The aim of this article is to give you a grounding in the very basics of SEO or search engine optimisation. Even the basics of SEO covers a huge amount of content – much more than could be covered in a single article, so in order for this lesson to be productive we are going to focus on 10 core rules and how to implement them using an SEO plugin for WordPress that we install on every website deployed.
What is SEO
First, let’s begin by exploring what search engine optimisation is and isn’t.
SEO is – the means by which we make the content on our website and individual or specific pages more easily indexed by search engine, and therefore more easily findable by potential website visitors.
SEO is not – a silver bullet which we rely on to drive traffic to our website, to become rich and famous. Similarly, so called SEO consultants cannot guarantee search rankings!
SEO is influenced by:
– technical issues (structure of the code)
– textual issues structure of your site and text, and your use of words
– internal and external links
Influencing SEO across your website is a gradual and organic process that takes time. You will not see huge changes over a few weeks – it is more likely to be months!
10 Core Rules
1. Write great content
Write for your audience.
The number 1 rule is to write great content and to write it for your audience. Don’t try too hard to ‘write for the search engine’ as this approach will ultimately backfire and your content won’t have the impact you desire.
Your content should also have some structure. You need to use heading tags to indicate to the search engine how your document should be displayed.
By default the page title always uses the Heading 1 < h1 > tag. Then you should use the Heading 2 and Heading 3 tags to create further sections and structure.
Think of a great title.
Spend time thinking about the titles of your pages and posts – they help attract the attention of web visitors and help with search rankings.
Quality vs Frequency.
In your early days of writing blog or journal entries it is important to just write, regardless of article length but as you get into the habit you should aim to be writing articles that are around 300 words long. In WordPress there is a word count at the bottom left of the content editing pane.
So in the long term, it is better to write good quality, slightly longer posts rather than rattling out smaller, less thought out articles. Ideally your post will be part of a planned content calendar.
2. Have a Plan
You need to decide up front and then review/revise on an ongoing basis what content you are going to publish and the sets of keywords you would like your business to be found by.
Each business is unique, so your keywords should include your brand name as well as the words that describe the products and services your business wants to sell.
It’s worth noting that ranking on terms that don’t fit with you and your site, will result in a high bounce rate (people leave your site immediately because your site is not what they expect). High bounce rates are not good as it indicates your website is not what customers were searching for and may even lead Google to rank your site lower for what was searched for!
3. Add Content… update WordPress SEO
Here’s where we introduce the plugin we mentioned earlier – it’s called WordPress SEO by Yoast. The company behind the plugin, Yoast are experts in SEO who act as consultants to some very large organisations including the likes of The Guardian, so these guys really do know what they are talking about!
You can edit page specific SEO details by finding the section which will be just under the content editing area on a WordPress post or page.
4. Include your focus keywords
First, enter your focus keyword for this page, then click update.
You’ll see the plugin reports on where the keyword appears, prompting you to change the keyword or more importantly make sure it is included in the title or the actual content itself!
Ideally, your desired search terms should be between 1% and 2% of the page content. So in an article of 400 words, you should mention your search terms 4 – 8 times.
5. Always write a Meta Description
The meta description is generally used by the search engine for the ‘snippet’ you see in search engine results. You should always include a meta description that describes what the article is about and include important keywords. You should not ‘stuff’ it with keywords – the description needs to be human-readable! Meta descriptions should be no longer than 156 characters long.
You can see more detailed advice by clicking on the ‘Page Analysis’ tab.
6. Images – give them an appropriate name
Before you upload your images, give them good, meaningful and relevant names. They should include descriptive words and where appropriate the keyword for the article and/or keywords you want to rank highly for across your website. Use dashes – (not blanks or underscores) to separate words.
Many people use Google to search for products and services using the image search feature. Using your brand name and keywords for image names will generally give you a better chance of appearing higher up in the rankings of a Google image search.
7. Images – add alt text
When you have uploaded an image, you need to add in an appropriate Title and Alt Tags. By default WordPress will populate the title with the image name, so if you have given the image a decent name, then half of your work is already done!
