What is SEO?

In this article, I intend to demystify a common industry buzzword, SEO, and also provide a look into how SEO can benefit a blog.

If you aren’t sure what SEO is, or you’d like to learn more about how it works, this easy-to-read guide will help you to better understand what the fuss is all about.

SEO: What is it?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization.

Quite simply, it is the process of optimizing and configuring the pages and posts on your website so they will be displayed more prominently in search results on search engines like Google, Yahoo! and Bing.

Search Engine Results
Above: a Search Engine Results Page on Yahoo! Today, paid advertising plays more heavily into search ranking than so-called “organic” listings.

Optimizing pages enables marketers to attract more traffic to their websites from free, “organic” or natural listing sources, especially as they increase the rank of their content.

A page’s SEO value is determined by a few key ingredients:

  • The content on the page: search engines track every word on the web. This enables them to produce meaningful search results when someone searches for something specific. For example, searching for “video games from the 80s” would, hypothetically, turn up search results that pertain to those keywords.
  • The title of the page: every page on the web has a title (unless it was deliberately left blank). Page titles summarize what the page is about, much like a book title tells you what you can expect to find on the inside.
  • Links: inbound and outbound links also factor into your page’s ranking. When one page links to another, it is essentially a recommendation for that other page. If a lot of people link to your page, search engines consider each of these links an endorsement for your content. Conversely, when inbound links to your site are considered bogus or spam, it can decrease your page’s ranking. Generally speaking, links from trustworthy sites are given more weight.
  • Words used in links: different word combinations can be used in anchor text (anchor text refers to the words used in links). If someone were to link to Outsource Blog Content and used the anchor text “blog content”, for example, we would begin to rank better for the key term, blog content.
  • Reputation: if your site is frequently updated with new, value-adding content, and more trustworthy sites are linking to you, your site will begin to rank higher in search results thanks to your solid reputation.

It’s important to know that search engines are often changing their algorithm, which is their proprietary formula for determining how well a page ranks. The ingredients mentioned here are just the basics, as many other granular components can factor into a particular page’s ranking.

Though it is a good idea to optimize your pages, the best way to rank well in search results is to offer regular, quality, value-adding content. That’s where blogging comes in.

SEO: How does it Benefit a Blog?

If you’ve been tracking so far, you may have come to the realization already that a blog usually benefits a website; not the other way around. If regular, quality content is the key to SEO and organic traffic, then creating more content on your blog can only help your business or website. Of course, low-quality content won’t be of much benefit to you.

Company Blog
Many companies have realized the importance of having a blog and how it enables them to build their audience.

This isn’t to say that blog posts can’t be search engine optimized. Here are several ways posts can be configured for SEO purposes.

  • Create posts that serve your target market: if you know what your audience will be searching for, you can create content that will benefit them and answer their questions. However, it’s virtually impossible to rank for your all of your chosen keywords. Marketers have to do their research, and narrow their focus on a small number of content topics so they can develop authority in those areas.
  • Optimize headlines: your posts can benefit greatly from being broken up into digestible chunks. In this guide, the two major headlines are “SEO: What is it?”, and “SEO: How does it Benefit a Blog”‘. The best practice here is to put the keywords at the beginning of each headline. The same goes for titles. Moreover, titles and headlines should also be engaging, drawing people in to want to read more.
  • Optimize page URLs: the URL of a page refers to its location on the web (i.e. http://www.yourwebsite.com/content-page/). Search engines will check to see if the bolded portion of the URL (i.e. “content-page” in the given example) matches up with the title, headlines, and keywords you’ve specified. Individual words should be broken up by dashes (-) for best results.
  • Optimize links: anchor text can also play a part in a page’s SEO value. For example, if one of the links in your menu reads “shoes”, and you create another link in the page that also has the word “shoes” in it, the second link won’t be given as much attention by search engines. Therefore, anchor text within posts should be different from any other link on the page.
  • Optimize your website for mobile: though mobile design goes beyond the scope of this guide, it is essentially the practice of creating a website that caters to mobile users. With more and more users accessing websites from their tablets and smartphones, it’s a good idea to meet the demands of mobile users. Search engines have begun de-prioritizing websites that aren’t mobile friendly.

