SEO content best practices for 2016 and beyond

The nature of SEO has changed beyond all recognition in the past few years and, as a result, content writing has also undergone a radical shift. Low quality, keyword-stuffed articles are no longer enough to achieve those all important rankings; today you need informative, insightful content that delivers genuine value to the reader. In this article, I’m going to show you some of the best SEO practices you should be following in order to get results, both in 2016 and well into the future.

1. Keywords should be strategically included, not stuffed

Long gone are the days when businesses could stuff their websites with a few choice keywords and expect to soar on to the first page of Google in no time at all. Updates to the search engine’s algorithm, most notably Penguin in 2012 and Panda in 2014, were designed to reward sites offering genuine information to help visitors, while penalising those attempting to falsely inflate their position. So, how can you keep the Google happy and still attract the right people to your domain?

Wordstream recommend that you “include relevant keywords in a number of high-attention areas on your site”, including in page titles, meta descriptions and body copy. As your site will have hundreds, and potentially thousands, of short and long-tail keywords to target, you’ll have to be intelligent in terms of how you do this – for Searchmetrics, “Keywords are, of course, an organic part of good content, but are meaningless without relevance and structure.”

In their 2016 SEO checklist, Web Runner advise utilising several methods for keyword research, so you end up with a definitive and relevant list you can use “to provide answers to your visitors’ questions, as well as to position [yourself] as an authority who can help them if they need even more.” Integrate your keyword research into your existing content calendar, so you are focusing on a few key terms for each piece of content, rather than over-extending and trying to cram everything in in an artificial manner. As long as you’ve done your homework and your content includes a smattering of key search terms in all the right places, you’re abiding by the rules and should start to see evidence of success sooner rather than later.

2. Let the link juice flow

Links have always been an important factor in determining the provenance and relevance of a site, but the way in which search engines view linking has changed over the years. In 2016, it’s vital that your content contains a mixture of internal links to other articles or pages on your domain, to help visitors navigate through your site, and external links to authority sites. For your audience, this shows evidence of where you got your information from, but in terms of SEO, external links are a powerful ranking factor.

Internal links – According to Forbes, “the number of internal links on high-ranking pages has increased since 2014.”  However, as with most current SEO best practices, the key here is quality, not quantity: links should be provided in an intelligent and non-intrusive way, “ensuring that the user stays on the page and is satisfied.” KISSMetrics recommend not over-optimising by including keyword-rich anchor text; instead, links should be spread naturally, over longer anchors.

External links – Link juice is a term used by SEO specialists to communicate the increased authority granted to sites receiving lots of links from other sites. Although the benefit to your ranking will naturally come from other websites liking your content and deciding to link to it, you should always be linking to authoritative sites yourself; outbound links to toxic sites could see you penalised. Again, differentiate your anchor text, and make sure the reader can find value in whatever it is you’re linking to.

3. Include headings and sub-headings & use tags correctly

Large blocks of unbroken text are a big no-no in modern SEO. Just as your audience is likely to be disconcerted when confronted with a huge body of text, search engines also struggle to extract the main points of a long post with no discernible structure. An easy way around this is to incorporate headings and sub-headings into your content, as plenty of SEO experts, such as Yoast, recommend.

Headings and sub-headings are a useful way of including variations of your key search terms, enabling people to find your site, but again, you should ensure that any titles you do include are relevant to the copy itself and guide the reader through your content. Header tags should also be used correctly – Google itself recommends “multiple heading sizes in order to create a hierarchical structure for your content” – which, if you’re using HTML, involves you knowing the difference between H1 and H6 tags.

4. Aim for longer posts

Ten years ago, 300 word posts were considered long and effective, in terms of SEO. In 2016, however, the benchmark is around five times that length, with Martin Laetsch recommending a focus on long-term content, between 1,200 and 1,500 words, as ideal. John Lincoln found that longer articles targeting competitive keywords rank higher and attract more backlinks, while Google’s own Pandu Nayak has said that one of the key thought processes behind the Panda update was “to help users find in-depth articles.”

It’s not a given, but as long as you’re following the three SEO best practice tips outlined above, you could well see more benefit in posting a weekly 1,500 word blog than you would from daily 300 word offerings.

Key takeaways

• Research and organically include keywords in your content to please a human audience, not search engine bots.

• Internal links help readers and search engines navigate through your site, while external links build authority – so use them!

• Always break up content into easy-to-read chunks with relevant headings and sub-headings containing a selection of your target keywords.

• In modern SEO, long-form content is king: the more in-depth you can go with your topic, the better.

