Today I want to take some time to talk about something that’s important, geeky, and occasionally quite an esoteric subject:
How to make sure your blog or website gets on Google's radar, that monolithic digital god that no one seems to quite fully understand.
SEO is not something I’d ever bring up at a party, but if you’re a blogger looking for SEO tips to get on Google’s radar, this post is for you. It should hopefully answer some pertinent questions, and help you write content that improves all of your conversion goals, and hopefully the lives of your readers, too. Not to mention, help see your Google rankings slowly yet steadily climb.
Once upon a time, I used to work as a content writer for a big company. As big companies outsource a lot of their marketing efforts, they hired an external SEO company to take care of their rankings.
But there are good SEO companies, and not so great SEO companies. We had the pleasure of working with the latter, who hired sub-par ESL writers to create our content.
And it was my job to edit it, and to try to make keyword search terms compatible with basic grammar.
You see, I understood that this company wanted to rank #1 for certain keyword terms, but what I didn’t understand was why we needed to forego the basic rules of English in order to do so. Which is exactly what we were doing! Producing very unfriendly content that wasn’t likely to get click-throughs.
The reason? Keyword targeting. The SEO company wanted to scatter keywords throughout the copy, without caring if a person was actually reading it. So there we were, under the guidance of a so-called SEO expert, who was shepharding the way into black hat SEO territory.
It sounds fairly ludicrous, right? And it was. But…it worked. For a time, anyway.
Today in 2017, it’s unlikely such tactics would deliver those kinds of results.
Which begs the question – do you need to focus so hard on SEO keyword research and keyword density when writing for your blog? Can you just wax on poetically about beautiful things and leave the geeky stuff to the geeks?
Let’s say you have a blog about how to make money writing ebooks. How do you begin to see some actual traffic come through Google? Do you keep writing ‘make money writing ebooks’ everywhere on your website, or actually focus on topics like the pros and cons of InDesign, or how to find a great graphic designer? Do you just upload content and then hit publish, share a bit on social media, and then expect armies of customers to hurl their wallets at you?
If you’re reading this post, I’m going to take a stab in the dark and assume you know what SEO keyword research is. You’ve used Google’s Keyword Planner Tool before, and maybe Uber Suggest as well. You also have Google Analytics set up, and you have tabs on your monthly traffic and acquisition. But you’re not seeing much traction on your blog. What are your next steps?
SEO content writing guidelines 2018: it starts with value
Create shareable content
This sounds like a tired, old, cliche. After all, what is shareable content?
Beyond cute animals and Instagram bikini bodies, there is much more to the internet of interesting things.
Scientists from the University of Pennsylvania published the results of hundreds of studies which examined what makes content go viral. They came up with 6 attributes:
Utility - useful and practical how-to posts.
Length - longer articles elicit a feeling awe and make people want to share.
Memorable - most content online is forgettable. Interesting concepts, creating proprietary techniques and custom visuals are far more memorable that stock-standard listicles and stock photography.
Social currency - in 1986, psychologists Hazel Markus and Paula Nurius recognised that there's conflict between our “now self” and our “possible self.” We're more likely to want to share a positive article which portrays the ideal version of ourselves. If we share a funny article, we're demonstrating our humour as an extension of the share.
As the authors themselves so eloquently notes:
Positive emotions - Matthew Lieberman, a UCLA professor of psychology and of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences and author of the book Social: Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect, noted:
Storytelling - Named by Forbes as the 'Biggest Business Skills of the Next 5 Years' storytelling is an art form that serves as memory glue. By telling a story, we create emotional resonance with our audience. This emotional resonance makes ideas and concepts far easier to understand, remember and engage with.
By using a combination or just one of these attributes, you're more likely to create content that gets shared online. And more shares = more authority = more Google love.
Once upon a time, you might have persuaded Google to rank your blog posts highly using a smattering of keywords in your SEO title, your meta description and your actual copy. But Google is smarter these days, and with recent changes to its algorithm – which goes by the insanely cute name ‘Panda’ – Google knows if you don’t give a crap about your audience.
Here’s a fun fact: Google is beginning to teach itself how to learn. And without getting too into the technical side of things, Google knows exactly how people are using your website.
