I’ve been preparing a single page document to give to colleagues who are unfamiliar with search engine optimisation techniques, and I thought it might be useful to post it here. Constructive comments are very welcomed to help me improve this first draft, but do check my note at the bottom so you understand the intended purpose of this list.
SEO for content producers: the essentials (first draft)
Optimising your pages for search engines will help people find your pages. You can help search engines help people looking for content like yours by following these guidelines.
Above all, the quality of the page from the perspective of a visitor is what counts. Would you find your page useful, entertaining and interesting? Would YOU link to it?
Write in plain English.
Use keywords and keyphrases your users are likely to search for. Research these. What would you type into Google to try and find a page with the content like yours? Use those words on the page
Write good, descriptive headlines.
Your page <title> is very important. Make sure it is descriptive and that each page has a unique title.
Use clarification words with your keywords (not just ‘blue’, but ‘blue grass’, ‘blue moon’, ‘feeling blue’ or ‘blue paint’, etc.)
Use your opening paragraph to summarise or introduce the rest of the content. The first 200 words on a page are all a search spider may read.
The Meta Description is important as it may show up on a results page, verbatim. Write 20 words / 140 characters designed to entice people to read your page.
If you have lots of text on a page, break it up into logical sections. Make use of headers and sub-headers.
Always use descriptive links, eg: ‘Read more about growing plants’, not ‘To read more about growing plants, click here’
Link from within body text, in preference to ‘Related links’ lists in a sidebar.
Images and video
Use “alt” attributes to describe your images.
Give your files descriptive names, eg: ‘olive-tree.jpg’
Where possible, use captions beneath your images.
For video pages, the page text is even more important as the video can’t be searched itself.
Keywords in the URL are important too. Keep the URL to deep pages as short as possible, and descriptive of the content.
Use keywords in your site navigation.
Page age is an important factor. Older pages will have accumulated more PageRank. Try and update these pages rather than wiping the slate clean, and try to put links to your new pages from these old ones.
Check your referrals. These provide more information for the most popular terms people are already using to find your pages.
Use Google Insights for Search to get a better understanding of what your audience are searching for.
SEO takes time. Get your content online as soon as possible.
Get good external links to your site. Links from external sites with good authority on your subject area should be one of your main goals. If possible, links from a .ac.uk or .gov.uk domain are particularly valuable.
Social media can help with link building.
Although titles and headers are probably the most important single elements, it’s the sum of all these separate parts that really helps a search engine determine that your page is really about what it says it’s about.
Google’s SEO starter guide: http://bit.ly/gSEOsg [PDF]
Google Insights for Search: http://www.google.com/insights/search/
So, like I said, suggestions for improvements are very welcome. Please bear in mind that I don’t want to enlarge this document, so while I realise there is much more that could be said, I’m limiting this to only the most important SEO factors. Also, it’s intended for someone who has control over the content, but not necessarily the technical side. I could write another sheet covering markup, robots.txt, .htaccess files, redirects, nofollow and all that stuff, but that’s not who this is for.
I added this extra section on keyword research to my ‘SEO for content producers’ document, so I’m adding it here too:
SEO is the combination of these three key ingredients:
1. Finding the best keywords and keyphrases to use on your site
2. Using keywords strategically but naturally on your pages
3. Attracting high quality sites to link to your pages
Keyword research is the bedrock of successful web page optimization. Your goal is to find the words and phrases that people are using when looking for content like yours, so you need to start by researching these.
Brainstorm for words and phrases and then use Google’s Keyword Tool to see how popular these are as search terms. This tool is also valuable as it will present alternatives you may not have considered. There is also an Insights for Search tool which can show you more detailed information about who is searching for these terms and how they are trending.
Use a mix of the most popular keywords in your category along with ‘long tail’ keywords to build a list of keyphrases to use prominently throughout your pages.
Try and avoid keyphrases that have high advertiser competition, as you are unlikely to rank for such competitive terms.Give each page focus. Search engines attempt to determine what a page is about so they can provide relevant results, so limit yourself to three suitable keywords/phrases per page.
This research stage can be a good opportunity to learn about your potential audience and perhaps even help you identify important gaps in the market. Ideally, this research phase should be started while you are producing your content plan. SEO-led bloggers frequently use the formula ‘Hot issue + Popular keyword = Content title’ to generate ideas for features they know will be popular.
A few weeks after your site has launched, check the search engine referrals to see which keywords are being successful for you.
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