Thank you for checking out our SEO Basics for Musicians course. We are grateful for your support and promise this information will be valuable, easily understood, and explained in layman’s terms. You will find links to download the materials as well as all 12 modules below.
Throughout these videos I reference this all encompassing SEO guide. I highly recommend you save this link for reference. The attendees of the live class emphasized how much this guide helped further drive home the information discussed in this course. It also includes an abundance of information NOT covered here and is a free, valuable, and necessary resource for any SEO strategy.
0. Video Playlist (all modules below)
Below you can view all videos in this training in playlist form. Scroll down for transcriptions.
1. SEO: What and Why?
01 – SEO: What and Why? Transcript
SEO stands for search engine optimization. What does that mean?
Websites sit on servers all over the world. Search engines have bots, spiders and crawlers that go out, find and scan these sites, then index them.
As they index them, the various search engines have algorithms which have been developed and have evolved over the history of the Internet. Google has their own algorithms. Bing has their own. Yahoo! has theirs and so on. Google and Bing’s are probably the most advanced with Google’s being THE most advanced (as far as I know).
As website’s are indexed, these algorithms scan the code and the content of each page searching for various factors that signal to the search engines how each page should be ranked in search results.
These signals help the search engine’s determine how to rank groups of pages related to similar topics, keywords and content.
Search Engine Optimization is the process we use to go through our website’s pages and make sure each page is set up in a user friendly and valuable way so when they are indexed, the search engines rank our pages higher than competing pages about similar topics.
SEO is how to get ahead and stay ahead of your competition in search engines and the results they display.
The easiest way to talk about SEO is to think of it as guidelines that help us play nice with search engines so they rank our pages as high as possible in search results when people (or potential fans) are searching for content…or more specifically, you and your music.
A Google-centric SEO World
When most people talk or write about SEO (and I mean almost every article), they are focused on Google, keywords and keyword research. Most articles and materials I have consumed either talk about SEO in general or SEO as it applies to Google.
The thing to remember is that there are a multitude of search engines. There is Ask.com, AskJeeves.com, Yahoo!, Quora, and many more.
DuckDuckGo is a new and upcoming one that has been receiving press in major tech media. I plan on checking it out and using it more often to see what’s happening over there.
I have read about businesses (mostly internet businesses) whose entire existence relies on ranking at the top of Google search results. Another way of saying it is that they would not be making the money they currently make or have made in the past without their top rankings on Google.
In my opinion, people rely on Google so much it’s ridiculous.
Why do SEO?
We want our website and it’s pages to rank high in search results when people are typing keywords and key phrases related to our content.
If you’re a musician, for example a holistic harp teacher, you will want your content to revolve around topics that potential harp students or harp enthusiasts will be looking for when they search. (e.g. Harp lessons, harp information, music theory, harp music.)
Essentially, the purpose of SEO is to provide free, organic marketing and advertising. You do not pay for it. You just need to know how to do it.
SEO helps us find our audience by attracting them to you through your website and social media channels. It is a slow process but it’s better than blowing your marketing budget on ReverbNation, Facebook or Google advertising; especially for creatives on a bootstrapped budget.
We want to take advantage of SEO because it’s one way to drive free traffic to our website.
How far down the rabbit hole?
There is an abyss of information available on SEO but over time I have learned to ignore over half of it. Mostly because a lot of the information focuses on keywords, keyword research, backlinks and things that Google does not pay much attention to anymore.
We will talk about what you should be doing (as opposed to keyword research) in a later module.
Just be aware that there is layers and layers of information with tips, tricks, dos, do nots, and they are ALWAYS changing.
Google updates their algorithms… All. The. Time.
[In the video I reference this page which tracks all the Google algorithm updates.]
There was a “Quality” update in May. In April they released the “Mobilegeddon” update.
If you haven’t heard about “Mobilegeddon”, Google is now penalizing websites that are NOT mobile friendly or mobile responsive. If you have pages currently ranking high in Google’s results but your website is not mobile friendly, you will start losing traction with your pagerank.
This has been biting a lot of people in the rear but every time Google releases a major update it causes waves and waves of panic across the SEO world. Everyone gets mad at Google, some people hate them, but a few months later everyone recovers and gets over it.
With all these updates, Google’s agenda (I don’t know about other search engines) is to put focus on quality content. They continue to pay less attention to elements of SEO that can be “gamed” (such as keywords and back-links) to put more focus on more important elements.
Google likes sites that…
- provide a user friendly experience (are not stuffed with advertisements and keywords).
- is your content relevant to what people are searching for when they click to your page.
