“We orient ourselves in the darkness of the unknown by grasping blindly for familiar points of reference, and we seek to construct out of them a kind of compass… We seek tangibles like ‘the market’ to orient ourselves in this maze of merit and meaning, but I really believe most people—all people—have the capacity to not orient ourselves to what’s been done, what’s been thought, to the market, to the familiar, [but to] try ever so gently to expand our private locus of the possible.”—Maria Popova
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Never lose sight of your work’s ultimate purpose; that’s the work we’re here to do
Before we dive into the theory and mechanics of SEO, I want to share a wise piece of advice from marketing expert and digital entrepreneur, Seth Godin. In his blog post Give the people what they want, he says:
“Give the people what they want isn’t nearly as powerful as teaching people what they need.
There’s always a shortcut available, a way to be a little more ironic, cheaper, more instantly understandable. There’s the chance to play into our desire to be entertained and distracted, regardless of the cost. Most of all, there’s the temptation to encourage people to be selfish, afraid and angry.
Or you can dig in, take your time and invest in a process that helps people see what they truly need. When we change our culture in this direction, we’re doing work worth sharing.”
I want to encourage you to keep Seth’s advice in mind as you work through this course, asking yourself as we go how you can use the tools and strategies that I share to serve your work’s ultimate purpose, rather than manipulating your purpose to chase whatever you think will have the highest number of clicks. Never lose sight of the fact that we’re going for quality over quantity. There’s no point getting more search traffic if it’s not the right kind of people who are discovering your work, after all.
Remember, there’s room for you, your work, your unique perspective, and contribution. The online landscape is always shifting and changing, and the key is to learn how to use as many of the available tools and strategies for growth as you can, and then pick and choose between them to make them work for you.
Make this work your own
SEO is very often misunderstood, both by people who want to use it without understanding that it’s not a trick that can magically bring more people to your website, and by people who think it will require them to write about things they’re not truly interested in writing about.
On this course I’m going to be teaching you (amongst other things) how to find out what people are searching for, and I’ll be sharing some spreadsheets and making suggestions for how to organise your thoughts and ideas. But I want you to bear this important fact in mind all the while as you learn: just because someone is searching for something, it doesn’t mean you have to give it to them.
Similarly, just because no one is really searching for what you want to share yet, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep sharing it. (We’ll get deeper into this question later on in the course.) There are always points of potential connection and overlap with your ideal audience—just not necessarily the ones you might immediately think of.
And, just because I’ve shared a template, spreadsheet, or a process that has worked for me, a client, or another student, it doesn’t mean that you have to use it. I would encourage you to download and explore all the resources I share, read the lessons, and watch the videos—and then figure out what method or system is going to work best for you. I’ve shared the processes that I find helpful for me and that have worked for some of my clients and colleagues, but there is no such thing as a universal or infallible system.
If spreadsheets really turn you off, you won’t be able to force yourself to fill them out or keep them updated, and I don’t want them to hang over your head as yet another thing you “should” be doing. I’ll try and suggest alternative ways to sort and organise your work as we go, but do remember to think outside the box and ultimately to choose whatever system works for you, one that you feel comfortable using.
You need to get really clear on your work’s purpose, your own style, and who you’re trying to serve before you start researching how people are using Google; when you go about things with this mindset, you’ll find that your research sparks ideas that feel like you, rather than feeling like you have to force yourself to write about things you’re not genuinely interested in, or in a style that just doesn’t feel natural.
At no point should you ever feel like you’re talking in a voice that’s not your own just to be SEO-friendly.
My goal is to help you to see how SEO is connected to everything that you do online, and making it such a habitual way of thinking that it eventually feels completely intuitive.
Throughout this course, we’ll get really clear about who you’re serving with your content, why and how they’re searching for someone just like you, how to find those natural connection points, and how to make them really welcome when they do find you, so that they’re inclined to stick around and become a part of your community.
Developing SEO-friendly habits and ways of thinking about how you present your work online is beneficial in so many different ways; not only will it help you understand how search works on a deeper level and make optimising your work for search feel natural and easy, it will also help you improve your website and serve your readers, customers, and clients better. Because, at the end of the day, you can’t separate out SEO from all the other elements of your online work.
So, what do we mean when we talk about SEO?
You might have heard people talking about content SEO versus technical SEO. Essentially, content SEO is all about words or actual content you’re creating and how you share it, while technical SEO is about making sure the structure and functionality of your website is working well and optimised for users and for search engines. I’ll touch on some elements of technical SEO in this course, because it’s important that things are set up and running well, but we’ll be much more focused on content SEO—the content research, planning, writing, and sharing bits.
I like to break down content SEO into these two categories:
1. Your website and everything you publish on it—what you do here depends on your work, and who you’re trying to serve or reach with your work
2. Your relationship with the rest of the Internet, i.e. all of the work you do that’s not on your website.
The first two modules of the course will cover the first element of SEO—you and your website—and the third module addresses the second. In the fourth module, we’ll turn our attention back to your website to look at how you can use the information available to you about your website visitors and how they’re finding you, to grow and connect with even more like-minded people.
