14

How This Mommy Blogger Is Making $25,000+ Per Month With SEO [Video Case Study]

In today's video, I’m going to show you how a mommy blogger is making $25,000* per month with her site, all thanks to SEO. 

In this video case study, we’re going to look at how the blog momlovesbest.com is using powerful SEO techniques like niche relevance, proper site structure, targeted keyword research, epic content, and actively building backlinks to catapult their site up the Google rankings and make a killing in Amazon affiliate commissions.

My hope with this case study is that you can pull out some tips & tricks to help you improve your own SEO on your blog.

Be sure to watch the video and then read the notes below.

Traffic Estimates

According to SimilarWeb, which provides website traffic estimates, momlovesbest.com is getting nearly 600,000 visitors per month:

Now, you may be wondering: well this is a mommy blog, most of that traffic is probably from Pinterest.

Take a look at this next screenshot:

Yep. SimilarWeb is estimating that momlovesbest actually gets 90% of their traffic from Google, and only 1.5% from social media!

We can also check out Ahrefs to see what kind of organic traffic that they're estimating.

So Ahrefs is estimating around 500,000 organic visitors per month, but here's the thing:

Ahrefs' traffic estimates are notoriously on the low end. Like, 2x lower than the actual traffic.

Ok, ok — so plenty of blogs get 600,000+ pageviews per month and probably earn somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000 with ad revenue with AdThrive.

Why do I suspect this site is earning 5-6x that?

Make sure you watch the video because I get into that a lot more.

Here's a quick rundown of what we go over in the video:

Niche Relevance

If you’ve read any of the other content on this blog, you know I’m a big fan of creating a website that is niche relevant.

What does it mean to be “niche relevant”?

Basically, if your blog is all over the place, you’re going to have a harder time ranking simply because Google will not see you as an “expert” in any one niche.

But if you keep your blog content tightly relevant to one broader niche, Google will begin to see you as an expert — a one-stop shop who covers that topic in-depth — and will reward you with higher rankings.

And as you see in the video, momlovesbest.com does this exceptionally well.

Laser Focused Category Pages

While MomLovesBest covers the niche(s) of parenting & pregnancy pretty broadly, they are able to achieve even greater topical relevance by using laser-focused category pages ...

Where those category pages are entirely dedicated to covering only one sub-topic, such as "baby feeding" or "baby health & safety". 

By establishing these niched-down category pages, they have created a "silo environment" on the blog where Google is effectively treating these sub-categories almost like separate, "mini-blogs", which is a great tactic for niching down even further.

This concept is a little hard to properly explain in a blog post, so much sure you watch the video so you can see for yourself what I mean.

Targeted Keyword Research

One thing you'll notice right away when browsing the MomLovesBest site is that for every single post they publish, they have a clear plan of attack when it comes to targeting a specific keyword.

There is no such thing as a "random" post on this site. Every post is published with intention and purpose: they have identified a topic or keyword that moms are searching for in Google, and they have created a piece of content that perfectly matches the keyword intent.

This "keywords first" approach is a big reason why they are driving, in my estimation, nearly 1 million visitors per month just from Google.

In-Depth Content

Even if you have a solid keyword research plan in place, you still need to go about actually creating content that matches up with those keywords.

And the content on MomLovesBest is really well done: in-depth blog posts, fantastic user experience (short paragraphs, lots of bullet points, headers to break up the text, "call out" boxes), well-researched articles with citations added, and solid writing matched with an occasional infographic. 

This is the type of content that Google really loves: it takes a lot of time and effort, but Google will reward you accordingly. 

Perfect On-Page SEO

Once you're done writing an epic piece of content, you're not quite done yet, because you still need to optimize it.

On-page SEO includes things like including your main keyword in your post title and URL, writing click-worthy meta descriptions, sprinkling long-tail keywords throughout your content, and practicing proper internal & outbound linking.

In the video, I walk you through how MomLovesBest nails their on-page SEO.

Aggressive Link Building

I can say with certainty that MomLovesBest would not be seeing anywhere near their organic traffic results if they weren't deploying aggressive link building tactics.

Trust me when I say, this is not your average mommy blogger doing one-off guest post submissions (though, they do heavily and strategically use guest posting as one link building tactics).

Check out the video to see how they implement other link building tactics like the Skyscraper method, blogger outreach with infographics, and resource page link building to catapult their blog posts up the Google rankings.

Optimized Monetization Funnel

Lastly, why do I think a blog that is getting 600,000+ visitors per month is actually earning more than $25,000 (at least) per month?

Because they have set in place a really smart monetization funnel: a lot of the keywords they're targeting can easily be monetized with affiliate offers, allowing them to greatly increase their revenue per visitor value.

In the video, I walk you through an example of this dead-simple, but highly profitable, funnel.

Wondering How You Can Do The Same?

If you're looking for more tips on how you can use SEO to drive targeted traffic to your own blog, be sure to check out my FREE eBook, SEO for Bloggers: The Definitive Guide.

When you sign up for the free eBook, not only will you receive a 6,500 word PDF that you can refer back to at any time, but you'll also be enrolled into my free 5-day email course that walks you through how you can 10x your Google traffic with SEO.

*Disclaimer: I do not know that this blog is making $25,000 per month because I have not seen their earnings first-hand … but based on my analysis of their traffic estimates combined with their affiliate marketing funnel, I would not be surprised if they were actually earning somewhere around $50,000 per month, at least, if not more. Seriously. 

16

White Hat SEO Case Study: How I Increased Google Traffic By 1,026% In 3 Months

Today you’re going to learn how I increased Google traffic by more than 1,000% to a brand new website in three months.

(You’ll also see how this new traffic led to a 25x in affiliate commissions).

And I’m going to show you exactly how I did it using something I like to call the GuestoRoundup Technique.

This is a white hat SEO technique that doesn’t involve sending 100 Pinterest group board emails or scheduling Pins in Tailwind or creating 10 different Pins for every piece of content on my site.

No. What drove these results was targeted blogger outreach and white hat SEO, plain and simple. 

I’ve done it with my own site and several client sites as well, and it works every single time.

The best part? Any blogger looking to improve their SEO can implement it.

Let’s get right to it.

Combining The Expert Roundup + Guest Post

If you read my earlier case study about how I grew a new affiliate website in the outdoors niche to nearly $100,000 in under two years, you’ll know that I relied heavily on white hat SEO to get links and traffic to the site. 

But how did I get other bloggers to link back to me?

I will say, guest posting was a huge part of my strategy when I first launched the site.

But I did it with a little twist.

I developed something I like to call the GuestoRoundup Technique, which involved a little more work upfront but resulted in me getting nearly 25 guest posts published on relevant sites in my niche.

What’s the GuestoRoundup Technique?

It’s a little two-step process  …

Instead of your regular old guest posting tactics where you email a random blogger you don’t know begging them to let you post on their site …

You’re leading with value and offering to feature them on your site first before asking them for anything.

To show you how well this works, let me show you some results …

First, here is what my traffic looked like (via Clicky Analytics) when I started implementing the GuestoRoundup Technique:

This was only Month 2 of the blog’s entire existence, so as expected search traffic to the site was pretty low: only 212 visitors from Google that month.

This is also the month that I started getting my first real backlinks to my site via this technique, as shown here:

This is a screenshot from my Ahrefs dashboard which shows all the links built to my site over time, and as you can see I started picking up links with the GuestoRoundup Technique in February 2016 …

When my organic traffic was only 212 visitors the entire month.

Ok.  

Flash forward to the next month, March 2016:

So in one month, I more than doubled search traffic to my site as the links I was building from the GuestoRoundup Technique started to come in.

Here’s April 2016:

After two months of building links to my site, traffic from Google nearly quadrupled.

And then, three months later, in May 2016:

A more than 10x increase in Google traffic in only three months!

To recap …

I started getting links from the GuestoRoundup Technique in February 2016 …

And my traffic totals for February—May looked like this …

  • February = 212
  • March = 533
  • bullseye
    April = 1,045
  • bullseye
    May = 2,388

Yes, that’s a 1,026% increase in Google traffic in just three months.  

These freshly built backlinks were skyrocketing my site up the Google SERPs for my desired keywords.

(By the way, my organic traffic only continued to go up in the months to follow.)

But that’s just the traffic numbers …

25x In Affiliate Revenue

At the end of the day, traffic doesn’t mean much if you can’t turn those visitors into revenue.

Luckily, all this new traffic I was getting from Google as a result of the links I built was resulting in a surge of new affiliate commissions as well.

I don’t have the screenshot because Amazon isn’t letting me search that far back, but in February 2016 I earned a whopping $13.15 from Amazon (hey, it was a brand new site 🙂 )

But just three months later by affiliate income went up 25 times as much!

And much like my traffic, my affiliate income continued to skyrocket as time went on:

Now … I say this not to brag.

But hopefully what this is showing you is the power of white hat SEO ...

And how a couple dozen high-quality backlinks can drastically increase your Google traffic and make your blog revenue explode.

How Do You Build Links To A Brand New Blog?

I admit, when you’re a new blogger, it’s really hard to build links back to your site.

Nobody knows who you are.

Nobody is reading your site (yet).

And being honest … no one really cares.

That’s the situation I found myself in when I “launched” my outdoors blog:

Zero followers, zero connections, starting from scratch.

But I’ve been around SEO long enough to know that with a handful of high quality backlinks, I could start to rank my site in Google …

And those higher rankings would lead to more traffic …

And that traffic would be sent to hyper-targeted pages where my audience was looking for affiliate offers.

