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.
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.
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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.
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.
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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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
It has plenty of lists:
The paragraphs are nice and short:
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”:
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:
At the same time, the impact of social sharing is also high:
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 readers love the content. It resonates with them, and they are compelled to share it.
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?
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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