Search engine optimization (SEO): the process of maximizing the number of visitors to a particular website by ensuring that the site appears high on the list of results returned by a search engine. (Oxford Dictionary)
I am frequently asked to provide foundation-level search engine optimization tips for writers groups, and here is the handout that I used at a workshop in March 2016.
So, you’ve got your blog set up – or your website – and now you’re waiting for traffic to come pouring in. But, it doesn’t. Or, if it does, the site visitors aren’t the type of demographic that’s interested in what you have to say or sell. What went wrong? The reality is that the Internet is loaded with content, and it takes time, effort and skill to become more visible in search engine results when people search on relevant topics – and the best way to make that happen is through the appropriate use of SEO.
First, here are concepts that are useful to understand.
White hat SEO: legitimate strategies
Black hat SEO: negative/not recommended strategies; can be done intentionally or unintentionally
Gray hat SEO: in between white hat and black hat strategies
Keyword: “particular word or phrase that describes the contents of a Web page. Keywords are intended to act as shortcuts that sum up an entire page.” (Techopedia)
Spiders (robots): programs that travel the web in search of content to “crawl” (read)
Indexed: crawled content that is categorized by a search engine and is potentially available to be returned as a result of a keyword search; if not indexed, content can’t be returned as a result of a search
Keyword evolution: although Google initially used exact keyword match in determining search engine results, the process has become much more personalized, conversational and sophisticated
Let’s say that someone searches on Google for “writer’s block.”
If you wrote a blog post on that topic, your goal is for Google to present your blog post URL as an option in the search engine results being presented. Here are sample search results:
You hope that your blog post appears near the top of the search results (is “visible” in Google) and that someone chooses to click on your blog link in the search results. If so, then you’ve got search engine traffic coming to your site!
Because most of organic search traffic comes from Google, as shown below:
Optimizing Your Content
Now that you understand the big picture of how Google indexes content, it’s time to do some reverse engineering. “Optimizing” your content is a fancy way of saying that you make what you publish online search-engine-spider-friendly, making it easy for Google’s spiders to find, “understand” and categorize your content – and then return it as a result for relevant searches.
There are multiple tools that allow you to conduct keyword research. Google’s Keyword Planner used to be free, but now you need to be running a pay per click campaign for it to be “free.” I now use SEMrush, paying $69.95 a month (although it’s a much more robust tool than simply for keyword research). Here are screen shots of keyword research that I did when I used Keyword Planner to demonstrate the process.
Click on “Search for new keywords using a phrase, website or category” and enter “writer’s block” in the search box – then click on the blue “Get ideas” button.
I got this result (make sure you click on the “Keyword ideas” tab when you get results):
The term “writer’s block” has large numbers of people searching on it (which is good!), but it is also a competitive term (meaning, it can be difficult to rank well for that term because lots of people want to), so it’s better to choose longtail terms (three to five words each) that aren’t as competitive. But, be sure to choose longtail keywords that other people actually use, rather than ones that you hope people use.
Four-Way Keyword Test
Keywords that you choose should:
- be relevant
- have traffic
- be targeted
- have reasonable levels of competitiveness
Where to Use Keywords
- URL: provides ranking cues
- Title tag: provides ranking cues
- Meta description tag: encourages clicks
- H (header) tags: provides ranking cues
- Internal linking: provides ranking cues
- Body copy where it reads naturally and well: provides ranking cues
- Optional: keywords tag but avoid keyword stuffing; also avoid keyword stuffing in copy
The title tag and meta description tag don’t actually appear on your site. They are tags that you can add via the backend of your blog or site and they appear in search engine results pages.
Here is an example. The first blue arrow is pointing to a title tag; the second, to the meta description tag.
Domain Authority: 1-100 (Higher is Better)
“Domain Authority is a score (on a 100-point scale) developed by Moz that predicts how well a website will rank on search engines. Use Domain Authority when comparing one site to another or tracking the ‘strength’ of your website over time.” For higher DA, you need links:
Additional Search Engine Optimization Tips for Writers
You typically have much better success when optimizing for terms where you already have some traction in Google (appearing in the top 100 results).
So, what questions do you have? What one thing can you do today to improve your presence in Google? What one thing can you do this month? What do you see as your biggest challenge? Search engine optimization doesn’t create instantaneous results. It requires