- do they stay on your website for a while or do they leave immediately (called a Bounce).
- is your content being shared on social media (emphasis on G+).
- do you have a following? is your following engaged (emphasis on G+)?
Google+ has been fully integrated into pretty much everything Google. Google even indexes your Google+ posts in their search results.
With that said, you could essentially “blog” from your G+ page and start ranking high in search results. There have been times I have searched for articles on Middle Tennessee Music and our share of the article on G+ actually ranks higher than the page on our website; this does not happen every time but it does happen.
That’s just something to keep in mind, especially if you have been wondering about the value of using Google+.
See you in Module 2.
2. My SEO Philosophy
My philosophy is to keep it simple.
When I decide to write an article, say a post about general tips on Facebook marketing, I come up with a headline. A lot of what you read focuses on keyword research. I used to do it but I don’t really spend much time on it anymore.
If you have an idea or a headline, by naturally speaking about the topic and staying focused; the keywords will naturally work their way into the article. Simply discussing a specific topic will force you to use the keywords and phrases related to that topic.
Keyword research would be useful for making yourself aware of how often a keyword or phrase is typed into a search box as well as showing you how much competition there is for that word/phrase. This would ensure you are using the proper jargon as it relates to your topic.
The way I see it. If I write an article about Facebook Advertising; it will either rank or it won’t rank. Instead of putting too much time and energy into keyword research, I focus on promoting the content to social media, bigger bloggers that might share it, and other ways of driving traffic to the article.
How easy or difficult it is to rank for certain keywords depends on how much competition is fighting for the first page of that word or phrase.
Back to the Facebook Ad example, a LOT of blogs and writers have published articles, tips, guides and, more specifically, about the inner workings of Facebook Ads and optimizing your placements and audiences for peak performance.
However, I was in a meeting a few days ago and the individual told me, “you know, Josh, you’re the only blogger I’ve found so far who has actually written about Twitter Ads. Everyone writes about FB and Google Adwords but never Twitter; then I found your Twitter Ads tutorial video…”
I didn’t not do that on purpose (sometimes I do), but the takeaway is that there is still a lot of untouched space in the cyber world. By blogging about music and other things related to your music career, it will be easier to rank higher because I can assure you the average musician or artist is not on top of SEO. There is plenty of opportunity for you to get ahead.
Another oversaturated topic is Google SEO. Most bloggers either talk about SEO in general or SEO as it relates to Google and everything Google is doing with its algorithms.
The pages on my websites that rank the highest typically fill a void of information. Often I will be looking for information for myself and am unable to find anything satisfactory. I then create an article about it myself. Other times people ask me about a specific topic or several people ask me about the same topic so I will create articles focused on those subjects.
These pages usually end up ranking high in search results and drive more traffic to our website.
I wrote a series of ReverbNation articles over 3 years ago for Middle Tennessee Music.com and one of them is still THE highest trafficked page on our site. Majority of that traffic comes from Google and I have that position because no one else writes about ReverbNation (at least in a valuable way).
Many times I have engaged with other artists and musicians who have used ReverbNation, spent money on their services, and ended up dissatisfied. They engage me in discussion after finding these articles in searches related to RN.
Elements of SEO
There are several elements to SEO but I will cover these:
- metadata and meta tags
- keywords and phrases
- internal and external linking (backlinks)
- social media
- authority (and Google authorship)
- freshness factor + consistency
Metadata and Meta Tags
Metadata is found and can be added to the HTML code of your website in order to further optimize your content for search engines.
Each page of your website carries metadata. Images and links also have meta tags that can be included.
Meta Alt and Title Tags for links/images
Link alt and title tags: <a href=”http://www.website.com” alt=”Your Website” title=”My Official Band Website”>
Image alt and title tags: <img src=”http://imagesource.com/image.jpg” alt=”XYZ Band Photo” title=”XYZ Band Performing In Vegas”>
Keywords and phrases
This is somewhat self-explanatory and has been touched on previously.
Search engines crawl websites to determine which “keywords” are used the most. These keywords help the engines determine how to rank sites against their competitors using the same words and phrases.
However, Google stopped factoring keywords into their rankings in 2009. Keyword stuffing is a very popular black-hat tactic for getting pages to rank high so by not factoring them into the equation, Google can provide you with more valuable search results (as opposed to sending you to spam or malware sites).
Internal and External Linking
Internal Linking is when you link pages on your website to each other. For instance, writing a new article that references an older article and linking to your older article…that’s internal linking in action.
