Before we get into the list of 14 things that I think you should be doing on each and every piece of content that you create, I want to set the stage a little bit. Why is it that we’re talking about this? What does it mean? What are we talking about?
For those of you that aren’t familiar with SEO (search engine optimization), what we’re talking about is creating your content and building your website in a way that is super friendly to Google and other search engines so that they will decide to show your website to searchers who type in certain phrases. We call those phrases keyword phrases.
Let’s say you’re going to an Elvis party and you need some blue suede shoes, then you would go to Google and type in ‘blue suede shoes Dallas, Texas,’ or something like that. Hopefully Google would tell you where you could buy blue suede shoes in Dallas, Texas. That phrase, ‘blue suede shoes Dallas, Texas’ is the keyword phrase, or sometimes we refer to it as the keyword or the keywords. That’s what we’re trying to optimize for.
The question is if you want to be the person who ranks in Google for the phrase ‘blue suede shoes in Dallas, Texas’ what do you need to do? It turns out there are two sort of categories of things that you want to do.
One set of things that you want to do is what we call on-page search engine optimization, which means the stuff that you do on your website; how you want to write the post, what you want to make sure is true or not true about your post.
The other thing that we talk about a lot is off-page optimization. Off-page optimization used to be super important. It’s still very important because Google needs a way to decide whether or not your post is a great post. One of the ways that they do that is by trying to make a judgment about what the internet thinks about your post. That’s off-page optimization.
Most of these 14 tips are going to be about on-page optimization in this episode. We probably need a whole additional episode to talk more about off-page issues and things. In the face of this Google Penguin update that we’ve talked about over the last couple of episodes a lot of the off-page stuff is changing, so today what I want to talk about is on-page stuff.
You guys have heard about white hat and grey hat and black hat. My perspective here for the course of this episode is white hat. That is doing the right thing for the internet, doing the right thing for readers, and doing the right thing for Google. Not trying to trick readers or trying to trick Google into ranking your posts. We’re talking about the white hat stuff, the good guy SEO stuff, in this episode. I hope that helps you understand where we’re coming from. With that, let’s get right into the list of 14.
I know a lot of you are driving, or you’re at the gym, or maybe you’re doing something like washing the dishes and you don’t have time to write stuff down. Don’t worry about that. I have a very special PDF for you that outlines this on-page SEO checklist and that is available for download right from the show notes. Just go to LateNightIM.com/109 and you’ll see a big button where you can download that when you’re at your computer.
Know what keywords you’re targeting.
This is a pretty common question. You have this idea for content and the question you should be asking is, “What exactly would someone type into Google and expect to find this content, what would that phrase be?”
Sometimes we write stuff and it’s really hard to say exactly what it is that we want to happen. I think with every piece of content that you write on your website you do need to know what it is that you want to happen.
If you had in your mind the ideal phrase that someone would type in Google, such that when they type that and hit return your post was the number one listing in Google ready for them to click, and here’s the really important part, when they clicked on they would be delighted that Google gave them that result. That’s your keyword phrase. You need to figure out what that is.
Sometimes it helps to consider what is it exactly that you want the user to do when they reach your post. What’s the call to action for your post? What do you want them to do when they get there? Sometimes that will help you. For example, do you want them to opt into your email list? Do you want them to click through an affiliate link? Do you want them to buy a product on that page? All of that helps.
If your keyword is ‘buy blue suede shoes in Dallas’ then probably your page is about a blue suede shoes product listing for a store in Dallas, so you need to match that up. We call that message to market match and that’s really important. So number one is to know what keyword you’re targeting.
Have multiple versions of the keyword in the post.
I don’t mean just the keyword and it’s important that we no longer “stuff” the keyword. Back in the day the more times the keyword was in the post the more love you got from Google with regard to ranking. If ‘blue suede shoes’ was your keyword you wanted to make sure that was in there 13% or 17% of the time. Now the truth is you don’t want in there more than a couple of times. Google is really sensitive to this keyword stuffing business.
What you do want in there are variations of the keyword. Maybe ‘azure suede shoes’ or ‘light blue suede shoes’ or ‘light blue leather shoes (suede)’ and various things. What Google is looking for is human-like conversation and humans don’t repeat the same phrase over and over again. We are trained as writers to use variations of the phrase so that the reading is not monotonous. That’s the way you need to think about it.