These are just some of the many ways in which blog posts can be optimized.

Ultimately, SEO best practices will help your content to rank higher in search engines. When your content ranks higher, it will be clicked on more often. When it is clicked on more often, you will generate more traffic for your website.

As for what to do with that traffic, it’s up to you. You can build your mailing list, promote your latest product or service, or just have your audience share your content across their favorite social networks. Make sure to create a compelling call to action too.

External Resources

For additional reading on the subject of SEO, the following resources may be of interest to you.

SEO Benefits from Blogs: this post explains how blogs can benefit your website’s overall SEO.

Blog SEO for the Modern Marketer: How to Optimize Your Posts: this post covers some of the points mentioned here in more detail. If you’d like to learn more about how to optimize individual posts, this helpful overview will provide you with additional insights.

Common Writing Errors You Absolutely Need to Correct Before Hitting ‘Publish’ on Your Next Content Piece

I’ll be honest; bad writing turns me off.

I recognize that we are all human, and we all make mistakes, and I am certainly no exception. I applaud and admire those who daily go to their keyboard to bang out a blog post or an article or a few paragraphs for their upcoming book, as I am all-too-familiar with the creatively intensive work that is involved.

I can also appreciate the fact that some people are still in the process of practicing and honing their craft, and they are at various stages of their development. Some may not have a lot of previous experience, or they may not be familiar with conventions in the sometimes intricate and complex English language.

However, when some of the most egregious errors are repeatedly committed by eager bloggers and authors, I instinctively find myself turning away from their work.

As an avid consumer of blog posts, articles and information in general, I want to give every author and every writer a chance. Nevertheless, there are conspicuous blunders that make me cringe. Even if the information is good, I will sometimes bail out before reading a piece in its entirety; especially if it isn’t formatted with care.

Let’s take a closer look at the problem.

The Problem

I believe I’ve hinted at this already, but before I move on, I want to underscore the fact that this is not a braggadocios post about how good I am at writing. I happen to have a lot of experience, and I am very conscious about writing prose that’s easy to understand, but that does not make me a perfect writer by any stretch of the imagination. I make plenty of mistakes.

The main issue I see with poorly written documents is that they simply do not convey a tone of professionalism. I do not mean to say that all of your writing should have a detached, professional quality. A conversational tone works great for SEO purposes, especially with some of the recent Google algorithm updates. The article you are reading at this very moment has a very conversational flow to it.

However, if you cannot write well, and you cannot be bothered to have your writing proofread or checked by others, there’s a pretty good chance that you are unreliable in other ways too.

Typing
If you want to make a good impression with your content piece, it would be wise to take the time to check your spelling and grammar.

Think about it: are you more likely to trust someone that cares about what they publish, or someone that doesn’t?

Also keep in mind: if you want to produce great content, you have to do more than run your text through a spellchecker. Some of the problems I’m about to describe cannot be diagnosed with a word processor. You may need the assistance of a good editor to check your documents for possible errors.

Common Writing Errors to Correct

There are plenty of errors that writers make, and some are easier for me to overlook than others. The misspelling of difficult words, the incorrect formatting of brand names (i.e. quick books vs. QuickBooks), and the capitalization of titles (i.e. How to Win Friends and Influence People vs. How to win friends and influence people) are areas where personal style and bias can apply.

QuickBooks
QuickBooks: perhaps not the prime example of a name that commonly receives “creative” treatment, but still easy to overlook.

Nevertheless, there are some items you should always be looking out for, especially if you want to represent your brand well. Consider the following list, which I will continue to add to:

