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Randall Rensch, copywriter
The SEO Copywriter's Checklist
Just so we're both starting on the same foot,
here's what "Search Engine Optimization" means
SEO is the process of:
Making your website attractive to search sites and
easy for them to accurately list you
Also making it easy for people to find you
Enticing them to click-through to your site and
Being persuasively on-target so that their expectations are fulfilled
when they arrive.
Notice I said nothing about "keywords" or "ranking
highly". That's just part of the "easy to find" part.
Also notice that for SEO to be effective, it must include all four of these
elements. A mistake made by many marketers — even many SEO providers
and marketing agencies — is that they stop with the first two or three
tasks. But if you don't satisfy your prospect's expectations, it's all for naught.
So, at its fullest, SEO is a multi-step, ongoing process that encompasses
everything from your site's look and the form of its code, to what you
say on each page and in all your site descriptions. At its simplest,
SEO is a checklist of things you can add or modify in a relatively short
time. SEO is a subset of Search Engine Marketing (SEM), which includes
paid search listings and your overall marketing strategy. "Organic" SEO
consists of things that are visible on your web pages and the underlying code,
including some of the documents.
So, good news! Organic SEO takes a while to accomplish,
and a while to work, but once done and successful, you can sit back and
relax. Sort of.
And now the "bad" news.
SEO is not what it used to be, even just a few years ago. It has gotten
much more sophisticated and more complex. It's no longer a relatively easy matter of learning
some word-density formulas and such, and then writing to spec. In fact, today the idea of an SEO Checklist
can seem (and be) rather naive. More on this below the fold.
IMPORTANT UPDATE (2020):
SEO techniques are constantly evolving, and since my first version of this
list in 2008, they have changed a LOT. In fact, some aspects of SEO have become so
complex that it would be silly to list them all here. The average businessperson
would waste a lot of time by trying to keep abreast of standards and trends, and
very possibly could be tweaking on the basis of obsolete information.
But, if you know anything about the topic, you might ask, "Yes, but what about 'organic' SEO --
things I can do once, or just now and then, that will enhance my search engine position based
simply on what is on my pages? In other words, without fancy programming, embedded codes and continual
revision and other work?"
The sad response these days is, "That IS organic SEO -- even the static, natural changes you might incorporate
into your site have become more extensive, more complicated, and different in their nature. For example, while it is
still important to incorporate keywords and key phrases, the days of salting them at prescribed intervals in a certain
percentage relative to your overall content ... those days have come and gone. There is so much competition for position, that
it's first critically important to understand how people will search for your site, exactly what phrases they will use, and
embed those phrases in a natural way. Overdoing it can actually get you penalized!
More important is your site's reputation, and your reputation as an authority or go-to-source for the type of
product or information your site is about. That means developing unique, useful content, and cultivating links to it
from other sites having as much or more authority.
So, you can go through this list. It won't hurt to attend to these practices (and avoid the no-no's), many of which are now almost two
But for a current list of important SEO practices that don't require special expertise (other than being a good, knowledgeable
writer), I'll refer you to some authorities respected throughout the SEO industry:
SearchEngineLand.com:The 40-point SEO checklist for startups ... The entire SearchEngineLand site is one of the original search engine authorities and still a champ.
Its co-founder Danny Sullivan is currently a public liason officer at Google.
Somewhat redundant here but still up-to-the-minute with lots of SEO and SEM details, this site was founded and sold by Danny Sullivan before he moved on to Search Engine Land.
Thomas:How to Increase Your SEO Traffic in Just 30 Days ... Being a business-to-business copywriter myself, I naturally gravitate to this site
that serves B2B companies. In fact, I've written several websites for their clients. As SEO how-to's go, this one is pretty current, even if it
is a few years old. After all, the point of organic SEO is to do things that don't need re-doing year after year. Their detailed SEO planner is available as
a PDF or PowerPoint download.
Michigan Tech:Five Ways to Improve your Site's Ranking (SEO) ... I chose this almost at random. There are a zillion such lists and this one is hardly exhaustive. But it's not promoting
its own SEO services, and in turn, it includes some good further resources, including Google Webmaster Tools.
