Search engine optimization (SEO) is a topic that everyone who operates online needs to know something about. Whether you have a blog for your new novel, or you’re trying to build a community of like-minded readers, or you’re attempting to build a business from your expertise, sooner or later you’re going to encounter the need to understand what SEO is all about and how it works.
A lot of the writing you’ll find online about optimization practices can be very confusing, so this article will focus on the basics in two parts. The first will describe what SEO means and why it’s so important; Part 2 will cover the tools you can use to improve your own sites’ optimization and some handy ways you can put these tools to use.
So let’s get started.
It Starts with a Simple Search
Let’s start right at the beginning, with what might be called a “magic moment.” Someone somewhere, sitting at a computer, is moved to act. It could be that this person is trying to find:
- the answer to a question,
- something that will satisfy a need,
- a way to get rid of a physical or emotional pain, or
- how to perform a specific task.
Now, what do you do in these situations? You go to your favorite search engine, don’t you? You try to formulate a question, or maybe you just start throwing words and phrases that touch on your subject into the search bar and start looking at what results you get.
That’s something that happens billions of times every day. There are more than 3 billion searches just on Google every day, according to the service.
What does it mean to us as indie authors? This is probably the most common task people perform online. And it’s critical to us as authors because it can be the difference between success and failure. Here’s why.
Search engines are responsible for a lot of the traffic that travels around the Internet. The job of the search engine is to provide the best possible answers to the questions people type into that search bar, and they take this responsibility very seriously.
Software programs that work like robots travel the Internet endlessly, looking at the content we post to our blogs and websites to find out what that content is about and which questions that content can answer.
When a search engine receives the question our user typed, it looks at all the content it has examined and indexed and instantly returns the results that seem most appropriate for that specific question.
In the blink of an eye, our user is now looking at the results presented to her by the search engine in response to her query. Now, I’m betting that our user is a lot like me. When I search for something, 9 times out of 10 I’m going to click one of the links on that first page of search results. I may never see any of millions of results that appear on pages 2, 3, or the rest.
And here’s the key: that first page only includes about 10 results with accompanying links.
Where Do You Rank?
What this means is that even if you have the perfect answer to the question being asked in that search bar, if the search engine robots don’t know that, you won’t show up in those first 10 links. It also means that the likelihood of anyone finding your answer gets less and less likely as your link drops down farther and farther in the search results.
In fact, 68% of users are going to click one of the top 3 results on page 1. Dropping off page 1 means you will only get a fraction of the attention of people looking for your answers.
This simple scenario has given rise to an enormous and growing industry in which solo entrepreneurs, department stores, service providers and huge multinational corporations are competing fiercely to get on that first page of search results, and as high as possible on that page. This naturally leads to the question, “Hey, how can I get links to my content on that first page of search results?”
You should now see clearly how critical this is if you depend on getting traffic to your site.
Making It to the Top
Obviously, if we can get on that first page, we’re going to get a lot of traffic to our blogs and sites, which will help us grow our audience and ultimately sell more books. What you do with that traffic is up to you, but keep in mind that traffic—readers—is your blog’s biggest existential need. If you don’t get readers, your blog will eventually wither and die, and we don’t want that to happen.
Traffic—readers—is your blog’s biggest existential need. If you don’t get readers, your blog will eventually wither and die.
The methods we use to make our content easier for search engines to find and understand are what we collectively refer to as search engine optimization (SEO).
Large corporations have whole departments of people trying to get their content to move up the search results page. But savvy self-publishers also learn to use SEO techniques and can successfully compete with other content providers.
To look at how we do this, first we’ll have a look at the tools available to you to optimize your content. All of the practices we’ll be discussing are generally called “on-page SEO.” That’s because these practices are things you’ll be doing on your blog post or website article itself, nowhere else.
There are other practices and strategies that rely on “off-page SEO,” where you attempt to create links back to your articles, but we’ll concentrate on what you can do by yourself on your own content. That’s where you have to start.
Now that you know what actually drives SEO and how important it is, watch for part 2 of this article next week where we’ll put that learning to work, first by looking at the tools we use for SEO, then with practical steps you can take today to improve your own articles and author sites.