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The Truth About Improving Your SEO

In my previous featured writer post, we looked at the must do activities for SEO. We covered choosing a focus keyword and then optimising your on-page content for that keyword.

This is important because it helps the search engines determine what your content is about. This allows them to display your article in the search results for relevant search queries. However, the truth is that on page optimisation is not enough to get high rankings in the search results.

You've heard you need SEO to get more traffic to your website - here's the truth about how it works and how you can use it in your freelance business.


“Keyword usage is vital to making the cut, but we don’t always see it correlate with ranking, because we’re only looking at what already made the cut. The page has to be relevant to appear for a query, IMO, but when it comes to how high the page ranks once it’s relevant, I think keywords have less impact than they once did. So, it’s a necessary but not sufficient condition to ranking.”

~ Peter Meyers, Moz

The problem is that on page optimisation is a low barrier to entry. Don’t think that your competition isn’t doing keyword research or hiring an SEO agency to do it for them. Of course, they’re also using an SEO plugin to add titles and meta descriptions.

Yoast’s plugin is awesome. It has over 1 million active installs at the time of writing, but don’t be fooled into thinking that filling in a few fields in the plugin is enough to get you to page 1 on Google. Your competition is doing exactly the same! You need to go a step further!

“Publish and Pray” just doesn’t work anymore

This is the most important part of SEO and it’s the bit that most people either avoid or perform poorly. The truth is that most people use the publish and pray approach to content marketing. They publish new content and pray that traffic will appear.

They may even do a small amount of promotion when it’s not too much effort like sharing on Facebook or sending an email. Those things are fine, but they’re not enough. If it’s easy for you to do, then it’s easy for your competitors to do too!

Some have described SEO as both an art and a science. The science part is easy to understand. It’s where we measure the correlation between on page factors and rankings. It’s all the measurement and analysis and reporting. For me, content promotion is where the art comes into SEO. This is the most difficult aspect of SEO because it requires effort and creativity. There is no formula to follow that guarantees results. What works for one, may not work for another.

So while I can’t give you a checklist to follow to guarantee rankings, I can give you some ideas to help get your creative juices flowing.

Basic content promotion ideas

The very first thing you need to do is let the search engines know that your new content exists.

1) Create internal links from relevant pages on your site

Go back to Google and perform a site specific search for your focus keyword. Simply search for: your focus keyword

Obviously replace the domain with your own, and use the focus keyword you chose earlier.

This will return the pages on your site that Google believes is most relevant to your new article. Choose the top 3-5 and see how you can introduce a contextual link somewhere in the post to your new content. It won’t always be possible, but often you’ll find somewhere suitable.

Using internal links like this helps the search engines find your new content by crawling the links from your existing content they already know about. It also helps the search engines determine what the new article is about so they can return it for relevant search queries.

2) Submit your content to the search engines directly

You’ll want to ensure that the search engines can find your new content. Internal linking between relevant posts is one way to do that. However, these links won’t get picked up until the next time the search engines crawl your site. Depending on how popular your site is, that might take a while.

So to give your new content a helping hand, you can submit the URL directly to the search engines for indexing.

3) Create links from other web properties that you own

This might not be applicable to everyone. If you own multiple websites in related niches, then by all means use them to promote each other. Again, the idea is that the search engines will follow links from content they already know about to discover new content.

Once you have notified the search engines about your latest content it’s time to start letting everybody else know about it.

Your next goal with content promotion should definitely be to get an initial volume of traffic to your content. The idea is to get eyes on your page to start the backlinks and social shares rolling in. Once a piece of content reaches a critical mass, it will effectively promote itself as more people find it and link back to it. The easiest way to do that is to share it in places that your potential readers are already visiting. Instead of trying to get everyone to come to you, take your content to them.

4) Email newsletter

It’s unrealistic to expect that your potential customers will be visiting your website every day to check for new content. This is why many online marketers preach the value of building your email list. Once someone subscribes to your list they have indicated an interest in your content and services. They have also given you permission to contact them via email. So take advantage of your list and send them an email with a link to your latest blog post. Explain why they might find it interesting or valuable.

Email newsletters are a perfect example of taking your content to your audience, but we’re only just getting started.

5) Social media

I’m not going to dwell on this, other than to say make sure your new content gets added to your favourite social media scheduling tool. Some helpful tools are:

You’ll want to promote any given piece of content more than once to gain maximum exposure. Different social media audiences have different tolerances for repeated shares. You can get away with sharing on Twitter multiple times per day for instance. I wouldn’t recommend the same posting frequency on Facebook though.

Don’t forget you can share your work in the Freelance To Freedom community on Tweet Tuesday, Blog Post Thursday and Promo Fridays.

6) Paid advertising

Again, there isn’t much to say here. Most of the popular social networks allow you to promote content for a fee. Google also has it’s Adwords platform which allows you to pay to appear directly in the search results page. You can create custom audiences so that your ads are targeted at the right people to get the best return on your investment.

Paid advertising isn’t for everyone. However, it can be a great way to quickly get traffic to a page. I recommend you hire someone who specialises in this to help with your targeting and optimising your cost per click.