Next you need to add in the ‘alt text’ – this is the text that appears if the image hasn’t downloaded or the website visitor hovers over the image. A search engine will use this as it indexes your page, putting into content the surrounding text.
8. Link your content internally
Creating links internally is important for two reasons:
- it helps your readers navigate your website and easily find related articles about your business. e.g. you might write an article about a case study. In it you should link back to relevant product and service pages, so that visitors don’t have to hunt for the content.
- it helps search engines like Google to understand the structure of your website and which articles/pages you consider to be most important ones on the website. Creating links to these pages is an obvious signpost to the search engine.
In WordPress, highlight the word or phrase you want to link, then click ‘link’ – the popup window shown below will appear – you can then add in a custom link to an external site (don’t forget to check the ‘open in a new window’ option) or search for pages/posts internally. Select the article you want and then click /insert link’.
9. Develop quality external links
External links back to your site and specific pages on your site are great for informing search engines like Google that you are an ‘authority’ on a specific subject e.g. hotel accommodation in a specific location. ‘Backlinks’ as they are known, have an important effect on your search ranking.
A good quality ‘backlink’ to your site will come from a site that is
– relevant to your website
– has ‘authority’ of its own
In years past, Blackhat SEO consultants would charge customers to place links across the internet, back to their website and even though this is still a common practice (that customers are paying for) their value is generally negative, as search engines like Google will actually penalise you if it thinks you are paying for backlinks.
Your plan should be to encourage links back to your website from directory or trade websites, links from social media networks and from customers e.g. a customer who owns a blog and writes an article about their holiday, could link back to your holiday website.
In addition, if you have accounts on industry-specific forums and social media platforms then make sure they are fully up-to-date, that you have a good profile description and URL link back to your site.
10. Review & Revise
As with everything we talk about on this programme, there needs to be an element of review and revise.
The important questions are:
- What position do I rank for the keywords I am interested in?
- What keywords are my competitors ranking for?
- How do my visitors find me?
- What content do visitors look at the most?
- What are the top keywords on my site?
- What content on my site has high bounce rates and what can I do to address this?
- Who is linking back to me (backlinks) and what are the bounce rates?
The answers will mostly be found in Google Analytics although for comprehensive keyword monitoring you may want to use a service.
1. What position do I rank for the keywords I am interested in?
The most accurate way and ongoing approach is to sign up for a tool such as Positionly. They currently have a Micro Plan (1 website, 10 keywords, 1 competitor, 100 backlinks) for $5/month. For convenience there is an iPhone app to keep track of your results.
2. What keywords are my competitors ranking for?
The software tool mentioned above lets you track competitors and keep you alerted of any changes.
3. How do my visitors find me?
Check Google Analytics. Click on Acquisitions, the All Traffic. This will tell you the source of all traffic whether it be organic search, specific search engines or other websites.
4. What content do visitors look at the most?
Check Google Analytics. Click on Behaviour, Site Content, All Pages. By default this lists the pages with the most pageviews.
5. What are the top keywords on my site?
To see which specific keywords are most significant on your website go to Google Webmaster Tools for your site. Click on Google Index, then Content Keywords. This will show you a list of the most significant keywords on your site.
6. What content on my site has high bounce rates and what can I do to address this?
Check Google Analytics. Click on Behaviour, Site Content, All Pages. Click on the Bounce Rate column to sort by highest bounce rate first.
7. Who is linking back to me (backlinks) and what are the bounce rates?
Check Google Analytics. Click on Acquisitions, the All Traffic. This will tell you the source of all traffic and what their respective bounce rates are.
That’s a lot to consider, but the 10 rules can be summarised as follows:
For each post or page you create
- Write great content
- Update WordPress SEO for page specific keywords, meta description and your SEO page title
- Name your images and give them alt text when inserting in a post/page
- Include internal links
Planning & Preparation
- Have a Plan – focus your efforts
- Work with partners and develop inbound links
- Review your results and adjust your Plan
You may need to go back over content and adjust things – don’t be too worried by this, you can take a gradual approach, focussing on your most popular pages and posts.
The important takeaway today, is to start adopting these core rules for every new piece of content that you write from now.