How to Create Content That Ranks Well in Search Engines
Once upon a time, there was something called SEO copywriting.Back To Top
The 5 Essential Elements of Search Engine Keyword Research
These SEO copywriters seemed to have magical word skills that allowed them to place just the right keywords in just the right places and amounts, and even in the densities that were just right for miraculous top rankings. And that’s all you needed.. or at least that’s what was (and still is) advertised.
There’s no doubt that keywords still matter, especially in titles. Search engines generally prefer to key in on the words people are looking for. But as SEO pro Rand Fishkin will tell you, "measurements like keyword density are useless, although general frequency can help rankings".
Here’s the deal.. most of what determines the ranking position of any particular page is due to what happens off the page, in the form of links from other sites. Getting those links naturally has become the hardest part of SEO, which is why 2006 saw the strong emergence of social media marketing as a way to attract links with compelling content.
That’s why any true SEO copywriter is simply a writer who has a knack for tuning in to the needs and desires of the target audience. And due to the pursuit of links, those needs and desires have to be nailed well before you’ll ever show up in the search engines.
As I’ve written, the same emotional forces that prompt us to buy can also cause us to link, bookmark, and Digg. The context is different, as are the nuances, but it’s still a matter of providing compelling benefits in the form of content.
"Ask yourself what creates value for your users," sayeth Google. As those brainy engineers continue to diligently create better algorithms, combined with people-powered social media tagging and blog-driven links, copywriters with a flair for prompting link response and conversions will become vital members of any search engine marketing effort.
To me, optimization (at least of the white hat variety) is the page tweaking that can be done after you’ve managed to attract a healthy amount of quality links that demonstrate the value of the content. Little things can make a big difference when you’re trying to move from the third page of the Google results to the first, or from position 7 to 3, 2 or 1.
Of course the critical components of a search-friendly site should be in place. But beyond that, tweaking a page for higher rankings before you’ve established that the content is compelling to people is a little like putting on your prom dress to stay home alone and watch Desperate Housewives.
This post is the first of a five-part series that sets forth a step-by-step strategy that I’ve had success with when trying to rank well for desired primary search terms. And since every step in the process is justified from a user-value standpoint, it should bring in traffic and enhance your site even if search engines were to disappear tomorrow.
Keyword research is cool.Back To Top
How to Create Cornerstone Content That Google Loves
It allows you to gaze directly into people's minds.
Being able to take a look at the words and phrases people use when looking for things online is invaluable. Rather than listening to people say what they think they might do, you get to observe what they actually did. And when aggregated, you get a nice view of the words people most often use when thinking about and searching for a certain topic.
Once armed with keyword intelligence that's relevant to your niche, you have the unique ability to create highly-relevant content that aids your site visitors and enhances your credibility. You're speaking the language of the audience after all, and satisfying their needs.
And if you get it right, you'll likely rank well in the search engines too, after promoting the content in a strategic way. It may seem strange to view search traffic as a secondary benefit in a Google-driven world, but that's exactly how you should view it. Google won't treat you as relevant until someone else does first.
The counterintuitive rule of search engine keyword research is to try to forget that search engines can send you traffic. View the data as free or low-cost market research and you'll have the proper mindset to formulate a content strategy that has a shot at ranking well. People need to like your content before Google will.
Here are the five essential things to cover when it comes to keyword research:
1. Research Tools
Some will tell you that Google's Keyword Tool is all you need for research. Another free option is Aaron Wall's SEO Book Keyword Suggestion Tool, which incorporates Yahoo! Search data and other useful metrics. Paid tools may be superior choices to those provided by search engines since the proprietors are not motivated to sell you search advertising, and include Wordtracker and Keyword Discovery.
2. Get Specific
"Keyword" is the term that gets tossed around, but what you're really after in most cases are keyword phrases. For example, a real estate attorney in Austin, Texas would gain very little actual benefit from ranking highly for the single word "attorney" (and good luck anyway), but specific keyword phrases based on geography and specialty would yield highly targeted traffic ("Austin real estate lawyer"). And don't forget synonyms.
3. Strength in Numbers
Don't take as gospel truth the reported number of monthly searches provided by any particular tool. But do pay attention to relative popularity among search terms. You want to make sure enough people use that phrase when thinking of your niche to make it worth your while, especially if this is one of the primary search terms you want to target for your site overall. At the same time, be realistic. If you are trying to rank in a very competitive sector, aim for something attainable first, or make sure that a certain keyword combination can rank for an easier phrase if the more competitive term ends up out of reach.
