Search engine optimization (SEO) is an important design element for information that is delivered out on the Internet. You want your information to be found (and used), and some folks encourage content creators to focus on SEO. But, and that’s a big but, there’s a good bit of “noise” in all of what is said about how to achieve good SEO for your information. I recently culled through external and internal SEO guidelines and pulled together a checklist for my team of web editors to use when editing articles.
Good SEO means that your content appears high (or first) in the search results page (SERP). Many of the SEO guidelines aim to help your content reach this position. In the end, though, most of the guidelines can be summarized as follows: Content that is accurate, complete, and well-written, and that answers your users questions will be found quickly and easily. It really is as simple as that.
If you really want one resource to learn all about SEO, go here: http://searchengineland.com/guide/seo. You can dive down into 9 chapters that teach you all about SEO. They cover them all from content, to architecture, to HTML coding, and even include “off the page” ideas like trust, links, and social media influences. The periodic table of SEO is a handy reference to remind you of all the elements of SEO.
As I reviewed the checklist that I created, I was able to boil all the SEO guidelines down to just 3 main guidelines:
- Use keywords in all the right places – titles, subtitles, headings, abstracts, links, alt-text for images, and so on. Identifying and consistently using 3-5 keywords per piece of content is all you need. “Front-load” these elements with your keywords; that is, make sure they appear early on in the title, subtitle, heading, etc. Notice that I did not include metadata in that list, as most search engines ignore keywords stuffed into the metadata. They look for them in well-written content.
- Watch the length of things – Because titles, subtitles, abstracts, and headings might be used in the SERP or used in social media, it is important to watch their length. SERPs and social media will both cut off or eliminate characters when these lengths are too long. Titles should be less than 50 characters, including spaces; Abstracts should be less than 155 characters, including spaces. When crafting tweets, consider using only 100-120 characters to leave room for URLs and image URLs, and everyone’s favorite hashtags.
- Craft better blurbs and tweets – Because SERPs will pull in and use well-written abstracts (or blurbs) that include keywords, you want to make it easy for search engines to use what you have written instead of grabbing some random paragraph or parts of sentences that include the keywords. And, because social media shares help your SEO, help craft the tweets that are used for your content.
I am sure that there is an SEO expert out there with their mouth all agape at me simplifying and summarizing SEO guidelines in this way, but I’d rather keep my writers and editors focused on delivering high-quality, useful content for our readers than trying to manipulate algorithms or focusing on metrics and the wrong content.