There are countless SEO guides out there.
Some of them have some really great advice, too.
But they’re usually from massive sites that forgot what it was like to be tiny. They built their authority in the early days when it was much, much easier.
What works for them isn’t going to help you to build your author brand.
It’s a lot easier for a larger site to creep up the ranks of Google, and fast.
For smaller or newer sites, it takes a lot of grit and hard work.
I decided to focus on SEO to grow The Writer’s Cookbook at the end of 2018. In a year, I grew search engine traffic by 800%.
The Writer’s Cookbook now appears on the first page of Google for many of its targeted keywords. Our email list has more than doubled.
When including other traffic sources—like email and social media—traffic increased by a total of 912%.
Thanks to my SEO efforts, many schools and universities now use The Writer’s Cookbook as a resource, which is something I never could’ve imagined.
So what can you, as an author, do to up your SEO game?
And why does SEO even matter for authors? Can it really help you to sell more books?
Why does SEO matter for authors?
(Author) brand awareness
Like it or not, you have to build an author brand. Having a website is a key way to do this.
It helps your future readers to get to know you, learn to love you, and learn to trust you. All of these things are key to people trusting that it’s worth them spending their money with you and not another writer.
It also deepens the relationship you have with your current audience, meaning they’re more likely to come back and recommend your books to others.
Show your skills
Most people aren’t going to buy your book the first time they hear about you.
You’ll likely be on their to be read list for a while. (Sorry!)
You may even take a while to appear on that list.
The more they get to know you, and get a feel for your books, the more likely they are to spend money on your words.
If you write nonfiction—or even something like historical fiction, or police procedurals—targeting certain keywords will show how knowledgeable you are in your area. This can help attract people who are interested in the genre you write in.
Many of my nonfiction readers come from this blog, for example.
It’s a combination of this blog and my three nonfiction books that have gotten me invited to various in-person and online events.
How to boost your site’s SEO
Use an SEO plugin
Yoast is far from perfect, but it does make it easy for you to select your keyword, choose a title and meta description, and an image for social shares.
Don’t overcomplicate any of this by trying to do it yourself; even if you don’t use Yoast, go for a different plugin. It really isn’t worth the hassle of faffing with the coding you need to do it yourself.
If you don’t use WordPress, most website builders have built-in SEO features (Ghost and hosted WordPress sites both do).
Pick keywords that make sense
If your keyword isn’t a word or phrase you’d search for, don’t use it. Keywords should reflect how you speak. One in five searches are now done via voice search—by optimising for word search you’re already ahead of many of your competitors.
Also try to target longer phrases, rather than just a particular word (even though it’s still called a keyword).
My most popular post for years was ‘how to write a psychopath’. That’s not just the title of the post—it’s the keyword, too.
If I’d tried to rank just for ‘psychopath’ it wouldn’t have explained to search engines—or more importantly, readers—what the post was about.
Your keyword should be descriptive and clear. I use Keywords Everywhere for my keyword research. It’s just $10 for 100,000 keywords to last the year. A total bargain for how much traffic it could earn you.
Include related keywords
Don’t force your keyword into your post over and over again. This is called keyword stuffing and will lose you traffic.
Because Google penalises sites that keyword stuff.
Instead, use related keywords.
For instance, if your keyword is ‘how to write a book’, you could also include ‘novel writing’ or ‘how to write a novel’. These help search engines to add context to your post, and mean it’s less repetitive for people to read.
Check the keywords of old posts
Chances are, your early efforts at SEO were pretty poor. Mine were embarrassingly bad.
Don’t worry—we all suck the first time we try something new.
I tried to rank for ‘poetry’ with one of my early blog posts. A brand new domain with a handful of posts was never going to rank for that.
Not to mention the word on its own doesn’t tell you what the post is about.
When I updated the keyword to ‘writing poetry‘, traffic improved dramatically.
And, ironically, the post now does rank for ‘poetry’ as a keyword.
(Unfortunately I didn’t write down when I updated it, which means I can’t tell you by how much metrics increased, which is another important lesson.)
When you focus on longer keywords, you’ll often rank for words or phrases within that keyword, so never be afraid of longer keywords. If you can rank for longer ones, that will give you the boost you need for the shorter ones, too.
Rename your images
Don’t just upload your image with a name like IMG_2345.jpg. Change it to something that actually describes it.
Search engines can’t see images; they know what an image is based on how you describe it.
