“How do you rank on Google?” is the million-dollar question that fuels every business with a website. It’s also one that has a million-word-long explanation behind it.
The short answer: You rank on Google with Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
The long answer: It’s complicated
No one knows exactly how Google’s algorithm works except Google itself. We know what information Google provides: namely, that their intent is to show people the most relevant and useful results based on their search queries. The core of this is content. Content has many meanings and can refer to basically anything written online, but this article will focus on website pages, blog posts and landing pages.
SEO and content go hand-in-hand: you can’t rank on Google unless you have content, and your content can’t rank unless you do SEO. Creating compelling and effective SEO content is the only way to rank online. Read on to learn how to create content that will help you rank on Google.
1. Understand Search Intent
Writing SEO content begins with a clear understanding of why and how people conduct searches online. The why is where search intent comes into play. Search intent is the reason behind why someone conducts a search online.
Yoast breaks down all search intent into five basic categories of need: informational, navigational, transactional, commercial and keyword.
Informational intent are searches based on gathering information, both basic and complex. It could be information on the weather, how to grow vegetables, or SEO tips. In this type of search, people have a specific question or want to know more about a certain topic.
Navigational intent are searches to get to a certain website. For example, searching “Facebook” into Google, to try and get to Facebook. Generally speaking, you will rank high for your business’ name by default.
Transactional intent are searches based on retail or eCommerce. These are searches with the intent to buy a specific product, like “high waisted jeans” or “cheap sunglasses.”
Commercial intent are searches for future purchases. People may know they need a larger item in the future and want to do research online before making a purchasing decision. This could be a washing machine, a business service, etc. Think of this category as a combination of informational and transactional intent.
Keyword intent are searches that use specific words that clue you into their intent. Things like “buy, deal, discount” let you know that they want to purchase. Things like “how to, best way to” let you know they want information. This type of intent usually overlaps with one of the other four intents.
Before you begin writing your specific piece of content, think about what type of search would bring people there. For example, blogs are usually going to be driven by informational intent, whereas a product listing is probably going to be driven by transactional intent. For most B2B service pages, it’s a mix of commercial and keyword intent. This may change depending on your specific type of content, so it’s important to take the time to lay out the search intent behind your piece of content.
2. Keyword Research
Now that you’ve defined the why of search intent, it’s time to dig into the how. A keyword is something you would type into Google (or, increasingly, speak into your phone) to find what it is you’re looking for. There are two primary types of keywords:
Short-tail keywords are 1-2 words long and cover broad, core concepts. Ex: “digital marketing” “florist” “toothpaste”
Long-tail keywords are phrases or a longer collection of words that describe a specific search. Ex: “why digital marketing is important” “florists near me” “best toothpaste for sensitive teeth”
You’ll want to include a mix of short-tail and long-tail keywords in your SEO strategy. We’ll cover how to use your keywords effectively later in this blog, but first you need to create a list of keywords to build from. You’ll want to conduct keyword research for your website as a whole as well as for each specific piece of content (such as a service page or blog post). Keyword research consists of 3 key steps:
Step 1: Start Broad
You’ll want to start off your keyword research by starting basic. Think about your business and the 5 – 10 generic keywords that describe your business. These will mostly be short-tail keywords.
Step 2: Get Specific
Start with each short-tail keyword and think about what related keywords people may be searching for (this is where you’ll pull in the knowledge you gained researching search intent). This will help you to create long-tail keywords.
Step 3: Use Tools to Get Even More Specific
While you’re thinking of keywords in step 2, there are a few tools that can help you. First, there’s Google Trends. This tool will not only show you how many people search for a keyword, but it will also suggest related keywords. When you’ve gathered a sizable list of possible keywords, it’s time to dig into Google’s Keyword Planner. This tool will show you how much traffic each keyword receives each month, how much it will cost if you want to advertise using that keyword, as well as a rough idea how competitive the keyword is.
It’s also important when conducting keyword research to be mindful of your ideal audience. Would your audience be more likely to use industry terminology, or would they be more likely to use layman’s terms? You want to make sure your website is designed for your users, not for you.
