Here’s a quick guide to what SEO is all about and some simple steps you can take to improve your SEO performance.
What is SEO?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation. The focus of SEO is to help search engines – such as Google – understand what your content is about and who might find it useful.
The scenario is something like this:
When a user types a search term into their search engine, which pages will the search engine suggest as the best responses to that search query?
Organic search queries such as these can be an important source of traffic for your content – ideally, you want to appear as high as possible in those search results when someone from your target audience is searching for something similar to what you’ve written.
Can you ‘game’ SEO?
A few years ago, search engines had less information to work with, and so there were ways in which you could almost trick search engines to view your content as being of high value.
However, the technology and algorithms that sit behind the operation of search engines are now a lot more sophisticated, so there’s little point in trying to second-guess what will score highly when a search engine is ranking your page.
Ultimately, you need to focus on creating content that is of the highest quality possible, and that meets the queries that your target audience might be searching for.
Maximising your SEO performance
While you don’t want to spend too much time obsessing about SEO – your time is generally best spent on creating great content – you do want to ensure that you’re providing search engines with all the relevant information about the content that you’ve created.
The options that are available to you in this space depend on how and where you’re publishing your content.
If you don’t have your own website but are publishing on a shared blogging platform such as Medium, then what you control is what you’ve written on the page, so that’s where your focus needs to be.
If you’re publishing on your own WordPress site, then it’s likely that your theme or your set-up will include an SEO plug-in. There are different plug-ins available – Yoast is one of the most commonly used. You’ll be able to access this plug-in in the edit view of the content that you’re creating. The SEO plug-in on WordPress provides you with a number of fields that you can complete to explain to search engines what your content is about – things like Meta Description and Key Word. Depending on the structure of your WordPress site, there will also be SEO options in the way that you set up and design your site.
If you’re publishing on your own site on Ghost, then there are SEO fields for you to complete where you can specify the Meta Title and the Meta Description for the post.
If you’re working on a bespoke site, then SEO is something to be considered in the design and structure of the site.
Writing for SEO
From a search engine perspective, their focus is on providing the best possible responses to a search query from a user.
What does that mean for you as a content creator?
Before you hit publish on something you’ve written, one of your checkpoints during your edit and review phase should be something along the lines of – Who is going to want to read this article? What would someone be searching for if they were looking for the information that this article contains? Is it clear that this article contains the information that my target audience will be searching for?
Additional SEO tips
Search engines are looking for content that will be valued by the search user. The general view is that your content needs to be over 300 words in order for search engines to look at it.
As a general rule, if you’re writing a short and snappy article about something, it should probably be around 800 words in length.
Longer, comprehensive guides on specific subjects seem to rate well with search engines. These should be somewhere between 2,000 and 4,000 words in length. But make sure your content is valuable – don’t just pad with additional words for the sake of it.
Think about the structure of your work. Use headings and sub-headings. This helps search engines understand what’s contained within your article, and also helps the reader navigate what you’ve written.
Include some questions in your article. Visualise what your target audience might type into a search engine when they’re looking for information on your subject. Turn those questions into sub-headings. This makes it clear to the search engine that your article probably has the answer to what the user is searching for.
Look for insights from your analytics. Your website might have some inbuilt analytics, plus there’s a range of tools from Google and other providers that can help you to understand how people have found you – what did the user search on to get to your page? There’s additional tools that can give you insights into search trends – what are some of the most commonly searched for topics that might connect with your target users? All of these insights can help you to create the quality content that your target audience is looking for.