9 Tips to Improve Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

    by Mark Glaser
    April 30, 2008

    i-9f6eb0e51925c6626f1ed447e1e5f4b0-Google search.jpg

    With search engines ranking as a top traffic driver for many blogs and content sites, optimizing a site for search engine exposure is an increasingly critical component of any online marketing effort. Search engine optimization, or “SEO,” means using technical and not-so-technical techniques to make sure that people searching for topics you write about will find your site.

    Over the next few months, I’ll be redesigning MediaShift in conjunction with adding new video and audio features. One of my goals for the redesign is, not surprisingly, to increase traffic; and with nearly 50% of MediaShift traffic coming from Google, getting more traffic means doing more SEO.


    So I did some online research and contacted Aaron Wall, a young SEO expert who wrote SEO Book and consults for websites that want to improve their search optimization. Plus, I queried Poynter’s Online News email discussion list, and received some great tips from other site managers.

    i-37723e103dfcdc8d109f6350fb0e86dc-Aaron Wall.jpg

    Aaron Wall

    Wall agreed to give me advice on how I could improve the SEO for MediaShift, and I’ve distilled those tips into some basics that are relevant to any content site that wants more search engine traffic. There are a few caveats, however. As Wall told me, MediaShift is not typical of new sites or blogs because it already has a strong PageRank (authority) with Google, and has built up “social trust” by getting so many links from other sites. Many sites just starting up would have to focus more than I do on getting incoming links, which is how Google ranks sites (more inbound links = more authority).


    Another caveat: I noticed that SEO experts often recommend certain writing styles including particular ways of writing headlines and captions. I’d personally caution against writing for search engines at the expense of writing for people, since people are the real reason you are doing what you do, and they are more apt to return and become loyal readers if the writing suits them. Of course, different publishers have different goals for running their site, so they should consider balancing business and advertising needs with keeping readers happy.

    Finally, it’s important that in seeking increased traffic, you don’t go overboard with SEO-motivated site changes: For example, if you create dummy pages and links just to increase your site’s exposure for a particular keyword, Google will catch on and lower your ranking.

    With these caveats in mind, here are nine SEO tips to consider:

    Tips on Improving SEO

    1. Get inbound links and link out as well.
    As I mentioned above, Google ranks your site according to the amount of inbound links it has from other sites — and gives more weight to links from other authoritative sites. I don’t have as much of a problem with this at MediaShift, but it is important for new blogs or news sites.

    “One of the things that drives Google rank is links, both internal and external,” said Kevin Anderson, blogs editor at the Guardian. “Blogging is all about linking, although any good web journalism should be. When I’m being honest, as a journalist and blogger, I’ll admit that blogs have higher Google rank than sites with similar traffic based on the high level of linking…It’s one of those slightly counter-intuitive things that traditional journalists and media managers don’t seem to understand. Linking is not only good web journalism, it’s also good for SEO, hence site visibility.”

    Terry Heaton, senior vice president of AR&D, notes that internally linking is also important, and is something the top newspaper sites do well.

    “The main reason Wikipedia links always appear near the top in Google is because their Google Juice is rich with links from and to themselves,” Heaton said. “The ‘weight’ of a link is measured, in part, by the source. Wikipedia gets a ton of traffic, so a link from them is ‘worth’ far more than a link from, say, any TV station in the country. Hence, Google ‘sees’ the links and values them accordingly, which raises Wikipedia’s search results…Internal linking, therefore, always reaps SEO rewards. Moreover, the reason we link out, is to encourage linking in. Again, we want and need links. It’s job one.”

    2. Headlines and title tags should have key words up front.
    As you consider SEO for your site, think about the important “key words” that people might search for in Google that would bring up your site. For MediaShift, those key words might include: blogs, podcasts, wikis, online advertising, newspapers, TV, and online video. And each blog post has its own key words that describe the content to people.

    i-ae20b0e8ecd380728dc36adf426e506b-smoking gun headline.jpg

    Faulty MediaShift headline

    But I often fail to put the key words up front. For instance, in a recent post about The Smoking Gun, my headline was: “Public Documents + Shoe Leather Reporting = The Smoking Gun’s Staying Power.” I noticed that when CyberJournalist.net linked to my blog post, they headlined their post, “Smoking Gun: Still hot after 11 years.” That headline gets the key words “Smoking Gun” up front much better than mine. The same goes for “title tags,” the code in web pages that brings up titles at the top of your web browser.

