The 8 Golden Rules of SEO Optimization
SEO optimization has become a buzzword for growing your website, but many people don’t understand how it works, or, worse yet, are doing it wrong. Imagine you’re shooting a target, on a moving platform, except you’re not really sure what the bull’s eye looks like. No joke, that’s what search engine optimization looks like: You’re dealing with a constantly-moving target, but Google and the other search engines never reveal their exact algorithm, so their constantly-refined methodologies are the bull’s eye you’re never sure you’re hitting.
That said, the goal of Google and the other search engines is to deliver content rankings that put popularity and authority (influence and expertise) ahead of the curve. So here is what you need to know:
1.) Content is always king.
People often don’t understand why the most popular (and rich) bloggers in the world are often teenagers who started their sites at home in their rooms. The reason? Their sites will beat the giant behemoth company’s site because they simply can produce more high-quality content, more often, without all of the restrictions that come along with being a giant corporation.
The more content that you create and share on your website and/or blog, and amplify with shares on your social media channels, the more data points you have.
You want to measure data points that are not only the number of people viewing a single post, but also how long people are on a single post (a measure of engagement), the bounce rate of the post (i.e., how many people exit your site immediately after reading the post), the number of likes on a post, and the number of shares on each post on social media channels.
With our own site and our clients’, we closely measure correlations between blog post topics and popularity/engagement. Typically, we start with 3-5 blog post topic categories per site, and over time (about six months of blogging daily), there are usually clear indicators of which categories rank the highest in terms of popularity and engagement.
2.) Understand the webmaster guidelines.
Google’s Webmaster Guidelines are probably the best guide out there for website and agency owners. For those of you who don’t want to take the time to sift through, here’s a brief overview:
- Text and text links.
- Text links (also called “contextual links”) are important to have in your content, especially if they link to reputable sources, such as scientific or trade journals, university websites, and reputable news sources.
- No more than 100 links per page, or else you’re going to get flagged.
- You need to check text links often to ensure that your content does not contain broken/expired links. Plugins like the appropriately-titled “WordPress Broken Link Checker” are outstanding for this.
- If you want for someone to explore and cover all of the sites effectively on an African safari, a map helps. And if you want for Google to explore and cover all of the portions of your website, a sitemap is necessary.
- Technical issues.
- Length of the URL is important. In general, shorter is better.
- Must be browser-friendly. Your website should appear and be functional in Firefox, Opera, Safari, and, yes, Internet Explorer. It is wise to test in all of those scenarios.
If your website doesn’t follow these guidelines, it will likely be downranked.
3.) Follow the W3C Accessibility Checklists.
The World Wide Web Consortium is a community that develops standards for accessibility and programming. While some of the items in the Google Webmaster Checklist and W3C Accessibility Checklist will be the same, some items will be different. Namely, the W3C Accessibility Checklist is concerned with user, not search engine robot, usability and accessibility. Meaning if you have a website that is all white text on a white background, that’s technically OK by Google Webmaster Checklist standards, but not W3C Accessibility Checklist standards. Same with having a website that technically checks all of the technical requirements but blares loud music like it’s 1997 as soon as you land on it.
4.) Generate a keyword list — and stick to it.
When producing high-quality content, it is important that you also saturate a fair number of keywords and phrases that you want to rank highly for. With our own site and with our clients’, we usually devise a strategy that is a mix of long-tail keywords (with less volume per search term, but also less competition) and high-volume, high-demand keywords.
Finding a keyword list isn’t hard — you can google “keyword list generator” and literally thousands of generators come up — but you don’t want to copy and paste what they say and start blogging. Instead, you want to think about which keywords and search terms are actually applicable to you, your brand, your brand’s goals, your products, and the problem you are trying to solve for your customers. Starting with a pain point or a benefit is often a great way to come up with the most effective search terms — and you won’t get those from a keyword generator!
5.) Do not let more than 40% of the text in a blog post be keywords.
People are tricky. Back in the old days, some people used to take white text, put it on a white background, and overload a site with thousands of keywords. And, well, back in the day, that type of connivery used to pay off. (I am glad to say that I, for one, did not partake).
However, as the years went by, Google and the other search engines became privy to this type of behavior. Now, you do not want to let more than 40% of the words in each blog post be keywords. The best way to do this, in our experience, is to write blog posts conversationally and naturally, and then infuse keywords and key phrases in later, at a rate of about 1 keyword or key phrase for every 2-3 paragraphs. (Notice the words “search engine optimization” in this post? I added those in after the fact, muhaha).
5.) Do not let sentences contain more than 20 words.
Sentences should contain no more than 20 words. That’s sad for people like me, who has a scientific/medical education and absolutely loves a great compound sentence. But there you have it. Remember: For search engine optimization, the goal of Google is to create readable, high-value, shareable content. The vast majority of your sentences need to appear less than complex to a robot –hence why your sentences should be less than 20 words.
6.) Break sentences into 300 word subsections.
Ever notice how the big blog sites, like ProBlogger and The Huffington Post, never seem to issue big blocks of content anymore? Instead of reading novellas, they’ve all broken into these formats with title, words, subtitle, words, another subtitle, more words — and so on. That’s because it seems Google and other search engines consider content that is subdivided to be more “readable.” So break that content down, folks!
7.) Beware of the “eighth-grade language” criteria.
Currently, there is a correlation between sites that perform well in search engines and the Flesch Reading Ease test. Basically, it suggests that posts perform better for search engine optimization if they are written in eighth-grade language.
I personally think this is a tad bullshitious. For one, I have made an entire career out of ranking highly for terms like “tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate” (a form of vitamin C used in skin care) and “niacinamide and resveratrol skin care” (a form of vitamin B3 and a component of red wine used in skin care). I personally believe that, if you are selling a product, writing posts that are highly specialized and specific to that audience is a gold mine. (I have many examples of this, but I don’t think my clients would appreciate me sharing this publicly without their permission, and I want to get this post out tonight. So if you’re curious, email me).
But my recommendation here ultimately varies on the type of audience you are trying to attract. If you’re selling a product that is expensive and cultivated towards a high-end, erudite audience, then by all means, ignore the eighth-grade language and break out those SAT words! On the other hand, if you’re trying to improve search engine optimization to attract viewers who are more the Everyman, then you should probably follow the basic rule of thumb and use mostly eighth-grade language.
8.) Watch your filenames and alt attributes.
Filenames develop the overall context of information. When you upload a file, always retitle it as a keyword, whether it is a page name, image, document, video file, etc.
As for alt attributes, these are content that will be provided when an image on your website fails to load. Many people fail to realize that the alt attributes shouldn’t be a standard message, but should be an SEO-optimized titled image and contain a call to action or instruction. Of all of the things you can do, alt attributes aren’t that important, but they do make a slight difference.
If you’re looking to build your own website online and gear it up for serious growth potential, reach out to me about FutureDerm Media. We hand-select only the best clients in beauty, nutrition, fitness, wellness, tech, and fashion, and work to help you reach your goals. We help everyone from celebrity-owned brands to neighborhood startups reach their growth potential through content, SEO, social media, and a committed growth strategy. For more info, email me at nicki[at]futurederm[dot]com.