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Writing for SEO: Myths and Facts

Writing for the internet is a surprisingly tricky thing to master. When you’re writing blogs or other content for your site, not only do you need to clearly convey your message and drive your audience to become your customers, you also need to write in a way that appeals to search engines and ensures that your audience will be able to find your content in the first place. Mastering this balancing act is the key to effective content marketing for your business.

It’s easy to get confused by all of the terminology that gets thrown around when discussing search engine optimization (SEO)-based writing. With figures like keyword density, optimal length, and ranking factors, sometimes optimized content marketing sounds more like solving a scientific equation than writing a blog post. We’re here to break it down and make it easy for you by letting you know what really affects your SEO ranking and what’s a thing of the past.

Myth: You Need a High Keyword Density

Back in the 90s and the early 2000s, this was true. Regardless of the overall quality of your content, if you forced your keyword into every paragraph of your content as well as your meta descriptions, tags, and locations (a practice fondly referred to as “keyword stuffing”), you could get a high ranking. It didn’t matter how accurate or how readable your content was. As long as you mentioned the keyword enough times, you were guaranteed a prime spot on the results page.

As the Google algorithm has developed and we’ve started learning more about what goes into search engine optimization, this has changed. If you do a little online research, you’re likely to find a variety of sources with differing ideas on what the best keyword density is. Keyword density is still one of Google’s 200 ranking factors, but experts have found it difficult to agree on one optimal figure. Some say that you should use your keyword once every 100 words, giving you a keyword density of 1 percent. Others say that your keyword density should be anywhere between 3 and 7 percent. So what should you do?

Fact: The Algorithm Prioritizes WAY More Than Just Keywords

It’s estimated that Google updates its algorithm 500 to 600 times per year. One thing that those thousands of changes have done is adjusted what the algorithm looks for and rewards. Now, the algorithm has developed to the point where it can identify keyword-stuffing and other attempts at “cheating the system” to quickly obtain a high ranking.

Google has over 200 ranking factors, and content itself is one of the top three most important. In addition to keyword optimization, some other important things in your content are:

  • Length. Many studies have found that longer content tends to perform better on search engines. However, just as the algorithm can detect keyword-stuffing, it’s clear when you’ve stretched out the length of your content. Don’t push it: just make sure that your content is detailed without being bloated. While the most effective content is over 2,000 words, blog posts between 695 and 929 words do very well in terms of conversions and traffic. Always shoot for more than 500 words, but never try to force a higher word count for the sake of having one.
  • Optimized images. Most people like having visual aids to catch their eye and break up a wall of text, and SEO is no different. In addition to adding some visual appeal to your blog content, a well-optimized image (you can do this by reducing the file size, including your keyword in the file name, adding alt tags, and giving it a title) will help you out in the rankings. And feel free to switch it up: photos, infographics, videos, and even GIFs can all aid your SEO.
  • Tags. In addition to your title and your content body, you should still pay attention to your H1 and H2 tags, your URL, and your meta description. Having these areas optimized for search will help you with both your rankings and your readers.

Myth: You Should Write for the Algorithm

Huh? Throughout this article, we’ve been talking about how to tailor your content to the most up-to-date version of the Google algorithm, and now we’re telling you that it’s not all about the algorithm? So what is the truth?

The truth is that you absolutely need to take the Google algorithm into consideration (and check in on it frequently—frequent updates large and small absolutely could affect your ranking, and you should be updating your SEO strategies to reflect these changes), but if your writing is all done for the sole purpose of appeasing the Google algorithm, it’s going to read awkwardly and robotically. So while you should optimize your content, your content shouldn’t be written solely for artificial intelligence. Your content should be able to measure up to the standards of search engines and humans.

Fact: Above All, You Need to Answer Your Audience’s Questions

Today, one of the most important factors for your content’s SEO is your intent, and the algorithm is working to match your content with the people who are looking for its information.

RankBrain is a machine-learning system that Google began using in 2015 to process its search results, and along with links and content, it rounds out the top three most important ranking factors. It analyzes search results and queries and matches unfamiliar queries with the keywords that it has already seen. By doing this, it guesses at what you’re really looking to find with your search and sends you to the sites that it thinks will answer your questions. So instead of just matching what someone searched to sites that happen to use the same keyword configuration, today Google is working on sending them to the sites that they believe will have the best solutions for them.

But it’s not just about the algorithm—it’s about human reactions. Who are you trying to target with your content? Writing to please the Google algorithm might help to make your content more visible, but ultimately you need to make your content easy and enjoyable for your readers. SEO may help you attract in these readers, but well-written content is what will turn them from visitors into clients.

Think about what you’re trying to accomplish with your content. Are you trying to attract new clients? Are you trying to inform your audience of something important? Are you looking to educate your readers? Once you know what you’re trying to do, think about what your readers are trying to do. Are they trying to educate themselves on some concept, or are they looking for actionable steps they can take to help them with some problem? Once you know what your audience is looking for, focus on making your content the answer to their questions.

There are a few tools that can help you out with this. Answer the Public is one free tool that provides data and visualizations of what a typical search query might look like for any given phrase. It gives you a clear idea of what your audience is trying to learn about, and is a great resource for finding future content ideas.

The Takeaway

SEO is an ever-changing landscape, and trying to keep up can be daunting even for marketing professionals. When you’re writing for the internet, you’re not just writing for your readers. You’re writing for search engines, and the best content marketing will appeal to both sides. As you write your content, consider the following guidelines:

  • Give people the information that they’re looking for. Potential clients and search engines alike will thank you for this. Don’t obscure your knowledge with overabundant keywords; make your important information easily readable and clearly visible, and link to authoritative sources that can back up your knowledge.
  • Have a purpose. Don’t just write content for the sake of having content. Whether you’re looking to educate your readers or drive your clients to action, every piece of content should have an objective.
  • Pay attention to the details. They might not be the main attraction, but headlines, descriptions, tags, images, and length can all affect your content.
  • Check your grammar and spelling. Mechanical errors are one of the quickest ways to lose authority for your site, and in the age of spellcheck and Grammarly, there’s no excuse for errors in your content. Don’t publish anything without a second look!

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