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Writing quality content that’s SEO friendly requires a shift in thinking away from search engines to the people who use them. Commit these tips to memory before writing another blog post or landing page.
Quality Content Before Panda
Image via Flickr from Drew Coffman
In the heady days before Google’s massive update to the content arm of its algorithm, named for its central architect Navneet Panda, writing for SEO was easy. Online factories and their legions of copywriters churned out thousands of keyword repetitive “articles” designed to rank well for targeted keywords. The strategy, in large part, worked. Quality content, as far as Google and other search engines knew it, centered around the prevalence of keywords on pages that matched searcher queries.
It didn’t matter if a website’s content helped searchers. It didn’t matter if the content was little more than 300 words of mishmash keywords and exclamation points. This so-called SEO friendly content ranked well and, with a few high authority backlinks, became near-permanent fixtures on the first page of Google. When Panda was released into the wild in February 2011, its sweeping changes wiped these low-quality websites and their landing pages from the index almost overnight.
The Rise of Semantic Search
Why did Google work to change the content landscape with Panda? Because the tech giant wanted to focus on serving results that better addressed what its users wanted when they opened up their Chrome browser to search. That aim required them to get better at understanding the semantic relationships between words, including the searcher intent and context behind searcher queries.
For example: Did the user type ‘best lunch near me’ into their search box? The algorithm could use multiple information sources, including geo-targeting, browsing behavior, and device used, to find the best results to answer the user’s query. It wasn’t enough for landing pages and blog posts to repeat keywords to rank well. In fact, stuffing them into body copy just to try to rank higher could result in a costly penalty. To earn prominent placement in the era of semantic search, content needed to do exactly what Google was doing — focus on real people.
Writing Content for Humans
Winning at search engines but failing at the human element with web content is a fast track to a foreboding Search Console message from the Google web spam team. Writing with the searcher in mind is the only way to succeed at content from an SEO perspective going forward. Here’s how to put the humans first:
- Outline Content Prior to Writing: Structure is everything to create a page or post that flows naturally and has an understandable progression of thought. If readers can’t follow the message, they’ll bounce away to a competitor. Outline posts and pages before writing them, breaking them out by main topics and key points to cover.
- Write Compelling Headlines and Subheadings: An optimized headline is no longer 65 characters and contains the page’s targeted keywords towards the front. This tactic, while healthy for SEO, also lets searchers know what the page is about. Subheadings (H2, H3) help break up paragraphs, making it easier for searchers to scan content to find what they want.
- Always Use Images: Pictures add texture that words can’t do on their own and help stimulate engagement, says Social Media Examiner. Effective image placement with subheadings also helps segment the piece further, leading to greater readability.
- Use Short Paragraphs: Searchers don’t want a novel; they want fast answers. Write tight paragraphs of no more than 100 words each to keep them interested.
Keeping the searcher foremost in mind when crafting content pays SEO dividends because the website is better positioned to improve time spent on the site, increase conversion rates, and lead to lower bounce rates from dissatisfied visitors.
Keyword Density is Dead
Gone are the days of repeating a targeted keyword five times (looking at you, mesothelioma lawyers) in the first paragraph. SEO friendly content is not about keyword density; it’s about authority and searcher intent. Google and other search engines now boast extensive topic modeling algorithms designed to create associations between synonyms as well as words that traditionally appear alongside topics. Take advantage of topic modeling by using latent semantic indexing (LSI) keywords. Here’s how to do it:
- Research Topics Thoroughly: Understand all the buzz words associated with the page’s topic and be comfortable using them in sentences. Keyword research is still an important part of this process, but don’t get tunnel vision. If the client is a podiatrist in New York, using LSI keywords doctor, physician, and foot doctor in website copy is just as effective.
- Be Diverse in Keyword Selection: Content performs well when it uses related terms and avoids the repetition of exact match phrases. A page targeting a specific term may not need to use that exact match phrase more than once.
- Use Long Form Posts: According to Neil Patel, longer posts and pages greater than 1,500 words tend to do better in search engine results and generate more interaction with searchers than shorter content that does not give in-depth information.
Quality Update Warning: Don’t artificially inflate the length of posts and pages to try to goose organic traffic and rankings. Doing so could run a website afoul of Google’s Quality Update, a fundamental change to the core algorithm, which judges content across the web.
Provide Real Value for Searchers
Image via Flickr from Kumar’s Edit
Filter every page or post created through one simple test: does this content provide real value? The words on the page should do more than hit a target keyword or reach a predetermined length. To generate valuable user signals and catch the favorable eye of search engines, the content needs to help searchers do or find something that they could not before they landed on the page. Whether it’s creating an in-depth buying guide for white wall tires or building out a repository for BBQ recipes, every writer and developer must keep the central theme of giving value to searchers top of mind. If Google wants to mimic the behavior of real humans online, it only makes sense that the content they interact with most gets the most prominent placement in organic search.
People are the most important part of any industry, online or otherwise. Focus on them.