Most search engine users click on one of the top five items appearing on the search engine results page. That's a sobering thought. You can be the best at what you do, and the best at saying why, but it doesn't count if you're invisible. An effective SEO strategy is a must, but SEO remains widely misunderstood and is often applied in ways that simply don't do much good. Maximum benefit from SEO in preparing web copy depends on observance of the following ideas:
We're still living in a monarchy.
We've all heard that "content is king." SEO wizardry will not change this. SEO best practices attract attention to your content and can help you distribute it optimally on your website, but they're no substitute for the information itself. People searching the web are searching the web for information, and successful marketers provide it.
Just don't spray keywords around in an obvious way, or you'll lose the trust of potential customers, today's connected consumer being ever alert to manipulation. You can also lose the trust of Google, whose algorithms penalize keyword stuffing. So make sure you maintain substance, and follow these guidelines for securing an audience:
Dedicated pages are key.
Search engines rank individual web pages, not entire websites. So when you create a keyword, make sure you have one page on that topic and focus it sharply on that keyword. Your keywords won't generate traffic without that focus. Think about what your readers need to know, and try to provide content that will tell them everything they could reasonably expect on one dedicated page. Only then should you try to think like Google and view your page in terms of the exact wording you want the search engine to see.
Having the keyword in your title can help guide you through the writing process, but remember to consider the reader's intent before you start creating keywords.
Make sure you're diligent about keyword research, that you determine which keywords have a high search volume, and check the competitiveness level. Webtexttool and Google's Keyword Planner are helpful in this arena.
Another reason to emphasize dedicated pages is that multiple pages with the same content could bring a penalty from Google, and lower rankings.
Title tags matter--a lot.
Search engines and visitors both need to see the right things here. A page's title tag appears in search results and in your browser's tab, and it's saved in bookmarks. If possible, use your brand name in your title. For rankings and emphasis in search results, you should also position important keywords at the beginning. Try for a title that helps describe what the page is about, and try to stay within a limit of 60 to 70 characters, to avoid search engines cutting off your title.
Meta descriptions are serious business.
Meta descriptions are not crucial for search engine rankings, but they can be decisive in motivating viewers to click when they see their search results. Make sure you use keywords--the search engine results page will highlight the keywords viewers used in their search--make your meta descriptions compelling, and try to keep them around 150 characters.
ALT attributes for images present an opportunity.
A picture might look wonderful to you, but the search engine doesn't see what you do. It needs to be told what it's looking at. Give your image a name, a specific description, using keywords if possible. ALT attributes make your images searchable in an image search, which gives you a chance to be noticed beyond a conventional web search.
Internal and external links add relevance.
One of the best things you can do is link to other pages on your own website. This helps strengthen the keywords for those pages, allows search engine robots and human users to navigate the website, and establishes relevance for the search engine.
Use keywords for the anchor text in the actual link. For example, if you are inviting the reader to "contact us today to see how we can meet your supply chain management needs," you'll want to link "supply chain management" with your supply chain management page instead of using "contact us today."
Set links to open in new tabs, because even though the page to which you're linking is on a topic closely related to the page the reader is on, you need to be sure not to divert attention completely from that first page.
When using information obtained from other websites, link to those sources. This is ethically correct, and it builds good will and relationships within your industry, which in turn can lead to other people linking to your content.
Again, set the links to open in new tabs so as not to direct traffic away from your own website.
Content should be easy on the eye.
This is less important for search engine rankings than it is for helping readers scan the content and see the keywords that interest them. Bold type and bullet points can be helpful if used in moderation and not allowed to become a distraction. Paragraphs should be kept short, especially considering the prevalence of mobile devices, but not so short that the message itself becomes choppy and the linkages between ideas unclear.
Brevity isn't always good, as analytics can tell you.
Google is friendly toward long-form writing; it's no accident that blog posts of 600 to 1000 words are so common. If you don't tell your readers much, they will look elsewhere. Time spent on the site, bounce rate, and pages viewed per session indicate how well you're performing with readers. Insufficient keyword density can cause trouble with all of the above, but so can lack of material.
This is of course a partial collection of considerations, and there are numerous books and countless websites dedicated to instructing us on optimizing our optimization. However, the basics will go a long way toward helping you rise toward the top five and the opportunities awaiting you and millions of search engine users at that lofty level.