Journalism Tips #27: A Beginner’s Guide To Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Hello, everyone. If you have been a longtime reader of this blog you may recall that our Journalism Tips series used to run each and every Saturday afternoon. With the recent launch of our podcast, however, that column has spent the past few weeks on vacation. That is, until today.

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There was a time in the distant digital past when a writer did not necessarily need to understand search engine optimization (SEO) in order to be successful online. Today, that kind of digital ignorance will only lead to a writer’s continued ambiguity in the world of music. In order to be successful online in 2014 you must have at least a basic grasp on SEO, but if not there are many, many resources available to help get you started. We cannot claim to have mastered this process ourselves, but we have done our best to gather the basic information you need to know in order to start creating content with a higher likelihood of landing on the front page of Google, Bing, and whatever search engines rise in the future. I’m not sure this will be a series, but if response demands it we will certainly share more.

What is SEO and why does it matter if I do it well?

To phrase things in the simplest way possible, search engine optimization (SEO) refers to the process of maximizing the number of visitors to a particular website by ensuring that the site appears high on the list of results returned by a search engine. Sites with strong SEO often find themselves on the first page of Google’s search results, which in the world of blogging is kind of like winning the lottery. In fact, a 2013 study from ad network Chitika revealed that 92% of all search engine traffic goes to sites on the first page of results, with the top result receiving 35% of all clicks. Here is a chart showcasing the average percentage of clicks received by search results based on where they appear on the page:


The findings of this report were similar to another report Chitika released in 2010. An excerpt from the latest report reads, “While being the number one result on a Google search results page is obviously important, these numbers show just how big of an advantage websites of this type have over any competitors listed below them. The importance of SEO for online business is seemingly quantified by these latest statistics, which, judging by their similarity to those observed as part of the 2010 study, are not likely to change significantly in the near future.”

What affects a search?

Good question. Ready for a bad answer? Only Google knows the truth. The search engine company has revealed that their system takes into account more than 200 different factors to help it determine the results for each query. The full list of factors have never been published, but seasoned professionals have made some great guesses over the last decade. Moz, for example, surveys the opinions of dozens of search marketers every two years to better understand the working of search engine algorithms. They use this data to aide sites in understanding what helps and hurts their site’s visibility in search engines. It’s not ‘proof’ to what search engines use when ranking, nor is it by any means a ‘hard science,’ but it does reflect the characteristics of websites and pages who rank highest in search engine results.

Moz competed their most recent survey in 2013, speaking with over 120 search marketers about their opinions on over 80 ranking factors. The top three factors for Google results were Page Authority, +1’s, and the number of Unique clocks linking to the individual page. Click here to view the full list.

What the heck is page authority?

You’re full of good questions today. Page authority, as explained by our friends at Drumbeat Marketing, is an SEO term used to describe the probability that a specific page from your site will be found on a search engine. Page authority is based on a logarithmic scale from 0 to 100 and deals with the relevance of information and links within site pages to one another. Higher page authority means greater chances of your page showing up on search engines, and that your page will be placed closer to the top of the search results. Note that page authority is related to the pages within sites, not the site itself. You can learn more about page authority and how to improve the ranking of your site, here.

So how do I improve SEO through my website?

I thought you would never ask! Definition are kind of boring, I know, but in order to properly understand SEO you need to also understand the terminology associated with it. You’re here to learn about creating pages that will rank high, however, and that’s what I’m going to tell you about.

There are many factors that affect SEO when crafting a new article or page for your website. Fortunately for us, our friends at Spin Media have created a very easy to read and implement guide that should help you change your content creation practices in no time at all:


• 70 characters or less is ideal

• Front-load keywords when possible


• Keyword-rich summary of story in ‘Descrip-on’ field under All In One SEO Pack (if applicable)

• Use up to 350 characters, put keywords in first 160


• File name descrip-ve of -tle, no stop words

• Hyphens between words in file name (no other special characters)

• Cap-on and Descrip-on fields same as file name

• Alt text: Slight varia-on on file name, no hyphens


• Internal link to relevant content in every piece

• External links to highly authorita-ve sources

• Link on keywords for anchor text, rather than source name

• Link with full URL, star-ng with hXp

• Use rel=“nofollow” in links to sketchy sources

(Ex: example)

Body copy

• Repeat keywords in first 1-2 sentences

• Fluid, gramma-cally sound wri-ng


• Use bold and italics to emphasize key terms when natural

• Use keyword-specific tags

As I said in the introduction, this feature is intended to help you get started with your SEO efforts. There are literally hundreds of sites dedicated to optimization, and there are at least a hundred different thoughts on the best methods to properly optimize your efforts. In order to find out what works best for your site you may need to try a few different approaches. Watch your analytics and make changes wherever necessary. We will definitely post another SEO guide if there is a demand, but for now you can gain further insight through this free PDF on SEO released by Google earlier this year.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.