Ranking first in Google: 99% 0f SEO “experts” are wrong. Are you one of them?

So you are wondering how to rank first in Google but the advice you found from online SEO experts hasn’t helped. Am I right? But you can’t figure out why. Their articles on SEO are ranking higher in Google than this one, for sure. You’re probably here because you clicked all the posts on the first five pages of search results, right? So what do I know? Well, I’d never call myself an expert but I do rank first on Google for some very specific search terms with this website, so I know how I achieved this and am happy to share how I did it.

Yeah. They know how to rank first. And they’re not telling you. At least, not for free. It’s funny how they all have a subscription product they claim is the best way to fix your site so you rank in first place on Google.

You might think you should give them your money because their free advice didn’t work and you’re desperate to rank first on Google. They might even have some dire warnings about how this year’s latest Google Algorithm is coming for your website like some bogeyman, ready to devour your content and throw it all onto page five thousand of Google’s search results.

Really handy, how these self-styled SEO experts claim to have an expensive and time-consuming solution to your problem. Or you can just pay them the price of a car to do it for you.

But a lot of what they are telling you is public domain information you can get for free, only they’ve turned that free advice into more words by hiring Fiverr ghostwriters.

And one thing I keep seeing is completely wrong. See, being an SEO expert is a hyper-competitive cock fight of guys (they are all guys) trying to outdo each other, stay relevant and rank number one in search engines. To do this, they have to keep creating new content in a very narrow niche. And let’s face it, there is only so much that can be said about search engine optimisation before you just repeat yourself.

It looks like they mostly got their information from the same source or maybe a bunch of them hired the same ghostwriter who cleverly re-wrote the same article for all of them.

Here’s the exact thing they are saying about Search Engine Optimization in 2020 and how it has changed from SEO in previous years:

Search Engine Journal claims SEO has changed with the latest Google algorithm update and they have quoted about a billion “tech professionals”. In some places, they have completely re-worded what the professionals have said to change the meaning behind their words. Here is the perfect example of a misquote causing misinformation about SEO in 2020:

As you can see if you read the quote, clear as day, Michelle Robbins says “staying successful in search marketing 2020 is the same as it ever was – put out good content…”

Yet the paragraph above her quote says the opposite. It says SEO has changed in 2020 and that you need to optimize your content for “users rather than search engines”.

Across other sites and articles about this same topic, I’m seeing the same phrase over and over “optimize for users rather than search engines.” While the above article actually goes into a lot of depth on a broad range of information (and man-in-the-pub hearsay that hasn’t been fact-checked, burying the nuggets of wisdom), SEO gurus are taking “optimize for users” out of context.

Here are the exact words Google used about their new update. I’ve highlighted the most important part that most SEO gurus are wrong about:

Google says focus on user experience, but adds “one of those users is a search engine.”

Here is the link to Google’s SEO guide. I recommend you listen to what Google has to say about SEO. Tune out the others. They’re just the blind leading the invisible.

That one article from Search Engine Journal, for example, has countless quotes from so-called experts who are outright incorrect, spouting nonsense that would have you spending hundreds of work hours chasing your tail doing all sorts of rubbish that won’t make a difference, such as this amazing example of absolute drivel:

“This type of approach to content is exactly what Google is looking for to satisfy user needs and represents the type of market investment that Google will likely never make, because Google is about doing things with massively scalable algorithms.”

Confused? You should be. Someone just threw a bunch of meaningless buzzwords together, tossed in the word “Google” three times for luck, and chucked them on the internet. Someone else, who was writing an article, blindly copied, pasted and attributed that amazing steaming pile of derriere-gravy to “Eric Enge”.

I’m sure he’s very proud of his word salad.

Another fabulous quote that could only come from someone utterly oblivious to anything going on outside their own navel, is this: “In 2020, the really smart SEOs will get up from their desks to talk to customers so they can find out what their audience really wants from them.”

