How to maximize your content for SEO & SERPs 2018

Optimizing Content for SEO

I’ve been researching and practicing SEO optimization for a few years now with some pretty decent success.  I actually wrote this as a training for the content writers in my company, the way our blog and eCommerce store is configured, these are the specifics I need my content writers to manage.

There is many many other things that should also be considered, maintained, and tweakenetd, here’s one good article SEO in 2017 – Five Factors Every Webmaster Should Be Paying Attention to For Maximum Success.

Writing SEO Optimized Content

There are two primary goals when optimizing a article or page for SEO (Search Engine Optimization).

  1. Get your link to show up in the SERP (Search Engine Results Page)
  2. Get the user to click it

Understanding how your content will display to the end user is extremely important.  We’ll discuss how particular pieces of your content show up in SERPs throughout this document.

Page Title, URL, and Header Tags

The Page Title, url and header tags for an article or page are weighted heavily by google when deciding on when this article/page should be returned for a search query.  These things also show up in the SERPs (h1’s only if page title is missing/empty). Using the Page Title, the URL, and the h1 you basically get 3 opportunities to name your article.  All three should be on topic, but contain different focus keywords for the article. Make them different, but the same. For example an article on keeping honey bees might look like this:

Page Title, URL, H1 and keywords

Page Title

As I stated above, Page Titles are weighted heavily by google, with google, page titles are important.  However with users and their SERP’s, Page Titles are the primary determining factor, a user may also consider your url, and description, but page title gets you through round one.  You have one, half second chance to catch their attention with your Page Title.  If its wrong, the end user will scan right past your link and move onto the next.

Sites that are highly focused on SEO, usually put the Page Title in the page, but do not display it on the page.  On these sites, you will only see the Page Title in the browser tab and in the SERPs.

How to see your Page Title:
 1 - Open your page in your favorite browser
 2 - Right click on your page, and select "View Source", a new tab will open with the page source code displayed
 3 - Cntl-F to open a search box, search for "title", you should find it right at the top of the page.  Whatever is between <title> and </title> is your Page Title
 Salt City Digital Page Title Example
  • Should be no longer than 60 characters – SERP’s actually display Page Titles by pixel, not by character length. 60 characters is a good estimate.  If you really need to know, there’s this great tool:  Moz.com – Title Tag Preview Tool
  • Focus keywords at the beginning
  • Don’t overuse keywords
  • Each page must have a unique title – Make sure its on subject, if your Page Title doesn’t match your content, google will know.
  • Write to your audience
  • Think – What Page Title would make my customer want to click on this?
  • Never more than 1 Page Title per page
  • Try not to use ‘stop’ words (ie: in, the, is, and, a)
  • Don’t use special characters (ie: <, >, /, #, %, {, })

Additional Reading:

Header Tags

Headers in a normal ‘work’ document are the title to a document (the h1) or a section of the document (the h2’s & h3’s).  They are very much the same thing in a webpage. H1 signifies the top level header, or the main title on the page. H2’s, H3’s, and so on are just sub headers.  As with Page Title (and URL), the h1 should be very on topic, be eye catching (make them want to click it) while also containing as many different keywords from your Page Title and URL if possible.

  • H1’s
    • Never more than one h1 per page.
    • Ideally between 20-70 characters in length
      • Too Short – your missing an opportunity
      • Too Long – everything past 70 characters has a chance not to show up in SERPs
    • Don’t overuse Keywords, don’t make it spammy.
    • Try to focus on different keywords from the Page Title and the URL.
    • Write to your audience.
    • As this is going to be the displayed title on the page, it needs to be very on topic.
    • Always at the top of the content (ideally the first text on page)
  • H2’s, H3’s, H4’s and so on…
    • You can have as many of these as is required to capture all of the sub headings.  (if your page has 4 sub sections, then you should have 4 h2’s. If inside one of those subsections, you have 12 nested subsections, then there should be 12 h3’s nested).
    • Google uses these to sort content.
Note: Many, if not most sites use Page Title and H1 interchangeably and miss the opportunity to advertise different search terms to the end user and google.  Don't freak out if your site is configured this way (most are), there's another way to handle this.  With the addition of one paragraph that summarizes the contents of the article, we can create a page that can display both the Page Title and the H1 on the page without it looking too ‘weird’.

 Page Title
 Summary
 H1
 Content

Additional Reading:

URL

Think of the URL as another title for your page.  However, because the URL contains the https://www.domain.com at the beginning, this ‘title’ (the URL) needs to be considerably shorter than the others.

