A simple guide to writing web content for SEO
Whether you are a business looking to improve your SEO performance, or a professional working in the industry, it will be clear to you that one of the most important considerations for any brand’s online presence is content
Brands use their content to communicate with their audience, to offer insight into new products or services, and to build a following and spark conversation on social media. SEO, however, is focused primarily on the performance of the content and whether it meets the necessary criteria to provide the best possible increase in visibility.
What is quality content?
We hear several content related phrases all the time, but two of the most used are ‘content is king’ and ‘quality content’. While the former is fairly self explanatory, the second is often treated as though it is without any real justification. So what actually constitutes the ‘quality’ of this content. In fact, the true definition of ‘quality’ in this regard should be easily definable, though the definition should change between sectors and verticals.
In order to produce the best content, it is necessary (perhaps not for everyone, but for most people) to have a process. If you think first of the SEO process, and follow it for your content, you can leave yourself in a stronger position. A common representation of the SEO cycle looks like this:
We’ll examine this further in a moment, but first I want to draw attention to and add some caveats for some advice from a well respected SEO source: Moz. Some of the key things to remember, according to then, when creating content are:
- Use your keyword in your title
- Use your keyword (or long tail keyword phrase) in an H2
- Make sure the keyword appears at least once (though not more than four times, especially if it’s a phrase) in the body of the post
- Use image alt text (including the keyword when appropriate)
Caveats: – This may seem like out of date advice – and it is, to some extent, but what we have to remember is that much of SEO is about making content optimised for human machine readable and things like this, though not as wholly indispensable as once they were, are still great at providing context for GPT-3, SMITH and BERT and whichever other language processors Google and Co. are using.
I wouldn’t worry too much about counting the number of appearances of a keyword, or even missing it out in one or two places, but while you may see articles saying keywords are completely unnecessary, it’s better to have them than not – especially in competitive verticals – and attempt to reduce the amount of work you’re expecting an imperfect algorithm to complete on behalf of your content.
As for alt-text, the ideal for accessibility is that we only use images where they add something to an article – whether that’s just aesthetically or in service to a point you’re making. If there is an image, use the alt-text to make the point you expect the image to make.
At this point, the first phase of an SEO content strategy, you have to answer questions about the business with which you are writing for. Who is the audience? What is the end goal of the content? And, most importantly, what keywords do you want the content to rank for?
Before you start a piece of copy, keyword analysis is vital. You should use multiple tools where possible to identify these keywords. It is important that you look at not only the industry specific keywords – those that are high volume and high relevancy – but long tail keywords which are less competitive but still relevant. You must also complete competitor analysis. The below example shows a website’s organic search engine coverage and the average ranking of its keywords.
This is a starting point, however, and you should add in your current position as the base. If you look at the market in which you operate and the associated keywords, you will soon be able to find out your market coverage. This falls along the X axis of the graph. You can then look at the average position of your keywords and this gives your location on the Y axis.
The aim is to get your position as close to the top right corner of the graph as possible. The very tip of the graph is 100% coverage and an average keyword position of 1 – although it must be stated that even brands like Amazon, Apple and eBay wouldn’t achieve this.
Repeat the process for your competitors and plot them over you base graph. Those that are in or around you are direct competitors and should be studied as a priority. You can look at these, especially the ones who are closer to the top right and find out what they are ranking for. These are keywords you can target as part of your content strategy.
Once you have the keywords that you are targeting (and you should have more than 300, according to Click Consult’s Director of Search, Alan Reeves), you need to look at where you currently rank for them. You should also cross reference the keywords with your competitors; find out where they are ranking for them.
This is the main area for you to focus on the strategy of your keyword placement. You don’t want your copy to appear stuffed with keywords. It is at this phase of the cycle that you must decide which terms you are going to use, on which pages and in which locations. This doesn’t just apply to site structure, but to individual pages of content.
In this regard, think of the information you wish to communicate both to your readers and to the search engines indexing your content. One area where the two ‘think’ alike, for example, is in the position of important information. Both humans and algorithms tend to place more importance on information at the top of the page. For this reason, the journalistic concept of the ‘inverted pyramid’ is still as relevant to communication as it was when the concept entered journalism in the 19th Century.
While we should ensure that we follow this, we can also provide other clues – the use of titles, for example, with
titles conveying the same levels of import as they would in a newspaper.
In addition to this, there’s also the machine readable content structure we can use – and all of this should be considered when arranging
your content for the maximum readability and best performance.
Sitewide consistency for SEO
Again, with your content for SEO, you need to ensure that you are optimising all of your pages for the appropriate keywords – ones that naturally fit. Relevancy here is imperative. You have your 300+ keywords, and your site and copy structure, so use them to focus areas of your site on specific content and include the maximum amount of context to signal which subject(s) your site is most relevant for. This includes such things as optimising for the knowledge graph – by referencing external and internal entities and using them to add machine readable context.
Just as you signpost the consumer journey by ensuring ease of navigability, you need to do so for search engines – but also provide them additional descriptions that they, unlike human readers, are unable to infer from the site and content on its own. You can find more about the latter here.
Link building remains one of the most important things you can do to improve both your site’s visibility and provide context for your site’s content. Link building, when you strip it back to its foundations, is the process of getting other websites, businesses or bloggers to link back to your website. Easy enough, right? Except that it is increasingly the case that what these sites talk about other than you is almost as important as the link itself.
For many years, it has been sufficient for bloggers to take an interest in your brand and to link to your site, but as Google’s ranking algorithm grows in complexity, there is a growing emphasis on the relevance of these bloggers. It is therefore vital that you take a similar degree of care in building links from relevant sources as you would to earn links from sites with a shorter distance from seed sites. While both is clearly preferable, we need to seriously consider whether volume or relevance is the better metric for link building campaigns.
There is no easy answer and, obviously, most brands will benefit from volume (earned organic), but when looking at links to your content specifically for SEO, a relevant link will often do more good than several irrelevant links of a similar distance from a seed site (high DA, DR or whichever metric serves as a stand in for overall authority).
The one thing about SEO that we can say for definite, is that there is no end point to SEO. Even if you gain P1 for a specific term, you cannot rest on your laurels. There will be competition for those keywords and, with analytical tools and some algorithms taking time to update, you may well have lost the ranking without knowing. As P1 is often seen as the endgame, it will be the same for you competitors. Therefore, you will need to update your content, keyword targets and more where necessary.