What Is The Right Approach to Content?
Most folks who know SEO will tell you that the content of your pages determines the keywords for which that page will rank. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, the Google algorithms have become sophisticated and adept at finding truly relevant and useful content, and ranking that content highly, even if the exact keywords may not be present.
Hummingbird, in particular, is designed to use language patterns and find synonyms and phrases that are also meaningful in context for providing the relevant rank for a given page. The machine learning in the RankBrain engine that seeks out deep content in the page and summarizes the information in the index is increasingly effective and the combination of the two, Hummingbird and RankBrain, demand that any serious SEO effort take not and consider the importance of creating meaningful content and promoting it effectively.
But content is important for another reason. The one thing Google has always done is track where people go on the internet, how much they spend time there and so far as they can tell, what they do. They know what pages have traffic, where that traffic goes when it lands on your page, and how long it sticks around.
In other words, your page’s usefulness and relevance to the search will largely be what determines its rank. Using keywords alone is not enough to generate a high page rank. In short, if your page answers the questions the searcher is seeking to find answers for, then your page will get a higher rank. If a high percentage of searchers bounce, then your rank will go down.
Bouncing is when your users leave your page immediately after arriving. If after landing on your page a searcher immediately checks out, then you have failed. If your viewers stay and browse, they are finding something of interest to do. Google interprets this as your page successfully delivering something useful to its searchers and rewards it with stronger ranks. This browsing or loitering on your page is an indication of your delivery of value to the searcher and is what makes the most difference to your SERP (Search Engine Results Page).
Again, whenever your bounce rate is low, rank jumps because the most important tracking that Google does is traffic — where do its users go once they land on your page? Give the user additional information off-page to browse via internal links to other relevant content.
Not too many years ago, the popular and oft-practiced method for creating a good organic ranking for a website was to execute the following procedures: Research keywords, provide pages that contain the popular keywords that searchers in your target market use, add internal links and backlinks to strengthen the weight of the content, watch the SEO ranks and make adjustments to get the ranks to climb.
The new and better way: Research what questions and problems your target audience are searching to solve. Provide answers to the specific questions the searchers are asking. Provide pleasing user experiences on the page that encourage engagement, and user browsing.
The concept is as simple as a restaurant providing a great meal to hungry patrons. Make your content “meal” as appealing as possible and your customers will stay awhile and feast. They might decide to browse the menu a bit and see something they didn’t expect, but want to try later. When they return they’ll probably bring friends. Success with your online content isn’t all that different.
The goal here is to find out what people in your market are searching for. Research still means a significant effort to research keywords, but these days you should focus on more than just individual words. Try to focus on phrases and long tail keywords. Long tail keywords are more specific, and therefore less traffic — but they also have less competition in the ad space. Also, more specificity in the longer search phrases means more likelihood of the searcher sticking around your page and not bouncing. Most importantly, the long tail keywords are more descriptive of the intent of the searcher.
Getting familiar with how searchers are using these longer phrases will give you clues about what your content needs to be and how it should be structured in order to answer questions and solve problems for a large number of searchers in your market. Compare similar phrases and try to find common threads that can lead to topics that are the most relevant to the needs of your searchers. You aren’t really looking for words, you are looking for questions or problems your market is trying to solve. In fact, many long tail keywords are exactly that – questions.
When you talk to brick and mortar retailers about marketing you will often hear them use phrases like “adding value” while discussing strategy to encourage browsing, shopping, and purchasing. These retailers add value through providing personal services, in-store expertise, a pleasant environment — often with strategically design ambient music, and even scents designed to enhance the emotional response of shoppers as they move through their store. They offer exclusivity through specializing and by being the only place to buy certain products. All these are areas that apply to a brick and mortar retailer, but they can illustrate principles to apply with your website.
The question then is: How do you apply these principles online on your website? How can you offer answers and value to those who follow ads and clicks to come to your pages?
