Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is a wide-ranging process incorporating many moving parts. If you want to get found on the internet, it’s something that you need to be aware of and have a strategy for. Marketing alone will be far less effective if there is no basic SEO strategy behind you. Great SEO practices ensure that your website or blog is easily found. By being easily found, it means appearing on the first page of the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) — there aren’t too many people out there who will look beyond the first page of Google’s results to find what they want.
The Non-Writer Side of SEO
When assigning rankings for websites on SERPs, Google and other search engines use a variety of methods. Some can be answered with quality content, and we’ll get to that in a bit. The other side of the coin is what I tend to think of as the ‘techy side’ of websites, blogs, and content.
In some cases, as a writer, you may be able to influence some of these like URLs or navigation, if you have the right access and knowledge. In other cases, you’ll be relying on the expertise of a website developer, designer, and UX professional.
The ‘techy side’ includes all manner of things. SSL certificates (website security), mobile-friendliness, URLs, your site’s speed in loading to mobiles and other devices, and website navigation all impact SEO and ultimately the SERPs rank.
Poor security, mysterious URLs, slow site speed, and complicated or incoherent navigation will all result in a poor SERPs ranking. And that’s no matter how great your content is or how well your keywords are researched and distributed. Even with the best content in the world, if your site’s architecture, mobile-friendliness and speed are poor, you’ll be relegated down the results. You could end up on page ten of results or later, and that’s no man’s land in terms of getting found on the net.
The same can be said if you have poor content. The best tech development can equally be let down by poor content. If content is king, website architecture is most certainly his queen. Or vice versa, let’s not get hung up on who is king and queen.
Beyond Great Writing
So what does quality content look like through SEO lenses? For a start, you’ll need to be relevant and eradicate ‘fluff’. Keywords are important, but too many will harm your work. Staying on topic is part of relevancy and duplication is a definite no-no. Meta descriptions — the little bit of blurb under each search result — links (backlinks, internal and external), and a good variety of content within your topic area are all important.
It might sound difficult to write SEO content, but really it’s about preparation. And good writing once you’ve done the groundwork.
Let’s pull these apart and take a closer look at each one.
Topics and keywords
Just say your website is for a widget business. Obviously, your content should be about widgets and widget accessories. That includes the main part of the website where you provide the widget specifications, but also your blog. If you’re having a tough time coming up with topics associated with your niche, there are some great resources, both free and paid for, that can help you not only generate ideas, but become informed about what people really want to know about widgets.
Personally, I’m a fan of Answer the Public. Not only are the search results visually pleasing, but they also have a free and a paid version. The paid version allows you to specify the region you want your results to focus on. There are other perks to the Pro version too — that’s why they call it Pro. They’re not the only ones offering valuable information on what people want from their searches. Bloomberry, Buzzsumo, SEMrush and a bunch of others can also help dredge this information from the depths of the internet for you. Topic searches are a great place to start when creating SEOed content or even if you’re having trouble with coming up with more ideas on a subject you feel you’ve done to death.
Next, you’ve got to get the keywords to include in your piece. Let’s take the widget example again. You’ve done your topic search and decided you’re going to answer the burning question of ‘What is the history of widgets?’ Head on over to a keyword searching tool like Moz or if you prefer, try one of these. Use the main words in and around your topic for your search — in the case above this will obviously include ‘widget’, probably ‘history of widgets’ and ‘widget invention’. These searches are going to give you thousands of keywords to use. Some will be ‘longtail keywords’ which actually is just a fancy way of saying a partial or small sentence and some will be single words associated with the keyword(s) you entered into your search.
You can’t use them all. Think about what you plan to write, who your audience is, the length of your content and how relevant each of the keywords in your results is. Obviously, the most searched for words are the ones you want, but not blindly — use this as a guide but also filter in terms of the other factors noted above. A keyword searcher can only give you so much; you still need to use your noodle.
Now that you’ve got your topic and your must-have keywords, think about density of keyword use. Too much and you’ll get penalised. Too little and all that prep and writing won’t count as much as it could. Think balance. Think natural speech and natural text. Think good writing — no one enjoys reading the same words over, and over, and over. It gets boring, right?
