White hat, black hat, keyword stuffing, CLS, LCP, SERPs: verily I say to thee, the jargon overfloweth. What do all those buzzwords and acronyms even mean, and how do they relate to SEO? What is SEO in 2021, anyway and how can you optimize content for SEO?
If you’re looking for the answers to any of those questions, you’re in the right spot. We’ll explore SEO FAQ, best practices and obsolete tactics in this comprehensive guide. By the time we’re done, you’ll know exactly how to optimize your content for SEO.
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SEO and Content Marketing
Search engine optimization (SEO for short) is intricately linked to content marketing. Outstanding content is the foundation for SEO; fail to optimize your content and it could end up in internet limbo.
What is Search Engine Optimization?
By itself, SEO is not content marketing. SEO is the process of making your site and content more discoverable on various search engines. Google Search is the most common, with all SEO’s pining for the top ranked position. Generally, the higher your content ranks, the larger share of search traffic you get.
You can do SEO for almost any platform that has a search function though. YouTube, Amazon Marketplace, the App Store – all can be optimized for to get your content to the top of search results.
There are many tactics that go into SEO (more than we can get into here), but for our purposes, it’s worth noting that well optimized content is the most valuable ranking factor out there.
And it makes sense – Google wants to show searchers the best possible content to help them satisfy their searcher intent (why they searched in the first place). It just so happens that creating content that’s optimized for SEO makes it easy to create the best possible content for both readers and search engine spiders (web crawlers).
Wait, What Are Search Engine Spiders?
Forget about Matrix Sentinels: search engine spiders are completely benign. Also known as “web crawlers,” search engine spiders are bots autonomous programs that filter through website content. Google predictably calls its web crawler Googlebot, for example. Bing‘s web crawler? Bingbot.
These bots sift through endless amounts of content and use a huge list of criteria to determine what the best content is. Making them happy usually means your content will rank well.
What makes them happy? That’s a big question (that we’ll dive into) but fundamentally – create the best possible piece of content that comprehensively covers the search intent you’re targeting. Crawlers are ultimately trying to determine what human readers would find most valuable – so, create it.
Why Optimize for SEO?
21st century consumers use the internet and more specifically, search engines to find and buy products and services. To compete in the online marketplace, your site has to appear in the search engine results pages (SERPs) when people type relevant keywords into Google and Bing.
Put simply, optimized websites get more traffic. The top 3 results in Google searches get 75% of all clicks, so it’s critical that your content ranks there.
The more SEO-optimized pages on your site, the more opportunities you have to earn significant traffic. So, creating well optimized SEO content covering all the topics and search terms your buyers use is incredibly valuable.
SEO Best Practices
Time to dive into SEO content strategy, folks. These are the legitimate techniques you can use to make your high-quality content stand out in the SERPs.
Start With a Great SEO Content Strategy
Great SEO content doesn’t come out of nowhere. Au contraire: it starts with a great SEO strategy. Far too many otherwise-talented people create articles and blog posts and then try to optimize them afterward. More often than not, they end up with clumsy content.
You can avoid this inelegant scenario if you plan ahead and weave SEO into your content as you go along. Make things easier by:
- Researching your audience before you begin. You can use a survey provider like SurveyMonkey or Typeform to find out what your target consumer base wants.
- Doing exhaustive keyword research. Once you have an idea what your audience wants, do the research to discover what search terms they used to find it. This can be as simple as using Google’s Keyword Planner, or a bit more advanced through SEO tools like Moz, SEMrush, or Ahrefs. You should know all keywords your audience uses and what topics they line up with.
- Focusing on creating comprehensive content. Your keywords should help you identify topics your content should cover, but take it a step further and look at Latent Semantic Keywords to discover related topics you should cover. Better yet, use tools like Ink or MarketMuse for comprehensive lists of all related topics you should be covering to create something comprehensive.
- Writing long-form articles. According to a recent BuzzSumo analysis, longer articles over 1,000 words rank higher and are shared more often than short blog posts. You should use tools like Ink, MarketMuse, or Surfer SEO to determine just how long you need to target to be competitive with existing search results.
- Staying on task. Longer articles rank well, but only if they’re thorough and if they don’t contain fluff or filler.
- Creating supporting visuals. Your content shouldn’t just a wall of text. Readers want a variety of content types on one page and visuals are a great way to add value to your content, demonstrate key points, improve behavioral metrics like time on site and bounce rate, and they can even rank in Google’s Image Search if you optimize the file name and alt text.
- Including a clear call to action. Readers need to know what to do next, so point them in the right direction with an obvious call to action. This can help drive leads and sales, but it also keeps visitors on site which can indirectly help boost your SEO.
