SEO, or search engine optimisation can mean very different things depending on who is doing it. When SEO is done to try and trick search engines into giving a webpage a high ranking, it is usually called blackhat SEO, and is not recommended. It can give a site a short-term boost, but the risk is never worth it for legitimate websites. If caught cheating in this way, a site will be penalised, and either drop hundreds of places in search rankings, or be banned altogether from the index.
SEO done right, on the other hand, simply refers to implementing best practices to make sure your content is as visible as possible to the search engines that index your pages. This means proper structuring of HTML text, appropriate keyword usage, and using social media to make sure your content is visible to the people who will want to read it, and hopefully share it themselves.
Keywords and search engine results: a quick explanation
Search engines, of which Google is the most popular (and best), work through complex algorithms that take into account many factors. The need for secrecy means that the ranking criteria is ever-changing, and almost nobody really knows exactly how it all works. Still, we have a pretty good idea of what what positively and negatively affects a site in the search engine results pages (SERP). The practice of improving a site’s SERP ranking is what SEO is all about.
Google regularly “reads” all of the content on all of the world’s websites (except where pages are intentionally structured to block the crawlers), and determines what the content is about through the keywords. The frequency of keywords tells Google how important they are, so if a keyword only occurs once, it will be treated as less important than if it occurs frequently throughout. Conversely, if the keyword occurs too often, Google penalises the site for “keyword stuffing”. This trick worked years ago, but search engines have long since figured out what natural language use looks like.
In addition to keyword frequency, where the words or phrases occur on a page matters too. Text that you want search engines to crawl should always be in appropriate HTML (don’t worry, Wordpress and other platforms do this automatically, and do it well). Google can’t “read” an image, and blinking Flash banners apparently annoy the crawlers as much as they annoy people, so proper text formatting is a must.
The best place for keywords to occur
In general, if you write in a natural style, Google will understand what your post is about and show it when people enter similar search terms. This is what search engines are programmed to do, after all. Still, artificial intelligence isn’t here yet, so they have some rigid constraints on them, and understanding these is important for writing SEO-optimised posts. Your main keywords should be naturally distributed throughout, but they should especially occur in a few key places:
- Title tag: The most important place. Blogs usually use the post title for this. It’s the text that displays in the browser tab, and the big blue text in Google results pages. Title tags are cut off by Google after a certain number of pixels, which usually means after 50-60 characters.
- Meta description: This is often what Google displays in the two lines under the title to describe a result. Social media platforms also often use it as a brief description. This actually has no bearing at all on SEO, so it should be written in whatever way you feel will maximise clicks, regardless of keywords.
- h1 - the header: The h1 tag is what Wordpress uses for the post title you enter. It’s obviously important to what the post is about, and search engines treat it as such. Your most important keyword should be in the header, which is as true for blogging as it is for print magazine writing.
- h2-h6 - subheadings:Subheadings use the tag h2, h3 etc. Generally the size of the displayed text decreases as the number increases (h6 being smallest), and Google determines their importance in the same way.
- Paragraphs:Generally the further down in the text a keyword appears, the less important it’s treated. Your first paragraph should always have your main keywords, but if you think back to your old essay writing classes, you’ll remember that’s always been true. This doesn’t mean you don’t need the keywords at the end too, just that they’re more important at the top.
SEO is usually broken down into two types, and all the keyword optimisation advice above falls under on-page SEO - the actual text and structure on your page that search engines read. The second type is called off-page SEO, and is how Google decides how important your post is, and whether or not people will want to read it. The way that they determine this is by looking at the other sites that link to your work. This is another way that blackhat SEO tactics sometimes boost a page, but again, Google catches up to all of their tricks pretty quickly.
The best way to optimise your off-page SEO is to be active in your peer group on social media, and if possible in networking. Read other bloggers and engage with them. Tweet their posts, and re-Tweet their interesting thoughts. Actively comment on blog posts, and in related forums. And most of all, never spam. It’s okay to put links to your work in a blog comment, but only if it’s related to the post. Also, this type of link gives virtually no SEO boost to your work, so you’re only giving it to expand your audience.
Search engines are paying increasing attention to not just links, but social media shares as well. This is even more reason that you should be actively sharing your work and engaging in the online community of your field. It takes a concerted effort to not only write great posts, but share them as well, but it’s absolutely worth doing. On-page SEO should happen fairly naturally with good writing, but off-page takes the legwork of actively putting your work out there for the world to see. Doing so should be considered as important to your blogging as writing a good intro and conclusion.
Our product, missinglettr can make sharing your work easier by automatically generating Tweets from your HTML for you to approve and schedule. There’s no excuse not to share your work when the blurb is written for you. Missinglettr can also post to sites like StumbleUpon and Reddit. It’s free to start, why not give it a try?