You can go to a tool like UberSuggest and get lots of ideas for what the related keywords are for the keyword that you’ve targeted. You want to sprinkle those throughout the post; your main keyword maybe once at the beginning and once at the end, your related keywords once each throughout the post. That will give the search engine an idea of the general family of keywords that you’re trying to target with the post and that’s going to be really helpful.
Have the best content for your keyword.
This is arguably the most important one in the list. I think you really need to ask yourself this question and be honest, and you need to check and find out what the answer to this question is.
Is the content that you’re about to publish better than all of the other content for that keyword? If not, what’s missing and why haven’t you added that?
I’ll tell you why this is important. It is certainly true that using off-page SEO strategies and other kinds of optimization you may be able to outrank better content today. But, why do that? Why run the risk that someday Google is going to get smart enough, through artificial intelligence or whatever technology they deploy in their search engine, to figure out that you don’t have the best content and lose that ranking? Why not start out having the best content for that keyword?
Google’s job, what they’re trying to do with their search engine, is to find the best content. Even if you don’t outrank some other junky content today, eventually if your content is the best Google is trying to make sure that someday you do. If you have the best content Google will be on your side. That makes a lot of sense to me.
You want to make sure that you have the best content because that is the direction that Google is trying to head every day with hundreds of engineers and 500 algorithm updates per year. Number three is definitely make sure that you have the best content for the keyword.
Have more words than the competition.
This is a little bit more tactical. This is just because we’ve seen this signal in keyword algorithms and regressions that we do when we study SEO. You need to have more words than the competition.
It’s not always true, but if you look at hundreds of thousands of pages that rank for particular keywords and you consider different weighting factors – is the keyword in the title, how many times does it appear in the post, etcetera – one of the important ranking factors these days is whether or not the content is what we call long form.
I think as a very simple matter you should put your keyword in, look at the competition, see how many words they have on their page, and try to have more words than them just as a very simple rule of thumb. See also rule number three, your words should be awesome. The point is that 500 awesome words are going to get crushed by 2,000 mediocre words more often than not. Part of having the best content is having the longest, most complete, and deepest content. Rule number four is try to have more words than the competition.
Your main keywords should in the title tag and post slug.
This is a detail of implementation. You want to make sure that your main keyword that you’re trying to rank for is in the title tag and post slug.
What are those things? Post slug is a WordPress phrase that has something to do with the URL. The title tag is an HTML thing. Let’s break that down a little bit.
When you go into WordPress or whatever you’re using to create a piece of content you’re often asked for a title for that post. That title that you type into the little box, when you hit publish that whole post is created as HTML (hypertext markup language) and that’s the programming language that your browser (Safari, Google Chrome, Internet Explorer) reads. Your website offers up this HTML language and your browser reads that programming code and that’s how it knows where to put the pictures and what to make bold, when to do a paragraph break, how to do a sidebar, and so on. All of that is in some form of HTML.
Inside of that HTML there are these things that don’t display necessarily that help the computer understand what is coming at them, and one of them is the title tag. Various browsers use this title tag in various ways. One of the ways that they use it is, if you’ve ever noticed in Internet Explorer or Chrome the browsing tab for the page that you’re on the title appears in there. Usually it’s cut off because it’s just a little bitty space, especially is you have lots of tabs open. That’s the browser reading the title tag.
Guess who else reads the title tag? Google reads the title tag and that’s what they are using for the search engine listing. When you search ‘blue suede shoes’ and you see that the third entry down is ‘Best Blue Suede Shoes in the Dallas Metroplex,’ that title of that search engine listing comes from the title tag. We know from doing these kind of studies of what is ranking that having the keyword in the title tag makes a big difference.
That makes sense, right? The title is what the article is supposed to be about and so you would expect that your keyword, what your article is about, is actually showing up. If you’re trying to rank for ‘blue suede shoes,’ you definitely want to have the phrase blue suede shoes in this title tag as opposed to doing something very clever.
You could have a clever post title that said something like “Want to wear the shoes that Elvis used to wear? Buy them here now.” What in the world is that article about? It’s about the shoes that Elvis used to wear, but that’s not what people are typing into Google. They’re typing ‘blue suede shoes’ into Google. A better title tag would be “Blue Suede Shoes: The Shoes of Elvis. Buy now,” or something like that, something that had ‘blue suede shoes’ in the title.
