SEO

Quick tip: Using Google trends and auto-complete to produce content

If you’re a small business with a website, writing articles or blogging is the best way to get some Google juice and attract more traffic to your website. Coming up with content idea’s related to your small business can sometimes be difficult though.

One of the best ways to keep a constant flow of content is to just keep focused on content during your everyday activities. Questions your customer ask, interactions with customers, and everyday research into your business are good starting points.

It’s important to keep a list and add to it immediately when an idea comes up for a new article or piece of content for your website. It’s very easy to become inspired and come up with tons of great ideas in an afternoon, only to forget them later that night. Pick up a list app or something similar for your phone to keep track, there are plenty on all the popular app marketplaces.

But, what about coming up with ideas on demand? Say you have some free time to up your content footprint on the web, but you’re fresh out of idea’s. One technique I’ve advised often is to use Google trends.

It’s as simple as going to Google trends, typing a phrase related to your business-which can be either generic or specific-and checking out the related searches.

Google Trends Screenshot - related coffee searches

Look over both the top and the rising searches, and if they’re too generic, try grabbing something from there and searching trends for it.

Google Trends Screenshot - coffee trends

Still having trouble finding something not too generic? Try using Google search auto-complete. When you begin typing in a search term, pay attention to the auto-complete suggestions. One of these might yield a great suggestion as a topic or for another Google trends mining search.

Google search screenshot - green coffee

You may even find looking through trends will spark an idea for something completely unrelated to your original search.

Using domain registration to optimize your search engine ranking

There are many ways your domain name can help or hurt your search engine ranking. You can use a few of the following tips when registering your domain, or registering domains for micro-sites or campaigns for your business.

Keywords in domain name

Placing the most important keywords in your domain name can significantly contribute to a page ranking. There are many ways you can incorporate a keyword in a domain name.

Exact match domain

This is great for a campaign or a micro-site. If a customer is searching for ‘recycled shoes’, recycledshoes.com will have an advantage over other domains since the domain name matches the search query exactly. Beware that spammy sites do this all the time, and many exact matches might be hard to obtain. If you find one that works for you, make sure you provide useful content on the site. This is where creating a useful micro-site based around a single product, or subset of products will help. Redirecting the domain to your main business domain is likely to gain you nothing.

Keyword in domain

Just having one of your main business focus keywords in your domain will help your ranking. If your company is named ‘Acme’, and you focus on tools, acmetools.com will be a better domain than just Acme.

Making the keyword the first word in the domain name is also a popular strategy. There is evidence that this technique may be more beneficial than placing a targeted anywhere else. In this example we could try: toolsbyacme.com.

There is also evidence that keywords as sub-domains are factored into rankings. This is great for micro-sites as well. You might run a campaign to push anvils, so you would set up a site at anvils.acme.com targeting anvil sales.

Domain age

Domain age and registration length is also known to be a factor. Both have been mentioned by Google’s resident webspam team member Matt Cutts. 

There isn’t much you can do about domain age except to register early and never let your domain expire. Spend the extra money and register your domain for longer than a year at least. There is controversy around whether the registration length is really a factor, but if you plan to stay around for a few years it makes sense to go ahead and register long term.

Others

Private domain registration has been mentioned as a factor by Matt Cutts before. There are legitimate reasons to have a private domain. If you’re running a solo home based business and you don’t want to broadcast your address and phone number on WHOIS it you may want to stay private. Most small businesses with a phone number and a PO box should list it publicly on their domain WHOIS. This lets Google and everyone else know you’re a legitimate business.

If you operate specifically out of a certain country, or provide a local service, consider using a country specific TLD, like .uk, .ca, .jp, etc… This helps search engines know what country you operate out of, although it’s not the only way they determine your locality. Consider registering multiple TLD’s localized to each area you operate.

Conclusion

Your domain name is just a small factor in your overall search engine ranking, some of these tips will help push you above the competition. This is all provided you have actual useful content on your site. Content is always king, but every little optimization helps.

Five minute writing sprint

So you’re sitting around, you finally have a moment to focus on your website and you think, “I need to get some more content up here”.

You don’t have the budget to hire a writer or a marketing expert to help write your content so instead you write everything yourself.