Nevertheless, attention to all the following points will take you a long way. They
are in the order you should take them, but many can be done at the same
time. As far as it goes, I have tried to update it reasonably well for 2020.
One more important point ...
... that I barely touch on below is the impact of "web content" on Search Engine results. In pursuit of
rankings, countless websites are constantly adding "content" (how I hate that word!) of various sorts, often in the form of "blog" posts or articles. Don't get me started on that subject; it's
grist for an article in itself. For now, suffice it to say that before you start blogging, you should understand exactly what you hope to achieve, how to
make your blog worth reading, and how to promote it.
The point is to be seen as an authority in your field and acquire genuine referrals from other sites and authors. There are
already way, way, way too many blithering "bloggers" saying pretty much the same things. That's not helpful to their cause, nor to rest of us.
Although this list is probably not exhaustive, it may be exhausting. So another way to do all this is is simply to call or
write an experienced SEO copywriter.
The SEO CHECKLIST
How're you doing now?
Install and use Google Analytics. You can't measure results if you don't know what they were to begin with.
Follow Google's advice on how to omit your own visits in the data. There are various ways. Also omit visits by
your co-workers and others whose site usage you don't want to measure.
Spot-check the major search engines and note how your site
Don't over-use or misuse rank-checking automation.
If it's working, don't "fix" it. Much.
But do keep your site fresh and persuasive.
Use your prospect's words, not just your own.
Focus on phrases, not words.
What keyphrases are most popular? There are various tools for learning this. One of the earliest is still with us,
Also check Google, but bear in mind
that its tool is fundamentally designed for picking Google Ads. Other tools have emerged. Some are pricey, some have free (if short) trial
periods or free core functions. Look them over at SoftwareFindr.
What relevant keyphrases have less competition? (Wordtracker tells you this, too.)
Use relevant keyphrases having a high popularity-to-competition ratio. (Wordtracker quantifies this for you.)
Is NOBODY searching online in your category? Use other channels
to market your site.
Mind your appearance and architecture
Make your site visually attractive.
Make your site's operation clear and highly usable.
Use Google's tool to see if your site is "mobile friendly." If Google says it is not, make it so. Whether or not your users care, Google does.
Is the your site's topic apparent at first glance?
Are your filenames based on relevant keywords? Are your overall URLs of a practial length and meaningful to the user?
Try to avoid frames. If you can't or don't want to, use appropriate
Eliminate or deal with spider traps (e.g., dynamic URLs). Implement
workarounds if necessary.
Include a special Sitemap page for spiders. And
a different site map page for people.
Never say "under construction" on a live site. Leave the page(s) offline until ready.
Make your content unique, and valuable to your visitors
Satisfying your visitors and converting them to sales (or whatever) is Job One. If you're getting any traffic at all, it
makes SEO a secondary concern.
Have a content strategy, and understand it. Have content throughout your site, but publishing "content" (including blogging) just
because everyone else seems to do it could be a waste of time.
Focus your content on your core message, and focus your visitor on that.
Write long enough to cover your topic and establish your authority, but if you want response or comments,
leave something to be desired.
There is no perfect length for a web page. A page of 300 words might get better response, but Google probably won't consider it
worthy of counting. Have at least 500-600 words.
Administer comments to promptly delete spam, or use a spam-screening service.
Write in an "inverted pyramid" style, salted with crosslinks and calls to action, so your reader doesn't have to read the whole page
to get the point.
Use crossheads (AKA subheads), short paragraphs, limited line length and other typographic principles
to encourage readership.
Avoid duplicate content. If you must duplicate text (e.g., for a review or commentary), there are
tags that clue search engines that you're not just spamming. Unique content is also sensible from a marketing standpoint.
If you don't publish regularly, avoid dating your content. Seeing a long-ago date, Google may consider it no longer relevant.
Make the site keyword rich
Research keywords, but don't obsess over them. In the process of meaningful writing, you're
likely to automatically include key search phrases in a natural way.
Keyword placement and frequency are thus important but not too
little, nor too much.
