The first thing to know about writing content for search engines is that you shouldn't specifically write for search engines. You should write for people. That said, keeping Google in mind when writing is important. Arecent Google update, "helpful content" is designed to weed out content that is written specifically for search engines. This post will outline how to write for people while giving a nod to clarity of purpose for Google and Bing.
When someone does a search, they look at the:
Title of the page, and then the...
Snippet (the search engines description)
...before they decide whether or not they want to click on the result. In order for them to click, the Title and Snippet must be compelling.
If the above two are great, they will click. Only then will they click.
No one clicks unless the title and snippet are great
If they click, they want to be rewarded by finding what they are looking for - the quality must be very good, or at least exceed their expectations. If the visitor reads what you have written and yells out, “I have found what I was looking for!” you have done a good job creating search engine relevance. When that happens, you have closed the deal.
But no one will get to the content unless the Title (headline) is compelling.
Alignment of title, description, and first paragraph
Once they read the compelling headline and click on it, the planets must align between Article Title, Article Description, and the important first paragraph (which must include the key phrase). They all work, in a specific order, to lead the reader in.
Your content must beg to be shared
As you can see above, its a 1, 2, 3 approach to getting someone to click. But a good article isn’t just relevant, it must also make people want to share it - emotion helps with that bit. You can make someone happy, laugh, angry, whatever. But the emotion drives shares.
This type of article is called ‘Link Bait’. You might say that creating a hyperlink or a social media mention is step 4. Getting someone to step four means you did a stellar job creating your web content.
Use statistics for higher click-ability
Statistics in the introduction and placed near the search phrase in the content can improve readership. So put statistics in the first sentence when it makes sense. Put one very near the embedded search phrase, too, because Google will often use it in the snippet in search results, which in turn gets people to click on it.
Job #1: Compelling Headlines
“On average, 8 out of 10 people will read headline copy, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest”. Did you get that? 8 out of 10 people will read the headline copy, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest!
Here are some headlines from Gawker.com:
- Teacher Arrested for Showing Up Drunk to Math Class
- How Police Departments Became Armies
- The Problem With Humans of New York
- Chain Restaurants, Ranked
Use trending topics
Here is a list of trending topics from a couple of years or so ago - before Trump. These topics were trending at the time, which means they had inertia, inertia you could use if you hitch your content wagon to these terms as they are heading up in Google Trends.
- Pope Francis
- Royal Baby
- Margaret Thatcher
- Harlem Shake
- Miley Cyrus
- Boston Marathon
- Tour de France
- Nelson Mandela
How to create compelling headlines
This article has some pretty good information: http://goo.gl/S4NLyy, but here is a summary:
- Actionable ... “How to Write Stellar How-To Posts for Your Business Blog”
- Keyword-Conscious … “What Is a Landing Page and Why Should You Care?”
- Brief … “15 Examples of Brilliant Homepage Design”
- Clear … “Answers to Your Top Questions From the Science of Inbound Marketing”
- Definitive … “The Ultimate Guide to Creating Compelling Case Studies”
- Intriguing … “30 Terrible Pieces of Social Media Advice You Should Ignore”
Headlines with numbers work well
"Number" headlines worked best by far — a full 15% more than the second place.
Use 5 to 9 words
Eight (8) is the magic number of words. Research has shown titles with eight words had the best click-through rates and performed 21% better than others. It's SCIENCE so you can't ignore it!
Research shows that titles ending with ”?” tend to have a higher click-through rate than titles ending with an exclamation mark or period.
Negatives Work Better Than Positives
Negative superlatives in titles perform 30% better than the control, ones and more than 60% higher than positive ones. This is probably due to human negativity bias.
Everything you write should be relevant to the user's search and compelling to read. But sometimes, when writing for an online reputation project the subject just isn’t that compelling. When that happens, it's time to get creative. In this case, co-brand. Find a key phrase people are searching for, or that is far more popular than the one you are writing about, and use it in your writing - especially in the headline of the article.
Using key phrases in content
Every article includes at least one key phrase. In addition to the main key phrase, another should be chosen. The ‘other’ key phrase is bait. To find a trending keyphrase that is relevant to whatever you are writing about, you can go to Google Trends to see what people are searching for. The key phrase you choose depends to a large extent on what type of Link Bait you are writing.
Types of Link Bait
Here are a few of our favorite types of Link Bait. At the end is an excellent article from Distilled in the Further Reading section.
Writing a how-to article that is helpful in an industry is a good way to get link bait. People always want to learn how to do something. If the to-do article you write is better than all the others, especially if it has an extra element (see the rest of the list below), you could do quite well.
If your headline is fantastic, a How-To is a good idea. But there is a difference. Consider these two headlines about ‘How To’ when washing a dog:
How to Wash a Dog
How Not to Get Bitten When Washing Your Dog
People tend to follow the leader. Leaders have followers. Write something flattering about someone with a lot of followers (the leader), and they may post a link to your article. If they post the link, their followers may too. Instant-links. In reputation management, it’s important to have some logical tie-in between your key phrase and the person or entity you are baiting. This can go horribly wrong if the article is written badly, or the tie-in between the keyword and the entity being written about is tenuous at best.
Compiling lists is a great way to get links. You need to find a way to artfully and naturally insert the key phrase into the body of the lists. For example, let's say you are performing online reputation management for an attorney. Here are some ideas for top ten lists:
- Top Ten Lawyer Jokes
- Top Ten Las Vegas Lawyers
- Top Ten Reasons Not to Become a Lawyer
- Top Ten Movies About Lawyers
- Top Ten Dogs Owned by Attorneys
If the reputation management project is for an attorney, the attorney's name can be used as the author, or just as someone interviewed to create the list.
