All of us online businesses need traffic to our sites. This is extremely important in affiliate marketing. The key really is to learn how to get to the first page of Google and other search engines. Creating high quality content that ranks on Google’s first page is probably the best way to accomplish the most traffic, without paying for it.
WHY DO SEARCH ENGINES MATTER FOR YOUR BUSINESS?
Every online business needs to be ‘discoverable’ or at least ‘searchable’, and the search engines remain one of the best ways to make sure that your content can be found online. Social media is useful, however, if you rely exclusively on social media for your traffic then you are missing out on the huge group of people who have chosen not to expose their lives to Zuckerberg and Co.
Search Engine Optimization or SEO, gives you the chance to be seen by pretty much all web users. If you follow good SEO principles, then even if you are mainly targeting Google, there is a great chance that you will rank well in Bing, DuckDuckGo, Yahoo and the other major search engines. In contrast, posting a lot to Twitter won’t help you get seen on Facebook, and cross posting the same content across multiple sites could actually alienate some users.
Investing in SEO means that you will generate a steady stream of traffic and that traffic isn’t traffic that you end up paying for on a per-impression basis. You invest time, and some up-front money, to get traffic. Yes, you still need to invest in ongoing SEO efforts to maintain whatever rankings you have earned, but you will not need to pay per click or view. The traffic isn’t entirely ‘free’, but it is as close to free as you can get.
WHAT DO ALL THE SEARCH ENGINES WANT TO SEE?
Google, and the other search engines, deliver a product to their users. That product is high-quality search results, or Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). For Google to present your website to its users, the search engine needs to believe that your website is the best result to present for the search query that the user entered.
Google wants to know that your site is going to please the user in some way. To help with this, Google has divided user queries into a few specific ‘moments’.
We will call these, The 4 Moments of Marketing.
According to Google, in many parts of the world, especially major markets such as the U.S., and the UK, the majority of Google searches take place on mobile devices or tablets, not on desktop or laptop computers.
The queries that users enter can be broadly separated into four categories:
- What they Want to Know.
- Where they Want to Go.
- Things they Want to Learn How to Do.
- What they Want to Buy.
The “know” moments are a search for information they may need to solve a problem.
The “go” moments are a search for an activity or a maybe business and are things that primarily happen on mobile devices.
The “do” moments are those times when someone searches for a “how-to” video, or how to documents.
The “buy” moments could be online shopping, or a user in a store searching their mobile device to learn more about a product before deciding whether to buy it.
There’s a lot of overlap between the moments and marketing in general. The “know” moment could be someone having seen a commercial for a laptop and then looking up information about the specs to learn more. A “go” moment could transform from “Pizza restaurant near me” to a click on the Maps page, and then a click to the Uber or Lyft app. The best marketers know how to combine their online, offline and social marketing to provide a fluid and seamless experience.
HOW DO SEARCH ENGINES RATE YOUR CONTENT?
It is critical to know how search engines rate the content on your web page, if you want the page to get ranked. Google’s algorithm is incredibly complex, and constantly changing. So complex, in fact, that no one person can really say that they know exactly what it is looking for, from one day to the next. This is obviously very frustrating to us online marketers.
Google uses machine learning algorithms to rate content based on a huge number of factors, that can vary often.
Those factors can be grouped into a few simple categories that a webmaster or content creator can shoot for, including:
That is a lot of factors, so we need to take a look at these ranking factors in some detail:
• Length – Many so-called SEO experts will claim that SEO content should be X-number of words. That X could be as short as 200 words, or as long as 2,000 words. The truth is that there is no one specific length that will work for all pages. A 200-word post could be completely fine for a fashion blog that simply wants to point out that a specific A-lister was seen wearing an outfit designed by a well-known designer. On the other hand, a 500-word post relating to a new medical treatment could be far too short to do the topic justice to an educated reader.
More words do not always make for better content. Short, punchy articles do have a place on some websites. On other websites, however, shorter articles are likely to look like the often decried “churnalism”. This is one area where human judgment really does apply, and thanks to the complexity of Google’s algorithm, articles will not automatically be discredited because they are not a specific, arbitrary length.
