The Web has created a liberating, self-publishing, and distribution ecosystem for writers, photographers, and videographers–in other words, content creators. Unfortunately, so many of these creative folks still remain undiscovered for a simple reason: they’re unaware of the most basic mechanics of search engine optimization (SEO).
I’m not talking about complex link-building campaigns, just the simplest of on-page SEO techniques that will help Google discover, index, and rank your great content–attracting the audience you crave.
I’ve heard many a creative argue for the merit of their art while rejecting, out-of-hand, any concern for SEO. This is a little silly, no…downright foolish.
If you’re posting stuff to the Web, I’m assuming you want it discovered and appreciated. Google is a simpleton; literally, a relatively ‘dumb’ software bot–not exactly the best judge of art. However, it does control the flow of Web traffic (Web visitors’ eyeballs), so you’d better figure out how to properly feed the beast.
Google, since it’s dumb software, relies on a few simple clues associated with your content to determine its context and quality. My advice is to take the littlest bit of time to learn how to optimize the simple technical queues Google uses. However, if this is more than your artistic self can bear, then go ahead and stick that article, photo, or video in your desk drawer–it’ll get just as many views.
I have taught these SEO basics over and over to freelancers, employees, and clients. The results are always amazing and the content producers appreciative. However, it’s just one of the many topics that, for whatever reason, folks don’t document while it continues to chew away at productivity. As such, I am finally getting around to putting it to “paper” for everybody’s benefit.
Let me assure you, nothing here is rocket science or totally unavailable elsewhere; no need to reinvent the wheel. However, I hope that I’ve packaged it in a way that makes it easier to learn and more rapidly implement into your own projects.
So, let’s get to it!
SERPs: What is a SERP?
The Search Engine Results Page, (‘SERP’ in SEO geek-speak), is a content creator’s best friend. It’s the key to oodles and oodles of interested readership–a targeted audience.
These SERPs are generated based on users’ searches for keywords. If you’re looking for a free credit report, the SERP might look something like this:
As a content creator, you naturally want the maximum exposure for your creations. Search engines are the distributors of eyeballs and they control this flow of audience through their SERPs. Your objective, as a content creator, is to have your content show up in as many relevant SERPs as possible, ideally smack-dab on the first page.
That’s the purpose of this quick SEO guide for content creators.
Before we tackle the first technical element of SEO, let’s take a quick look at the anatomy of a SERP so we can visualize what we’re working on:
The Title, URL, Description, and Author Photo are all determined within the HTML meta tags of a page. Many of the popular content management systems, like WordPress, make these variables easy to update and control. This little snippet within a SERP is critical to get someone to visit your content. After all, if you’ve done all the hard work to get in the SERPs, you definitely want them to convert into a click, right?
Of course you do!
That’s why I recommend treating these elements like a paid advertisement. Sell your page and encourage search users to visit your page for the answer to their search.
Let’s figure out how to do just that…it all starts with keywords.
Keywords: Pick one and sell it
As a creative, I’ve often found that clarity of purpose produces the best outcome. Human beings, my audience, crave simplicity. If I can define the piece I’m writing, the photo I’m composing, or the video I’m shooting into one or two words, it helps the creation to remain concise and focused. As a result, the final composition often also conveys the artist’s vision more clearly.
Ironically, this same process is also the first step in giving Google, again, arguably a simpleton, clarity as to what your content is all about and how to best position it in their search engine results.
Your keyword should be the driving factor behind the entire creation of that piece of content. As you create the content–be it an article, image, video, or some combination thereof–envision yourself answering the needs of the person that did a search for that keyword.
Titles: It’s your advertisement
As you probably noticed in the example SERP, other than the author image (we’ll talk more about that later), the Title is the most eye-grabbing portion of the SERP. This is where you want to make a clear connection between what the user is searching for and your content and brand.
Here are my simple rules for SEO Titles:
- Each page should have a unique title
- Titles should be short (less than 65 characters)
- Titles must contain keyword(s)
- Titles should contain your site name
Here’s what it might look like in practice:
- Suggested format: Primary keyword – secondary keyword | Brand
- Example: SEO – Digital Marketing | Kaleidico
Description: Sell them on the content
The description meta data is your opportunity to
describe sell your content to folks doing a search. (Did you see what I did there?)
Description is the name of the HTML meta tag, but I think it confuses people into missing the true power of this little bit of text. You see, all too often, people take ‘description’ too literally. They decide to write copy that only describes the content, which leads to things like:
“How-to SEO guide for content creators. Learn how to get your pages to rank better in Google.”
Instead of something like this:
“Get your content on page one of Google. Super simple step-by-step guide. No SEO expert required. Ready? You’re just a click away!”
