By Neil Patel published November 16, 2015

How to Make Every Piece of Content SEO Friendly

content-seo-friendly-cover

SEO used to be the realm of experts who worked their dark arts and somehow boosted rankings. Today, there aren’t as many secrets to SEO. And those “dark arts”? They’ll get your site penalized or delisted.

Even though the basics of SEO are common knowledge, some misunderstandings still exist as to how it’s all applied, including these questions:

  • What does “SEO friendly” mean?
  • What about keywords?
  • How many keywords should I use?
  • How many times should I use the keyword in the content?
  • How do I achieve semantic relevance?

The answers aren’t clear-cut because SEO is evolving; content marketing and SEO are still settling into their new cozy relationship.

I want to help equalize things. Your content can and must be SEO friendly – every last darn bit of it.

Set the stage

Since I’m writing this article for content marketing professionals, I want to point out an important feature about technical SEO.

There are three main branches of SEO – technical, off-page, and on-page.

3-seo-branches-1

Source

Your content falls into the realm of on-page SEO – how the content on the site works to attract search engines and readers.

A site cannot be truly optimized unless it has a solid technical SEO foundation. Technical SEO doesn’t make a website rank, but it allows it to rank by means of on-page and off-page optimization.

If you want all your content to be SEO friendly, then your site first should be technically optimized. Once you have a technical SEO foundation, you can make sure that every piece of content is SEO friendly.

Understand the new SEO

So, how does your site become SEO friendly? It is useful, relevant, helpful, comprehensive, and readable.

Your page is not optimized for search just based on what content is on the page, but rather the impact the page has on a reader.

Google’s web crawler measures how quickly a person clicks to your website page, how many other people click to the same page, how long they spend on that page, how far they scroll on that page, and where they go after viewing that page.

Moz explains these features as engagement metrics. Here’s its description:

When a search engine delivers a page of results to (the searcher), it can measure the success of the rankings by observing how (the searcher) engage(s) with those results. If you click the first link, then immediately hit the back button to try the second link, this indicates that you were not satisfied with the first result. Search engines seek the “long click” – where users click a result without immediately returning to the search page to try again. Taken in aggregate over millions and millions of queries each day, the engines build up a good pool of data to judge the quality of their results.

This search-engine data shows how engaged a person is in your content. Essentially, Google can assess how interesting, informative, or helpful your content is based simply on how users are interacting with it.

In addition, Google (and other search engines) use features of artificial intelligence to enhance the web algorithm. Artificial intelligence or machine learning allows the algorithm to respond to data-driven behavior, and learn or respond accordingly.

One such advance in Google’s algorithm was the Panda update in 2011. Moz describes it:

Once (Google’s) computers could accurately predict what the humans would judge a low quality site, the algorithm was introduced across millions of sites spanning the Internet. The end result was a seismic shift that rearranged over 20% of all of Google’s search results.

In other words, SEO isn’t as much about title tags, H1s, and keywords as it is about how awesome your content is.

Let’s circle back around to the question. How do you make every piece of content SEO friendly?

The big answer: You make it user friendly.

Think user friendly, not SEO friendly

The term “SEO friendly” is almost outdated. SEO has evolved to the point where it analyzes user behavior and rewards a site based on those criteria.

In some cases, I would rather have someone who knows nothing about SEO to write content. Why? Because applying old SEO tricks doesn’t work anymore.

This simple diagram explains exactly what I’m describing:

user-not-seo-friendly-2

Source

In fact, trying to be SEO friendly could be a recipe for disaster. The old techniques of SEO involved exact match keyword stuffing in the content. Today, those techniques will banish your site to the Google penalty box.

Instead, focus on user experience. A good experience involves a lot of different features:

user-experience-features-3

When you get away from focusing on SEO techniques, you can better understand how to make your content truly SEO friendly.

But are there any techniques? Is there something that you can do to optimize your content? Yes.

Solve a real problem

First, you should make sure you’re solving a real problem faced by real users. This requires that you know your users. They decide if your content is helpful or not, based on their needs. Understanding user intent allows you to uncover and then solve their problems.

Understanding user intent involves finding out what users are trying to achieve through their search query. For example, the query “cat pics” probably means that the user wants to see pictures of felines. This is an informational search. Ergo, the search engine result page (SERP) could look like this:

cat-pictures-4

But if the user types in a slightly different query – “buy cat poster” – the intent is different. The user wants to purchase cat pics, not just look at cat pics.

buy-cat-poster-5

Solving a real problem means that you understand the user’s problem or need and solve it.

 Keep content error-free

Your content shouldn’t have any grammatical errors or typos. Enough said. If you can afford to hire a proofreader or copy editor, do it. It frees your time to create content rather than proofread and edit your own.

In addition to hiring copy editors and proofreaders, I also use Grammarly, which automates the process of proofreading, making it quick and easy.

error-free-content-6

Take a website like the BBC. You would be challenged to find a single error. Why? Because the BBC realizes that its credibility is affected by the accuracy of its content. Its users expect impeccable copy.

BBC-error-free-content-7

Use a readable style

One of the most important elements of writing is having a style that’s easily read. When people hear the word “style,” it makes them nervous. They might think they need to write like Ernest Hemingway or Stephen King.

