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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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