  • To, too and two: this is a very simple one, yet many people either haven’t figured out how to differentiate between these words, or they use them interchangeably. Use to when you’re talking about going from one place to another (i.e. I’m going to see Lucky Them this weekend), use too only when you mean ‘also’ (i.e. I’m excited about social media too), and use two when you mean the number two (i.e. I’ve got two tickets to paradise).
  • Its and it’s: this is an easy mistake to make, but one that can be avoided when you understand the difference. Use its when you are describing something (i.e. I bought a new computer, and its features include 8 GB of ram…), and use it’s only when you mean ‘it is’ (i.e. it’s a rainy day outside).
  • There, their and they’re: it’s important to distinguish between these terms in your writing, even if they all sound alike when read aloud. There refers to a location (i.e. there’s a Border Collie puppy over there), their refers to something they possess (i.e. I really enjoyed their music), and use they’re when you mean ‘they are’ (i.e. they’re such a cute couple).
  • Then and than: admittedly, this can be a tricky one. In general, then is time-bound. It can refer to a specific moment in time, but it can also connect two phrases (i.e. If you’re going to take care of Facebook, then I’m going to take a look at Twitter). Than should only be used when you are comparing two things (i.e. Wayne’s World was better than Wayne’s World 2).
  • Effect and affect: this is an easy one to fudge, because the two are almost interchangeable (you can appear smart even when you don’t intend to). Effect usually refers to a result (i.e. this is the effect we hoped our YouTube video would have on our viewers), while affect refers to influencing or bringing about a change (i.e. I was personally affected by the brilliance of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance). Affect can also refer to a person’s facial expression (i.e. she had a disturbed affect as she watched Tommy Wiseau’s cult classic, The Room).

Conclusion

While these slips may seem small, they can really add up. A sprinkling of errors may go unnoticed, but repeated offenses (especially within a single piece) can affect the perceived quality of the content you publish, and therefore your reputation.

One of the simplest solutions is to have your content checked by others. If you don’t have any collaborators, or your coworkers simply don’t have time for you, you may want to consider outsourcing the work.

Why Are Keywords Important?

From blog posts to metadata, paid advertising and search, the importance of keyword optimization gets talked about in a variety of situations.

A proper selection of keywords can make your content more discoverable (in search) and more relevant. An improper use of keywords or a lack of focus can diminish the effectiveness of your website or advertising, no matter how good your content is.

Here are several areas where keyword choice really matters.

Search

Search - Keywords
Looking to rank higher on search engines? Make sure to build value-adding content around your keyword.

One of the most obvious reasons keyword choice is important is because of search.

People search for a variety of things on search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing every single day. They are looking to get their questions answered, and they want to find relevant information that pertains to their topic of interest.

Search engines deliver results based on the search terms the users provide. Pages that appear towards the top of the search results, in theory, are more relevant than those that do not. There is a proprietary ranking system that determines what pages contain the best answers.

Savvy marketers know how to get their content placed at the top of search results by targeting a specific keyword and writing informative content around that term. This will send more traffic to their website, which will enable them to generate more leads and convert more sales.

Branding

Branding - Keywords
AppSumo: a name not easily forgotten once you’ve heard it.

Brand-conscious businesses are selective about the terms they use to describe their work and their product or service offerings.

Unique words or unusual word combinations can draw attention. The right word choice can motivate, inspire, entertain, or have other desired effects.

Another advantage of unique terms is that they can set a business apart. They can make a company look like they are the only providers of a particular offering. It can help them rank well in search for their target words, too.

Marketing

If a company is conscious of their brand, they are also going to give significant thought to how they market their business.

They are going to give forethought to how they connect with their audience on social networks, what they say to the media and what they discuss in guest posts. A properly organized business will have a consistent message across all platforms.

Incidentally, social sharing and interaction are also relevant to search and rankings.

Advertising

Paid advertising requires the intelligent use of keywords. Your ads will not reach the people you want them to unless they are optimized for specific search terms.

If you know your audience well, you should be able to use language that they resonate with, and include keywords in your ads that they are likely to be searching for.

Reputation

Brand and reputation management depends heavily upon word choice. The right combination of words will make you appear trustworthy as a business. A bad combination can negatively affect your reputation.

Additionally, a scattered focus can make your business appear disorganized and inconsistent. A simple, well-formed message will sooner help your audience understand what you are about.

Conclusion

It’s hard to argue that search is where keywords matter most. However, even when you are optimizing content for search, you should be cognizant of offering valuable content. It isn’t just about how many times you can use a specific keyword in a single piece of content. You still have to strike a balance between writing for search and writing for real readers. If anything, pay more attention to your audience than search.

Create a single focus for each piece of content you create, and stay on topic. This will help you develop content that is both value-adding and relevant in search.