This quote is daft for many reasons, let’s focus on two. First, it assumes “SEOs” (presumably they mean digital marketers… half the quoted people in this article seem to have no idea who actually does search engine optimization for websites) are corporate employees rather than people sitting at home writing SEO articles for companies on a freelance basis.

Usually their home is abroad in a country such as India because it’s really cheap to outsource content creation nowadays. Most content on the internet is produced this way then famous faces and bylines are attributed to the articles to make them seem more credible.

The second reason this quote is silly is because it implies the people doing search engine optimization are out of touch with consumers due to being corporate go-getters rather than because a lot of digital marketing content creators can’t afford an indoor flushing toilet on the money Corporate America throws at them.

English is not the first language of a lot of content creators. That’s what causes some articles to rank high while being extremely difficult to read. But no-one can go on record as saying that, because then they’d have to admit they knew about the racist exploitation of workers in third world countries. So instead they hide behind weasel words and the SEO “gurus” who make the big money from the work done by digital marketers are still peddling the lie that Google doesn’t care about keywords anymore.

It does. Google still cares about keywords. It just also wants fluent and coherent articles now.

So the real issue no one is talking about in SEO is that the thousands of content creators in India, South America, China and Eastern Europe who have been making good money writing simple articles with the right keywords are now going to struggle to earn a living.

Part of me thinks if it means the sloshy rubbish that makes no sense gets taken out of search results, that’s a good thing. But the human cost is quite high.

At least, it would be, if these SEO scare-mongers were correct. So it’s a good thing they’re all just blowing smoke in a desperate bid to stay relevant.

Luckily, Google ranks articles based on like a zillion parameters now. Not just this nebulous and undefinable concept of “user experience”.

You can also rank for long-tail keywords, site hierarchy (making sure you have a logical site map and that each post or page on your site is linked to properly), image optimisation (using the description boxes for images properly, which literally no one is doing), making your site mobile-friendly and checking how your work is going by using Google Analytics.

How do I know this? That Google article I linked to, above. It’s a long read, but the only SEO article you really need to pay attention to. It’s the only information all those wafflers on other sites have, anyway.

Want proof? Here’s the stats for two articles on my successful travel and beauty site, one article was written in 2015, the other was written last month. Both articles are about blue circles but they are targeting different keywords:

As you can see, the article (above) I wrote in 2020 has 14 views. The article (image below) I wrote in 2015 has had over 175,000 views. It’s still the second most popular article on my site. That is because good SEO from 2015 is still good SEO in 2020. If something had changed, if Google really valued the most recent content or the content written with the latest SEO buzzwords in mind, the article above should have eclipsed the article below. It has not.

Back in 2015, everyone was saying “content is king”. They meant, if you produced top-quality articles, people would find them on Google. It seems funny to me that all these SEO gurus are claiming things have changed when they very obviously have not. I’m a bit reluctant to say “build it and they will come” because it is debatable about whether this is true or not, and I’m erring on the side of it not being true.

So in conclusion, the things you need to focus on if you want to rank really high in Google search results are all the same things as before. Keyword stuffing hasn’t worked as an SEO tactic since about 2012. I’d like to see so-called “SEO Experts” and “SEO gurus” stop banging on about it and actually admit this:

Nothing has changed in SEO that will make any difference at all to a well-organised site with quality content, Google’s new update isn’t going to cast your website to the bottom of the search results, and the moon isn’t about to break free of the Earth and fly away.

So there you have it. With all the scary drama of Covid this year, the one thing you can still count on is that your online marketing strategy doesn’t actually need to change unless it wasn’t great to begin with, in which case you needed to change it anyway.

Weekly writing prompt: Face

This week, to stretch your writing muscles, write 100 words about a face. Is it a cliff face? A human face? Does someone have to face up to something? Are people facing off? Interpret this however you wish.

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Write a post, including your 100-word response to the challenge, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  2. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  3. That’s it! Super easy.
  4. If you don’t want to write a blog post, or you don’t have a blog, feel free to write your 100 words in the comments of this challenge!