You sit down but your mind is blank, you expect yourself to write the next most viral content the web has ever seen, making your business blow up, wherein you become a billionaire philanthropist and spend the rest of your life making the world a better place.

But you still have no idea how to start.

I propose a five minute writing sprint.

Sit down, get a timer, use your phone or the classic kitchen timer for added dramatic effect, set it for five minutes and go.

But I still have no idea what to write you say!

Stop! No backspace key allowed. Write whatever is in your head in the moment.

Imagine this:

You start your timer and realize you really should have hit the restroom before you started, well, suck it up, it’s only five minutes.

Start by writing that.

Once your fingers start relentlessly pounding on the keyboard and you command them keep going, the ideas will start pouring out of your brain. Some will be terrible, some will be great, some you will have no idea where they came from. This is the beauty of the 5 minute writing sprint.

As you’re writing, new ideas start popping into your head and you start to get into a deeper flow. Your timer all of the sudden goes off, but it feels like you’ve only been writing for 30 seconds, so you keep going.

If you are having trouble, use the five minute writing sprint to get started and you’ll be amazed with what you come up with.

Don’t worry about editing, that will come easily once you’re done.

Writing as fast as you can will kill your inner critic and help you spew out as many ideas as you can, eventually you might run out of gas, but I bet it will take longer than you realize.

You may write things in a crazy random order. Ideas may come to you in the wrong order. Just keep writing, that is what editing is for. We’re just here to work out ideas and a general outline for the first run through.

Afterwards you may have one complete article, or 5 separate ideas for articles to write. You can expand on these with additional 5 minute sprints or just write normally.

The point is to get started. Half the battle is just opening up your writing environment and go go going. If you notice yourself slowing down to think just start jamming the keyboard fast and without regard.

After all, all you need are words, that you turn into sentences, that you turn into paragraphs, that you turn into sections, that you turn into articles.

If you already have an idea, or if you’re starting round two you can just start freestyle writing on your idea with an outline.  An outline will help you keep some semblance of structure and keep things readable. You may even find that writing with an outline will give you one shot articles. Great, interesting and fun articles that you’ve written in no time.

If you’re a small business owner and you can’t afford a writer or content creator this may be the best piece of advice for you. Anyone can write, and the more you write the more you’ll figure it out. The more things you try the more you learn what works.

Learn this one insane trick used by Nobel laureates to create outstanding article titles!

Okay, bear with me and hopefully you’ll understand the [ridiculous] title to this post afterwards.

First, check out this webcomic from the great xkcd.

xkcd comic
http://xkcd.com/1283/

You’ve almost certainly seen similar headlines while browsing the web, and if you haven’t noticed, you’ll probably notice them everywhere now. Headlines like these are common headlines for content, sometimes referred to as Link bait.

Obviously the headlines in the comic are filled with sarcasm but they illustrate a lot of concepts used in writing interesting headlines. Headlines need to grab people’s attention and get them to choose to read one article over the millions of other similar articles out there.

So, how do you get someone to read the article you’ve spent days pounding out on your keyboard? Start with a good headline.

 Associate with someone of power

“How a shocking new theory, discovered by a Dad, proves scientists are wrong about everything” is a decent example of this, although it could be taken even further. The idea of scientists theories being uprooted by a Dad is supposed to be surprising, which is interesting enough for someone to want to know more.

Also, claiming ‘Nobel laureates’ create outstanding article titles is an example of trying to use a perceived authority figure to grab a readers attention. I did a quick search and couldn’t find any references from Nobel Prize (in Literature) winners regarding writing interesting titles. When I do find one I’ll post it here. I would recommend not using this unless you really have a reference. 🙂

Shh, it’s a secret

Simple things often aren’t revealed in the headline in order to compel people to click and read the article. It’s like you’re keeping a secret from your audience until the last possible moment. These are the ‘one weird trick’ articles.

Imagine trying to get someone to read an article about cutting their hair every other week. Yeah, right, who would read that?

“Get a hair cut from a qualified hair stylist biweekly to maintain your desired hair length.”

That sounds like the most ridiculous article and reading it would most definitely cause a mass departure of brain cells. I would not bother to click on an article like this, and I’d probably put whatever site served that article on my block list. However, how about something like this:

“This one crazy productivity hack eliminates unnecessary hair length!”

