My no bull SEO guide for beginners in 2023

Ladies, gentlemen, and the blessed bots of the internet – Welcome to the rockin’, rollin’, rambunctious realm of SEO.

A place where rules are as volatile as a teenager’s mood and the lingo is as alien as an episode of Star Trek spoken entirely in Klingon.

It’s the Wild West of the digital world, and you, dear reader, are about to become its latest cowboy – or cowperson.

Can’t tell your backlinks from your elbow? Think a ‘crawler’ is a villain from a cheesy sci-fi movie? Fear not, you’re not alone.

Millions of innocent souls, much like yourself, have fallen victim to the Bermuda Triangle of search engine optimization, never to be seen again.

But with this nifty guide, you’ll not only survive but thrive amidst the swirling vortex of keywords and KPIs.

We’ll be your Gandalf in this Middle-earth of meta tags, your Obi-Wan in the universe of URLs.

Together, we shall wade through the murky waters of content marketing, charge fearlessly into the dense forest of HTML, and dive headfirst into the abyss of Google Analytics. So hold onto your keyboard and tighten your grip on your mouse, for this is a journey like no other.

Fasten your seatbelts and tighten your wrist braces, because you’re about to take a crash course in SEO. It’s gonna be as wild as a llama wearing lederhosen at an EDM festival! Let’s go!

Bit cringey but thanks anyway, chatGPT

Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of SEO-related hot air blown about. I’ve heard all sorts of nonsense like ‘speed is king’ and that buying cheap backlinks on Fiverr is the way to rank, and that PBNs still work.

There’s a lot of misinformation out there from armchair ‘experts’ that probably haven’t ranked for anything other than their brand name + location.

So why would you bother listening to a nobody like me? Well, I make my full-time income from my blogs that rank highly on Google, so SEO is kind of important to me.

There’s also a lot of long, comprehensive, in-depth SEO guides out there that cover everything in painstaking detail, like meta descriptions, schemas, on and off-site SEO, white hat vs black hat, etc.

This isn’t one of them.

I understand why people nitpick over the finer details but I prefer not to get lost in the weeds when I’m writing my content.

Instead, I’m going to explain my approach to SEO and why I think a lot of SEOs overthink the process and get derailed by trivialities.

Enough fluff, let’s get to the meat.

Blackhat vs whitehat SEO

Before we talk about anything else, we need to be on the same page about blackhat and whitehat SEO.

Ah, the epic battle between blackhat and whitehat SEO, a tale as old as the internet itself. (Well, not quite, but it’s always good to add a dash of dramatic flair, right?)

These two SEO strategies stand at opposite ends of the spectrum, much like Batman and the Joker, each with its own rules, tactics, and outcomes.

Whitehat SEO

much like its namesake suggests, is the superhero of our story.

This strategy plays by the rules, follows search engine guidelines, and focuses on providing real value for users.

Whitehat tactics include creating high-quality content, improving site usability, using relevant keywords, and earning high-quality backlinks.

It’s about the long game, slowly and steadily building a strong, reputable online presence. Just like a bowl of slow-cooked stew, it takes time to simmer, but the results are well worth the wait.

Blackhat SEO

Now, let’s flip the coin and meet the notorious Blackhat SEO. This is the rebel of the SEO world, the one who disregards rules and seeks quick, often ill-gotten gains.

Blackhat tactics might include keyword stuffing (jamming as many keywords into your content as possible), invisible text (yes, that’s a thing), and using unrelated keywords to trick search engines.

This might give you a quick boost in rankings, but much like an overcaffeinated squirrel, the high is short-lived. Search engines are savvy to these tactics, and if they catch you, the penalties can be severe, leading to your site’s ranking plummeting or even getting blacklisted.

So, which hat should you wear? While the allure of quick results might tempt you towards the blackhat path, in the world of SEO, slow and steady really does win the race.

Stick to the straight and narrow with whitehat tactics, and you’ll build a solid online presence that stands the test of time – and the ever-watchful eye of Google. It’s better to be the tortoise in this race, not the hare!

chatGPT again.

