SEO Part 2 – Optimizing Your Articles

Once you’ve laid that solid SEO foundation for your site, it’s time to start building optimized content that will appear in the top search results. If you’ve already written content, it’s not too late to optimize it using this guideline.

Below I’ve outlined 14 steps, from preliminary research to content promotion, that will build your page rank. I’ve outlined them in chronological order, but if I were to organize it by importance, item number one would be QUALITY CONTENT! As we covered in SEO Part 1, search engines are in the business of providing your readers with accurate, quality information, and they’re getting smarter at it each year. While they used to rely on keywords to match up the user’s query with the content, machine learning algorithms like RankBrain are forcing writers to rely more on topical relevance than keyword relevance. So again, that means quality is your first and best shot at ranking in search engines like Google.

Content that doesn’t earn links, shares, email forwards, word-of-mouth, press, etc. probably won’t stand out, won’t rank, and won’t be worth your energy to build.

-Rand Fishkin

Keyword Research

Keywords are the words end users type into the search bar. Every new rabbit hole an internet user goes down, every new trail, will pivot on keywords. They are the joints that connect sites to one another, including the search engine results page. So to be part of that trail that the user is on, you need to be connected to those keywords. Ideally, you want to become the most relevant website offering solutions to users who search for your market offerings.

There are many costly tools on the internet that offer keyword strategies. Before you fork out the money, here’s the free strategy that I’m using to build up this site and others. Prepare to get very comfortable with spreadsheets and formulas for a few days.

  1. Sign in and access the Google Keyword Planner
    1. Watch this video for a brief introduction on how to use the Keyword Planner tool
    2. Go to Google AdWords – Keyword Planner, and log in with a Google account.
    3. Skip the guided setup. If you fill in your information and click “Continue,” you will not be able to access the Keyword Planner without paying for an ad campaign. There is no option to go back once you’ve clicked “Continue”.

      Keyword Planner setup
      Skip the guided setup!
    4. Navigate to the Keyword Planner start page as you saw in the video, and “Search for new keywords using a phrase” to get to the results page.
  2. Pick 5-10 keywords that you would search for if you were a consumer looking for the products or services in your company’s market. Try to think like your customer to come up with these keywords.
  3. Compile Keyword Ideas. On the Keyword Planner results page, use the “Your Company’s Product or Service” box to gather keyword ideas on each of your 5-10 keywords. Download the historical statistics on each of those keywords individually, and combine them into a single spreadsheet.
  4. Prepare your spreadsheet. Using columns B, D, E and F, calculate the approximate value ranking of the keywords in your collection. Feel free to delete the other columns to declutter your visual work space.
    1. Find and Replace each of the text strings in the “Avg. Monthly Searches” column (D) with a number representing that range. You can pick the lowest number, the highest number, or the median, it’s up to you. The point is to transform the text strings that won’t fit into a numerical formula into a general number field. So if the Average Monthly Searches is written as 1K – 10K, Find and Replace all instances of “1K – 10K” with, say, “10,000”. Then Find and Replace all instances where the Average Monthly Searches is written as “100 – 1K” with “1,000,” and so on until the entire column is formatted with numbers instead of text strings.
    2. Multiply the Average Monthly Searches by the Suggested Bid in each row into a new column which we can call, “Estimated Value”.
    3. Sort the Estimated Value from Largest to Smallest.
  5. Competition Analysis Using MozBar
    1. Install the MozBar Chrome extension, and turn it on by clicking the new “M” icon in the top right corner of your Chrome window so that it turns blue.
    2. Navigate to the Google search page, and search for the first keyword in your spreadsheet. Your search engine results page will now include information from Moz about each result’s Page Authority and Domain Authority.
    3. Try to find keywords where the Page Authority of the Google results is comparable to yours. If your site is new, your authority will be 0. If that’s the case, try to find keywords where the results are in the 20s and 30s.
    4. Go down your list of keywords until you find 10-20 eligible keywords. These become your new target keywords
  6. Compile New Keyword Ideas using your new set of 10-20 eligible keywords in the Keyword Planner tool. This time instead of compiling all of the results into a single list, keep them grouped together with their original seed keywords. Prepare each of the spreadsheets the same way you did with the original list, editing the text string into a number, multiplying the average searches by the suggested bid, and sorting the new  value from largest to smallest.
  7. Competition Analysis for each list of Keyword Ideas. Follow the same process of searching down the list of keywords in Google to find the “low hanging fruit,” or keywords that your page authority would allow you to compete with. Find about 10 keywords on each of those lists.
  8. Create Blog Posts or Articles using the highest-value keywords in each list as the topic for that post, and using the 10 other sister keywords in your meta content and headers.

