Posts Tagged ‘SEO’

Keyword Research for SEO 101

Friday, January 8th, 2010

Here’s a short video on keyword research. It gives you the basics to start making smart data-focused wording choices for your online content, whether it’s a web page for a small business, or an online magazine article.

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.

Easy SEO: Good opportunities to boost rankings

Saturday, November 21st, 2009

We’ve been offering the free SEO Test for about two months now, and can now look at the aggregate data1 and see what people do right most often, and what SEO mistakes they make with the greatest frequency.

The most missed SEO opportunity we’ve seen is not having a blog that pings.

It’s easy to understand why. People who aren’t in the habit of publishing content might think a blog is really hard to manage, or may not think a blog applies to their own business. But as I mention in our SEO training workshops, there are huge advantages (SEO and otherwise) in adding a blog to your site.

Why Are Blogs Good for SEO

  • Google cares how fresh your content is. All else being equal, Google will give a higher ranking to a new page than an old page. A blog allows you to easily create new content to feed the search engine spiders. (Note, however, that a new page on an old site is better than a new page on a new site.)
  • More content means more chances to match up with someone’s search query. Obviously if I have 10,000 sentences on my site, there’s a better chance of there being a keyword match than if I only have 10. People tend to be hesitant (with good reason) to add new static pages to their websites, but with blogs the threshold is lower, and you can generate content more casually, more easily, and again give the search engine spiders something to eat.
  • Blogs give you a chance to give to the community. If you have some particular expertise that you can share without undermining the main product you’re offering, give it away. Being generous with what you know encourages people to link back to your website, which is good for immediate traffic, and boosts your overall ranking on search engine results pages (SERPs).
  • Pinging: if you’re using any of the major blog tools like Wordpress, Blogger or Typepad, they all “ping” when you post. Which is to say, each time you post something new the blogging tool  sends a note to the search engines saying, “Hey, Google (or Bing or Yahoo), there’s new content over here you should be aware of.” In other words, it significantly boosts (and nearly guarantees) that Google will index your content.

There are other advantages to a blog, too, for human users and search engines. Blogs show that, even if the rest of your site doesn’t change, there’s someone still minding the store (i.e., this isn’t a 6-year-old site that’s been abandoned). Blogs invariably have “share this” tools, making it easy for people to put your web links up on sites like Digg, which will help your immediate traffic and your Google ranking.

For those who are still scared of blogging, the best thing to remember is that blog posts can be short. Very short. This one, for instance, is too long. You can get huge SEO results from a blog, without investing huge amounts of time.

Footnote 1. The SEO test categorically doesn’t collect any data about you. Not your ISP number, nothing about your website, your location, your browser… All we gather is the number of times people click “1″ for each question, how many time people click “2,” etc.

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).

Google Doesn’t Use Meta Keyword

Friday, October 16th, 2009

This is old news to SEO followers, but a valuable point for newcomers trying to optimize their sites.

Once upon a time the <meta keyword> tag in the HTML code was a factor in search engine rankings. Google has abandoned that practice (though other search engines have not). Here’s the voice of the big G, Matt Cutts, making the point uneqivocally.

Why Keywords Matter to SEO

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

Here’s one of the examples I use in the Essential SEO Workshop.

Imagine a nice guy named Bob who decides to open a flower shop in Toronto’s Forest Hill neighbourhood. He calls it “Bob’s Buds.”

Bob's new website

Bob's new website

He launches a website and works hard at it. After he gets his neighbour’s nephew build it for him with all kinds of cool features like audio and swooshing graphics, Bob puts a lot of effort into the site. It looks great and it’s fun to read.

He doesn’t want to be boring, so he has sections on his website like “Bob’s Brightest Blooms,” where he sells flowers. In “Bob’s Best Bets for Beds” he sells gardening tools. He even shows off his awards, with a full page about “Best Blooms and Buds Buds in T.O.” Take my word on it, the site looks great, and is totally professional.

Bob is totally proud that when you search for “Bob’s Buds” on Google, his site comes up first!

But in spite of all that, Bob only gets 11 visits a year from Google.

What’s wrong? The problem is keyword selection.

If you were searching Google for a flower shop in Forest Hill, Toronto, what would you search for? Some obvious choices:

  • toronto flowers
  • toronto flower shop
  • toronto florist
  • toronto bouquets
  • forest hill flowers
  • new florist forest hill, etc.

Not a single one of these words appears on Bob’s pages.

What did Bob optimize his site for? Phrases like “Bob’s Buds.” But let’s see what Google’s Keyword tool tells us about the traffic he might get from those words.

The potential traffic for the keywords "Bob's Buds"

The potential traffic for the keywords "Bob's Buds"

The traffic is so low, it doesn’t even rate. In fact, Bob is more likely to get Google traffic from pot smokers looking for “bob marley bud” than he is from the well-to-do Forest Hill residents to whom he wants to sell flowers.

The lesson: don’t even start your SEO efforts until you know what keywords or keyword phrases you’re optimizing for. You might wind up ranking very well for something that gets no traffic at all.

In the Essential SEO Workshop, and coming up in this blog, we’ll get into keywords in a lot more detail.

Why does SEO matter?

Friday, October 9th, 2009

Newcomers to SEO sometimes ask why search engine optimization matters. Here’s one of the points I made at an early version of the Essential SEO Workshop.

I was speaking to a group of spa and salon owners, at a function organized by Dermalogica Canada. A quick look at Google’s free Keyword tool came up with the following:

Google spa results

The top spa-related search term, for Toronto, is “Toronto spa,” and it gets more than 60,000 queries A MONTH. If you could get just one percent of those people to your site, and convert just one tenth of those people into customers, you’d have 60 new customers. Each month. Without paying a penny in advertising. Keep doing that month over month and you might need to consider an expansion pretty soon.

That’s why I love SEO.

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.