I recently saw a presentation by Joost de Valk (a.k.a. Yoast) about SEO, or more specifically about how to make sure your content is found (which is also the title of the presentation). It was a very well made presentation – good pace, straightforward, a lot of great tips, and I ended up gaining many new insights into the topic. If you’re interested in the topic and have 40 minutes to spare, I highly recommend watching it.
Joost breaks up the task of getting more people to read your content into four steps.
Starting with Step 1 – Good Content
This is actually the long and the short of it really. If you don’t have good content SEO will not do much to help and it’ll always be as struggle. If, on the other hand, you have great content then SEO will pretty much take care of itself. This may seem like an obvious point but many people (and I’ll be honest, I’ve been guilty of that myself) often spend more time worrying about the nitty gritty details of their SEO optimizations and less about the actual content itself.
Moving on to Step 2 – Optimization
So that’s where all those aforementioned optimizations take place. Joost here covers a lot of topics from excerpts, to categories, taxonomies, pagination, XML sitemaps and more. If you’ve been reading up on SEO you’re probably familiar with most of these, so I’ll just mention three that I found the most poignant.
First is, write your own excerpts (a.k.a. meta description tag). This is something I discovered myself not too long ago. Since excerpts are what search engines display as “the page summary/description” to the user, you want it to be the best possible summary of your site or page, so that the user clicks your link. Relying on some automated process to do it for you by just taking the first few sentences of your post is not a great idea. So however you do it – manually or plugin – make sure that your meta description is exactly what you want the users to see when the see that page in search results.
Another good point that Joost makes is that date archives are rarely used, and I definitely can confirm that from my personal experience as a user – I’ve never used date archives to find a post. Not only is it unlikely for users to want to find a post from a specific date (much more likely they want to find a post about a specific topic) but date archives often end up mixing content that has nothing to do with each other, which only serves to hurt your SEO efforts.
Final part I’ll mention from step 2 is something that hasn’t occurred to me – using paginated comments creates duplicate content (since every new comments page also duplicates the entire post), and duplicated content can hurt your ranking. Now I do though wonder how serious this particular issue is since I know that Ars Technica does exactly that, ‘course it’s not like ars is lacking in awesome content. Having said that, I do find that behaviour annoying as a user. It’s especially bad with multi-page posts where every comment page automatically shows the content from the first page of the post.
Continuing to Step 3 – Engaging Users
In step 3 Joost covers the various ways in which we can make the site more friendly for our users. Good commenting system, getting rid of spam, performance, search effectiveness, and so on.
One of the more interesting things Joost himself does on his site is engage users on a “Thank You” page after making a first post or signing up for the newsletter. Things like, asking them to tweet about the fact that they just signed up for a newsletter, or offer them more posts of interest. The idea here is that since they have already engaged with your site it will be easier to get them to engage a bit more. Of course, the more they engage, the longer they’ll stay, the more chance they’ll come back.
Finally to Step 4 – Measuring
If you’re dealing with SEO you’re already doing that, but it’s a good point that bears repeating. Use Google Analytics to gain as much insight as possible into the patterns and behaviours of your users – how many new users, how many repeat users, how long do they stay, which pages they view the most, what do they search for, how often do they comment, etc. Every bit of information helps you understand your users more, and the more you understand them the better you’ll be able to make your content more interesting to them.
So this was just a quick recap of some of the things Joost talked about, but as I said in the beginning, if this is a topic of interest to you, you really should listen to the entire presentation, it’s well worth it.