How to beat the big guns to the top of Google, + 2 crucial mistakes to avoid if you want to stay there
I built my own site!
After years of dedicating my time to big brand web sites (it was my job), I finally decided to take the leap myself. I built a website, from scratch, all on my own. I felt very proud of myself. For a short while (until I realised my mistakes – more on that later).
Rewind 12 months. I’d left my corporate career and knew everything you should know about creating a brand online, after all I worked at one of the biggest global entertainment companies and was paid to direct their search engine marketing.
Only one problem.
There was only little me now. No team, no support, no mentoring or guidance. NO SAFTEY NET.
I slogged over it for hours. Bearing in mind it had taken me months to decide exactly WHAT it was I was going to build. I’d figured I go with something I liked. My passion – yoga. And I’d read about a brilliant affiliate marketing model, focusing on a distinct niche. I thought, yup, I can do that.
So there I was, with my plan. I needed to get on and do it. So hour upon hour I slogged away. I bought the domain name, set up wordpress chose a theme, played around with the layout, added some plug-ins, connected google analytics and google webmaster tools. Played around with images (night after night of searching for the right ones) and, eventually started writing.
I say ‘eventually’ because I know that some people start with the website and the content for their site. But here’s something I want to share with you. Something I learnt from years of working online.
So the first thing is to get clear on who your customer is. Not just if they are male or female, location and income, but behavioral characteristics and emotional influences.
Then research what exactly they are searching for? What language do they use? What do they start looking for, compared to what they search for when they know exactly what they want.
If they’ve got a problem what are they likely to look for?
Lets go back to my yoga example – bikram yoga, specifically.
Delving deeper – I knew she was female and had already done some yoga before, she’s looking for a local place to try it out because she heard it’s a sure way to get strong and supple, whilst losing weight.
There’s a lot of emotion going on when she’s searching as she might have heard good and bad press about bikram yoga, she’s got to make up her mind.
So does she start searching for ‘best yoga teacher in London’ or ‘bikram yoga teacher reviews’?
She’s more likely to start with ‘bikram yoga’ or ‘bikram yoga benefits’.
These searches are much higher up the ‘decision tree’. She might not have found a teacher yet but she’s exploring and validating her decision to go try a class.
Once she’s sure it’s right for her, she may search again for bikram yoga hackney, london (her location)
And once she’s then tried a class she may search again for ‘bikram yoga poses’ or bikram yoga app’ so she can practice at home to learn more.
It’s important to know who you’re targeting first off, try and get their attention early on in their decision making process.
Back to my shiny new website.
When I was planning what to write I started with my call to action (CTA) and then worked backwards.
I wanted people to click on my affiliate links. I needed to find a keyword that had a high number of searches, plus which I would be able to rank on page 1 of Google for – a tough one.
I spent time researching and eventually found a pretty good keyword. Fast forward, and here’s what happened:
My website traffic skyrocketed from nothing >500 page views per week.
Want to know how I did it?
I’ll get onto that, but you’ll also need to know how to avoid the two crucial mistakes I made (and why it didn’t all end up rosy).
Think about what you’ve just read. Can you spot the fatal errors?
Alright – let me help you. This is something you will only realise if you’ve actually been through this process yourself (big learnings for me after having worked only on big brands in corporate London).
My first mistake was thinking that because I was launching a website based on a passion of mine, (I love Sigrun’s free video series here to help you find your passion) that it would come naturally, that I’d be great at it, and that I’d have the drive, talent and authority to be authentic online.
Back up there….I never thought I could be passionate about something and have no talent for it!
My second crucial mistake was trying to achieve greatness without authenticity. Creating my content became a drag. I struggled to research and write the content that I knew I needed to create the online yoga resource I had planned. I ended up outsourcing virtually all of the articles and blog posts. They were well written but had no personality, no spark which is vital for the long game. However, I did get some great results with my posts and that’s what I’m about to share with you now.
Let me show you how I got such a huge spike in traffic for my bikram yoga post.
Here’s the sequence of actions that I took:
#1 Decided on a Call To Action (CTA)
#2 Researched which keyword/phrase to target
#3 Wrote the most in depth article about my chosen keyword and included a CTA
#3 Structured the post to please search engines (wordpress users take note)
#4 Shared it in my channels
#5 Wrote about it and shared in social
#6 Found blogs and forums to write about and share post on
Lets delve a bit deeper:
#1 Decide on your Call To Action
What do you want people to do after they’ve read your post? leave their email address? Buy something (unlikely), bounce back to Google (likely), read another article then leave? Make sure you know what you want them to do before you start, bit like setting a goal. I wanted visitors to click on my amazon affiliate links.
#2 Research which keywords to target
THE MOST IMPORTANT STEP – OFTEN OVERLOOKED because frankly it can be a bit dull. But crucial, so get down to work.
Put on your thinking hat – imagine your perfect customer and figure out what she or he would type into Google.
Start with Google ‘suggest’ – start typing and it predicts what I’m looking for based on popularity of other search phrases – like having mystic meg in your pocket.
Play around until you have at least 10 starting keywords. Here’s another tool I like.
Once you’ve got your seed list, you need to find out how many people are searching for your phases and whether they are competitive.
The more competitive they are the harder it will be to rank on Google for the term.