Use Keywords Effectively
Keywords are critical to SEO. Forget everything you learned back in 2003, though keyword stuffing isn’t de rigueur in 2021 (more about that later). Instead, make sure you use your primary keyword within the first 100 words and include secondary keywords and related terms as naturally as possible. You can repeat the primary keyword a few more times in your content, but don’t go overboard.
NOTE – Remember your primary keyword is the one that best represents the topic and search intent you’re crafting your content for.
Modern Google algorithms recognize synonyms and ignore stop words (a, the, which, at, on etc.), so you can modify your search terms to make them more readable, like this:
- “Piano lessons Philadelphia” becomes “piano lessons in Philadelphia”
You can also change keywords in other subtle ways without losing Google points, like this:
- “Shortest route New York to San Diego” becomes “shortest route between New York and San Diego”
Effective keyword use extends to image text, including alt text and captions. One more thing: don’t forget to include your primary keyword in your meta title, your meta description and your page title.
When you’re doing your keyword research, you’ll find several related keywords that have similar search intent. You don’t want to create separate pieces of content for each (because this isn’t 2010) – you want to create content that satisfies that search intent.
That doesn’t mean you can’t include these secondary keywords throughout your content to help boost your rankings.
“Don’t forget about secondary keywords. Secondary keywords allow search engines to further categorize text. They provide additional semantic information that helps algorithms make judgements about relevancy and topic.” Kim Smith, Digital Marketing Manager, Clarify Capital
Additionally, when looking for LSI keywords and additional topics needed to make your content comprehensive, you’ll find even more keywords you can focus on. Many SEO tools simply check to see if you’ve included these keywords because there does seem to be a correlation with improved rankings. But, the smarter way to approach this is to identify the subtopics they represent and create content to address them.
That adds value to the reader, and naturally gets your related keywords in.
Create High-Quality Content
Readers stay engaged with high-quality content. You might call it “sticky” content; high-quality content is unique, entertaining, inspiring and educational. It’s also:
- Relevant to your product or service
- Comprehensive and trustworthy
- Filled with practical advice
- Error-free and easy to read
“Get specific with your content and the value it delivers to your specific audience.” Marin = Perez, Director of Content Marketing, Kajabi
Believe it or not, Google bot can tell the difference between churnalism and content created by a thought leader. To ensure you make the grade:
- Create great structure: Dynamic headers and subheads containing strategically placed keywords speak volumes.
- Keep your audience in mind: Lose the industry jargon and speak plainly to your readers.
- Make your content shareable: Put social media buttons in an obvious place to make sharing easier.
- Use bullets and numbered lists: Organize your content and make it snackable with bullets, numbered lists and other typographical elements.
- Compare your article with current SERP winners: Beat your competition by comparing your new content with ranking content on Google and Bing.
Use On-Page Content Optimization
High-quality content and SEO work together harmoniously. You can use on-page content optimization to turn masterful prose into a moneymaker. Here’s how:
- Use keywords organically: We’ll mention this again for good measure: don’t overdo keywords. Instead, use them naturally within your content. Do use keywords in H1s and H2s.
- Location is everything: Include location-specific phrases in H1s and in your body content to optimize your site for local readers. Googlebot will notice and your site will appear in geo-specific SERPs.
- Create scannable content: Break your body copy into digestible chunks to keep readers interested. Avoid extremely long paragraphs, stay away from complex language and keep sentences under 25 words.
- Don’t confuse the bot: Headings are important, but do use them properly. You only need one H1 on your page, for example unless you plan to explore more than one major topic.
- Apply schema markup. Take the time to add Schema markup to your content when you publish it. This gives you a better shot at getting your content into Google’s featured snippets.
- Interlink appropriately. Your content should be organized in topic clusters and eventually you want to have content for every topic. You’ll want to include keyword rich internal links between these pages with links to your post including keywords related to its primary keyword.
“Add structure. Used structured markup (schema) to ensure your classes and related product pages as well as business information (name, address, phone number), is properly formatted for Google and other engines to index properly.” Kent Lewis, President and Founder, Anvil Media
Outdo The Competition
Every piece of content you publish competes with huge numbers of other content targeting the same search terms you are. Its important you understand that competitive landscape so your content stands out to readers and Google.
This helps you create the best possible piece of content on a topic, which in theory should help you rank well.
When looking at the competitive landscape, evaluate what the current top search results feature in terms of:
- Word count
- Topics covered
- Content types (text, images, video, etc)
- Schema markup
There are a number of tools that automate this research for you and will actually score your content against your competitors so you know how you’re doing.
