Ralph’s SEO Best Practices


This document outlines best SEO practices for those just getting started with the topic. Writers, editors, and general content creators have the most to gain from reading this. 

There are eight major SEO subjects covered below. Due to the nature of the document, coverage is, unfortunately, brief and relegated mostly to tips and basic overviews. 

More in-depth coverage of SEO will require further personal research. 

Subjects are listed in order of consideration i.e. what you ought to tackle first to last. Each section stands on its own though so feel free to jump around the document as needed.


Moz gives us the best definition of what a keyword is:

“Keywords are ideas and topics that define what your content is about. In terms of SEO, they’re the words and phrases that searchers enter into search engines, also called “search queries.”

In other words, keywords are what people are using to find the answer to their questions on Google and other search engines. Thus content should be, to a certain extent, crafted around keywords and the answers they provide. 

Before crafting an article, the writer will need to consider the following:

  1. Assembling a list of relevant keywords i.e. keyword research
  2. Implementing the keywords in an effective manner


Keyword research is one of the most important steps when it comes to creating content. With a well-rounded and topical list of keywords, we can craft powerful articles that not only cover the necessary topics but also provide useful information and answers to commonly asked questions.

The goal of keyword research is to assemble a list of relevant keywords for a given topic. These keywords will then be used to build the format of the article and will be used intermittently throughout the body of the article.

There are several types of keywords to consider as well as some important vocabulary:

Primary keywordsThe most important keyword in your article i.e. the main topic. It will usually be broader in scope and have a higher search volume.*things to do in rome
Secondary keywordsThese are keywords related to the primary keyword and can be considered sub-topics. Make sure that secondaries are still relevant and closely related to the primary keyword.what to do in romeactivities in rome
Longtail keywordsA longtail keyword is when a modifier is added to a broader keyword to make the query more defined. This roughly correlates to middle-of-the-funnel users who are getting more specific in their search.things to do in rome at nightthings to do in rome as couples
Exact-match keywordsUsing a keyword in an article exactly as it appears in your research. things to do in rome
Partial-match keywordsUsing a slight variation of the keyword in an article. Search engines are generally smart enough these days to recognize and associate these with exact matches.things in rome to dodoing things in rome 
LSIs and synonymsWhilst search engines are able to recognize groups of topically similar keywords, it’s still good to include synonyms in content. Helps to cover any gaps in the algorithm and sounds more organic as well.things to do in romastuff to do in rome

* Choosing the primary keyword of your article whilst considering both topic and search metrics, such as volume and competition, requires a decent amount of thought. For those new to SEO, this can seem intimidating. Luckily in most cases though, the primary keyword and topic of the article will already be chosen for you by a content manager.{ADD} 

Keyword research can be done in one of many ways:

  1. By looking directly at the SERP with the aid of Chrome extensions, like KW Everywhere.
  2. By compiling large keyword lists using 3rd party tools like AHREFs.

The tools that a writer uses to assemble keyword lists are often a matter of preference. If a certain writer prefers to use a Chrome extension to make their keyword lists and has success, that’s ok. 

If they have access to and feel comfortable using more advanced tools, then more power to them. 

Whatever works best and yields results. 

Keyword lists will vary in length depending on the length of the piece and breadth of the topic. 

There will always be one primary keyword for a given article followed by a short list (2-4) of strong secondary keywords. The latter usually have higher volumes and are very similar topically to the primary.

Secondary keywords are much more variable in terms of quantity. Refer below for rough estimates of how many secondary keywords you should have based upon article word count lengths:

Word CountSecondary KWs
2000-4000 10-15
6000-8000 20-25


Keyword implementation has changed quite a bit over the years. It used to be the case that content creators had to be aggressive with keyword implementation, which sometimes led to spammy writing. 

But we do not need to create content like this anymore.

Generally speaking, keyword stuffing is not as effective as it used to be. 

These days, it is far more important to use keywords surgically and tactically, that is by implementing them in key locations as opposed to spraying them all over the page. 