The SEO plugin Yoast recommends keeping your keyword density to under 2.5%. But, there’s great debate about whether or not keyword density is even a thing for search engines or just some internet myth to get us writers sweating. Try not to worry about how often you should be using those words you collected. Make sure they’re in there. Leave your work for long enough for it to leave your head and then read it back out loud. Does it sound OK to your ears? Are you repeating yourself? If the latter, improve your writing. You’re writing for humans after all. The search engines are looking for quality writing to serve to humans. Keywords and their density is just one of the many tactics they use to deliver that to searchers.
If you write for your own blog or website, you’ll be able to work on this. If you write for clients, you may be able to influence this by turning in meta descriptions with your work or maybe you have access to put your draft on their website and leave the job of hitting publish to them once they’re happy with the work. If this is the case, add the meta description with your article.
Meta descriptions are the little bits of info that help searchers decide whether or not they want to click on your website, blog, article… you get the picture. Typically, these little snippets of information are about 155 characters long. Short, snappy, using your main keyword and enticing is how you want to make them. Not clickbaity, informative. Sometimes a bit longer than 155 characters, sometimes a bit less.
I find that doing my meta descriptions right after finishing my article is painful. I’ve already created a beautiful, informative piece of well-researched content. Now you want me to reduce that down to a Tweet?? Uh-uh, that’s not where my head’s at. I leave my meta descriptions for a while, let the work I have done settle, then write that short, snappy and enticing description for the bright and shiny piece of content I wrote yesterday. But that’s just me; other methods will work for other content creators.
Links — forwards, backwards, sideways
Links are important. Maybe more important than keywords. Maybe not, but if not, then equally important. Think of links as the way you verify for your readers what you’re telling them. Links let them find out more if they want to. Links give authority to the piece you are writing and also the rest of the content on your site. There are different kinds of links and as you might expect, they work differently for your SEO.
External links are the ones I was describing above. If you’re trying to back up what you are writing, give it a little more authority, then you need to use links that are reputable, reliable and credible. This should be easy to do. At least half of a writers job is researching. (I must admit I love this part as much as the writing and have to be conscientious not to fall down the researching rabbit hole.) If you want to include a little known fact about widgets in your ‘History of Widgets’ piece, you’ll need to verify that fact from three unrelated sources. Use the most authoritative and credible of those sources for one of your external links.
Internal links are the kind that go to different pages within your website or blog. These help improve the credibility of the earlier pieces you wrote in the eyes of search engines and the credibility of your website overall for the spiders crawling the site and rating it for ranking. So link to that piece you wrote about the inventor of widgets last month — it’s relevant, helpful to your readers, and it makes sense to do so.
Backlinks are a little like the Holy Grail of links when it comes to SEO. This is why you have to pay for some guest posting gigs. Backlinks are when other websites link to your website. This indicates to Google, Firefox, whatever search engine is checking, that your website and content is appreciated by other websites. That’s some good stuff going on for your website right there — and the content you just wrote of course!
You can buy backlinks but I’d be wary of venturing down this road. It sounds a little like buying followers for social media and that often ends in tears.
Guest blogging — reaching out to websites in your vertical and asking them if you can submit a post to their blog is one way to get backlinks. Be honest about why you’re doing it and which links to your site must survive their editing cuts. You can also search for blogs and websites in your area of business that encourage guest contributions and get a list you can reach out to simply enough. Again, be honest about what you’re doing and why. There’s no need to be embarrassed about it either, it’s a fairly common digital marketing strategy.
So there you have it. Write for your audience on topical subjects, take note of your keywords but don’t let them rule you. Provide a short, snappy and relevant enticer splice of what people can expect if they choose your website from their results. Give your work credibility by linking out and linking in. Don’t be afraid to ask for backlinks and guest blog about your niche on other’s websites. Let the designers, developers and UX professionals do their bit. Excellent SEO is a team effort that requires both the king and queen.