Back in the days when print journalism ruled, major publishers had huge teams of fact-checkers and editors poring over every article before it went to press.
With the move to online publishing, those responsibilities have increasingly fallen on the shoulders of the content manager — a hybrid editor/strategist/project manager role with a bit of search engine optimization (SEO) thrown in.
I’m a content manager. It’s my responsibility to make sure every piece of content I create for my clients is stellar — for their goals, their leads and their customers.
But one man’s “stellar” is another man’s drivel. When we marketing types talk about “high-quality content,” we mean content that:
- Engages, informs, entertains.
- Is optimized for search.
- Delivers what it promises.
- Uses reputable, authoritative sources.
- Has a great headline.
- Is free from error, jargon and clichés.
- Is easily scannable.
- Inspires action.
Google rewards high-quality content, which is one of the greatest benefits of following these best practices.
Here are 10 ways (plus one bonus tip) to perfect your content before you press that “publish” button.
1. Optimize for keyword search
The goal of your content should always be to provide something of value to your readers so trust in your brand increases. This means when they’re ready to purchase, your brand will be top of mind.
To get content seen, it must be optimized for keywords people are searching for. Wolfgang Digital’s 2016 study of 87 million website sessions of e-commerce brands found 43 percent of traffic comes from organic Google search:
Use keyword research to discover popular terms and long-tail phrases that can inspire content. Make sure those terms are placed relevantly in header tags and throughout the content but don’t keyword-stuff. As long as the terms are used naturally and relevantly, you’ll be fine.
2. Break up content
While the debate on human attention span rages on, there’s no doubt the amount of content we have access to is larger than ever. According to the “2018 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends-North America” reports by Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs, 91 percent of B2B marketers and 86 percent of B2C marketers use content marketing.
That’s a ton of content, in addition to the more than 1 billion hours of YouTube videos watched daily, plus social media posts on Facebook, Instagram and other channels.
With so much content to choose from, breaking up content to make it more visually appealing helps capture and keep user attention, since online readers are apt to scan content. Use subheads, numbered or bulleted lists and short paragraphs to make your content scannable. These techniques fall in line with Google’s own Developer Documentation Style Guide.
3. Make sure the headline is searchable and clickable
Unlike intentionally vague titles of great novels that offer mystery and intrigue to readers, writing headlines for the web is an art requiring the perfect blend of searchability and click-worthiness.
You want to craft headlines that include a keyword or two you want to rank for, but it also needs to be compelling enough to grab clicks.
Since the general consensus is that headlines longer than 65 or 70 characters will get cut off by search engines, make sure your keyword appears early in the headline. Such limited space means you should favor straightforwardness over getting cutesy — though there’s still room to be creative in what you write.
4. Add a CTA
Adding a strong call to action (CTA) to every web page and blog post is essential.
What is a CTA?
- It tells the consumer the best next step to take.
- It guides the user in the right direction.
- It is helpful and relevant to the user’s pain points.
Make sure the call to action you use on your blog post corresponds with the content and where the user is on the buyer journey. You wouldn’t want to add a “Buy Now” button to a top-of-funnel informational piece, but a free consultation offer or a white paper download might make sense.
5. Add internal and external links
Linking within content is essential to elevate the user experience. There are external links and internal links. When using either type, the link should be relevant and helpful so that they enhance your search engine optimization process and provide value to the consumer.
- External links. These links point to other websites besides the domain the content is on. External links are beneficial because they build credibility when you’re linking to a (credible, authoritative) source. They can also be instrumental in creating partnerships with other publishers when they notice your content is linking to them. They can help to make your content more authoritative.
- Internal links. These are links to content within the domain the content is on. Using internal links helps Google understand your website structure. They provide a better experience for the user, who can discover more information related to the content topic. They also can help nurture leads, since you’re providing additional relevant and helpful content.
Make sure your links open to new tabs. This way, your content is still open for the user, and they won’t have to go back and forth within a single window to consume content. You can also help to increase time on page and decrease bounce rate from your site, which can affect search rankings.
6. Evaluate anchor text
Anchor text is the clickable text part of the link you see on either an external or internal link. When the text is highlighted within the copy, the user gets a better idea of the content they’ll see when they click. Some types of anchor text include:
- Exact match. This is a hyperlinked phrase which plainly states what the website is about.
- Partial match. One or two keywords hyperlinked describe what the website is about.
- Branded. This hyperlink is the name of the company.
- Generic or nonbranded. Generally known as “click here” type anchors.
Anchor text that relates to the content the link is pointing to is best for search engine signals. Be mindful of using outbound anchor text that contains a keyword you want to rank for that depletes your link equity.
For example, if you run a pet store, don’t link out to another pet store site using the words “best pet store” in the anchor. A generic keyword would be more appropriate to use as anchor text in this case.
7. Link to credible sources
There is a lot of content out there, more than most people have time to read. Developing entertaining and educational content increases the chances of it being clicked, read and shared.
If you need to link to sources to support your content, link to reputable, well-known sources within an industry and the primary source of the information.
When you’re citing another source, include the name of the source, as well as a link. Links break, and pages go offline, so citing the name of the primary source helps keep your article credible.
8. Add images and give credit
Adding images to content is another great way to break it up and make it more visually appealing to users. Images are also important for search engine optimization. Google image search is the second-most used search platform after Google.com, accounting for more than one-quarter of US searches. By optimizing the images you feature in content with descriptive headlines, descriptions and tags, you can increase your chances of being seen in more image searches.
In February 2018, Google removed the “View Image” button in image search results, which means users have to click over to the website the image is on to see it in full context. This is great news for publishers, as Search Engine Land reports there was an average of a 37 percent increase in clicks from image searches throughout 58 websites since the change.
9. Make content shareable
Social sharing buttons are a form of a CTA for users who are on social media. Seeing the recognizable icons for Facebook, Twitter and social networks sends a signal to users to share. As your content gets shared on social media, you reap benefits, including:
- More users will see your content.
- You gain a better return on investment with content because of new leads and sales.
- Social media shares indirectly impact search engine rankings as a ranking signal
Depending on your content management platform, you may easily have the ability to turn on a social sharing button feature. For platforms like WordPress, there is an array of free social sharing plugins you can add to your layout, which makes social buttons automatically appear on each piece of content.
Other options for sharing on social include:
- Create your own CTA graphics for social sharing.
- Write out a call to action within a post to join a discussion about it on your Facebook page.
- Insert “click to tweet” links in a post which enable users to share tidbits from it in just a few clicks
When you can continue the conversation about a piece of content on a social network, engagement for the piece organically increases.
10. Create a great meta description
A compelling meta description is important for every piece of content. With Google’s emphasis on quality and relevance for search results, follow meta description best practices like:
- Use keywords, but don’t repeat them or overuse them.
- Use long-tail phrases that give more context to the content.
- Write enticing descriptions that encourage users to click.
- Avoid using the same meta description for multiple web pages
It used to be a best practice to cap meta descriptions at 160 characters; then, in late 2017, Google bumped that up to 320 characters, and now it looks like we’re back down to the 160 range again. Make sure whatever you’re writing is relevant, helpful and valuable, just like the content itself.
Bonus tip: Proofread your copy
Well-written, error-free content says a lot about your brand and shows you care about quality.
Plus it makes content managers like me a little crazy when we see such obvious mistakes in content. Don’t drive us batty. Proofread your content!
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