Every good wordsmith approaches the task of writing a little differently. Some writers start with an outline or by making copious notes. Others write numerous disparate paragraphs at non-stop speed and then revisit their first draft, cutting and pasting to arrange them in a “logical” order. Still others agonize over the lead or headline and feel compelled to get them perfect before they can write a single second sentence.
Whatever your editorial process is, don’t start it with search engine optimization as your highest priority. Write the article first.
Don’t try to write great search engine-friendly copy with the first draft. Your brain will hurt and your copy will probably be awkward at best or incomprehensible at worst!
However, you can, as a brain-warming exercise, begin the process by making a list of words that you want to work into the copy. That’s sometimes a helpful exercise to get you thinking about the content of your article before you write it. But it’s not essential to the process.
Whatever way you like to work, write your first draft and tell your story. Don’t be so concerned with search engine optimization at this stage that it impairs your ability to write the first draft.
Write your article and stop. Really stop. This is important. Don’t rewrite it yet. Don’t polish it. Stop.
Developing Content and Copy That is Optimized for Search
Now it’s time to open the Overture (Yahoo!) keyword suggestion tool.
Look at your headline and first paragraph and decide what the article you’ve written is really about.
Ask yourself this question: What keyword phrase would someone search for, then find this article, and say, “Wow! This is great. This answers my question!”?
Users go to search engines because they have a question. That’s one reason why search phrases are getting longer and now typically include three or four words. Searchers are looking for advice. Often, they’re looking for a product.
The Mequoda System SEO strategy is to not spend a lot of time optimizing sales letter landing pages and membership website pages. The Mequoda Network Hub—the website that is full of free, short, newsy content that is updated frequently—is structured to be optimized for search. That’s the content-based site full of short articles using optimized words.
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On a membership site (like this one), we recommend that you optimize the words used in the snippet or article teasers. On a retail or catalog website, you should optimize the words used in the product descriptions. Here’s how…
The Seven Steps for Search Engine Optimization of Editorial Content
Step #1: Choose keyword phrases for which you want to optimize the page
Begin with three- and four-word phrases. Each phrase might have at least two words in it (if optimizing for one word would not make sense, as in “alternative energy”).
Step #2: Determine keyword popularity
Go to Overture. Look for search terms that make organic sense, and have a popularity of approximately 2,000 to 99,000 hits for a special–interest consumer topics and 100 to 50,000 for business-to-business topics. The numbers are not exact. Your goal is to find words that have less competitive and that will still drive some significant amount of traffic. Repeat steps one and one until the best three to four keyword phrases emerge.
An Example from Mequoda Daily
Here’s an example from Don’s August 22, 2005, Mequoda Daily E-newsletter entitled Getting Serious About Email Newsletter Marketing on the subject of email newsletter marketing. The original headline did not contain the words “email newsletter marketing”. Originally Don Nicholas wrote the headline “Building You Email Newsletter Database.”
A search at Overture for “email newsletter database” turned up zero results. Virtually no one searched for that phrase during July 2005.
However, an Overture Keyword Selector Tool search for “email newsletter marketing” showed 288 searches for that phrase during the month. So, “email newsletter marketing” has a slight chance of getting a top 10, 20 or 30 ranking.
The Mequoda SEO Strategy is to do another search for a two-word phrase that is a part of a longer phrase. In this case, when Don searched “email newsletter” (as a part of “email newsletter marketing”) he hit the mother lode, with 13,397 Overture Keyword Selector Tool searches for that phrase during July 2005.
“Email marketing” uses two words of the three-word phrase, and it returned a 149,621 count—far too large a field in which to compete for a top 10 ranking. And those two words are not adjacent to one another in the larger three-word phrase. Because “email marketing” is too broad and substantially different from the notion of “email newsletter marketing,” Don rejected that phrase.
The phrase “newsletter marketing” works relative to adjacency, and it returned a score of 859, but Don knows his customers. He believes “newsletter marketing” probably is being searched by users seeking information specific to print newsletters. So he didn’t pursue that phrase either.
“Ezine” returned a score of 3,165, a perfectly respectable number. So Don may revisit that phrase at a later date for another article. But for this exercise, he decided to optimize for “newsletter marketing.”
