Tutorial: SEO for idiots, written by an idiot

SEO,search engine optimization,Google,blogging for business,business blogging,

SEO for idiots, written by an idiot

As you will have gathered from the headline, I am not an expert in SEO. In fact before I researched this topic, in all probability I knew less about SEO than you do.

What I do know about it is not as detailed as the inside of the cat’s nether regions, but let’s put it this way: as a result of my research I now understand the basics. So with luck by sharing them with you here, at the end of this tutorial you will know the basics, too. And for most of us, that’s all we need to start with, and to build on.

If you do need and/or want to learn about it in more depth, there are several excellent publications out there but one I would recommend – and it’s free – is The Beginner’s Guide To SEO, from Moz.com. I loved it. And if I can understand it, you can.

In the meantime, here’s what I have learned about SEO basics

SEO changed quite a bit in 2012 and 2013 when Google thankfully moved its goalposts and began to favor “fresh, original content” over pure keyword usage. This meant that it was no longer OK to stuff your junky content full of keywords like an old chesterfield and get it into the Google top 10 that way.

Many SEO experts wrung their hands in despair but writers like me were thrilled. At long last sites that were “link farms” – thousands of words of pure bullsh*t purporting to be blog posts, full of keywords and links and less sense than a chimpanzee would compose on a typewriter – got thrown in the garbage where they belonged.

Now that such keyword-stuffing has been outlawed, we still mustn’t assume that keywords have disappeared altogether. They’re still important, and here are some hints on how to put yours together…


Everywhere you look in internet marketing circles there is advice on everything to do with keywords, apart from one rather basic thing: how to decide on what keywords to start working with. Why is it that so few experts can give you a simple answer here?

In my ignorance about so many grown-up aspects of inbound/content marketing I have spent some considerable time asking a variety of experts this seemingly silly question. But try as I might to find a straight answer, very few were forthcoming. I either got the impression that the question was so silly as not to be worth answering, or that the expert concerned just didn’t damned well know.

Er, what’s a keyword? They’re words and phrases you use to grab hold of readers on Google and other search facilities, and when you’re blogging you need to insert those words and phrases in appropriate places in your blog, and when you’re setting your blog up before you publish it.

Let’s look at three typical types of post and how to start researching for keywords on each one:

1.Informational blog posts. This is where blog posts provide readers with useful information without trying to poke them into the next step of the buying process for which, clearly, they’re not yet ready. Examples include historical pieces, assessments of current needs within a given marketplace or area of operation, reassurance pieces to show how you and your business are the go-to experts in your field.

2.Solution blog posts. These are for readers who know they need to find a solution but need some help in how to choose which one. These readers will find product and service reviews and comparisons helpful, but again without your using a cattleprod to move them towards your own offerings.

3. Product/service support blog posts. These articles are very useful to amplify the product/service offerings on your website, to back them up, to offer tips and notions on how to make best use of them, how to integrate them successfully within the reader’s overall activities, etc.

Much as the “experts” out there can guide you with your keywords once you have figured them out, they can’t come up with the original words and phrases you need to start with. And in fairness, they’re not clairvoyant: you are the person who knows your business – and your customers – best of all, so you’re the best person to get the ball rolling.

You need to put yourself in your customers’ and prospects’ shoes, and work out what they will be searching for when they’re looking for what you offer. Sometimes this is more obvious than others.

Here’s how I see your keywords starting off before you begin the wider research exercise:

1.Informational blog posts need to have initial keywords that capture:
Your product or service – including some specific clarification – not just “dog groomer,” but “specialist poodle groomer”
Interest factor – “poodle grooming worldwide,” “how to be a poodle groomer”
More specific notions – “grooming poodles,”grooming poodle crosses,” “grooming cockapoos,” “grooming labradoodles,” “grooming golden poos,” “trimming poodles,” “clipping poodles,” etc.
Background posts – “history of poodles,” “poodle crosses,” “why dogs shed hair,” etc.

