S-E-O are three little letters that have caused a world of stress and confusion for many small business owners over the years. For those that don’t know, SEO stands for “search engine optimization” and refers to the process of properly directing search engine traffic to your website. Search Engine Land provides detailed guides that introduce and walk you through the SEO process. What we want to talk about now are the fundamentals of great SEO content writing for 2014, especially those fundamentals that stand out from all of the others.

The New Face of SEO

If you’ve ever been a minor spectator of SEO trends over the past year, you know that 2013 became branded as the year that changed SEO forever. Google released three major algorithm updates: Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird: see the Moz timeline. The most notable change we saw came in the form of a complete revamp of the proper way to optimize content.

Previously, keyword density was everything in SEO content writing. In fact, keyword density was so important that it was upheld over quality writing standards. Then, in 2013, the standards changed. Today, keyword density means practically nothing.

The New “Everything”

How to Blast Off Your SEO Content and Rankings for 2014 is the big question. The new “everything” of SEO is satisfying your audience’s thirst for quality content. Great content writing is no longer about stuffing in high traffic keywords and phrases. It’s about writing compelling, engaging, informative, relevant and entertaining content. It’s about standing out from the crowd as a credible and authoritative resource. It’s about creating the kind of blogs, articles, press releases and website pages that people can’t help but share with their friends and family.

So, where do you start? How do you jump on board and implement the new best practices of SEO content writing?

The Fundamentals of 2014

Let’s talk basics. You need a place to start. First of all, after a thorough review of the new SEO trends, Gianluca Fiorelli has concluded on The Moz Blog: “Sincerely, I don’t think that our daily lives as SEOs and inbound marketers will radically change in 2014 from what they are now. So, avoid panicking with the thought that everything you previously knew is out of date. In all sincerity, the biggest change we see is the switch from keyword stuffing at all costs to writing high quality copy.

Your 2014 content needs to satisfy your audience’s thirst for quality material. How then do you start building an SEO strategy that delivers? Let’s cover the first three fundamentals:

1. Audience: Get to know your audience. In fact, challenge yourself to know your audience intimately. Before you even begin to brainstorm content ideas, you need to know your target audience inside and out. What are their needs? What do they want? What motivates and drives them? What issues are they seeking resolution to? What style of content will they want to read? Successful SEO content will use the audience as a focal point. How do you get to know your audience intimately? Stop thinking of them as just the audience; they’re people—like you and me! Use social media channels. Talk to them! Engage them. Track the content they respond to the most and encourage their feedback.

2. Keywords: Forget about keyword stuffing. Keyword insertion used to be a science. We had to insert keywords and phrases in a precise manner in order for search engine algorithms to properly crawl, capture and display our content. Today, keyword insertion is an art. Algorithms are smarter. They can mix and match word order while recognizing synonyms. As a result, well written content is the meat of our meal. Keywords are just the surrounding veggies; still important for a well-balanced meal, but not central.

3. Word counts: Focus on content, not word count. Previously, we kept our optimized copy short because we believed short, sweet and simple sold better than long, educational and informative. Well, we were wrong. People don’t want a short, simple sales pitch. They want to be educated buyers, capable and encouraged to make their own informed decisions. As a result, folks want to read meaty content. Don’t shy away from long-form content.

Just how effective are word counts to Google? QuickSprout.com’s detailed study indicates that copy of 2,000 words will be more fruitful than copy of 500 words. Check out the screenshot of the average word count the Google-favored blogs got:

And guess what else—people on Twitter who shared longer blogs (over 1500 words) almost doubled the amount who shared blogs under 1500 words.

Quality Content is Still King

In 2014, quality content is the king of SEO best practices. But what exactly does this mean? How can you ensure you’re creating and outputting quality content? Well, let’s review the four fundamentals of quality content:

4. Relevance: If the content isn’t relevant to your business, don’t waste your time. For example, if you provide technical support services, don’t clutter your content with artsy design information. The reader will be confused. They’ve landed on your website to learn about technical support, not how to use Photoshop to create cool graphics for their website. If you confuse your audience with irrelevant information, expect to lose them as your audience.

5. Informative: Quality content will offer value in the form of information. People don’t want to be told you have the best product since sliced bread. They want to be educated about your product and how it places in the industry so they can decide if it’s the best product since sliced bread. They want to know how it relates to the problems they face or how it will solve their looming issue.

6. Compelling: Engaging and compelling writing is a must. Quality content will capture the reader’s attention and grip them until the very end. The only way to accomplish this is by writing in a compelling and engaging manner. Make the reader feel involved. Give them something to connect to.

7. Well written: Meaning there are no spelling, grammatical or formatting errors. It is highly important to ensure your copy is as perfect as possible. Content containing spelling, grammar and formatting errors will not only quickly turn off your audience, but it will also decrease your SERPs.