4. Highly Relevant
Make sure that the search terms you are considering are highly relevant to your ultimate goal. If you are a service provider or selling specific products, keyword relevancy may be easier to determine-you ultimately want someone to purchase the product or service. Other goals may require more careful consideration, such as subscriptions to content publications and contributions to charities, for example.
5. Develop a Resource
Here's the key element. Can a particular keyword phrase support the development of content that is a valuable resource to readers? Something that:
* Satisfies the preliminary needs of the site visitor
* Acts as the first step in your sales or action cycle
* Is worth linking to
Steps 1-4 are basic operating procedure, at least in webmaster circles.
Step 5 is what makes the difference, and that's what the next installment in the SEO Copywriting 2.0 series will explore.
Imagine with me for a second... someone has just arrived at your website, and this person has no idea what you're talking about. And this is an important visitor.Back To Top
Five Link Building Strategies That Work
Pretend further that this single visitor could make the difference between success and failure for your business. She has no time to waste poking around your site trying to figure out what you're all about, so she immediately picks up the phone and calls you, demanding an explanation.
What do you tell her?
You'd likely explain by giving her the essential information about how you can help, and why you perfectly meet her needs, right? And I'm betting you'd want to explain it in the most compelling fashion you could, given what's riding on the deal.
In a nutshell, that's what Google wants you to do with the content on your site.
When trying to rank well for the one or two topics that your entire site is built around, creating flagship content is your best bet. Whether it's a tutorial about search engine optimization basics, blogging for beginners, or copywriting, a frequently asked questions page, or an inspirational mission statement, this content serves a vital function in creating a relevant, compelling, and useful cornerstone to build a site around.
A cornerstone is something that is basic, essential, indispensable, and the chief foundation upon which something is constructed or developed. It's what people need to know to make use of your website and do business with you.
And when approached in a strategic fashion, this content can rank very well in the search engines. The key is creating compelling content that's worth linking to, and then finding a way to get the word out.
Here's a 5-step strategy that I've found useful when developing cornerstone content and getting it to rank well.
Taking into account the above, and what we know about keyword research, choose the most appropriate keyword phrase for your content. In other words, what is the relevant question that searchers are asking that your content and business will answer?
Will answering that question aid a visitor to your site in getting the most out of the experience? Are enough people asking that question to make ambitiously answering it worthwhile?
2. Title Tags and Headline
There's a lot of debate among SEO practitioners about what works and what doesn't, but no one disputes the importance of using your targeted keyword phrase in your title tag. Search engines want to offer relevant results, so those results should prominently reflect the words the searcher is using in the title of the page.
But remember also, the title tag is a headline. You want to speak back to the prospective reader in their own chosen words. Plus, you want to wrap those words in a compelling headline structure that promises to answer the exact question the searcher is asking with the query.
And finally, writing the perfect headline makes it more likely that someone will simply use your title to link back to you. To the extent link anchor text is a component of a particular search algorithm, this can only help.
Can a 500 word article rank well for a competitive search term all by itself? Absolutely, because a lot of what determines how well a page ranks depends on the overall authority and age of the website it appears on. And perhaps for some topics, a short explanation is all that's really required from a user-gratification standpoint.
But if you have a newer website trying to rank for a competitive search term, you'll need links from other authoritative sources to make it happen. That means your content must be impressive, both in quality and in scope.
Develop an awesome multi-part tutorial. Write an inspirational manifesto. Answer the question so much better and comprehensively than the competition does, and chances are better that your effort becomes worth linking to.
4. Landing Page
If you're going to be ambitious in scope with your content, it makes sense to make things easy on the reader from a usability standpoint. A landing page is designed to instantly communicate what's going on to the visitor as soon as they arrive, and also acts as a table of contents (via links to each part) that increases clarity.
Here are some of the benefits of the landing page approach:
* Retention: Keeping a reader from hitting the back button is crucial to just about every aspect of successful cornerstone content. You can't score a reader, customer, or link if the benefit of the resource is not quickly communicated.
* Bookmarks: When presented with a beneficial, if somewhat overwhelming, piece of content, the first impulse is often to bookmark the page for a return visit. When that book marking occurs at a social site like Delicious, it can lead to long-term traffic. And when a whole bunch of those bookmarks happen in a short period of time, you can enjoy a viral effect that leads to more bookmarks and lots of links due to being highlighted on the Delicious popular and home pages. Landing pages help you score the bookmark.
* Links: Likewise, a visiting blogger or webmaster might be instantly impressed with your work, and link to you based on the benefits and scope communicated by the landing page itself. The quicker you can impress a potential link source, the easier you're making it for them to follow through.
