A theme among questions about writing for SEO is a misunderstanding of how to write content that search engines will rank. There is a belief that keywords used on a page are what matters. Some believe it is the number of external links pointing to your own. Although both are partially correct, they can lead to misguided practices that not only will hurt your chances of ranking in search engines but miss the point of SEO entirely.
If we take a step back and take a critical look at why search engines like Google and Bing have complex and constantly changing rules regarding rank, we can see that the goal is to present the highest quality content possible. After all, that is what the searcher wants is it not?
Below are some tips for writing high-quality content that appeals to search engines.
Research & Understand Your Audience
Identifying your audience is important in SEO writing. Knowing the people who visit your website is good for business and a basic concept in marketing. The reason is that search engines have methods for collecting and acting on high-level pieces of information about the people that perform each search. It is no secret that Google, Facebook, and similar tech companies collect information every time one of their products is used. While the full extent of how this information is used is uncertain, but one purpose for sure is to match the content on a page, with the intent of the searcher.
Using Google Analytics for SEO
If you have Google Analytics tagged to your website (the most value you will ever get for your money by the way), the value of this information becomes very clear. There is a category of reports titled “Audience”. Here you can view reports ranging from simple demographics such as age and gender, to more detailed information including shopping habits and interests. By analyzing trends in these habits, Google can assume quite a bit of information accurately.
This information is useful for businesses online and allows for the considerations to be made for strategic SEO writing. A few considerations may include:
- Geographic Location – If there is a noticeable amount of website traffic from a specific city, you could embrace the opportunity and produce content most relatable to that geographic area.
- Age – Different types of content appeal to different age groups. If the visitors to your website shows a generally Millennial demographic, research shows a preference for entertainment, while a website with high traffic from the Baby Boomer generation has shown to prefer content in the form of news articles.
- Education Level – By default, copywriters should try to produce content readable by a fifth-grader. However, if, for example, there is a large number of users that also visit scientific journal articles online or frequently read blogs by law professors, search engines would probably look for content that has a considerably higher reading level.
Google gathers this information using machine-learning as part of their algorithm. Through a tool called RankBrain, the search engine collects data from all sources it has access to and “learns” from it and modifies behavior to rank content during an index in order to understand search intent. Next, they deliver results back in the order of relevance to that specific user. Website administrators and copywriters should follow a similar pattern to deliver the best content.
Research & Understand Your Topic
Hands down, you should be an expert on what you are writing about. High-quality content that ranks well is simply not going to happen if neither the visitor nor the search engine sees you as a trusted subject matter expert (SME). Otherwise, why should they visit your website? This is where many SEOs and writers need to be creative. After all, they are the hands working behind the author. Chances are unless they run the business, they are not both SEO experts and subject matter experts. The writers must research the content themselves, but also depend on the business experts as sources of information.
Subject Matter Expert is defined by the United States Office of Personnel Management as a “person with bona fide expert knowledge about what it takes to do a particular job.”
In order for content to succeed in search engine ranking, the SEO expert, copywriter, and SME must collaborate. The SME is going to be the main source of information. The copywriter is well suited as the expert for the voice and writing style to match the reader’s mindset and the SEO is going to be a valuable tool in competing with other content. The SEO also connects the content to pages with related topics on the site.
Use the Topic Cluster Method
One important job when writing content for search engines is to stay on topic. It is very easy to create tangents and dive into related, but different topics. Search engines and visitors will both pick up on this change. The visitor will lose interest if the content does not continue to connect the dots between their question and your answer, and the search engine will also see this and rank the page lower in search results.
There is a solution to this challenge that will provide multiple SEO benefits: topic clusters. These are chunks of content that connect to a similar topic. When you catch yourself beginning to go off-topic, stop for a moment, cut and paste the less relevant content you just wrote to a new document. You just created a new blog topic, and have already begun some of the writing for it! The content you are writing and this new related piece becomes a small topic cluster. The more pieces of content you create surrounding this one topic, the more likely search engines will see you as a trustworthy expert and so will the visitor, and they will be more likely to share or link to your website, and you will see your position in search engines rise.