So basically blackhat SEO is everything you’re not meant to do; anything that’s a deliberate attempt at manipulating search engines beyond publishing good content.

Generally speaking, blackhat SEO is a bad idea; Google is wise to all of the tactics and will detect and penalise your site eventually.

The most blackhat SEO I do is negotiate backlinking with other publishers, which brings us to our next topic.

The biggest priority in SEO: backlinks

The biggest priority in SEO has remained the same for most of the time search engines have existed: backlinks.

If your content doesn’t have backlinks, don’t expect it to rank unless you’re trying to rank for low competition keywords.

In the heart-pumping, pulse-racing realm of SEO, backlinks are like the high school popular kids – everyone wants to be associated with them, and they can dramatically sway your reputation.

In the plainest of English, a backlink is simply a link from one website to another. “Wait, that’s it?” you might wonder. Yes, my dear reader, but their simplicity belies their extraordinary power.

You see, in the eyes of our overlord, Google, backlinks serve as votes of confidence, kind of like vouching for a friend at a fancy club.

The more high-quality backlinks you have, the more likely Google is to believe that your website is a VIP and should be given top billing in the search results.

Now, let’s delve into the sub-categories of backlinks: the ‘dofollow’ and ‘nofollow.’ They sound like the conflicting instructions from an overly enthusiastic Zumba instructor, but they actually refer to the different ways search engines interact with backlinks.

The two main types of backlinks

Dofollow backlinks

By default, all backlinks are dofollow. This type is the gold medal of SEO, the crème de la crème.

When a site links to your website with a dofollow backlink, search engines consider it a strong vote of endorsement.

It’s as if they’re declaring to the world, “Hey, this website is really something! Check it out!” This lends your site authority and improves your search engine ranking.

Nofollow backlinks

The lesser-appreciated cousin of the dofollow, a nofollow backlink tells search engines, “Hey, we’re linking to this website, but we’d rather you didn’t pass any of our ‘SEO-cred’ along with it.”

Introduced to combat spammy links, these don’t contribute directly to your site’s authority or ranking.

Nofollow backlinks are commonly found on social media and encylopedia sites with user-submitted content in order to prevent spam.

However, they’re still valuable for driving traffic and can indirectly boost your reputation.

Think of it like being name-dropped by a celebrity – they may not endorse you fully, but just being mentioned gets you attention.

So there you have it – the star-crossed tale of backlinks.

They might be a small piece of the SEO puzzle, but they’re as crucial as the corner pieces when putting it all together. So start collecting those backlinks, and may the dofollows be ever in your favor!

I’m feeling lazy again. Thanks, chatGPT.

Without looking at the HTML, the easiest way to tell if a link is dofollow or nofollow is to use a Chrome plugin called NoFollow.

A natural backlink profile will have a healthy balance of dofollow and nofollow links. If you have only follow links then Google be suspicious of how you got your links, which brings us on to the next topic.

How to get backlinks

This is the biggest piece of the SEO puzzle. If you have high authority follow backlinks, you’re winning the game.

Now that we’ve covered blackhat and whitehat SEO, we can take a look at both practices in the context of backlinks.

Blackhat backlink acquisition

In the eyes of Google, any negotiated placement of a backlink is blackhat and therefore very naughty.

However, Google likes to blow a lot of hot air around but how can they realistically enforce this?

Is Google omniscient? Can they really tell whether every single link in the internet was placed due to a deal or not?

No, they can’t.

But that doesn’t mean you should buy backlinks everywhere willy nilly, especially if they are sold cheap and in bulk. Google will detect and derank you for this easily.

Instead, you need to be more clever and acquire your backlinks by contacting webmasters directly and attempting to negotiate.

You can offer them a free guest post that’s relevant to their audience and yours, including a dofollow link somwhere in there, preferably with keyworded anchor text.

This is a common practice that lots and lots of SEOs do. It might be blackhat but Google will never catch you as long as you’re clever with your link placements.

Bear this in mind: if backlinks are openly for sale, Google probably knows.

