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The not-so-secret trick to achieving great Google rankings
And why did an SEO expert want to speak to ME?!
This week, I was interviewed by someone who’s due to give a talk at Vidcon in California. The subject of his talk is “modern SEO practices to drive traffic to your site” and he wanted to get the inside track on how I’ve managed to rank my own website on Google.
This guy, Jon Henshaw, is the Senior Director of SEO at Vimeo. Put simply, when it comes to the technical aspects of ensuring a website performs well on Google, he knows his onions.
I don’t really know my onions at all. In fact, the way in which I’ve managed to achieve high rankings on Google for certain blog posts is a mixture of luck and the most basic grasp of SEO (search engine optimisation).
But it works. It’s repeatable. And I think it’s a great lesson for anyone who wants to follow in my footsteps.
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To put some context around this, my website achieves between three to four thousand unique hits a day. It’s chock-full of ads (this strategy will one day be replaced by dedicated sponsors) but it also acts as the starting point for most videos that end up on my YouTube channel. If you weren’t aware, before any of those videos see the light of day, they start life as a blog post on markellisreviews.com.
My website generates decent revenue from those ads, too. So, it’s an incredibly important part of my production process and monthly revenue. What might surprise you, however, is that I haven’t spent a single penny on it. Literally nothing. The design and WordPress build were undertaken by yours truly in 2020, and I’ve not once turned to Google Ads or the services of an SEO expert.
You may, therefore, wonder what caught Jon’s attention. Well, it was my review of the reMarkable 2 tablet, which consistently competes for space on the hallowed page one of Google search results, alongside some huge tech media players. He wanted to know what I did to ensure such high rankings for that blog post (and others, which are achieving similar success).
My answer was embarrassingly short. I told Jon that I simply created a title that included the most obvious keywords, added those keywords to the image alt tags, and wrote a meta description that included - you guessed it - the same keywords. Oh, and I just wrote the damn thing naturally and with my audience in mind.
Search engine optimisation used to be a game of cat and mouse. ‘Experts’ would find the latest way to trick Google into ranking their website highly (for instance, stuffing the page with hidden keywords) and, as soon as the big ‘G’ caught up and slammed the door shut on that particular practice, they’d move onto the next.
This was utterly stupid. It was nothing more than the practice of forcing websites to rank highly by gaming the system. It didn’t take the audience into consideration at all; the end game was to ensure your website appeared on page one of Google via any means necessary. If that happened, you’d won.
Only, you hadn’t, because as Google grew smarter, its algorithm became more audience-centric. We shouldn’t forget that Google’s mission is to “organise the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful”. It can only do that if it serves the right content to the right people at the right time. My reMarkable 2 review is an example of a piece of content which was written with the audience in mind; SEO played second fiddle to that and was the last, rushed part of the process before hitting ‘publish’. That doesn’t matter - Google recognises that it’s relevant, timely, and designed for the people who are seeking that information.
I’m not suggesting that SEO is a waste of time - it categorically isn’t. In fact, I’m in awe of people like Jon who have a deep understanding of that practice. I just don’t need to invest in it for my business. As things stand, I’m doing very well applying the common sense approach to SEO within my little media empire.
The moral of this story is one I turn to so often. If you want your website to rank highly on Google, don’t be drawn into SEO contracts, link building, or Google Ads. Just create great, relevant content for your audience and keep doing it. That’s all Google wants you to do.