Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a set of techniques designed to push a site up the list of results returned by a search engine, increasing the site’s visibility and maximizing visitor numbers. It’s easy to get bogged down in the jargon of SEO but the overall goal is simply to make your site user-friendly, search-engine friendly and full of relevant and useful content that can be easily shared.
A Quick Overview of SEO
SEO used to be ridiculously easy. Identify keywords pertinent to your subject (e.g. readers, romance books, author) then put said keywords in every conceivable place imaginable. This meant stuffing keywords into articles repetitively, filling metadata tags with keyword spam, hiding keywords in the background of sites and behind images. Unsurprisingly this created a terrible user experience as visitors tripped over the repeated words in sites empty of any real content. To halt this practice, known as keyword stuffing, search engines began using links to establish website credibility. This way a website was pushed up the rankings by how many sites linked to it and this worked until it was discovered that sites were selling, buying and producing fake links.
So as the search engines adapted to improve the user search experience so too did the SEO techniques used. Current day SEO involves a range of factors including on-page and off-page elements, website performance and linking hierarchies.
How to SEO Optimize Your Author Website
So where to begin? How can you propel your own author website up the rankings ladder? Let’s start with a few simple tips that will help you get your site off the ground and on the way to full SEO optimization.
First, we’ll split our SEO analysis into two categories: On-Page SEO and Off-Page SEO. The on-page SEO of your site is both the content and the HTML source code of a page, as opposed to off-page SEO which refers to inbound links from other websites. On-Page SEO is what we generally discuss in optimizing a site, as off-page SEO refers more to the quantity and relevance of websites linking to yours. Both on and off page SEO are important but for now we’ll focus on what you can do on your own site.
1. Do Your Keyword Research
Keyword research will form the basis for your content, metadata and descriptions. This is the structure that search engines use to index your site. Keywords used throughout your site need to match what users are searching for so your content has a better chance of being found amongst the search results. There are many free tools to assist you with Keyword research, including Google AdWords Keyword Planner and the Keyword tool.
2. Provide Original Useful Content
Content forms the backbone of your website and should be fresh, relevant and useful. Ask yourself: Is your content fitting your target market’s interests? Is it regularly updated, original and providing value? It’s important that you pick a theme for your website and remain committed to it. Your website can have other information but needs to be based around a central idea.
Content should also be regularly updated and easily shareable. Search engines reward sites that are positively received by users through sharing, bookmarking and return visits.
3. Respect the Meta-Data
Metadata are the words and phrases used to describe the site. It includes the meta and title tags and headings and content used by search engines to find the page. The meta-data tags contain information that is not visible on the site but seen by the search engines in the source code. Ensure that these meta-data fields are filled out correctly on your site and check for any inconsistencies, such as repetitive title tags, duplicate tags, and missing image ALT text.
When creating metadata, and other content, keep in mind the following tips:
- Relevance – Use appropriate keywords and descriptions in your headings, tags and content.
- Follow Protocol – Ensure your metadata titles and descriptions conform to word limits and are relevant and helpful. Title Tags should be a maximum of 66 characters long, including spaces, with the most important keywords at the start of the tag. While meta descriptions can be any length, they should ideally be no longer than 144 characters. Avoid keyword stuffing and lengthy descriptions.
- Keep it interesting – Your meta-descriptions, headings and page titles need to be compelling and concise. The aim is to both grab the reader’s attention and convey to search engines what the content is about.
4. Keep your Website Efficient
In 2010 Google began to factor page loading speeds into their page ranking system. A fast loading site is important for a good user experience and if your site takes longer than four seconds to load then your visitor is likely to move on. You can check your page speed at PageSpeed Insights (a score of 85 or more out of 100 is good).
5. Link it Up
Links are vital for increasing website authority. They operate as a ‘vote’ of confidence from other websites and including links to other sites can greatly influence your standing. Link building is one of the trickier, more time-consuming tasks of SEO and not all links carry equal weight. The value of a link is dependent upon:
- Internal vs External Links – An internal link is from one section of your site to another. While internal links are important to SEO, as they enable good navigation through the site, they are not as valuable as links from external sites.
- Authority – A link from a well-established reputable website, such as The Huffington Post, carries more linking authority than a new little-known site. Government and education sites (ending in .gov or .edu) rank high on the authority scale and link value.
- Relevance – Links from sites that contain content relevant to your website’s theme build a clearer picture of your site content and help boost your ranking. So as an author you might receive a link from a site such as Goodreads or another author’s site that helps boost your site’s SEO.
- Diversity – A high number of links from a wide variety of sources equals better performance in search engine ranking. Links from a diverse range of sites indicates broad popularity and importance. It is preferred over numerous link from a small number of sources, which may indicate a pre-existing relationship between the sites.
If you go away with one piece of advice
SEO is a complex and dynamic field and we’ve only covered the very tip of the iceberg. Before you get overwhelmed with details of meta-data tags or back-link building, a timely reminder that all SEO is really about is building a better user experience. So as the field of SEO evolves one thing remains constant: meet the needs of your visitors with a user-friendly site full of fresh, relevant, easily shareable content and your traffic will continue to grow.
For further reading on SEO check out any of the following free resources: Moz Beginner Guide to SEO, The Complete Guide to Getting Started in SEO by the Search Engine Journal and SEO Tutorial for Beginners from Linkio.