• Relevancy – In the early days of the web, search engines looked purely at the presence of keywords, so it was relatively easy to game the system simply by posting lots and lots of popular keywords even if they were not related to the subject of your website. That is no longer the case, as that is now considered keyword stuffing. Google will punish your site ranking and authority if you overload your articles with keywords.
Today, relevancy is vital. What’s the difference? Well, imagine that you are searching with the intent to buy a specific brand of laptop. What you are looking for is websites that sell this laptop. It would not make sense to see results about replacement batteries, or tips for changing the screen resolution, or driver downloads. Contrast that to someone who already owns the laptop. They aren’t interested in reviews, or sales pages. If they’re searching for “laptop brand model media key not working” then all they want to see is how to fix the keys.
The sales pages, review sites, download sites and geek blogs will all have “laptop brand model” as a part of their keywords, but the pages that interest a specific user are ones that match the full “long tail” key phrase instead.
• Authority – In this world of Fake News, authority really does matter. If you are suffering from some distressing medical symptoms and you decide to search for information on Google before you pick up the phone to call a doctor or ambulance, then you want to know that you are getting quality information. A link to the National Institutes of Health or some other form of major health service run platform will either give you peace of mind or the sense of urgency required to act.
A search for “Chest Pain” would likely give you a link to a .gov website that tells you to call an ambulance if the pain meets certain criteria. It would be irresponsible for Google to have the number one result be a homeopathic remedies site that tells you to take an over the counter remedy from a supplements store to cure a potential heart attack.
Google rates results based on the perceived authority of the website. Authority comes partly from the domain. The average user can’t set up a .gov website, so such a website has a certain advantage in terms of it being clear that the content is carefully audited. It also looks at the sites that link to the content, the age of the site itself, and the quality and accuracy of the content. If a website claims that the Battle of Hastings was fought in 1430 (instead of the factually correct 1066), then Google will question the accuracy of other information on the site.
It’s easy for Google to judge the accuracy of hard ‘facts’, but for other issues that are more subjective, it takes a broader approach. Let’s say you have a website about game development engines and another website about car engines. A specific page may never use the word ‘game development’ or ‘car’ because it is implicit to a knowledgeable reader what the page is about based on the broader content. One page may use “C++” frequently, and one page may use “V8” on a regular basis. The search engine can pick up on those other context-sensitive keywords and use that to assess the broader quality and authority of the page.
• Keywords – Keywords deserve a whole category to themselves. If you have been around the web for a long time, then you will have seen lots of chatter about keywords and how to use them, whether that’s littering them in ALT tags, or using them in the title of the page. A lot of marketers still lean toward having a certain keyword density in their copy. Conventional wisdom is to aim for 1 to 3 percent keyword density at most. If you use a keyword too many times, then your page could be considered spammy. That would be keyword stuffing I referred to earlier.
Really, there is no one hard and fast rule for keyword density. If you’re targeting a longwinded long-tail key phrase, then even shoehorning it into the content once could be tricky. If you’re writing about the difference between two different products, then you might end up mentioning each product by name so many times that you go over the three percent ‘limit’.
Long-tail keywords make up around 70% of all search traffic, according to data collected by MOZ, so it’s useful to take those more specific and detailed searches into account.
You can avoid having your content look spammy by using synonyms and variations. If you’re writing about a product you could use the full name of the product, a shortened version, and even an acronym if needed. Few video games journalists would talk about PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds over and over, writing out the full title like that, when they can just write PUBG, for example.
The best advice is to simply write the content that sends the message you want to send. Let the keywords take care of themselves.
Jaaxy is my go to keyword research tool. Give it a try below:
• Quality – Quality is subjective, but you should be able to say pretty clearly whether your content is high quality or not. There was a brief period of time when content spinners, rewrites, and even bot-generated content was good enough to rank well on the web. Content syndication was popular, with people simply re-sharing third party content instead of writing their own. Those strategies no longer work, and Google tends to punish that type of duplicate content.
