I was challenged recently to create a single PowerPoint slide that lists everything someone would need to know about search engine optimization (SEO).
Everything? On one slide? Without using microscopic fonts? Is this even possible? There are many reference books published on the subject of SEO (thick ones with small print and not an over-abundance of images), and I’m sure their authors would be loathe to claim they had actually covered everything there is to know about SEO.
That said, I was asked to do this, and I like a good challenge. Now if you ever read any of my posts when I wrote for Bing Webmaster Center blog, you’d know that I can be, well, perhaps a tad verbose. Hey, I like context! I like thoroughness! I like revealing important caveats! My goal is always to be 100% understood the first time through. So how could I possibly condense a book’s worth of material down to one slide?
Through sheer determination, I mustered up my willingness to let go of my aforementioned biases (aka foibles). I decided to just go for brevity and let all of the caveats and context blow away like so many autumn leaves (nice imagery, huh? I like imagery, too!).
So, after much deliberation, here is what I came up with. I know it’s not complete. I know there are caveats left unexplained. Heck, it was originally supposed to be a Top 10 list! I got it down to 13 and declared it done.
Let’s see how this flies in public. Here goes nothing:
Top “baker’s dozen” things you need to know about SEO
- SEO isn’t an overnight success story or a one-time effort. Like wealth-building, investing in SEO takes time and continued effort to earn full benefits.
- Research keywords using qualified tools, create a targeted list per page, and use them in multiple places on the page (in key content & metadata tags, and in domain, folder, & file names).
- The <title> tag is the most important tag for SEO. Write unique titles for each page, putting the most valuable keywords at the start and site branding last. Avoid exceeding 65 characters (including spaces).
- Write page-relevant, descriptive alt text for content images, placing the most valuable keywords first and copyrights & attributions at the end – search bots can’t “see” image contents like humans. Keep the text between 25-150 characters (including spaces).
- Create only <h1> tag per page, using descriptive, keyword-rich text, to serve as the page’s headline. Do not exceed 200 characters (including spaces).
- Write compelling <meta> descriptions for search engine results page (SERP) snippets – this text is what converts SERP impressions into clicks. Do not exceed 160 characters (including spaces).
- Every page should offer a reasonable amount of crawlable, descriptive, keyword-laced text for search bots to consume. This helps them develop more keyword relevance to your pages.
- Write unique content per page. Having duplicate text across multiple pages can diminish the SEO value of that text on all affected pages.
- Submit a validated Sitemap.xml file identifying your most important content pages to search engines via their webmaster tools. Be sure to reference your Sitemap file in your robots.txt file.
- Canonicalize your URLs to eliminate duplicate content and diluted page rank in the index.
- Get backlinks from relevant, high-quality, authoritative sites. They convey great value to the recipient site.
- Don’t expect to get high rank for a newly-published page. Search engine “trust” takes time to build.
So there it is. But you see how I did that? Each list item actually contains several discrete, related tips (parse it out and you’ll see). But I have to admit, it still wasn’t enough. I simply couldn’t help myself. In my single PowerPoint slide, I had to include a few key caveats in the Notes section (I know no one reads that stuff, but I put it in anyway). Here’s what I included there:
The above list is strictly general SEO information. Details:
- #2: Excellent tools include Google Adwords and adCenter’s Microsoft Advertising Intelligence.
- #3: <title> text longer than 70 characters will be clipped in the SERP’s blue link.
- #6: <meta> description text longer than 160 characters will be clipped in the SERP’s snippet.
- #7: What is a reasonable amount of crawlable body text? It’s debatable, but as a rule of thumb, include enough text to describe the contents or the theme of the page. (This is a long and detailed subject.)
- #10: “Canonicalize” means to identify the one genuine URL for a page and perform technical configurations that refer all other variant URLs to the canonicalized one. (This is another very long and detailed subject.)
- #12: Organic, legitimate link building can be a difficult and laborious process that takes much time and effort. But that is one of the factors that distinguishes common sites from authoritative sites.
- #13: Don’t always take down seasonal pages after the event has passed. Instead, update the existing content at the published URLs every year.
OK, so there’s no mention of the proper use of redirects, using lesser header tags, avoiding web spam techniques, and so on. There’s countless things I left out, but there it is. It’s my take on the top 13 things you need to know about SEO. What’s on your list? Let me know. I’ll be back again soon.