The Musician's Conclusive Guide To SEO

The amount of BS information circling around SEO on the internet is astounding. So this guide is for you: the musician who doesn't have the time to become an internet master, but needs her website to rank.

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His website is a bit hokey (Flaming guitars? Seriously?), but his program really shows independant artists how to get a leg-up on signed artists.

If you’re completely new to the internet, SEO stands for “search-engine-optimization”. It’s about optimizing your website so that SE's (search engines) like Google or Bing will show your website in their search results.

In order to understand SEO, you first need to understand a bit about the SE (search engine) industry.

Don’t worry, I promise not to make it too boring for you. If it is too boring though, feel free to let your balls drop sometime soon so you can toughen up and learn even when you’re bored **breath** you turkey.

Let's start with setting the stage so that you can actually use my practical action steps (the last half of this article) with real discretion and judgment. 

It Is Google’s Job To Deliver The Websites People Search For

If you need a repair guide for your toilet, and you search “toilet repair guide”, it’s Google’s job to deliver you a repair guide that makes you think “this is exactly what I was looking for, thanks Google!”

Why do they even care? Well, if you didn’t find that repair guide, you would eventually realize that Google isn't going to deliver the websites you need, so you stop using Google. If you aren’t using Google, then you aren’t there to click on their ads (that appear on the right hand side and above your search results), and...

...Google stops making money!

You can see how important it is for their business to keep you happy, right? You can always go to Bing/Yahoo! if you're unsatisfied (it's called capitalism dummy).

So how does Google decide which pages are going to have a great "toilet repair guide", and which ones are going to have an awful repair guide?

Well, they could always just READ them, but there’s a problem; how does Google go through and read BILLIONS of web pages, and decide which ones are best?

They can’t! It’s impossible (or at least expensive) to read every single web page.

But what if Google could create an artificial intelligence to go through the pages, and decide which ones are the best? If they could, I'm sure they would! In fact…

…they are doing that right now! Google’s AI is called the “Google Algorithm”, and they update it about 500 times per year to continually try and deliver the best search results.

Instead of trying to actually read your web pages though, Google has done something very clever indeed, and reads YOUR VISITOR'S REACTIONS to these pages! Seeing as though they're humans, Google lets them decide whether or not the page is good. They're leveraging the power of people.

It measures things like:

  • how long a visitor stays on your site (do they leave right away, or do they stay and read because it's exactly what they were looking for?)
  • how many pages your visitors view before they leave (do they want “out” of your site, or are they so impressed that they want to check out other pages on your site?)
  • how original the content is (are you just plagiarizing?)
  • are other credible websites using your website as a source for their content and entertainment? (ie. are they linking to you?)
  • are people on Facebook and Twitter (and other social networks) interacting with you and liking your page?
  • about 200+ other factors

All of these factors are something that would happen NATURALLY as a result of your visitor enjoying your website! 

For example, if you were searching for James Blake, and then found his website, you would likely then check his tour dates and listen to some music, or maybe click through to his Facebook page and like him.

Google measures these actions, and then decides if James Blake’s website was what you were looking for when you searched the term "James Blake". Considering you checked out a bunch of his pages and stayed a while, they can pretty accurately determine that they delivered the right result, and will rank his website higher.

So the first rule of having your band website rank highly is…

"Have A Great Website!"

If your site is poorly designed, putting visitors/fans through a labyrinth of text and confusion, they will likely click back and maybe just go to your Facebook page (at least that one makes sense!)

If your site is designed on flash, or doesn’t function properly, you can bet they will click off, frustrated that they weren’t able to listen to your music or find your tour dates easily. SongKick can let me know your tour dates, so why would I bother with your crappy site?

Make your fans delighted with your site:

  • Make it functionable, and they will stay. 
  • Deliver unique things that they can’t find on Wikipedia.
  • Tell them stories about recording or your band on tour. 
  • Record special videos for them.
  • Blog about your experiences and your plans. 
  • Share your ideas, share your art, share your creativity. Share, share, share. 

For most business websites, putting out new content is called a “content strategy”, and it’s the #1 way to get your website ranked highly. It pleases the crap out of your fans. 

Of course, these is above and beyond the essential elements that you need your website to have. If you're curious about those “essentials”, read 9 elements you must have on your band's website.

Your music should also be incredible, but that goes without saying.

Bridge The Gap

With all of that Google theory in mind, and focusing on just pleasing your visitor, there aaaaare a few other things you should do to help please the “technical” side of Google. The Google Algorithm is still just a computer, and can’t read things as fluidly as a real person.

A "technical strategy" might involve using keywords on your website that reveal the meaning of your site to Google.

For example, you could write a website about computers, but never actually use the specific word "computer". Any real person would know what the website is about, but Google might struggle understanding (because it’s looking for the keyword "computer") what your site is about.

Now that is a VERY basic analogy to help you understand what I mean by "technical", so I hope it came through. I'll move on to a few more action steps that you can take throughout the rest of this article.