Content that is mass-produced, that appears on lots of other sites, or that is otherwise seen as being ‘low-quality’ will be downrated by Google’s Panda algorithm. Google uses a lot of strategies to decide if a site is high-quality, including authoritativeness, perceived expertise, trustworthiness, the amount of content, and whether the content has also been posted elsewhere.
Simple things such as spelling, punctuation, grammar, the accuracy of facts and the density of content to pictures can all make a difference to how Google perceives content. This applies both to editorial sites and guides, and also to store pages. A page with just a product image and a link to purchase something, is likely to be seen as being low quality compared to a page that has a rich and detailed product description and a list of the product’s specifications.
• Uniqueness – Uniqueness ties into all of the points made above. Why should Google send a user to your website if there are dozens of other sites that also have the same content on them, especially if your website was not the first ‘to market’ with that content?
If you have a website which has a long history of publishing good quality, unique content, and then you repost someone else’s content verbatim then there may be some occasions where your site will rank above the original publisher, but those instances would be rare. If you frequently repost other people’s content and do not have an established reputation for writing useful, unique content then your domain is likely to get a bad reputation and be seen as not authoritative, and Google will not put you on the first page for sure.
Google’s algorithm can spot ‘spun’ content quite easily, so it’s not a good idea to use rewritten or reworked content, or content from a Public Label Rights (PLR) article pack. Write your own content and give your own personal take on the subject. Even if you aren’t an award-winning writer, you will stand a far better chance of ranking well with content that is personal, thoughtful and wholly unique.
• Engagement – Engagement is one of the metrics that Google uses to determine whether a page is actually useful. For the purposes of this explanation, the term ‘engagement’ is covering several things, some of which would normally be treated as separate issues – such as ‘click-through-rate’ (CTR), and ‘bounce rate’. Essentially, we are using the term ‘engagement’ to cover all the ways that a person engages with a page.
Google needs to know that it is satisfying users when they visit sites outside of the Google ecosystem. In fact, Google is taking great pains, with answer cards and info boxes, to avoid having users leave the Google ecosystem at all. When people do click on a third party link, though, the search engine wants to know that clicking on that link met their need or solved their problem.
Over time, they monitor how often people click on links and how long they stay on those pages. If most users scroll past option 1 and 2 for a query and click on option 3, that’s likely a sign that option 3 is better suited to be the top-ranked result. If people click on a link then hit the back button, that’s a sign that they didn’t get the information they wanted on that page, so maybe that page should not rank well for that query.
For this reason, it’s a good idea to have your title, meta description and content make it abundantly clear what the page is about. It’s actually a better thing, in the long run, to have your content rank only for queries that it is actually useful for.
UNDERSTANDING THE TYPES OF WEB COPY
If you come from a print writing background, then writing for the web might seem alien to you, because web copy is so much shorter and snappier. People are happy to read large blocks of text on a printed page, but paragraphs on the web need to be much shorter.
Even within the world of ‘web copy’, there are different kinds of content, and it’s a good idea to know who you are writing for, and what the goal of your content should be.
Content can be designed to achieve one (or more) of the following goals:
Most content on personal pages is either intended to entertain or educate. Content early on in a lead generation process may also be aimed at either entertaining or educating the reader so that the reader starts to trust the website and is willing to hand over their email address or follow the content creator on social channels.
As you go further down the conversion funnel you will find that content built to persuade or convert becomes more important. You want to persuade the user to sign up for a free trial or convert the user into a customer. I offer eBooks for people to sign up to my email list.
Content aimed at the first two points is often long-form, rich in humor or detail, and may or may not include image or video. Educational posts, in particular, can often be at the longer end of the spectrum.
Content that is designed to persuade or convert may still be quite long (endless-scrolling pages are popular as a sales or landing page) but will include lots of shorter paragraphs, punchy questions, and headings that ask questions to draw the reader in. I personally hate those endless sales pages and would never create those myself.