I just needed an strategy where I could get other bloggers to link back to me if I provided enough value.

The Problem With Guest Posting

I’m a big fan of guest posting for a couple of reasons:

One, it allows you to get your content and your name out there to a new, much bigger audience than your own.

Two, from an SEO perspective, good guest post links really move the needle.

And trust me: I’ve done plenty of guest post pitches in my day.

And even though I’m pretty good with cold outreach, a lot of my pitches end up looking like this:

Has that ever happened to you?

You found a great blog that accepts guest posts and you have a fantastic idea that would fit their audience perfectly …

So you open up your Gmail and fire off the perfect outreach email asking the blogger if you can contribute an awesome post to their blog …

Only that blogger never even bothers to reject your pitch …

They simply ignore you and never respond!

Ouch.

Sound familiar?

And while I’m a huge fan … that’s the problem with guest posting.

Even though you are offering value by contributing awesome content to another blog for free, you are still pitching cold.

The other blogger has no idea who you are!

And that’s a BIG problem.

Putting A New Twist On Guest Posting

That’s the predicament I found myself in …

  • New blog
  • ​No following
  • Not wanting to waste time with cold outreach

So what’s a determined blogger to do?

I knew I had to get on these bloggers’ radar, but how?

Most outreach tips you’ll find out there will tell you to do some variation of the following:

  • Follow the blogger on social media
  • Share their content on social media
  • bullhorn
    Leave engaging, meaningful, value-added comments on their blog
  • Join their Facebook group and offer valuable contributions
  • Sign up to their email list and strike up a conversation 

And when you think about it, this is not terrible advice.

I’ve done it before.

It works reasonably well.

(So long as you’re being genuine and leading with value, and not spamming people).

But what’s the main problem with this approach?

It takes a TON of time!

Think about it: say your goal was to land 10 successful guest posts.

Even with a 25% success rate—which is pretty good—you’d not only have to send 40 pitches, but you’d have to do the whole follow/share/comment song-and-dance for all 40 of your targets!

Do you realize how long that takes?

To share their content and leave meaningful comments in a genuine way for 40 different bloggers?

But then it hit me …

What if I simply leveraged the “expert roundup” technique as part of my outreach, and pivoted after that into a guest post pitch?

Breaking The Ice With The Expert Roundup

I definitely didn’t invent the concept of the expert roundup, but it’s one of my go-to link building tools.  

An expert roundup simply involves emailing a bunch of bloggers in your niche with a quick question and asking them to answer it, telling them that they’ll be featured alongside a lot of other bloggers in their niche.

Then, you aggregate all of the answers into an epic piece of content and feature all of the bloggers who participated in it.

I like how Zac Johnson summarizes the entire process here:

  • 1
    Choose a hot topic or question relevant to your niche
  • 2
    Email/outreach experts the question within your space
  • 3
    Once you get enough answers, publish them all to your site
  • 4
    Send outreach again to your experts and ask them to share you post

(I actually think it’s helpful to add in another step between #1 and #2, and that’s making a list of expert bloggers in your niche, so that’s what we’ll do below).

So let’s break down this process one step at a time using an example of an expert roundup that Ahrefs did about white hat link building.

Step 1: Choose Your Topic And Question

First you want to choose a topic that’s extremely relevant to your niche and which makes for a good discussion point (meaning people will be glad to talk about it).

In the Ahrefs example, obviously they picked a very relevant topic to the SEO niche (link building).

Step 2: Make A List Of The Top Bloggers In Your Niche

Now that we have our topic and question in mind, it’s time to start outreaching!

How many bloggers should you contact?

As many as you can find in your niche!

In the Ahrefs roundup, they emailed over 100 bloggers!

Why is this important?

One, it makes for a much better headline.

I mean, which headline sounds better to you and makes you want to click more?

“90 SEO Experts Talk White Hat Link Building, Outsourcing And Scaling”

Or …

“8 SEO Experts Talk White Hat Link Building, Outsourcing And Scaling”

Exactly.

Two, the more responses you have, the longer and more epic your content will be!

The Ahrefs roundup turned into a massive 33,000 word guide on white hat link building! That’s insane.

Three, the more bloggers you connect with, the more opportunities you’ll have down the line to pitch your guest post ideas to (we’ll get to this later).

But how are we supposed to even find all of these bloggers to email in the first place?

You can check out my free video which shows you how to do it step-by-step:

Step 3: Email Them Your Question

Now that we have a huge list of bloggers that would be perfect for our expert roundup, it’s time to send them our email.

But wait!

How do we actually get their email addresses in the first place?

You could simply go to their contact page and find it there, or you could install the free Hunter.io Chrome extension to help you out.

Basically, this extension scrapes the website that you’re on and tries to find all the email addresses, like this:

It can definitely save you a few clicks instead of manually navigating to Contact pages and scanning for the email address.

Copy the email address and add it to our spreadsheet:

Ok. So now we have a massive spreadsheet with all the top bloggers in our niche as well as their contact information (name and email address).

Now it’s time to send our email!

When we’re outreaching to influencers in our niche for an expert roundup at scale, we want to keep a few best-practices in mind:

  • Address them by name
  • Pay them a compliment
  • Get directly to the point
  • Tell them what’s in it for them
  • Give them a call to action and/or deadline

Now, typically with blogger outreach, I like to personalize my emails a lot more and not use templates.

But remember:

Our goal is to email 100+ bloggers for this roundup, so we simply don’t have the time to deeply personalize each one.

And because we are offering real value in return (featuring them on our website along other influences and linking back to them) instead of just asking for a favor, it’s totally fine to send a templated email. 

Once we’ve sent our email, it’s time to wait for the answers to start rolling in.

And since we’ve given them a strict one-week deadline, we should start to receive replies in 2-3 days.

What happens if you don’t get a reply?

I recommend waiting 5-6 days and then sending a single, simple follow up reminder.

If you download the templates, you’ll see we’re doing a couple of things with this follow up email. 

First, we’re letting the blogger know that we already have a bunch of other bloggers on board, which gives us a little bit of social proof.

Two, for even more social proof, we’re name-dropping a couple of big-name bloggers in our niche as well. (Of course, only do this if it’s actually true).

I’ve found that a single follow-up email can increase response rate by an additional 25%+, so definitely don’t be afraid to gently follow up.

Step 4: Publish Their Answers On Your Site

Now that everyone has sent in their answers, it’s time to publish them all on our site.

You can structure the post a few different ways, but here’s what I like to do.

First, write a brief introduction explaining:

  • Your topic and why it’s important to you and your audience
  • That you decided to reach out to x number of bloggers to get their expert opinion on the matter
  • The actual question(s) that you asked them
  • How many bloggers participated in your roundup
  • A high-level summary of the types of answers that you received

You can see this introduction formula in play in the Ahrefs roundup:

Then, we’re going to just copy and paste all of the answers into a nicely formatted post, making sure to feature the blogger’s picture, name, and link back to their website like this:

One other tip I recommend is putting the biggest names at the top of the roundup.

So if we were doing a personal finance roundup and got Mr Money Mustache to participate, we’d lead the post off with his answer. This just adds to the credibility and social proof of the post.

Step 5: Let The Bloggers Know The Post Is Live

Once we’ve published the post, now the easy part begins: letting the participants know that it’s live!

At the end of our email, instead of just sending them the link and hoping for the best, I recommend giving them a little nudge asking them to help “spread the word” and “share” the post. 

And that’s because we really want them to share and link to our roundup!

Step 6: Get Your Social Shares (And A Few Links)

Now, since you thought of them and asked them to participate, and because they were featured in the post, most bloggers are more than happy to at least share the post on social media.

Here’s one response I got:  

And here you’ll see the social shares of the Ahrefs roundup:

And while those don’t look like a lot of shares—and they’re not—you have to remember SEO is not exactly a niche that’s known to kill it on social media (you’ll see they don’t even bother with Pinterest at all!)

And while social shares are nice and all, keep in mind that our goal here is to acquire backlinks that will help improve our SEO.

And because the Ahrefs roundup was so epic with 90 bloggers participating and over 33,000 words long, it has attracted dozens of links since it was published:

For just a single piece of content, getting 84 links is a great success!

Expert Roundup Recap

So just on its own, doing an expert roundup is a good way to build links—if you publish a post that features enough bloggers and adds a lot of value, some of them will naturally link to it since it was such a good post (and since they were featured in it).

Make sense?

And when I was building links for my outdoors website, this is exactly what I did:

I sent a ton of expert roundup outreach emails to bloggers in my niche and received a lot of replies like this one:

Yes, I had people thanking me (a brand new blogger they’ve never heard of) for reaching out to them cold and asking them for something.

Why?

Because I was leading with value.

Even though I was asking them for something …

I was also offering them something in return: the chance to be featured, with their picture and blog name, on a site in their niche, alongside dozens of other bloggers in their niche!

And all they had to do was take two to three minutes to answer a simple question.

Bottom line: it was a win-win for both me and the bloggers I was reaching out to.

Now, here’s the thing:

When most people put together these expert roundups ... they leave it at that.

They notify the bloggers that the post has been published, hope for a handful of social shares and links, and then they do nothing!

But this is a huge wasted opportunity!

Why?

Remember earlier in the post when I said that the biggest hurdle in getting other bloggers to allow to guest post on their site was that they simply didn’t know who you were?

