Without an effective content optimization strategy, your SEO is dead in the water.
In the SEO world, the phrase “content is king” is more than a mere statement. It is a fact. According to NewsCred, 60 percent of companies report that their SEO and content strategy are integrated, and a whopping 53 percent of marketers rank content creation as their most effective SEO tactic.
In fact, Google, the biggest search engine with a market share of 89 percent, claims that content is its most important ranking factor. In a recent Q & A session, Andrey Lipattsev, a senior Search Quality Strategist at Google, revealed that content and links are the most important ranking factors. He wouldn’t say which is more important between content and links, but the fact that he mentioned content first should give it some prominence.
In essence, we can boldly say that SEO without content is dead; links and other techniques might sustain you for a while, but unless you’re paying Google a premium to be featured in their search engine, the only viable way to get lots of lasting search traffic is to write quality content and to optimize that content to rank well.
If you want content that ranks well in the search engines, keep reading:
Effective Keyword Research Techniques for Writing Content that Ranks
While stuffing your content with keywords, or inserting keywords every here and there, solely for ranking isn’t the best way to optimize your content for search engines, the fact remains that every good SEO content optimization starts with keywords.
In essence, keywords is the language your target audience speak; Google’s search engine gets over 100 billion searches every month. Out of over 100 billion searches, how does Google know who to send to your site and who to send elsewhere? How does Google determine, to an extent, what is relevant to a searcher and what isn’t? To an extent, the answer to this is keywords.
Keyword optimization today is different from what it was years back; new concepts have emerged to influence how search engines determine relevant content, but — if you don’t want to use a hit-and-miss approach — the very first step is to determine what keywords you will targeting.
For effective SEO content optimization, you need to make sure, right from the very first step, that you know what language your audience is speaking… and that’s by knowing the keywords they are typing into the search engines.
The good news is that we’ve written in depth about how to find the keywords that your audience use, and our content is still very much up to date. However, the following tips and tools will help you do keyword research more effectively.
A few key tips for effective keyword research:
For effective keyword research, it is important to note the following:
- Speak the term of your audience: It is important to be familiar with the “curse of knowledge,” which is basically the state of being unable to effectively communicate to people who are not at the same level of experience as you — being unable to speak their language — as an expert. Oftentimes, experts and beginners speak different languages; at the end of the day, it is important to understand the language your audience speaks. If your technical lingo and industry jargon gets 300 monthly searches, and the main “language” that your target audience speaks gets 9,000 monthly searches, you want to focus on the language of your audience.
It is usually very difficult to balance this, because the language spoken by experts and industry novices is entirely different.
- Pay key attention to trends and times: A few years ago Myspace was the trending social media site. Right now, though, it’s Snapchat. While Myspace isn’t completely “dead,” the fact is that it has gone out of relevance. Things change every day, and things change more rapidly in the internet world. The same goes for keyword research.
Amateur keyword researchers simply launch their keyword tool, pull out data for the past month and then go ahead and create content. Experts, on the other hand, pay attention to something more important: trends. If searches for a keyword have been progressively declining for the years, is it still worth pursuing? Obviously, the answer to this will depend on the keyword you’re targeting, but the point is that experts look beyond just “monthly search data.”
- Long Tail vs. Short Tail (or Head) Keywords: When it comes to keyword research, there’s the inevitable debate over long tail vs. short tail (or “head”) keywords. However, research shows that it is better to focus on the long tail. While a head keyword consisting of one or two terms might have an impressive number of searches, the fact is that a group of long tail keywords, even though they individually have little search traffic, will result in more combined searches. In fact keywords that are made up of five words or more account for around 70 percent of all impressions. The consensus is that, if you’re looking for profitability and more search traffic, the solution is to target lots of long tail keywords. It has also been established that effectively integrating long-tail search phrases when optimizing your content for SEO can boost organic traffic by up to 80 percent.
Longer keywords usually result in more traffic and improved conversions.
Tools for effective keyword research:
Now that we’ve addressed essential facts about effective keyword research, the next step is to find the right keywords — the “language” — that your audience is using when trying to find your content. Here are the top resources we recommend:
Google Keyword Planner: This tool from Google will give you endless data about keyword terms and phrases people are using to find content in Google. It will also show you how search traffic for keywords are increasing or decreasing on a monthly basis.
Google Trends: If you’re researching really popular terms, you might want to know how the terms are increasing or declining in popularity over time. Google Trends will give you the data you need for this.
Ubersuggest: When creating content, you often find that you need more keywords than you can find in the Google Keyword Planner tool. This is where Ubersuggest comes in; simply enter your main keyword and it will suggest hundreds of relevant, long-tail keywords that you wouldn’t have otherwise found in Google Keyword Planner.
KeywordTool.io: Just like Ubersuggest, KeywordTool.io will generate hundreds of relevant long-tail keywords. It also has an option that lets you filter the data it gives you based on the location of the searcher: you can generate keywords from over 100 Google search engines.
