Good content developers have learned to write both for people and search engines, using solid data to reach their audiences. But search engines have gotten a lot smarter. They’ve moved beyond individual keywords—they’ve learned to understand context. But writers still need to understand and deploy sound search engine optimization (SEO) principles. Apply this SEO checklist to every blog and landing page.
The term “cornerstone content” has been popping up in SEO discussions. WordPress users have likely seen this as they fill in their Yoast fields. Cornerstone content is the best articles on your site, the pages or posts you want to rank highest in search engines.
WordPress’ Yoast is a plugin that can help you optimize your website content. Yoast creates fields on the back end of your website where you can identify keywords and write metadescriptions. Metadescriptions are the little narratives that show up on search engine results pages (SERPs) right below the link to your website. You can control these, so why wouldn’t you? Think of these as little customized promo spots. Make it easy for yourself and use the power of Yoast to optimize your web content.
Yoast will help you optimize your website content
After you’ve written your landing page content or blog, scroll down to the Yoast fields and identify your focus keyword and write a metadescription. Now scroll down and see how you did. Yoast rates your effort for its search engine optimization (SEO) value and readability. Green is good. Red sucks.
Now go back and make corrections. You’ll find that this gets easier. I generally write my content, then go back and retrofit it.
- Your focus keyword is critical.This word/phrase should be integrated throughout your page/blog. It should be in the page title, the first and subsequent paragraphs and in your subheads.
- No keyword stuffing allowed. Beginning with the Mobilegeddon algorithm change in 2015, you now have to have something to say. Google hates it when you fill a page with meaningless keywords.
Yoast doesn’t stop with keywords; it will also help you:
- Identify readability. For maximum understanding, we should be writing at a fifth-grade level. Yoast gives us a readability score, and most of us fail.
- Get in the habit of using short, crisp sentences. Break long sentences and paragraphs into short, crisp ones. Use short words and subheads. Make it easy for a reader to scan your subheads; together they should tell a story.
- Header evaluation. Yoast will let you know if your headline is wider than the viewable limit. If your title has a bunch of skinny letters, you can use more characters than if it has a lot of fatter, rounder characters.
- Metadescriptions. These should include your focus keyword and be within 156 characters.
- Internal links. Including an internal linking strategy on your website is a great way to encourage readers to stay on your site and drill down through your pages.
- Images. Every page should include an image. There are four fields that are associated with each image—title, caption, alt tag and description. Fill these in and use your focus keyword.
One more thing: Search engines love long posts
Keywords are about, well, words. You can’t rank if there’s no content. The longer your posts, the greater your chances of appearing in search engines—they have more clues to identify what your posts are about. An ideal blog post should have around 1,000 words to ensure enough keywords for ranking.
Frankly, the prospect of coming up with a 1000-word blog on a regular basis is terrifying. But do think about 300-words as a minimum standard. If you’re writing something about which you’re knowledgeable and passionate, this shouldn’t be paralyzing.
Today’s impatient audiences demand pictures—we want high-quality, high-resolution photos, infographics, charts and screenshots–to help tell a story. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then, that Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs) deliver as many results from images as from text. If you’re upgrading your website’s SEO value but ignoring the images on your site, you could be missing out on an important source of organic traffic.
It’s time to start adding alt tags to your images
Also called “alt text” and “alt descriptions,” alt tags are the written copy that appear in place of an image on a webpage if the image fails to load. This text helps screen-reading tools describe images to visually impaired readers and allows search engines to better crawl and rank your website. Optimizing image alt tags creates a better user experience for your visitors.
Be accurate, be descriptive
A good rule of thumb: Think about what someone would see if he/she pulled up a page and couldn’t see the actual image for whatever reason—just the alt tag descriptor. Let’s say we’re looking at a photo of Steph Curry shooting a 3-pointer in an overtime win against the Boston Celtics. A good alt tag: Oakland Warriors’ Steph Curry scores a 3-pointer in overtime to beat the Celtics. Think of this as a little formula.
Here are some best practices for writing effective alt tags
- Be specific. Use both the image subject and the article context as guides.
- Keep alt tags within 125 characters. We’re all used to character limits these days, so keep it brief and relevant. Screen-reading tools stop reading alt tags at 125 characters, cutting off long-winded alt descriptions.
- Forget about starting alt tags with “Picture of” or “Image of “.Don’t use up your character limit on these unnecessary descriptors. Screen-reading tools will already have identified the object as an image from the source code.