Using secondary keywords effectively is arguably more important these days than using the primary keywords as much as possible. Using more secondaries means that the content is generally more robust and covers more sub-topics within the larger main topics. Google values definitive content that covers as much of the subject as possible. (Just make sure not to veer into irrelevant subjects.)

In other words, Google likes to see more keyword diversity and greater breadth in an article as opposed to the same keyword repeated over and over and over again.

It is difficult to say how often a given keyword should be used in an article. Generally speaking, you will want to use the primary keyword more often, since it is the main subject of your article, and secondary keywords slightly less often. 

Keep in mind though that you will have a longer list of secondary keywords though so, in the end, you will have used more secondaries in total than the primary. 

Word CountPKW Instances Total Secondary KW Instances 
2000-4000 4-810-20

Keywords found in headings count towards these numbers.

Note that these are just guidelines and that each and every article will require different degrees of keyword implementation. 

Additional Tips and Advice

  1. Do not feel forced to use only exact match keywords. As mentioned earlier, search engines are generally smart enough these days to recognize partial matches and synonyms for a given keyword and then pool them together. 
  2. Following the influential BERT Core Update, Google is now able to read keywords contextually. In other words, it can now read and take into consideration the text around a keyword to better understand what is being said.
  3. Partial matches are somewhat flexible. You could conceivably have one part of a keyword in one section of a sentence and the other in a different section. Take the following example: “Whilst Islamabad is a bit lacking, there are plenty of good hotels to be found.” This can be considered a partial match keyword as it includes the key entities (Islamabad + good +hotels) whilst also having clear subject matter (when read, the sentence is clearly talking about hotels in Islamabad).
  4. You may discover that certain keywords have enough volume and related keywords to justify dedicating a whole new article to them. Keep these in mind.
  5. Consider giving keywords that have lots of volume their own sections/headings. If more people are searching for certain subjects (more volume) then it is important that we cover these topics.

Knowing Search Intent

Search Intent is a hot topic these days amongst SEOs and is discussed quite a lot. 

Basically, search intent boils down to understanding what the searcher wants to know when they make a query. 

This is crucial because if we just look at keywords at face value, we miss a lot of important contexts.

Here’s an example:

You want to write a guide about backpacking in Seattle, as in traveling there on a shoestring budget. You write an amazing guide covering exert aspect of the subject. Yet, the article never manages to rank or receive any significant organic traffic. Eventually, you search for the query “backpacking seattle” on Google, only to find that most of the top results are for articles covering backcountry backpacking trips around Seattle.

In this case, Google understands search intent to be focused on the wilderness type of backpacking, not the kind that we see in regions like SE Asia or Europe where people essentially live out of their backpacks.

If the content creator had simply done their research beforehand, they would’ve understood the proper search intent behind the keyword. Afterward, they might’ve considered pivoting the article to capture different keywords or abandoned the idea altogether. 

Understanding search intent and what a potential user wants to gain out of search is vital to SEO success. It MUST be considered before writing an article and can best be done by…

Doing Competitor Research

Before creating your format, do a quick search using your most important keywords. Make a list of the top five results on the SERP and take notes on what the articles are saying and how they are saying it.

Is a particular type of article appearing more often e.g. listicle, mega-guide, round-up, etc? Try and use a similar format.

Is there a particular sentiment behind the articles? Are they positive, critical, opinionated, innocuous? You will want to speak in a similar tone (unless the subject truly requires a different angle). 

There is a difference between expanding upon a topic and simply regurgitating it though. 

When it comes to competitor research, it is crucial to take what is being said by the competitors and build upon it. It is not the case that we want to copy what everyone else is saying, rather we want to emulate them and then say it better. This is how content is improved on the web.

Proper Formatting

Google has always been a huge stickler for formatting – it likes well-organized content, logical placements, and clean layouts

Google ranks posts with better formatting higher because it is more able to understand what’s being said. Human readers also find the content more accessible when it is laid out in a digestible manner.

