This article covers some common tips to improve the quality of your content both for your audience and for search engines. It expands on our earlier Content Strategy and SEO Strategy articles.
Before You Start Writing
Identify Your Audience
Before you begin to draft new content for the website, identify the specific audience for the content. You may wish to refer to the user personae you’ve prepared and actually presence the individual or individuals that you are writing for. Think about what they will get out of the content you are writing, and what they might search for (which keywords they may enter into either a search engine like google, or the onsite search).
Select the keywords that are most related to your subject matter. You may wish to write them on a note card to keep in front of you as you are writing. It is reasonable to have a few keywords or keyword phrases for each piece of content. Usually these keywords will be related, or perhaps synonymous.
There are a number of things to consider while you are writing your content, we will go into more detail on each below. The following components of your content are ranked in order of both ease and impact. For example, if you can do nothing else, you should optimize your title, as more time allows, you can move down this list optimizing other components of your content. As you get further down the list, the effort increases, and the impact decreases some, with the exception item 6 on the list, Linking. Linking has a high impact, but also a requires a high level of effort, especially to cultivate inbound links from external sites.
A tip from the website “A List Apart“: Use the clearest and simplest language appropriate for a site’s content.
… if a website contains the “clearest and simplest language appropriate for the site’s content,” it is probably using those keywords with which potential searchers will be most familiar. Searchers tend to use succinct queries containing familiar language. Thus, to receive maximum traffic from search engines, it is best that a website contain the same words which the site’s audience will use when searching.
The title of your content is one of the most important factors for SEO. The node title (a node is simply an content item in the Drupal CMS) will be used to generate a page title (at the very top of your browser) and the URL (the actual web address), it will also be the most prominent text on the page (from the perspective of a search engine) because it will be in an <h1> tag. Search engines like to see relevant keywords near the front of the title. As you get further away from the the front of the title, the keywords have less value. Take for example this title: “More Americans Planning Gardens and Planting Organic Seeds” the words “Organic Seeds” may be your keywords, the search term for which you hope your article will turn up, however they are the last two words in the title. A better title might be “Organic Seeds Increasingly Favored By Home Gardeners In US“
The other important factor to consider about titles is overall length, both in word count and in character count. There are two reasons for this:
- Aesthetic: long titles will be less aesthetically pleasing to users, often wrapping onto two or even more lines, especially when displayed in a list,
- SEO: as mentioned above, words toward the end of a title have less value from an SEO perspective than those at the beginning. Enforcing title length guidelines will force you two write better titles that are more keyword dense and front loaded. Seven to 10 words, and less than 100 characters are good guidelines, though these may need to be revised as the theme development progresses.
[NOTE: you may want to consider having SUBTITLES as an additional field for some of your content types, especially if there is a longer explanation or alternate text that help edify a terse, catchy TITLE]
When drafting your content you should think about the appropriate taxonomy terms that should be applied to it. These terms will have an effect on the search engine ranking for the article, as well as internal navigation by users. Many terms will be the same as the keywords you have identified, though there may be others that are worthwhile as well. Do not go overboard with tags, especially free tags. Tags should always add value to the content. A general rule of thumb we use is 3 to 7 tags per piece of content. When you use more than 10 tags (as is often seen on some news sites like Huffington Post) the tags lose their value to users, and may lose value to search engines too.
3. First Paragraph
The first paragraph of your content should be rich in keywords. The first 250 to 500 characters of a web page are often the most important from a search engine perspective. If you are trying to rank highly for the search term “Organic Seeds” those words should appear near the beginning of your article. You may even want them to appear multiple times.
Your primary audience is your reader, and you don’t want to alienate your reader while you try to please search engines. So don’t go overboard with repetition. The first paragraph will also likely become the automatic “Metatag Description” for the page, this description is used by search engines and can influence ranking. The Metatag Description can also be override-able, so if the first 250 characters of your article do not accurate reflect the content of the article, and do not have keywords you can write a metatag description that does and will be seen and used by search engines.
4. Markup Within the Article
People read differently on the web than they do in other print mediums. The web is more similar to billboards or newspaper headlines than to actual journal articles or books. People skim and look for the words that brought them to the article in the first place. This is why it is important to use markup, or html formatting in the body of your content. You do not need to know html to add formatting to your content.
