There’s no rulebook when it comes to SEO.
Why would there be?
It’s not like Google wants you to win.
Let’s think about this for a minute. Google makes more than 80% of its revenue from Google Ads. They want you to pay to be number one.
Even though they release guidelines and best practices for ranking, Google straight-up telling you how to rank is like me telling you how to sleep with my sister.
For the record, I don’t have a sister. But you get my point.
Now that I’ve lowered the tone, here’s why you need rules. Or at the very least, concepts to make sense of what is the lawless land of SEO. For all intents and purposes, SEO is built on the back of shit loads of data and even more testing and best guesses.
Everyone has their way of doing certain things. Like how they write alt text or how many times a certain keyword should be used in a post.
That’s not what I’m talking about. Pretty much all of my rules are concepts more than strictly defined step by steps.
Lessons learnt from doing, failing, and practising daily for nearly nine years.
I’ll be keeping this list updated as things change, I learn more and inevitably change my mind on how things actually work.
Rule 1. Become the Average
Yup, the average.
Not the best. The best is step two.
But first, we need to become the average. Ever since all keywords started to be judged on a keyword by keyword basis, we cannot apply blanket states or rules to pages and content anymore.
No more “Target key in the H1, Titles, First H2, First 200 words, last 200 words, alt text of the first-served image…..”
Sounds familiar, right? Because it’s the same shit every SEO tells you to rank. But, it straight up doesn’t work like that anymore. Hasn’t for 2-3 years.
So what can we do? Become the average.
Become the average of what’s already ranking. Dump that keyword into the ol’ Google machine and see what ranks. Now pull the main metrics for each of those pages. Look at the word count. How often is the “target keyword” actually being used? Where on the page is it? Are they using schema? If so, what type?
Now do this for the next four results on the SERPs. Average out those numbers.
Once you have the data of these things, you can now start writing your own with the vision to his these averages. Because if we have the same average metrics as what is already ranking, we should (in theory) rank too. Right?
Rule 2. Incremental Changes
You’ve hit your averages. Thank god for that. You’re in a better position than 99% of all other posts you’re competing with. You’ve also likely created something of value to the end-user, so that’s good too. I’m proud of you. Actually proud. Most of the posts on the internet are actual trash.
But, you haven’t got your top 3 ranking yet. What do you do? We could do backlinks, we could add a few more images. Make some tweaks to headers or word count.
Whatever you do – Do one at a time.
The main thinking behind this is – that SEO takes time. Great SEO takes longer, and you know what you did to make it happen.
Most of the time is Google crawling and reindexing posts. So, if you go and make a load of changes, it’s not like the site is being judged after each of the 20 changes you made today. This just doesn’t happen for the majority of us. Unless you’re the BBC, and I guess they don’t need help with their SEO.
The most likely case is that the site is crawled every few days. If you’ve made a load of changes in those few days, you have no idea what the main impact on the site was. Working out what had the biggest impact usually looks like taking it one step at a time, which is what I’m saying you should do in the first place.
Take your time. Know what had the biggest improvement. Look to scale across the site.
Rule 3. Do What Makes Google Look Good
In 2017 Google added a function where you could upload a 360 photo-sphere of the interior of your business to Google My Business. Customers could see the inside of your place from anywhere in the world.
Those people who added one of the VR photo-spheres found themselves ranking in the top 3 on GMB, if not pos #1 within 24 hours of uploading.
All because they were providing Google with content to showcase their fantastic new feature.
This might be like I’m saying – Be reactive, jump on the new trend. Fuck no. Fads with marketing come and go all the time. There are very few tactics and strategies out there that survived the test of time. Especially when it comes to ranking.
But one thing that’ll never go out of fashion is making the boss look good.
In this metaphor, the boss is Google.
It doesn’t have to be the “newest” thing, just something that adds a little extra. Take a quick look at Instagram, the fastest-growing pages on insta are those that keep people on the platform. It’s engaging content, it’s posting stories often (feature-based) and using all ten slides you get on a carousel. Getting people to slide through and read each one.
