Perhaps the single most important factor in search engine optimisation (SEO) is quality content.
Writing search-optimised content is the strategic process of researching and writing web copy with the goal of maximising its impact in search engine results pages, or SERPs. But the principles of writing for SEO can be used to inform better offline content too.
Search-optimised content is copy that both Google and users love—that which search engines understand and which supplies answers to searchers’ queries.
When we write onsite content, we do so to help make our brand an authority on a given topic, a go-to source of information. It’s also a technique to help our website (and increasingly social channels) become more semantically relevant to keyword and long-tail search queries. This process, known as content optimisation, is intended to help make a website more visible in search.
We rarely write content as strategically as we do when we write for SEO. Writing for SEO means the writer needs to have a greater role in both planning and research. The process we undertake to get this right is of benefit to crafting any kind of content.
Writing online content requires a keyword strategy, knowledge of current ranking factors, and the ability to understand exactly what it is users are searching for. We use analytics tools to help us determine exactly what that is, and metrics to understand if we’ve achieved it.
Good search-optimised content meets four aims:
Search-optimised content is designed to rank in SERPs. In the early days of search marketing, all it took to rank was to stuff content full of primary keywords. But search engines have gotten wise to manipulation and now, algorithms are a lot more complex: They prioritise content that actually provides the information searchers are actually looking for.
We can look at auto-suggests and related searches to help us figure out what that is. There also are tools like Google Trends and Answer the Public that can show us the exact queries people are asking online. For example, common search queries related to the topic ‘SEO content’ include “how to write SEO content for website”; “what is good SEO content?” and “SEO guidelines for content writers”.
Common sense tells us if people are looking for these answers online, they’re looking for them offline too. Tools like these put an instant and massive market research resource at our finger tips.
Once we’ve determined what it is users are searching for, we can write content that answers those questions. We can use tools to check for and optimise keyword density, topic relevance and even sentiment and emotion.
We can see the copy has good density for the keyword ‘content’, and if we click through the tabs, we see it performs well on the concept of ‘search engine optimization’. So, we can be relatively confident Google understands what our content is about.
But intent is only one half of the story; we need to know whether our content is performing once we release it to the world. Writing for the web gives us a valuable opportunity to understand whether readers are actually engaging with the content we write.
These days, Google only cares about content that satisfies and fulfils the searcher’s task. Only ‘popular’ content will rank well in SERPs.
Of course, search engines can’t ‘read’ content; Google’s understanding of whether content is good or bad depends on an analysis of how users interact with the page. Algorithms consider metrics like bounce rate and time spent on page to determine whether a piece of content is actually answering searchers’ queries.
Mid-length content (~700 words) tends to rank better in organic results, in part because it is thorough. Search engines also prioritise content that can be scanned quickly: Short paragraphs, enticing subheads, bullet points and pull-out quotes all make text easy on the eyes, and easy to digest.
If we know a certain type of content ranks well in search, we can expect that same content to perform well in any medium.
At a word level, there is some debate over best practice (many search marketers debate over the use of UK or US spelling, for example), but structurally, there are few differences between writing for web and writing for print.
Writing for SEO encourages us to think more carefully about arranging our messages thematically and chronologically, which gives them greater impact. If searchers find it easy to engage with content on the web, we can expect them to engage with that same content it in print too.
The content we write always serves a purpose. Usually, the intention of search marketers is to achieve conversions, which means enticing searchers along a buyer journey.
For informational and transactional queries, the journey begins with the searcher’s expression of need. Once they’ve landed on content that meets their underlying goals, it should begin a conversion cycle to generate returns.
On the web, this is relatively straightforward. Off-site content captures and directs searchers to our own site, where we expose them to any number of calls to action (CTAs). On-site content guides users to relevant pages by way of internal linking.
Linking across the web is a lot more immediate, but that doesn’t mean links can’t be made offline so long as we are explicit about where readers can go to obtain further information.
Increasingly, sites are built specifically to facilitate this sort of lead generation. Web developers silo content into common topics that largely map onto a business’s messaging hierarchies. There’s a technical dimension too: Every link passes link juice, which is essentially an endorsement from one page to another.
Again, we can replicate this strategy in print by taking a strategic approach to the way we produce content, where each piece of content sits within the wider messaging structure — it bolsters the message from the bottom up.
Each of these four aims apply equally to the process of writing content for the web as they do to content we produce for other means. Incorporating SEO research and analysis to the process of producing content is an effective method for all content we produce.