Google’s algorithms can baffle the best of us. As any blogger or digital writer will attest, it seems that once we’re used to the latest changes, Google unleashes another batch upon us.
Be it Panda, Penguin, or some other adorably-named update, who can keep up? Fortunately, Searchmetrics has, with its 2014 SEO Rank Correlations and Ranking Factors Study.
“High quality, relevant content is increasingly the focus of search. This type of content ranks better on average,” the study’s authors write.
The challenge is identifying and utilizing the best practices that make content high-quality and relevant. Keep reading for nine tips to bring your writing, multimedia, URLs, and social media together to give your blog posts and articles a boost.
1. Natural writing wins the day. Good writers, rejoice! Long gone are the days of keyword density scores and writing littered with URLs.
Write naturally with a focus on readability. According to Matt Cutts, Google’s Head of Webspam, clarity is important and content ranks higher when a wider group of readers is able to understand it.
2. Focus on topics, not keywords. As Google gets better at analyzing the meaning behind a keyword phrase, its algorithms are focusing more on topical “content clusters” rather than individual keywords. Strive for semantically comprehensive writing that avoids repeating one keyword over and over.
In the Beyond PR article Content Quality Drives Search Rank & Online Visibility, PR Newswire’s Sarah Skerik advises using a mix of keywords, key phrases, and related acronyms. “For example,” she explains, “I write about press releases – a lot! Instead of using the phrase ‘press release’ over and over, I mix it up, using references to ‘news releases,’ ‘announcements,’ ‘messages,’ ‘news,’ and ‘content.'”
What are the different phrases you and your audience use to discuss your blog post’s topic in everyday conversation?
3. Enrich your content with multiple photos and videos. The images and videos you use in blog posts aren’t just window-dressing. The Searchmetrics study found that pages with more multimedia ranked higher in search.
Select photos and videos that enhance your written content and help your readers digest your message.
Visuals also thrive on social media – especially Pinterest and Tumblr. Include images that are interesting and can stand on their own, and then make sure they are easy for your readers to share.
“When people share those individual visual elements,” Skerik writes, “they’re amplifying your message (and creating pathways that will bring more people back to your story).”
4. Longer is better … Higher word count is another quality factor highlighted by Searchmetrics. Google is looking for content that readers find engaging. User behavior like time on page signal that interest.
Don’t be afraid to provide more context and value to your readers. Stay away from short pieces that just graze the surface of a topic.
5. … But don’t ramble on for the sake of word count. If you expect your audience to make it through a 1,000-word article, you need to give them a reason.
This is where relevance comes in. When you’re deciding what to include in a blog post, put yourself in your audience’s place and ask whether you would keep reading it.
Headlines and ledes draw readers in, but interesting content, formatting, and multimedia keep them there.
Recapture a wandering eye with bolded section headings, bullets, or numbered lists. Skerik also suggests embedding multimedia around two-thirds of the way down in longer content.
6. Clickthrough rate tops the list. One of the most surprising findings in Searchmetrics’ 2014 research was the ranking factor that topped all others — clickthrough rate. In their 2013 study, URL clickthroughs hadn’t even broken into the top 10. Now, the metric sits at the top.
Just like time on page, the emphasis on clickthrough rate reflects Google’s push for content that readers invest in. Successfully motivating your readers to take action and click a link demonstrates their investment.
Include URLs that serve your readers by providing valuable information or pointing out what their next step should be.
7. Keep it simple and stop the link spam. With that said, you want to keep your URL strategy simple. In the past, online articles were stuffed with multiple links driving readers to the exact same web site.
This proved disruptive and spammy, diluting the article’s message with link after link.
A prudent and thoughtful approach to your links is now the way to go. Limit how many URLs you include to the ones that are absolutely necessary. And connect the URL you include to a very specific and relevant call to action.
8. Social sharing no longer dominates, but still important. In 2013, social signals like Google +1s, Facebook shares, comments, and likes dominated Searchmetrics’ top eight ranking factors. This year, correlations between social media and highly ranked sites fell for the first time, and Google stressed it’s not using social as a ranking factor.
However, social media should not be ignored, the study authors caution. “Social signals definitely play a role in direct traffic, brand awareness, and the overall online performance of a domain. This is understandable from a search engine perspective, in that good content is much more common on social networks, and search engines want to provide good, relevant content,” the report says.
This is why it’s your audience’s sharing of content — not just what you do on your brand’s own channels — that will spread your message.
If you don’t have social sharing buttons associated with your articles and visuals, add them now. And write headlines and sentences that are tweet-worthy.
9. Track your success to understand what works for you. Searchmetrics stresses that the data presented in its survey focuses on correlation, not causation. Not all of the observations it made may work for you. Test different tactics and track the success of your blog posts and other content to see what works.
Use site analytics or link tracking tools to identify which calls to action and URLs work best.
And, keep an eye on social media for posts that clicked with people. Look for articles that not only got retweets and likes, but also drove readers back to your site.
For instance, when a Tumblr post about our Grammar Hammer column generated 1,000+ engagements and high referrals back to our blog, it confirmed that writing and grammar tips really resonate with our audience.
As Google takes a more holistic approach to how it’s ranking search results, use user behavior like this to identify what your audience wants. Then provide them exceptional content that meets these needs.
If you’re a blogger or journalist in need of high-quality visuals, story ideas and expert sources, register for PR Newswire for Journalists. There, you’ll find customizable newsfeeds, a robust image archive, and our ProfNet query service. It’s free and takes only a few moments to sign up. Get started at prnmedia.prnewswire.com/registration.
Amanda Hicken is a media relations manager with PR Newswire for Journalists. Follow her at @ADHicken for tweets about the media, comic books, and her love of Cleveland.