What Is Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and How You Can Win in 2020 and Beyond

woman using phone

Search engine optimization or SEO is the process of making your website rank higher on search engines. There’s a lot of technicality involved in SEO like crawlers and indexing and many more. But that’s not the point of this article.

I’m going to write about two main aspects of search engine optimization: on-page and off-page. Together, they cover different ranking factors that search engines use to determine which websites show up at which positions when you type in a particular query.

No one really knows what these ranking factors are except for a few that search engines like Google disclose themselves. One of the most popular theories is that there are over 200 ranking factors that is being used by Google today. But it’s also being changed daily.

How to Win in Search Engine Optimization for 2020 and Beyond

There are a lot of experts and veterans in this field. I won’t claim I know everything about this. But there’s one thing I do know more than them.

I know how you can future proof your website from any of these changes even without knowing what to do. What I mean future proof by that is making sure that you don’t get affected by the changes drastically in the future. That way, whatever investments you make now will not be put to waste tomorrow.

Put your customers first.

That’s a very simple, yet very profound sentence in the world of SEO and digital marketing.

Why is this important? Let’s go through a little bit of SEO history first.

Brief History of SEO

The history of SEO goes way back to the 90s. But I’m not going to bore you with the details. HubSpot and Search Engine Journal both provide a detailed history of search engines.

One thing I’d like to highlight though is that the early beginnings of SEO, you can rank well by simply repeating your keywords enough times throughout your pages. Today, this has been widely eradicated, but sometimes people still do them.

The main reason for that is you can rank a page about topic ABC which has a low search volume, but stuff it with keywords about topic XYZ which has a high search volume. In this case, what ended up happening is you get people to see your websites about topic ABC despite them searching for XYZ.

As you can see, this is very frustrating as a user.

Today, this rarely happens anymore thanks for the algorithms used by search engines like Google and Bing. We’ve now entered another era of search engine optimization where its users are the main focus.

The War on Fake News

Fake news has been a problem long before the internet. Rumors and spreading gossips is one other way to look at this.

But the internet has made this even more problematic.

One of the hottest topics in the last decade is the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal. While not necessarily fake news, it was a widely talked about topic because “personal data of millions of people’s Facebook profiles without their consent and used it for political advertising purposes.”

It’s been said that this data has been used to intentionally sway voters.

This led Facebook (and other big tech companies) to be in scrutiny by the government and the public.

Thus, the war on fake news exploded on the internet.

And this brings us back to how you can future proof your business via SEO — focus on your users by giving them more value, instead of using hype or false advertisements to mislead them. Following this basic rule will help you to make decisions about whether to use a particular strategy or not.

Two Components of Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

If you really want to learn more about the details of SEO, there are two separate components you need to know. These two work together to provide you an idea of how you can best approach optimization your website.

They are on-page ranking factors and off-page ranking factors. The main difference between the two is whether you have direct control over it or not.

As mentioned earlier, there are hundreds of ranking factors for both on-page and off-page. And I’m not going to cover that. Some of it are technical which you don’t need to know.

I’ll just highlight a few basic ones that you need to know so you can get started with search engine optimization the right way.

On-Page Ranking Factors

On-page ranking factors, or search signals, are optimization techniques you have direct control of.

For example, the Backlinkto article that listed the 200 ranking factors broke it down into different categories and listed the first one about your domain.

While it has nothing to do with the contents of your website, your domain is the first place Google looks at when it comes to ranking your website. And this is also the reason why I always tell people to start a website right now.

On-page SEO is all about following the rules set by search engines like Google. If you want to rank well, you have to play by their rules. That is why keyword stuffing (the one I mentioned earlier) doesn’t work anymore — and is actually penalized.

There are a lot of things that cover the on-page SEO factors so I’ll just highlight the top 5 you need to do.

Oh, and this shouldn’t come as a surprise anymore — the main theme is to focus on your users and provide them the best experience possible.

1. Website speed

Website speed is one of the most important things you need to fix first. Google announced that speed is a ranking factor for mobile searches and desktops since 2010. So if your website loads slowly, no amount of optimization will help you rank better.

In a Google Webmaster video, Maile Ohye, states that “2 seconds is the threshold for e-commerce website acceptability. At Google, we aim for under a half second.”