Include a Clear Call to Action
Websites have intended goals behind them. These goals might be subconscious to both the owner and the reader, but it would not exist unless there was some intended action present. This prompt is called a call to action or a conversion. If the content on the page was valuable enough for the visitor to take action, search engines see this and qualify the content as valuable to the visitor and would receive a positive ranking.
Common calls to action include:
- Making a purchase
- Signing up for an e-newsletter
- Watch a video
- Exploring more content
- Sharing page on social media
This is how SEO writing is used in marketing, and why conversion rate optimization is important. The highest quality content is produced by constantly revisiting content, and testing the performance of multiple formats. This process compounds the benefits of conversions on the rest of the website.
Provide Engaging Titles and Headings
The headings on a page serve 2 very important functions: to make the content scannable and to tell keep the reader engaged. This also helps the search engine determine the value of the content and index the page. It is important to note that search engines no longer focus on the order or makeup of a heading, but the relevance when ranking.
A good title written for SEO should align the content to the topic. It should include accurate information but also written creatively to avoid dryness (depending on the intended tone of the content, that is).
The headings below the title should follow a logical nesting order that provides a clean user experience. The first heading (H1) would be similar, if not exactly the same as the title. And then the content would be divided into major subtopics as H2s, and then further as H3s and so forth.
For example, imagine you are writing about the geography of North America. A good title and H1 would include “North America” and “Geography”. A good set of H2s might be “Countries in North America” and “North American Bodies of Water”, and so forth. The content within each heading should support the main title, and not dive into subtopics with too much detail. In the example above, discussing the cities within Central Florida may technically be related to the topic, it is probably not important to the reader. It would be wise to keep that content in mind for a new page.
Do Not Overthink the Keywords
The meat and potatoes of SEO writing revolve around keywords. However, the literal way the keywords are written has less impact than it used to. The intent behind the search query matters much more, and some keywords in search, regardless of search volume, will not be found in good content.
Let’s take the keyword “website consulting central florida.” It could have a very high monthly search volume and high click-thru rate, which are both signs of a smart keyword to use. It is logical to assume the searcher is looking for website consultants in Central Florida. But could this phrase logically be used as written and still make sense? First of all, it is not grammatically correct, but there are other reasons including an ability to engage.
What is Keyword Stuffing?
The use of keywords exactly as written leads to a poor SEO writing practice known as “keyword stuffing. This is using a word multiple times in unnatural ways with the goal of having ranking well in search. Google has become smarter than this practice and will now penalize websites for this. The content would not provide the best-delivered information to the visitor. The best way to avoid keyword stuffing is to use natural language, make sure the content addresses the likely intent behind the keyword, and be creative with short words and punctuation within the keyword string.
In 2013, Google released an algorithm update called Google Hummingbird. This update included a change in Google’s ability to infer the intent behind a user’s search or “semantic search”. Based on data, the search engine can decide the likely intent behind the query. In the example above, Google could determine a user is likely looking for a website consultant in Central Florida, and serve up websites for those businesses.
This means websites that want to benefit from a specific keyword can follow any of these following techniques:
- Experiment with the order of the words. For example, “tech companies california” could also be searched as “california tech companies” which can make the difference between a grammatically correct use or not.
- Use variations of a keyword, including making nouns plural and different verb tenses.
- Be creative with punctuation. As long as the context remains in line with the search intent, search engine’s are not bothered by punctuation within keywords.
- Place short connecting words within phrases. “Website consultants central florida” could match content on a page that say “Website consultants in Central Florida.”
The main point I want to make with this article is also what drives my SEO writing strategy when I work with clients. Good user experiences will become good search engine experiences. In other words, the most important factor in ranking is how well the content addresses the searcher’s intent. So when writing content, make sure you understand your audience, strongly address the topic, shape, and style the content to help the reader, and write naturally.
- Research and understand your audience. What are their interests and behaviors that may lead them to want to read and share your content?
- Research and understand your topic. What aspects of the topic are most interesting? Can you collaborate with anybody to make sure topics are discussed in the most engaging way?
- Provide engaging and descriptive titles and headings. Can a reader scan the content quickly and quickly grasp what they can get out of it? Would the audience be motivated to get more details?
- Do not overthink the keywords. How many keywords you can get on a page and how many times you use it is not an indicator of good content. How well the keywords address the motivation for search does.