What good is it for any of us to write all these amazing stories and poems when none of it gets seen? Most of us are writing and creating all these beautiful characters and imagery so we can share it with others. And it is so frustrating when we only get one or two likes here and there on something that we’ve slaved over.
Yeah, some times the fix is just sharing it on social media or asking others to pass it along to their friends and family. But this feels a little hopeless.
Or you have to pay Google or Facebook to promote your work on your behalf. And let’s face it – that gets expensive pretty quickly.
Thankfully, we can use SEO to drive traffic to your author website. I’m going to breakdown what SEO is, the benefits and drawbacks of using SEO, and how to apply simple tips to your own site.
What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?
First up, I want to say that yes, SEO is super dull and technical. It’s not my favorite thing in the world, but it controls the internet, and we need it to be successful. There is a firm correlation between book marketing and SEO. If you can master it, then the chance of your book doing better is almost guaranteed.
With that said, let’s get into our definition of search engine optimization:
Search Engine Optimization: is the process of maximizing the number of visitors to a particular website by ensuring that the site appears high on the list of results returned by a search engine.
In plain speak, it’s driving people to your website, content, stories, etc. by making sure you appear on the first page of Google, Bing, Yahoo!, or your favorite search engine.
How do we drive traffic to our website?
Well, there are a few things that you can do, and it boils down two things: on-page and off-page factors. On-page SEO factors are all those things you can influence from within your actual website. This can include technical (quality of code and site speed) and content-related (the structure of your website and quality of copy) aspects.
Off-page factors include links from other websites, social media attention, and other marketing activities outside your own site. This is where things get complicated because you want to make sure that you’re linking your readers back to quality and relevant information, and you want other quality and related sites to link back to you.
Another thing affecting off-page factors is what market you’re in or targeting. If you’re in a highly-competitive market, like writing how-to articles for fiction writers, then it’s going to harder to rank on Google. (Don’t worry, there are things you can do to get top positions on Google in a saturated market.)
First and foremost, though, we’re not trying to trick the Google algorithm into ranking us as the best website on the internet, but you do want to make your website as search engine friendly as possible. This means that you need to continually work on your SEO efforts. I can assure you, though, that the hassles that come with SEO don’t outweigh the benefits.
The Benefits and Drawbacks of Using SEO
Before we go into the specifics of what you need to do and keep in mind when it comes to SEO, I want to go over the benefits and drawbacks of SEO. Let’s start off with the cons:
- Google’s algorithm is always changing. In all honesty, what I am telling you right now, will probably be out of date by the end of the month. That’s because the algorithm that Google uses is powered by artificial intelligence, and it’s learning all the time. Thankfully, Google does let us know about the big things that their algorithm looks for, which is, in essence, what your users are looking for. (Moz has an article that covers the need to know information for the January 2020 update.)
- You have to continually update your site. As previously stated, the algorithm changes all the time, which means that you’re going to have to tweak your content regularly to make sure you stay on page one.
- Content audits are necessary. This means that you should be going through your site at least once a year to go through all of your webpages, landing pages, blog posts, social media posts, etc. to make sure that everything is in tip-top shape. It can be a lot of work, especially if you have a lot of content on your site. (If you’re interested in conducting a review of your content – let me know, I’ve got some resources and personal experience.)
- It takes time away from writing fiction. This takes time and some trial and error before you get it right, which means that you may have to put off writing your novel for a day or two. And if you need to make a deadline, then this might not be high on your to-do list.
- It can get expensive. Depending on what your priorities are, SEO might not be high on your list of things to do. I get that! Thankfully, there are companies and freelancers out there that can help you figure out what your SEO strategy is and implement it for you. Of course, this comes at a cost – and it can get quite expensive. And to make things even worse, there are companies out there that “guarantee” to get you the highest-ranking spot. So make sure you do your research before hiring anyone.
I know this sounds like a lot of work, but some benefits come our way if we put in the effort. I don’t know about you, but I know that I want my content to be read and enjoyed.
Still not convinced? Well, here are some of the benefits of using SEO:
- You can increase organic traffic to your website. And what you want that traffic to do is entirely up to you. You can sell your book or grow your email list. All are important if you’re going to be a successful author.