7) Discovery engines

There are a number of hugely popular sites that aim to curate the best content from around the web. Submitting your content to these sites can give you a massive boost in traffic because they have huge amounts of users that log in every single day.

Reddit – the self-proclaimed front page of the internet, famous for sending so much traffic that it overwhelms servers! The reddit community has a low tolerance for self-promotion so proceed with caution. However, if you’re an active member and familiar with the rules, sharing a post in the right subreddit can be a huge source of traffic.

Digg – I haven’t had huge success with Digg. It’s hard to get featured on the front page, but it’s simple to submit your content and it doesn’t hurt to try!

StumbleUpon – is an often overlooked powerhouse. It’s not as popular as it used to be as it has many similarities with Pinterest. However, it actually drives more traffic than reddit and is only just behind Twitter. Once you have an account it’s easy to submit your content. Not everything you post will be popular, but when something is, expect a spike in your traffic. – an online community for marketers started by Rand Fishkin and Dharmesh Shah, the founders of Moz and HubSpot. Need I say more? Be sure to check the house rules before posting here. It’s fine to share your own content as long as it adds value for the community. Just make sure it’s not a sales page.

Advanced content promotion ideas

The previous four promotion strategies (email, social, pay-per-click and discovery engines) are what I consider to be the fundamental types of content promotion. That doesn’t mean they aren’t important. Each one deserves an entire post in its own right. I encourage you to do them all. If that’s too much for you, then there are incredibly talented freelancers who specialise in each discipline who would be well positioned to advise you on each strategy.

Here’s the truth, though:

Despite what you read on the internet, the search engines fundamentally still rank content based on the number of backlinks pointing to it.

This has been proven repeatedly by independent studies that correlate various factors with high search engine rankings.

Yes, there are exceptions, and yes, there are other factors that affect the ranking algorithm. However, if you’re not actively trying to promote your content and get backlinks then you’re leaving a massive opportunity on the table.

I’m not talking about shady, black-hat link building either. I’m talking about contextual links from high-quality websites that are relevant to your niche. So the next set of ideas build on the fundamentals we already covered and take your promotion to the next level.

8) Guest Posting

Not an original concept I know. I’ve included this in the advanced section because it involves more than just sharing a link to your latest post. Guest posting done right is an extension of relationship building. You actually have to find relevant websites of the right quality that are willing to accept guest posts. You have to build up a genuine connection with the owner of the site and understand how you can add value for their audience. You also have to actually create the content which we all know is a time-consuming process.

The benefits of guest posting are that you can get a contextual link that points back to your own website. Ideally this will be from a website with higher domain authority which will help boost your own authority.

If you submit guest posts to a number of sites, you also increase the number of linking root domains to your site. This is an important ranking factor as well as the total number of links. For instance, imagine two similar websites. The first has 100 backlinks from 75 different root domains. The second has 100 backlinks from 3 different root domains. Which do you think a search engine would find more trustworthy? The first of course. Too many links from the same referring domain can be seen as unnatural.

Besides the backlinks, guest posting is great because it exposes you to a wider audience and can be a great source of referral traffic.

9) Syndication

This is where your content gets republished on a larger, more authoritative site. The benefits are similar to guest posting. Syndication on the right sites can expose you to a much wider audience. The good thing about syndication is that you’re only sharing content you have already published on your own site. There is no need to create more unique content.

However, with syndication, it’s important to get your SEO tags correct to prevent a duplicate content penalty. The search engines really don’t like duplicate content because it gives them a problem. They have to determine which version of the content is the original and which is the duplicate. So you’ll need to work with the syndicating site to ensure they have a rel=canonical tag on their page indicating that yours is the original.

Some of the big syndication sites might not be willing to implement canonical tags so you’ll have to judge whether the exposure is worth more than the SEO benefit. In some cases, it probably will be!

Popular syndication sites:

10) Influencer outreach

The final strategy I’ll mention is influencer outreach. This is where you actually pitch your content to the influencers in your industry and ask them for a link. It’s not easy of course, but in a nutshell that is the basic idea.

Influencer outreach has two main components, discovery and outreach.


I recommend that you start compiling a list of the influencers in your industry. These are the people who can amplify your content and help build your authority. There are a number of tools that can help with this:

Followerwonk for Twitter – Using the “Search Bios” tab you can quickly identify twitter accounts that contain a keyword or phrase in their bio. You can sort the results based on number of followers, as well as by social authority. This lets you identify influencers with a decent size audience.

Buzzsumo – Using the “Influencers” tab you can perform a keyword search similar to Followerwonk. I like Buzzsumo because it returns the domain authority of the influencer’s website as well as the links that they have shared! It’s a goldmine for finding out the types of content they link to and share.

Don’t underestimate that last point. If your content promotion isn’t working for you, then take a long, hard look at your content. Is it better quality than the links your influencers are sharing? If not, see what you can learn from the content they do share to improve your own.

I searched for my name just to illustrate the process:



Once you’ve identified your influencers and have a good understanding about the types of content they link to, you need to reach out to them.

