Nathan Bransford, Author

Thursday, December 8, 2011

What You Need to Know About SEO

Guest Post by Rick Daley

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is critical in modern marketing.  Any author trying to sell books should be familiar with its basic concepts, whether you have been published by a Big Six publisher, a small press, or (especially) if you are an indie author.  So how do you leverage the greater power of the Internet to help get your platform in front of the right person at the right time?   

First things first: Relax.  You don’t need to be a technical wizard to understand SEO, it’s really pretty simple at heart.  Here’s a Q&A to get you started.  I’ll get into the tech stuff later.

Q: I’ve heard about SEO, but I have no idea what it actually is.  How does SEO work?
A: SEO works like this: you type keywords into a Google search, and Google lists the pages on the Internet that are most relevant to your keywords.  (Or the pages the Chinese government says are okay for you to view. It depends on your location.)  The most relevant page is listed first.  SEO increases your site’s relevance in Google’s eyes.

And as a point of note, I keep referring to Google, but all this also applies to Bing, Yahoo,, and other search engines.  Except for that crack about China, that’s mainly Google.

Q: How do you measure SEO?
A: You measure SEO according to your ranking in the search results.  You don’t want to be buried on page 100, or even page three.  The best ranking is the first link on the first page, but anywhere on the first page is excellent.

Q: Hey, that’s just an ad at the top of the Google search results!
A: That’s not a question, but I’ll humor you.  Yes, Google does put a few paid links at the top of the search results, and there are also paid ads on the sidebar.  The ads are placed based on keyword relevance, and they can be effective.  They can also be expensive. 

But SEO isn’t about paid ads; it’s more organic…it’s about showing up because you belong there.

Q: I just searched for my name and my book title, and I’m on the first page of the results.  Does that mean I have great SEO?
A: Not really.  Chances are, if someone enters a specific search for your name, and you have any kind of web presence, they will find you.  Unless you share a name with somebody famous.  For example, if you search for my full name, Richard Daley, Chicago politics dominates the results because I happen to share a name with two past mayors.  But search for Rick Daley and Chicago goes away (not literally!) and I have several links appearing on page 1. 

I just searched for my book’s title, The Man in the Cinder Clouds, and I have all ten spots on the first page right now.  That doesn’t really mean anything, though, because there aren’t that many pages relevant to so specific a term.  Winning isn’t special when there’s no competition.     

Q: So if I don’t use SEO for my name or book title, what do I use it for?
A: SEO is best geared toward keywords relevant to your book.  For example, my book is an origins-of-Santa story.  The keywords/phrases I chose for SEO are Christmas book for kids, history of Santa Claus, Christmas gift idea, Kindle Christmas Book, Nook Christmas Book, etc.  I’m trying to think like my target audience and determine what they are likely to search for.  I want to show up first when they go looking online.  That’s SEO.

Q: Are the keywords I choose for SEO similar to the tags I use at
A: Yes!  Tags work within Amazon’s site, and SEO is for the Internet at large. 

Q: What are tags at
A: Sorry.  If you go to you book’s page on, scroll down below the reviews (have you ever done that? ;-) and you’ll find a section for tags.  Anyone can tag your book.  The tags are just keywords, but having them increases your book’s visibility.  Use them.

Q: How does Google determine if my page is relevant to the keywords?
A: Google and the other search engines have proprietary technologies to determine ranking.  Here’s the way I understand it: Google designed special programs with cool names like bots and spiders, and these programs scour the internet looking for things like links, contextual text, page titles, and META tags.  They report it back to home base and Google sprinkles the data with faerie dust and voila, search results.

Q: Huh?
A: Just kidding.  Let’s take it a step at a time. 

Links (i.e. hyperlinks) should be used on your targeted keywords, and they should go to your site(s) when clicked.  

Q: Like when you talk about your new Christmas book for kids?
A: Now you’re getting it! One other thing about links…the more the merrier.  You want your links pointing back to you from all directions, not just a bunch on one site.  The Google values diversity.

Q: What about that other stuff you mentioned?
A:  Contextual text is similar in nature to the links…basically, it’s your keywords in the copy on your site or content of your blog post, just without hyperlinks. 

In the old days, Google ranked pages based on word frequency with no contextual basis.  People figured that out, then started creating pages with big blocks of text with nothing but the same keyword over and over (they put that text out of the way, like way down at the bottom of the page).  It worked, but that’s cheating so The Google changed its secret sauce. 

The keywords should be relevant to the surrounding text.  Make sure you include your keywords in your promotional posts and website copy, and try to make it natural.  It can be a fun writing exercise if you approach it with a positive mindset.

Page titles are displayed in the top bar of your browser window when you visit a website, or on the tab, depending on your browser’s settings.  For your website’s SEO, you want to avoid general page titles, like “Home Page”, in favor of something more specific, like “The Man in the Cinder Clouds- A Christmas Book”.  (But you should use your book’s title.)

META tags are in the HTML code of a web page, buy they are not visible on the page.  It’s just a list of your keywords, separated by commas, with some basic HTML formatting around it. 

