By Jay Baer and Pelin Thorogood and Bryan Eisenberg published October 18, 2011

How Content Optimization Tools Can Make You a More Effective Writer and Extend Your Reach

As a writer, if you have easy, real-time access to intelligence on topics of interest to your readers based on the words and phrases they use while searching or sharing, can you create online content that is easier to discover and more compelling to read? Perhaps even more fundamentally, does such access impact your approach to developing a content strategy and an overall approach to the content creation process?

During a recent study, we explored these questions across a variety of writers and other content professionals. We worked with the participants to monitor:

  • Quantitative improvements to audience reach, engagement, and conversion
  • Qualitative changes to their approaches for developing a content strategy.

Our findings were quite revealing: Most writers we worked with didn’t think in terms of establishing a content strategy before they started writing.  Sure, they knew what they wanted to write about and who their target readers were, but the best ways to reach and connect with their audience weren’t necessarily top-of-mind considerations.

Thankfully, there is an emerging category of online content optimization tools that can help increase content visibility in search engines while improving content relevance for readers. Some of these tools include SEOmoz, Scribe, Raven Tools, and Zemanta, as well as some free Google tools. For the purposes of our study, all participants used InboundWriter, a new player in the field, which provides real-time search and social intelligence, as well as content coaching that is easy to use and understand.

Here is how these tools guide you to “optimize” your content the non-techie way:

Focus, focus, focus!

Writer’s challenge: SEO best practices define “keyword focus” as one of the most important things in online writing. And it only makes sense that if you can give readers content that is focused on the words and phrases that they use, you have a better chance of attracting and keeping those visitors. But how is a writer to determine which words to focus on?

How content optimization tools help: Once you specify your topic, you are presented with a virtual thesaurus of words and phrases your target audience uses while searching or sharing (this information is based on historical data from search engines and social networks). In essence, you get real-time access to your customers’ (or rather, your prospects’) words to help you craft your content.

Choose the right keywords

Writer’s challenge: You may wonder how to know which of the recommended words to choose to focus on. The focus terms you select should be in line with your content strategy.

There are two primary content strategies you can use when choosing keywords:

  • Optimize for search popularity: This strategy uses search volume in an effort to drive the most traffic to your content. “How often is this keyword searched?” is the key question.
  • Optimize to avoid competition: This strategy looks at search volume as well as level of competition (existing web pages that contain that keyword). “Are there keyword opportunities that can be seized upon?” is the key question here.

How content optimization tools help: No need to be an SEO expert! These tools automatically rank and organize your virtual thesaurus based on your stated content strategy, so it will be readily apparent which terms will help you best meet your needs.  Of course, it is essential to set your strategy before you write your content to ensure you are receiving the right guidance.

Use the right number of focus terms in the right places

Writer’s challenge: Engaging content not only requires the use of the right words but also the right structure.

How content optimization tools help: The new generation of content optimization tools provides real-time coaching, so you know where and how often to use your focus terms. The guidance you receive will depend on the length of your content; the shorter your content, the fewer focus terms you should have (and vice versa for longer pieces). For instance, imagine a short piece of content (less than 250 words) trying to talk about two or three topics. That would not make for a very readable piece, and it would likely confuse search engines about the real intent of the content. These tools easily guide you to use the right number of terms based on your document length.

It is also important to use at least one of your focus terms within the first 50 words of the document. Since a focus term is really all about indicating topic emphasis, it only makes sense to do it for your readers.  And search engines also appear to have preference for pages that employ focus terms sooner rather than later in the copy.  Therefore, to help you in your quest to increase content relevance, your new online writing coach will recommend moving up your focus terms if you haven’t already done so!

Integrate focus terms into your title

Writer’s challenge: Your document’s title (aka, the headline or subject line) is perhaps the most important component for communicating what you are writing about both to your readers and search engines.

How content optimization tools help: You guessed it! Including your focus term in your title is likely one of the content coaching tips you will receive when using a real-time content optimization tool.

The results

Following the real-time content optimization guidance, it had a significant and consistent impact on content reach and engagement for our study participants. The results showed:

  • Traffic from search engines increased 30 percent or more in many cases, and the improved content relevance led readers to spend 100 percent or more time on page.
  • Even paid search impressions increased dramatically despite no change to paid search budgets since optimized landing pages matched the purchased search phrases with greater specificity.

Easy access to search and social intelligence is poised to change online content creation fundamentally. Writers have the ability to create more compelling content when they know the words and phrases their readers use while searching or sharing, or when they can get guidance on how to best structure their content for online visibility.

Whether writing a blog post, updating a website, creating new landing page copy, or crafting a press release, the new generation of real-time content optimization tools can help any writer — regardless of SEO knowledge — develop content that is both more discoverable online and more compelling to read.

*Full disclosure: Jay Baer and Pelin Thorogood consult for EightfoldLogic, inc., the company behind InboundWriter, and Bryan Eisenberg serves on the Eightfold Logic Advisory Board.

Author: Jay Baer and Pelin Thorogood and Bryan Eisenberg

Pelin Thorogood is a new media marketer and entrepreneur, and was recently named one of the “20 Women to Watch” in sales lead management. Pelin also serves as a guest lecturer and a virtual Entrepreneur-in-Residence for Cornell's Johnson Graduate School of Management. Jay Baer is a hype-free social and content strategist, and co-author of the social business book The NOW Revolution. Bryan Eisenberg is a New York Times bestselling author, an award winning blogger, an internationally acclaimed speaker and the recognized authority on improving online conversion rates.

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