Understanding Semantic Search, and Why This Trumps Keyword Redundancy
Once you’ve sorted the issue of keyword research, the next step is to understand “semantic search.” Ranking your content in search engines goes beyond basic keyword research and “sprinkling” your content with keywords; you see, at the early stages, search engines struggled to determine what content to show to users, and to a major extent they had to rely on keyword information provided by the web pages they indexed. However, besides the fact that this information didn’t always lead to search engine users getting accurate results, it was also abused by people who wanted to improve their rankings; this led to issues like keyword stuffing, which prompted the search engines to upgrade the way they rank content. This led to the introduction of semantic search.
Semantic search is search engines’ attempt to improve search results by understanding the intent of the searcher as well as the implied meaning of terms used in indexed content based on context. Basically, let’s take a look at the term “orange,” how do search engines know whether the searcher is looking for the fruit, the color or the mobile service provider? What if the searcher decides to be more specific, how do search engines know which page is more relevant for such a broad term? By making use of the information it has about a user, and by carefully analyzing a piece of content not just based on the fact that a keyword was repeated a few times, but by also taking into consideration several other surrounding keywords and terms, search engines are able to effectively determine which piece of content to rank above another.
In short, context matters. Instead of focusing on keyword repetition and keyword stuffing, work on effective usage of synonyms and related terms to communicate relevancy of your content to the main search term.
Content Relevancy and Content Length: Why It Matters, and The Ideal Content Length for Improved Rankings
Once you’ve gotten the issue of keywords right, it’s time to actually start creating the content. Gone are the days when you simply write content and expect magic to happen. Today, if you want your content to rank well in search engines, there are a few things you need to optimize your content for. Two of the most important are:
Content Relevancy: Research from Backlinko shows that topically relevant content significantly outperforms content that doesn’t cover a topic in depth. It is much better to cover a specific topic in-depth, even if that means you have to create several pieces of content to address multiple issues, than to skirt around a few different topics inside one piece of content.
For example, if a single article is about losing fat, gaining muscles and becoming stronger, individual articles that each specifically cover those three topics, in detail, will rank better.
Relevancy is what sustains search engines, and it’s the reason why people keep using them, so they diligently reward relevancy.
Content Length: The long vs short content debate is older than the internet itself, but when it comes to ensuring that your content is well-optimized to rank in the search engines, there’s enough research to show us what works.
According to data from SerpIQ, the average content length for the top 10 results in Google is more than 2,000 words. In fact, it has been observed that longer content correlate with better rankings; the top two content ranked in Google, for example, have been observed to be longer and more comprehensive, on average, than the rest of the results on the first page. The fact that longer content is increasingly being given prominence in the search engines has also been established by Searchmetrics and Backlinko.
SEO Content Optimization Techniques Guaranteed to Boost Rankings and Click-through Rate:
When optimizing your content for maximum results from the search engines, there are some essential factors you should consider. These factors, which we will be addressing below, ensure two key things:
- That a lot more people click through to your content when they find it in the search engine result pages.
- That people spend more time reading your content after landing on your site.
The reason why the above two factors are essential is that search engines observe and reward them. According to a Backlinko study, that is based on an analysis of 1 million Google search results, low bounce rate has been associated with higher Google rankings. It has also been established that having a better click through rate can lead to improved search engine rankings. At the end of the day, Google focuses on content usability and user experience.
This section focuses on helping you get improved click through rates and getting people to spend more time reading your content. Here are some things you should work on:
Title and Headlines: Even if you’re not a copywriter, it won’t hurt to learn some copywriting. Having good headlines will have both a direct and indirect impact on your rankings; your title, to an extent, tells search engines that your content is relevant, and it also influences whether search engine users click over to your site. It can be delicate trying to balance gaining maximum SEO benefit from your title while still trying to get more people to click; if you’re in doubt, though, focus on getting better click through rates. With semantic search, as well as CTR influencing rankings, you’ll be on top eventually.
Meta Tags: While there’s no concrete evidence that meta tags still directly impact search engine rankings, the fact remains that they do impact click through rates, and click through rates impact rankings. Improving your meta tags will improve your click through rates and rankings as a result.
URL Slugs: Apparently, search engines still pay attention to URL slugs. According to the Backlinko study referenced earlier, shorter URLs tend to rank better than long URLs. This study also shows that it is important to have the right keywords in your URL slug. Regardless, it’s important to keep your URL slug descriptive and professional; avoid numbers in your URL as much as possible. Instead, make sure your URL is descriptive and hints at what your content is about. Also make sure that your URL isn’t too long.
Images: We will have to make reference to the Backlinko study here again; it shows that images do affect search engine rankings, but you don’t have to litter your articles with images. The study revealed that, as long as you use an image, it doesn’t really matter whether your content has one or nine images.
