Writing for Search Engine Optimization

Today’s post is not for you. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. Of course, I do hope you read it, and I’m interested in your comments. So, let me try this again: I’ve written this post not exclusively with you as reader in mind. My post should not appeal solely to you. My intended audience is not exclusively human, it’s actually algorithmic as well. Today’s post is about appealing to the Google search engine. This ‘audience,’ for the lack of a better term, consists of a number of algorithms called ‘spiders’ and ‘crawlers’ that are constantly at work indexing the billions of web pages on the Internet. And this audience is not primarily interested in the actual content, as it turns out, but rather in keywords, hyper-links, and associated meta-information. Check out the video below to see how and why that audience has become so important.

“How Search Works” by Matt Cutts

Therefore, in the process of writing this post I spent half of my time for you, dear reader, on matters of content relevance. The other half, however, I spent on optimizing that very content to ensure that as many people as possible will see it.

The process involved here is “search engine optimization” or “SEO” for short. In a previous post, I mentioned that in the field of Internet marketing, SEO has become extremely important. So, what exactly is search engine optimization? The Wikipedia entry is a good place to start:

“Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of affecting the visibility of a website or a web page in a web search engine’s unpaid results—often referred to as ‘natural’, ‘organic’, or ‘earned’ results.” (my emphasis)

Natural or organic searches are those done by us when we search the Internet for information. And study after study has shown that the ranking of a web page in a Google search result influences its overall popularity. In fact, most Internet users (myself included) do not even bother to check the second page of search results. Most of the time, at least.

Given this kind of user behavior, search engine optimization is crucial to making web content more relevant for Google’s indexing algorithms, and in turn, more visible for users. But what does it mean to properly optimize a web page or a blog post as it so happens in my case?


Optimizing this post for SEO

SEO specialists commonly distinguish between two types of search engine optimization: on-page (or on-site) and off-page (or off-site). First, let’s talk a bit about off-page optimization. Essentially, off-page optimization means that external websites link to your content. Promoting a blog post on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter and having people like and share your post is a good and easy way to boost visibility. However, off-page optimization really comes into play when external websites link to your content. The more popular these external websites are the better, because that tells Google that your content is relevant.

Now, on-page optimization for a blog post is the part we have the most control over. It involves two things: first, it means to look at all the meta elements of your page such as URL, snippet preview, meta-description, and tagged images, and to optimize these elements for search algorithms. Below I have compiled a list of pages that provide great information on how to do this for blog posts:

Optimizing the page URL and snippet preview

Optimizing meta-descriptions

Optimizing image tags

In addition to that, a post should have a good amount of links to both your own as well as external content. As you can see, in this post I’ve included not only links to various external websites but I’ve also linked to a previous blog post of mine.


Readability and SEO

Aside from dealing with meta-information, the readability of the content also influences your search engine ranking. Especially since Google introduced its latest search algorithm called Hummingbird in 2013, content readability has become a more important factor in the context of search engine optimization.

A good way to improve readability is to install a WordPress plugin called Yoast, which comes in both premium and free versions. The plugin automatically analyzes your writing, and offers suggestions for search engine optimization. For instance, you can improve readability by decreasing the amount of sentences that contain more than 20 words to 25% or less. In addition, your paragraphs should not exceed 300 words, and you want to ensure that 10% or less of your sentences contain passive voice. It will take some time getting used to the plugin. At least, this has been the case for me. As you will see below, I’m sharing with you my Yoast SEO readability score for this post. Looks like I’m doing well overall in terms of paragraph structure and mechanics, but I can definitely improve in the sentence-length department.

The Readability score for this post

Last but not least, you want to choose a proper focus keyword for your post. In my case, this has been “search engine optimization,” and this focus keyword should appear in 1 to 2% of the entire text. Given that my post is 936 words, the focus keyword should appear between 9 to 18 times. You will find the phrase ‘search engine optimization’ a total of 10 times in this post. Not too shabby.

Overall, search engine optimization is a practice that is both analytical and creative. I have to say that SEO is a practice that I’m only starting to get familiar with. But given how important it is to rank high in today’s Internet searches, I believe it’s crucial to spend a bit of time getting used to it.

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