    “Search engines tend to put more weight on key words earlier in the page title,” Wall said. Wall also recommended having headlines in MediaShift link to the “permalink” of the post, something I had eliminated when I had trouble getting indexed on Google News. One fallout of having these key word-filled headlines is that you can’t be as creative as tabloid newspapers can be. The Guardian recently lamented the loss of tabloid headlines in the move to an online environment heavy on SEO.

    3. Web addresses for your blog posts or articles should include key words.
    Similarly, it’s important that the URL for each story contains the key words from your headline and even the category for the story. So if you have a sports story titled “Giants Beat Rockies on Good Pitching” your URL should likely look something like this:

    http://www.[site name].com/sports/giants_beat_rockies_on_good_pitching324.html

    Dutch SEO expert Joost de Valk wrote up a great overview of SEO for newspaper sites, and he noted that Google News requires that article URLs include at least three digits. As for putting key words into URLs, de Valk says, “Seriously, it helps too much.”

    4. Page descriptions should be unique or eliminated.
    Each web page has a “meta-description” tag in its code, and search engines sometimes use that description as the blurb that runs under the link to your site in search results. So when I do a search for “smoking gun mediashift” on Google, I get the following result at the top:

    i-8944281a976313595bd23e66d1773dc8-smoking gun search result.jpg

    The problem is that all my meta-descriptions are the same for all my site pages, a generic explanation: “MediaShift is a weblog that tracks the way the Internet and technology are reshaping the mediasphere, with a focus on how blogs, podcasts, wikis, and citizen media are changing culture and society.” That description often comes up in Google searches, but that means there’s less content that’s relevant to the search. In other words, the blurb below the link is more about my blog in general than about Smoking Gun.

    “If you grab the first sentence [of your story] or use the same meta-description on every page, it’s nowhere near as relevant as the description that Google can pull itself from your site,” Wall said. “So if your description is the same on all the pages, you are better off removing it and letting Google auto-generate snippets. They will anyway, but anytime they don’t, your listing would look less relevant than your competitor’s.”

    The High Rankings blog offers a helpful rundown of the various ways in which search engine results will display blurbs for your site.

    5. Highlight your best content on every page.
    One feature that is common on major news sites is a list of “Most Popular Stories” or “Most Emailed Stories.” On MediaShift, I have a set of “Buzzworthy Posts & Comments” that highlight the best of the blog over recent weeks. I also have a Top 5 that links out to stories and happenings on outside sites.

    Wall believes that I should offer up a “Best of MediaShift” with a list of the Top 10 best blog posts of all time. Having that list in a prominent place on my site — on all pages — would bring more traffic (and inbound links) to MediaShift’s best content, and serve as an entree into the site for people who just came to read one post.

    “Many readers bounce [leave the site] after reading only one post,” Wall said. “If you make it easy for them to find some of your best work then they may stick around and read more. Some will subscribe to your blog feed if they find your content compelling enough.”

    6. Create theme or category pages, and run more special series.
    SEO experts say that it’s a good idea to have special topic pages that aggregate all your posts on one page. That might explain the thinking behind the move to have Times Topics at the New York Times, aggregating all the newspaper stories, blog posts, multimedia and more on each topic.

    i-3f83fe9959ade428b8e45c1c5393180e-Miley Cyrus Topic.jpg

    Times Topic on Miley Cyrus

    While I do have pages on MediaShift by category of posts, those pages could do a better job of capturing search engine traffic, according to Wall. He told me that I should include explanatory text on those pages; this would help both search engines and human readers more easily navigate MediaShift’s offerings.

    Wall also suggested more “theme weeks” during which I post various reports on one topic. That’s something I’ve done in coverage of conferences; I’ve also had a Wikipedia Week and Twitter Week. While it’s not something I should do every week, doing it on important topics could build my authority on that subject and improve my ranking in search results related to those key words. Wall also recommends sending out notices to bloggers that specialize in those subjects to get more inbound links from them.

