At the turn of the century, when the internet was going through its growth spurt, all an author needed to do to get traffic was stuff the page with a particular keyword. If you were selling purple ladybirds, for instance, you would need to make sure you had the words purple ladybird, purple ladybirds, purple ladybird accessories and a few ridiculous variations thereof (purple lady Gaga?). In other words: raw, rough keyword matching was the name of the game. Put yet another way, the art of SEO (search engine optimization) was about writing for machines while tricking humans into not getting annoyed by this.
Google has wised up since then. Nowadays authors have to do a much more nuanced job at writing text that will both grab the attention of users and search engines. So what are some of the most important SEO principles?
The SEO basics
For this exercise it’s important to keep Google’s goal in mind. Though the internet giant may seem like a malevolent god sometimes, it is in fact not trying to make life difficult for you. All it wants to do is make sure searchers get the best possible information in the most efficient way. That means that the better you are at figuring out what people are really looking for, the better you’ll be to appease Google (and any update it puts out). So use Google adwords to find out which keywords and phrases people are searching for — and which ones you could realistically be competitive in. Be diligent about tracking when you use those keywords, possibly even using a tool like SEMrush.
Then, though keyword stuffing is no longer en vogue, that does not mean that you should neglect the keywords. Be sure to include the keyword in your title, the first H1 or H2 as well as the first 300 words of the article. Obviously the word should feel natural in the context — not just randomly inserted.
Also, it must be said that size matters (sorry men). Yes, 100 words on a topic can be interesting, but at best it’s a good start. Search engines still tend to give preference to longer entries (of 600 words or more). Some research even suggests that in-depth articles of 2000 words are favoured.
SEO with raisins in it
Nowadays Google has got much better at optimizing for solving the searcher’s task. So the phrasing that best helps users do this will also rank better. Beyond that, make sure to not neglect the meta description. Though this description is not relevant for rankings, it is read by searchers, so make sure that the brief description leading into your page is enticing.
If you are using a CMS like WordPress, you’ll be able to install SEO plugins that provide pointers on how long it should be, as well as what elements need to be inserted. The better you are at this, the better the click rate is — and as long as the bounce rate is not terrible (i.e. the time it takes for people to leave your site), a high click rate will eventually translate into rankings.
A word on images
Finding a great image for your site is only half the battle. Then you need to think about optimizing that image for search engines. In this regard there are a number of factors to consider. First on the list is the file name: The objective here is to make sure that Google knows what it’s looking at when considering your image. If the image is a green apple the file name shouldn’t be DSG2344.jpg. Something like grannysmithapple.jpg might be better.
Once you’ve got the name right, you need to think about the user experience. That means: Scale. If your images are too large they will take too long to load, deteriorating the user experience. The matter is compounded if you load a huge image – say 5000 x 3000 pixels but then just show it at 250 x 150 pixels. The whole image still has to load which means you have the worst of both worlds: an image that is perceived as a small image but which loads as a large one.
Furthermore, SEO nowadays calls for responsive images. Considering that almost half of all internet traffic is seen through mobile devices these, it is essential that images adjust to the device — neglecting this point could result in a sky-high bounce rates. WordPress has added this behaviour by devault since version 4.4, but if you require external assistance, plugins like the RICG Responsive Images for WordPress would do the trick too.
Where you place the image matters too. As mentioned above, Google wants to solve users’ search query, so having an informative image close to engaging text goes a long way.
Similarly, the caption plays a large role as well. Because people scan the text for relevance, a good caption gives your page traction. As KissMetric stated: “Captions under images are read on average 300% more than the body copy itself, so not using them, or not using them correctly, means missing out on an opportunity to engage a huge number of potential readers.”
And finally, the alt text (the description that can be seen if the image cannot be seen for whatever reason) ensures that people with visual impairments or perhaps technical problems can still access your content.
Though the details of these points will change over time, the SEO principles remain intact: Try to give your users the best content you possibly can. And above all, make it easy to find.