From the SEO gurus at Moz:
Show you care about your end user and provide them with value, and write with them in mind, always. Are you answering a hard question your audience has been asking? Are you writing in a way that is engaging and informative? Does your post have utility? Is it memorable? Keep in mind that if you’re not creating quality posts for your audience to enjoy and share, they’ll likely click away and go elsewhere.
It’s about SEO-soning with keywords, not keyword stuffing
I once had a client who insisted on inserting his grammatically incorrect keywords into his SEO title, his h1 tags and all throughout his body copy. Nothing read nicely, and his titles –arguably the most important part of his page! – weren’t grabbing anyone’s attention.
Needless to say, I advised against.
He didn’t listen.
No offence to him, but I still can’t see him on Google’s first page for those search terms.
Why? Because Google’s smart enough to understand context and semantics. It knows that if you type ‘best camera for beginners’ that you’re looking for a basic entry-level DSLR, so it’s going to show you those results, even if those pages don’t use the exact terms you searched for. See for yourself:
Create for mobile-first
If your blog or website isn't easy to read, you'll increase your bounce rate and decrease the time people spend on your website. When this happens, Google thinks "God, this one's a stinker. Down you go!" and swiftly pushes your website down the ladder.
As champion SEO authority MOZ says:
If you have Google Analytics set up, you should have a good idea of how many people are viewing your blog or website on their mobile. For my website, I only have 27% of my readers viewing it on their mobiles (up from 12% in 2016). But every website is different, and if you have a blog that you promote on social media, it’s going to want to look pretty on anything from an iPhone 5 to a Samsung Galaxy. And, depending on your resources and traffic, it might even be a good idea to create custom mobile content.
Because I don't get a lot of traffic from mobile, I choose not to create custom mobile content (although my website is responsive and will display differently depending what device you're using). But if you're getting more than 30% of your traffic from mobile, I would create a custom mobile website, particularly if you have an e-commerce website.
Why? Because the way people read and consume media on mobile is different to desktop. Granted, there are a select few who still enjoy reading long-form journalism, and I can include myself in that group. But generally speaking, people have absolutely no time for navigating a sea of poor design. They want things to be simple, and they don't want to get RSI from scrolling. So in short, your blog or website needs to cleaner, sharper, shorter and easier for them to click on things.
I personally use Squarespace, which has this responsiveness built in, and I recommend Instapage for landing pages.
In the example below, I've used a landing page I created for my ebook using Instapage.
As you can see, the mobile version only asks for an email, while the desktop asks for a name and an email.
For Le Rose, an online boutique that makes bridal robes, I focused on a mobile-first approach by using bold statements as headings, and keeping sentences and paragraphs brief.
How to optimise for people glued to their phones:
- Front load content by placing the most important information above the fold.
- Keep sentences short and succinct. Two lines per sentence is best, and get to the point quickly.
- Make everything scannable with headings and short paragraphs.
- Use bullet points.
- Choose your Calls-to-Action carefully. Mobile use has sky-rocketed over the past few years, but there’s still a large number of users who take a cross platform approach. This means that they might visit your website on a lunch break, get the information they want, and then make up their mind when they're back at their desktop computer. You might want to take it easy on the hard sell with your mobile website, but check your Google Analytics first to see how your mobile conversions fare.
Give your old-school blog posts a makeover
Do you ever look back at posts you wrote a few years ago and immediately want to drown your embarrassment in a bottle of Pinot? I know I do. There are a few things I could do with scrapping completely, but for the rest, a revamp is in order! And more Pinot, obviously.
Go through your old blog posts and pick what could do with a style session. Some of that content might still be performing well, but all it needs is a bit of an update to bring it into 2017.
Ask yourself: Is it relevant? Does it conform to 2017 web standards? Are there a bunch of dead links in here? Can I refresh it without butchering it?
You likely won’t need to create new URLs, but if you do, make sure you do a 301 redirect. You should look into what new queries people might be using. It’s also worth creating new calls-to-action to promote new offers you might have, and of course, re-promoting across social media.
Personally, I’m pretty happy that there’s less of a focus on keyword research and keyword density these days. Because that’s not really what writing is about for me, and never has been. Words – as I say on my About page – are about illucidation, and creating meaning. They’re about colouring your message, and demonstrating your individual flair. If you can climb through the ranks on Google, then gold star for you. But if no one is actually staying on your page and liking what you have to say, you likely won’t be at the top for long.