And this was already a decade ago. 2010.

Before going moving ahead, test out our website speed right now. Head on over to Google PageSpeed Insights and enter your URL.

What’s your score?

If you are like most websites, you’d probably be in the yellow or red zones. Meaning — you have a slow website.

Taking your time to improve website speed gives your users a better experience. After all, if your page doesn’t load, they can’t see it. If they can’t see it, what’s the point of you being online?

Compress your images

The biggest culprit found for slow websites is its images. The solution? Compress them.

There are lots of tools out there like like TinyPNG. But my favorite tool and the one I’m using right now on my website is ShortPixel.

You can use ShortPixel as a plugin on your WordPress website to make image compression done automatically. But you can use their image compressor manually if you want to try them out first.

When you get there, you will be asked to choose from different compression levels. I use the lossy setting. Feel free to experiment on which one is best for your website.

The point is this — make your images smaller so they load faster.

Feel free to create an account on ShortPixel. Use this link so you can get an extra 100 images that you can use to optimize your website. The free account only gives you credits for 100 images/month.

Reduce plugin/third party application usage

If you’ve tested your website speed via Google PageSpeed Insights, one of the items there that might probably show up on yours is to minimize third-party usage, keep request counts low, or eliminate render-blocking resources.

You don’t have to understand what those mean right now. But the most likely culprit is you are using too many tools on your website.

While you may always have used those tools in the past, consider removing them because they may just be there to make your website look pretty; thus, making it load slowly.

Optimization tweaks for WordPress websites

Now, if you are using a WordPress website, which you most probably are, then consider following these website optimization tweaks in order to achieve a 90+ score on Google PageSpeed Insights.

In other words, follow the things I mentioned there to make your site faster on both mobile and desktop.

That is a more comprehensive version. But if you want quick gains without the pain, take a look at these 8 steps to speed up your website.

2. Content

The next topic of on-page SEO is to create content. The easiest way is to apply a two-pronged strategy.

Without content, you will never rank on search engines. Let’s go back to the main purpose people search the internet — to find answers to their problems.

If you don’t create content, how will they find you?

Here are a few things to keep in mind.

Cover the topic well enough

Covering a particular topic well is very important if you want to rank on search engines. It’s a bit ambiguous, sure. But it’s difficult to quantify what it really means.

There’s another way to look at this though — word count. Generally, the longer your content is, the higher its chances for ranking.

The most popular research that made long-form content popular is by Backlinkto. Here’s what it has to say:

Based on SERP data from SEMrush, we found that longer content tends to rank higher in Google’s search results. The average Google first page result contains 1,890 words.

How is that? Because long-form content, at an average of 1900 words, you most probably covered the topic well enough. Meaning, you provided users some value on your content.

But that’s not always the case.

As shown in the examples mentioned here, you don’t need to always create content that long.

What matters is, as you guessed it, focus on your readers and users.

Tips to get started on creating content

Here are some resources to get you started.

3. User experience

By now, you sped up your website and started creating content. Great.

Now, it’s time to focus on user experience. Some questions to ask yourself are the following:

  • Is it easy to find what I’m looking for?
  • Are there too many ads or popups preventing me from reading what I want to read?
  • Can I quickly access common pages
    • About
    • Contact
    • Services/Products
  • Are the articles/content easy to read?

These are just some questions to get started. By focusing on the user, you will know which add value to them and which don’t.


Covering a topic means you need to reference certain terms/phrases, or even some research backing up statistics or statements.

Now, you don’t want to write content about them in the same article because while it may make your word count higher, it will not be relevant to the user anymore.

For example, this article is about SEO. In the previous section, I mentioned about the study by Backlinkto. If I explained what the study is, their approach, and all their findings, this entire article becomes too long and too technical. And that’s not what I want. Plus, it has already been covered by them extensively.

What did I do?

I just linked to them. That way, in case you wanted to learn more about the study, you can do so by clicking on the link. That’s an example of an external link — a link outside your own domain.

You probably also noticed that I added links in some sections to my own articles. That’s called internal linking. There are specific strategies you can do about internal linking, but the only thing you need to remember right now is to add links wherever they are relevant and can provide additional value.

