Writing content for SEO creates a solid architecture for search engine spiders to crawl, understand and report upon. It also creates a visually aesthetic piece of content that a site visitors eyes will find engaging, which leads to time on site, page views and conversions.
What “Writing Content for SEO” is not. Writing for SEO content does not mean you stuff a bunch of keywords in a short article, jam the keywords in the page meta data and buy backlinks to make it rank. This is unnatural and will end up with your site penalized by Google, out of the index and without organic search traffic visitors.
Key Components of Content for SEO
There are a few basics to writing content for SEO that should be used as a core philosophy, no matter what keyword or type of website you are developing. At the end of the day, the objective is to create something of value to the reader that they will in turn share, discuss and link to. The key components of good content for search engines includes:
- Original content
- Depth to the content
- Clear meta data
- Visually appealing page formatting
- Visual components (video, images)
- Social sharing tools
- Commenting tools
- Authorship (rich-snippets)
The first stop in developing a piece of content is to plan. Planning helps you define the keyword target, discover supporting keywords, decide on the type of content to be developed and then create the content point flow. These items are listed below.
- Define the keyword target
- Identify supporting keywords
- Decide on the content type
- Select the top level point and sub points
Defining the keyword target
Defining the keyword target is directly related to what keywords you want that page to rank for in search engines. There are 2 primary keyword target types, which are 1. keywords based on search volume and 2. keywords not based on search volume. If you want to generate organic search traffic, it is a good idea to start with the search phrases that are searched most often. To do this, use adwords.google.com and select the keyword tool. Type in the keywords that you think your target visitor is searching. AdWords will generate results that shows how many times the keyword is searched each month.
The AdWords search volume results are available as broad, phrase and exact search. Broad results are based on how many times the keyword is used in any pattern of a search phrase, phrase results indicate how many times the search phrase you entered was used in the exact order and exact is how many times the keyword you entered was searched in the exact form without any other words. Exact search provides the best idea of the type of traffic you can expect to compete for when you first start. Over time, the page you write for the exact keyword may start to attract long-tailed keyword searches as well. Long-tailed keywords are those that use the primary keyword and include supporting keywords. For example, the exact primary keyword is “bicycles” and a long-tailed keyword phrase would be “best bicycles for kids”. Overall, with so many searches and search patterns, it is important to define 1 keyword phrase and build the page for that.
Identify Supporting Keywords, a.k.a. Long-Tailed Keywords
To identify supporting keywords, follow the same direction listed above for keyword volume research on adwords.google.com. When doing a search you will notice that many other keyword results are provided. This is what you can use as a guide to selecting long-tailed keywords.
We recommend these tools to help plan for keyword targeting:
Types of Content:
The type of content you are going to produce has an impact on the amount of words used and tone in which the content is delivered. There are 3 main types of content when it comes to text, which are Guides, Articles and Blogs. The tones in which it can be delivered is Educational, Experiential, Entertaining or a mix of the 3.
Educational content educates the reader about the subject. Time is taken to explain things in detail, using organized thought and a logical progression of ideas so it builds into a complete thought. This is more of a text-book approach and can be very useful when using visual aids and page formatting. Articles and Guides are used for this type.
Experience-based content is something that is written based on someones experience and as a more personal tone. This current article on “How to write content for SEO” is being written as an educational piece, but as you can see I am including personal experience and also making a personal connection to the reader by using “you”, “your”, “I” and “me”. Articles and Blogs are used for this type.
Entertaining content provides little more than something fun and light. Not all content has to be heavy, educational and something to learn….which is why we sprinkle in some entertainment to make things fun. Entertaining content can be based on Top 10 lists, Questions to the Community and other content that engages the user while not demanding much thought. This type of content can become popular via social network sharing. Blogs are used for this type.
The URL structure of a page is very important for 3 reasons. First it is how search engines read the page at a top level. Second it is part of what a “searcher” sees for the page result in organic search. Third, it is how you can easily refer a person to the page.
Search engines read the URL as the page name, so giving it a very specific name related to the keyword you want the page rank for is very important. Google is more likely to show a page for a keyword with a matching URL over a page that does not.
The part the searcher sees. In organic search results, a searcher is given 3 pieces of information on the page, 1. the page title, 2. the page meta description and 3. the page URL. If I am searching for a specific keyword and I see it in the page URL, there is a greater chance that I am going to click on that result. CTR is the name of the game in search results. You have to do everything possible to attract the user to click on your result, so every little thing counts. CTR = click through ratio = how many types a result is clicked on when displayed. Also it is hypothesized that a Google views a higher CTR as a more relevant search, which might influence rankings, so in short, a better CTR may equal better organic search rankings.
