Black hat, white hat, algorithms and bots. What is search engine optimization and how to do I win at it?!
SEO is part science, part smoke and mirrors, and part luck. Thanks to changing algorithms (Google changes theirs approximately 10 times per day), different methods for different search engines it's hard to keep track of exactly what will help you rank.
Writing for the search engines is no easy task, except it kind of is.
Here is a guideline of 10 easy steps to help your content rank better in Google (and other search engines - they count too!)
1. Content: Reigning Champ Since 1998
Nothing has really changed since 1998. Search engine algorithms are smarter so there are definitely fewer ways to cheat the system. Once you cut away all of the old-school schemes of keyword stuffing, link farms and url masking good ol' well written, thoughtful content still pulls through as the best practice for getting solid traffic.
Avoid sounding like a university student writing their thesis, this isn't rocket surgery
Stick to the Golden Rule: Write for the audience, then for the search engines
Make content easy to consume; use bullet points, break up long paragraphs, use headings strategically (using keywords)
Write naturally, don't make it seem like your trying to use keywords
Use high quality, original images and videos
Be aware of User Intent - what is the goal of the user?
2. Keywords: Lock 'Em Down
Before starting your blog post, make sure you have a good idea of what you are going to say, and what your keywords and keyphrases are going to be. This shouldn't be limited to your article either, there should be generic keywords that your site, or blog should be ranking for.For example, a post about SEO might use: search engine optimization, keywords, longtail, content, writers, meta data, etc.
3. Never Meta Data I Didn't Like
The importance of meta data has been in slow decline over the years. Once the Duke of SEO, the badge lost its lustre thanks to how easy it was to manipulate for better Search Engine Rankings.
But it's not dead yet. Every page must have:
Unique page title (include keywords, follow established format).This shows up in search engine results pages (SERPs), and confirms with the user that the page is going to be relevant to their searchGoogle places heavy empahsis on this element, it tells the bot what the page is about.
Unique meta description. Though no longer used by search engines for ranking pages, this is still important for users - it appears as the page description on SERPs
Unique and descriptive alt text on all images (also helpful for ADA compliance, and Google Image Search)
Schema and structured data (including Facebook OpenGraph) - fill in fields when available
4. Otter-ly Beautiful Headlines
Ensure all headlines, e.g. <H1> , use keywords that reflect the subject of the post, and support the content that surrounds (or follows) it. Don't be overly concerned about cascading the headings, or even using them in order, just be consistent. Headings should be used as a visual cue, and as a point for easy consumption for the reader - not just for search engines*.
*Fun Fact: Google doesn't score content within headings anymore. Kind of. It's complicated.
5. Nobody Likes Watery Oatmeal
Avoid weak, thin content.
When the subject allows, aim to write long posts rich in content that is well thought out, researched and accurate. Ensure you are answering the question, and fulfilling the intended outcome that the user came for.
Posts that are over 1500 words tend to rank better in search engines. This is in part because you will be using more of your keywords in a more natural flow, and you will have more opportunity to display your expertise and knowledge.
6. Why Do SEOs Like Dinosaurs? The Longtail!
So, what is a longtail keyword?
Think conversational search entry. It's basically a string of words, also known as a sentence, that a user will use to conduct a search. Coincidentally, it often relates to searches through voice assistants.
So how do we know what our longtail keywords are?
This one is a little trickier. Statistically speaking, longtail keywords out perform regular keywords all day long, and return more highly targeted visitors - but how do you know what people are entering in to find your site? Most search engines block a lot of that data, and there are very few tools that accurately record that information. We can use our Google Ads/Microsoft Ads data to see what people are searching to activate our ads, some will also show up in a few SEO tools, but a lot of it comes down to being a good writer.
A lot of times, you will naturally include longtail keywords within your content, simply because it makes sense in the way you write. That being said, don't stop doing keyword research, and it's still a good idea to be aware of what you're writing and proof-reading it, you might see a more relevant way of organizing your words.
For example, it's going to be really hard to rank well for the term "SEO" because it's a highly competitive keyword - everyone in this verticle wants to rank for it. The longtail term "Experienced Winnipeg search engine optimization expert" will be easier to rank for, and will be much more highly targeted - the only people entering that into a search are probably really interested in finding an experienced SEO expert.
7. Go Speed Racer, Go!
Watch your speed!
The beauty of high speed internet is that we can send and download bigger, higher quality files way more quickly than ever before. Except when we're on mobile.
Avoid using animated gifs in headers (or at all), Google places web download speed as a strong factor in ranking sites. Speed is also reflected by visitors, if the page takes too long to load, visitors bounce. Google sees that and is less likely to serve our content as a result.
It's also a bit of a catch-22. Google loves large format, high resolution images but penalizes for slow websites. It's a delicate dance. Try to lead with a higher quality photo, then focus on optimizing following images as much as possible without losing too much quality.
8. Spin A Web Any Size
It's how the web was built (I mean, it's literally in the name!), so don't be a part of its downfall.
Link to other content within our sites
Link to, and from our social media feeds
Link to our partners
Use & highlight appropriate link text
Get links from other sites, but organically*
Builiding our links will help build our reputation as an expert on Manitoba. It also helps search engines find other relevant content, passing on some of the link "juice" to those other pages.
*All this great content and web slinging will attract other writers and site owners to *want* to link to our content. Syndication is good too.
But remember: with great power, comes great responsibility. Don't over link it.
Attract new visitors and build up credibility by cross posting on social media, be sure to use the same keywords in titles and descriptions on these platforms.
Optimize Your title and description
Place primary keywords in the first couple of lines in your description. This works especially well in YouTube.
Rename video files to reflect the content of the video (this works for images too)
Transcribe videos on websites
A YouTube description can become a snippet (Position 0)
10. 1 Is The Loneliest Number
Forget winning the first result on SERPs, target position zero.
Think of Google as our new homepage.
Google has taken over the SERPs and owns the new top spot by placing "the best" answer at the top which tends to keep people from leaving Google results. The best way to fight back is to win the top spot - it doesn't necessarily get us more traffic, but it gets us cred.
How do we do this? Write great content! (because Google never will).
Position zero is owned by the website with the "best" answer
Longform articles prove their strength
Having answers in an FAQ style format, or at least in a sequence will help
Winning position zero is a moving target
The funny thing about position zero is that it's always changing, Googlebot is a whimsical beast and might place your content during one search then place someone else's during another similar search.
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