- Increased traffic = Increased chance of landing a traditional publishing contract. The Big Five publishers want to make money. They want to make sure that anyone they sign is going to sell books. When they look at your manuscript, they also look at your following, making it vitally important that you’re active on social media and have an email list. SEO can help you gain more followers.
- You can do it for free – or nearly free. All you need is some time, patience, and the willingness to learn. There are also a bunch of companies, like Yoast, that offer free training tools or plugins to help you optimize your content. Plus, there are a bunch of free online articles to help you apply SEO to your own site.
- It builds your brand, brand awareness, and reputation. As authors, we are our brand. It’s how we want to present ourselves to the world and our readers. Being at the top of the search rankings can make you seem more trustworthy, and it puts you at the forefront of everyone’s mind, making more people want to check out your content.
SEO can be a major headache or the thing you’ve been hoping for. And it’s very much needed to get ahead in this world. (Google has also nicely offered up this guide for anyone who is starting to use SEO.)
Now, how do we apply it?
How Authors Can Apply SEO to Their Website
SEO works on two levels: on-page and off-page – and we need to optimize both aspects. I’m not going to dive too deeply into either one, but I am going to give you some essential tips that you can easily apply to your content today and that I have been using on my own site.
1. Keywords are the linchpin to your SEO content strategy
You cannot rank on Google – or anywhere else – without a keyword. What are keywords, you ask? Well, they are:
Keywords: are words or phrases that are entered into Google (or any search engine) and pulls up results related to the words or phrases.
In layman’s terms, this is the stuff that you type in when you’re looking for something on the internet. It can be as simple as “fiction definition” or as complex as “what’s the best way to kill off my character?”
You can’t just throw all these keywords around your website, though. It’s a bit more complicated than that. You have to do some keyword research to see which keywords that a) you would like to rank for, b) what your target audience searches for, and c) which ones are the least saturated. You can go for saturated keywords, but the likelihood of your content being seen is a lot lower.
Here’s a quick video for you on how Yoast thinks keyword research should be done:
Here are some keywords that you should consider using for your author’s website:
- your name
- your book titles
- your genre / subgenre
- languages specific to your book
- themes covered in your book
- geographical setting
Your keywords don’t have to be limited to the list above. They can include a whole host of things, and you’re going to need a different one for each page. I know for each blog post that I write, I have a specific keyword in mind, and you can see it everywhere in the post.
Which brings me to my next point.
2. Include your relevant keywords throughout your content
And by throughout your content, I mean, throughout your content. It should be in your title, URL, headings, subheadings, first paragraph/sentence, and throughout the body of your page or post.
For an excellent example of this in play, here is the Ultimate Guide to the Northern Lights in Iceland. It’s a first ranking guide on Google, and I can immediately pick out what the keywords are here: “northern lights” and “Iceland.”
As you scroll through the article, you’ll notice that the words “northern lights” and “Iceland” are in the title, URL, headings, subheadings, etc. They are peppered throughout the entire article. They’re even present in the images and videos used to enhance the material, bringing me to my next point.
3. Use images, videos, and podcasts to boost your SEO
The Google bots and algorithms do look at the photos and videos that you use to supplement your written content. So make sure that the content you’re putting on the page is relevant to the keyword and topic of your article.
They also encourage your readers to stay on the webpage longer. And if they stay longer, then it tells Google that your content has some value to that person. If that person is looking for things to link to, then that’s even better for your SEO.
When you embed them into a WordPress post, for example, Google can crawl through your site and pick them up, helping you rank higher for those particular forms of content as well.
According to Neil Patel, videos and podcasts don’t give you a huge boost when compared to written content and infographics. It does create an emotional resonance with his audience and brand, meaning that you can apply the same tactics as he does to garner similar results, which, in a roundabout way, helps your SEO.
Plus, looking at big picture SEO industry things, videos, and podcasts are gaining a lot of popularity on the internet. This means that Google’s algorithm is going to be looking to rank these forms of content at some point. Why not get ahead of the game?