By the way, Google will eventually get smart enough to tell what a website is about, even if there are no revealing keywords. They could probably already tell what your site was about, but let's use a few key phrases to help them out while they're learning even better.

Here’s a few extra action steps to help bridge the gap while Google learns to be smarter!

#1: SEO plugin by Yoast 

If your site is on Wordpress (it should be), then you’ll want to install Yoast’s SEO Plugin. This is easily the best SEO plugin for your site.

It will allow you to very easily put some revealing keywords into your site to help Google figure out what to do with your site.

If you want a complete guide on how to use this plugin, check out this tutorial. It will take you through the entire plugin, although I found many of the options to be quite self-explanatory. The plugin itself has a “tour” that you can access through the SEO plugin dashboard in Wordpress.

As well, you can learn how to do “technical” SEO for your site using Yoast’s guide on the subject

Will this make you rank #1? Of course not. As I said, Google will eventually be smart enough to figure out your site without any SEO at all, but for now we do all this help Google figure it out.

We DO NOT do this to try and manipulate Google into ranking you higher (manipulate = your site's quality is undeserving of a #1 rank), but rather just to give Google some hints. If anyone tells you that SEO alone (without a great website or great content) will make you rank #1, you can tell them to stuff it.

Pure SEO tactics (not caring about delivering a good site, but instead only trying to manipulate code) will eventually be hit by a Google Algorithm as it gets smarter. I’ll talk more about this in the links section.

I want to make it clear that you could break every single rule in that guide I linked to, and you could still rank highly just because you have an ecstatic website, relevant to the searcher's query. As Google becomes smarter, SEO will become less and less important, but it can still help in the meantime.

ACTION STEP: At the very minimum, install the plugin. In your Wordpress dashboard, go to “SEO > Titles & Metas” and put in information for the “Home page” as well as “Post Types”. You’ll want to put in a description for your website, meta keywords (your band name and maybe a genre or two), and a title.

If you want to do nothing more than that, at least Google will have a vague hint at what your website is about (although they can probably gather that by the amount of music you have available). 

If you want to go all out, then use the guides I linked to above.

#2: Stay Away From Weird Link Exchanges - Don’t Consciously Look For Links At All

On April 24, 2012, Google released a special update called “penguin 1.0”, which focused on the quality of links.

Anyone participating in shady link exchanges, or simply trying to “get links” to their website (other than the natural linking that someone does when you simply have a high quality website) were penalized, and lost huge amounts of traffic.

Don’t be a penguin victim. Don’t just try to “get links” thinking that will mean anything at all to Google. Not only will it not help, but Google will flag you as a “manipulator” and will penalize your site.

Now this isn’t something that most band sites have to worry about, as it’s often spammy internet marketers that were penalized, but I’m just putting a warning out so that you don’t buy into any of that SEO hype that you might read.

A good link that naturally comes from a reputable website (such as Pitchfork or Metalsucks)? Worth it’s weight in gold.

A link you paid for or “created” yourself? It’s gonna hurt.

Take this quick little quiz to see if you understand the difference between “creating links”, and just earning them naturally.

Website Links Quiz

Answer (TRUE) if you think the link is beneficial, and (FALSE) if you think the link might make Google suspicious.

  1. Forbes hears about your band as you guys are gaining popularity. They do an interview with you, and link back to your site in the interview. (T/F)
  2. You visit music blogs and put a comment on a bunch of their articles, each comment linking back to your site. (T/F)
  3. You visit many smaller music blogs and pay them to put a link up to your site. The links are NOT “nofollow” links, so they are passing on PageRank (PR) to your website. (T/F)
  4. Pitchfork features your newest song on their website, and links back to your website or soundcloud so that their visitors can listen to your track.
  5. Your music video on YouTube is gaining a ton of new traffic. In the description of the video, you link back to your site where listeners can download or buy the song.
  6. On twitter, you make sure that every 3rd tweet has a link back to your site.
  7. You submit your site to 50 online directories that list bands in your genre. 
  8. A small blog reviews your new album after you sent it to them by email.

Answers:

1. TRUE - This is a natural link that Google views as building credibility for you.

2. FALSE - Would you really have linked back if it weren’t for the SEO? This is spam, so don’t do it. 

3. FALSE - Paid links automatically get penalization for your website unless they are “nofollow” links. It’s perfectly okay to pay for advertising if you just want the actually traffic though, as long as the webmaster “nofollows” the link.

4. TRUE - Seems like a great PR opportunity to me!

5. TRUE - Your link to buy the song really benefits the visitor because they can easily acquire your track after deciding that they want it. You’re providing value on the YouTube video, so it is only natural that you want them to be able to get more of that if they want, hence a link back to your site.

6. FALSE - Spamming links to your website on Twitter is not good, same goes for Facebook. It’s okay if you put your website link in your bio, and if you occasionally share a link to something new on your site, such as a blog post or a new single. See the social media section of this article for more info.

