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In recent years changes to search engine algorithms have changed the content that we access online. Where once it was common to see short blog posts which offered little in the way of value to the reader, now we see sites offering actionable and truly useful posts. This has come about thanks to Panda and Penguin, which worked to penalize sites that offered ‘thin’ content. The idea of this was to force spamming tactics – spun articles, keyword stuffing, etc. – out of search results.
Add to this that Google recently banned guest posting for SEO (another hugely misused tactic for gaining backlinks) and we now have a much more useful web for everyone.
Image: Neilsen Norman Group
Studies show that readers follow an F-shaped pattern when reading online
We read differently online. Eye-tracking studies show that online readers tend to read in an F-shaped pattern and that they tend to skim. This means that it’s necessary to craft content in order to ensure that online readers will read as much as possible of your posts. But you also want to make sure that your content is discoverable by the search engines.
Keyword stuffing, as mentioned, is not recommended. While earlier it was necessary to consider the density of the keywords in a piece of writing, now the density should be the last thing on your mind. Keywords remain important, but you should consider using a primary and secondary keyword sparingly throughout the text. Instead, think about related, long-tail phrases that will add context to the post for the search engines.
You don’t have to be the next Bronte to write decent content. It’s desirable though that you should be able to construct a sentence and it should contain faultless spelling and grammar. If these are not your strong points, then do consider using software to help you.
Google’s algorithms check for good spelling and grammar and so the site that doesn’t pay attention to detail is the one that will find itself disappearing further down the search ranking results.
Since online readers like to skim text, you can use readability scoring to ensure that it’s scannable. As a general rule of thumb, remember that if you use words or construct sentences in such a way that it makes the reader stop to make sense of it, then you’ve effectively lost them.
Readability scoring allows you to more effectively write for your target audience. In the past when I’ve suggested this I have been criticized for contributing to ‘dumbing down’ the written material found online. But readers have different abilities and different audiences have varying skills and understand various languages.
For example, a blog that you write for a site aimed at teenagers is going to be written very differently than if your audience consists of lawyers. As a writer, and especially as a business looking to build relationships through blogging, you’re writing for the audience, not yourself.
This means that you must use language that your audience understands and connects with. Some writers love to wax lyrical, using long and convoluted jargon that is off-putting to the reader. This is fine if you’re hobby-blogging, but if you want to ensure that your blog is truly useful to your readers then understand who they are and what they want.
The format in which you present blogs is also important. There’s nothing worse than landing on a site and be presented with a large, unbroken block of text. This is enough to have most online readers leave the site and look for easier reads. Blogs should contain short sentences and paragraphs.
They should also:
• Include clear white space between paragraphs
• Use subheaders
• Use images and where appropriate, videos
• Have paragraphs that are no longer than 8 lines deep
• Use bullet points to further break up the text
For the search engines, you should include your keywords in the title, first paragraph and one subheader. You should then also use your secondary keyword and contextual phrases throughout the piece naturally. Don’t try to force keywords in where they don’t belong – above all it should be easy and natural to read.
How long should a blog post be?
That’s an ongoing question that many people seem to struggle with. I don’t write posts of less than 800-1000 words unless specifically requested for a few reasons:
1. Research shows that longer posts perform better in the SERPs
2. Short posts rarely offer value to the reader
Before Google banned guest posting for SEO we saw a lot of fluff pieces created for no other reason than to gain a backlink.
These tended to have the same characteristics:
1. The content had very little research and depth to it
2. The content was 500 words or less
3. Links with unnatural anchor text were commonly littered throughout the text
So write as much as you feel you need to in order to get across the information that your readers will find useful. Try to keep it actionable and unless you’re already known as something of an expert in your industry (or your blog is well-established), avoid opinion pieces.
Remember, you’re writing for the reader, and a rant covering your personal opinion isn’t useful to them. However, they can prompt discussion, so even if you have a new blog, consider when and how an opinion piece could be used for this purpose and work it into your ongoing strategy.
Readers don’t necessarily trust that your post contains information that is true. With this in mind, provide links that support your writing to trusted sites such as academic sites and studies that contain facts and figures. This will give your posts more weight, Google will love you for it as it proves that you’re pointing to further information and getting involved in a conversation.
A healthy link profile for any site contains a mix of outbound, internal and incoming, dofollow and nofollow links. For backlinks, some of these will have a nofollow placed on them, which also makes up part of a good link profile. Creating excellent content will attract backlinks, as will guest posting on other sites. Nofollow links don’t have any ‘link juice’ but they do drive traffic and boost your business’s online visibility, so don’t be afraid of them.
I’m coming to this last as often it’s better to go back and work on your title (and your introduction) after you’ve finished writing the bulk of the post. Headlines are your chance to grab reader attention, so you should try to work on ensuring that they’re clickable. Avoid cute and clever titles as these can work against you and work on titles that speak to the reader about a problem.
Image Source: Moz
As you can see, the types of headlines that readers like are dominated by those with numbers in them.
“5 Ways to Boost Traffic”
“10 Tips for Improving SEO”
‘How to’ posts are also popular, as are those that directly address the reader. With this in mind, use this research to help you to come up with titles that readers will want to click on and read. List posts (such as number posts) are easy to read and people love them – think Buzzfeed – there’s a reason it’s so popular – as they immediately understand that the information is potentially useful to them.
If you write great content, that readers love and share, then you will have a better chance of achieving good rankings and attracting backlinks. You should aim to post as often as possible – at least twice a week – for best results and ensure that you share your posts across social media and encourage engagement.
Do write for your audience and not the search engines. Do carry out keyword research and use these in your posts. And make sure that your spelling, grammar and information are flawless.
This will ensure that your site gets found and that once there, readers will return to read your content further.
If you can’t write, invest in a blogger or agency that can produce great content for you and who understands your industry.
If you can write, then do allow your own voice to shine through and inject a little personality. Readers want to think that they’re connecting with a person, rather than a faceless organization, so do include a bio briefly stating who you are, what you like and where you work.
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