This is obviously much easier if you already have a relationship. Cold pitching is difficult. It can still work as long as you’re genuine and take the time to tailor your email. You need to let the influencer know what’s in it for them. Demonstrate that you want to add value for their audience and make them look good. Be respectful of their time.

This isn’t the time for sending hundreds of blanket emails that took twenty seconds to write. Don’t start by asking for a favour. Read your email and imagine how you would react if you received that exact mail from someone you didn’t know. If you would delete it, then so will your influencers.

For more tips on influencer outreach I recommend this video from Moz:

Quality is obviously an important aspect of influencer outreach. It’s important to realise that even with a great piece of content and solid outreach, not everyone is going to link to your article or even reply to your email. Don’t get disheartened by a rejection. Simply find more influencers that can help you amplify your content and try again. Like it or not, this becomes a numbers game.

Here are some tools to help keep your email outreach organised:

“But I’m too busy!”

If you’ve made it this far then I know what you’re probably thinking. You’re busy running your business and this promotion sounds like a lot of work. I can’t disagree with you there. It is a lot of work and that is why most people don’t do it. That is why most people get mediocre results.

You owe it to yourself to promote your content as much as possible. Otherwise, all the time you spent creating great content will be wasted.

If your blog posts aren’t ranking now and driving organic traffic, it’s time to change your approach.

“The hard truth is, you have to work your ass off to learn to make yourself and your blog/podcast/business valuable to other people.

If no one is paying attention, try harder. Try something different. Once you make something useful enough for anyone to care about, you’ll know because you won’t have to work so hard to get the word out.”

~ Corbett Barr, Fizzle

I have two final recommendations that I want you to give some serious consideration:

  1. Write longer posts
  2. Write fewer posts

Stop writing 300-500 word blog posts and start writing 2000+ word posts.

What? I know this sounds completely counterintuitive but combined with the second recommendation it makes sense.

Once you have started writing a post and got into a rhythm, the extra word count won’t add as much time as you think. One of the most time-consuming elements when creating content is finding images. If you write fewer posts then you have fewer images to search for, resize and upload. You’ll also save time by having fewer titles and meta descriptions to write and optimise.

The other reason to write longer posts is that they generate more backlinks.

“85% of content published (excluding videos and quizzes) is less than 1,000 words long. However, long form content of over 1,000 words consistently receives more shares and links than shorter form content. Either people ignore the data or it is simply too hard for them to write quality long form content.”

~ Moz

Fundamentally, search engines work based on text. In one study of over 20,000 keywords, they found that the top 10 search results all had a word count of over 2000 on average. In fact, the first result has 400 words more than the 10th result on average.

There is also data to suggest that long form content attracts more backlinks and social shares, which in turn helps your content rank higher in the search engines.

Stop writing one post a week and start promoting your content

I know there are plenty of “gurus” who will tell you to publish a new blog post once a week religiously. That’s fine if you have a big audience to share the new posts with. If you don’t though, I’d recommend you dial it back a touch and focus less on creation and more on promotion.

As Derek Halpern says:

“It’s smarter to find another 10,000 people to consume what you’ve already created as opposed to creating more.

Or, in other words, create content 20% of the time. Spend the other 80% of the time promoting what you created.”

~ Derek Halpern, Social Triggers

Or as Brian Dean says:

“Publishing is only the first step. If you’re serious about ranking today, you need to spend MORE time promoting than writing.”

~ Brian Dean, Backlinko

Stop spending so much time creating and spend more time promoting. If you currently publish one new post a week, then try only publishing every fortnight or once a month. Then use the time you would have spent writing to do influencer outreach to promote the content you have already created. Of course if you can maintain your publishing schedule and do the outreach then that’s even better.

Given the choice though, write fewer posts and promote like crazy!

Alistair Gill Alistair is a freelance consultant who helps small business owners and entrepreneurs grow their traffic and increase their online presence. He specialises in Search Engine Optimisation to get clients in front of people who are actively looking for what they offer. He also uses thorough web analytics to measure what is working and optimises accordingly. After a successful Fortune 50 career in Engineering project management, Alistair is no stranger to using data and technology to help his clients improve their business. Find him on Twitter, and Facebook.

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{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Hi Alistair,
    I just wanted to say “hi” and thank you for this post. It’s absolutely a breath of fresh air. I LOVE the idea of spending more time promoting content than writing content each week for the blog. I help coaches and holistic healing practitioner’s to find their niche and part of the training is for them to learn basic SEO as most of them have no idea. So, I’ll be looking to send them info about your work. I also quoted you in Step #2 of my program- Soul Niche Success System. “Starting a niche site around a subject you are passionate about has a major advantage – you won’t get bored and quit” this so beautifully inspires them to stay the course! Thanks so much again Alistair and keep us in the land of sanity when it comes to balancing writing for SEO and humans! Best. Darlene Karpaski

    • Thanks Darlene! I’m so glad you found this post helpful. Your comment just made my day! 😀

  • Found this great content through Stumbleupon. “Publish and Pray” just doesn’t work anymore. (Y) wonderful tips to stay focused and do the hard work to see results. Thanks Darlene.


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