attention to the listings at the top. But if you’re occupying a top 3 position and have a click count of less than 5%, there is some work to be done.
Change your headline using some of the tips outlined in this guide, wait at least 30 days, and if you’re still seeing poor results, change it again and tweak the description. You need those 30 days to truly test your listing and gather the data required for an accurate read.
Meet Our Guest: Neil Patel
Meet Neil Patel. Neil is a New York Times Bestselling author. The Wall Street Journal calls him a top influencer on the web, Forbes says he is one of the top 10 marketers, and Entrepreneur Magazine says he created one of the 100 most brilliant companies. He was recognized as a top 100 entrepreneur under the age of 30 by President Obama and a top 100 entrepreneur under the age of 35 by the United Nations.