Once upon a time SEO was the realm of self-titled gurus who worked their dark arts and managed to boost their client’s rankings through the use of “black hat” techniques. How times have changed! Today there are not many secrets to search engine optimisation and the days of those dark practices will now, more than likely, get your site penalised or banned from the search engines.
Although the basics of SEO are common knowledge, there are still many misunderstandings about how it is actually applied, like some of these questions:
- What does “SEO friendly” actually mean?
- What are keywords?
- How many keywords do I need to use?
- How many times should the keyword be used in my content?
- How do I achieve semantic relevance?
Because SEO is forever evolving, there is no clear-cut answer to these. SEO and content marketing are still in the honeymoon period of their relationship.
However, I want to help equalise things. The content on your website must be SEO friendly – every single piece of it.
Below we will look at the approaches you should take to ensure that Google falls in love with your content and rewards you for it.
Setting the Stage
Because this article is mostly written for content marketers, I want to point out a feature of technical SEO that I think is important.
There are 3 main types of SEO – on-page, off-page and technical.
The content you put on your site falls into the category of on-page SEO.
A website will not be truly optimised if it does not have a concrete technical SEO foundation. The technical side of SEO may only have a small impact on SEO rankings, but it is this foundation that allows a site to rank through the on-page and off-page SEO optimisation.
If you want all of the content on your site to be truly SEO friendly, your site needs to be technically optimised as best it can be. Once you have a solid foundation for this, you can make sure that all your content is SEO friendly.
Understanding the New SEO
So, what makes your site friendly to the search engines? Basically it needs to be the following:
Your page or blog is not optimised for search based on the content you put in, rather what effect this content has on the reader.
Google’s web spiders (or crawlers) can measure this effect by seeing how long a person stays on the page for, how many other people click to the page, how far they scroll on the page and where they pay a visit to next after viewing the page.
These are known as engagement metrics and here is an explanation directly from moz:
When a search engine delivers a page of results to (the searcher), it can measure the success of the rankings by observing how (the searcher) engage(s) with those results. If you click the first link, then immediately hit the back button to try the second link, this indicates that you were not satisfied with the first result. Search engines seek the “long click” – where users click a result without immediately returning to the search page to try again. Taken in aggregate over millions and millions of queries each day, the engines build up a good pool of data to judge the quality of their results.
This data collected by the search engines shows how engaged visitors are with your content. In a nut-shell, Google knows how interesting, helpful and informative your content is based on how visitors are interacting on the page.
In addition, most search engines use aspects of artificial intelligence to enhance their web algorithms. AI, or machine learning as it is otherwise known, allows the search engines algorithm to respond to data-driven behaviour. It will then learn and respond accordingly.
One recent advance in Google’s algorithm technology was the introduction of the Panda update. Here is another quote from Moz:
Once (Google’s) computers could accurately predict what the humans would judge a low quality site, the algorithm was introduced across millions of sites spanning the Internet. The end result was a seismic shift that rearranged over 20% of all of Google’s search results.
What this means is that SEO isn’t so much about title tags and keyword placement anymore; it is about how awesome people are finding your content.
Let’s just revisit the question in the title – How do you ensure that your content is SEO friendly?
The answer to this is: You make it friendly to your users.
Don’t Think SEO Friendly – Think User Friendly
“SEO friendly” is a term that is pretty much outdated. This is because SEO has evolved now to the point where it looks at user behaviour mainly and rewards a site based on this.
In most cases, I would prefer writers that know nothing about SEO write for me. This way there is no chance of applying any old SEO tricks that no longer work.
The image below explains what I am talking about:
Trying to be SEO friendly could actually be a recipe for disaster. The ancient techniques of keyword stuffing in your content may banish your site to Googles penalty box!
Just try and focus on your users experience instead. There are a number of different features involved that create a good experience.
Once you have moved away from focusing solely on SEO techniques, you will be able to better understand exactly how to make your web content truly SEO friendly.
But what are the techniques? What can you do to really optimize your content in the right way?
Solve Real Problems
You need to ensure that you are solving real problems that users are faced with. To do this you need to know who your users are. They will decide if your content is helpful to them, based on their needs. Understanding the intent of a user allows you to uncover their problems and issues and then solve them.
Understanding a user’s intent will involve finding out what they are wanting to achieve through their search queries. For example; if someone types the query “cat pictures” you can be certain that the user wants to see cute pictures of cats. The results page on Google will probably look something like this:
However, if a user types “buy cat poster” into the search box – their intent is different. They want to buy cat pictures, not just browse them. In this case the results page will probably look like this.
Solving a user’s real problems means that you understand their dilemma’s and solve them.
Make Sure Your Content Has No Errors
It is important that your content is error-free and contains no grammatical errors or typos. If you think that you are not a grammatical wizard, hire a copy editor or proof-reader to check your content before posting it. This frees up time allowing you to concentrate on writing good content, rather than proof-reading over and over again.
One tool that we like to use here at DSA Global is Grammaly, which automates the proof-reading process, making it quick and easy.
Take the BBC website for instance. It would be challenging to find a single error in the content. Why? Because the BBC understands that its credibility can be affected if the content is not accurate. Its visitors are expecting impeccable copy.
Make Sure the Content is Readable
Having a content style that is easily read is one of the most important elements of writing. When starting out as a content writer, the word “style” may have you thinking that you need to write like Hemingway or someone in that league. The truth is, a readable style is not complicated. Here is what you need to do:
- Break the content up – sub-headings, bullet points etc.
- Keep paragraphs short – not more than 7 sentences.
- Keep sentences short – not more than 20 words.
- Use basic words – you will not impress with big words.
- Use images – the human brain processes images faster than text.
The buffer blog is a good example of how readable content should be.
It contains lots of lists:
Nice and short paragraphs:
This is the type of content that you want your users to see on your website. Giving it to them in a way that is easy to read will mean that they don’t instantly click the back button.
Make Your Content Shareworthy
As mentioned previously, user experience and SEO are almost the same. When a user has had a great experience on your website they are more than likely to do one of the following:
- Spend more time on the site
- Visit further pages or posts on the site
- Interact with your brand on social platforms
- Share the page on social media
- Link to the site
So what about those links? Gone are the days where SEO gurus could blast links from software and you would get great rankings. Links are still very important, but you need to get them from creating a good user experience where people want to share and link to your content.
Rand Fishkin from Moz describes this feature as having the greatest impact when it comes to user experience.
Your content becomes SEO friendly when visitors to your page think it is important. Google thinks that it is important when it sees lots of quality links and social shares. When this is combined with quality user engagement, it is a recipe for good rankings.
Don’t’ Obsess over SEO, Obsess over great content. Source: @neilpatel #twitter
Let us assume for the moment that your website is technically sound. What should you do?
Just create quality content and help solve user’s problems, off-page SEO can then basically take care of itself.
Hopefully this article has helped you in your content marketing quest. However, if you have any questions, or need any advice, feel free to contact us using the contact form, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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