Be sure it's written VERY well. Your visitors shouldn't be at all aware of
embedded keywords -- consciously or subconsciously.
Make human visitors your first priority. Give them concise, highly readable web copy that quickly
delivers what they were looking for, and lead them directly to the action you want most -- be it a
sale, phone contact, email, a download, etc.
Write clean overall code
Put your indexable content as early as possible in the source
Minimize use of multiple nested tables and other complex page
Include spider-friendly navigation.
Remember that spiders don't read images and generally don't
Include alternative text within <noscript> tags.
Make use of codes ("Tags", "Attributes", Etc.)
A unique Title tag for each page.
Nowadays, there's a whole slew of meta tags that tell search engines all manner of things about your page.
Some are pretty esoteric, some of interest mainly to academia, and some are for special situations (including some
that I mention here). Get up-to-date on your options, but don't obsess or feel overwhelmed. Do include at least
the meta tags and other tags and parameters mentioned below.
A specific, compelling Description meta tag for each page.
Keywords meta tag.
Image "alt" attributes. (Also use them to sell.)
Title attributes (don't confuse this with Title Tag).
Headlines and headers. Make each headline unique, describing what it introduces. You can have fun with it, but do not misrepresent.
Each page should have an <H1> headline, preferably only one.
Use keywords as your links
Use <a name=> Links.
Table caption tags, if appropriate.
Image captions, if appropriate.
Avoid the unintended faux pas
Avoid invisible text.
Avoid teensy-weensy text.
Fix any broken links. There is free software that can help you find them.
Optimize your entire site.
Optimize your interior pages.
Give each page its own focus.
Submit to Search Engines and Directories.
Beware of advice regarding directories, as there are relatively few legitimate directories these days.
Search Engine technology has developed to the point that human editors can't match it. The exceptions
are generally in very specific subject areas. There are so few of them, you're better off finding and submitting to
them yourself, rather than using automation.
For each Directory, select your category and word your description carefully.
(If you see advice regarding Open Directory (dmoz.org) and Yahoo Directory,
you can assume the information is very out of date. They're defunct.
Know what you submission software does, and keep it careful.
Do not oversubmit.
Some, including Google and Yahoo, accept site map submissions in certain formats.
Cultivate quality backlinks (links to your site) and avoid garbage links. Beware of linking to or from link farms.
For tips on backlink-research software, see SoftwareFindr,
which is mentioned above. You can also use Google search parameters and Webmaster Tools to see who currently links to you and to similar sites.
When asking for a link, write custom emails.
Suggest the page you should be on, and if not self-evident,
briefly explain why.
Offer descriptions they can use.
Ask them to link using a keyphrase of yours, but not the same one for every partner.
Reciprocate conservatively. Don't water down your pages. If
your site will really make the other one more valuable to its visitors,
the site should want to link to you regardless.
There are ways tools to search for sites compatible with yours, and which link to your
Participate meaningfully in social media and blogging, but do it strategically. Know why
you are doing it, and make it worthwhile for your hoped-for readers. Otherwise you could be wasting your
time, and it will not help your image if they feel you are wasting theirs.
Evaluate any server-side techniques you are using, for honesty
and SEO compatibility.
Don't delete or rename old pages that are well indexed. Instead update
them, or politely redirect to the new one(s), manually or automatically
Keep the site active. Re-upload various pages now and then, after making small sensible revisions.
Be sure pages appear quickly and without errors.
Do create bridge pages/landing pages honestly.
Build bridge pages if/as needed, and give them true content. If they exist only for SEO value, they may actually hurt your SEO.
See the advice below regarding landing pages.
Evaluate Pay-Per-Click directory opportunties, and plan for
Convert visitors into sales.
Improved sales conversion often outweighs improved SEO performance.
Create your landing pages to most effectively capture the basic data you need (including email opt-in) and
motivate click-through. Nothing more. As usual, the more complex your landing page form, the less likely people will fill it out,
and the more it competes with your home page or other site pages.
Keep at it.
Do it again. But don't obsess.
If you have a question about your SEO project, existing or planned,
please write, or call me.