In our last article, we discussed all of the major components of on-site search optimization, starting with behind-the-scenes meta data and moving into each part of the visible page content (headers, text, and images). Because so many different factors go into advanced content optimization for each piece of writing that gets published on a site, we decided to break that out as a separate article.
The way SEO professionals currently handle content optimization requires a very specific mindset. We begin by asking ourselves a very basic question: What is this page about? In order to succeed, we must provide a clear answer to that question for our human audience and also for Google’s bots.
While we all have plenty of experience communicating with other people, communicating with an algorithm is a greater challenge. Google has made tremendous advancements in recent years, but its robots still rely on programs to understand our sites. In order to optimize our content, we have to start thinking like them.
While search engines cannot understand every word we write or comprehend the finer nuances of a human language, they do understand themes. That’s why the following factors are a part of every piece of content we develop or optimize.
Work Those Keywords
If you’re trying to rank for a key term or phrase, you need to use it in your content. That’s just common sense. However, the simple presence of your keywords will never be enough to rank your content in today’s high-competition search environment, and if you overdo it, you can expect to be penalized.
Today, there’s even more to it than keyword frequency. Google also has several patents that indicate the value of Term Frequency – Inverse Document Frequency (TF-IDF). What that means is that the algorithm creates an expectation of usage based on other documents, and assigns value to your page based on those expectations. That’s why it’s easier to rank for longer phrases versus individual words.
For example: You’ve written an article about DIY book shelves. Your ideal audience is an individual who wants to build his or her own book shelf. When Google crawls your page, you want it to come away with the understanding that you’ve written about book shelves, not books. Thinking about TF-IDF when you write, you can make it clear that your page is relevant to a search about building a book shelf, not a general query about books.
Get Out Your Thesaurus
It’s important to avoid over-saturating your page with one or two keywords, and thankfully, search algorithms are advanced enough to recognize synonyms and relationships between words. Instead of focusing on an exact term, make good use of words and phrases that have the same meaning. These natural variations are easily understood, and they make for a better user experience.
To continue with our above example, you can expect the bots to pick up on the similarity between the phrases “DIY,” “build your own,” and “homemade.” Use all of these, and not only will you avoid repeating the same one too often but you’ll also make it clear to Google that your page was written as a legitimate resource for a human audience.
Consider Your Placement
When Google crawls a site, it relies on the cues we give it to answer the all important question: What is this page about? One of those cues comes from how we arrange our information.
Our last article discussed the importance of using appropriate headers to structure the content of a page, but we need to go deeper than that to get the best results. Google’s engineers have admitted that the search engine thinks about the physical distance between terms and phrases when calculating a page’s value. Your header and body, for instance, are viewed as having the greatest importance, while information you place in sidebars or footers is seen as less relevant.
Back to our example: While the page your optimizing is an article about DIY book shelves, you may feature other tutorials on your site. Perhaps you list a homemade television stand, a DIY pot rack, and plans for an outdoor planter in your sidebar. Google won’t discount those sidebar items entirely, but it will recognize that they carry less weight than the main body of your page.
Get Caught Up in Semantics
An argument over semantics might destroy a friendship, but getting your semantic relationships right can improve your rankings. Physical distance between terms is an important marker that search engines use to evaluate your page, but the algorithms also factor in how terms relate to one another.
Items in a list are considered equally distant, while phrases in a header are seen as applicable to the whole body. Terms in the same paragraph are viewed as having a closer relationship than terms in other paragraphs. Search professionals consider the structure of a piece of text in order to make sure that Google is able to connect the dots using semantic distance and relationships.
To go one step further, the search algorithms also understand broad topics and how those can be narrowed down into smaller sub-topics. These co-occurring phrases are terms that Google has come to associate with a topic. When many of them appear together in your content, the search engine is more likely to view your page as relevant to those terms.
Oh, is that all?
Of course these aren’t the only factors that go into optimizing a piece of content, but they are some of the main and most pressing ones that have been incorporated into our SEO plans this year. As the search landscape continues to evolve, industry professionals have no choice but to do the same or risk getting left behind.
In part three of our three-part series on modern search optimization, we’ll elaborate on how we maintain an optimized site or piece of content to stay relevant and improve rankings over time. Remember, SEO isn’t a sprint. It’s more like a marathon. We’re prepared for the long run. Are you?