As SEO or web marketers, our jobs are to promote web properties and get them maximum exposure to an audience that is increasingly spending more and more time online. We read posts and articles every day about the 5 greatest tips for driving traffic to a site or the 10 best ways to optimize your site. We read about thought leaders in the industry and how their tactics have increased traffic rates by hundreds of percentage points. Writing SEO content helps make a site more visible in search. So, its no surprise that when we go to design a website or write content or do anything else related to this field, we tend to think about what’s best for search or what’s best for a bot crawling the web, and not much about the users that are searching for good information.
Writing Good Content is SEO
I have young children who are starting to ask complicated questions about the world. They want to know how fish breathe under water or they ask how far the sun is from the earth. It’s probably no surprise that I do not own an encyclopedia or any kind of reference material on these sorts of things, so I do what I have been doing for the past decade. I do the same thing when I need to know a phone number for a local business or when I need to know the answer to a complicated math question — I go to the Internet and search for the answers that I need. In the back of my mind, I know that there is always the potential that what I’m reading could very well be the most inaccurate piece of information out there, because anyone with a computer and enough ambition can publish content online. For those who consistently write or otherwise produce content that is valuable, accurate, informative and otherwise “good,” that is the content that travels to the top of rankings. The pages that focused on writing SEO content may enjoy good rankings as well, but their chances are smaller for staying at the top of the charts for long.
A Balance Between Optimization and Quality Content
Now that I have prefaced this post with a phenomenon endemic to the modern Internet, let’s talk more about how we balance good content with the notion that it must be configured in a way to make it easily found online.
Writing for Users Should be the Primary Goal for SEO
I have discovered both in my own experience as well as from other leaders in this industry that the main goal of any kind of marketing online is to be helpful. In terms of content, the main goal should be, first and foremost, to produce a quality, well-researched piece. Think of those people out there searching for information about how far the sun is from the earth and how they depend on content producers to get it right. So, when you go to write your content, ask yourself if what you produce would be something that others could depend on.
Here are some tips for getting that good content
- Primary research (things you discover on your own)
- This means interviews, studies, trials or surveys. Data gleaned from these resources can be very valuable.
- Secondary research (standing on someone else’s shoulders)
- Researching information others have produced is also an acceptable way to generate good content. Whatever you are writing about, find resources like trade journals, published studies and papers, other well-researched blog posts, articles from authoritative sources or statistical information from authoritative sources.
The idea here is that before the Internet, those who published content only did so because it was both high-caliber and accurate. Now that the barriers to publishing content have been eliminated by the Internet, it’s much easier to publish (and for the public to consume) misinformation. Follow the same steps to the end goal that traditional content distributors did in order to make your website an authority in its niche and deliver good content to users.
Writing for Search Engines Should be The Secondary Goal
Writing great content is all well and good, but if you want it to get found, you must do some search engine optimization. This is the trickier part of the whole SEO profession. There is not really a set of rules that says, “place your keywords here, here and here and you will rank number one” — “Build your site according to this template, and the traffic gods will smile upon you.” It’s really a science and an art form. As far as your onsite optimization goes, these tips should help to make content easily found and highly relevant to their related queries.
- Front-load title tags and meta descriptions.
- Place your most important keyword phrases first.
- Use only those keywords in your copy.
- Re-write URLs to include target phrases
- If you have ugly URLs or ones that don’t relate to the content the page, rewrite them. You may have to pull off some tricks with redirects in order to preserve links.
- Optimize one page of your site for each keyword that you are targeting
- Use one keyword per page (and its variants).
- Place the keyword phrase in the header above paragraphs and then in the paragraphs themselves.
- Be mindful of keyword density
- A good range is around 2%. Don’t put in a keyword too much, and definitely don’t make your content sound unnatural.
- Canonicalize your URLs
- Make your home page links no-follow
- Search engine bots follow links. If you have bots following links back to your home page, this is not good because chances are this is how they entered your site in the first place. Although dated, Matt Cutts has an interesting post about sculpting PageRank from within a website.
As marketers in the online world, we must be positioned as anthropologists and objective reporters more than sales people out to push a product. People don’t go online to be sold, they go there for information and they go there to buy. Providing web users with helpful information that will help them buy should be the primary goal, and any SEO form should follow that function. Good content makes the provider of that information look like they know what they are doing, and it gives visitors confidence that they have found the information they need to make their decisions.
How do you balance SEO and content production? Do you often find yourself writing for search engines? I know I sometimes do!