When it comes to creating stellar content, a somewhat delicate balance must be struck. Unlike the old days, you won’t get anywhere by strictly creating content that appeals to search engine algorithms. Actual humans need to get something out of it too. However, this hardly means SEO no longer matters. If anything, it’s more important than ever. These days, the best content gives a nod to SEO, conforms to search engine guidelines and is irresistible to its intended audience.
Without any further ado, here are 20 tips for creating content that engages readers, helps you get your marketing message across and, most importantly, helps your website rank:
- Know Your Audience – You can’t effectively market anything without knowing your audience. This principle applies to creating stellar SEO content too. To create content that captivates and excites, you have to know what captivates and excites your intended audience. If your target demographic is approaching retirement age, for instance, don’t focus on things like child-rearing and career advice. It will leave your audience cold and doom your efforts to failure.
- Create Great Headlines – After crafting a great piece of content, you may be tempted to give it a simple, generic title and be done with it. Guess what? Even if the piece is truly first-rate, it’s less likely to gain traction without a compelling headline. Be sure to include relevant keywords too.
- Make Your Content Scannable – When presented with long, uninterrupted blocks of text, even the most studious among us are likely to click our way elsewhere. This is especially true with online reading, where people expect content to be broken up into easily digestible pieces. Facilitate this by creating short, concise paragraphs and by breaking them up with keyword-rich subheadings.
- Use Approachable Language – Unless you’re writing technical copy for a very specific niche audience, always use an approachable style. Put simply, try to write similarly to how you speak. How would you explain this topic to someone in person? For your first draft, pretend that’s what you’re doing. You could even use a speech-to-text app to facilitate this step. On the next draft, you can polish it up to be more appropriate for consumption on the Internet.
- Keep it Factual – Nothing can detract from the quality of your content like fluff–pointless, generic words that amount to little more than filler. When it comes to quality content, every sentence counts. Fill yours with as many facts as possible. Every sentence should convey something of consequence. This will establish you as an authority in your niche, making people gravitate to each new piece you post.
- Stop Worrying About Keyword Density – In the early days of SEO, conventional knowledge dictated that highly ranking content adhered to specific keyword densities. If you’re still in this mindset, it’s time to switch gears. Overloading your content with the same small handful of keywords makes it clunky, cumbersome and awkward. Who wants to read that? More importantly, the search engines are onto this kind of thing and often penalize sites for engaging in keyword stuffing.
- Try LSI Instead – Don’t take the previous point to mean that keywords no longer matter; they do! These days, though, search engines use latent semantic indexing, or LSI, to make sense of the content on any given page. Search engine algorithms use LSI to form connections between various words. For instance, if words like “toddler,” “tantrums” and “advice”–along with similar words–are detected, the algorithm uses its knowledgebase to infer that the content provides tips to parents about coping with the terrible twos. What does this mean for you? Instead of selecting a strict list of keywords and forcing them into your content, use a core base of keywords as inspiration for synonymous, relevant terms that the algorithms can use to properly identify the meaning of your message.
- Use Long-Tail Keywords – Think about how people search for things online. They usually try to be as detailed as possible to get the most relevant results. Long-tail keywords, or key phrases, coincide with such search strategies. Incorporate them in your content to make it more relevant and meaningful and to help your page soar in the rankings.
- Cite Your Sources – People are understandably skeptical of virtually anything they read online. Unless the information you’re providing comes from your own personal experience, always cite your sources. Make sure they are authoritative too; merely posting a link to a Wikipedia entry won’t suffice.
- Proofread, Proofread, Proofread – Even if you’re an experienced and accomplished writer, typos happen to the best of us, and they can seriously detract from even the most useful, engaging content. Don’t stop with running it through a spell-checker; have another pair of eyes look it over too.
- Fresh, New, Constantly Updated Content is King – This has long been the case, but the search engines love fresh, new content. Readers do too. With that being said, however, don’t let quantity push quality by the wayside. Posting a couple well-written, thoughtful, engaging pieces per week is far better than churning out dozens of mindless, typo-ridden posts during the same period.
- Make it Unique – This ought to go without saying, but we’ll reiterate it for good measure: Online content must be unique. Avoid even inadvertent plagiarism at all costs. To be extra safe, use a service like CopyScape to ensure that your piece doesn’t match too closely with anything out there. Google and other major search engines penalize sites for duplicate content, so this is a biggie.
- Craft Your Piece Around Questions People are Asking – Use Google’s online tools to find out what people are searching for regarding specific keywords and key phrases. Oftentimes, such queries are posed as questions. By seeing what kinds of questions people are posing to the search engines, you’ll gain inspiration for new pieces while providing useful, relevant, meaningful information to your readers.
- Wrap Up with Calls to Action – Calls to action don’t have to urge people to buy something. They can simply ask people to share their opinions, or they can ask readers a question. Either way, try to wrap up your pieces with calls to action to engage your audience more effectively.
- Stick with the Active Voice – When writing with the active voice, the subject of the sentence performs the action. Effective online content always uses the active voice. “The boy kicked the ball” is an example of this; the subject (the boy) performed an action (kicked the ball). The passive voice makes for cumbersome sentences that annoy readers. “The ball was kicked by the boy” just doesn’t have the same spark.
- Craft Compelling Content – Even if you’re not going to share your content on social media, write it as if you are. This is a great way to ensure that it’s compelling and engaging.
- Write Long Articles Too – While effective content should be easy to scan and read, it doesn’t have to be constrained to a couple hundred words. In fact, studies have shown that longer articles often pack more punch. Of course, that’s only true if the subject warrants that kind of length. Put simply, don’t feel like you need to wrap up an informative, interesting post just because the word count is approaching 1,000 or more.
- See What’s Working with Analytics – As the old adage goes, don’t work harder–work smarter. Do this with your content by paying attention to how it resonates with readers. Analytics can help you make sense of the situation. Which posts seem to draw traffic? Which seem to flop? By using analytics, you can constantly hone your content creation strategy.
- Include Outbound Links – Link building may not be the be-all, end-all of SEO like it used to be, but the search engines still look to links for clues regarding a page’s authority and relevance. When it makes sense, include outbound links to authoritative, high-ranking sources. This is a great way to seamlessly cite your sources too.
- Heed Google’s Algorithms – Google constantly updates its algorithms, and it pays to keep up with those changes. Pleading ignorance won’t do you any good. Learn about what flies with Google and what doesn’t, and always heed those rules.
What do all these points have in common? They all dictate taking your time to craft content that resonates with human readers while adhering to SEO best practices for the benefit of the search engines. The bottom line: With great SEO content writing, slow and steady always wins the race.