Likewise, you want to try to get ‘blue suede shoes’ into the URL. You want your keyword into the address that people have to type in to go directly to your page. In WordPress the end of that address after the website name is kind of the page name and it’s called the post slug inside of WordPress. You want to make sure that has your keyword in there as well.
WordPress kind of creates this automagically. When you title your post you’ll notice that the post slug has something to do with your title. A lot of times you’re going to want to edit that and make it shorter to contain your keyword only.
Again, rule five is to make sure that your main keyword that you’re trying to target is in both the title tag and the post slug.
Have a compelling SEO title.
This is often overlooked, but it’s related. Is this title compelling?
A lot of times the title tag that I was talking about is called the SEO title. That’s because it is now possible with plugins like Yoast SEO to have one title tag that Google sees that is used for your search engine listing and so forth and another title that is used on your blog.
Maybe the blog page title that people see when they read your blog you want something longer or more informal, more clever, more catchy. But for Google you want the title tag, the SEO title, to be something specifically written for searchers. Those can be two different things now with modern software.
In that case you want to make sure that you understand that thing that you’re writing, the SEO title tag that is going to be used by Google, is going to be seen by searchers and they’re going to decide whether or not to click on your link to give you the traffic. Those searchers are going to have 10 or 20 choices to choose from, they’re going to pick one, and whether or not they pick you is going to have a lot to do with how well you write that title tag.
Not only do you need to optimize it for keyword placement, get the words ‘blue suede shoes’ in there, it’s like copywriting and you have to make sure you write something that is intriguing that makes people want to click. “The 7 Things You Didn’t Know About Blue Suede Shoes and Were Afraid to Ask Revealed,” something like that. Obviously I’m not a professional copywriter, but you want something that is interesting in the title tag that makes people go, “That sounds cool,” they click, and that’s how you get traffic.
So number six to make sure that your title tag is clear and compelling. Again, you don’t want to be too clever because if people can’t understand what it is that you’re trying to say then they’re not going to click.
With regard to making the tag compelling, the Yoast SEO plugin lets you see what the tag is going to look like. I highly recommend that because the length is critical. You don’t want the ellipses dots because you’ve made the tag too long, or you don’t want it looking funny because you’ve made it too short. You want the Goldilocks version, you want it just right. The Yoast SEO plugin will help you do that very well.
Have a compelling description.
Number six and number seven are related. Is your description compelling? I always recommend putting the keywords in the description because Google bolds them. If someone searches for ‘blue suede shoes’ and the words blue suede shoes are in your description they will be bold, so that will draw eyeball attention to your description.
Again, people are reading this description. The keywords aren’t used as a weight in the SEO algorithm if they’re in the description, as far as we know, but they are used by the people that are using Google to decide whether or not to click, so it’s really important that you write a compelling description that delivers a benefit to the reader if they click on the link.
You want to incentivize them to click on the link. Tell them what’s there and tell them how it’s going to help them. That benefit arrangement in the description will help you get clicks.
“Find the best deals on blue suede shoes in the Dallas area and look like a million dollars. Be wearing blue suede shoes for your party tonight.” Something like that. Again, I’m not a copywriter and I don’t play one on TV. That’s item number seven and it’s not strictly an SEO thing. Google doesn’t weight the words in the algorithm as far as we know, but the readers do. That’s another example of where we’re writing for readers.
Have outbound authority links.
One of the things that we’ve learned in the last couple of years, and I’ve mentioned this before, every post that you create should have a couple of outbound authority links. For example, if you’re talking about Elvis Presley in this post for blue suede shoes, it would be a good idea to link to the Elvis Presley Wikipedia page.
That’s a good example for two reasons. Number one is it satisfies this thing that Google seems to be looking for in that real websites with real authority in what they’re talking about link to other websites with authority. That’s what real writers do.
When real writers talk about moon phase they link to the Farmer’s Almanac website as their reference. That’s what real researchers and writers do, so Google is looking for that. No real website that I can think of writes authoritative content without linking to references that lend to their authority, so you need to be doing that too. My recommendation is that you try to do that twice per article.
