The world of online searching is huge; in fact, Google states that the World Wide Web contains over 60 trillion pages and counting, as of October 2013. For companies and individuals, the primary goal of search engine optimization (SEO) is to populate their webpages with targeted keywords to drive visitors to a specific site. Online users type these keywords into search engines such as Bing, Google and Yahoo, which aim to deliver the best results based on complex programs and formulae called algorithms.
The importance of high-quality writing, relevance and optimization has increased significantly with the growth of e-commerce and the adoption of social media. In response, search engines continue to revise their algorithms to reward high-quality and relevant content. To keep up with advances in search technology, many organizations hire SEO writers to develop content that drives organic (e.g. keywords, backlinking, etc.) and paid search (e.g. pay per click (PPC) advertising) referrals to their various websites.
Moreover, customers are becoming increasingly tech savvy and adept at utilizing social media and other web tools to make informed consumer decisions. Traditional text and banner advertisements are also having less impact on swaying online and offline consumer purchases. Writing online copy that effectively uses the keywords most relevant to your business and brand will help search engines find your website, build online trust and boost your rankings in search results.
An Overview of SEO
Traditionally, SEO writing has revolved around injecting web copy with keyword phrases at certain levels and densities throughout a webpage. For example, search engine crawlers, which check out your site in order to learn more about it, rank the headlines of webpages higher than actual paragraphs when determining the relevancy of a page against individual keywords, so including the most important keywords in the headline is critical.
Search engine algorithms – the set of mathematical formulae and rules search engines use to determine the significance of a webpage – evolve constantly as businesses get better at understanding (and sometimes tricking) their system. For example, search engine giant Google considers over 200 factors when crawling and indexing individual webpages. These include:
- Site and page quality – Is your domain trustworthy? Do other sites trust your content by backlinking to your site?
- User Context – Considers where web users are searching, what sites they visit, as well as whether they’re using a smartphone versus a laptop to search for your content.
- Freshness – How old is your site’s content? Do you update it weekly, monthly or never? Search engines reward content that is both fresh and relevant to keyword searches.
Google and other search engines sort webpages by their content using individual and off-page factors. Individual factors include the number of pages the search engine indexes and how frequently the page is indexed. Off-page factors encompass elements such as number of click-throughs and backlinking (the number of inbound or incoming links from an external website to yours).
Regular web users can also influence search engines’ determination of relevant webpages via tools such as bookmarking, blogging and linking. The more people bookmark and link to your site, the better off it will be in search rankings. Thus, one of the main jobs of an SEO writer is to create engaging content that people want to click on and share with their online network. By promoting your content, prospects, customers, suppliers, partners and evangelists increase your brand’s trust and authority online and push up your search engine rankings.
How SEO Intersects with Content Writing
At its core, SEO writing is marketing. Not only must SEO writing succinctly convey your company’s expertise and value proposition, but it must quickly say why your product or service meets the needs of target audiences. While it’s important to include keywords, it’s also crucial to use natural language and focus on how you are different from competitors. You are targeting the crawlers, but you are also targeting your audience: awkward keyword stuffing (inserting keywords awkwardly or randomly) will not help your SEO in the end and may even lead to your site being banned.
As you develop content for your marketing and online channels, keep the following tips in mind:
- Increase Relevancy: Structure your site’s content based on relevancy. While information should be posted on its own distinct page section, you can help crawlers find relevant content by cross linking to related topics within your website.
- Be Mobile-Friendly: Design and write content for multiple devices. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, approximately 63 percent of American adult cellphone owners use their phones to go online (May 2013). Having a mobile version or responsive design that adapts to whatever device is used to access your content will enhance the experience for mobile or tablet users and most likely increase their stay-time.
- What Deserves Its Own Page? More pages can help your SEO, but only if these pages are necessary and useful. Take time to decide whether to devote a webpage to a particular product, service or topic, and whether the page is unique and valuable enough to stand on its own. Assess the webpage’s value to users, its accessibility from the site’s homepage and its ability to provide accurate content that users can share over the web.
- Leverage Social Media: Claim and promote your website on social networks and social media websites. As social media has grown in importance, so has its role in SEO. Engaging customers and prospective users through social media can help increase your inbound traffic and, subsequently, your ranking.
- Be Searchable: When writing content, you must ensure that search engines can read the text, images, documents and other digital assets on your page. For example, if you have numerous PDF files posted on your page, unlocking them will ensure that crawlers can read the content contained within the file.
Conducting Keyword Research
Before you start with SEO writing, conduct keyword research. There are keyword research tools such as Google’s Keyword Planner that can assist you with this task. Keyword Planner and related tools help marketers estimate web traffic for keywords that pertain to their business. Consider the following steps before developing your SEO writing strategy:
- Conduct a competitive analysis to discover how similar companies are ranking against keywords you’re looking to purchase for search ads and to include on your websites. You can also research keyword ideas based on your product offering and existing webpages.
- Use Keyword Planner or another keyword research tool to view statistics such as “average monthly searches” and competition for specific keywords and phrases. Note or download the results so you can combine multiple search terms into one SEO plan.
- Customize your online search ads so the content includes purchased keywords that will appeal to your ideal customers. Additionally, create multiple online ads if you have multiple products. You should also include these keywords in headlines and meta tags on your corporate website where appropriate.
In addition to keyword search statistics, you can use paid market research reports to help you understand your target audience’s online goals and purchasing behavior. Ultimately, doing extensive keyword research upfront and incorporating the latest SEO best practices into your content strategy will improve your search engine rankings and generate online success for your brand.