Google does not like: 

  • Walls of text
  • Overly busy or cluttered areas
  • Flat, uninspired formatting
  • Lack of multimedia
  • Illogical heading structures

Whilst every post or project will often have or use a different format, there are some strategies that we know Google likes:

  1. Mixed media – Walls of text are immensely hard to read online. Using elements like images, videos, notes, quotes, and so on helps to break things up. Though each publisher will have its own standards, a good rule of thumb is to make sure that at any given time, the screen is completely composed of text.
  2. Structured information – Google likes tables, lists (bulleted and numbered), accordions, and other components that elegantly organize text and information. Not only does using these boost SEO but also increases the chances of gaining a snippet. You can overuse these though so try to only use a couple of tables and a couple of lists throughout the article.
  3. Sections that are not too long – Try and keep the word count under 300 for each heading. 200-250 is optimal. It is ok to go over 300 words every once in a while.


Using headings in a logical manner is very important to SEO. 

Google uses headings to understand the subject of a post. Naturally, it will look for and attempt to analyze secondary or tertiary subjects. 

As such, you need to make sure that all of the headings i.e. topics of your article are related to one another in some way and that the way that the headings are structured makes sense. 

For example, when Google reads an H2, it will most likely read the proceedings H3s as secondary subjects that fall under the umbrella of the H2. If these don’t make sense, Google gets confused and the article suffers.

Below is an example of a logical heading structure

<h1>How to Travel Forever</h1>

<h2>Become a Travel Writer</h2>

<h3>How to Become a Travel Writer</h3>

<h3>How to Make Money as a Travel Writer</h3>

<h2>Become Friends with Myspace Tom</h2>

<h3>How to Take Myspace Tom Hostage</h3>

<h4>Is Chloroform Expensive?</h4>

Does this heading structure make sense? Can you understand what the article is about based purely upon the headings

Ask yourself these questions when building a format.

Additional Tips and Advice

  1. Avoid using multiple H2s or H3s right after one another. Have a clear and logical progression for your headings and Google will have an easier time understanding what you’re saying.
  2. Think of headings like a hierarchy. Top headings (H2s) should cover broader topics. From there, H3s and H4s should be dedicated to narrowing the topic and covering subtopics. 
  3. Referring to keywords is a great way to start crafting your heading format. Remember that keywords correlate to topics and headings are meant to cover topics. Use keywords to lay the foundations for your headings and build upon them.

Writing for the Internet Age

Writing a piece of content is not like writing an essay or a novel. 

The goal is not to push the boundaries of the written word nor is it to impress people with an enormous grasp of the lexicon or dictionary. 

Writing in the internet age is simplicity

Writing in the internet age is brevity

Writing for the internet is getting your point across with as few words as possible. 

This is because the average attention span of the modern reader when using devices like laptops or mobile phones (especially the latter) is quite short. So your biggest challenge then is keeping them on the page.

To succeed, you will need to maintain the reader’s attention. Here are some tips to do so:

  1. Concise paragraphs – paragraphs should be 2-3 sentences long. 4 max. 1 better be a powerful sentence. 
  2. Sentences should average around 10-15 words long.*
  3. Proper grammar – Google will penalize writers that don’t know how to write. Make sure to spell check and use correct grammar.
  4. Use “3-dimensional” text – bolds and italics add visual depth to an otherwise 2-dimensional screen and naturally draw the reader’s eye. Bolds and italics also have a small effect on SEO when keywords are involved. Be aware of what you’re making bold/italic. As always, don’t overdo these either.
  5. NO WALLS OF TEXT – This is the quickest way to make someone bounce off the page.
  6. Nail your intro – Make it short and to the point. Address immediately the subject of the article and explain why the reader should care.
  7. Cut out the fluff – This is an old tactic used by uninspired writers to inflate word counts. In excess, it can be extremely frustrating to read for a human.

*Note on sentence length: some experts believe that mixing up sentence length can be very effective. Having a longer sentence here and a shorter sentence there have actually shown to increase SEO, albeit on a marginal level.

