Yes, yes, we know you should write for people, but in doing so, it appears online businesses have forgotten they still also need to write for search engines. Optimisation is not dead yet.
Despite Google claiming the Hummingbird algorithm can understand the context of a search term, the results do not correspond with the theory. At best Hummingbird is guessing what the searcher wants to know.
And that is because content curators are no longer writing for search engines. And if they are, they are still writing the way they used to for the old algorithms. On-page optimisation is a fundamental part of SEO and that means ensuring search engines understand the topical themes in your content. There's a danger your writing could dilute those themes and the pages become what is known as 'fuzzy'. Vague and not very easy to understand. If search engines can't understand the pages well it's not surprising they won't rank them well either. Their relevance will be considered low.
For sure, you still have to use your most important keywords, but in some cases, keywords can be generic. Hummingbird wants us to be specific, which requires adopting long tail keywords, synonyms, related and associated keywords and theming content.
Content marketing can feel a bit like a Catch-22. You need to publish content to reach your audience and be visible online, but a lack of engagement is disconcerting.
There could be reasons for that of course. If your content does not provide value to readers, nobody will take notice. Check your bounce rates (combined with dwell time) in Google Analytics.
It could also be your products and services are not interesting enough for people to care about reading. For example, how many people are interested in reading about floor tiles? There is not much you can do about this.
Another reason your content is falling short may be timescales. Content marketing takes time to build up traffic. Three or four months is a realistic time period for your content to start making an impact.
If your content is underperforming, don’t give up on it too easily. But rather than investing time and money in fresh content, try reoptimising/rewriting your current content to make it more receptive to search engines, and clearly structured so it is easier for them to understand the topic as well as avoiding dilution or over-optimisation of themes which target query clusters whilst also making it engaging for readers.
Check your content for keywords and keyphrases. Whilst there are no hard and fast rules with this, your keywords should usually appear somewhere in the main title, at least one subheading and in the first 100 words of the main body.
Some content marketers recommend a keyword density of around 3%, but since Google changed to a semantic algorithm, keyword density is not that important. Making your article read naturally is. In fact, it has become evident over the years that optimising too much can lead to a thumbs-down from Google because who wants to read something which seems like web spam when they could read something natural? Look at your content, read it through, ask third parties to read through it and ask them whether it seems natural but also if they clearly understood what the topic's main focus was on the page?
Internal link building
Links are important for search engines in a number of ways. Internal links guide Googlebots to related pages, but also helps them determine what pages on your site are most important.
Include internal links in your blog content and point them to your product or service pages. You should also link them to other blog articles you can direct readers to find more information about the point you are making.
You should also build links to your underperforming content from other blog posts. This will drive more traffic to the piece of content you want to improve engagement on.
Don't forget humans too - Target the right audience
Whether you are promoting your content through social media networks or hoping to improve page rank in search engines, you need to target the right audience on the right device.
A successful social media marketing campaign hinges on the quality of your followers rather than the quantity. Social networks limit the amount of followers that receive your content.
If you have 1000 followers, but only 100 are interested in your brand, your content will not reach the right audience a great deal, which means you miss out on engagement and your content does not perform.
Search engines on the other hand direct customers to you with user-intent. This will attract the right audience, but it does not necessarily mean they will be compelled to read your content. If your page is also not that relevant to the topic (or search engines can't determine this well) then they're unlikely to lead visitors from search there in the first place.
The majority of searches are now performed on mobile devices, which means your content has to be suitable for mobile users. Nobody wants to read a 2000-word article on a 5-inch screen unless they are seeking rich information. If they are looking to buy something they will likely have needs based around filtering options, looking at product images, a short but unique description which is highly relevant to that product alone and maybe viewing a video. Watch out for boiler plate content on product pages (and we don't just mean the header, footer and sidebars). Boiler plate content on product pages could well mean the delivery and returns as well as size guide which so many retailers have on ALL product pages and which reduces the amount of unique content to virtually nothing overall.
If you are covering a large topic, consider breaking the content up and publishing it as a series. This will make the page look less content-heavy and more digestible.
Make your content entertaining for humans when possible
The final reason your content may be underperforming is because it is boring or poorly written. Consumers demand quality content to read and they are not satisfied with articles or images that do not pique their interest.