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

Weekly writing prompt: Glitter

This week, write 100 words about glitter. As ever, how you choose to interpret the prompt is completely up to you. Fiction, non-fiction, description, character motivation… the possibilities are endless.

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Write a post, including your 100-word response to the challenge, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  2. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  3. That’s it! Super easy.
  4. If you don’t want to write a blog post, or you don’t have a blog, feel free to write your 100 words in the comments of this challenge!

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

What happens after a publisher accepts your work?

There are millions, if not zillions, of articles for unpublished writers, but what about for those people publishing their first novel, who don’t know what to expect? There are a lot less people whose work has been accepted by a publisher, so I guess less people can write about that with any degree of authority, not to mention the fact that less people want to know about it. I thought I’d start with talking about what happens after a publisher accepts your work for publication, giving people an insight into the publication process.

If you start by sending in a proposal, they will read over the proposal and they should either accept your proposal or decline it. If they’ve accepted it, they may suggest changes to make it more marketable. Mandatory changes should be made clear. After you have your proposal back, you can get on with writing (unless you’re really naughty like me, and start writing the bits you know will be fine while you’re waiting to hear back from them).

If you didn’t send in a proposal, you’ll either send in a sample first, or just a complete manuscript. If you did send in a proposal, the next thing you send them is the full manuscript. Make sure you’ve done as much editing as you can to the manuscript before you send it to them; I found this very, very difficult with my first book because I had no idea what needed doing to it. After they’ve got everything, it gets sent to a line editor. The line editor’s job is to go through your work and write notes on any improvements you need to make to your work; some improvements are optional, but some are mandatory. If you’re unsure about whether a change is mandatory or not, ask your editor and they will tell you one way or the other.

Once they’ve written those notes, they will send you back the annotated manuscript, or they’ll send you back the notes separately, and your job as the writer is to make the changes and improvements to your work. Some places give you deadlines for this, others don’t mind. After you’ve made your improvements, they will send your work to a copy editor.

The copy editor is the last person from the publishing house who will see your work; they go through it and format it to in-house style guidelines, and they generally use the Merriam Webster dictionary and the Chicago Manual of Style as a reference for anything that’s questionable. They will also flag up typos and spelling and grammatical errors, inconsistencies (one minute she wears a red hat, the next minute she wears a blue bonnet), and factual errors. After they’ve done that, you should get your work back, at which point you either have to make the copy-editor’s changes or you have to have a damn good reason (“I don’t like that change” isn’t one) to reject their changes – the Big Five Publishers, and some of the smaller ones, will usually expect you to give references to support your reasons for not approving every change made by the copy editor, but check this before sending back reams of information, because some places don’t want that (my current publisher doesn’t). When the copy editor gets it wrong, you need to raise that with someone at your publisher (or get your agent to do this, if you have one).

Once you’ve approved or rejected (with references) the copy edits, you send the work back to the publishers and they start work on the cover. After you’ve seen the cover, it’s natural to get very excited about your forthcoming book. If you like the cover, let them know, and they will get the blurb written and the proofs made up, or if they’re an ebook publisher, this is when it will be prepared to be made available online.

At some point before the book is made available online, you should receive a contract (if you haven’t received one, let them know). The contract is the only thing that protects you from getting royally screwed over by your publisher, so read it carefully and get a lawyer (one who has seen other book contracts, not any old lawyer) to read it over if you’re unsure about anything. Sometimes publishers try it on with their contracts but you have to stand your ground, otherwise you’ll regret it when the book’s a bestseller and you’re not making any money. I got taken for a ride by one publisher, a few years ago, who published my unedited work, lied literally every step of the way, and never paid me the advance. Later, when I tried to get that sorted out, I discovered that I would have to go to somewhere on the East Coast of America to take them to arbitration to get my money back, and that I had to do this within a certain time period, which I’d missed, because they’d spent so long delaying in answering and I’d been too patient. If I’d understood this beforehand, I would have acted sooner to get it resolved, but it was my first book and I didn’t know what to expect from the publication process (hence this article).