Sales copy in particular is heavy on the “call to action” (CTA), where the user is asked to “Sign up to our mailing list” or implored to “Act now for a special discount”, or “This is a very limited offer”. Just look at any sales page or landing page and you will see that they use a sense of urgency and exclusivity to get the prospective customer to act.
There’s a reason that so many people use the same sales page formula. It works for a lot of niches, and because it works, the search engines reward it too.
YOU MUST KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE TO BE SUCCESSFUL ONLINE!
Perhaps the most important thing about writing for the web is understanding who you are writing for. While SEO principles are useful because they encourage best practices, it’s not just the search spiders that you are writing for. You want your visitors to enjoy your content.
This means that you need to write in a ‘voice’ that your readers identify with, provide content that interests them, and also provide content that serves a useful purpose and that your readers can readily digest and understand. That last point is key. And don’t forget that your content needs to solve their problem.
The Importance of Reading Age
If you are writing content for a mainstream audience, then you should aim for that content to have a reading age of around 8 or 9. At first glance, that sounds silly. After all, you’re probably not marketing to someone that young. Even if your website is about video games, you’re probably selling to teenagers. If you’re selling cars, mortgages or wedding dresses then your target audience will be even older. That doesn’t matter. You still want to have a reading age of 8 to 9 for most of your content.
There are exceptions, of course. Political opinion pieces and detailed tutorials for sophisticated tasks might need a higher reading age. For most content, however, a lower reading age is appropriate. Many SEO experts recommend a reading level of eighth grade for your content. Product reviews can be a little bit higher reading level since you may need to get somewhat technical for the product description.
Why is that?
Well, it all comes down to the way that we consume content these days. Most people are reading content on their smartphones or tablets. They’re in a rush. They don’t really want to sit and ‘study’ the content. They want to get the key information in as convenient a form as possible.
It’s hard to read dense blocks of text on a tablet or phone screen. In addition, if you’re surrounded by interruptions then reading difficult content is not going to be easy. Every time the reader gets interrupted, they will have to find the ‘thread’ for the content again.
Lots of headings, short paragraphs, and convenient soundbites will make it easier for people to skim your content. If they’re really interested, they can look for a more detailed treatment of the subject later.
Writing to a lower reading age means that more people can read your content. It makes it easier for people who have English as a Second Language to understand your content, and it makes it more likely that the visitor will get your message.
So how do you write content for a lower reading age?
– Stay on Topic – Don’t drift off topic or your readers will lose interest.
– Use short sentences – Readers lose focus quickly, so using shorter sentences that are focused on solving their problem will keep them reading.
– Limit yourself to one or at most two ideas per paragraph – Don’t inundate your readers with too much info all at once. Keep paragraphs to only a few sentences where possible.
– Use lots of headings and sub-headings to make the content easy to scan – Use H1 for your article title and use H2 for the paragraph headings. This makes it easier for readers to quickly scan the headers to really see what the topic is covering. I like to use H3 headings for subheadings to make my content easier to scan over if wanted.
– Explain difficult words or technical terms the first time you use them on each page – In reality, you need to try and not be overly technical unless you are doing a product review that requires it. But if you must be technical, define the technical terms as soon as possible so your readers don’t get overwhelmed.
– Use common, simple words instead of more unusual synonyms – I like using synonyms, when they make sense and make your content more readable. But, use the KISS principle as much as possible: KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID!
– Write to explain, not to show off your command of the English language – This is a hard one for me, because I want to explain things, so my readers really understand what they are reading, especially in a product review. But remember, we are trying to write at an eighth grade level, so use small words where you can. But use proper grammar and spelling at all times.
PLANNING YOUR WRITING
Google likes websites that are updated regularly but providing a lot of rich and interesting content isn’t always easy. Sometimes you might be inspired and find writing lots of posts fun. Sometimes you might struggle to turn your thoughts into words on the page.
Having a strategy for laying out content and turning it into informative, entertaining or persuasive copy is useful. In fact, using templates can help you to write content in a consistent voice for your site, and can also help you to rank well.
Think about the way that you want your brand to look like online, and have a format that works for you:
– You may frequently answer questions, post lists, or post news. Have a structure for the title of those posts.