You may want to consider rewriting your existing content and publishing under another title – perhaps with a stronger keyword or a number of target key phrases to gain further impressions and reach additional queries. There is an argument that the more impressions and search queries a page triggers the more important it becomes to search engines because the probability of it being found / called into the results is higher.
Analyse the content your competitors are publishing and compare it with your own. How can you improve your content to make it more engaging than your rivals?
The key factor to remember about publishing “quality” is that it must offer some value to the reader. This may be information, advice, or just a damn good read. Develop a voice and a personality in your content that your customers enjoy reading.
Whether you are creating new content or re-working existing pieces, look for inspiration and be creative. Add some real value which both search engines and humans will appreciate and realise this stands out from the crowds of other pages on the same subject out there. And rather than wasting money on a content strategy that does not work, find a solution to make it work. Alternatively, you can contact us to discuss an improved content marketing strategy based around your target audience needs and solutions you can provide. If you need help with overall search engine optimisation we can also help there too.
Who are you writing for?
This is the paradox; you are essentially writing for your audience because they want to read content that is fluent, cohesive and makes sense. However, if you do not write for search engines your content will not reach your audience through search channels.
Writing for people is easy. You just need to make it engaging and interesting. Keywords should come naturally, but the keywords are the subject you are writing about, and the terms the reader typed into the search engine.
The number of visitors you attract to your site will of course, be the pièce de résistance of your digital marketing campaign. If you do not publish content that attracts, engages and retains readers, forget about content marketing altogether. You are wasting your time and may as well just stick to technical SEO alone.
But if you are new to blogging and content marketing in general, your website is not going to rank well until you start attracting traffic and earning the trust of search engines. And that is why you cannot afford to forget that Google et al need instructing where to index your content.
Theme page content
Recent changes in search engine algorithms rank individual pages rather than entire sites. This means that the theme of your content should be limited to one key principle – which is centred around the principle keyword, obviously.
So if you are selling sports wear for example, a webpage optimised for men’s running shoes will not rank as well as a page for say, Nike running shoes for men. This search term should be included in metadata and as a long tail keyword embedded in your content and headings.
And this is why search results are in a mess. Identifying user intent is the job of search engines. The role of content curators is delivering content that has information the end-user wants to read.
To do that, not only do you need to move away from the standard 500-word articles and superficial information that you can find on any competing site, and actually write content that is interesting and engaging. If needs must, be controversial. People love that.
And providing you tell search engines what readers can expect to find in your content, the more often it will be produced in search results. Furthermore, readers have wised-up to the regurgitated drivel business blogs are churning out. Eventually nobody will trust what you have to say anymore.
Stand out in the virtual crowd
And therein lies another purpose of writing for search engines. Google score your website on trust and authority. You need to be different to stand out in a crowd. Fresh, engaging content has a virtual neon light strapped to the top of its head.
When writing for an audience, create a unique voice, one that has a strong personality, makes people sit up and take notice and keeps readers entertained. That’s how to write for people. They want information and an enjoyable read.
Search engines on the other hand need signposts; keywords, metatags, long tail search terms, and specific themes all of which have to comply with marketing guidelines. So the next time you create a blog post, be mindful of what search engines need to index the page so that it appears in search engine results.
Writing Meta Descriptions
Google says meta descriptions do not have an impact on page rankings in search engines. However, well-crafted tags increase click-through rate (CTR) which does have an impact on search results.
Because user activity appears to now be factored into algorithm ranking verticals, meta descriptions have more importance than the commanders at search control will have you believe.
It is therefore important to include meta descriptions on every page, including blog posts, to give end-users a significant insight of what they can expect if they click through to view your content.
So how do you write killer meta descriptions that increase your CTR?
Use ad copy
The meta description is essentially an advert signposting what your page is about. Regardless of whether this is a product page, your meta tags need to interest searchers enough to click-through.
Keywords are vitally important of course. Without keywords, search engines will not index your content correctly whereby they will not show up in results. But beyond search engine crawlers you also have to appeal to readers.
You only have room to input 160 characters which only amounts to a sentence or two, in which case you need to be able to describe the content on your in a concise way whilst being persuasive.
Your meta tag needs to trigger a response so should be structured in accordance with the page content, either by including a call to action, describing benefits, evoke curiosity, entice clicks with special offers or some other emotional appeal.
