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.

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!

Writing targets and burnout

How many words does a professional writer type in a day? What if they get burnout? How do I set a writing target? These are all going to be answered in this article.

Sometime a few years ago, I stopped being an unemployed person who also wrote a blog and I became a writer. It was a gradual process and it’s still not a bombproof career – it only works if I keep releasing books, writing blog posts, and sharing these on social media and in my author newsletter. I believe this is the case even for James Patterson although his income is obviously several orders of magnitude greater than mine.

That means I have a target for how many words I write every day.

It started when I was living in China and I was contracted to a publisher to get 1 book to them every 3 weeks. On top of that, I had my own projects I wanted to write and self-publish. A lot of the time these days, I don’t have enough words left over at the end of the day to write my blog which is a shame.

At the height of my productivity to date, I was writing at least 4000 words a day. In fact, four thousand was a bad day. On a good day, I could do 8k or more and I worked 12-16 hours a day, taking long breaks only to cook or shower. After about forty published books, I am working at a point where those words usually only need one or two rounds of edits to be publishable.

It all got a bit too big and unmanageable around late 2018, when I found out I was pregnant. The first trimester hit me especially hard. Due to pregnancy concerns, and the hormones making it impossible to think clearly, my productivity plummeted to about 2000 words. It felt like I was working through treacle. At the time, with my bipolar misdiagnosis (I don’t have bipolar, I have ADHD and PMDD), I thought my productivity was linked to mania/depression, although I now know that’s not the case.

After I had a baby, I thought things would get better, but then I was lost in a mist of severe post-natal depression that kept coming in waves, so every time I thought it had lifted, it came back again. At first I thought this was writer’s block, but I had no shortage of ideas, I just couldn’t execute them.

There were weeks at a time when I couldn’t write anything at all. Not a book, not an article, and I withdrew from social media completely. I became a recluse because I couldn’t handle the pressure from all the things I’d been so good at, which were now on fire.

I. Was. Burned. Out.

The trouble is, like depression, it’s hard to recognize true burnout until you’re so deep under the weight of failed commitments and broken promises that you’ve drowned and they’re fishing your blue corpse out of the river you used to float on top of.

I had to get rid of every pressure, every target, every expectation, that I or anyone else had of me. I had to stop doing and just be. Lockdown didn’t help. I took up running. That helped.

Like a snowdrop poking through the snow I finally started to emerge after about a year. The storm was over. I had survived even though there were many times when I thought I hadn’t.

For about six months now, I’ve been writing again. Some days, more words come out than others. There’s also the constant pressure of needing to drop everything whenever my baby needs something. And trying to hash out a fair arrangement between my husband and I, since we are both working from home.

I have realized that even 1000 words a day is enough to release a 30,000-word book a month (luckily the romance genre supports this length of book), and 1000 words is about an hour of effort (a little over an hour). So now, my target is 1000 words a day. This means at the bare minimum I am writing enough to pay the bills, and if I have time to write more, then great, it can be a more satisfying book.

Even releasing one book every two months will pay for the bare minimum, as we have no mortgage or other big loans (and we are ninjas with a food budget), but to save for bigger and better things, a book a month is optimal (Craig Martelle, founder of Twenty Books to 50k, suggests that rapid-release brings in more money for all the books in a series than releasing on a slower schedule).

I don’t have the luxury of writing that mystery that’s been on the backburner for about 9 months, yet, but if I keep plugging at 1000 words a day, I will get there. And one hour of work time a day is really not that much to ask of my family. In an ideal world, that would be one undisturbed hour in a room of perfect silence, but as anyone with kids knows, that’s not how life works as a mother.

Usually, that’s an hour while my little jellyfish watches car videos on Youtube. I make up for it by taking him outside for a walk and to splash in puddles before or after (or both. He loves splashing), and playing cars with him when it starts to go dark. I was worried about letting him watch TV when he was a lot younger, but now I realize that was unrealistic. As long as the shows are chosen with care, the television is a key weapon in the parenting arsenal. Like any weapon (such as an adjective, adverb or flashback scene) it must be used sparingly.

My point is, if you want writing to be a career, rather than a hobby, you have to set yourself an achievable, realistic goal and make yourself stick to it. Recognize your limits and go easy on yourself. Don’t do what I did and push yourself past the point of not being productive. “Pushing through” burnout is nonsense. It’s a lie spun by people who want you to fail, or who never experienced genuine burnout.

No one ever wrote a book by… not writing.

Goal setting advice for finding your word count and making it stick:

  1. How many other commitments do you have? How much free time do you have? Don’t overestimate all the time spent in between other things. If it’s dead time, such as sitting on public transport, you can use that to write. If it’s time spent driving or similar, don’t count it as free time.
  2. How many words can you realistically write in an average (not perfect) hour? 200? 500? 1500?
  3. Now do some math. Don’t fill every waking hour of free time with writing, unless your lifestyle supports this. Your laundry still needs folding (although I use speech-to-text when I’m doing tasks like this in a quiet house). A good rule is to start by setting yourself half an hour or an hour a day of absolute ringfenced time to write.
  4. You can’t control other people or their interruptions, problems etc. You can tell them that if it’s not bleeding or on fire, not to bother you, but they might still, especially if they crawl or toddle and don’t understand words yet. Embrace the distractions when they are unavoidable, be present with the people who need you, and come back to writing. As Barbie says, positive attitude changes everything. If you spend all your interruptions stressing, you will return to your desk stressed. If you spend your interruptions generously, with the intention of helping people, you will return to your desk feeling good.
  5. Have a dedicated work space. Actually use it. I have a terrible habit of working on the sofa. I am more productive at my desk. You are too. It’s basic psychology. You spent all your youth being conditioned to work at a desk by schools.
  6. Plan your work before you start writing. Know what you want to say. Whether you’re a plotter or pantser, this is going to help you stay focused during writing sessions. You don’t need to know every fine detail, but some vague info will mean you spend your writing time typing rather than thinking.
  7. Never edit until the book is finished. Don’t waste your writing time stumbling over what you want to say. Write cliches, misuse the subjunctive, use twelve adverbs to a sentence. You can unpick it all later.

You can do it! The main thing is to get writing and keep writing.

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