Are you an eCommerce entrepreneur depending upon content marketing to gain exposure for your product or service on the web?
Do you want to know the secret of having your site rank high on Google?
Do you want your website to shoot to the top of a Google SERP (Search Engine Result Page) like greased lightning?
If you answered "yes" to all of the above questions, TAKE A NUMBER, because everybody in the whole wide world answered "yes" to all of the above questions too!
No, but really, SEO content marketing is the field within which I have based a 20+ year career in freelance content hacking for the web. And yet, it is the one discipline which is jam-packed with more hoodoo, voodoo, snake oil, urban legends, conspiracy theories, and outdated alchemy than any other tech field. Thanks to this topic being saturated on the web, you can scream about it all day every day and not get heard over the noise.
Let's start with some obvious, concrete logic. For once, everybody can drop their wacky schemes and percentage formula flowchart spreadsheets pinned on Trello. Listen to me instead for a change. Let's take it simple in itty bitty baby steps:
Google Wants You To Write Like A Human Being!
As I emphasized in part one of this series, Google's entire purpose for existing is to help people find what they want to find.
How many times have you had the following experience: Google for something you want to learn about, and run across a page for that topic with fluffy, spammy, hot air that isn't actually useful:
Query: SEO writing
Result: "There are many interesting things about SEO writing, chief among them the number of interesting things about SEO writing.
SEO writing is a topic about which many people have an interest, due to the number of people interested in the topic of SEO writing. In this article, we hope you will find much useful information about SEO writing.
When engaging in SEO writing, it is important to keep the writing focused on SEO. The purpose of SEO writing is to be writing in a way that utilizes SEO…"
Just as helpful as a buried shovel, isn't it?
Don't you hate that?
Well, guess what, Google hates that too!
If you want to follow SEO best practices, the definitive source should be Google's own webmaster guidelines. They are not only helpful but some of the most beautifully concise instructions ever written about a topic.
And they are also the least believed words on the whole Internet!
Every nine out of ten sites about SEO on the web is obsessed with keyword stuffing. Which leaves me trying to explain why that won't work.
In fact, Google's own page on "irrelevant keywords" is very clear on the point:
"Focus on creating useful, information-rich content that uses keywords appropriately and in context."
Repeatedly, you will see Google referencing the user.
The human being.
The bag of meat with eyes you're trying to market to. The meatbag does not want to be misdirected or tricked or lied to. The meatbag is intelligent enough to see through all the spammy tricks you use to steal their click and waste their time. Google follows the wishes of these meatbags and takes manual action to ban your site.
Some Content Marketing Practices Nobody But Google Wants You To Know:
Google's own SEO starter guide has a few phrases that are worth pointing out:
"Organic or word-of-mouth buzz is what helps build your site's reputation with both users and Google, and it rarely comes without quality content.""Users enjoy content that is well written and easy to follow.""Users feel comfortable visiting your site if they feel that it's trustworthy."
I could go on and on with the examples from Google, all of which are the perfect resolution to nearly every conflict I've had with a content marketing client.
Why don't I spam keyword phrases twenty times per page?
Because it lowers the quality, is hard to follow, and makes the users not trust the site.
Why do I write in this informal tone instead of staying "professional"?
Because I'm trying to make it engaging for the reader.
Why don't I grab the visitor by the throat and stuff them down the gargling maw of your sales funnel?
Because users don't like that and you don't sell products that way anyway.
Everybody who works in a consulting/contracting field knows the same pain, naturally.
There's something in human nature that makes middle managers hire an "expert" and then deliberately work against them. Time and again I've had to push back and tell people "you hired me for what I know - now step back and let me apply it."
Actual tips for SEO quality writing:
Don't overload keywords, write "normal."
Keyword stuffing does not work. Unnatural attempts to fool Google's index algorithms do not work.
Anything but plain old regular ordinary sentences you'd use in writing to another human being will not work. That comes straight from the Google AI blog.
I know this is impossible to grasp for most people, but the world's largest and most successful search engine company can afford to hire a programmer or two who can - get this - count words in a document and measure them against a standard!
