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Keywords and Search Engine Optimization

Search Engine Optimization, put simply, is tweaking a page to make it easier for users to find your page via a search engine, such as Google. Not surprisingly, this can translate to big bucks for some sites. Because of this, the internet is littered with advice for optimizing sites and it can be overwhelming for well-meaning writers who spend a lot of time worrying about “spiders” and SEO.

Our approach to SEO is simple and in line with our approach to content: We write for humans. We don’t write for machines, and we don’t attempt to game search engine algorithms. These days, there’s a lot less transparency about how Google’s algorithms are evolving and much harsher penalties for those who attempt to manipulate search results. Most of these questionable “strategies” don’t work, and even when they do, the punishment isn’t worth the short-lived reward.

So, here’s the takeaway: If you want Google to find your content, don’t worry about keyword stuffing and spiders. Gaming the system isn’t a viable long-term strategy. Instead, focus on creating content that users care about.

Here’s What You Can Do About SEO

Our developers take care of many factors that affect SEO, but as a writer, there are still a few things you can do to improve the performance of your copy. Try these tips for an SEO boost:

  • Keywords are still the main idea: Keyword stuffing is bad. Thinking like your users is good. Try to anticipate possible search terms a person might use when looking for your content. If you’re writing about “gene splicing,” you’d better use those words somewhere in your copy. There might be other phrases that matter, too: “life sciences,” “DNA” and “biological research,” for example. Don’t force these phrases to fit. Incorporate them elegantly and where reasonable.
  • The big words are a big deal: Titles and headlines are often the most important words on a page. That’s as true for readers as it is for search engine spiders. Write engaging headlines that get a reader’s attention, but remember to incorporate main-idea phrases into your headlines and titles, especially your page titles (denoted by an "<h1>" tag), to capture search traffic.
  • Write engaging meta descriptions: Meta keywords are irrelevant, but meta descriptions still matter for a couple of reasons. First, these might still act as a search signal. More importantly, they’re often displayed in the search results and a well-written, page-specific meta description can convince a user to click your link and not someone else’s. Keep these to under 150 characters (just a bit longer than a tweet).
  • Alt-text is crucial: The most important reason to use alt-text is that it improves the user experience for those with visual impairments. As a secondary benefit, it helps search engine spiders learn more about a page. Whenever possible and appropriate, use alt-text.
  • Long-format copy can work: Yes, it seems to counter the “keep it short” commandment, but sometimes, long copy works. There are a couple of reasons for this. Longer copy might have a larger number of searchable terms, leading more users to a given page. Longer documents might also answer the needs of users more thoroughly, leading to more linkbacks and clicks. For these reasons, arbitrary word counts aren’t useful as guidelines. It’s more important to write well, incorporate searchable phrases where reasonable, and break up the content with headlines and bullet lists to enable users to scan through the content. Use as many words as needed, but no more.

Want to learn more about the nuts and bolts of SEO?

  • Search Engine Land is the New York Times of SEO.
  • The mad scientists at Moz know more about SEO than anyone should.