- Use your keywords sparingly.Include your article’s target keyword or keyword phrase if it’s easily included in your alt tags. Consider semantic keywords, or just the most important terms. Google is smart and understands semantics. If we go back to our Steph Curry model, we would likely use “curry 3-pointer” in our alt tag because the article is going to be about how this shot was critical to the Warriors’ win.
- Don’t cram your keyword into every single image’s alt tag.If your blog contains a series of images within the blog, include your keyword in at least one of those images.
How to add alt tags to your images
It varies by platform, but in WordPress, open Media, click on an imageand it will bring up a window where you can create/edit each alt tag. I find it handy to open two screens—one for the Media file and one for the article associated with each image because it provides the context that will influence the alt tag.
Could you use some help identifying alt tags for your website? Give me a call!
Strategically using keyword in your landing pages, blogs and social media posts is important, but just as important is understanding how keywords have changed. In the old days, people could get away with keyword stuffing—filling a page with their keywords, often to the point where the page’s meaning was compromised by repeated use of a number of keywords.
What really matters is writing for your reader, not search engines
Google’s last few major algorithm changes, including Mobilegeddon, have made good content nonnegotiable. You can no longer fool or trick Google. If you’re filling your pages with nonsense trying to create keyword density for the sake of optimization, forget it. This is a bad strategy and Google will penalize you. Some experts suggest that your keywords should appear in about 2.5% of your copy. But search has become much more intuitive, so it’s not just about your keywords.
As a general rule, it’s good to work your keyword into your headline and a few of your subheads (do use subheads—it makes it infinitely easier to read your articles), but you shouldn’t distort natural copy to accommodate a keyword. If you’re writing naturally, you’ll tend to use synonyms for your keywords and vary your phrasing, and Google and search engines have begun to recognize this. Here’s what’s really cool—search engines are getting smarter. They’re better at understanding context, and you can help them by using well-written, informative content that includes words they would expect to find within that context.
Semantic search is the concept of a search engine’s applying intent and context to the search results. Semantic search seeks to improve search accuracy by understanding the searcher’s intent and the contextual meaning of terms as they appear in the searchable dataspace.
Search engines able to identify contextual meaning
Google makes an estimated 500 algorithm changes/year, but some of these have more sweeping impact. With the release of the Hummingbird algorithm in 2013, Google became more able to analyze full questions, rather than relying on word-by-word search analysis. As a result of Hummingbird, any single word could have multiple meanings; it used context to discern which meaning might be accurate, often using a searcher’s own history to provide context. That’s one reason why you and I might get different results for the same search, or you might get different results if you’re using Chrome or Safari—the browser you’re using will affect your search results. It also takes in account what other people click on in search results using the same term.
Optimize everything . . .
Optimizing your content’s title by using H tags and keywords, your images with alt tags and using descriptive metadata are all part of what makes your content SEO-friendly. But creating great content that is meaningful to your online audience is the best way to ensure organic success for the long haul.
Do you need help with your content marketing program?
If you’ve been paying any attention at all, you know about Google’s heavy-handed 2015 algorithm change that assigned preferential search results for mobile sites. While Google rolls out something like 500 algorithm changes/year, this was a big one with important consequences for business owners and their (mobile) websites. What this really meant was that Google assigned favored results for mobile sites, punishing those whose websites didn’t translate to mobile devices. (I know—it doesn’t really seem fair that someone should have this much power, but that’s another discussion!)
How do you know if a site is mobile friendly?
If you find yourself having to scroll, click and fool around trying to read a site on your phone, it’s not mobile-friendly. That site is not meeting the design specs for universal, or responsive design, which means that a site will adapt to all devices—desktop, tablet and phone. All of this is, of course, in response to the overwhelming growth of users who access everything from their phones, which is now more than 60%.
A scramble to become mobile-friendly
The result? A mad scrambling to convert sites to mobile. In many cases, businesses are able to do some workarounds rather than having to create a whole new website, which is always a major undertaking. I’ve worked on quite a few WordPress conversion projects where we were able to salvage the old site to make it mobile-friendly rather than start from scratch and build a whole new website. A big savings in terms of time and money.
So what’s been going on since 2015’s Mobilegeddon?
Google is rolling out a mobile-first index that’s being called Mobilegeddon 2017. As was the case with the first Mobilegeddon, your site effectiveness and search results will be affected unless you are prepared.
Look out for Mobilegeddon 2017: A mobile-first strategy
Mobilegeddon 2017 is Google’s new mobile-first index . Google is changing their index of web pages from desktop pages to mobile pages. No longer will a user get served up two different experiences.
Why does Mobilegeddon 2017 matter?
