SEO generally involves a bit of shifting around tags, carefully creating highways for crawlers to find your pages, and meticulously linking authoritative websites to slowly climb up the rankings.
While it’s true that the “if you build it, they will come” approach to web content does not actually drive traffic – because good content doesn’t always bubble to the surface – it’s also true that the limits of your content are the limits of your ranking.
Think of your content as the potential ceiling for your page ranking, and your SEO strategies as the actual progress toward that page ranking.
Even with perfectly optimized pages, B grade content probably won’t rise to a #1 Google ranking.
On the other hand, A+ grade content without SEO may start to go stale and acquire mold on the second page of Google.
Put aside your Excel sheets, keyword research, and optimization guides for just a minute.
Let’s talk about the nuts and bolts of SEO-friendly content that has the potential to rank #1.
1. Add Variety to Your Content
No two searchers are alike.
Some people want chunks of dense text, while other people demand loose and colorful explanations.
Some people want videos, images, and audio files, while other people get distracted and bounce away at the sight of such gimmicks.
Depending on the page and the target audience, it might be appropriate to have videos or images in addition to text.
Don’t slow your page down with unnecessary files, but do remember that a greater variety of content will allow you to satisfy the intent of a greater number of searchers.
That means having text and video on the same page – giving options to either searcher personality.
A greater variety of content, combined with polished writing and a healthy depth of content, will help increase your average time on page.
A higher average time on page is a good indicator that you’re creating engaging content and a good user experience.
Keeping people on your site longer is a good thing – and something we can get by adding useful content types per page.
2. Make Sure Your Writing Is Polished
People read about 20% of the words on a website. Since there’s really no telling which words they’ll read, you can’t just have a few sentences designed to act as winners. They all need to be winners.
Not everyone can bleed 70 WPM of crystal-clear prose. Even if you do, you may not have the time to do all the writing for your website.
Whether you’re rushing to knock out a blog post before dashing off to your next event or receiving articles from a third party, a bit of good editing will help you create SEO-friendly content.
Editing programs, like Hemingway Editor or Grammarly, cut to the heart of simple grammatical and readability issues. You won’t need to read the piece with a fine-toothed comb, just fix the problem areas that the editors highlight.
You can then take it a step further and run the piece through a tool like SEMrush’s SEO Content Template for specific SEO recommendations.
Note: “polished writing” doesn’t represent a single form. Business blogs, comedy websites, and news articles all require different tones, levels, and styles of writing to count as polished in their given fields.
If you’re trying to break into a crowded space, push the boundaries of acceptable content.
Add humor, edge, intelligence, confidence, sarcasm, or charisma. Loosen up the writing and let the metaphors sing.
- Add soundbites in-between text for interactive content.
- Shorten up paragraphs and use bullets.
- Use loose and colorful prose.
- Find a unique, engaging voice that mimics the demographic lingo.
3. Use Long-form & Short-form Content
In the early days of the web, short-form content helped you grab up the market share at a hundred words a pop.
You could produce a lot of articles, with few words, and do it quickly, to drive a lot of traffic.
With increasingly crowded web spaces and demanding searchers, Google’s algorithms have begun privileging longer and longer content. Sort-of.
If your goal is to satisfy the searcher’s query, and you get to pick between a 250-word article and a 3,000-word article, there’s generally a higher chance that the 3,000-word article contains something in it that satisfies the intent of the searcher.
Yet, sometimes that 250-word article delivers the bullet point answer in a beautiful featured snippet, and those other 2,750 words are no longer needed and definitely not read.
According to an aggregation of research, the ideal content length for high-ranking pages should be around 2,000 words. This is a good starting point and a great place to gauge your word count, but it isn’t the holy grail.
You need to A/B test with your specific visitors to see which kind of content they like best – short or long.
I always suggest doing a mixture regardless, because if the user favors short one day the algorithm may prefer long the next.
I also suggest running a content audit to historically see what word count length has been the most beneficial in the past.
4. Know the Difference Between Authority vs. Originality
If you’ve been dishing out SEO-friendly content for a while, you may have noticed a fundamental paradox in both the advice you’ve been given about SEO and the way that Google wants to rank pages.
On the one hand, you’ve been told to value citing sources, authoritative links, expert advice, and claims that are backed up.
On the other hand, you’ve also been told to value original research and content that adds value through new claims. Basically, you need to avoid scraping content and avoid unverified claims.
Go ahead and lean on the experts, but exceed them. Never overwrite your links and research, but add something new and original, something your specific audience would want.
You need the sources to back up your content, but you need to go beyond the sources to tell a new and compelling story and not just another “How to do X Using Y and Z”.
A few creative links and a compelling story will help your content walk the line between authority and originality.
5. Think of Mobile Optimization (But Don’t Forget About Desktop)
In the U.S. in 2018, phone traffic outweighed desktop traffic by about 60% to 40%. But, overall web time was flopped, with desktops outweighing phones by the same 60% to 40%.
Mobile traffic is a big business, though keep in mind that mobile searches are generally more specific and targeted than desktop searches.
Many of those mobile searches will be for “pizza in San Diego,” a tag related to a breaking news story, or a simple kitchen question while baking muffins.
Phone searches are generally more integrated into lifestyles, and things that people are already doing.
If you’ve got content that people will mostly access from a desk, focus on those long-form pieces and keep the shorter informative responses for the mobile users.
The key here is to satisfy both parties and not jump the mobile-everything bandwagon.
6. Make the Form Match the Content
There is no single winning formation for webpage layout.
When we talk about form, we’re talking about:
- Word count.
- Structure of the content.
- Tone of the piece.
- HTML tags.
- Title and meta tags.
If you understand what the content seeks to communicate and what kind of search the content satisfies, you can develop the form of the page around the content.
If it’s a technical article about plumbing or stock trades, get right to the point in the opening paragraph. If you’ve got a comedy listicle, your audience will be a bit more forgiving about slow starts.
Google’s advice to “make pages for users, not search engines” is still some of the best advice you can get.
Creating a good outline for your content before you begin plugging words into a page will ensure that the article maintains integrity.
The best articles don’t just read like a nice essay, they look like a crisp painting, with tags, titles, font, and headlines that create a unified piece.