Content is still king in 2019 and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. The 2018 Hubspot State of Inbound Marketing report found that blog content creation was the top marketing priority for 55% of marketing professionals this year. The report also found that marketers who placed a high priority on blogging were 13-times more likely to see positive ROI than those who did not prioritize blogging.
Blogging is such an integral part of content marketing that many companies are now creating specialized writer’s rooms with fancy lounge furniture and standing desks to ensure maximum comfort for their company scribes. Every year there is a new article about how artificial intelligence will eliminate the need for writers altogether. But search algorithms are also advancing, and are able to detect automated content and penalize it on search engine result pages (“SERPs”).
While many companies have in-house writers for all their content marketing needs, others use freelancers to get the job done. But smaller companies and individuals simply do not have the budget to pay for professional writing. That means if they want 24-hour lead generation via blogging, they have to do it themselves. Writing takes a lot of time and effort. All that work will be for naught if it does not show up high in SERPs.
Here are five tips to position for content high in SERPs.
Understand Google Search Algorithm Updates
Once upon a time, content writers would repeat the same keywords several times in one article to ensure it ranked accordingly. This simple technique made content farms successful because any low-quality article with a lot of the same keywords ranked very high in Google SERPs. That was until April of 2012 when the Panda updates began penalizing web spamming – keyword stuffing, unnatural, excessive links, etc. Millions of websites that previously ranked high for specific keywords were dropped into page 50 SERP oblivion overnight, while content farms either went out of business completely or lost thousands of clients.
Google’s worldwide search market share has not dropped below 88% since its inception in 1998. The company, fair or otherwise, has the power to single-handedly make or break any online business, publication, or platform. The problem is that Google doesn’t necessarily announce updates to its algorithm, and even when it does, the details are always incomplete. The company said it did 665 updates on its algorithm in 2013 alone. Most of these are small tweaks that typically do not affect your websites’ rank. But when Google makes major changes (meaning when they announce it), the burden is on webmasters and the SEO industry to figure out what changes were made and how to adapt content strategies.
The March 2019 Core Update appeared to punish websites that use automated link building processes. Links that use exact keywords were devalued, while long-tail keywords were moved up in favorability. The update also appeared to place more emphasis on authenticity and trust. Articles that have bylines of real, verifiable authors are trusted by Google more than those written anonymously. Websites with no contact information were also penalized. Authenticity and content quality are both weighted heavily in the algorithm. Thus the rule of thumb for 2019 is to publish only searchable, clickable, high-quality, authentic content with useful, relevant backlinks that have long-tailed anchor text.
Nail The Headline
The saying goes that people should never judge a book by its cover. The headline for your content is the cover, and unfortunately that old maxim is not honored by readers. Copyblogger estimates that 8 in 10 people read headlines, but only 2 in 10 read the rest of the story. Of course those numbers vary based on headline quality. But one definite conclusion is that headlines are perhaps the most important part of online content. It’s the first impression for both readers and web crawlers. Headline writing has become such a critical skill that there are even online courses that focus solely on writing headlines. A class is unnecessary, however, if you simply follow well-established practices.
Market research website BuzzSumo analyzed 100 million headlines in 2017 and found several interesting trends. Headlines containing the phrase “will make you” garnered more Facebook engagement than all other trigrams. Another pattern found from the research is the effectiveness of emotional trigrams. “Gives you goosebumps,” “makes you cry,” “can’t stop laughing,” etc. also received high engagement counts. Of course you have to be careful with emotional claims, as Facebook shadow-bans exaggerated and sensational headlines. Numbers in headline are also highly engaging (and why I used one in this article).
The only way to perfect the art of headline writing is to practice. Several online tools can help you reach that pinnacle. The Emotional Marketing Value (EMV) Headline Analyzer by the Advance Marketing Institute is particularly useful for testing headlines. EMV scores range from 0% (worst) to 100%, with the average headline for professional writers being 35%. It also tells you which emotions the headline is likely to trigger in readers, like spirituality and empathy. The Content Idea Generator by Portent provides headline ideas for content based on the subject matter you provide. The Headline Wizard by Tim Gross is another useful tool for headline
Cite Facts and Sources
When Prince Harry of Wales and Meghan Markle were in the process of getting married, it seemed like their names were always trending on social media. Whether the news was about Markle’s jealous sister or how Prince Harry and Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz are doppelgängers, American media were quite obsessed with the royal couple. Thus it’d be pretty hard to believe that less than 10% of Americans tuned into the actual wedding On May 19, 2018, despite it being broadcast on 15 television stations.You, the reader, should not be expected to take my word for that. But you should take the word of Nielsen, the global data analytics company that has provided television viewership statistics since the 1950s.