Word Count

Word count is a very contentious subject these days. 

Some SEOs believe that long-form content still wins and that whoever writes the most usually wins. 

Other SEOs believe that this sort of content creation is coming to an end and that Google rewards shorter, more pointed content these days.

There is no golden rule when it comes to word count. Some articles will be longer or shorter than others for the express reason that they require less to be said. 

In short, an article needs to have as many words as it takes to fully cover a particular subject. No more, no less.

That being said, there are some rules of thumb: 

  • A blog post should be at least 2000 words long. 
  • 3000-5000 words are usually enough to cover a singular and particular topic in-depth. 
  • Anything more, and the article is usually considered a piece of long-form e.g. a mega-guide or a pillar piece. These types of articles often serve as “hubs”. Their purpose is to link out to other topically-related pieces of content. 

Mentioning the Right Entities

This is a somewhat advanced SEO topic – related to semantic models – and is not something that we need to cover at length here. 

All you need to know is that a given piece of content should include key entities related to the topic being discussed. 

To be more specific, entities are (according to Google): 

“A thing or concept that is singular, unique, well-defined, and distinguishable.”

If that sounds a lot like a keyword, then you’re not far off. Both entities and keywords are very similar to one another; the difference lies in how search engines use them. 

Keywords are seen as queries i.e. a string of words to be analyzed quite literally.

Entities are seen as a part of a greater whole i.e. a thing that potentially relates to another thing. 

That’s entities in a nutshell. Unfortunately, we can’t further into the subject, lest we go down a rabbit hole. 

All you need to do is research entities in addition to keywords as well. Make a list of key entities, just like keywords, and would make sure they’re used in an article. Doing so would provide a lot of extra context that Google can then use to understand what the article is about. 

The easiest way to find an entity is to use Google Images in fact. Look at this row of suggestions – these are all known entities.

More advanced methods are:

Using Multimedia 

As multimedia begins to saturate the internet, it is becoming more important to use it effectively. More so than ever, search engines like to see mixed, high-quality media on the web, and they attribute a lot of value to it these days.

There are many kinds of multi-media available to content creators. Below are some of the most common:


The most common form of multimedia, images are extremely important for SEO. Images need to be attractive, relevant, and properly optimized in order to yield the best results. 

Consider the following:

  1. Try to use your own photography first, rather than stock photography. Several SEOs believe that Google sees personal images as unique content and stock photography as duplicate content. New, unique content is always better. 
  2. That being said, don’t be afraid to use stock photography either. If your current selection of images is low-quality or is just non-existent, stock photography can help in a pinch. Often it’s better to have something rather than nothing.
  3. Images play a crucial role in page load times so you must always make sure that they are optimized first before uploading. Make sure the resolution and file size of the image meets the publisher’s{ADD} guidelines. Use trusted tools like BIRME or ImageOptim Online to effectively optimize.
  4. Images can cause clutter on a page. If you tend to use a lot of images, just make sure they are properly organized like every other element. Have a format in place.
  5. Advanced: Infographics and graphs are particularly popular in the SEO community as readers will often share them. This is a great way to pick up backlinks to your site.

Embedded content

Embedded content is when you include an element in the page that is not hosted locally on the site. This means that in order for the content to appear, the site must “call” somewhere else to fetch and render it. These might include graphics, fonts, videos, javascript, and more. 

Embedded content can be visually very pretty and add extra dynamism to the page. But because it also requires extra processes to display, it can cause big slowdowns in load time. 

All embedded content, including the types listed below, must be used sparingly. Often, publishers{ADD} will have their own standard operating procedures when it comes to implementing them.