To me, SEO is all about sharing your work and telling your story in a thoughtful and intentional way, and even as we explore the more technical side of SEO, this is the constant thread and theme throughout everything you’ll be learning here with me.
We’re in this for the long-game
SEO is that it isn’t a quick fix; it can take months of doing the work before you can see significant growth, and maybe even a full year to understand how seasonal search patterns are impacting the search traffic to your website. It was only after working on Verily’s SEO for nine months that I was able to step back and take a look at the analytics to see how much our search traffic had grown. Deep, steady growth takes time—but it’s worth it.
What we’ll cover in this course
Including the introduction and conclusion, there are six parts to this course. Briefly, here’s what you can expect to learn in each section:
We’re starting our time together in this section of the course by establishing the mindset that will help your approach to SEO stand the test of time (and ever-evolving algorithms), as well as exploring some of the analytics tools available to you so that you’re ready to take your knowledge of your existing and future audience deeper.
– Section One: Laying the Foundations: You & Your Audience
In this module, we’ll explore the importance of thinking about your work’s purpose and ideal audience, how you can best serve them and speak to them in language that sparks connection, and why you need to know these things to help them find your website via search traffic. You’ll learn how to find the right keywords to optimise your website for your ideal customers and search engines.
– Section Two: Putting Your Best Foot Forward: Your Website
Next, we’ll take a detailed look at all of the elements of your website, and explore how you can use those keywords to make it more search-friendly without compromising your values, interests, and unique voice, as well as making it a place that delights, inspires, and engages your ideal audience so that they stick around, keep coming back, share it with their friends, and become life-long fans and supporters of your work.
– Section Three: Your Relationship With the Rest of the Internet: Community and Outreach
This module is all about how the off-website work you do impacts your website’s search traffic. We’ll cover how to build community and collaborate with other websites to increase your authority in Google’s eyes, why crafting “newsworthy” content is the best way to grow your authority, and how social media relates to SEO. You’ll learn a few special ways to optimise your website for local search traffic if you have a bricks-and-mortar business, and we’ll also explore Pinterest SEO, and how to use it to help you grow your website traffic.
– Section Four: Using Information to Shape Your Approach to SEO
Now I’ll walk you through how to set goals and realistic expectations, and track the results of your hard work to make sure it’s working. We’ll also explore how to plan future content based on what you’ve learned about demand from your ideal audience, and how to go back and optimise old content to bring in more search traffic over time. This module is all about taking everything you’ve learned and figuring out what your priorities should be, so that you can create a realistic and manageable workflow that will reduce your stress and free up your time for the most important things.
Finally, you’ll get acquainted with all of the technical language that people use when talking about SEO—and don’t worry, this part won’t be as painful as it sounds, because you’ll have already learned the core concepts (plus, some of the terminology along the way) in earlier modules. Learning how to use the jargon correctly will empower you stay on top of developments in the online world, and give you the tools you need to take your knowledge of search deeper if you want to in the future.
I’ll also summarise some key do‘s and don’ts so you can consolidate your knowledge of the best practices we’ve learned throughout the course, along with a list of helpful tools and resources that you can use to keep growing your website traffic via search for years to come.
Bonus content, taking the overwhelm-free route, and info on Q&As
This resource was originally two separate entities: one in-depth introduction to SEO for beginners who wanted to go deep, and another that I ran as a mini “anti-overwhelm” mastermind for people who already had basic SEO knowledge but feel too overwhelmed to implement (I ran this one live, releasing new lessons every week and working on the assignments together during co-working time/office hours). Teaching SEO this way, I learned that most people who took the in-depth course found themselves overwhelmed at one point or another, and people who joined the anti-overwhelm mastermind occasionally had questions that I answered in more depth in the first course.
So, as I move to focus more on my own writing and work as a freelance Content Manager and SEO writer, I decided to simplify what I offer both for your sake and for mine: I’ve merged my two courses and added a local SEO workshop I ran for brick-and-mortar businesses in 2020 as bonus content so it’s all here for you to dip in and out of any time you like.
You can choose whether to work through the whole thing start to finish, scroll down to find The Anti-Overwhelm Kit and just work your way through that, ignoring the rest for now—or toggle between it as you need.
I’ll also be inviting you to live Q&A workshops and co-working content planning sessions that I’ll host twice a year, once in the Spring and another time in the Autumn, and I’ll be adding new bonuses and updates from time to time, too, so make sure you keep an eye on your inbox for updates from me about those opportunities. It will all be here for you in one place, so you never need to purchase another course or workshop from me to benefit from all of that.
In the next lesson, I’ll walk you through some of the key elements of SEO, and what Google themselves want you to know about it all, to help you further develop the right mindset from the get-go.