Freelance journalists might not think they need to know much about SEO, but even big news organizations depend on it for traffic, according to Jason Lancaster, president of Spork Marketing, a Denver-based Internet marketing agency, and my guest on the Nov. 24 WordCount Last Wednesday live chat on SEO for writers.
“I think that journalism is inherently SEO friendly,” Lancaster said during the Twitter chat. “People searching for news find sites based on search engine power.”
The following is based on tips that Lancaster shared during the hour-long chat, as well as suggestions, resources and links provided by him and writers who participated. This is by no means the end-all, be-all on the subject, but should be enough to get you started. If you’re interested in learning more, I’ve included some additional resources at the end of the post. If you know of others, please feel free to add them in a comment.
What is SEO?
SEO is a way of formatting information on the web so it appears in the highest possible position within results of searches people do on Google or other popular search engines.
What should I add to my articles, blog posts or other Web copy so it shows up in searches?
For SEO purposes, you can tag your articles or posts with a variety of descriptors including:
- Meta links
- Alt tags
What are permalinks?
By default, WordPress uses your article’s title as the permanent link or to the content. But sometimes the title is too long for search engines to pick up. WordPress lets you use a “permalinks” tool to edit an article’s URL. Lancaster suggests editing a permalink down to 3 to 5 keywords to help an article rank better. “Sometimes I’m lazy and forget to edit my own permalinks before publishing, which brings me to an important point,” he says. “Once your article goes live, it’s too late to edit the permalink.” Doing so will cause a 404 or “file not found” error, which causes Google to drop the article from the index. So, don’t edit any permalinks after the fact.
What are keywords and what’s the best way to use them?
Keywords are a handful of words or phrases that briefly sum up what an article is about. Putting keywords in headlines is a great way to snag traffic. Using keywords in subheads also helps stories or posts get picked up by search engines. For personal blogs, “SEO isn’t about keywords really, but (they’re) a big part of the picture,” Lancaster says.
Should writers worry about keyword density? Isn’t that what content mills encourage their writers to use?
Keyword density describes writing web content in a way that packs as many keywords as possible into as few words as possible. But, according to Lancaster, writers shouldn’t worry about keyword density. New research into something called LDA is showing that keyword density doesn’t matter. “Well-written content trumps low quality content in the long run,” he says.
What’s the best way to pick keywords to describe a story or post?
Use keyword research tools such as SpyFu, Soovle, and Google AdWords Keyword to find popular keywords, then work those terms into your content. Writer Dawn Papandrea suggests asking ourself what words someone would use to search for a specific topic, and then including that phrase in your headline or first paragraph. Or, Papandrea suggests, “Start by doing a Google search on the topic and see what comes up. Try different phrases/word combinations.” Or look at search terms that brought people to your blog in the past and use the same terms when you write about that subject again.
What’s so great about links?
To maximize SEO, include links to other web content in your stories or blog posts as a way to get other relevant, quality websites linking back to you, which will boost traffic, and search results. “Encourage linking. If you can get links to your blog or Facebook page, you will raise your credibility with search engines,” Lancaster says. “Good sites link both in and out, and I believe sites with outbound links to other good sites rank better.”
What does anchor text have to do with links?
Anchor text is the text you click on in a link. On most websites it shows up as blue, underlined or both. You can learn more about it in this anchor text cheat sheet from SEOmoz.
What are ‘alt tags’ and why do they matter?
Alt tags are short text descriptions of an image that search engines pay very close attention to. A well-optimized page has images, and those images have alt tags containing keywords. Writers and bloggers who run their blogs on Blogger’s free blogging software platform can follow instruction in this post on The Original Blogger Tips and Tricks blog to add alt tags to images in their Blogger posts.
How can you tell if the SEO formatting you’re adding to a blog post or story is working?
Google Analytics is the key, it can show both trends over time and recent top keywords. “Using tools, you find what people are searching for, then you write about that,” Lancaster says. If you’re running a blog, website or news operation on WordPress.org, Lancaster recommends the Google Analyticator plugin. He also recommends using Google Webmaster tools to see where a site ranks on specific search terms.
Any other good SEO plugins?
The All in One SEO Pack WordPress plugin is good for focusing on either categories, tags, or archives, Lancaster says.
What about quirky content, the new or unusual stories that readers wouldn’t know to search for but love once they find them. How do you get traffic to them?
It’s hard to use SEO for quirky content. One option is making it easy to find by using a easy-to-recall phrase in it. But, Lancaster says, since people aren’t searching for those types of stories, using social networks such as Twitter and Facebook to promote them is probably a better way to go.
How can fiction writers use SEO?
Fiction writers can benefit from SEO, mostly to build their reputation and audience. Fiction writers can use SEO to generate traffic, then convert that traffic into subscribers or Facebook fans. “Maybe SEO can help you if you want to rank for something like ‘Denver children’s author’ or ‘Colorado fiction writing’,” Lancaster says.
How much time should a writer who’s busy with paid assignments and maintaining their own blog (or blogs) spend on SEO?
Some experts suggest an hour a day. Sara Lancaster, wife of Jason, copywriter and WordCount Blogathon participatant and sponsor, says: “As much time as you can spare. What good is a blog or website if no one can find it?” As you’d expect, Jason Lancaster says writers should concentrate on what they’re good at and pay someone do do their SEO work for them (no doubt a nice option if you can afford it). If you can afford to go that route, what would it cost? Basic SEO reviews of a writer’s website or blog like the kind Lancaster does run approximately $499. Read about one such SEO review Lancaster did in this post on the Spork Marketing blog.
What are big SEO mistakes that writers make?
Using free blog hosts and not using Google Analytics. “If writers want a successful personal website, they’ve got to get away from Blogger, etc., and get their own site,” Lancaster says. Then, use Google Analytics to see what’s happening.
- The first basic concept for SEO: search engines must understand your content. Have a search-friendly site.
- Search engines use links to determine authority and trust. More links equals more trust and higher rankings.
- Re-writing or editing old posts with an SEO slant can be a great way to get more traffic.
One final note – According to Lancaster, SEO consultants have a hard time finding competent copywriters who can write, understand SEO and meet deadlines. “I know of a few SEO consultants who have tried to pay someone overseas to write their stuff cheap, and it never works out,” Lancaster says. “As SEO consultants learn and grow, they’re starting to recognize the importance of high quality writing.” You can read more of what he has to say on the subject in this post on Search Engine Journal.
Here are some previous WordCount posts on SEO:
- SEO for writers? Forget about it
- 7 simple SEO tips for writers
- The well-dressed blog post
- SEO and blog post tags: more isn’t better
- What freelance writers should know about SEO
Here are some other useful resources for learning more about SEO for writers: