I was trained in the wonders of SEO (search engine optimization) as part of my onboarding for a company I freelanced for in 2008. As a new freelance writer, I attended numerous online classes in the mechanics of SEO. I had to master a keyword search tool the company subscribed to; I had to learn countless formulas on how to use keywords in headlines, in the body copy, and more. There seemed to be rules and regulations for every aspect of search engine optimization. The most sought-after writers were those, like me, who could take any keyword phrase, no matter how awkward, and worm it into a sentence gracefully.
Now flash forward to 2015. Seven years later, we’re in an entirely new world of SEO…and I’m breathing a huge sigh of relief.
Why? Here are some surprising ways that SEO has changed – and why it’s better for your online content marketing AND for your customers.
5 Surprising SEO Developments and What They Mean to You
1. Search engines understand intent, so you don’t have to be a slave to keyword phrases: Remember the days of trying to write copy for keyword doozies like, “Jeremiah Bullfrog Song who wrote”? In the early days of SEO, search engines relied upon exact, word for word phrase matches to serve the answers to user queries. Today, search engines are much better at matching a person’s intent behind a query as long as your text answers the overall question and contains enough related content to alert the search engine that yes, this copy is relevant.
The current keyword inclusion method focuses on:
- Intention – does the keyword phrase used match the intention of the searcher?
- Authority – does the page of information related to the question have authority?
More about the authority issue in a minute….
2. Titles, headlines and descriptions should still include keywords: Okay, so I told you in point 1 that keyword phrases do not need to be exactly matchy-matchy, the way ladies matches shoes, purses and belts in bygone years. But keyword phrases are still important. While you don’t have to match everything precisely, appropriate keyword phrases should still be used to tag the title of your content, the headlines within the body copy, and the meta data behind the information. The old formulas may be gone, but the concept behind it remains the same.
Don’t write for search engines. Write for READERS.
3. Focus your content: Don’t write for search engines or to arbitrary word counts. Write for readers. Focus, focus, focus on a niche topic. Niches work. The tighter your focus on a concept within the content, the better.
4. Mix up your content: Long content ranks better with search engines, specially if it’s well-written. Break up long content, however, into short copy blocks, subheadings and more. Add jump links and a table of contents with links deeper into the page for super long form copy. Use call outs and illustrations to make sharable points. All of this makes your online content more interesting for both your human readers and search engines. But don’t neglect short form content. Both rank well now!
5. Quality counts: I mentioned earlier about making sure you have an ‘authoritative’ site. Authority is calculated by the powers that be at the search engines using their usual secret formulas, but content marketers are pretty good at guessing what goes into the secret formulas. My own guess is that links are an integral part of those formulas. Links from external authoritative websites pointing into YOUR site are a great badge of authority. For my gardening blog, Home Garden Joy, having a well-known home and garden website, a university extension site, or a magazine site point into my site is a great way to enhance the site’s overall authority. Another way I believe that authority is calculated is based on social signals; how many times is your content shared, and by whom? All of these online actions build a comprehensive picture that search engines are growing increasingly smart about reading.
Creating appealing content for search engines and for human site visitors is both an art and a science. Gone are the days when an easy, formulaic approach worked like magic. Instead, content is developing into more of an organic, holistic approach that has both writers AND readers rejoicing.
This article was written by Jeanne Grunert, a content marketing master and president of Seven Oaks Consulting. Jeanne helps grow business and brands by producing expertly written articles, guides and ebooks and online content that builds authority and engagement. For more information, please visit Seven Oaks Consulting.