Writing Content For Search

Content has always been important for search engines, but now more than ever. Your content needs to engage users, satisfy search queries and ideally be in a format that encourages sharing.

Google has always stated very clearly that they want to deliver search results with links to great websites that offer their users the best experience and the most relevant information.

Successful SEO is mostly about creating really great content and is arguably the same as content marketing.

  • Quality content what gets people engaged and interested in what you have to say
  • Write more content on topics of interest than your rank competitors have written
  • Content is your best opportunity to include referring keywords and phrases

Rank Competitors

A ‘rank competitor’ is a website that ranks ahead of you in search results for a search phrase that is highly relevant for you.

They are not necessarily in the same business as you, but they are the ones you have to beat to get ranked higher.

When it comes to industry competitors, it’s completely feasible for a small business to rank much higher than a multi-million dollar corporate in the same industry, if they know how to create better content that both attracts search queries and gets shared by readers.

The size of the business doesn’t dictate any part of page-rank in Google.

Page-rank can’t be bought and is not influenced by any spend in search engine marketing channels either, so the rank a website receives is given entirely on the merits of the site, its content and its overall appeal to searchers.

Page Topics

Pages in your website should be search optimised for no more than two keyword phrases. But that doesn’t mean you have to repeat those two phrases over and over again.

It’s very unlikely that adding more phrases will help you gain rank unless the phrases are very closely related in meaning.

This means that if your site is about 10 different things, you should have at least 10 different pages for each of those things.

But if your site is about a single narrow topic, it doesn’t mean you can get away with one page, you should still find keywords about your topic that you can split up into different pages. Doing so will give your pages the best chance of gaining rank.

Each page should contain information that concentrates solely on the topic and avoids crossover of content, but by using keyword tools like Answerthepublic or LSIGraph it’s possible to significantly vary the structure of your phrases to be able to make for easier and more interesting reading.

Morphology, Grammar and Spelling Variation

When applying keywords to a body of content, it’s not necessary to use every possible version or spelling, plurals, or word ordering.

Search engines like Google are smart enough to figure out that in New Zealand we will spell ‘realise’ with an ‘s’ instead of a ‘z’.

Such variations do not need to be accounted for in your text content. Just write naturally and in the local version of spelling and grammar. Let the search engine take care of the variations.

You also don’t need to account for plurals or all verb paradigms either. For example: ‘t-shirt’ and ‘t-shirts’ will be recognised as a single word with two variants by Google.

Similarly, any verbs are grouped based on the root, so ‘swim’, ‘swims’ and ‘swimming’ are easily recongnised as related. Past tense (swam) is a little different for some (but not all) verbs, so include it where appropriate.

The key is that you should use each keyword item as appropriate for the context. Do not feel as though you have to use each equally or repeatedly in the same form.

Semantics

The next consideration you should be aware of when writing content for your website is that Google can associate the meanings of words with the intended meaning of a search.

In practical terms, you may be able to optimise for keywords that have similar meanings all in a single page and not have to repeat the exact same words over and over again. It makes for much better reading for the user, and that’s essentially what they’re after.

Here’s an example:

You may wish to optimise your page for ‘accounting firm’ because that’s what your business is, it’s what you do, and you did the research and discovered it’s searched a lot.

But you should also consider how many different ways you can say ‘firm’ and mean the same thing. Like ‘company’, or ‘business’ or even ‘advisor’ in some cases.

To test the theory, type into Google ‘SEO company’ and see what results it produces, paying attention to the bold content in the results.

Look through a few pages and you will find other words are made bold – ones that were not included in the search at all, like ‘firms’ and ‘services’ and ‘search engine optimisation’.

These are connected through semantics, even though they are not matches to the exact form of the search.

Font Type and Size

Search engines may be assessing the legibility of your font type and size as a ranking factor for SEO.

If the font is too small to read, search engines know this and judge your content accordingly.

The ideal font is one that can be read easily by all viewers of your website, so bear this in mind when selecting fonts for a style sheet.

It’s estimated that this optimum size is about 15 or 16px. Smaller sizes become less legible, and this may create a poor user experience for your clients, so try to avoid anything smaller than about 14px.

While there is probably no disadvantage in using a font size larger than 16px, it may be confused with heading fonts.

You might want to use a complete set or larger paragraph and heading sizes if this is in keeping with your site design and the genre it targets, for example, fonts may slightly be larger for sites targeting young readers, or the elderly, but that’s a fairly broad generality.

Using Heading for SEO

Headings are one of those things that are so simple for you to fix, but probably nobody ever told you that you should.

Headings are usually pre-sized and styled by the person who made the website, or they may come pre-set in a theme you applied to your CMS.

There’s usually a range from H1 being the largest down to H6 being the smallest.

Sometimes there’s a font type change between sizes, but not usually.

The H1 font might be quite large, like around 40-50pixels (40px – 50px). Usually the smallest heading (H6) is close to the size of the paragraph font <p>.

Here are some font size examples native to this website:

Using headings in a web page as styling tools really isn’t a good idea.