Below are some common types of embedded:

  1. Videos – This is the most popular kind of embedded content since video is so consumed these days. Most of the internet’s videos are hosted on platforms like Youtube or Vimeo and, as such, must be embedded to play. Videos can be a very effective means of grabbing and keeping the reader’s attention, but can also be very hard on load times. Make sure that the site has a proper means of hosting and loading videos before using them. 
  2. Maps – Lots of publishers{ADD}, in particular travel bloggers, like to include maps on their site. Google Maps is the most common provider but is also notorious for causing page slowdowns. Some webmasters have resorted to building native map components. A lightweight alternative is to build a map in Google My Maps and then link to it via a screenshot on the page. This will allow for a map to still be on the page, an opportunity to visit an interactive version, whilst cutting down on unnecessary scripts running in the background. 
  3. Audio – Often in the form of a podcast, song, or spoken blurb about something. Like video, these files are often hosted on popular platforms like Soundcloud or Spotify. Treat and implement them the same way you would video. NEVER set the file to autoplay when the page loads – this is super annoying.
  4. Other APIs – An API (Application Programming Interface) is essentially a mini-program that runs on a given page or post. They are often used to display more specialized visuals or information and, like other embeds, need to call external resources. Publishers will usually have a list of pre-approved APIs that they allow on the site.{ADD}

Downloadable content

A popular form of multimedia for people who are actively trying to acquire new leadgens. It’s also a great way to improve the quality of page and create extra user engagement. 

Examples include PDFs (packing lists, ebooks, etc), audio files, and so on.

Downloadable content is visually not overly complex – often it’s no more than an advertisement of some sort followed by a download link. Sometimes, it may require using a form, which should be premade already by a developer and easily implemented.

Downloadable content is usually hosted locally on the website server and thus doesn’t often require any complicated or burdensome requests. Even if a file is hosted somewhere externally and so long as there are no additional scripts being run on the page you’re working on, slowdown should be a non-issue.


Linking (particularly internal) is extremely important for a website’s SEO. Doing so not only provides extra signals for search engines but also allows for a healthy distribution of link equity and for crawlers to easily discover the site. 

There are two types of linking: internal linking and external linking. 

For the sake of clarity, let’s define a few important terms:

  1. Backlink – This refers to a link pointing back at a post i.e. an incoming link originating from outside the post. The term “inbound” is a common synonym. 
  2. Outlink – This is a link that is directed outside the page. “Outbound” is a common synonym.
  3. Jump link – These are links that originate and end on the same page. They have less of an effect on link equity but are good for navigational purposes, which in turn benefits SEO. These will not be covered in this article.

Internal links

Internally linking serves to:

  1. Spread link equity between linked pages via the links themselves. 
  2. Allow crawlers (Google Bot) to easily find and index the content. 
  3. Establish topical relevance for a given post. 
  4. Organize content into topically relevant groups or “silos”

All of the above are vital to SEO, thus internal linking is extremely important to do. 

Internal linking is a relatively nebulous subject that cannot be fully explained in this document. For a more in-depth overview, I suggest referring to this guide from Moz.

Below you will find a list of best practices:

  1. Internal links should ALWAYS be set to dofollow.
  2. When used on posts, internal links, both inbound and outbound, should always be set to open new tab. Landing pages and nav links may not be so. 
  3. Link to content that is topically relevant to each other. This will provide better context for Google and will help it understand better what the article is about. 
  4. Use efficient anchor text. Anchor text is the literal text that hosts the link. Make sure the anchor text is descriptive (of the article you’re linking to), to the point (no more than five words), and natural sounding. Using a keyword from the article you are linking to is common practice. DO NOT over-optimize anchor text and make it sound spammy. 
  5. A good rule of thumb for anchor text when it comes to internal linking: 40% should be exact match, 40% should be partial match, 20% should be a mix of common CTAs e.g. “check out this article” or “visit the website here”.*
  6. Try and link to high-value articles earlier in the content, such as monetized content. More link equity is passed on via the first links in the article.
  7. Use effective link placement. Link litter is a serious issue and detrimental to a post’s UX. Use links wisely and make sure they are not lost amongst other elements. 
  8. Do not link too much. Aside from adding to link litter, link equity can also be diluted.

