Posts Tagged ‘search engine optimization’

6 SEO Tips for Journalists, Writers and Editors

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

I guest-blogged at Kat Tancock’s Magazines Online blog a couple of weeks ago. For those of you who missed it, here it is.

Good SEO can be a game changer for independent bloggers as well as newsroom editors, freelance writers and anyone who handles the words that end up on the screen.

SEO is the craft of playing Google’s game – writing your web copy in such a way that Google will like your story better, and place it higher on a search result page, than that of your competition. Old-school editors and writers get defensive about SEO — they feel, perhaps, that it infringes on their own wordsmithery, or it strikes them as marketing or tech (i.e., “not my job”). But while they’re arguing, someone else’s web page is getting pageviews (and, yes, ad impressions), and that person is securing a career in the new media landscape.

If you want to get in on the game and start pulling in Google traffic, there’s great news: the fundamentals of SEO – and particularly the elements that lie within the control of an online editor or writer – are easy to learn, and don’t require you to compromise your editing or writing.

Here are 6 practical SEO lessons for online writers and editors.

SEO tip #1: Keywords over cleverness

Nine times out of 10, writers and editors would rather be clever and creative than clear. Unfortunately, Google (though a brilliant piece of machinery) isn’t all that good at wordplay. Even common headlines that work well on magazine covers, like “10 ways to blast belly fat,” are lousy SEO headlines, because nobody goes to Google on the first day of their weight-loss resolution and punches the words “blast belly fat” into the search bar. Quite obviously, most people use keywords (i.e., search terms) like “weight loss tips,” “diet plans” or “lose weight.”

Your best ally in figuring out what terms to use in your writing is the Google Adwords Keyword Tool. (See the screencast at top right for a demo on how to use the Keyword tool; or check out the SEO video tips on our YouTube channel.)

The Keyword Tool was built to help advertisers create better ads, but it also helps editors and writers discover what words real people use in their online searches.

SEO writing tips for journalists

A quick look on the keyword tool shows that your pool of potential monthly readers is:

  • 5 million if you use the words “lose weight”
  • 16 million if you use the words “weight loss”
  • 37 million if you use the word “diet”

All else being equal, I’d rather get a slice of the “diet” group than the “lose weight” group, so I can now write my headlines and web copy accordingly. (You’ll see in the video, though, that all else is not equal: the data for “diet” is likely inflated. But for the sake of simplicity, let’s pretend we don’t know that for now.)

You can use these heavy-hitting keywords in conjunction with your clever titles too. Just change “10 ways to blast belly fat” to “Diet Tips: 10 ways to blast belly fat” or something like that.

SEO tip #2: Know where to use keywords

It’s probably self-evident, but the best places to use keywords are in all the traditional display copy spots:

  • headlines
  • subheads
  • captions
  • boldface
  • any place where you would normally have your print typeface differ from your body copy typeface

In our weight-loss example, weave the word “diet” into as many as those spots as you can, without it becoming obnoxious to your human reader. You’ll be giving Google clear signals that your story is a good one to serve when those 37 million people a month search for something with the word “diet.”

SEO tip #3: Links matter

Google cares a lot about the number of links around the web that point back to your website. (In SEO terms, those are called “inbound links.”) All else being equal, Google will give preference to a site with lots of inbound links over one with fewer links, with the pretty convincing rationale that lots of links means lots of people are recommending the story or the site. This is as good a reason as any to get on social media like Facebook and Twitter: when you spread your story, you’re doing more than encouraging readers to click today. You’re planting the seeds for inbound links that will boost your Google rankings.

[Clarifying something that wasn't quite clear enough in my guest post for Kat: Google can't read a private Facebook page, and there's no evidence -- yet -- that Google will improve your ranking if you appear on Twitter. But things that circulate in social media have a way of getting linked to by bloggers, etc., so there is definitely value to social media. More on the connection between social media and Google on another day.]