    7. Limit tags and categories to the most important ones.
    Another issue I have on MediaShift is a plethora of categories for blog posts. The list on the lower left navigation bar is very long. Wall suggests highlighting only the most important categories and putting the rest on another page, with a link to “See More Categories.” The same goes for tags, which I don’t use on MediaShift but do use on Idea Lab. Too many tags causes there to be links that aren’t very useful. It’s better to limit tags to the most important key words on the subject.

    Plus, Wall believes I should use the “rel=nofollow” code to tell search engines not to count links to pages without improtant content for search engines, such as the MediaShift Feedback page or the PBS Privacy Policy. This strategy would put more “link equity” in my links to content pages, in turn strengthening MediaShift’s association in search engines with the topics those pages cover

    8. Create a Google News sitemap and optimize images.
    Google recommends that publishers submit special “sitemaps” to help the search engine to index your pages. Damon Kiesow, online managing editor for the Nashua Telegraph, explains:

    “Sitemaps are dynamic XML files (more or less a custom RSS feed) that you submit to Google and are used by their spider to index your content,” he told me via email. “The XML files are set to a Google specification — and they usually poll ours once or twice daily. They have web, news and mobile sitemaps — all of which are meant to help their spiders find your most recent and relevant content.”

    Along with sitemaps, it also helps to get your images onto Google News. Lisa Barone, a consultant at Bruce Clay, explains how to optimize your images. Among her tips: Use a descriptive filename for your photos; keep the file name path to the photo simple; and provide a distinct URL for each photo (like this).

    9. Get into offline conversations as well as online ones.
    Sometimes we get tunnel-vision when trying to promote our blogs and sites online, and believe the only way to get attention is via emails, Twitter, Facebook and other online hangouts. But Wall notes that networking in real life can help bring attention to your content online.

    “Mingle offline. Many of the link-based relationships that occur online are built through offline networking,” he said. “One of the most effective ways to build online authority is to integrate yourself into the conversation wherever it occurs offline.”

    As I begin work on revamping MediaShift, I will try to address some of these tips; I’ll be sure to report back on what works and what doesn’t — right here on the blog.

    What advice do you have for boosting search engine optimization? What tricks have worked for you? Or do you believe that optimization isn’t worth the hassle? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

    Tagged: google search engines weblog websites

    85 responses to “9 Tips to Improve Search Engine Optimization (SEO)”

    1. in regards to recommendation #3, the keyword separator should be a hyphen, not an underscore. The reason is based on code search, which treats the underscore as part of a field description. This has been widely discussed for the last 3 years but is frequently missed. The importance of keywords in the URL is amplified when other sites link to you.

    2. Use your stats package as a way to see how people are phrasing searches to arrive at your site, from this you can write tightly focussed headlines that are even more search and people friendly.

    3. great to see some authoritative coverage of SEO on PBS :)

    4. JDog says:

      Thanks Mark for the coverage of SEO on PBS. Looks like you now have some work to do to your site ;)

    5. Dan says:

      Mark, regarding item #2 – headlines. There is a place for creative witty headlines – in the anchor text of your promo links, which will appear both on your site and hopefully on blogs and social discovery sites like digg and reddit. This is where that skill can make a huge difference by enticing the reader to explore further.

      As for the display headline, however, it is too valuable to waste when it comes to search. Be literal. Tell the engines (and visitors), in no uncertain terms, what the story is about. The engines ideally want to see it wrapped in an h1 and want to see the keywords from your META title reflected there. If you can pull the keywords into your dek as well, and put an h2 on that – even better!

      To help ease the pain, I advise our editors to compromise by incorporating keywords from the META title into their head and dek. Not always as easy as it sounds, but perhaps the new copy skill for the digital age is striking a balance between salacious and informative.

      You’re definitely on the right track – Aaron knows his stuff. Good Luck.

    6. Dan says:

      Mark, regarding #2 – use creative headlines as anchor text for links to the article (aka ‘linkbait’) – but definitely do yourself a favor and keep display heads and deks literal.