Use of header tags

Have you noticed the different sections I have on this post? Some are bigger, while some are smaller.

I didn’t adjust their font sizes. Those are the use of header tags. If your website is built properly, you can simply assign those tags and it will display properly. Here’s what it looks like for WordPress.

Headers in WordPress
More formatting tips

Another way you can make it easier for your readers to read your content is to use formatting options like the following:

  • Bullet lists
  • Numbered lists
  • Bold text

See what I did there?

It makes it easier to read and understand what you want to highlight. Adding those formatting breaks the monotony of words. And of course, images help too. Together, these make your content more user-friendly.

4. Mobile-first

When was the last time you used your mobile phone to search something on the internet? Truth is, our phones have become so powerful that we use them more often than our computers.

According to Statista, 64% of Google searches are done via mobile devices. So it’s only logical that search engines prioritize ranking website that are mobile-friendly.

Here’s a quick mobile-friendly test by Google. Just type your website and it will tell you if your site is or not.

Now, remember our website speed test? Here’s another fact — A study by Google says that 53% of mobile site visits will leave a page that takes longer than three seconds to load.

What that means is even if your website is mobile-friendly, if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load, more than half of visitors will abandon your page. And guess where they are going?

To your competitors.

Consider using AMP

I shared earlier how I achieved 90s score on both mobile and desktop on website speed tests. You can certainly follow that especially if you are using WordPress.

Another way you can easily speed up your website is by using AMP pages. It’s a technology developed by Google to “provide a user-first format for web content.”

You can see this when you search on Google via mobile.

AMP pages with lightning icon

If you noticed, there’s a lightning symbol that indicates which are AMP pages. Click on them and the page immediately loads.

If you have a slow website, especially on mobile, consider implementing AMP pages to get quick results while you plan or redesign your entire website.

AMP Plugin

I am using WordPress. So, I just installed the AMP plugin, configured my posts to be available fo AMP, and I’m done.

For example, if you search for the “stages of awareness” on Google, one of my articles will show up with the AMP lightning icon.

How AMP pages look like when you search on mobile

5. Schema

This is the last and probably important thing you need to think about implementing this year — schema markups or structured data.

There are different types of schemas and the easiest way to understand what they are and how useful it is for your website is through examples.

Let’s say you are browsing for instructions or recipes. You will notice that there are some results that show up that looks like this…

How Recipes Schema looks like in carousel
How Recipes Schema looks like with reviews and ratings

Or say you wanted to catch up on the latest news.

This is the biggest trending topic right now is currently happening in my home country.

How the news schema looks like

And a little bit of self-promotion on one of the articles where I have implemented the FAQ Schema.

How FAQ Schema looks like

All these are examples of websites using schema.

As you can see, adding schemas or structured data to your posts will help you rank more on search engines primarily because of two things:

  1. Most websites aren’t using them yet. So, with that logic, if you are using it, your chances for ranking are higher
  2. You gain a bigger search engine real estate. What this simply means is you occupy a big portion of the search engine results page that you have a higher chance of people seeing you and clicking on your website

Combining all these on-page ranking factors will help you show up on search engines. Focus on giving your users the best experience and Google will reward you. And that involves you making these changes:

  • Make your website load faster
  • Create helpful and valuable content
  • That can be read easily
  • Even on mobile devices

Off-Page Ranking Factors

The second category of SEO is off-page ranking factors. These are things you don’t have direct control over.

Here’s a simple way to look at off-page SEO.

If you think about it, Google’s algorithm was essentially about “if people are talking about you, you must be important.”

What that means is when people are writing about you, in this case, linking to your content, it sends a signal to search engines that your content must be valuable. Therefore, they put it up on their results pages.

The technical term for this are backlinks — links going from one website to your own website.

According to Moz, there are three main types of links, defined by how they were earned: natural links, manually built links, or self-created links.

  1. Natural links are editorially given without any action on the part of a page owner. For example, a food blogger adding a link to a post that points toward their favorite produce farms is a natural link.
  2. Manually built links are acquired through deliberate link-building activities. This includes things like getting customers to link to your website or asking influencers to share your content.
  3. Self-created links are created by practices such as adding a backlink in an online directory, forum, blog comment signature, or a press release with optimized anchor text. Some self-created link building tactics tend toward black hat SEO and are frowned upon by search engines, so tread lightly here.

