It wasn’t too long ago that the best advice you could give someone starting on their inbound marketing journey was: just start putting content out there!
In 2015, you could rank well in Google search results with a page that was optimized for a target keyword simply by adding that keyword to the five key on-page optimization areas. But times have changed. Search engines have grown smarter, and searchers have lost patience for content that isn’t helpful.
Without further ado, here is a definitive, no-nonsense list of tips you can use to make your content more searchable in 2018.
Tip #1: Organize your content using topic clusters.
Topic clusters is the buzzword of SEO in 2017. But don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of them. A topic cluster is the strategic organization of your website into a group of related content so that a visitor can easily navigate among related topics to have their search query fully answered.
Instead of writing content just to put it out there, topic clusters are used to help you establish authority on an entire subject. They usually revolve around a longer, comprehensive, ungated piece of content called "pillar content". Pillar content is designed to give searchers a high-level understanding of a topic. The length of your pillar content can vary; we’ve seen pieces of pillar content approach 10,000 words. Your pillar piece is then supported by specific pieces of related content called "cluster content". Cluster content is designed to give searchers a more in-depth understanding of the sections of your pillar piece that interest them most. For more detail on how to organize your content into topic clusters, check out this post.
Tip #2: What you write for alt text matters.
Alt text is a snippet of HTML code that helps search engines, visually-impaired visitors, and plain-text clients understand what your image is showing. If you’re still stuck in SEO habits of the past, you may see alt text as an opportunity to stuff your page with keywords you’re hoping to rank for. This is no longer the best way to use alt text. Instead, you should try your best to accurately describe what the picture actually represents. According to Moz.com, you should also keep the character count under 125.
While you won’t negatively impact your ranking by adding your keyword to your image alt text, you are potentially hindering your future ranking ability by creating content that serves your own purposes instead of the visitor’s. Accurately describing your photo also builds the opportunity for your image to rank in image search, like Google Images, featured snippets, and Pinterest.
Here’s an example of how you can use alt text. Let’s use this photo of a German Shepherd...
If you’re a dog trainer, you may have optimized this image with “dog_training_german_shepherd” in the past. A better description would be “A German Shepherd Attentively Sitting in a Back Yard.”
Tip #3: Create content with featured snippets in mind.
Have you ever Googled something and found your answer had been populated right on the search page, without you having to click into anything? This is what we call ranking for a SERP—or Search Engine Results Page—using a structured snippet. Featured snippet results are becoming more and more common as searchers are looking for quick answers to questions, such as how to treat a cut with first aid, or how to rank for search engine optimization. But how-to’s aren’t the only articles appearing in search. Images, tables, trivia, definitions, pop culture, facts, and videos can also populate on SERPs as a featured snippet.
The best part about featured snippets is that anybody can rank for them, regardless of website size or budget. While lists and paragraph definitions are most likely to rank in snippets, you can also rank for them by answering your persona’s querys in a way that’s both comprehensive and easy to understand.
For more about writing for snippets, check out this article by Neil Patel.
Tip #4: Focus on security with SSL encryption.
According to HubSpot, 82% of visitors abandon sites that aren’t secure. If you use Google Chrome as your primary web browser, you may have run into a warning that states “Your connection is not secure” when you navigate to a website that does not have SSL encryption.
Encryption makes engagement with your website, such as a form submission or financial transactions, un-trackable by hackers. Google announced that it would begin favoring sites that are secure in 2016. This is because the average searcher is not aware of whether a site is secure or not. The SSL warning causes a majority of visitors to bounce away from your site – and a high bounce rate negatively impacts your rank score.
Implementing a secure website strategy should be a priority for 2018. Not sure if your website is secure? You can use HubSpot’s SSL checker here.
Tip #5: Your existing content could be competing with itself.
If you’ve got 75+ blogs published, it may be time to complete an internal audit. Chances are, some of those blog posts are about a similar topic. If you’ve got more than a hundred posts, some of them may be about the same topic. Take some time to export your blog performance data. Then, arrange your posts by highest traffic, and highest CTA engagement. What are your top performing posts about? What are you least performing posts about? Do you have related posts?
Instead of creating net-new content, it’s a good idea to reinvest some (or all) of that time combining some of your related content pieces. This makes your content more helpful, but also prevents your posts from competing against each other in Google. Once you’ve combined your 2+ posts, redirect your combined URLs to your top-performing post.
Tip #6: Always write with your searcher in mind.
All too often we skip over our persona research to get right into the nitty-gritty of marketing. But this is a mistake. Ignoring your buyer persona research can lead to a wasted content investment, or worse, unqualified traffic coming to your site.
2018 is the perfect time to revisit your personas, or build new ones from scratch. Persona research can help you identify how your customers prefer to search, what language they use, what pain points they want solved, and how to best help them.
Once you’ve outlined your buyer personas, spend some time completing incognito searches. Type in the search terms you are hoping to rank for in Google. Then, read the content that’s already ranking. Ask yourself: How can I write something that is more helpful, easier to understand, or more research-driven than what’s already ranking? Then use your findings to inform your new and improved content strategy for 2018.
Not sure where to start? We'd be happy to help! Post your question in the comments below. And if you're thinking about outsourcing content creation and SEO to an agency in 2018, read this helpful guide for pointers: 7 Signs You're Ready to Outsource Your Marketing.