If you’re reading this, you’ve probably heard the term “SEO” before. You’ve probably also heard of people using it to make a fortune.
SEO stands for search engine optimization. From an industry standpoint, it’s the process of improving your website so users can enjoy it and search engines can understand it.
From a human standpoint, it’s the way you make your site show up in Google search results.
I had a serious run-in with SEO about a year ago — one where I needed some help pretty quickly.
In a nutshell, I was in a sticky situation with two options:
- Make money quickly
- Lose my house
But before we get to that, I want to give a little disclaimer.
You’re probably a part of a business — maybe the marketing manager or even the CEO. When SEO saved my hide, I wasn’t working in that capacity. I was developing a personal, supplemental income to keep my head above water.
Still, the principles of my story apply to most businesses. In fact, I’m confident you’ll get something out of this unless you run a global enterprise.
So if you’re part of a small- or mid-sized business, read to the end. You might even relate to a couple things along the way.
Anyway — here’s what happened with SEO.
At 24, I lived in a city where rent demanded half of someone’s net income.
So I started saving for a house as much as I could — it drove me nuts that I was paying someone else’s mortgage instead of building my own equity.
But you can only save so much. And sometimes life just happens and you could lose everything in a matter of a day.
So I had to make something happen.
For me, that meant writing. I’d been writing for about seven years at the time, but literary magazines and online journals never paid that well.
So I wrote my first full-length novel and published it on Amazon Kindle in the hopes of earning…
Anything, pretty much.
(I’m not linking it because that’s a conflict of interest.)
Long story short, my book didn’t sell well. But it paid a little, and I could finally save.
Fast-forward four years and I’m buying a house.
Since I started selling my book (and working at WebpageFX), I took my checking account from $700 to $18,000 — an increase of 25.7x — without the need for federal assistance on my mortgage.
It wasn’t easy. I denied myself social occasions, hobbies, vacations, sick days, evenings, weekends, doctor visits, heat in the winter, air in the summer, and any grocery that cost more than $3.
So, yeah, after four years of that I was pretty excited to buy a house.
By the time I signed the paperwork in March of last year, my book hadn’t sold in years. I hardly wrote on my own either since I wrote so much at my job.
But working at WebpageFX meant I didn’t have to worry about supplemental income for the first time in half a decade. I’ve been here almost two years now and WebpageFX is still the best place I’ve ever worked for a lot of reasons.
One of those reasons is that I’m not “getting by” for the first time in my life.
So when I started working here, I did a couple things I never had before. Relaxing. Indulging. Spending a little on myself.
I wanted a house and at 27, I made it happen. It sounded like a good idea to take some time and just hang out, you know?
But then July happened.
July: Crueler than April since 2016.
First, did you know that your mortgage’s interest rate can be fixed, but your escrow payments can always change?
Because I didn’t.
That same month, my mechanic said I needed new tires to pass inspection, and I also had to renew my homeowner’s insurance, car registration, and driver’s license.
Not to mention I’d been renovating my 100-year-old house since it still had the original windows and insulation. I even stopped renovations for a few months because I knew July would require a lot of cash (but not quite this much).
Chuck in a few other debt-causing responsibilities and accidents, and I felt just as much dread as I felt excitement on the day I got my house.
It’s not that I’d go broke in one fell swoop — it was my ratio of newly-acquired debt to my steady income. I crunched the numbers, and unless I found supplemental income, my debts would outpace my earnings. I’d be deep in the red, and I’d need an apartment by November.
Which is weird, because I made more money that summer than I ever had in my life.
But like I said, sometimes life just happens.
That’s when I got an email from NameCheap. The domain I bought for my book — and never developed — turned five that day.
I had forgotten about it for years. But there was my answer.
So I built my book a website.
And I’ll be honest — I didn’t expect it to work. I expected I’d have to sell furniture to keep my head above water.
But I still have my furniture.
I still have my house, too.
Here’s how I made it happen.
1. Targeting long, specific search terms
My starting SEO position wasn’t great. I didn’t have a brand-new website like most people — I had a five-year-old website that had nothing on it.
I basically told Google not to bother my domain for half a decade.
But I had to start somewhere.
I started with the basic pages for my site: Homepage, about page, product page, contact page — the usual stuff.
Then I jumped to long-tail keywords. These are search terms longer than three words, and the people who use them typically know exactly what they want.
More importantly, they’re also more qualified to buy from you.
You may have seen a graph about long-tail keywords that looks something like this:
Most keywords are long and specific, which is what you want from a searcher.
The reasoning behind this is based on two ideas:
- Broad search terms (“soda,” “restaurant”) are vague; they probably won’t earn customers
- If someone knows what they want, they’ll look for it specifically to buy it
But there’s a downside to long-tail keywords — they don’t get much traffic.
If I wanted to get a lot of people to buy my book, I needed to target a lot of keywords.
That meant more keyword research. More planning. More writing.
But hey — you gotta crack a few eggs to make an omelet.
You also have to write a few pages to get search traffic.
2. Writing new pages (and making them good)
Fun fact about writing: No matter who you are, your first draft probably sucks.
That’s why it’s so important to have an editor. The best will surgically go through your work, point out the flaws, and suggest improvements.
If you don’t have an editor at your business (or an editing system), find one immediately. It might add a little time to your publishing process, but it’s worth the effort to get good content on your site.
Good content is important, too. The Internet is overflowing with thin, unhelpful articles with a lot of text but no real meaning. You can stand apart by saying something — anything — that’s actionable.
Consistently producing good content is challenging though, so it’s understandable why so many sites phone it in.
As an example, just look at how many stock photos of frustrated writers are online.
A lot of them are redheads for some reason.
