SEO Best Practices, Tips and Tools

Jan 29, 2019

Written by Joannah Long, 2019 SMCLT President

Most marketers know that SEO is important; however, not many really understand it and why it matters.

We all want our content to be seen by the right people. One of the best ways to do that is by incorporating SEO practices. SEO, otherwise known as search engine optimization, is the process of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to a website primarily through organic or earned search results on search engines.

How do you improve your search optimization?

1. Provide Quality Content

2. Write Great Headlines

3. Include Header Tags and Keyword Phrases

4. Sharpen Your Keyword Game

5. Optimize Images

6. Expand Your Link-Building

7. Include Stats and Quotes from Credible Sources

8. Improve Readability

9. Format Content for Feature Snippets

10. Write Compelling Meta Descriptions

11. Don’t Forget to Optimize the Page URL

Scroll down to see best practice for implementing each tip.

Provide Quality Content:

It’s not just about words – content should include free tools, eye-catching visuals, how-to videos and much more.

Best practices:

· Break up your copy with heading, subheadings and bulleted lists

· Short concise paragraphs

· Proofread everything

· Update as needed

Write Great Headlines:

Your headline is the billboard to your article, and the most important piece of content for SEO aside from your body content. A header tells people what the piece is about, grabs their attention and gives a general overview of the topic.

Be concise, be provocative, be inspirational - be whatever you need to be as interesting as possible. Headlines are extremely important when it comes to organic search so be sure to include your keyword and focus on writing a header that asks a question or making it easy for your audience to find your article.

Ideal length: 50-60 characters

Include Header Tags and Keyword Phrases:

A header tag is also known as an H1 tag, is much like the subject line of your web page. You should only use your keyword phrase once in the H1 tag. This should be included on a page to which you are trying to drive unique traffic to. You can also use H2 tags (second header) if there are multiple sections.

Best practices:

· Use your keyword phrase once in your H1 tag

· Use H1 tags on pages you are trying to drive unique traffic to (SEO page)

· Use H2 tags if there are multiple sections

Ideal length: 70 characters

Sharpen Your Keyword Game:

What’s out: Keyword stuffing – Google now penalizes sites for this old tactic

What’s in:

· Keyword Proximity – keep keyword a reasonable distance apart

· Keyword Frequency – requires you to monitor how many times specific keywords show up in your text

· Keyword Prominence – how close these words are to the beginning of the web page, sentence, title H tag, meta description

· Keyword Stemming – adding a prefix, suffix, or pluralization to make the keyword into a “new” word

What to do: Create a Keyword Library and make sure you do your research

Optimize Images (image ALT tags and filenames):

You should try to include your keyword phrase in the name of your image - don’t overdo it though. Image filenames should also be SEO friendly. Image search is much more widely used than believed, so traffic from there is also valuable.

Best practices:

· Name all of your images in a way that describes what they are

· Use dashes between the words, rather than underscores ( red-shirt.jpg rather than red_shirt.jpg)

· Do not use non-alpha characters in your image or file names (so no %, &, $, etc.)

Expand Your Link-Building:

Link building has been an essential aspect of SEO since the beginning. By having more high-quality links on a web page – the higher you will rank. Google has changed its link algorithms which means that if link-building isn’t done properly, a website can be labeled as spam.

Best practices:

· Authority: relating to the quality and amount of links created over time. The more authority a website has – the more it is useful to other websites that link to it

· Quality over Quantity: Don’t go for numbers – instead focus on the highest quality URLs and make sure those links are created naturally and organically

· Reciprocal Links: When you link to a quality site and they link back to you (often pre-arranged)

· Relevant Inbound and Outbound Links

Include Stats and Quotes from Credible Sources:

Outbound links, especially those to highly authoritative sources or websites, is another signal that both users and Google use to assess if the information provided by a piece of content is accurate. It’s also essential for search algorithms, as this allows them to better understand relationships and associations among topics and web entities. The topical relevance of the linked sources can also improve your content’s relevance score to the target keywords.

Improve Readability:

Readability has a direct impact on user engagement metrics, which is one of the most important areas that Google looks into in ranking web pages nowadays. Many things have changed in Google’s core algorithm over the past couple of years, and user experience is playing a much bigger role now.

Best practices for improving your page’s readability:

· Format your content for skim readers

· Use shorter sentences

· Break long paragraphs

· Highlight the most interesting parts of your content (through effective use of subheadings, bold texts, and whitespaces)

· Use active voice

· Use transition words to give better direction to readers

Tools: Grammarly (a free writing app to help make content error-free) and Yoast SEO (popular WordPress plugin that helps with website content optimization)

Format Content for Feature Snippets (Google Answer Box):
Include sections in your content that can directly answer question-based queries (“how to,” “what is” and “list of” queries).

Google has different factors in play for this specific search listing (apart from the usual organic search ranking factors), but what’s more important is to ensure that your content is well-formatted and prepared to adapt to these sets of queries. Based on many experts’ observations, below are some of the key signals Google uses to determine which pages rank first:

Best practices:

· Provide the most logical and accurate answers to these types of queries

· Number and quality of links pointing to the page

· Engagement metrics matter (SERP CTR and time to long-click)

How to format and optimize your content for Google Answer Box:

· Include a section that states the question in a header (h2, h3, or h4)

· Provide a concise and direct answer or list of answers to the targeted query

· Make this section easy to find by both users and search crawlers

Write Compelling Meta Descriptions:

Meta descriptions, while not as important in search engine rankings, are extremely important in getting users to click through from the search engine results page (SERP) to your website. Meta descriptions should use keywords wisely, but more importantly, they should include a compelling description on which a user would want to click on.

Much like title tags, the SERPs will highlight keywords that the user searched for, increasing the likelihood of the user clicking through to your website.

Best practices:

· Write compelling meta descriptions

· 150 to 160 characters is the recommended length

· Avoid duplicate meta descriptions

· Do not use quotes or any non-alpha characters (Google cuts them out of the meta description)

Don’t Forget to Optimize the Page URL:

The URL should include keywords or key phrases as close to the beginning as possible. Use hyphens – never spaces or underscores to separate words.