To get inspiration for your M-tags, review wording from paid ads and click bait headlines, not word for word exactly, but a general gist of phrases that are creating a buzz and that most appeal to you.
Use benefit and feature descriptions
When writing sales copy for products and services, copywriters are brought up on the mantra, “features tell, benefits sell.” The same rules apply when writing meta description that appeal to end users.
Benefits detail how your product can improve your customer’s life so lead with the benefit followed by the feature that delivers the benefit. If the price is a selling point, that should be emphasised at the end, for example “And all for just £..”
Use facts and figures
Your meta description should be an extension of your page title and gives you the opportunity to include key data. Facts and figures work well as they tell end-users exactly what they can expect from your product.
For example, “Stamp 100 letters in 60 seconds,” throws exact figures into the equation and raises curiosity. If you have a unique selling point that raises awareness and piques interest, include this as well.
Facts and figure can also be used to increase urgency, such as “Save 25%. Offer ends 31 May,” is more likely to attract CTR and immediate conversions. Alternatively, “hurry now whilst stocks lasts,” is another option.
Although Google play down the role of meta descriptions on product pages, they are vitally important for attracting interest from end-users and are effectively your first sales pitch. Get the wording right and you will increase your CTR and conversions.
Start from the home page and work your way down the site categories and subcategories
The Homepage is typically the most visited page of any website – therefore it needs to make a good first impression.
Search engines use a broad framework of search objectives to deliver websites that best fit the end-users description, so the better optimised your site, the more chance you have of being found.
But regardless of how visitors arrive at your site, they will take a look at your website to learn more about your business, content, products and offers. And to find out this information, they will navigate to your homepage.
Optimising your homepage therefore increases your chances of converting browsers into buyers – without which your website is an expensive commodity.
What is search engine optimisation?
Search engine optimisation (SEO) basically involves matching the keywords on your website with a users search terms.
So take your products and services and think about what words a prospect would type into the search engine to look for a business that can satisfy their needs.
The next step is to persuade visitors to your website that you are the company they were searching for. Ask yourself, what does your business offer customers and explain why you are their best option.
How do I optimise my homepage?
The best way to optimise a homepage is by using strong headlines and strong calls to action. The font size for both should be bigger than the other text so they stand out.
You should also use a variety of visual images. These will typically include photo images, videos, diagrams and other animated icons. At the top of the page you need a hero shot.
The hero shot is the first thing a visitor sees when the page is loaded. It therefore needs to be aesthetically pleasing in order to evoke an emotional response and compel them to explore more of your homepage and your website.
Use visual images
The homepage should showcase your products and services. Break each one into sections of its own so there is a one-pointed focus. Include visuals in each section.
Photographs are the obvious choice for displaying images because they are the easiest and least expensive the produce.
Videos offer strong content opportunities and enable you to demonstrate the benefits of your products and services.
Then there are a range of diagrams and icons. They add something different and are the best option to use when photos and videos will not suffice.
The homepage is a breakdown of your business. It is your virtual shop window and gives visitors an insight to what products and services you offer. If the homepage is not optimised for search engines and conversions, your online business will not enjoy much success.
Optimising Images For Search Engines & Accessibility
Speaking of images, these are very important for both humans and search engines. You should use the 'alt' tag whenever an image is pulled into your webpage to help search engines understand what the image is about and also to help people who have visibility impairment.
The alt tag (alternative text field) on images can be used to provide users information and helps search engines determine the content of a page. Alt tags are therefore useful for SEO and browsers yet are often overlooked.
When you post content on the web, you need to make it as findable as possible. The alt tags in the image field help search engines to do this. Images with alt tags which describe them well provide for a positive experience for visitors from image search once the image has been indexed there. The alt tag is often the only indicator to search engines as to what picture an image contains.
You can locate your alternative text field in the upload image section of your CMS. Alternatively, if you are hard-coding images into your html you would add something like the following:
<img src="yourdomain/image/imagefilename.png/jpg/gif" alt="the alternative description goes here" title="the words which you want displaying when someone hovers over the image and is visible to humans" (also add width and height to the image too).
