How my blog beat BMW at search engine optimization

I left the world of software marketing and product management years ago (and I’ve never looked back). But I remember the pressure marketers face to rank highly on search engines. They’ll do just about anything to achieve good search engine optimization. They’ll hire consultants, bet on snake-oil products (Hubspot is the poster child), pork up their blogs and websites with “news” feeds and try just about any voodoo they can — all in a (usually futile) attempt to rank highly for search terms related to their products.

Well, for the search term “BMW collision warning“, currently (as of April, 2016) this blog ranks #1 on Bing, beating BMW itself and #2 on Google, right below a BMW link. Bing returns 1.2M results for the term; Google returns about 750K. See the screenshots nearby — click on them to enlarge each image.

Bing search results for "BMW collision warning"
Bing search results for “BMW collision warning”

Google search results for "BMW collision warning"
Google search results for “BMW collision warning”
How is it possible that my little, insignificant blog got enough love from Google and Bing to beat out a massive German industrial corporation that, we can be sure, is spending millions on SEO for a hot search term like “BMW collision warning”? Can’t you just hear the execs in Munich telling the marketers to get the word out about collision warning in their products? After Consumer Reports‘s April, 2016 annual auto issue stated their future rankings will now take into account the availability of collision warning, traffic to my inconsequential blog skyrocketed. (I get more daily visitors from search than a 15-year-old company I just finished a gig with. They kinda wanted me to help them with their marketing problems. Feh!)

I’d say it’s easy, but it’s not. Succeeding at SEO is all about the work you do — not about what the consultants tell you or what Hubspot thinks. Why? Because content is king. And if you are devoid of ideas, no tool or consultant will make a difference.

Beyond that obvious point — that you better have something to say — here are some additional tips, in no special order, to consider.

  • Forget fancy. You can’t beat the search engines’ algorithms. By now, don’t you think they’ve figured out every trick on the planet? They want content, created in a way that makes sense to their bots. If it were possible today to go to 100% text, that’s what I’d do. This blog, for example, runs WordPress, which I’ve loved for a decade. It runs an unmodified, stock-theme version. That’s easier on both me and the search engines.
  • Do it hard and long. This blog has been around since July, 2006. It takes time to build a reputation, “SEO cred”. And I’ve blogged more or less monthly since then. I blog about politics, tech and plenty of lesser stuff. I’ve yelled at Charles Schwab, told the world what the funniest TV show of all time was and suggested a way for AWS VPC DNS to work. I’m all over the place — regularly.
  • Get the tech right. Today, that means running a blog (or site) that is mobile-responsive (which I get with no effort using WordPress’s twentysixteen theme), 100% secure, in the cloud (this blog is running in Azure) and lovingly tagged. Google and Bing know what you’re doing and the more modern you are, the better. While I haven’t written about it yet (and I will), I recently upgraded Apache so I could run HTTP/2. (Stay tuned for a post about why this is killer — and why you have to do it.) Techies are supposed to be tongue-tied; marketers are supposed be technophobes. Well, the answer is you gotta be a great communicator and a top-shelf geek if you want good SEO.

Bottom line: there’s no magic. It takes effort and usually means that you have to acquire skills that seem like they are from another solar system. But, as Alex Neihaus beating BMW at the SEO game proves, the Internet isn’t always about money or power — used effectively, the Internet in fact equalizes share of mind and voice.






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