Writing for SEO best practice guide

This article by Michele Martinelli has been originally published on Writer`s Socks.

I’m often asked to put together a basic guide for editors with little or no experience of SEO. Some are concerned that the process is overly complicated and others think that they will have to sacrifice their writing skills to Google.

Fear not!

The points below provide a basic cheat sheet for anyone looking to incorporate SEO into their content creation. Of course you can do a lot more to fully optimise your pages, but hopefully this list will provide a good starting point.

  1. Keyword optimisation

Selecting which keywords you want to optimise a piece of content for is vital to determining how it will rank on a search engine result page. The easiest way to determine which keywords to target is to use Google’s Keyword Planner.

Simply tell the Keyword Planner what topic you’re going to be writing about and it will give you a list of related keywords. Try to optimise your content for keywords which have high search volume and low competition. This won’t always be possible, but you might find some great opportunities.

  1. Title tags and H tags

Google will typically display the first 60 characters (including spaces) of a title tag, so keep it short and concise. The title is prime real estate when it comes to SEO and needs to include the main keywords you are looking to optimise the page for. The more important the keyword the closer it should be to the front. If you’re unsure about your title, Moz has a nice preview tool to show you what it will look like on Google.

H2, H3, H4, H5 and H6 tags can be used as sub-headers throughout a piece. These should be concise (aim for less than 100 characters) and include keywords where possible. Use H2 tags as your primary sub-headers i.e. a section title, H3 for secondary sub-headers and so on.

  1. Body text

Sprinkle keywords throughout body copy where appropriate and remember to write for your readers first and Google second. Ideally, the more important the keyword, the higher up the page it will appear. Overuse of keywords, or “keyword stuffing”, can have a negative impact on rankings and bounce rate.

  1. Meta-descriptions

Meta-descriptions do not affect search rankings and do not appear on the actual page, but do play an important role in increasing click-through rates. They should be no longer than 155 characters and contain a brief and enticing overview of the content.

Although meta-descriptions do not affect search engine rankings, it is a good idea to include your primary keywords as these will be bolded if they match the search terms. It is worth noting that Google won’t always use the meta-description you set, it may sometimes scrape the website for content it deems more relevant.

  1. URL

Good URLs are short and include primary keywords. This not only helps signpost the page for Google, but also helps if someone uses the URL as anchor text on another website.

  1. Links

Providing links to related websites, either internal or external, is good practice. Linking to pages which a reader might be interested in is good for UX and may in some cases help SEO.

  1. Images

Images are good for SEO, UX and if properly tagged can lead to inclusion in Google Image search results. Search engines scan an image’s ALT tag to determine the context of the image. Make sure the latter is descriptive and if possible include any relevant keywords. Make sure the image file name reflects the image (if possible include keywords), include a caption and make sure the image is the right size before you upload it. The last point is important as large images affect load times which in turn affect bounce rates and SEO.  You can use this website to make sure your image is the right size and clear of any bytes which might have been added previously.

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