- The URL should be directly related to the targeted keyword phrase.
- Ex: Article title “How to Cure Bad Breath” would use URL “how-to-cure-bad-breath”
- URL’s and keywords
- URL’s should use the dash separator between each keyword. Example: therabreath.com/bad-breath – also for consistency, please use all lowercase letters in URL.
Using dash vs underscore:
The dash vs underscore question is something that I am commonly asked. The videos below provide answers to this question in complete detail. If you are looking for the quick answer, it is this:
- A dash divides words so they are look upon as phrases with spaces between. ex: domain-name-development is looked at by search engines as the phrase “domain name development”
- An underscore is looked upon as a connection between the words, so there is no space. ex: domain_name_development is looked at by search engines as the keyword search “domainnamedevelopment”
Yes, search engines have gotten smarter about this and probably break things up as words even when using underscores, but the safe and best way to build a URL with multiple words is to use a dash.
Should you use Underscores of Hyphens in URLs with Matt Cutts (http://youtu.be/AQcSFsQyct8)
Underscore vs Dash with Matt Cutts (http://youtu.be/AQcSFsQyct8)
The page meta data basically is made up on the Page Title and Meta Description, which describes that the page is about. The Page Title and Meta Description are very important because they are what the searcher sees for the page in organic search results. This is your opportunity to SELL THE PAGE to the visitor, tell them what it is about and why they should click on your result instead of the 8,000,000 results Google is offering.
All pages should have unique Page Titles and Meta Descriptions. This is the information that is displayed to a searcher in Organic Search results.
- 65 character description of the page
- Should be actionable text
- Use keyword and supporting long-tailed keywords
- Make attractive to organic searcher
- 155 character description of the page.
- Try to break into 2 sentences
- Use target keyword one time in each sentence
- Include call to action or other way to tell organic searcher what they will accomplish on the page.
- Ex: Learn the best techniques on how to cure bad breath and keep your mouth healthy.
Header Tags (H Tags)
Header tags or H tags are used to identify the section titles or paragraph titles in the content. There are 3 primary types of H tags that we will use:
H1 – used at the top of the page to identify what the page is about. Should match the keyword target and be used once.
H2 – used to define each sub-category of the page content (more than one)
H3 – used to define each sub-sub-category of the page content (more than one)
Intro paragraph provides an overview about what is discussed in the content. This piece of content must be interesting and excite the visitor and encourage them to continue reading the page. The Intro text should focus specifically on the keyword phrase listed in the h1 tag above. Keep the focus on this particular topic. At times content and copywriters will stray from the core message to discuss deeper sub-points or “fill” the page with words. If you are building out a site the right way, you will have time for deeper sub-points as you build out the campaign. The goal for each article is to target a specific keyword phrase.
Within the text we want to bold target keyword phrase and other important keywords to catch a persons eye and to also give weight/importance to that keyword in the eyes of the search engine spider. Continue to use the bolding technique throughout the content to improve readability and give weight to important keywords.
Important reasons for Formatting:
- Keyword weight
- Internal linking (+ page views)
- Visitor engagement
- Search spider crawlability
- Bullet Points (images and numbers)
- Bullets help break out the important parts of the paragraph subject.
Giving the content style and formatting makes it easier for the reader’s eyes to identify the important stuff, makes it more fun to read and provides entertainment for the brain, which leads to a lower bounce rate, a higher number of page views per visit and more time-on-site.
Images and Video
Another key component of to creating content for SEO is supplementing the text with Visuals, such as images and video.
Using these tools help make the page look more :
- Provide other opportunities for referral traffic from sources such as google images and youtube
- Helps rank the page for targeted keywords by using image naming and alt text.
As a rule of thumb, each article should have at least 1 image per 500 words. More is “ok” as long as it looks good and is natural. If you have good pictures that help the visitor understand what the page is about and are found useful, then please use them. The image size should be sized to the page and fit seamlessly with the text (ex: wrap text around image). Please do not use images that are too large and break up the text and makes it so that a reader is not able to see there is more text under the image.
Using video engages the lazy visitor, extends time on site and increases the view count of the video which is also important for ranking signals. Content guides that are educational should have a relevant video embedded from YouTube or Vimeo.
Usage of videos. Videos should be used as many times necessary to make a good piece of content. As a rule of thumb:
- At least 1 out of every 4 articles should have a video.
- Always use relevant video and image content.
- Give the video an h2 title to describe it.
Video on How to Write Content for SEO (coming soon!)
Image and Video Naming
- Images and video should be named to describe what is being displayed.