A readable style isn’t complicated. Here’s all you need to do:

  • Break it up into chunks – big headings, bulleted lists, etc.
  • Write short paragraphs – no more than seven sentences.
  • Write short sentences – 15 to 20 words.
  • Use easy words – don’t try to impress with big words (because you won’t).
  • Use images – the brain processes images faster than text.

The Buffer blog is a great example of readable content. It features big headings:

readable-content-8

It has plenty of lists:

bulletted-lists-9

The paragraphs are nice and short:

nice-short-paragraphs-10

Overall, this is the style of content that you want – giving the users what they need in a way that is easy to read.

Make your content shareable and link-worthy

As I discussed, user experience and SEO are almost one and the same. Users who have a good experience on your site are more likely to do one of the following:

  • Spend time on the site
  • Visit more pages on the site
  • Interact with the brand socially
  • Share the page with others using email or social media
  • Link to the site

What about those links? You get links by creating a great user experience. Rand Fishkin describes this feature of user experience as having the “greatest impact”:

shareable-link-worthy-11

Source

From the way that SEO has evolved, we can probably assume that links are not the future of SEO. For the time being, however, links impact search rankings. From 2011 to 2015, the correlation of links to search (how important links are for SEO) increased:

link-correlations-12

Source

At the same time, the impact of social sharing is also high:

social-sharing-impact-13

Your content becomes SEO friendly when other people think it’s important. The way that Google decides it’s important is by counting the number and quality of social shares and links.

Why do so many people share BuzzFeed content and link to it?

BuzzFeed-content-link-14

BuzzFeed readers love the content. It resonates with them, and they are compelled to share it.

Conclusion

Don’t obsess over SEO. Obsess over great content.

Don't obsess over #SEO. Obsess over great #content via @neilpatel Click To Tweet

Let’s assume for a moment that you have a technically sound website. What should you do? Just create great content. If you do, SEO basically takes care of itself.

You may have noticed that I wrote nothing about keywords in my list of what to do. Why not? If you’re writing user-friendly content that solves a real problem, then you’ll have to use keywords.

What kind of keywords? All kinds of keywords. But keywords alone do not make your content search optimized. There’s something bigger at stake – the intent, the needs, the responses, and the interaction of the user with the content.

If your use of keywords satisfies the user, then you’ve satisfied the search engines. You can consider that to be a job well done.

What kinds of things do you do to make your site user friendly?

Want to learn in detail what Moz’s Rand Fishkin has to say about the new SEO? Didn’t make it to his session at Content Marketing World this year? You can still catch up on his session, as well as the biggest issues, ideas, and innovations in Content Marketing. Check out the CMWorld 2015 sessions available through our video-on-demand portal.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Neil Patel

Neil Patel is the co-founder of Crazy Egg, Hello Bar, and KISSmetrics. He helps companies like Amazon, NBC, GM, HP and Viacom grow their revenue. The Wall Street Journal calls him a top influencer on the web, and Entrepreneur Magazine says he has created one of the 100 most brilliant companies in the world. You can connect with him on Twitter @neilpatel.

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  • Camilla Zajac

    Great post, thanks.

    • http://neilpatel.com Neil Patel

      Glad you liked it!

  • Harry Brockman

    Content (including optimized video) planned, produced & regularly published that satisfies the wants, needs and the desires of the searcher is a powerful new tool of choice for SEO results.

    Thanks for validating and stating so clearly a concept many Marketers still fail to understand

  • http://www.onpageassistant.com/ @OnPageAssistant

    I love this. It’s like doing SEO without SEO in mind.

  • http://www.cuutio.com/ Jarno

    As a variable in SEO, user behavior measurement makes google analytics a must on all websites. However, I’ve heard that in some cases activating GA actually decreases organic positions. This might be caused by content which couldn’t be identified as ‘bad’ until user behavior was measured.

    • http://neilpatel.com Neil Patel

      Jamo, that may well be true — I haven’t been able to pinpoint or quantify that but it makes sense.

  • Keeran Sewsunker

    Does Google value really long pieces that go on for kilometres like this one? I have noticed this has become quite the trend so I figured Google ranks these pages higher. The problem is that people are put off from long, verbose pieces of content that essentially repeat the same thing in different ways. Most people wont read more than 300 words and 800 words is usually about all anyone can take in one sitting. Magazine articles that are about 2000 words are usually read over a period of time and most people only look at the picture and the little snippets.

    • http://neilpatel.com Neil Patel

      Keeran, all the evidences supports Google favoring informative and in-depth posts. One thing you forgot to mention was contextual content — which is what Google has placed even more emphasis on.

  • http://www.freelancewriterinchicago.com/ Dan Stelter

    Neil –

    Good stuff as always. I’ve been saying it for years, and you have too. But I can verify from firsthand experience many SEOs don’t understand “quality content.”

    So it’s good that you’re still spreading the word. The good thing is you don’t have to constantly change your SEO practices over the years if you write useful, original content the first time.

