Almost four years ago, I penned an article on search engine optimization for dive centers and other websites. Those basics still apply today, but since then I’ve been using the Yoast SEO plugin – which comes in both a free and premium version – as well as learning from my mistakes.
Writing Website Articles
The most important part of an article is the first paragraph. When writing for the web, you really need to get to let your audience know what you’re writing about. You cannot meander around until paragraph three or four. Readers will quickly dismiss your post if they have no idea where you’re headed. When writing business communications or for a newspaper, it’s important to inform your readers up front – who, what, where, why and when. The same applies when writing website articles.
You certainly do not have to force your entire article into the first two paragraphs, but be short and sweet. “Tell them what you’re going to tell them” is a term we use when creating a presentations for a class or business meeting. Give them the basics right up front. If you intend on using an analogy, question or story to gain the attention of your readers at the start of your article, make it brief and relevant.
An analogy, question or story at the beginning of your piece can be very effective if it includes keywords specific to your topic.
Keywords within Website Articles
If you wanted someone to find your article using Google, Bing or any other search engine, what words would they use to find your article? You do need to give some thought to this when you are writing your piece and creating your headline. Those keywords absolutely must be included very close to the beginning of your article and in your headline. There are really no exceptions if you want to improve your search engine results (SEO).
Frequently it’s better to write your headline after you’ve written your article. Look back at your website article and determine the most important keywords. Ensure those keywords are included in these areas:
- The headline.
- First paragraph of the article.
- In the meta description (also known as the article abstract or excerpt).
- Within subheadings (H2, H3…).
Concerning subheadings … use them, and instead of bolding a subheading, use the Heading 2 or Heading 3 style.
Image ALT Text and Captions
When you upload an image and include it in an article (see below), you should include image ALT text. You’ll also want to ensure the ALT text includes one or more of the keywords for your article. The ALT text should be meaningful within the context of the article.
You can also include a caption for your image. People do read image captions. While scanning, they stop at images and read the caption.
Follow the Yoast SEO Plugin Tips
Go through the Yoast SEO section to improve the SEO of your article. The Snippet Preview lets you know how the search result will display in Google. (The premium version of the Yoast SEO plugin provides additional information.) You can check to see if your headline is too long (or too short) and you should also edit the meta description. By default, the search engine simply pulls the first sentence or two, and that may be a terrible description of your article shown in the search results.
Enter your Focus Keyword. Yes, you can put two or three words here, but the plugin will only score those keywords if they are used together in the exact order you provided. If you’re frequently stuck and want to do more, the Yoast SEO premium allows you to add up to five keywords per article or page.
Review the Analysis section to see where you can improve. If you score as “Green” for the Keyword, you’ve done a good job and can move on to the Readability section.
Improving readability can be more of a challenge, but the plugin does an excellent job of pointing out areas for improvement. Subheading paragraph length, using a passive voice, and copy scores are considered. Click on the eyeball to have areas of your article highlighted where improvement is suggested.
Ignore the outdated two spaces after a period rule
When I learned how to type in high school – one of those skills I’m grateful I learned – we were taught to add two spaces after a period to help make sentences easier to read. That rule has long-passed with the introduction of proportional fonts. It also screws things up for responsive websites that adjust the text based on the width of the browser window. In general, never use the spacebar more than once at a time. Don’t use extra spaces to make room for a graphic, or to create a paragraph indent.
Images should be resized and have a helpful filename before uploading
WordPress does create smaller-sized versions of the images you upload for an article, but every image you upload should be resized to no bigger than 1300 x 1300 pixels and no more than 200 KB in size. In most cases, I use 1000 x 1000 for maximum dimensions and 100 KB for the file size. Anything bigger is a waste of space and time.
Space is important since you have to backup the website on a regular basis. The more time it takes to backup your site, the more processing power it takes. For website administrators, it’s much easier to manage, backup and restore a website that’s 275 MB compared to one that’s 2.34 GB. (That’s a real-life example.)
Time is important since a website’s speed is an important part of SEO. Faster websites rank higher in results.
The filename is also important. Make it useful for authors and editors in the future. IMG_6589.jpg or 2.jpg are terrible filenames as they provide no information about the image. By providing some information in the filename, you’ll be able to use the WordPress search feature in the administration panel to find similar images. Examples of good filenames include truck-highway-01.jpg
Note there are examples where you’ll need specific image dimension sizes for your theme features. There is no reason to make them larger than the theme requires, but you’ll also want to consider images for Retina displays, but this is most important to website designers a not as important for content authors.
Use a featured image
Many themes use the article’s featured image on the home page of the website, within a listing of website articles, or at the top of the article itself. Find out what size and aspect ratio your website uses for the featured image, and crop and resize the image appropriately prior to uploading.
What headline format should I use?
When selecting a headline format, choose one and stick to it so it is consistent across your website. My suggestion is to pick up an AP Style Guide and use that across the board. If you want to customize the style guide for your website, ensure everyone is on the same page.
For headlines that follow the AP Style…
Only the first word and proper nouns are capitalized. Exception: First word after colon is always uppercase in headlines.
Tags in WordPress are different than social media #hashtags.
WordPress tags are part of the internal taxonomy for your website. Many WordPress websites do not use tags at all, relying only on post categories. If your website uses tags, you may want to include a tag cloud or ensure tags are displayed in the meta section of your article along with the publish date, author name and category near the top of the article.
Users can add tags to their WordPress posts along with categories. However, while a category may cover a broad range of topics, tags are smaller in scope and focused to specific topics. Think of them as keywords used for topics discussed in a particular post.
Can you make that sentence or paragraph shorter?
When working with an internal communications group at a large healthcare company, we frequently challenged each other to tell the story or provide all the information needed with fewer words. If the website article was 327 words, could someone get it down to 320 words? It got pretty competitive.
Certainly you want to express your personal style as a writer, but remember, writing for the web is very different than writing for print. Rarely do readers spend more than a couple of minutes on a page, that’s why…
- Website articles are normally less than 1,000 words.
- The nut graph of a website article is usually right near the beginning of the piece.
- Website articles frequently have graphics and video to keep readers interested.
- Embrace the fact people scan more frequently than they read sentence after sentence. Articles are frequently “broken up” and include subheadings, bullet points, quotes, links to external and internal pages.
There is a tremendous amount of information online about writing for the web and getting more people to read and share your content. Implement the basics and you’ll notice a difference in website traffic.