For the contemporary digital publisher, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is no longer an optional or add-on step. It’s a vital component of your strategy. SEO produces highly tailored, accurate information for search engines to access, amplifying a page’s exposure and connecting it with the right people.
An optimized site is more likely to show up in relevant searches and rank higher on the results page.
It’s important to note that SEO isn’t about gaming the system or being spam-y. SEO without great content is a futile exercise. Create compelling and useful content first, and then worry about Search Engine Optimization tweaks.
It’s true that Google’s web crawlers are always indexing websites, whether they’ve been optimally tweaked for SEO or not. But without optimization, your site risks limiting its exposure to potential visitors. Many websites receive half of their traffic from Google search. SEO isn’t an area to neglect.
So here’s our standard for digital content. We perform these seven steps for every piece of content before we sign off on it—whether we’re publishing it ourselves or delivering it to a client. Make this part of your routine, and enjoy the boost in visibility.
1. Content should answer a question users are actively searching.
Think about the questions and problems people in your field experience. What are people currently discussing? What answers are they looking for? Create content that offers new and unique solutions. If a piece of content provides what users are already seeking, it’s poised to receive a strong viewership.
2. Create unique, accurate page titles.
This is the text that shows up on the tab of your internet browser—and usually the first line of your search result. Titles that are specific but succinct will resonate with readers. They also explain the page’s topic to search engines, so you want a unique title for each page so that the search engine can tell them apart.
As you construct the titles, resist the temptation to be keyword-happy for the sake of informing the search engine about your page. Google cuts off long titles and you don’t want to compromise the user’s experience.
Where does it go?
Titles are added in the content management system (CMS). In the HTML, it’s the text between <title></title> tags.
3. Create accurate and interesting meta descriptions.
The meta description gives search engines a brief description of your page, which they use to connect your content with users who might be interested in it—not unlike the page title. It also might serve as the description that shows up in search results. Write an accurate, specific, one to two-sentence summary of your page and avoid vague or generic descriptions. Google recommends a maximum of 160-200 characters for meta descriptions.
Where does it go? Add the meta description between the quotation marks of the meta tag’s content area:
Words or phrases in your title or description that match something in the searcher’s query show up in bold in search results. This helps a user quickly evaluate how relevant your result is to their search—so focus on crafting titles and descriptions with language searchers might use. (Note that consumers may not know the technical terms you would normally use to describe your service or product.)
4. Make link text descriptive.
That string of words you choose to click through to another web page? You can optimize its effectiveness. Google’s web crawlers give more importance to a hyperlink’s anchor text, so use descriptive phrases that clue the user in to the link’s content. General phrases such as ‘read article’ or ‘more information here’ don’t tell the crawlers much, and they’re also less likely to tempt a user to click.
Where does it go? Linked text goes in the tag, like this:
5. Use image Alt attributes.
Alt attributes are brief text descriptions that can show up when an image doesn’t display, and they can also be read aloud by accessibility software. Alt attributes also inform search engines about the image and the page—so make ‘em short and specific.
Where does it go? Add alt attribute text to the image tag:
6. Use <H1>, <H2>, etc. tags and bolded phrases to denote content importance.
Google reads English-based pages like we do books: top left to bottom right. It gives greater weight to the text in the <H> tags (there are six total) used for headers and subheads. You can be strategic with these—they should first and foremost facilitate the user’s navigation of the page, but if there’s an opportunity to include keywords that help Google understand the page’s contents, go for it.
Where does it go? Place text between the header tags <H1>, <H2>...<H6>.
Google also gives more weight to bolded text. Again, only utilize this if it fits the article’s context—it is most important to provide your readers with a satisfying reading experience. Which leads us to the final element that supersedes all others:
7. Create quality content.
This is what you’re driving people toward. Make sure it’s the best it can be. Google itself champions great content as the most important factor for bringing in visitors. All the technical SEO tweaks in the world are moot if visitors arrive to uninteresting or useless content.
Work these seven SEO steps into your content creation process. Before you get your SEO on, however, heed these two caveats:
- When working with content for a client, be aware of their capabilities and what they’ve asked for. In some situations you might be delivering un-published content to a client who doesn’t possess the resources to implement these elements. It’s also possible they have internal staff who will handle SEO. Whether or not your deliverables include SEO should be established before you begin creating the content.
- Digital magazines aren’t indexed the same way that websites are, so these tactics may be ineffective. Check with the platform you use about their capabilities.
Talk to us about optimizing your content.
Read next: Content Marketing vs. Advertising: What’s the Difference, Again?