Step #3: Optimize the article headline, subheads and summaries
Start by making sure your principle keyword phrase is in the article headline.
The subhead should describe the content on the page, and should make the user realize he has come to the right place. It should also contain your exact principle keyword phrase.
The summary should provide a capsule overview and whet the reader’s appetite for more. It should also include your principle keyword phrase one or more times.
Example of an optimized headline:
“Place Online Order Forms on the Bottom of Every Content Page”
Example of an optimized sub-head:
“How magazine publishers are doubling and tripling print subscription orders by putting online order forms known as OFIEs (Order Form in Editorial) on every website page.”
Example of an optimized summary:
- Understand how to make simple online order forms your largest source.
- See how three very different publishers have implemented online order forms.
- How online order forms are changing the way publishers deploy content.
Take advantage of these three elements by writing keyword-rich copy for each before you begin Step four, where you will calculate keyword density.
Here’s where the editorial process really changes from conventional journalism.
Step #4: Measure the keyword density of the first 300 words of each overview article
Ideally, each word for which you’re optimizing should show up 2.7 percent (or eight times) in the first 300 words of the page.
Currently, search engines typically spider and index the first 300 words of content on a webpage. Because all Mequoda Daily articles are 300 – 500 words in length, Don decided to optimize the entire “Getting Serious About Email Newsletter Marketing” article.
Next, Don revisited his first draft, looking to optimize the phrase “email newsletter marketing.” He rewrote his first draft to maximize the use of the words “email newsletter marketing” and “email newsletter.” He experimented with pronouns and descriptors and rewrote the article—without changing the original intent or meaning—in order to repeat the keyword phrases as often as possible.
Then, he used the search and replace function of his word processing software (Microsoft Word) to highlight the keyword phrases.
When he finished, the phrase “email newsletter marketing” appears nine times, for a keyword density of 1.9 percent. The phrase “email newsletter,” which is a subset of “email newsletter marketing,” had a keyword density of 4.7 percent. Both are good although neither of these is exactly on target for the 2.7 percent that Google prefers (at the moment).
This new editorial process requires the writer to employ the precise language that the reader is likely to use. When Don started the process for this article, he initially thought the word “eletter” might be appropriate. But an Overture Keyword Selector Tool search indicated almost no one searches for the word “eletter.” So he rejected that word in favor of words that have proven greater popularity.
Step #5A: Optimize the meta title tag
The HTML Title Tag should contain all the keywords, but can be longer. In this case, Don copied the title of the article and made it the actual, word-for-word title tag of the page.
This tag gives instructions to a content loader (the person who creates the actual webpage) and Don wanted to be very specific about the content of his meta tags and other covert content. Google and the other search engines will pay close attention to the meta title tag, especially if the article title does not use words for which there is fierce competition. The meta title tag will weigh heavily in determining the page ranking.
Additionally, if the search engine spider “likes” the title of the page—if it is keyword rich—it will pick up the title tag and return it verbatim in the search results. If it is not keyword rich, the spider will analyze the content on the page, look for the first occurrence of the keyword phrase, and make up its own title and its own description tags. Similarly, if you don’t put anything in the title tag, or you chose words that don’t have the keyword phrase in it, Google will make up its own description and return it in the search results.
Step #5B: Optimize the meta description tag
While the meta description tag does not impact your ranking, it can impact your click through rate (CTR). Assuming the meta description tag includes the keywords for which the Google spider was searching, the spider will normally use the meta description tag to create the search results description.
After you begin to rank in the first 30 results of Google, you can try revising this tag to increase the click-through rate…
Step #5C: Optimize the meta keywords
The keyword tag does not appear to be important to Google but does carry some weight with the other search engines. Limit the keywords in this field to only the optimized words and their variations. Don’t use keywords words here that are not in the article’s content, or Google will deduct points in assigning page rank.
Step #6: Optimize the URL tags
Some website content management systems enable using a string of words within a long URL (Universal Resource Locator or website page address). The URL for Getting Serious About Email Newsletter Marketing is www.mequodacafedaily.com/i/internet_strategy/email_newsletter_marketing_42-1.html.
Note the words “internet_strategy/email_newsletter_marketing” within the long URL.
