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The plain English guide to SEO

Friday, December 14th, 2012 by Steve Masters tagged ,

Stewart Pearson (played by Vincent Franklin)

Vincent Franklin as The Thick Of It’s Stewart Pearson.

The Plain English Campaign celebrates Plain English Day on 14th December – a day dedicated to the campaign against incomprehensible verbosity and jargonated pomposity. Or, in other words, in favour of plain speaking. Sometimes a bit of verbiage is a wonderful and poetic thing, but when you are trying to make a point, why not make it simply?

The Thick Of It’s Stewart Pearson character is the very embodiment of ridiculous communication. The so-called director of communications is, ironically, described in the TV show as someone who “needs subtitles”.

Policemen in crime dramas also seem to adopt a ridiculous way of speaking. British cops talk about “proceeding to the station” while Americans like to use scientific terms instead of plain English. On one episode of CSI recently, one detective referred to a victim having had his arm “disarticulated” (ie, cut off).

The world of SEO is not a plain speaking world. Jargon such as ‘link juice’ and the ‘algo’ mix with technical phrases like ‘latent semantic indexing’; acronyms like SERPS and CMS. To be honest, there is no way to explain SEO without using some technical terms like ‘canonical URLs’ and ‘keyword density’. However, it is possible to simplify what SEO is all about. Here, then, is the plain English summary of SEO.

  • Make sure your website is designed and written for humans to read and navigate – don’t just try to pander to the search engine.
  • Understand what your target customers look for (which phrases they type into search engines) and ensure these phrases appear in key pages of your website.
  • Make sure all pages of your site have descriptive and unique page titles (ie, the ones that appear at the top of the browser window).
  • Use images wisely – crop them to size before uploading, compress them for web resolution so they load efficiently. (See The SEO value of Google Images.)
  • Ensure your website has a sensible hierarchy so that a human and a search engine can understand the site map. Don’t have too many of the same pages repeated all over the place because this can be confusing.
  • Don’t just copy content from elsewhere. A website dominated by copied content will not be regarded as useful by search engines.
  • Keep adding to the content on your site – grow your product and information pages or add news and blog articles. More fresh content increases your chances of being found in search results.
  • Be present and active on all the major social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, LinkedIn, YouTube, Reddit, Pinterest…) so that there is a steady stream of links pointing to your site.
  • Get listed in top business directories such as Google Places, Yell, Thomson, Dmoz.
  • Where possible, encourage customers to write reviews about you (Google Plus, TripAdvisor, Revoo etc).
  • Employ a PR and publishing mentality to create content for other sites that links back to your site. Write articles for other sites’ audiences that includes contextual links back to you. Such a link on a quality and relevant website makes you look more popular.

Read more about the Plain English Campaign.

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About the author

Steve Masters

Steve Masters

Steve is Head of Services for Vertical Leap and its sister brands. He started professional life as a magazine journalist, working on music magazines and women's titles before becoming a web editor in 1997, then joining MSN to work purely in online publishing. Since 1999 he has worked for and consulted to a broad range of businesses about their online marketing. Follow on Google Plus and Twitter