Typically in a CMS the field for an alt tag is a small, elongated box underneath the captions field. Ideally the alt tag text should be a quick sentence describing what the image is. Avoid filling these alt tags with spammy lines of keywords or whole paragraphs which literally are built just for the purposes of ranking the image or for optimising the page. Remember, the alt tag and title tag content are also included in the overall content on the page and if these are spammy you could be seen as 'over-optimising' your web page as a whole.
Improving user experience
Not only does text in an alt tag field support search engine crawlers to categorise and index your page, it also enhances the experience of the user. Well written alternative text offers specific information to readers either to recap a point in the article or as an aid to highlight a point you want to make with visuals.
Not only that, but screen readers used to help internet users with visual impairments and cognitive disabilities translate information on-screen recognise alternative text and can describe the image to the user.
The text is also displayed in browsers, so if mobile users have chosen not to display images, they can still have an understanding of what images do appear on the page. Likewise if the image does not load due to low bandwidth whilst visiting your page.
You also benefit from update the alt tags as your page appears in image searches and is more accessible across a wider range of platforms. You can also use different keywords to give your products more exposure.
How to write alternative text
The alt tag field is not very big so you must keep your snippet brief. Your target is to stay under 50 characters so thinking of suitable text can be more difficult than an engaging tweet. Ideally include at least one keyword.
The information you provide in the alt tag must be relevant to the image – and not just the article. It helps if you start with the most relevant words, ideally the keyword. Also keep alternative text search friendly.
If you have included a caption on the image, do not repeat the same text in your alt tag as this is classed as duplicate content by search engines. It is much better to enter a brief description of what the image is.
The use of images for SEO and visibility should not be underestimated – and nor should tagging images with appropriate text.
Keywords and natural content when writing for search engines and humans
Google algorithm updates have made keywords a tricky topic for business owners and marketers everywhere. Sure, it's easy to play it safe and ignore keywords all together. You'll avoid any search penalties and you'll naturally fill your content with key phrases as you go along.
So why bother with keyword optimisation at all? Because your industry is highly competitive and the only way to get ahead of your rivals is to be competitive in every aspect. Which means finding the right balance between keywords that rank well and natural content that keeps readers and Google both happy.
Keyword research is worth the investment
Keyword research is more time consuming than ever as Google demands more from the content it indexes. The days of keyword stuffing are long behind us and the art of reinforcing content with keywords naturally takes plenty of research and a touch of finesse.
Individual pieces of content can afford to be more focused in terms of topics keywords - something you want to strive for. Pick your root keyword for each piece of content and find variations, synonyms and long-tail alternatives to naturally build your keyword balance.
Google puts a greater emphasis on variation and synonyms these days, while long-tail keywords mean you can use entire search queries that are less competitive than specific keywords. And it's also worth noting that Google Hummingbird makes the search engine more accurate at returning results for "natural" speech - something that may reflect in your long-tail keyword choices.
Keep an eye on your anchor text
Another area that has landed many website owners in trouble over recent years is over optimised anchor text. Once upon a time it was a given that keywords should feature prominently in your anchor text - but this isn't the case anymore.
It's more important that you have variation in your anchor text - with a mix of branded, keyword inclusive and anchors without any keywords at all. This is how you would naturally write a piece of content and link to external (or internal) sources anyway - so it shouldn't be a difficult approach to take.
Don't force feed your content
With a list of keywords, variations, synonyms and long-tail alternatives you have everything you need to start writing content to boost your search ranking. But don't sit there and try to force a fixed number of keywords into your content as you write it. Instead, create your content without a thought for keywords and see what comes out naturally. Focus on the purpose of your piece and what it offers your audience.
By the time you have a first draft complete you will have a piece of content that naturally contains your keywords, variations and long-tails. And from here you can refine the use of keywords, quantity and variations without forcing them in your copy. All the natural stuff is taken care of and with a few simple tweaks you'll have a fully optimised piece - with the right balance between keywords and natural content.
Keywords or Keyphrases?
In order to optimise your website for Hummingbird, not only to you need keywords, but also keyword phrases. Now Google’s sophisticated algorithms have a deeper understanding of search terms, they can find websites that match user intention more closely.
Keyphrases, more commonly known as long-tail keywords, are not a new concept. They just have a more important role to play in search than they used to. Which is why content writers need to understand what they are and how to use them.