How can we apply this learning to SEO/Content marketing? Even though Google is constantly adding new strings to its bow, some we can springboard off for a temporary gain in traffic (Google Lens, anyone? I’ve said too much :P). What we want to do is create value. Add to the conversation instead of re-writing it but with different keywords.
At the end of the day, Google is just creating a list of best guesses whenever you search for something. If you can create something of actual value and teach it to your users, given enough time, you will rank well.
Rule 4. Do less, but better
There’s a fair bit of this rule which is just an addendum to rule two. I just feel like it needs to be its own rule.
Do less. Do the things that work.
If I’m going to be super specific about this, let me know if this is your team right now.
Someone told you, or you read that “recentness” is a ranking factor. How often you post is what makes Google take notice of you and therefore you must publish new content every 2 – 3 days?
The reality of this usually looks like 5 – 600 word posts, with huge images to make it seem longer. Offering less value to the end-user than a Buzzfeed quiz about what bread you are. I’m a house Sourdough if you were curious. 🍞
Stop doing this.
In every single case, I’d prefer you to write ONE post a month. Not 10, not 2 a week. Not 4.
Give the content time to breathe. Give yourself time to produce value.
Take the time to put something you’re proud of out into the world.
And make it good. If you “finish” the post and feel like you’ve not done the topic justice, do not publish it. Do better. Make better things.
It’s a privilege to fail in publicJack Butcher
But, let’s at least not stack it at the first hurdle though.
Here are a few other ways to do less, but better.
Don’t publish a new blog piece and immediately spam an entire email list to try and get links. Instead, start with a few. Write them a personalised message about the blog piece and how you listened to them. How you took that advice and made better content because of it.
Back to rule three, but don’t make a shit load of changes to your site, find yourself doing better and work yourself into the ground. Do it slower, what changes had the biggest influence?
Do better research before writing. Ask what people actually want first, don’t just assume. Take these suggestions from your audience and align it with a keyword strategy. You already have a small audience of people who want to read it beforehand, so no more publish and donut traffic. 0. 🍩
Rule Everything. Don’t be an SEO only
Welcome to the Anti SEO SEO Club where we rank things on Google without doing SEO…
Let me explain because this is the approach you should be taking to SEO or content. I learned this the hard way. When your face is so close to the grindstone, you fail to see the rest of the shop.
It’s got two main meanings to me.
1. Don’t do things that only an SEO would do
I read this first in one of Matt Diggity’s courses. And the more I talk to people in this space and work in this space, the more accurate it becomes.
We’re not out here building PBNs, or creating a press release for every blog post. We’re not building pages with URL slugs to precisely match every LSI of the main keywords we want to rank for. We’re certainly not building fucking Google stacks or blasting forum signature links.
If what you’re about to do, only an SEO would do. Think twice. Then once more, for safety. Then don’t fucking do it.
We want sustainable, compounding growth. Not search console manual penalties.
2. Don’t just be an SEO
Think about how what you’re doing plays into the greater picture. One of the bigger takeaways I had from my days as Head of SEO was how my work and content created had such a pivotal role in everything else we were doing within the agency. How it formed the foundation that pretty much everything else built from.
When I say “Don’t just be an SEO”, I mean look at the overlaps, what supports what. Where else is a company/site getting a benefit from your work that isn’t just better rankings or higher organic traffic?
Here’s a few for you 😀
- Fixing site speed? Nice, we rank higher. But, it also reduces bounce rate due to a faster loading website. This means landing pages for ads now have a better return, meaning better ROI on ad spend.
- Creating a long-form guide to showcase expertise? This can be slightly reworded and used as a script for the accompanying video. Or the step by step part can be passed to social for the ten slides of your new Insta post.
By thinking outside of “just SEO” you’ll get a much stronger understanding of the role it plays and how you can help those in charge of the other facets in marketing.
That’s it for now. Once I’ve got a few more I’ll be sure to update the post and let you know.
Let me know your content and SEO rules? I’d love to know the lessons people have learnt from time spent playing the wonderful game of Google.