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Posted on 09.18.2014

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

Tuesday we looked at the evolution of search engine optimization over the last two decades and discussed that strong, effective writing is now—thankfully—a compelling factor in how a Website page performs in search engine results.

Gone are the days of keyword stuffing and white-on-white text (a.k.a. “black hat” SEO). Today’s search engines reward sound, concise writing, relevant content, updated pages optimize-part-IIand viewer interaction.

We’ve already shared a few tips for optimizing headlines and using key words, so today let’s discuss the roles copy, links, and graphics play in SEO.

Lead and Body

In the lead, as with the meta title discussed before, it is possible to supply search engines with a metadata description that will appear in search engine page results. If a meta description is not included in the code, search engines pull the first 140 to 150 characters from the beginning of the post. For that reason, it’s important to make sure that the lead sentence is short enough and concise enough to be read as a complete thought. While Google has announced keywords in titles and meta descriptions do not count towards PageRank, it is still important to have a readable and compelling description of the article visible in SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) to encourage and increase click-through.

Tips:

  • Include the selected keyword in the lead
  • Keep the lead sentence to 140 characters or less
  • If a short sentence is not possible, make sure the first 140 characters of the lead sentence can stand alone as a complete thought

Technically, the lead is part of the body of an article, but treating the lead separately is important because of that first 140 characters thing. Still, the entire article is important to search engines. It’s important to make sure there’s not a lot of fluff, to stay on topic, to keep the article at about 300-400 words, and to not repeat keywords needlessly. (Good writers are saying, “Thank You!”).

Links

Links in press releases, in blogs, and even in static Web page copy have become confusing due to the near constant Google policy changes, but there are a few basic rules that make sense and help readers find the information they seek.

There are two basic types of links (in the context of a body of text). They are:

  • Direct links (i.e., “Visit http://www.lovell.com”)
  • Anchor/Contextual links (i.e., “Please visit the Lovell Communications Website.”)

Both types of links should be treated in context. Asking a reader to visit a specific site should be written like this: “Go check them out at: http://lovell.com.” Or write, “Check out Lovell Communications, Inc., and find out what they’re all about.”

This is also true when referring to another article. It’s best to use the whole title of the article as the anchor link to attribute the source, but using part of the title or a few relevant keywords is okay, too.

Here’s an example “ideal” to “not so ideal” breakdown:

  • Ideal – In a recent USA Today survey, 24% of Americans stopped buying online because of breaches, citing the hacking of Target and eBay customer information as an important driver in the decline of online sales.
  • Good – A recent Internet Security Survey by USA Today cites the hacking of Target and eBay customer information as an important driver in the decline of online sales.
  • Not Ideal – A recent survey cites the hacking of Target and eBay customer information as an important driver in the decline of online sales.
  • Not Even Acceptable – A recent USA Today survey http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2014/06/03/internet-security-survey/9907947/ cites the hacking of Target and eBay customer information as an important driver in the decline of online sales.

Also, it’s not good practice to insert a link that is not immediately contextually relevant. Those two linked words were relevant to the sentence, but the hyperlink goes to their definitions, and the sentence was not about defining them. To link a word like “defining” to an online dictionary is even worse in that the linked word is indirectly relevant (you define stuff with a dictionary), but it’s certainly not helpful to the user. But the worst-case scenario would be something like the previous link in this sentence, which links to a book called Worst-Case Scenario. It is immediately relevant in terms of text to the search engine, but it does not help the user better understand the immediate content.

When inserting links in any type of online publication, it’s also important to include “tooltip” or “screentip” text. This is an option that appears when a writer is inserting a hyperlink and allows the user to see a relevant description during a hyperlink mouse-over, like this. Learn more about creating tooltips here.

In providing links to your site, remember to think beyond your homepage to measure ROI. For example, a story announcing a staff member’s recent award should link to that individual’s bio on the company’s Website – not just the landing page for the company’s leadership page, or worse, the company’s homepage.

Images

Images in a post can also appear on a SERP and stimulate overall SEO. Supplying a description and alternative text when uploading an image can help the searcher who finds that picture reach the corresponding story.

Tweaking the actual file name of an image can help as well. The file name of an image associated with this page might look like this: writing-with-seo-in-mind.jpg. Using a hyphen tells the search engine to separate the words in the name, while an underscore tells the search engine to smash them all together. It’s not hard to imagine how the proposed image title above will have greater SEO impact than a title like “X123photo999.jpg” or “laptopmonitorimage.jpg.”

So, if you already knew all this, thanks for reading! If this is news to you, please continue being a good, concise writer but also keep up with the inevitable changes in search. After all, if you’re writing for the Web, you want readers to actually find your content!

 

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

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