External Linking is when a website on another domain links back to pages on your website. These are also known as backlinks and they have become an iffy thing due to link farms and other black-hat tactics that game search engines by taking advantage of the External Linking factor.
Of course, the response to this (from the search engines) is to evolve their algorithms.
Essentially what Google does now is give domains a value. Low value or “spam” domains that link back to your content can hurt your search rankings but links from high value sites (Huffingtonpost.com, RollingStone.com, etc) can boost your search rankings.
This concept applies on YouTube videos as well.
Social media is a factor, especially when it comes to Google and Google+.
Social media signals can help search engines determine what authors have engaged followings as well as how much pages from your site are shared across social media platforms.
I am not 100% on this but I believe that status updates which include links back to a page on your website can count as backlinks (or external links). With that said, since Twitter, FB, Pinterest, Tumblr, etc are high value, highly trafficked sites; having links from those domains back to your domain can further show the popularity and value of your content.
If you post a blog article to Facebook and it is shared 100 times, think of each share as a new backlink to your blog article. Those 100 shares essentially equal 100 links back to your site from Facebook.
I am not sure, from a technical standpoint, how much this factors into the ranking factors but I believe it does play a role.
Authority (and Google Authorship)
Google has done away with this now but for a while they were trying to implement this thing known as Google Authorship.
Essentially, the idea was to give higher rankings to authors who have the most loyal and engaged followings. By using signals from Google+, Google could determine how valuable a piece of content is by connecting it to the person who wrote it.
This has been fading away and I think it might be because Google is able to determine the same type of information from other factors checked by their algorithms…such as social media and external links.
Even though they have faded Authorship out, I think it’s important to know and understand how Google thinks about ranking websites and what they consider “valuable”.
3. The Freshness Factor and Meta Tags
The other thing Google does that’s a pretty big deal is the Freshness factor.
A blog that posts daily or multiple times a day is going to rank higher than a blog that only posts once a week or less.
You will have to take your competition into consideration when trying to decide how often to blog. For example, news websites will be posting new articles every 30 minutes to an hour. If you teach music lessons, you and your competition are probably posting one video lesson or blog a week.
WIth that in mind, you need to consider your competition in order to determine an appropriate blogging schedule.
I’ve been working with a bed and breakfast and our SEO goals have been to rank #1 for “nashville bed and breakfast”, “franklin bed and breakfast”, and other similar search phrases related to their services and event spaces.
It’s a small company, owned by 2 people, but the owner has been having staffing issues the past several months and has been so tied up with operations they have not been able to keep a consistent blogging schedule.
Their position in the search engines have been harder to hold because the other B&Bs (their competition) are doing a better job at blogging consistently.
The freshness of your content is as important a factor as anything else I’ve mentioned. As long as you are producing valuable content. If people aren’t finding your content valuable, then it’s pointless to even create it and post it… That’s how I feel, anyway.
Meta tags include information in the code of your website that sends additional signals about your website and it’s content of each page to search engines.
The bots, crawlers, and spiders read the code of your website so there are things we can add in the code to send signals to those bots to help them index and rank your site accordingly.
They are also crawling the content of your site so they are looking at the text to determine what keywords and phrases are most prominent. They are also looking at images. Images can include their own meta tags that sent even more signals to the search engines. You’ve probably used Google Image Search or Bing Image Search so these tags help you optimize your images for ranking in these engines.
There are two tags that are important for images and I will go over those in a later slide.
4 Primary Meta Tags
- Meta Keywords Attribute – A series of keywords you deem relevant to the page in question.
- Title Tag – This is the text you’ll see at the top of your browser. Search engines view this text as the “title” of your page.
- Meta Description Attribute – A brief description of the page.
- Meta Robots Attribute – An indication to search engine crawlers (robots or “bots”) as to what they should do with the page.
Example of Title Tag in HTML: <head><title>Example Title</title></head>
Example Meta Description in HTML: <meta name=”description” content=”This is an example of a meta description. This will often show up in search results.”>
The Keyword Tag looks similar to the Description but you would have a comma-separated list of keywords and name=”keywords” instead of “description”.
The Title Tag is what appears in the “blue bar” at the top of your browser or in a Tab when you have multiple tabs opened.
If you use WordPress, it would be your headline. WordPress is setup to automatically take your Post Title or Page Title and use it as the Title Tag in the HTML code.
If you use a SEO plugin, you will notice additional fields in your Page/Post Editor which allow you to customize the Title, Description, and Keywords. If you use the Genesis Framework for WordPress, you can also choose to block each page or post form being indexed and/or archived by search engines.