As with the algorithm change in 2015, If you don’t optimize your website for mobile, your audience won’t find you unless they stay on their mobile devices. The organic traffic on your website will nosedive. Your site will not show up in search results as well as on those that are optimized for mobile.
Adapting to or preparing for Mobilegeddon 2017
So. Does your website meet Google’s ever-changing algorithms? Copy and paste your url into Google’s Mobile Testing Tool website for a quick analysis. You’ll get three ratings: one for overall mobile-friendliness, one for the loading speed on mobile and one for desktop. While the mobile-friendly ranking is most important, the loading-speed time is important as well. Users these days are impatient, with short attention spans. If your site takes too long to load, your audience well may give up and go elsewhere.
Failed the Mobile-Friendly Test?
If you failed the test, it’s time for a new website that meets the global standards for responsive design—a website that translates across devices. For many business owners, this may finally be the impetus they need to stop procrastinating and create a new website.
The reality: A website has a shelf life
Styles have changed—they’re simpler and more streamlined. Chances are your content doesn’t reflect the business as you know it today and your images are outdated. Look at this as an opportunity to create an important new marketing tool for your business.
Are you ready for Mobilegeddon 2017? Talk to Top of Mind Marketing about a new website. We’re writers and internet marketing specialists.
1. Optimize metadata
Metadata helps organize and describe information on your site that search engines index your site. Search engine companies send programs called “spiders” out to gather information about your site and determine how to display it in the search results page (SERP). Metadata tells your users and the search engines what your site is about. If your metadata is consistent with the intended theme of your site, it increases your chances of ranking well in the search results and increases the odds of attracting qualified traffic.
There are three kinds of metadata: (1) Meta titles are the titles and subtitles on your landing pages and blogs. They should be identified with H tags—H1, H2, etc. (2) Metadescriptions are the 160 character descriptions that you identify on the backend that encapsulate the message of each landing page. A good way to think about a metadescription is that it’s like a little classified ad. It shows up on your SERP, and it helps promote each webpage. (3) Meta keywords aren’t visible to visitors, but they tell search engine spiders those keywords for which your site is optimized.
2. Page speed
No surprise here. Everybody’s in a hurry these days, and more than 60% of users are accessing everything from their phones, which can be challenging. As a result, web design has adapted and gotten simpler and more streamlined. Simpler code, design and navigation. If your site is taking too long to load, you’re going to lose your audience before they even get a chance to land on your homepage. Google has an easy page speed measurement tool that give you a quick analysis and recommendations for increasing your speed.
3. Duplicate content
Duplicate content is content that appears on the web in multiple locations. It could be content that you’ve repurposed on several pages on your own site—an easy thing to do, after all—the page that’s about the company and the one about you as a business owner could be duplicative in some places. But Google hates this—take the time to modify it.
Duplicate content confuses the search engines
If you’ve stolen content from someone else, that’s another example of duplicate content that Google dislikes. Search engines have to choose one or the other page to return for a query, so they are forced to evaluate which version or form is more credible/meaningful to that user who’s searching. A question comes up about content curation—what if you’re curating, or borrowing great content from another source, giving credit to the author, of course. I’ve begun curating content when I find something that I really like. But I never just copy and paste it into my blog and identify the author. I personalize this with an intro and a conclusion. Explain why this is a great article—the reasons for its insights and relevance.
4. Relevant content
Search engines have become more sophisticated. You can’t fool them anymore by keyword stuffing or filling up a page with nonsense just to create mass. (To rank well in search engines, we recommend landing pages and blogs be 300 words or more.) Google is increasingly intuitive; it seeks out high-quality landing pages, blog articles, videos, infographics, guest articles, forums, etc. Good content has become nonnegotiable.
5. Internal links
Create an internal linking strategy. When you post a blog or new landing page, spend another 10-15 minutes and create internal links—link key words or phrases to related blogs or landing pages. Use one relevant internal link for every 400 words. Internal links help encourage drilldown–people will click on the links and stay longer on your site.
6. Social sharing
If you’re not distributing your blogs and other relevant content across your social media network, you’re missing important opportunities to build your online presence. It just takes a few minutes to log in to your social sites and post a headline or brief description with a link back to your site to drive traffic. Do include an image—the chances of someone’s engaging with your post increases dramatically with a relevant image.
Are you thinking about optimizing your website to increase its SEO value? Talk to us at Top of Mind Marketing. We’re internet marketing experts.
You may or may not be using alt tags when you post your images on your website, blog and social media posts. If not, you’re missing opportunities to increase your SEO value and provide valuable information to the reader who may not be able to see the image.
What do alt tags do?