Alright, so I wouldn’t read this article either. It sounds terrible, and come on, it’s an article about hair. It sounds a little more interesting though, right?

61047 ways to write winning headlines

People love lists.

I’ve read many theories on why list posts are effective. People are busy and like to know how much they are going to have to read. List posts make an article easier to scan. People like lists in general.

If you hadn’t already noticed the massive amount of informational ‘list posts’, now you will see them everywhere.

Although list posts are pretty effective, use them sparingly. They can be effective but with so many articles based on lists these days they can also be perceived as a joke. Not everything is a list, and in general you should stick to covering one topic in an article. Don’t use the list post format for something that clearly doesn’t need to be structured as a list.

Can writing an article about writing headlines make me a better writer?

Steal some clicks by asking a question. I ask you a question, and you feel compelled to answer. I read a question, at least an interesting one, and I want to know the answer. I’m curious, everyone is curious. What’s the answer?

Asking your potential readers a question is a great technique to interest them in reading further. Make it an interesting question and make sure you have an interesting answer.

Don’t lead anyone on though. Give a terrible or generic answer and you alienate your readers.

Conclusion

These are just a few standard techniques to write interesting headlines. Whatever you do, make sure your content lives up to the hype of your headline. Find the right balance for the type of reader you want into what kind of direction you take your headlines.

The goal is not to ‘trick’ someone into reading your content, but to write interesting headlines so your target audience will find and appreciate it.

Images and Search Engine Optimization

While the bulk of content on the web is text, images play an important role. Images support your content and can help illustrate concepts more clearly or provide an interesting break from content. They can also encourage people to read your content, but not every visitor to your site necessarily has images enabled.

In this post we’ll be talking about the best practices when it comes to using images on the web.

To insert an image into an html document we use the <img> tag. We need at least the src and alt attributes, and preferably the width and height attributes as well.

Image tag attributes

There are four important image tag attributes. The only required attribute is the ‘src’ attribute, however the other three mentioned here are important as well.

src

The src attribute is pretty straightforward, it tells the browser the location of the file.

alt

The alt attribute is used to describe the image. This description will be visible before the image loads (like on a slow connection), by screen readers (blind users or users with poor site), or if an image referred to by the src attribute cannot be found.

width & height

The width & height attributes are important to specify so the browser knows before beginning to render how much space the image will need. However, this may also depend on the layout of the site and if responsive/fluid images are being used.

Optimizing for Search

There are a couple important factors to consider when optimizing images for a website. Here we’ll talk about the alt tag and image size and compression.

Optimizing your alternate text for images

The alt attribute is very important, not just for search but to ensure your website is accessible to all users. Well written alternate text is human readable (not just a list of keywords) and concise (aim for less than 10 words). Search engines will use this text to index your images. While it’s not the only technique that may be used (surrounding context, file name, and other factors may contribute as well), it is best practice to always include alt text.

Optimizing image size

Site speed is important to both users and search engines. If your site does not load quickly enough users are more apt to click the back button and look somewhere else. If your site is really slow search engines like Google are likely to rank your site lower or even not index it at all.

Images often make up the bulk of the size of a page, so it’s important to ensure that the correct image format and compression is used.

When saving an image for the web you will want to make sure it’s saved at the size it will be shown on the web. I’ve often encountered images taken directly from a camera uploaded to a website and re-sized by the web browser. The sizes can differ wildly, but this can easily be the difference between downloading a 12 megabyte image vs a 40 kilobyte image.

It’s very simple to open your image up, re-size to a smaller size, and save as a .jpg. In software like The Gimp, when saving as a .jpg you will be given the option of choosing compression quality and be able to preview the result.

This week was just a brief overview of what to consider when using images on the web. I’ve gone through the basics, but there is plenty more to learn out there, such as responsive images, svg format images, image sprites, and more image optimization tips.

Let’s talk about HTML basics for SEO again.

Alright, so maybe my previous post on html wasn’t the ‘least amount’ you should know. You can never know too much about anything. The more you know about the underlying structure of your website the easier it is to optimize every single detail. Let’s go further down the HTML rabbit hole and learn more about some important tags and attributes.

Write an attention grabbing title!