4. The user experience (UX) is king.
As the Nielson Norman Group puts it:
“User experience” (UX) encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.
Believe it or not, authors are entrepreneurs who run a business. Our business is the creation and selling of our brain-babies – our books. And UX is all about making the customers happy.
And once you have people coming to your site, you’re going to need to make things easy for them, so they stay on your website.
For us authors, it means that we have to make sure that our readers (customers) get to our book-selling page, our free story page, or other forms of written content. But UX doesn’t stop there. It’s making sure that our links and email lists are working correctly. That people can navigate our website easily.
It boils down to how our websites operate, and considering that most of our online traffic is moving to a mobile world, our websites need to be compatible with that format. So make sure that you have a website design/theme that makes it easy for site visitors to use on a computer and their mobile devices.
This Copyblogger article goes over some of the best WordPress themes, plugins, and hosting services from 2018. Why read it when it’s outdated? Well, it’ll give you a good idea of what to look for to help optimize the speed of your site.
5. You need to up your linking game
Speaking of linking to articles. There are three types of links that your website should have:
- Inbound. This is when other sites link to you, and you’re going to need to talk to other people to make this happen. But not any outside link to you is worth its salt. You want quality websites linking to your blog, and this article by SEO consultant Steve Napier will tell you why. For those of you who would rather stick 1,000 needles in your eye instead of talking to someone, I’ve got good news for you! There are other ways to gain inbound links, such as linking to your site on social media, guest blogging, and appearing on podcasts, to name a few.
- Outbound. You’re linking to others on this one. You want to link to a couple of relevant, quality, external links per post – and try to remember to let the link owners know. It may just get you a link back, and networking is a good thing. Moderating comments to filter out spam and commenting on your posts also help your SEO.
- Internal. Linking to previous posts or to other pages on your website encourages people to stay on your site longer, and the search engines notice this. I personally try to link to at least two separate blog posts of mine per article.
While these last few points deal with on-page aspects of SEO, let’s look at some critical off-page things that you need to do to help boost SEO.
6. Include compelling content in search engine summary listing
I’m going to let a guest blogger from The Creative Penn tell you about this one:
The main bits of your page information that appear in search engine listings are: page title, URL and page description. Make sure these are as inviting as possible, to encourage people to click.
How to do this, you may ask? There is a quick and easy bit of research you can engage in over your next cup of coffee:
- Enter search terms people may use to find your site, until you see a Google Ad at the top of the search listings. For example, “illustrated books”. (This may take a few attempts as there won’t be Google Ads for every search term).
- Notice what words the ads use in their page titles and descriptions. As people are paying for these adverts, you can virtually guarantee you’re looking at the winning results of testing, and therefore stand the best chance for that site to get clicks.
- Use similar words (obviously as long as they are relevant to your content), in your page titles and meta descriptions.
The meta description of a page isn’t displayed on the actual page, only in snippets such as search engine results, social media links, etc.
Although search engines no longer rely on it to determine what your page is about (their spider bots can now access all the text on your page in order to get a clearer idea of this), a quality description of each page on your site has a small impact on your page ranking.
Expert tip: don’t provide the complete answer to a user’s question in your page description. They need to click through to your site to help your search engine ranking, and if you offer total satisfaction in your text snippet, they’ll have no need to click through.
** There are tools out there that can help you do all of this finicky stuff, like Yoast SEO.
The hardest thing for you to do on the list above is to figure out your keywords. Like I said, they’re the lynchpin.
However, all of this is going to be moot if you don’t have great content. I’m not going to get into depth about that here, but I will say that you need to check your spelling and grammar people. There are a lot of blogs out there that have excellent content, but the spelling, grammar, and formatting issues turn me – and other visitors – away from that particular post.
Regardless, I know this is a lot of information to take on in one sitting, so thank you for joining me today. I hope it wasn’t too dull and that you learned a lot.
Are any of you tackling SEO right now? Any questions? Anything that I missed? Please leave your thoughts below!
That’s it for me this week. We will be looking at what great content looks like next week on Tuesday, followed by a discussion on networking.
I hope everyone has a great weekend!
Until next time, please stay safe!