      Ideally your head should be wrapped in an h1 and contain keywords to support your META title. The headline is too valuable from a search perspective to waste on clever – particularly when your online audience is geared toward informative.

      Of course, to ease the pain, I advise our editors to compromise by trying to find the right balance between salacious (tabloid) and informative. Perhaps THAT is the new copy skill for digital domain.

      You’re on the right track – Aaron knows his stuff. Good Luck!

    7. Jeremy says:

      Re #1 — the general point is dead on, but links specifically from wikipedia won’t help you at all. To avoid SEO spam, wikipedia uses a “nofollow” tag on all outbound links, which renders them invisible to Google.

    8. SEO for such an established domain such as this will really boil down to internal links and content optimization. The strength of PBS alone could add tremendous weight to your efforts, but I think you have already mastered the topical aspects such as having themed information.

      The key will be to refine and group pertinent information and then allow the spiders to do their work. You are literally poised to dominate a niche with the authority the domain already possesses. I would be interested in revising the site after your done to take a look at the impact a good round of SEO could offer your pages.

      Great job on the content, your half way there, now it is just site structure and links. All the best, Jeffrey Smith.

    9. One thing you didn’t mention was google webmaster tools. With all the references to google that you mentioned I’m surprised you have not pointed to the webmaster tools site. If you have a google account and a website then this free service is available to you. Login to google and poke around for the webmaster tools service.

      It gives you data like what keywords are driving your site. It gives you a great picture of what people are looking for and what you might want to optimize or un-optimize for. ;) They offer spreadsheets that you can download as well. Sure you can find some of this information in your own log analyzer reports but nonetheless I find it an essential tool.

    10. Good article, thanks for the info.

    11. YellowSEO says:

      RE #3 Matt Cutts on his blog September 12,
      2007 has mentioned Google favors the hyphen over underscores

      Not sure if the current Google algorithm now treats the _underscore_ the same as the -hyphen-

      another side note the stop word “no” in the url path can be removed

      current< ,/b>
      http://www.[site name].com/sports/giants_beat_rockies_on_good_pitching324.html

      changed< ,/b>
      http://www.[site name].com/sports/giants-beat-rockies-good-pitching324.html

    12. YellowSEO says:

      RE #3 Matt Cutts on his blog September 12,
      2007 has mentioned Google favors the hyphen over underscores

      Not sure if the current Google algorithm now treats the _underscore_ the same as the -hyphen-

      another side note the stop word “no” in the url path can be removed

      http://www.[site name].com/sports/giants_beat_rockies_on_good_pitching324.html

      http://www.[site name].com/sports/giants-beat-rockies-good-pitching324.html

    13. Ted Ives says:

      #10: Make a posting in response to an article on a high pagerank site that allows you to embed a hyperlink, such as pbs.org.


    14. Thomas says:

      Inbound links and keyword usage is definitely the most important things. I use http://www.keylords.com to select uncompetitive but highly searched keywords, so i’m then required much less link building to do to get into good search positions. Works perfectly for me.

    15. Bill M says:

      This is so true, the cleaner your pages are and the more organized, the better for the crawler. In-links help also

    16. Charles says:

      Thanks for posting this. I’m really trying hard to optimize my restaurant website. I will try your suggestions.

    17. I think before you start really optimizing a webpage, you should think on a strategy:

      – Which customer group(s) do you want to address?
      – What are the keywords you want to be on top of the search engines?

      Best regards from Austria,

      Mario Körbler

    18. Mark Watts says:

      Excellent advice. Thanks for the tips, particularly with regards to optimizing images.

    19. Leuchten says:

      Thank you very much for your work. There are some good advices in this article. :)

    20. Great information and excellent advice. SEO Book is a great tool and resource, Aaron Wall is very knowledge and excellent to learn from.

    21. Great simple list…

      Sometimes we forget the most important factors the more deeper we get in the optimisation world.

      Great point on “offline conversations” that i’ve not seen mentioned in an article like this.