That said, data has shown that images in content lead to more social shares, and there have been reports that social shares impact rankings, and that images can get people to read your content more, so it helps to include more images if they are relevant to your content.
Headings: Besides the fact that headings break your content down and make it more appealing, to an extent, search engines still use them as a ranking factor.
Italics, Bolds and Bullets: This all boils down to user experience. Nobody loves to read huge blocks of texts that isn’t broken down. Keep things simple and easy to read by using italics, bolds and bullets to break down your content. This will lead to a lower bounce rate and improved search traffic.
Internal Links: Again, the idea is to get people to spend more time reading your content and your site. Internal links solve this problem.
Content Freshness is a Core Ranking Factor
Content freshness is one of the top factors Google and other search engines use when deciding on what content to rank over another. Research shows that content freshness is one of the main factors search engines use when ranking content, and it has been shown to impact as much as 35 percent of Google search results at a point. In fact, to show you how serious Google takes content freshness, a key component of their algorithm is “Query Deserves Freshness.” Basically, what this means is that for every search query conducted through Google, a search result page should include at least a piece of content that was recently published.
Google pays special attention to content freshness for some terms than others; depending on the topic and industry, some content require changes by the hour while some can take months to change. Google’s algorithm is smart enough to realize this, and this is also considered when writing your content. With Query Deserves Freshness, fresh, relevant content from authoritative sources will rank faster and better even if there is no link pointing to it.
In this case here are a few things you can do:
- Publish content more frequently. When it comes to SEO, both quality and quantity matter. As research from Hubspot shows, businesses that publish more content will always get more traffic — including search traffic — than businesses that only publish content once in awhile.
- Regularly Update and Refresh Existing Key Articles: If you have an article that is performing really well in the search engines, you can optimize it to rank better. Simply observe the content to see if anything has changed since you last published it; update the content, and, if possible, include a note that you recently updated the article. That said, there’s a difference between making significant updates to your content and changing just a few words. Search engines pay more attention to significant updates.
- Publish an Improved Version of a Popular Article: If you have an old article that is doing great, publish a new, updated version of that article. Then go back to the old article and link to the new version you just published.
- Optimizing Your Existing Content for Improved Rankings
Another key part of optimizing your content for improved SEO is to work on old content. Depending on how long you’ve been publishing content, if your website is like most websites, you will find that that most of your traffic comes from old content. After an in-depth analysis of content published on their website, Hubspot found that 76 percent of views and 92 percent of leads came from old posts. In an attempt to further take advantage of this fact, Hubspot constantly optimizes and tweaks their old posts. The result:
- They more than doubled the number of monthly leads generated by old posts
- They increased monthly organic search views to old posts by an average of 106 percent.
This is nothing to sneeze at. Hubspot calls this process — of updating and optimizing old posts for better performance and SEO — “historical optimization.”
Effectively optimizing content you published months or years ago can double, triple or even quadruple your website traffic. If done right, this process — of historical optimization — can perpetually double your website traffic.
Here are a few tips to effectively optimize your old content for better search rankings:
- Mine your analytics for traffic data: Often, you’ll find that your most popular posts get a lot of traffic from relevant terms that you didn’t optimize them for. As the content increases in popularity, you will start to notice more of this. This is something you should use to your advantage; look for top keywords sending traffic to your old articles that you haven’t optimized them for, then note down these keywords.
- Once these keywords have been noted down, edit and update your article to reflect them. This can be done in several ways: for example, if you commented on something in passing and you realized that it’s been sending you traffic, update your article to include a section that addresses it. Also, rephrase sections of your content to better speak the language of your audience. The focus should still be on quality, but you want to speak the language your audience is speaking.
- Republish old blog posts; If you have content that is performing well but not as well as you expect, update it and republish it as new content. Not only will this bring it into the spotlight, positioning it to get more links, shares and improved rankings, but Google will also reward it with better rankings thanks to the freshness component of its algorithm.
Content Quality Vs Quantity: Is There a Sweet Spot?
One of the major controversies when it comes to creating content that is well-rewarded by the search engines is that of quality vs quantity. The question is usually about whether quality or quantity is more important. The answer, unsurprisingly, is that BOTH quality and quantity matter.
Earlier on in this article, we addressed the issue of content length, and we referenced data to back up the fact that search engines prefer content to be at least 2,000 words if possible. The other question is about frequency, and again, the answer is that more is better; Hubspot did a study, and their study found that the sweet spot for content frequency is a minimum of 16 articles monthly.
I quote them:
“Companies that published 16+ blog posts per month got almost 3.5X more traffic than companies that published between 0 – 4 monthly posts.”
This applies to both direct and search traffic. If you have the resources, be sure to publish comprehensive, high quality content more frequently. That is the key to getting great results from your SEO content efforts.