Writing For the Web
The first way you add value is in what you write. Writing is not just what ends up in an article or blog, by writing I also mean the creativity that you lend to a topic. What is your unique view, or your observations, and can you deliver them in an interesting and entertaining way? Writing can be in developing a script for a video, the concept behind your graphics. Writing is the formulation of your message.
Next is learning to craft good writing for the web. Your writing needs to be easy to read, clear, leave little room for misunderstanding, and especially for the web — it needs to be concise and brief. Brevity might be the most important thing to remember here as most internet users tend to only scan larger areas of text content. Choose your words wisely. Make your words interesting and don’t waste their time.
You also need web pages written with good spelling and grammar, in an active voice and free of fluff or overwrought language. When you write, it can help to use outlines, write multiple drafts, and a liberal use of editing to make your copy the best it can be. The talent this requires is not super hard to find or acquire with a little effort and practice. If you yourself can’t write well enough, then find someone who can do it for you.
The most common method of writing and publishing content online is through a blog. Blogs are a powerful way to generate useful information that can provide value and contain keywords, so blogging is a ready-made tool for content publishing that is SEO friendly. Blogs are essential to any serious online content production effort. The most successful blogs contain a variety of visual content from photography, infographics, illustrations, and video. In fact, rather than overwhelming your audience with mountains of text, the use of visuals will be an important offset, especially for text-heavy content. Never underestimate the power of good visual communication.
The length of the typical blog post is also important. As of 2016, studies have shown that longer, richer content correlates with high rank, as I have been saying. Generally, 2,000 words are suggested as a good target word count. Keep in mind this can and should vary depending on the specificity of the topic and what you are offering. There is no single word count for all blog posts or articles.
Just be sure to go into enough detail to be of use to your audience and remember that you don’t only need to match your competitors’ content offerings, you need to exceed them to rank higher. I wouldn’t be too focused on word count if the detail and substance are there, but you should be going “above and beyond” enough to set yourself apart.
More and more, internet content creators are relying on visual content to tell their stories. Studies show that when content is heard, three days later audiences retain 10% of the information. When the same information is presented and reinforced visually, audiences retain 65% of the information.
Most blog posts or articles have images including photos to supplement, enhance and break up the sea of text. Visuals are a great opportunity to add value, so you want to take the effort to include a relevant video, a photo or two or graphics to illustrate an important point in your post. Sometimes an infographic is just the thing to tell your story. Images are a great content and marketing tool, so learn how to use them, or hire someone to help you do this. The following are the types of visual media you should focus on.
Another popular method that can stand-alone alone or as part of a blog is video. It doesn’t take a lot of money and almost anyone can deliver content through discussing topics and showing processes etc. with a video. The equipment needed can be as simple as a smartphone and editing software, and moving on from there to a video camera, some basic light setup and simple set design. Beyond that, you’ll find that some editing and graphics software may be all you need to create very professional video content.
There are many options out there, both free and for a small price. You may be served well by a free offering, or you may feel you need some professional features. Plenty of web sources discuss the trade-offs. You might want to start here. My own preferences lie with the Adobe CC suite, including Premiere and After Effects. On the Mac side of things, you’ll find fewer software options but the options available are great. Even the free options are rich with features, so give them a look if you want to get started with video.
Another key to a video, if it is to be shared on social media, is the use of captions or text to allow the viewer to read the content in an autoplay feed. Usually, the content on social media is promotional in nature and not the type of video you may have in your blog, but if you wish to share the video on Facebook, for example, the effectiveness of the video is greatly helped by the captions.
Probably the best thing about producing a video for online content is that the video doesn’t need to be very long. In fact, most are quite short. Unless you are creating tutorials or educational content, your videos can be as short as thirty seconds. Most topics can be addressed in minutes. You have every option to publish video in short or long segments, but for most content a few minutes per segment is plenty.
You probably have seen time-lapse and other time manipulation techniques used in online videos. These techniques are a cool way to shorten the presentation of otherwise long processes. Also, notice the use of text with the video so that it can be read in silent autoplay situations such as a Facebook feed.