    22. Always good to add proper meta tags etc to articles.

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    25. Jeremy says:

      Great Article Mark – Thanks again for the fantastic search engine ranking information and in-depth discussion with Aaron Wall of SEO Book…please don’t forget to tell your readers: How to Boost Your Search Engine Rankings Today with the #1 SEO Tool – SEOintelligence

    26. ryanconlon says:

      Thanks for the info, i will give it a try.

    27. seo india says:

      Great article, thanks for this.

    28. Adam says:

      Thank you for the advice. To apply your advice, here is a link:
      http://www.blueheron-bnb.com. Thanks

    29. Thanks for the information, I can’t wait to use it on my site.

    30. Robin says:

      I agree, the limitations good SEO procedures place on titles can be a bit frustrating at times.

      I especially liked your point about not overlooking off-line opportunities. Sometimes it’s nice to get away from the keybaord for a while & not forget about the real world.

    31. Great advice. I have been looking for a good site on SEO and think I finally found one.

    32. FMJ says:

      Excellent Advice! Very concise and to the point.

    33. Thanks for sending a good list of SEO tips, which helps the new commers.

    34. Hmm, maybe some of this will get more people to my podcast. Although I think WordPress handles the hyphenated tag thing itself.

    35. Sheryl says:

      As a new blogger, I found this information valuable. Thank you!

    36. kailash says:

      Great source of information, it will help me to improve a lot of things on my website.Thanks.

    37. john prado says:

      Thank you! Appreciate the article!

    38. sed reth says:

      GReat Awesome article. Love it….


    39. qlbe says:


    40. j,fd;hj says:


    41. i thank you too for that good article. well written and usefull information.

    42. with regards to point 7 where to disregard pages with less relevant content and not wanting Google to follow this link the rel=”nofollow” tag. This is page rank sculpting and previously not a bad way of doing it. Google at this point doesn’t follow any link with this tag attached but wastes the page rank instead of flowing it elsewhere! may as well have the link followed.

    43. SEO experts often recommend certain writing styles including particular ways of writing headlines and captions.

    44. This is great!
      Aaron is a legend, I wish I could pick his brains.
      these tips are great thank you thank you thank you!
      #9 makes a very valid point as well- sometimes we get too caught up in the online world and disregard offline promotion.

    45. Boston SEO says:

      Great write-up. In addition keyword placement and avoiding bad coding are two key factors in improving your SEO. I think you hit many of the points dead-on, these are just some additional factors.

    46. Boston SEO says:

      Great write-up. In addition keyword placement and avoiding bad coding are two key factors in improving your SEO. I think you hit many of the points dead-on, these are just some additional factors.

    47. kevin says:

      Search optimization is a hyper-competitive endeavor that requires intense focus and a thorough, up-to-date understanding of how the search engine algorithms and robots operate.


    48. Looks like you are optimizing well since you I found you so easily. This post of yours will be my holy book. Thanks!

    49. You are obviously optimizing well since I found you so easily. Google does not love me this much yet. This post of yours will be my holy book. Thank you!

    50. Simone says:

      That was information packed esp. since I’m in the process of rebuilding our site. But you saved the best for last :).

    51. Isn’t SEO all about keyword anchored backlinks? The rest of the stuff are just icing on the cake.

    52. laser says:

      my website had no visitors from the search engine because it had a large image in the header section of every page. i’ve removed it and it was magic.

    53. Bollywood says:

      These tips are really great and thank you for these..Point 9 is a very valid point as well sometimes we get too caught up in the online world and disregard offline promotion.
      Web Marketing Search Engine Optimization

    54. Recent research indicates that alt text for images carries more weight in the engines than an H tag.

    55. jakup says:

      wow this Search Engine Optimization is great. thank you

    56. topo says:

      wow.. great tips.. thanks a lot…
      I trying to win a seon contest right now..
      wish me luck..

    57. Ronald says:

      Introduce my very own secret weapon. The program personally developed to tell me EXACTLY why those top ranked sites are ranking where they are…

      As well as to show me EXACTLY what I need to do to outrank them and claim that #1 position.