Factual writing about an industry can be great linkbait. The facts must be ‘true facts’, in that they must be verifiable. You don’t want to write an article that is untrue for reasons you can surely imagine.
Guest Link Bait
If you write a wonderful article for someone else to place on their site, you can give them the gift of link bait. Ideally, the article you write has a link embedded somewhere in the first paragraph back to your own site that you want to promote.
As always, the headline and article must be compelling. If you can’t make the whole thing compelling, then at least make the headline and the first few sentences compelling.
Interview Link Bait
If you interview someone with fame, it can garner a lot of links. But if you don’t have access to someone famous, you may be able to do a ‘fake interview’ of someone. For example, find someone whose name is trending upward in search. Be clear that you didn’t actually interview this person. If the person you write about also thinks it's funny, perfect. The more readable it is, the more linkable it is.
Z-Axis Link Bait
The “Z-Axis” pertains to depth. We use the term Z-Axis Link Bait to pertain to articles or other content that contain multiple types of bait in them. For example, an article about Lindsay Lohan that is:
- An Interview (probably a fantasy interview)
- Contains Research (how many shades of orange has she worn)
- The Top Ten Things to Do With Used Orange Jumpsuits
… would be an example of linkbait with multiple angles. That is, depth.
The headline should make people stop and read it. Imagine if you tweeted just the headline; would people click on it? Is it compelling? In short, a good headline is compelling. Using the lawyer example with the top ten lists above, notice that each headline draws you in. Wouldn’t you click on ‘Top Ten Lawyer Jokes?’.
Other headlines that are compelling (imagine John Smith is the key phrase):
- 7 Things You Can Do to Prevent Cancer
- Cooking With Brown Poo
(sub-head: Cooking With Brown Poodles - Oops ran out of room)
- Study: How Many Lawyers Needed to Fill Ocean
- Similarities Between Lindsay Lohan and John Smith
- Huge Baby Rescues Puppy
- Confirmed: John Boehner is an Oompa Loompa
(written by an author named John Smith)
- John Smith Finds the Fountain of Youth
- John Smith’s Top Ten Lawyer Jokes
Key phrase in the headline
Ideally, your key phrase should be in the headline. If it just looks weird or doesn’t work, then don’t put the key phrase in the headline. Remember, if your content seems to be written mainly for search engines, that's bad. So keep things natural above all else.
You can see in the examples above that not all of them have the key phrase in the headline. Of course, you need to put the key phrase in the body of the article one or two extra times if you can’t put it in the headline. Using the key phrase as the Author can also help.
The article's headline should be no more than 70 characters - five to eight words. If possible and natural looking, it should include the key phrase. The most a search result in Google shows is 70 characters; more than that tends to ‘wrap’ and look bad on the web page.
A sub-head in addition to the headline is preferable if you can squeeze it in.
The Meta Description
The meta description should optimally be between 150-160 characters and should contain the key phrase in the first sentence. It should also accurately and relevantly summarize the content of the article in a way that makes people want to click on the search result.
The Page Title
The Page Title should, if possible, include the key phrase in it. Page titles should not always start with the key phrase as it is unnatural. Often, the Page Title and the Headline are the same.
The First Paragraph
The first paragraph of the article should include the key phrase in the first sentence one time, two if it makes sense.
The key to writing compelling content
Here is a wonderful article on Link Bait and writing for SEO.
Once the awesome headline and content have been created, it needs to be promoted. If you did a good job with the above and you don’t promote it - you wasted your time (bad).
But if you did a great job, and you promote it, then WOOHOO!
Here is the five-step process for promotion
- Create a Content Plan or Brainstorm
A full-blown content plan is a big deal. Here is a sample: http://goo.gl/AmXz4H . But most of the time, you can just brainstorm content. Start with the headline as discussed above, then work your way to the sub-head and a description. From there, it can be handed to the writers to flesh out.
- Write the Article
Write the article using the above as an outline. Post the article somewhere, either on the client's site or on a third-party site (a guest post).
- Tell the World:
Post to Social Media. Use a service to post. You don’t want to use the same social media accounts for multiple clients as it causes a pattern, or could expose a client as a client. You can post to Twitter, Google Plus, Facebook, Reddit, StumbleUpon, or others.
- Build a Guest Post
Use the same methods to post a guest post to be placed on a relevant third-party blog but that links to the original article.
- Post to Reddit and do a 30-Day Mura
When the second post is done and posted, post its existence to Reddit and perhaps other social media as well - but don’t use the same accounts for both the original article and the guest post.
SEO Content FAQs
How do you write an article for both search engines and people?
The two most important aspects of an article are its page title and snippet (the search engine description). These two parts must be compelling and include your keyword to rank and actually get clicks.
How do I create a compelling headline?
Your headline should beg to be clicked. It should be actionable, brief, clear, definitive, intriguing, and include your keyword. Headlines with numbers, questions, and negative sentiment tend to perform the best.
What are the most popular types of link bait?
The best types of link bait are how-to articles, ego bait, top lists, research articles, interviews, and guest posts.
About the author
Kent Campbell is the chief strategist for Reputation X, an award-winning online reputation management agency. He has over 15 years of experience with SEO, Wikipedia editing, review management, and online reputation strategy. Kent has helped celebrities, leaders, executives, and marketing professionals improve the way they are seen online. Kent writes about reputation, SEO, Wikipedia, and PR-related topics.