When you search Google or Bing and they show you a page of results; the Meta Description is the excerpt of text the search engines display under the Title of the listing.
The Robots attribute allows you to give specific instructions to the search engine bots on whether or not to crawl and index a page.
This can be useful for members only giveaways or landing pages with special offers you don’t want popping up in search results.
Google announced in September of 2009 that neither meta descriptions nor meta keywords factor into Google’s ranking algorithms for web search. Google uses meta descriptions to return results when searchers use advanced search operators to match meta tag content, as well as to pull preview snippets on search result pages, but it’s important to note that meta descriptions do not influence Google’s ranking algorithms for normal web search. (Source)
4. On-Page Factors and Images
Metadata can be considered “behind the scenes” factors that are found in the code of the website. You do not actually see them when you look at a site.
However, there are also on-page factors that the search engines look at when determining how to rank your pages. Here are several of those factors.
- valuable content
- user friendly
- bot/crawler accessible
- keyword targeted (topic focused)
- built to be shared via social media
- multi-device ready
- authorship, schema, meta data, rich snippets
I spoke on images previously. You can add “alt” and “title” meta tags to the images which help optimize them for image searches.
What I did not mention earlier, is that WordPress automatically generates these tags when you upload an image.
When you add an image to a post or page (in WordPress), there are various fields you can enter text into including “Title”, “Description”, “Caption”, “Alt” and a few more. Whatever you put into the “alt” and “title” fields is automatically added to the HTML code of the page by WordPress.
When you are creating or editing a page, you can switch from the Visual tab to the Text tab in order to see the HTML code of that specific page. You can also edit the HTML by switching to the Text tab.
If you’ve ever visited a website or a page with a broken image, you typically see a blank box with a broken image symbol. If the webmaster has included an “Alt” tag, the broken image will display the text from the “Alt” tag inside the broken box. This way visitors and search engines still know what the image is supposed to be even if it does not load on the page.
When you hover your mouse over an image on a website and the little yellow hover box pops up with text inside of it…. that text is being pulled from the image’s “Title” tag. Without a Title tag, that hover box will not appear.
5. Schema and Rich Snippets
Schema and Rich Snippets are newer developments in SEO which allow websites to enhance the way their pages display in search results (including ratings, event listings, and interactive content). This module attempts to explain Schema and Rich Snippets in the simplest terms.
The default way to display a search result is text only…a headline with an excerpt.
However, newer developments such as Schema and Rich Snippets now allow us to include even more meta information in the code of our pages. This information enhances the way our pages display in the search results.
If you’ve ever searched for a movie preview or the times of a new movie, you might have noticed some of the search results include the artwork for the film as well as the star rating. Some of them even include the show times on the search results page.
Those websites are taking advantage of Schema and Rich Snippets. Yandex has been rolling out a feature called interactive snippets which includes things like photo slideshows and product displays with basic information about the product.
Throughout the rest of this module I used screen share to visually show and discuss Schema and Rich Snippets with the attendees of the live class. We also discuss the WordPress plugin Yoast SEO; it makes implementing Schema and Rich Snippets simple and easy.
6. Linking and Guest Blogging
Links play an important role in SEO and guest blogging is a solid a way to build a catalog of quality links back to your website’s content. This module discusses linking and guest blogs in more detail.
More factors that are important for search rankings include PageSpeed and Mobile Responsiveness.
Slower sites will rank lower and sites that are not mobile-friendly or mobile-responsive are starting to be pushed down the ranks in favor of websites which are ready for all devices.
Google provides a PageSpeed Insights tool which will tell you how fast or slow a page on your website is loading. It gives you a score (out of 100) for desktop and for mobile then gives you a list of suggestions and ideas for improving your PageSpeed.
Some of their suggestions can be very technical…so much so that I don’t even have the time to learn about everything they are suggesting. A lot of it is beyond my current knowledge base.
The thing to note about PageSpeed is that you can test a page one day, spend an hour or two improving your score, then come back the next day and receive a lower score.
There are various elements Google is timing but the server response time has a lot to do with your web hosting plan. For example, the lowest priced plan on Bluehost places your website files on a shared server but you can upgrade to higher performance servers or even your own server.
With that said, your web host and its’ server performance will have a significant effect on PageSpeed more so than the things you can manually change on your website to improve speed.
Links, anchor text, internal linking and external linking are all important factors in SEO.
If you have ever heard of link farms…avoid them. You don’t want to go there.
Backlinking has been such an important part of SEO, businesses and services have been built for the purpose of building backlinks to websites as part of the SEO strategy.
