You may be an award-winning writer, but have you ever stopped to think about how your pen-and-paper expertise translates into the digital world?
Many talented content writers and exceptional entrepreneurs are still struggling to get their break online. And the reason is rather apparent — they probably lack in the SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) department.
You see, if you do not know how to tailor your content to search engines properly, all your effort will be fruitless. Creating valuable, relevant, engaging content is only one of the variables in the equation. Optimising it is what gets you visibility, readers, and ultimately, clients.
So if you’re looking to start this business year the right way, it’s essential to get a firm understanding of the best SEO practices. To help you learn the ropes of SEO and boost the performance of your content, we’ve put together a list of 7 useful, actionable SEO tips you can start applying to your content today.
To up your Google ranking in 2020, you must learn to:
- Write for your audience
- Write captivating headlines
- Leverage long-tail and related keywords
- Use emphasis to improve your article’s readability
- Write appealing meta titles and meta descriptions
- Include a call to action
- Do on-page SEO and increase your site’s speed
1. Write for Your Audience
You’ve undoubtedly heard this one before, and admittedly, it sounds like a no-brainer. Who else would you write for?
That said, although this step is the most critical and seemingly the easiest one, most people still get it wrong. The thing is, every business owner knows their products and services in and out. Consequently, presenting their offers and writing about the technical side of things is a breeze. However, the part they often don’t get right is adjusting their writing to suit their audience.
Sure, everyone has a rough idea of who they want to target with their content. However, when performing comprehensive audience research, the wants and needs of your customers are merely one of the factors you must consider. It’s imperative to understand all of the demographic characteristics of your audience. That way, you can tailor your content to their expectations.
In other words, you must figure out their motivation for reading your content and interacting with your business. What are their goals and hopes? What kind of information do they expect to find in your articles? How is that information going to help them improve their lives and businesses or solve a problem they’re facing?
To be able to answer these and other relevant questions, you must create an audience persona. It will represent the people you want to reach online. Think of it as an archetype of a person who would be interested in what you have to offer.
Knowing their motives and desires will help you write content they will enjoy consuming. It will also make it easier to identify with them. Instead of simply piling up facts and writing in a dull corporate voice, you’ll be able to create more engaging articles — ones that resonate with your audience.
Get to know your audience, their wants, needs, desires, and the problems they’re facing. Create an audience persona that will help you write as if you were speaking to them directly.
2. Write Captivating Headlines
Although they say we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, most of us certainly do. It is in our nature, and it’s likely some form of evolutionary mechanism we’ve developed throughout history. Just imagine walking into a bookstore, looking at thousands of different volumes on the shelves. It would take years to flip through all that catches your eye, let alone read them.
So we make the initial selection by looking at the cover. Or rather, by reading the book’s title and the blurb; we’d try to discern what it is about and whether we’d be interested in it in the first place.
Content is no different. There are hundreds of thousands of articles online on every single topic you can think of. It would be absurd to expect people to click on all of them and read a few sentences before deciding which one to digest.
Naturally, they make the selection by skimming the first thing they see when the search results pop up — the headline. That’s why it’s critical to write imaginative, captivating headlines that will pique the readers’ interest and make them want to read the rest of your article. If the title of your content masterpiece fails to capture the audience’s attention, they’ll simply move to a different site that appears more appealing at first glance.
So how do you write a headline that will lure them in and even make them eager to read your blog post? By telling them that they’ll find exactly what they want and need in that article!
Here’s How to Write Enticing Headlines:
- Tell them what the post is about — Your articles should revolve around a single, core concept. Craft your headline around that idea by telling the readers why it’s important and how it relates to them.
- Hint at the results — Think about what your content will do for your audience. What is it that they’ll learn and accomplish by devoting their time to read your articles? How is that going to impact their life and business?
- Incorporate numbers — We like lists and numbers. They make it easier to organise things in our heads, as well as memorise them. Instead of writing about how to lose weight, phrase your title in a way that will make your content more appealing and easier to digest. For instance, “7 exercises you can do at home to get rid of stubborn belly fat” sounds way more intriguing.
- Brief and to the point — Although you probably feel like you need to impress your readers with your vocabulary and eloquence, that will most likely backfire. They’re looking for a simple, easy solution to their problem or the situation they’re in. So give them that. Simplicity is vital. Focus on the topic you’re writing about and the results your readers can achieve by reading the article.
Spend as much time coming up with a captivating headline as you do writing the body of the article. Be brief, get straight to the point, and tell your audience what results they can expect once they read your article and apply what it teaches.
3. Leverage Long-Tail and Related Keywords
It’s not enough to understand what your audience wants. You must also be familiar with how they intend to acquire it. What we’re referring to is how they utilise search engines to find your products and services. More specifically, the words and phrases they type into Google to find your quality content on the web.
Keywords are nothing more than said words and phrases. Naturally, if you’re in the business of selling, for example, used cars, that would be your primary keyword. You would want to include “used cars” in your headline, title, meta description, and the body of your article. But the problem is, so will everyone else in the same niche.
