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Posted on 09.16.2014

Writing for SEO Part One: Basic Optimization Tips and the Logic Behind Them

In many of ways, writing for SEO, or search engine optimization, has come full circle. Search engines first appeared in the early 90s and have been evolving ever since. And while the early ones were not very efficient, it was common knowledge that the best way for writers to get people to seek out and read content on the Web…was to make sure it was good. 

It’s just common sense to write informative and readable content, right?

Sure, but when Google introduced PageRank, an algorithm that ranked individual Webpages in search engine results based on specific content criteria, out came the optimizers.

New tactics and techniques emerged that were meant to ‘game the system.’ These optimizers realized that by packing pages full of keywords, hiding text and links, hatching elaborate link schemes, duplicating content in subdomains, and a laundry list of other tricks, they could manipulate search engine results, regardless of the quality of the content.

Not only was this sneaky, it was very frustrating for good writers. Simple, succinct, and high-quality writing was losing ‘rank’ to crummy, jumbled, repetitive, and often irrelevant pages.

Thankfully, in 2013, these practices were put on notice. Google led the charge by introducing new algorithms that promote higher quality content and penalize low quality shadily optimized content.

Google also decided not to ANNOUNCE when it was updating and changing algorithms. Suddenly, as Jim Yu put it in SEO Changed Forever in 2013, “Low quality content is no longer worth the trouble, even for short-term gain.”

Now we are back where we started…being encouraged to write good, compelling content that is easy to find and that is helpful to users and to readers.

Google has stated on multiple occasions that its primary function is to present information—based on search input—that is relevant, accurate, and useful. (This concept, along with some basic optimization ideas, appear in Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide.)

Even though ‘optimization’ may not necessarily be the primary goal for writers, there are still basic things we can do to improve search performance and legitimately serve users by helping Google get them the information they seek.

Today we’ll look a few tips regarding keywords and headlines to help improve performance for multiple types of content on SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).  In my next post, we’ll discuss optimizing lead and body copy, using links to stimulate SEO, and understanding how images can improve and enhance search results.

Keywords

It’s no longer a strong SEO practice to stuff a ton of keywords into a page. Too many keywords in copy and tagging dilute relevance for Google. The best practice is to write to the keyword that is most relevant to the topic.

Quick Tips for Keywords:

  • Select one main keyword that describes or matches the primary theme
  • Avoid repeating keywords all over the place (Synonyms are okay; Google algorithms understand them these days and respond positively)
  • Include keywords in headlines
  • Include keywords (or variations) in the lead sentence
  • Include keywords in the URL (this is mainly for blogs and Website page copy)
  • Include keywords in the image description (this too, is mainly for blogs and Website page copy)

Headlines 

A good headline is important regardless of the medium, but when writing for an online audience—one that will most likely use a search engine—it’s important to note that most search engines 'cut off' headlines that are too long or too heavy on keywords.  As a result, the description that appears on SERPs can seem incomplete, or worse, irrelevant to the search terms.

In the HTML of a Web page, it’s possible to include a separate title and description that search engines will automatically display.  Legitimately ‘hidden’ in the code, and not visible in the text displayed on the page, this information is called ‘metadata’ and is meant to provide a little more information to a potential searcher who is looking for something specific.  In the absence of defined metadata, search engines often pull a set length of the headline for the meta title. To counteract this uncertainty, here are some quick tips for writing a headline: 

  • Include the selected keyword in the headline
  • Make sure headlines are accurate, informative, and succinct
  • Limit headlines to 70 characters or less

Visit our blog again soon to learn about optimizing lead and body copy, embedding links and using images to stimulate search results.

 

Michael Peacock was a Digital Media and Content Strategist at Lovell Communications.

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