SEO: An overview for web editors
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is an integral part of writing web content but it can be difficult to sort out the useful advice from the outdated and downright misleading information out there.
This article was written to provide web editors with an overview of SEO web content writing for 2018 but we will start with some historical context which might explain the persistence of some SEO myths.
Early SEO tactics: a necessary evil
Before search engines became the sophisticated data crunchers they are today, web writers had to play something of a numbers game to ensure their clients' websites ranked highly in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
With the search engines broadly equating the relevance of a website to a search query with the number of times a keyword was present, the tactic of 'keyword stuffing' was born.
As the name suggests, web writers shoved keywords and keyword variants into anywhere and everywhere including them as many times as possible in the copy. This was ugly to look at and ruined user experience but it worked – as far as SERPs was concerned.
Behind the scenes, keywords were also added into all meta tags and website owners gobbled up multiple domain names containing keywords and hyphenated keyword phrases.
To hide their blunt copy, some web editors employed cloaking, writing both human-friendly copy and separate keyword-heavy copy served as a side script to search engine spiders.
Exact keyword matching and the rise of inbound links
The next phase of SEO development saw Google and co. clamp down on keyword stuffing and other primitive techniques.
However, algorithms were still relatively poor at understanding human language and search behaviour and relied heavily on exactly matching content with search queries.
As a result, web writers found themselves having to write numerous pages of content based on slightly different keywords.
At the same time, marketers began to realise that the number of inbound links was a hugely powerful ranking factor and writers began to fashion content to encourage links rather than focusing on serving their readers.
Smart SEO: what works in 2018?
Keywords and inbound links remain important ranking factors in 2018 but the way they are used by SEO content writing experts has changed a lot in the last decade. Here are some guidelines for creating machine and human-friendly content today.
Start with searcher intent:
The fundamental purpose of search engines and content writers are the same: to bring web users and relevant quality content together.
Web editors should start by generating an initial set of common sense keywords and phrases. They should ask themselves what their target visitor is likely to type into a search engine when searching for the product, service or information they provide.
Search engines have evolved significantly and with machine learning now being introduced into the picture, their ability to pattern match with human language is likely to accelerate.
In 2018, it is no longer necessary to create separate pages of content for closely related keyword phrases. Instead, web writers should use tools such as Google Trends and keyword finders to generate lists of commonly associated keywords and phrases.
This combined list of likely search terms and commonly associated keywords should then be worked naturally into a single page of content (either at the time of writing or afterwards if preferred).
To begin organising your piece of content it can be useful to create a visual layout on a sheet of paper. Create your headings and sub-headings around your target keywords and make sure they are between header tags ('H1','H2', etc.). In most content management platforms you can simply highlight the titles and select a relevant headline style.
Decide what information, if any, you will put in information boxes, sidebars, etc.
You will then be in a position to write your main piece of content.
Your most important keywords should also be added into your webpage's url, 'Title' element, 'Meta Description' and image 'Alt Tags.'
The 'Title' element is still important for search engines and while the 'Meta Description' is no longer used as a ranking factor, both of these fields affect what the user sees on the search results page.
Therefore, you should think of these as your adverts to encourage people to click the link. If you succeed in this, the extra visits will improve your search ranking anyway.
All of the above can usually be done via your content management system.
Craft your hook:
Google have also changed how inbound links are treated. Instead of raw numbers of links, the quality of the linking site is used to help determine rank. They have explained how links count as a vote from one site to another and that a link from a site with a high domain authority (DA) is worth a lot more than one from a less trusted site.
Although your main focus will be on providing visitors what they are expecting, making sure your content is strong enough to attract links from high quality domains is also worth the effort. You can do this by ensuring your content is unique, engaging, grammatically correct and well-referenced.
As you can see, SEO content writing isn't some mystical art. In fact, as search engines get ever closer to humans in terms of language use and comprehension, the gap between writing for humans and writing for machines will get ever smaller.