A Checklist for Search-Friendly Content
Content that is likely to be found via search engines typically features:
- A succinct, compelling, descriptive title
- High quality content
- Succinct, descriptive, properly-tagged subheadings
- Properly tagged images
How to Craft a Search-Friendly Title
A search-friendly title:
- Is short (typically under 65 characters)
- Is descriptive and compelling
- Matches common search terms
- May contain a keyword you know is commonly searched
- Is specific
Why Titles Should Be Short
Though the exact character count is less important than the actual space characters take up, titles longer than 65 characters often get truncated in search results. Don't inadvertently behead your title in the name of long-windedness.
Why Titles Should Be Descriptive and Compelling
Titles should answer two questions:
- What will happen when I click on this link?
- Why would I want to click on this link?
If you answer one question with your title (e.g. by being descriptive), but not the other (e.g. by not being compelling), you will be far less likely to drive clicks. Why is it important that you drive clicks? Aside from the fact that viewership is nice, search engines pay attention to the sites people select from a smattering of search results. If your site is served, but seldom selected, it will be pushed aside in favor of another piece of content that people actually choose to visit.
Thinking in Terms of Search Terms
Though everyone loves a witty title, there is little tolerance for clever headings in the search realm. If your titles do not match the words people would use when searching for the content they cover, people will be far less likely to find your work.
When crafting a title, ask yourself how you might search for your content's subject matter were you to attempt to find it using a search engine. Should you provide a guide to proper egg white beating technique, you would be far better off titling an article "How to Beat Egg Whites by Hand" than "A Guide to Witty Whisking."
Finding Keywords Using Google AdWords' Keyword Planner
To discover common search terms, type the subject of your article into Google AdWords' Keyword Planner. While designed to help advertisers find common searches onto which they might serve ads, this tool can help you get an idea of terms people commonly use. You may, for example, think that people would run queries on 1980s-themed hair tutorials using the keyword "''80s hairdo" only to find that the vast majority people instead use the keyword "'80s hairstyle."
To use the Google AdWords Keyword Planner:
- Create a Google AdWords account if you do not have one already
- Navigate to the Keyword Planner (under Tools and Analysis)
- Under "What would you like to do?" select "Search for keyword and ad group ideas"
- Enter the general subject of the content for which you are developing a title (e.g. "how to grow tulips")
- Don't bother with any of the additional settings; click "Get Ideas"
- Click on the Keyword Ideas tab on the resulting page
- Peruse results (click on column headers to re-order results)
Do not get too fixated on search traffic numbers presented through the Keyword Planner; they are fuzzed a bit and not that important (though it might help to look for keywords that have between 500 and 50,000 monthly searches, as they are less likely to either get no attention at all or so much attention that you would not be likely to beat the competition). Also don't become preoccupied with competition or average CPCs. Those figures are important to advertisers, not you.
Focus instead on using the Keyword Planner to understand the specific words and terms people commonly use when running queries on the subject matter you cover. In addition to using a popular term in your title, you might also consider incorporating certain keywords into the subheadings and body of your content (but only in a natural manner).
Why Specificity is Important
Many people discover broad, popular keywords and assume they can rank well with titles using those keywords alone (such as "Chocolate Soufflé"). Not so.
Titles that are short and broad face far more competition and are significantly less likely to rank well. Without making your titles too esoteric and long (remember, it is in your best interest to try to keep titles below 65 characters), make them specific (or as SEO folks like to say, go for long-tail keywords).
Instead of "Chocolate Soufflé," you might title a recipe for the delectable dessert "How to Make Chocolate Soufflé Using a Microwave" (random side note: microwaving soufflés before baking them can help them rise). Fewer people may be using the words "chocolate soufflé" and "microwave" in the same search, but those who do will be far more likely to find your content near the head of the pack.
What is High Quality Content with Regard to SEO?
High quality content, at least when it comes to SEO:
- Delivers on its promise
- Is easy to consume
- Caters to short attention spans
- Is genuine
Why High Quality Content Must Deliver on its Promise
Every title is a promise. People click through to your content with expectations based on that promise. If you title a video "Kitten Doing a Pole Dance on a Cat Tree," but instead present viewers with an obese, drooling poodle, a large number of people who clicked on your title in the first place will immediately click the "back" button.
