Every guide on SEO copywriting will tell you the same thing – quality is king, and if you don’t enjoy writing an article, then people won’t enjoy reading it. Writing readable content is the art of entertaining. It’s painfully easy to see when someone’s going through the motions, churning out content. Usually this involves a sort of light plagiarism, some call it research, where a few nuggets of information are found through Googling then restructured into an “original” article.
Don’t do this.
“Put Simply: If your content isn’t good enough to attract good, natural links, it doesn’t matter how “optimized” that content is.” – Brian Clarke, founder of Copyblogger
The best way to create something new and original that people will want to read is to do your own research. If you’re writing an article about home design, interview an interior decorator. If you’re writing an article about a landmark, get your butt out there and take some original photos. At the very least make sure you’re providing your unique perspective on the story. Research is the first step to a solid article, and if you’re writing on a topic you’re only vaguely familiar with your readers will know.
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General Best Practices
- Avoid big blocks of text. Take into consideration that people just don’t have attention spans anymore and get easily distract
- Have a hook. If you don’t grab the reader’s attention right away you’ve lost them.
- Use Pictures. An appealing photo can grab a visitor’s attention in less time than it would take to read the opening paragraph. Avoid using stock photographs whenever possible – people have learned to spot a stock photo from a mile away and it’s a big turnoff.
- Work from an outline. An outline will help you organize all the points you want to cover and provide your article with fluidity.
- Stay away from five dollar words. Never try to impress a reader with fancy words like fluidity. Don’t dumb down, but also don’t show off. “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” – Albert Einstein
- Don’t edit an article on the same day you wrote it. Once you finish your rough draft, put it aside and forget about it. Look at it again in a couple days with fresh eyes and you’ll likely find mistakes you missed the first time. I find editing easier from a hard copy than from a monitor, but that’s not the case for everyone. Also try reading it aloud. Sometimes when you actually say the words it makes it easier to spot the errors, especially for auditory learners.
SEO Best Practices
Keyword research. Understanding what keywords you should be targeting is vital to every aspect of search engine optimization, from link building to content generation. Take a look at what keywords are relevant to your site and what search terms you want to bring people to your site then optimize for those terms.
One helpful strategy is to use a tool like SEMRush to find out which terms you already have decent rankings for and focus on them. If your site ranks at position two for a term and you get it up to one, you’ll likely double the amount of traffic you get from people searching for that term. You’ll also want to see who your competitors are to determine if it’s worth the effort to outrank them. Top sites like Wikipedia and WebMD can be very difficult to surpass.
After you’ve created a list of target keywords, a couple ways you can optimize for them is by creating relevant content or using those keywords in the anchor texts of inbound links – this is covered in more detail below.
Tags. The Keywords in the title tag have a lot of SEO value, so it’s generally more important to have a title with keywords that people actually search for than to have a title that’s clever. Let’s look at Manhattan Time Service’s website as an example: the title tag on watch engraving service landing page is “Watch Engraving | Laser, Diamond, and Machine Engraving.” The term “watch engraving” is short, to the point, and it’s what people search for when they want this service. Not surprisingly, Manhattan Time Service ranks highly for this term – 1st position.
You can always change the title when disseminating your content through social networks and bookmarking sites. Also, keep in mind that keywords closer to the beginning of the title tag have more SEO value than ones following. Hx tags signify headers and are also important ranking factors. Use H1, H2, and H3 tags to organize the sections in your content.
Internal links. Interlinking, or linking to your pages from within your own site, signals to search engines which pages you think are relevant for which terms. For instance, if your site sells clothes and you have an article on your blog about jeans, you’ll want to link from that article to the page where you sell jeans with relevant anchor text.
As a general rule, try to avoid reciprocal linking. Of course these kinds of links are going to occur naturally, but don’t go out of your way to acquire them since they’re value has been downgraded by search engines. Same goes for linking to spammy sites or having broken links – these are both signals of a low quality site to search engines.
Keyword density. Stuffing a page with keywords used to help rankings, but SEOs took advantage of this ranking factor and now search engines have not only devalued keyword stuffing but also penalize for it.
Link building is one of the most difficult but also most valuable ways to optimize your website. The quality and relevance of your inbound links are two of the most important ranking factors that search engines use to determine the value of your site. In this section I’ll go over a few types of link building strategies and their pros and cons.
Create high quality content. This one’s a no-brainer. If you have interesting or useful content on your site people will naturally link to it since they want to share compelling content with their visitors too. The hard work comes when you have to create that content. See “General best practices.”
Article Dissemination. This is where social media comes in. People won’t link to your content if they haven’t read it, so you have to get it in front of as many people’s faces as possible. You can spread your content through social networking sites, social bookmarking sites, email, etc. If you post a great article with viral potential, readers will take over your work and spread it around themselves. This can be significantly more effective if you already have a strong presence and connections on these sites.
In addition you’ll want to target niche sites that are relevant to your article. If you’re trying to promote an article about baby pacifiers you’ll want to start participating in online parenting communities since your content will be more relevant to them.
Article Syndication. This used to be a popular link building strategy in which SEOs published articles across multiple syndication sites such as ezinearticles.com, but Google massively devalued content farms earlier this year because SEOs took advantage of this strategy and brought down the quality of articles on these sites. Do not pursue online article syndication as a way to build links.
Directory Submissions. Having listings on certain high value directories such as DMOZ and Yahoo Directories can be valuable, but don’t spend a lot of time submitting your site to directories. There are thousands of directories out there and most of them are low-quality low-value sites. Besides that, you also want to have a natural linking profile. This means that if you have a thousand links pointing to your site from business directories but only a few links that look natural, search engines will understand that you’re trying to game the system. The same is true for anchor texts – if all the anchor texts pointing to your site are the same this signals unnatural linking.
Guest Blogging. This is one of my favorite ways to acquire inbound links, and it’s also one of the more creative. This strategy involves reaching out to blogs relevant to your site and offering free content. Of course this content will have links pointing back to your site in it, and that’s where you benefit.
First you’ll want to compile a list of top sites to target, and then start reaching out to them. Become a member of their online communities; follow them on twitter; comment on their articles. If you’re an expert in a certain subject, present yourself as such and offer topics you could write about. Make sure to inform that you’re offering this service for free since many webmasters aren’t familiar with guest blogging as a link building strategy and will think you’re looking for a job.
This is another area where keyword research is important, since the keywords that you choose to link back to your site, or the anchor texts, greatly influence how your site will rank for those terms. Generally guest bloggers are allowed a byline with a link or two at the end of an article, but links within the body of the article are better since search engines treat links that are closer to the top of a page with more value.
There are also guest blogging communities such as www.bloggerlinkup.com and www.myblogguest.com where you can find sites looking for guest blog posts and bloggers looking for host sites. These communities can save you a lot of time since you already know these people are interested in guest blogger content.
As I final note, I’d like to encourage all online marketers to espouse white hat (honorable) SEO tactics, not only because this will make the internet a better place for everyone, but also because it will be in your best interest in the long run. Search engines are constantly updating their algorithms, and betting on black (hat) can hurt you in the end.
“Unfortunately, too many assume that SEO means trying to trick search engines. It doesn’t. It simply means building a site that’s friendly to them.” – Danny Sullivan, editor-in-chief of Search Engine Land