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      More info of my secret weapon software : http://bit.ly/8oJtJ2

    58. Great tips! Thanks for the info.

    59. hello.. after 10 years of SEO i want to add my 2 cents: a lot of SEO tipps that can be found are good profound knowledge you should follow.
      plus: add some time and do not push it to hard.
      plus: experiment yourself and try to test seo-theories.
      plus: try new services in an innovative way. sometimes you find very interesting results..

      seo = know how + time + experience + luck + magic

      bye from graz, austria, where our webdesign agency is located.

    60. Blinds and curtains says:

      These tips are truly fantastic. There is so much bad information available it’s great to see the good stuff as well.

    61. stephen says:

      Maybe in the future you could research the okapi bm25 and other data collection algorithms. Then show how one can ‘reverse engineer’ the code of their site to match the collection algorithm. It’s much more precise than backlinking or index submission. Very nice article for beginners though! Thanks.

    62. Campervan Hire Australia says:

      Great seo tips. I bet many sites don’t do these I know we can improve a lot based on this advice.

    63. seo optimization says:

      Good effective tips…

      Thanks for the post.

    64. In respone to Lance Faulkner – “Recent research indicates that alt text for images carries more weight in the engines than an H tag.”

      Where can I find this research? I find that quite hard to believe myself. Alt tags are great for optimising for image searches, and can bring decent traffic to your site, but I wouldn’t have said they were more important than H tags?

    65. Getting a good organic rank for websites is the top priority today. Due to this Search Engine Optimization is increasingly been practiced by many business owners.

      According to Google, one needs to consider the following factors regarding any website before planning its optimization:

      • What people want i.e. what keyword they type for performing search in search engines?

      • What is available on the net i.e. text on pages?

      • How well the typed text matches content of your web pages Or the site’s online reputation?

    66. This is a very valuable article for the folks Working Artists Network serves! I’ll be posting it as a resource on our website as well as posting on Facebook and Tweeting it. ;-)

      Thank you!

    67. These tips are truly fantastic. There is so much bad information available it’s great to see the good stuff as well.

    68. I have to clarify some point given by author at here
      1. get inbound links: but make sure links must be placed on suitable niche.
      5. Highlight best content: and yes dont forget to add link on highlighted content
      The above changes are as per my point of view.

    69. Mark,

      Thank your for such a great article on SEO.

      All are valuable points.I have also bookmarked your site for future reference.

    70. “SEO experts say that it’s a good idea to have special topic pages that aggregate all your posts on one page. That might explain the thinking behind the move to have Times Topics at the New York Times, aggregating all the newspaper stories, blog posts, multimedia and more on each topic.”

      I definitely agree with you.
      I have been recently doing it and now I can see the results.

      Thank you for the information.

    71. Lace wigs says:

      i like the tip about creating special pages that aggregate your articles to them…thanks..also i didnt quite understand the comment with creating a special sitemap for your news

    72. We just don’t believe in the conventional SEO Services like directory submission and classified submission we adapted the latest techniques of link building, Social Media optimization and following changes in algorithm of major search engines.

    73. This is a very valuable article have a look…

    74. greatest article have a look…

    75. Andre says:

      The tip describing a Top 5 that links out to stories and happenings on outside sites is an excellent idea. This can even be automated with a little bit of code and well researched RSS feeds, pulling in fresh content to the page on a daily basis.

    76. Great job that will help me

    77. Pat Williams says:

      I was very frustrated (to say the least) trying to learn all about page rank, how you get where you get, what’s the right way, etc. We were doing our seo in house and when business started to pick up I decided to stop trying to figure it out and hired an seo firm to do it for me. Best decision I made! The traffic to our site has increased 200%. My site is in very competent hands now.

    78. Great advice! These are things that anyone can do for free, without having to go to a separate SEO company.

    79. I am totally agreed with “Practice Management Software UK” & “Web design Sydney”… Nice tips for SEO.. thanx

    80. Once you put the proper website SEO techniques in place, you’re ready to learn how to actually identify the specific companies that visited:



      Brett Miller

    81. These tips a very well organized and they actually make sense for new users.

    82. guptaabhijit318 says:

      Awesome post. Thanks for sharing this article. Very important points you mentioned here. Really it’s very useful to get ranking and optimize. It gives me idea to improve my service.

    83. john says:

      One of the updated and instructive blog series. Useful and advantageous for marketing individuals.

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