Let’s face the facts: these days we’re not sure if we own our businesses, or algorithms do.

That’s why most people wish SEO would just kick the bucket and leave us to our messy, wild internet where (we think) we stand a chance of succeeding. Because if you’re not ranking first for your top 3 keywords, are you even marketing?

The real truth behind every “SEO is dying,” is that you just plain and simple suck at it.

The good news? You can suck less.

Here’s what you need to do to win at SEO in 2018:

#1: Stop listening to gurus

Here’s the permission you were looking for: you can stop reading Medium blogs and subscribing to newsletters like your life depends on it.

How many times can you really read an article about SEO that will actually tell you to change your mindset and subscribe to a $2,000 webinar?

That being said, there are some great SEO resources out there even if you’re a complete beginner, so if you smell mindset-speak, run as far as you can. SEO is technical, not mythical.

Win at SEO by: Consulting professional SEO resources

If you want to roll up your sleeves, and get down and dirty with SEO, you need to understand what’s going on. You can start by checking out Moz, Backlinko, Hubspot, great industry blogs that stay up to date on trends and development.

#2: Optimize your SEO for people

The main reason Search Engine Optimization exists in the first place is so people can find the content they’re looking for.

Now, Google’s algorithms are far from perfect, which is why we have to gently steer them in the right direction.

The problem happens when people mindlessly shove links at indexing robots, and insert so many keywords that no one in their right mind wants to read it.

And if your target audience click on your link and close it in 5 seconds flat, you’ve got a problem. And it’s not just about SEO.

Because, according to John Mueller (Google’s spokesman), Google monitors how users interact with indexed content:

“If nobody’s searching for [keywords], then nobody’s going to find your content.  Or if they do find your content they’re gonna be like, I don’t know what this means, and they go somewhere else to either convert or to read more, or to find more information.”

Win at SEO by: Creating for people

·         Adapt your content to your audience (e.g. don’t use industry lingo when talking to the general public and/or skip basic definitions when talking to pros)

·         Think about people reading your content, not Google indexing it – robots will read pretty much anything, people won’t

Pictured: your target audience (on the right), not your target audience (on the left)

#3: Build relationships and encourage engagement

There’s an old saying in content marketing: “Content is king.” Everyone and their mothers have already heard it, but it’s still true.

If you want people to read your content, it has to be good.

This means that you need a good content strategy. People won’t read a 4k post unless they have a reason to trust you, or unless it’s chock-full of valuable information.

Ideally, you want to combine building a relationship with your audience and offering useful content. But since the day only has 24 hours, here’s what you can do to get your SEO going:

Win at SEO by:

a) Providing value

Give your readers something interesting. Naeem’s already written about shitty content, so don’t do that.

Sometimes even swearing when talking about your industry can be a good way to get a chuckle out of people who’ve gotten used to reading stuffy whitepapers.

And don’t copy-paste definitions, please.

Test & experiment. You can’t create awesome content if you just repeat what everyone else is doing. And you want awesome content for even more awesome shares so Google bestows the gift of sales upon you.

Stake out the competition by all means. Just don’t copy them.

And if testing goes to shit, well, at least you’ve got a funny story to tell at parties (or in blogs).

b) Building relationships

A lot of people don’t understand just how much SEO relies on content strategy and your general brand image.

Before calling SEO dead, try this:

·         Use a cross-platform approach. Promote your content on social media and start conversations with people

·         Encourage engagement with questions and statements (Did you notice our title? ;) )

·         Don’t just focus on SEO: strive to get results from other channels

“Building relationships” is just a nice way to say that if you want Google visibility in 2018, you need to mix & match with other channels.

#4: Keyword research

All you need to do is plug your words into Google Keyword Planner or a similar tool, and list them. That’s not the problem.

The key is getting the initial kick that’s going to make algorithms notice you, and rank your content properly.

What we want in 2018 is links and engagement (since those are the SEO cash cows), so find channels where your audience hangs out, and post your content there.

These channels could be Facebook groups, Twitter hashtags, message boards, Reddit subreddits, or even Pinterest.

Win at SEO by: Being subversive

·         Forget Google – the best way to Google (and SEO) is by approaching it indirectly and showing that you’re giving value in other ways

·         Reach your audience where it hangs out, and promote your content there

Backlinks can be a lot of things: your content shared on an 89-year-old Chicago grandma’s news feed, they’re your content linked to from a blog with high authority, they’re not any more complicated than the good old word of mouth.

Backlinks are actually referrals. And instead of leaving comments on popular blogs, try this:

1) Use Other Channels (capitalized because it’s important)

Again, good content is only SEO-worthy if it’s getting in front of the eyeballs that need it.

If you’ve already done everything technical, use other channels like social media to get the engagement that’ll signal to Google that your page is great.

2) Motivate people to share your content

Everyone keeps talking about value, but it doesn’t mean anything if people aren’t sharing it and seeing it.

One of the neat tricks SEO experts do to promote themselves is ask people to share their links (or snippets from their blogs) on social media, and offer their services for free to one lucky sharer.

3) Find industry aggregators

There are a lot of websites that aggregate other industry sources.

For example, Product Hunt is great for startups, and they’ve got high domain authoritywhich shows Google that they’re a trustworthy backlink source.

These aggregators exist for most industries so find the most important one in yours, and find a way to get onto their list. Sometimes it’s as simple as emailing someone in charge of it.  

Consider starting off small.

Why?

·         Smaller websites have communities and offer potential for growth and cooperation (more than one & done)

·         They’re more approachable and communication goes faster

·         You’ll learn a lot about your audience in the process

So while getting a backlink from Forbes could be stellar for your business, it’s not easily achievable. Focus on something that’s going to bring immediate results, and offer opportunities for long-term SEO benefits.

5) Guest posting

Guest posting is as simple (and as hard) as writing a guest post for someone else’s website. SEO-wise, you get value from getting a link back to your site.

It can be a hassle, so it’s up to you to see if that makes sense in your industry.

This means adding links to your site or posts to your profiles on social media. It’s pretty time-consuming but if you’re actively using these platforms, it’ll be useful.

It doesn’t make much sense to create new profiles just for SEO since empty profiles are like wastelands:  impossible to avoid in a nuclear apocalypse, best left alone while we still have 4G.

#6: SEO technicalities

There’s a lot of articles about SEO technicalities out there so I’m not going to waste your time. Here’s what matters:

·         Find keywords

·         Share your content to proper channels

·         Install SEO plugins for your content management systems (for example, Yoast is great for Wordpress)

·         Use LSI keywords in your content (related keywords – if you’re writing about dentists, related keywords would be: teeth, cavities, etc.)

·         Don’t forget ALT tags (add keywords to file names)

·         Don’t forget context (include keyword synonyms)

·         Use internal links (link to your other content)

·         If possible, use media like photos, infographics and videos (they keep readers on the page longer, and that shows Google your page is good)

Accurate depiction of SEO (in 2014, sorry)

#7: Final word on SEO

SEO isn’t going to kick the bucket any time soon, (un)fortunately.

And while it’s unavoidable, it’s not as definitive as it was a couple of years back. Today, Google search is dominated by all kinds of feature boxes, paid ads, and other goodies that mean organic reach is going down.

So while you should think about SEO, don’t wrack your brains about it too much. SEO is a natural part of doing business today, so set everything up technically, optimize periodically, and start talking to your users.  

Think about your audience with your content, with your strategy, with your products. SEO is neat, but people read and buy.

Don’t feed the algorithms too much. Share something tasty, and feed people instead.