Search engine optimization has been the name of the game for years, but for many of us it is still a lost art. I get it. You’re a writer, not an SEO expert. We can’t expect you to be an SEO expert. Can we?
The reality is that SEO isn’t what it used to be. Just a few years ago, good SEO could climb the rankings over at Google with a few simple tricks. It was more of a science than an art then, and felt out of reach for mere mortals. But things are changing.
Now, Google prefers good content over many of those old SEO tricks. They prefer content that is informative and helpful for the reader. Even more, they are getting better at finding that content and rewarding it with a better search engine ranking.
That’s where you come in….
As a writer, you’re a slave to your audience. You are constantly asking yourself who they are, and what they want to hear. You wonder how you can best serve them. You even attempt to put yourself in their shoes, writing as if you were talking directly to them.
We’re experts at knowing what our customers want to hear.
In many ways, writers are the perfect SEO for the modern age. This is exactly the kind of stuff that Google wants to see. The question now is how do we get our optimized content into Google’s hands?
While it’s true that Google prefers good content over SEO trickery, some of the tried and true techniques for better search engine ranking do still matter. In fact, if we don’t follow them, we could be writing ourselves directly onto page 10, or worse. How do we find the middle ground?
SEO Is For Writers (That Want Better Search Engine Ranking)
Many writers like to keep their hands clean when it comes to SEO. “It’s all greek to me,” they might say, but the reality is that they are positioned to have a better handle on it than just about anyone. With a few simple techniques and a bit of discipline, writers can be world-class SEOs. Who knew?
First, you need to know a few of the basics. Here are my top 10 basic SEO tips to get you started. We’ll pick up some of the more advanced stuff in a minute.
1. Good Page Structure
Google, and the other search engines, have outlined some of the best practices for building a page that can be easily understood by Google. These are the simple best-practices that make the online world work. Make sure that your blog theme or website follows them. If you don’t work with a web designer, make sure that you at least have a reputable WordPress theme.
2. Custom Page Titles & Descriptions
Every blog post you write should have a clearly written page title and post description. Don’t rely on the defaults that WordPress or other platforms provide you. This is something that you need to take control of. After all, you are a writer! I highly recommend the Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress. It will add a simple meta-box to your page, allowing you to customize these two elements for every post.
The Yoast WordPress SEO Plugin makes it easy to set custom page titles and descriptions, along with tips on optimizing them correctly.
3. Get A Sitemap
Another thing that a good SEO plugin like Yoast will provide is the ability to create a sitemap for your blog.
This is a basic little file that essentially tells Google where all of the pages on your site are at. It is sort of like a table of content for the search bots. That’s a good thing, and will considerably improve your likelihood of being indexed by Google. With Yoast, turning it on is a simple checkmark. Make sure you make it happen.
4. Webmaster Tools
Both Google and Bing provide free tools called ‘webmaster tools’ that will allow you to directly interact with how the search engines view your site and your rankings. If you haven’t submitted your site to these dashboards yet, you should. This is also something that Yoast can help you with, so be sure to check out their integration.
Once you are set up on webmaster tools, Google will crawl your site, and notify you of problems that it encountered along the way. Subscribe to these alerts via email, and stay on top of them. Fixing them as they come up will be a big help for your search rankings.
5. Rich Snippets
Rich snippets are basically short summaries of your page in the search results of Google, Yahoo, Bing and sometimes in the News feed of Facebook. They have a nice format with star ratings, author photo, image, etc. They don’t work for every type of blog or article, but when they do, they can make a huge impact. Google loves to see a well-cared for page. Check the All In One Schema.org Rich Snippets plugin for WordPress.
Similar to rich snippets, Google authorship is essentially a way to make your content more personal by including a photo of the author next to the search entry. It is one of the easiest SEO changes you can make and should be something that every writer takes advantage of.
7. Internal Links
How often do you link one piece of content to another piece of content that you’ve created? It’s a safe bet that you should probably be doing this more than you are right now. While internal linking may not sound overly important, it is a great way to help Google find all of your content, and scan it more often. Pages that are linked to frequently are more likely to appear in a search rankings. It’s as simple as that.
WordPress makes it easy to add these links manually, and that is honestly the best method despite good alternatives like SEO Smart Links, which will automatically link predefined keywords to blogs posts of your choosing.