Here are my simple rules for SEO Descriptions:
- Each page should have a description
- Each description must contain the keyword(s)
- Descriptions should be about 150-160 characters
- Descriptions should be compelling ad copy
If you want your search engine result to really stand out from the crowd, remember: don’t describe it, sell it!
Test my methods. Take a look the next time you do a search. Is anyone selling? Would it stand out and grab your interest if someone sold you on the benefits of clicking their result? Try it.
URL: Make it simple and readable
Google has to figure out what keyword(s) your content is relevant to by analyzing only four clues: Title, Description, URL, and Content.
Why would you miss even one opportunity? But still, I see it all the time–people allowing their content URLs to be some nonsensical combination of letters and numbers. Don’t be that guy/gal!
Make sure that your content contains your keyword in the URL, for example: http://kaleidico.com/simple-seo-content
That wraps up the technical stuff.
Now, onto the basics of SEO-optimizing the layout of your content page. As I say, It’s not rocket science, but a few tweaks to your style can make a big impact in your positioning in the SERPs.
On-Page SEO: Writing for readers (and Google)
Let’s forget Google for a moment…
The Web, and more specifically web pages, are not necessarily the best reading environments. Your content is often competing with monitor glare and flickering, offers and advertisements, other related content, and a myriad of other distractions. If you want to be read, you need to help the reader quickly and efficiently skim your content and dive into the parts that interest them.
Ironically, the same techniques that make your Web content more easy to consume also helps it get better search engine rankings. So, don’t take these suggestions lightly. These few simple tweaks to how you layout your content on the Web page will quickly increase Web traffic and hold your readers’ attention that much longer.
Headlines: It’s your attention grabber
The headline is the most important thing to the success of your Web content. Make it great!
Headlines serve so many important purposes on the Web. Headlines are the default title, the largest (font) item on the page, the text used when the content is shared on Twitter, Facebook, or other social networks, and are the eye-catchers for RSS readers and other syndication.
Make sure your headline contains your keyword(s) and grabs readers’ attention. I like to lead with some sort of promise on what you’ll be getting.
Here are a few I have used recently:
- 13 Mistakes Every Entrepreneur Makes
- Simple Blog Writing Framework
- How to Find Influence and Win Friends
Another great source of headline inspirations are online news and entertainment websites, like HuffingtonPost.com or Cosmopolitan.com. Swiping a couple of these and substituting a keyword or two will give you a proven Web traffic generating headline.
These are my basic rules for headlines:
- Each page should have a unique headline
- Headlines should contain at least one keyword
- Headlines should use an H1 HTML tag
- Headlines should contain a promise
I can’t overemphasize the importance of taking a few moments to really create an eye-catching headline that will grab Web users and drive them to your content.
Subheadings: Helps readability and SEO
Subheadings are like mini-headlines in that they should contain keywords and promises. Your main objective: pull your reader down the page, giving them the full value of your content. They should be a logical outline of your topic and signal key points where a reader might want to pause and read the section more closely.
I think of headlines and subheadings as mini sales funnels, filtering in visitors to key benefits of my content or the related offer.
Use subheadings as an opportunity to reinforce your page’s keyword or derivations thereof. This is an opportunity to give Google a few more technical signals to key into for better search position. Some of the general rules I use for subheadings are:
- Pages should have unique subheadings
- Each subheading should contain your keyword(s)
- Headlines should be H2 or H3 HTML tags
- Use subheadings to break up and help navigate through content
- Use subheadings to create page hierarchy
- Use subheadings to increase keyword density
Subheadings are nearly as important as headlines to your success with readers and SEO. Your Web visitors and Google may only go as deep as the headline and subheadings to determine the value of your content–make sure you make a solid case for it’s relevance.
Content: Learn about keyword clusters
Now we’re down to the content, what you probably regard as the most valuable part of your Web page. However, by now I hope that I have convinced you that it takes some careful planning to funnel visitors into the important stuff.
Unfortunately, the attention-grabbing doesn’t stop at Google SERPs, titles, headlines, and subheadings. There is still work to be done to catch the skimming eye of your (hopefully) thousands of daily readers.
Break up your content into bite-size chunks. In addition to subheadings, use bulleted lists and judicious bold and italics type to highlight important points. These simple formatting conventions will optimize your copy and, again, funnel in the naturally skimming eyes of your typical Web viewer.
Like all of the other suggestions in this brief guide, it not only helps the reader, but also signals the Googlebot and it’s associated Google algorithm to focus on the relevance and value of your content to the keywords you want to rank.
Internal Links: Create depth and density
Web pages are natural windows to other pages related to your topic. The hyperlink is the Web’s simple navigation tool that not only makes it easy for the Web user to learn more, but also for Google to dig deeper. Hyperlinks (sometimes referred to as text links), and the associated anchor text, are one more way to capture your Web visitors’ and Google’s attention.
