- Choose a hosting company that makes your website go fast and keeps it online 99.9% of the time.
- Choose a CMS that is adapted to your needs (WordPress in most cases, Ghost if you’re fancy).
- Choose a lightweight, fast theme that is often updated (free is better as it ensures a wide number of users).
- Write about low-competition keywords.
- Promote your work on different channels (social media mainly).
I started my first blog in February 2020 and wrote there every day, not overly bothered that I didn’t have any audience.
A year later, I decided to learn the basics of SEO and…shut the blog down.
Sometimes, it’s better to start from scratch than to fix something that’s broken.
I set up my second blog *for SEO*.
190 articles (and 19 months) later, I have hit 20k active users/month.
These are the techniques that helped me get there.
This is a long-form, in-depth article. Don’t hesitate to skip parts you already know about.
Table of Contents
- 1. Choose the Right Tech
- 2. Choose the Right Theme and Plugins
- 3. Choosing the Right Topics
- 4. Writing
- 5. Optimizing the Articles
- 6. Finding an Alternative Channel to SEO
1. Choose the Right Tech
It’s important to choose the right tech because it will have an impact on the speed of your website.
It’s not that fast websites rank high in Google.
It’s that slow websites rank extremely low.
Getting a fast website starts before you even have a website — it starts with choosing the right hosting company.
1. Hosting Company
A hosting company provides you with a server where you can host your website.
While the speed depends a lot on the tech you’re using for your website, it also depends on the tech *they* are using.
Here’s what you should pay attention to when choosing a hosting company.
- Does the hosting company have servers where most of your audience lives? If no, avoid.
- Does the hosting company pay its affiliates monstrous sums of money for promoting their services? If yes, avoid.
- Does the hosting company have good reviews on the Internet?
The price of your subscription will depend on the number of people that will visit your website and on the storage you need.
Choose the cheapest plan at the beginning. It’s useless to pay lots of money for capacities you won’t yet need. You can always upgrade your plan as you go.
2. Choosing Your Tech
Now that you have chosen your hosting company, you can choose the tech you will use.
You have two choices:
- Coding your website yourself (not recommended unless you’re a pro).
- Using a CMS
A CMS is a content management system. It’s a program that helps you manage your website with no (or minimum) code.
Some companies offer both their CMS and hosting, like Webflow, Wix, or Shopify.
However, because they offer an all-in-one solution, this also means your website is limited to what they offer.
And if they want to shut down your website for whatever reason, you won’t be able to move it somewhere else.
I personally use WordPress because it’s lightweight, fast, open-source, and gives me the freedom and structure that I need.
And it’s also free.
The rest of the article will assume you have chosen WordPress too.
2. Choose the Right Theme and Plugins
The theme is the structure of your website.
WordPress offers lots of free (or freemium) themes used by millions of people and frequently updated.
It’s important you choose a theme that’s fast, lightweight, what they call “SEO-ready”, and compatible with most plugins.
Once again, the Internet will tell you what the best themes are for WordPress, from Astra to Divi. I personally use OceanWP.
Should you buy a theme?
The themes you should pay for are “complicated themes”, such as themes for e-commerce, for small businesses like hotels, or for more complicated websites like directories.
However, if you’re going to build something complicated like that, then WordPress isn’t the right solution.
Plugins are snippets of code that come and insert themselves into your theme to add functionality to it.
You have thousands and thousands of plugins on WordPress that enable you to customize your site how you want to.
One of the most important plugins to install is a plugin for speed.
These plugins optimize the code of your website so it loads faster for the user.
Try to get as few plugins as possible.
The more you have, the slower your site is.
Other plugins you should get:
- An SEO plugin: the SEO plugin gives you the chance to tweak what you need to (eg: meta description) to increase your chances to rank higher.
- Backup plugin: a backup plugin will enable you to back up your website on an external drive (Eg: Google Drive) if your hosting company does not do so.
3. Choosing the Right Topics
I promise we’ll start writing soon.
First, we need to find out what we’re going to write about.
1. Niche or no Niche?
This question depends on what you want your website to be.
If you plan to build a blog to sell, let’s say, plants, then plants and gardening should definitely be your niche!
If it’s your personal blog, don’t worry too much.
Overall, growing a blog without a niche will be harder than growing a blog with a niche.
But the no-niche blog will be more flexible to write articles on different topics with a high SEO value.
In the short term, growing a niche blog is easier. In the long term, it’s the other way around.
2. Keyword Research
Keywords help Google understand what your article is about so it can show it to users looking for articles like yours.
An article called “the best chocolate mousse recipe” will likely pop up for anyone writing in Google “chocolate mousse recipe”.
Services like Ahrefs or Semrush can tell you which keywords have low difficulty (understand: not many websites wrote about it) and high volume (lots of people are looking for it).
