So you are thinking about creating some new content for your website and have asked a few people about how to optimize the content. I’m sure you have heard about the basics of optimizing content for SEO. But there are many things that most SEO or content creation companies just don’t understand about basic user-focused SEO.
1. Think Topics First, Keywords Second
Traditionally when most thought of optimizing content, they thought only about keyword optimization – this is fundamentally wrong in today’s content landscape.
What are topics?
Topics are inclusive ideas made up of many different keywords – all related to that topic. When creating content, think inclusive content about a topic that provides value to users.
With Google updates like Panda happening more frequently, it is important that website owners and content creators stop creating content specifically for SEO and instead focus on the ultimate goal of a piece of content, meeting the user’s contextual expectation to help them complete a task.
This is a huge shift that will be difficult for many to grasp but is vital to creating content users love, and which Google will reward.
2. Content Hierarchy Is Extremely Important
Content hierarchy is defined as the visual and contextual structure of a piece of content.
Lack of a scannable/optimized content hierarchy is one of the biggest issues we see when doing content audits for websites.
Content comes in all different types and thus is consumed differently than most think. In the book Don’t Make Me Think, one of the most important takeaways about user behavior is that users don’t read content; they scan it – which makes page content structure, hierarchy, and visuals vitally important. Don’t believe us?
- Chartbeat analyzed Slate and other websites and found that most visitors scroll through about only 50-60% of an article page.
- Jakob Nielsen’s eye-tracking study indicated that less than 20% of the text content is actually read on an average web page.
- In another usability test, Nielsen tested different wording styles for a website. Concise, scannable, and objective copyrighting resulted in 124% better usability.
Tips for creating a scannable/optimized hierarchy
- Keep paragraphs concise; 4 to 5 sentences should be enough to get the point across.
- Use H2 and H3 tags to define topic and subtopic sections.
- Every page should have one H1 tag (defining the primary topic), multiple H2 tags (defining subtopics of the H1 tag), and a few H3 tags under each H2 tag (to define subtopics of the H2 tags).
- Pages should include lists – both ordered (numbered lists) and unordered lists (bullet point lists).
- When contextual and relevant, images should be used to tell the story – think custom images and graphs, and not cheesy stock images or graphics.
- Videos should be used to help define and tell the story of the piece of content – they can increase engagement. But don’t just think you can grab a video off YouTube – custom video content provides much more value.
The more of these elements you can include in your piece of content, the better the overall experience you will be creating for users who scan your content.
3. Users Matter!
So you are probably wondering why we are talking about users when the title of this is optimizing content for SEO?
Optimization of content includes optimizing for both search engines and for users – focusing on just one of these personas will produce under-performing content (meaning it will be a great experience that nobody will find or a ton of people will find it, but they will leave quickly).
Google, much like many websites, uses user metrics to make their product (in Google’s case, their search results) better. There are different hypotheses as to how much user metrics such as bounce rate, time on site, click-through rate, or pages per visit play into Google’s algorithm – but we know it does have an impact.
Think about it this way
- As a website owner, you’re trying to rank for a specific keyword (under a relevant topic).
- Out of the gate, you rank for that keyword because when you first publish the content, Google thinks it could be a good resource.
- When users start visiting that page (by clicking through from the search results), they don’t think it provides enough value because it does not provide inclusive enough information for that specific keyword, or the user experience is poor.
- Users hit the back button.
- Google’s algorithm, in its infinite wisdom, sees this user data and notices your content is not performing well across key user metrics for that keyword.
- They stop showing your content for that keyword – why would they continue showing content that users don’t like.
- You lose traffic.
This may not seem like a big issue happening on one or two keywords, but when it starts happening across multiple pages and for multiple keywords, your traffic will drop.
4. Cutting ROT Is Vitally Important
A ROT analysis helps identify content that is either Redundant, Outdated, or Trivial. Organizing your content into these categories will give you the ability to further analyze your content sets based on data and insights. The results from the analysis will lead to either keeping the content, deleting the content, rewriting/optimizing, and republishing it.
There are many people who say “you should never delete content”. To this I shake my head in frustration – knowing that this is a fundamentally wrong statement that is being spread throughout the digital community. – Bill Ross, CEO of Origin 77
A ROT analysis is a fundamental cornerstone for doing a content audit and building a content strategy. We talked about ROT analysis in a previous article and outlined the reasons that it’s important, such as:
- Keeping Content Fresh
- Optimizing Crawl Budget
- Providing a Great User Experience
- Meeting User Needs
5. Stop With The 500 Word Articles
I can’t tell you how many businesses get caught up in quantity over the quality side of content creation, causing them to create thin 500 word pieces of content – ultimately hurting their brand and rankings.
When creating a piece of content ask yourself, “does this piece of content position me as an authority on the topic, and would I share this if it was written by someone else?”.
I’ll give you a hint, the majority of 500-word generic articles will not pass either of those questions.
Yes, there may be instances when having a shorter article makes sense, but don’t make it a habit. Shorter articles should make up a small fraction of your content set and should be focused on strategies such as micro-content and micro-moments and product page descriptions.