– Maybe your posts always open with an image and a funny caption.
– Divide your content into at least five H2 headings.
– Use internal links between some of your other relevant posts where it makes sense. Google likes this.
– Follow a clear format – lay out the question, provide an answer, talk about common misconceptions or challenges, and end with an awesome conclusion to help them make an informed decision.
– Aim for a word count of at least 1500 words for each article. Some may be a little shorter or a lot longer (like this one). Google ranks high quality content of 2500 words much higher than shorter articles, as of the writing of this article.
– Do keyword research and try to include relevant long-tail keywords. Make sure your keywords are what your audience are searching for in the search engines.
Are you Stuck or Just Can’t Get Started on Your Article? Start With The Some Good Research.
If you’re really stuck for how to start writing an article, then keyword research is a good first step. Look at what other people have written, and what questions they are answering.
Do not simply find someone else’s article and copy it. For starters, plagiarism is bad. In addition, any subject matter expert that comes along and sees your content is likely to notice that it follows the same format and ‘voice’ as another article.
Instead of copying, find multiple sources, and research. What questions do they all answer? Is there something you disagree with them on? Is there something that is often overlooked? You should be able to find something that you want to talk about that sets your content apart from the rest.
There will always be some overlap with a factual article. It’s almost impossible to write about search engine algorithms without mentioning the high-impact Panda update, for example. The important thing is that you provide something ‘extra’, or your own take on the issue. If you can’t really say much extra in terms of facts and there isn’t a lot of room for opinions, then the extra that you provide could be a video or some better diagrams, or it could be troubleshooting information, or even using a more humorous way of explaining the issue.
Layout and Style Matter Too
Keyword research matters and the content matters too, but one area that a lot of people overlook is layout and style.
Present your content in a format that is easy for people to read, for example:
– Use a large, sans-serif font or similar font that you like.
– Use big, bold headings (H2).
– Use bullet points to make the content easy to scan.
– Choose colors that are easy on the eye.
– Let the content load first, then the images. This should be configurable with your WordPress host.
If you choose this approach, you can build-out the content that you want to write quite easily. Start with the headings and bulleted lists, then elaborate on the key points that you want to make using longer paragraphs. With this approach, it becomes easy to write detailed and informative content quickly. You can see in this article that I like bulleted lists.
Featured Snippets Can Get You On Page 1.
Featured snippets are something that Google uses to get people to stay on their own website. If you search for “When was Elvis Born” or “When is the Superbowl” then you will get a clear answer as the top result. The date, and a short piece of text, will appear on the page in a result card.
The featured snippet appears ABOVE the number one result in the search engines, taking traffic away from that spot. Of course, if all the user wants to know is when Elvis was born, then they’ll see that result and not bother to click on the page, so you’re not getting ad revenue by being in that spot. It’s still useful to be there, though, for several reasons.
The featured snippet spot includes the answer, text, and title, as well as the address of the site that provided that information. This means that the user will see your brand name, even if they don’t click on the site.
In addition, the featured snippet is still a clickable link. So, if the user is doing a research project and wants to learn more about Elvis then they might see the mention of Elvis having a twin brother and click on the link to learn more.
How Can You Get Your Content in Featured Snippets?
If you want your content to appear in featured snippets, then you need to make sure that your page contains text that is easy to snip. FAQ pages are good for this. Present the question, then present a clear, concise answer. Format the article so that it is easy to tell that there are questions and answers in it.
There are three main kinds of featured snippet. They are:
– The List Snippet
– The Table Snippet
– The Paragraph Snippet
If you want your site to have a chance of being included in a snippet, then you should aim to format your content in one of those ways. At the moment, paragraph snippets are the most commonly used, far ahead of list and table snippets, but there are some data sets that lend themselves to those varieties of snippets as well.
Unfortunately, research by Ahrefs indicates that 99.58% of featured pages are pages that already rank in the top ten for Google. So, if you’re struggling to rank well, you’re going to need to make a lot of changes to your content and your site in order to have a chance of ranking with a featured snippet. Many are paid ads as well.