Photos are the most used imagery on the internet. Stock photos abound and can be had for cheap and even for free. Spend some time to either find the right photo that is relevant to your topic, and can add value to your presentation, or go out and shoot it or hire someone to do it for you.
One great technique is the use of people as subjects to give your content a personal touch. The human face, in particular, can be a powerful illustrative and narrative tool. This can be used to help your readers and viewers relate to your content and even feel the feelings emoted by the subjects of the photos.
A graphic is an image used to simplify or illustrate a concept. It can be an illustration, a flat 2d graphic, or it can be a photograph that is edited and processed into a graphic treatment or it can be a rendered 3d image. It can also be a combination of several different types of imaging elements.
An infographic can tell the story of hundreds of words. If your topic is information dense, with lots of numbers and complex relationships, using the right infographic can accomplish what even a good writer will find difficult. It also helps vary the method of your presentation and keeps the viewer from suffering text fatigue.
Conversions: Have Goals
This means that you have an end in mind or several possible places where you want your users to end up. Possibilities include making a purchase, adding a product to a wish list, subscribing to products, or newsletters or other distributive communications, making a comment on a blog post, or otherwise engaging in the content such as a social share, or like, view a video. If you have a few possible routes in mind for users to take, then you can plan a non-intrusive way to introduce these paths to the user.
One caution though, never force these goals on users. Google penalizes websites for over-saturating pages with ads and affiliate links. Google also penalizes the use of mobile “intrusive interstitials“, or pop-ups that cover main content or force the user to tap. Also, remember that the Fred update will penalize the overuse of ads including call-to-action overlays in your content.
With good design techniques, this shouldn’t be an issue. It’s not hard to use design principles to guide your users through your page and suggest interesting places to go.
Social Media Marketing and other online content marketing are a discipline worthy of several blog posts alone. I have covered some analysis of individual ads and promotions already but a comprehensive look at possible approaches to content promotion will be a future topic so stay tuned here for more on this.
The basic idea though is to promote your content on your social media channels which hopefully have sizeable followings, but if they don’t that’s something that should be a continual effort. You can promote via email campaigns and paid ads. You should also invite relevant community voices to review the content and make comments. They can help you refine the content and make it even more valuable.
Keep in mind that promotional efforts and updating the content should go on for awhile, as it can take some time to develop some momentum, especially if you are just starting out. Watch the analytics and see if there’s a bump, and come back to the content and add new information if you see holes in it or opportunities present themselves as you look at the analytical data and long tail keyword research.
You might notice that I am not emphasizing backlinks as a ranking strategy. I am not saying that backlinks, (getting a link to your page on another reputable web page with significant traffic) are not important. They are. The reason for not emphasizing backlinks is a basic “horse-before-the-cart” philosophy that I have. To get some love from reputable sources, you will need to provide value in your content first. The effort to solicit backlinks won’t be as productive with content that lacks depth. You also don’t want to buy links or resort to artificial means. That’s a great way to get penalized by Penguin. Once the substance is there on your page, your backlink game will be so much better.
Backlinks should be more organic than they used to be. If your content is good, the backlinks will come. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work on asking, but you will find that a strong social media effort will result in backlinks. As you refine your content backlinks will also improve.
That said, there does seem to be a trend toward a diminishing value of backlink volume vs organic linking, and an evolving emphasis and ability to see link-less mentions of your brand on other sites and use them for ranking as well.
Creating content is a task that requires effort but it doesn’t have to be so difficult that you are tempted to use less effective SEO strategies. Relevant content will continue to be a high priority in creating strong search results and the payoff is there to those who are willing to consistently analyze and adapt to realize the significant investments they make in the effort. Plus, it can and should be a lot of fun, especially given the light-hearted nature of producing fun and entertaining content for your searchers.
In the end, the most satisfying part of it all will be the strong relationships that are built with everyone involved with the effort, because at the end of all that focus on and fuss about SEO, are people.