 

Quality Content

Quality content is good information that’s easy to absorb.

Your first thought regarding content creation needs to be: What did my end user open their browser to find? Depending on the type of site you’re running, that could be anything from daily comics to medical equipment that ships to Ecuador. Whatever it is, you must be able to put yourself in the head-space of the user who is looking for your content.

When you imagine searching for comics, for example, which are the comics that strike you as the funniest, cleverest, most enjoyable? What kind of drawing style stands out to you? What kind of joke delivery makes you laugh the hardest? When was the last time you thought something was so good that you just had to text it, Tweet it, share it on any or all of your social media sites? The answers to these questions define the level of quality that you should be striving for in your own work. That’s not to say that you should be copying content or style, but that you should be making sure that your unique content is at least as good as the things you yourself enjoy.

 

Readability

As I mentioned above, quality content is easy to absorb. Readability is that layer of UX that you apply to your content to accommodate your reader’s cognitive tendencies such as short attention span, facial orientation, tool orientation, etc. Conveying a message is only partly about the words that you type. Communication is distorted by your reader’s ability to focus on sentences that are greater than 20 words long, paragraphs that are greater than 150 words long, etc. Your content could be the most brilliant, unique, informative information on the internet, but that doesn’t matter if people can’t read it. Search engines like Google are aware of this, and have come up with smart ways to measure readability:

Header Tags

In print, we’re pretty familiar with headers as the big, bold text that announces what that section of the page is about. Your article has a title which indicates the overall topic, and can be further organized into sub-topics using headers. In a newspaper like the one in this image, headers are created with larger letter blocks to stamp the page with.

In the digital world, this is done with an HTML “header tag”. The biggest header is created using the <h1> tag, followed by <h2> through the smallest header, <h6>. For our purposes (and Google’s) we’re only concerned with header tags 1 through 3.

Google recognizes the existence of these HTML tags as an indicator of a well-organized (readable) page, and also assigns relevance to the keywords found in those tags.

Sentence and Paragraph Size

When you can, keep your run-on sentences (20+ words) to a minimum, and your paragraphs at 3-5 lines. Try to anticipate the attention span of your average user. If your site is on a rigorous topic such as the Brisker method of Talmud mitzvah, or the theory of relativity, then your readers might have an attention span that could easily devour long, complicated sentences and paragraphs. If, however, your topic is just about anything else, then the safest bet is to Keep It Simple.

Images

Images speak louder than words, and are the best tool for conveying your message in a clear and memorable way. Keep in mind that image files are byte-heavy and can slow down your page speed, especially if you don’t compress them. But adding a few high-quality images that support your text makes your message clearer, which can lead to more links and shares.

 

Title

The title of your post informs a search engine of what type of content your page provides. It helps the search engine index your page for accurate retrieval by the end user, so it should accurately represent what your page or article is about. But it’s not merely informative; the title of your page should also be catchy to readers.

In WordPress, the title is in the pretty obvious title box at the top of your New Post or Edit Post page. In a static HTML web page, the title is in the <head> section, as shown below in blue:

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html>
<head>
    <title>This Is The Title</title>
</head>
<body></body>
</html>

 

Meta Description

It has such a weird name that you might think that the meta description is something on the back end where no user would come across it. On the contrary, the meta description is not only visible to the end user, but it plays a huge role in selling your page as the best option from the 30 pages they have to choose from on the search engine results page (SERP). The meta description should also include relevant keywords, which will be highlighted in the description. I typed, “What is a meta description” into Google, and found this result to use as an example.

meta description
The meta description shows up here on the SERP. Notice how the keywords I searched for are highlighted!