The good news is that if you structure your content in a way that makes it ‘snippet-friendly’, you are automatically increasing your chances of ranking well since the factors that make a page a good candidate for being used as a featured snippet are the same things that make it SEO and SERP friendly to begin with.
Some niches are more likely to get snippets made than others. Here are a few examples:
– DIY guides
These queries can be answered with a set of facts, so they’re more likely to be ‘snipped’. Answer boxes are far less likely to appear for image queries, video searches, local search, or shopping-related queries.
Here is an example of a featured Snippet, it is right after the add, in the box:
REVIVING OLDER OR POORLY RANKED CONTENT
It’s heartbreaking when it happens, but sometimes you can write content and put a lot of time and effort into the research, only for the content to bomb. You may have made some clever jokes, poured over the prose, and put numerous nights into the research, but for some reason, Google doesn’t care.
If that has happened to you, then you should stop and think before deleting the content.
First, look at the rest of the site. If the rest of the site ranks well, then the page is the problem. If the rest of the site is also languishing in the supplemental results, then it could be that the domain itself has an issue. Log in to Google Webmaster Tools for your website and see if there are any warnings about dodgy links or duplicate content issues.
If it’s just the article that is the problem, then you should look at the content. Has one of your citation URLs been taken over by a spammer, so Google now thinks you’re linking to low-quality sites? Have you included spammy keywords? Has your content been copied, and Google mistakenly thinks that you were the one that copied it?
There are hundreds of ‘spammy’ keywords that can raise suspicion and that might make your site look bad. Depending on the niche you operate in, you might not be able to avoid those keywords, but if you can take out spammy words and exaggerated sales claims it could help to improve your rankings.
Tweaking Your Content to Improve Its Rank
If your content just won’t rank well, then you should do a full audit. First, use Copyscape to check the page for duplicate content. If anything is flagged, change it.
If you have lots of outgoing links, remove the ones that don’t add value to the page. Try to build up new links through social media and through article syndication services. If you have a network of sites, mention it on the other sites.
Make sure that the content is being indexed. Check your Robots.txt file to ensure that the content is not blocked from being reachable to the search engines.
Refresh the content, if you can. One of the best kinds of content that you can write in terms of search engine value is ‘evergreen’ content. This is content that is useful year after year. For example, “how to make a great Christmas pudding” or “The best places in CITY to watch the Superbowl”. Evergreen types of content will always be useful, but Google will still like to know that it’s current.
Updating evergreen content can help it to stay highly ranked. You might post to say you changed the Christmas pudding recipe because a specific brand of dried fruits is no longer available. Or, you might add a new place to the Superbowl viewing list and say it impressed you so much last year that it’s knocked the previous venue down from spot 4 to spot 5, but you’ve kept the list at 11 because the previously number 10 ranked spot is still awesome.
Updates like that show both the search engines and your readers that your site is still current and useful and that you care about keeping the content up to date.
AND FINALLY, MAKE YOUR CONTENT SHAREABLE
So, you’ve got great content. It’s current, relevant, easy to read, keyword-rich and unique. The search engines can find it, and it is presented in a format they understand. That leads us to the final point.
How can that content rank quickly?
Well, the answer to that is you should make it shareable and post it on social media. That boosts the ‘engagement’ factor of the content, and it also makes it more likely that the search engines will see it and think that it’s useful. Content that gets mentioned by lots of users on social media and Web 2.0 platforms is content that should, in theory, rank well. Getting people to share and talk about your content should help it to generate traction, and potentially even be mentioned on other people’s websites, news syndication platforms, and blogs.
I like to use software to automatically post to all my social media for me, on a schedule I can create. I use SOCIAL JUKEBOX for this, and it is awesome and very easy to use.
Every link you get improves your domain authority and means that the post in question, and hopefully future posts on the site, should rank well.
Proper SEO for your content and your site, is a slow long game, especially for a new site. You have to be patient. The more established and popular your site becomes; the more quickly your other pages will rank in Google in the future.
I truly hope this helps you with your SEO and site content journey.
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