Google’s response to that is to give values to domains. Is www.thiswebsite.com a good domain? a bad domain? a spam domain?
When an external domain links back to a page on your domain, Google follows that link to determine the value of the domain sending you the backlink. How much “SEO juice” Google decides to pass through that external link depends on how valuable of a domain it is.
Having a ton of backlinks is not necessarily what you want. You would be better off having 10 backlinks from sites like Huffington Post, Vibe, Rolling Stone, XXL, The Source, Parent, Guitar Player than 100 backlinks from low-value domains or spam sites.
External Linking / Guest Blogging
One of the main motivators behind a guest blogging strategy is to develop valuable backlinks to the articles on your website.
The other motive is to get your material in front of someone else’s audience but with that comes the bonus of creating a valuable backlink to your website.
Google notices these things, takes note, and factors this into your page ranks.
You can think of backlinks as votes. When Google or Bing finds a backlink, they consider it a vote for your content. The value of the domain generating that backlink will determine how positively or negatively your rank is affected.
Receiving a backlink from Huffingpost.com is a much more powerful vote than receiving a backlink from MiddleTennesseeMusic.com but receiving one from MTM.com is more valuable then receiving one from a low-value or spam domain.
Internal linking is when you link text on one page of your website to another page on the same domain.
For instance, if you are writing a new article and referencing something from an older article… You want to link back to that older article. This is internal linking.
Linking your content internally further helps the search engines crawl and connect your content as well as determine keywords and key phrases (via the anchor text you use to create links).
Each page/post should include the following internal links:
- link back to category
- link back to sub-category (if applicable)
- link back to homepage (“Home” in navigation or Logo in header accomplishes this)
By default, WordPress takes care of these three internal links automatically.
When creating content, any time you reference another article you have published, link to it using “anchor text” inside the content of your newer article.
Anchor text is the text you highlight to turn into a link. Above, “example 1” and “example 2” are the anchor text for their respective links.
When publishing interviews and album reviews on Middle Tennessee Music.com I always try to publish the interview first. When I publish the review feature, I am able to reference and link back to the interview article. If you click the “example” links above, you can see this in action.
7. External Linking and Being Natural
This module continues the discussion on links and the importance of being natural in your writing. A lot of material on SEO is focused on keywords and keyword research but Google stated in 2009 that they do not factor keywords into their rankings. With that said, it’s important to focus on creating valuable content with topics you can speak naturally about.
8. Less Is More (with Google)
One of the attendees of the live class proposes that “Less is More with Google”, this module discusses that idea and why you should consider this in your SEO strategy.
9. YouTube SEO
YouTube is the second most trafficked search engine behind it’s owner…Google. Optimizing your video titles, description, and tags plays an important role in how well your video ranks in YouTube’s results. This module discusses the various elements that YouTube considers when ranking videos in search results.
10. YouTube and Google+
When Google launched G+, it eventually integrated with YouTube merging their commenting and messaging system into a cohesive unit. This module discusses that integration as well as how users of G+ seem to be more engaged.
11. Tailored Search Results and Content Ideas
Google, Bing, and anywhere you create an account and login can and will tailor your search results to your search history, your social media activity, and even the activity of your G+ Circles. This module discusses Google’s “private” and “public” search results and includes a link to a list and infographic filled with an abundance of content ideas you can implement immediately on your blog.
12. Webmaster Tools Explained plus Demo
Google and Bing provide Webmaster Tool dashboards which allow you connect your website and your sitemap directly to the search engines. After connecting your site, the services provide you with detailed information on how your pages perform in search results, key phrases being used to find your content, most popular keywords found on your site, and much much more. This video also includes a demonstration where I connect an attendee’s website to Google and Bing.
Tools and Resources
- Music SEO – 7 Lessons in Brand Optimization for 2015
- Song Lyrics Hit The SERPs: Analyzing Google & Bing Traffic To 5 Large-Scale Lyrics Websites [Case Study]
- Event Markup: Official Performer Sites
- SEO Centro – SEO Tools
- Meta Tags (via Wordstream)
- MOZ – SEO Guide and very in-depth info
- Google Keyword Planner (must be logged into Adwords account)
- Keyword Tool (Google, YouTube, Bing, App Store)
- Google PageSpeed Insights | Webmaster Tools
- Bing Webmaster Tools
- YouTube Music Insights
- Google Analytics
- TubeBuddy (browser extension for YouTube)
- Search Engine Land’s Guide to SEO
- Blog Topic Ideas via Digital Marketer – infographic