The concept is simple. Keyphrases essentially work the same way that keywords do only they encompass a particular phrase or entire sentence that optimisers anticipate will be used as a search term.
These long-tail keywords are embedded within the text of your content, and should also be used as subheadings – that you think will match a search term, like this.
How do I craft a keyphrase?
This is where you need to get creative, but crafting keyword phrases is far easier than crafting keyword titles.
When you conduct keyword research do not be put off by how competitive a keyword is. Keyphrases give you an edge anyway as search engines reveal a portion of the content that most relates to keyword terms.
Keyphrases therefore also enable marketers to identify the intent of the end-user and fashion content targeting your audience at specific stages of the purchasing process.
For example, terms with buyer intent can be directed to a product page identified with keyphrases that mimic buyer intent. Terms that indicate the prospect is at the research stages should be directed to a page where they can find additional information.
Before you write a piece of content, decide which subject you intend to talk amount and what your core message is. Then make a list of likely search terms. Use this list to craft keyphrases as you write. They even provide inspiration.
You should also include buzzwords and industry phrases in your keyphrase, words like, turnkey, Alpha, high-end, proven etc. These type of words also make web copy more powerful.
Search gives you a very small window of opportunity which keyphrases fill more than any other form of content? Why? Because they provide the most information, and that is what end-users want.
Spelling and Grammar for SEO
There are some articles floating around the net that Google is judging your grammar and spelling – and that mistakes will be penalised by down-ranking.
To my knowledge, Google has not issued any statements to confirm that misspelt words and poor grammar will count against your SEO ranking. But it does make sense to ensure your blog writing is at an acceptable level.
The only information Google has officially released on the matter was in August 2011 when Matt Cutts confirmed spelling and grammar is not used as a ranking factor.
The company’s search guru did add however, that there is an argument grammar and spelling should be used as a ranking factor. So maybe one day they will.
Having said that, it is doubtful Google will pull you up over the slightest little slip in spelling and grammar. We are human, we make mistakes.
It would make sense for Google to use spelling and grammar as a ranking factor, especially where multiple mistakes and poor writing reduce the quality of the content to such a degree it creates a poor user-experience.
Cutts said himself that “the more reputable pages do tend to have better grammar and spelling.”
It makes sense for companies to ensure the content on their website is a good read and error free otherwise readers will not return.
More importantly, if the copy on your website contains errors, prospects will not trust you enough to hire you.
Could Google introduce poor spelling as a ranking factor?
It wouldn’t be beyond Google to negatively rank poorly written content. Before the search engine had auto-spelling on search queries, it was an SEO tactic to purposely misspell words so pages would be found in search queries.
Some of those old pages may still be appearing in results. Time and again, Google penalise marketers attempting to manipulate search. But the auto-spell check already makes that optimisation tactic null and void.
Yet the search engine giant, quite rightly, is pushing for content that is enjoyable to read, and blog posts littered with spelling mistakes is not a good UX.
But there will have to be some realistic leeway. It would be onerous for Google to down-rank a page for slight spelling mistakes the writer missed. Even a pair of careful editing eyes can miss some errors.
For example, mistyping “if” rather than “of” is a common error because the I and O are next to one another on the keyboard and they are both valid words so are not detected by your document’s spell checker.
What if your spelling and grammar is poor?
If you are not confident about your spelling and grammar, you can purchase software that works better than your Word document to check for errors. There are several tools you can purchase.
The other option is to hire a copywriter. If you do not have a good writing style or do not have the time to maintain a blog, hiring a professional to curate content on your behalf is a better option anyway.
Given Google stress the need for quality content and good user-experience, you will have more SEO success if you make an investment and hire a professional rather than writing your own content if your strength does not lie in story-telling, spelling or grammar.
Focus on content but don't lose sight of technical SEO
There is a focus on content in the digital marketing sphere right now. And not without good reason. Rich content attracts readers, drives traffic, raises your online profile and does help to improve search engine rankings overall. But there is little point in creating quality content if the technical elements of your website are not in place to host it. It's like keeping the tap running when the bathtub plug is slightly out of it's plughole. A slight trickle which means that the full potential opportunity is unrealised from all the quality richness you are adding.
