What's new in search engine optimization? I talked with two experts, Linda Franklin and Janet Chiu, and reviewed some of the resources they suggested for on-page* SEO, with a focus on content.
Here's what I learned:
Themes, not just words.
The days of peppering a webpage with the same keywords are gone. "Each page needs an overall theme," Franklin said. "Google likes synonyms and what is known as semantic search." (See the Resources below for some Keyword tools.) Remember to place these terms in your title tags, headlines, and topic sentences.
Time on the page
According to Chiu, Google and other search engines like to see that readers spend time on the page and/or convert to the next step, such as clicking on a link. The page should have enough content to appear to have some heft. A current rule of thumb, said Chiu, is about 400 words. You may decide to have fewer words for other reasons, but then consider whether you really need a separate page for this information.
Using Google Analytics
Google Analytics is a great tool (and probably the subject of another article). Just related to "time on the page," a high bounce rate indicates that visitors leave right away without reading anything on the page. That is okay for something like a "contact us" page, but otherwise is a sign that the headline and/or copy isn't grabbing the reader, or that the keywords don't match what people expect to find on the page. In either case, a re-write would be in order, Chiu said.
Events and other time-sensitive items
Time-sensitive information helps with page rankings. When your organization sponsors an event, releases a policy paper, unveils a new product, Chiu recommended to give it prominent place on your website. The inverse: Don't bury these things deep within the site.
Move things "up" and together
Franklin and Chiu shared advice about how to organize pages within the site. Franklin suggested a hierarchy of 3 to 5 pages that relate to a theme. Her example related to beer: a page for pilsner beer, with sub-pages on different types of pilsners; a page for stouts, with sub-pages on different types of stout, etc. Chiu said the most important information should be placed further up the site hierarchy. The search engine bots do not go very deeply, and important content may not show up when buried.
Impact of mobile devices
Web developers, rather than writers and other content folks, have to deal with many of the impacts of mobile devices on SEO. One thing for us to consider, Chiu said: Giving prominent play to "local" information (such as address and phone number), under the assumption that this is the kind of information many mobile users seek.
Google likes Google
Quora, Google Authorship, Google Plus, Google Places--the Google bots give weight to participation in other-things Google. Chiu recommends establishing a presence on the ones that make sense for your organization for this reason. (I wonder what will be the "monster in the room" five years from now? Still Google? Or something else entirely?)
SEO as part of a "big wheel"
Both Franklin and Chiu stressed what we all should know but can forget in the fervor for favorable page rankings. SEO is only one part of what Franklin termed a "big wheel." SEO is only one part of an online strategy that includes social media and, if appropriate, paid search. As Chiu said, "SEO enhances but does not replace solid marketing and communication principles."