Now, now all links are created equal. There are domain authority, page authority, anchor text, etc. you have to look into when it comes to backlinks. But I digress. All these are great resources for you to learn about off-page SEO:

  1. Moz
  2. Neil Patel
  3. Ahrefs

1. Focus on what you can control

Since you don’t have direct control over this so it’s best if you focus on creating high quality content.

Sure, you may invest in the self-created links, but that will only give you so much. The next option you might take is reaching out to people through link-building activities. But in order for you to do that, you need to create high-quality content.

2. Foolish to think you can rank without content

This brings me back to the biggest problem I see most website owners have when it comes to ranking on Google.

They think they can rank on Google by optimizing their website and not create content. By optimizing here I meant adding keywords and other technical stuff.

Sure, that may work. But most likely, it wouldn’t.

One way to look at on-page and off-page ranking factors is the Pareto principle:

  • 20% comes from on-page optimizations,
  • While 80% comes from off-page.

What this means is links from high authority sites carries more weight when it comes to ranking on search engines. If you have other websites linking back to yours, it sends a signal that what your website contains is valuable.

That’s why link-building outreaches have become popular.

But if the only content you have is your homepage, about page, and contact us, how valuable do you think that is for people who don’t know anything about you? What value would other websites get if they don’t even know what you offer or what you do?

Getting a high authority website to link to you means you have created content that is outstanding enough for them to mention you on their website.

And if you think about it, that actually makes sense. If it’s easy to rank on Google, most websites would already be there. But it’s not.

So, at the end of the day, focus on creating high quality content by putting your users first. Then, when you finally have something worthy, that’s when you spend time building links.

3. Distributing your content

One other thing.

Remember the self-created links? You can do that by distributing your content via different channels.

Social media is probably the first one on your list. And that’s a good start. But there are other places you can do so as well.

Medium and LinkedIn articles are one of the most underutilized distribution channels you can use.


Search engine optimization is a complicated and mostly technical topic. It covers a lot of things from website speed, code, and link building. Also, search engine algorithms change all the time.

The only way to make sure your investments in SEO don’t go to waste is to put your customers first. Focus on creating value for them and you will continue to rank on Google and other search engines for a long time.

Content Marketing vs SEO in 2020: How Content and SEO Work

Content Marketing vs SEO in 2020 - How Google Works

One of the common misconceptions about SEO I often hear from business owners is they think they can rank on search engines without creating content. 

It’s already 2020 — and let me say put an end to that myth right now. 

SEO is one of the fastest changing aspects in digital marketing. Therefore, you have to keep up with the changes if you want your website to rank on page 1 of search engines like Google.

Still don’t believe me? Ask yourself this question, “Without content, what would you rank for in the first place?”

SEO Myths You Should Stop Believing in 2020

In the early days, when search engines first started, your website can rank on them easily because of two simple facts: (1) the way search engines rank websites were straightforward, and (2) there were little to no competition. 

So, by simply adding the “right keyword” to your website, you will get to the first page rather quickly. 

But things have changed. 

A lot. 

Myth 1: Search engine algorithms have changed (and is changing)

These algorithms (the way search engines rank content) have become sophisticated. According to Neil Patel, Google alone considers over 200 factors when it comes to ranking your website. 

And rightfully so. 

Because this leads to better user experience

Before, you can just put keywords on a page, even if it’s not related, and you can still rank for them. For example, I type this in Google: “what will marketing look like in 10 years?” Then, I’ll see results on the first page about the future of technology or even recipes about chicken barbecue. 

See how that would be very frustrating for me as a user? 

And that’s what Google (and all other search engines) are trying to avoid. They want users to have a great experience

When it comes to search engines, people want answers to their questions

So, that’s what they aim to deliver. That’s why these 200+ factors are never fully disclosed to the public, nor are they constant. 

For example, in 2018, Google mentioned that mobile-responsive websites are prioritized on mobile searches since it delivers a better user experience. 

