This guide illustrates how a properly formatted online content should be designed for both humans and bots like those of Google to perform well in search results. It's intended for an online reputation management project, but the advice works for all written content intended to rank well in search engines whether it's on your site, your blog, or on someone else's blog.
As content creators, we create articles to be consumed. When content is created for SEO purposes and placed on a third-party blog it is usually to get a link. There are companies that place content on third-party sites with links embedded in order to get links back to a client's site and increase their Google ranking.
In order for an article to be read, people need to find it in search results. Once they find it, it needs to be relevant enough and of high enough quality that the person wants to read it, and share it. They need to click the headline or all is lost. The only way that will happen is with a compelling headline that makes people want to click.
Usually, for a reputation campaign, we want two things to happen:
If your company name is "Acme Widgets Incorporated" and you want your press release, guest post, article, or whatever to rank well for that search term, make sure the term is in the biggest headline on the page. That is usually the <H1> tag. If you perform a search for any brand and look at the search results, you will see this is true.
Helpful Resource: The Anatomy of a Search Result Page and How to Rank
The title of an article is bait for people and search engines. If you can find a way to add the brand name in the title and heading to a trending topic - you've found the sweet spot.
Imagine being a fish in a pond with hundreds of lures in the water all trying to get you to take a bite. You are presented with a huge array of choices, but you have a limited capacity for food, so you want to pick the best. Headlines are the bait, and consumers are the fish.
The nutritional value of the bait (web content) isn’t yet relevant. What is relevant is how compelling the bait is. The bait is the headline. Unless you can get users to bite the content is useless because it is not being consumed.
During the content phase of web development, we have found the best way to get an article to show up in search results initially is to make the article about a current topic that is in the news and trending.
For example, given a choice of article topics about a fashion designer named ‘John Smith’, which one do you think would get more readers?
The second one - Leonardo DiCaprio. While no one knows who John Smith is, everyone knows Leonardo DiCaprio. Because the words ‘Leonardo DiCaprio’ are in both the Title and the body of the article, search engines will, to some extent, show the article in searches for a hot, trending search query ‘Leonardo DiCaprio’.
Any relevant trending key phrase that works will do. "Works" means it's relevant to the web copy. Remember, the key is ‘relevance’. Just sticking Leonardo DiCaprio’s name in there doesn’t do it because when people do click on the article, and they see that is really has nothing at all to do with the actor they will quickly click away. When users see content that is not in line with their expectations, they leave.
So now you’ve created an article that gets people to click on it because of the intriguing title you created. They arrive at the article and because you’ve done an artful job at making the content relevant to the title and interesting. Will they will read on?
This can be tough because good SEO copywriting is both art and science. Most writers learn the art of writing and the technical aspects of good English (or whatever language). Normally, writers don’t learn how to write for search engines. On the other side of the equation, there are writers who are not really writers at all (in fact, some are literally machines using something called "spintax"). They write solely for search engines hoping to ‘game’ the system.
Aim to fly the middle path with a preference for the people side of the equation. You’ll want the articles to be relevant to people, and to search engines, so add specific key phrases to your articles. This next section discusses how to write for search engines as well as people.
Search engines look for key phrases (among other things). But they don't look as hard as they used to. Keyword "stuffing" is no longer a tactic to perform well in search results.
The first place they look is in the title of an article or web page. That is why the Title is so important. To a search engine, the Title encapsulates what the article is all about. Another reason the Title is so important is that it is often used in the URL of a web page. For example, abc.com/article/john-smith-says-leonardo-dicaprio-was-his-inspiration.
After the Title, search engines look in the body (text) of the article. So variations of the key phrase need to be in there so it will be seen as relevant. In our example above, the key phrase is ‘John Smith’, but we ‘co-branded’ that key phrase with a trending key phrase ‘Leonardo DiCaprio’ to get more eyeballs and search engine love.
We need to use both key phrases in the body of the article. How often and in what ratio is up to the writer, the article needs to make sense after all. It needs to fulfill the needs of the person who consumes it.
A good rule of thumb is 2% of the words in the article should be the key phrase, and 1% should be the trending key phrase. Is this a hard and fast rule? Nope. Whatever you do, do it naturally.
One last note on quality - if the article has been written well enough, it will be shared. This is the icing on the cake. You cannot “make” something go viral. But a compelling article that will provide social credit for the sharer will be viral far faster than something that isn’t going to provide social credit.
