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10 Ways to Optimize Content for SEO

2021 has been a busy year for Google’s search algorithm. The SEO community felt a bit blindsided by the company’s core algorithm update in November, and Google search results were 68-85% more volatile in 2021 compared to 2020.

These headlines underscore Google’s heightened focus on the effectiveness of its search algorithm and the company’s ongoing mission to deliver the best, most relevant search results to its billions of users. With so many changes afoot in organic search, now is a great time for marketing leaders to take a more holistic view of SEO efforts and opportunities for improvement, especially when it comes to content marketing and site performance.

SEO is still frequently relegated to website design and UX teams, which may make the idea of fully integrating SEO into your existing marketing efforts feel overwhelming. But with first-page Google search results receiving 92% of all organic search traffic, the benefits of investing in SEO as part of your content marketing efforts can’t be understated.

To help you get started, we’ve assembled this top ten list of content optimization opportunities that any marketing team can embrace. We’ll start with a few basics.

What is SEO and why does it matter to my marketing efforts?

SEO is the practice of increasing the quantity and quality of website visits via organic search results served up by search engines—primarily Google:

  • While alternative search engines like Bing continue to draw new users, Google still handles more than 90% of all search queries worldwide.
  • Our audiences are there too, with 90% of B2B researchers using Google search to research potential business purchases.

You may be thinking SEO isn’t as critical to your marketing efforts because you’re currently running pay-per-click (PPC) ads or other advertising that helps ensure a steady stream of visitors to your website or landing pages. And while pay-per-click (PPC) is a very effective tactic when it comes to paid campaigns and strategic content promotion through search engines, 70-80% of Google users ultimately only click on organic (non-paid) search results. The bottom line: SEO always matters, regardless of your paid media spend.

The ROI of SEO: The proof is in the numbers

If you need some help getting buy-in for an SEO strategy or more budget for SEO efforts, consider these statistics:

SEO shouldn’t be the lost sheep of your marketing efforts. It should be closer to the digital foundation.

What are the most important ranking factors today?

So much of good SEO is about making Google happy. In the early days of the internet, to optimize content for SEO meant stacking your content with keywords in a formulaic fashion so that when Google’s algorithm crawled your site, it understood your topics and ranked your content accordingly. The quality of that content didn’t matter quite as much.

Today, Google leverages more advanced artificial intelligence and natural language processing technology to improve its search results. These technologies help Google’s algorithm better understand a site’s content (and its quality), making its search algorithm smarter than ever.

The golden rule: Quality is key

Considering Google’s heightened focus on factors like content quality, mobile optimization, and user experience, your site’s overall content quality and experience are much bigger factors today in contrast to how many keywords you can stuff on a given page.

10 tips to optimize your content for SEO

Implementing the following tactics and best practices can help jumpstart your content optimization efforts, and set your content up for better visibility in organic search results in 2022.

  1. Aim for a balance of broad and more intent-based (lower volume) keywords.

Low-volume keywords never get as much love as they should when it comes to SEO efforts. These are the keywords that don’t necessarily garner millions or even thousands of searches each month— in contrast to popular Google searches like ‘what is the cloud’— but are arguably much more critical to your bottom line.

While low-volume (i.e., more specific) keyword searches like ‘best enterprise cloud provider’ won’t bring in enormous waves of new site traffic, they can deliver more qualified traffic to your site. Just as we often see with effective marketing segmentation, targeting more segmented and specific keywords that are truly relevant to your business and customers ultimately results in more on-site engagement and conversions. This is made possible by thorough and thoughtful keyword research.

Additionally, relatively low-volume searches that include 4 or more words (or what SEOs call ‘long-tail keywords’) have a click-through rate that is 3% to 5% higher than generic, high-volume searches. Think about it: People search the same way they think. An enterprise leader is more likely to search for ‘SSO for enterprise’ if they’re in the market for a solution. If someone simply searches for ‘SSO’, they’re likely looking for a definition and may or may not be a part of your target market at all.

  1. Aim for 5th- to 8th-grade readability.

Writing to a middle schooler might feel low—B2B technology is complex! But simple writing helps our site visitors comprehend the content faster and more easily regardless of industry.

It also ensures user-friendliness for international readers. Writing simply makes translation easier and benefits our clients’ site visitors who speak English as a second language.

Writing for improved readability and user comprehension also means avoiding jargon and specific acronyms without context.

Think: Are you using an acronym without defining it for your reader? Are you using business jargon that no one outside of your niche understands?

Cut it out. Clarity is kindness.

  1. Use short paragraphs.

This may include one-sentence paragraphs, which can help emphasize a key insight and create white space, which aids in reader comprehension.

  1. Use pattern interrupts.

Bullet points, graphs, numbered lists, quote boxes and other pattern interrupts aid in scannability and readability.

  1.  Include a synopsis as early as possible.

Borrow a tip from journalists—never bury the lede!

As an example, MIT Sloan excels at summarizing why any particular piece of content matters at the very beginning of its articles. As an added bonus, thoughtful design elements and details like estimated reading time help set reader expectations and make the synopsis easy to find and understand.

Why it matters: Introducing a helpful summary or hook early on helps orient your reader, which often helps increase dwell time, a metric Google uses to help determine if a search result was valuable to a user.

  1. Write an engaging headline that includes your primary keyword.

80% of readers never make it past your headline. This means a vague or uninteresting headline can negatively affect dwell time and stop otherwise quality content from getting the engagement it deserves.

Pay attention to headline research studies to understand what works well when it comes to content titles. Lists and how-tos are always great options.

  1. Use subheads to tell a story.

A subheading, or subhead, is like a mini-headline within your content that plays a huge role in holding a reader’s attention.

Advanced content teams like those at Copyblogger regularly use questions and statements as subheads to aid in scannability.

Don’t sweat stuffing subheads with keywords: Subheads haven’t been a ranking factor since the early 2000s, but they do help Google’s crawlers understand your content.

  1. Include meta descriptions that add helpful context for searchers.

Meta descriptions are the short page descriptions that appear under the content title in search results.

While they don’t serve as an official ranking factor for search engines, they can influence whether or not your page is clicked on, similar to ad copy, which ultimately affects your rankings. So make your meta description clear, concise, and helpful.

  1. Write accurate alt image text.

Alt image text makes your site images accessible for those who can’t see them.

It also helps Google crawlers understand the image, which ultimately helps it better understand your content. Google uses the image URL, file name, and alt text to determine the content of the image itself.

Note: Stuffing image alt text with keywords or marketing copy won’t score you SEO points.

  • To optimze your content for SEO, alt text should be a descriptive filename that clearly states what the image is displaying. Think: “vanilla ice cream cone with rainbow sprinkles” vs. “ice cream” or “best ice cream shop in Boston”.

Bottom line: Providing accurate image descriptions lends to the accessibility and trustworthiness of your content. Trustworthiness is a key component of Google’s E-A-T (expertise, authoritativeness, trustworthiness) guidelines for content.

  1. Go long-form. 

The average content length of the top position Google article contains 2,416 words.

Try looking at the top-ranking content for a given keyword or search query and doubling or tripling your word count by providing more in-depth exploration of a topic.

Bonus: Consider updating out-of-date content with fresh keyword research, stats, and graphics. Organic traffic can grow up to 106% after updating and republishing old posts.

Want to learn more about optimizing content for SEO? See how we created SEO-rich content at scale for one of our clients.