These are just a few on-page SEO tips to guide your content writing over the next few months and beyond – do you have any further suggestions?

Image courtesy of Andy Roberts

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Drive more traffic with this simple, 4 step SEO content audit

Continually reviewing and improving your on-site content is an integral part of any SEO campaign. In this post, I’m going to show you how you can keep on top of things by providing a step-by-step guide for auditing your pages, identifying what’s working and what isn’t and targeting areas for improvement.

Step 1: Gather your site’s content using Screaming Frog

In order to perform an effective SEO content audit on your site, you’ll first have to gather all of your content. The best way to do this is to download Screaming Frog, which will scan your site’s URLs and analyse pages from an SEO perspective, saving you browsing through each page manually.

After Screaming Frog has completed its crawl through your site – this could take a few minutes, depending on how much content your site contains – filter as necessary and export the URLs and page titles you want to check to a spreadsheet; leaving plenty of columns free – you’ll need these to add the ‘SEO data points’ that you’re going to be analysing later.

There are many different data points you could consider. In his guide for Quicksprout, Neil Patel recommends creating columns for:

  • URLs
  • Date Audited
  • Title
  • Description
  • Content
  • Keyword
  • Alt Tags
  • Last Updated
  • Internal Links

Feel free to add and delete columns as appropriate.

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Step 2: Pull in data from Google Analytics to work out what you’re doing well

For the next step, you’ll need to sign in to Google Analytics. Navigate to ‘All Pages’ (Behavior > Site Content > All Pages in the toolbar) so you can obtain a list of your site’s most popular pages. As Patel highlights, “this will help you audit your most important pages first… [giving] you results as soon as possible.” Narrow or expand your dataset using the filters and, when you’re happy with the selection, export to a new page in your spreadsheet.

You should now have a list of your content, in descending order in terms of performance, with the following data: page views, average time on page, entrances, bounce rate, and exit percentage. Kristi Hines suggests doing this so you get an insight into what you’re doing right on your top performing content; you can then apply this to the rest of the pages you’re auditing or optimise further.

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Step 3: Analysing your pages

Now comes the difficult part: going through each page on your site in order to determine its effectiveness. There’s no quickfire way of doing this, you’ll simply have to trawl through each page, analysing content in terms of the ‘SEO data points’ mentioned earlier and make a record of how each page performs – several sources, including DynoMapper, recommend grading content on an A to F scale, with pages ranked ‘A’ being the very best and requiring little improvement and those awarded D, E, or F meriting action, which I’ll come to later.

As a minimum, you should analyse the following:

Page titles and URLs – Page titles and URLs should be unique, containing a maximum of 65 characters and, ideally, the keyword you’re targeting on that page.

Page description – If you’re using WordPress as your CMS, download Yoast’s excellent SEO plugin to make the auditing process easier. The plugin flags up missing aspects of your on-page SEO with a red light, so you should easily be able to edit your auditing spreadsheet accordingly. Page descriptions should be 160 characters or fewer, and should adequately convey to your audience what your content is about.

  • Content – Check each piece of content to determine if it’s relevant and insightful to your audience, grammatically flawless and well laid-out.
  • Keywords – Content should contain a selection of your targeted long-tail keywords, so ensure you have this information to hand at this stage of the auditing process.
  • Alt tags

 – Images should be under 100KB to minimise page loading times, but alt text should also be filled out. Remember: search engines can’t ‘look at’ an image the way humans do, so you need to tell the bots what’s included in the picture with a descriptive tag containing relevant keywords.
  • Internal links – Content should contain at least three links to other pages or blogs on your site, as well as external links, if possible.

If your page is missing any of the above, make sure you flag it up in the corresponding column of your spreadsheet. Moz’s exhaustive guide lists other aspects of your content you can examine for SEO, but how far you go is up to you.

Step 4: Actioning the changes required

The whole SEO content auditing process is worthless if you don’t take any actions to remedy the faults you’ve found. 

Remember the rating scale we talked about before? A good starting point in terms of recommended actions would be to either rewrite, remove, or optimise any pages which scored a D or less. The elements in Step 3 are fairly easy to change (if your page is lacking a meta description, include one, fix any broken links or images etc.); just remember that, if you’re removing pages or changing URLs, you should redirect the user accordingly.

Set yourself a deadline to implement the changes, and also outline the date you’re going to perform your next audit, so you can deduce how effective the process has been. As long as you’ve been thorough, and you’ve done what you said you would, you should see results.

