As we fast hustle into 2021, small businesses need to take a long hard look at the content they’re producing and make sure they’re hitting the Google mark. Because, as with everything Google does, the rules change frequently. And content is king.
What was acceptable one year becomes next year’s Black Hat SEO. So many small businesses fail to update their content writing practices and then wonder why they’ve been penalised for it.
So, here’s the basics of content marketing, a simple checklist you can use to ensure you’re adhering to Google’s requirements and setting yourself up to rank highly in the SERP.
1. Brand matters
Let’s start with the most important element of content writing and your reason for doing it – to build and strengthen your brand.
For any business, regardless of your size or industry, your brand is the most valuable asset you have. So focus your efforts on strengthening this essential element of your company.
And don’t think, as the CEO, that getting involved in content writing is below you. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes – if you want to find out more about a company would you want to read an article written by Joe Bloggs, a random employee, or by The Kingpin, the CEO?
It stands to reason when you’re wanting to engage with a brand, you want to engage with the people behind the brand. So ghostwritten or actually produced by the CEO, it doesn’t matter, just stamp the CEO on the copy, and give your brand an authoritative face.
OK, onwards to the actual basics of content writing.
Keywords, keywords, keywords.
Wow is there a fine line between keyword stuffing (very bad Black Hat SEO technique) and lightly sprinkling them throughout the copy?
But before you can use your keywords strategically, you have to do your research to determine which are the best ones for your brand/business/company.
Keyword research should be the first step in creating your content.
Essentially, if you fail to perform keyword research, you’re just shouting into a void. Your content won’t have an anchor and your audience won’t find you. It’s really that simple.
What keywords should you be targeting? A good rule (according to Search Engine Journal, the bible in SEO) is 80% evergreen keywords: 20% trending keywords.
If you know what your target audience is searching for, you can give them content that matches their search. The goal of your content, after all, is to provide value to your users and solve their problem.
Keep track of keywords through a helpful tool such as SEMrush and if you find any of your keywords aren’t working for you, tweak and adjust the content to find the ones that do. It can be as simple as swapping words in a title to help boost you up the rankings.
And don’t forget about long-tail keywords and synonyms. Using related keywords in your content highlights your knowledge and authority on a subject. You’ll be rewarded by the Google gods for your wide choice of vernacular.
3. Optimise your title tags
According to David Ogilvy, the father of advertising:
“On average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”
So make yours count. Not only do you have to strike the tricky balance of appealing to your audience, but you also have to satisfy the insatiable SEO Gods.
The easiest way of doing this?
- Include your keywords in your title. Especially your headline.
- If you can, put your keyword as close to the beginning of the title as possible.
- And keep the titles short.
- Anything between 40-50 characters is best. Any longer and Google will cut it off.
4. Include numbers
The simple reason to include numbers in your content is that, in a wall of text, they stand out. And when people are skimming your content, as we all have a tendency to do, the numbers jump out.
Plus, numbers have an innate appeal. Statistics show that when you include numbers in your headlines, they get 36% more hits than headlines featuring words alone.
Don’t have numbers for your headlines? Then use brackets instead. This increases the click rate up to 38%.
Seriously, the simplest tricks are the best.
5. Don’t skip the meta description
This one is vital.
When your audience is scanning the SERP and the only way for them to see if your content is the one that will give them the most value, is to include that value in your meta description. You have just 120-130 characters to play with, so make them count.
How do you know what will entice readers to click on your link? Put yourself in their shoes. Create a solution statement that is too good to miss. Something that includes a call to action, and don’t forget to include those all-important keywords.
Even though Google has said that meta descriptions don’t count towards your ranking value, they definitely INDIRECTLY count.
If your keyword is being searched for, and you’ve included it in your meta description, well, it’ll match the user’s search intent, making it more likely the reader will click on your link, propelling you up the SERP.
6. Optimise your headers
Headers work twofold – first, they break up your content into manageable, bite-size chunks. Second, they provide context to the reader, giving them a glance understanding of what the text below is about, making it easier to skim read.
Help yourself, Google and your readers out – don’t forget to include keywords in the headers (just don’t stuff them with keywords). Only use one H1. Make them interesting.
7. Format the body of content
This can’t be emphasized enough.
- No one will read a wall of text. So break it up.
- Keep sentences short.
- Use plenty of white space.
- Break up lists with bullet points.
- Bold important words.
- Keep paragraphs to a 3-4 sentence maximum.
And remember, most people read articles on their mobile phone, so optimise content for mobile-first.