So, the only way for you to rank on Google and provide users the great experience is to create content that answers your customers’ problems.

Myth #2: I just create a website and it will rank on page one

Did you know that there are over 1.5 billion websites today? 

And ~1.4 billion of those aren’t even a decade old. 

over 1.5 billion websites exist today

What does this mean for you? 

If you’re just starting out, that means you have a lot of work to do. 

It also means you probably have a lot of competition in whatever industry you’re in. 

So, don’t delay and start creating content today. 

Content is Necessary to Rank on Search Engines

I’ve been doing digital marketing for almost a decade now. I learned from the beginning that content is what will help me rank on search engines. That’s why I always emphasize content creation and distribution to all my clients (and the companies I’ve worked for). 

In the last three years or so, I noticed a disconnect. 

Business owners keep saying they want to rank on search engines, but are unwilling to do the necessary work

I’m attributing this to the popularity of social media. But social media is very misleading. 

It’s very easy to spend for likes and followers. So, follower count isn’t a real metric you should be looking at. That’s why they are called vanity metrics. 

What should you look at instead? Well, that depends on your business. 

But here’s a list of metrics you should be tracking. If you’re not tracking them, or if your marketing efforts aren’t helping you with those metrics, it’s time to evaluate what you’re doing online. 

Over to You

From my experience, it’s not necessary to distinguish between content marketing and SEO. To me, it’s the same thing. 

You create content and apply SEO best practices all at the same time. No matter how much you “optimize” your website, if you aren’t creating new content, you will never rank on Google’s first page.

Content Creation 101: How to Get Started with Content Creation from Scratch

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Before stumbling on this article, what were you doing before?

Browsing social media? Searching on Google? Checking your email?

Whatever that was, you’re most likely absorbing some form of content.

And that’s not unusual.

In today’s hyperconnected world, we’re bombarded with so many content everywhere we go.

But that’s the disconnect a lot of business owners and inexperienced marketers often miss. They think that content is not relevant to their organization. They think that content creation is only for those with big budgets. They think that they can succeed without content.

Guess what?

That won’t happen.

If you value content and want to know how to get stared, read on…

8 Steps to Start Content Creation in Digital Marketing

1. Don’t worry about SEO

Whenever I talk to business owners and other marketers about creating content, the topic of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) often comes up.

They get worried that they don’t know how to do SEO, should they hire SEO experts and other stuff along those lines.

I tell them to stop worrying about SEO and just get started with writing blog posts or articles. You can deal with SEO later on.

The problem with worrying about SEO is that you get stuck. There are over 200 ranking factors to consider and learn in SEO. If you try to learn all of these, you’ll never have time to actually create content.

Instead, I tell them a principle I’ve always believed in: be helpful.

Create content that is helpful for your customers, SEO will follow.

2. Start with FAQs

When I talk to people about content marketing, here’s something that’s always asked back…

“How do I do that?”

My answer has always been some variation of this, “You already have customers. They have frequently asked questions. Write 300-500 word articles on each of those questions.”

That’s it.

Publish each of these articles once a week and you’re already one step ahead of your competitors who don’t do this.

This addresses the topic on search intent. That’s also why you don’t have to worry about target keywords.

You get the topics to write about directly from your customers. This is one way to get guaranteed traffic to your website.

3. Stick to a schedule

Successful brands in digital marketing don’t follow a strict schedule. They publish content once they have it. Why? Because of their brand. They also have a following already. Regardless of what they post and when they do it, they’ll have an audience eager to read that piece of content.

But that doesn’t mean you should follow them.

If you’re starting out, having a fixed schedule is great to keep you motivated.

Start with once a week. Pick a date and time. For example, Friday at 9am.

Once you’re done with your FAQ article, schedule them for Friday 9am. Then, work on your next. Once you’re done with that second article, schedule it for next week’s Friday, also at 9am.

This allows you to get into a rhythm. It helps develop the habit of writing content. Plus, in case you get buried in work for a couple of days, you’ll have a scheduled post already going out. That alone can calm you down and start thinking about the week after.

Or another alternative is to do sprints.

I am in the middle of my current sprint. I described about my first 30-day writing sprint here.