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How to become a freelance web content writer

Google’s insatiable appetite for quality, informative content means that web content writers are more in-demand than ever before. The cream of the crop can, with the right determination, contacts and skills, make a decent living and enjoy a great work/life balance, but it’s a tough gig to begin with. If you want to get into this industry, whether you’re changing profession, or graduating from university, how do you get started?

Ensure your basic writing skills are up to scratch

Contrary to popular belief, freelance web content writers don’t necessarily need to have a degree; however, as the Study.com career guide points out, they “often have a bachelor’s degree in English, journalism or communications.” These study paths will inevitably give you an excellent grounding in the skills seen as indispensable for any budding freelancer to hold.

Being able to spell correctly and write in a comprehensible and engaging manner is obviously a pre-requisite, although, as highlighted by Victoria Delano these are basic traits desired in any writer. To really set yourself apart as a freelance web copywriter, you should also be able to “critically analyse content… and find inconsistencies in your writing” and “conduct thorough research and analyse the facts you learn”, determining which are most salient to the piece you’re writing. If you’re confident in your ability to do all of this, you’re ready to move on to the next step.

Learn to market yourself

As a content writer, you’re going to be “creating… valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action [for the client]”, according to the Content Marketing Institute’s official definition of content marketing. It is vital then, that to attract business, you practise what you preach.

Establish a web presence, so potential clients can find you. Your site should list the writing services you offer (clients will be looking for varying forms of content, so be sure you know the difference between blog posts and articles, for example, and communicate this effectively) but, most importantly, it should also include a blog. For Mariah Coz of Femtrepeneur, “Having a blog is like having a collection of writing samples (a portfolio) that can attract potential gigs and clients.” Try to find a niche subject to write about, rather than covering as much ground as possible; it is easier for you to come across as knowledgeable and informative on one or two smaller topics, and gain work through this, than it is to blag your way through an issue you don’t fully understand.

Finally, adopt the tried and tested tactics of content marketers by guest-posting for bigger blogs in your niche. As Coz points out, this is “mutually beneficial” for you and the site: they get good quality content, for free, or for a small fee, while “you (potentially) get paid to write… get lots more exposure for your own blog and experience working with others and sticking to a schedule.”

Develop a wider understanding and skillset

While you may be confident in your abilities as a writer, and have a strong website and blog to back your skills up, there are thousands upon thousands of people out there who feel the same. In order to differentiate yourself in a competitive market, you need what Sherry Gray of Entrepreneuer refers to as “a full toolkit of marketable skills.”

This could include:

Technical knowledge – including the ability to design and code your own website, or simply being able to upload and optimise posts in a client’s Content Management System.

Familiarity with a range of social media platforms – on which you could build both your own and your clients’ following.

A wider insight into the marketing industry and the broad goals of the business you’re writing for – Gray suggests showing evidence of your ability to research keywords and buyer personas, for example.

The best content writers are polymaths: they’re marketers, SEO specialists, accomplished coders and social media masters all rolled into one package, so ensure that you can offer potential clients more than just the clichéd “carefully crafted copy” hawked by everyone else.

Keep yourself busy – and don’t give up!

By its very nature, copywriting is an inconsistent line of work, especially when you’re first starting out, seeking regular clients. Carol Tice underlines how important it is not to give up, saying “you can’t be a writer unless you are willing to put it out there and face rejection. You have to be willing to hear “no” and not crumple up in a ball and cry yourself to sleep.” Literature is littered with examples of writers, including J.K Rowling and Booker Prize winner Marlon James, who only became famous after years of persistence.

Fortunately, the internet is full of freelancing websites, which allow freelance web content writers to pick up work as and when they need it and build relationships with clients. Contently allows writers to easily assemble a portfolio and then use this to pitch for work.

When you work for yourself, time is money, so spend it wisely. Bear in mind the following advice of Laura Kay, writing for the Guardian’s Careers section: “If you don’t go looking for work, spending your days shooting off emails and writing pitches, then it is very unlikely the work will come to you.”

Conclusion

Becoming a successful web content writer is about much more than being able to write. You need to be able to communicate to a range of audiences in a succinct and effective manner and, of course, you have to find a unique way to market your own services and skills in order to attract business in the first place. You also need a number of personal qualities, including self-motivation, initiative and the ability to interpret clients’ instructions. If you can nail all of the above, congratulations: you’ll benefit from being your own boss, working your own hours and never having to negotiate the rush hour traffic or pull a sickie again!

Image courtesy of Fiona Palmer

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How to increase WordPress blog traffic

WordPress is by far the most used content management system on the planet. An incredible 76.5 million blogs are hosted on the site, with 50,000 added every single day.

