Back in May, I talked about how to write content for people. Rather than for Google or other search engines, that is. It’s an important skill to learn.
But once you feel comfortable writing for people, you may want to know how to “write for Google.” You probably know that using words in a way that Google likes can help your position in search engine results. That’s important because search results on page 1 get nearly 75% of clicks in organic search. (See an article by Moz from last year for more info on this.) Doing whatever you can (that’s legit) to help you get onto Page 1 will help you get more clicks, more views, and, ultimately, more business.
What you may not know is that there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye. In addition to having great content, you should make sure that all the little things are taken care of, too. This blog post will give you an overview of what those things are.
(Also, I will say “Google” rather than “Google and other search engines.” Google has around two thirds of the search engine market and is clearly on top – though Bing has been gaining market share.)
First things first: Imagine you’re Google
Think about online search from a search engine’s point of view. Google is competing with Bing and Ask and Lycos and others, and they all know that a key to keeping and gaining market share is by making customers happy. How does a search engine do that? By providing better results than the competition. By figuring out what the searcher is really looking for and putting those results first.
Real human beings are not reading each site one by one to see what they’re about, if they’re well-written, informative, on-topic, aesthetically pleasing, etc. Search engines have to rely on their bots (aka spiders) to crawl the web and gather data instead.
Imagine a bot coming across the website for your business selling rare roses in San Diego. And even though you have a lot of pictures of what you sell, you don’t use the word “rose” once. How is Google to know that you sell roses? It can’t. So the next time someone searches “buy rare roses San Diego,” your site is unlikely to come up very high. While this example is over-the-top, even a less extreme version can hurt your rankings and lose you potential customers.
It boils down to this: if you make Google’s job easier, you’ll be doing yourself a favor, too. Keep this in mind as you write (or rewrite) your site.
Factors affecting your page ranking and how to improve them through strategic writing
You don’t need to become an SEO expert in order to improve your rankings through better writing for Google. Here’s a quick-and-dirty guide to take you through several important factors quickly:
Keywords are what you want to rank well for. If you sell turbine engines, you will want to rank well for the search term “turbine engines” and you won’t care about ranking well for “frozen turkey.”
Do some keyword research to determine the keywords and phrases to try to rank well for. They should be the words that your customers actually use when they’re searching for your product. That means they shouldn’t be clever euphemisms. You are not an “oral cavity maintenance specialist,” you are a “dentist.” I am not a “creative wordmonger” but a “writer.” Be simple and straightforward in your word choice. Don’t sacrifice clarity for cleverness.
Ranking well for something as simple as “dentist” or “writer” might be tough, though, since they’re such basic terms. That’s where the idea of “short-tail” and “long-tail” keywords comes in. “Dentist” is an example of the former, and “Mount Pleasant dentist specializing in crowns” is an example of the latter. (Read about and about long-tail keywords from Neil Patel.)
The URL and names of pages
If you don’t yet have your site, choose your URL with care. URLs containing keywords you want to rank for will help you. For example, CharlestonTurbineEngine.com would be a good URL for someone selling turbine engines in Charleston. Yes, it’s really that simple. (Don’t worry if you don’t have a keyword-rich URL, though. It’s just one factor of many.)
When naming your pages, continue to choose words that people actually search for and are expecting to see. They expect to see “About” and “Contact,” and while those pages are boring, they help visitors who are brand new to your site navigate it with ease.
Headlines and subheads
Headlines and subheads give Google a big clue as to what the page is about, so it’s smart to use keywords and phrases in your headlines and subheads. “Header tags,” which look like <h2> and <h3> and so on in HTML, designate a certain piece of text as important, and search engines take note.
Headlines and subheads are also good for your readers because they help orient your readers to where they are on the page and allow them to skim content.
Is there such a thing as the ideal page length? The quest for one continues, with no definitive answer, though you’ll find many SEO experts advising a minimum of 300-500 words per page.
A page’s content should be as long as it needs to be. If you always come back to the idea that you want great content on your site, then you will naturally have a few hundred words on a chosen topic. Anything less would probably not give the reader much value. (With the exceptions of pages that are heavy on graphics, etc.) So write what you need to write, make it good, and don’t obsess over hitting a particular word count.
Meta descriptions (and meta tags)
Meta descriptions are the short blocks of text that come up under the page name in the search results. They give the searcher an idea of the page’s content so he or she can quickly decide if it’s worth it to click through.
You can write the meta description for each page on your site or you can leave it blank. Writing the description gives you a chance to use keywords and phrases and to entice the reader to click through by telling them what they’ll get out of it. Leave it blank, and Google will display a selection of text from the page’s copy, usually with the keywords searched for in bold.
Assuming each page on your site is distinct, your meta descriptions should be distinct, too, and tailored to reflect the content on that page. Don’t recycle the same meta description over and over.
As for meta tags – don’t even bother with meta tags.
An alt tag, as it is commonly called, is a short description of what is happening in a photo or graphic on the page. If someone has loaded a page without images, then they will be able to read a description of the picture – the alt tag – rather than see the picture itself.
An example would be a picture of a tea rose in our hypothetical San Diego rose shop with the alt tag “bouquet of yellow tea roses in green glass vase.” It’s just a straight-up description of what the image is.
Use alt tags as intended. They are meant for accessibility, originally (if not still) intended for blind or impaired users who use a page reader to access a web page. They should not be used as a second meta description where you can stuff keywords.
Image file names
Google also gets information from the names of files. Naming a photo “TeaRose1.jpg” rather than “2015090860509.jpg” is smart, as it contains a keyword.
Many other factors affect your rankings, like links, social media, and more, but since those things are not entirely word-related, they’re outside the scope of this article.
Beware: Don’t hurt your search engine rankings by making these common mistakes
Don’t do these, and if you’re doing them, stop.
Keyword stuffing is so 20th century. Don’t do it. It’s not just unpleasant for your readers, it’s bad for your rankings. Remember the rule of thumb from above: approximately 2 occurrences for every 100 words. And again, don’t use alt tags as a place to stuff keywords, either.
Putting important text inside images
Spiders can read the information associated with an image – including the file name and the alt tag, as discussed above – but they can’t actually see or read the image itself. Crucial information should not be contained only in images on your site. It must also be contained in text.
Working with unscrupulous SEO guys (and gals)
No one can guarantee you the #1 position for the keyword of your choice. Such a promise is ridiculous anyway, since Google routinely use information like your IP address and past searches to tailor results for you. If someone promises you the moon (for a hefty price, of course), run the other way.
Now get to it!
It’s true that there are a lot of moving parts involved, but as you see, you don’t need to be an expert in SEO in order to write for Google and improve your site’s ranking. Just focus on making your site easy to navigate and clearly written, and you and Google will be on the same team, which is win-win.