 

To add a meta description to a WordPress post, first you must install a plugin such as Yoast SEO. Once the plugin is activated, open your Edit Post page, and scroll down below the post entry. There should now be a Yoast SEO section that helps guide you through your page readability and keyword SEO. You can modify your SEO title, slug, and meta description all right there in one convenient spot.

In a static HTML site, this is where you would write your meta description:

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html>
<head>
<title>This Is The Title</title>
    <meta name=”description” content=”This is a 160-character description of my page to make readers want to click on this link instead of the 29 other options on the search engine results page”>
</head>
<body></body>
</html>

 

Links

Once your post is written, and your title and meta SEO are all in place, it’s time to build links. Internal links, back links, and broken links all have different types of significance in search engine metrics, but all are critical steps in supporting your content and increasing your search engine ranking.

Internal Links

These links enhance the usability of your site by guiding your reader to additional information about the topic they’re already reading about. You can only have internal links if you have more than one article on your site, so this step may need to be completed after you write more posts. Each time you finish a post, find keywords or text that is related to other posts on your site, and hyperlink to those other posts. For best practice make sure that you set the hyperlink to open in a new tab, as it can be frustrating for readers to be taken away from what they were already reading.

Backlinks

Backlinks are the “links” that go “back” to your page from someone else’s page. These links generate traffic and brand recognition for you while also informing Google that you’re popular, trusted, relevant, maybe even an authority on that keyword. On the surface, when you link to another site’s page, or another site links to your page, that would be because the linked page provides additional information or substance to the content of the linking page. We all learned in middle school how to cite our sources, and links are an interactive, user friendly way to do just that.

Pay per click monetization made traffic from those backlinks potentially more valuable to the linked page than to the linking page or to the reader, which opened up an opportunity for gaming the system. People were buying and selling links to each other’s pages, often disregarding the quality of the content they were directing users to.

That’s why in the world of SEO, backlinks carry much greater significance while being far more complicated than one might expect. There are quality backlinks, as well as damaging backlinks.

What is a quality backlink?

The below criteria will help you discern good backlinks from negative ones:

  • from a quality source
  • produces traffic to your site
  • in-content (editorial links)
  • on a page with PageRank
  • next to backlinks to authority websites
  • (but not too many other competing backlinks on the page)
  • from a wide variety of domain names hosted on different IP addresses instead of just one
  • not easily acquired by competition or thousands of other low-quality pages
  • not paid for! Google will penalize your site.

How do I acquire backlinks?

  • Produce high quality content!
  • Get noticed on social media. Go viral!
  • Some businesses may have opportunity to acquire links from their customers via partnership badges or icons that link back to their site
  • email bloggers directly to request links
  • guest write articles on authoritative sites
  • DO NOT PAY FOR BACKLINKS

Broken Links

Dead links that lead to a “404 – Page Not Found” error negatively affect SEO by preventing engine spiders from crawling your site in order to index it. If your site isn’t indexed, the search engine won’t know to include it in a list of search results. They damage your reputation by creating poor user experience which 44% of users will talk about, and they increase your bounce rate (people leaving your site).

While it may be feasible for small site owners to check their site manually for broken links, large sites with hundreds of pages are far less likely to catch broken links this way. Google Analytics makes it easy to automate your broken link audit. Log into your Google Analytics account, then go to Content / Content by Title on the dashboard. Filter your content by Page Title that contains, “Sorry, there’s been an error and this page may not exist.” Or if you’re 404 savvy and have written your own 404 message, then use that in your filter.

Then you can redirect those dead links to live pages on your site.

Social Media

After you complete your post, you’ll most likely want to link it on social media to generate traffic. Always accompany your social media shares with a captivating image. Your headlines should be interesting and informative. 80% of viewers don’t make it past the headline, so treat this as the most important part of your content.

SEO is a broad and deep practice with so many niches and regular changes to the rules. These two posts barely scratch the surface. However, they do create a foundation to build from while you’re growing your website. Please share this information with your friends, and join the discussion below if you have any questions or comments.

 

Thanks for Reading!

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Resources:

 

Congratulations! We got through SEO basic training! There’s a lot more to learn on this topic, so don’t stop here. Let me know if there’s anything specific that you’re curious about. Together we’ll find the answers!

-Vesper

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