Often a WYSIWYG editor will offer the relevant formatting buttons, just like on a word processor for adding bold, italics, headings, bullet and numbered lists. It is important that you use the appropriate formatting options because different tags have different meanings to search engines, even if the visual impact is the same.
Headings (H2, H3, H4, H5) are used for section headings within a hierarchy. You should not jump from an H2 to an H4 without an H3 in between. Also, increasing font size and making some words bold is NOT the same as using a heading tag. It is a good idea to try to use keywords within headings, or other words that are valuable within the context of the article flow for users. Headings help users navigate to the section of the article they are interested in.
Bold or Strong can be used to highlight keywords so they jump out for users skimming a text heavy document. It is a good idea to not apply bold to long strings of words, but rather use it judiciously on specific keywords, this is better for users and for search engines. If you have a longer string of words that you want to differentiate consider using italics or emphasis. You may want to apply bold to the keyword in a longer passage that is in italics.
Consider using a block quotation whenever a quote exceeds 4 lines of text. Also known as a long quotation or excerpt, a Block Quote is a quotation in a written document, set off from the main text as a distinct paragraph or block. It is typically used for a longer passage than a run-in quotation, which is set off with quotation marks. A block quotation is often distinguished visually using indentation, setting in a different typeface, or in a smaller size. It adds to general readability of long articles/content on websites.
Lists: there are two types of lists in HTML: ordered (numbered) and unordered (bulleted). You should always use a list if you are listing things (names, sentences in a list, options, etc.). Lists are easier for users to read than big chunks of text, and they have meaning to search engines. Using an ordered vs unordered list really depends on the application. It is important to not manually number your items, or use an asterisk or hyphen as a bullet, but instead to use the HTML markup for lists.
Hypertext, or anchor text is the text that a user can click on to follow a link. It is very important from an SEO perspective to use meaningful words as anchor text. For example in “Click here to learn more about organic seeds”, “here” has no value to a search engine, it doesn’t tell the search engine anything about what is on the other end of that link. There are style decisions as to whether you want to even use language like “Click here to….”, we would recommend against it. Users are savvy enough to understand what a link is and that they can click it. Instead we would recommend using hypertext seamlessly within the text of an article, like “Our website featured many resources about organic seeds.“
In addition to the anchor text, you can also add a title tag for each link. When inserting a link, there will be a field for “title” and it results in the code “title =”some title here”” within your link. Users see this when they mouse over the link giving them more information about what they will find on the other end of that link. Search engines use it similarly, and title tags offer an opportunity to add more keywords without interrupting the flow of the text.
I have another article that goes into more details about specific markup.
Images are a great way to make an article more interesting to your audience. They are also an opportunity to enrich the content for search engines. There are three aspects of an image that are used by search engines:
- Image file name: your image file name should have meaning, ie “organic_carrot_seeds.jpg” rather than “ogcar27135.jpg.” Even though the later may have meaning to you because your recognize the pattern, it has no meaning to a search engine.
- alt tag: The alt tag is what is displayed if the image is not. Visually impaired users may use a screen reader that replaces the images with their alt tag. Search engines also use the alt tag. It is a good idea to use the alt tag as a description or caption describing what the image is.
- title tag: The title tag is displayed when a user hovers over an image in the same way the title tag is used for links. It is a good idea to have a concise title for the image, and be sure to include relevant keywords.
There are two types of links to think about: Internal and External. An internal link is from one page on your site to another page on your site, while external links link to other sites. Both kinds of links have value to users and to search engines. We often use the mantra “Do what you do best and link to the rest.” The idea is to link to sources that supplement or support the content on your site. Users appreciate being pointed in the right direction more than they do being trapped in a walled garden. That said, if you have relevant content that will be of interest at the ready, link to it. Highly networked (linked) content, whether the links are internal or external, often ranks higher in search engines than the same content would otherwise without the links. There are two reasons for this:
- links give you the opportunity to add meaning to anchor text and add keywords in title tags,
- search engines are in the business of sending their users to sites that will give them the answer they are looking for and as such assume that a page with links on the keywords that the user searched for is more likely to get the user closer to their answer than one that does not have any links.
- Creating An SEO Strategy Part 2: Your Content
- Creating An SEO Strategy Part 3: Your Markup: This article goes into more detail about how to use markup to optimize your content.
- How to Create Effective Personas for Your Projects
- Three Ways to Validate Your Content Strategy Using Personas