I spent most of the editing time on this article humming, apologies to Cookie Monster, “G is for Google. That’s good enough for me.”
Partly because once an earworm grabs you, it’s got you, and partly because it’s sorta true when it comes to content marketing.
The joke goes that there are two certainties in life: death and taxes. If you’re in marketing (especially if you focus your efforts on content marketing), I’d add a third: search engines will make or break the eventual success of your website and content strategy, especially blogging.
Your Mama might type your URL for your site or bookmark it to show her friends. Everyone else gets there via a search engine or paid marketing..
I’m using “Google” to represent search engine optimization (SEO). Given that 92% of ALL Internet searches are performed by Google, it may as well be “Google engine optimization.” I could write from now until the end of the month and still be scratching the surface of search.
To be clear from the start, this is NOT an SEO primer. The best place I’ve found for a comprehensive beginner’s entry into understanding search engines is The Beginner’s Guide to SEO by Moz (they are a vendor and provide services, they are also an excellent model for how to do content marketing right).
I’ve said for a few years that you need to write for humans, but that’s a little too dismissive of the role search engines play. Let me revise:
Create for humans (still true), but post and adjust so search engines can find you.
I’ll go into more detail below, but I want to share the TL;DR takeaways now:
- You can’t ignore SEO
- Don’t try to trick Google
- Local search is important to understand
- Use passive marketing like Pinterest to increase your reach
- Google wants to provide the best answers to questions (that’s what search is after all)
- Use the free Google tools to gain insights into search traffic
G Is for Google
Scratch on content marketing advice from just about anywhere and you’ll quickly run into reams of articles, blogs, infographics, whitepapers, checklists, etc. and et cetera about SEO.
Keywords. Search engine results page. Page 1 rankings. You must be in the top 3 on the page. Domain authority. And Google, Google, and more Google.
I’m using “Google” here to represent search engines. Yahoo! And Bing have a shrinking share of the search market. Overall, Google controls 92% of search results (all platforms); Bing, Yahoo!, Baidu, DuckDuckGo, and Yandex RU account for the remaining 8%.
Let’s set aside the fact that Google essentially controls what the world sees. Business rely on Google to direct people to their sites. As a marketer, it’s increasingly annoying as Google seeks to answer questions on the search results page itself.
Why’s that matter? If someone finds the answer on the results page, there are no clicks to anyone’s site. No clicks. No traffic. One less chance to help a customer.
THe Most Important Thing (Still) About Search Engines
“Search engine” is a misnomer. The technology performs a search. The goal is to give you an answer (that’s why Google is bumping direct answers to questions to the results pages).
Searching is just the action. People want to find the information they’re looking for.
Google wants to give its customers the best answer to whatever the question is.
That’s all preface to the most important thing to know about ranking in search engines:
Write the best answer to a question and write it for a person, not a machine.
Many will recall the keyword-stuffing tactics of years past. Try that today and Google will essentially make your site invisible to searches.
There are basic SEO tactics you should use — long-tail keywords are still important — but the single most important thing is to write for the humans, not the machines.
Before Google became the 800 pound gorilla, there were dozens of software search vendors (Purple Yogi was my favorite name of all time). I took a meeting with a few of them as editor of a tech magazine.
I remember the founders of one company – cannot remember the name — who were, literally, rocket scientists. And, yes, I did amuse myself with “it does take a rocket scientist to understand search” jokes for years (Ok, fine, even now). I was struck by two things after that meeting:
- The complexity of delivering the right answer to a search query is friggin’ HARD
- Their engine was one of the first I can recall that could parse the parts of speech — diagramming sentences during a full-text search was one of the things it did — so that it could understand context to an extent for the search. This was 20ish years ago now. Google is better, and continually gets better, at understanding the intention of what you’re searching for (if you use Google frequently for research, you’ll notice the search results improving over time based on your previous research).
The implications of the second point is that you really can’t game the system.
Write the best content you can to address the questions your customers want answered. Keep doing that.
Oh, there was a third thing I remember from that long-ago meeting — they hid an Easter Egg in their product that played Ride of the Valkyrie if triggered. I still think that’s cool.
Use Google While They Use You
Google wants you to provide good answers to questions so they can show those answers to their customers (that’d be us). This is a short list of a few free Google tools every business should use:
- Google MyBusiness
- Google Analytics
- Google Adwords
Google Mybusiness will help you appear in local searches. It’s simple to set up (here’s the link: https://www.google.com/business/). I even did one (it still needs some work):
If you’re into video, and every bit of inbound marketing research indicates one should be, use YouTube. YouTube is essentially the 2nd largest search engine in the world. One of every two folks online is on YouTube. Click here for tons of other stats.
Creating a video channel on YouTube is a no-brainer. It’s free. It’s simple. Your videos need to “live” somewhere anyway. You should share and drive people to view your videos on your own properties (your website, LinkedIn and Facebook pages, etc.), but placing them on YouTube simply gives folks another chance to find you. As with blogs, pay attention to your title, tags, and meta description to give yourself a better chance of being found.
There are entire business strategies built around YouTube channels. Maybe you too can be the next YouTube sensation. Here’s an interesting read if you think that’s what you want to do.
Every marketer should use GoogleAnalytics. Obviously, you’ll want to check your page views and unique visitors. GA is also useful for discovering what content people are reading (and how long they’re on the page) which will give you a better idea for what to write more or less of.
For PPC marketers, you can tie Google Ads together to track results. Google Adwords is also a great place to check for keyword volume and variations so you can capture traffic.
Using Predictive Search for Blog Ideas
Quick blogging tip: type in variations of questions using the keyword/theme you want to write about to see what questions are being asked.
The suggestions that appear in the search box as you type aren’t random. They are a combination of your past searches and what other people are looking for answers to. Use that information to spark your own ideas and put your spin on what people are already looking for.
Search for a restaurant on your phone where you live. Search for a restaurant when you travel. The results will be different.
Here are a few resources to get you started on your local SEO journey:
- Local SEO Guide. They offer local SEO services and have a solid blog with tons of useful advice.
- Improve your local ranking on Google. Straight from the Google horse’s mouth.
- Moz. Unsurprisingly, moz.com has a list of resources for local SEO.
- A Comprehensive Guide to Local SEO in 2019 is a good overview blog post from HubSpot.
- The Ultimate Guide to Local SEO by the HOTH is also very good.
My advice, pick one of these. Read it. Follow the recommendations. I’m in the process of following my own advice here!
G Is for Google, That Isn’t Good Enough for Me
I hope you now have an appreciation for how complex SEO is. This is just touching the surface and I’m not a full-fledged SEO expert (and I didn’t stay at a Holiday Inn last night).
Bear in mind that Google is NOT YOUR FRIEND. Google is in business for itself. Make yourself useful to Google by answering questions people are asking while using basic SEO tactics and Google will send people your way.
As I was about to hit publish, I saw that Google has released a new algorithm that has screwed over site traffic for folks. A useful reminder that Google cares about you as a user of Google, not you as a website owner. The best way to inoculate yourself from being an innocent victim of the next Google update is to focus relentlessly on answering your customers questions in blogs, videos, etc.
Pay attention to what Google does and use as many of the free tools they provide to wring as much traffic from them as you can.
Don’t try to trick them. No one completely understands how the damn thing works any longer.
And for anyone who wants to watch Cookie Monster sing . . .