You want to link to stuff that it’s unlikely that the readers that you’re targeting are going to want to click on, because we don’t want to send readers away from the site. In the blue suede shoes example, the people that are buying those blue suede shoes, the reader that you want is the reader that is going to click through and buy the shoes or click through and get the address or phone number to your store and call you up for some shoes. You’re not targeting the reader that is researching a high school paper on Elvis. Linking out to Elvis doesn’t really take away the traffic that you care about, that takes away people who are distracted by Elvis.
An example where you wouldn’t want to link out is you don’t want to link ‘blue suede shoes’ to something. Say there’s a Wikipedia article on blue suede shoes. We don’t want that traffic going to Wiki because we need those people to buy our shoes.
Pick a couple of things where you can link out to authority sites, but not leak away your traffic.
Link to other pages on your website.
This is also good for SEO in general on your website, if not for the post that you’re working on right then, is to link to other pages on your website. This is a very natural thing that Google is expecting.
Some of these types of suggestions also help fight against the other animal algorithm with Panda. The Panda algorithm is an artificial intelligence algorithm that uses thousands, probably hundreds of thousands by now, of human website reviews to teach a program how to rate a website. The kinds of things you can look for on a website that tell you whether it’s spammy or good or not are linking. Inbound links and outbound links are things that are easy to understand programmatically.
If thousands of Google employees review websites and mark some of them as spammy, and it happens that most spammy websites don’t have outbound links, then the Panda algorithm will learn if it sees a website without outbound links or inbound links (links to the interior of the website) there’s probably a good chance that this is just a website that somebody threw up one day hoping to get some clicks and it’s a spammy website. So that’s one of the reasons to do this.
The other reason is that in so far as Google gives your page on blue suede shoes some authority, you’ve written fantastic content and you have more words than everybody else and so forth, you can pass that authority to other pages in your site. In the same manner, if there is an opportunity for you to link other pages in your site back to your website, that will allow you to pass link juice back to the site that you’re trying to rank.
Interlinking of a website, I guess the bottom line for this tip, link from your page to other pages on your site and link from other pages in your site back to this page that you’re writing.
Have images that are keyword rich.
Something that is often overlooked is to make sure your images are keyword rich. We know that great content has images. We want to make sure that all of our content has an image at the top for catching the eye. If appropriate, maybe another image inside the body to pull the reader along through the content to whatever the call to action is. That’s just really good copywriting practice to pull people through visually with images.
When you have those images there is an opportunity to put keywords inside those images, particularly the alt tag, which is another HTML tag like the title tag, and the title for the image. Those are the two places you can do that. If you’re working in WordPress you can do that in the media part of WordPress, when you upload the image you’ll have an opportunity to use the keywords.
In order to not appear too spammy to Google, I try to have more words in the alt tag than just the keyword. If the keyword I’m targeting is ‘blue suede shoes,’ I try to say, “Great picture of blue suede shoes on Elvis impersonator,” or something like that to make it look a little more natural than just jamming ‘blue suede shoes’ into that alt tag. Again, Google is very sophisticated, we want to make sure it’s clear that we’re writing for readers.
It’s also good to do these because some of the tags are used for accessibility. When you do the tags you want to make sure that you’re doing them with that in mind. These tags are used for lots of different things on the internet. That’s tip number 10, make sure your images are keyword rich.
Place your keywords somewhere in the section titles.
One more thing that we can talk about is making sure that your keywords are somewhere in the section titles inside your post. You’re writing a long post, it’s 2,000 words or whatever you decide to target. In order for a reader to get through that there’s going to have to be some breaks in that text. You don’t want to build a wall of text, no one is going to read that. You need section titles and short paragraphs to visually pull the reader through the article.
When you do those section titles, these are the headings (H1, H2, H3, H4, etcetera), you want to make sure that your keywords appear once or twice in there. You want to make sure that ‘blue suede shoes’ is in at least one of the headings inside your article. The reason is that Google seems to understand that headings should in a normal case tell you what a section of an article is about in the same way that a title tells you what the article is about. In those heading tags you want to make sure that you have your keyword once or twice that you’re trying to target.
Again, very important not to be spammy. Very important not to overdo any of this stuff. That’s number 11, make sure that your keywords are in the heading title tags.