Well, when you reach out to 100+ bloggers in your niche for an expert roundup …

100+ bloggers now know who you are!

And all of them who participated in your roundup not only know who you are …

But now you have an actual relationship with them!  

And this is critically important, because it makes future outreach efforts that much easier.

And it also makes guest posting on their site that much easier.

Landing Your Guest Posts

Ok …

So we have a giant spreadsheet of bloggers in our niche that we put together from our expert roundup …

We also have (hopefully) dozens of bloggers who actually participated in our roundup …

So what are we going to do next to land our guest posts?

We’re going to send the quickest, easiest guest post pitch you’ve ever seen!  

The Guest Post Pitch

Here’s how it all plays out …

Once we send our email letting everyone know that the post is live …

Most of our influencers will respond with at least a “thank you” and maybe even letting us know that they’ve shared the post …

And now this is our opportunity to reply with our guest post ask.

After thanking them for sharing our post, we send the shortest, simplest outreach email you’ve ever seen:

And that’s the entire email!

All you have to do is sit back and watch the “yes” replies to your pitch come in:

Then you write up your guest posts, send them along, and watch the backlinks to your site pile up.

And the best part about these guest posts?

If you’re smart, you’ll be able to land at least 1 link with each guest post that meets all 5 characteristics of a good backlink:
  • 1
    Do-follow
  • 2
    Editorially-placed
  • 3
    Within the context of a post or page
  • 4
    On a website with good “authority”
  • 5
    Niche-relevant to our site or our specific post

And it’s because the guest post links I built to my outdoors site met all 5 characteristics that I was able to 10x my Google traffic and 25x my earnings in only three months!

Now that’s the power of a well-executed backlink building strategy.

Yes, it’s a lot of work but the links you build today will pay dividends for months and years to come.

​Over To You

If you enjoyed this post, here’s what to do next …

I’ve put together an over-the-shoulder video of me walking through the steps on how to find bloggers in your niche to send emails to.

I’ve also included swipe files you can steal of my email templates I use to send to bloggers to participate in expert roundups and then my guest post pitches.

Just sign up below to get free access to the video and email templates.

And let me know below if you have any questions or comments!

36

Case Study: How I Took An Affiliate Website from $0 to $95,134.05 Using SEO

seo-case-study

Today I’m going to show you how I took a brand new website and grew it to $95,134.05 with over 1,000,000 unique pageviews in just its second year.

Not only that, but I did this without any ...

  • Brand or name recognition
  • Email list
  • Pinterest or Facebook following

In fact, the site pretty much runs on auto-pilot now—no posting to social media, no emails to a mailing list—and the income is 95% passive.

So how did I do it?

How was I able to take a blog from literally nothing to nearly six-figures in income and more than one million pageviews in two years?

It was pretty simple, actually: I leveraged the power of SEO.

A Peek Behind The Numbers

But let’s first take a step back, okay?

Before we dive into the details, let’s look at some screenshots from my Google Analytics and Amazon Associates account for my site in the outdoors niche.

Note: I will not be revealing the actual site name or URL as there are way too many “copy cats” out there who will shamelessly rip off my site—and I don’t need any more competition! I will say the site is in the “outdoors” niche (think: hiking, backpacking). 

Why am I showing you these screenshots?

Two reasons: credibility and transparency.

When you’re a new blogger in the SEO space, credibility is everything.

If you want your readers to follow what you say, you better be able to back it up with some real world results.

And if you plan on teaching people how do do something (in this case, build traffic via SEO), you better be able to show them how to do it!

So in 2017, as you can see from my Google Analytics screenshot above, my outdoors site had 1,156,561 unique pageviews!

Note: you’ll notice the traffic spike in the summer and then tail off starting in the fall—this is because the hiking and backpacking niches are seasonal, and get a lot more traffic in the summer months. 

Now, I know a lot of the “Pinterest bloggers” (as I like to call them) out there are sneezing at those traffic numbers.

For a lot of you, 1.1 million unique pageviews over 12 months isn’t that great.

But what if I told you that the vast majority of that traffic was not from Facebook or Pinterest … but organic search from Google?

This screenshot from my Google Analytics shows how people ended up on my site:

  • Did they search for something in Google (“Organic Search”)?
  • Did they come from Pinterest or Facebook (“Social”)?
  • Did they come directly to the site (“Direct”)?
  • road
    Or did they click on a link to my site from another blog (Referral)?

Note: you’ll notice this screenshot actually shows “users” (instead of unique pageviews”) which is why the total number of visitors are slightly off.

As you can see, 88% of my traffic was organic while only 6% was from social media!

Nearly $100,000 In Revenue

Look: a million pageviews is a neat accomplishment, but it doesn’t mean much if that traffic isn’t targeted and doesn’t convert.

In other words—if you can’t make any money from the people who visit your website, then who cares?

Luckily, the 1 million+ pageviews to my outdoors site last year was very targeted traffic—they were people interested in what I was writing about, and they were eager to buy products in the camping and hiking niche. 

Side note: there are a lot of ways to monetize a website—you can sell courses, ads, sponsorships, lead generation, physical products—but for my outdoors site, I decided to use affiliate marketing with the Amazon Affiliate program because it best aligned with my audience (outdoors people who like to buy products for their hobbies). 

Here’s a screenshot of my Amazon Affiliate account showing earnings for each month last year:

You’ll see in January 2017 I made $4,387.66, in July (peak season for the outdoors niche) I made $12,969.11, and in December I made $5,146.59!  

And for the entire year, my outdoors site made $95,134.05 in revenue, with 88% of my traffic coming from Google search.

Let me ask you: are you starting to see the power of SEO?

Who Am I? (And Why I Decided To Start This Blog)

Look, I get it: there are already a hundred other “SEO blogs” out there today.

So why would I decide to start another one?

Well, I saw an opening in the market for an audience who was craving simple, practical SEO advice, but whose needs weren’t being met.

Think about it: are you a personal finance, DIY, or mommy blogger who doesn’t know where to start when it comes to SEO?

Do you get 75% of your visitors from Pinterest but wish you could diversify your traffic streams?

Are you a professional blogger who teaches newbies how to start a blog, but could brush up on your own SEO skills to increase your organic traffic?

Then you are my target audience and Stupid Easy SEO is the blog for you!

Those other SEO blogs, their audiences are primarily SEO and digital marketing people who work at in-house agencies, and not your average lifestyle blogger like yourself. 

So these blogs exist and they serve their target audience well—the only problem is that their target audience isn’t you.

And that’s the first reason I started this blog.

The second reason is because when it comes down to it, SEO is not that hard.

In fact, when you break it down to its core concepts, it’s actually pretty easy!

At the end of the day, SEO is about three things:

  • 1
    Figuring out what you’re going to write about (we call this keyword research)
  • 2
    Creating and optimizing your content around those keywords (we call this on-page SEO)
  • 3
    Promoting your content to the right audience (we call this off-page SEO or link building)

Now, I’m not going to lie: there is a LOT of work that goes into mastering those three things. 

But if you can nail them down, you will drive targeted, organic traffic from Google to your site, and you will increase your audience and make more money.

How Proper Keyword Research Ranked Me For 78,000 Keywords In Google

Have you ever sat down to write a post but had no idea what to write about?

Worse yet: have you ever sat down to write a post with an idea in mind, but weren’t sure exactly which topics to include?

That’s where keyword research comes in.

When you’re writing content for your blog, you don’t want to just write about what first comes to mind.

You want to know what people are searching for in Google.

You want to know what sub-topics they’re also searching for that are related to that keyword.

Important note: this does NOT mean that you "write for Google" ... no, you first and always write for human beings ... but you optimize for Google.

And you also want to know how “competitive” your keywords are to give you an idea whether or not your can rank your article in Google.

In other words: when you’re planning out your content, you need a plan.

Let me show you a screenshot from my Ahrefs account.

Note: we’ll take a deeper dive into Ahrefs in future blog posts, but for now just realize it’s basically a web application that lets you do keyword research, see what keywords your competitors are ranking for, and also lets you keep track of backlinks, among other awesome features.

What you’re looking at is an overview for the total number of keywords that my outdoors site is ranking for in Google—you can see that this site is ranking for more than 78,000 keywords. 

Now, on the surface that may be hard for some people to put into context.

What does ranking for 78,000 keywords even mean?

And is it any good?

To cover the first question: ranking for 78,000 keyword simply means that there are 78,000 unique searches in Google that my site is ranking for in the top 100 in Google.

For example: “backpacking gear”, “gifts for hikers”, and “best sleeping pad” are all unique keyword searches that people type into Google.

To cover the second question: let’s do a quick comparison to one of my favorite bloggers in any niche, Michelle over at Making Sense of Cents.

As most of you know, Michelle is a superstar blogger whose site brings in more than $100,000 per month in income. She’s at the top of the blogging food chain.

Let’s plop her site into Ahrefs and take a look:

So Michelle is ranking for about 52,000 keywords in Google (which is still awesome, by the way!) and my outdoors site is ranking for about 78,000.

You may be thinking: who cares about ranking in the top 100? Nobody searches past the first page in Google.

What about the top 10?

Here you’ll see my outdoors site ranks for 8,264 keywords in Google in the top 10 (i.e. on the first page of Google).

And again for comparison, here’s what Making Sense of Cents is ranking for in Google’s top 10:

So hopefully that gives a little context into how well I’ve been able to rank my outdoors site in Google.

