How to Search Engine Optimise Your Writing in 2018

 

This comprehensive guide to search engine-optimising your web content in 2018 will take you through how to plan, produce and finetune your writing according to the latest search standards. We’ll start by mapping out a complete SEO writing workflow, before moving on to highlight some additional measures you can use to gain an advantage over the competition.

SEO Writing Workflow

Where creating a search engine-optimise piece of online writing would once have started with research into popular search keywords, it should now begin with defining your customer’s requirements. This is reflected in our SEO writing workflow, which will take you from planning to content production, and only then on to optimisation with keywords.

The result should be a process that achieves good search visibility by developing and positioning your content as the best solution for user needs – rather than by trying to game increasingly perceptive search algorithms.

Subject-matter strategy

The commercial effectiveness of web content usually depends on its relevance to the target customer. If it attracts lots of visitors who may or may not be interested in your brand, that’s a positive in itself; but if it were to attract a similar volume of visitors who were likely to consider purchasing from you, the business benefit would be measurably greater.

With this in mind, defining your ideal customer and why they are using web search is the best place to start in your SEO content planning. Get your team around a table and answer the following questions:

  • What do we know about the people who are likely to complete a purchase or sign-up via our website?
  • What are the goals these people are trying to achieve via web search? Which problems are they trying to solve?
  • How do these factors translate into these people’s search behaviour? What are they typing into the search bar on Google/Bing?

Look no further than this very article for an example of how these questions can feed into the strategy behind an article. We’ve written about how to search engine optimise your writing in 2018 because:

  • We know our target customers want to learn about digital marketing subjects;
  • We know they find content through search engines to get better at their work;
  • This creates a good chance of them searching for content on how to search engine optimise their writing. We’ve added “in 2018” to the article focus because it is widely known that SEO skills and requirements are in a state of constant change, and this will be reflected in users’ search behaviour.

Use the same questions to support your process of creating a long list of article topics. You can then add the best ones to your content schedule, based on factors including the competitiveness of the subject area (who else has written about it?), and opportunities to tie-in with your other business processes and content. For example, we’ve released this article when we have to coincide with our e-learning module for April 2018, which is all about search marketing.

Creating the best content you can

Now you have your first topic ready; you can focus on the part of the process that matters more than any other: creating the best article you can to answer the reader’s requirement.

Search engines are increasingly able to determine which content does the job, and which proves less useful to readers. In 2018, this is perhaps the critical factor in how it will be ranked.

How do search engines determine content utility?

While the details of the algorithms behind the leading search engines remain secret, we can identify some of the ranking signals used to determine content utility, based on search experts’ observations and public statements from search engines. These include:

  • Dwell time – how long does the user stay on-page? Broadly speaking, the longer, the better.
  • Bounce rate – the percentage of users that navigate away very soon after reaching a web page. You want this to be as low as you can get it.
  • Mobile-friendliness – mobile-first indexing is still a work in progress for Google, but it is growing ever-closer to full implementation. This will mean mobile-optimised web pages potentially receiving a ranking boost over non-mobile-friendly pages in results pages. It’s increasingly important that your content should reflect this shift, with a layout, web design and rich media that work for mobile users.

Having these factors will help you keep in mind the priorities that matter to search engines.

How to write better content

In our experience, creating good content is a craft several years in the making. That said, there are several things less-experienced producers can do to rapidly improve their output. Here are a few key points we’ve learnt during our time in the business:

  • Make every word count – everything you write should serve to improve the piece, with a tight focus on the content’s defining purpose. It remains important to maintain your brand’s style/tone-of-voice – just don’t do so at the expense of efficient communication. To this end, Target Internet’s editing process includes a first pass for amends and a second for concision.
  • Actionability – content actionability is particularly important in digital publishing because search engines are increasingly placing importance on signals that content has helped the searcher accomplish a goal. After accessing your content, the user should be ready to take the next step(s) in whatever they’re doing. Even if your content is not on an essentially actionable topic, it’s still possible to build in reader actions. For example, you might include links to deeper reading on the content topic, or add commentary on how people in your industry should respond to it.
  • Content mix and formatting – quality digital content typically incorporates a mix of content types, including copy, images, video – and more occasionally, interactive features and audio clips. Carefully choose rich media that’s deeply related to your written content, and intersperse throughout your article. We also recommend using sub-headers and lists, both of which make content more approachable for readers and help search engines understand how to use it.
  • Comprehensiveness – comprehensive coverage of a topic is not only ideal for interested readers; it’s also a great way to attract search traffic from lots of different search phrases surrounding your content subject. It ensures a higher likelihood of visitors finding what they need on the page and also improves the chance of your content doing a better job than that of your competitors.
  • Difference – it is perfectly worthwhile to create content that does something similar to what others are doing, but slightly better. However, a far worthier approach is to create uniquely valuable content that provides insights, features or experiences that differ from every existing competitor. No brand can be expected to pull off this feat with every content item, but it is the ideal Gold Standard to keep in mind. Make your content different with fresh research, unique data, original subject focus or exceptional standards of production.

With these points in mind, you’re ready to start writing. If you find yourself struggling for focus, just remember, the job at hand is to answer your target customer’s requirement as well as possible.

The length of your content should depend on the depth of the subject matter and the length of content published by competitors which deal with the same topic.

