I couldn’t help but laugh…
Thinking about the SEO package I was creating for a new client, I was visualizing milk and cookies.
If that seems like a weird association, you’re not wrong. But it also makes sense if you think about it. Let me explain.
SEO Marketing: The Good, Bad, and Ugly
For years, search engine optimization has been key to driving organic traffic to your website. But these days, SEO isn’t restricted to Google or Bing. Every platform has its own search engine (especially new social media platforms like TikTok).
Today, SEO is crucial for every type of content, no matter where it’s published. Done right, it can significantly boost the visibility of your content and brand.
You know the process…
The user types in a query and, like magic, the search algorithm goes to work. In a split second, it scans for relevant keywords in every piece of content it has access to. It reviews the content itself, related metadata, captions, and even video subtitles, looking for the most relevant information that could answer their question.
SEO is the process of improving each of these elements to ensure your content ranks higher on the search engine results pages (SERPs). Like a midafternoon cookie break, it’s a sweet process for both the publisher and the user.
Enter marketers, hackers, and black hatters…
Since the inception of search engines, people have made it their business to game the system. To rank, they want to use shortcuts and tricks over value and originality. Or worse, they want to mislead and misdirect, so they can achieve their own dark plans.
Over the years, this has led to low-value, generic content, keyword stuffing, and a lot of game-playing.
But algorithms are smart. They can see a bought or bargained-for link from a mile away. If a low-quality website has tons of backlinks, they know something’s up. And they’ll penalize everyone playing along.
That’s why search engines keep updating their algorithms. It’s also why there are so many rules around good SEO.
You’ve got to play nice to win the game.
Good SEO, Like Milk and Cookies
The brain is its own search engine with its own weird algorithm. I’m not sure why mine decided to associate a jug of milk with SEO. But the more I thought about it, the more I liked it.
As I mentioned above, SEO done right benefits everyone, connecting your content with the people who are most likely to want to see it. But done wrong, SEO can turn sour, like a jug of milk that sat on the kitchen counter too long.
Bad SEO — whether it’s done poorly or to game the system — gives users irrelevant information that doesn’t answer their questions. After investing time and energy into creating the content, it gives you little or no traffic and often ranks worse than before.
To understand why, you have to think like a search engine.
Search engines have one job: to give users the best possible information for the query. If you help it do its job by providing value for the end user, it will reward you by serving up your content first.
But if you interfere with its efforts, making it seem like your content is about one thing when it’s really about something else, or by creating low-value, shallow content that doesn’t actually help the user, search engines have no reason to rank your content.
If anything, they’ll push it back in the search engine results so no one can find it. Because no one wants to see bad content. Just like no one wants to drink sour milk or eat stale cookies.
Good SEO is like a glass of cold milk with fresh-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookies — my favorite snack when I was a kid. I still have warm memories of getting home from school and finding my mother pulling a batch of cookies out of the oven.
And that’s the point.
Good SEO makes people happy. It helps them find answers to their questions and solutions to their problems.
It also gets eyeballs on your content.
If your content ranks at the top of the SERPs (search engine results pages), your content can attract floods of qualified traffic to your website. If you’re producing engaging content on social media platforms, those platforms will show your content to anyone who engages with similar content.
And all you have to do is optimize it with the appropriate keywords.
SEO Done Right
Bottom line, SEO works if you know how to do it right. Don’t slap a few keywords on an article or video and expect to rank. High-volume keywords are competitive, which means you need to be strategic.
To get results from your SEO efforts, you need to focus on four things: user intent, quality content, on-page optimization, and trust signals.
1. User intent
SEO starts with keyword research. You need to find the right keywords to attract the right people at the right stage of the buyer journey.
You also need to consider user intent, the information the user is likely looking for when they enter the keyword in their search query.
To illustrate, let’s look at keywords related to the term “social media marketing.”
Each of these keywords has a different search intent.
When someone searches for “social media marketing agency” or “social media marketing companies,” they’re likely looking for help with their social media. Their intent is to find an agency or list of companies to evaluate, not to learn social media best practices.
When someone searches for “social media marketing jobs” or “social media marketing salary,” on the other hand, they’re considering social media as a career choice. If you’re an agency looking for clients, these aren’t your best keywords.
The goal of SEO is to drive qualified organic traffic. You need to choose keywords that your best prospects are searching for, and you need to create content for those keywords that provide the information they need at that moment.
So, for instance, you might optimize one article for “social media marketing strategy” to target people who are trying to step up their social media marketing. Then “social media marketing services” for people who are thinking about hiring help. And finally, “social media marketing agency” for people who are actively looking for an agency.
This allows you to boost traffic from people at every stage of the buyer journey, all of them with the right search intent.