(And let’s be 100% clear here: Michelle’s site is a LOT more successful than my outdoors site. It’s not even remotely close).

Oh, one other thing: I have less than 200 total posts on the entire site, so it hasn’t taken thousands of blog posts to rank for those 78,000 keywords.

Why Spying On Your Competition Is The Best Way To Do Keyword Research

Now let’s do a little thought experiment. Say you were opening up a diner in town and it was time to come up with your menu.

You know those diners that have like 35 pages of menu options? And probably 80% of the menu is never even ordered?

Yeah, you don’t want something like that.

You’re just starting out and you don’t need a 35-page menu, you just want to offer the items that customers really like.

You just want to offer the best-performing items.

Now let’s say there’s another diner a few blocks away, one that’s been in business for a few years who does really well—one of your competitors—and they have one of those giant 35-page menus.

What if there was a way for you to know what their best-selling items were?

What if you knew that the western omelette, the bacon egg and cheese, the mozzarella sticks, the turkey burger, and the Greek salad were the top 5 selling items for this diner?

You’d probably want to put those items on your own menu too, right?

The same is also true of keyword research!

When I started my outdoors site and got into the keyword research phase of building out my site … I didn’t just start randomly brainstorming post ideas and writing about every topic under the sun. This is the 35-page menu approach!

No. Instead, I wanted to write about topics that I knew my competition was already getting ranking for and getting a lot of Google traffic from.

In other words, I wanted to write about those “best-selling menu items” in our diner example.

So that's exactly what I did.

That’s great, Mike, you’re probably thinking—but I don’t know which topics and blog posts my competition is ranking for.

Reverse-Engineering Your Competition with Ahrefs

While Ahrefs is the secret weapon amongst SEO professionals and digital marketers, I’ve found that not many professional bloggers are very familiar with it.

As I mentioned, I’m not going to dive deep into all of Ahrefs features (that requires its own post), but I will say it’s the essential SEO tool to have under your belt, and I’m going to show you how I used it when I was first hunting for keywords for my outdoors site.

When I started that site, I already knew who the big players were in the niche. I knew that they were wildly successful with tons of traffic (using SimilarWeb and Ahrefs to estimate traffic) and were undoubtedly earning big commissions. 

So my first step was figuring out which posts on their sites were driving the most traffic.

Using my first competitor, CleverHiker.com, I can take their URL and plop them into the “Site Explorer” tool in Ahrefs:

After hitting the orange search icon, I’m taken to a new page with a lot of information on it, but for now we’re just going to focus on two of the links under the “Organic search” section—“Organic keywords” and “Top pages”.

Clicking on the “Organic keywords” will bring up another page … and let me warn you … what you’re about to see is an absolute goldmine of information!

Yes, this is a table of every single keyword that CleverHiker is ranking for in Google, sorted by the highest amount of traffic that each keyword generates!

Again, there’s a lot going on here, but let me quickly go over six of the columns on the page:

  • 1
    Keyword. This is the specific keyword that CleverHiker is ranking for in Google.
  • 2
    Volume. This is the (estimated) search volume in Google for the number of people who search for that keyword each month. Different niches will have different keyword volume (and keyword intent), but a very rough estimate for me is that anything with a keyword volume of 1,000+ is worth going after. 
  • 3
    KD. This is an Ahrefs calculation estimating how difficult it is (i.e. how many links you would need) to rank for this keyword on the 1st page of Google.
  • 4
    Traffic. Another estimation from Ahrefs showing how much traffic per month that each keyword is generating for CleverHiker (I’ve found this estimate to be really low; I generally will 3x the number to get a better idea of traffic).
  • 5
    Position. This column simply shows what position in Google’s top 10 CleverHiker is ranking for, for that keyword.
  • 6
    URL. This is simply the URL of the blog post that’s ranking for the particular keyword so you can check out the page. 

So not only do I know which keywords are bringing in the most traffic for one of my competitors, I also know how many people search for that keyword each month, how much traffic it brings to their site, and how difficult it will be for me to rank in Google for the same keyword … all at the click of a button!

Can I ask you a question?

Are you understanding how insanely valuable this information is?

But it gets even better.

Instead of using the “Organic keywords” view to sort by which individual keywords bring in the most traffic for a website ... you can also use the “Top pages” view in Ahrefs, which sorts total traffic on a page level (not keyword level).

Basically …

  • "Organic keywords" view = which individual keywords bring in the most traffic
  • "Top pages" view = which individual pages (or posts) bring in the most traffic

What does this mean?

It means that when I started my outdoors site, one of the very first posts I wrote was a review of the best sleeping bags … because I knew that my competitor was getting a lot of traffic from Google to that page!  

To be clear, this strategy of leveraging your competitors' most popular content does NOT in any way mean that you are going to "copy" their content. No, your content still needs to be 100% original, in your own voice, and frankly, you should aim to differentiate your content to make it uniquely YOURS.

Anyway, this is how I started to flesh out my content calendar for my new site.

I entered 20 of my top competitors into Ahrefs and ran reports (see the “Export” button in the top right in the screenshot above) on their top keywords and top pages.

And with these reports, I was able to generate dozens of dozens of content ideas!

And the best part?

I didn’t have to guess what my audience wanted to read about. I didn’t have to guess if people were searching for these ideas in Google.

No. Because of Ahrefs, I already knew there were proven content ideas that would attract thousand of visitors from Google.

No guessing involved!

Now I only needed a plan to outline my content and optimize my posts to generate the most traffic possible from Google.

One More Example

But before we get to that, let’s do one more quick example …

I know that personal finance and budgeting is popular with a lot of bloggers, and one niche that always interested me was early retirement and financial independence.

Basically there is this whole group of bloggers who write about investment, tax, and savings strategies so you can retire in your 30s and 40s. (Must be nice).

So let’s pretend we’re launching a brand new blog in the financial independence niche and we want to research which keywords our competition is already ranking for.  

Since I’m a reader of these types of blogs, I already know most of the big players in the niche. One of them is called Mad Fientist.

I’m going to plop this site into Ahrefs and using the Top Pages feature, we can see that the page (other than the homepage) bringing in the most traffic for this site is about “After Tax Contributions” and the top keyword for that page is “mega backdoor Roth”.

Ok. So let’s take one step back and regroup here for a second.

Remember, we are launching a brand new blog in the financial independence niche …

And we have ZERO posts on our site …

And we are researching some blog post ideas to come up with …

And we can see that one of our top competitors is bringing a lot of traffic to his site with the keyword “mega backdoor Roth” …

So what are we going to do next?

Well, we’re going to write a post about mega backdoor Roths!

But wait!

We’re not going to write just any old blog post.

No. We are going to write the most comprehensive, most engaging, most well-designed post about mega backdoor Roths on the entire internet!

How To Do Keyword Planning & Outlining

So now that we know which keywords we want to write about, what is our next step?

If you’re like most people … your next step is to simply start writing your post.

And this is a big mistake!

You see, when you’re planning your content for SEO, you need to do exactly that … plan it out.

When I was building out my outdoors site, I did a lot of research and created outlines to for EVERY piece of content to determine exactly which topics and subtopics I should be writing about!

Yes, I said the words “research” and “outline”. (No one said this was going to be easy, right?)

Remember: in this example, we want to write the most compelling and most comprehensive guide online about mega backdoor Roths! So we need to do the prep work before we begin writing.

So let’s start to build the outline for our post.

Building an Outline

This is not a detailed guide on how to organize and outline your content (though I will create one in the future), so we’ll just go through the high-level steps of what I did with my outdoors site.

Step 1: Sign up for a free MindMeister account

MindMeister is a (free) “mind-mapping” tool which will allow us to visualize some of the sub-topics we want to include in our post.

Step 2: Search Google for your keyword and skim through the top 5 results

Remember, the idea is to create content that Google loves … and there’s no better place to look for the kind of topics and sub-topics that Google thinks is valuable than … Google itself.

So you can simply Google our main keyword “mega backdoor Roth” and skim through the first 5 results, and see which sub-topics these other sites are writing about.

For example … here is a screen shot from one of the posts ranking in the Top 3:

Clearly, people who are searching for information on a mega backdoor Roth want to know how exactly it works … so we’re going to add this subtopic to our mind map like so:

Do this for all subtopics for at least the Top 5 results in Google and you’ll start to have a nice list of things to write about.

Step 3: Use Ahrefs Keywords Explorer

Then I like to head back to Ahrefs and enter our keyword into the Keywords Explorer tool.

From here you can pull some great subtopic ideas to add to your post—just look at all the related keywords that I’ve signaled with the pink arrows above.

Add any new subtopic ideas to your mind map.

Step 4: Use UberSuggest

UberSuggest is another great (free) tool that generates a ton of related keywords for you. Here’s what it looks like after we enter our main keyword:

Obviously, not all 633 results will be useful for us, but we’ll be able to pick out a handful of relevant long tail keywords that can serve as good subtopics.

Add these to your mind map.

Step 5: Take your subtopics from Mindmeister and work them into an outline with H2s and FAQs

Finally, it’s time to build our outline. We can take all of the subtopics that we’ve added to our mind map and begin to lay them out in outline form in a way that makes logical sense.

I like to use Dynalist (free) for my outlines, but you can use whatever you want.

Obviously, this is not a comprehensive outline by any means but you can begin to see how to flesh it out.

When I was building out my outdoors site, this is exactly how I prepared each piece of content before writing it.