For the rest of this I want to move a little bit off-page. Most of the stuff that we’ve talked about is stuff that you can do on-page. Most of this is covered in the Yoast SEO plugin. I will caution you that Yoast is still, for some reason that I can’t understand, talking about keyword density. I certainly don’t recommend that. I believe you want to have your keyword in there a couple of times and have related keywords in there. You certainly don’t want a percentage of words as a keyword. But I like all of the other recommendations from the Yoast SEO plugin and that covers a lot of the above 11.
Have backlinks with varied anchor text.
In cases where you’re building links back to your article you want to make sure that the anchor text is widely varied. Let’s break that down a little bit.
I’ve done podcast episodes on this in the past, but back in the day when the Google search algorithm was invented the patent that was filed talked about this idea of using links to an article to determine the article’s importance.
This is easy to understand, right? If you’re talking about light bulbs it’s likely that you’re going to link back to one of Edison’s original papers about inventing the light bulb because that is the authoritative source on light bulbs. If you’re writing about cancer or some other medical condition, it’s likely that you’re going to link back to WebMD because that’s one of the most authoritative sources on the internet for medical information.
Sure enough, a lot of people do link back to WebMD and you can see in their backlink profile if you use some sophisticated tools like Ahrefs or MozLinks that hundreds of millions of people link back to WebMD. That’s why they have so much authority on the internet.
It’s likely as part of your search engine optimization that to get your article the rank you’re going to be building backlinks to your article in some way, shape, or form eventually. Sometimes that just means you do a guest blog post or you leave a forum post, or do something where you link back to your article.
The important thing here is to make sure that anchor text that points back to your article is varied across the internet.
What is anchor text? If you’re going along and you read, “To download my latest ____ click here,” and click here is highlighted and points to a link for some download page or some zip file somewhere, the words ‘click here’ that are highlighted, the thing that you actually click the mouse on, that’s the anchor text.
For your anchor text someone might link to you and say, “For the best deal on blue suede shoes in Dallas, Texas click here.” In that case ‘click here’ would be the anchor text that you got from that link. Much better anchor text for you would be, “You can find great blue suede shoes in Dallas,” where ‘blue suede shoes in Dallas’ was the anchor text and that was pointed back to your site. Why? Because when Google sees that backlink they’re going to count it as a vote for your site and they’re going to derive some information about what your page is about, because the person who linked to your site knows what your page is about and they’ve said it’s about blue suede shoes in Dallas because that’s the anchor text that they used.
Google uses that anchor text information and it is very important that it be as varied as possible across the internet. Anytime you’re in control of what that anchor text says you need to make sure that it’s different from the last time, even if it’s only slightly different. Why? Because that’s natural. No two webmasters are going to link to your website the same way.
It might be normal for you to have a few more ‘blue sued shoes’ links than others, but some people are going to link entire sentences, some people are going to say ‘click here’, some people are just going to link the word Dallas, etcetera. You want that natural looking backlink profile in terms of anchor text. If you’re doing anything to build links as part of your SEO strategy you want to make sure your anchor text is varied.
Use backlinks from relevant content.
We also believe that it is best and important that the anchor text be from relevant content. By that I mean it would be very unusual if a Russian dating site was linking to you for blue suede shoes, unless it was a dating site for people who wanted to date people that look like Elvis.
You want other shoe websites, or clothing review websites, or websites that are somehow related to the thing that you’re writing about to link to you. You want your backlinks, to the extent that you’re going out and trying to build them and reaching out to other webmasters trying to get links, to be from relevant content.
Have a sharing signal for your content.
You want to make sure that there is some kind of sharing signal. It’s not real clear to me and others who follow SEO exactly what the importance of sharing is in the Google algorithm, but we know it is increasing. We know that they saw the importance of sharing because they tried to build a social network and, in my opinion, failed.
We know that shares particularly are going to be strong votes for content. It just makes sense. If something is so good that you decided to annoy all of your friends on Facebook with that content then that must be great content. It’s not the most important signal necessarily, but it is a signal and we think that it’s going to become increasingly important moving forward. It’s just common sense.
