Everybody’s talking about SEO—Search Engine Optimization. But what is it? Something computer wonks mess with, right? It’s not something you need to worry about. After all, SEO how-to is only something the guys who built your website need to fiddle with.
Unless you live in Southeastern Ohio (where SEO has an entirely different meaning), SEO is a term you should recognize as the acronym for Search Engine Optimization (though I’ve seen one definition as Survivability Enhancement Options. And, come to think of it, that sort of applies too—at least in terms of your website’s survivability…).
But, honestly, don’t get all whacked out thinking I’m suggesting you suddenly need to become some sort of cyber whiz. Learning about SEO is truly not as daunting as it sounds.
I’m going to create an SEO how-to cheat sheet for you to follow on every article, page or blog post you create for your website. Whether you sell children’s accessories (like my awesome new friend and client Amanda does at Kidzies!), motorcycles, flowers or massages, you can apply this information to your site and ensure that it gets the attention it deserves from the search engines.
Step 1: Create Amazing Content
While SEO is important, let’s get one thing straight: Having content that people want to read is the most important thing. Your website must offer information of real value. And it must be interesting—it can’t include mind-numbing jargon or boring lists of humdrum particulars (unless your audience expects and thrives on that sort of thing).
I’ve written an article on how to create great web content (with some details on keywords and phrases), so check that out if you haven’t already. (And if you’ve tried writing before and got stuck before your fingers hit the keyboard, don’t let that defeat you. Check out my article on how to manage writer’s block, too.)
Step 2: Write a Killer Headline
Once you’ve got an article you think is first-rate, it needs a super-strong headline to attract readers’ interest. And for that headline to attract search engines’ interest, it needs to include the primary keyword or phrase that is the focus of your article.
This SEO how-to tutorial is about many elements, but I can’t overemphasize the importance of your headline. You must spend some quality time developing it. (You may even discover you will spend more time writing the headline than you did the actual article or blog post. Don’t be surprised.)
Copyblogger, a great site that gives tips on writing, offers some sure-fire-hit headline templates and suggestions that are specifically designed to get readers’ attention. Don’t rely on these exclusively, of course, but review them for ideas to get you started and determine which might work for your particular keywords and phrases. The Copyblogger suggestions include:
- Who Else Wants [blank]?
- The Secret of [blank]
- Here is a Method That is Helping [blank] to [blank]
- Little Known Ways to [blank]
- Get Rid of [problem] Once and for All
- Here’s a Quick Way to [solve a problem]
- Now You Can Have [something desirable] [great circumstance]
- [Do something] like [world-class example]
- Have a [or] Build a [blank] You Can Be Proud of
- What Everybody Ought to Know About [blank]
- Give Me [short time period] and I’ll Give You [blank]
- If You Don’t [blank] Now, You’ll Hate Yourself Later
- The Lazy [blank’s] Way to [blank]
- Do You Recognize the [number] Early Warning Signs of [blank]?
- See How Easily You Can [desirable result]
- You Don’t Have to Be [something challenging] to Be [desired result]
- Do You Make These Mistakes?
(List-related topics and headlines are highly popular, too.)
Step 3: Develop Your Title Tag and Meta Description
It’s easy to get the headline of your content confused with the title tag. As an easy SEO how-to explanation, here’s the difference: The headline appears above your article or blog post. It’s the first verbiage people read. The title tag, on the other hand, is a sort of mini headline your prospects see when they review a page of results on Google (or the browser being used) after conducting a search.
This mini headline is the one that the search engines will be paying attention to, and it’s one that you add in a separate section of your website or blog when posting new content. (Note: Different platforms use different terminology. My WordPress-based site, for example, uses the term Custom Document Title rather than Title Tag.) When writing your title tag, include your keyword, make it interesting (remember: it’s a mini headline that you want searchers to click on when they see it). Note: The closer you can get your keywords to the beginning of your title tag, the better.
As for the meta description, it is a summary of your article and should also include your keyword or phrase. (My web site platform uses the terminology Custom Post/Page Meta Description.)
Because search engine listings only show 72 characters, you need to limit your title tag to that length. Similarly, keep your meta description to 165 characters or fewer.
Step 4: Add in Your Keywords and Phrases
In Step 1 of this SEO how-to lesson, we talked about creating a great article or blog post. Once it’s written and you have your headline and critical back-end elements developed, you need to go back and concentrate on adding your keywords into your main article.
I know it sounds backwards to add in the keywords after you’ve written the article. But working this way ensures that you create the most natural-sounding content possible. Not only does this technique ensure that readers will be interested or entertained by your article or blog post, but it also reassures the search engines that you aren’t simply putting some gobbledy-gook stuffed with keywords onto your website. (Yeah, the search engines are that smart.)
Add the keywords into your article in place of similar verbiage you already used. Include some variances on your keywords and phrases (such as synonyms and plurals) to add variety. And, as mentioned previously, don’t “stuff” the content with your keywords. (That really annoys the search engines, and they will ding your site as “cheating” if they discover it.)
How often can you include keywords to avoid stuffing? Most experts recommend placing them about every 120 or so words.
Step Five: Link Your Content to Other Content
Adding links to other websites may seem counterintuitive. After all, why would you want to send your readers away from your page to a web site they might find more interesting? But the truth is that links to sites outside your own (just one or two max per article or blog—don’t get carried away) prove to the search engines that your site is an active part of the web community.
Inside links—where you connect to other content on your own website—are just as important. Plus they help provide the “link juice” that helps power your site. So, whenever possible, add a link (or hyperlink) to other pages on your site.
Some best-practice tips for top SEO how-to steps are to:
- Add a relevant link as soon as possible in your body copy
- Include appropriate links about as often as you include your keywords and phrases—about every 120 words
- Attach links using anchor text that describes the page to which you are linking. (Anchor text is the actual words you highlight and then attach the hyperlink to.)
Bookmark this page so you can refer to it each time you write a new article for your website. That way you’ll make sure to include each of the important elements whenever you write.
Did I leave something out? Let me know your questions in the Comments section below.
About the author: Gina Kellogg is founder/principal of The Success Story Pro and Hott Cornflakes Communications. Get more from Gina at Twitter (@Gina_Kellogg and @SuccessStoryPro), Google+, LinkedIn and Facebook.