Search Engine Optimization Strategies

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a process that helps you show your website higher in search results for different search queries.

Search Engine Optimization Overview

Benefits

When your content complies with good SEO practices, publishing your documentation online provides you with a series of advantages.

  • It helps customers find the right documentation faster

  • It gives additional boost to your brand and products because your customers can find them easier

  • It may result in showing your brand over competitors' brands

Important SEO factors

When discussing SEO, we mostly consider Google since it is the most popular search engine on the market. Matt Cutts, a former Head of Search at Google declared in 2010 that their search engine used over 200 ranking factors. However, the ranking factors can have dozens of variations and the search algorithms keep evolving. This results in thousands of signals received by search engines.

Remember:

There is no definitive lists of SEO factors.

There are, however, specific areas to work on. Their main focus is to assure the user that your website:

  • is trustworthy

  • has a high level of authoritativeness

  • represents an appropriate expertise standard.

Content clarity

Keep your topics brief and to the point. It makes your documentation more comprehensible and easier to browse. Also, remember that content cannot be a wall of plain text. Consider providing additional resources and use variety of DITA elements like:

  • graphs and figures

  • notes

  • unordered and ordered lists

  • definition lists

  • tables, etc.

You can use the whole DITA arsenal!

Content quality

In case of this factor, feel free to adapt all good technical writing practices. They are relevant to SEO as well.

  • Your content must be factually correct and accurate.

  • Keep it simple. However substantive, your documentation should make your product easy to understand in a reasonable time.

  • Your documents should exhaust the subject. This means they need to be complete enough to provide all the information needed to solve your customer's problem.

  • Your content should also be up-to-date. Always provide users with the latest versions of your documentation.

  • Keep your content consistent: consequently use the same approach and writing style.

  • Take care of adapting to your audience. Do not use complicated technical language when your readers are laypeople. On the other hand, include technical details when you deal with professionals.

  • Eliminate ambiguity and make your content to-the-point. Do not leave any questions open. Provide concrete solutions. It is the main difference between technical content and blog posts or social media articles.

Domain age and authority

Be aware that SEO needs time. Older domains are more trustworthy. It may take months for brand new websites to become more visible in search results.

Incoming links

It is good if your website is referenced by high-quality trusted sources. It helps to build authority of your content. As more users are directed to your webpages from other sites, Google recognizes that and boosts your webpages in search results. One of the easiest way to obtain such “backlinks” is to consider links exchanged with your partnered companies and distributors. You can also distribute links on different domains that you may own.

Warning:

Do not obtain links from fake blogs and catalogs or spam forums no longer used by real users. Do not pay for adding dozens of links from unreliable sources. This could result in a harmful filter applied to your website by Google.

Internal linking

Try to provide readers with additional helpful resources at the end of your articles. It enables them to comprehend a full picture of a matter they are interested in. It also makes them stay longer on your website. This time between clicking one of the search results and coming back to them is called dwell time. If a user quickly returns from your webpage to the search page, it may mean that they were not satisfied with the result. Additionally, internal linking helps search algorithms navigate through your website.

Keyword density

Customers type specific queries in search engines to find answers to their problems. You can use these phrases in your content to put your webpages in the right context. However, your website should not be artificially stuffed with words that are used only as search queries. It may result in the opposite effect to the one intended. It can easily impair usability of your content. on your webpages should sound naturally

Mobile-friendliness

Ensure your content is easy to browse on mobile devices. Optimize your images to speed up loading time. You can use free tools like Tiny JPG to reduce the file size of your images without a visible quality loss.

Note:

The Tiny JPG tools is provided by a third party, and Jorsek Inc., is not responsible for any changes in behavior, functionality, or discontinuation of the tool.

Security

Your domain should use an SSL certificate. You can check whether it is enabled by looking at your URL. It should start with https:// and have a lock icon next to it.

Uniqueness

Do not copy or rephrase content from other websites even if it seems to be relevant. Create unique content that provides your readers with proper solutions.

Headings

Headings are one of many factors that help you position your website in the result pages of search engines like Google.

What is a heading?

Remember:

Headings are not just lines of bold text with a bigger font size applied. They possess additional semantic value.

Search engines use headings to interpret displayed text properly. Headings help to index the structure of your website. In HTML, they are tags responsible for titles or subtitles that you want to display on a webpage. They are divided into six levels from <h1> to <h6>. Heading 1 is the most important one, whereas heading 6 is the least important.

John Mueller, Search Advocate at Google says:

(...) when it comes to text on a page, a heading is a really strong signal telling us this part of the page is about this topic.

Apart from SEO significance, headings are important in terms of user experience design. Users often skim a page by its headings to find the information they want faster.

Why are there multiple heading levels?