It made a HUGE difference in organic traffic because it allowed me to rank not only for my main keywords, but thousands of related, long tail keywords as well!

Only after I had done all my research and had pieced together an outline did I finally start writing.

And after I had filled my site with a few dozen blog posts, I started in on my most important task: outreaching to other bloggers for backlinks.

How I Built Links For My $95,000 Outdoors Site

Once I did all the keyword research and planning for my posts, and after I started to publish some of the posts to my outdoors site … what do you think I did next?

If I were like most bloggers, I would have sat back and waited for Google to send me loads of traffic.

That’s a lot of the SEO advice out there, anyway—publish great content, post on your blog consistently, and Google will reward you with higher rankings and targeted traffic.

Sound familiar?

Only thing is … this “strategy” simply doesn’t work!

Look: don’t get me wrong. Great content is the cornerstone of a great blog and I’m a firm believer that you can’t have a successful, profitable site without it.

However …

In order for you to rank high in Google, your blog needs some AUTHORITY.

What is authority?

Well, the short answer is that sites with authority have a better chance of ranking highly in Google. They are trusted sites in Google’s eyes and Google loves to rank sites that they trust.

But how does your blog get authority so that Google will trust it?

At the end of the day, it all boils down to one thing: backlinks.


Yes, if you want to rank in Google, you need backlinks.

Now, this post isn’t meant to be a detailed guide on backlinks and how to go about getting other bloggers to link to your site.

But I will take you inside how I went about building links back to my outdoors site, which in turn gave it some authority and trust, and allowed it to rank high in Google.

Guest Posting For a Larger Audience and Easy Links

While there are dozens of backlink strategies you can try, and a handful that I used successfully when building my outdoors site, today I’m going to focus on only one strategy, one which you’re surely familiar with: guest posting.

Guest posting is great because it allows you to get your content in front of a new (and related) audience that you normally wouldn't have access to.

And from the perspective of building links, it’s ideal because for the majority of guest posts, you’re allowed to include at least one link back to your site when you publish on other blogs.

So, you get to grow your audience and build links at the same time. This is a win-win!

Let’s take a look at a random example of this in action, shall we?

Leah is the blogger behind The Sweetest Way, a “travel and lifestyle design” blog.

Now, Leah was (presumably) looking to get her content in front of a larger audience, so she published a guest post on Making Sense of Cents back in 2016:

And throughout her guest post, Leah included a few links (relevant to her post) back to her own site:

Now … not only do these links encourage readers to click back to Leah’s site, which increases her traffic and gives her the opportunity to grow her audience long term, possibly by getting new readers on her email ist …

But from an SEO perspective … these links back to Leah’s site GREATLY increased her authority and trust, and allow her to rank higher in Google.

Why? Because Google treats links like a voting system.

When Michelle from Making Sense of Cents links back to The Sweetest Way, it’s sending a clear signal to Google: this is a blog that I trust and “vote” for, so you should trust it too.

Not only that … but not all links are created equal.

No, generally speaking, when you get a link from a website that has a lot of authority itself, that link “counts more” in Google’s eyes, which makes sense: a link from Nerdwallet.com is going to be “worth” a lot more than a link from a personal finance website that just launched two weeks ago.

And Making Sense of Cents is a pretty authoritative blog. We’re not going to dive too deep into authority metrics here, but you can do a quick check in Ahrefs to see how much authority a site has by looking at the Domain Rating (“DR”) score.

Here you’ll see that Michelle’s site has a DR of 64, which is very impressive.

Generally speaking, when you get a link from a website that has a lot of authority itself, that links “counts more” in Google’s eyes. 

So, now we know that guest posting not only gives you visibility to a new audience, but it’s also a great way of building authority and trust in Google’s eyes via backlinks.

Now I want to quickly show you how I used guest posts to grow my outdoors site, and how long it took for those links to boost my blog posts up in Google’s rankings and for the site to start earning some money.

Blogger Outreaching and Increased Earnings

It’s not a stretch to say that without guest posting, my site wouldn’t have earned anywhere NEAR the $95,000 it made in 2017.

Along with publishing insanely valuable content, guest posting was the #1 reason for my site’s success.

But before we dive in, I wanted to give a little context around the timeline of my site and how long it took to see results. 

I launched my outdoors site in January 2016 and posted about 25 articles that first month. 

After I had a good base of content set up, I started outreaching for guest posting opportunities immediately. 

Here's a screenshot from my Gmail account searching for the phrase "guest post": you can see that I've sent a lot of guest post pitches 🙂

Now, a lot of website owners will ignore your emails but overall, I was able to land about 25-30 guest posts total in those first several months ... which really isn't that many ...

But you'll see how much impact those links had.

Again: I started my site in January 2016 ... and here are some screenshots from my Amazon Affiliate account which will show how my earnings progressed over the year.

May 2016: $334

July 2016: $2165

November 2016: $4525

February 2017: $7850

So after my outdoors site was live for five months, I made $300+ ... after seven months, I made $2,100 ... after 11 months, I made $4,500+ ... and after 14 months, I made $7,800+.

Remember

I had zero Facebook following, non-existent Pinterest traffic, and used no paid advertising: this explosive growth in revenue (and traffic) was 100% a result of SEO.

The Problem With Most Guest Post Pitches

This post isn't meant to be a deep-dive into how to guest post, but I can give you one strategy that can increase your success rate for your guest post pitches today.

The problem with most guest pitches, and why they get ignored, is because there's no effort to relationship build before the pitch is sent.

Let me show you what I mean.

Since my outdoors site ranks highly in Google, I get a lot of bloggers who send guest post pitches to me, looking to write for my site.

Here's one that I received recently from an SEO agency who charges thousands of dollars per month for their services, pitching on behalf of a client:

On the surface, and compared to most of the crap I receive, this actually isn't a terrible pitch.

They are doing a couple of things right here:

  • Their subject line is clear so I know immediately what they want.
  • They address me directly by my first name (instead of the generic "hey there"), personalizing their email.
  • bullseye
    They make reference to some of the content on my blog ("some great advice ... in a few different blog posts"), showing that they've at least glanced on my site.
  • bullseye
    They introduce themselves quickly and get straight to the point so I don't have to figure out why they're sending me this email: they want to write a post for my site.

So overall, their pitch was somewhat personalized, clear, and short and to the point, which I appreciate.

But, their pitch is missing one big thing: I have no idea who this person is because I've never heard of them before!

One Guest Posting Tip You Can Use Right Now

Look, when you're a blogger ... YOU (and not some obscure "brand") are the face behind your site.

I know this sounds painfully obvious, but it's incredibly important.

Why?

Because YOU are able to connect with other bloggers in your niche on a personal level. You can warm your prospects up before contacting them!

And making these connections and building these relationships with other bloggers BEFORE asking them for anything dramatically increases your chances of success when it comes time to ask for something.

So, before sending your next guest post pitch, you need to get on on that blogger's radar. 

You can do this by ...

  • Following that blogger on social media  
  • Sharing their content on social media
  • thumbs-o-up
    Commenting on their blog and adding valuable comments
  • thumbs-o-up
    Signing up to their email list
  • thumbs-o-up
    Responding to their autoresponder emails with questions, compliments, or even just saying "hi"
  • thumbs-o-up
    Joining their Facebook groups and adding valuable contributions

Above all, you have to be genuine, and you have to be consistent. This is not an overnight process.

But once you are on their radar and they know who you are ... when it's time to ask to guest post on their site, you'll have a much better chance of getting your pitch accepted. 

Now, It's Your Turn

Phew. That's one of the longest pieces of content I've ever written!

I hope this case study was able to show you the true power of SEO, and how implementing some simple strategies like basic keyword research, outlining and planning your content, and outreaching for backlinks can skyrocket your blog traffic and income.

Now ... I turn it over to you.

If you have any questions, comments, or feedback, I'd love to hear it below!

P.S. In my next post I'm going to write a massive guide called Beginner's Guide To SEO: A Field Guide For Newbies, which will cover in detail everything you need to know about SEO if you're just starting out. Make sure you're signed up to my email list to get notified when it's published 🙂

7

SEO For Beginners: The Definitive Guide For Bloggers

SEO For Beginners: The Definitive Guide for Bloggers

If you’re a professional blogger, this is the most comprehensive beginner’s guide to SEO you’ll find anywhere.

And let’s be clear about one thing:

This is not some high-level technical mumbo jumbo about robots.tx, canonical URLs, disavow files, and other stuff you don’t care about and won’t help you.

Instead, you’re going to see what SEO is all about on a practical and easy-to-understand level, so you can get your SEO basics down.

Because at the end of the day: SEO isn’t that hard.

So if you’re looking to brush up on your SEO knowledge, you’ll love this SEO for beginner's guide.

Let’s get started. 

Chapter 1: Why Even Bother With SEO?

Before we dive into what SEO is and its core concepts, let’s talk about why, as a blogger, SEO is so important for you in the first place.

Now, you understand better than anyone that the lifeblood of having a successful blog is traffic.

Because without traffic, you don’t have an email list, you can’t make any affiliate commissions, and you can’t sell any of your own products, right? 

#1. SEO Gets You Traffic

How does SEO help you get traffic?

The simplest explanation I could come up with is this fancy custom graphic I had my designer mock up 🙂

And this is exactly how I drove more than 1 million visitors to my authority site in the outdoors niche site last year, with 88% of my traffic coming from Google:

#2. Traffic Diversification

Ok. Now when most bloggers that I run in circles with think about traffic, they immediately think of Pinterest. And for good reason!