Likewise, in that same article Google engineers are creating contextual maps of topic keyword branches, what it calls "salience."
This means that even if you mention "poodle" just once in an article about dogs, Google will understand that this page has something to do specifically with poodles - but only if the rest of the page is all about dogs. This practice is called "keyword stemming," all hail the almighty guru Matt Cutts to tell us about it:
"Sounding artificial, stilted, or spammy" is something you should avoid doing! He said so right there.
By the wayside, I love that Google has an actual "synonym team." I bet these people rock at crossword puzzles.
Deeper reading: A google research PDF dives into this semantic wilderness of topic salience, where I can talk about Austin, Houston, and Dallas and Google sees the light bulb and says "Aha! Texas!" even if I never once typed the word "Texas." The take-away: You can rank for a topic without once mentioning the actual topic keyword.
A page on a topic does better on a domain recognized as an authority on that topic.
Beyond merely analyzing a pile of text on one page, Google assesses the source and sends the user more often to websites more likely to be experts on that topic.
If you post to a blog for 2K words on the subject of Australian sparkling chiraz, but the rest of your blog is about taking care of baby chickens, Google will first send "Australian sparkling chiraz" queries to websites about wine.
This doesn't mean you can't rank for more stuff.
First, you write about watermelons and Google assumes your authority is "melons." Then you post about lemons and Google eventually broadens your authority to "fruit." Write about cheese and steak and Google makes another pass and broadens your authority to "food." But it's a hell of a reach to get a website to rank for both "high-quality cheeses of France" and "intake manifold gaskets for Ford LTDs."
I touch on this same point on a post in my own blog, showing an example of how hard it is to rank for a broad, popular topic with just a few posts. When I point out (near the end of that post) that you need to pile on a lot of related content around that topic, that's talking about authority ranking.
Fresher content is better sometimes
Matt Cutts has the floor first here:
So "freshness" is important for some things, but not others.
To re-tread the example he uses, there is currently (check the date on this post, future survivors!) a worldwide pandemic of the Coronavirus, AKA COVID-19. That's a current news event happening now, so Google ranks you higher for talking about it right now. A month from now, as the pandemic progresses, your news post falls by the wayside and somebody else's update on Coronavirus ranks higher.
But that doesn't matter with "evergreen" content.
Blogging a discussion about the use of symbolism in David Lynch's Eraserhead (1977) isn't likely to be news-worthy again. But, as generations view this movie and go to seek an explanation (it has that effect on people), your evergreen post will always come up because it is just as relevant ten years from now as today.
Older content for non-news-worthy, evergreen stuff ranks higher by seniority.
"Viral" content popular with the social media audience counts!
Matt Cutts here describes that Google doesn't rank entirely based on the number of tweets blindly, but does consider that just a bit as a ranking signal:
Why does this matter to SEO writing?
It matters because the quality of your writing can be so good that readers will visit the site, see the good stuff, and be inspired to share it with their friends. As Matt Cutts cautions, this isn't simply a matter of buying a hundred bot accounts. Google looks at the user activity of those accounts as well.
In short, social media users who frequently link content they like are assigned a sort of "taste-maker," curator status by Google.
The bottom line here is that we freelance writers will sometimes make overt attempts to appeal to the social media audience.
Making articles easier to follow, making them more in-depth and on-target, adding a dash of humor and personality, explaining a difficult topic in a way that's easy to understand, or simply taking a stance that will resonate with social media.
It's impossible to do this when you're talking about some boring financial topic because nobody gets that excited about accounting software. But it's very easy to sprinkle this "seasoning" onto topics that social media tends to flock to.
Bottom line: Listen to your WRITERS!
The expertise that we content marketers bring to your project is far broader than just English syntax or where to put the commas. It is an art and science of communication.
There has never been a need to turn writing into search-algorithm reverse-engineering because Google's aim is always to reward the gifted, natural writer. The writer who is engaging the human being meatbag audience ranks higher than the mad scientist applying keyword percentage formulas. That's what we study every day.
Write for humans, not machines.