Rising Through the Ranks | A Beginner’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization (Part III)

As promised, I’m back this week to unpack some of the specifics when it comes to using titles and tags to boost your dividends during the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) process.  Two weeks ago, you’ll remember, I launched this series with a brief history of search engines and an inquiry into the necessity of SEO.  First, I investigated a few ways in which we can better employ keywords.  A week ago, I dedicated an entire blog post to talking about matters of content.  This is because keywords are often an important doorway, or entry point for many new readers––that is, the way in which they first stumble across or access your work––and content is the house you build behind that doorway, the material that absorbs new readers and gives them a place to settle into conversation with you. 

It might be tempting to view titles and tags as merely decorative––a nice piece of wall art to hang above your mantel, or a set of attractive but generic photographs to tuck into the guest bathroom––but this is far from the truth, and far from doing justice to the potential benefit that a knowledgable and strategic use of these tools can provide.  Titles and tags are highly functional components of your digital content.  Think of them as the windows, screen doors, and patio of this metaphor; they increase the visibility of your material.  Today, I’m going to lead you through two additional steps that may be of use to you as you get started with your own SEO.

Step 3: Optimize Your Title

Coming up with a title for your digital material can be every bit as difficult as creating the content that follows.  As other websites can tell you, search engines like Google and Bing have character limits on title tags.  This means that above and beyond considerations of readability on your website or YouTube channel or blog page, you have to consider an additional layer of presentation: will enough of your title show up on a search engine listing to pull new readers in?  To show you what I mean, I plugged “Rising in the Ranks” and “Self Publishing Advisor” into Google (top) and Bing (bottom), just to see how much of my own title tags are showing up after my blog posts are indexed and cached:

Google search listing
Google search listing
Bing search listing
Bing search listing

As you can see, Google displays the titles of my individual blog posts twice––first, in a larger typeface and a more eye-catching color, and then again in a smaller font.  The larger typeface only leaves room for 55 or so characters, and the rest is covered by an ellipsis (the “…” at the end of the line).  The smaller font below allows for my full titles to be displayed, along with the dates of posting, my screen name, and however many of my tags (more on that later) as can fit.  The shorter your titles, the more room there is for tags.

Bing, on the other hand, doesn’t repeat the titles and omits the tags altogether.  Instead, it provides an excerpt from my biographical information.  The moral of this particular story is: while most search engine listings will include the title of your individual posts, the rest of what they may show is up for grabs (that is, determined by different algorithms).  The only common denominator between search engine results is your title.

So, what makes for the best of all possible titles, when it comes to SEO?  A balance of simplicity with accuracy and description.  This may prove to be a bit of a tug-of-war, especially if you’re posting complicated and thematically rich material––but three quick rules of thumb are:

  1.  … keep your title concise, catchy, and grammatically correct,
  2.  … include one or more of your most relevant keywords, and
  3.  … try to stay below the 50-60 character limits imposed on the listings.

Step 4: Optimize Your Tags

I’ve already mentioned that tags boost the visibility of your digital content.  Google and other search engines will sometimes display your tags, or meta descriptions, on search results as a kind of preview to help readers to determine what your blog post or YouTube video or other digital content is actually about.  As with keywords, you want to prioritize what you include in your tags.  Tumblr, for example, only indexes the first 20 tags you attach to a post.  This sort of cutoff is fairly typical for both normal and micro-blogging platforms.

So, what do tags look like?  Here are just a few examples, posted with permission:

SelfPublishingAdvisor.com (WordPress) tags
SelfPublishingAdvisor.com (WordPress) tags
One of Tumblr's many tag display options.
One of Tumblr’s may tag display options
Another of Tumblr's many tag display options.
Another of Tumblr’s many tag display options.
One of Blogger's tag display options
One of Blogger’s tag display options

As you can see, each platform has its own ways of displaying tags, and sometimes a single platform will allow you to customize the appearance of said tags.  Even if you set up your blog to not display tags, make sure you do generate metadata for every post or page, since tags play a vital role in how search engine algorithms determine the relevance of your material to searches your target audience will be running. 

I should note that there’s a difference between the tags that are displayed alongside blog posts like this one and meta tags, which are the actual chunks of mostly-invisible HTML code that make up the architecture of your digital content.  It used to be true that if you wanted to build a website, you had to develop a working knowledge of HTML in order to take advantage of SEO.  Today, most of the big blogging platforms (like WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, and so on) allow you to input information in the tag field and they convert some or all of that information into HTML meta tags for you.  It’s not a perfect translation––but if I’m getting too technical here, remember that the point of SEO is to take advantage of as many simple tricks as you find feasible and translate those tricks into increased website traffic.  Not every trick is going to be one that fits your needs.  As with all other self-marketing methods, you must weigh the benefits against the costs yourself––and the main cost here is time: the time it takes to learn HTML may offset the actual net benefit, especially if you can take advantage of built-in features like tag fields

Well, I’ve run out of room this week—check back here next Wednesday to learn more about search engine optimization.  I’ll be addressing the matter of analytics!

If you have a question about any of these tools for self promotion, would like to hear from me about something specific, or have other big news to share, please comment below!

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.

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