Content marketing is a major trend in 2013, with a recent survey placing it at the top of the priority list for ecommerce businesses this year. Companies of all sizes, from household names to home-based start-ups, are using blogs, videos, social media and web content to engage audiences. Creating informative (and shareable) content is becoming a key part of building a brand and attracting potential customers to a website.
Of course, the internet is an increasingly crowded place, and getting your unique voice heard is never easy. You might have expert knowledge on your chosen topic, whether that’s cloud computing or cupcake baking. But trying to grab users’ attention, and climb those search engine rankings, is always an uphill struggle.
It’s essential to use search engine optimization (SEO) techniques to ensure the Bing and Google spiders can find your carefully written content. With a little research and a few tricks, you can increase the exposure of your site. But the secret to hooking readers is finding the right balance between SEO friendly content and readability. Here are some tips to get started:
Choose your keywords
Keywords are the most important aspect of SEO, and it’s best to think about them before starting to write. It’s easier to slot keywords into text naturally as you write. Trying to fit them in afterwards can result in content that sounds unnatural and forced – and runs the risk of “keyword stuffing”.
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Brainstorm words and phrases you think your target audience might be looking for, and use tools such as Google Adwords to compare the number of monthly searches and level of competition. Instead of using general words such as “Italian fashion” try more specific terms, such as “Italian leather goods specialist” or “Milan designer shoes”, to sell your particular area of expertise.
Consider keyword placement
Once you’ve chosen your keywords, think about placement. Search engines such as Google give more weight to keywords that are in the title or first sentence. Paying close attention to the names of pages or titles of blog entries can give you a step up the SEO ladder.
Google’s Head of Web Spam, Matt Cutts, has denied there’s an ideal percentage of keywords to get into your text, but gives the helpful advice: “Don’t annoy readers.” Overuse of keywords not only makes your text less readable, but can be seen as “keyword stuffing” and penalized by search engines.
Don’t forget to include your keywords in meta tags and image captions, as well as the main body of the text. Remember search engines also tend to penalize duplicate content, so it’s worth taking the time to create new, original copy.
Use free tools
There are a number of free tools, including Google Analytics or the SEO Analyzer by Sitening.com, which can provide helpful pointers on improving your web content. If you use WordPress as a blogging platform, then make use of its plug-ins to help you choose the best title and keywords.
Sell your area of expertise
One way to gain readers is to select a particular niche and show off your expertise. Not only can you build up a committed following of readers, but this also helps you get on the coveted first page of search results. If you’ve written a number of articles on a topic that people are searching for (whether that’s “California travel” or “car repair tips”) then search engines will begin to assume that you are an expert, helping boost your rankings.
Use links carefully
Gaining links from highly ranked sites is a well-known way to boost your own site’s profile. But it also helps to use links within your own site. If your site is well-designed, with clever use of links to help readers find the right information, this can give it a step up the search rankings. If you’re writing a blog post, add links to other relevant information or similar pages – but don’t overdo it!
Avoid black hat techniques
While there are plenty of legitimate ways to increase your rankings – sometimes called “white hat techniques” – others are considered less acceptable. So-called “black-hat techniques” include using hidden text or having several versions of your website to mislead search engines. These can raise your rankings in the short term, but are best avoided, as they’re likely to lead to Google or Bing blocking your site.
Think of your audience
We’ve all heard the adage “content is king”, but that’s because it’s basically true. While SEO techniques are a great way of driving readers to your website, it’s bright, engaging, useful content that is going to hold their attention. The idea of content marketing is offering readers something of value as an indirect way of promoting your brand and business.
Consider your readers and target customers, and think about what they’re likely to want. Make sure your site is easy on the eye, using clear, simple designs and carefully selected images to create an attractive experience. Regularly updated blogs and other content will not only please those search engine spiders, but more importantly, keep your human readers coming back.