Five More Changes for Better SEO

Last week, I shared some comparatively easy tweaks for authors to make to a website to improve its SEO. The list resulted from my attending a workshop on SEO and Analytics taught by Liz Gray. Today, we’ll dig a little deeper and review some questions that might require a little more thought to answer. You really could spend months on this, and we all need to write, too. The good thing is that you can make changes incrementally, and take revisions on in gradual steps.

6. Are You Showing Search Engines What You Think You Are?
This point made me smile. It’s similar to writing a book—the scene can be so vivid in your mind as you’re writing, then an editor or beta reader “sees” something different. We don’t always say what we mean, with words, or with websites.

Since search engine spiders review the text and walk the links of your website, my big take-away from this part of the presentation was the hazard of burying important information in a graphic. You and I, for example, look at my header here on the site and see the slogan “Romance with a Touch of Magic”. That string of text, however, doesn’t exist anywhere in the copy or code of my site. Nowhere. Which means it isn’t returned to any search engine, and won’t come up in any results. If that slogan was important to me or my branding, I’d have to have a look at changing it. As it is, the header is being redesigned this spring and that slogan is on its way out, since I’m writing fewer books with paranormal elements. If there’s a new slogan, I’ll need to implement it differently on the site. I have another example, but we’ll get to that further on, with its solution.

7. Speak Like Your Customers
I mentioned this last week. Keywords exist in your niche already, so don’t invent new ones. Use the ones that search engines use, and use the ones that your readers use. This means using these words in the visible copy on the site, and in the more hidden data, like alternate text for images.

Here’s an example from my site and my store. I changed this:

Free Downloads and Swag available at Deborah's online store.

to this:

Free Reads

Because one of the search terms that brings readers to my website is “free read” or “read free”. Simple, really, but it makes sense.

8. Build Your Authority
Liz described how search engines like to provide answers to people, and that they skew preference to sites that provide answers. How they manage this is less important to this discussion than the notion itself. This is a trend I’ve noticed over the past few years. WordPress provides a list of search terms that brought people to the website on the dashboard, and I’ve seen that questions are increasingly common – and that they’re getting longer. That might be because the internet has so much data – instead of typing “Deborah Cooke author” into a search engine, I’ve seen “reading order of Dragonfire novels” and even longer questions bring readers to my site.

We as writers are the best authority on at least one subject – our own books. Let’s look at that search query “reading order Dragonfire novels”. To my great relief, the first result returned by Google on that query is my Dragonfire page here on the site. I’m glad to be considered the authority on the reading order of my own books! But I thought I’d augment that a bit. I *could* have added the graphic from the back of the Firestorm Forever postcard or made a similar banner, but that would have been burying the information in an image. Here’s that postcard:

Dragonfire by Deborah Cooke

Again, you and I can see the order of the books there, but a search engine spider is only going to get the name of the jpeg and alt text, which won’t help at all.

Here’s what I did instead. First, I added a bit of text to the Dragonfire page – the sentence in bold is new:

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 8.30.10 AM Secondly, instead of just showing the covers in order on the Dragonfire page, I added the title of each and a number. That’s hotlinked to the detail page for that book, just as the cover is.

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 8.37.44 AM

Finally, I added some FAQ pages to my site, and put the link to them on that menu bar. Here’s the first question on the Dragonfire FAQ page:

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 8.31.58 AM

It’s going to take some time for this to populate search engines, as it needs to gather some hits and be walked by the spiders.

My new FAQ pages are a work-in-progress. Each time a new question pops up on the dashboard, I add it to the FAQ.

9. Above the Fold
When a visitor arrives at your website, what do they see without scrolling? That’s called “above the fold” and it should be what’s most important about your site. Liz noted that the prime real estate on any site is above the fold on the index page. This is one of those things that makes perfect sense, once you think about it.

It’s also tricky because what they’ll see will also depend on the device they use. On my laptop, my site looks like this above the fold:

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 8.40.22 AM

(The little tool thingy at the bottom right is a WordPress gadget, because I was logged into the site when I took the screenshot.)

On my phone, it looks more like this:
Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 8.42.44 AMOne of the issues that my site shares with many other author sites is the volume of information. The more books an author has published, the more data there will be on his or her website. In the romance genre, readers love supplementary materials, like family trees and character interviews. I don’t even have that many of those on my site, but it has over 140 pages. (I could easily add another 70 or so by putting the excerpts on their own pages, which I might do.) So, I like that the menu bar appears above the fold on either phone or laptop, as that gives the reader a way to navigate around the site. I had put a lot of stuff in the sidebar, which gets buried when the visitor is using a phone (as we discussed last week) so I think I need to create some more menu tabs. I also have to remember to have my current book in the top slot on the right menu bar, so it appears above the fold on laptops and larger devices. Should I add a “Just Released” tab to the menu bar? Maybe.