Credibility is a major factor in Google SERPs. It’s become even more important recently as “fake news” and bots are now normal on social media. Original sources give your content an edge over the competition. Proper attribution is key, and is also one of the most neglected part of publishing. Scientific America, for instance, did a story on how autism rates in the United States have experienced sharp increases in the last 20 years. But Scientific America is not the original source. The story is based on statistics compiled by the Centers for Disease Control, the original source. Lazy, ineffective writers use terms like “studies show” and “statistics show.” Professional, successful writers use terms like “per” and “according to.”
You don’t necessarily have to link to the original source. In fact, its best to simply verify said source and attribute it. If the reader wants further clarification, they can do so themselves. You want website visitors to read your entire article. Placing numerous external links within an article gives readers easy exit routes from your website. Bloggers who obtain important documents via Freedom of Information Act requests or by searching for them at libraries, courts, etc. should get credit for their labor. Place transparent watermarks with either your website name or logo through every page of documents you’ve obtained through your own diligence. There are several free online tools that allow you to watermark PDFs and photos.
Format Content For Readability
Dwell time is a statistic that measures the time between the second you click a search result to the time you leave the page. When Google sees that visitors are not only clicking on your site, but staying there to read the content, that moves your content up in SERPs. The user experience on the site itself plays a major role in dwell time, as does page speed, photos and videos. The last thing users want to see is a page with text that is all clumped together. Content that is easy on the eyes and organized in a way that makes it easy to consume makes for maximum readability.
All blog content should be broken up with subheads. The H1 HTML tag is used to make the text larger and also let’s Google know the overall theme of the article. There are several theories as to H1 usage, with the most controversial being whether its SEO-prudent to use more than one HTML tag in an article. Some believe that it’s fine to use multiple H1 tags if you’re using HTML5 because it also uses the elements <header> and <footer> to distinguish headings. Others say you should use only one H1 per page if using XHTML or HTML4. When in doubt, simply use one H1, then use H2 and/or H3 for the rest of your headings. Make certain your headings are keyword-rich and clearly summarize the forthcoming paragraphs.
Font type and size are also key to readability. Arial, Helvetica and Verdana are the most common fonts on high-ranking websites. Font size should be between 12 and 16-point. If your reader-base is older, use 18-point. Color schemes on websites are important as well. Text colors should contrast with background colors. Blue text on a red background, for instance, is extremely hard on the eyes.
Finally, do not run readers off by trying to get too cute. The 2015 B2B Web Usability Report by KoMarketing asked consumers what annoys them to the point that they leave a website. Lack of message (meaning they couldn’t figure out what the site was about) and contact information were the top two. Excessive animated ads and autoplay videos were also high on the annoyance scale. Ads are a double-edged sword because in some cases, they are the only source of revenue for a website. But a 2019 study published in the Journal of Marketing found that activating paywalls dropped unique visitor traffic by nearly 17%, in addition to significantly lowering engagement numbers. Ads must be non-intrusive and strategically-placed so to not interfere with the user experience.
Identify Your Audience and Write For Them
Let’s say you’ve been asked to write an article on how to play Texas Hold’em poker. The approach to this article is going to be very different depending on who you’re trying to reach. The first couple paragraphs for an audience that is completely new to the game will include basic instructions about your two private cards, the five community cards, and betting patterns. An article for experienced poker players will use terminology like “suited connectors” and “broadway.” Writing for an audience of advanced players who play online will use terms like “expected value” and “pot odds.”
Your audience is not necessarily the people who read your content. It’s the people you are trying to reach and persuade in some way. Your content is only going to be effective if it’s reaching the right people and sending the right messages. One of the biggest mistakes companies make on their blogs is repeatedly writing about their own products. Customers who have already purchased your products or services do not need to be convinced further. It’s also good to know demographic information. A predominately Millennial, suburban audience is going to be receptive to different lingo and ideas than a rural, Baby Boomer audience. There are many different ways to write an article on a particular subject matter. You differentiate yourself by presenting a unique selling point (USP) on the subject matter based on what your audience wants to hear.
The most effective way to learn what your audience needs and wants is to create online surveys. Platforms like Survey King and Survey Monkey are two of the most popular. Your first survey should gather basic demographic information – age, gender, location, education level, income level, etc. Both Facebook and Twitter allow users to create and post surveys as well. Keyword research helps pinpoint exactly what your audience wants too. Once you’ve gained more insights as to who and what your audience is, find out what those people are searching for online. If you learn that a large percentage of your audience is vegan, type vegan into Google and look at the autocomplete terms. As of today, vegans are interested in Vegan ice cream, vegan pizza and vegan kitchen tools. You can also type these keywords and phrases into Google Trends and determine their popularity over time.
Utilizing all the above tips will increase organic traffic to your blog and improve your overall brand. It takes time and commitment. But the rewards are undeniable.