If you’ve signed the contract AND RECEIVED THE ADVANCE (if you are in the habit of accepting advances – I am not) then you’re good to get excited about the release date. Many contracts have a clause stating the author must do their best to publicize the novel – there are a bunch of ways you can do this and I’ll talk about them in a future article.

Has your experience of the publication process been different? Let me know in the comments!

Weekly writing prompt: Party

This week, write 100 words about a party. This could be a celebration, a political party, a party wall, “I shall not be a party to it”… the choice is yours!

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Write a post, including your 100-word response to the challenge, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  2. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  3. That’s it! Super easy.
  4. If you don’t want to write a blog post, or you don’t have a blog, feel free to write your 100 words in the comments of this challenge!

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

Weekly writing prompt: Bauble

This could be a Christmas bauble or a tacky item of jewellery, or something else entirely! This week, write 100 words on the topic of “bauble”.

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Write a post, including your 100-word response to the challenge, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  2. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  3. That’s it! Super easy.
  4. If you don’t want to write a blog post, or you don’t have a blog, feel free to write your 100 words in the comments of this challenge!

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

Time management as a mummypreneur

This article is going to discuss how to manage time. A lot of articles I read about “time management for business owners” leave me rolling on the floor laughing. I wonder why people can’t get things done. They don’t have a curious toddler on their hands.

Then I think about all the time I wasted before I had a baby. I was definitely about three times as productive when I was working from home by myself, with no one else to think about, but I know I wasn’t getting as much done as I probably could have. I have ADHD, which is one complication, and it was only diagnosed earlier this year after a lifelong struggle with focusing, organizing and timekeeping.

A lot of the problem is the online working environment is designed to distract you as much as is possible. Each website you visit is designed to keep you coming back for more. More scrolling. More clicking. More time for them to make money showing you adverts.

It’s a pretty good moneymaker for the sites involved, but you don’t want to drink the Kool Aid and start thinking any of that nonsense actually matters. Nothing bad will happen if you don’t check Twitter for a few hours. The world isn’t going to change drastically if you don’t see what news stories all your friends are outraged about today. They’ll be different tales tomorrow. And that’s what it all is. A big narrative that keeps us trapped in an ineffective, time-wasting spiral.

We need to break away from it.

Those social media sites are not your friend. And you don’t need to be on them all the time. It often feels like everyone else is constantly on Facebook etc, but no one needs to be. Just go online to check your messages or notifications once a day, don’t respond to anything that comes in while you’re online, and do the same the next day.

It’s mind over matter — those who mind how much time you spend online don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.

That’s the key to time management for anyone in our modern world.

For mums, the other time management issue is children. They demand attention at the most random moments and they don’t wait. They are too little to have any understanding of what you’re doing or how they’re affecting it.

However, it’s very easy for us to make excuses to ourselves about where our time has gone. Our brains are complicit in this, because a lot of the time, when you think really hard about it, you probably don’t remember exactly what you spent your time on, or you feel like you must have spent more time on your kids because you weren’t doing something productive or valuable for yourself. Right?

But what if you ditched social media or significantly cut back on it, moved away from all the gossip, politics and bitching of online groups, and focused on only what you and your immediate family needs? How would your timescape change? Would you have more time for your kids? For your work? Absolutely.

But let’s look at what you can do about your little ones.

You can’t control how much attention your child needs, any more than you can control how many nappies they use in a day or how much milk they drink. But you can control how you solve their problems.

Never do something for a child if they can do it themselves

Maria Montessori

For mommypreneurs, letting go of that sense that we alone are responsible for the happiness of our babies is hard to do. But we have to step back, while still being present for them in the moments when it matters, to help them grow into independent adults.

It takes time and repetition and persistence to teach children of any age to do things for themselves, especially if they’re not used to it, but they will reap the rewards for the rest of their lives.

