What you see above is a screen capture of a Google featured snippet for the search “Don Quixote translations.” I’m presenting it because it is taken from my webpage, Don Quixote in English Language Translation. It is the first time that I’ve ever been so honored, and I’m thrilled about it. I’m pleased both because it has to do with my pet subject — Don Quixote — and also because I’ve been working on getting more attention for my writing on this subject.
A Featured Snippet? Me?!
But I never even thought that my work might be used in a featured snippet. For one thing, they are usually found in searches that are more question-based. For example, “Who wrote Finnegans Wake?” But I suppose that “Don Quixote translations” is an implied question.
Regardless, I learned something about having this featured snippet: it’s great for traffic! The webpage that it links to has gone a little crazy the past couple of weeks. It’s now in my top five most visited pages. And that’s saying a lot when you consider that there are almost 8,000 pages on Frankly Curious. I’m nothing if not a writing fanatic. But over the last couple of years, I’ve learned that creating a lot of content — even reasonably good content — isn’t enough to rock Google’s world.
What Google Wants
Google claims to love people like me: people who just create content without worrying about search engine optimization (SEO) and all that. But there are things that Google likes. It is, after all, just a computer algorithm. One thing it likes is old stuff. Just being around for a long time says to Google, “This is a website that is worth paying attention to.” And that makes sense. For every active blog, there are probably a hundred that people started for a short period of time and then abandoned. Frankly Curious is in its eighth year of active (and often hyperactive) publication. It does say something positive of a site that it continues on.
Of course, that has nothing to do with Google rewarding the site with this featured snippet. In fact, you can forget all about the featured snippet. The real issue is ranking. About six months ago, this page only ranked about 50th for the search term “Don Quixote translations.” Now it ranks 4th. I owe this increase in search rank to a WordPress plugin called Yoast SEO. It does things like tell you if what you’ve written is long enough, if you have enough mentions of your focus keyword (or too many — which seems to be a bigger sin), and whether you have images. It’s really kind of a nag.
Yoast to the Rescue!
But one thing it does is check to see if you’ve written about a subject before. And it will report, “You’ve used this focus keyword X times before, it’s probably a good idea to read this post on cornerstone content and improve your keyword strategy.” The idea is that Google is much more interested in you writing one long article about Don Quixote than 40 short articles about it.
This idea took a long time to get into my head. But finally it started to make sense. Anyway, I had wanted to write a long article about Don Quixite for a while: a single page where people could get a basic introduction to the the book, along with information about which version they should read. In other words: I wanted to write the article that I wish had been around when I first decided to read the book. And the material was there; it was just scattered over about 40 articles. I could see why Google wanted me to do things differently.
The truth is that I haven’t even finished the article. I’ve only managed to take three articles and combine them. (Note: when I say combine them, I don’t mean copy them; I mean address the same material as I see it today (which is somewhat different than it was at the time). Doing this alone made the page increase its ranking substantially. But the new page was still competing for Google’s love with the other pages.
Nowhere was that as true as with my first article, “About to Read Don Quixote.” And that was particularly embarrassing, given that it was a cheeky article that shows off just how little I knew. It also only featured six of the translations — not the 13 major translations that I now discuss. And to make matters even worse, those original translations did not include my far more informed favorite by John Rutherford.
Power of the 301 Redirect
Luckily, Google allows websites to use a really powerful tool: the 301 redirect. A 301 redirect tells anyone going to a particular page that it has moved permanently. I’ve known about these since at least 2000. But I always thought that the redirects had to be the same page. Of course, that makes no sense. I’m constantly rewriting pages and they remain the same page. So I was able to redirect that old, cheeky article to my new, far more knowledgeable page. (Because I can’t bear to throw anything away, the entire original article is in a footnote in the new article.) And in the process, I applied all the link “juice” of that old article to the new one.
Before I did that, the two articles were always ranking at 11 and 12 (more or less) for this search term. But when the 301 finally went through (it seems to take a month or more for Google to really figure it out), suddenly I found myself at position 4 with my very own featured snippet. And the sites that beat me out are behemoths: online-literature.com (Alexa ranking: 35,153), GoodReads.com (Alexa ranking: 328), and Amazon (Alexa ranking: 8). So I’m very pleased. Now I’d like to go after “best Don Quixote translation,” where I’m ranked at number 7.
So I’ll Worry About SEO — A Little
What I figure is that if I continue adding to the page (there’s lots more to say), and put in 301 redirects for the roughly 40 other pages, I might be able to get to the top of the list for both searches. And why not? The truth is, I don’t think there is anyone who knows more than I do about Don Quixote in English — at least not anyone who is writing about it on the web.
The whole thing makes me think that if I took this approach to all of my random articles on Frankly Curious, I could probably increase the site traffic by an order of magnitude. I have lots of articles about old blues. Maybe I should synthesize that. I’ve written a lot about Looney Tunes. Same thing — although I already rank number one for “Bugs Bunny hare” for my article, Bugs Bunny: Rabbit or Hare? (the single most popular page on Frankly Curious). And I’ve written a lot about idiosyncratic or psychotronic film. But in that case, I’ve decided to start a whole new website. I just purchased PsychotronicReview.com. I’ll be updating you on that in the coming months.
This is all very cool. I still care most about the ideas and the writing. But it’s nice to know that just a little bit of SEO work can greatly increase your audience. Or at least you can if you’ve been writing like a madman for the last decade.