SEO Guidelines to Remember Before Hitting Publish
For many small business owners and creators, SEO can feel more like “WTH?” However, knowing a few SEO basics can make all the difference between your content reaching your target audience or languishing in a forgotten corner of cyber space.
The good news is, basic SEO practices don't have to be difficult or time consuming. Follow these free and affordable search engine optimization practices before you hit "publish" to give your content and website traffic a much needed boost.
Implement Keyword Research Before writing
Keywords are the words or phrases potential clients type into search engines to look for the goods or services you offer. The trick is to know which short and long-tail keywords are going to help you rank higher in search engines (and resultantly, bring more potential customers to your website.)
Marketing guru and New York Times bestselling author, Neil Patel recommends researching which keywords your competitors are using to bring in the most traffic — and with it, the most revenue. SEMrush is a great place to start, offering your first 10 searches for free, and Keysearch is a favorite among content creators and bloggers.
Another resource Patel recommends is Google Adwords Keyword Planner. This free tool allows you to see how different keywords are performing and can help you decide which keywords to use.
Keyword Placement Best Practices
Once you have your keywords, it's important to know where to put them:
Headers and subheaders: While it's certainly helpful to use keywords in your headers and subheaders, it's actually not as imperative as it used to be; Google’s algorithm has come a long way and is quite intelligent. You're better off using descriptive language that catches the reader's eye and piques their interest rather than inserting a keyword just for the sake of keyword stuffing. (More on that, below.)
Opening paragraph: When possible, place your keywords somewhere in the first 100 words of your content. However, make sure the keywords blend smoothly and naturally. Trying to shoehorn keywords into your content that don't really fit will only serve to put off potential clients and increase your site’s bounce rate.
The URL: If you can place a keyword in your URL while keeping the link itself short and sweet, it's definitely worth it to do so. Customizing your permalinks not only improves SEO but it also avoids having a URL that's a long, complicated mess.
Images: Save relevant keywords as your image file name before uploading, and include image alt text (descriptive image captions).
Just as important is knowing where NOT to put keywords. Keyword stuffing is an ineffective thing of the past. Avoid the temptation to go crazy with keywords as this will harm your site's search engine results page (SERP) ranking, not help it.
How to Use Headers Correctly
Headers, sometimes referred to as "titles," are simply the main headline or title of your content. Including keywords in your headers can help website visitors and search engines have a better understanding of your content.
Note, however, it is best to keep headers down to a length of 70 characters. This is an ideal length both for search engines and social sharing.
Headers are often described with the letter H and a number: such as H1, H2, H3. These "header tags" are basic HTML shorthand used to describe your headers.
H1 is your main header, H2 is your first subheader, H3 is your second subheader, etc. SEO expert Brian Dean recommends using header tags to improve SEO. For example:
<H1>Super Engaging Main Header</H1>
Eyeball-grabbing, snappy content with keywords goes here.
Often used once on a page (like in a blog post title).
<H2>Relevant First Subheading<H2>
Actionable supporting content goes here.
Often sprinkled throughout a page to guide the reader through readable content.
Website Content Readability
Speaking of content, providing high-quality, relevant content with actionable, expert advice is infinitely more important than sticking to an exact paragraph length or word count. Include keywords where it makes sense but don't feel obligated to include them if they don't.
Keep in mind that shorter paragraphs with fewer sentences are easier to read and digest - especially with so many people viewing content on mobile devices. When editing on a desktop, stick to no more than three lines of text before the next paragraph. With increased website traffic from mobile devices, audiences respond better to mobile optimized content.
Best Practices for In-article Links
Including links in your content is an effective way to share additional information or content that your readers may find useful. It's also a great way to give credit to your sources. When including links, have them open on a new page to avoid accidentally bouncing visitors from your site. If the external source is paying for a link, be sure to adhere to FTC and Google guidelines and implement NoFollow attribute.
It's also important to avoid link schemes: the practice of buying links or writing articles chock full of repetitious, hyperlinked anchor text. Not only will it get you in hot water with Google but it makes your content look spammy and unprofessional.
The Bottom Line
When it comes to SEO, best practices are always changing. Keeping up to date with current guidelines is important but providing content that meets your customers' needs is even more so. Use these beginner tips to nail down the basics of SEO and you’ll be well on your way to better ranking content and satisfied user traffic.
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About the author: Holly Layman is a freelance writer based in the greater Los Angeles area. Connect with Holly at hkvlayman.com.