* Optimization: To the extent modifying on-page copy can boost your ranking after attracting links, a landing page is a key benefit. It's a lot easier to meaningfully tweak a landing page than your 5,000 word opus.
5. Related Content
You may have noticed that I've used the word "website" throughout this post, rather than blog. However, I would never try to undertake this strategy without having a blog involved.
Search engines favor websites that have a lot of relevant, frequently-updated content, and they also like a lot of general link authority. Given the ease-of-publishing blogging provides, it's smart to utilize blog software from a content-management standpoint. And given that active blogging allows for constant participation in the social media space, it's a critical way to build general site authority via links, delve into specific and related topics, and to reference your cornerstone content.
You will certainly feature a link to your essential content in the sidebar. And if you've done your job correctly when selecting the focus, it will be perfectly natural to continue to reference and link to your cornerstone piece from within future posts as well.
Don't go overboard, but do provide context when discussing advanced topics that require an understanding of the basics. Never assume that everyone is aware of your cornerstone resource or understands the basics. Periodic cross-reference to your cornerstone content allows for continued exposure and links, assuming it meets the needs of the audience.
The first goal of cornerstone content is usefulness and relevancy to the website visitor, no matter how they arrive. The second goal is to make that content so compelling and comprehensive that people are willing-no, make that excited-to link to it.
If you focus on these two goals in a strategic manner, the search engine thing has a good chance of working itself out. Since attracting links is so important, in the next installment of SEO Copywriting 2.0 we'll look at ways to proactively get the word out about your cornerstone content.
We've seen that the real secret to SEO Copywriting 2.0 is creating compelling content that naturally attracts links, rather than begging for links to our keyword-stuffed "optimized" web page. In other words, SEO copywriting is now all about response-oriented copy-concepts and words that ultimately result in a favorable action from the reader.Back To Top
SEO Copywriting Techniques That Readers Love>
Since the popularity of our content depends on the reaction to it off-page, it makes sense that we might also need to step outside the confines of the page itself to get the word out. Luckily, the same copywriting skills you use to conceive and create your content apply to promoting it as well.
The way to create compelling content is to focus on "what's in it for the reader." Likewise, no one is going to link to you unless doing so gives them a benefit as well.
The key is the same-understand who you're talking to and then figure out what will catch their attention and convince them to take action. Here are 5 ways to go about it.
1. Social Media Sites
The quickest way for an exceptional piece of content to get a lot of attention that results in secondary links is to make the home page of Digg or Delicious Popular. There are scores of similar sites that can drive quality traffic as well, such as Reddit, TechMeme, and Magnolia. For more offbeat content, Fark will shake your server. Plus there are dozens of aggregator sites such as PopURLS that also drive traffic based on your inclusion at the primary site.
If you've done a great job with your headline, it should magnetically draw people in. However, you need to understand the audience of each social media site. What works as a headline for Digg often won't work for Reddit. Tweak accordingly, but try to retain your keywords in the title if at all possible, because most of the resulting links will simply regurgitate that title.
Another key element for success on Digg is the summary description, because many people will vote for content based soley on the headline and the brief copy that describes it. Sometimes this may simply be your existing opening paragraph, but you might craft a specialized description that best appeals to the culture of the site.
Submitting your own content to social media sites is looked down upon (at least with your real name), so it makes sense to have a friend submit for you. When specifically targeting a social news site, you want to control the headline and summary copy, because the exact same content submitted with poor headline and description copy may go absolutely nowhere.
2. Linking Out
Linking out to attract links? Yep.
Engaging in dialogue with the relevant blogs in your niche is a great way to get noticed, and it can lead to links back. Bloggers definitely watch who is linking to them thanks to Technorati, and you can take the initiative by linking out first before looking for one in return.
Simply linking out for the sake of linking won't accomplish much, especially with bloggers who gets lots of links. The key is to be strategic about how you link and what your say.
It's just like any other conversation. Join in and add your two cents, but make sure you've got something substantive to say that will reflect well on you. Use a great headline to make sure you are noticed, and then deliver the goods. And since your cornerstone content is the foundation of what the conversation is likely about, finding a way to mention it in the context of the dialogue will naturally bring it to the attention of influencers in your field.
3. Networking Emails
The days of flat out link begging are fading, but you can still reach out to other bloggers as a way to raise your own profile. Again, can you figure out what's in it for them?