I’m also thinking about how to simplify the design of my site in future. I think that the core site needs to be a full reference and will remain as a kind of hub, but have bought more domain names for individual series. If and when I republish Dragonfire, for example, it will have its own website, which will allow me to focus on just those books on that site. That will simplify the layout of that site.

10. What Do You Want A Visitor to Do?
It also makes perfect sense to use your best real estate to promote your most important goal. What do you want visitors to do? Is the way to do that in above the fold on the index page?

This requires some rethinking for me. I don’t have a static index page, so the most recent blog post appears below my site’s header. Should I make the About Deborah page into a static landing page, so all the social media links are visible? That would be the right answer if I wanted to encourage people to follow me on social media. Should I make the page for my current release into a static landing page, and update the landing page as necessary? If I want to encourage visitors to buy my books (or at least my latest one) that might be the best choice. Or does it make sense to leave the blog as the landing page, so the site looks renewed every day and the blog posts have greater visibility. I have to think about this and will probably play around with the various options in the next few months.

On the individual book pages, the cover shows above the fold, and the cover copy (or part of it, if on mobile) but the buy links are below the fold. I’m going to put the buy links at the top of each book page as well as at the bottom after the excerpt.

As you can see, it’s easy to end up with a big To Do list when you start to think more about the design of your website and what it encourages visitors to do. Thanks very much to Liz Gray for a very informative and interesting workshop. I have a lot of fiddling to do, and hope that this review is helpful to some of you as well.

Five Tweaks to Better SEO

I wish the title on this post didn’t sound so click-baity, but I can’t think of another way to phrase it that doesn’t. At least it communicates what this Wild West Thursday post is about.

Let’s start with a disclaimer. I’m not an expert on SEO (Search Engine Optimization), not by any stretch of the imagination. I did, however, attend a workshop last week with an expert, Liz Gray, and learned a lot from her. She added to the bits and ends I’ve learned over the years and I ended up with one of my favorite things—an action plan. When I talked to my local writers’ group, they didn’t know all these things either, so it seemed a good idea to share.

SEO isn’t improved by one thing. It’s a result of a lot of little variables coming together, which means that there are a lot of small changes authors can make to improve the SEO of their websites. Here are five to get you going. I’m hoping you’ve already done some of them (like #1.)

1. Use a responsive design.
A responsive design means that the website changes width based on the device the viewer is using. As of last year, Google prefers sites with responsive designs, since such a high percentage of searches are done on mobile devices.

Liz warned that just because you use a responsive design, the display for mobile users might not be what you want it to be. On the break, I had a peek, only to discover that she was right about my site.

Here it is on my laptop – this is how I look at it all the time:
Deborah Cooke's website at full widthI’ve made sure that the tabs all fit on one line, and that the subscription to my newsletter is very visible. All good, but look what happens when I make it narrower (Rather than grabbing an image from my cellphone and moving it over here, I’ll just fake it by changing the size of the window on my browser):
Deborah Cooke's website in narrower viewThe banner resized, which is great, the search utility is accessible, which is also good. The tabs stacked up, which I don’t like so much, and—oops—the newsletter subscription button has disappeared from view.

What’s happening is that this particular WP theme resizes by posting the left column (with the blog content) first, then running the right column beneath it. Waaaaaaaaaay down there, after five blog posts, is the newsletter subscription button, but who’s going to scroll that far?

Here’s what I did instead:
Deborah Cooke's website, revisedI created a tab to subscribe to the newsletter. Ultimately, I need a better solution, but for now, this addresses the issue.

There’s another goofy thing here, which I’ll have to unravel. Although I’m using a template with a responsive design, my site doesn’t have the “Mobile Friendly” tag in the Google search results. The goofy thing is that the Dragonfire page on my site DOES have the “Mobile Friendly” tag, even though it’s using the same template of the same design as the index page. I’ve got no clue why that is.

As for the tabs, author Cheri Lasota suggested that I try WP Touch, so checking out that plug-in is on my To Do list. There’s a deeper issue here, which is that I really really like websites like Cheri’s, and have a feeling there’s a bit of redesign in my near future.

One of the things I do like is how easy it is to read the excerpts on my phone. The cover on each excerpt comes up nice and clear, too. The buy links are weird – they’re centered over top of each other instead of in a line – but I can live with that until I have time to dig in and find a better solution.

2. Improve the description of your site.
When I searched on “Deborah Cooke author” in Google, my site came up in the top slot (yay!) and here’s the display today:
Deborah Cooke's website on Google SERPThis is good, but there’s room for improvement. The description of my site comes from the title information in the HTML—on a WordPress site, it evidently comes from the description of the site that I crafted when it was set up. (I recognize the text.) Mine is too long and gets cropped, so I revised it. On WordPress, you’ll find this field under GeneralSettings – it’s called the Tagline. The display looks like this:
General Settings on Deborah Cooke's website on WordPressI also could see that Google was getting the descriptions of the various pages on my site from the first sentence on the respective page, so revised them for the sake of improved clarity.