The <title> tag in your html document always resides within the <head> tag. If you haven’t guessed by now, the title tag determines what is displayed on your browser title bar. This will also be the text that search engines link to your site-the text people will first see when a page on your site shows up in their search results.

Website title in search results

It should be pretty obvious that you want your titles to be attention grabbing and descriptive of the content. They should be concise and to the point, and sometimes maybe a little surprising.

For SEO, titles should be less than 80 characters long. Anything longer is likely to get cut off or not used at all in a search  result. Your targeted keywords should be as close to the beginning of the title as possible. When your page comes up in a search result, users are more likely to notice and click on links with their keywords more prominently placed near the beginning of the result.

Each title should be unique. It’s alright to have a few words in the title on all your pages, like your company name, etc… You should not however have any duplicated titles across your site. Similar or duplicate titles will be confusing for your visitors, search engines, and yourself. Duplicate content is something to be avoided like the plague.

I wrote a meta tag describing my meta tags, meta!

Meta tags are used to tell browsers and search engine crawlers specific information about a page. Meta tags are placed within the <head> of your html page. There are only two meta tags you need to concern yourself with in regards to SEO.

Meta description

The meta description tag tells the search  engine what your page or site is about. It should be a well written human readable description less than 155 characters. On a Google search result page this description is the text displayed beneath the title of the result displayed.

Website meta description

It must be written for a normal human to understand and not just a list of keywords. Google’s algorithm will analyze this description and may not use it at all if it’s determined to not represent the page it’s describing.

Here’s an example of a meta tag:

<meta name="description" content="Great Choice Dog food is a well-balanced nutritional food for your favorite pet. Serve your best friend only the tastiest treats and make him or her a happy dog!">

Writing a great description will also help you get more people to click through to your site. Users usually scan through the first search result page and an enticing description will be much more effective than one generated by the search engine itself.

The robots are taking over

Robot telling a human to get to work

The robots meta tag is something you won’t likely have to concern yourself with, but it is important to know about nonetheless. If you would like a page not to show up on a search engine results page this is the tag you would use.

The robots tag can be used to give a search engine crawler some rules regarding how it can use the content on the page. Most major search engine crawlers will respect these rules but they don’t necessarily have to. What this means is that a spam crawler, or other malicious web crawlers may ignore all robot rules and do what it pleases.

By default, without a robots tag on your page, a search engine will index your page and use it in it’s search results. You can specify ‘noindex’ in a robots tag to tell the search engine you do not want the page to show up in their search results.

The robots meta tag looks like this:

<meta name="robots" content="noindex">

You can read a little more about the other available options to use in the robots meta tag over at Google developers.

Headings, sub-headings, sub-sub-headings, oh my!

We already talked a bit about headings in the article about content hierarchy but I think we should revisit them briefly.

Often your content management system will use an <h1> heading to represent the title of your blog post or page. This same content is often what is also automatically placed in your <title> tag as well.

In WordPress you can use a plugin, such as the Yoast SEO Plugin to tweak the title of your page and make it completely different than the title of your article. You will want to keep your <title> still closely related to your page or post title, but often it’s a good idea to tweak it just a bit to move keywords closer to the beginning of the line or rephrase it target more keywords.

Screenshot of Yoast SEO Plugin

Since most people scan documents before reading, you should split your content up into easily digestible parts and important points. Using layers of headings and sub-headings to split up sections and direct their attention where you want it.

As with any document, online or offline, your headings are just title’s for sections of content. You should treat them like you would the title. They should be well written, descriptive, and have keywords near the beginning. When someone is scanning through an article they will generally read the headings and the first sentence or two before deciding whether to more thoroughly read through it.

If your post or article title is and <h1>, your content will split up into various <h2> sub-headings and <h3> sub-sub-headings. Of course, you can continue to go <h4> and above this depends what you’re writing about.

The following is a heading hierarchy example (albeit not a great one).

