Good question. I’m learning as I build my skill set in the web design field of the twenty-first century that we actually have two audiences for our websites in our online visibility world: humans and algorithms (specifically search engine algorithms).
Humans we know pretty well, and many of us know how to write stories or product descriptions or instructions in our native natural languages. Quality writing with valuable advice or information on how to solve human problems or inspiration for humans; yep, most of us learned the basics here.
But why do we need to write for an algorithm? Well, SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is designed to get the attention of a search engine’s algorithm (= instruction for how to solve a problem—in this case how to index your site to make it come up in searches).
Trouble is, the complex language we use to create wonderful posts and pages for humans doesn’t really suit the search engine algorithm. It wants just the substantive keywords (like the index terms in the back of a book) in a string and hyperlinked web addresses (URLs) it can pick up easily and spit out in a search result. All those extra words just take longer to process (I know, it’s just milliseconds or maybe faster, but it adds up).
So, in addition to writing kick-ass posts on great subjects to make your site more visible, SEO is a good idea. My problem with many of the current plugins or services that promise to enhance your SEO is that taking their advice can often turn your prose into a chain of mindless keywords (or close) just to make the SEO rating happy.I hate being told that I didn’t get my main keyword into the first paragraph, or didn’t use it enough times (ugh!). I prefer to give precedence to making the human reader happy, with SEO in the background, not the foreground of my composition.
I do think I’ve found a happy medium that uses four tools: An automatically generated sitemap, tags on all my blog posts, permalink modifications, and basic metadata information.
Lovely little tool, the sitemap. It lists all the hyperlinks for the pages and posts in your website so the web crawlers can find them more easily and make sure they don’t miss any. If you have the suite of features called Jetpack from WordPress’s company, Automattic, you can check the Jetpack settings’ Traffic tab and scroll down to see if the sitemap feature is turned on. That’s easy!
Tags on Posts
When you are composing and editing your blog posts in WordPress, you should see a Tags widget over in the sidebar that gives you the option to add keywords to your post. Do be nice and only add keywords that actually apply to the content of your post; Google looks down on folks who engage in “tag packing.” It’s also rude for folks who search on your tags looking for a subject and then find that you didn’t write about that at all. So, take a few seconds to decide what your article is really about and use tag keywords that directly reflect the main topic and maybe three more subtopics or synonymous terms.
A permalink is the final URL text that identifies your specific page or post. In WordPress, you will find it right under the post or page title. By default, it is created using your choice from Settings/Permalinks in your WordPress Dashboard. You may have chosen just a numerical link or one with the year/month or full date plus the text of your title separated by hyphens.
I like to use a URL that has some relationship to the name of the article anyway, and search engines agree with me. But they don’t need the literal title and prefer one that has just the key subject words in it. You can choose the little Edit button to the right of the permalink to change the text that’s based on the title and shorten it up to just the most important words (deleting conjunctions or prepositions or even pronouns), or if you’ve been poetic in your title such that it doesn’t directly reference your topic, you can change the permalink so it does and make it easier for the search engine to use.
On this post, my title is “SEO: Why Should I Care?” Cute and useful for humans, but not directly identifying subject topics besides SEO itself. So I changed the permalink to read “seo-simple-advice.” You could also try “seo-simple-how-to.”
Metadata are brief descriptors at the top of your web page that tell search engines what the page is about. Again, the focus is on briefly summarizing the main subject(s) in your post or on your page for that web crawler to find, so we don’t have to make it super-readable for humans. Theme frameworks often give you the three basic metadata areas to fill in just below the editing/composition screen in a post or page. You can check to see if you have a similar functionality in your edit screen, which should include: document title, meta description, meta keywords.
In this area, you can again use more search engine–friendly title words. For this post, I used “SEO Simple Advice” like I did with the permalink.
Here you can put a short phrase or sentence that describes what the post or page is about. For this post, I put in “Basic tools for SEO enhancement.”
Here, you can put in a string of keywords that cover the subject(s) of your post. As you’ve likely noticed, this is very much like the tags located in the sidebar of your editing screen. You can put them in here, too, but since people started tag packing, Google, for one, has minimized its gathering of information from this section, so leaving it blank is just fine.
Sounds like a lot of work when I describe all the pieces, but not to worry. Once you set up the sitemap generation feature, you can just leave it alone. Tags, permalinks, and metadata do require individualized attention, at least in theory. I won’t get into specific plugin recommendations, but I saw several for customizing permalinks for different types of posts, for example, so I’m assuming that the plugin world has ways to automate these processes.
Still, do remember that all of this keyword focus is ultimately designed to bring humans to your site to read your posts and explore your pages. A bit of quality attention to your SEO elements along with well-written posts and pages will only enhance your ability to draw the right folks to your work.