Let's use an example to understand it better. A single URL may be treated like a book.

  • Heading 1 can be compared to a book title. There is only one title per book and it is unique. By analogy, it is recommended to use only one <h1> per URL. It should be positioned above other headings. Also, the applied font should be bigger than in case of lower heading levels.

  • Heading 2 can be considered as a chapter title. One book may have many chapters. Each chapter covers a separate matter.

  • Heading 3 can be treated like a subchapter. It provides a further discussion on the subject started in the main chapter. One chapter may contain many such sections.

  • Headings from 4 to 6 are lower in the hierarchy.

In terms of SEO, it is not a mistake to use many H1 tags. It may be helpful for example when there are many equivalent sections. However, SEO practitioners remind that focusing on a single H1 brings better results. Also, because top-level headings are most often better exposed than other headings, many H1 elements can be confusing for a user. This is why we use just one <h1> per URL in Heretto Deploy. For more information on rendering headings in our system, go to Headings and Navigation in Heretto Deploy.

What are headings in the context of DITA?

When you publish your DITA content online, your DITA code is transformed to HTML and CSS code by publishing scenarios. Most often your <title> tags become heading tags. Their ranks are chosen according to your documentation hierarchy. Thus, when we refer to headings, we think about the titles of topics, sections, figures, and title tags of other elements which are then rendered to heading tags in HTML.

How important are headings?

Headings are one of hundreds SEO factors. Do not spend too much time overthinking them. Be aware of other important aspects and above all, focus on creating content helpful for your readers.

Headings and Navigation in Heretto Deploy

Headings are generated automatically so you don't need to worry about choosing the right heading levels online.

Heading levels are derived from your content hierarchy in Heretto CCMS. It means that the following rules are applied when you publish your documentation online:

  • The title of the top-level element becomes an <h1> tag

  • Titles of the children elements will be put in <h2> tags

  • If any of the children elements consist of sections, figures or other elements with titles, those titles will be placed in <h3> tags

  • Any titles of the lower-level elements will be displayed as headings that correspond to their position in hierarchy

  • Skipping heading ranks can be confusing for your readers. For example, <h4> should not be the first heading to appear after <h2>. Our system will automatically set correct heading levels.

  • Headings are separate from the navigation. They are connected to DITA <title> tags. On the other hand, <navtitle> DITA elements are responsible for the names shown in the navigation. These two types of titles may not necessarily be the same.

Let's consider the following map structure in Heretto CCMS:

Heretto Deploy shows the map structure like this:

  • “Content Strategies” is our main map here.

  • Maps have been used to make editing easier. Map titles are never visible in the menu.

  • “Document History” is not displayed online since the audience attribute has been set to print. In this example Heretto Deploy has been configured in a way that prevents such documents from being displayed online.

  • “Global shared” is a variable warehouse with processing-role set to resource-only so it will not be present both in print and online.

  • Positions in the left navigation pane correspond to the topic titles. This area enables moving between different URLs. Child topics of the “Linking” topics are not visible here because the chunk attribute of the parent topic was set to to-content. Otherwise, they would be listed in the menu.

  • Child topics can correspond to the right navigation pane. This area enables user to navigate through a single webpage (URL is not changed upon clicking). To display topics there, you need to set chunk attribute to to-content e.g. on your parent topic.

In the above example topic titles correspond to the following heading levels:

  • “Linking Strategies” - Heading 1

  • “Inline Links Overview” - Heading 2

  • “Local Cross-References” - Heading 3

  • “Peer Cross-References” - Heading 3

  • “External Cross-References” - Heading 3

  • “Key References” - Heading 3

  • “Block Links Overview” - Heading 2

  • Section titles and titles of other elements will be rendered as headings of accordingly lower ranks. Sections are not visible in any navigation pane.

Tips on Headings

Headings can be use more efficiently in order to position your website higher in search results.

Using keywords

Keywords are phrases used on your website, directly related to queries being typed in the search engines. Their aim is to help your webpage display in a proper context.

It does not mean that to be more visible you need to fill your content with as many keywords as possible.

Remember: Search engines like Google possess proven ways of verifying whether a webpage is genuinely helpful or aimed to be artificially positioned in search results. Knowing that, you should never stuff your content with unnecessary keywords.

The main keyword types are:

Branded keywords

Connected to your company or product name. For instance, Heretto or Heretto CCMS.

Short-tail keywords

Very general but searched by many users. They are mostly used at the stage of research when one is not yet sure about what they are looking for. These phrases are highly competitive so it is harder to get your webpage displayed when they are searched. Good examples are “DITA” or “technical content”.

Mid-tail keyword

They are terms usually consisting of two to three words. They are more descriptive than short-tail keywords and less competitive. For instance, “DITA CCMS” or “structured content guides”.

