In yesterday’s post I revealed the concept of incidental SEO and explained how it can shape your thinking when deciding how to optimize your pages. It is the concept that I always refer to when considering a fresh approach to SEO — the ultimate question being, “Does it negatively affect the user experience?”
Today I want to take theory of incidental SEO and give you a practical example of it in action. I’m going to do that in the form of my own personal checklist for optimizing content for search engines. The following is what I refer and adhere to when creating content. You may not take exactly the same approach as me but I hope it gives you suitable direction so that you can find your own way.
Point of Reference
In constructing this checklist I referred to the Linkdex Page Analysis tool available within the peerless WordPress SEO by Yoast plugin. While the it is a highly useful resource I feel that it leans too much towards attaining quantifiable or easily defined onsite SEO targets. This is understandable given that it is a computer program and it cannot think subjectively, but you are human and you can.
As such, it is perfectly fine to use the Linkdex tool as a point of reference but I would advise that you employ your own subjective skills to make the best SEO decisions for your site. That is essentially what I have done below — I have taken each recommendation from the Linkdex Page Analysis tool and made my own decisions as to what is appropriate, with my incidental SEO concept in mind.
Alright, let’s get to it!
Some of you will remember the days when you had to manually set up a file and folder structure for your static site. You’d end up with URLs like “http://mysite.com/content/category/sub-category/index.html”. It was messy.
However, these days we have permalinks. That old mouthful of a URL is now more likely to be something like “http://mysite.com/my-post/” which is great in terms of usability. Not only can people get an idea of what the post contains just from the URL, permalinks are far easier to remember.
With the above said, I advise that your permalinks are two things:
- Descriptive of the post’s content
In an ideal world you would include your primary keyword within the permalink (and in most cases it is relevant to do so) as this will aid search engines a great deal in determining the relevancy of that particular post. However, don’t forget to make it easy to read too.
Generally speaking you can spot an over-optimized title from a mile away — it reads unnaturally and gives you an immediate indication that the author has more concern for the search engines than it does the user. Not a good start.
My approach to titles is to first write one that is best suited to users then evaluate it in terms of search engine optimization. Can I optimize the title for SEO without affecting its readability? Can I include the keyword at the beginning of the title (which is commonly believed to be favored by Google) without it seeming unnatural? These are the questions you should ask yourself when creating your title.
Consider the following headlines:
- A Roundup of the Best Backup Plugins for WordPress
- WordPress Backup Plugins: A Roundup of the Best
The second headline is far better optimized for the search engines and the ease of comprehension does not suffer so I would pick that one. This is perhaps the area in which you give most consideration for SEO because your page title is one of the most important onsite ranking factors.
Including your primary keyword within a sub header is certainly not be a bad thing but you do not have to include it — especially if there is no natural way of doing so.
Depending upon the keyword you choose you may find that including it within a sub header is very difficult to do. At that point it can be tempting to effectively change the structure and makeup of the post in order to accomodate the keyword sub header, but at that point you are wandering well away from the concept of incidental SEO.
My advice here is simple — include your primary keyword within a sub header or sub headers if it is appropriate and natural to do so. Otherwise, don’t worry about it.
Depending on who you ask, SEO professionals will either give you an ideal keyword density percentage (relative to the total words in your post) or groan at the idea of even considering an ideal keyword density.
I side very much on the side of the second group. Keyword density is not something to be quantifiably defined and adhered to — the density of your chosen keyword should be dependant almost entirely upon how appropriate it is to include it within your body content in any given sentence. Don’t get me wrong — I do advise that you return to your post once you have written the first draft and attempt to include the keyword wherever it is appropriate and natural to do so, but that action is incidental to the quality of the piece. If you start trying to shoehorn the keyword in unnaturally, the user experience starts to suffer.
When writing content, have your primary keyword in mind and try to include it whenever possible. Return to your post when you have written the first draft and look for opportunities to include it. Consider synonyms and natural variations that can be incorporated. But when doing all of the above, always ensure that you are not compromising the quality of the post.
Image alt text keyword stuffing seems to be a popular pastime in spite of the fact that keyword stuffing in all other areas went the way of the dodo some time ago.
First of all let’s clear up the difference between image alt text and title text:
- Alt text should be used to describe an image so that people who cannot (or choose not) to see images can have an idea of what they are. It is also used by search engines to determine what the image is.
- Title text should offer “advisory information about the element for which it is set” (courtesy of the W3C). It is supplementary text that aids users in understanding the image. Title text is what the user sees when it hovers over an image.
The two explanations above should clearly highlight how the concept of including keywords within alt tags as a contrived tactic is entirely redundant. The job of an alt tag (from a usability perspective) is to describe an image. If an image you use happens to be unrelated to the topic that you cover (which can happen all the time, especially if you like to use images that are symbolic to the subject matter rather than directly relevant), it makes no sense to include the keyword within the alt text.
Check out this video from Google guru Matt Cutts for further clarification:
The only time when it is acceptable to include a keyword within an image is if it is entirely incidental — i.e. if it makes sense for the keyword to be included as part of the description of what the image is. So if you’re hellbent on including keyword within your images, pick the right image rather than manipulating the alt text to suit.
Finally we have the links on your post — internal and external, followed and nofollowed. Universally speaking it is advisable that you include links within your posts. Without links the Internet ceases to exist — they are its veins and arteries. It is unusual for a post to link to no other page and Google likes to see you doing so.
Linking is beneficial from both usability and SEO perspectives:
- Internal linking (i.e. to other pages on your site) helps users find related content within your blog and provides search engines with context as to the relevancy of your page.
- External linking (i.e. to pages on other sites) provides additional resources for the user to explore and also provides search engines with context as to the relevancy of your page.
It’s a win/win situation — you should look to include links often (but only when relevant, of course). Furthermore, I would advise that you pay special attention to linking externally when possible — a site that doesn’t link externally might be seen as suspicious by Google. Let’s face it — no blog is the ultimate resource on any topic, so it is only natural that you should link externally.
The eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed that I have not featured all of the recommendations within the Linkdex Page Analysis tool. The reason behind that is that I do not tend to bring them into consideration when optimizing my posts. However, I want to mention them below to clarify my thinking behind each one:
- Keywords in the first paragraph of the copy: it either happens or it doesn’t and shouldn’t be forced.
- Keywords containing “stop words“: they should do if it is natural for them to.
- Page title minimum character count: the page title should be as long (or as short) as necessary.
- Reading ease: you should write for your audience — that is where the determination of reading ease should be set.
- Meta description: you should include a meta description but it will have no effect on determining your rankings.
- Word count minimum: your content should be (a) concise and (b) as long (or as short) as it needs to be.
My advise to you at this point would be to take the above post and compress it into a concise checklist that you can refer to when creating your own posts. But remember: I do not intend for my guidelines to be set in stone. You should use your own intuitive understanding of SEO to decide how you want to optimize your content. I only consider the concept of incidental SEO to be bulletproof — beyond that, everything is open to interpretation.
With that said I would love to know what you think about my guidelines. Do you agree with them? If not, I’d love to know why and what you propose as an alternative. Let us know in the comments section!
Photo Credit: Daniel*1977