I’ve had a really educational year. I’ve learned a ton about WordPress security, and a ton about SEO. Some of it I’ve come by organically, or on-the-job, some of it I’ve had to research in order to dig myself out of holes. My SEO discoveries are surprising and interesting, and I present them here for you to peruse, discuss, and use.

What is Still Useful in SEO?


Typical Results for “Whistling Enameled Steel Pot”

<title> Yep, absolutely still useful, but not the way you might think. The page title is part of the SERP (Search Engine Results Page), and a pretty important one. This should be describing in plain language what someone should expect to read about on the page below. The words used in the title will probably include all—or hopefully at least most—of the keywords the searcher used. A crappy, non-descriptive title can be misleading at worst, and confusing at best. It’s also a very short space. Even Google won’t give you an exact answer as to how short. They say 50-60 characters, and suggest 55 or less will get displayed 98% of the time(?)! Adding your website title to every page title may seem like a necessity, but that will mean you need to be very economical with either the site name or the page titles.

<meta name="description" ...> Yes, it is still used and useful, but has next to nothing to do with page ranking in search results any longer. Description and Title still matter, though. Instead of SEO, the page’s Title and meta=description are used simply to populate the SERP. They serve no other function beyond this, from an algorithmic standpoint. However, they can make a huge difference in terms of how people react to what you’ve presented to them. Does your page title clearly reflect the target of their search? Does your description entice someone to choose your link over another site’s link? These are intense and often-debated marketing issues, and I am NOT any kind of marketing expert. If you are looking for a way to dial in the perfect hook to get someone to click your links, some direct research on your customers and some trial and error (A/B testing, traffic tracking, etc.) while holding hands with a web-marketing guru are probably in order. Generally speaking, the one with the strongest emotional appeal is going to be clicked more. Here again, size matters. You should try to stay under 150 characters, but there is a hard limit at 160 where you will definitely be cut off.

Are meta keywords still used in SEO?

Meta keyword tags (<meta name="keywords" ...>) are almost completely useless as of this writing. No major search engine algorithms still use meta keywords for anything SEO-related. Sorry, those months of A/B testing and keyword stuffing in your page copy will probably feel like a snipe hunt. Do not despair. Does this mean keywords are useless? Absolutely NOT. However, the meta tag is useless. The only keywords that still matter are in your page content. How they appear in context with the rest of the page’s content, and how contextually relevant they are to the searcher’s keyword entries is the main determinant in how a page is ranked, and which are most likely to be presented in a typical SERP today.

Newer Concept: Long Tail Keyword Strings

new-ishThe main modern concept in SEO is now “CONTEXT.” You understand what that means, so I won’t condescend here. How this works in terms of optimizing your site’s pages is surprisingly straightforward. Consider: if you’re looking for an enamel-coated steel tea pot with a whistle, you probably don’t start by searching for just “tea pots,” right?

You’re going to enter more than one keyword at a time. This is called in SEO a “long tail keyword” or keyphrase. The main things here are: a) it answers the searcher’s question (i.e. where can I find an enameled steel tea pot with a whistle?), and b) it reads like real content. Keyword stuffing no longer works, because they don’t carry any context, and the alogorithms that select answers to search queries are complex enough to now actually read the content of your page and determine the likelihood that your content answers the searcher’s question. Amazing!

So what does this mean? If you’re selling an “enameled steel tea pot with a whistle,” that’s probably what your page title should be for that product—and before you ask, yes, that phrase should probably also be included in your page copy, and if you can get pretty close to the exact phrasing, that’s probably going to help, as well. The more often a long tail keyword appears in a page (and makes sense…this is VERY critical) the better ranking this page is going to be in searches that include keywords “whistling enameled steel teapot”

Other Factors Influencing Modern SEO

Heading Tags (<h1>, <h2>, <h3>, etc.)

In the same way that the page title can be a powerful indicator of what you’ll find in a page, the heading tags can reinforce the content of the page, and are a real factor in SEO algorithms. Most Content Management Systems will automatically wrap the Page Title in <h1> tags (WordPress does, for sure), but using these tags on other page content helps the reader narrow down their search for specific information, or for a specific item, much more quickly and with greater accuracy. If it makes sense to a person reading the page, it will make sense to SEO algorithms. If your Enameled Steel Teapot page has both Whistle and No-Whistle varieties, having a header tag for each one will increase the level of detail that the SEO algorithm will use to determine if your page is the most likely page to address the searcher’s request, and should, therefore, be placed higher in ranking on that particular search.

Link Building

Once upon a time, you could actually PAY for this service, and for a little while it was worth it…for about five minutes, I think it was. That time passed by a long time ago. Back then, the mere quantity of links pointing to your website were interpreted as being content that others referred to and was therefore more likely to be more relevant or useful information. When people started paying for additional links, Search companies quickly abandoned this method.

Modern SEO algorithms pay a lot more attention to the quality of a link to your website. This may seem like an ethereal and subjective measure for a mathematical function, but it’s not, really. If the website providing a link to your content is about a similar topic (say, a site that describes the history of whistling teapots) has a link to your website, where you sell your “enameled steel tea pot with a whistle,” this link will get much better ranking than a site with no contextually related keywords in common with your page, such as might happen if someone in your book club happens to blog that he knows where to get a great teapot, and posts a link to your website from his book review blog.