What is social credit? People want to be liked, be cool, be hip… whatever. If sharing your article or other content will make them seem cool or hip or helpful to their peers, they’ll have a greater incentive to share it.
Much of the time content creators make articles so they can embed hyperlinks in them for SEO purposes. This is an example of a hyperlink. If you are creating in-house content the same general rules apply. Links in your own content should point to important pages on your site that support or clarify the thesis of your article. But links should also be built from your articles to your own web properties other than the main site itself. Examples may include an award earned, a positive news story, the company LinkedIn profile, and more.
The first link is the most important link and should be in the first paragraph (if it makes sense), "above the fold" where people don't need to scroll. It should utilize the anchor text of the client or a variation thereof. We are writing this from the standpoint of a reputation management firm, so in this example, it would be ‘John Smith’ - our pretend client. The link should point to the URL of an important page we want to promote. For a reputation management project to push down negative information, this is often one of the five websites that are both ‘positive’ and lie below the negative.
The second link should be to another page that has the client's key phrase on the page, but the anchor text does not need to be the client's key phrase, just a phrase that corresponds to both the spirit of the article and the page to which it is linking. This webpage is often found on the second or third page of search results. For example, if you were to Google ‘John Smith’ you would get a large number of results. We consider this a ‘secondary’ link. It is not as important as the first link but is still important. If you are creating content for your own brand this would also be the case, link to branded articles in search results you want to rise.
The third link should go to a page with the co-branded key phrase. In this case ‘Leonardo DiCaprio’. You might link to a page like this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonardo_dicaprio. These are not hard rules. You don't even need to have one, two, or three links. Maybe you don't want any links. It's up to you, but if you do embed links in your articles, you should make them count.
Here is a tutorial on Meta Description tags: http://www.seomoz.org/learn-seo/meta-description. There are no links in the Meta Description, but the key phrase and co-branding key phrase are always included.
This is a (short) example of how an article discussing the above conventions might look. Remember that the reason we are using Leonardo DiCaprio's name in this is because it is relevant and a trending topic. We're using it along with the search phrase "John Smith" to add relevance and click interest.
John Smith Says Leonardo DiCaprio Was His Inspiration (headline)
John Smith cites Leonardo DiCaprio’s outfits in the movie ‘The Great Gatsby’ for his new line of suits. According to author F. Scott Fitzgerald “the buildings were higher, the morals were looser and the liquor was cheaper” and that is just the inspiration designer John Smith needed for his reinterpretation of 20’s fashion.
According to Wikipedia, the 1920s was the decade in which fashion entered the modern era. It was the decade in which women first abandoned the more restricting fashions of past years and began to wear more comfortable clothes. Fashion design was decidedly modern. Menswear began to have that certain flair, hats were in fashion. Top hats were all the rage for the upper class, a trend John Smith wisely ignored.
In the film ‘The Great Gatsby’ actor Leonard DiCaprio wore designs by Catherine Martin, Director Baz Luhrmann’s wife...
The meta description is what shows up in the Google search snippet. It's not part of the page content that is visible, it is in the HTML. Your Content Management System should enable you to add meta descriptions easily. In the example above, the meta description might be "John Smith says Leonardo DiCaprio’s clothes in The Great Gatsby were the inspiration for his new line of reinterpreted 20’s style menswear."
Note the following: The Title has both the client's key phrase ‘John Smith’ in it as well as a trending key phrase ‘Leonardo DiCaprio’. The content of the article is actually about both the designer and the actor.
There are three links - the first is the ‘money’ link, the most important one. It links to the imaginary client's site. We want Google and Bing to see that link as the most important and give it some power because we want that website to move up in search results. It's basic SEO.
The second link is to another site that we imagine comes up on the second or third page of search results and contains our client's key phrase. Let's pretend it is about our client (in the example it is not). Note that the second link has the anchor text of ‘Fashion design’.
The third link has the anchor text of the actor's name and links to a Wikipedia page. It has absolutely nothing to do with our client or the key phrase, but it is helpful to the reader.
When performing an ORM project content is very important. It has to be real. Don't spin it or write crap. When someone bounces (leaves) because of bad content or something didn't meet their expectations, Google grades the content badly. So give people and search engines what they want. Included relevant links to not only your target content to which you're building a link but also consider trending topics that make sense.
Mix them together in a way that makes sense - don't force it.
Hopefully, every little bit of content you create will make the internet better. Keep that in mind.