Whitehat backlink acquisition

This is how you’re meant to get backlinks, by publishing good quality content that naturally ranks on Google and appeals to other publishers enough for them to give you backlinks of their own accord.

Unforunately, this is slow compared to doing it the dirty way above.

That is if you miss one critical step which is promoting your content.

The Reddit method

If you post a link on Reddit, it’s nofollow but that doesn’t mean it’s useless.

I’ve got tons of high authority backlinks from my Reddit posts, even dofollow links from podcast sites and reputable academic blogs.

My method is simply to post something interesting or educational on an informational subreddit like Today I Learned or Futurology, for example.

Smart people read those blogs, and a lot of those readers publish their own content elsewhere and will link to yours.

If your blog is informational, this is one of the most efficient methods of getting backlinks, especially if your posts are original and informative.

The Wikipedia method

Similar to the Reddit method above, Wikipedia’s citations are nofollow but there’s a good chance some lazy journalist or academic will skim through them at some point and link to your site without reading it.

Or if it’s actually good quality, they will like your source and share it around, getting even more links.

Academics and journalists usually have access to high authority sites, making Wikipedia prime backlink hunting ground.

To avoid your source from being removed by editors, ensure you include the Wayback Machine archived link.
You can also translate your source and republish it on another URL for each language offered by Wikipedia on the page you want to add it too. Again, this will reduce the chance of editors deleting your source.

The second biggest priority in SEO: keywords

We might have an amazing, high authority dofollow backlinks profile from websites in our niche, but if our site’s content is lacking in keywords then it will be wasted.

Believe it or not, you don’t actually need to do keyword research.

I know this sounds crazy because every SEO guy talks about keywords but think about it–if you write about a topic in enough breadth and depth you’ll naturally cover all of the keywords anyway.

Google’s natural language processing algorithm is flexible enough to

Keyword research

For keyword research I use Keyword Tool Dominator’s Google Keyword Tool.

Read my review and guide on it here.

Keyword placement

How I place my keywords is simple: the most important one in the page or post title, and the rest usually once each wherever they fit in the body content without interrupting the natural flow of reading.

Keyword stuffing is stupid, don’t do it. From my observations, an alarming number of people keyword stuff, for no good reason other than they think that’s how SEO works.

When I was a freelance writer, many clients instructed me to light up the green lights on Yoast or to ensure the articled scored above a certain threshhold on Surfer (usually 68 for some arbitrary reason).

The resulting article that I would submit would consist of dense paragraphs of keywords linked with stop words (“and”, “for”, “if”, “that,”, etc.). These articles had absolutely no value to any human reader.

Don’t post content like that; it will do your site no good, and other people will laugh at you.

It’s better to use no tools than to tunnel vision on them and reach arbitrary score thresholds for third party tools that Google doesn’t care about.

Yoast and Surfer profit by gamifying the SEO experience for novices. That’s not to say they’re bad tools but they’re often used incorrectly.

Anyway, write for the human, not the robot and don’t keyword stuff.

Uniqueness

Another observation I’ve made over years of blogging is that posts that have a more diverse vocabulary rank better.

You know those annoying recipe posts that give five paragraphs about how they discovered Leonardo Da Vinci’s cousin’s dog’s long lost lasagna recipe in their basement?

There’s a reason they write all that waffle; it makes the post more different and therefore more special in the eyes of Google.

If you’re saying stuff other people haven’t said about something, Google thinks that means you have expertise, authority and therefore trustworthiness on it.

That’s the reason I asked chatGPT to write me some wacky introductions.

Key takeaways

There, I’ve said it: SEO is mostly about backlinks and keywords.

But there’s still the icing to go on the cake, which I’m going to list but not go into in depth in this article.

Why? Because it’s already been done to death elsewhere and I don’t want to distract you from the priorities, which are BACKLINKS and KEYWORDS (need more hints?).

If you’ve got those covered already and have the luxury of being able to divert resources into these lesser priorities, crack open the Special Brew and get stuck in:

  • Core web vitals (website speed, performance and accessibility)
  • Internal linking
  • Meta descriptions and titles
  • Schema

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