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3. Create an Optimized Title
Now that you’ve done the heavy lifting with all your research, it’s time to actually begin writing. Titles are critical for SEO – they inform readers and search engines alike about the subject of your content. The title of your content will again depend on the intent of your content and its function. For services and products, you’ll want your title to be short and to the point. For blogs, you’ll need to choose a longer, more specific title.
The keywords that you’ve identified will help you greatly in this step. For website pages, your page titles will generally play off of a short-tail keyword. For example, your page title for a service could be “Health Insurance” or “CPR Certification Courses.”
For your blogs, you can use the long-tail keywords you’ve found in your research to create optimized blog titles. For example, if “bicycles for kids” is one of your long-tail keywords and you know that blogs tend to pull in visitors from informational searches, then a good blog title would be “What Are the Best Bicycles for Kids?”
It’s also important to keep title length in mind. Generally speaking, aim for 60 characters or less in your title.We recommend running all your titles through Moz’s free Title Tag Preview Tool. This will give you a clearer picture of where Google may cut off your text based on pixel width.
4. Create a Meta Description
After you’ve got your title down, you’ll want to create a meta description as well. This is a short description that users see under your page title in Google search results. This of this like a blurb for a book or movie. It should summarize your content in a clear and concise way. Some general guidelines for optimized meta descriptions are:
- Keep it under 155 characters. Google will cut off your meta description after a certain length. A good rule of thumb is 120-155 characters long.
- Include a relevant keyword. You don’t want to stuff it full of keywords, but it’s a good idea to include at least one in your meta description.
- Keep it relevant. Google (and users) don’t like a bait-and-switch. Make sure your meta description accurately describes what users will find on your page or post.
- Make it unique. Even if you have multiple blogs on the same topic or multiple pages under the same keyword, you’ll want to use a unique meta description each time.
5. Write Readable SEO Content
In the old days, all you had to do to rank online was repeat the same keyword over and over again. That strategy doesn’t work anymore – Google will recognize it and ding you and your audience won’t stick around to read your content if it’s clunky. Writing SEO content is a skill that takes practice, but it begins with good copywriting. Your primary goal with any piece of content should be to provide usefulness to your reader. If you’re writing only with the intention of ranking on search engines, that will come through in your writing.
The best place to start is with all your research in mind. Picture your ideal customer. Remember their intent and what keywords are most important. Instead of fussing over trying to include as many keywords as possible, write naturally with your keywords in the back of your mind. Your goal is to create a piece of content that’s focused on a specific topic and intent. Google is sophisticated enough that it can read a piece of content and determine subject through context. This means it’s less important to use the exact same keyword in exactly the same way multiple times – instead, it’s more important to provide useful content that contains a natural mix of keywords and similar phrases.
In other words: write for humans, not machines.
Start by writing out all your content and then organizing it in a way that will help your SEO.
6. Make Content Scannable
Now that you’ve written your content, it’s time to format it so that it’s readable to both search engines and users alike.
- Use subheadings to break up your content into smaller, more digestible chunks. When creating subheadings, this is where you can be more thoughtful about including keywords.
- Vary your sentence length and structure so it flows nicely. (Pro tip: try reading your content aloud – this will help you identify areas where your sentences are repetitive or clunky.)
- Keep paragraphs shorter. As a rule of thumb, break into a new paragraph each time you introduce a new thought.
- Use emphasis sparingly to draw the eye – such as bold, italics or underline.
- Link your content to other, relevant content on your site. If you reference an idea in your content and have a blog post for that, make sure to link it. Any blog post you write that’s about one of your services or products should always link back to that service/product page.
- Use bulleted lists to convey steps or break down complex ideas. This helps make your content more scannable to the eye.
Final Thoughts on SEO Content
Creating SEO content is a complex strategy. It’s not as simple as just writing something. It requires research, planning and intent. SEO can’t exist without content – i’s like a sandwich without the fillings. You need to think of content and SEO as intertwined pieces of the same strategy. By conducting research and writing thoughtfully, you can create content that will appear in Google searches. It’s a lot of work, but the reward is increased website traffic, more leads and a website that truly serves your customers.
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