There may not be any crayons and vivid color schemes involved, but writing and optimizing articles for the web is a legitimate art form. It involves a fair amount of creativity, planning, tweaking and can make a world of difference between a well-ranked article featured on top of the first page and one that is relegated to the back of the shop. And it is news to no one that Google, the world’s foremost search engine, is kind of huge…
So how do you get ahead in the rankings game while simultaneously maximizing content consideration and consumption for your target audience? The answer lies at the intersection of the following three variables:
- Create great content
- Provide relevant backlinks
- Make your content RankBrain friendly
Each of these variables will impact the way your content ranks and, by extension, the way your potential readers find your content via search engine results page (SERP). These are the ones that not only have the most impact, but also the ones flagged by Google as being most important. You should thus strive to improve the above three variables before tending to the rest, which include:
- User-friendly URL
- Page loading speed
- Volume of social shares
- Keyword presence in subtitles
- Average article length
- Keyword density and quality
- Visual optimization
- Proper grammar
- Outbound link quantity and quality (use lay language here)
- Mobile friendliness
The list is long and not all experts agree on the impact of each of the above ranking factors, but suffice it to say that should you prioritize the former three, you will have succeeded in creating a solid foundation from which to improve your SERP. So how does one leverage the golden trio? Let’s have a closer look along with some valuable, easy-to-implement tips!
Content is (still) King
Just don’t delude yourself into thinking that you can write it and they will automatically come. There is no point in producing articles simply for the sake of increasing inbound traffic and dominating SERP if your content ends up being of no value whatsoever. That said, creating quality content is not easy. There’s a lot that goes into producing a valuable piece that will satisfy both your customers’ expectations as well as search algorithms. But the general idea is that Google will recognize and reward content that is produced with the genuine intention of helping users find the information they want. As such, here are a few failsafe rules to deploy if your goal is to satisfy both your readers and the ranking algorithm:
Be original: let’s face it, it’s tempting to just copy and paste an article. After all, the web is wide and filled with great content so why waste time starting from scratch right? Nope. Not only is content that is rehashed not going to help you become a better copywriting/marketer/producer, but Google’s algorithm will find and penalize illegitimate, duplicate content. This doesn’t mean you can’t write about Spring Cleaning or the Holidays. It’s ok to have similar topics or themes so long as you can infuse it with your own brand voice and style and give credit where credit is due.
Start strong: first impressions are important and in the world of web articles, rankings and Click-Through Rates, your headline is your first contact with potential readers. A strong article doesn’t necessarily have to be provocative or sensational, but it does need to adequately project that your readers are in for a treat. For example, take a look at the following title:
This Is What Potential Buyers Need To Know Before Purchasing a Second-Hand Car
This headline is an example of a bad one. First, it is overly long. Past a certain point, Google truncates titles to make them fit a pre-established length on the results page. Length issues aside, it also doesn’t convey much emotion and is rather bland in both its structure and intent. Here is how we would play around the title and make it more worthy of attention:
8 Used Car Buying Tips (That Actually Work)
This version works better not just because it is more economical in its use of keywords, but each one has been selected by prioritizing a user’s search intent. In light of the fact that the web is full of articles about used cars, this one stands a higher chance of succeeding because:
- It offers 8 tips so users know exactly what to expect
- It uses popular words such as buying (vs. purchasing); used (vs. second-hand) and in doing so, mimics human behavior. Now there is a case that choosing less popular words will generate less competition. This is true, but keep in mind that most users do not use fancy words when searching the web.
- It appeals to one’s emotion. Purposefully inserting (That Actually Work) in the title indicates that copywriters know you are overwhelmed with results and are determined to provide you with the one that will actually make a difference in your journey. Also, the parentheses might look like lazy editing but on the contrary, they are there with the express purpose of reinforcing the emotional statement of the title.
Show, don’t just tell: adding visuals, be it videos or stills, to your content is a well-known practice that bears repeating because of its advantages non-negligible. We’re all wired to absorb visual content much more rapidly and avidly than plain text. That said, flooding an article with visuals will have the opposite effect so striking a balance is in order.
Link it like you mean it
Along with original content, backlinks form the backbone of sound SEO best practices. Using an algorithmic tool called PageRank, Google tallies and evaluates the quality and the number of links to and from your site to generate a unique Link Score. Unsurprisingly, the higher the score the better it is. Linking to quality sources will help the search engines figure out the nature of your content more accurately and categorize it for future reference. Linking to a trustworthy website positively affects this score, so before you fill your page with links, make sure to review the following tips:
- More isn’t better. The goal isn’t to link every possible keyword in your article, but rather to provide genuine value. If it supports your writing with trustworthy content, you’re in the green.
- Check your sources. Linking to trustworthy and authoritative websites that have (your) users at heart will simply reflect positively on you and will have them coming back for more.
Look for intent (What the heck is rankbrain anyway?)
Last, but definitely not least in the quest for better rankings is to humanize your content. Since 2015, Google has been using an AI system called RankBrain to process search results and work with the core algorithm in order to deliver more meaningful results and the most fascinating thing about it is this: it will allow Google to leverage human-like understanding and interpretation as a more effective way to identify content that people will respond to most in search results. In other words, it will understand, rather than predict our search queries.
So what does this all mean? Simply put: the days of solely using keywords to optimize content are coming to an end as Google can now understand the intent behind a user’s keyword search. This doesn’t invalidate the previous sections on quality of content and backlinks. On the contrary, it reinforces the need to always provide value. What it does change is the need to effectively discover user intent and target strategically. In order to do this, you need to ask yourself the following questions;
- Does it cement the topic and grab the reader’s attention in the first paragraph?
- Does the content promote expertise, authority, and trustworthiness?
- Does it answer the user’s question or need quickly and clearly?
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