By not renaming your image (or adding an ALT description), you miss out on an opportunity to use your keyword and rank on Google Image Search.
Make your site HTTPS
If your site doesn’t have HTTPS, Google Chrome will discourage people from visiting it. They’ll get a warning when they land on it, telling them that the site is insecure and their data may be shared with third parties.
It’s such an easy fix. Everyone should do it.
Adding HTTPS to The Writer’s Cookbook gave it an advantage over other writing blogs a few years ago because I was one of the first writing blogs to do it.
A lot of people said it wasn’t necessary at the time unless you were taking people’s details. But I disagree.
It shows people they can trust you and they’re really dealing with you—not someone who looks like you.
And, since you should have a mailing list, you are dealing with their data.
It’s a quick, free fix. There’s no excuse to not have it.
(You can set it up for free using Let’s Encrypt. I beseech you, don’t pay for an SSL certificate. Let’s Encrypt is good enough for Shopify, AWS and Google Chrome, so it’s good enough for me.)
Guest post (and get those backlinks!)
I’m not a fan of asking for backlinks, but if you really want to, by all means reach out to people and ask them to link back to your site.
However, there is a caveat: those sites must be relevant to the same topic as your blog. Backlinks from a site on gardening when you write cosmopolitan romance won’t benefit your site nearly as much as a site about romance novels linking to you.
Backlinks help search engines to build context, which is also a reason why writing about specific topics is important. (This is something I help with in my blogging course, From Idea to Income.)
Backlinks are a sign that you’re an authority in your area. They’re a very powerful way to build authority in your niche—for readers and search engines.
Guest posting is a more effective way to acquire backlinks than asking for them because you’re providing benefit to the site’s owner and its audience.
Many people consider asking for backlinks a shady practice (myself included), while some people see it as part of a content marketer’s job.
(The Writer’s Cookbook does accept guest posts, but we don’t accept backlink requests. You can find out more on our guest post guidelines page.)
There’s no point going to all this effort if you don’t track what you’ve done. (Like I did in my early days.)
Write down when you make any changes to your content, and keep an eye on how it affects not just how many people visit your website, but how long they spend on it, how they interact with it (such as if you get any comments), and if they share it on social media.
Getting lots of traffic to your site means diddly squat if people are disengaged. Engagement is far more important than traffic numbers, because engagement is a sign you’re attracting the right people.
Metrics such as time on page and time on site are signs people are reading your content and want more of it.
Google Analytics is one of the best ways to track all of these things. And it’s free!
Do more of what works, but remember your audience
While I love that academic institutions use my posts as reference guides, they’re not my target audience.
After all, it’s highly unlikely a school kid is going to want to read a book on Productivity for Writers!
Keep where your traffic comes from—and the quality of it—in mind when deciding what other content you could create.
If your content isn’t attracting the right kind of customer, it isn’t worth writing more of the same.
Go big on what works (or more specifically, converts), and do less of what doesn’t.
While it’s possible for old content to rank well, Google will get bored of your site if it isn’t updated regularly. It wants good, fresh content just as much as it wants informative content.
Post as regularly as you can. It’s much better to stockpile blog posts and schedule them over several weeks than to have several posts go live in just a few days then nothing for months.
Don’t get cocky
Google changes things without telling you. Don’t do anything dirty, and you should be fine, but do something to upset Google, and you may find yourself penalised in the next algorithm update.
Write for people first, search engines second
Search engines are getting more and more intelligent. You don’t need to talk down to them. (Or, by association, your reader.)
Search algorithms can tell the difference between if you’re searching for the TV show Supernatural, or other supernatural things, by your previous search history and the words you use around that search term.
For example, a search for ‘Sam Supernatural’ is clearly after more information about Sam from Supernatural, not supernatural creatures in general.
Readability is a key element of SEO. Use that to your advantage and show off your writing skills.
What works for one person won’t work for everyone—you need to do your research, experiment, and find what builds your audience.
However, the basics of a great SEO strategy don’t change.
Focus on great content for your target audience; use the right keywords; go big on what works—and abandon what doesn’t.
Over to You
What strategies have helped you build your website’s audience? I’d love to hear your tactics in the comments!
Build your blog
If you’d like to find out more about how to run a successful blog, check out my course, From Idea to income: How to grow your readership, build your authority, and make money blogging.
You’ll learn more about the 200 SEO ranking factors and how to use them to build your authority, audience, and income.