In a game where the rules are constantly changing, optimizing your content for search engines can be a real challenge.
Practices like keyword stuffing have been penalized to the point of being utterly discarded by web developers, but there are still numerous tried-and-true methods that will work for making your content rank well in a SERP.
Thankfully, no matter what kind of industry or niche you work in, the following five elements can help increase how accessible your content really is.
Whatever keywords you're targeting should always be in the title of your content. Industry reports have demonstrated that for optimal ranking, you want to put your keywords closer to the front of your title whenever possible. So if you're trying to target salt water aquariums, you're better off with a title like "Best Salt Water Aquarium Tricks" than you are with "Tricks and Tips for your Salt Water Aquarium."
Optimization aside, putting keywords in your title also helps you attract more incoming links from external sources, and keywords in the title may help Google determine what's going on with your content when people link to it using keywords in the anchor text.
Of course occasionally it won't be practical for your keyword to appear in the first half of your title, and that's where alternative titles come in.
Alternative title tags allow you to give Google the SEO-optimized title while giving your readers the straight version.
In essence this allows web developers to have their cake and eat it too, getting all of the lifting power of an SEO optimized title without having to sacrifice the quality of your content for it. Just make sure you limit your headline to 72 characters or less to help ensure that it will be completely visible in a SERP, which can maximize the chances that it will be clicked.
The Meta Description
High-quality SEO isn't only a matter of getting ranked well; it's also a matter of how your continent appears in a SERP. That's where the meta description comes in.
As you may know, the meta description is the copy that appears in your search result after your title. Although it's true that keywords in this description won't influence your page rank, it would be a mistake to forget about keywords when crafting a meta description.
Using keywords can help you speak the language of the person doing the search, which can signal to the person doing the search that you have exactly what they're looking for.
If you want your entire description to be visible in a SERP, it should be fewer than 165 characters.
Google wants the sites that it promotes to produce unique, fresh content on a regular basis. And for SEO purposes, your content needs to be highly relevant to whatever keywords you're using.
Although this can mostly be achieved with relevant keywords (discussed in the next section), the length of your content also matters.
Shorter content typically has a harder time ranking well compared to pages with more to offer.
It's a little known fact that the top ranking sites for most major keywords are attached to a page with 2,000 words of content or more. Although you don't need to write massive essays to rank well, you do need to provide enough content to satisfy both Google and your readers.
For the past few years, the rule of thumb for content duration has been to aim for around 550 words, which is roughly as much time and space that it takes to naturally use keywords without being guilty of keyword stuffing, and to provide a substantial answer to whatever the reader was looking to resolve.
More recently however, the number has begun to reach closer to the 1,000 word mark as Google continues to place a premium on sites that can demonstrate their expertise.
Content length for the increasingly important mobile platform is another story entirely. Although it's important to work on a case by case basis and to understand the specific desires of your demographic, generally speaking mobile users aren't looking for the fully elaborated version of your content, and anyone who has tried to read a longer document on a tiny mobile screen can understand why.
For the mobile platform, it's perfectly acceptable for your content to linger around the 300 word mark, provided only that you still manage hit all the main points of their inquiry.
The Keyword Ratio
Most of the SEO community is in agreement that keyword frequency, or how often you use a keyword, has a significant influence on how well your site will rank.
On the other hand, keyword density, the ratio of keywords to everything else, does not. Ever since Google put to rest the practice of keyword stuffing, the SEO value of keyword density has been nil.
Nevertheless, keyword density is still a useful tool to help you establish a sense for how often you can use keywords without your content starting to look like spam. Though there are no hard-and-fast rules about keyword density, a density higher than 5% is generally considered to be overkill, and may even lead to punishment from Google.
The External Link
The Internet is based on the principle that related sites are connected to one another, and that relationship is a large part of how search engines help determine ranking and authority. After all, in many ways linking to another site is a vote of confidence in what that site has to offer.
In the recent past, web developers abused this fact by getting involved in link buying schemes to trick Google, but ever since Penguin and Panda have cracked down on that practice, the quality of links is far more important than their quantity.
If quality seems like an abstract thing to measure, that's because it is. Search engines use a huge range of metrics to help determine the quality of a link, including the popularity of the linking page, the anchor text, the quantity of links leading to that page on your page, the relation between the ownership of the two domains, and many more.
There are essentially only two things to know about linking out of your site.
- The first is that you shouldn't hesitate to link to sites that are relevant to your content. Anytime you're able to another authority, the association between that link and your content reflects well on you.
- While links are generally a positive thing, you should also refrain from linking too often. This can help prevent your content look like spam and reduce the chance your external links will be detrimental to keeping your reader on task at your site.
A good rule of thumb is to use one relevant link every 120 words, which is approximately one meaty paragraph in duration.
The Big Picture
As the relationship between search engines and the quality of content continues to grow closer, intelligently designed SEO is becoming less a matter of being visible in search engines and more a matter of appeasing your audience.
Where keyword research used to be little more than a means to tell Google what's happening on your website, today it's a means to help you learn the language of your demographic and become an effective communicator.
Although little is certain in the ever changing world of SEO, it's a safe bet that these five elements will continue to be relevant for SEO purposes into the foreseeable future, as their close relationship with the quality of content gives them each a special place in Google's mysterious heart