Technical SEO is the foundation from which you build a successful online business, and one of the fundamental pillars upon which a strong and healthy website stands. Without strong technical SEO the house (your site) is being built on sand or stone rather than good soil. This is because there are two types of visitor to a website. Humans and search engine crawlers.
Everything works together in a website and digital marketing campaign
Digital marketing is a complex web of interconnected strategies. Furthermore, the components have a knock-on affect which either supports or hinders the entire campaign. Such is the case with technical SEO. The fundamental workings of a digital business are in the background of your website, and if they are not functioning correctly, your entire online marketing efforts collapse in on itself. It is very much like having the cogs of a machine not quite touching each other and ending up with functionality issues or engine timing being just a little (and sometimes a lot) out of synchronisation.
The importance of technical SEO implementation in your website structure
The technical structure of your website impacts on usability, crawlability, performance and semantics. If any of these four components are flawed, it does not matter how much content you produce, you will not improve your visibility in search rankings as much as you could if everything were aligned.
Every element of the site adds something overall to the understanding by search engines when it comes to linguistically determining just what your website is about.
This not only includes the text on pages but also the anchors in internal links, the navigational elements, the local topic menus as subtopics of the main theme. All these form part of the overall 'ontology' of the site. Ensuring search engines can retrieve the information within your site is key. Your offering (product, service or informational) can become blurred by semantic fuzz (fuzzy logic) when incorrect server response codes, incorrectly implemented canonicals or mixed signals overall begin to creep in over time.
Usability (UX) and SEO go hand in hand
User-experience (UX) is vitally important to retaining visitors and increasing conversions. Search engines are also trying to emulate humans and how much the human informational need is satisfied by a site is widely thought to impact how well your site ranks. Aside from this, even from a conversion perspective, if customers cannot easily navigate your website and find the information and products they are looking for they will leave and check out the competition instead. They are also less likely to come back, because their negative experience may well stay with them. It's important to provide a consistently positive experience throughout all stages of the customer journey, and that includes the discovery stages where the prospect is first acquainted with your site. This is even more vital with the move to mobile first index and the huge increase in the use of mobile phones overall (According to Statista, "For 2017 the number of mobile phone users is forecast to reach 4.77 billion") as a means of accessing websites and from search in particular. One of the major reasons why people abandon mobile phones in particular is they are unable to easily find what they want. Google tells us to identify the top tasks of our users and put these tasks into our primary menu. You need to ensure your visitors can find what they need, and fast. They have jobs they want to complete, or top tasks they want to carry out. This may be 'compare' something, 'shop' something, 'read reviews', 'get quotes', 'check sizes'. Identify these top tasks and make sure they're very well signposted on your site. The information architecture is one of the first components of a website to address. You need to define a clear purchasing path and make it easy for customers to get from where they are to where they want to be in the fewest clicks. Flattening website architectures and shortening click paths also means traversing a website is easier for search engine crawlers and topical relevance from one URL is passed in full strength to another URL when the path is shortened rather than having to pass (and dilute) through an intermediate step.
The technical structure of your online store or website has to be accessible and presented like a well-organised library of information to search engines crawlers so they find their way around and index each page. If robots cannot locate a page and understand which section a page (like a book on a shelf of a bookstore) belongs to, the content will not be filed and matched against search terms.
Images and videos also need to be properly formatted to improve visibility in search engines. Small actions such as updating alt tags on images can have a big impact on search results, and even more importantly these are there for the use of those to whom accessibility is all important, such as those with visual impairment.
Site performance is another technical issue that needs addressing. End-users do not have the patience to wait and click out of websites that take too long to load (between 4 and 10 seconds.)
The performance of your website is even more critical now the majority of internet searches are conducted on mobile handsets.
Connection speeds on mobiles are typically slower which causes user frustration and content has to be condensed into smaller screens which can make it more difficult for web designers to position products, services and information they are looking for.
Google is also continually pushing for us to present a fast experience across both desktop and mobile for visitors too, so it is safe to say that there will be ranking benefits for this.
Whilst publishing quality content has a significant impact on the success of your online business, it is worthless if your website does not function well enough for customers to use.
Before you even think about publishing content, the technical aspects behind the scenes have to be established in order for visitors to interact and engage with it. If you fail to address the technical components, your online business fails full-stop.
If you need help with SEO get in touch with us.