Ranking online is harder than ever before, with every type of business moving into the digital world — but organic search remains the most consistent source of relevant traffic.
Due to this, SEO is just as important as ever. And with the content being increasingly rich and sophisticated, the consequences of making simple SEO mistakes can be catastrophic. Few things in content marketing are more frustrating than seeing content flop due to an SEO issue.
But how do you ensure that your content is ready to rank well? It’s just a matter of following best practices. To that end, here are 6 tactics for optimizing your content for SEO:
1. Research existing content
You don’t have the luxury of sending your content out in a vacuum. Anything you produce now is entering a crowded field and must contend with numerous other pieces with similar names, similar themes, and similar points.
Because of this, you can do almost everything right with your content and still get nowhere, all because it’s on a par with existing content from a much stronger brand.
If research indicates that there are 50+ pieces of the same type from world-renowned companies, it’s a sure sign that making a play for those rankings isn’t the wisest move. What you need to do is look for the gaps between the leading contenders.
Image credit: The Blue Diamond Gallery
Use a tool like AnswerThePublic to see what questions are being asked about the topics you’d like to write about, then search for those questions to see what content comes up. Are there any questions that haven’t yet been answered? If so, each one is a golden opportunity to rank.
2. Build around primary keywords
There’s a fair difference between writing in a classic style and writing for the web, and one of the most common SEO mistakes is simply not being aware of what digital writing demands.
Until natural language processing catches up with the human ability to parse language, it won’t be enough to write something that sounds good to a person. You’ll need to write something that can be broken down and interpreted by a search crawler.
This process of interpretation still relies heavily on keywords. If someone searches for “how to care for cats”, then the search engine will look for pages that contain that specific phrase, or at least its component parts.
Semantic search does play a part (if you have the similar phrase “a guide to looking after felines”, it will stand a chance of ranking), but exact matches will always perform better.
As such, you could have an exceptional page on looking after cats, but if you don’t build it around the most popular keywords, it won’t get the traffic it deserves.
There are some caveats to this, as we’ll see next, but it’s an essential part of SEO regardless. Try using Keyword Archive to keep track of how you’re performing for specific keywords.
3. Focus on natural language
Since the SEO industry was first established (in the early days of the internet), the process of assessing websites has become vastly more sophisticated.
Gone are the days of the keywords meta attribute being a major ranking factor, leading webmasters to cram it with thousands of search terms to get some easy rankings. Today, Google is on the lookout for attempts to game the system.
What this means for your use of keywords is that you need to aim for a natural feeling. You should be including them because searchers want them, not just because they’ll help you rank.
Make sure that everything you write looks meaningful and natural to human eyes. If you go too far with keywords — including too many in strange positions — then your site may be penalized.
Image credit: Pixabay
A great way to get your approach right is to risk going overboard with the keywords, to begin with, then revisit the content after some time has passed.
When you read through it with fresh eyes, from the perspective of a regular site visitor, does it seem odd in places? Does it come across as the product of an artificial production process? If so, scale back the optimization until it feels normal.
4. Use clear subheadings
There are several reasons why splitting up your content with subheadings is highly valuable, so let’s rapidly run through them:
* They make content easier to read. SEO isn’t just influenced by technical elements: it’s also affected by metrics such as dwell time (how long someone spends on your site).
If people start spending longer reading your content, that information will filter through to Google, and you might find your rankings improving. Subheadings also help your chances by making content look better on mobile screens and helping to frame it.
* They help search crawlers parse content. Search crawlers have to break everything down to categorize it, and that’s harder the more densely you pack your content.
Subheadings force you to split your content into sections, each of which makes some sense in isolation. This is also very useful for appearing in featured snippets in SERPs. If Google can extract a paragraph in its entirety, it will do so.
* They perfectly support major keywords. We’ve already looked at how tricky it can be to include important keywords in a natural way, but subheadings are excellent for this.
For instance, take the types of question we looked at in the research section: you could easily use that sort of question as a subheading to frame your copy, and it would seem totally natural because it would be separate from the actual content.
Using subheadings is also excellent for speeding up the content production process. By setting out the sections first, you can then just fill in the blanks.
5. Balance image quality and size
Visuals matter for SEO for two reasons: firstly, there’s the element of on-page metrics that I touched upon with dwell time, and secondly, there’s the issue of size.
The bigger the file size, the greater the page loading delay — and loading times do affect rankings (on mobile devices, at least). But you can’t just ignore images entirely, because people expect them, and they lend invaluable context in many cases.
Consider an article on photography technique, for instance. You can use all the right keyword and phrases (“how to choose to light”, “how to compose a shot”, “how to take motion shots”, etc.), but you need something to communicate the theme of the page immediately.
It doesn’t need to be very sophisticated: even spacing out the content with some relevant stock photos would get the job done, however generic they may seem in isolation.
Image credit: Pixabay
So it’s all a balance: ensuring that the photos you include look good while preventing their size from significantly slowing your loading time.
There are numerous services out there for achieving lossless compression (or high-quality lossy compression), as well as CMS plugins that can do it, so investigate and pick something suitable.
6. Polish the metadata and URLs
Metadata encompasses a variety of fields that help categorize the different elements of a webpage. Every web page should have a meta title, a meta description, and title and alt tags for its images. Furthermore, the URL should be optimized. Here’s why:
- Page titles and URLs are important for search. A search crawler will look for keywords in each of these fields, so every page should have some version of its primary keyword in both its title and its URL.
- Good meta descriptions bring in more clicks. Meta descriptions don’t directly affect rankings, but because they commonly show up underneath titles in SERPs, they can significantly affect which results people choose.
- Image metadata matters for accessibility. When an image can’t load (or can’t be viewed if a blind person is using custom software to use a website), the alt text explains what the image shows. Without it, a search crawler will have a much tougher time figuring out what an image is supposed to be.
The good news about metadata is that it doesn’t take all that long to write and implement. It might seem like a chore, but get it done now (while it’s fresh in your mind) and you’ll be able to proceed with confidence that you’ve covered that base.
SEO mistakes can be heartbreaking, able as they are to lead great work to ruin. If you’re doing content marketing correctly, you’re putting a lot of effort into making great content, so don’t let that dedication go to waste.
By deploying these 6 content optimization tactics, you can ensure that your content has the best chance of succeeding in the rankings. Also, let us know in the comments if these content optimization tips helped you. We would love to hear from you.