Training Programs

Use the Mequoda SEO Scorecard to Measure and Optimize Your Posts

Use an SEO scorecard based on the results of more than a dozen publishers who are already nailing high quality content

I’m going to let you in on a secret. This is the scorecard that we use at Mequoda, and the SEO scorecard we use to train our content partners on writing SEO’d website content.

It’s a very simple outline that helps new editors cross all their t’s and dot all their i’s. We developed this SEO scorecard based on composite research about what our content partners’ top ranked posts have in common.

It’s not based on what SEO gurus are currently speculating on, and quickly change their minds about, but on the cold hard facts: these are the similar traits of what we call blockbuster posts for our content partners – the posts that generate sometimes more than 50% of traffic to a publisher’s website. It’s updated and reviewed often, however we find that it rarely needs any big updates.

Beyond using this scorecard to analyze and improve blockbuster posts, I invite you to start using this scorecard to measure every new post. The goal is to create new content that matches the quality of your blockbuster posts, which are sending you the majority of your website traffic. More blockbuster posts, more traffic!

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Now keep in mind, the magazine publishers who use this SEO scorecard have already nailed the high-quality content part, which comes first.  This is how they take it to the next level and get it found.

The goal is to get 100%, not just check off the top few items. Below, I’ll explain each line item.

The Mequoda SEO Scorecard for New Articles and Potential Blockbusters
Segment Score Possible Criteria
Title 15 Does the post title include the targeted keyword (KCI .5 or above if possible) from keyword universe?
Subhead 10 Does the subhead include the targeted keyword, plus a secondary keyword if possible?
Body 10 Is the article more than 300 words?
Body 10 Is the article more than 500 words? (pass if the article links to 3 similar articles)
Body 5 Is the article more than 800 words?
Body 5 Are there at least 3 hyperlinks from proximity keywords to other content?
Body 5 Is the targeted keyword in the first 100 words of the article?
Body 5 Is the keyword density on the primary keyword between 1 and 3?
Body 5 If the post is recycled, does it include a four-digit year in the bottom (year only, no other date)
Body 5 Is there a text ad for a free download after the second or third paragraph of the post?
Body 5 Is there a text ad for a free download at the bottom of the post?
Body 5 Is the post assigned to just one category?
Body 3 Is the targeted keyword in the URL?
Body 3 Is the targeted keyword in the meta description (156 characters)?
Body 3 Does the post include a question/s designed to encourage comments?
Body 2 Is the post tagged with ONLY the keywords being used in the post? (no made up tags)
Body 2 Do images contain the targeted keyword in their alt text?
Body 2 Are all images 1200 pixels wide, to accommodate AMP and social platforms?
Total   100

A line-by-line explanation of our SEO scorecard

15 points: Does the post title include the targeted keyword (KCI .5 or above if possible) from keyword universe?

Your targeted keyword is the keyword phrase you are hoping to get ranked on in your post. Mequoda content partners find this keyword in their Keyword Universe, inside a comprehensive keyword report we put together. You can build an entire universe of keywords you want to get ranked for, by building a Google Visibility Report. You could also manually research a keyword to target.

KCI (Keyword Competitive Index) is the estimated annual search impressions (global monthly searches taken from the Google Keyword Planner, multiplied by 12 months) divided by the number of exact match search engine results (the competition) at a point in time. A score of more than one means that you have more people searching for the keyword, than there are competing pages.

10 points: Does the subhead include the targeted keyword, plus a secondary keyword if possible?

In your subhead, you can re-use your targeted keyword phrase, or you can use a proximity keyword phrase. Proximity phrases are keywords related to your targeted keyword phrase (like plurals, or other versions of your keyword phrase that are likely to show up with your targeted keyword phrase throughout the web).

10 points – Is the article more than 300 words? 

300 words is not typically enough to get ranked highly in Google. When it is, it’s usually a tag page or a category page, and the reason why that occurs is because Google likes resource pages, and those types of pages typically list all articles related to the tag or category. If your article only has 300 words or less, we suggest increasing to 500 or 800 words when writing new content and when updating blockbuster posts.

10 points – Is the article more than 500 words? (pass if the article links to 3 similar articles)

We find that 500 words is a minimum for any article, however it should still link to at least three other articles on your site. We think this works because Google sees the page as a resource. We rarely see a blockbuster that’s 500 words and has no links, but 500-word posts can perform pretty well if they have links. So at a minimum, include three links to other content.

5 points – Is the article more than 800 words?

We’ve included this as the ideal length for our SEO scorecard because it’s the sweet spot. Longer articles can work very well when they’re long lists, or an instructive how-to, or include a bunch of tools that people want to bookmark. They don’t perform as well when the article is op-ed, and blather on for 3,000 words. Unless the content is really, really good. Most publishers don’t skimp on quality, so we think it’s safe and even encouraged for publishers to go over 800 words.

