The early days of SEO might be called the Wild West days of SEO. The fastest guns might have ruled the towns of the old west, but the fastest and most prolific keyword stuffers ruled digital marketing once upon a time.
But those days are gone, and while there’s no new sheriff in town, Google has increasingly adopted the white hat approach to SEO and ranking. And other search engines have followed suit. Today, they reward high-quality SEO content. More importantly, readers demand valuable, engaging content.
Check out these seven tips from SEO experts on how to create engaging content that boosts your placement in SERPs.
1. Do Your Research: On Keywords and Searcher Intent
Always begin with keyword research. John Matyasovsky is a content marketer for Roofing Webmasters and says, “Start by finding a keyword people are searching for. You can use tools like MOZ Keyword Explorer, SEMRush, or AHRefs to analyze the volume, competition and opportunity. Once you have a keyword that fits your topic, you can then research semantic terms on LSIGraph. These are words to include within the content of the post rather than just using the target keyword over and over.”
Target, or primary keywords: The main search term you’re targeting with your content.
Secondary keywords: Search terms you’re also targeting, but they aren’t as high priority within your content as the primary phrase.
Semantic keywords: Related terms or keyword synonyms that can boost your performance in the search engines and may be able to fit into your content organically. Semantic keywords help boost SEO while supporting engagement, because no one wants to read 1,000 words that include the primary keyword repeated 10, 20 or 50 times. That’s keyword stuffing — no one, including Google, appreciates it.
It’s not enough to know what keywords are performing right now. You have to understand why, because that lets you uncover searcher intent. If you don’t know why someone is searching for a term, you can’t create content that appropriately serves and converts them.
Consider the keyword term “softball bat.” Searcher intent could be to find a bat to purchase (softball bats for sale), but other possible intents include researching bats for future needs (best softball bat for), finding out about a specific bat (fastpitch softball bat), getting tips on caring for a bat (how to clean a softball bat) or just wondering what a softball bat actually is (what is a softball bat). The content for each of these intents would be unique.
Chris Love, a web developer and SEO expert with more than 25 years in the business, says, “For us, a factor driving anything we produce is researching what is currently ranking, identifying why and [determining ] what they may be missing. Analyzing the top 5-20 results for a target keyword tells us what type of content to create. It could be a list, how to or general research article. But you always need to determine what problem the searcher is trying to solve and [whether you can] provide a great answer and make your presentation better than what is currently ranked.”
Love also says, “Make sure your content aligns with the search intent. This is where analyzing the structure of the top results pays dividends. Don’t waste time producing content that is not structured in a similar fashion as the pages you are trying to beat. There’s a reason you see all those ‘Top X Reasons Why Y’ type articles: consumers find those articles the most appropriate [for the intent of their searches].”
To Love’s point, it’s important to group keywords with similar intents so you can align the content of a page with them. The old days of creating a page for every keyword are long gone; content marketing needs to speak to a solution for specific intents, which means you need multiple pages.
2. Aim for Semantic Completeness When It Comes to Content and Keywords
It’s not enough to catch a few of the keywords in your research and go from there. In addition to searcher intent, the best SEO concentrates on semantic completeness. Not only are you answering the user’s question on the matter, you’re also answering as many of the questions as possible without going overboard.
And that requires a comprehensive approach to keyword research. Joe Goldstein, Director of SEO and Operations for Contractor Calls, gives an in-depth explanation for how to go about finding all the potential keywords and intents you might want to address.
“Start by taking your keyword and simply checking out the other search results. Literally just go through everything on the first page of results and take down notes about which kinds of supporting sections, talking points or supplemental content can be found on each page. Then, check the autocomplete options at the top of the search and the ‘searches related to’ section at the bottom. These searches and keywords are all relevant to your target keyword, since Google bothered to put them anywhere near the search results. So use them liberally in your content.
Next, I usually head over to SEObility’s free TF*IDF tool. This tool takes any target keyword and breaks down the on-page supporting keywords for top search results. What’s even better is that it shows the average usage per result as well as the max number of users among any of those results, which can help you spot outliers and branded terms.
While some experts insist that all TF-IDF tools are useless because Google uses a more sophisticated form of document modeling in its search algorithm, it’s important to realize that one of TF-IDF’s big limitations is that it simply ignores semantics while returning correlation. When you search for “buy cheap pumas” using that tool, you might see keywords like “cats” and “jungle” in the mix if that kind of content has snuck into the search results. Since Google’s actual document modeling is based on entity analysis (it can tell the difference between a cat and a shoe based on context), just ignore the keywords that are irrelevant to your version of the target keywords.
Re-seeding those underrepresented supporting keywords into your content is one of the best ways to quickly move up the rankings for your target keyword while also casting a larger net for related searches. You can also repeat the process with those related searches — such as “buy pumas online free shipping” — to uncover a larger set of relevant supporting keywords.”
Luke, an SEO Manager at Adzooma, points out a statistic that brings the need for this type of semantic completeness into focus. “According to Ahrefs,” he says, “The average number of keywords in top 20 pages also rank for over 200 other keywords. Using LSI terms and synonyms can help and avoid keyword stuffing.”
But it’s important to remember that the game isn’t to stuff as many keywords in as possible. You should be writing content that naturally employs these terms as you explain them or use them in relation to the topic at hand. Tools such as LSIGraph and Marketmuse can help you discover what these keywords might be.
3. Aim for the Featured Snippet
The featured snippet — or Google Answer box — is becoming an increasingly hotter topic in SEO circles, with more brands chasing this prime real estate on SERPs. According to Ahrefs, around 12% of searches trigger a featured snippet, and that number is growing.