When I searched for “Claire Delacroix books”, I got this—again in the top slot (yay!):
Claire Delacroix on Google SERPThis is a bit tricky, as I’ve combined my websites over the past few years. Claire’s url ( now points to my one and only site ( This description for Delacroix needed a tweak. The first part was coming from this page, so I revised the copy there. The second part is coming from the site description. I’m going to investigate more to find out if there are other ways to improve this, but for now, I’ve made it better.

3. Provide better data on your images.
I learned this one years ago in a workshop taught by David Wind at a Novelists Inc conference. Search engine results are compiled by “spiders”, which walk the HTML code of websites. They can’t see images: they only read the text – either the copy or the code. So, while you and I can read the text on a cover image (for example) the spiders can’t. If your cover images are called “cover.jpg”, that’s not going to get you much.

There are three easy ways to have your cover images (well, all images, really, but as authors we tend to focus on covers on our sites) make a better contribution to your site’s SEO.
a. Give the image file a descriptive title.
b. Use the Alternate Text field for the image.
c. Use keywords in both.

Here’s the attachment detail page on the dashboard of my website, which is a WordPress site. It’s the detail for the cover of my medieval romance, The Crusader’s Bride.

adding metadata to an image

a. Note on the top right that the file name contains both my author name and the book title:
(This is the image sized to 200 pixels wide, which is what that means.)

b. Note that the Alternate Text field has been filled in. You can’t see it all on this screen, but the text there is:
“The Crusader’s Bride, a medieval romance and the first book in the Champions of Saint Euphemia series by Claire Delacroix.”

c. I’ve used the keyword “medieval romance” in the description, as well as the book title, series title and author name. I could also add “NYT bestselling author” and maybe should go back and do that. (We could debate the number of readers who search on that term.) Liz noted that it was important to use the keywords that your audience will use. I know that readers say they read (for example) “medieval romance” or “historical romance”, and search by author and title. There might be good additions to this.

This alternate text will be displayed if a viewer decides not to view the images, but it will also be picked up by the spiders—because it’s text—AND it will travel with the image. More about that in #5.

4. Claim your Google Page.
As Liz noted, one of the concerns of a search engine is the validity of any given site. What authority does the site have? And one of the ways to contribute to the authority of your website is to claim your Google Business Page and include your website url there. I don’t use my Google profile a lot as social media, but it makes perfect sense that Google will use it as a reference. Claiming your Google Page takes several steps in order to verify the page.
Look here for more information.

Once again, WordPress makes this very easy. They have tutorials on this, and your hosting service probably does as well. My Google Page isn’t pretty yet, but it’s mine, all mine. 🙂

5. Make it easy for users to engage with the site via social media.
Liz made this point and it really hit home. Romance readers LOVE Pinterest. Love, love LOVE. They love pinning covers—and other images—so why not make it easy for them to share your content? While you’re in verification mode with your Google Page, you can also verify your website with Pinterest. (You might have to upgrade to a business account at Pinterest. I’m not sure, as I’d done that a while ago.) They have instructions on their site on how to do this.

On WordPress, once you’ve verified with any social media platform, the share buttons (presto!) appear at the bottom of your pages and posts. I love magic stuff like this.

Share Buttons on Deborah Cooke's blog postAs a bonus on WP, once you verify with Pinterest, you get the Pinterest hover button on your images. I can’t take a screen picture of it, but go ahead and slide your cursor over any of the images here. How slick is that? (If you have a different web host, you’ll have to check their tutorials. You might have to write some html code to make this happen, but it’s cool and it’s worth it.)

This ability to share potentially improves your SEO by spreading the joy of your cover images around the internet. Even better, if you’ve followed David’s advice and added alternate text to your images, look what happens when they’re pinned:
The Crusaders' Bride cover pinned from Deborah Cooke's websiteThat description traveled with the image. It’s true that a user can over-ride that description with his/her own (ideally something like “OMG I need to read this!”) but the “pinned from” data can’t be edited. Your website url is stuck to the image for good, and that’s an excellent thing.

These five suggestions are just the tip of the iceberg, but they’re an easy way to start to improve the SEO of your website. Even better, you don’t have to do them all at once. Some of them—like the full description on images—become a habit. Next week, I’ll talk about some more complicated issues that Liz mentioned. Again, they’re things that can be altered incrementally, but they involve a little more consideration.

So, now, tell me—if you’re a writer, what’s the best thing you’ve done to improve your website’s SEO?

Or if you’re a reader, what keywords do you use when you search for new authors?