Many website development platforms have point-and-click interfaces to add/update your page titles and META tags.  If you have a webmaster who maintains your site for you, he or she should be able to update them for you.

Q: Is that all?
A: For now, grasshopper.  That is all for now.

The Man in the Cinder Clouds
By Rick Daley

A young boy and his scientist father made an incredible discovery at the North Pole—an ancient book embedded deep within an ice core.  Even more incredible is the story the book tells: the long-lost history of Santa Claus you never knew…and will never forget. 

This origins-of-Santa story is a great holiday read for the whole family.  Its mix of action, humor, and Christmas spirit keeps younger readers turning the pages, but The Man in the Cinder Clouds is not just a kids’ book. 

As one reviewer puts it, “THE MAN IN THE CINDER CLOUDS is one of those middle grade books that the grown-ups get sucked into along with their kids. You think you bought if for your young reader but after you browse chapter one you just sort of... can't stop.”

This story-within-a-story reveals the origins of our most familiar Christmas traditions: from Christmas trees, stockings, and lumps of coal to jingle bells, the North Pole, and flying reindeer.  Highly original and thoroughly entertaining, The Man in the Cinder Clouds will show you how Kris Kringle came to be known as Santa Claus.  It wasn’t easy.

About the Author
Rick Daley has been writing professionally for over 15 years.  His experience includes marketing copy for print and web, press releases, business proposals, training and technical manuals, and whitepapers.  His essays, ranging from family life during the holidays to his first skydiving experience, have been featured in The Columbus Dispatch. 

Rick lives in Lewis Center, Ohio with his wife and two sons (and a neurotic schnauzer).


M.A. Leslie said...

Very helpful, thank you Rick.

Rick Daley said...

M.A.- My pleasure. I've learned so much by following this blog, I'm glad I have the chance to give back.

Thanks, Nathan, for letting me guest post!

debutnovelist said...

many thanks. I actually understand some of this at first reading. will keep for future reference (and further understanding!)

Jamie Fox said...

Great article that made it easier for me to understand. I also think your books sounds interesting, so i will have to check it out :)

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Hey Rick! *waves*

And I was totally down with the fairy dust.

Great post; now if I could just figure out how to write about mindjacking full time, my site would have great SEO. Right now, I'm mostly attracting people interested in llamas. :)

Tiana Smith said...

Good job explaining the basics - I know SEO is hard for people who aren't familiar with the industry. If anyone is interested in learning more, I also did a post on this topic and ways that bloggers can benefit:

Austin said...

Great overview Rick. A good start for SEO newbies. I work at a marketing company with some true SEO wizards, and the only thing I think I might add to this beginner's guide is keyword density.

Right now the sweet spot is between 2 and 5% density. There are tons of great keyword density tools out there (this one is okay:

Just copy and paste your text in the box and check the density. If you need more, see if you can pepper some more keywords around the page. Also, try not to mix too many keywords on a single page. Target one at a time for better results.

Again, great job on simplifying this stuff Rick.

Rick Daley said...

Hi Sue! *Waves back*

I'm glad some people are finding this helpful, thanks to the others who have more to contribute on this topic. There's a lot to learn in regard to SEO, and it's a great tool for marketing.

Jamie- I hope you like the book, the feedback from kids and adults has been positive so far!

D.G. Hudson said...

Great post, Rick. Easy to understand and practical advice. (I find that photos also help visibility, perhaps Google likes visual entertainment.)

I learned about SEO at a previous job where we published online internal content for a corporate entity. When our readers had trouble finding a particular item, we had to review the SEO, and up its relevance.

Writing/Marketing tips are always useful. . .

Matthew MacNish said...

I knew most of that, but never have I seen it laid out so plainly, or be so entertaining. Well done, Rick!

Suz Korb said...

Good stuff. Thank you! I recently started including trending hashtags in my quirky tweets with links that lead to my novel on Amazon, or my blog.

Kristin Laughtin said...

Great post. I recently took an HTML/CSS class for my MLIS, but it's great to learn new ways to marry that knowledge with my writing life. Keywords ahoy!

Reagan Philips said...

Very informative, thank you.

Mark Terry said...

There's a pretty successful crime novelist who goes by G.M. Ford. To make matters worse, the G stands for Gerald. For a while there it was damn near impossible to track down his website.

Bryan Russell said...

And here I thought SEO was the Spanish version of "and Bingo was his Name-O!"

Doug said...

Google doesn't look at keywords in Meta tags, and hasn't for many years:

Google keeps their PageRank formulas secret, and intentionally change them on a regular basis because there are so many people "gaming the system." Everybody wants to be on the first page of results in Google, and they can't all fit. The spammers put a lot of effort into trying to get there. Here's what Google has to say:

Here's Yahoo!'s guide for search optimization:

One thing that's very likely to "bust" your site off of the search engines is if the same text is visible from two different URLs. Sometimes even having and going to the same place (rather than having one redirecting to the other) is enough.

Mira said...

Hey look, it's Rick!! Too awesome. :)

I loved the description of your book, Rick, really nicely written. So, I immediately bought it. It sounds great. Looking forward to reading it.

Appreciate this article and the touch of humor within a dry subject. Thanks for the clear explanation.

