The complete guide on how to optimize content for SEO and Links
Content marketing has already solidified its stature as a powerhouse in the digital marketing realm.
In growing a brand’s audience and customer base, it’s certainly proved how formidable the practice is, especially when integrated with other data-driven disciplines (like SEO).
It’s no longer a trend. It has already forced its way to stay.
What is Content Optimization?
Content Optimization is a process in which a webpage and its content are optimized to become more attractive, useful and actionable to users. The processes typically include fixes and improvements on technical performance (ex: page speed) and content copy for it to perform and rank better on search engines.
The Evolution of Web Content: 10x Content
The competition for attention has been taken to new greater heights. With the fact that a vast amount of publishers from different verticals have already bought in to the concept of pushing far more “great content” in a steadily growing rate (2 million blog posts are published every day).
What is 10x Content?
“Content that is 10 times better than the best result that can currently be found in the search results for a given keyword phrase or topic.” – Rand Fishkin
Great content is not as great when it is not well optimized. And optimizing content to be far more competitive for Search has tremendously evolved over the years.
Content optimization is basically the process of improving the aesthetics and performance of a site’s assets or pages that provide unique value to its intended users through on-page SEO, conversion optimization, user experience, design, content editing and more.
Content Re-optimization as a Path to SEO Success
In my experience as an SEO, I think that there are 2 major strategic approaches to achieve success in Search Engine Optimization.
The first path is focusing the campaign in the technical side of search optimization. Ecommerce sites that have thousands of pages typically thrive in this kind of approach.
Whereas the second path to SEO success is relentlessly focusing resources on creative link acquisition campaigns – in which, honestly, our agency genuinely thrived for the past 3 years.
The last path, which I personally prefer these days, is focusing on making the most of what the site already have – through systemized Content Re-Optimization.
Where to Start?
This process focuses on page-level audits and enhancements, which makes it distinctive to what common technical on-site SEO audits look like (which mostly focuses on sitewide changes on the onset).
It starts with assigning and interconnecting multiple goals for each of the page you’ll be optimizing, such as:
1. Making a single page rank for multiple search terms.
2. Owning Rank #0 in Semantic Search.
3. Increasing the likelihood of pages to earn links for informational queries.
Below are the necessary steps, once you know what you want to achieve for your campaign.
Step 1: Start with your site’s top 20 pages.
Get data from Google Analytics and Google Search Console to determine your site’s high performing pages.
Note: Prioritize those that are already helping the site generate leads/conversions – and most importantly, pages targeting keywords with medium to high monthly search volume.
Step 2: Analyze what your competitors are doing right for each query/page
Start with those you’re confident you can easily compete with.
Step 3: Update & Re-optimize content to compete
A well-planned content relaunch campaign can massively impact your site’s organic traffic (see what Brian did here).
Step 4: After working on your top 20 pages, move down the list and reoptimize your site’s other existing assets.
The goal is to have more pages that’s capable of attracting thousands of highly qualified visitors to your site. That’s how you can build a fortress out of your website.
Below are the 17 content optimization tips that are a huge part of our own SEO strategies for enterprise level marketing campaigns.
1. Accurate & Highly Descriptive Page Titles
Title tags still remain as one of the most important ranking factors in Google’s ranking algorithm.
- Optimize your page’s titles for click-through rate (CTR)
- Use your primary keyword(s) within the title – preferably placed closer at the beginning of the title tag.
- Align content (body copy) with titles to match user intent.
- Compare titles with your competitors.
2. LSI & Secondary Keywords
Strategically place other keyword variants and semantically related terms within titles, descriptions, subheadings, images’ alt tag & content body.
Note: It’s important to use more relevant Nouns and entities in your writing. (Read more on Search Entity Optimization). This should also be a part of your keyword research for content strategy.
People don’t read on the web. They scan.
The average attention span of humans has been increasingly getting shorter since the mobile revolution. It’s best to optimize your content for different sets of users – those who intend to learn and those who want to get to the answers fast.
- Optimize content for skimreaders
- Use shorter sentences and break long paragraphs.
- Make the more interesting parts of the content look prominent (through appropriate use of h1 tags, subheadings, bold and whitespaces).