Long-tail keywords

Searched by a lower amount of users but related to specific use cases. For instance, “how to reuse content in Heretto CCMS CCMS”. You can use them to help clients find particular webpages related to your product.

Note: You may want to obtain a list of considerable keywords from an SEO Specialist at your organization before you start creating the documentation.

After you grasp the general concept of keywords, you should keep in mind the following suggestions:

  • It is good for your headings to include 1-2 keywords that could be used by your clients to find your resources. You can use keywords to give context of your documents. You can also use phrases related to your content's main topic to help Google better understand your webpage.

  • Try to include the main keyword in the top-level heading
  • Headings must not be lists of keywords. They should be written in a natural, comprehensible way.

  • Headings can be equivalent to whole long-tail phrases like “How to create your own template in Heretto CCMS

  • In case of technical content, headings are equivalent to your <title> tags. You may safely adopt the rules relevant to title creation.

  • You can freely use keywords outside of your headings

  • Always keep your readers in mind first

A proper heading length

Headings should be brief. They should be contained in no more than a single line. In technical writing, headings are strictly connected to your topic titles. Therefore, we recommend to use no more than eight words in a single title. This will also make a good balance for SEO as well.

Risks associated with too long topics

  • Keep in mind that customers want to find the right answer as fast as possible. Creating too many paragraphs in one topic forces them to go through the whole text before they find a solution.

  • When you publish maps online, each topic title is not only rendered as a heading, but it is also present as a link in the navigation pane. It helps to navigate through your webpages to find the right answers quicker.

  • You may want to enrich long topics with sections. However, section titles will be rendered as lower-rank headings which have lower priority level. Moreover, systems like Heretto Deploy can create additional browsable menus with references to particular topics. Sections will often not be present in that navigation. Create new topics instead. Even if they are lower in the hierarchy and their titles become lower-rank headings, at least they can be displayed in the menu.

Technical Content Development vs SEO

Technical writing and SEO are not mutually exclusive. You can take advantage of both of them to provide your readers with a better user experience.

Reuse in terms of SEO

The Google search engine appreciates unique information and has no interest in showing their users duplicated, low-quality content. Moreover, in 2011 Google introduced an algorithm of a lovable name “Panda”. Its job is to encourage unique content and to find genuinely unique sources that provide value to the readers.

Does it mean that reused content - one of the greatest blessings of technical writing - is a curse in the context of SEO? Absolutely not. As long as your webpages have clear goals and are aimed to help users, you don't need to worry. However, do not reuse too big chunks of content unless it is well-justified. You do not want your own webpages to compete in search results.

Also, be aware not to create too long topics. From a technical writing point of view, having long topics makes them harder to reuse in other documents. Moreover, if you decide to reuse such topics anyway, you duplicate long parts of content which can impair your SEO.

Information architecture

Your information architecture, topic naming convention or maps structure are directly related to the navigation on your website. Making it simpler and more useful allows user to dive deeper in your website and engage with it better. It increases parameters like time people spend on your website which is directly related to SEO. This user engagement is recognized by an algorithm called RankBrain. Its aim is to understand search queries better and measure user satisfaction by checking how readers interact with the results.

Note:

Carefully think how your information architecture or maps and topics structure translates into the navigation presented on your website.

Internal linking

Internal linking occurs when you link between two URLs that belong to your website. Contextual linking provides your readers with additional helpful resources. It also helps search engine robots navigate through your domain. It makes it easier to reach URLs that otherwise would be harder to access. For example when it takes a lot of steps from the homepage to reach them.

To develop internal linking you can take advantage of DITA elements. Using relationship tables or related links is not only a good technical writing practice. It is also a very good solution for your SEO. What is more, such links are displayed at the end of your articles so they do not distract your customers from reading.

Diversity of elements

Long passages of paragraphs:

  • make it more complicated to find the right answer quickly

  • are harder to comprehend and overwhelming to a reader

  • can make your reader feel bored

You can easily prevent that. Different DITA elements can be rendered in many ways online thanks to the CSS language. It results in diverse webpages that present content in more approachable way. This is also indirectly improving your SEO by making users more engaged.

A note element is a good example of how to make your documentation more interesting and understandable. You can use it to make sure that users will not omit important information like warnings, things to remember, restrictions and cautions.
Remember: Using different DITA elements improves user experience by making documentation more readable which indirectly contributes to your SEO.
For example, if a user finds your webpage in search results but immediately leaves, it is a strong signal that it was not what they were looking for. Try to design your documentation in such a way that a user quickly finds the right answers rather than keep browsing the search results page (SERP). Using different DITA elements may help to highlight these answers properly.

Learn more about it by reading about important SEO factors.