Writing for SEO Checklist
Illustration by Kevin Kennedy, strazi.org
At Sitemason, when I begin to write for our blog or marketing pages, I often run through a checklist of SEO best practices. Not because I'm especially concerned with being technically perfect and appeasing the search gods (AKA Google), but because what's good for search engines is good for readers. Writing in general has one overarching rule, and I make sure it's my number one consideration when I begin writing: "Make sure your topic provides authentic obvious value beyond self-promotion."
It is not merely enough to write content for the sake of filling a page because you should have a blog updated weekly. It's nothing more than a waste of your time and your readers. Writing needs to communicate something of value. Whether it's a support article or a company announcement, there needs to be focus and intention in communicating the main points.
In a distant second place — but where the art of SEO really kicks in — crafting the language of those "main points" should receive considerable attention. In the world of search, you may know them as "keywords."
Below, I've provided a 17 point checklist that I reference when I begin writing. It's broken up into the three parts: Planning, SEO Specific Tasks, and Social Media Promotion. Additionally, I've tried to provide an example for each, as if we were writing for SEO with this article (which I'd have to do anyway!).
Make sure topic provides authentic obvious value beyond self-promotion
As mentioned, this single point is by far the most important consideration when writing, period. Whether you agree with me or not, I've concluded "yes," this article provides a benefit to readers by supplying them with a writing reference guide when considering SEO. Everyone loves a checklist!
Define primary and secondary keywords
Keywords have traditionally been the glue of SEO. It's a way to bind the distilled message of an article to a search engine's index. Outside of the content itself, defining your keywords is the single most important SEO consideration you can make.
For this article, I've settled on "Writing for SEO Checklist" as my primary keyword. It's not a coincidence it's the title of the article! The title is the keyword, and not vice versa. I could use "SEO Checklist" or "Writing for SEO", but "Writing for SEO Checklist" better describes the content, and specificity is crucial. Unless you have an enormous budget or you have written THE definitive guide to something, competing for generic search terms is a losing proposition. Use keywords that are concise, catchy, and descriptive.
Page should target a single searcher intent
I want this article to reach people searching for a reference guide to help them consider SEO in their writing. This is the WHY of the article. Defining that statement right there will help me keep my writing focused and always consider that person searching the web. "Writing for seo checklist" won't win any popularity contests, but the people who search that term should find this article.
Research keywords and determine if related keywords might be more appropriate
Google (AdWords specifically) and many other SEO services like Moz and Raven have great keyword research tools. If search result rankings are important to you, you'll want to spend some time researching keywords to make sure you're both using the right keywords and not contributing to an over saturated topic where your article would be of little value to the general public, or more importantly, your site users. For example, I'd originally considered "SEO Checklist" for my title and primary keyword, but upon researching, found it to be rather diluted and decided on something with more specificity. However, if the article does gain traction, it could compete for "seo checklist" as well.
SEO Specific Tasks
Generate a concise Description based on keywords in less than 160 characters
The Description is the snippet of text that appears beneath the link when presenting your content in search engines and social media sharing. Keeping it short means that the entire description will appear in the preview for your link. This is the one-liner describing your writing and should include your keywords. We'll use "An SEO checklist of best practices to consider when writing online, from the folks at Sitemason.com." Keeping it around 100 characters provides the added benefit of using the description when sharing on Twitter as well (and leaves room for a URL and a couple @'s or #hashtags).
Window title & article title have matching keywords
Make sure your window title (the one that appears atop a browser for a given page) matches the title of your article. This is SEO 101, and any modern CMS will do this for you, however it's always worth double checking. For this article, I'll make sure "Writing for SEO Checklist" is both the title at the top of the page and the window title in the browser.