Setting up a WordPress blog is the easy part; establishing yourself as an authoritative voice and attracting visitors to your site requires dedication, know-how and, most of all, patience. In this post, I’m going to outline five ways you can increase traffic to your WordPress blog, starting with organic traffic.

Optimise your posts for SEO

There are a number of ways you can optimise your blog posts so they perform as well in the SERPs as possible. As a bare minimum, Pauline Cabrera of TwelveSkip recommends:

• Including a ‘short, unique and relevant’ meta title and description to convey to your audience what your post is all about.
• Setting up Google Authorship so your audience can put a credible face to your name.
• Using a plugin such as YARPP to display relevant content; ideally, you want visitors to stay on your site for as long as possible.
• Making use of the category and tag functions in WordPress – use appropriate tags so those searching for the terms you use in your content can find you more easily.

WordPress is renowned for its selection of free plugins, and there are several you can use to optimise your posts so they’re easier to find. We use Yoast SEO, a particularly handy tool, which allows you to check how search engine friendly your content is, before you actually post it.  The plugin incorporates a traffic light rating system  when analysing your content for things like placement of keywords, number of outbound links and difficulty of reading, and also allows you to easily customise your title and meta description. The more green lights you get, the better optimised your post is.

Content analysis via the Yoast plugin
Content analysis via the Yoast plugin

Regularly share on social media

Social media is vital in showcasing your content to a wider readership. A couple of weeks back we shared 10 ways you can use social media to build your blog audience – tailoring content for specific platforms, using share buttons to allow users to disseminate your posts and automating updates are the key take aways.

Again, there are a number of plugins that can help with this, including Simple Share and Digg Digg.

Don’t just share content once. As Matt Lindley of Verve Search highlights, “companies aren’t sharing their blog content nearly as much as they ought to.” Think about it: you’ve just spent a couple of hours writing content, formatting it in WordPress and tweaking it for SEO. Are you really going to tweet a link to it once at midday and then leave it at that? What about people who aren’t online at that time?

Consider incorporating Derek Halpern’s 80/20 rule. Halpern says “it’s smarter to find another 10,000 people to consume what you’ve already created as opposed to creating more”, so broaden your reach as much as you can by scheduling tweets to appear at different times of the day and finding snippets you can share across LinkedIn and other sites. Garrett Moon of Kissmetrics provides this handy social sharing schedule as a starting point.

Explore guest posting opportunities

This is an effective way of increasing traffic to your blog, and it works both ways: actively search for guest posting opportunities on relevant authority sites and also invite influencers and thought leaders in your industry to write posts for your own blog.

Kristi Hines of Kissmetrics suggests that “there are three main goals for guest blogging.” You want to position yourself as an authoritative figure in your industry, hence the importance of finding a relevant site to post to; you want the readers of the site you’re guesting for to come back to yours for more and you want to get backlinks to your site so Google realises you know what you’re talking about.

Make it clear you accept guest posts from bloggers on your own site by including an open invitation ‘write for us’ page somewhere in your layout. Building relationships with other bloggers allows you to tap into their (hopefully sizeable) social media following, and benefit from a fresh perspective on your blog subject.

Ensure your site is fast and mobile-friendly

This might sound obvious, but that doesn’t mean you should rest on your laurels. As Megan Marrs points out, “visitors aren’t going to wait around for your blog to load”; they’ll simply go elsewhere. Similarly, if they’re browsing via mobile, as 80% of web users do, they’ll want a site that reads easily on a smaller screen and doesn’t take ages to load images and videos.

These issues are easily remedied: use Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool to get an idea of how well your site is performing in terms of speed and install the Jetpack plugin to help create a mobile version of your blog.

Interact with your audience

Whether you’re responding to comments on a post on your own blog, offering your insight on another blogger’s piece or replying to a tweet, people like to know that their voice is being heard and their opinion addressed. Actively invite comments at the end of your posts and follow Moz’s tips on ‘comment marketing.’ As this post suggests, “participation can yield awareness and branding to the blog’s audience”, while “comments with links, especially those that are well-written and enticing will result in visits.” You should also participate on online question and answer sites, such as Quora and StackExchange: again, well-written answers to users’ questions will, at the very least, introduce your name to a new audience, but hopefully users will appreciate the insight you give and will click on to your blog for more.

Increasing traffic to your WordPress blog isn’t an exact science, and your level of success will largely depend on your industry and the level of competition. Keep coming up with quality, relevant content, apply the tips above and you should start to see results improve sooner rather than later.

Image courtesy of Cristian Labarca.

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