These tools are called content optimization tools and most can demonstrate success in helping content rank quickly. The best ones to check out include MarketMuse, Ink, Content Harmony, and Surfer SEO.
Google published its E-A-T (expertise, authority, trustworthiness) guidelines several years ago to demonstrate what criteria it used to evaluate how authoritative a site is. While there is debate as to how big a ranking factor this is, best practices dictate that you do everything you can to make your site appear more authoritative.
How can you tackle that with your content optimization?
Here are a few tips:
- Write a detailed writer bio that demonstrates why you’re an expert on the subject
- Include links to authoritative sources in your content
- Seek out quotes from other experts to include
- Feature data points from reputable sources
- Have your content fact checked and edited to ensure 100% accuracy
Each piece of content contributes to a site’s overall E-A-T, so it’s important to do this every time you publish.
Optimize for Domain Authority
In layman’s terms, Domain Authority looks at the quantity and quality of links to a website to determine that site’s importance.
What does that have to do with optimizing your content? Link building is an off-page SEO tactic, after all.
Well, how you craft your content can have a big impact on the links you naturally build.
Here are some ways you can encourage people to link to your content:
- Include internal links to web pages on your site
- Embed social media posts which include links to your site in your content, encouraging people to share them. Tools like Click to Tweet help with this.
- Create graphics that include embed codes so people can easily add them to their own site.
- Encourage people to use your imagery as long as they link back to your site.
- Format your content to make it easy to reference. Tables, charts, FAQs – they all make your content easier to reference and thus link to.
Doing these things should help you naturally win links, helping your domain authority.
And, because you’ve interlinked to your other content effectively, you’ll be passing the authority from your links to other pages and can help lift all their search rankings.
Before you publish your content, check for typos and triple check for accuracy. Grammar won’t affect your rank, but poor writing will affect your credibility and that could affect your long-term success. If you’ve used other content for inspiration, make sure you provide in-text links or list your sources below your article or blog post.
Don’t go live without:
- Proofreading your work
- Including outbound links to reputable sources
- Running your article through a plagiarism checker Copyscape, for instance
“Google thinks more and more like a website visitor with every core update. So with that being said, your content needs to be thoughtful and helpful to actual readers. Don’t write for the algorithm; write for human beings.” Joshua Pelletier, Content Director, BarBend
Technical Optimization Tips
While we’re mostly focusing on how you can optimize your content for SEO, it’s important to note a few technical tips you’ll want to address too:
- Make sure your site looks good and works well on a wide range of mobile devices. Responsive layouts tend to flow between gadgets but check forms and links to ensure they stay clickable. Your content should be easy to digest on all devices.
- Play around with images to decrease your site loading time. Large high-resolution images look great, but they slow websites down. Use optimized JPGs to display photos and go for lossless PNGs if you need to incorporate images with text or transparent backgrounds.
Periodic site maintenance can enhance your search engine ranks, too. Check that all pages appear on your site’s XML map, and that internal and external links stay current.
Finally, make sure your pages on your site have succinct and descriptive URLs for a possible lift in your rankings.
SEO Techniques to Avoid
Every dog has its day and that applies to SEO content strategy, too. Stay far, far away from the following tactics in 2021:
- Keyword stuffing: Often tied to keyword density, this is the practice of cramming in your targeted keywords as often as you can in your content. This tactic is as dead as a dodo. Keyword stuffing is totally ineffective and if you do it anyway, you could get flagged by Google’s Panda update for having low quality content.
- Duplicate content: Panda assesses sites for the quality of their content. While you might not get penalized for having duplicate content, it’s not going to help you. Make sure your content is original and not repeated in multiple places on your site (or, make sure to set the canonical tag).
- Spinning: Spun articles are the cheap designer handbags of content. They don’t rank well because they’re basically plagiarized and because they read awkwardly.
Recapping SEO Content Optimization
Let’s end with a brief TL;DR.
- SEO optimization tactics are smoke signals for search engine bots, or spiders.
- Search engine spiders crawl the web to index and evaluate content.
- Effectively optimizing your content for specific search terms and topics could result in high search rankings and organic traffic
- SEO content creation best practices include on-page optimization techniques, careful keyword use and informational accuracy.
- Evaluate your content’s competitive landscape and outdo the competition
- Help boost domain authority by encouraging people to link to your content
- Steer clear of antiquated SEO content tactics like keyword stuffing, article spinning, and using duplicate content.
SEO: Keeping it Real
Optimizing content for SEO certainly has a learning curve, but if you stick with the tips in this guide, you’ll go far. Too busy to write your own SEO text? No problem contact the creative team at Crowd Content to order custom blog posts, professional product descriptions, unique articles and other stellar SEO content.