You’ve been tasked with writing a new page for your company’s website. It could be a blog post, a new product page, or a new landing page. Whatever it is, it needs to be SEO-friendly content for Google and the other search engines.
But what does that mean? What is Google’s mission? Well, Larry Kim, CEO of Wordstream, succinctly put it like this: “to provide the best results to searchers.”
And, on your end as a writer, how can you deliver the best results to searchers (and Google)? The key is to never forget that what you’re writing is meant to be read by real people. Much of Google’s changes over the past years have been made entirely to emphasize that message to writers like you and me.
First, though, let’s examine why search engine results are so important:
- 93% of online experiences begin with a search
- 72% of business owners with an SEO strategy report that it improved their bottom line
- 40% of searches are being done on mobile devices
With such statistics, it’s clear that you should strive to optimize your content on every page of your website, from product pages to landing pages to your blog. And, yes, you should be regularly adding content to your blog. After all, it’s a place where you can target long-tail searches or take advantage of trending issues.
“A blog post is going to have a greater chance to give you the raw material to be able to get that initial footing, and then, by optimizing that post and tweaking things a little bit, you can take that one step further and get into that top spot,” said Mike Arnesan, an expert of SEO and founder of UpBuild, during a recent episode of the Rethink Marketing podcast.
By itself content optimization is not terribly complicated and has the added benefit of falling entirely within the copywriter’s purview. So, you won’t need to consult your website developer until the time comes to push it live.
Although the human component is of course still the primary force driving search engine optimization, Google’s machine-learning technology, RankBrain, is getting smarter every day and continues to increase its influence in Google’s overall search algorithm. Such ever-increasing artificial intelligence will continue to refine and perfect the online search experience for millions of users. In an interview with Search Engine Land, Gary Illyes, a Webmaster Trends Analyst with Google, recently said, “We are going to focus more and more on machine learning. Pretty much everywhere in search.”
We’ll now examine how and where actual human content writers can play a role in SEO, and walk through three simple steps to optimize your content for search engines.
1. Choose the right keywords
To move forward, let’s first take a step back and explain what a keyword is in the context of search optimization.
A keyword is a word or a phrase a person might realistically type – or say – into a search engine. There are often thousands of words and phrases that might relate to the web page you’re creating; the challenge is to find the best ones for your content.
Karrie Sundbom, Act-On’s Senior Content Marketing Manager, often presents a popular webinar on this topic. Her advice on keywords?
“Don’t try to choose your keywords first, based on some assessment of their popularity,” she said. “Popularity is going to be a secondary consideration here, and relevancy will be king. And the first thing you have to do is define what your page is about.”
Sundbom proposes a three-step process for getting started on identifying your keywords:
- Write a thesis statement. Craft a sentence that clearly captures the whole idea of the target web page.
- Imagine questions the thesis statement should answer. The more the better.
- Imagine what you would type into a search engine if you wanted answers to those questions.
Let’s look at a quick example. Say we want to optimize a page that gives a description and a recipe for making gluten-free vegan oatmeal cookies.
- Our thesis statement for the page can be simple: This recipe makes a gluten-free vegan oatmeal cookie that tastes as good as a regular one.
- Potential questions this page might answer: Is there such a thing as a gluten-free vegan oatmeal cookie? Could a gluten-free vegan oatmeal cookie possibly taste as good as a regular one? Is there a recipe for a gluten-free vegan oatmeal cookie?
- Potential search queries include: Gluten-free vegan oatmeal cookies; vegan gluten free oatmeal cookies; tasty gluten free vegan oatmeal cookies; gluten free vegan oatmeal cookie recipe; or recipe for gluten free vegan oatmeal cookie.
You now have a list of potential keywords. Next, go to one of the best tools in the keyword space, and that’s Google’s keyword planner.
Keyword Planner will give you an estimate, based on real data, of the total number of searches performed on that keyword or keyword phrase each month. You’ll also get a list of up to 800 keywords that are similar to what you entered.
Next, refine your choices by honing that longer list and only picking the best of the best. Ultimately, you want no fewer than two and no more than eight keywords for your target page. The single most relevant will be your primary keyword, and the remainder will be supporting keywords.
To narrow your list, you’ll want to delete keywords or keyword phrases that don’t sound natural, that sound like ad speak, or that mention a competing brand by name.
Next comes identifying your primary keyword. Your primary keyword may not be the most popular, but it should be the one that best describes what your page is about. When it does that, you know your page will meet the searcher’s specific needs.
2. Know the line between relevance and volume
For SEO success, you’ll need to find the right balance between relevance and search volume. But how do you figure that out?
Ultimately, it comes down to picking quality over quantity and better defining and qualifying your prospective buyer. Going back to the above example, there are tens of millions of folks searching for information about cookies every day. The folks searching for gluten-free vegan oatmeal cookies, however, are far fewer in number ‒ but far more keenly interested in what you have to say. The searches you attract on that more precise keyword are already moving viewers toward conversion before they even click on your page.
Another reason to be more specific is that Google is tracking the engagement visitors have with your page. Do you know what happens if – and that is a very BIG if – you’re able to rank for one of those broader terms, and folks come to your website but then quickly click the back button because they’re not looking for gluten-free vegan cookies?
Well, Google’s algorithms are going to note that your page doesn’t actually solve anyone’s problems and will adjust their search results accordingly so that your page link doesn’t pop up so readily. But what if you stay focused, and searchers spend more and more time on your site? In that case Google is going to think that your website does a pretty good job of answering searchers’ questions and will reward your page with a higher ranking.
Now that you’ve chosen one primary keyword for your page, the next task will be to choose a handful of the supporting keywords. These should expand the range of queries to which the page could be considered relevant without sacrificing its focus.
3. Optimize your selection
We’ve gotten through the keyword selection, which is the hardest part. Now we just have to make some tweaks to our page and put those keywords in the right spots. The more spots on the page your primary keyword appears in, the more convinced Google is of the page’s relevancy to that keyword.
The five (OK, six) most important locations for your keywords are:
- body copy
- your heading
- your page title
- your meta description
- your URL
- Bonus: alt text of your imagery
So, we’ll have our keywords in all the right places. If you’re not very technologically oriented and don’t know how to add those to your page, you should be able to figure it out and do this fairly easily if you’re using a CMS like WordPress or Drupal. For WordPress users, Yoast is a super plugin that can manually enter your keywords into your post or page. And if you’re an Act-On user, you can define keywords easily in all of your landing pages right in the editor.
A few words of caution about optimizing your pages: It’s become very dangerous to overemphasize keywords or “keyword stuff,” because the search engines are inclined to see that choice as spammy and may punish you for it.
Instead, just focus on selecting the best primary keyword and supporting keywords for your page, optimizing those keywords in the five primary page locations, and always, always, using keywords when and where they naturally fit.
By following these steps you’ll soon be providing content that satisfies searchers, Google, and your own bottom line.