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.

Gaining experience in the dynamic world of digital marketing

This semester, I’m having the great opportunity of working at the digital marketing agency Foundry 45 in Atlanta as a Digital Media Specialist. Foundry 45 specializes in the creation of Virtual and Augmented Reality experiences for various mobile platforms, tailored to the needs of clients from the business, educational, and public sector interested in communicating their brand and products in immersive new ways.


360 video recording created by Foundry 45 of a Georgia Tech touchdown against the
Tennessee Volunteers during the 2017 Chick-fil-A Kickoff game

The internship I’m doing happens in a collaborative work environment and provides exposure to various aspects of digital media marketing including social media management, content marketing, search engine optimization, and web analytics.

Over the course of the last few weeks, I have leveraged my research, writing, and project management skills to write and distribute marketing content such as case studies and blog posts as well as manage the agency’s entire social media presence.

The internship is giving me a great behind-the-scenes look into the professional writing sector. One of the most interesting things I’ve learned so far (and something I’m going to reserve an entire post for in the future) is that in the context of writing for digital marketing, content creators are not merely writing for human audiences, but they also need to take into account ever-present non-human audiences, i.e. search engine algorithms that are designed to analyze distributed content for the purposes of ranking websites in Internet search results.

I look forward to incorporating the things I’m learning at Foundry 45 into my work as a SIF fellow. I am currently leading a project to overhaul the SIF website, and I’m particularly interested in taking cues from my internship work and help improving site traffic for the SIF website.

More to come in the near future.

Know thy audience – What it means to speak at a TEDx event

Over the course of the summer I had the great pleasure of speaking at a local TEDx conference in Vicenza, Italy. The theme of the conference was “Planting the Seeds” and the day consisted of 16 talks by speakers from various disciplines including agriculture, architecture, design, education, history, science, and technology. It was a truly marvelous event. It took place in the oldest, still standing roofed Renaissance theater, the Teatro Olimpico. The event was not only available as a live-stream online, but the team of organizers also set up an additional live-streaming location not far away from the theater.

In my talk, I focused a lot on the research I am currently doing for my dissertation, in which I look at emerging practices of civic engagement on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. In particular, I related the use of social media during the large scale protest events around the turn of the decade such as Occupy Wall Street or the Arab Spring to anti-corporate discourses that have been popping up frequently on Twitter over the course of the last couple of years.

I am very happy about the talk I have given. However, developing that talk was easier said than done, and it really reminds me of the importance of audience awareness which I frequently emphasize to my students who have taken the classes I teach at Georgia State. The first thing to note is that a TEDx conference, despite featuring academic researchers as speakers, doesn’t really compare to a traditional academic conference. This is because of two, related reasons: for one, the people attending those conferences by and large aren’t academics. They come from all walks of life. That means that the talk needs to be tailored to their expectations, and this usually means to wrap the topic of a talk into a personal story. While academic audiences at conferences prefer presentation content that solely focuses on research findings and results, TEDx audiences enjoy the story aspect of a talk because then the content becomes more relatable. Another crucial point to consider when it comes to preparing a TEDx talk, is that TEDx talks are usually between 8 to 12 minutes, and to make sure that nobody goes over their allotted time, a monitor in front of the speaker shows a countdown. So on the one hand, you’re constrained by the allotted time, and on the other you mustn’t neglect the story part in your talk. And I have to say, preparing my own talk was easier said than done.

Luckily, I had the help of a TEDx speaker coach who worked with me on those aspects. And I cannot deny that it took some time to create a draft that was compatible with the format. The first draft I completed, for example, was roughly 17 minutes long. Way too long, and it didn’t actually include a story. And so it took some time really not only to trim it down so that the talk would meet the required time, which for me was 12 minutes, but also to find a compelling narrative that would function as a thread for the talk.

Overall, this has been a truly marvelous experience for me, not only because I was able to share what I’m working on with a broader audience, but also because it taught me a thing or two about public speaking.

I strongly encourage everybody to get in touch with a TEDx team in your area. In fact, Atlanta has a number of TEDx organizations like TEDxAtlanta or TEDxPeachtree that are always eager to find volunteers who believe in the TED motto: ideas worth spreading. But you actually don’t have to look so far. In fact, Georgia State University has its own TEDx team as well.