When Grace Bonney of the legendary, mega-hit blog Design Sponge closed up shop I was both surprised and sad. Her blog was the epitome of success with posts and design ideas that were useful, accessible, beautiful, and diverse. When Grace released her remarkable letter about her tough and heartbreaking decision to end things, everything seemed to point at ad revenue. It was all drying up and fast.
BLOGGING HAD CHANGED
The blogging world had changed. Google’s algorithm had changed. Grace tried to adapt and if you were a huge fan then you saw the tiny nuances of those changes. Sometimes they felt ok and other times it seemed just plain out of sorts. None of her tweaks worked. You couldn’t help but feel the pressure she was under. For someone like me, who was thinking of making blogging a cornerstone of my work, it was particularly devastating to see Design Sponge close.
I wondered: “if Grace could declare that her blog was no longer a revenue generator then who was I to think that I could make my own blog a success. “Grace was my SHERO. If in the long run she could not make her blog generate enough revenue, then who was I to think that I could? In the subsequent years since Design Sponge’s closure, I continued with hobby blogging. I enjoyed it. Blogging, at the time, provided an outlet as well as the clarity that I needed to run a large and successful PR firm.
Being a hobby blogger shifted though when I dissolved my PR agency and turned my skills set toward evolving into a digital entrepreneur. It was then that I seriously began to look at blogging as a revenue stream. I decided I would use Grace’s experience as my yardstick.
Immediately, I got really clear about my reasons for blogging. I would not focus on completely monetizing my blog. I figured it was way better and more useful for me to earn income by selling products and services. My blog, in turn, could help me connect with and serve a really specific audience of female entrepreneurs in the Caribbean. My posts would have to be compelling, useful and specific enough to attract and keep fans and ultimately sell more of what I was creating.
If I made some money from ad revenue based on page views then that was fine. But Grace’s early success and all the learnings from her failure showed me that I had to begin with getting really clear about my blogging objectives. Traffic, I decided would be important. There was no way around that. However, I decided that focusing on being an expert, positioning, and developing my know, like, and trust factors were going to be the way I showed up and stood out. I also had to understand MY WHY. That’s the one thing that I want you to understand as well. Coming to terms with your WHY about the reasons you want to move in a particular direction is what brings drive and purpose.
With that clear, I knew my blogging goals would include:
I can’t begin to tell you the relief and rush I felt when I got clear on those goals. In every lesson, there is a learning and after loving and crushing on Design Sponge for so long, the idea that I am able to carry a piece of Grace’s learning forward into my own blogging future feels good.
I also knew I could not do it alone. Yes, I was good with content but this was not going to be a side hustle for me anymore. To get to my goals within 6-9 months, I didn’t want to keep up with Google and all its algorithm changes or even understand the nuances of backlinking and the likes. When I thought about SEO beyond using Yoast on every blog post, frankly I felt overwhelmed. It was in those moments I knew I did not want to go it alone and made the decision to work with an SEO strategist. Turns out it has been a superb decision.
Now hear me out, I knew this was going to be another expense. I had just spent money on upgrading my website. I was spending money producing videos for my Facebook business page that had just become monetized. Corona Virus wiped away my contracts, the last thing I wanted to do was spend money on another web-related thing. But I knew an SEO strategist was the key missing from the door that would open up success in the blogging. So I added Rahul to my team and within our first moth together he had me do five things that increased traffic to my blog. Before I get into the 5 things he made me do. I want to spend a second defining what is SEO!
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) basically means the process of maximizing the number of visitors to your website by making sure that the site appears high on the list of results returned by a search engine. Phew! I know right? What a mouthful. It’s really complex and for years I had used YOAST. Whenever that green light went off indicating that I had SEO’d a post correctly, my heart would skip with happiness. However, understanding YOAST was not enough. My intention with my blog was to build a business so I had to make sure my content was having a big impact on the traffic that was coming Forward Forty. Since all my time had to be devoted to writing the content, I knew an expert was needed on the team.
BLOG SEO: HERE ARE THE FIVE THINGS I NEEDED TO RANK BLOG ON GOOGLE
1) Increase Blog Speed: Most Important Way to Improve Blog SEO
It made sense that Rahul would look at my website’s download time and speed because Google has made it an actual ranking factor. Slow speed simply means Google will not throw “a sweet eye” your way. At the start, it took 27 seconds for my website to load.
