Any blogger or content writer who is seeking to get ranked in the search engines will be aware of the importance of SEO and the influence it can have over how we write. In a previous article What is SEO? I introduced many of the core components of search engine optimisation and what the latest algorithms from Google have meant for writers.
Other previous articles on this site have also looked at How to write quality SEO content and How to write on-page SEO. In this article however I wanted to expand the discussion slightly and see what other experts were saying in 2015 about SEO. I mention the year because any SEO advice that has been given prior to 2012 is probably out of date and could actually cause more harm than good at this stage.
Search Engine Rankings
This article was inspired after reading two different articles, by two of my favourite marketing gurus. The first was Neil Patel writing about The Ultimate Guide to Factors That Don’t Affect Search Rankings and the second was an article by Brian Dean on Google’s 200 Ranking Factors: The Complete List.
Both articles are excellent but what struck me was that a simplified version was needed especially for newbies entering the SEO world for the first time. I have used both pieces of work as well as other resources, including my own experience to compile my own version of the 20 most important tips on SEO.
Keywords are undoubtedly the first place where most content writers start when they think of SEO. The older thinking with keywords was to stuff them into every space and literary orifice you could find. This isn’t the recommended approach now, but keywords should still be prominent in your writing so that google is clear about the topic of your content. There are 3 ways this can be achieved without stuffing your content and causing it to be unreadable.
Number 1 – Placing keywords in title tags is important, and according to Brian Dean the earlier they are placed in the title the better.
Number 2 – Place keywords in H1 tags as these act like mini title tags and help reaffirm the theme of your content.
Number 3 – Use LSI keywords to help google know more about the exact nature of your topic.
LSI or latent semantic indexing looks for patterns of keywords that are associated together within a topic. For example the word Apple mentioned with computer brings one set of results, whereas apple mentioned with fruit stall brings up a separate list of results.
Not all places in your content need keywords, according to Neil Patel’s article
Number 4 – putting keywords into meta tags will have absolutely no impact on rankings whatsoever.
Meta tags are in the code section of your content and this used to be considered one of the ways to increase ranking positions.
Keyword word order
The order of keywords can influence ranking so that articles that have words closest to the search request will be ranked higher. The aim is to get ranked for specific keywords, in a certain order, which is where keyword research really comes in.
Number 5 – Use a keyword tool and do the research to see what combination of keywords will rank best before publishing the post
Meta descriptions are the snippets that google displays when you run a search, as you can see in this screenshot. At one time it was believed that meta descriptions were another way of improving ranking, however this is not the case.
The meta description does not improve rankings, but …
Number 6 – an accurate description will ensure that only those people who are interested in your article will click through.
This helps to improve bounce rates (clicking on a site and then immediately leaving again) and shows google that your content is relevant.
Image Alt Text
Alt text is the alternative text that appears if an image can’t load properly, or if the page is being read by someone who is visually impaired and cannot see the images. It is also read by search engines who can’t see images either. It does therefore have a very important function.
Number 7 – always include alt text so that there are no gaps in your content for either search engines or readers who cannot view the images.
The alt text and image caption both give details about the image, but they are used for different purposes. The caption is a title about the image whereas the alt text describes the actual image. For example if I take the image of the meta description screenshot used above on this page, here is the caption text and alt image texts for that image.
Number 8 – the alt text needs to enhance the reader experience not push keywords at search engines.
One of the questions that I hear a lot is in relation to links -do you or do you not use them? Backlinks in particular appear to cause confusion especially since Google has been known to penalise lots of spam links coming from weak sites.
The introduction of the Hummingbird algorithm emphasised that natural and engaging content is key, if your links meet that requirement then use them.
Number 9 – make links natural and organic, choose material that is consistent with your niche.
Number 10 – links from older and more established domains and sites will possibly rank better, check what the added value factor is that the link is giving.
One of the main purposes for using links is to establish authority and demonstrate expertise and knowledge within your chosen niche topic. Therefore all links need to be carefully considered to ensure that they achieve this. Internal links can also demonstrate your expertise, by showing how posts on the site work together to build authority on the subject matter.
Number 11 – Internal links are important to demonstrate how your content connects together and to demonstrate the building of expertise within a particular topic.
Another area that many affiliate marketeers are concerned about is whether affiliate links are penalised by google and other search engines. Sites that are stuffed with links and have very little content to offer the readers, will be penalised.
Google state on their support page that thin affiliate sites are classed as;
"Pages with product affiliate links on which the product descriptions and reviews are copied directly from the original merchant without any original content or added value." - Google
Number 12 – Affiliate links are not penalised by google unless they are on sites with thin content, or very little content.
Mobile Use & Page Loading Speed
One of the newer SEO factors is the link to mobile technology. Statistics show that mobile devices now account for more than 50% of entry points to websites and are a priority area for google.
Number 13 – Make sure blog sites are mobile enabled, this is now a priority factor for Google
Number 14 – Load time is another indicator to google that the site is relevant and useful to searchers. Many people will not stay with a site that loads too slowly and this causes the bounce rate to increase. This and file size tells search engines whether the site is too slow.
Content Length & Recency
Many blog posts have focused on producing content of around 500 words, but content marketing has increased the average blog and article size up to 1000 or 1500 words. So does larger content rank better?
Statistics show that higher ranking pages do seem to contain more words on average (between 2000 – 2,500). However google likes websites with relevant content and writing for the sake of it may not actually improve ranking.
Number 15 – content length should be appropriate for the topic however if readers become bored bounce rate can increase.
Number 16 – longer posts have greater potential to rank for a number of different keywords.
Google’s main focus is on the readers’ experience. There is still some debate as to whether bad grammar and spelling will affect ranking but other types of readability factors are thought to affect it. Here are some of the main ones.
Number 17 – bullets and numbered lists are a great way to break up content and make it easier to read. This adds to the readability of the content and may or may not enhance rankings.
Number 18 – the recency of posts is thought to affect rank indirectly, it could also affect click through rate because the date is usually shown on the search snippet.
Number 19 – the originality of the post is considered a factor by google and duplicate content will be penalised heavily.
Finally the last point relates to the categorisation of posts on your website
Number 20 – According to Brian Dean’s list the category that a post is listed under may affect ranking. This is because it is another indication as to the relevance of the content.
Therefore posts that are left as uncategorised or wrongly categorised might not be placed as highly as posts categorised under their proper relevant headings.
There are many other factors that affect SEO and ranking positions but when you are starting out it is better to master a few good SEO practices first and then slowly expand your knowledge base. These 20 tips will hopefully give you a good foundation in SEO use and the following articles may help with more detail on some of the issues.
I would love to hear about any other SEO tips you use, so please feel free to add to the comments below and share you experiences, thanks.