Posted by Ian Murphy in Strategy
Today we’re going to focus on Search Engine Optimization, known as SEO. Optimizing your website so that it’s ranked as highly as possible on search engines is extremely important, because more than 80% of online buyers use a search engine to find the product or service they purchase.
Google Rules The SEO World
When we’re talking about SEO, we’re talking mostly about Google. The company conducts about two thirds of all searches on the Web (outside China), and their technology is the most advanced. When Google updates its standards for search, the other engines follow suit, making it the de facto leader.
And to understand how best to position your website, you should have a basic understanding of Google’s business model. It’s very simple: Google wants people who are searching to find what they’re searching for. If that person has a great experience and finds what they need in a few clicks, he or she will use Google again, and Google can show more sponsored advertising. Every tweak to the search algorithm is to make sure searchers are getting the best results.
What does that mean for you? The best way to climb up Google’s rankings is to give it the most honest, clear and complete representation of your website. There is are no good ways to cut corners, or one weird trick to increase your rank. Just be clear what it is you do, and establish yourself as an expert with a lot of content.
Google’s robots (yes, that’s actually what they’re called) are being tuned to pick up on natural human speech, so these days if you write for actual humans you’re killing two birds with one stone. The humans can understand it better, and the robots rank it higher.
All that said, there is still plenty of work to be done to give Google the most complete and honest picture of your site. The more information you can give Google, the more confident its robots will be in what you do.
(Note: We work entirely in WordPress, so the instructions you’ll find here are specifically for WordPress. If you’re on another platform, first go take a long look at yourself in the mirror and think about your life. Once you’re back from that, these tips will still work for you, but the location of some of these crucial fields may be different on the back end of your website.)
Today we’re going to focus page/post titles and copy, meta descriptions, and images. These are the day-to-day items that you’ll want to build good habits around that will have the greatest cumulative effect on your SEO.
SEO revolves around the concept of keywords. You want your posts, titles, meta descriptions, image names and tags all to include the relevant keywords. You don’t need to do any trickery here: remember Google rewards clarity and honesty. Call things what they are.
When you’re writing blog posts, think carefully about what short phrase you could boil down the article down to. A few examples: “consistent fat loss,” “getting in shape,” “correct deadlift form,” “sick trampoline backflip videos,” etc.
Choosing keywords and keyword research is a whole topic by itself, and we’ll cover that in a later post. All you need to know here is choose a theme for the post and write to that. Use the keywords often but not excessively; one of Google’s consistent efforts to improve makes it so you don’t need to use the exact phrase over and over anymore. It’s beginning to understand words that have similar meanings and use them to help search rankings.
There are several SEO plugins for WordPress that will assist you in increasing your SEO, and most of them will do the job for you just fine. If you have one you especially like, stick to that. I use Yoast SEO; it’s the most-used WordPress SEO plugin, and it’s been around for a long time.
What most WordPress plugins do is create a specific place for you to enter information that the plugin then sticks into the code in the relevant place, so you don’t have to get into the code yourself and muck about. This is especially true for SEO plugins.
Titles and Meta Descriptions
Let’s have a look at Google search results so you can see what we’re talking about here.
The page title is one of the most important pieces of information for SEO. Humans and robots alike look to it first in order to understand exactly what your page is about. A few tips:
- Search engines value keywords at the beginning of the title more than the end, so put the important stuff there.
- Try to include your brand at the end whenever possible.
- You get 50-60 characters, so use them.
The slug is less important for this discussion; we’ll talk about site structure another time. I’m sure you’ll all anxiously await that exciting blog post.
The meta description is where you get to add a little flavor; it’s also called the “snippet.” Make sure it’s well written and enticing, so humans will want to click through; make sure it includes your keyword at least once, so the robots will know to show it in your results.
You can leave this blank, or on some plugins select automated descriptions, and it will fill in the first sentence for the meta description. I would highly recommend against this. This is your opportunity to shine! Take it.
Images are awesome. You should definitely be using images as often as possible in your blog posts and on your pages, just to break up big blocks of text and to appeal to folks who are visual learners. They also present a great opportunity to increase your page SEO.
This starts with the image file name. This should never, ever be what your digital camera names it: stuff like DSC67316876.jpg. Google rewards clarity! If you have an image of Jeff doing pushups with perfect form (classic Jeff, right?) then call the image jeff-perfect-form-pushups.jpg.
When you’re putting an image into a blog post, I also highly recommend using a caption. It’s an opportunity to stick some free keywords in there, but that’s not why captions are great. Captions are great because every eye-tracking study shows people actually read them significantly more than they read the body copy. I can’t explain that, other than confirming that I do this myself.
Where the rubber really hits the road for SEO purposes is the alt text tag.
The alt text tag was created for vision impaired folks who are using a screen reader, or who have images turned off on their browsers (not really a thing anymore). Doing something to help people with disabilities is enough to do it alone, but Good Guy Google has also made its robots crawl alt text and rank that info with significant weight. So definitely get a keyword in there, and a make sure the alt text is descriptive of the image.
The description isn’t weighted for SEO, so lots of folks leave it blank. It’s always good to give more information, in my opinion, and it will help give context to our vision impaired friends.
In WordPress, you find these fields in the Media Library when you click on an individual picture. Here's what that looks like, using my staff photo from this site. Please forward all modeling inquiries to email@example.com.
Writing Content With SEO In Mind
Great news! Thanks to Google’s ongoing efforts to make sure its users get to the pages they actually want, you don’t have to do this anymore. So don’t do it. Write the way you’d normally write, making sure you cover the topic clearly and well.
Some not so great news: right now, Google is ranking posts with 1,200-1,500 words much higher than shorter blog posts. (Okay, that’s actually good news for writers like me who occasionally get paid by the word, but it’s certainly harder to do). So if you’re going to sit down and cover a topic, try to do it exhaustively.
This doesn’t mean that all blog posts must be greater than 1,200 words. A good blog post is better than a long blog post 100% of the time. It’s just information I thought you’d like to know.
Google is also a big fan of videos; it owns YouTube, so of course it is. Posts with videos in them rank higher.
Here is where the Yoast SEO tool really shines. You tell it which keywords you think should be the strongest in your blog post - meaning when people search those words, they’ll want to see your post - and it tells you how it’s done. It gives corrective steps for to strengthen your SEO, and has a handy Red-Yellow-Green stoplight indicator which is very intuitive.
Something important to note here: Yoast SEO, or any SEO plugin, isn’t magically communicating with Google when you enter your keywords, telling some database somewhere that these are the keywords that your post should trigger. It’s like tuning a guitar or piano to itself: it’s checking over the words on that page, and giving you a theoretical grade on how it thinks you’ve done.
You should use this tool with every page and post you create, but don’t freak out if you don’t get the green light. Spend 10 minutes, do the best you can, and then move on. Definitely don’t significantly rewrite your article to make the light turn green, sticking keywords around willy-nilly. (Notice Yoast tells me I didn't use my keyword "SEO steps" once in the body copy, but I still got that magical green light.)
There is a lot more to SEO than just keywords in the right places, but these steps are something you should get into your routine with each new page or post you create.