In Google land that’s like putting your website in a pine box and covering it with dirt. Clearly work needed to be done. By compressing images, removing plugins, freeing up space on my server, deleting dated and old test sites a lot of the baggage was removed making my download time faster, nimbler. It now takes about 6 seconds for my home page to load.
I became aware of something else. Speed can also affect rankings (blog SEO) indirectly by increasing the rate people get off your site (the bounce rate) and reducing their dwell time as well.
2. Give Readers Reasons To Linger On Blog
Another thing that my SEO strategist thought would lower my bounce rate was the opportunity to give people a chance to linger on my home page and move from there to my blog. Here’s something he immediately noticed. There were no visible blog posts on the home page of my website. Sure, if you went to the menu or one of the information blocks on the home page you could click and get taken to the blog but that wasn’t enough.
He wanted visitors to hit the home page and immediately see some of my recent posts. Doing so would force them to linger, take action, hop on over to the blog and get immersed in the content. While on the post, readers would be directed to take actions i.e. watch a video, take a quiz, shop a product. At Rahul’s insistence, my developer inserted a blog content block on the home page of my site.
3. Build A Content Calendar With Key Words
Since blogging was no longer going to be a hobby, I knew I had to develop an editorial calendar. When Rahul said to create one that felt awesome. I could finally show him some of my writing chops. Here the cruncher though.
In developing content for the blog, I had to think in terms of keywords. Keywords are the words I had to identify as ones that I thought my audience would be searching for and that I wanted Google to show in their search results. There were two categories that were important: what keywords I wanted to be known for and what keywords were people searching for?
Turns out I had to create content across these two categories to build traffic. However, if I picked the wrong keywords, I’d find yourself with little to no traffic and, even worse, little to no sales, which if you remember was the key to my decision to use blogging to build my business.
4. LEARN TO COMPROMISE
So, Rahul and I came up with a compromise. I would never publish an article without sharing the editorial calendar with him so he can flesh out the keywords. There is a science into what goes into finding a bunch of keywords and packing them into an article, and I am not going to pretend I understand it.
But I do understand the art of writing and I can share this basic tip with you. For each main keyword you use, you could find another 20-30 that can accompany it and those would then be plugged thoughtfully into each post. Here’s another thing Rahul taught me. Keywords would help my posts to rank once I understood how to write for what my key audience was searching for. My ideal customers were searching for terms like content creation, blogging, social media, business, digital strategy, and the likes. I could not have known that without an SEO hire. Or maybe I would have known. I mean everything these days is Google-able but for sure I would not have the time.
An SEO strategist provided me with the room to do what I was good at and leave the rest to another expert on the team
5. Make Google Analytics Your Best Friend: Most Important thing in Blog SEO
As a blogger, I had to get comfortable with Goggle analytics. SEO can perform magic once it is done right and led by an expert like Rahul. It can drive organic traffic to your website, get more page views, get your blog to rank. It can’t, however, guarantee that people stay on your site or that they sign up for your email list. It won’t guarantee sales. Rahul tells me that a million times during our weekly meetings. That’s why knowing your analytics is wildly important.
You need to know how many page views you generate every month, how many people land on your website in a day, and where those people are coming from. Not just for your own sanity, but to know how to move, how to tweak content, your sales page, your strategy, and tactics.
The one tip I can share is to have your SEO strategist teach you how to read data and use those insights to adapt or stay on track. That way you can be mindful of the micro picture on a weekly basis as your SEO strategist works on the macro framework, perhaps with data report that you go through together once a month.
6. Marry Content and SEO On Your Blog
Content is the queen of SEO. Without it, Rahul would have nothing to optimize. But I also know that without proper blog SEO my posts won’t go far or get ranked. Blogging is a group love affair. You enter into a marriage as a blogger with your developer and your SEO expert and you collaborate, share findings, and implement whatever is needed so no part of the whole ever collapses. Rahul and I meet every week, I am no expert at SEO but I feel confident talking to him and more confident in my knowledge about what is working and what will not.
Search Engine Optimization is ALL about proving to search engines that your site and content are the best so that it will serve it up when your audience is looking for solutions to problems you can help them with. At the very least, it ensures quality content is prioritized online by Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness; E-T-A as it is called.
I figure that this triad is exactly what I needed in building a successful relationship with my SEO strategist.