- Image names should be short and sweet, so for example:
- “bad-breath-cure-mouthwash.jpg” — with an alt tag that is more descriptive “this mouthwash can be used as a bad breath cure”.
An important piece of creating a page that is useful to the user is providing links to other resources that the visitors will find helpful. This type of link can flow in 2 directions, 1. internal and 2. external.
- Internal Links: links to other pages within the current website
- ex: www.domainmillwork.com/domain-development page links to www.domainmillwork.com/miami-seo
- External Links: links to pages outside of the website
- ex: www.domainmillwork.com/what-is-seo links to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Search_engine_optimization
Internal links should be used as they fit naturally, improve the quality of article and user experience. As a rule of thumb, when appropriate, use of an internal link in 1 our of every 500 words. The internal link should be a keyword phrase that matches the target keyword of the linked page, so from this page it would be helpful to provide the reader a resource to help them understand what is SEO. As you can see, I used the keyword phrase that relates to the page as the link anchor text and the link is to another page within this website, which makes it internal.
External links are those that link to an outside website. This type of link as it relates to SEO may be used two ways, 1. follow and 2. nofollow.
- Follow links should be used when linking to top level authoritative sources such as .gov and .edu sites.
- ex of followed link: <a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Search_engine_optimization” target=”_blank”>Link Text</a>
- Nofollow links should be used when linking to references or resources for the reader that are not top level authorities.
- example of nofollow link: <a href=”http://www.seomiami.biz” rel=”nofollow” target=”_blank”>SEOMiami.biz</a>
On a page about oral health, we may use a followed link to the American Dental Association or U.S. Department of Health, but we would link rel=”nofollow” to a blog we found with a good tutorial on how to floss your teeth.
There are 3 primary link types.
- Anchor Text
A mix of link types should be used to create a diverse link profile for internal and external linking. The suggested link types and percentage of use are listed below.
- Naked: 37.5%
- A naked link displays the direct url: https://www.domainmillwork.com or www.domainmillwork.com
- Branded: 32.5%
- Branded links use the exact match keyword of the domain name: Domain Millwork or DomainMillwork.com
- Keyword Anchor Text: 25%
- Anchor text links use keywords as links: “website development process” would look like this Website Development Process
- NOTE: for anchor text, we can use exact match keyword and synonyms.
- For example when linking to the https://www.domainmillwork.com/website-development-process/ page, we can use a mix of related long-tailed keywords such as: how to develop a website, website development, steps to developing a website, how to build a website, etc. To get ideas for this, use the related searches section of Google search, use suggested terms in http://ubersuggest.org/ and the contextual targeting tool in Google Adwords.
- Anchor text links use keywords as links: “website development process” would look like this Website Development Process
For internal linking, we can increase the anchor text percentage to 50% and use naked/branded at 25/25. At the end of the day, it is all about what comes natural. I am only providing the above percentages as a general guideline. I am not saying you should go out and force links at a certain rate. Always refer to the golden rules of SEO, which is “Create great content as it comes naturally. Do not try to fool search engines or visitors. Just make it easy for them to read, understand, link to, comment on and share. Add value to the Internet.”.
It is important to spread the links across the pages of the website that we wish to rank. Pointing all links to the home page is unnatural and will create red flags with the search engines. The ultimate goal is to have the top 50 pages of the website have link volume in the teens, as in 10+ links per page.
All articles should have an author. The article author name should link to author profile page on the website, using the rel=”author” tag. The author page should link to the authors profile page with a rel”me” link, which tells the search engines that that person and Google+ profile page match. The authored page should also to the authors Google+ profile page using the rel=”author” tag.
Three of the greatest things with Authorship is that by bringing in a persons Google+ photo in organic search results it improves that results CTR (click through ratio), builds trust for content and tells the reader who wrote the content and where they can find more by that author.
Here is a good video on how to set up Google Authorship
The video above describes a three step process to setting up Google authorship credit. The process includes:
- Placing a rel=”author” tag from the authored page to the Author profile page
- Link from the author profile page to the authors Google+ profile page using a rel=”me” tag.
- Link from the Authors Google+ profile “Contributor to” section to the Author profile page.
While the above process works, I have found it easier to just link from the authored page to the Google+ profile using the rel=author” tag and use the root domain in the “contributor to” section instead of the author profile page. This seems to work like a “catch all” and limits the authorship credit to a more direct 2 way link.
All content should be distributed on twitter, G+, FB, LinkedIn and other channels of distribution when posted. This will help the content get indexed faster and build social signals. Other content such as In-Depth articles for top level services may also be supported with Press Releases.