5 points – Are there at least 3 hyperlinks from additional proximity keywords to other content?

Even if you have 800 words, there should be three hyperlinks in your article. It’s great if you can link keywords, too. This is a great opportunity to link to your more glossary-type articles. For example, on Mequoda we say multiplatform so often, we always have a chance to link to our “what is” post on multiplatform publishing (ranked usually #1 or #2 for multiplatform publishing).

5 points – Is the targeted keyword in the first 100 words of the article?

There are three places you must put your targeted keyword phrase and they’re your title, subhead, and the first 100 words of your article. Don’t be lazy and jam it in there without reading to make sure it makes sense, but make room for it. It’s best if you can include the keyword phrase in the first paragraph, but when good storytelling doesn’t lend the opportunity, the first 100 words will do.

5 points – Is the keyword density on the targeted keyword phrase between 1 and 3 percent?

Keyword Density = (# of times keyword phrase is used divided by number of words in article) multiplied by# of words in keyword phrase.

This is an equation to tell you how many times you need to use your keyword phrase in an article. I know the SEOs will tell you keyword density is old school, but they don’t have their hands on the data we do. When we analyzed the data of our partners to see how the top ranked pages fare on content density, most winners of the Page 1 top ten coveted spots for the keywords were between 1 and 3 percent. That’s a pretty easy thing to do—if you write an 800-word post on “apple pie recipes”, you can easily include it 6 times and get a 2.2% keyword density.

5 points – If the post is recycled, does it include a four-digit year in the bottom (year only, no other date)

Our publishers do a lot of content recycling, and sometimes when they recycle content, it already has comments on the page. For this reason, when we recycle and republish content, we include a stamp that says, “this article was originally published in 2013 and has been updated.”

We often get asked whether you need to do this on each and every post and the answer is no. If the post has no comments, the content is evergreen, and you’re giving it a solid content renovation, you don’t need to call out that it’s an old post.

5 points – Is there a text ad for a free download after the second or third paragraph of the post?

We recommend consistently including a call to action interruptor after the second or third paragraph, or ultimately right below the fold. If you have good conversion architecture set up, the user will already see an ad for a free report when they arrive on your site, so you’re saving this one for a little later after they’ve started reading your article.

5 points – Is there a text ad for a free download at the bottom of the post?

We also include a text ad at the bottom of the post, in case they hadn’t signed up for your emails from any of the previous conversion architecture elements they may have encountered previously.

5 points – Is the post assigned to just one category?

Again, this is something we’ve learned through trial and error. Assigning a post to just one category helps Google and readers more easily know exactly what the post is about.

3 points – Is the targeted keyword phrase in the URL?

This seems like a simple thing to include in the SEO scorecard because if you’re using a content management system like WordPress, it automatically creates URL strings for you, but sometimes it cuts it off, or removes words like “a” or “the” which you’ll need to add back in if it’s part of your keyword phrase.

3 points – Is the targeted keyword in the meta description (156 characters)?

Since we always include a subhead in the article (which uses the primary keyword phrase), you can often double up by using the subhead as your meta description. We use the Yoast plugin in Haven WordPress to manage meta descriptions.

3 points – Does the post include a question/s designed to encourage comments?

Comments are a strong signal to Google that the article is interesting and engaging, so we recommend including a provoking question at the end of each article to encourage discussion in the comments section. We also recommend making it easy for people to comment without logging in.

2 points – Is the post tagged with ONLY the keywords being used in the post? (no made up tags)

Have you gone and thrown in a bunch of random words and phrases into the tag field that you think might be keywords, or maybe not? This is bad. Only include tags that are keywords, and only use them when they’re actually in the article. Haven WordPress has something called an auto-tagger that has our researched keyword universe pre-loaded and will tag our articles only with keywords we’ve used in the article. So for us and our partners, this one is easy!

2 points – If applicable, do the images in the article contain the targeted keyword phrase in their alt text?

This is also pretty easy. You upload an image and WordPress gives you fields to describe your image. Lots of publishers just use their title here, because it’s already optimized.

2 points – Are all images 1200 pixels wide, to accommodate AMP and social platforms?

Most social media platforms, and also Google AMP, require images to be at least 1200px wide. To avoid errors, all images should be at least 1200px wide.

What would you add to this SEO scorecard, assuming that the content is already high quality? And also assuming that a social media scorecard is being fulfilled? We already know adding graphics and video can increase SEO, but we didn’t include it in this list because not every publisher can do it (and it wasn’t in most of the top-ranking posts across our partner sites).

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