If you’ve ever written for the online environment, chances are you have been asked these questions: How many clicks did your article get? How did your piece rank in searches?
Many of us writers and content developers were taught to focus on the message and build on that core concept, hoping the beauty or usefulness of the idea will carry it through to the intended audience regardless of the clutter along the way. While that strategy surely has its share of success, in the online universe focusing on the message alone has ceased to be enough.
For your article to reach a larger audience and have a stronger impact, it has to rank high for a keyword or phrase search input. Studies have shown most Internet users do not browse past the first page of search results, so not showing up on the top of the list lowers your chances of getting new customers on-board or promoting your new products a bit more strongly.
This is where SEO comes in. SEO means search engine optimization, an approach to writing or developing content to improve a website’s rating on an Internet search and its page rank compared to related websites. Writing with SEO in mind, therefore, boosts a website’s visibility on major search engines such as Google and helps broaden your content’s reach.
But how exactly is this done?
Keywords and meta tags are two of the first things that come to mind upon hearing SEO. The first refers to the words or phrases Internet users are most likely to enter when they do a search online. Using keywords as part of SEO writing then means adding words or phrases that you think Internet users will type when they look up your topic or something related to it. These keywords or phrases can be added to the headline or subheads, the opening sentence and any other high-profile element of the article.
Meta tags provide a short description of the content. Done in HTML format, they do not appear on the page itself but are visible to search engines and so help in ranking a page. A caveat: Not all meta tags are useful. (When and when not to use meta tags can be the topic of another article! Watch out for that!)
But keywords and meta tags are not the only SEO tools at your disposal. Here are some more tips on how to write better SEO content:
Know your target audience
Be clear on who you’re writing for and write for that audience. Decide on the tone depending on your target reader. If you’re writing for a much younger audience, for example, try for a lighter piece. Use business English if you’re writing about international trade or business.
Regardless of the tone, engage your readers. Try opening with a question or something that will surprise or make the reader wonder. You can use statistics or direct quotes. If the topic of your article has been discussed many times, explore a new angle and stay with that anchor. But remember, avoid inundating your piece with heavy words or phrases that can only alienate your readers. In most cases, simple words and constructions are still the best way to go.
But this is SEO writing, so what about those keywords? Worry about adding keywords later. Do not write for search engines lest you end up with something mechanical and boring. You can focus on writing that first draft and add the keywords after.
Hook readers with a great headline
Make that first impression count. Some studies show headlines with numbers are a big draw.
You can also go with tested heads such as:
- How to …,
- Everything You Need to Know About …,
- The World’s Best (or Worst)
Be sure also to use the active voice more than the passive.
The longer, the better
We have all read about Internet users having short attention spans. That is correct.
But studies also indicate longer articles rank better in search results. This is because such pieces provide richer content and more information.
But go for shorter paragraphs
This is where you cater to the short attention span. Extend your content all you want, but be sure to use short paragraphs to make them easily digestible.
Breaking the text into several shorter paragraphs also helps extend an article visually, making it appear long on a computer screen.
Subheads help your readers navigate through the article while also breaking the text. For those skimming through the article, subheads serve as markers for the core ideas.
Enrich your content
Improve the user experience by adding complementary elements. This can be in the form of images or videos.
Use images and videos that are clear and support the message of your article. Add a caption that can stand alone but can also generate interest to read the article.
Adding links to related content on your site – or even to external sites that may be useful – is another way to boost the user experience.
Use power words
Some words are more effective in eliciting emotion from your readers. In addition to making your reader feel something, power words can be used to cause your readers to act in some way.
So how exactly is this done? First, take the active tone of voice. Then, sprinkle your article with power words that complement your topic. For example, if your article seeks to build trust with your audience, appeal to their sense of security with words such as guaranteed, no-nonsense, research-proven, certified, endorsed by and similar others.
Keep your content timely and fresh.
Update, update and update some more. Offer fresh content as often as possible to keep your readers coming back. Search engines also value content that is new and relevant. Why? Because that’s the type of content readers want.