2.Solution blog posts keywords need to focus in harder on:
Your expertise and cost-efficiency – “expert poodle groomer, “cheap poodle grooming,” “best poodle groomer”
Failures elsewhere – “poodle grooming disasters,”  ”poodle grooming problems” “groom my poodle myself”
What to look for – “poodle grooming services,” “gentle poodle grooming,” “dog-friendly poodle grooming”

3. Product/service support blog posts
Local emphasis – “poodle grooming in (TOWN),” “poodle grooming locally (TOWN),” “local poodle grooming (TOWN)”
Convenience emphasis – “quick poodle grooming,” “poodle grooming 24/7?
Value emphasis – “cheapest poodle grooming,” “value poodle grooming,” ” low-cost poodle grooming”

Check out your competitors

Once you have a good idea of the keywords your customers and prospects might use (as shown above), whack those into Google or similar search box and see what turns up.

If there is nothing much, go on to your competitors’ sites and check out their text on the home page. There’s a good chance that you’ll pick up on the keywords/phrases they’re using, if only because many businesses still overdo the keyword usage and you’ll see numerous manifestations of their favorites.

Never fail to use your common sense and instincts

Figuring out the right keywords to incorporate into you blog posts is not rocket science. It’s a lot more about common sense and the ability to put yourself into your customers’ and prospects’ shoes.

I know you’re more than capable of doing that, so go ahead – become a customer and figure out what you would search for when checking out blogs of interest.

A few other ideas

Here’s another very useful tool to help you find the right keywords for your blogs:

You have to sign up but there’s no cost involved, and it’s almost as good as the Google Keyword tool which still exists but now is more complex to get hold of.

And here’s another trick which is a bit of a cheat and hardly scientific, but does give you a rough indication of the value of keyword alternatives…

Google a few variants of what you have in mind and see which return the largest number of results.

Let’s say your blog post is about handwriting: I just Googled that …

Searched handwriting – 7,400,00 results

Searched writing by hand – 596,000,000 results

Obviously “writing by hand” is more searched for, but there is more competition on Google! So add some longer/different keywords to go with it and refine your search that way.

Searched why clear handwriting is important – 12,200,000

Searched why it’s important to write clearly when writing by hand – 170,000,000

Aha, that’s interesting. You’ll see from the way Google sets out the entries that what’s grabbed it here are the words “write clearly.” Let’s double check:

 Searched write clearly – 568,000,000

Bingo. Of course “write clearly” can apply to other interpretations. But on this basis you might find it helpful to use “writing by hand” and “write clearly” as two of your major keyword phrases.

For more about the intricacies of search and keywords, stay tuned to HowToWriteBetter.net and Blog Writing News, as I will be focusing on that aspect of blog writing in the coming months and attempting to keep  us all up to date on how SEO is evolving.

blog,writing,news,blogging,businessAbove all though, don’t get carried away with SEO and let the tail wag the dog. Although in the past the nuts-and-bolts elements of SEO were very important, and they still are up to a point … what matters most of all, by a long way, is that you produce high quality original content.

photo credit: SEOPlanter via photopin cc




  1. A conversation about this post on Facebook – check out Stephen Bray’s advice, in particular:

    Alan Rae: Given that the original meaning of idiot was “man on the athens omnibus” I think this is fine. Basically you need to try and home in on how your customers describe what you’re offering to them to themselves and then use it as appropriate.

    Suzan St Maur: Great definition there, Alan! Thanks for that.

    Stephen Bray: I think Google were always seeking to provide the search results people wanted, and keyword stuffing didn’t work with them long before you suggest.

    My main tips for SEO are:
    a) Name your images with an accurate descriptive keyword.
    b) Name your outbound links with that of the subject it relates to. i.e. rather than writing ‘click here’ write for more information go to ‘howtowritebetter.net’. You may link to a specific page on the site.
    c) Include relevant keyword search terms, (a la Alan Rae’s tip above) in h2 h3 h4 subheads.

    However, today it’s probably best not to do much more SEO, because it follows a law of diminishing returns, and can even blow up in your face. My advice is to focus on good quality content, written for readers rather than robots, and if you want lots of traffic pay for it via F.B. etc.

    That said, Mrs Bray’s entire enterprise has been built on free SEO traffic, and she has clients on four continents but is still short of Antarctica.

    Suzan St Maur: Would you guys mind if I copy your comments into the comments section of my site? They’ll be useful for readers over there.

    Stephen Bray: Go on then

    Suzan St Maur: Thanks Stephen xx