We are so happy to share the next post in our SEO series! Today, we'll be chatting about SEO strategy for bloggers, with our friend and colleague Kimberly Herrington, an SEO and digital marketing expert who's worked with some of the biggest names in the biz. In addition to coaching bloggers on their SEO and marketing strategies, she is also the founder of Orsanna, a digital marketing agency which services corporate and small business clients.
Originally a style blogger herself, Kim brings a unique perspective to her SEO coaching work, since she not only understands the technical side of things, but more importantly, how to build a longterm, viable, REAL content strategy that can improve your traffic and rankings far more than a few technical fixes will. It's easy to freak out over page speed scores, or minor tech things that someone tells you is an “urgent” fix. But today, Kim is serving us some blogger realness with the credo we knew was true all along: content is king.
Take it away, Kim!
Q: First, tell us a little bit about who you are! Where are you from, what do you do, how'd you get there, and what's the (short) story with your two businesses?
A: I’m a digital marketing expert who helps businesses of all shapes and sizes grow and achieve their goals by using SEO and content marketing.
Most people in this little section of the internet are more familiar with my personal brand, KimberlyHerrington.com, where my focus is on being an SEO consultant for online-based businesses. On the other side of things, I’m the founder of a digital marketing agency based in Little Rock, Arkansas that serves clients with day-to-day marketing management. While it’s one business, we separated it into two brands a few years ago to help niche down and make talking to the two different audiences easier and more effective.
I’m originally from the Boston area and moved to Arkansas for college, where I met my husband. I started the business on my own and later he joined as a co-owner and manages business development, HR, and all the legal stuff as our in-house counsel.
I spend most of my time in my Creative Director role at our agency but because I love working one-on-one with clients, I take a select number of SEO coaching clients per year through my personal brand.
“At the end of the day, SEO is primarily about three things: understanding your audience’s needs, creating content that helps your audience, using the same language they use, and organizing content in a way that makes it easy to navigate.”
Q: Let's dive right into the SEO chatter. We'll start with a big picture, open ended, soapbox-type question! Can you write a little bit about what SEO is as well as what it isn't?
A: SEO, or search engine optimization, is the act of getting your website to rank higher in search results. There’s a lot of technical elements that go into it, and it can be overwhelming for people new to SEO. Most articles cover technique and use so much jargon, SEO can be really difficult to get a grasp on even for experienced content creators.
At the end of the day, SEO is primarily about three things:
- understanding your audience’s needs
- creating content that helps your audience, using the same language they use
- organizing content in a way that makes it easy to navigate
Q: We know on the Kimberly Herrington side of your consultancy, you commonly work with bloggers/content creators. Thinking through all your blog clients, what are the 3 most common misconceptions they have about SEO?
A: It’s easy to feel like you don’t know who to trust when it comes to SEO. While there is a lot of misinformation out there, there are three that most of my clients have said at one point of another.
Myth #1: SEO is technical and I can’t do it. // I can’t tell you the number of clients that have come to me that think they can’t do SEO because it’s something highly technical. That couldn’t be further from the truth! Technical things like website speed and keyword placement are important to SEO—but they’re not as important as producing content that serves a purpose for your audience, and creating relationships online with your audience and others in your space. Are you a good listener? A good communicator? Like to help people? You can do SEO.
Myth #2: To do SEO well, I only need to pepper in some keywords and call it a day. // SEO is an ongoing technique that requires you to start at the very core of what your audience wants, then strategize and create content that responds directly to those needs. You can optimize a post for keywords that no one cares about and it won’t help you get more traffic!
Myth #3: I don’t need to do SEO because Google will figure it out. // Time and time again when I work with content creators, I find their websites rank for completely irrelevant keywords, driving traffic that is the wrong kind of traffic to their sites. For instance, with one client, a site about Mailchimp training ranked for the keyword search “How much does a chimpanzee cost” before we started optimizing it for SEO. Any human could tell you the website was talking about email newsletter service pricing and Mailchimp’s cute chimp logo—but Google didn’t get it.
Q: This is kind of in the same vein, but what do you think is the most common mistake bloggers make when approaching their SEO strategy? Is there something you see content creators worrying about too much, when they should focus efforts elsewhere?
A: SEO is kind of like eating your vegetables. It’s not super fun for most people, and can be really tedious. As a result, SEO pros create easily digestible SEO guides and checklists that cover the best hits of SEO, like putting keywords in titles and site speed. While these things are well and good and are essential to good SEO, they’re only helpful if you have the right strategy to begin with. To be really successful at building an audience, from search engines or social media, you have to understand your audience.
