Tips for SEO Success

SEO is not a one-time activity in which adjustments can be made to a site and then no further action is required. SEO is a long-term, ongoing process that requires regular attention.

Tips for SEO Success
Search Engine Optimization

SEO needs to be incorporated into nearly every aspect of the daily workflow

And while the overall efforts can be managed by an individual or team, the job functions of a wide range of employees have a direct impact on SEO success. In essence, SEO needs to be incorporated into nearly every aspect of the daily workflow.

Here are 10 things to consider when formulating your SEO strategy:

1. Make your content easily accessible.

On most publication sites, new content is linked from the home page and main section pages for only a brief period of time-sometimes just a single day. Make sure that when the links to your content drop off those prominent pages, search engine crawlers can still easily access all of your URLs. Good site navigation, a strong internal link structure and topical archives all help to facilitate crawler accessibility.

The use of HTML and XML site maps is also a very effective way to ensure that the engines have access to every piece of content on the site.

2. Keep your URLs simple.

Although the engines have gotten much better at dealing with longer, more complicated URLs, they can still cause issues, so maintaining a short, simple URL structure is advisable. In addition, research shows that shorter, more descriptive URLs have higher click-through rates on search engine results pages, contributing to an increase in your search referral traffic.

Implementing a static URL structure and minimizing the number of directory levels is the best approach. Including descriptive keywords is not a must, but it can be helpful. Just don't over-do it; limit the file name to three to five words.

For example:

Using dynamic URLs is not in and of itself a problem, but it is important to minimize the number of parameters, keep the total length of the URLs reasonably short, and make sure that every page on the site is accessible from only one URL.

3. Watch out for duplicate content.

Search engines do not want to display more than one version of the same content in their results, as this offers little value to their users. When they encounter the same content on multiple URLs, typically they choose one URL to show to users and filter out any others. That alone does not necessarily cause a problem for sites, since most of the time at least one URL will remain visible in the search results.

However, creating a situation in which the engines must crawl and process a large volume of duplicate URLs takes away crawling resources from new and unique content on your site. In addition, internal and inbound links to a particular piece of content will be split among multiple URLs instead of being completely focused on one, placing your content at a competitive disadvantage.

Common causes of duplicate content include publishing the same article in multiple sections, repurposing older content in new features and special advertising packages, and creating duplicate URLs for tracking purposes. A piece of content can be featured in and linked from as many places on your site as you like, but that content should exist on only one unique, permanent URL.

4. Optimize your content management system (CMS).

When you are dealing with thousands, hundreds of thousands or even millions of pages, it is not possible to individually optimize every page on your site. You need a CMS that makes it easy to address key page elements on a large scale.

Although many are improving, most commercial CMSs are not search-engine friendly out of the box. However, some degree of customization is usually possible, so build in as many SEO-oriented enhancements as you can. And for publishers with the resources to do so, building your own CMS, customized to meet all of your editorial, business and SEO needs, is the best solution.

One more thing to keep in mind: While every page cannot be individually optimized, it is also not possible to completely automate the process. No matter what content tool you use, there will always be a need for human editorial intervention. What you want is a system that automatically populates the key page elements based on rules you set, then allows editors and producers to customize as needed.

5. Untether your title tags.

The HTML title tag is one of the most important on-page elements in SEO, so it is vital that your title tags accurately define your content. Placing the on-page headline first in the tag is common on editorial sites and is a relatively good approach if your headlines provide a clear, literal description of the content. Since that's not always the case, allow your title tags to be customized when necessary for greater keyword support.

The title tag and headline should complement each other, but they do not have to exactly match. And since your on-site users will focus primarily on the page headline, the title tag can be literal and terse without impacting the user experience.

6. Take advantage of Universal Search.

In an effort to bring a more diverse range of results to users, search engines have begun including more vertical content in their main search results. What this means is that in addition to the typical Web page listings, users are also being shown listings for images, videos, news search, blog search, maps, etc. right on page one of the results. Google calls this "Universal Search"; industrywide, it is sometimes referred to as "blended results".

This represents a tremendous opportunity for publishers to increase their visibility among the top search results, as many of the vertical categories include the types of content published on editorial sites every day. The first step in gaining additional exposure through Universal Search is to ensure that your relevant content is included in Google News.

In addition, make sure that your multimedia content is well optimized, something that is still lacking on many sites.

7. Leverage linking.

Internal, external, cross-network and inbound linking strategies all play an important role in your SEO success. Internal links are an excellent way to facilitate crawler access (see Tip #1), manage the flow of "link juice" to key content and maximize the SEO value of special sections and features.

Bread-crumb navigation (using text links to show users and crawlers what section they're in), links to related content and particularly links within editorial content (when relevant and in moderation) all provide benefit for both SEO and usability. Don't be afraid to link to outside sources when it's appropriate; this helps to establish the topical relevance of your pages, and search engines like to see links going out as well as coming in.

Since most publishers have multiple properties, exploring cross-network linking opportunities is also worthwhile. Cross-network links do not have the same value as links from sites with no affiliation to you, but they are still beneficial.

As for inbound links, linking to editorial content often occurs naturally, so the best way to increase links to your site is simply by regularly producing useful, compelling content. In addition, marketing activities such as contests and promotions, blogger relations and social media outreach can all contribute to an increase in inbound links.

8. Play by the rules with sponsored links.

The engines, particularly Google, have been cracking down on the selling of text links for SEO purposes. Recently, a number of sites have been penalized, including some major publishers.

The reason is that link popularity is an important part of the engine's algorithms, and they do not want sites to be able to improve their organic search engine rankings through paid relationships. To be clear, selling sponsored links is a perfectly legitimate business practice and a part of most publisher's advertising sales strategy.

However, search engine guidelines dictate that those links should not have SEO value. The best way to adhere to the rule is to code sponsored links in JavaScript so the crawlers cannot access them, or to apply a "no-follow" attribute to the links so that crawlers will not follow them or pass link popularity through them.

Such links look the same to on-site users and still drive traffic; they just don't have any SEO value. Most publishers now adhere to these guidelines, so doing so will not put you at a disadvantage in terms of attracting sponsored link revenue.

9. Train everyone, often.

Everyone in your organization should have a basic awareness of SEO, and there are a range of employees that need a good understanding of the SEO best practices that relate to their job functions.

The best way to accomplish this is through regular training sessions at both beginner and more advanced levels. Some publishers go as far as establishing an internal SEO certification program. This is not typically necessary, but it may be something to consider.

A good approach is to create separate programs for technical, editorial and marketing topics, with a curriculum that covers the fundamentals as well as specific tactics and tools. Hold training sessions on a regular basis for new employees and those that may need a refresher, and leave plenty of time for general discussion and questions. It is also important to have a post-training mechanism in place to allow employees to ask questions about real situations they encounter in their daily work.

10. Consider SEO in everything you do.

All too often, SEO is an after-the-fact process, factored in when it's too late to make significant changes and only minor alterations are possible. Whether you're launching a new site section or feature, considering template revisions, moving content to a new domain, or negotiating a new advertising or syndication deal, SEO needs to be part of the discussion, right from the beginning.

What's best for SEO may not always win out in the end, but the SEO implications of technical, editorial and business initiatives should always be considered. And more often than not, compromises can be made that preserve or enhance SEO value without interfering with other objectives.



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