SEO Tip #4: Good stories get links

The things that made stories great a decade or two ago are the things that make people want to link to you now. Be interesting. Be scandalous. Be creative or funny. Be an expert, a news-breaker, an insider, a pest… These traits make for the best stories, and the best stories get more links and better Google ranking. In this way, Google is very fair.

SEO Tip #5: Good SEO is good for people as well as Google

In a print world, art directors and editors work hard on packages that hang together as a whole, so even a story with an unclear headline will make sense to a reader who can pick up on cues like strategically positioned images. But online, it’s harder to make these elements work together — the interplay between layout and meaning is just not there.

On top of that, the rumours you’ve heard are true: readers online don’t browse around the same way they do in print. The web is a results-oriented medium, and directness is a virtue.

This is where good user experience goes hand in hand with SEO: by making your display copy clear and direct, you give the readers direct information to pull them into the story, and you play nice with Google. Win-win.

SEO Tip #6: Throw SEO away in favour of the human user

This much has always been true in media and it continues to be true now: you can’t sell out your readers. Don’t cheat them for an advertising buck, and don’t cheat them for an extra bit of SEO traffic. For success in the long run, you need to make sure your user experience is a good one. Squeeze as much good SEO in as you can, but if SEO is truly at irreconcilable odds with the user experience, ditch the SEO.

Thanks to Kat and the people who commented on the post at Magazines Online and Masthead. Feel free to hit me up with online writing/editing questions.

SEO for small business

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

SEO for small businesses

The truth of the matter is that no small business owner wants to spend time on website maintenance. These people are in business with expertise and interests that usually have nothing to do with website creation and management.

But it’s also true that these business owners are spending money on websites right now, and few if any of them are seeing a return on their investment. And they’re rightly frustrated.

Cut to the chase: any small business spending money on its site (and, worse yet, spending money on advertising) without looking after SEO, is going about things backwards.

The strongest selling point for SEO is this: would you rather keep spending advertising dollars every single month to appear in someone’s directory, or instead would you like to appear consistently high in Google and other search results without paying a penny for the privilege?

Once you know what you’re doing, SEO is free and powerful. It doesn’t take any more work to build a well-optimized site than it does to build a weak one. And once you’re ranking well in Google, for free, you’re in control of your online destiny.

Some people will have read the preceding paragraph and honed in on one phrase: “once you know what you’re doing…” Luckily, that’s not as daunting as it sounds. Like so much else in life, the first 80% of SEO is easily taught and easily learned. (Plug alert: check out the SEO courses we offer.) It’s the extra 20% that some people pay consultants six figures to finesse.

Is 80% knowledge enough for your website? Consider this: your competition is probably doing nothing for SEO right now. With just a bit of attention, you could probably climb up — perhaps all the way up — in Google rankings. If you’re a multinational corporation competing for ranking in searches like “best mobile phone,” you definitely want to invest in some good brains who can do the 100% job. But for the little guy, 80% is infinitely more than the guy down the block, and that could be plenty good enough.

Back to advertising: is it worth it for small businesses? Once you have your SEO under control, see how your site is doing, and how much business it’s throwing to your front door. If you’re not happy with the results, then you need to look at a bunch of things, including:

  • is your site helping guide people toward the purchase that you want?
  • are there other factors affecting your ranking?
  • what can you reasonably expect advertising to do for you, and what is wishful thinking?

In my opinion, advertising requires a much greater investment of time to understand, and is a riskier use of your money, than good SEO (and good SEO training).

We Have Liftoff

Friday, October 9th, 2009

Welcome to the new online home of the Toronto SEO Workshop. We’ll be tweaking things in the coming days, fixing bugs, and –yes– optimizing the site for search engines. In the meantime, drop us a line and share any questions you may have about SEO, SEM, or the workshops and courses we offer in Toronto. Don’t forget: the next two dates for SEO and SMM courses in Toronto are October 28, and November 12.

Special thanks to John Lai of Evermight for his ongoing dedication to the site construction.