I promised some SEO Tips for writers. Most of this is not a newsflash but I still see people getting it wrong and really, like web usability, it doesn’t cost anything to get the basics right. As with other posts I have writers in mind but this also translates to musicians, artists and photographers, or indeed anyone producing valuable content.
I use most of these myself but I neither invented these nor claim this to be an exhaustive list:
1. Think of search engines as people – Search engines are meant to help people find the content they’re after and have been built accordingly. This means that just like human beings struggle to remember nonsensical web addresses and page titles so do search engines. Even if they do pick them up the major search engines (Google in particular) will push offending sites down the listings.
Basics to get right: Put your site on a web address that makes sense to a human being (and relates to the content, see example below) and always have proper page titles (these also need to relate to the content).
An example of a bad web address for your page: http://neilbeynon.wordpress.com/page.php?post=666
An example of a good web address for your page: http://neilbeynon.wordpress.com/2009/02/09/seo_tips_for_writers/
2. Be different – As soon as search engines became popular less scrupulous marketers and various dodgy Internet types realised quickly that content was king. Consequently they began stealing content and repackaging it on their own sites so they could divert web traffic their way and make money off it*. Nowadays, search engines compensate for this by calculating (or trying to) the uniqueness of the content. If you repost the same content or use the same page titles there’s a risk you’ll be perceived as spam and ignored by the search engines. Search engines are huge, they don’t care if you’ve been caught by accident and there is no right to appeal.
3. Keywords – Again, in the early days of search engines** meta data was seen as vital to being found on the web. As search engine algorithms have improved and become better at scanning content their importance has decreased. The metaphorical jury is split on the importance of meta tags. However, for sites run by people with little to no digital marketing budget (and that’s who this post is aimed at) my own experience is that they do have an impact.
Whether you use the old meta tags hard coded into your HTML or use your CMS’s built in functionality (usually called tags and/or categories) the most important thing is that the tags/categories relate to the content on the page. Simply putting keywords you want to rank for without it relating to the on page content is called keyword spam and will get you ignored. Remember Tip 1 – don’t just think about what you search for (particularly if you spend a great deal of time online) – think about what other people will look for.
4. Link me up – If uniqueness is one side of the coin then the number of sites linking to yours is the other. Search engines use this count as a proxy for how valuable your content is (called authority in some circles). It’s very simple: the more legitimate sites that link to your website the better, if those sites also carry related content that will give you even more search engine juice and so link building should be an essential part of every website’s strategy.
Basics to get right: link freely to other websites that you enjoy and produce content that relates to your own; comment on related blogs***; ask friends with websites to link to you****; participate in community forums related to your website.
5. Computers can’t think (yet) – Search engines are just websites made up from software (AKA code) that runs on computers and so they’re not very good at knowing that the image you put on your post is of a garden full of snow unless you tell them. When you put images on your site it can really bring a piece of content to life but it could also be driving web traffic. Search engines with image searches work by using the html code behind your image to tell what your image is about.
Basics to get right: you should always use a filename that relates to the image and you should make use of the Alt tag to describe the image content. (See below).
Poorly coded image: <img src=”http://somesite.com/image359.jpg” width=”666″ height=”666″/>
Well coded image: <img src=”http://somesite.com/catandbacon.jpg” alt=”A cat, some bacon, some tape. Well, did you really think he wasn’t going to do it…” width=”666″ height=”666″/>
* This would be a type of search engine spam, this type of spam is – like every other form of digital spam – deeply irritating and gives legitimate marketers a bad name. Don’t. Do. It. You should also never link back to a site that is reposting all your content as this will in turn cost you traffic by making you look like spam yourself.
** Anyone else remember Altavista?
*** Leaving generic, automated or off topic comments is another type of spam. It is not recommended and it really irritates people.
**** You should obviously link to them first and I’d limit this to people you know in the real world in the first instance.