4. Over-deliver with Unexpected Hooks
Provide unique value in your content by including ideas or other content elements that your readers will rarely find elsewhere.
This is what will make your content more linkable.
5. Educate or be Useful
Providing freemium content is one of the best ways to make your content assets a link building machine.
Explore and learn from other industries.
For instance, other verticals don’t invest that much in interactive content creation. Be more competitive by taking your assets a step ahead than your competitors.
The same principle can also be applied to product pages – if you are running an ecommerce site, include the following elements:
- Quick Buyer Guides
- “Did you know” or fun facts section about your products
- How the product works (visuals)
- Then make detailed information optional and/or scannable
Lastly, it’s imperative to learn how to design content for eductors. Study the types of content/pages that top .edu sites link out to in your space.
6. Content Depth
Wikipedia has been successful as a website, not just because of the length of their content, but also because of the depth of the information they provide for each of their content.
This is what makes thousands of their pages so powerful (searchable, shareable & linkable). Focus on topic depth, not just length.
Be better than the wiki of your industry’s web space.
Use “last updated” timestamps when reoptimizing/upgrading your content’s depth. The recency of a high-quality content can help boost SERP CTR, and eventually its search engine rankings.
Place the summary, conclusion, key takeaways or TL;DR version of your content where visitors can instantly see them – above the fold.
Providing quick and direct answers to users (who most of the time prefer to see the answers as fast as they can) can also exponentially improve visitor satisfaction.
This in turn can help your pages compete and rank for the Google Answer Box results.
8. Google Answer Box / Featured Snippets
15% of queries globally display featured snippets. There are 3 types of Google Answer Box results: Paragraphs (63% of all displayed featured snippets on Google search results), Lists (19%) and Tables (16% – according to the data gathered by STAT).
Currently, I have a very primitive process in optimizing pages for these rich snippets.
I use Google Search Console to manually identify queries that display Google Answer Boxes (based on the top 20 landing pages I choose to work on reoptimizing).
Search Console > Search Analytics > Click on Pages’ Filter > Click a Page > Choose on Queries’ filter
Once I’ve determined which pages/queries have displayed rich snippet results, I can then restructure key sections of the content to match the type of Answer Box results being shown for each target query:
- Provide logical and the most accurate answers to these queries and Answer Box types.
- Provide the best definition to “what is” queries – to steal weak paragraph snippets.
- Create data-driven tables to steal weak “lists” rich snippets (not “how to” lists).
- Get more content/keyword ideas to work on from “People also ask”
Recommended reading: How to Earn More Featured Snippets – by Rob Bucci
9. Schema / Structured Data Markups
Structured Data makes it easier for search engines to better understand what your content is about. This is increasingly becoming more important in today’s search optimization (as Mike King mentioned, it’s the future of organic search).
It has become easier to apply these extra markups. Google have made it very simple to webmasters by offering free tools for implementing structured data markups: Structured Data Markup Helper and Rich Snippet Testing Tool.
If you’re using WordPress, there are a few plugins that can help you implement this (such as Schema Creator by Raven and All in One Schema.org Rich Snippets).
Useful Guides on implement Structured Data:
10. Visual Content / Rich Media
Optimize your content assets for better engagement with branded visuals and rich media content, like:
- High quality images
- Infographics / data visualizations
- Interactive content (HTML5 landing pages)
As these content elements can boost conversions as well – especially on transactional pages (ex: product size charts).
11. Link Out & Collaborate
Establish trust to users and search crawlers by citing/linking out to other authoritative websites and entities.
Cite credible sources within your own writing, especially those who will most likely help amplify your content promotion.
You can make your content assets more robust by collaborating and seeking help from others (co-creation & co-marketing).
12. Internal Links
Pass more link equity and improve the crawlability of your key content assets by contextually linking your site’s other deeper pages to it.
Take advantage of your internal links by using highly descriptive (or even partial match) anchor texts. This will help your important content assets rank better for the keywords they are targeting.
Pass on more ranking value to your key pages by lessening the # of clicks from homepage. Including these pages to your navigation links (or any type of featured links visible to first time site visitors) are great examples.
