Google’s algorithms continuously evolve, striving to make sense of what people are seeking online. An ever-expanding army of SEO and content specialists focused on keeping up with these changes has led to intensified competition for the attention of Internet users.
This shifting landscape can be liberating, however. SEO has become less about what one can do to game the system and more about writing quality content for real people. Ironically, this development towards more organic content has been made possible because of technology, with increasingly sophisticated machine learning and predictive algorithms delivering search results based on what real people want. Content is still king, but more than ever before, valuable, natural, original, quality content is king.
Let’s take a look at seven SEO rules you need to be aware of to boost the chances of your content reaching the SERP top spot.
You might have invested a lot of time in perfecting a blog, but most readers will only ever see its title. Statistics reveal that most of us do “judge a book by its cover.” If a title is not engaging, most people will move on.
That’s why the most successful content creators spend as much time as they need to craft an engaging title that captures the core message of their content. In fact, the title can be considered the most important element of your content. It should explain what the rest of the content is about, be clear and easy to understand, promise results and evoke emotion.
As has been proven by eye-tracking studies, we scan most content on the web with our eyes following an “F” pattern — two more detailed quick horizontal scans at the top of the content and one vertical scan. That’s why, besides the title, the excerpt is the next most crucial part of your content.
According to eye-tracking studies, the two most essential parts of a piece of content are the title and excerpt.
Out of the people who’ll keep reading after the title, most will leave halfway through your excerpt. Recall the last time you saw a movie that resonated with you so much that you had to talk to a friend about it. That’s how you should craft your excerpts. They should be concise introductions to content you regard as useful and engaging.
Keyword strategies don’t perform as well as before. These days you should start by choosing a keyword or keyphrase that specifies what your subject is all about. Like in the past, introduce it early in the post—in the title, excerpt, or intro. What’s changed is that you should avoid repeating it as many times as you can. Instead, organically incorporate into your content more keywords and phrases related to your primary one.
Thanks to advancements in machine learning, Google’s services, Search included, can now tell if and how words and phrases relate. You can now write with a focus on the reader, using synonyms and related terms, instead of the unnatural “keyword stuffing” for search engines as seen in the past.
Note that this doesn’t mean keywords aren’t relevant: they are. However, you don’t have to rely on repeating them in your copy anymore.
A page’s URL is almost as important as its content. Ask yourself this: if someone looks for “vegan spaghetti with tomato sauce,” which of the two following sites would Google probably rank higher if all else was equal?
Check if your URLs look like arcane glyphs that say nothing to the average human. Treat them as “secondary titles”. Even better, use a shorter take on the page’s title or merge your primary keywords into them.
Google has built its search results on backlinks since the beginning. Backlinks are still proof that a piece of content is worthy of higher rankings for Google’s algorithms. If many people link to an article, it means they consider it good enough to share with others.
That’s why backlinks remain crucial for SERP positioning and why you can still take advantage of them. Besides merely writing quality content that people will link to, link your lesser-performing pieces to relevant better-performing ones. Write for friends or approach successful sites as a guest author, backlinking to your work from the posts you craft for them. The more backlinks you have to your content at what Google would regard as “high quality” sites, the more their success and popularity may “rub off” on your work.
If your posts are shorter than 300-350 words, or lengthier than 2,000, they might not rank high. Stats show that top-ranked posts are around 1,900 words. However, the ideal length also depends on the actual content and type of article. The 1,000-1,800 word range is just an average. It’s not a dogmatic rule you should abide by for every piece of content.
For example, news stories that exceed 1,000 words might feel long-winded. Guides and informational posts that cram everything into 1,500 words might feel rushed and unnatural. Google’s algorithms will catch onto this.
People will always have questions related to your content topic. It’s your job to give them answers. Online, “answers” and “solutions” convert to clicks and should include backlinks if possible. Use your favorite SEO tools, or even the suggestions of Google Search itself, to discover popular questions and problems on sites like Quora, or in forums related to your topic and target audience. Then, adopt those as the titles and starting points for guides, tutorials, and informational posts. The market already exists. You merely have to identify it and tap into it.
Avoid using complicated words and jargon if possible. Having a rich vocabulary is commendable, but not as impressive as helping an 8-year-old understand quantum mechanics.
With fiercer competition and hundreds of millions of sites, it’s harder than ever reaching the coveted SERP top spot. Ranking higher is also a waiting game, especially as Google learns to understand human language better. It takes time for them to index millions of sites and re-assess their rankings. It’s unlikely for a website to jump to the top spot in a few months, and almost impossible to pull off in mere weeks.
To move up in rankings, all you can do is take the necessary steps to ensure you’re in a better position in the future. By keeping at it, continuously learning, and plugging away at creating high-value content for your audience while targeting humans, not robots, soon the top spot could very well be yours.