Three words: Search Engine Optimization. They kind of make you want to grab a bag and start hyperventilating, don’t they?
In the world of viral marketing, social media and Google Adwords, SEO has become another one of the things that you’ve probably had to put on your to-do list. And, if you’re anything like most of the writers I talk to, you probably have no idea where to start.
I was lucky. Before I got my book deal, I’d spent five years working as a staff writer for a major media company. And, since we wrote for the web, I spent hours each week honing my SEO skills. We actually had a team of SEO gurus on staff that hosted weekly SEO boot camps for us—analyzing every article we wrote for SEO viability and nitpicking every teeny tiny keyword on our site. So, while viral marketing and blogging were new to me, I had the SEO thing down pat.
And, I have to say, it’s worked for me. While I spend very little time doing viral marketing on my blog—I’m just not a good twitterer—I get fairly decent traffic—and most of it comes from Google referrals. I chalk that up to having a strong SEO strategy—and knowing where to focus my SEO time.
Obviously, SEO is a tough nut to crack—and there’s no way I can give you even a tenth of the information you need in one post. Before you create a viable SEO strategy, you’ll need to decide if SEO is even worth your time (in some cases, it’s not), how you’ll use SEO keywords (there are many, many ways that go way beyond simply keywording a post) and how to create relevancy with your keywords on your site (now that’s complicated).
But, in order to put the horse before the cart, the first thing you need to do is come up with a list of keywords that you want to use on your blog or website. This list can (and will) become your SEO cheat sheet—you’ll have something to focus on, something to consult whenever you’re writing a post, a start to a strategy. Here are my tips:
- Limit your keywords. I’ve had clients who presented me with a list of 100 keywords and then asked me to help them come up with more. And, while they have the right idea in that they are focusing on specific words instead of just throwing out a random slew of words as they write a post—they are biting off too big of a chunk. While the Google and Bing algorithms are super complicated, one important aspect is that they search for relevancy—which means in a nutshell they’ll be crawling your site to see how much information on your site is relevant to a specific keyword or idea. So, unless you’re posting dozens of articles every week that are very specifically focusing on all 100 of your keywords, you’re probably not you’re not creating a sense of relevancy with many of them. So, choose a short list (my recommendation: between 5 and 15) of keywords that you can focus on with every post, every page and every idea. By simplifying, you’ll actually create a bigger reach.
- Do your research. Don’t just guess on which keywords people are searching! I use both Google Adwords and Google Insights all the time to help my clients (and myself!) find appropriate words to focus on. They’re pretty straightforward tools so you can probably figure out how to use them to your advantage in less than ten minutes.
- Know your competition. Remember how I told you that I used to work for a major media website with huge traffic numbers? And remember how I said we had an entire SEO team on staff? Let me give it to you straight: Unless your last name is Grisham or you have a staff of 40 writers and editors helping you with your blog, you CANNOT compete with major sites like that. It’s a waste of your time to try. Case in point: Me! My book, The Christian Mama’s Guide to Having a Baby, is a pregnancy guide–but I have never spent even a minute focusing on the keywords “pregnancy,” “pregnancy book” or “pregnancy guide.” Why? Have you ever heard of “What do Expect When you’re Expecting“? Or “Baby Center“? I could spend hours a week creating relevancy on my site around the word “pregnancy” and only move from page 120,000 to page 50,000 on Google. And, while moving up 70,000 pages is pretty good, I’m pretty sure no one has ever looked past the first two pages of Google results, so it’s absolutely a waste of my time to focus on “pregnancy.” Instead, choose words that get a decent number of searches every month (target: between 1,000-10,000 global monthly searches) and low competition (less than 20% on Adwords) and focus on those.
- If you don’t talk about it on your site, don’t use it as a keyword. I see this mistake all the time… my clients throw out a search keyword based on a theme or idea in their books, but when I pull up their website, I see nothing about that particular idea on their website. It’s not only poor user experience—if someone Googles “Amish recipes” and then comes to your site and finds nothing about Amish recipes, they’re probably not going to stick around—but it also does nothing to create a sense of relevancy around that keyword, which will hurt your SEO. This does not, however, mean you need to blog only about the topics in your novels. For example, author Jody Hedlund has a wonderful blog full of tips and ideas for authors (find it here)—however, her latest novel, The Doctor’s Lady, is about the first woman to pioneer the Oregon Trail. On her website, Jody has done a great job of creating relevancy surrounding the theme of her book by creating a cool “reader fun” page that’s full of facts, quizzes and more surrounding the historical times in her books. Similarly, author Rosslyn Elliot, a historical romance author who wrote “Fairer Than Morning” maintains a “History” page on her site that adds relevancy surrounding the historical concepts in her novels.
- Cater to groupies. As fun as it would be to be loved by everyone, it’s just not going to happen. As a pregnancy author, I can’t appease the natural birthers AND the epidural fanatics. And you can’t appease everyone either. So, think about your core audience—the people who ABSOLUTELY love everything you do—and work to appease them both with your site content and your keywords. For example, my friend Cathy West wrote an amazing historical romance called Yesterday’s Tomorrow that’s set in Vietnam during the war. And, while her book is great for all sorts of populations, you can bet that Vietnam vets and their families find it especially compelling. My recommendation for Cathy? To cater to that population, both by creating contests and posts that appeal to Vietnam vets, but also by focusing her keyword reach on words that appeal to that audience.
NOW: For a chance to win an hour of SEO consulting from me (via phone or Skype, 30 minutes research, 30 minutes talking), respond to this post and tell me how (or if) you’ve developed an SEO strategy for your blog. Winner will be chosen at random on October 21st and will be contacted by me via email.
*CONTEST IS CLOSED* Congrats to WINNER Norma Thurston Holtman.