When you launch a new website, every little win feels like cause for celebration.
So you can imagine the celebratory dance I did when I saw The Write Life had made it to the top of Google. It looked something like this:
Coming up first when someone searches for “The Write Life” has been one of my big goals since we launched the site for writers in mid-July, and it took nearly two months to get there. I care a lot about search because it’s the top referrer of traffic for every blog my team and I manage. Yet in this case, we were starting from zero, which is a totally different ballgame.
In this post, I’ll explain exactly what we did to become the first search result in Google.
Whenever I go over strategies like this, people inevitably say, “How did you have time to do all that?”
Here’s how: I have a team. A team of 10 awesome go-getters who run Socialexis client accounts and help with the ebooks and courses and webinars on this site. Two of those folks help specifically with The Write Life, one as a part-time social media strategist, the other a part-time editor.
So I’m not doing this all on my own. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make this work even if you’re a solopreneur; the goal here is to help you figure out which strategies will give you the most bang for your buck, so you can spend your hours in the most worthwhile way possible. Because whether the goal of your blog or website is to land clients, bring in sales or help you become an authority in your field, maximizing your search traffic will help you get there.
A quick disclaimer: I am not an SEO expert! I find this stuff fascinating, and I know enough to optimize content for clients and our own projects. But most of my SEO knowledge is editorial, not technical. In some ways, this probably works in my favor because all the SEO tactics we use are quality and organic, not spammy short-cuts. But it also means I’m likely missing some pieces of the puzzle that would do us good. Regardless, I think sharing what I do know will help you succeed with your next online project.
When it comes to Google, The Write Life has a lot of competition. There are quite a few blogs and publications called The Write Life, including The Write Life Magazine, which happened to launch just a month before our site.
So why would I choose a website name that plenty of people were already using? I could have easily chosen a domain other people hadn’t thought of, one that cost $12 through GoDaddy.com rather than the $1,000 I invested.
I went with The Write Life for three reasons:
1. I liked the name and thought it was perfect for conveying the meaning and purpose of the site
2. Having the keyword “write” in the title and domain would benefit our SEO
3. I believed we could out-rank everyone else who was already using the name The truth is, if a popular blogger had already been using The Write Life, I wouldn’t have gone for it. But the space was only full of small players, and I felt strongly that we’d beat them to the top.
So what exactly did we do to inch our way to the top of this ladder? Here’s what we focused on — and what you should consider for your blog, too.
The first step for ranking any site is awesome content. We put a ton of effort into convincing great writers to blog for us, so our site would truly be useful and entice readers to visit again and again. (Here’s a newsletter on how we created such a stellar launch team.)
As I explain in my free SEO webinar, you rarely want to write for SEO. Instead, the best approach to creating content that’s SEO-friendly is to write awesome content, then optimize it. (Click to tweet this idea.)
We’ll talk below about how to optimize that content, but just know that by writing quality content on topics your readers want to learn about, you will naturally cover a lot of your SEO bases. If you don’t have quality content, the rest of these tactics will do nothing for you.
But the opposite is true, too: ranking high in Google doesn’t happen just because you have good content. You’ve got to help that quality content find its legs. Which brings us to…
In addition to adding share buttons to your post, go out of your way to encourage sharing. Social can work like magic, if you make that magic happen.
Here’s what I mean. For every post that goes live on The Write Life, we…
And more. We’ve also paid for some Facebook ads — our only paid advertising so far.
The trick here is you’re not begging. If your post is top-notch and relevant to whoever you’re pitching it to, they’ll actually want to share it with their networks.
Spreading posts across our social network not only results in clicks, it also leads to pickups and shares on sites where we’re not active. Someone who sees one of our tweets might include the post in their weekly round-up, which gives us a great back-link (more on that below). Or the editor of a popular site might see a post they like in our newsletter and ask to feature it on their site. Each of these minor wins boosts our ranking in Google.
And we’re talking organic back-links, not spammy or reciprocal-agreement back-links that aren’t meaningful for the reader.
If I’m losing you here, a back-link is born when another site links back to your site. The best way to get back-links is to offer great content that readers want to share, but you can also get them by guest-posting for other blogs (I’ve got a free webinar on that very topic) or emailing bloggers and asking them to include a link to your site on a relevant resources page.
Not all back-links are created equal; Google gives you far more street-cred if a reputable site like Mashable or Lifehacker links to you than your neighbor whose blog only gets 30 visits a week. So if you’re working hard for back-links, go big.
If you do ONE thing to optimize your content, DO THIS. Making sure you use keywords in your headline that people actually type into Google will go a long way toward helping readers find your posts.
One tool I often keep open in a browser while optimizing headlines is Google Trends. It lets you compare two terms — say, “job search” and “job hunt” — to see which one people are more likely to search for in Google, so you can use that term in your headline. (“Job search” outperforms “job hunt,” by the way.)
Before writing this post, for example, I optimized several headlines for The Write Life, including one a writer had given a title that included “freelance writers.” I used Google Trends to determine that people search for “freelancers” more than they do “freelance writers” — so I used that word in the headline instead.
Unless your WordPress theme has an SEO optimizer built in — like the Genesis theme we’re using for The Write Life (affiliate link) — you’ll need to add a plugin to help you. Two that I highly recommend are Yoast and All in One SEO. Both will help you optimize your headlines and descriptions and add keywords that will attract readers to your site.
If you do this consistently, it will significantly increase your traffic. We added this to one of the large blogs we manage, and saw a huge subsequent jump in search traffic.
Add a title, description and ALT text, plus a caption if applicable. That ALT text is not only what your readers will see in their RSS feed or emails if they don’t enable images, it’s also what Google uses to determine whether to send people to your site. Fill ’em out!
When you link anchor text within your post — and link relevant anchor text, not “Click here” — take an extra 10 seconds to add a title to that link. This is just another tiny detail that helps Google realize how awesome you are.
We’ve recently added Google+ authorship to several of the blogs we manage because word on the street is it will increase search traffic, and we’re planning to add that feature to TWL soon, too. It will be a few months before we’ll be able to report back on whether those efforts have made a significant difference.
Plus, if you have trouble keeping track of all these little things you should do on each blog post, check out plugin No. 4 on this post from Search Engine Journal. We have yet to implement this in-post checklist, but I’m dying to give it a try.
We still have a lot of work to do. Even though we rank high for this one term, “The Write Life,” we’re only now beginning to see significant search traffic to specific posts.
That will come with time. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about launching a website, it’s that persistence is the key. Keep pushing, and you will get there.
What am I missing? What else should we do to help The Write Life kick butt in search? What tactics have you used to help your own sites rank?