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Web writing 101: A guide to SEO for content creators
What is SEO and why is it important?
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the process of making changes to websites in order to increase organic traffic to those pages.
Since more than ninety percent of users only look at the first page of search engine results pages (SERPs), websites in the top of the rankings are virtually guaranteed free traffic.
Furthermore, search engine users overwhelmingly click on organic results as opposed to sponsored ones. There are many reasons for this but most users consider paid results to be less relevant to their search.
Effective SEO relies on webmasters and content creators. This guide is aimed at the latter. While the information herein is valid for all search engines, Google is the most popular and will be used as the reference.
Think of Google as a person
Write for humans, not Google’s AI. Google uses engagement as one of its metrics to index results. Content that is fresh and informative will be more engaging to users, and by extension, to Google. Simple ways of making content more appealing is the addition of photographs, videos, screenshots and text blocks. The use of bullet points to break up large blocks of text will also improve readability.
High-quality content is well-researched and free of any spelling or grammatical errors. This may sound obvious, but content errors immediately discredit your website. Credibility is also a determining factor in ranking websites.
SEO keywords are the words or phrases that allow users to find your website via search engines. These should be sprinkled throughout the content starting with the title. This should be done in moderation, however, since content filled with a string of keywords will be punished as Google will recognise it as attempting to manipulate its algorithm.
Search requests have evolved from short-tailed keyword searches (three words or less) to long-tailed keyword searches (more than three words). Long-tailed keyword searches tend to be more specific. Content creators should take this into account when deciding their keywords strategy.
Proper use of headers for SEO
Headers serve several purposes. The primary role of headers with regard to SEO content creation is to allow Google to find and rank in importance the keywords in the text. They also help break up content to make it more readable. This allows the user to quickly find information at a glance.
Layout plays an important role since content with big blocks of text have high bounce rates. People read differently on the web and content layout should be optimised by taking into account those differences.
Do not be afraid to make a paragraph of one sentence to highlight its importance.
Since Google uses headers to rank keywords, headers should contain a keyword. In the case of this post, for example, the keyword is ‘SEO’.
Header 1 tag / h1 tag / SEO meta title
- The h1 tag must contain the primary keyword
- The h1 tag is only used once
- It should in some way respond to a search request
- between 50 and 60 characters long (including spaces)
Add modifiers to your title like ‘top 10, best, guide or 2018’ to rank higher in long-tail searches of your keyword
Header 2 tags / h2 tags
Apart from making the content easily scannable, the h2 headers highlight the most important content keywords. Headers are normally bigger, differently coloured or in bold.
- They add sub-headings to the H1 heading
- Introduce or emphasize secondary keywords
- They provide the structure for the content
Google assumes that anything in bold is important so it is worth remembering that keywords such as SEO can be emphasized even in paragraph text.
Header 3 tags / h3 tags
H3 tags are used to sub-divide the information in the h2 topics. H4 tags are used to sub-divide information in the h3 topics, and so on. It is important to note that header levels should not be skipped. For example, do not use a h2 header followed by h4 headers.
Title versus URL
The URL should be short yet descriptive. Ideally, the URL should have the keyword in the beginning. In the case of this article for example, the URL seen in the screenshot is different from the title.
SEO Meta description
The meta description is also known as a snippet. Google recently increased its snippet length from 160 characters to a maximum of 320. The snippet should be a summary of the contents of the article. It should be interesting enough to solicit curiosity but it does not necessarily have to be the first paragraph of your article.
Note that capital letters and some special characters may count as more than one character. It is important to verify the snippet in a preview if possible to ensure that no words have been cut off.
Alternative text for images
Images are normally labelled in order to easily reference them for future use. Content creators often neglect to assign an alternative text to images since they do not see why it is necessary.
Google uses the alternative text to describe the image to the visually impaired. Alternative text should, therefore, be written with a detailed description. Colour, background, and facial expressions are examples of things that should be included in the description.
Link your article
The web (World Wide Web) is aptly named because it implies that websites or pages are connected to each other. Spider bots (webcrawlers, Googlebots) use these connections to move between the websites and pages. Googlebots prefer pages that are well connected and will rank them higher than those which are not. There are two ways that content creators can do this.
Internal links connect to other pages on the same website. As with outbound links, this can be done via live links in the body of the content or listed at the end as additional reading or related content.
Outbound links lead to other websites. Generally, they are used as references or explanations for the content being written. When content is used as a reference to another site, it is referred to as a backlink.
What is the ideal length?
Ideal content length changes regularly as Google updates its algorithm. The right answer, of course, is that the ideal length is as many words as is necessary. That being said, Google does favour longer content. This may be due to a study on concentration that showed a peak at around seven minutes. Seven minutes translates to around 1,600 words. Today, this is considered a minimum for good SEO rankings since the top ranking content is closer to 2,400 words.
Search engine optimisation is either ‘on-page’ or ‘off-page’. While all the above information is referred to as ‘on-page SEO‘, equally important is ‘off-page SEO’. This can be most easily described as website promotion and is done in two ways.
As mentioned previously, backlinks are links from other websites that reference your webpage. This tells Google that your content is appealing to a large audience and that the content is credible.
Today, the correlation between the number of backlinks and page ranking is undeniable. Backlinks from higher-ranking pages carry the most weight but blogs and influencer mentions will also help rankings.
Google does not use social signals as a metric in its rankings as it would be too easy to cheat the system through mass sharing. Social media does, however, improve visibility and therefore indirectly affects SEO. Content that is adapted and shared on relevant social media sites will have a better chance of being used as a backlink.
Further reading on related subjects: