Run your content through these filters to ensure it is search-friendly
Before I dive into this hairy subject I’d like to explain why I think the world needs yet another article about search engine optimization or SEO. If you are trying to learn about getting search engines to notice and rank your marketing content, you’re in for a remarkable amount of silliness. Each ‘expert’ out there touts their secret sauce, the miraculous tricks that will magically get you the results you want. Usually you have to wade through endless scrolling sales pitches, teaser tips, and eventually, a sales pitch for a course. I’m going to skip right by all of that and give you my secret sauce right up front:
There is no secret sauce.
Sorry to be blunt but it’s true. Google is constantly telling us exactly what we need to do and the experts are constantly dissecting their statements to uncover some hidden message. This baloney started because for most of their existence Google was completely uncommunicative about what they were doing. So, this mysterious behavior hatched a huge crop of pundits and seers dedicated to peering into the mysteries. But the fact is that Google started telling us exactly what to do a few years ago and it was simple. That’s what this piece is about.
One: Answer a specific search query
Do you know what your target prospects are searching for? The specific questions they enter into the search fields when looking for a product or service similar to your own? These are key phrases, once known as key words. As the engines have gotten better at answering queries, their ability to get very specific has improved. That’s why we use phrases now rather than one or two word descriptions. You should have a series of these phrases that each address a stage of the buyer journey.
Google Ads Keyword tool gives you a good start. But it is on the actual search results page where you can get insights into what searchers are looking for. Do a search on a common phrase for your subject. Then look down the page to the ‘Similar Searches To This One’ box. This shows you the search phrases Google associates with your query and can offer clues to the kind of content people are looking for. You can use that information to generate more relevant content.
Two: Understand how digital content is consumed
Worldwide, over 70% of digital consumers are exclusively using mobile phones to access content. This has changed the way we read content and it means yours must be mobile-friendly, even when viewed on a desktop:
- Headline contains key phrase, subheads should tell the basic story when skimmed without reading text. If you write in Google Docs or Word, use the outline view to see how the heads skim when read by themselves.
- Active voice rather than passive voice
- Be concise: short sentences, snappy paragraphs, no fluff, avoid excessive use of adjectives. Caption and describe every image with meta-descriptions- these get read after headlines, before body text, and they make the content accessible to those with visual issues. These descriptions also tell the search engine what the picture portrays. If you use WordPress this done by selecting an image in the Media Library and filling in the information form. If the image shows a boy riding a bike, the correct description is ‘boy riding a bike’.
- One paragraph per subhead. The general writing rule with paragraphs is one subject per paragraph. If you’re covering more than one, break the paragraph up into two (or more).
- Long content generally works better than short content. Very short pieces are less likely to get read. Somewhere between 1000–2000 words for B2B content seems to be the sweet spot. White Papers and eBooks are usually viewed as ‘meatier’ more in-depth content and can range from 2000–10000 words, if you have enough substance to justify it.
Three: Don’t ‘stuff’ the key phrase
We’ve all seen this- a writer puts their key phrase in, over and over, in an attempt to raise ranking for that phrase. Google has been wise to this for years and it may get you tagged as spam. I shouldn’t have to say this but some sketchy SEO sites still reference it. That being said, I’d certainly put the exact keyphrase in the headline.
BTW, you can write the snippet text that appears in your search result after your headline. This should briefly explain what information the link takes you to. If you don’t write a custom description the search engine will usually grab the first text characters or the subtitle. Write these with this in mind. A plugin like Yoast or one of the other SEO tools can help you do this, and it ranks your content for writing quality, keyphrases, etc.
Four: Don’t pitch
Wait, I’m in marketing- shouldn’t I ask for the business? Not overtly. They are searching for information to help them make a buying decision. Of course you’re selling something, but content marketing is about reputation and showing product market fit. It’s ok to mention your offering but keep it in context with their search inquiry.
Pitching is trying to make your product or service fit the need of someone you don’t know, who may not need it. Offering high quality information can show them you do have something that might help them. Show, don’t tell.
Five: Be specific
Don’t think of each content piece as one more log on the fire. They should fit into a larger content strategy or plan, which requires each to address a specific need.
Six: Use images with captions
I’ve already mentioned captions and descriptions but there is a more compelling reason to use relevant images. A large percentage of the population is primarily visual in the way they process information. Illustrations, charts, and photos capture their attention first.
Seven: Place your content in legitimate media other than your site
This is where the real work in SEO and content marketing comes in. Getting your content placed on authoritative websites and other media sites, generates backlinks which lend you authority with the algorithms. In B2B marketing, try trade association sites relevant to your subject- they often accept articles relevant to their members. Look for contributor guidelines on their site. General business and consumer media may do the same. Remember, editors are like sharks- they need to keep moving and consuming content to survive. This is why Number Four above is critical. Once a pub has taken one article, they will be receptive again. And consider giving your CEO or founders the byline.
Eight: Be an expert (social proof)
You can’t declare yourself an expert and you can’t declare your product to be the best. Even if you do, buyers are going to look for proof from others who have done business with you. Adding social proof elements like testimonials, logos, joint case studies, reviews, awards, and other evidence of legitimacy will improve your search credibility/.
Nine: Buy related PPC ads
The search engines deny any connection between PPC ad buys and organic rankings but I have seen ads generate interest in general website content. I do not believe the engines do this, I think it is just getting your brand in front. Even if your PPC goes to a landing page without a menu of site links, that has a specific call to action, a buyer is likely to do more homework. Ideally your ads and your organic results are found near each other.
I’m experimenting with this and if I can get enough data to make it useful, I’ll write about it.
Ten: Know your customer
I know, the SEOheads are saying: this is all obvious. And yes, it is common sense. The reality is the most effective thing you can offer is high quality targeted content that is readable on today’s preferred devices. To do that you need to know your customers. Ask existing customers if they will talk about their information gathering experience. If you do Net Promoter Score surveying, your Promoters (those who rank you the highest) are those who are most likely to help you out with this research.
You’ll hear it said over and over when researching SEO: Quality content is the number one ‘trick’ to getting ranked. But be pragmatic about this. The best SEO people will tell you that sometimes a competitor will rank better though they are doing nothing different than what you are doing. There is still some mystery out there!
You can see more of my digital marketing articles in Better Marketing