<h1>Ways to get around town!</h1>
  <h2>Get around town in style on wheels</h2>
    <h3>Two wheeled transportation is economical</h3>
      <h4>Fast lightweight bikes for rent</h4>
    <h3>Four wheeled transportation for comfort and style</h3>
      <h4>Try a car</h4>
        <h5>Compact cars for fuel efficiency</h5>
        <h5>Mid-Size cars for extra room</h5>
  <h2>Get around town on Foot</h2>
    <h3>Wear comfortable sneakers for long walks</h3>
    <h3>Boots are best in the rain</h3>

Conclusion

There are many html tags, and to ensure search engine crawlers and humans alike understand your content, you must understand how to correctly use them. I can’t go over all of them in this one post, so I’ll continue to talk more about the different tags available, their semantic meaning, and how to use them correctly.

Next week: Images.

Until then, keep it semantic. 😉

 

How to create massive amounts of quality content quickly

So you know the cornerstone of good SEO is to have an authoritative presence online and provide plenty of valuable and interesting content. Now you’re wondering, ‘How do I make all this content? How much is it going to cost me? I want it done soon and quickly because I want to triple my web traffic this week!’

I’m sorry to tell you that isn’t how it works. There are no shortcuts. Well, there are no good shortcuts. There is an entire industry of ‘black hat’ SEO experts out there that use some shady tactics that just may get you a good ranking. Lets talk about why we don’t want to do that.

Black Hat: SEO’s Dark Side

There are a few problems with ‘Black Hat’ SEO strategies. ‘Black Hat’ is loosely defined, but in general it is knowingly trying to game the search engine algorithms with garbage content and spam. The problem is that it fills the web with garbage.

Drawing of the Internet

What kind of garbage? Well, comment spamming for one. You’ll often notice completely off topic comments or poorly worded general comments that contain a link to another site. Most of the time these are spam comments trying to insert links to their site. The theory behind this is that search engines will pick up this link as an honest link from one site to another and increase the linked sites ranking (One link likely won’t matter, but imagine thousands of spam links spread across thousands of blogs).

Black Hat also provides us with the multitude of awful ‘spun’ content. What is ‘spun’ content?

Spinning Top

Spinning content involves writing an article, or better yet, copying an article from somewhere else and passing it through article spinning software. What this software does is help the user create very rough rewritten articles replacing words and phrases with synonyms and like phrases. Most of the time these new articles are near impossible to read without editing, and in general no one edits the end result. They are used to produce ton’s of unreadable content that appears to be unique.

These strategies also cost money for many companies trying to provide valuable free services to people. Just check out this post from one small startup about dealing with spam: http://the-pastry-box-project.net/chris-coyier/2013-october-10/

Employing anyone that uses these strategies is taking a gamble with your reputation and Google is constantly updating their search algorithms, so you may someday find your site has dropped off the map.

So how do I create all this awesome content?

The key is to use a slow burn tactic. Create consistency. Even if you just post something once a week you’ll begin building an archive of valuable content that will be indexed by Google. 

Master key

It will take time, but the more often your write content, the better you will get at coming up with ideas and writing great unique content. If you don’t have the time to do this, make the time. If you really, really, can’t find the time because you’re too busy running the day-to-day operations of your business then hire someone to write for you. Even if just part-time, you need to be providing content on your site regularly in order to build up a large archive.

If you do hire a content writer, make sure they understand your product or service. Even better if they are a passionate user or customer.

Focus on quality. Make sure your content is worth having archived online. The more timeless information your site contains the better it will be perceived. It’s better to write one quality article a week, or bi-weekly, than one 20 word throw-away article daily.

Conclusion

I hope this has given you an idea of what to avoid and how to get started. We’ll talk more about coming up with content ideas in the future. The key is to just be consistent and start writing regularly on your company blog, newsletter, or whatever method you use to reach out to your customers.

Create quality content and become an authority.

If your website just contains your business location and phone number along with some promotional text don’t expect to rank high on search engines in your industry. It’s alright to just have a ‘business card'(Fig 1) type site online so your existing customers can find you, but you need quality content that people want to read to have any relevancy or authority on the internet.

Business Card Parody Image

Quality content for quality rankings

Producing unique quality content is the first and most important step to help your site rank high in the search engine space. Your customers are searching for answers to questions every day and your site should be the one to answer them. In fact, your site should also answer search queries in any related topics to pull in even more customers.

One of the top metrics search engines rank your site on is the quality of your content. Spam sites meant to game rankings are often filled with barely readable copies of articles from more popular sites that have been automatically reworded/rephrased to appear to be different unique content. These tactics are well known and a good reason to make sure your content is unique, interesting, and readable.