Most content creators are focused on what they enjoy and don’t give much thought to what their audience wants to see from them and the struggles their audience has. So instead of focusing on SEO strategy, they start right away with keyword placement techniques and rely on luck that what they’re interested in is what their audience cares about. That’s why so many people are bloggers but so few of them are successful.
“SEO isn’t just about the right keywords in the right places. It’s about a holistic view of how they serve their audience.”
Q: We get a lot of questions about website errors and page speed tests. Are there any items that should always be tackled when it comes to Google's recommendations? When do bloggers really need to pay attention to those pesky emails from Google (which inevitably cause panic)?
A: Page Speed Insights is a test content creators use without knowing a lot about the technical details of how websites work. It’s a tool made for coders and developers, not for content creators! As a result, a lot of the recommendations are based on best practice that don’t always work in the real world of website development, and most skilled developers know this. Page speed is kind of one of those “in a perfect world” scenarios, where you also have infinite time and money!
Most content creators need to focus on things like image size, having a good website host, and making sure their site doesn’t get bogged down with too many ads rather than whether they have render-blocking resources. Specifically:
- For images: Make sure you upload images in the maximum pixel dimensions they will be displayed in. Images from your phone or camera are often 3-4 times bigger than the biggest images needed for your site! (A note from our founders: read our blog post about sizing your images correctly for your blog!)
- For hosting: Invest in a good website host. Not all hosts are created equal and some are faster than others. If you have an image-heavy website, investing in a CDN is also a great idea. I love Flywheel for their ease of use and speediness.
- For ads: Rethink ads. Ads are notorious for bogging down website loading times. If you have a lot of ads on your site, it’s going to take a long time to load. Cull down your ad networks to the best performing ones to get a faster site, better rankings, and happier visitors.
When it comes to speed tests, remember that website speed is all about relativity. You only need the technical elements of your site to be as optimized as your competitors! Even really big websites that are at the top of search results aren’t 100% perfect when it comes to website speed for a variety of reasons, including that Google Analytics code itself hurts PageSpeed scores!
The only thing you need to panic about when it comes to Google is when they send you a manual penalty message via Search Console because you’ve done something that goes against Google’s best practices. Manual actions are rare but if you do get one, it’s best to reach out to an SEO pro for help with Google Penalty recovery.
Q: We know keyword planning is a huge SEO topic in and of itself. But in a nutshell, what's the best way for a blogger to approach keyword implementation? Should bloggers go broad with their keywords (and relate them back to their overall site topics), or go micro, and focus them specifically on the post topic at hand? Or—is it some combination of the two?
A: There’s a certain art to choosing keywords that takes time and experience to learn. In general, content creators need to focus on achievable goals when it comes to keyword optimization. Broader keywords tend to be more competitive and difficult to rank for, despite having more searches.
Ideally, keywords should be focused on a combination of the two across your site, with shorter, more difficult keywords on your main pages (home, services or product pages, etc) and longer tail, more granular keywords that are easier to rank for on blog posts. By creating an authority site that covers a lot of in-depth content about a topic—whether that’s cooking for celiac disease or how to dress with a classic style—you’re more likely to rank for shorter, broader keywords. There’s a lot of technique in this part of SEO that I love to teach clients in my SEO coaching process!
Q: You've mentioned the term “cornerstone content” to us in the past—could you chat more about that and how it integrates with not only keyword selection, but SEO strategy in general? Is selecting the “right” keywords even that integral to SEO anymore?
A: Cornerstone content and evergreen content are two content creation techniques we use in SEO to create an authority website. Since Google wants to send searchers to the best solutions to their problems, creating posts that incorporate in-depth information will give your website a better shot at rankings. While there are some differences between how you go about creating each of those content types, the focus is on creating an authority article that drives traffic.
Keywords still matter, but topical relevancy and depth matter even more by today’s modern search standards, thanks to artificial intelligence, machine learning, and neural matching. Keyword research is a great way to make sure you’re hitting all of the points of a topic people want to find, and incorporating those keywords into your content can help secure rankings.
Q: We got a question about naming images with keywords—does Google care how long your image titles are?
A: Image alt text should be descriptive enough that a visually impaired person could understand the context and meaning of the image. Titles should be switched from whatever the camera’s default setting is to something contextually meaningful. (For example, instead of the default IMG_0123, naming it “Distressed white denim styling winter.”)
While it’s SEO best practices to include keywords in your alt text and image titles, remember that accessibility is also part of SEO and a good website! Super long titles are really annoying to visually impaired people.
Q: It's so common that a blogger's journey shifts as time goes on. If the editorial focus changes, when is it okay to delete posts? Should bloggers always leave their old content alone, and set up redirects? Or, if the content is not relevant to current cornerstone content, is it okay to mass delete old posts?In other words—does post deletion negatively impact SEO?
