Written by Wendy Barron; copy edited by Maggie Clark
Whether you do business on the Web or edit for clients who do, understanding search engine optimization—SEO—is crucial to creating compelling web content and helping people find that content. On September 30, Lisa Manfield shared the principles of good SEO with 15 editors who were eager to improve the Google juice of their own websites and their clients’ websites.
SEO changes constantly, Lisa notes, and Google (which has the largest market share in the Internet search game) never reveals how its algorithms work or which elements of SEO are weighted more heavily than others. But the SEO practices that worked in the early days, such as keyword stuffing of metadata and content farming, can now reduce a web page’s ranking rather than improve it.
Google’s SEO algorithm and preferred practices
The SEO algorithm for Google pays attention to signals of legitimacy and quality, which are harder to manipulate or gamify than the keyword-based metadata of old. Web pages and URLs that have been around for a while tend to rank higher than new ones, and websites with a lot of content or web pages tend to outweigh leaner ones. Google’s SEO bots and crawlers can learn how often a website updates and will return regularly to index new content, so websites that update regularly tend to rank higher. Other quality signals include the amount of time users spend on the website, social signals (likes, comments, and follows), and the number and quality of links to your website from other websites. Getting linked on highly-rated websites imparts more of the coveted “Google juice.”
Content quality and on-page SEO
Longer content usually ranks higher—1,000 to 1,200 words is a better length than 400 to 600 words—and useful headers that guide the reader through the piece make for better SEO than long blocks of text. Freshness counts, too. Google tends to downrank any content that is duplicated elsewhere on the Internet. Sometimes, duplication is necessary, and there are ways to code content so that Google only indexes the primary occurrence.
Security and mobile website optimization
Other indicators of website and web page quality include website security (whether the URL starts with http or its secure version, https), load speed, and optimization for mobile devices. Google estimates that about 50% of all searches are now done on mobile devices, so their search results prioritize mobile-optimized websites. These websites are labelled with “AMP” and a lightning-bolt symbol on the search engine results page.
Keyword research and website audits
Keywords are actually short phrases, not single words, and they are crucial for on-page optimization. Researching keywords and conducting web page or website audits can help you tweak content to maximize the SEO on a web page. Using keywords in all the right places reassures the SEO bots and crawlers that your web page content is indeed related to the keywords.
Google’s SEO algorithm is a well-guarded secret, and it is always evolving. But Google does announce when they make significant changes, and sometimes they hint at smaller changes, too. Follow their blog to keep abreast of changes, and in the meantime, test, tweak, and let the SEO bots and crawlers work.
Wendy Barron made the leap from hospital administrative servitude to freelance editing in 2014. She is passionate about plain language and clear design, feminism, representation, literacy, and helping people tell their stories. She edits fiction, nonfiction, academic, scholarly, medical, business, and leisure writing. Wendy volunteers too much, and her favourite arrangement is when someone else does the cooking and cleaning.
Maggie Clark is a post-secondary student whose goal in life is to work as a professional editor. On her way to achieving that goal, she has earned a Professional Writing Diploma from Douglas College and a Bachelor of Arts in Professional Communication from Royal Roads University. Her next step is to complete her studies in SFU’s Editing Certificate program.
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