As you add each new link, keep in mind that the text you are using to link over to your content is just as important as the link itself. Google will use this text as a hint as to what the post is about. If you use SEO keywords to write your post, this is an especially important element of the process to be paying attention to.
8. External Links
For Google, links are currency, and this includes links from other sites back to your blog. You should look to get as many links back to your site as possible, but be careful about how you do it. There are a lot of not-so-acceptable ways to achieve this, and you could get yourself into trouble with a linkback strategy.
For many writers, great content will be the key to garnering a large number of linkbacks. Consider writing some ultimate guides and long-form blog posts that can serve as an authority over a key subject matter.
9. Write More
Like it or not, but Google does see content length as a signal of quality. Make sure your blog posts are at least 1,400 words every time, and feel free to even go over 2,000 words on highly important topics. In our own limited research, we found posts of this length to be much more likely to show up in the top ten search results on Google. Post length does matter.
10. Don’t Forget About Your Images
In addition to your page text, Google will also index the images on your site. Make sure you always include Alt tags with your images, as well as considering the keywords used in the name of the image itself.
Super Bonus Advanced Stuff: Your Writing Needs To Be Focused On Keywords
One of the most important aspects of search engine optimization has always been the keywords, or the words that people use to find our content in search. For example, this post is written for the keywords “better search engine ranking.” The idea is that when someone does a search for this keyword or keyphrase, they will be directed to our site.
This is a standard trick of the trade for SEOs. Though it is probably not all that unfamiliar to you as a writer, how often are you using keywords to direct your writing? Many writers prefer to simply write based on their idea or topic, rather than repeatedly using some awkward keyword. Is this really all that important?
I think that the answer to that question is still a resounding yes, although the practice has lost some of its effectiveness over the years. Let me explain.
These days, Google no longer relies on exact keyword matching like it used to. What I mean is that a search for the keyphrase “better search engine ranking” will yield many results that do not use the exact phrase. Over the years, Google has become good at understanding topics rather than exact phrases themselves. In other words, Google knows that “better search engine ranking” and “how to rank better for search engines” are similar topics and are equally as likely to show up in a search.
5 Reasons You Still Need To Use Keywords
For the writer, this is a good thing. Our topic-based posts will fit perfectly in the world of SEO, but I still think it is important to use keywords with every post. Here’s why:
- Using keywords will keep your posts focused on a single topic idea.
- Keywords allow you to use tools and plugins to easily measure SEO value.
- Keywords will surface topics that your customers care about.
- Keywords are generally a great way to plan content before headlines are created.
- Constraints can be good, and should be embraced rather than fought.
Here at CoSchedule we use two plugins to measure our keywords and their effectiveness. The first is the Yoast SEO Plugin that I mentioned above. It has very strict keyword matching rules, but the advice it provides is useful and worth accepting. The second plugin we use is the Scribe plugin by Copyblogger Media. This plugin is much more robust and does a better job of focusing on the keyword topic as a whole, rather than just the exact phrase itself.
We use Scribe to help us research potential keywords for the post, and analyze our content to make sure that it is a good keyword match.
SEO Will Make Your Writing Better
I know, I know, writers are artists, and artists hate following rules. I get that. The more constraints we have, the less freedom we experience while writing.
This is fair, but not a strong enough reason to avoid using some basic SEO techniques in our writing. Paying attention to SEO is important; without it, who will read what you are writing if it can’t be found? And there is even more to it than that. Following these simple rules not only makes our content more searchable, but also more readable. SEO makes for better content. Why?
It comes down to to one main thing: focus.
When we concentrate our writing around a single keyword, and frame our entire post around SEO best practices, we create a great piece of focused content that will make sense for our readers and the search engines that brought them. Many of us are familiar with the idea of evergreen content, content that is relevant more than just a few days after it is published. When you follow many of the SEO best practices outlined above, not only will you achieve a better search engine ranking, but also a great piece of evergreen content that will last.
SEO based content is also very reader-focused in this way. If we are choosing our keywords using Google Adwords, we are basing our keywords on the very search phrases that our potential readers are using. There is nothing like aggregated user data to keep you focused on what people really want to read about. This research phase helps add a level of focus to our writing before we even type the first words on the screen.
Optimizing your content for a better search engine ranking is important, and not even all that hard. To be honest, it’s a no-brainer – even for writers!
Or, especially for writers :)