There are hundreds of online keyword research tools and I’ve tried loads of them. I still come back to the trusty Google Adwords Keyword Tool because once you figure out how to get into it and how it works, it’s the most comprehensive and reliable, free tool for telling you the number of people searching for a keyword and how competitive that keyword is:
Enter your keyword(s) into the box provided (3 here) and add country or language targeting. Then click ‘Get Ideas’ to reveal search terms that users are entering into Google.
But there are a few things to remember if you want to stand a chance of being ranked for a keyword:
- Only target keywords that are relevant to your produce or service – otherwise you’ll get the wrong people to your site – look at your existing content, is it relevant?
- Try not to go for keywords with huge volumes of searches (in my case ‘yoga’ with 803k monthly searches was out for sure!) as you’ll struggle to get ranked for them and will be competing against Wikipedia, news sites, Youtube and other huge domains.
- Targeting keyword phrases is a much better idea than trying to target individual words. Keyword phrases tend to be easier to rank well for and they typically convert far better than individual words.
Alright, so now you have a list of 10 or 20 keywords and keyword phrases that you know people are looking for and which your perfect customer is likely to use.
At this point, it is wise to analyse the competition for the keywords you have found by putting them into Google and seeing who comes up.
This gives you an idea of how many other websites are competing for the top spot with the same keywords.
Make sure you are logged out of the search engine when doing this or launch an ‘incognito window’.
While most of the time, well optimised sites are ranking high, very often un-optimised sites show up highly ranked due to the complex nature of the search engine algorithms.
The general rule of thumb is that the higher your site’s authority within Google, and the more good links the page has to it and the better the chance of ranking with competitive keywords or broad terms.
#3 Write the most in-depth article about your chosen keyword
I wanted mine to be the very best bikram yoga resource online. I found another post that ranked top and did it better. It was 5,600 words long and the most detailed post online for that keyword (at the time).
It was very well written – grammar, tone and style all matter (Oh OK…. I admit, I didn’t write it myself, I found a super talented writer on Elance.com)
Make sure you have a strong CTA on the page.
#4 Structure the post to please search engines
If you’re using wordpress, then a lot of this is done for you – great…..However, there are a few crucial things that you should know (even if you use a good SEO plugin) that could make the difference of success vs failure.
- The URL should be short as possible and should reflect if the site structure has several levels of files and navigation with folders and sub folders.
- Individual page URLs should be descriptive and include the keyword so that if a user can only see the URL, they will have a good idea of what to expect on the page. People want to know what they are clicking on these days and expect to see what the page is about by looking at the URL. newsite.com/folder-name (all lowercase, hyphens NOT underscore)
- Avoid numbers and separate them from the rest with a dash
- Each page must have its own unique keyword target otherwise search engines get confused (really!) and won’t know what page to show.
- Include your keyword in the Meta title – this is the blue link that people see first at least once as this will show up in the search results and improve the number of clicks to your site.
- Include keyword in the Meta description – this is your advertising copy (see below) try to use it a couple of times and near the beginning of the sentence
- Be sure to include your keyword in the image alt tag, here’s what it looks like in wordpress:
Forget about meta keywords (a waste of time as search engines pay no attention to these any more).
SEO plug ins are great but they don’t do the one crucial thing that will ensure success…
Choosing the right keyword is hands down the most important part of SEO – A plug in will make sure you’ve got your page optimised but it wont tell you what keyword to chose in the first place.
I use Yoast SEO and you can see how to set it up here
A great resource to sum this up is this image that Rand at Moz.com created, I’ve used it for years and he recently updated it:
#5 Share it in your social channels
So here’s the thing about great blog posts that you spend time writing with love and passion,
Without promotion, something terrible happens… nothing! P. T. Barnum
You’ve got to go out and tell people about it!
I shared my mega-bikram-yoga-post in my yoga channels on G+, Pinterest, Twitter & facebook. Which did OK, but probably didn’t do wonderes for my rankings as I didn’t have a huge audience to share it with.
However, I knew exactly where all the yoga bunnies were as I’d researched endlessly and the next step was the one that drove 90% of interest (and links) to the page.
#6 Write about and shared it in existing social communities
This was not, I hasten to add, a 5-minute job.
I took the time to sign up, started helping others and answering questions and generally tried to be helpful before I posted my article.
Word of warning: you’ll get found out if you are not authentic in these types of communities so tread carefully. It’s a bit like walking into a room where everyone is having a great chat and all know each other – you rock up and start shouting about yourself and…you can see what might happen.
#7 find blogs to contribute to and share link
This also was a real winner for getting good quality links back to my page. But again, it took time and consistency before I got any results. Here’s a good site to help you find all those little gold mines of activity:
And the results speak for themselves:
A high ranking WILL get you traffic if you follow these steps and focus on getting the RIGHT sort of traffic.
I told you things didn’t turn out so rosy for my yoga site.
As it turns out this site turned out to less of a passion and more of a pain – ful experience. I love doing yoga, but I’m not a yoga guru or expert.
I knew I needed lots of good quality links and consistently high quality content in order to get my domain authority up but I did not feel authentic. After a while I struggled to interact with real people in the communities I found, I felt like a fraud submitting guest posts that I hadn’t written myself.
At the time I felt like I’d wasted a lot of time and effort – but, I hope that you can learn from these lessons.
#1 You need to have a passion and a talent in order to be authentic (passion alone is not enough)
#2 know your target customer explicitly
#3 Chose your keywords carefully BEFORE you write anything