Optimize Everything! Applying SEO Best Practices Even When You’re Not Keyword Obsessed

Write for Your Audience. Forget about Keywords.

Not everything you write for your website is meant to be an SEO targeted strike. It’s true that one strategy is to focus on just the right keywords to bring in organic search. My colleague, Leah Quintal, has a great blog post on how to do that.

But, many times, you don’t start with keywords. You start with an idea you want to share with people in your network—something they’ll find surprising or useful or inspiring. You’re not thinking about strangers out there Googling. You’re thinking about people who are already connected to you—people who get your newsletters, or see your social posts, or visit your website.

Producing content for those audiences is a great strategy! It’s a lot easier to engage people who already care about what you do than people who have never heard of you. So, by all means, generate your ideas for the people in your network. Write for them. Make your videos, slideshows, or infographics for them. Forget about SEO.

That is, while you’re creating the content. Then go back to SEO. Because if you’re bothering to produce this awesome content, why not make it so people who are looking online can find it?

What Is It About? Then Say So.

You can get really technical with on-page SEO, but the core principle is simple. Before you send your content out into the world, make it easy to tell what it’s about, using search friendly language. You do that by crafting your your meta title, meta description, on-page title (H1), subheads, and other elements to say: “Hey, search engines! Hey, people! Here’s what you’re going to find on this page.”

Recently, at JB Media, we had the opportunity to work with a nonprofit that’s producing tons of excellent, in-depth content tailored to their audience—and we showed them how to get the SEO benefit of the great work they were already doing.

Land Trust Alliance is a DC-based nonprofit that leads America’s land conservation movement, coordinating the efforts of 1,100+ member land trusts. One of the Alliance’s roles is to educate land trust personnel and promote thought leadership. So, it’s always publishing articles with expert perspectives on the most important issues in land conservation. The articles go out in their magazine, on their website, in email newsletters, on social media, etc. But if you were were searching online, you might never find them. That’s a big lost opportunity. Fortunately, it’s also easy to fix. They just need to be optimized.

Example: How to Optimize an Article for SEO

Here’s an example. Land Trust Alliance published a thought provoking article by David Harper on partnerships between land trusts and farmers to to address an urgent issue: the lack of affordable farmland. That’s something their target audience—land trust folks—want to know about. But, it’s also something that other people want to know about, something they might try to research using Google. And the people looking for that information are exactly the kind of people that Land Trust Alliance wants to connect with.

Un-Optimized Version

Trouble is, the article as published isn’t optimized. If you’re Google and you’re trying to figure out what’s in the article, here’s what you would see:

Meta Title: Partnering with Next-Generation Farmers | Land Trust Alliance
Description: Learn how land trusts can take additional steps, beyond preserving farmland, to actively help next-gen farmers create a secure, abundant food system in the communities we serve.
On Page Title (H1): Partnering with Next Generation Farmers
H2 Subheads:

  • Additional Steps
  • A Sense of Urgency
  • More Information

That title works for a magazine page, but it’s too general for SEO. The meta description isn’t bad, but it could be better. And the subheads aren’t doing anything for SEO.

Optimized Version

The article is about how land trusts can help solve the affordable farmland problem. So, lets say so. Here are our recommended edits:

Meta Title: Partnering with Farmers for Affordable Farmland | Land Trust Alliance
Meta Description: The need to conserve affordable farmland is urgent! Learn how land trusts are partnering with next-gen farmers to create a secure, abundant food system.
On Page Title (H1): Partnering with Next Generation Farmers
H2 Subheads:

  • Bold Steps Needed to Secure Affordable Farmland
  • How Can Land Trusts Help Create a Secure Food System?
  • Farmland 2.0 Report Studies Conservation and Farm Affordability
  • Innovative Conservation Tools to Keep Farmland in Production
  • A Sense of Urgency About Agricultural Land Transition

H3 Subheads:

  • Working with Farmers as Conservation Buyers
  • Affirmative Agricultural Production Language
  • Option to Purchase at Agricultural Value

What We Changed and Why

Notice the inclusion of “affordable farmland” in the revised meta title and meta description. We also added a bunch of H2s that describe the content of the article, section by section, including a wide range of searchable terms. And we turned some existing bullet points about specific conservation tools into H3s so that someone Googling those super-niche terms will arrive at this article—which is likely to be a great resource for them.

Why Didn’t We Change the Title?

You’ll notice that we didn’t change the H1, or on-page title. That’s because we’re trying to improve SEO without trampling this guest author’s intent and creative control. For more on that, look for my next blog post, “How to Edit Articles from a Guest Author—Without Overstepping!” I’ve also got a post coming up on when it makes sense to vary your meta title and your H1 and when you should keep them the same.

Win-Win: What’s Good for Google is Good for Your Readers

It’s not all about Google. Good SEO makes clear what’s in your content, which helps attract the right readers and helps them find what they want. In this example, the new subheads make it much easier for a reader to see at a glance what the article is about. Think about it: how many people are willing to read the whole text without first skimming the page to see if it’s for them?

The great news about today’s SEO is that it’s not just about jumping through hoops to get Google’s attention (that is so 2013). Today, search engines are focused on delivering the best content for users. So, it’s a win-win. SEO improvements should result in a better experience for your user. And great content for your users should strengthen your SEO—as long as you take a few relatively easy steps to get the SEO benefits. So, start optimizing everything!

Not sure how? My next post goes into more details. If you want to really get good at SEO, we’ve got a school for that.