Titles and Meta Descriptions

No matter how good your content is, your search performance won’t meet its potential unless the content is properly aligned with the correct searcher intent. This is where a page’s title tag and meta description come into play.

For the uninitiated:

  • A title tag is the title of a web page. It’s the blue, underlined text that forms the title of a Google search result. You’ll also see it appear when you mouse over a web page’s tab in your browser. According to the latest guidance from Google, title tags should be up to 70 characters long (approx.).
  • A meta description forms the text you’ll see underneath the title tag in a Google search result. At the time of writing, Google’s advises a meta description length of 140-150 characters.

Title tags and meta descriptions should be used, above all, as a means of communicating a webpage’s core purpose to the user:

  • A title tag should reveal the purpose of the content and encourage the searcher to click through to it – much as the headline of a newspaper article should encourage readers to read it.
  • The meta description should expand on the title tag by providing further explanation of the subject matter and form of the content.

This is a world away from what you may have read about writing title tags and meta descriptions in years gone by when these elements were widely used as a vehicle for SEO keywords.

The reason for this is that as search engines have got better at determining how well a web page serves the users who find it, the importance of helping just the right people find your content has increased.

Attracting traffic by filling your title tags and meta descriptions with SEO keywords still has a chance of attracting traffic in the short-term, but the superior approach is to create a good experience for search users by honestly reflecting the content of the page.

Keywords still help

Keyword research used to be most search marketers’ Step #1 in content planning, and it remains so for some.

However, our view is that the best approach to keyword optimisation in 2018 is to add keywords after the first draft of the content is written.

Provided you’ve chosen a topic that genuinely addresses a customer requirement; it will have potential to generate search traffic, regardless of how you’ve phrased the title. This is because search algorithms now predominantly use semantics, rather than exact-match keywords, to deliver search results.

As such, we advise leaving your title tag and header as you’ve written them according to the guidance from the previous section.

Keywords do still have a role to play in increasing search visibility, primarily through expanding the semantic scope of your content. This can be done as follows:

  1. Use a keyword tool to find popular keywords with a genuine connection to your topic;
  2. Create a list of keywords that could enhance the content through their inclusion, for example by extending a list or adding detail to a paragraph (choose about 8-12);
  3. Edit these in, only where it is possible to do so without interrupting the content’s sense.

AnswerThePublic is a particularly useful tool for finding additional keyword phrases around a topic. Combine this with Keywords Everywhere and you also get a very top line view of how much volume might be behind different phrases.

If during your keyword research you discover search volume around your article topic and related keywords are exceptionally low, that may be a cue to shift the article’s focus towards a more popular subject. However, bear in mind that ably addressing a niche topic with profound relevance to your target customer will often prove more effective than covering a mainstream topic anything less than exceptionally well.

Further optimisation

By this point, your writing is primed for good search visibility. You’ve worked out what your target customer needs to find out via web search, you’ve written the best content you can to address that need, and you’ve added extra search visibility with keywords that genuinely enhance the content’s meaning.

Depending on the level of competition surrounding the subject you’ve written about, this may be enough. If not, several further steps can be taken to improve your chance of success. Here, in no particular order, are a few additional avenues to explore:

Embedded links

Peppering your content with links to other web pages on your own or a respected third party’s website is widely believed to enhance search engines’ trust. Try to embed at least a few links in every piece of content.

Attracting citations

What your content does and how well it does it will affect the likelihood of other sites linking back to the page, which in most cases provides a boost to the content’s search visibility. For example, content featuring original data and unique insights tend to do particularly well at attracting links.

If you’re interested in reading about a strategy to increase the likelihood of getting a backlink when your content is quoted, check out the first example from our compilation of digital growth hacking case studies.

Experiment with optimising for voice search

Increasing use of voice search has meant search queries are growing slightly closer to natural speech. This presents an opportunity for search marketers to experiment with making their writing mimic oral language, to see whether that provides any benefit to their content’s search visibility.

You might focus especially on question-type search queries relating to local issues – a particularly popular use of voice search.

Schema markup

Schema markup is a type of structured data, used by Google, Yahoo, Bing and Yandex to help determine what your web content means and how to present it to search users. Ensuring good effective use of Schema can certainly help certain types of content surface to appropriate users so it is well worth investing some time in to identify how it could help your content efforts. You can find out more about Schema via Kissmetrics’  excellent guide to adding structured data to your website.

Reviving content that was nearly there – and getting rid of content that wasn’t

Web users are generally becoming more discerning in their content consumption, partly through years of exposure to the signs of sub-par content, and partly through the generally increased standard of web content today. This means some web content posted in years gone by may no longer be up-to-scratch.

An effective way to quality-check old content is by going into Google Analytics (or another website analytics tool) and viewing your content report for the last year. Are there any pages which have seen a particularly high bounce rate or dwell time? If so, consider reworking the content according to the approach set out in this article, or remove it.

Continual testing will help refine your approach to content optimisation

Content optimisation best practices are subject to constant change, often at the whim of the for-profit companies behind the most popular search engines.

As such, it is crucial to continually track your content’s search performance to test the effectiveness of the measures you take over time.

This article has set out a basis for creating search engine-optimised content in 2018. Provided you keep building upon these tactics with critiques and experiments tailored to your own campaigns, you’ll have every chance of earning relevant traffic through organic search.

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