by Raleigh Kung, Digital Marketing Manager
SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is a vital tool in the world of digital and content marketing, forming the ladder that allows your website to climb to the top of the search engine results. Cultivating content for SEO is undoubtedly beneficial, capable of attracting much-needed traffic and visibility to a site, but it can seem like a daunting task.
It’s no surprise, then, that one of the most common questions we receive about content writing is:
How do you write for SEO?
Though this is a simple question, the answer is not quite as straightforward. But, it IS more practical than it seems. Following are a few tips and guidelines for helping you navigate the world of SEO.
Write for the user, not for SEO
SEO involves optimizing the user experience and engagement just as much as the search engine.
- Does your content actually address the term the user searched?
- Did the user engage with your website or bounce off immediately upon landing?
- Is the content up-to-date and relevant to what the user is asking?
The most important factor in any piece of online content, by far, is the quality of the writing—meaning, how well it serves the user. Quality, relevancy and accessibility, more than anything else, determine the ranking of your content on Google, Yahoo!, etc. Make this your primary goal when writing for your audiences.
Include keywords strategically
A large part of SEO strategy is the identification and inclusion of keywords—specific words that the user typed into the search engine, indicating exactly what they are looking for. A common mistake, however, is the overuse of keywords.
Rather than stuffing as many keywords into your copy as possible, you should implement keywords in a coherent, pertinent manner, mixed within a larger piece of quality writing. Including keywords and creating quality content for the user are not mutually exclusive.
Keywords are essential to both SEO and users when they are used and optimized correctly. Keywords indicate the question a user is asking. Your content’s goal is to answer that question.
Reorganize keyword phrases
Keywords are not always just words; they are also often long-tail phrases. With these phrases, you do not have to copy the words exactly as they are typed. Instead, weave parts of the keyword phrase into a sentence in a natural and seamless way.
- Say, for instance, you’d like to rank for the keyword phrase: “Gala apples sold in Florida”
- A sample sentence structure could be: “Gala apples are often sold in grocery chains today, but in the case of Florida…”
- Search engines are advanced enough to register both past/present tenses as well as plural/singular versions of the same keyword.
- So, in our example of “Gala apples sold in Florida,” including “selling” would be just as beneficial as including “sold.”
Vary the number of keywords for each section
The recommended frequency of keywords changes depending on the section of the content.
- For the title or subtitle, one mention of the keyword/phrase is recommended.
- For the first two paragraphs, 1-2 keywords/parts of phrases are ideal.
- For the remaining content of the article, a keyword/phrase should be included 3-4 times.
This general rule should help you meet the requirements search engines would need to rank your content based on those keywords, without unnaturally adding them.
Add keywords to headings: H1, H2, etc.
Ideally, the article is broken into sections with marked headings. Google prioritizes what is written in the heading tags on a page—the H1 and H2 and so on—and uses them to pinpoint the main topics of the content. With this much focus placed upon them, headings should align with the user’s search as closely as possible.
- Make sure headings contain the keyword or part of the keyword phrase.
- Headings can have different parts of keywords phrases in each one.
- Going back to our example, you can place “apples” in one heading and “Florida” in another.
Write alt tags for images
Writing accurate alt tags, which are descriptions of any images in your content, is a great way to boost SEO, serving as yet another avenue to highlight target keywords. Alt tags also contribute to building quality content, while increasing ease and accessibility for those using screen readers or text-only browsers.
Alt tags should be clear, specific and descriptive. You can include keywords but keep it concise. The more accurate and relevant your descriptions are, the better Google will be able to assess how closely your content aligns with a user’s search.
- Using our previous example, if you were to include an image of a local stand selling Gala apples in Florida, an alt tag could read “Local fruit vendor selling crates of Gala apples at a Florida farmers market.”
- Avoid including “image of” in your description—this is already assumed.
Optimize your URL
It is important to maximize search functionality wherever possible, and URLs are no exception. URLs can be the make-or-break element when users decide which site to click on, and fine-tuning your URLs can help improve your website’s ranking. Your website’s URLs or sub-pages are also valuable to users and search engines when evaluating what the content of a page will be, especially when a site is shared on social media or with other people.
- For instance, if your website has an article about your famous blueberry pancake recipe, a URL of https://www.baker.com/blog/blueberry-pancake-recipe/ will give search engines and readers a clear indication of what is on your page.
Just like alt tags, URLs should be short and concise (ideally 3-5 words), prioritizing accuracy and readability.
To make your URL as SEO friendly as possible, be sure to:
- Include your website’s target keyword.
- Avoid dynamic parameters—long strings of numbers at the end of a URL.
- Place hyphens between words.
- Keep words lowercase.
Vary the length of your blog/cornerstone/main page depending on purpose
The question of how long to make blogs, cornerstones, or main pages is a disputed one, with differing answers from many experts. Brightedge recommends anywhere between 1,500-2,000 words. The Write Practice suggests a minimum of 750 words. HubSpot advises up to 2,400 words for a blog post and 4,000 for a main page.
So how long should your content be? This depends. Each website plays in a different SEO arena, catering to a different industry, audience and customer. To maintain readability and serviceability, the length of your piece of content should be adapted to the desires of the users.
In essence, tailor your word count to the needs of your audience.
- For instance, a law website will require extensive explanations to define terms, explain specific cases, etc.
- A website selling apparel, on the other hand, will only need a few paragraphs to describe and market their products.
It is, however, essential to subscribe to a minimum length. It is proven by many experts (such as those in the sites above) that Google does need to see enough content on a page before sending its search engine to crawl through it.
- We generally recommend a minimum of 500-700 words (making sure the content is high quality throughout, of course).
- Conversely, don’t write too much if it is not necessary. Extending posts for the sake of including more keywords does so at the expense of user attention and engagement.
With all of this said, how can you tell if these strategies are working? How do you know if a piece of content is ranking on Google and working for users? Analytics. If a blog post or article is not ranking, you know something needs to be changed. Go back and alter the length, keywords, headlines or any of the other elements listed above, and soon you’ll find SEO is working for you.
In the end, remember that search engine ranking is not the ultimate goal, but rather serves as proof that the content you have on your site is valuable to those that matter the most: your users and customers.
Need help getting your content marketing program started? LiveEcho can help! Read more about our content marketing services here.