Writing for Search Engines

Writing for Search EnginesSome believe that the world of search engine optimization (SEO) is changing in the post-Panda world. A belief that content has suddenly appeared on the radar as the end-all, be-all of ranking highly on the search engines is discussed on virtually every relevant site I've been to.

Here's the problem with that belief: content has always been an important factor. How content influences results may change over time or (better worded) our understanding of how to use content may evolve, but to be sure - content has always and will always be a key factor in the algorithms in one capacity or another.

If we flash back to the “Wild West days” of SEO, content keyword stuffing and keyword density targeting were all the rage. Massive sites were built, injecting regions onto pages to rank sites for a wide array of locations - and it worked. These sites ranked and why? Content.

Rightfully these strategies don't work well anymore (not to be confused with “doesn't work at all” but this is a “best practices” article and not a “here's how to trick and spam Google” article) but content being generated for search engines is hardly new.

But the Use of Content Has Changed

We can safely say that creating content has always been important to search engines. However, what content works, why, and how are all in a constant state of flux.

Some might think, “That doesn't help. If it's in a constant state of flux then how can I build a strategy for the future when the algorithms will change and my efforts may be wasted?” The answer to this is, “If you're doing the right things, your efforts won't be wasted at all.”

There is a wide array of uses for content to improve your search engine rankings or just add new traffic to your site. This post will cover a few of the more popular and effective uses but don't limit yourself to just these.

Also, at the end of the article I'll list questions to ask yourself while considering creating content. If you can dream up new content creation ideas, just ask yourself the questions and if it fits…go for it!

Now, let's move on to the uses of content and answer why and how they're effective.

Content Use One: Content for Content's Sake

Useful content is inherently good. Finding ways to add good, relevant content to your site will always help, provided that it's done in a way that's helpful to the visitor. There are two reasons why this is the case from a pure SEO perspective.

  1. The more pages you have, the more traffic you can get. It's simple math; if you add a page it may rank for new phrases. This will drive more traffic.
  2. The search engines know when a user clicks on a result. They also know when that user is back whether you have Analytics (in the case of Google) installed or not. This means that if a visitor clicks through to your site and bounces away in 15 seconds, the engine knows you weren't relevant to that user. You can't be relevant for every searcher, but if you provide content for even those who may not want your service(s) you're more likely to hold them on your site a bit longer. Also, \while you may not generate a sale off them, you will have sent the signal to the engine that they found information they viewed as useful and relevant.

To both of these ends you need to make sure that your content is assessable to both the search engines and the users in a way that is logical, places priority on the right things, and will keep them both interested.

With users you need to understand who might bounce off your site and what they might be looking for. Once you know that, you need to place a link to that content in a convenient and clear location and in a manner that won't distract the visitors who want to make a purchase.

For example, as the owner of an SEO firm the primary function of my corporate site is to develop leads and interest so if you visit it the first images and text you see are geared to that end. That said, many people may land there and either not be taken with the feel, not find us to be a good fit, or just be looking around bookmarking things for future reference.

While we may not be about to sell our services to them, the signals they send to Google are almost as important. For that reason we have a link to past articles in our top navigation and a blurb from our daily blog post at the top-right of our content area.

If you want to just hire someone you will bypass these areas but you will notice them, so if you aren't in the decision-making mood or just don't feel we're a good fit you may visit these sections for more information.

Analytically this is exactly what happens and some A/B testing confirmed it. This means that even if our services don't line up exactly with a visitor's needs, we're still offering them value, the search engine is getting that message, and it's a win-win.

On the subject of crafting internal links for the search engine, unfortunately, I couldn't possibly cover that subject well in this article as it would take thousands of words unto itself. Fortunately, I've already written articles on just that. If you'd like more information on internal linking feel free (once you're done here, including liking, tweeting, +1ing, and sharing) to read the following:

At the end of the day what must be understood is that both the ability to attract new, relevant traffic to your site with additional keywords and keeping your visitors a bit longer with more information they are interested in, means that content in-and-of-itself is valuable.

Content Use Two: Links

Contrary to the impression you may get reading the emails offering 18 gazillion “quality” links for just $19.95, people actually link to things they like. Provide them a reason and people will direct links to your site simply because (wait for it…) it has good content.

Content creation to attract incoming links isn't a new idea but it had to be mentioned.

The question generally is, “How does it work?” Generally if I'm trying to develop content I'm hoping it will attract links or generate them in some way. There are two main ways this can be done.

The first is to add content to your own site. In doing so you are hoping that others will find this content to be useful and link to it. To help ensure that you are indeed producing linkable content it's helpful to visit related blogs, forums, answers sites, etc. and find commonly asked questions or discussed subjects in your field; preferably those with poor answers. Once you're armed with that information you now know what you need to create - a solid document that either covers the subject better than other resources or in a different way.

For example, if I ran an online tech training site and wanted to attract links via my onsite content, I may develop videos that walk people through some of the more common headaches they may encounter. If I see that many bloggers are covering the issues with importing Dreamweaver CS5 STE files into CS4 versions and I have a solution, wouldn't that be a great blog post? The answer is yes.

You'll then want to optimize the page for the keywords people will use (that shouldn't be hard - the page is about exactly what you want it to rank for) and title the page “How To Import Dreamweaver CS5 STE Files Into CS4.”

From here you would have two options. The first is to directly generate links to the page by engaging in the locations where you've found poor answers and pointing to the solution, or simply wait for others to find it via the search engines. Early on you will likely need to take the more proactive route as you likely won't rank ahead of all the people with the problems with a brand new site.

