Crafting search-optimized content is essential in marketing today. But much to the chagrin of talented writers and intelligent readers alike, SEO is also having a big impact on the style and substance of copy. Here are five tips to keep in mind to create content that is both optimized and engaging.
1. Make it findable
SEO has significantly altered copywriting form, and the style of headlines in particular. Even The Grey Lady has had to shift to quick keyword drivers in lieu of lyrical and pithy headlines.
As the New York Times has expanded and evolved its digital publishing strategies, those beloved headlines have paid a price. Margaret Sullivan of the NYT says, “These days, if headlines sometimes read less like haiku and more like jumbles of keywords so that articles are easier to find, that’s just practical necessity.”
But keywords truly are the essential threads that connect us to users, customers and prospects. People establish intent and information-seeking activities via their search habits. In order to be found in the vast and growing quantity of content at everyone’s fingertips, the words they use in search must be present in your title tags and your content.
2. Make it shareable
SEO and keywords are not the only trends impacting headlines. Today, headlines also need to have a viral factor. As if there weren’t enough pressure to make your content search-friendly, you need to make it buzzworthy too, because we all want readers to feel compelled to share our content. Look at your headlines and consider how shareable they are. But resist the pull to make your headline so shareable it no longer connects to the content of your article. That’s called clickbait, and it is universally detested.
3. Make it human
While the finding and sharing of content are essential, we can’t lose sight of the reading. In our office, we have a rule: people before algorithms. This means we write the first pass for our readers, and edit the second pass for keywords and SEO. If you really understand your users, then you know their needs, their common questions and, hopefully, the answers. Your keywords should inherently be part of clear, cohesive and informative content development. But if keywords don’t come naturally, it’s easier to work them in on the second look at your content.
Another trend we have seen in content development is the growing use of first-person point of view for business content. Using “I,” “we” and “you” in your copy can provide a more direct, casual and natural flow, and it can help you connect more effectively with your reader.
4. Make it helpful
Long-tail search is a concept of growing importance in your content strategy. Long-tail search is a three- to five-word phrase or question used in a search engine to find specific and detailed information. It includes more specificity than a one-word search. For example, instead of searching for “shoes,” you search for “pink Nike running shoes.”
Long-tail searches account for at least 70 percent of total searches on the Internet. And people conducting long-tail searches are a marketer’s dream, because a user searching for shoes is browsing, while a user searching for pink Nike running shoes wants to buy them.
But while the vast majority of searches on the Internet are long-tail searches, they are not the same long-tail searches. The individual volume of each long-tail search is much lower than the individual volume of top single-keyword searches. So to craft the right kind of content that serves up results for long-tail searches, you need to do your homework, know your subject well and know your audience. Keyword research can help shine light on what users are looking for and the questions they are posing in search. It will also help you understand the language users employ for searches, which in turn can help you shape your content into a clear, helpful tool.
5. Make it snackable and make it fit
Snackable content consists of bite-sized assets that can be distributed across multiple channels for multiple screen sizes. And from tweets to blog posts to email subject lines, word count matters when you are working on the form, reach and penetration of your content. Both BufferSocial and Digital Marketer note that tweets are most effective at 70–100 characters, Facebook posts and the opening paragraphs of blog posts should stay at 40 characters or less, and email subject lines are ideally in the 28–39 character range. Hashtags are optimally six characters long. Most of the blog posts that get read (74 percent) can be consumed in three minutes or less — putting them at about 600 words — and you should try to keep blog posts to a maximum of 1,600 words.
6. Make it matter
We are knee-deep in the age of content marketing, and it is fraught with both opportunity and exponential competition. With so many different sites and channels vying for mass attention, content must be sharp, catchy, search-driven and easily broken down to sensibly fill different screen sizes. Finding your sweet content spot might be a challenge, and it should not be taken lightly, but once you get there, the results are worth your marketing while.