Many bloggers are making a killing with Pinterest right now and so it makes sense to keep doing what’s working.

Pinterest is a great driver of traffic and I’m a big fan of the platform (even if I barely know what I’m doing on there).

But if you’re relying on Pinterest for 90% of your traffic, you may want to think about diversifying a bit.

Why?

Well, as Jeff from Breaking The One Percent says, “the days of easy Pinterest traffic are numbered.”

It’s only a matter of time before Pinterest throttles your organic reach, much like Facebook has done over the past couple of years.

I mean, take a minute and just read this article about what happened to the LittleThings website, who lost 75% of their organic traffic and literally went out of business, all because Facebook decided to (again) update their algorithm:  

Facebook used to be a goldmine for organic traffic, but then they turned off the firehose and now if you want any meaningful traffic on Facebook, you better be doing ads.

You are at the mercy of their platform.

And sooner or later, the same thing will be be true of Pinterest.

So, yeah: it’s never a good idea to rely so heavily on one source of traffic, because when that source dries up, what are you left with?

And so it’s good to get familiar with SEO and increase your Google traffic if only to diversify a bit away from Pinterest.  

#3. Google Traffic Is Extremely Targeted

But there’s an even bigger reason why you should make SEO a part of your marketing strategy: the type of traffic that you attract to your website is extremely targeted.

Think about it:

Let’s say you’re looking to buy a non-stick pan for your kitchen but you aren’t sure which one to get, so you want to check out some reviews first.

So you hop onto Google and type in “best non stick pan” and see these results:

You see The Wirecutter post right at the top of the search results in the Featured Snippets called “The Best Nonstick Pan” so you immediately click on it.

And you see that they recommend the Tramontina as the best non stick pan to buy, so you click their Amazon link, make the purchase on Amazon, and you're on your merry way.

Meanwhile, The Wirecutter has just made a commission on the sale since you purchased via their Amazon link.

All because you were actively looking for something very specific (reviews of the best non-stick pans) …

And The Wirecutter built a page focused exactly around your search keyword …

And since they ranked at the top of Google, you clicked on their site and they made money. 

And when you can rank highly in Google for your chosen keywords, you can attract that kind of targeted traffic to your website and make product and affiliate sales.

This is exactly how I was able to earn nearly $100,000 from my affiliate website last year before selling it off.

That’s what targeted traffic is ALL about.

Chapter 2: What Is SEO?

It’s funny, nearly every article you read about SEO is does a horrible job of explaining in plain English what you need to know.

For example, here is a definition from Moz.com—one of the foremost experts on SEO—that I had to re-read three times and I still don’t understand what they’re trying to say:

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search results.

I mean, come on …

Not only is it unclear, but what they’re describing—getting more targeted more traffic to your website —is not what SEO is, but what happens as a result of when you do SEO on your site.  

So, in plain English, here’s the simplest definition I could come up with:

SEO is building your website so that it ranks higher in Google.

That’s it!

That’s all you need to know about what SEO is.

You are simply optimizing your website so that when someone plugs a keyword into Google.com, your website appears on the first page of Google.

Pretty simple, right?

Now, don’t get me wrong: there is a lot of work that goes into that … and there is probably one word in my definition that’s raising your curiosity a little bit …

Can I guess what it is?

Is it the word building?

Yes, I bet that’s it. But don’t you worry.

We’re going to expand on what I mean by that shortly.

Chapter 3: Knowing How Google Works

But first, before we can effectively optimize our website so that Google ranks it highly, it’s probably worth discussing how Google actually works.

And I don’t mean in a way that you need a computer science degree from Stanford to understand. I mean in plain English!

Here’s what you need to know:

When you type a keyword into that search box on Google.com … Google has ONE and only ONE goal …

To show you the very best content at the top of their search results for every single search query!

But how does Google determine what content is “best”?

I’ll try to break it down as best as I can 🙂

#1. Search Intent

Remember: Google’s ultimate goal is making sure it’s users are happy with the search results.

This means that the search result must ultimately match the user’s intent!

Think about it:

Let’s say someone is searching for the keyword “cold brew coffee”.

Now, without knowing the exact intent behind their search—why are they searching for cold brew coffee?—we could take a couple of guesses:

  • Maybe they want to know where to buy cold brew coffee
  • Maybe they want to know the benefits of drinking cold brew coffee
  • Or maybe they want to just make some cold brew coffee?

Let’s see what Google thinks:

As you can see from the first four results … all of them are posts on recipes/how to make cold brew coffee! 

So Google has figured out—from all of the search data they have access to—that when someone searches for “cold brew coffee”, they want to know how to make it!

And what the heck does this mean for you?

Well, if you were thinking about trying to rank for the keyword “cold brew coffee” … it would probably be a good idea to make the main focus of your post around how to make cold brew coffee, right?

This may sound obvious, but it’s very important:

At the end of the day, you want your content to match the intent of the user searching in Google.

Now, that’s on a post-by-post basis—each individual post should ultimately match user intent for each main keyword you’re targeting.

But what about on a sitewide level?

That’s where relevancy comes into play.

#2. Relevance

Have you ever come across one of those lifestyle bloggers?

You know, one day they may be blogging about crock pot recipes, the next about how to save money on your car insurance, the day after that about how to make money from Pinterest, and maybe another day they're doing a travel diary of their trip to Spain.

In other words, their blog is all over the damn place. And when it comes to SEO, this is not a good thing.

Why?

Because Google has no idea what their website is about!

When Google is ranking websites, they generally have a preference for sites that are relevant to the search query on a site-wide basis.

I know that sounds a little confusing so it’s best to show an example.

Say you’re about to have a baby and need to buy a crib mattress for your little one, so you hop onto Google and search for “best crib mattress”.

Let’s see what Google brings back:

So on the first page ...

The first seven results are specifically sites about babies/parenting or sleeping—which makes sense, because the keyword “best crib mattress” really touches on those two different niches, not just one.

Now this probably isn’t a surprise to you, but it’s important.

Google is ranking these websites on the first page because their niches align perfectly with the search query!

You notice how there aren’t any cooking, personal finance, or travel sites ranking here?

It’s because those niches have NOTHING TO DO with babies or sleeping!

I know: this is obvious, but you’ve probably never really thought of it, have you?

So if you have a site that covers cooking and personal finance and travel ...

Your chances for ranking for keywords related to personal finance are less than if you had a site that focused ONLY on personal finance …

Because in Google’s eyes, you are LESS RELEVANT.

Right?

#3. Content Quality

Ok, so we know that it’s really important for your content to match user intent and for your website to be relevant to the keywords you are targeting.

But that’s not enough!

No. The third thing that Google looks for when ranking websites is the quality of your content.

Now, “quality” is hard to define here because it’s pretty subjective: what you consider good quality may be different than how I define it. So it’s not easy to pin down.

But we can try!

What do I think “quality” means?

Well, to steal Chase Reeves’s definition, I think it means writing EPIC shit!

Here’s Chase’s definition spelled out a little bit more:

"Write things that make people think. Inspire people. Change lives. Create value. Blow people away with your usefulness."

Yes. Yes, I like that. Value and usefulness. Those are the two words that resonate most with me.

When people finish reading your posts, did they learn something new?

Are they able to do something now that they weren’t able to do before?

Do the feel inspired?

That’s useful and valuable content! And Google loves it!

Want an example? Then check out the Nerd Fitness Beginner’s Guide to the Paleo Diet.

It’s one of the most epic pieces of fitness content you’ll find anywhere!

First of all, it’s over 5,500 words—and epic content tends to be long and detailed.

Second, it has custom graphics and big headings and short paragraphs which make the content attractive and easy to read:

Third, it’s incredibly educational and actionable. I know what I can and can’t eat on Paleo!

Per SimilarWeb, NerdFitness gets nearly 4 million visitors a month and I wouldn’t be surprised if they are easily clearing six figures per month.

Of course, not every single piece of content you produce is going to be epic … but that should be your goal, shouldn’t it?

To blow away your audience?

Your readers will love you ... and so will Google.

#4. Authority (Backlinks)

So, to quickly recap:

When you’re structuring your blog posts, you want to be sure that ...

  • 1
    Your content matches user intent
  • 2
    Your website as a whole is niched down so that it is actually relevant to the keywords you’re going after
  • 3
    Your content is epic!

All three of these are actually quite easy to accomplish: you just have to be thoughtful and intentional when you’re building out your content so that it aligns with these three goals.

But there’s a fourth piece of the puzzle that we need to talk about that’s equally important but a lot harder to achieve: authority.

In my last post I defined authority like so:

"Sites with authority have a better chance of ranking highly in Google. They are trusted sites in Google’s eyes and Google loves to rank sites that they trust.

But how does your blog get authority so that Google will trust it?

At the end of the day, it all boils down to one thing: backlinks."

The best way to think about authority is like a voting system: when Site A links back to Site B, it’s sending a message to Google that Site B is a quality site with good information that should be trusted.

And since higher quality sites with more useful information will naturally attract more links than lower quality site with less useful information ...

Google will generally rank the sites with more links (aka sites with more authority) higher in the search results!  

So how do we check the authority of a website?

I personally use Ahrefs but you can also use Moz.com since they are free and they basically use a similar grading system.