In essence, quality SEO content is applying lessons learned from the well-established and time tested publishing industry. How exactly does optimizing your copy with these four fundamentals relate to SEO? It gets people interested in and excited about your content. They’ll be ten times as likely to share it via social media, which brings us to the next SEO best practice:

Social Media Increases Rankings

Social media is huge for SEO in 2014. Why? Google will actually be referencing your social media presence as they calculate your overall optimization and rank your content.

Looking for proof? Here’s an infographic case study by Social Media Bistro:

Creating a few profiles isn’t enough. Your social media channels need to be active. The more active and relevant your social media posts are, the more they will contribute to your SERPs. Let’s cover the four fundamentals of SEO social media practices:

8. Engagement: Get into a conversation. You wouldn’t throw a party just to sit in the corner and avoid talking to your guests, would you? Social media is the same. Once you get your presence going, it’s time to mingle with your followers and get into intelligent conversations that hold relevance to your brand. Use your social media channels to start conversations, ask questions, respond to comments and stay involved in the discussion.

9. Lead generation content: Don’t be self-centered! You need to use your social media for more than self-promotion. Step into lead generation content by seasoning your posts with content about offers, downloadable content and webinars—whether they’re by your company or not.

10. Frequency: You should post frequently for best results. Do you use toothpaste whenever you feel like it? No, you use it frequently to generate the best overall results. Social media is very similar. The more frequently you post, the more active your channels grow and the more shares you generate.

11. Display value: Instead of looking like a spammer. It’s all too easy to blast notifications out through your social channels, but if they lack value your audience will soon unfollow you. Share information that informs, engages, educates and always perks interest.

Link building tactics are in, but they come with a warning: don’t be spammy or irrelevant! Building links for the sake of back-linking will quickly put you on the “Google Offenders” list. Before you insert a link into your content, be sure it meets SEO best practices:

12. Build a resource: Blogging is an excellent link building tactic. Google’s engineers even recommend it! You can use a blog to steadily publish relevant, educational material that is informative and entertaining. Then, build links to your posts by sharing your posts over social media.

13. Newsworthiness: The best way to encourage linking from outside sources. You can be and stay newsworthy by offering promotions, free giveaways, new product or service releases and starting conversations about current issues via social media. The juicier (or more exciting) the topic, the more newsworthiness you’ll gain.

14. Inspirational: People love inspiring stories. Who doesn’t inwardly squeal when the movie screen says, “Based on a true story?” It makes us all warm and tingly while inspiring us to do something epic. By creating inspirational content, you’ll create “natural linkbait,” or an open invitation for people to get excited and share your content.

15. Encourage links: Partnership badges can be a solid way to encourage links. People like to showcase who they support. You probably have something showing off your commitment to your favorite sports team. By giving your customers or followers a partnership badge, you’ll encourage them to show off their love of your product or service and link back to you.

Using Available SEO Tools

In 2014, we have some insanely powerful SEO tools right at our fingertips. The awesome part is that they’re free! You can round out your great content writing for SEO in 2014 with these must-use tools:

16. Google Authorship: If you don’t have it, get it. Google is literally handing you a free, easy to use ability to link via Google Authorship. When properly set up, Authorship will create an automatic author biography page link to each piece of copy you post that contains your byline. These links will display on your Google+ account and a visual graphic (your profile picture) will display beside your content on a Google search engine results page.

17. MozBar: a toolbar designed to make SEO easier. The MozBar can make choosing quality links for content as easy as 1, 2, 3. It offers an easily readable interface that includes everything from basic to in-depth SEO information about a given website or page. It’s a free tool worth downloading and learning to use, especially as you begin to choose and implement link building tactics.

18. Wordstream: A great tool for keyword research. While keywords aren’t making or breaking SEO today, they will still be needed to ensure you appear when someone searches for a type of product or service you provide.

Great Content Writing for SEO…

…involves a little bit more than adhering to the 18 fundamentals we’ve covered. While these form the skeleton of SEO for 2014, there are two more all-encompassing fundamentals to keeps in mind:

19. Originality: In order for your content to have a prayer of receiving a search engine rank, it must be original. You’d be smart to enlist the assistance of software, such as Copyscape, to ensure your content is always original and free of so much as a hint of plagiarism.

20. Professional Assistance: It isn’t a bad thing! A professional copywriter just might be your best friend in 2014 as you embark on the creation of quality content that promotes and incorporates SEO best practices.

One thing is certain: while search engine optimization hasn’t dramatically changed, the subtle changes in place for 2014 can wreak havoc with your SERPs if you don’t adhere to them and update your content. We’re likely to see even more changes as the year progresses and search engine algorithms continue to grow smarter.

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