This post was originally published in 2013 but we find there is still so much misunderstanding about keywords and SEO. We are firm believers that SEO still matters – perhaps not as much as it once did, but it’s important to pay attention to what your audience is searching for and to write content that they can find and want to engage with. This is the updated post about optimization.
Google’s Hummingbird announcements once caused a lot of angst about keywords and whether they matter which led to questions about the value of “on-page optimization.” Three years later, we still have people ask us how much it matters and we see differences of opinion among our colleagues. We don’t get it – people still search by typing in phrases or even entire sentences into search engines right?
The real point of these announcements was that following optimization “rules” is only one of the factors that search engines take into account. Every day these algorithms are being updated to ensure that relevant and appropriate content is being delivered when someone searches, and more and more weight is being placed on content that people consume and like.
But before someone can “like” your content, they need to read it. And before they read it they need to find it. So we have a vicious little cycle going on. How do we get people to find our content so they read it and like it so that our content gets found?
Taking into account all factors that impact rankings, a well-optimized page is still in the mix – maybe not as high in the mix as it once was, but still worth paying attention to. The reason for this is that Google’s algorithms have become increasingly more sophisticated. These algorithms now understand the context, the meaning behind the content, and they’re becoming better at “picking” content that is relevant to the searcher.
It’s important to recognize that the most important point about producing great content that Google wants to share is to write naturally for your audience.
Take the sentence you just read – for a moment I thought “how do I get the keyword phrase ‘content optimization’ into that sentence? And I could have done it – the most important point about content optimization is writing naturally for your audience – but I have to say, that didn’t feel natural. It’s not reflective of how I speak or write. And you know what? It’s okay that I didn’t get it in there because the search engines are becoming “smart” enough to know what I meant and, more importantly, I am not writing for them – I am writing for you.
With that in mind, here are 7 tips for optimizing your content for better search engine rankings:
1. Keyword placement (vs. frequency) matters.
Use the keyword in your page title (if it’s a blog post try to get it in the first part of the blog title), include it in your URL, meta description, and image ALT tags.
2. Use as many words as needed to make your point.
Studies have shown that longer content ranks better – not because it is long but because people engage with it more / for a longer duration. Don’t make your content a certain length because of some artificial rule you read; make it a certain length because you have something to say that adds value to your reader.
3. Recognize that Google understands semantics.
It takes into account all aspects of your site to determine what you should show up for. I found a great example in a blog article from KISSmetrics that I am including below… (here’s the full article if you’re interested).
Let’s say that you have a great website for your organic, fair trade café in Williamsburg. Let’s also presume that you never use the words "affordable coffee" in your content (because you don’t want people to feel like your offerings are cheap). Except your coffee is affordable—in fact, given your expenses, you could charge a lot more. And you do list your prices, so you hope customers can figure it out on their own.
Assuming you have decent monthly views, if a potential visitor were to type "organic, cheap coffee in Williamsburg", your site would likely pop up in the top search results. Google would be able to determine on its own that your café also fits the “cheap” qualifier, and that potential visitor would probably be browsing your site in a few seconds flat.
4. Cater to the reader and the scanner.
Some people like to “consume” content, others like to skim content. Great content that engages caters to both types of readers. Make use of bullet points, bolded text, headlines and sub-headlines, images and graphics containing text.
5. Create content people want to link to.
Great content that others reference and link to on their own websites (like the KISSmetrics post above) will have an impact on your rankings.
6. Create content people want to share.
Be sure all your content has social sharing buttons on it! When users interact with your content via social media, this is an indicator for the search engines that the content is relevant, meaningful and worth pushing up in the SERPs.
7. Internal links do matter.
Clickable links that lead a reader from one page to the other don’t really have a big impact on rankings today, but they completely matter to the user experience and the user experience and engagement is what really matters for rankings!
In the old days (old being a very relative term here), on-page optimization was really about following rules such as keyword density and placement. Today content optimization still involves some “rules” but first and foremost, it is about the user’s experience. Start first with solving a problem and educating your reader and creating content your audience can interact with. Then incorporate the seven tips we just shared and watch your content quality soar!
Feeling overwhelmed by all the content you need to generate? Read about the 4 Best Practices for Your Content Marketing Program to help you get started!