Rick Daley said...

Hi Mira! Thanks for the encouraging words for my book, I really hope you like it, let me know what you think...

I'm glad I was able to help you better understand SEO, without boring you in the process. I'm learning more about SEO reading the other comments, I knew there would be people more adept than myself to add to the discussion!

CageFightingBlogger said...

Funny and helpful. Persistence also gets you higher up the rankings- I've blogged for a few years and I'm now the top Google result for "Power is a State of Mind". Check it out.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Great post Rick. I don't know anything about SEO so it's really helpful.

Sean F. Roney said...

This is an incredibly helpful post. Thank you so much for sharing it!

Kristi Helvig said...

Awesome and helpful post, Rick. Just bookmarked this because SEO is something I've been trying to learn more about, so you have great timing (or you're psychic). :)

Anne R. Allen said...

What a great post. I think I finally get it. SEO has always been a mystery to me, partly because geeks just look at you like you're a moron when you ask what it means. Thanks for explaining it in a way even a cybermoron can understand.

I hope you sell tons and tons of copies. The Man in the Cinder Clouds IS a great Christmas gift for kids!

Shawndra Russell said...

Great breakdown of seo, thanks. It helps me to just think about what I and others would type into search. Just thinking like an Internet surfer :)

calebjross said...

Great post, Rick. This seems a popular topic lately, judging by Tiana's post as well as my own SEO For Authors category at my own blog ( I've been a professional writer and SEO for many years, so it is nice to see authors take an interest in the metrics behind writing. I'll be really ramping up my SEO for Authors content over the next couple of weeks, so anyone interested should definitely check my site for updates.

calebjross said...

Nice use of anchor text in the blog post, by the way. It's a very important, and sadly underutilized aspect of author marketing. I have a blog post that goes into depth about this, if anyone is interested:

Anita Saxena said...

Wow. I learned so much. Thank you for the informative post!

Anonymous said...

Great post for those of us still grappling with the possibilities that the Internet has opened.
BTW, I read the post quickly - missing the important note that it was a guest post and wondered why Nathan suddenly decided to come clean about his 'real' name being Richard Daley.

Laura Pauling said...

Okay, I totally didn't see the guest post: Rick Daley. So in the middle when you mentioned your full name. I was like what? Nathan's real name is Richard? Ha ha.

Love the concept of your book, Rick!

Rick Daley said...

For the record, Nathan and I are different people ;-)

I'm glad I picked this topic for my guest post, it looks like it helped to inform many.

I am a writer first and a marketer second (actually, more like third or fourth, parent and husband rank up there, too) and I appreciate the additional info provided by others in the comments to help fill gaps in my overview, and take it a little deeper.

And for those who complimented my premise, I hope you have the opportunity to read my story. I think it's very unique, and a great read for any age during the Christmas season.

Of course that's my admittedly biased opinion, but it's all I've got so I'm sticking with it. I am nothing if not persistent!

We are not measured by the challenges we face in life, but rather by the steps we take to overcome them.

WORD VERIFICATION: arret. What happens when only the S gets away.

Daniel McNeet said...


Good post on SEO, thank you.

Rick Daley said...

Daniel- My pleasure, thanks for reading!

Michael K. Reynolds said...

This is an excellent article. I posted it on the Writing Platform Facebook page.

Meghan Ward said...

I'm so glad you blogged about SEO, Nathan and Rick! I've read Inbound Marketing, but still have a lot of questions. For example, are outgoing hyperlinks in blog posts helpful to that blog? Why do keywords have to be on other sites when they are hyperlinks but on your own site when they are contextual text? Thanks, Rick, for a great post!

calebjross said...

Hi Meghan. I can take this one. I talk a bit about this in my blog post here:

Basically, you've got to have the keywords you want to rank for in your website content somewhere (contextual text). Otherwise, the search engines have a difficult time understanding what you website is about.

As far as hyperlinked keywords (anchor text) on other blogs, think of each link to your blog as a "vote" for your site. So, when another website hyperlinks the phrase "really great book" and points that link to your site, the search engines see that as a vote for that phrase for your site. (Very) Generally speaking, the more votes you get, the higher your ranking will be for that term.

As far as outgoing hyperlinks in blog posts, they are helpful, but how helpful in direct relation to SEO remains in debate. They are helpful in that they integrate your blog into a community, which increases the chances that someone may in return link back to you. It does also led a sense of credibility to your blog, in the eyes of readers, if you are referencing other experts in the field. Just don't go overboard. One thing that is not as debatable is that having too many outgoing links is fishy in the eyes of search engines. What exactly is "too many"? That's yet another point of debate, one for an entirely different comment rant :)

Meghan Ward said...

Thanks for the response, calebjross! I'll check out your post on SEO.

Rick Daley said...


Thanks, I'm glad you found this useful. And thanks to Caleb for the quick and insightful answer to Meghan's question!

Marie Gilbert said...

Your posts are always helpful.

Ryder Giles said...

Great post! I know that my business has changed so much for the better since starting my blog. It’s been so helpful in tying all my online activities together into one great centralized location.

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