As a wannabe writer or blogger, you may have heard the term “SEO” be bandied about without really knowing what it means.
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization – essentially, making search engines display your web page high up on their rankings. Google (we could talk about other search engines, but let’s be honest, how many Bing users do you know?) figures out how to rank websites from a bunch of algorithms.
These algorithms -“spiders” if you want to know the jargon- comb through websites looking for how good a match it is to the various search terms web users google. Matches are determined not just by the relevance of the site, but how much authority it has (essentially, how popular it is with other web users).
So far, so techy. As a writer, not a coder, you may be wondering why you should care.
The reason you should is simple: when web users are searching for something online, less than one in ten of them click beyond the first page. So if you want to get eyeballs on your site, you need to be one of the first things people see when they search for the topic or industry that you’re covering.
If you’re something of a technophobe, this intro to SEO may be enough to send you into a full-fledged panic. Relax. Despite the abundance of tech-speak that surrounds it, you don’t need to be the next Mark Zuckerberg to be able to use basic SEO.
Just get to grips with the three easy concepts below, and you’re good to go:
1) It’s All About Keywords
Keywords are the words or phrases that most accurately and succinctly describe what your site is about – the words that people would type into Google to find you. You should have one or two keywords for the site as a whole, as well as one for each article that you publish.
With keywords, the trick is to find the balance between something unique enough that you have a chance of getting your website to show up (so not “blog”) but not so niche that nobody will think to search for it. Think carefully about your site keywords now, so you can direct all your effort into getting known for it.
The general rule of thumb is to use your focus words as much as possible. For individual article keywords, that means putting it in the title, the page URL, the first paragraph, throughout the article, and the description and alt text of an image (if you don’t know what that means, click here). For the site keywords, the really important place to put them is in backlinks (see below).
2) Backlinks Are Your Best Friend
A backlink is any clickable link to your site from an external website. Backlinks work best for SEO purposes when they take the form of anchor texts, which are just those keywords (or key phrases) we mentioned above. Basically, get your keywords hyperlinked by external sites, and you’re all good to go.
Wondering how to get other sites to link to your anchor texts? There are several ways, but some are shady and should be avoided. These methods include paying money to someone who is promising you loads of backlinks, and link farms. Google gets pretty irked when people try to subvert its systems, and actively hunts out and penalizes people who use these methods. Unless you’re Ray Kurzweil, you’re not going to beat Google at the SEO game, so don’t try to.
Instead, focus on the good ways to get backlinks. This means (1) create such awesome content that other people love it and want to share it online, and (2) guest posting. Guest posting is when you write an article to be published on another site than your own, and it’s a great way to get your name out there, build your professional network and get the sort of exposure you can’t get on your own site. Lots of websites, including such stalwarts as the Huffington Post and the New York Times, accept guest content. The deal on your end is that you have to create readable, unique and exciting pieces for them; pieces that their readers would want to read.
When it comes to getting the best backlinks possible, the trick is to go for ‘high authority’ sites. High authority sites are ones with loads of traffic and popularity. You can find out how good a site is by downloading something called the Mozbar and looking at the number in the right-hand corner, which ranks out of 100. The higher the number, the more powerful a backlink from that site will be.
3) Make It Readable For Robots AND Humans
Put simply, SEO is basically about making a computer program think your articles are awesome. But until you see robots flicking through Shakespeare or Tolstoy on their lunch breaks, you’ll need to make sure your content is enjoyable to human readers too. That means not overusing your keywords, and putting effort into making your content engaging and unique.
Google likes blogs that post frequently (i.e. more than once a week) but that doesn’t mean you should churn out sub-par articles, and definitely doesn’t mean you should post repeat content (Google can tell). When thinking about word count, 500-1000 words is a length that appeals to both human and robot readers, and keeping your title under 66 characters is not only a good nudge to create the sort of snappy, engaging titles people love but will also stop it being cropped in search engine results.
Finally, remember that these days people access the internet in all sorts of different ways. Google knows that people care a lot about getting good quality content from their smartphone, tablet, and laptop, and will prioritize sites that are optimized for all devices. Check how your site works on different electronics: a good website will always load quickly, not suck up data, and be readable and easily navigable even on a small screen.
Beth Leslie is a career and lifestyle writer. She is also the editor of the Inspiring Interns blog, which gives graduate careers advice to career starters.