Alternatively you can also use services such as Zemanta to help get your information in front of bloggers. It can be costly and if your content is bad it's a poor choice, but if you write good copy that others will like it can be worth every penny.

The Other Route…

The other route is to generate content for others.

Let's take for example this very article. While the article page itself won't link to my company website, it will link to the page that does. If you've read the internal link structure articles above you'll know that this strengthens the page linking to my company website, making that link stronger. To produce this effect, I've had to provide what I hope is quality content that the visitors (that would be you) find valuable.

It can be difficult to find websites that want to take your content, especially if you're new to the field. However, if you've produced enough quality content on your own site and proven you know what you're talking about, the task is far easier.

I never recommend simply blasting off an email to a webmaster stating you'd love to provide a free post to them in exchange for a link (or two or 10…I get the oddest requests sometimes). It wouldn't do you harm to review their site, find a gap in what's covered, and write a great and informative piece on it and offer it up (including your bio of course). This shows that you've actually paid attention to what they do, reviewed their content, and found what's missing.

If you include a couple links to related articles also on their site you'd reinforce that point. The worst-case scenario is that you've written some great content that doesn't get used for its intended purpose. Fortunately, if you're looking in the right places to get published, you should be able to use this content on your own site.

Content Use Three: Social Media

No content-based search engine marketing article would be complete without at least touching on social media.

The motivations in the social media realm are very similar to those of the link building perspective, however the players are very different. You don't want to develop content just for webmasters; you want to develop content that appeals to the average user.

When you're considering content development for social media signal enhancement you need to take the approach of gaining an understanding of not just who your clients are, but who would be interested in what you can produce.

For example, if your target demographic is females aged 25 to 45, then Pinterest may be a good social media property to pursue. Does this mean that everything you pin needs to be about your products? Definitely not.

Social media isn't just about pitching your wares; it's about giving your potential visitors some insight into who they're thinking of doing business with. And this is its advantage.

When you're considering the content to produce (images in this case) you'll want to not just consider your website target demographic but the demographic of the people on the social media platform.

Let's say you're selling wedding invitations. Do you need to put up pictures only of invitations? No, you want to appeal to a larger audience and get your profile viewed by as many people as possible so putting up entertaining images about weddings, etc. will keep your profile topical but interesting. As your images get repinned they will appear in more places, you'll get more followers, and then when you do occasionally post your invitations (and I do mean occasionally) they'll appear to more people.

A great thing about social media as well is that you don't just need to appeal to your target demographic. As I mentioned above, if the platform targets your demographic, then more generalized users can be great targets as their pinning (in this case) of your content will appear to others they're followed by, so if a 16-year-old girl happens to enjoy one of your images and repins it, there's a decent chance that one of your targeted groups may see it.

These rules don't just apply to Pinterest of course; producing solid content on any of the major social media properties functions more or less the same. Produce something compelling, get it found by a target group, and it may go viral.

On this note however it's important to remember that not everything you do will work out as you hope. I have spent literally days on articles that ended up with very few views, but over time and with continued efforts it pays off.

Connecting the Dots

As many of you may have realized, generating content for one purpose doesn't negate other uses. Just because you're generating content for your visitors doesn't mean it's not helpful for links and social media.

Let's flash back to the example of the online tech training company. If they produce a great video on how to look like a star with Photoshop because they're introducing training on the newest version, that doesn't mean they can't use it for links.

By placing the video on their blog along with written step-by-step instructions and a few photographic examples (perhaps a humorous one or two to keep it interesting), they could enhance their onsite experience, use the tips to attract links to people encountering issues with the filtering processes, and even hit Pinterest with the more interesting images.

It's all about time management and approaching your content with a plan. Do that enough and they may also end up with a loyal Facebook (or dare I say…Google+) following interested in keeping up to date on the latest tips (and perhaps discounts on courses).

Rules to Write By

I promised above that I would include a few questions to ask yourself each time you're considering writing content as a means to help improve your search engine rankings. Here they are:

  • Does the content fit your company image? Don't generate content that conflicts with your corporate message or image.
  • How much time and resources are going to go into the development of this content?
  • Could you make better use of those resources?
  • Did you research whether this content is unique and appeals to an audience?
  • Do you have a deployment strategy for your content?

This isn't "Field Of Dreams." If you don't have a plan to get your content found, it won't be.

That's about it. It you have a good idea, it fits with your company image, is a good use of resources, and you have a deployment strategy to get it found…it's worth a try.

One additional point is of course measuring the results. Reviewing the impact of your traffic, links, likes, etc. will let you know what resonates with your audience and what doesn't. When you have this data you can review what you did and determine what you could do better next time. And if you're doing it right…there will be a next time.

About the author

Dave Davies is the CEO of Beanstalk SEO Services, an organic SEO firm out of Victoria, BC, Canada. He writes with over a decade of experience in SEO and Internet Marketing.

He is an industry writer, reporter and speaker who wrote the second edition of SitePoint's SEM Kit, hosts a weekly radio show on Webmaster Radio and has spoken at a number of Search Engine Strategies conferences on topics ranging from ranking on all three major engines to Google patents and Net Neutrality.

Dave got his start in Internet Marketing in 1999 working for a Canadian web hosting company. Like many industry professionals - it didn't take long to connect the dots and figure out that it's easier to convert a client who comes to you than to find them yourself and what better what to do that than the organic results. Dave went from optimizing a single site to working as an affiliate marketer to then becoming the Marketing Manager for another successful SEO firm. From there it didn't take long for him to launch Beanstalk with his wife Mary.