A: Deleting irrelevant content or content that’s just not in line with your current direction can actually help rankings! Google and other search engines hate what’s called “thin” content, or content that doesn’t really contribute to the overall value of a site for a visitor.
If you have posts prime for deletion, don’t redirect them unless you’ve updated the post and made it better at a new location on your website. Instead, just let deleted content 404. 404s are a natural part of the internet and don’t hurt rankings. Instead, they help Google understand that the content is gone and not coming back.
“When it comes to speed tests, remember that website speed is all about relativity. You only need the technical elements of your site to be as optimized as your competitors!”
Q: Alright, so as a blogger, let's say you're using Yoast, you're consistently creating great, relevant content your readers want and engage with, and you're following all the simple content prep protocols so that Google can crawl what you're publishing on the Internet. How long does it take to see actual SEO results? And what do you typically qualify as “results” when you talk about this with your clients?
A: SEO can take months to hit its stride, and I generally look at the 8 month mark after making significant SEO changes to a site to evaluate how the changes went. If you’re making smaller, incremental changes to your approach it can take longer for you to really start to see changes in your traffic, as new SEO-focused posts start to hit that 8 month mark.
When it comes to SEO, there are two ways to look at results: rankings based and traffic based. I focus on traffic based results, since that’s generally the end goal for my clients. If traffic increases from organic search, we know we’re on the right path. Rankings focused results, however, can see an increase in rankings without a bump in traffic.
Everyone's probably had some not-so-savory SEO providers talk about getting their site to #1 for a certain keyword—but a high rankings don’t always equal traffic. It’s something to watch out for when selecting an SEO consultant.
Q: Wow, 8 months! Why so long?
A: If there’s one big takeaway I’d love for readers to understand is that SEO isn’t just about the right keywords in the right places. It’s about a holistic view of how they serve their audience. A lot of the time doing SEO also leads to big changes in a business! My clients often end up taking what they learn from doing SEO consulting with me to make big changes in their businesses, and those take time to implement.
Business changes withstanding, the other part of why SEO takes so long is because high rankings require more than just good on-site content. As you start to publish really great content, you often start to accumulate other factors that influence SEO, like backlinks, brand mentions, and other signals that show the value of your site.
But once SEO starts working and you continue to make it part of your strategy, content you create can get traffic for years without having to lift a finger!
Q: We're seeing more and more of our clients and customers work with SEO consultants to optimize their sites. What type of service offerings are most vital when looking to hire an SEO/marketing consultant? Any red flags to keep an eye out for?
A: Most SEO consultants sell an audit as the very first thing they do and when I first started, I did exactly the same thing. Audits aren’t necessarily a bad place to start—but it’s important to understand what they are and what they focus on.
An SEO audit is an in-depth look at your website from an SEO perspective that usually produces a long list of items that need fixing, often with a big focus on technical elements. Technical stuff is easy to spot thanks to SEO tools, and most content creators can’t fix technical SEO problems on their own. Instead, they end up being upsold by an SEO pro to fix it.
Don’t get me wrong, technical SEO is important and should be included in an SEO package, but the content and the overall online presence you’re creating have a way bigger impact on your website’s traffic from search.
Before hiring an SEO pro to work with, it’s important to ask questions about what they spend most of their time working on with clients, and make sure they’re helping to make a strategy for content creation, keyword research, and backlink building, as well as if there will be additional costs for technical fixes down the road.
While I focus on SEO and am known primarily for that, my approach centers on overarching marketing and audience building because it’s the thing I’ve found that leads to the most improvement in the shortest period of time. I incorporate technical SEO as part of it—but the main focus is on the bigger picture.
“Technical SEO is important and should be included in an SEO package, but the content and the overall online presence you’re creating have a way bigger impact on your website’s traffic from search.”
Q: So much of the SEO literature and resource sites out there are very dense and not even geared towards bloggers. What are some of your favorite SEO education resources for style and lifestyle bloggers?
A: You’ve pointed out a sincere lack of resources for style and lifestyle bloggers I haven’t really noticed myself before. I can’t recommend any that are particularly geared towards that kind of content creators other than the same ones I used to learn SEO, including Moz, SEMRush, and other more in-depth industry websites.
I’m dedicating myself towards creating a lifestyle blogger SEO guide and will be sure to share it with my email subscribers when it’s ready! You can sign up for my email list on my website.
Wow. We are so thankful to Kim for taking the time to answer our questions and provide some new—and highly valuable—perspectives on SEO. We hope this has been illuminating for you! If you have any questions, don't hesitate to leave 'em in the comments!