7. FALSE - Directories are going the way of Myspace and are becoming extinct. Google doesn’t value these low-quality directory submissions, and will start to see you as a manipulator. This doesn’t mean you should avoid ALL directories (a valuable directory like HypeMachine comes to mind as a directory you should value), but you should focus on the actual exposure and visitors that you’ll be getting from that directory, rather than some silly “link juice” for SEO.

8. TRUE - It’s perfectly fine to promote your music to blogs if they’re open to it. If they decide that they like your album enough to write about it, then that is a legitimate indicator of quality. The fact that you were proactive about it doesn’t discount the fact that the blog responded well enough to your promotion that they wrote about it. Don’t do this on public comments sections though; it’s bad taste. Always try to build a relationship with the blog as well. You may even consider hiring a PR guy who already has these types of relationships to do it for you.

#3: Don’t Worry About Keywords - Google Keywords Should Be The Last Thing You Think About When Writing For Your Website

If you haven’t gotten the picture yet, whichever keywords you put on your page AT BEST can help Google understand what your site is about. If you try to stuff “more” keywords in, expecting that will actually give you rankings, think again.

Keywords can be useful to measure supply & demand if you’re using a keyword research tool, but for a band website, this means hardly anything. So if you’ve been reading blogs, trying to make sense of this website business, forget all the keyword malarky.

As I mentioned earlier, you might want to put a keyword in for your band name, and maybe your genre or record label, but beyond that it requires very little attention.

ACTION STEPS: Forget that keyword malarky ya turkey!

#4: Install Google Analytics

Google analytics is an amazing way to get TONS of different information about your fans! You can find out their age, gender, country, how long they stay on your site, how many pages they visit, and so much more!

ACTION STEP: Just go to Google Analytics and set up an account. They will give you a piece of HTML code that you can put on your website that lets them track your site.

There’s a Googolplex of tutorials on how to do this already, so I’m not going to tell you how. Google is your friend, use it.

#5: Link Your Social Media Back To Your Website - If It Makes Sense

As stated above, Google can use your presence on social media to determine whether or not your site provides value to your fans. If people are constantly engaging with your band on Facebook, it lets Google know that people enjoy your band (and will more likely enjoy your website). 

It’s not the be-all-end-all, but it is one of the factors they use to determine rankings.

If you answered question #6 correctly in my above quiz, it means you realize there’s a right and wrong way to do social media. If you got it wrong (there’s a cheat sheet and everything; what the heck is wrong with you?) then I’ll say it again:

There’s a right way, and a wrong way, to post links to your website!

Using Facebook or Twitter as a means to spam links to your website certainly is not going to bring better rankings. It would be silly for you to create your Twitter without putting your bands website in your bio, but that doesn’t mean you should be linking to it every 3rd time you post.

Besides, social media can drive it's own very qualified (if not "better-than-Google") source of traffic to your band, why would you want to do it poorly?

Only link back to your website from social media when it really provides value to your fans. Maybe you have a new blog post that you wrote, or a new track. Maybe you just want to draw attention to an old track that you remembered, or you’re sharing some photos. All that is fine and dandy, as long as you ask yourself the fundamental question:

“If I was a fan of this band, would I want to see this? Would this excite me?”

I can tell you that if Kavinsky posted a new track, I would want to hear about it. So that’s a good link. If he just kept posting links to his website home page without any real context though, then I wouldn’t really care.

Do the things you would do on social media as if SEO didn’t exist. Do the things that would make your fans stoked. Post things they like, and if it happens to be your website, then post that. Don’t overdo it for the purposes of “SEO”, because eventually Google will pick up on it. And don't underdo it either; do it when it's needed and makes sense.

Final Thoughts

More important than all of the little SEO things, is always that your fans have a great time. Write and record great music, and then have a fantastic website for them to get to know you better.

If you can do that well, everything else will fall into place. 

Doing some of the best practices that I’ve outlined in this guide certainly can help your efforts…

…but without incredible music and a great website to begin with, you’d be better off spending your time making your music better, or improving your website.

Here's your quick checklist for the above action steps that I mentioned:

  1. SEO Plugin by Yoast
  2. Don't worry about links, ever
  3. Don't worry much about keywords beyond your band name and genre being on your website
  4. Install Google Analytics
  5. Link social media back to your website (if it makes sense)
  6. Most important: HAVE A GREAT WEBSITE!

If you need a website designed for your band, I can always help with that. I've done dozens of websites for clients in the past, and I can do the same for your band. If you'd like to work with me, look here for some more information.

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About The Writer

My name is Andrew Muller. I love creative art, music, television shows, movies, video games, and a good story.

If you had to find me somewhere, you would probably find me down at O'neils home cooking eating an organic sweet-potato bun breakfast sandwich with ham.

Among my friends, it's a "Muller Classic Move" to eat Mcdonald's at 2am because it's cheap and open 24/7. The joke here is that I'm an idiot. 

I play drums, guitar, piano, and I write & perform music for My Goal Is Telepathy. Take a listen to the latest sound here.