4 Lessons From a Year’s Crash Course in SEO

Ben Mulholland

Oct 28, 20168 min read
Lessons From a Year’s Crash Course in SEO

“What the hell is an ‘SEO’?”

It was July 2015, I’d recently attained a BA in History, and was looking to break into the world of writing for a living. I knew diddly squat about SEO and keywords. I couldn’t even tell you what html code even did! “Something to do with websites” would probably be my insightful summary.

Cut to today, and keyword research comes as naturally as drinking a pint of coffee every morning. SEO feels like an old friend I’m always learning some interesting tidbit about and while it’s been drilled into me through a series of marketing processes back at base, there’s always room to improve.


In my year’s crash course of SEO, there have been four distinct takeaways which I feel many do not highlight. Sure, you have your basic lessons of what volume and difficulty mean, but I’m talking about the kind of issues which many don’t catch until they bite you! Today, I’ll be covering how:

  • Keyword Volume Doesn’t Translate Into Conversions

  • Keyword Difficulty Can Be Flexible

  • Consistency Is Everything

  • A Missed Link Is A Missed Opportunity

So, if you’re struggling with SEO yourself, why not take a gander at the lessons from my own trial and error? After all, in a world where marketing is rapidly evolving, shared knowledge is the only thing keeping the new guys sane.

Keyword Volume Doesn’t Translate To Conversions

Obviously, you want as many eyes to see your content as possible, so a higher monthly search volume surely entails a more valuable keyword, right? Well, sadly, that isn’t always the case. Even if you have no ulterior motive (such as promoting a product) and you just want as many eyes on your page as possible, you can’t afford to forget the intent of anyone searching your term.

While it may sound like a load of nonsense, judging the intent behind a keyword is one of the most difficult concepts I had to wrap my head around. After all, when you’re considering keyword volume and difficulty in terms of numbers alone, there will always be a clear winner. However, intent will disrupt everything.

Think of it like this; your audience aren’t the Borg - they have more on their minds than a simple, primary objective. Instead, they’re more akin to Q; a million and one potential motivations, and all of them requiring due care to avoid getting screwed over on your part.


High volume is useful for potentially bringing in more viewers, yes, but if your content doesn’t line up with their intent, then they’ll be gone faster than you can say “bounce rate”.

For example, “employee onboarding” will bring in people looking for a description of what it is, tips on how to do it, potentially ready-made templates to follow, or even funny pictures on the subject. Meanwhile, “what is employee onboarding” leaves no question as to what the searcher wants to see, and what they will respond well to.

To truly engage your audience and create any kind of meaningful conversion rate, you need to be aligning your content with the intent of your searchers, and sadly there isn’t a fool-proof rule for what the intent of a term will be. Sure, long-tail keywords usually have a higher intent to engage with a topic, but that’s not always the case; you need to judge the topic, then make an educated guess based on the current top rankings.


  • Consider the intent of someone searching a keyword

  • High intent means that more of the projected search volume will convert

Keyword Difficulty Can Be Flexible

Whilst we’re shaking up what everyone and their grandmother has to say about keyword volume, let’s examine the other half too. Namely, the fact that a medium level of keyword difficulty shouldn’t immediately put you off attempting to rank for the topic. Yes, it sounds stupid, but hear me out.

For one thing, a high keyword difficulty will often indicate a higher intent behind the term, increasing its value hugely. Remember that the higher intent, the more of a keyword’s volume is likely to benefit your cause. Which is why volumes of 1,000 or so can be powerhouses with high intent.

The domain authority of the site on which the content is being hosted also plays a role in judging how much weight you should give a keyword’s difficulty. The higher your native authority, the bigger the boost your posts will automatically get to ranking for your keyword. Remember that this won’t make a high difficulty a cake walk though - it’s not a bad kickstart, but you still have to do some of the shovel work.

The final way in which difficulty is flexible (at least, in my experience) is all about judging how valuable you consider the content you’re producing to be. If it’s a run-of-the-mill post which will get a little attention and some steady traffic (but nothing spectacular), best go for a keyword which offers little resistance. If, however, you’re confident that your skyscraper post or ebook is a piece of killer content, and you’re willing to put the time and resources into generating backlinks and interest in it, you should consider going for a slightly more difficult term if it will result in a higher volume or intent.