Imagine you’re building a blueprint for them to follow when they grow up. Start small. My fifteen-month-old brings me nappies (diapers) for his changes. I say, “Could you bring me a nappy please?” He didn’t do it the first ten times. But the eleventh? Or the twentieth? He started going to the nappy table, and when I praised him for that consistently, eventually he started bringing me nappies for his nappy change.

That’s just one example. It takes a bit of time in the short run, but long term, they’ll do more for themselves which is more time you can spend doing the things you need to do.

What is your biggest challenge with time management? What are you doing to overcome it? Let me know in the comments!

Weekly writing prompt: Machine

This week, write 100 words about a machine. This could be a person who works hard, or a literal machine, a cyborg or a sewing machine! The interpretation is entirely yours.

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Write a post, including your 100-word response to the challenge, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  2. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  3. That’s it! Super easy.
  4. If you don’t want to write a blog post, or you don’t have a blog, feel free to write your 100 words in the comments of this challenge!

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

The editor ruined my book! How to deal with a toxic publishing environment.

Ninety-nine percent of all copyeditors are professional, intelligent and work focused individuals who add to your book and help it shine before publication.

At publishing houses, the copyeditor is usually the last person who sees your book before it is published. This means they have a huge responsibility to ensure your work is top-notch. I’ve worked with some amazing editors and publishers in my career as a six-figure author across five pen names spanning four genres.

This is a story about a time when that didn’t happen.

It was my second published book through this specific publishing house, and I’d already had some issues because the publisher himself was an arrogant, woman-hating a-hole who sycophantically gave all the advantages and promotional opportunities to older women who (I guess) reminded him of mommy dearest, and sidelined all other books.

He was a white supremacist conservative Christian hypocrite who didn’t drink or have sex before marriage but ran a small-time erotica outfit. Go figure. He even whitewashed my books, transforming black characters into white ones and telling me what skin tone my characters had to be. He rejected any story idea with a strong female character or a plot that wasn’t a rewrite of the three most successful books that publisher had ever released. And he was a control freak.

Naive and desperate to succeed as I was, I thought I had to accept all of this. I also didn’t really know that I could send my books elsewhere, because I’d had a terrible experience with another publisher, too.

Hilariously, I know of at least two novels where he was portrayed as the main antagonist. I wrote neither of them. The working environment ticked every single box in this article. Basically, the only way to leave was to go non-contact with him and his brainwashed fan authors, all of whom are presumably either old, high, or pretending they adore his work to get better marketing for their books. Or scared of being eaten alive by each other.

Sadly, I also know of more than a handful of authors who stopped writing completely because of his attitude and behaviour, and that of the people around him. They simply lost confidence in their (profound) abilities and gave up.

Dealing with a toxic publisher is a lot harder than dealing with a toxic boss, because in the author world, your work is contracted for a fixed term, whether you like it or not. No matter what fallings-out you have, short of spending a lot of money finding a legal loophole in your contract, you are at the mercy of the publishing house and they will keep your work and screw with it if relations turn sour.

There is no way to prove how much your books are making across various sales channels, Amazon will not release those figures to authors, and publishers can basically report whatever they like, a practice that goes on much more than anyone knows, especially when currency exchange and Paypal are involved.

If your publisher doesn’t like you, depending on your publishing contract, they can decide your work goes out of print (so it’s no longer on sale) while they still retain the rights. Far easier for them is making your book look so unprofessional and boring that no one buys it. This is the preferred MO of most toxic publishers.

It’s not hard to publish a book when it’s your job and you release 10 or more in a week. It’s not hard to design a cover for a professional graphic designer. It’s not hard to write a blurb for anyone who didn’t write the book which the blurb is about.

But the easiest job of all for someone who can spell and owns a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style? Copyediting. If you’ve ever wondered why some genres of books (namely, romance and steamy romance) are so badly written, it’s not necessarily the fault of the author. Bad copyeditors introduce errors into books and they even rewrite passages to revert your writing to a clichéd, hackneyed load of rubbish.

But the very worst editors only skim your book, miss large parts, and somehow still see fit to comment to say your continuity doesn’t work when actually it’s all correct. And the hopeless ones don’t want to know they’re wrong. In fact, hopeless anyones don’t want to know they’re wrong.