People are spending so much time sharing great content on social networks it only make sense that someone who is trying to identify great content would take that into account. Because of that, I definitely recommend that you work to try and create sharing signals around your content. That means sharing your posts on Twitter and Facebook, and hopefully getting them retweeted and so forth. You’re going to want some kind of social sharing signal.
It doesn’t make so much sense, especially in some niches, to have fantastic content that no one is sharing. That just doesn’t make any sense. Maybe if it’s a review for some unmentionable medical condition you wouldn’t expect social shares. But in some niches great content is expected to be shared.
You need to evaluate your niche to understand if that is the case and you need to try to get your content shared in Facebook groups and other places where people in your niche hang out. I think that is going to become increasingly important.
Avoid duplicate content.
The final tip, bonus tip number 15. I promised 14, but I’m over-delivering with tip number 15. Is your content duplicated? By that I mean is it duplicated either on your site or elsewhere on the internet?
For my money, the easiest way to check this is to run it through a tool called Copyscape. You can certainly do this by hand in Google, you can put chunks of your article through the Google search engine and it will go find places where your content is duplicated, but Copyscape is a really nice tool for this and it will tell you if someone else on the internet has a version of your content out there or if you’ve accidentally duplicated a portion of content on your own website. Both of those are bad for reasons that we’ve discussed in the past, so you definitely want to minimize duplicate content.
I’ll give you a couple of examples of how this can happen to you.
One is a lot of us, particularly for niche websites, will outsource content, or take guest posts, or any number of things where you’re not the writer of the content and you don’t know exactly how it’s created. Sometimes people will borrow a little too heavily from content that is already out there on the internet, either accidentally or on purpose, during their research when they write their articles. You need to check for that and make sure you don’t have that kind of content on your website.
If your content is not passing Copyscape, you shouldn’t post it to your website. Plain and simple.
The second way this can happen to you is duplicate content on your own website. I actually have a problem with this on my website right now that I’m going to have to clean up because at the end of every podcast blog post I say something like, “If you want more fantastic content from Mark just click here and I’ll send you…” it’s a call to action to get people to subscribe and download more stuff and it’s the same on every podcast episode.
That means the end of every podcast episode post has the exact same content and I have 109 episodes of that over and over again. Google doesn’t like that, so I’m going to have to fix that by converting those to images. That’s part of this site redo that I’m working on is to convert that repeated text to images. That’s a good way that you can handle that.
So the 15 tips [summary]…
- Do you know what keyword you’re targeting with your post?
- Is that keyword and related keywords somewhere in the post itself?
- Is the content that you’ve created better than all of the other content out there for that keyword?
- Do you have more words than everyone else?
- Is your main keyword in the title tag and in the post slug (website address)?
- Is your SEO title, the title that Google is going to use, compelling?
- Is your description compelling in the same way? Does it cause people to want to click?
- Do you have a couple of outbound links to authority sites like WebMD or Wikipedia?
- Are you linking to other posts on your website from this post? AND are you linking to this post from other posts in your website?
- Are your images keyword rich?
- Is your keyword in the heading tags inside of your posts?
- Do your backlinks have varied anchor text?
- Are your backlinks from relevant content?
- Is there some kind of sharing signal around your content?
- Are you a victim of duplicate content?
Those are the 15 tips. Again, no need to write those down because I’ve done it for you. All you need to do is go to this episode at LateNightIM.com/109 and there will be a big button that you can push and I will deliver that PDF file directly to your inbox at no charge to you.
I hope this has been helpful. I hope this helps you with your SEO. If you follow these 15 tips for SEO there’s not much other SEO that you need to do. There is some promotion stuff and off-page stuff that we can talk about in another episode, how to get these backlinks, how many should you get, what to do. That’s a whole other episode. If you can follow these 15 tips, you’re going to be in better shape than most, the vast majority of webmasters out there.
I hope you enjoyed this. Go out there and crush some Google rankings.
Wrapping things up…
That wraps it up for today. I hope this has been super big time helpful for you. I’m in a little bit of a funk because my Texas Rangers lost, so I’ll be moping around for the next couple of days. I’ll be back in a week and we’ll talk about something exciting. In fact, what we’re going to talk about is the fact that you are already an expert. I bet you didn’t know that. I’m going to convince you of that in Episode 110.
Until then, I’d love to hear from you at [email protected] or in the comments for the show. Talk to you soon.