While the answer box isn’t stealing all the thunder from other organic search results (such as the top spot, which still gets the most clicks), it does serve a very valuable branding purpose. The featured snippet gets a bit more than 9% of the clicks on average — but not all searches result in clicks. Sometimes, the featured snippet answers the question or intent of the search and the user is done, which means the page that landed that powerful spot earned a boost when it comes to future recognition or brand awareness.
Love provides these tips for those chasing the Google answer box.
- Find ways to make your content better than the existing snippet answer.
- Make your featured snippet content prominent on your page by:
- Placing it right after the keyword question.
- Highlighting it with a block quote, list, table or better styling.
- Include an image or photo to support your snippet content. “Diagrams can be a great choice here, says Love, as “search engines are looking for imagery to quickly explain a concept.”
4. Create Quality Content
Michelle Levine is an SEO Manager for Vistaprint. She says, “The most important tactic for writing high-performing SEO content will always be writing outstanding content. The more people that find your content useful, the higher that content will rank.”
Quality content is:
- Well written. Consider working with qualified and proven SEO freelance writers or our expert enterprise team to create high-quality SEO content that drives results.
- Grammatical and clear. There’s a reason we offer clients the ability to add editing steps to their orders. While the average person won’t necessarily care about a minor grammar faux pas, the misplacement of a comma or the wrong version of a word can actually change the entire meaning of your message.
- The right length. Find out how to choose the right word count for your topic.
- Highly relevant to the audience. Don’t just ask yourself what you have to say on this topic. Ask what your audience wants to hear.
5. Use Tactics that Spawn Engagement
It’s not enough to score a high rank in the search engines and draw people into your site. Once they’re on-page, you must be able to engage them. Behavioral metrics, such as time visitors spend on page, how often they click to read more of your content and bounce rates all factor into your future placement in SERPs.
Zach Hendrix, Co-Founder of GreenPal, says, “If average time spent on [your] site is 3 or 4 minutes versus your competitor’s less than 1 minute, Google will reward your page by pushing [it] higher up in on search engine results pages.”
To this end, your content has to be more than high quality. It must be designed to engage the reader — whether that’s through the writing style, format or interactive options.
Hendrix recommends what he calls Bucket Brigades, which are small sections of content on the page that are designed to carry the reader through to the end. “With the bucket brigade tactic, you can keep your visitors on-page longer by breaking up the copy every two or three sentences with bolded or subhead phrases,” he says. The point is to “captivate your reader and psychologically drive them down the page [so they are] reading more of your copy and [staying] on your site longer.”
Hendrix recommends phrases such as:
- Here’s the deal
- Why does this matter?
- What’s the catch?
- How can this help you?
- The best part
You can also use tools to drive engagement such as Click to Tweet or social share buttons, which naturally encourage users to get involved with your content and even share it with others.
6. Incorporate Visuals or Think Visually as You Create Content
Alice Gerwat is the Content Editor and Social Media Manager at Magic Freebies. She says that visual content is no longer an option for brands investing in content marketing and SEO efforts.
“When writing content with SEO in mind,” she says, “It’s essential to include images to complement your written words, as we are living in a visual age. A study by Jakob Nielsen back in 1997 revealed that internet users never even read — they scan. This means your audience picks out information in bite-sized chunks, using visual markers on the page [to do so]. Images are as important visual markers as bullet points, H1s and H2s, as they help guide the reader to get the most value out of what they’re reading as quickly as possible. It’s also worth making the alt tags for your images as descriptive as possible so search engines can interpret your image as relevant to your written content.”
Remember that image SEO is almost as important as text SEO. Google Images is the #2 search engine for a reason — pictures are still worth a thousand words and many users still default to visual searches to find what they need quickly.
Other ways you can optimize the scannability of your page while improving SEO?
- Incorporate diagrams and infographics that summarize the content or answer
- Embed videos and multimedia
- Design content with visual scanning in mind, telling a story with the help of headers, bullet points, bold and italics, and other formatting tools
7. Learn How to Write SEO Content for the Big Picture
Finally, remember that one blog post, landing page or product description does not make an online marketing strategy or SEO plan. Every piece you write should fit into the big picture of your overall SEO plan. That means choosing content topics that support each other and your overall message and linking between them.
Topic clusters are critical here, because they help draw people further into your pages, increasing behavioral metrics and driving someone closer to the conversion. Plus, they help position your brand as a true authority. For example, if you’re a personal finance brand, it’s no longer enough to write a stellar blog post about saving money. Instead, you should create an entire topic cluster of posts on the topic to serve various searcher intent and entice consumers in different stages of the funnel. For example:
- A general post about saving money attracts people at the top of the funnel who are just looking into this topic. You might make this a pillar post with links to more in-depth content on a variety of topics, such as getting out of debt, saving at the grocery store or putting money away for a big purchase or retirement
- A more specific landing page or post might draw attention specifically to your workshop on personal budgeting for success with a specific financial goal. This type of content is still part of the overall cluster, but it’s geared more toward people further down the funnel who are ready to make a decision or purchase.
It’s critical to link all these things together in logical ways that help the buyer discover you via organic search and then stick with you through the rest of the journey. Luke says, “Make sure to have at least 3-4 internal links… linking to relevant pages you want to rank higher is good for SEO as it helps when Google crawls your site and reduces crawl depth per page.”
Make a Plan, Check Your Plan and Tweak Your Plan
Good SEO is not something you’re going to stumble upon one day and then never have to worry about again. It’s a constantly evolving online marketing discipline. Start today by making a plan following some of the tips above. Put it into action writing SEO content that engages. Then, check your metrics, analyze the results and make small changes to try to improve them. Search engines are always making tiny tweaks to their algorithms, so you have to do the same with your content.