So how will you ensure that people find your content, rather than your competitors’? Well, you must expand on the pool of keywords you will target with your article. You see, not everyone looking for previously owned automobiles is going to type “used cars” in their search engine. Plenty of people will use entire sentences to try and find what they’re looking for online.
That said, you don’t need to be a mind reader to figure out what it is they’re searching for. There are dozens of extraordinary programs and tools that will comb the web for the words and phrases your audience has most frequently been using.
One such program that’s completely free is Google’s Keyword Planner. All you need to do is type in your primary keyword, and the program will find other, long-tail keywords (longer phrases), along with their frequency and search volume.
Incorporate Them Into Your Content Naturally
Once you have a list of long-tail keywords relevant to your content, the next step is to incorporate them into it organically. One practice that should further facilitate the process is creating an article structure before you sit down and start writing.
Think about all the different aspects of the topic you’re going to cover in the text. Then, see where it makes the most sense to include these long-tail keywords, without it sounding too far-fetched. The last thing you want is to butcher your sentences, or even an entire paragraph, just to fit a five-word phrase.
Another thing to keep in mind is that long-tail keywords do not have to be an exact match. Namely, you won’t have to try and solve some elaborate puzzle or use grammatically incorrect phrases. Google’s algorithms will recognise the keywords regardless of stop words, punctuation marks, and their grammatical number.
Furthermore, there’s a handy tool I recommend to keep track of the keywords you’ve utilised and ensure your text is fully SEO-optimised — SEMrush. It will provide you with a list of related keywords, as well as flag each one you’ve used, making it easy to keep track of them.
One last thing — make sure not to overdo it. The practice of cramping your articles with keywords is widely known as keyword stuffing. If you overuse target keywords, you will do more harm than good to your business — Google will penalise your content and will reduce your site’s ranking. There is no fixed percentage where Google starts to penalize you, but most SEO experts believe it’s between three and five percent. Realistically speaking, you should just make sure that the article seems as natural as possible.
Incorporate long-tail keywords into your content. It’s a good idea to perform extensive keyword research before you sit down and start writing.
4. Use Emphasis to Improve Your Article’s Readability
Depending on the topic, the length of your articles will vary. Sometimes, an elaborate explanation is necessary for the audience to understand what you’re talking about and how to use the information you convey. However, that still doesn’t mean they’ll be willing to spend fifteen minutes reading through a massive chunk of text to get their answers.
It’s less about time and more about our attention span and the ability to memorise new information. Just think back to your college days and all the different highlighters you used to single out the essential facts within each lesson. Some students even wrote their own notes, listing and categorising the info to make the learning process less tedious.
The same principle applies to content. It’s not just about its value; readability plays a considerable role as well. When you highlight specific parts of your articles, you emphasise their importance. That not only breaks the monotony of the text but also makes crucial information easier to remember. Likewise, it ensures that your audience pays full attention to what they are reading.
Here’s How to Enhance Your Content’s Readability:
- Organise your article into multiple headings — Every logical whole within your text should have its heading. Whenever you’re switching from one subtopic to another, it is essential to use them to highlight that change. Headings serve as mini-headlines, so to speak, for the different parts of your article. They make it easier for the reader to keep track of all the information in the text. And aside from that, headings make your content far more visually appealing.
- Don’t stray from the norm — The industry standards dictate that no heading should be followed by more than 300 words. You should take this to heart since the readers don’t enjoy paragraphs that are difficult to read. And, if the readers don’t enjoy your content, the algorithm will eventually notice. In essence, try not to overexplain things. If it’s necessary to go above the 300-word count, consider adding another subheading (H3, H4, etc.) to that part of the article. Remember, it’s easy to get carried away with writing, but your readers need to enjoy the formatting as well as the content.
- Use lists and bullets — Once you separate your content into smaller chunks that are easier to digest, you drastically increase its readability. At the same time, you ensure that the reader takes away the crucial pieces of information from the article.
- Use pictures to tell your story — An image may not save you a thousand words, but it will do wonders for your content regardless. Instead of writing an entire boring paragraph about percentages and facts the reader is likely to forget within the next minute, create a visual. Points have a much stronger impact when you present them in a visual form. That’s why infographics are all the rage nowadays.
Emphasise the critical parts of your article — things you want your readers to remember. Utilise bold, italic, and underlined text, and don’t hesitate to use lists and bullet points.
5. Meta Title and Meta Description
The headline of your article technically isn’t the first thing your audience will see. Instead, when they google a particular keyword and your content shows up in the search results, what they will first notice are the meta title and meta description of your article.
They only appear in the SERPs and are your first shot at grabbing the attention of your readers. If you’ve ever googled anything, you’ve undoubtedly encountered dozens of meta titles and descriptions.
[image here – examples]
Although the meta title and the headline of your article may be identical, they can differ as well. The crucial thing is that you want to incorporate your primary keyword into the title, following the same principles you would when writing your headline.
Regarding the meta description, it should also contain the said keyword. This preview of sorts is your opportunity to show the reader what they can expect to learn once they click your link. Here, you can (and should) tell them precisely what your article is about. Also, you want to encourage them to click the link and read more. Feel free to tell them that! But also provide them with a reason to do so.