Alt tags help describe the appearance and function of each image that you upload. As you upload an image from your iPhones, stockphoto or other source, you’ll be presented with fields where you can provide a description, caption and alt tag. In general, if there’s a field, fill it out—it’s an opportunity to use your keywords and reiterate the name of your business.
Start by labeling your images
Rather than the default numbers that are automatically attributed to your images, start relabeling them with brief descriptions. My favorite naming convention is to label the image with the name of your company, underscore, brief image description, such as FordMotorCo_2017redSUV.
Why is alt text important?
- Never forget that your audience will be reading your blog, post or website on a wide range of devices and sometimes images don’t load. In those cases, alt tags will be displayed to show readers what they would have been viewing. Those who are visually impaired, by using screen readers, will be able to read an alt attribute to better understand the intent of an on-page image.
- Image SEO. Alt tags provide better image context/descriptions to search engine crawlers, helping them to index an image properly.
How to write good alt text
- Describe the image as specifically as possible.Alt text should provide text explanations of images for those users who are unable to see them.
- Keep it (relatively) short.The most popular screen readers cut off alt text at around 125 characters, so it’s advisable to keep it to that character count or fewer.
- Use your keywords Alt text provides another opportunity to include your target keyword on a page, and another opportunity to signal search engines that your page is highly relevant to a particular search query.
- Avoid keyword stuffing. Google won’t dock you points for poorly written alt text, but you’ll be in trouble if you use your alt text as an opportunity to stuff as many relevant keywords as you can think of into it. Aim for description and context. Be smart. Remember that just as good content has become nonnegotiable, so are good alt tags.
- Don’t include “image of,” “picture of,” etc. in your alt text. It’s already assumed your alt text is referring to an image, so there’s no need to specify it.
- Don’t neglect form buttons. If a form on your website uses an image as its “submit” button, give it an alt tag. Nothing surprising here—the button is a graphic and deserves an image label and alt tag in the same way that all of your other images do.
You may be a great writer, but content without images will produce disappointing results. We’re drawn to content that contains rich, attractive graphics. Adding images to an article can nearly double its views, and 67% of users say that images are more important than descriptions when making a purchase.
Thoughtful image selection
Just adding an image is not enough. It needs to be relevant, visually appealing and appropriate for your audience.
- Does it convey your message? It should contribute to the overall meaning of the article. Click-bait companies may have some success using an unrelated image for their web ads, but you should be in it for the long-haul–these strategies don’t work.
- Does it fit your brand? Images should tell a story about your company’s brand—your integrity, customer service and industry expertise.
- Is it engaging? Drab, boring images don’t engage you and they won’t engage your readers. I write a regular blog for a legal company, and we used to use uninspiring images of legal documents—trusts, deeds, etc. When we thought this through and realized that we were all about creating peace of mind or improving lives for the people behind these documents, we began posting pictures of happy families and couples taking care of each other and we experienced a huge boost in views.
How many images should you use?
There no magic number, but you can use more than you might think. Including good images:
- Breaks up the text for improved readability.
- Can increase your SEO value.
- Provides more options for social media shares and engagement.
Each image should serve a purpose
Think about screenshots, for instance that will illustrate a new website or function. Images break up a page and make it more accessible. Use two or three images, but be aware of load times—if a page takes more than three seconds to load, you could lose 40% of your readers. Remember that more than 60% of users are pulling up information on their phones.
If you’re downloading images from your phone or stockphoto sites, reduce the size of those beasty files. For websites and social media, I see that 800 x 1,000 pixels is a recommended size. For social media, I generally reduce the size of my images to 650-750 pixels. In some cases, you may want to use a series of thumbnail images, which can be effective. These can be 125-250 pixels, and they should all be the same size with the text wrapped around them.
Best practices: Don’t forget to name your images
If you download your images, they’ll have a number. Don’t just upload them to social media or your website with these numbers–rename them. Think about the topic of the article and what people would be keying into a search engine to find this information, then name the images accordingly. If your article’s about images, use a name such as using alt tags or sizing images for websites.
Missed SEO value of images
Do think about images and their ability to increase your SEO value. When you upload images to your website, you’ll see a field to identify an alt tag for each image. This should be a description that makes sense to the reader—it’s a summary of the image. If you’re adding an alt tag to a graph, make it a summary of the data. If I’m adding a screenshot of my new website, the alt tag would be something like Top of Mind Marketing’s new website has enhanced visuals, streamlined navigation and more than 250 blogs.
Great images won’t save bad content
But thoughtful, quality images can increase traffic, improve engagement, increase conversions, and improve the overall experience for your audience.