At that point, you know it’s a waste of time bothering with them because you’re not going to inspire them to suddenly give half a hoot about their work. They don’t care, they’re making it obvious. They’re probably also high. It makes you wonder why they’re being paid to do anything. I still haven’t figured that out.

In the worst copyedit I ever received, “sit” was changed to “shit” (she was absolutely sitting, not using the bathroom). “Hare in the headlights” (semi-fresh) was changed to “deer in the headlights” (cliché) and two character names were arbitrarily swapped around for a whole scene. That was the tip of the iceberg.

The copyeditor had completely rewritten large parts my book after I’d last seen it (which was at the end of the line edit) and because this was a small press, they didn’t follow normal procedure and I never found out about any of this until 2 months after the book was published, when I opened it to check a scene for something I wanted to write in a subsequent book in the series.

In some places, the copyeditor had reverted things that the line editor had told me I had to change in order for the book to be published. She was a loose cannon, just doing her own thing, and no one stopped her.

I’ve read a few books from that publishing house and honestly, all of them have random big errors like character names changing for a chapter or sentences stopping half-way through then jumping to a new scene.

If you’re in that situation, you have two options. The first choice is to say nothing for an easy life with that publisher, then go indie or switch publishers as soon as you can. For some people this will be really straightforward. Others might struggle.

The second choice is to make a complaint to the publisher and inform them of every errata in your book, requesting it to be fixed. If the publisher is the sort that I was dealing with, they won’t want to know. The one I had this problem with actually did not know what the Chicago Manual of Style was. Nor did the copyeditor, apparently.

I genuinely regret trying to address this but I stupidly thought any publisher would care about the quality of work they were putting out. Since my experience, I’ve come across other publishers where similar things have happened. One cut down a 25,000 word story to a 10,000 word story and left in random scenes from a story arc that now no longer made any sense. Another simply published the books unedited, which is another common practice in steamy books.

It can be troublesome when you’re hiring an editor for an indie project, too. I had one editor who added “ossicones” (despite it being so far out of that character’s ken that it was ridiculous) but missed “jumper” instead of “sweater” and other Britishisms (wardrobe, trainers) in an American story set in America.

I worked with another who didn’t start editing until the day before my preorder locked on Amazon, despite having been given the manuscript and payment in full two months earlier. She thought actions needed dialog tags. I had to go back through and change them all back.

These people charged me money for these edits and I had to pay them because editors have a lot of power in the writing community. Their anonymity means they can write fake one-star reviews of every book you ever wrote if you annoy them. As can publishers, editors and their friends and relatives. Amazon doesn’t care when this happens, despite what they claim whenever fake Amazon reviews get news coverage.

Some people are completely reprehensible human beings.

But at least in the indie market, I’m not handing over half or more of my book money to a scammy “publishing” outfit whose sole purpose seems to be to write the same book over and over again with different titles and covers.

My advice to anyone trapped with a toxic editor or publisher is to smile, nod, and fulfill the bare minimum of your publishing contract then flee. If you haven’t signed a contract yet, withdraw the book and run for the hills as politely as possible. If they are a narcissist, let them think they have won. As hard as it is, let them have the last word in any exchange that can’t be resolved to your satisfaction. But give them nothing more.

And if you’re looking to become an editor, if you can spell correctly and know how to check the Chicago Manual of Style, you’re ahead of the crowd when applying for jobs with a small press.

Have you ever had a copyedit from hell or dealt with a scammy publishing house? I firmly believe it’s a rite of passage for all authors, as sad as that is. Let me know about your experiences in the comments!

Weekly writing prompt: Lazy

This week, write 100 words about a lazy character, laziness in general, or something else to do with this prompt!

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Write a post, including your 100-word response to the challenge, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  2. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  3. That’s it! Super easy.
  4. If you don’t want to write a blog post, or you don’t have a blog, feel free to write your 100 words in the comments of this challenge!

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

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