Just go to their Open Site Explorer tool and paste in the domain you want to check on:

Here we can see that TheSpruce.com has a “Domain Authority” of 85 (out of 100), which is exceptionally good—they have a LOT of authority and it’s easier for them to rank higher in Google because they have so many backlinks.

And you can see this in action in this example below.

Say you are on the hunt for a French Press coffee maker and so you search in Google for “best french press”.

Here’s what Google shows for the top 5 results:

This is an interesting search result because you can see the top three websites are actually NOT coffee sites, yet they are ranking ahead of two sites specifically about coffee.

So what is going on here?

Didn’t we just establish before that the relevancy of your site is extremely important?

If that is the case, then why are three NON-coffee sites sitting in the top three positions for this search result?

Because their authority is extremely high!

You can see in the screenshot above that The Spruce, Business Insider, and Consumer Reports all have very high “DR*” numbers: between 89 and 92 (out of 100)!

*DR is Ahrefs’ Domain Rating metric but it’s very similar to Moz’s Domain Authority metric.

And the two coffee sites below them only have DR ratings of 44 and 43, which is still pretty good but nowhere as close as authoritative as the sites ranking ahead of them.

And so for this particular search result, Google has decided to rank the first three sites ahead of the next two in part due to their authority, even though their relevance is much lower (i.e. they cover many more topics than just coffee).

So sometimes relevance can trump authority (like in our “best crib mattress” example) ...

And sometimes authority can trump relevance (like in our “best french press” example).

But … the thing to know is:

When you can combine and implement all three elements into your blog …

Intent, relevance, and authority …

Your site will become an unstoppable powerhouse!

Chapter 4: Keywords Are Still Important

I’ve heard quite a few bloggers say recently that they don’t bother with keyword research because they’re writing for humans, not Google.

Big mistake.

Not the second part, mind you … I definitely agree with that: when you’re writing content, you absolutely want to write for your audience … not Google.

But …

You still need to optimize your content with the right keywords if you want Google to rank you and give you free traffic.

Bottom line: you need to let Google know what your content is about!

And how do we do that?

By using the right keywords.

Write About What People Are Searching For

Let’s take a simple example.

Say you have a blog about growing and monetizing your blog and you have been killing it on Pinterest lately, so you want to show your readers how they can make money by being active on Pinterest and driving traffic back to their site.

You fire up WordPress and enter your title, which is pretty catchy and will pique some curiosity when you post it to Pinterest: “I made $2,000 From Pinterest Last Month And So Can You”.

Then you bang out a killer post without paying any attention to keywords (because you write for humans, not Google), hit publish and hope Google will give you some traffic.

Sound familiar?

Yeah, this is not how we want to write our content.

Why? Because no one is searching for the phrase “I made $2,000 From Pinterest Last Month And So Can You” in Google!

With just a bit of upfront research we can still create a killer piece of content but which is actually optimized for Google. (Notice how I said optimized for Google, not written for Google?)

Ok. So we know we still want to write about making money on Pinterest so we head over to Ahrefs Keywords Explorer and type in “make money pinterest” as our keyword.

Let’s see what it spits back:

This screen is showing us a couple of things:

  • 1
    We can see that about 90 people search for “make money pinterest” every month … which isn’t a whole lot (very generally speaking I like to target keywords with 1,000+ searches per month)
  • 2
    We can see that Ahrefs has suggested a “parent topic” that might be a better keyword for us to target: “how to make money on pinterest”, which gets 1,400 searches per month! Bingo! 

We know that nearly 1,500 people are searching Google for this phrase each month, and it relates exactly to what our blog post topic is about …

So this would be GREAT to use for our main keyword and to incorporate into our blog post title (Remember: your main keyword is generally always included in your blog post title). 

How about a blog post title like this? “How To Make Money on Pinterest (The Ultimate Step-By-Step Guide)

So it’s still a reasonably catchy title that will draw in readers, and it’s also optimized for Google search since it includes the keyword “how to make money on pinterest”, which we know a lot of people are searching for!

Since this isn’t meant to be a detailed guide on keyword research, I won’t go any deeper into the topic here … but just know that this is only Step 1 of your keyword research process 🙂

After you do research for your main keyword / blog post title, you want to keep going by looking for related, smaller keywords (also called “long tail keywords” that you can also sprinkle throughout your blog post.

What To Write About If You Don’t Have Any Authority Yet?

A common question a lot of bloggers have is what kind of keywords should you be targeting if you don’t have much authority yet?

While it’s true that when you’re first starting out and don’t have a lot of backlinks yet and your authority is low it's going to be hard to rank …

I still say you should target any keyword in your niche that has the potential to give you good targeted traffic …

Even if that keyword has a lot of strong competition and you might not be able to rank for it right away.

Why?

If you’re treating your blog as a business and are in it for the long run—and let’s be clear about one thing: SEO is a long-term play—then your goal should be able to rank for any relevant keyword in your niche and create epic content around it, regardless of how difficult it is.

I’ll have a future, dedicated guide to keyword research which dives into this topic more carefully.

Chapter 5: On-Page SEO

While it’s great that we identified our main keyword and included it in our blog post title, we still have a lot of work to do.

Remember earlier when we said we want to make sure Google knows what our whole site is about?

Well, the same is true about each individual post that we publish to our blog!

And the term for all these little tweaks we make to our content and post information (title, URL, meta description, etc) is called “on-page SEO”.

On-page SEO is actually really freaking easy, but also really important and you don’t want to screw up.

On a post-by-post basis*, this is all you really need to know.

*Note for right now we are ignoring things like website speed and mobile-friendliness, which are definitely extremely important, but are out of scope here.

9 Tips For Optimizing Your On-Page SEO

1. Use Your Main Keyword In Your Post Title

As we just discussed, it’s ideal to include your main keyword someone in the title of your post.

This gives Google a big red flashing signal right off the bat that this is what your post is about, which in turn will help them rank you for that keyword.

So in our previous example of how to make money on Pinterest …

Optimized: “How To Make Money on Pinterest (The Ultimate Step-By-Step Guide)”.

Not Optimized: “I made $2,000 From Pinterest Last Month And So Can You”

2. Keep Your URL Slug Short & Sweet

The URL slug for your blog posts are just the characters that come after your domain name. For example:

This isn’t going to make or break your SEO performance, but remember: we are all about optimizing our content for Google.

And big, long, ugly URLs aren’t doing you any favors. Keep your URL slugs short and sweet and, ideally, include your keyword in there as well.

Optimized: stupidsimpleseo.co/make-money-pinterest

Not optimized: stupidsimpleseo.co/how-to-make-money-on-pinterest-the-ultimate-step-by-step-guide

Note: in the "optimized" example you’ll see I excluded the word “how” , and this is because generally speaking, you don’t want to use any “stop” words in your slugs (e.g., “how”, “to”, “and”, etc).

By the way, you can edit your URL slug directly in WordPress.

3. Use A Click-Worthy Meta Description

Your meta description is the little box of text that appears under your blog post title in the Google search results:

I find that your average SEO guru overemphasizes the importance of your meta description—it’s definitely best practice to optimize, just not absolutely crucial—but it’s good to get in the habit of not only writing out a meta description for each blog post (some people leave it blank), but also including your keyword AND making it click-worthy.

Remember, the whole point of the meta description is to entice the person searching in Google to actually click on your blog post!

So don’t be lazy and just throw up some boring meta description—make it pop! 

One quick copywriting I technique to craft a lot of my meta descriptions is the Problem-Agitate-Solve Formula.  

This simple formula works like this:

  • Introduce a problem
  • ​Agitate that problem
  • Offer a preview of your solution to that problem

So in our example post of How To Make Money On Pinterest, I might write a meta description that looks like this …

Not making any money on your blog from Pinterest? You know tons of bloggers are killing it on Pinterest, but you just can’t seem to figure it out. In this detailed guide, we’ll show you exactly how to make money on Pinterest step-by-step.

Ok, so I literally just typed that up in 15 seconds but I think you get the idea.

Make your metas click-worthy and don’t forget to include your main keyword!

4. Include Your Keyword In The Beginning Of Your Post

Again, this is another one of those “best practice” tips that’s good to get in the habit of doing, but won’t make or break your SEO.

Including your main keyword at the beginning of your post (aim for within the first 100-200 words) ties back to the concept of letting Google know what your content is all about!

5. Sprinkle LSI Keywords Throughout Your Post

LSI keywords are just thematic keywords that help Google understand your content better (are you starting to understand how important this concept is?)

You can see a visual of this idea here:

Basically, how does Google understand the difference between a person searching for information on the latest Apple Watch Keynote, vs information on how to make an apple pie?

Well, in part, they do it by examining the LSI keywords on your page, as seen above.

So it’s a good idea to sprinkle these keywords naturally within your content so that you rank for more related keywords.

LSI Graph is a neat (free) tool that allows you to search for these LSI keywords.

We just plug in our main keyword; in this example we’ll pretend we’re writing a blog post on 101 Coconut Oil Benefits:

And LSI Graph will spit out a whole bunch of LSI keywords:

Now, when we’re writing our post on the 101 Benefits of Coconut Oil, we’ll probably want to add some sections on the keywords/concepts I’ve indicated above.

Not only will this hammer home with Google what we’re writing about (relevance), but it will also help us rank for those additional keywords!

Just remember to only include the keywords that are relevant to the topic you are writing about and which match your user intent, and to not spam your article with hundreds of these keywords in nonsensical places (always use them naturally).