Unique quality content is also more likely to appeal to your customers and produce sharing among them.

Customer Engagement

The rise of social media sites like Twitter and Facebook has revolutionized customer engagement. Customer complaints and questions are often public and easy to find. Engaging with your customers and potential customers is now easier than ever.

A quick search on twitter for your product or industry will likely reveal hundreds or thousands of tweets. Each tweet is a possible positive interaction for your business.

Let’s say you run a business that sells coffee beans and supplies to consumers. You search twitter for coffee grinder and find a tweet from a user complaining that their coffee grinder broke this morning.

Broken Coffee Grinder

This is an opportunity to help a potential customer. Be careful about sounding spammy, in fact, I would recommend your tweet not promote your business at all, just help out someone in need.

In the above example, you could respond with something along the lines of: “I hate when that happens! I’d recommend a burr grinder, I like the Burr Grinder super ultimate express plus plus.”

Be careful of appearing to be spamming random twitter users. If you manufacture ‘Burr Grinder super ultimate express plus plus’ and it is only available from your company, you may want to disclose this. The key idea is to help people without trying forcefully promote your business–while also promoting your business.

Helping people promotes more social interaction with your brand, resulting in more mentions of your business on social media sites.

Be THE authority

You provide a product or service to your customers. You are the authority on that product. Make sure everyone knows it.

Your customers need to know it. Google needs to know it. Bing needs to know it. DuckDuckGo needs to know it. Everyone.

Make sure everyone knows you are the master at making gourmet chocolate covered pizza bites by becoming the authority and main source of information on the web about gourmet chocolate covered pizza bites (I just made that product up, but if these really exist, well, I don’t know what to think about that).

Drawing of a chocolate pizza

Becoming an authority online can be difficult depending on your product. Being the authoritative source about chocolate pizza bites won’t be as difficult as becoming the authority on-say, insurance.

If your product or service has huge competition you’ll still want to target the general audience, like insurance, but you will want to expand and narrow down what you write about even further for better results. You could focus on the location and then narrow down the topics.

So, don’t just write about general Insurance topics, start to focus on specifics. For example, you could write about standard Insurance topics and then expand and write about Kansas City focused insurance topics, and finally Kansas City Casualty insurance.

If you consistently provide quality information related to your product, service, or industry and make sure people know about it, you will become an authority and naturally start gaining links and mentions from social media and other websites.

Search engines look at your content and who is linking, liking, and talking about you to determine how relevant your site is related to a search query. This is why content is the most important factor web marketing or SEO.

That’s all folks

Create quality content, engage your current and future customers, and become an authority. It’s really that simple, or hard, depending how you look at it. Start today providing content on your site. Start small if you have to–just build a habit of consistently writing on your site–or hire a good writer if you have the budget, but make sure whoever is writing for you is as passionate about your product or service as you are.

Homework: Make a commitment to publish at least one piece of content on your site weekly.

Top tip: Every question a customer asks you is a potential blog post. This is a great source if you’re blocked and having trouble thinking of what to write about. Another customer somewhere is asking that question online but they haven’t heard about you yet. Write about it.

The least amount of HTML you need to know for effective SEO

Your first step in learning search engine optimization is to understand the basics of HTML. You don’t necessarily need to become a developer and start building your own sites from the ground up, but understanding how web markup works is essential to optimizing your site for search engines.

HTML is describing your data

You probably already know that the web uses HTML, and maybe you’ve heard the term CSS and JavaScript thrown around a lot to.  I’ll be talking about HTML in this article, the markup language for creating web pages.

When you create a new post or a page with a standard content management system (CMS) like WordPress, most likely you’re using an editor that takes care of the markup for you.

Try this out.  Create an article in WordPress, make some of your text bold and some italic and throw any other types of formatting you want.  If you preview or publish the post and then highlight your text, right-click and click on Inspect element, a small inspector window should pop up (Firefox and Chrome).

Chrome Web Inspector Screenshot

You’ll notice that your text now contains extra text you didn’t write, surrounded by inequality symbols ( < > ). For text you made bold you will likely see <strong>bold</strong>. For italicized text you may see <em>italic</em>.