Primary keyword phrase appears in page URL
The path of the page should match your title/keyword, all lowercase, without spacing, and preferably a dash ( - ) between each word. This articles path will be /blog/writing-for-seo-checklist
Images on the page employ descriptive, keyword-rich alt attributes
If you've ever run a site audit, you'll know that missing ALT attributes gives errors that makes you think the world is coming to an end. Search engines HATE it when images don't have ALT attributes. These are the short descriptive titles for an image that do not necessarily appear on the page, like:
<img src="/images/writing-for-seo-checklist-illustration.jpg" alt="An illustration header image by Kevin Kennedy at strazi.org for the Writing for SEO Checklist blog post" />
ALT attributes are expected both so search engines can better understand the image, and for accessibility. Like those visually impaired visitors or those who turn images off.
Title is < 75 Characters
Similar to limiting your description to < 160 characters, keeping a slim page title is important for the same reasons. The entire title should fit nicely on a search results page. More than 75 characters will truncate the title, risking a reader overlooking article if they can't read the whole title. "Writing for SEO Checklist" weighs in at a lean 25.
Word count should be a minimum of 500
Unless you're running a haiku blog, how often can you say something meaningful in less than 500 words? Readers and search engines suggest it's unlikely. I don't think I'm going to have any problem though, as I'm already over 1000 and still have a ways to go.
Make sure the page is the only URL on which the content appears
If the same content appears on multiple pages, search engines will treat those pages in one of two ways: assume it's spam or split the traffic. Both are no good. Avoid duplicate content everywhere on your site.
Add internal links to reference your own published work
Keep the juice flowing by referencing pages on your own site to keep readers engaged and hopefully moving towards a transaction. By linking to another blog post or a marketing page with more details about a topic, you're increasing the authority of your writing and site in general. Traditionally, the basic algorithm of search engines is "clicking a link is voting for a piece of content." The more votes, the more likely a page is to be highly ranked. Here's a link to my other writings on SEO at sitemason.com. See how that works?
Use external links when appropriate to reference useful or contributing sources
Link building in general is a great way to generate traffic to your site. External links are often used as a reference tool to provide readers with more in-depth coverage of a topic on another site, as a mini-bibliography, or just to provide some link-love. If a popular site notices they're getting traffic linked from your blog, that could open a business opportunity or at a minimum, they're more apt to return the favor. In this article, we have a handful of external links to outside services.
Use schemas if content contains a transactional event
Search engines rely on formats set by schema.org to understand the types of content in a blog post and specially format the results. Examples of this might be an event or tour dates, an office location, a promotional product for sale, etc. Search engines are displaying results more and more specialized to provide the most context possible to the search user. This article doesn't have an example, but I especially use schemas when promoting an event so it's more likely to be picked up by aggregating calendars. Here's an example of an event search result for "nashville meetups":
Social Media Promotion
Post article to social networks you actively use
This article isn't especially about marketing, so I'll keep the promotion recommendations to a minimum and chime in where I think they help SEO. If you only have five connections on Google+, that's a good sign it's probably not worth the effort. Engagement is a much more valuable metric than simply posting. Focus on those networks where you are an active participant. If you're a small organization, that probably means Facebook and Twitter. If there's an active conversation around your content on Twitter, and you get a lot of traffic from t.co, that's more valuable than a couple here, a couple there, etc.
Try to post @somebody who would benefit from reading your article
Using Twitter as a newsfeed is fine, but it's not likely to increase engagement. Tweet at people or tag Facebook users you have a relationship with in your industry, or somebody you know was having a problem you're addressing in your writing. This will get the conversation going in a personal way, and increase the likelihood of user engagement. Search engines promote content with active social media conversations.
Use keyword based #hashtags when posting to social networks
A great way to contribute to an active conversation is through hashtags. Take a few minutes to research hashtags related to your keywords, and include the top one or two in your Tweet. For this topic, there's obviously an extremely active #seo conversation on Twitter which would be difficult to gain traction, but doesn't really cost you anything other than 4 characters. For our Tweet, I think I'll probably use the more dedicated #seochecklist hashtag but probably include #seo as well.