Here’s how I learned to stop worrying and love the bots: most of that tagging and keyword-loading work I used to have to do after I finished writing an article is no longer relevant.
The way people search the web is constantly in flux, which is why sites like Google and Bing constantly refine their search algorithms. Yesterday’s key ranking factor is today’s waste of time. (Here’s a recent, comprehensive stab at quantifying Google’s ranking factors. “Some are proven. Some are controversial. Others are SEO nerd speculation,” blogger Brian Dean warns readers.)
My basic approach to SEO is constant passive vigilance: I have a news alert for “google search algorithm seo” that hits my inbox once a week, and it seems to do the trick.
The problem is, people who’ve been in the web content business for more than a few years are still embracing the often-onerous SEO tactics they were taught.
Page-level SEO is, essentially, the HTML behind an individual article. The conventional wisdom is to put as many keywords as possible into the page title, meta description, and H1, H2, H3, and img alt text tags. But how relevant is this strategy today? An analysis of Brian Dean’s list shows that several of those keyword strategies are out of date.
The title is the number one page-level ranking factor. In almost every CMS, the page title is the name of your site followed by your headline. Dean notes that titles that begin with a keyword tend to perform better.
Meta description still matters: it comes in third on the list. If your CMS isn’t automated, make life easier by using your summary or DEK, which most likely already has relevant keywords. The meta description will often populate from this field, though you should make sure this is true for your CMS.
The H1 tag is fourth on the list, reinforcing the importance of good SEO headlines. H2 and H3 tags come in at number 19. Good news, since they’re off limits in many smaller CMSes.
Then there’s the dreaded img alt text tag. Image optimization comes in at 14. Dean cites file name, alt text, title, description, and caption as the relevant factors. Do yourself a favor: change a filename from A3424.JPG to something simple and relevant, then let the CMS do the rest. The days of stuffing keywords into image descriptions and alt text are long gone.
As far as “new” SEO strategies go, content is king. Keyword density and repetition matter, but so do quality and length. In May, John Mueller, webmaster trends analyst at Google, answered a user’s question about article length with what reads to me like a paean to common sense:
“There’s no minimum length, and there’s no minimum number of articles a day that you have to post, nor even a minimum number of pages on a website. In most cases, quality is better than quantity. Our algorithms explicitly try to find and recommend websites that provide content that’s of high quality, unique, and compelling to users. Don’t fill your site with low-quality content, instead work on making sure that your site is the absolute best of its kind.”
Kate Mulcrone is Web Editor at Convene in New York City. She has worked at business-to-business publications in both the travel and events industries since 2008, and blogged and written entertainment features for MSN.