HTML Tags

The text surrounded by greater than and less than signs are called HTML tags.  Your entire webpage is made up of content surrounded by tags.  The tags are merely there to describe your data and tell the web browser how to display it.

Below is an example of a very simple webpage. It’s important to note you would never use something this simple on a real site. It’s missing some important tags and meta information, but a browser will load this and display it correctly.

<html>
<head>
<title>Turtles are awesome</title>
</head>
<body>
<article>
   <h1>Turtles are the best for so many reasons!</h1>
   <p>Turtles are so cool and they know it. Here are a couple reasons they're awesome (in an unordered list):</p>
   <ul>
      <li>They're slow!</li>
      <li>They have shells!</li>
   </ul>
   <h2>Why being slow and having a shell is cool</h2>
   <p>A little know fact about being slow and having a shell.</p>
</article>
</body>
</html>

The title of the article ‘Turtles are the best!’ is surrounded by an <h1> heading tag. Generally an article or page will contain one <h1> tag which contains the title or main idea of the article. Your sub-heading tags should describe what the next section is about. The bulk of your text will be surrounded by paragraph <p> tags.

CSS also plays a part in telling your browser how to display your data. You can think of CSS (which stands for Cascading Style Sheets) as telling the browser how to style your data. We don’t need to be too concerned with CSS for just SEO because the search engines shouldn’t care too much how something is styled, although we can never be too sure. No search engine reveals exactly how they rank sites, otherwise everyone would just game the system.  All we have are guidelines to follow.

How search engines use HTML

So what does any of this have to do with SEO?  Well a whole lot. You must understand how to use proper tags to describe your data well.  Humans may not see all your HTML markup, but search engines do.

Google, Bing, and all search engines use computer programs called crawlers, that basically just visit site after site mining the content. The only way they know to interpret your site is to read the HTML markup and try to understand the content.

Lightbuld doodle drawing

You can help the search engine crawlers understand your content better by formatting the content on your site properly. If a crawler can understand what your content is about, then it can more easily determine what search queries your content is relevant for.

And that is the entire point of search engines. To return the most relevant content for the query passed into it.

I know this may seem basic, and maybe even common sense to many people, but you must keep this in mind when creating content for your site. Content is the cornerstone to getting ranked on search engines and getting more traffic. Your content needs to be formatted not just for humans, but for computers as well.

As this is a series about learning SEO and not HTML, I won’t go much deeper into HTML. I’m assuming you’re using some form of Content Management System with a ‘What you see is what you get’ editor. If you’re interested in a deeper understanding of HTML there are limitless resources online. Here’s one to get you started: W3 Web Standards Curriculum.

Ok, so we know our content on the web is formatted with HTML, which describes the content.  We know the HTML should be semantic-that is-it should also describe the meaning of the content. So where do we go from here?

Content Hierarchy

Simple. Just make sure when you’re editing your content that you create the correct on page content hierarchy.

What do I mean by that?

Well, take a look at other pages around the ‘net. If you’re writing an article (like this one maybe), your content should have proper markup to signify it’s importance.

Your content will usually have one heading (<h1> tag) for the title.  You should also be using <h2> tags for sub-headings, <h3> for sub-sub-headings, etc. Text should be emphasized as needed. Lists should be marked up with the proper ordered <ol> or unordered <ul> tags.

This all may seem basic to you if you’re already familiar with HTML or even content writing, but you’d be amazed at the number of small business sites I’ve seen that are filled with huge walls of text. People don’t want to read walls of text and web crawlers don’t either.

That’s it for this week. I’d suggest exploring HTML markup a bit more, try starting with the resource mentioned earlier.

Homework Assignment: Take a look in your browser history at some of your recent searches. Pull them back up and look at the first few sites on each query. Pay attention to how their content is formatted. Pay attention to Headings, sub-headings, and their general content hierarchy.

Notes:

In a default install of WordPress you may need to click the ‘Show/Hide Kitchen Sink’ button to get all of your formatting features(headings).

Wordpress screenshot
WordPress Show/Hide Kitchen Sink
WordPress screenshot
Paragraph/Heading formatting options in WordPress

 

Drupal CKEditor screenshot
Paragraph/Heading formatting options for Drupal with CKEditor