(Note: I ran a version of this article on Joel Friedlander’s The Book Designer website. I offer it now on the BAIPA Blog as BAIPA seeks to increase the number of professional development posts available to its members.)
Sometimes truly happy events occur in the life of a writer/author/publisher who is posting articles on a blog/website. The writer usually hopes to gain audience share, possibly ultimately selling more books or other “products,” such as paid talks and consulting.
Such an event transpired for me in September-October of 2018, regarding a single article.
Each year I look at this particular perennial article, freshen it up, and emphasize it to my audience on my blog/website and in Social Media about September 1. That article has a two-month shelf life of popularity, as you will see. It is one of the 500+ articles on my website at www.fostertravel.com.
I had modest expectations for this article on September 1. I suspected that, based on past recent years, I would get perhaps 400 new reads of this article in the two-month period.
But I actually got 7,209 reads. So, what happened? Why did this article become suddenly relatively popular?
Some variables may be unknown. But one is known:
For the first time, I put careful attention into improving the Search Engine Optimization for this article. I now have a 12-point checklist with which to review SEO for all my articles, as you will see below.
The Case Study of the Pumpkin Patch Article
The article, The October Pumpkin Patch at Ardenwood Park/Perry Farms, at Fremont in the San Francisco Bay Area, is not earth-shaking. It is about the simple joy of going with your family to a pumpkin patch on a living farm in the Bay Area of California. It describes taking a hayride, learning about agriculture, and getting the pumpkin for your child. This is a typical content element on my website and in my various travel books on California.
The article gets almost all of its reads each year in September and October, as might be expected. Here’s an excerpt:
When it’s autumn in America, during September and October, Pumpkin Patches spring back to life, with many children dreaming of their pumpkin of this year. One such place is Ardenwood Park, featuring the historic Perry Farms, in Fremont, California. The October Pumpkin Patch celebration, leading up to Halloween, is an ideal time for a visit.
There are mystical unknowns regarding why some articles become highly popular. For example, the USA was going through a stressful political process in this period, and perhaps some folks were taking a nostalgia break and Searching “pumpkin patch” and “Halloween” and “hay rides.” Who knows?
What is known for certain is that I dramatically improved the SEO of this article just before September 1.
Resentment Against SEO Tutelage
It’s possible, as you read this, that you are saying: SEO experts are not going to teach me anything. I am a writer. I am a successful writer. I have nothing to learn.
I might have taken this position myself. I could have said:
—Hey, I’ve been published in the New York Times, don’t tell me how to write.
—Hey, I have a dozen books on my Amazon Author Page. What could you possibly teach me?
—Hey, I have my graduate degree from Stanford in Literature, and I love James Joyce and William Faulkner, and I will write how I want to write, and don’t stop me.
It is understandable that you may take these positions. Of course, the result might be that you will sink into proud oblivion, with no readers. However, you will have wrapped yourself in a righteous cloth of independence, confident that no one altered your writing path.
I might have taken these positions, but perhaps that would have been shortsighted.
—Who are your readers today? A lot of people are language learners, especially in the global audience, and possibly in our own USA. More convoluted literary strategies may not work if you want to reach a large audience. The verbal and linguistic skills that you possess may be way above what your audience can absorb.
—Consider also how verbal forms of communication are changing. It might be instructive to get a transcript of just what is said, in words, on an ABC Nightly News with David Muir, for example.
A look at the transcript would reveal brevity, clarity, active voice verbs, words easily understood, short sentences, etc. This is the stuff of SEO.
Yoast as My SEO Training Guide
Search Engine Optimization was something of a mystery to me until 2017. In that year, my website design person, Jeffrey Samorano, recommended that we go with the SEO plugin Yoast on my website — www.fostertravel.com.
Yoast has about 8.5 million installations of its SEO plugin for WordPress websites. I started with their free version. Later I bought the premium yearly upgrade, partly so I could ask them questions and get live-person answers.
Founded by a Dutch guy, named Joost, he chose the more phonetically-recognizable spelling of his name for his company. He and a small group of associates in the Netherlands guide the plugin.
Yoast functions as an ecosystem of SEO knowledge, with plenty of free articles on improving SEO on your website. They are a little too eager at presenting me with advice, sending something every couple of days. SEO is not something inherently interesting in itself to me. SEO, for me, is a means to get to an end, meaning creation of a larger audience. My content, mainly travel writing/photography, my literary writings, and my commentaries on publishing, is my main interest.
So, what did I learn from Yoast and others knowledgeable about SEO to improve my articles?
A Dozen Good SEO Details I Now Incorporate in All My Posts/Articles
Below are my dozen succinct tips. Some are built into the coaching structure associated with each post in the Yoast system. You can see them at work in the Pumpkin Patch article indicated above.
- Select a keyword or key phrase and put it in the title and in the first paragraph. In the article under consideration, my keyword or key phrase choice was “pumpkin patch.” Have the keyword appear a couple more times in the article, such as midway and near the end.
- Make your verbs active rather than passive.
- Keep most sentences shorter rather than longer.
- Keep paragraphs to a relatively short length.
- Vary your sentence structure and the first word of the sentence. Yoast helps coach you on this, commenting on the variety or lack of it in your “consecutive sentences.”
- Insert a header, meaning an H2 in the WordPress system, every 300 words or less. I like to make the header boldface.
(Editor’s note: Each of the subheads above, like “A Dozen Good SEO Details…” is a header, though I used H4.)
- Put in transition words in a lot of your sentences. This helps a reader puzzle forth in your post and see the logical progression. Yoast has a “Table 1: Transition Words with Example Sentences” that can help. Print out the list. Some transition word types and examples are Cause and Effect (therefore, as a result, consequently), Emphasis (above all, most importantly, certainly), and Enumeration (firstly/secondly, further, moreover, and in addition).
- Edit and save the “snippet” that Google will pick up about your blog/article. Make the snippet succinct, yet complete. The Yoast structure allows a place for this edit and save.
- Choose some Categories for posts in your blog/website structure and assign the post accordingly to its categories.
- Choose a Featured Image photo for your post, upload it to your WordPress photo Library, and insert it properly in your post. This will then appear correctly as an illustration in the “preview” when you announce the post in Social Media, such as Facebook.
- After you upload the Featured Image photo to your WordPress photo Library, but before you put it into your post, be sure that it has a descriptive phrase in the Caption, Alt Txt, and Description fields. The Alt Txt phrase for the photo will allow a blind viewer or a non-visual Search tool to “see” and better understand/classify what the photo and post is about.
- Put into each post/article or below it a couple of cross references to related articles on your blog/website.
In conclusion, if you improve your posts on your blog/website with these SEO tips, you will likely receive more Organic Search results from Google. How Google manages the algorithms to distribute its Search “gifts” to various websites will likely remain an ever-changing mystery.
Your results may not be as dramatic as my “pumpkin patch” example. But you will probably see some incremental improvement in traffic, as I am seeing in the articles that I have now re-done with better SEO. Incremental improvement in traffic will cheer you on and likely help you to sell more books and services.