Previously I’ve been learning about writing effective copy. I now want to learn more about how to best write for search engine optimisation. I used a great ebook titled “How to Create Compelling Content that Ranks Well in Search Engines” by Copyblogger to help me with this.
One of the first aspects raised in “How to Create Compelling Content” is a basic understanding of the three major components that power search engines:
- Crawling – This is all about search engine “spiders” that crawl the web for content. These are actually bits of computer code that find information on a web page, “read” it, and then tirelessly continue along their journey by following links from your page to other pages. The spider will return from time to time to look for changes to the original page. This means that there will be opportunities to change the way a search engine sees and assesses your content.
- Indexing – The spider is not just casually browsing content, it’s storing the content it finds in a giant database. This is called indexing. The spider’s goal is to save every bit of content it crawls for the future benefit of searchers. It’s also gauging how relevant that content is to the words that searchers use when they want to find an answer to something.
- Ranking – Ultimately it’s about how the engine decides to deliver the most relevant results to searchers. The search engine algorithm which decides on the results follows a very complex set of rules. Copyblogger explains these rules as “the ground rules for a duel between your content and other content that might satisfy a searcher’s keyword query.”
Copyblogger then goes on to explain the importance of doing some keyword research upfront. What are the words and phrases that people use to find the information that they were looking for? These are the five key things to bear in mind in relation to keyword research:
- Research tools – Google has a good, free keyword tool and there are similar tools out there such as Keyword Tool and Ubersuggest.
- Get specific – Even though we often talk about keywords, in most cases it will be specific (short) phrases that are relevant. For example, “new car deals” or “best car discounts”.
- Strength in numbers – It’s important to look at the relative popularity of a specific keyword among search terms. You want to make sure that enough people use your phrase or keyword when thinking about a specific topic. If you’re trying to rank in a very competitive sector, a keyword combination that can rank for an easier phrase might be preferable.
- Highly relevant – This feels like the main point when doing keyword research: “Make sure that the search terms you are considering are highly relevant to your ultimate goal.”
- Content resource – The key question here is whether a particular keyword phrase can support the development of content that readers perceive as value-adding. Copyblogger breaks this down into the following aspects: (1) satisfies the preliminary needs of the site visitor (2) acts as the first step in your sales or action cycle and (3) prompts people to link to it.
The book then goes into the more of the nitty gritty by highlighting “Five SEO copywriting elements that matter”:
- Title – With the title of your content, the critical thing is to make sure that the keywords you’re targeting are included in your title. Also, the closer to the front of the title your keywords are, the better. I’ve included some more points on how to best optimise your title in Fig. 1 and 2 below.
- Meta-Description – Copyblogger makes a good point by stressing that SEO copywriting isn’t just about ranking. It’s also about what your content looks like on a search engine results page (“SERP”). The meta description of your content will generally be the “snippet” copy for the search result below the title, which influences whether a person decides to read your content (and whether she clicks). Like with the title, the best would be to lead the meta-description with your keyword phrase. Also, you want to try and keep the meta description under 165 characters so the full description is visible in the search result. See Fig. 3 below for some examples of effective meta-descriptions.
- Content – For search optimisation purposes, your content should be on topic and strongly focus on the subject matter of the desired keyword phrases. It’s generally accepted that very brief content may have a harder time ranking over a page with more substantial content. So you’ll want to have a content body length of at least 300 words.
- Keyword frequency – There’s a clear difference between “keyword frequency” and “keyword density”. Keyword frequency is the number of times your targeted keyword phrase appears on the page. In contrast, keyword density is the ratio of those keywords to the rest of the words on the page. Copyblogger explains how keyword frequency affects ranking and that keyword density might not. I guess it’s a case of using common sense when writing content, checking the frequency of your keywords against the rest of the content. A keyword density greater than 5.5% could find you guilty of what’s called “keyword stuffing”, which tends to make Google think you’re trying to game their system.
- Linking out – Search engines are keen that your content is well connected with other content and pages, hence why linking out is important from an SEO perspective. Copyblogger provides some good tips with respect to linking out (see Fig. 4 below).
Main learning point: I’ve learned that getting your copy right is extremely important from an SEO perspective. This starts with being clear about the ultimate goal that you’re trying to achieve through your content, making sure this is reflected in your keyword phrase and, subsequently, in the title and body of the actual content.
Fig. 1 – Optimising the title of your content for SEO – Adapted from: http://www.copyblogger.com/seo-copywriting/
- Have an alternative title in the title tag – It’s important that your CMS or blogging software allow you to serve an alternate title in the title tag (which is the snippet of code Google pulls to display a title in search results) than the headline that appears on the page.
- Try to keep title length under 72 characters – Keeping your title length under 72 characters will ensure the full title is visible in a search result, increasing the likelihood of a click-through.
Fig. 2 – Sample titles, optimised for SEO:
For example, let’s say the keywords or phrases that I’m looking to target are “Ford Focus discounts”, then sample titles could look something like this:
“Three ways to get the best discount on your Ford Focus”
“Why getting an incredible discount on a new Ford Focus is easy”
Both titles contain my keyword phrase, but the keywords might not be in the best location for ranking or even for quick-scanning searchers compared with regular readers. By using an alternate title tag, I can enter a more search-optimized title for Google and searchers only, such as:
“Ford Focus: 3 ways to get the best discount”
“Getting discounts on a Ford Focus is easy”
- Link to relevant content fairly early in the body copy
- Link to relevant pages approximately every 120 words of content
- Link to relevant interior pages of your site or other sites
- Link with naturally relevant anchor text