Search engine optimization (SEO) is one of the most important aspects of digital writing. As a Hacker Noon writer, learning about SEO will greatly strengthen your stories and help bring you more readers. In this guide, we’ll quickly explain how to optimize the titles, headings, and first two sentences of your articles. We’ll also explain the importance of keywords and how to use them.
Nowadays, people will mainly find your articles through search engines. If we’re being real, when we say “search engines” we pretty much just mean Google. This graph from Oberlo shows the distribution of the search engine market worldwide:
So whether we like it or not, we must write in a way that both captivates the reader and helps the article rank well on Google search engine results pages (SERPs).
There are a variety of ways to improve your rankings for Google. In this guide, we will focus on on-page SEO which means the content on the actual page which we can control directly and adjust to improve user experience and make the page easy to read for Google site crawlers.
- Keyword Distribution
- First Two Sentences
You’ll hear people mention keywords a lot when talking about SEO. We will go over how to choose the best keywords in a separate article. For our purposes here, all you need to know is keywords are the words people will type into the Google search engine to find your article.
So if you are writing an article about which coding language is easier to learn: Java or Python, you might want to optimize your article for keywords like “Java vs Python”.
Once you’ve chosen the keywords for your article, you’ll want to make sure that you put them in the title. Ideally the keywords should be as close as possible to the beginning of the title, while making sure the title still sounds natural.
Using the same example from the previous section, here are some decent title options:
- Java vs Python: Which is the Easier Coding Language?
- Java vs Python – Best Coding Languages to Learn in 2020
- Java vs Python: Which is Better for Game Development?
To break up long walls of text, make sure you are placing headings every 300 words. On average, this would be every 3 - 4 paragraphs.
Headings help provide structure to your stories and they also help people skim your article if they don’t want to read the whole thing.
Keywords in Headings
To help Google understand what your article is about, you should place your keywords (or variations of them) in 30 - 50% of your headings.
This means that if your story has 6 headings, make sure your keywords are in 2 - 3 of them. They don’t have to be the exact keywords, ex: “Java vs Python”.
Instead, it is good to have variations that show the same meaning and context. Here is an example of how I might structure the article headings:
- Title: Java vs Python: Which is the Easier Coding Language?
- Heading: The Benefits of Java
- Heading: The Benefits of Python
- Heading: Java vs Python for Machine Learning
- Heading: Resources to Learn Java and Python
- Heading: Final Thoughts
4. Keyword Distribution
In addition to the title and headings, your keywords should appear throughout the story as a whole. It is best that the keywords are evenly distributed throughout the story. That means you can’t just mention the keywords 10 times in the introduction and never again. That would be both unnatural to the reader and suspicious to the Google bots.
In general, Yoast SEO states that 0.5% to 3% of the words in your story should be your keywords or variations of the keywords. For example, let’s say we have an 800 word story and the keywords are “Java vs Python”.
This keyword phrase is a total of 3 words. If we mention it 10 times in the article that would be a total of 30 words. 30/800 = 3.75%. That is too high.
Instead let’s try mentioning it 5 times. 5 x 3 = 15 words. 15/800 = 1.88%. This is much better in Yoast SEO’s standards.
Obviously, this depends on how long your keywords are. If my keyword was simply “python” then the calculations above would change drastically.
Rule of Thumb of Keyword Distribution
Instead of whipping out a calculator, just try to make sure you mention your keywords once every 200 - 300 words. Remember that keywords in your headings are counted by Google too, so keep that in mind when writing your stories.
5. The First Two Sentences
Lastly, one of the most important aspects of SEO is the snippet (meta description) you choose to show users when they see your article on Google SERPs.
Getting your article on the first page of Google is half the battle. The second half of the battle is writing a title and snippet enticing enough to make them click.
Presently, Hacker Noon’s system is set up so that your first 2 - 3 sentences of the article are used as the Google snippet.
So please don’t start your articles with lines like
Hey Hackers, have you ever wondered why programming is so hard? Well maybe this article can help you out.
If that is used as the snippet, the user will have no idea what this article is about other than programming.
Rules of Thumb for Your First Two Sentences
There are 2 things to keep in mind when writing the first 2 sentences of your article:
- Make sure you mention your keywords
- Directly answer the query
What do I mean by directly answer the query? Basically, you should give searchers the information they’re likely looking for in the first 2 -3 sentences.
This way, when people see your Google snippet, they’ll know that this article has the answers they’re looking for and isn’t a random opinion post.
Here are a few examples of titles and good snippets:
Title: Java vs Python: Which is the Easier Coding Language? Keyword: Java vs Python Snippet: Python is easier to learn than Java due to shortcuts and reusable variables. At the same time, Java has its benefits too.
Title: Minecraft Color Codes Chart: Changing Chat and MOTD Colors Keyword: Minecraft Color Codes Snippet: A Minecraft color code is a combination of the section ‘§’ sign followed by a number (0–9) or an alphabet (a-f).This article will provide you with a full chart of all the Minecraft color codes.
Title: Designing for iPhone X Screen Dimensions: 9 Tips for a Great UX Keyword: iPhone X Dimensions Snippet: The iPhone X screen became 20% taller compared to iPhone 8/8 Plus that is equal to 145pt of additional space. So, be ready to use artboards sized 375 x 812 in your favorite UI design software.
You’ll notice that if a user searched for any of the keywords above, all of these snippets give the reader a short answer to their query. More importantly, it tells the reader that this article has the exact information they are looking for.
I hope you found this pocket guide useful. At the very least, it should help you as a Hacker Noon writer expand your skill set. Simply being a Hacker Noon writer is great for your CV. On the other hand, if you can tell a hiring manager that your tech articles are on the front page of Google and are read by hundreds of thousands of people, that is sure to put you over the top.
This is just part 1 of our SEO guides for Hacker Noon writers. Stay tuned for more helpful tips to improve your writing.
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