Have you heard others, or do you, differentiate content as being either “regular content” or “SEO content”?
Despite the evidence, Google has been tailoring its algorithm since 2011 to weed out sites that don’t offer valuable, user-centric content, starting with the Panda update and more recently with its 2022 Helpful Content Update. Yet some organisations still see a role for “SEO content” – that is, content designed with the primary goal of appealing to search engines.
What’s wrong with creating content for search engines?
The risk of developing content for search engines as your primary goal is that content quality may be compromised. You may start focusing on things like word count over brevity, or keyword density over readability. Your volume of pages may start to inflate, but the value your content delivers wanes.
We’ve all experienced the annoyance of clicking through to a website that has a lot of content but not much to say. No one wants that.
Developing content that benefits users should be our primary goal. Bonus: user-centric content is a) more likely to earn backlinks and social media shares, positively contributing to your Domain Authority, and b) plays a bigger role in the integration of good UX and good SEO.
So, where does that leave “SEO copywriting”?
Like “SEO content”, the term “SEO copywriting” is dated. Just as all content should appeal to search engines (assuming you want it to appear in search results), so should all copywriting incorporate SEO best practices.
Nowadays, the definition of SEO copywriting has transformed into “the process of creating content that serves and adds value to a target audience, and using SEO tactics to ensure that content is findable in search engines.”
Ahh. Doesn’t that sound better?
It starts by selecting meaningful content ideas for your audience(s)
Understand what information will help your users
- Conduct user research to uncover user behaviours and motivations.
- Talk to customer service representatives and social media managers - What questions and comments are they hearing?
- Refer back to the content pillars of your content strategy.
- Use your findings to inform an SEO keyword research plan containing user goals, problems/pain points, topical areas of interest, etc.
Find out what your audience is searching for
- Using your research plan, an SEO Specialist can conduct keyword research related to your brand, product and industry vertical and include things like common questions and customer pain points.
- They will come up with a comprehensive list of the ways someone might search for information related to your offering, which you can review for relevance to your organisation and digital strategy.
Assess what appeals to search engines
- Using keyword research, in Google or another search engine, enter a keyword for which you would like to rank. Then, review the search results page. What do you see?
- What content types are prioritised? For example, do you see images at the top of search results, videos on the page, map results, FAQs or editorial sites? This gives you a clue as to what content format to prioritise.
- What is the strength of the competition? Are search engines ranking government and education sites or peak bodies? What’s the likelihood an organisation like yours could out-rank these sites?
- How might you add more value? Click through to the pages and resources ranking on page 1. What’s working well? What do you like about them? What’s lacking? How might you make an even better and more helpful resource?
Shortlist your topics
Once you’ve completed the strategic steps above, you’ll be able to shortlist and prioritise content ideas that:
- Are of interest and value to users (as identified in user research and keyword research)
- Present an opportunity to improve upon (where you could make an even better resource than what’s currently available)
- You could realistically rank well in search engines (this is a bonus but not a requirement since appealing to search engines is not your primary goal)
Content considerations that can make or break SEO performance
Whilst we recommend developing content for users first, there are still a number of tactics to help maximise its reach in organic search that you should embed into your publishing processes.
Tips for editorial content
- Write for users first; add keywords later – Don’t get stuck writing content around target keywords. This can zap creativity and return a pretty bland resource. Instead, write for users and then tweak copy afterwards to align with search keywords.
- Make your copy unique – Avoid simply summarising or aggregating content from elsewhere on your site or on the web. What makes your resource valuable is that it offers a unique perspective and provides distinct value.
- Don’t be hamstrung by word count – Keep a rough word count in mind based on the average word count of what search engines are ranking, but don’t be afraid to produce fewer or more words if doing so adds value.
- Use page titles and headings that make sense – Your page or post may have a quippy title, but does it make immediate sense to users and align with how people search? We recommend using headings for clear content hierarchy (particularly for those using screen readers) and using surrounding copy to add flavour.
- Pop in some internal links – Avoid a dead-end page. Make it easier for users to explore related content on your site by sprinkling in a handful of links to other pages.
- Don’t be scared to link to external sites – Whether you’re quoting a source or sharing other resources with your readers, external links are a great way to demonstrate trustworthiness.
- SEO metadata – Finish it off by writing a unique SEO title and meta description that will summarise the article succinctly and make your resource appealing in search results.
Tips for image content
- ALT text - Without it, search engines won’t understand what your image is about. Describe your image succinctly, utilising target keywords as naturally as possible.
- Image file name - Avoid a generic string of characters for your file name. Using keywords, separated by hyphens, sends a clear signal as to what the image is about.
- Use the image within related editorial content - Your image needs to be found somewhere, so use it on a relevant page on your site that adds contextual editorial authority.
Tips for video content
- Video title - Write a title that captures exactly what your video is about, and then tweak it to incorporate your primary keyword. Avoid having a disconnect between your title and how people are searching.
- Video descriptions - Use your description to add context for users and summarise key points. Add secondary keywords if possible.
- Transcripts/captions - Video search engines like YouTube use voice recognition technology to better understand video scripts. When developing your scripts, weave in SEO keywords naturally to help optimise your audio for their algorithms.
- Link back to your site - Don’t forget to add a link back to a relevant page on your website where users can learn more about the topic. Be sure to use a complete URL path (i.e. https://www…) for it to become a hyperlink.
Expert-level tip: Test your content with users!
Send your content to trusted advisors (potentially including customers). Ask them to provide feedback about what they like, what they don’t like and what they would change to make it even better.
Creating content that is successful in search engines is achievable when you invest energy making content that shines.
- When you’re inspired to create new content, ask yourself who is it for and why you want to create it? If your answer isn’t about helping your users, reconsider.
- Be data-led in your approach to selecting content ideas. Start with user research to more deeply understand motivations, needs and pain points instead of getting swept away by the ‘opportunity’ that presents itself from looking at keyword search demand alone.
- Avoid perpetuating dated thinking in your organisation by referring to content as either “content” or “SEO content”. They should be one and the same.
- After analysing search results, define a content brief that makes it clear to your content creators what they need to deliver to make an outstanding resource.
- Create content for the user first, then apply SEO principles and make copy edits to help make the content more findable.
- Don’t set and forget – review your content quarterly for improvement opportunities!
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