  • High keyword difficulty can indicate a good keyword

  • Site authority combats keyword difficulty (slightly)

  • Weigh the difficulty against the payoff / resources you want to commit

Consistency Is Everything

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learnt over the past year is the importance of having a documented process to follow for pretty much any recurring task. If you’re writing a blog post, follow the pre-publish checklist. Researching keywords? Time for the keyword research process. Having a wedding?… Well, you get the idea.

SEO is no different, and making it a part of your process is hugely beneficial to both ensuring every measure is always carried out and making the process itself almost second nature. Hell, it’s gotten to the point where I feel odd when I don’t have to do keyword research. (But you always should research!)

Process Street SEO Checklist

Integrating it with your standard processes in this way both decreases the time it takes for each instance of SEO in the future (you start to learn the process by heart, and so can carry it out faster) and how accurate you are in your efforts.

I can’t count the number of times that I’ve researched keywords for a piece of content, only to be told later down the line “why didn’t you think of this one instead?”; a documented SEO process avoids this by making sure you have to go off and search the right sites to get a sense of the correct keyword.

Consistency means more than having a documented process though - it’s an approach which you need to keep up no matter what kind of content you’re producing. Whether the blog post you’ve written took 15 hours to research and write, or if it was a quick half hour job, you should be ready and willing to put it through the same basic SEO process to uphold a minimum standard.

Sure, some posts are going to be worth more than others, and if you know that beforehand (let’s say you’ve made a swanky new ebook, rather than the standard blog post) then you’ll want to put some extra effort into promoting the content. However, you need to have a baseline if you’re serious at all about getting your site and content to rank for valuable keywords. If you don’t think a post is worth putting any SEO effort into at all, then chances are that the content isn’t worth publishing at all.


  • Have a standardized SEO process to ensure consistent efforts.

  • Don’t produce content you aren’t willing to do this minimum process for

  • Put more effort into ranking content that’s top notch

While you don’t want to cram your content so full of links that your audience will lose interest, you need to be taking every opportunity you can and link back to your most important and valuable content. Whether that means linking to other posts on your own site, or taking the opportunity to put in some relevant backlinks on a guest post or two, every link will help your post ranks more solidly for your chosen keyword in Google.

Let’s break this down a little. One of the first questions I had when I discovered that (roughly) more links = better search ranking was “why don’t we just inter-link more often on our own site, like a big spider web?”. The answer is that every link to a page beyond the first which comes from the same site or location has diminishing returns; 50 links from the same site has a far smaller effect on your search ranking to 50 links from 50 different sites.


This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be linking back to your own content, but it does entail that you should be looking to do more than just to leave it at that. The more competition a keyword has, the more variety (and higher volume) you’ll want in your backlinks, so adjust accordingly. The other benefit of linking to your own content is pretty obvious - anyone following the link will naturally read more content on your site, giving those posts a further boost.

One of the best ways I’ve found to have a consistent, valuable source which you can link back to is to kick things off by creating a couple of pieces of cornerstone content. Cornerstone content is evergreen content which is both valuable and highly relevant to your audience, allowing you to link to it time and again across a wide range of your content, with relatively little need to update the cornerstone piece. It should also be targeting a valuable keyword, owing to the fact that it will be getting a lot of backlinks. Think along the lines of a skyscraper post or (surprise surprise) ebook.

The final part of the “missed link” lesson I’ve learned through the past year of SEO is that guest posting is vital if you want to get anywhere fast. Whilst it may not be SEO of your own website, getting yourself one or two of those off-site backlinks I’ve been harping on about will give your content a huge boost in search rankings. Plus, it’s valuable for getting your name out there as a reliable source of information in your own sphere.


  • Produce some cornerstone pieces that you’ll always be able to link back to

  • Link back to your own content often

  • Generate backlinks through guest posting whenever possible

What Are The Important SEO Lessons You Think Are Neglected?

While these four takeaways are my attempt at giving a more valuable insight into SEO than your typical beginner’s SEO checklist, I’ve still got a long way to go to become an SEO master. So, knowing that, what are the important SEO lessons you think aren’t explained enough? I’d love to hear them in the comments below!

Author Photo
Ben MulhollandBen Mulholland is a Content Marketer at Process Street, and winds down with a casual article or two on SecretCave. Find him on Twitter here.
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