However, so many people are doing content nowadays that it has become almost impossible to find these keywords, in the English language at least.
So, how do you attract people to your blog?
Well, there’s only one way: writing.
Monstrous blogs like James Clear’s or Mark Mansons’ have not become monstrous because they got in early on certain topics.
They’re monstrous because they have thousands of articles that answer thousands of questions.
This is the sad truth about blogging. You can’t really hack it, unless you have an army of SEO writers writing for you.
The idea that one article will bring you hundreds of people has become extremely rare when you do SEO in English (except when the topic is brand new. Eg: NFTs).
You’ll have to write lots of articles that with time, will bring you more and more people.
Consider it took me one year and something to reach 100 000 views, but only three months to reach 200 000 views.
Blogging is annoying because it is exponential.
The beginning is extremely ungrateful.
Now, all of this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do some keyword research.
Using the platforms mentioned above will help you choose which are the best keywords to start writing about.
Yet don’t be obsessed about this.
It’s better to write a good article about a topic you’re passionate about but that a lot of blogs already wrote about, than it is to write a mediocre article about a good SEO topic that you don’t care about.
I have used SEO as my principal strategy because I am a lazy person, but you can always grow your website using Twitter, YouTube, IG, etc.
SEO is only one way. There are lots of other ways.
Ironically, this step is the most important yet the one most SEO people spend the least time doing.
SEO is a paradox. It means “Search Engine Optimization”, but no one should, in fact, optimize for search engines.
Why? Because search engines optimize for humans!
If you google an article in the psychology category, you’ll see the top websites are always the same ones (Healthline, WebMD, Werywellmind, etc).
You’ll also see the articles talk about the same stuff in the same order, with the same words.
That’s search engine optimization. It’s done with tools like SurferSEO and Growthbar. These tools analyze how the top article in Google is structured for a certain query and structure your article the same way.
In the end, if the reader isn’t helped by the first article, it won’t be helped by the next four.
Sadly, SEO optimization breeds sameness. Avoid falling into this pit!
You win at SEO by optimizing your article for humans, that is, by doing something better than the top result.
I’ll give you an example straight from my blog.
I rank first for the summary of Ray Dalio’s “The Changing World Order”.
Why? Because I have designed images to illustrate economic principles that Dalio himself did not add in his book.
In a way, I have “upgraded” Dalio’s book, so now Google put me ahead of him.
Google presents its users with the best articles on the Internet. Therefore, you should write the best articles on the Internet.
This is the most important thing (with speed).
I focused 95% of my efforts on writing good articles.
That’s what helped me reach 20k people per month in such a short time.
You should also make sure that the article is nice to read.
No long paragraphs, no sentences from the extreme left to the extreme right of your screen, no weird font, no weird colors, no popups, ads, or annoying “cookie setting” message, no design from the 90s.
5. Optimizing the Articles
There are lots of small things you can do to optimize your article and help them rank higher.
The first is to know which is the main keyword your article ranks for.
Eg: if you write an article entitled “best SEO tools to grow your website in 2023”, the key keyword here is “best SEO tools 2023”.
This keyword should now be used in several places.
- In your URL: the shorter it is, the better. Only put the main (called short-tail) keyword in the URL.
- In the title of the article: this is extremely important.
- In the article: this is important although less than before. Google no longer judges the relevancy of an article based on the number of keywords.
- In the alt text of an image: the alt text describes an image. Writing your keyword there (provided it actually describes the image) helps Google know what your article is about.
- In the meta description: the meta-description is the short description of a web page.
The second thing to do is to add media.
My articles with lots of images and videos fare MUCH BETTER than those that don’t have any.
Of course, these images should be relevant. If you write an article about dogs and put a picture of a chair, this won’t help your article rank at all.
Hack: make a YouTube video out of your article! You will decrease the bounce rate on your page, increase time spent, increase interaction, and skyrocket your rank in Google.
The third thing is to make sure your article is optimized for speed.
- Make sure your images are in webp format.
- Use page break when relevant
- Use lazy loading
6. Finding an Alternative Channel to SEO
SEO brought me 85% of my traffic, but not all of it.
I have also used Medium and Reddit as growth channels.
If you have read me before, you may have noticed that I add a link to my website in each of my articles.
I also went to a few subreddit to answer people’s questions.
Today I get 10–20 users per day from Medium alone, and a bit less than 10 from Reddit dependent on how active I am.
I also wrote for a few other blogs, and of course, displayed social sharing buttons everywhere on the website.
Ranking high comes down to two main things (and a myriad of small other things):
- Write a lot of high-quality, human-optimized articles.
- Get a fast website.
That’s about it.
For more articles, head to auresnotes.com.
Photo by Christine on Unsplash
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