Content should be useful and have depth. It should NOT have “filler” conent to hit these quotas. Every word should count. Go deep into the subject, inform the reader, do research, provide links to resoruces, quote other useful sources, etc. The word counts below may be used as a general guideline for the amount of words per content type.
- Guides should be a minimum of 2,000 words
- Articles should be more than 1,000 words
- Blog posts should be at least 750 words.
More is better, as long as it is quality and not repetitive. Make it something you would honestly want to read and understand. Real value!
All content should be unique. When/if quoting content from another site, be sure to use the block quote style and provide a naked link to reference. Use http://copyscape.com/ to audit the content provided from a copywriter to make sure it is not something they copied. You can also take an excerpt from the content and Google search it. If matching content comes up, then more than likely it was copied or paraphrased. When intentionally using content from another site, be sure to use the rel=”canonical” tag on the content which gives reference to the original article when copying that page and se.
Unique content is very important. It has been said that when it comes to SEO, “Content is King”, which I find to be true, but only when it is unique. There was a time in the land of SEO when Webmasters would publish content from other websites or “spin” the content from another website and publish on their site as “original” (webmasters actually still do this and if it is recommend to you, please do not follow their advice). This practice was a major problem for search engines that needed to return quality results to the searcher. When a search engine returns results of pages with all similar content, then the value of the search is decreased. To combat this, Google released an update to their search algorithm and named it “Panda”. The goal of Panda is to improve the quality of content in search results and the first thing they went after was duplicate content. Panda also went after “thin” content that did not provide much value and was keyword stuffed. Click here to learn more about Google Panda.
Adding a comment feature to your page is a great way to encourage feedback from users, improve social signals and help the readers further understand what your are writing about. The article comment section should be more visible and easier to use. For starters, WordPress comes with a commenting engine. If you are not using WordPress and need to integrate a commenting engine, a good option is Disqus. The only problem with Disqus is that your site does not host/own the comments. It is hosted by Disqus, so if you stop using their service, then you lose the comments. They also pop in ads to the comment tool, so be sure to remove that option.
A major benefit of commenting is that it helps build up the article importance and author rank.
Social bookmarking widgets should be used to make it easy for readers to share and bookmark the content for reference. Also, using a social bookmarking widget that shows the bookmark count is a good idea, since it shows the readers how many times it has been bookmarked. This helps encourage others to bookmark. A good social bookmarking tool is available from ShareThis here: http://www.sharethis.com/get-sharing-tools/.
The rel=”canonical” tag allows the author to Identify the preferred URL when dealing with page that have highly similar content. The main source page for the content is given rel=”canonical” credit, therefore keeping the non canonical url site from being penalized for having duplicate content. An example of a Canonical link is <a href=”http:www.domainurl.com/page-url” rel=”canonical”>. This link may also be used in the header of the page. Here are a couple resources to learn more about the use of rel=”canonical” and keep from being penalized.
- About rel=”canonical” https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/139394?hl=en
- 5 Common mistakes when using rel=”canonical” http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2013/04/5-common-mistakes-with-relcanonical.html
- Learn about rel=”canonical” in 5 minutes http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/canonical-link-tag/
Video on How and When to use Rel=”Canonical”
Connecting the Reader to the Content Author
If you want anyone to read, share and link-to your content be sure to make it “human”. This means, DO NOT WRITE FOR ROBOTS or like a robot. Search engines are smart enough to figure things out from regular expressions.
- Clarify the information’s author or producer (it probably shouldn’t be from your whole organization).
- Include a photo of the author (the less formal, the better).
- Include a fun background biography on why this person is qualified to write.
- Write in your own voice, and avoid sounding corporate.
- Provide The inside story – Something we don’t already know. Behind-the-scenes stuff.
- Make the content from a real person – Not a department. A personality. Preferably, a friendly one. Someone the reader can identify with.
Getting outside authors to publish on your website can be a good idea. Doing this brings a new voice to your readers, allows you to add an authoritative author to your sites authorship and opens up their resources to your audience.
Ideas for Useful Content to Publish that tends to be Popular
- “best of” lists
- insider tips
- entertaining charts and diagrams
- photos, and posts
- focus on art
- outdoorsy activities
Overall be sure to Create content that is:
- Timely (current and delivered to the right people at the right time)
- Comprehensive (a true resource)
- Useful to the reader (they bookmark & keep coming back)
- Easy to find (search engine friendly)
- Easy to share (linked to social media networks)
If you liked this article and want to learn more, a good source is blog at MattCutts.com. Here is his article on Writing useful articles that readers will love“.