6. Use Internal Links To Link To Related Content On Your Own Site

If letting Google know what our site and our content are about is so important, then internal linking is our best friend.

Internal linking is exactly what it sounds like …

Say you are writing a post how to build an emergency fund. And somewhere in that post you mention the importance of creating a budget.

Well, what do you know: you also have a really great guide on your blog on how to create a budget you can actually stick to.

So in your post about emergency funds, when you get to the part about creating a budget, you simply interlink to your post about creating a budget.

That’s all there is to it.

And this helps your SEO in two ways …

One, you’re letting Google know that not only are you creating great content about one topic (emergency funds), but you also have another great piece of content about another topic (budgeting) and that they are incredibly relevant to each other.

Two, you are helping spread the “link juice” of your site around, so any authority that your emergency funds post eventually picks up will spread to your budgeting post as well, helping it to climb higher in the rankings.

7. Link To Other Authoritative Websites In Your Niche

You don’t only want to link to your own site, though.

You should also make it a point, where it makes sense, to link out to other, authoritative sites in your niche as well.

For example, in your post about emergency funds, say you want to give your reader a reference point about the “snowball method” … and so you include a link back to Dave Ramsey.

This is smart to do for a couple of reasons:

First, you are being helpful to your reader by providing them with additional, helpful information. And that’s the whole point about creating content—to help your audience and solve their problems!

Second, by linking to Dave Ramsey’s site, you are adding thematic relevance to your own site by associating it with a bigger site with more authority in the same niche. This sends more relevance signals to Google!

Finally, you are showing Google that you are a trusted resource yourself for information about personal finance because you are including so many high-quality sources!

8. Optimize Your Images With Keywords

Ok, I have to be honest: I almost didn’t include this tip because it’s so overstated and I actually don’t think it’s that important …

(You'll see in this very post that not all of my images are optimized). 

But then I remind myself that following “best practices” has never gotten anyone in trouble with SEO before, and so I include it here.

When you’re adding images to your post in WordPress, it’s a good idea to include relevant keywords in both the Title and the Alt Text like so:

This is because the Googlebot cannot actually “read” those images (it can only read text), so by including some keyword-optimized Alt Text in the image files, we’re helping the Googlebot read the file.

Again … I see a lot of SEO gurus listing this as like a “top 5 SEO tip” when it really won’t move the needle, but it’s good to know I guess.

Moving on.

9. Create Epic Content

I saved the most important tip for last.

We already touched on this earlier, but it bears repeating here: when you’re publishing content to rank highly in Google, you should really aim to create EPIC, long form content!

Check out this graph from Backlinko:

In short, they analyzed over 1 million Google search results and found that the average first page result in Google is 1,890 words!

Why?

Simple: Google loves long, in-depth, resourceful blog posts!

And that means the days of tapping out run-of-the-mill 500-word blog posts and calling it a day are long gone.

Chapter 6: The #1 Google Ranking Factor (Backlinks)

Here’s an unfortunate truth …

You could produce the most epic and niche-relevant blog post the world has ever seen ...

But if your site doesn’t have a lot of backlinks pointing to it, you’re going to have a terrible time ranking in Google.

Why?

Because backlinks are still the most important ranking factor.

If you want to rank highly in Google and drive organic traffic back to your site, you need backlinks!

And why is that?

Remember when we talked about “authority” in Chapter 3?

And that Google tends to favor sites with a lot of authority when they’re ranking sites?

Backlinks = authority.

But not just any backlinks.

No. We want backlinks from sites that are relevant to our niche and authoritative themselves!

Let’s dive into this a little deeper ...

5 Characteristics Of A Good Backlink

In my view, a “good” backlink is …

  • Do-follow
  • Editorially-placed
  • Within the context of a post or page
  • On a website with good “authority”
  • Niche-relevant to our site or our specific post

Now let’s break these down one-by-one …

1. Do-Follow Backlinks

I’m not going to write an entire post on do-follow vs no-follow, but if you don’t know what the difference is, read this article.

Just know that 1) a no-follow backlink does NOT help your SEO; 2) the good news is that most of the links that we are chasing are by-default do-follow, so this isn’t really something you have to worry about.

Generally, the only time another site owner or blogger would no-follow your link is if it’s in a comment you left on their site—which happens automatically, and “comment links” are useless anyway—or if it’s a paid/sponsored post, but we don’t want sponsored post links, so again, it doesn’t matter.

2. Editorially-Placed Backlinks

Speaking of not wanting sponsored post links …

All of the links that are worth building are given “editorially” and NOT paid for.

What does that even mean?

It’s when another blogger links out to you because they wanted to: either because your link added more information for their readers, or they wanted to cite a source, or they wanted to quote you, etc.

For example, when I link out to Jeff over at Breaking The One Percent here in this very post …

It’s an “editorially placed” link because I was quoting him and wanted to give him credit.

It’s really that simple.

Now … what’s an example of something that is NOT editorially-placed?

When you pay another blogger to give you a do-follow link!

And you definitely do NOT want to do that.

Remember: Do not pay for links, ever. It’s against Google’s TOS and eventually they will find out you’re doing it and penalize your site so hard that you will never rank in their search results again.

This has happened to thousands of sites (just Google “Google Penguin” if you’re curious) and is the dumbest thing you could possibly do.

Seriously: do not pay for links!

And if another blogger is asking for a “guest posting fee” to guest post on their site — a post that you are creating for FREE for them so they have FREE content to give THEIR readers and which will take HOURS of your precious, limited time to write—please tell them to kindly fuck off.

3. Backlinks Within The Context Of A Post Or Page

Now this one might not seem like a big deal, but it is …

You know how usually when you’re writing a guest post for someone else’s site, you get a “bio box” waaaay at the end of the post that looks like this?

Yeah, those links are not exactly worthless but they are definitely devalued by Google as they appear after the post.

What is much more preferable is a link within the actual post itself!

Like this:

So when you’re guest posting for another blog, try your best to include a link not just in the bio box, but within the post as well.

This graphic by Moz helps explain this a little better visually:

You’ll see that links in the sidebar and the footer/bottom of a post pass less value than a link smack dab in the middle of a page.

4. Backlinks On A Website With Good Authority

We’ve talked about authority a bit already but I just want to drive the point home a little more, ok?

If you just started a new personal finance blog, would you rather have a link from Mr. Money Mustache or from a PF blogger who just launched their site three weeks ago?

Of course, a link from Mr. Money Mustache is much better from an SEO perspective because MMM’s site has a lot of authority!

How do we know?

Again, we can use Moz’s free Open Site Explorer and check the Domain Authority score:

A Domain Authority (DA) of 66 is excellent and we would kill for a link from MMM!

So, generally speaking you want to try and get links from high-authority sites. But this is all relative and really depends on your own site’s authority too.

What do I mean?

Well, if you’re a new blogger, you don’t have any authority yet so getting a link from another personal finance blog with a DA score of even 10 is good because it’s better than ours.

But if you’re a PF blogger and you’ve built up your authority over the years to a DA score of, say, 45, then we really shouldn’t be chasing links from sites with a lower DA than us (not that it will hurt us, it’s just not really worth the effort).

So a quick rule of thumb: if you are actively chasing links via a guest post or another form of outreach, then it’s best to focus on sites with a Domain Authority that is equal or greater than yours.

Cool? 

5. Backlinks That Are Niche-Relevant To Our Post And/Or Site

I’ve been droning on and on about relevance throughout this entire post, so you didn’t think I’d forget about its importance here, did you? 🙂

It’s pretty simple: we want to get links from sites whose niche is at least somewhat related to ours!

Think about it: if you’re a food blogger and the majority of your links come from dog training sites, would that make a lot of sense?

Would Google start to think that something fishy was going on, and devalue the importance of those links?

Yes. Yes, they would. Because dog training has nothing to do with food and recipes!

So even if a dog site with high domain authority linked to your food site, Google isn’t likely to give it much weight because it’s irrelevant to your site!

So, yeah: always try to build links that are relevant to your niche.

However ...

I will say there is one exception to this rule, and it’s on a post-by-post basis …

Let’s say you’re a mommy blogger and you are writing an epic guide on how doing pilates helped you get in shape and you included all these helpful pilates tips.

And you emailed a couple of fitness bloggers and asked them to check out your guide, since it was so epic and you wanted to share.

And a few of those fitness bloggers loved your post so much that they posted it on their site to share with their readers.

Would Google consider these links “relevant”?

Yeah, I think so.

Because even though you’re in the mommy blogger niche, it’s totally normal for moms to write about fitness and exercise once in a while, and an epic post about pilates would naturally attract links from blogs in the fitness niche.

So no problem there.

Thank You

I hope this beginner’s guide helped you to understand SEO in plain English.

There were definitely some things I left out, mostly on the “technical” side, and I did that for a reason:

For our purposes, as bloggers and content creators, they’re simply not that important.

Also ... I’ve also been a big believer in the 80/20 principle when it comes to SEO:

If you focus on ...

  • 1
    Being niche relevant
  • 2
    Optimizing for the right keywords
  • 3
    Creating epic content
  • 4
    Building up your authority with high quality links

You’ll have the most important things under control and your SEO is bound to improve as as result.

If you have any questions, comments, or feedback, I'd love to hear it below!

P.S. In my next post I'm going to share with you an interesting case study where I used something called the The GuestoRoundup Technique to build dozens of backlinks to my outdoors site when I first launched it. Make sure you're signed up to my email list to get notified when it's published 🙂