  • Fabienne Petry

    Hi Neil,
    thank you for this great post that emphasizes the close relationship between content and SEO.
    The examples in your post furnish well-searched facts and substantial arguments for discussing the importance of a long-term content marketing strategy with business and website owners who still believe in “Out-Of-The-Box SEO”.

  • Sarah Goff-Dupont

    Love the message here. One question, though: If I have, say, a blog post that is resonating with readers and seeing a high average time on page, BUT the majority of readers are coming in from somewhere other than search (maybe an email newsletter or something), will search engines pick up on that and factor that in to where my post ranks on a SERP?
    In other words, can I create a bit of SEO momentum by promoting the right pages to the right readers?

  • http://www.erocket.co.uk/ Dave Fowler

    I disagree with the underlying suggestion that SEO looks after itself, that it is enough for content just to be awesome. If organic search engine traffic is important to you, then the inconvenient truth is that adopting traditional on-page SEO during the creation of your content should still be of paramount concern. Yes, even today. No, not spammy tactics, I mean the white hat stuff. The stuff it was appropriate to do 5 or 10 years ago, and which still influences rankings.

    A key role of SEO is to help search engines understand the context of your content, and therefore the relevance of it to a user’s search. That’s the optimization bit. It isn’t spammy, it is best practice. To dismiss SEO as an outdated, dubious tactic is to completely miss the point of SEO in 2015.

    Whilst Google have become much better at understanding semantics, keyword use is still highly-correlated with rankings. The inconvenient truth is that authors should still be aiming to identify the keywords users are employing, and then to include them (appropriately) in on-page elements such as the URL, meta title, H-headings, and content, including image file names and image alt tags. Just don’t overdo it. This is not rocket science, not a dark art, but also not something that “basically takes care of itself”.

    Moz is quoted in the article. Readers may wish to note that their own 2015 ranking factors survey (https://moz.com/search-ranking-factors) places Page-Level Keyword & Content-Based Metrics in third place, only behind link-based metrics. Content relevance scoring, on-page optimization of keyword usage, content quantity/quality/relevance, etc show a correlation with strong rankings of 7.87/10 (compare that with social metrics at 3.98/10. There is still much debate about the influence of social sharing on organic ranking, a common view being that it is likely correlation rather than causation that we are seeing, i.e. if a piece of content is good enough to attract links it is more likely to be shared socially).

    Or consider this from the Search Engine Land ‘Periodic Table Of SEO Success Factors’, “Perhaps the most important SEO factor after creating good content is good keyword research” (http://searchengineland.com/guide/seo/content-search-engine-ranking).

    Even Google, in their Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide (http://static.googleusercontent.com/media/www.google.com/en//webmasters/docs/search-engine-optimization-starter-guide.pdf) offer the following advice, “Think about the words that a user might search for to find a piece of your content” and “anticipating…differences in search behavior and accounting for them while writing your content (using a good mix of keyword phrases) could produce positive results.”

    If I’m writing for a UK pet website, knowing that “dog body language” is around 5 times more popular a search query than “understanding dog behaviour” might influence my choice of title, URL, etc., whilst knowing that a small number of searches are made for “canine body language” and “meaning of dog yawning” may inform my content matter and the use of synonyms and related phrases within the copy. I’m just scratching the surface, there, but this would all be to ensure my awesome piece of content has the best chance of getting found. Plus, when the title reflects the popular phrases users are actually using, click-through is likely to be higher, and the content will more obviously meet the searchers’ intent.

    The fact is, if organic traffic matters, then authors need to be giving Google a clear idea of the context of the content, and that still depends, to a large degree, on keyword use. Not keyword stuffing, no, but keywords nonetheless. And semantic search, too, i.e. including synonyms and other variations that reinforce the contextual relevance further.

    Yes, we should be aiming to write engaging, valuable content (lets drop the outdated view that professional SEOs don’t care about quality and engagement, we’ve been rattling on about it for an age). But to suggest that you can just write away and that SEO will somehow look after itself is to leave to chance an important aspect of content creation that is within our control.

    The point I’m laboring is that SEO does not look after itself, rather it is a process that, done right – in Google’s eyes – will give strong content the best chance of being discovered. So do think “user friendly”, but also think “SEO friendly”, even today. It is not an either/or situation.

    • http://www.freelancewriterinchicago.com/ Dan Stelter

      Gotta agree with you Dave. Natural language doesn’t cut it now, and never will. SEO, unfortunately, get’s overblown and becomes spammy because people focus on it too much.

      BUT, smart as Google is, it needs some help understanding how and where to rank your content. And that’s where Good SEO comes in.

      And I’m one of those “Ra-ra content” guys!

      Google needs much less help today than it did years ago, so that solves a lot of the SEO spam problem. But it’ll always be necessary, and especially so if you’re a small business trying to compete with big guys. You need to use similar words with less competition, and more effective tactics to compete.

  • Kat Melvin

    So, where are all the SEO guys now? As a writer, I used to work closely with these people. I’ve seen what you describe happening in the past few years. Consequently, we no longer have an “SEO guy” in our digital marketing team. Are the SEO guys of the world rebranding themselves? As what? Do they meet up at poorly attended SEO conferences and bemoan their dwindling career prospects? I’d like to know!