  • Urls should be readable (ie: /this-is-your-url)
  • Use hyphens for word separation
  • <100 Characters ideally
  • Try not to use ‘stop’ words (ie: in, the, is, and, a)
  • Don’t use spaces, or other special characters (ie: <, >, /, #, %, {, })
  • Everything lowercase (don’t use capitals)
  • Use focus keywords if possible
  • Don’t overuse Keywords, don’t make it spammy
  • You can set the URL to whatever you want before the post goes live to public – If you must change a URL that the public has had access to, you really should 301 redirect from the old URL to the new URL.

Additional Reading:

Meta Tags

Meta tags were designed as a way for search engines to track the content of the page.  However, because of internet wide manipulation of meta tags, google decided it was best to just ignore them.  Meta tags, while not really being used to rank the page, can be displayed in the SERPs.  I say ‘can’ because google will look at the users search query and then decide if the meta description or the first paragraph of your article fit the users search query the best, and then display whichever is more on topic.  Also, if the meta description is missing, google defaults to the first paragraph.

  • Keywords – you can completely ignore these, they serve no valuable SEO optimization purpose. (since 2009-ish)
  • Meta Descriptions & First paragraphs
    • A SERP will only display the first 300ish characters of either the meta description or the first paragraph, so get your point in before the 300th character.  They can be longer, but content past the 300ish mark will not be displayed in the SERP.
    • These should both be very much on topic, and should summarize your content.
    • As with a good summary, these both should entice the user to read more.
    • These should be unique to the page.  Using the same content in multiple places will make the google monster angry.
    • Including a call to action in both can be very helpful (ie: Learn More Now!)

Additional Reading:

Media – pictures, videos, and other files

Everyone has heard “a picture is worth a thousand words”, this is true, as long as the image or media matches the content of the article.  Don’t overuse images or media, for a normal article 1 piece of media every 2 paragraphs is pushing it.  For something instructional, one per step is ok.

  • Optimize Optimize Optimize – get the file size as small as possible while maintaining quality
  • Cut to Fit
  • Media should relate to content
  • Name the media appropriately – Ideally an image of a baby penguin on an article about saving the penguins should be titled to fit both the content of the image and the content of the article.  (ie: Save-the-baby-penguin.jpeg)
  • Make sure it has ‘Alt Text’ – This is very much like the name of the media, but a bit more advertisey.  If we take the same image of the penguin, its alt text could be something like “Save this cute little penguin”
  • Don’t use stock images (if possible), however some images is better than no images.
  • A caption under the media is ideal.  But this is solely for the user, google does not see the caption as anything other than text.

Additional Reading:

Links

As with any good document, references are important.  With a web article/page, reference and links are the same thing.  If your talking about another site, link to them on the first mention of them.  If your linking to a particular product or site asset link to it. Use links as navigational points to help the reader get from your information to the page/product that the user is reading about.  However, don’t overdo it, google will penalize for spammy content.

  • Configure the link correctly
    • If it leaves your site, open it in a new tab
    • If its content that requires the user to open several links to your site, open them in a new tab (Recipes with links to 5 oils)
    • Don’t just put the link in the document, put some focus text, and then link the text.
      • Don’t:  www.domain.com
      • Don’t: click here (with ‘here’ linking to the page)
      • Do: click here to read about Domain. (with the text ‘Domain’ being the link.)

Content

Google puts a fair amount of weight on the content of the article/page that it’s looking at.  Its specifically looking for high quality, highly informative content on one particular subject per page.  Think about creating a good research paper, it has all of the details in the article, layed out in an easy to read and understandable format.  It has images and links that support and relate to the content. It has sections to break up the sub pieces of the subject. Google loves all of this stuff.  Start with your subject idea, search google for similar articles, determine what would set you apart. Then do audience and keyword research to make sure you’ve got something unique and usable (and ideally shareable) to your audience.

Note: It's a great exercise to search for content like the content your planning to write, and see what others are doing.  Think to yourself;

What mistakes are they making?
What will set my article apart from these?
What should I put in my description or page title that will make them want to click my link over someone else's?”
  • Stay on topic, Write to your audience
  • 1000+ words has been shown to rank higher in SERPs
  • Include a Call to Action or next step
  • The best articles are something your audience wants to share with their peers
  • Easily digestible
  • Compare to similar articles, is yours better?
  • Spell & grammar checks (software and use another person to proofread)
  • Links to supporting content
  • Add Media
  • Don’t overuse keywords. Use them naturally.
  • Good Formatting
  • Unique is ideal

Additional Reading:

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