Demystifying SEO: How to Go from Zero to Hero as a Publisher

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“From the Publisher” is a column written by the publishers to share their experiences and insights with the community.

Today’s column is written by Holger Sindbæk, Designer and Developer, at Online Solitaire.

Seen from the outside, SEO[1] can seem like an enigma. A black box of secrets that only Google has the keys to and that you’ll therefore never master. Nothing could be further from the truth.

My name is Holger, and I’m a designer-turned-developer from Copenhagen, Denmark. I run a website called Online Solitaire, where people can play Freecell, Klondike Solitaire, and Spider Solitaire online for free. 

Running my website as a one-man-show, I’ve had to do everything myself. Being a developer with a background in design, creating the website wasn’t the issue. The issue started once the website was up and running and people didn’t flock to it. I began looking into why that was and quickly concluded that I had to learn about SEO. 

In a nutshell, SEO can be split into three parts, and they all revolve around keywords.

Holger Sindbæk

In this article, I’ll try to give you a quick intro to the world of SEO and show you how I’ve more than quadrupled the number of visitors to Online Solitaire.

Screenshot from Ahrefs of organic traffic[3] coming to Online Solitaire during the last 12 months.

Research, optimization, and link building

In a nutshell, SEO can be split into three parts, and they all revolve around keywords. Optimizing a page for Google is all about getting that page to rank well for specific keywords, so the first part consists of finding the keywords you want to rank for. The second part consists of optimizing your page for those particular keywords,and the last part consists of getting other websites to link to your page, preferably with link texts that have something to do with your keywords (this is where you’ll be spending most of your hours). 

You’ll also want to make sure that your website isn’t too slow and that Google can crawl it properly. I usually use Google Pagespeed Insights to analyze my site’s speed and Ahrefs’ Site Audit to ensure I’m not breaking any basic technical SEO guidelines.

Research: Finding the right keywords

In finding the right keywords to target, you’ll have to rely not only on the technical information you have about them but also on your own judgment. Running a solitaire website, the keyword I’d like the most to rank for is, of course, solitaire. Several websites can help you analyze how much competition a keyword has on Google, but the one I’ve ended up using is called Ahrefs. If I look up “solitaire” on Ahrefs’ Keyword Explorer, it becomes pretty clear that it’ll be near impossible to rank well for.

Keyword explorer results for the keyword “solitaire” on Ahrefs.

That’s when we have to start getting creative[4], to find search terms that also relate to solitaire, but have less competition. Looking through keyword ideas based off of “solitaire” on Ahrefs, I’m able to find loads of related and long-tail keywords. 

Keyword ideas overview in Ahrefs.

One that sticks out is “how to set up solitaire”, which only has a keyword difficulty of 22, but a monthly traffic volume of 12.000. It’s a long shot from a monthly traffic volume of 7.000.000, but we might be able to rank for this keyword . Now that we have our keyword, it’s time to optimize our website for it.

Optimization: Targeting keywords on-page

You’ve probably heard that Google “crawls” your page. This means  that one of their bots visits all the pages of your website to index it in Google’s system which is how Google knows that one of the pages on your website revolves around a specific search term. 

Google factors in a lot of different things when scanning your page to make sure that your page is relevant for a specific keyword. Some of those things are well known and some of them are more of a secret. What exactly Google takes into consideration when ranking a page, only Google knows, but we have a relatively good idea of what it is these days.

As a general rule, you want to make sure that you’re creating quality content. The days of spamming a certain keyword and hoping that Google will rank it is over. As a rule, the longer an article is, the better. Make sure the text is well written and avoid spelling mistakes. 

If we go back to our example, we’d write as high quality an article about “how to set up solitaire” that we probably could. We’d include the keyword in our title a few times in our article, but we wouldn’t use it in excess. We’d also make sure that our keyword was in our page URL and in the meta title of our page. Preferably we’d include some high quality images or maybe even illustrations in our case and we’d make sure that the alternative title of our images included our keyword. 

If you really want to go deep into optimizing your page for a keyword, I suggest that you take a look at Moz’s On-Page Optimizer. It’ll analyze your page in regards to a certain keyword and highlight all the things that can be done to make your page fully optimized for a certain keyword. There are a few tools out there that do similar things, but in my experience Moz is the best.

Link building: Getting Google to notice you

This is  the hard part. While this is  less technical and easier to explain, you’ll be spending the bulk of your time in this step. The reason for that is that is the more websites that “talk” about you and the more important those websites are, the more important Google will think that you are.

That said, the way that Google chooses whether to rank you in the top for an article about “how to set up solitaire” is not only about how well optimized the article is, but also about who links to the article, how relevant the sites linking to the article are and how important those sites are. 

If  a high authority site like The New York Times has an article about solitaire and decides to link to your article to guide their reader on how to set up solitaire, this would be a very clear indicator for Google that your article is a quality article, since such a website with such a high authority decided to link to it.

Find people who would have an interest in linking to your page and getting them to link to your page is in my experience the hardest part of SEO and there are no clear answers on how to do it.

Holger Sindbæk

Finding people who would have an interest in linking to your page and getting them to link to your page is in my experience the hardest part of SEO and there are no clear answers on how to do it. Doing this with a solitaire website is especially challenging, since it’s limited how many interesting articles can be written about solitaire and even more limited who would want to link to those articles.

That’s why I recently made it possible for people to create their own unique solitaire games with their own colors and logo that they can embed on their own website. It gives me the opportunity  to have something to offer people when I reach out to them, which is a requirement if you don’t want to end up in people’s spam folder.

Personalized games made using Online Solitaire’s embed generator.

I hope that I’ve demystified SEO a bit for you and that you’ve got a good initial overview of what SEO is all about. Remember that SEO is not something you do once and then forget about. It takes time and patience before you’ll start seeing results, but once you get going, it’ll feel a lot easier and once you start seeing results, it might even become fun.

About Holger Sindbæk

Founder of Online Solitaire. Full stack developer, with a background in UI/UX design. Sindbæk creates iOS &amp[2]; web apps in Rails, React & Rubymotion.

1. Search Engine Optimization [SEO] ( SEO ) SEO, also known as Search Engine Optimization, is the process is optimizing a website to rank higher in a search engine. SEO is merely one of the many methods publishers use to send traffic to their sites.
2. Accelerated Mobile Pages [AMP] ( amp ) Accelerated Mobile Pages is a project supported by Google to provide web publishers with a way to serve web page very quickly for mobile devices.
3. organic traffic. Organic traffic refers to web traffic derived from either desktop or mobile searches through a search engine such as Google.
4. creative. A creative often refers to the image, gif or file used to display the ad. Often creatives need to be uploaded whereby a code snippet for that creative will be generated.

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