4. Follow these general rules of thumb

Remember what I said about not worrying about SEO earlier? How there are over 200+ ranking factors that affect SEO…

Once you get the hang of writing content, you can follow these general rules of thumb to guide you when writing your content:

  1. Publishing frequency: once a week
  2. Length: 300 words or more
  3. Format: Use a LOT of white space
    • That means 2-3 sentences per paragraph
    • Use Headers
      • h1, h2, h3
    • Use itemized lists and bullets
    • Bold important text
  4. Add at least one image
    • Don’t forget to add an alt text
  5. Tone:
    • Use simple sentences.
    • Be conversational. That means writing as if you are talking to the person in front of you.
  6. Don’t be afraid to link to other articles/websites/resources
    • Yes, even your competitors

If you have any questions about these rules of thumb, or need help with content creation in general, just let me know in the comments.

And yes, you can break them.

Just make sure you know what you’re doing.

That’s why having SEO plugins like Rank Math or Yoast are great for beginners. It allows you to check your content’s performance across a certain set of rules.

5. Repurpose your content

Modern content creation isn’t limited to writing articles. It’s all about repurposing your content.

There are other types of content out there. The most prominent one are written ones like blog posts and articles.

Content repurposing is transforming your existing content (e.g. article) into other formats like video, email, podcast, checklist, etc.

This makes content creation so easy because after creating one article, you can repurpose it into other content formats, then share them on your social media accounts. Here’s how you can get started with video content.

As you already know, creating something from scratch is infinitely harder than editing/changing/transforming/repurposing an existing one.

As an example, the section on the general rules of thumb is repurposed content from an online course I’m developing for content creation.

If you want to dive deeper into it, here’s an article on how to repurpose your content.

6. Distribute the content

Now that you’ve written some content, don’t forget to distribute it.

This is an important element in your content strategy that you shouldn’t neglect.

And it’s also where most business owners and marketers fail. I’ve seen it so many times. They spend a lot of time and effort in creating great content, then you do nothing else.

They don’t share it on social media, they don’t send it to their email list, they don’t advertise it.

That’s a waste of resources.

I can only assume they bought-in the belief of “if you build it, they will come.” But that’s not going to work in 2020 and beyond. With over 1.5 billion websites as of this writing, that content will not be seen by anyone.

So, post them on social media. Multiple times. Don’t know where to start? Use these formulas:

  • Headline + link + hashtags
  • Quote + image
  • Quote + link
  • Personal opinion + link + hashtags
  • Statistics + image
  • Statistics + link

You get the point. And that’s just for one article. Now, imagine if you have 10 of them? What if you have over 100?

And if you’re writing helpful content as I’ve said in the beginning, they will still be relevant a year from now, 3 years from now.

7. Enlist help from the frontlines (other departments)

Let’s say you finished writing your FAQs. You’re stuck.

The best way to get out of that is to ask for help.

Your choices: your customers, sales department, and customer service.

These people interact with your customers every day (well, except for your customers themselves). They know what their problems are, what they complain about, what they want to happen.

Use them as ideas to write your next piece. And there are lots of ways to go about it:

  • Listicles — Top 10 Digital Marketing Trends in 2020
  • How to’s — How to Train a Puppy

And if you’re stuck again, follow the next tip…

8. Use writing formulas

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time. There are a ton of writing formulas you can use.

For example, this article follows the What, Why, How Formula.

I started with what content creation is, why it’s important, then listed several steps on how to get started with content creation.

Here are some of the formulas I frequently use:

  • Minto Pyramid Principle: Situation, Complication, Resolution
  • PAS/PASO: Problem, Agitate, Solve, Outcome
  • Facts and Opinions
  • AIDA: Attention, Interest, Desire, Action

There are a ton more, but these are what I usually use.

So, What Are You Going to Do Next

Creating content and distributing it is key to succeeding in content marketing. If you want to reach a wider audience, follow these simple tips:

  • Don’t worry too much about SEO
  • Focus on solving your customers — FAQs, challenges, pain points, goals
  • Use writing formulas to speed up writing your content
  • Repurpose and distribute them. Everywhere. Multiple times.

Have you tried any of these tips? Or are you still having trouble getting started? Let me know in the comments below.