Some of the benefits of text links include:
- Draws in the reader’s eye with more distinct formatting
- Helps Web visitors discover more of your content
- Helps Google index (and rank) more of your pages
Relevant internal hyperlinks can also add to Google’s perception of the depth and density of your content as it relates to various keywords.
- Depth, as in the number of additional pages related to a particular keyword topic
- Density, as in the completeness of coverage on a particular keyword topic
Internal links are a powerful way to guide Web visitors and Google to more quality content. Every page of content should have at least one or two hyperlinks, with keyword anchor text, to additional relevant content on your website.
Author: Create a simple and easy brand
Begin building your brand as an author. This is another one of those simple but often forgotten opportunities to increase the visibility and credibility of your Web content.
Google has begun using the author information, particularly the author image to build a richer SERP page. If you have correctly setup the rel=”author” HTML tag you will have your author image, byline, and hyperlink to additional articles by your page’s search engine result.
Here’s an example:
Learning to use rel=”author” can help you quickly create a simple personal brand. As a professional creative, using the Web as your canvas, it’s an expectation that you have a personal brand that is obvious and identifiable.
The rel=”author” HTML tag and Google’s embracing of it in search engine results is a serious Web traffic generating advantage. What are you more likely to click: a result with or without an author picture? Many a test has proved that a quality author photo beat out the other result by multiples of clicks.
Here are the basic steps to getting rel=”author” to work on your website:
- Add a <link /> HTML tag to the <head> of relevant pages. It will look something like this: <link rel=”author” href=”https://plus.google.com/u/0/106248586382178339589/posts”/>
- Add the website to Google+ in the “Contributor to” section
- Make sure +1’s are public on your Google+ profile
- Check your work: https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/richsnippets
Images: Candy for visitors and Google
Images are a natural attractor. Our eyes like color and contrast on the page. Interesting images are great at grabbing our attention and keeping us reviewing the page longer.
In addition to the simple appeal it has to the readers, there are also additional opportunities to be had to improve rank within Google’s specialty searches, like Google Images. Many use Google Images to find relevant content, so if you pick/take smart images and follow a couple of SEO best practices, you get one more opportunity to show up in more SERPs.
Follow these simple steps to improve your chances of showing up in Google Images:
- Rename your photos before posting. Just like keywords in webpage URLs, Google uses keywords in image filenames as signals to properly index images.
- Surround your images with descriptive text. Google still can’t determine the content of an image. However, they do use the surrounding copy to attempt to place it in context.
- Use alt-text in your images’ HTML <src /> embed code
Images make Web pages more interesting and potentially more valuable. Images displaying tables, figures, illustrations, infographics, etc., add to the understanding of a topic–and can pay big dividends with Web visitors and Google.
Video: Sweet, Sweet Candy for visitors and Google
If you thought images were awesome–video is even better. Like Google Images, there is a whole additional option for indexing and pulling in Web traffic. Videos are making their way into more and more of the universal/blended searches that Google is serving up in their primary SERPs, not to mention the opportunities in a Google Videos search.
Many of the same rules apply to videos as we used to SEO our images. Much like images, Google can’t peer into the content of videos, but you can work around that.
Use these basic steps to get Google’s attention on your embedded videos:
- Use keywords in your video’s embed code
- Use alt-text in your video’s embed code
- Surround your videos with descriptive copy
In addition to good SEO tactics on your content page, don’t miss the opportunity to mainline your video straight to Google by hosting it on YouTube.com (which is Google-owned). Use some of the same best practices mentioned in this guide–keyword titles, headlines, and descriptions–to SEO your video on YouTube.com too.
Wow! That’s seems like a lot, huh?
Believe it or not with a little practice and repetition it will become a natural part of your content creation routine. Keywords will naturally flow into all the right places on your content pages and seem as flowing and natural as Hemingway-written prose.
Here’s a quick and easy checklist to recap the most important tips:
- Pick a single, specific, relevant topic keyword for each content page
- Get the keyword in the Meta Title
- Get the keyword in the Meta Description
- Make the Meta Description compelling ad copy
- Get the keyword in the URL
- Get the keyword in the Headline and Subheadings
- Get the keyword (and derivations) in the content
- Breakup blocks of content with bullets and formatting
- Get the keyword in image and video alt-text
- Describe your images and videos in surrounding copy
What Do You Think?
Did I answer all of your questions about SEO for content creators? Have more questions? Do you have any feedback or did you catch a misspelling? Do you simply want more digital marketing insights and ideas?
Here are a few next steps that might help both you and me:
- Subscribe to my weekly digital marketing newsletter: www.Kaleidico.com/newsletter
- Follow me on Twitter: @billrice and tell everyone to about SEO for Content Creators
- Email me directly with any questions, feedback, or corrections
Good luck with Google and may the Web traffic always be in your favor!
…Did you see what I did there? 🙂 Thanks for reading!