Why is this bad? Lots of people immediately clicking the "back" button after visiting your content increases its bounce rate. High bounce rates (at least combined with a very short amount of time spent on a page) are bad. They indicate to search engines that your work may not be worth featuring, as visitors immediately leave your content once they arrive (perhaps because they see your page does not deliver on its promise, or that it will be difficult for them to find the answer they seek).
You should therefore make a point of delivering on the promises you make in your titles. If your title is "Kitten Doing a Pole Dance on a Cat Tree," you had darn well better feature a kitten doing a pole dance on a cat tree. Better yet, you'll over deliver. Hopefully that kitten will be wearing adorable stripper clothes and you'll have some hilarious music playing in the background. Whatever you do, do not betray your readers.
Why High Quality Content Must Be Easy to Consume
Immediate disappointment is not the only thing that can run up your bounce rate. Even if your content is of high caliber, readers might click away if said content is not easy to consume.
Content that often scares readers away is presented:
- In a small font
- In long, compound sentences
- In large, unbroken paragraphs
- With no headers
- Within an ugly website that detracts from the content's credibility
Visit popular websites that do well in search results. Look for patterns in the manner in which text, images, and videos are presented. Ask yourself what you would want from a well-formatted website and article and do your best to deliver an optimal experience to your online audience.
Why High Quality Content Should Cater to Short Attention Spans
In addition to being easy to consume, content that typically ranks well in search engines caters to short attention spans. Many (if not most) of the people visiting your content will be distracted, multitasking, rushed, or looking for fast, cheap thrills. If you do not immediately hook them, they may click away.
To make your content well-suited for addled internet audiences:
- Make it very easy to skip around
- Clearly indicate what an article will cover (via descriptive headings and/or clear summaries at the beginning of an article)
- Include engaging images (especially demonstrations and infographics)
Why High Quality Should Be Genuine
Anyone who has spent even a moderate amount of time online has become wary of spammers, scammers, multilevel marketers, creators of sponsored content, content marketers, corporate shills, and government mouthpieces. Most savvy internet browsers, without even realizing it, can sniff out disingenuous content like a shark sniffs out blood. Classiness and good form aside, this is why you must create genuine content.
Do not stuff your work with keywords. Do not write fluff on subjects about which you know very little just because you think it is associated with high search volume and high ad revenue. Instead, write from the heart. Be yourself. Only incorporate keywords when it is natural to do so. Write about subjects you truly understand. Be open and honest with your readers.
As tempting as it may be to attempt to game the system and drive tons of views by using the latest SEO scheme, shady tactics inevitably falter in the end; don't let your reputation falter along with them. Search engines will always fight to serve genuine, high-quality content. If you focus on creating that rather than getting too caught up in SEO, you'll do just fine.
Working with Subheadings
Like a good title, a good subheading can help your work be found via search engines. In addition to breaking up your content and making it easier for impatient readers to see what they will get from an article or guide you have written, subheadings properly marked with H2 tags are thought to be given more attention by search algorithms than general paragraph text.
Create subtitles using the same methods you use to craft titles.
- Make them succinct
- Make them descriptive
- Make them compelling
Why Properly-Tagged Images Help with SEO
There are many ways people might find your work; plain ol' Google Search is just one of them. Many individuals may also find your work through image searches. There are two very simple ways you can boost your SEO via savvy image positioning:
- Properly tag your images
- Give your images Creative Commons licenses
Properly-tagged images are far more likely to end up in search results, which still rely a great deal on the text surrounding a particular image. For starters, give your image files descriptive names (e.g. MenWithCameras.jpg instead of DC356902.jpg). Also make a point of adding proper title and alt tags via HTML or whatever image formatting tool your publishing platform offers. For more information on properly tagging images, visit our full guide to proper image tagging.
Giving images Creative Commons licenses can lead to SEO benefits in the form of additional links to your site (a.k.a. backlinks, which search engines see to be a good sign- an endorsement from others, as it were), as those who use Creative Commons images are typically required to both name and link back to the image's original source. You can learn more about applying Creative Commons licenses to images via our dedicated guide.