Most people stumble into SEO because they've built a website and want to know why people can't find it. Some will find SEO as a "get rich quick" scheme - those are very popular. Me? I was a little bit of both, but the thing is - I was having SEO success long before I knew what it was. I stumbled onto SEO by accident.
SEO is not difficult to learn. But getting good at SEO? That takes patience and perseverance - and that's where some people get left in the dust.
This is not a beginner's guide to SEO. This is just my story - how I got into SEO, why it matters, and why my greatest success with SEO was a total accident. Let's get started.
Can you do SEO without content? Kind of.
First off - a definition. Just in case you're brand new to the field. "Search Engine Optimization" (SEO) is just a set of strategies and tools that we use to help us get ranked on search engines. Like Google.
Search engines mostly rely on code and text to tell them what's relevant. Increasingly, images and alt text are becoming important. But you need to give the search engine an idea of who you are, and content is the easiest way.
You can do a few SEO things without content - link building, page speed, and off page SEO are all techniques that could be done with very little content. But in SEO and on the internet - content is king.
And content is how I got into SEO. It's story time, so buckle up.
My most popular blog post was a total accident.
It was the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and our Marketing Director wanted to get some feel good content out there. So, we decided to write some general feel good blogs about wildlife and nature. This makes sense, because my day job is as Conservation Scientist for Dogwood Alliance.
As the staff scientist, I agreed to write a few. We wrote about birds, and butterflies, and even fungi. But one I wrote in particular just took off. Like, seriously - took off.
"Things That Go Bump In The Night" - A Winning Blog Concept
Have you ever heard a noise at night that you can't identify? I have. I was living in rural western North Carolina at the time, and when I was out with my dogs at night, I would hear an odd sound. It sounded like wood was being scraped or twisted. No matter how hard I looked, I couldn't pinpoint the noise.
I spent hours scouring the search engines, trying to find an answer to my question. After my third or fourth night of trying, I finally stumbled onto a YouTube video with the EXACT noise I had been looking for. Bingo. It was a wood boring beetle in some downed trees.
So my blog was all about these night noises. And it became an overnight success. We could watch the visits pouring in on Google Analytics and even Search Console, but seeing the data and understanding them were two very different things.
It was popular because it keyed in on high-search, low-answer queries.
This is the golden ticket in SEO. The sacred cow. The holy grail. Highly searched terms that are easy to rank for? That's money in the bank. Except in this case, we're a nonprofit, so - you know. Subscribers and a few donations to help out the cause.
If you know nothing else about SEO, remember this. No amount of YouTube videos, get rich quick schemes, and articles will ever help as much as understanding this one particular goal in SEO. Highly searched, not well answered queries are the bread and butter of SEO success. Other things may play a part, but content is king. Content takes the cake.
PS - This is also called "keyword research"
Keyword research is the act of trying to find those unicorn keywords for search engines. Search engines don't just hand them off - you have to search for them yourself. Google Search Console can potentially help you find new keywords, as can Google Analytics. But really, taking time to learn SEO and just practice will also yield serious dividends.
42,000 visitors to a page about bugs
The blog was published in May of 2020, and since then, has consistently accumulated users every month. It is often our top performing page - about our About Us page, and above any other popular blogs.
Now, you'll see that our stats aren't perfect. We're capturing people - and they're spending a long time on the page. But we've got a high bounce rate and exit rate. Likely, because people find what they're searching for, and move along. Dogwood Alliance is a forest protection organization, so it makes sense that this semi-unrelated blog would cause a lot of bounce.
We're working on the bounce. But that's only a portion of the story. This blog post - and its success - is how I started down the search engine optimization path and finally learn SEO.
How can I replicate my SEO success?
That was the question I landed on. You know - after I figured out what SEO meant for the general web. I'd had some experience with e-commerce, but general web content was a whole different beast. So, like many of us do, I turned to research, and tools, and YouTube, and practice.
Much of what I end up doing is "on page SEO" - things on the page that are going to boost my rankings. This can be making sure that headings are formatted properly, content is relevant, and even mobile friendliness. You don't need to go off the deep end into technical SEO to make a difference on your site. A search engine will accept any offerings you give it, and search engine crawlers are equal opportunity crawlers. They'll tell you which SEO concepts are working for you, and which ones you can probably drop.
Where we don't quite have viral success on our other blogs yet, the blogs that I commission or write myself are doing much better than other blogs on Dogwood's website. I've managed to key into the content that our readers find interesting: 700-1500 words, 7-9th grade reading level, and trending positive.
Success looks different for every project.
42k views for a single page is astounding for a medium sized nonprofit working on forest protection in the US. That may be a drop in the ocean for your field. But understanding where the bar is, and how to clear it - that's the key. And in the year and a half since I wrote that Bumps In The Night blog - I've been working to perfect it.
Things That Go Bump In The Night was definitely my first break out success, but it's not the last. I'm working with different clients, across different fields, to build websites that make it to the top of their rankings and stay there. Not by cheating, not by link building. But by creating useful content that folks are actively searching for.
I had success before I ever paid for a tool, took a class, or wrote with AI. You can, too.
If you're curious about what SEO looks like for your project, reach out. I'm happy to give you my two cents.
PS - Digital marketing has to be more than Facebook ads
Digital marketing is more than your latest social media marketing hack or TikTok video. Search engine marketing is one of the best ways to reach your customers. These are customers, clients, potential donors, that are all actively looking for something. And with YOUR online marketing - you get to provide the answer. How neat is that?
Drop Facebook, get engaged with SEO. You'll thank me later.