But the payoff of creating good content is well worth the effort — even the frustration. Poor content just doesn’t work.
These are the biggest problems with bad content:
- It’s bad
- It’s everywhere
- It provides a terrible user experience for potential customers
Bad content isn’t restricted to new websites, either. Some “reputable” sites online regularly pump out vague, keyword-packed, ad-stuffed articles that have a lot of words, but absolutely zero actionable points.
(Surprise: Google’s algorithm isn’t perfect.)
I solved that by leading my content with at least one actionable point related to my book’s genre — my “industry.”
I also experimented with adding a tl;dr (too long; didn’t read) at the top of a few to increase my time on page, but it honestly didn’t work that well for me. Although it might for you — it’s worth a shot if you haven’t tried it.
Regardless, the trifecta of bad content threatens the integrity of any brand from a single author to a business of 10,000 employees.
I contacted a friend of mine to be my editor, and she quickly showed me that sentences could sound really good in my head but read like total garbage online.
That’s an exercise in self-discovery, and it can have a huge, positive impact on your future writing.
But even with the effort that content demands, it’s still easy compared to the question that comes after you’ve written it all.
How do you get people to read what you wrote?
3. Getting people to my content
So I had my site set up. I had a decent amount of content for a one-man operation. And I had weekly traffic of about…
Measured in increments of 0.5 to make me feel better.
I ran my website on static HTML so I could customize every technical SEO element.
My first step was title tags (<title>,</title>). These are the bits of HTML code that tell Google what your page is about. They’re also the text that shows up as the blue link in Google search results.
Or purple, if you’ve clicked the link already.
I also made a Twitter account (again not linking because of conflict of interest) and promoted the page where I had my book for sale.
I got a healthy following. Even though I struggled to regularly update my site, what I had got a handful of clicks.
But it worked! Not right away — but it worked!
Traffic: Now in whole numbers!
I knew that 30 visitors wasn’t a lot.
At the same time, I learned something disappointing about the few people who did come to my site.
They were there — but they weren’t buying.
4. Getting people to buy my book
So my SEO attempts paid off in traffic. But they weren’t paying actual dollars.
And because I was selling an ebook, I didn’t have many options for typical promotion.
My marketing dream.
So that means you don’t have to create all-new pages to earn more customers. You can take your best pages, make a few changes on them, and earn more customers without investing in new content.
Pretty sweet deal, right?
For me, that meant using buttons to link to my Amazon sales page instead of plain-text links.
It also meant playing around with the colors of those buttons, adding images to my content to make it more engaging, and changing page URLs to be more interesting.
Once again, it took a while to get this done. I had to keep an eye on what I did for every page, track the increase in conversions via Google Analytics, and determine if I could use the same improvements on multiple pages.
I spent a lot of time using spreadsheets and manually tracking this stuff because, as a one-person side hustle, tools like MarketingCloudFX weren’t on my radar at the time.
So this part probably took me way longer than it’d take for a company.
But the results speak for themselves — although they’re definitely better with software backing you up.
Once again measured in whole numbers.
Best of all, it paid off just how I wanted.
But I feel like the last four sections covered what I did really quickly. I want to emphasize that these results did not occur overnight.
That’s why there’s another element of SEO that people don’t talk about that often.
But believe me, they should. It’s an enormous part of marketing in general.
It’s also arguably the worst part — especially when you have a rough month ahead of you.
I hate waiting.
On a scale of 1-100, “waiting for something to happen” ranks about a 3.5 in terms of my personal happiness, with a 1 being a nest of spiders exploding over my bed and a 100 being this picture of a capybara wearing a leaf as a hat.
Like I said earlier, my website didn’t start from a great place in terms of SEO.
So I waited a long time for my first page-one result on Google — way longer than you or your company will probably have to wait (or had to wait, if you started SEO already).
And my page-one ranking wasn’t for anything extravagant. But it was enough. My analytics showed that I had grown from those 30 visitors per week to 50 just from nailing that one keyword.
Needless to say, I was pretty excited — not no-FHA-for-a-home-loan excited, but still excited.
Just like the years before, my book didn’t make much money. I can’t overstate how valuable it was though.
My book bought me time — time I used to form a payment plan for myself that focused-down my new debts to get them out of my hair ASAP.
And to be honest, I didn’t expect SEO to work this well. But that’s by far the best part.
After I created the content, optimized it, and implemented CRO, I got way more sales than I expected.
It didn’t make me rich by any stretch of the imagination. I’m not someone who can claim SEO made me a millionaire.
But it was exactly what I needed at the time.
The best part is that I still get sales every once in a while with very little active maintenance — including in my sleep. Weekends. Holidays. Vacations.
SEO never takes a break. I could get a sale when I’m out to dinner or opening Christmas presents with my family.
This is also why I wrote a second book and I’m starting a third: When you put the work into your product and a solid website, SEO pays dividends for a long, long time.
And if you ever want to improve your site more, you just repeat the SEO process!
It takes time. It takes work. And it can take a lot of patience.
But in the end, there’s really no easier way to grow your income than SEO whether you’re a five-person operation or a 200-employee enterprise.
Take it from the guy who still has his house.
Don’t lose your house — or your mind
Learning things on your own is a big part of growing your skillset as a professional.
But in dire straits — like when your house is listed as collateral on your business loan — you don’t have time to learn.
You need results. And even when you do everything perfectly, SEO still takes time to pay off.
But you can cut that extra time out of the equation with a marketing partner like WebpageFX.
A lot of us have had experiences to mine, and it’s what made us love Internet marketing in the first place.
Now, we want to make sure you don’t have to go through the same stresses and failures that we did.
If you want your small- or mid-sized business to grow, we’re here to help!
Contact us today, and we’ll start working on an SEO plan that pays.