* These ratios are referring to a post’s internal backlink profile. A backlink profile is a collection of ALL the links pointing to an article. When setting up internal links, it’s often the case that we need to consider the SEO of site content as a whole and not necessarily the article that we are directly working on. This is a good example of the holistic awareness that one must have when practicing SEO.

External links

External links are when you link outside of the domain you are working on. 

In this case, writers and editors do not need to worry so much about external backlinks – this falls into the realm of link building and is often handled by a dedicated link builder. 

External outlinks will need to be chosen and implemented by content creators though.

Like internal ones, external links help to provide extra signals and context that search engines use to understand a page. It can also provide a little extra authority as you link to high authority sites.

An analogy I like to use is that external links are like citations – they help to add legitimacy to an article.

Here are some best practices for external links:

  1. Don’t use external links too early in your article. You will be diverting precious link equity outside your site rather than keeping it inside.
  2. The best sources to link to are either high-authority sites, like major publications, or highly-relevant content. The latter can be found by choosing from the top results in the SERP for a given keyword.
  3. External links may be set to dofollow or nofollow, though the former is usually industry standard. 
  4. External affiliate links are ALWAYS to be set to nofollow or sponsored and never dofollow. Nofollow is the safest bet.
  5. Avoid linking to competitors i.e. other articles that are ranking for the same keyword(s) that your article is about. Do a quick search for the article’s primary keyword and avoid linking to the top 20 results. 
  6. Use proper anchor text.
  7. Do not use more external links than internal. The total amount of externals should be 25-33% of internals. Nofollow affiliate links usually don’t count towards this ratio.

Setting Up Metas

In the context of content creation, metadata or “metas” usually refers specifically to the Meta Title and Meta Description. Both of these will be displayed on the SERP when the article appears. 

The meta title and meta description both influence the CTR (click-through rate) of an article. Articles with engaging metas are clicked more often, which search engines see as a positive signal. Thus, a post with good metas will have better SEO. 

Here are some best practices for meta titles and meta descriptions:

  1. Meta titles should be no more than 60 characters. If there is a word or phrase in ALLCAPS, this character count will be lower (to account for increased pixel usage).
  2. Meta titles should be highly relevant, contain a primary keyword, an emotional trigger, and, preferably, the brand name. Effective meta titles address the query and tease an answer. 
  3. Special characters – e.g. | [  ( – are a good way to draw the eye in. 
  4. A date in the meta title indicating the article’s “freshness” is also powerful but not always practical. 
  5. Meta descriptions should be 100-140 characters long.
  6. Meta descriptions should expand on the topic introduced by the meta title and hook the reader further. This is a good time to use a call to action.
  7. Avoid providing any sort of direct answer in the description though as it won’t incentivize the user to click.
  8. Ending the description on a cliffhanger, such as an ellipse, provides a nice segway.

Here are examples of good meta descriptions.

Creating Engagement

The final piece to winning the SEO war is to make sure that readers are engaged. 

If search engines see people engaging with your website – e.g. leaving comments, sharing it on social media or their own websites, and clicking links – it will reward that particular piece of content.

This means that we must not only write in a riveting manner but try to get the reader involved as much possible. We must motivate them to take action, leave comments, share, and check out other internal web pages.

Once we have made these suggestions to readers, there’s not much more we can do – it’s up to the reader to decide whether or not they actually want to engage with us.

BUT there is one thing that we can do that could potentially boost SEO a lot: comment moderation.

Not only do comments indicate to Google that people are engaging with the webpage, but they also increase word counts and the chance to use additional keywords. All of these are very important to SEO, so it goes without saying that comments need to be looked after. 

Please check back in on your old posts and moderate comments. Approve ones that add to the article’s authority and could potentially be used to add keywords. Encourage more people to comment and then repeat the process. 

Just watch out for spammy comments i.e. ones with shady links. These are most likely the product of competing domains using black-hat SEO techniques. They use bots to create backlinks to their own blog and even sometimes to hurt your own SEO – both are dodgy.

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