Last week, we told you how search engines work. This week we’re going over creating useful and findable content. To be clear, the goal isn’t to write for search engines. The goal is to write for users. By putting people first and writing consumer-focused and accessible content, what you are producing is inherently search-engine friendly.
How to Write Useful and Findable Content
Writing useful and findable content is an integral part of any successful digital strategy. When creating content:
- Focus content around tasks. Focus on your users’ questions and make sure that your site provides the answers. Use words and phrases that your users actually search for. You can identify user tasks by performing market research and analyzing both qualitative (usability task analysis, user feedback data) and quantitative data (metrics analysis). This type of research also will help you meet plain language requirements because your content uses the same wording that your users are.
- Create meaningful “on-page” elements. On-page elements include but are not limited to titles, meta descriptions, filenames (URL), alt text, and sub-heads. By researching the terms that users use and implementing them in these areas, you can boost your rankings and increase click-through rates on a search engine results page (SERP). Remember that search engines and social media platforms may pull your site’s metadata as part of a SERP listing or post description. Be mindful of what you include in your meta tags.
- Ensure content is original. Content duplicated from page-to-page or site-to-site confuses users and search engines see it as spam. Go through your content to ensure that each page has unique, original content. Search engines now penalize sites with thin content. Thin content includes content that is completely duplicated (true duplicate), mostly duplicated with few discrepancies (near duplicate), or pages that are full of structure with too little content on them (low unique ration). Well thought-out information architecture and cross-linking reduces the need to duplicate content.
- Structure your site in an intuitive way. Users like simple layouts to navigate and find information; similarly, search bots do, too. Create an information architecture that is deep enough that content buckets are meaningful and not too broad, but shallow enough that finding desirable content doesn’t require too many clicks. In general, the more clicks it takes a user to get to desirable content, the lower search engines rank it. This means that search engines perceive content closer to the homepage as more valuable.
- Build strong linking networks. Links from other sites to your content essentially act as references or endorsements in the eyes of search engines. When external sites use keywords in their link text, they are helping to build your authority for that keyword or phrase. The more authority that site has, the stronger the signal to the search engine that you’re an authoritative source. Beyond building authority, it’s also important to remember that linking fundamentally is how search bots crawl. In order for a search engine to crawl a page, there must be at least one link to it. Orphan pages (pages that aren’t linked to form another page) are not crawlable. Having a link in a sitemap to an orphan page may not be sufficient for search engines, either. Also, remember that search engines do not fill out forms, so not expect pages within a funnel to get crawled.
- Keep content up-to-date. It is possible for old, evergreen content to rank high in the SERP because it has built its authority overtime as a go-to resource. However, freshness is now a factor. Maintaining fresh, up-to-date content is more desirable to users and therefore to search engines.
- Make content sharable and engaging. The more your content is shared, the more links you build. Consider social platforms as content hubs; leverage them to drive traffic back to your site. Among other ways, you can create sharable content by having share buttons on your page, paying attention to metadata, and including visual elements throughout your content. Also, by creating ways for users to engage through commenting or rating your content, you help to build your authority. User comments often can help you rank for the longtail, which are specific, less competitive words and phrases that make up the bulk of search queries.
Following these tips should lead to user success and ultimately search engine optimization. Remember, keep the focus on users and business goals and mold your content strategy around that. What makes for a good user experience will be search-friendly.
Next week we’ll move on to measuring the effectiveness of the tips above by discussing how to actually measure SEO success.