They are designed to be used as headings only.

On every page there should be just one instance of H1 used – because it’s the main heading of the page.

You should use keywords in the H1 heading, and it should be fairly short and sweet stating clearly what the page is about. That makes for best reading.

If the H1 title size is used again in the page, it can cause the reader some confusion about the subject of the page, and it’s the same for search engines.

H1 and H2 is considered as part of the overall page analysis by Google when assigning rank. If the content of these elements bear no relationship in meaning to the content of the page, you will miss scoring the point with most search engines.

Often I see H1 used to say “Welcome to our website”, which doesn’t inform the reader, or search engines, about the content of the page at all.

Often, H2 is not even used at all.

It’s optimally used as a secondary heading, like for a subsection, or a subtitle. You can use it more than once, but only really if it makes sense to do so for the content of your page. It should signal that your content has a slight change of topic, but is still part of the rest of the ‘story’ covered by the main heading, H1.

So it goes on progressively if you have lots of content.

If you think the headings are simply too big – like H1 is styled at 40px but you really want to use 30px maximum for yout title, consider changing the settings in your style sheet, don’t just use a smaller heading like H3 just because it’s smaller.

Your smallest font is probably going to be the font used for the majority of the text, and that should be the paragraph <p> style.

If your paragraph style is too small, try to resist the temptation to just use H6 or H5. Remember, those are for headings only.

To make any Headings or the Paragraph font larger, smaller, or styled differently, you should do this via the Cascading Style Sheet (CSS).

CSS is a data file(s) that tell browsers what size and style to apply to your content. If you don’t have access to the CSS files, ask your web developer. It’s better to edit them so that your changes in font size and style are applied universally through your site, because that makes for a better overall design flow. If you really need to style an H2-H6 or <p> differently on one page or section only, then apply a Class.

Classes are just CSS styling groups that instruct browsers to look up a modified or ‘special instance’ of a given H-type or p-type.

To review how I have applied Headings in practice, take a look at the largest title on this page, at the top of the page. In the first section of the page, I use H1, H3 and H4 in a single topic page.

The main text is <p>.

The body copy has lots of relevant keywords, but I try not to overcrowd the content or use commercial keyword phrases unnecessarily or out of context.

Paragraphs and Sections

Each paragraph or section in your page should be clearly about a single topic. Slight changes in the topic would probably belong in a new paragraph. Bigger changes in topic may require a new heading, presenting an opportunity to use H2.

Content Duplication

Content duplication is shrouded in a bit of a myth. Search engines don’t penalise websites for having duplicated content. They just give content originals the preference when assessing rank.

Let’s say you build a website and you make a copy of that same website on a different domain in a hope that you gain rank on both of them. It’s unlikely that you’ll succeed, because usually only one version gains rank.

The duplicate is actually competing against yourself.

If at all possible, try to avoid duplication of any content in your site. This is because when two pages have very similar or identical content, search engines like Google have to decide which one gets ranked ahead of the other.

It may in fact choose the wrong one, or rather not the one you preferred.

This happens a lot in eCommerce websites that have many instances of the same product but which appears many times in the site due to categorisation or search functions that lead to the same page.

This should be resolved by setting an instruction in the code of the page that tells the search engine which one is the original and preferred for ranking. Any duplicate versions will then probably not get ranked or may not appear in search engine results at all.

The code instruction is called rel=”canonical”. This code also provides a link to itself, so that if it appears elsewhere, like in a product search, it can refer credit to itself via this link.

Content duplication also often occurs in parts of websites that are repeated due to their design or layout. Common spots are header, footer and side-bars. Avoid adding text to those that you want assessed for ranking, because they may be heavily repeated and can come across as a little spammy!

Again, there’s no penalty, but there is a chance of being ignored.

Content Duplication Across Borders

You may have read above that I said you shouldn’t duplicate your website.

That’s true if you aim to have both websites ranked in the same country.

Trying to gain rank in the same set of search results with two websites of the same content is seen as unfair and manipulative by search engines like Google. It also means the Google user may not get a good selection of different sites to choose from, and that leads to a bad experience for the user, something Google is trying hard to avoid happen.

If you want the same content served to different countries and use ccTLD domains, then the content duplication issue goes away, because ccTLD domains are automatically targeted at the country to which they apply, and Google does not see that as an issue.

To be doubly safe, you can also add a language target, and you probably should set that if you have a gTLD even if you already geo-targeted it.

These are settings that target a website to a specific user language, and again signal to search engines that your two sites are not designed to rank in the same set of results. The two languages may well be English, but one set to EN-NZ (New Zealand English) and the other set to EN-AU (Australian English).

For details on how to geo-target a gTLD to a specific country, see my page on Google Search Console.

Other Content

PDF documents can be read by search engines, so they can go to your advantage. Consider all of the same content structure suggestions I have noted above.

Other documents like Microsoft Word files, architectural files, some data files etc cannot be read by search engines, so content in them does not have to be optimised for SEO.