Basic Search Engine Optimisation for Writers

Search Engine Optimisation is making your site or blog easier for search engines to find and hence easier for web users to find so more readers for your site.

Be wary of anyone calling themselves an SEO Consultant because anyone can call themselves an SEO Consultant. There are no qualifications you can check out and no regulatory body authorising SEO consultants. Take the same approach you would in selecting a mortgage or a car: get at least three quotes, do your research (after all if someone offering search engine optimisation services can’t rank well in Google, they’re not going to get your site ranking well either) and avoid anyone who boasts they can get to you #1 ranking in Google. Only Google can decide who gets top ranking and as they change how they rank sites to keep ahead of spammers, what works today may not work so well tomorrow and may not work at all in six months’ time.

But good basics will always stand the test of time and will always help you rank well. Here’s an introductory list of good search engine optimisation practices for writers:-

1. Clean Design
Logical site structure and clean, non bloated code make it easy for search engines to ‘read’ your site and get what it’s about. If you’re hiring web designer, check they comply with World Wide Web Consortium guidelines – this is good practice so generally web designers will. Most off-the-web packages such as WordPress, Joomal, Drupal, Typepad, Blogger generally do.

Most writers’ sites using a home page which introduces the site and them, and pages for books, biography, news, events or similar. Each page is broken down into further subsections eg Books will have a page for each book. It’s a good, logical structure
template to follow.

2. One Page or Post per Topic

Good writers do this by default: don’t ramble, focus. Your book page should be about your book, your news page, your news. Your blog articles should be crisp, clean, succinct and focused. You do this anyway: you’re a writer.

In search engine optimisation terms, a page is built around keywords or the words that browsers are likely to type into a search engine to find the page or article you’re writing. Search engine optimisation consultants will then research those keywords to find variants that people also use in searches, eg someone looking for “writing tips” might also look for “advice on writing”, “getting published”, “sending to an agent”, “submitting manuscripts”. The search engine optimisation consultant would then suggest including pages on the variant terms to boost the writing advice site’s chances of being found by search engines.

3. Titles
On a blog a good descriptive post title wins over vague, ironic, clever titles every time. On a website, a good title tag on every page will focus on what the page is about and be branded, eg “Poet Emma Lee” is better than “Writer Emma Lee” or “Emma Lee Writer and Poet”. Good writing practice is so useful.

4. Alt tags for Pictures
Search engines can’t ‘see’ pictures and rely on the alt tag to describe what the picture is so “book cover for poetry collection Yellow Torchlight and the Blues by Emma Lee” is better than “book cover”. Text browsers can’t ‘see’ pictures and rely on the alt tag to describe what the picture is. So it’s good practice to have descriptive alt tags. And, if you’re in the UK, you may fall foul of the Disability Discrimination Act if your site can’t be read by text browsers which tend to be used by people with visual impairments.

5. Fresh Content
Just as you know that a site that hasn’t been updated since 2000 isn’t going to have any current, useful information on it, so do search engines. If you’re developing as a writer, update your site as you publish a new book, do a new reading, give workshops, etc. If you’re writing a blog, update it.

6. Duplicate Content
You don’t like reading the same poem in several magazines. You don’t like reading a book that’s practically the same as a book by your favourite author. Search Engines don’t like seeing the same page or article on different websites.

Don’t be tempted to stick the content on your website’s biography page on your publisher’s site. Take care when categorising blog articles and try and stick to one category per post as some search engines will read one article with two categories as two articles.

If you are blogging about a piece of industry news, offer an insight and commentary so you’re not simply repeating news announced elsewhere. This also offers value to your readers and is good practice. If you submit to article directories – don’t stop, search engines know what these are and they’re not going to harm your rankings.

7. Linking
Not all links are created equal. Generally it’s about balance, relevance and authority.

Outgoing Links
A site that doesn’t link out looks suspicious, so link to your publisher and link blog posts to other sites where relevant but don’t link for the sake of it.

Internal Links
Linking from one page within a site to another page on that site is good: it makes the site look less like several sheets of paper with no binding and more like a book. But keep links relevant. If you’ve written a blog post on publishing poems, can you link to any posts on the same topic? If you’re reviewing a thriller, have you also go other thriller reviews you could link to?

Anchor text is the text used in a link so an incoming link using anchor text “Emma Lee’s informative blog for poets and writers” is great, “click here” is as good as useless. Think carefully about the words used when creating links and try to avoid using the same anchor text every time as it diminishes the value of the link.

Incoming Links
Incoming links from relevant, authority sites are the gold standard. Incoming links from spam sites, link farms or badly-designed sites will harm you and you may even be penalised by having your site excluded from search engine results pages simply by association. Keep an eye on who is linking to you.

Mutually beneficial links, eg a link from a writer in your niche where you link back to that writer, are fine. Linking to the local pet shop simply because you’re both in the same city, isn’t going to benefit either of you. Save that for a blog post on how beneficial your pet is to your writing.

Paid Links
Don’t go there. A paid link that’s labelled as such (like an advertorial label on an advert that looks like copy)isn’t a problem but won’t help your search engine optimisation. But a paid link that’s not labelled could result in a search engine results page penalty.

Link Requests
Any link request that dictates what anchor text to use and helpfully gives you html code to copy and paste into your site, send straight to the delete bin.

As when selecting where to hold a reading, which bookstore to do a book signing in, which writers’ group to join, who you want to be friends with, be cautious about accepting link requests. Links from fans, writers, publishers are all great.

Encouraging Links
Off-line networking assists on-line networking. Make sure your website and/or blog is included on your promotional material. Go to readings by other writers as well as giving readings.

Best of all, write good content that others will want to link to.
You’ll know that the phrase ‘good practice’ cropped up more than once. Essentially search engine optimisation is good practice and complements good writing practice. It is good practice to have a website that’s easy to find, easy to follow and navigate round and accessible.
Like writing, there’s no overnight success in search engine optimisation, but good basics and having your website and/or blog search engine optimised will mean that when your latest book is an overnight success, your sites are ready to complement that and help those readers that made your book a success find you and buy your other books.
Search engine optimisation is one aspect of search marketing and I’ve not even attempted to cover other aspects of search marketing such as pay per click and/or social media marketing – that’s probably worth several more posts.

2 Responses to “Basic Search Engine Optimisation for Writers”

  1. Rod Duncan Says:

    Thanks for this article Emma. Really, really helpful.


  2. Social Media Marketing for Writers « Emma Lee’s Blog Says:

    […] Write search engine optimised articles so people searching for blog articles on a specific topic that you’ve written about will find your articles.  Search engine optimisation is not spam or snake oil but simply optimising your articles for search engines to find.  Keep titles descriptive and straightforward, don’t continually repeat your topic, keep your writing concise and to the point and provide information or opinion that can’t be found elsewhere.  If a search engine finds two articles that look the same, it will generally give preference to either the original article or the one from a more trusted source so avoid duplicate content problems by keeping your content unique.  For more on search engine optimisation, see Search Engine Optimisation for Writers; […]

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