Here the Mequoda strategy is to append three or four relevant words onto the URL, repeating, if possible, the same keywords used in the title. The iProduction content management system that powers the Mequoda Group’s websites has this capability. On a smaller website you might have to hard code your pages with optimized URL tags.
Because we are optimizing for very specific keyword phrases in this article, we believe there is relatively little competition for these specific words. This tactic is recommended only when little competition exists for the phrases we are trying to optimize. In a highly competitive arena, the Mequoda System would not recommend URL tagging. When there are millions of well-optimized pages with the term, testing has shown that URL tags are neutral to negative in the Google algorithm.
Step #7A: Maximize internal and external linking.
Fundamental to the Mequoda System is creating a website network. You should establish a routine process for associating each article on your website with all the other articles on your website and on the other sites in your network. Ideally, all of your site’s articles should reference or link to all of the other relevant articles on your sites.
For in-depth reporting on Editorial Strategy visit the Mequoda Daily Editorial Strategy Topic Index Page, or check out these related reports:
The Mequoda System A Seven-Habit Website Management System, by Don Nicholas
Generating Website Revenue, by Don Nicholas
Mequoda Habit #3: Building a Website Network, by Don Nicholas
Your Traffic Building Checklist, by Ali K. Brown
How to Get E-zine Subscribers From Live, In-person Events, by Ali K. Brown
These links refer the user to additional Mequoda Group articles, tips, topic pages, etc.
Your strategy can be to link internally to other pages on the same site, or externally to pages on other sites in your network. Google and the other search engines award higher rankings to pages that have numerous incoming links from sites that include similar or relevant content.
Just make certain that your outgoing links open a new window and do not take the user off your site. Your webmaster will know how to use the appropriate “target” tag in the HTML coding. Some website content management systems do this automatically.
Also important here is what Google calls “link relevancy.” That means the search engine awards a higher rank to pages that use keywords in the highlighted blue hypertext link.
Step #7B: Compile a list of websites you think might consider linking to this particular article
Then send an email or call the webmaster of each site that is complementary to yours, but not a direct competitor. Outline the benefits to them of linking to your site and provide the appropriate HTML code.
Make it as easy as possible for them to comply with your request. Write an appropriate headline for the link, as well as the HTML code, making certain that the proposed link opens in a new window.
This ready-to-use code is easy for a webmaster to add to the website or drop into an email newsletter. In a Web browser it looks like this:
Mequoda Profiles Ask the Builder
Don’t miss Peter Schaible’s excellent Ask the Builder Website Strategy Profile.
For additional information on maximizing external links see the Mequoda Daily report entitled Over 125 (Legitimate) Link Building Strategies.
Why do the experts so often disagree about Google?
Are you confused by reading articles in which the supposed experts, who have actually spent considerable time working on search engine optimization, disagree about what is and what is not in Google’s search engine algorithm? Don’t feel like the Lone Ranger! We were, too!
After considerable research, Mequoda editors finally discovered that the Google algorithm contains a number of environmental variables. That means the mathematical formula Google uses depends on the content.
For example, do a Google search using a two-, three- or four-word phrase and examine the pages that Google returns. Depending on how competitive, well optimized, and heavily linked these pages are for a specific word phrase, the algorithm is variable.
In a recent study, researchers isolated individual variables, changing them one at a time, in an attempt to determine the effect on search engine rankings. This tedious procedure is sometimes referred to as reverse engineering, or trying to infer the value of different variables in an equation.
What they discovered is that using the keyword in the site’s URL (Universal Resource Locator or website address) carries a different weight depending on how much competition there is for that keyword. Ironically, in very highly competitive arenas, using the keyword in the URL can result in a negative or lower ranking.
Where there is moderate competition for a keyword or keyword phrase, using it in your site’s URL has a modest positive effect. In a relatively uncompetitive arena, using the keyword or keyword phrase has a huge positive effect.
Again, this is owing to the environmental variables of the search engine algorithm, which are configured in an attempt to diminish spamming.
Mequoda Recommended Practice
Know your market. Design your site’s pages differently depending on whether you’re optimizing for a keyword phrase for which there is heavy, modest or relatively little competition.
“If you practice an art faithfully, it will make you wise, and most writers can use a little wising up.” —From the last manuscript of American author William Saroyan (1908-81)