This post was originally written for Alberon. I have reproduced it here because the original post is no longer live.
When it comes to SEO, content is king. It’s the thing search engines care about most, and a significant part of your SEO campaign. So, once you have planned your campaign and identified the terms you want to rank for, it’s time to get stuck into optimising your content.
One page for each key phrase
The best way to optimise your content is to have one key phrase for each page, and one page for each key phrase. That way your content is as relevant as possible, which is a key ranking factor, but also ensures your own pages aren’t competing with each other.
Take each of the key phrases you have identified, and assign a page to each one. It can be an existing page, or a brand new one that you create – the important thing is the content must be relevant. By relevant, I mean the content must contain what the user is looking for – depending on what they searched for, it must answer their question, sell them a suitable product, entertain them, or otherwise satisfy their needs.
What about the homepage?
A common question is what terms should you optimise your homepage for? But actually, you don’t need to optimise it for any of your key terms. Instead, you want people searching for your key terms to be taken directly to the most relevant page – the one you’ve optimised for that term – not the homepage. So simply optimise your homepage for your brand name and include links to your most important optimised pages, directing both users and search engines to them.
Write quality content
The most important factor in your Google ranking is the quality and relevance of your content. When creating content, keep in mind what your visitors are looking for and why they are they searching for your target keywords. Then make sure your content fulfils their needs.
Longer content (2,000+ words) has been shown to improve your ranking – so consider writing longer, more in-depth articles. But not too long – apparently users start to switch off after about 7 minutes – so the ideal length may be nearer 1,500 words. Experiment to see what converts best for your audience.
In case you’re wondering how Google recognises quality content – particularly when quality is subjective – I’ll tell you. In addition to clever algorithms analysing the content, they look at user behaviour: How long do users spend on the page before clicking the Back button? How many people link to your page, and are these reputable people? How many have shared it on social sites? So there really is no shortcut that can fool Google into thinking your content is good if it isn’t!
Don’t reuse content
Google excludes duplicate content from their search results, so make sure each page has unique content – don’t use the same text on multiple pages, and avoid re-posting articles on multiple websites/blogs. Conversely, if you need to re-post content for any reason, there are some things you can do to tell Google which version you’d like it to use.
Use keywords in the content
Within the content of your page, use the key phrase you have identified, and some variations/synonyms too. This ensures the search engines know what your content is about and rank you for that term.
Don’t go overboard – the placement matters more than the frequency, and you will be penalised if it looks like you’re stuffing the page with keywords unnaturally.
Break up the content with sub-headings
You can break up a long webpage with headings, subheadings, sub-subheadings, etc. Technically you can go up to 6 levels deep, but it’s best to limit it to 2 or 3 levels to avoid confusing the reader.
There should always be one top level heading (
<h1> tag in HTML) – this should be your content title, which should include your key phrase (or one of the variations). Your content management system (CMS) may automatically insert this for you – check with your web developer if you’re not sure.
Most users skim-read websites to pick out what’s important to them, so subheadings (
<h2>) and sub-subheadings (
<h3>) should be used to break up the page and highlight the key points. You can also include some keywords in the subheadings – but don’t over-do it as it’ll look unnatural.
Keywords in the page title
The page title (
<title> tag in HTML) appears in the browser titlebar, tab bar, and – most importantly – search engine results. When writing the title:
- Grab the reader’s attention with a title that reads well, explains your value proposition, and uses the correct punctuation and capitalisation.
- Include your key phrase – preferably at the very start. This is vital as it’s one of the main places search engines look for keywords, plus an exact phrase match grabs the reader’s attention more than a partial match.
- Include secondary keywords and your brand name if you have space – but be aware that Google only displays the first 50-60 characters of the title. Moz has a useful Title Emulator tool that shows what your title will look like in Google, and WordPress SEO by Yoast adds a similar tool to the WordPress admin area.
- Don’t use the same title on more than one page. If you do, it may not be clear to the search engines or the users which page is the most relevant.
Writing a meta description
The meta description is hidden in the HTML code, and tells search engines what description you want to appear in the search results. When writing the meta description:
- be creative to grab the user’s attention. Combined with the title, this should be treated like the copy for an advert enticing the user to visit your page.
- include keywords, as Google may highlight them in the search results – but don’t repeat your title exactly because it just looks repetitive.
- ensure it’s no more than 2 lines (140-160 characters) – any longer and it will be cut off.
- keep it relevant to the search terms – if not, Google may use text from the page instead.
What about other metadata?
There is also a keywords meta tag available, which used to be used to list the keywords you want each page to rank for. However, this was regularly abused by websites trying to spam search engines, so it is now ignored by Google. Some other search engines may look at it, but with such a low weighting that it’s not worth using.
You can also add metadata for social media sites – Facebook, Twitter, etc. While this doesn’t directly affect your SEO, it can facilitate social sharing. In particular, you should include an image to grab the reader’s attention when someone shares a link to your page.
Include keywords in your URLs
There are two types of URL – those that are purely functional (e.g.
http://www.example.com/index.php?page=123) and those that contain keywords (e.g.
http://www.example.com/blog/post-name). The latter are also known as “search-engine friendly”, because search engines use those keywords as part of their ranking – this is the format you should use wherever possible. When creating URLs:
- Include your primary keywords, matching the page title and primary heading. To split multiple words use hyphens (
-), not underscores (
_), because this allows Google to pick out the individual words.
- Make sure the URLs are well structured. The example above includes the word “blog”, which immediately tells the user it’s a blog post. This makes them more likely to click, as they know what to expect and it looks like a well-thought-out page rather than an automatically generated one.
- Keep them short, otherwise they will be cut short in the search results. If you prefer you can remove stop words (e.g. a, the, and, or…) as these are not used for ranking – however the URL may be more readable with them, in which case you should keep them.
Link between pages using keywords
Google doesn’t just consider keywords on the page itself – it also considers what text is used in links to that page. So when you link between pages on your website, use your keywords in the link text.
However, don’t over-do this – if you try to make every link to a page contain the same keywords, it will look like spam and be discounted! Make sure it looks natural, and mix it up a bit.
Keep your content fresh
Google prefers recent content – especially when a search relates to recent events, or contains information that may become out of date. You can take advantage of this by writing useful content about current events – news articles and blog posts are a good place for this content. You can also update your old content periodically to show that it’s still relevant.
Your content is the most important part of your SEO campaign, and it will take time to optimise it properly. Follow the guidelines above to ensure your content is relevant, high quality, and understood by search engines.
However, before you start, make sure you have planned your SEO campaign properly – to ensure you’re optimising for the right keywords and not wasting time and money producing content that won’t achieve your goals.
Next month we’ll go into the technical side of SEO, explaining what your web developers can do to help boost your ranking.