2. Quality content
Low-quality content doesn’t help anyone, which is why search engines do their best to avoid ranking it.
Google has even created an acronym for the type of content they’re most willing to rank: E-E-A-T, or Double EAT. It stands for:
This may be designed for SEO, but it’s a good guideline for all your content. If you share your insights, knowledge, and experience in a way that serves your audience, your content will stand out. Period.
3. On-page optimization
Optimization is how you communicate your content’s topic to both your audience and search bots. It’s key to ranking well in search results.
To be clear, search bots, also known as spiders or crawlers, scan every web page or post available to them and rank content they feel is relevant whether it was actively optimized or not. But we can help the process along by giving search bots the information they need to read the page accurately.
It starts with knowing what people are searching for. Always remember, we create content for humans, not bots. You need to know the exact phrases or keywords people are using to search for information and then include those terms in your content so search engines can easily make the connection.
There are a few ways to identify your best keywords:
- Know your target audience and the questions they ask
- Use Google Trends to compare similar terms
- Use SEO tools such as Semrush or Ubersuggest
For instance, when looking for a keyword for this article, I first chose my topic and angle. Then as I began writing, I identified a few recurring phrases that seemed to capture my message.
Was there any search volume around those terms? I had no idea until I looked them up in Ubersuggest.
Search volume tells you how many people are searching each month for a particular word or phrase. It’s a good proxy for how interested your audience will be in an article around that topic.
As you can see, the “seed” or top-level keyword “SEO” has a huge search volume. It’s also got a difficulty rating of 79, which means lots of sites are trying to rank for it, making it very difficult to rank for.
On the other hand, only about 10 people search each month for “SEO done right.” And with a difficulty rating of just 13, it should be easy to rank for.
As your keywords get more specific, you’ll notice that search volume goes down, but your ability to rank goes up. Finding the sweet spot is the key.
Choosing your keywords: 2 approaches
Strategically, you can approach keywords in a few different ways. You can do as I did for this article, writing first and then researching the best keyword for your message. Or you can select the keyword and create your content specifically for the people searching for it. There are pros and cons to each.
Creating your content first:
- Con: You may, without realizing it, choose a topic that no one is interested in. Then you’ll need to decide whether to publish the content anyway or scrap it and start again.
- Pro: Your content will be fresh and original because it wasn’t written for bots.
Choosing your keyword first:
- Con: It’s too easy to write for bots rather than humans, giving you boring content that looks like every other post aiming to rank for that keyword.
- Pro: You can know how many people are interested in the topic and your chances of ranking for it before you start creating content.
Optimizing the page
Once you’ve chosen your keywords, on-page SEO tactics ensure your page or post has the best chance of ranking.
For blog content, you need to include your keyword in five places:
- The title
- The introduction
- In a heading or subheading
- Throughout the body of the article
- In metadata, especially the meta title and description
For social media content or videos, include your keyword in these strategic places:
- The title
- The post’s caption or description
- Video subtitles
This tells search bots what your content is about, so when someone searches for that information, it knows to deliver your content.
4. Trust signals
Trust is one of the most important signals in SEO. When people search for information, they want real answers to real questions. They want helpful content. And they want to know you’re a valid source of that information.
Google gauges your trustworthiness by what you say about yourself and what others say about you, as well as reviews and comments on the page.
They’re also sensitive to the user experience you provide. For example, if a page takes too long to load or has ads that pop up and move the content up and down, that creates a bad experience. And that lowers your trust rating.
They also consider the purpose of the page. If there’s any evidence that the page is trying to harm or deceive, it will be given a low E-E-A-T score. If the creator has a conflict of interest, that could also taint your trust levels.
As Google says in the Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines:
The website or content creator may not be a trustworthy source if there is a clear conflict of interest. For example, product reviews by people who own the product and share their experiences can be very valuable and trustworthy. However, “reviews” by the product manufacturer ( “Our product is great!” ) or “reviews” from an influencer who is paid to promote the product are not as trustworthy due to the conflict of interest.
One final trust signal is backlinks, or links on other websites that lead back to your website. For website content, there’s no stronger trust signal than links from other trusted websites. If you’ve published quality content that’s well-optimized for search but is still struggling to rank, this may be the missing piece of the puzzle.
Reputable backlinks tell Google that other people see you as a trusted source of information. That, combined with the expert knowledge you share in your content, can convince them that your content is worth ranking.
Good SEO is crucial to any long-term marketing strategy. The key is to do it right. Make sure you’re creating quality content. Understand the nuances of optimizing that content. And pay attention to your trust signals.
To be clear, I still don’t understand why my brain connected SEO with milk and cookies. But I’m happy to run with it. SEO done right really can improve your brand authority, traffic, and growth. And there’s nothing sweeter than that.