Again, the emphasis is on being brief. There’s only a limited number of pixels that the meta description can fit into. Google tends to cut off anything above 160 characters, and your audience will be left wondering what the second part of that one sentence said.
You can use an excerpt from your content as your meta description or write a new one if you so choose. Just bear in mind that your meta should reflect the main idea of your article. Never, I repeat, never write a misleading description — it will only lead to an increase in your bounce rate.
After you’ve finished writing, take your time to come up with a captivating SEO title and meta description. Combined, they should pique the reader’s interest and encourage them to click your link and read your article.
6. Include a Call to Action
A call to action, or CTA, entails your motivating your audience to interact with your website or services after they’ve finished reading your content. But CTAs are also useful in meta descriptions; however, in that scenario, CTA is more of a means to draw the users to your link. That is usually accomplished with a hook or an encouragement to take a look at your website.
In the case of the content itself, the CTA is usually placed somewhere near the end, typically in the last paragraph. The reason is simple — you don’t want to distract your readers in the middle of the text or come across as pushy. Instead, it’s best to act after they’ve already finished consuming your content. That is the perfect time to direct them towards some additional reading material or a service or product you’re offering.
Moreover, if your content did its job and provided real value to your audience, they will be far more likely to check out what else you have in store for them. That said, it should never lead to a check-out page.
The transformation from a first-time visitor to a client or customer is a slow, gradual process. Instead of pushing them to make a purchase right away, what you want to do is get them to interact with your business again, thus, further solidifying your relationship with your prospects.
What Should Your CTA Be?
For example, a CTA could be to subscribe to your newsletter. That way, you can continue sending them valuable content and ensure that they come back and revisit your site. Or, the call to action can be to download a recipe book. Overall, any useful piece of content or tool that you know your audience would be interested in once they’ve finished reading your article will do the trick.
Regardless of what your call to action might be, you must provide them with a reason to click the link. In other words, you need to offer your visitors something in return for their time and attention.
Don’t be afraid to tell your readers what you expect them to do after they’ve done reading your article. Direct them to a different page on your website, offer them another useful piece of content, or ask them to subscribe to your mailing list so that you can keep sending them helpful content.
7. On-Page SEO and Site Speed
SEO optimisation of your content isn’t complete once you’ve finished writing it — far from it. There are a few more things you need to iron out if you’re hoping to reach the first page of the SERPs.
Apart from discerning the value of your content and checking the keywords you’ve utilised, Google’s algorithms also look at factors such as site speed, engagement, bounce rate, and retention rate. That’s where on-page optimisation comes into play.
Your site itself needs to be well-optimised. It has to load fast, be compatible with devices other than the PC (laptops, tablets, and mobile phones), and prompt engagement. There are several crucial factors regarding on-page SEO that impact your overall ranking significantly.
Steps You Can Take to Ensure Your Content Is Both Algorithm- and User-Friendly:
- Create a clear and orderly URL — WordPress allows you to create custom links for your content before you post it online. So instead of your link being — website.com/cars#135336ofyast0 — something that nobody wants to click, it can be yourwebsite.com/where-to-find-best-used-cars. The customizability options are impressive — you’ll be able to type out the exact URL you want your content to have. The feature is there, so there’s no reason not to leverage it.
- Use images and videos — An online article isn’t a book; it doesn’t have to be all words. Instead, using pictures and videos to spice up your content will significantly boost engagement. That reduces the bounce rate and increases the time users spend on your site, working wonders for your Google ranking.
- Incorporate outbound links — If you’ve used sources for your content other than your knowledge, make sure to cite them and leave links to authority websites properly. While outbound links aren’t a ranking factor per se, they are still very important. There have been multiple case studies and surveys that have shown how outbound links improve a site’s visibility.
- Use the main keyword at the beginning of the article — Your primary keyword should appear at least once within the first few paragraphs. That way, you signal to Google that you have indeed based your content around that keyword.
- Include social sharing buttons — If someone likes your content, why not allow them to share it with others? Add sharing buttons for Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social media at the bottom or the side of your page. That way, you’ll get much more exposure. Plus, having your content shared on social media is a big sign in Google’s eyes that you’re doing something right. So, while social shares or likes aren’t a ranking factor, the increase in traffic and potential searches that will lead people to your website can be. Your reward — better ranking!
SEO optimisation doesn’t end once you finish writing your content. Make sure your site pages load in under four seconds and optimise them for different devices. Create a custom URL and add social sharing buttons to your posts so that people can share your content with others.
Applying What You Have Learned
SEO optimisation is just one of the cogs your well-oiled content marketing machine needs to have for it to be able to produce consistent, satisfactory results. However, you can start applying everything I shared with you as early as today, and you will see a significant increase in organic traffic to your website.
If you’re interested in learning more about SEO-optimisation techniques and want to create an effective, results-oriented content marketing campaign, feel free to get in touch with me. Some of my services include discussing the core principles of SEO, helping you understand how to apply them to your business, and shaping the perfect marketing strategy for your business needs.
Best of luck in 2020, and may it be your most lucrative business year yet!