Hello, friends! This week, I’m discussing a topic that’s a little outside of the Write Now norm. Search engine optimization (or SEO) is a term you may have heard before. To some, it may sound like confounded techno-babble.
But really, SEO is just a bag of tips and tricks that help search engines like Google better understand your website. And best of all, it’s completely free!
If you’re still working on your website, you may want to brush up on episode 033 of the Write Now podcast, Do I Need a Website? first. But if you’re ready to move on, we’ll be exploring a few easy steps that will help search engines bring as many people to your site as possible.
Index That Content!
Modern search engines have become crazy smart. They use bots (or “spiders”) to index (or “crawl”) your site, making it easier for actual users to find what they’re looking for. But these digital spiders don’t see a website the same way we do. Luckily, a little housekeeping will help search engines better understand your content while simultaneously making your site more accessible to more users.
- Include “alt text” for your images. Spiders can’t look at a picture and understand what it is by the file name alone. Be sure to fill out the “alt text” option when placing images on your site. Simply writing short descriptions of your website’s pictures can really help boost its accessibility.
- Avoid Flash and Java plugins. You may want your website to look cool or have a lot of interactive features. But plugins don’t work well for mobile users or people who use screen readers. Remember, function always comes before form online.
- Offer video and audio transcripts. Did you know? 30% of the people who visit your site will have an accessibility issue. This includes color blindness as well as limited eyesight and hearing. If your website features video or audio, including transcripts increases accessibility, which in turn increases user retention.
Tidy That URL!
Now that we’ve helped the search engine’s bots index and understand our content, it’s time to clean things up on the user side. When it comes to your website’s address (or URL), you need a place for everything. Just remember to keep everything sorted logically. Nothing turns away users like a disorganized website! Here are some ways to keep your users’ needs at the forefront of your site.
- Use hyphens to separate URL words. For example, use sarahwerner.com/write-now-podcast, instead of sarahwerner.com/writenowpodcast. It’s a simple step that makes your website easier to traverse for users and bots alike.
- Keep URLs short and sweet. You don’t have to string together a parade of hyphens and words to get the point of a page across. Call your contact page “/contact”, not “/contact-me-i-would-love-to-hear-from-you…” You get the idea.
- Match URLs to its page. If your URL calls a page “/about-the-author”, it’s not a good idea for the actual title of the page to read “Sarah Werner”. Cutting down on confusion keeps your users browsing happily!
- Use real language. Eloquent wordplay has its place — and that place isn’t within the page titles and URLs of your website. When users want to read your blog, they probably aren’t going to click a menu option that reads “Fanciful Musings and Pensive Introspection” because they might not know what it means. It’s a blog. Just call it a blog.
- Avoid orphan pages. Every page on your website needs a home. Organize your content into more and more specific categories. For example, my “/forbes” page is accessed through my “/writing” page, which in turn can be reached from the “/home” page. So the entire URL is sarahwerner.com/writing/forbes Think of your website like a nesting doll and keep everything in its proper place.
- Limit user choices. When you overwhelm users with a sea of links, they’re more likely to leave than choose one! On any single page of your website, try to limit the user’s choices to six options or fewer. As with the above tip, limiting choice actually helps users find what they’re looking for. Just think of the alternative (an overcrowded mega-menu) as a really frustrating game of “Where’s Waldo?”
Empathize with Users!
Now that we’re nice and organized for both humans and bots, let’s talk about your actual content. Good on-page SEO means you’re writing great content that is easy to understand, stays on-topic, and gives users what they came for. Sounds easy enough. But you may have to set aside your inner wordsmith — and for some of you, this may be easier said than done.
- Answer the question. Every page on your website has a purpose. If someone is visiting that page, chances are they have a question that needs answering. A page labeled “Store Hours” should not serve up an exhaustive history of your company. Save that for the “About Us” or “History” page, where it belongs.
- Easy to understand. On the internet, clarity always wins out over creativity, which means this is not the time to break out the thesaurus. Your users are busy. They aren’t on your site to expand their vocabulary. Do them a favor: use short sentences and paragraphs with a generous portion of white space. Check the Flesch Reading Ease link to test your site’s readability, or go to File>Options>Proofing in Microsoft Word, select the “Check grammar with spelling” checkbox, and select “Show readability statistics”.
- Stay on-topic. Do you really expect users to use a weather widget on your author website over a site dedicated to weather forecasting? Concentrate on giving users what they’re looking for and avoid stuffing your content with needless keywords. Remember, modern search engines reward good content!
- Update content often. Relevant and meaningful content keeps people coming back for more. Fresh updates also keep search engine spiders happily crawling your website. A site’s activity and content quality keeps it high in search results, so keep that good content flowing!
- Write Now episode 033: Do I Need A Website?
- Find out how Google “sees” your website with seo-browser.com (click “Simple” to use this tool for free)
- Flesch Reading Ease checker
- Check Flesch Reading Ease in Microsoft Word: Go to File>Options>Proofing, select the “Check grammar with spelling” checkbox, and select “Show readability statistics”.
- Want to learn more about SEO? Check out Moz’s free Beginner’s Guide To SEO!
I hope this episode was helpful in building your website’s SEO. But what do you think? Too much information? Not enough? Tell me all about it on my contact page. You can also leave a comment below, or simply email me at hello [at] sarahwerner [dot] com. 🙂 I’d love to hear from you.
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