More than one-off link requests, networking via email and instant messaging is about establishing and growing relationships with others in the social media space. These are the linkerati-prominent bloggers in your niche, top Digg users, web journalists, and prominent web forum contributors.
Write your introductory emails from a copywriting perspective. Catch attention, gain interest, and create a desire to help you in the future by offering something that benefits them first.
4. Guest Appearances
Another benefit of networking within your niche is that it creates opportunities to make a guest writing appearance. You can contribute content that not only allows you to raise your profile, but allows for links back to your own site. Once again, creating killer original content will open doors for you, especially when it's created for the benefit of someone else. And you can use that killer cornerstone content you've already produced as an example of the quality you can deliver.
Depending on your relationship with the site owner, you may be able to link to your cornerstone content from within the body of the content itself, but only if the citation is extremely relevant to the content and beneficial to the reader. Otherwise, your link will need to appear in your byline.
Most people tend to link to their site or blog URL in the byline of contributed content. Turn it around by focusing the byline on the reader instead of yourself, and feature your cornerstone content instead of your home page.
5. Article Directories
At one point in time, submitting about 20 articles to a directory like Ezine Articles with the right anchor text would get you a really good ranking for some search terms, at least in Yahoo and MSN. However, because the engines discount duplicate content, having dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of sites republish your article (and linked byline) no longer does the trick by itself.
However, a site like Ezine Articles is still excellent for creating exposure to your cornerstone content. Having a link to your multi-part tutorial displayed on hundreds of web pages drives direct traffic, and can lead to your content being referenced in other posts and articles that do pass on link authority.
The strategy is much the same as with guest posting on a blog. Write original content that does not appear on your site, and submit to one or more reputable directories. Repeat until you get results.
The words you put on a web page have no life of their own until they get read. And those same words will not gain prominence in search engines until the words are linked to by relevant, authoritative sources.
Search engines can still be gamed, just like offline real-world systems can be exploited. However, the goals of the search engines are similar to society at large, and they are getting very good at finding rule breakers and dispensing punishment. Creating compelling content and beneficial relationships are strategies that won't get you banned or penalized, and add value to your overall goal of converting site visits into revenue.
While the reaction to your content off-page has become the critical determining factor when it comes to search engine rankings, your targeted keyword phrase should still appear on the page itself. And while there's little consensus in this area, having your keyword combinations appear throughout the page copy generally helps search engines further identify the relevancy of the page for those keywords.Back To Top
The good news is, copywriting best practices can create compelling, engaging content that also contains repeated keywords and phrases. You never want to sacrifice readability in the pursuit of rankings, but given that links are more important than on-page keyword repetition, you should never have to.
Here are a few tips for keyword integration in your copy:
The most important place your keywords should appear is in the title tag of the page. The nice thing about blogging software is that your post or page title will be automatically transformed into both title tags and either an H1 or H2 heading tag as well. Remember, your headline should wrap your keywords in a pithy promise that perfectly communicates what the content has to offer.
I've always found it useful to repeat the targeted keywords in the opening sentence, as long as it can be done in a way that is appealing to a reader and reinforces relevancy. Since many search engines use this initial copy as the description of the content, you want to make sure you are accurately selling the searcher on clicking through as well.
Another important place that keywords can appear is in subheads that aid the reader in navigating down the page. A resource that matches up well with the targeted keyword phrase will find natural opportunities to restate keywords in subheads, as an introduction to the next topical section of the page. Subheads are typically created using the H3 tag.
4. Related Words and Synonyms
Good copy should naturally result in words that are related to, as well as synonyms for, the keyword phrases you are after. Rather than mindlessly repeating the same words ad nauseam, assume that search algorithms are advanced enough to look for proper contextually-related words that support your targeted keywords.
One of the hallmarks of great copy is specific, descriptive words in lieu of bland general terminology. Specificity aids the reader by clearly demonstrating relevancy, allows for more dynamic copy, and provides opportunities to increase the general on-page keyword frequency. Make sure to employ your specific keywords when feasible within the context of the copy, rather than rely on generic wording.
6. Call to Action
Let us not forget that we want the reader to take some form of action that benefits us. Otherwise, what's the point? Once again, your copy should conclude with a call to action that prompts the reader to travel down the path you desire. Is it to purchase, contact, subscribe or simply continue reading? Your primary keywords should naturally fit in with the next step you want the reader to take.
The key to good on-page SEO copywriting is crafting content that seamlessly integrates keywords in a way that doesn't offend the reader. In fact, good keyword-rich copy should never even consciously alert the reader that keyword repetition is being employed for any reason other than his or her own benefit.