14. Dwell Time & Conversions
What is Dwell Time?
Dwell time, in a sense, is an amalgam of bounce rate and time-on-site metrics – it measures how long it takes for someone to return to a SERP after clicking on a result (and it can be measured directly from the search engine’s own data). – Dr. Pete Meyers
The longer the dwell time (or the length of time that a search-driven visitor stayed within the website), the better it could impact search rankings. It implies that the searcher has been satisfied with the result it clicked from the listings displayed by Google for a query.
Below are several ways you can do to optimize your content assets for better dwell time (and conversions).
1. Provide clear Calls-to-action (CTA)
- Make sure the CTA is relevant to your content asset
- Prominently placed within the page (at the bottom, sidebar, header, or pop-up).
- Continuously test and improve your CTAs
2. Establish and build authority with trust signals & social proof
3. Internally link out to related pages to boost dwell time on site
Your content assets should serve as content layers that can funnel visitors deeper into your transactional pages (services or products).
4. Encourage social media sharing.
15. Page Speed
Google has clearly put a significant amount of weight in speed as a ranking signal. They’re continuously obsessing about how they want everything to be fast in this modern age of the web (particularly for mobile users).
Quick tips for speeding up your website (via VentureHarbour):
- Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN)
- Use a very fast hosting company
- Install a caching plugin (WP Total Cache)
- Add Expires headers to leverage browser caching
- Compress your images (use WP SmushIt for WordPress)
- Clean up your database
- Compress your site with Gzip
- Fix all broken links
- Reduce your redirects
- Minify CSS and JS files
- Replace PHP with static HTML where possible
- Link to your stylesheets, don’t use @import
- Turn off ping backs and trackbacks in WordPress
- Enable Keep-Alive
- Specify image dimensions
- Specify a character set in HTTP headers
- Put CSS at the top and JS at the bottom
- Disable Hotlinking of images
- Switch of all plugins you don’t use
- Minimize round trip times (RTTs)
- Use CSS Sprites
- Use the rel=”prerender” directive (learn more here).
16. Build Links!
Links are still very vital to rank better these days (and definitely one of the top 3 core ranking factors).
It should be a lot easier to get and earn links to your content assets if they are already 10x better than what your competitors are offering.
Reach out to people/publishers who have already shown interest on the topic covered by your content – especially those who have linked/shared similar content in the past.
Useful link building resources:
17. Mobile Optimization
Google recently began experimenting on “mobile-first indexing”.
In which Google will primarily look at mobile versions of pages for its ranking signals and fall back on the desktop version when there is no mobile version.
With this upcoming big change to how Google will treat pages for ranking evaluation, considering to have mobile versions for your site’s key content assets in place could help improve their search visibility.
But there’s no need to worry if your site doesn’t have a mobile version, as per Google:
“If you only have a desktop site, we’ll continue to index your desktop site just fine, even if we’re using a mobile user agent to view your site.”
Here are some of the recommendations from Google on what webmasters could do to prepare:
If you have a responsive site or a dynamic serving site where the primary content and markup is equivalent across mobile and desktop, you shouldn’t have to change anything.
If you have a site configuration where the primary content and markup is different across mobile and desktop, you should consider making some changes to your site.
- Make sure to serve structured markup for both the desktop and mobile version. Sites can verify the equivalence of their structured markup across desktop and mobile by typing the URLs of both versions into the Structured Data Testing Tool and comparing the output.
- When adding structured data to a mobile site, avoid adding large amounts of markup that isn’t relevant to the specific information content of each document.
- Use the robots.txt testing tool to verify that your mobile version is accessible to Googlebot.
- Sites do not have to make changes to their canonical links; we’ll continue to use these links as guides to serve the appropriate results to a user searching on desktop or mobile.
If you are a site owner who has only verified your desktop site in Search Console, please add and verify your mobile version.
This means fully optimizing some of your important pages for mobile users (optimizing for local search, speed & structured data).
I still think that there’s a bit of truth in the saying “if you build it, they will come”. Success will always follow you when you’re consistently great at something.
Reoptimizing your content should be a good start.
Liked this post? Follow me on Twitter @jasonacidre.
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