Create Content That Search Engines Love

Pop quiz: What’s wrong with the following paragraph?

Content optimization is important for search engine optimization. When you optimize your content, you make it easier for search engines to find it. Optimizing your content for search is the most important part of your content strategy.

Answer: It’s boring. It sounds like it was written by a machine.

Content optimization is the process of making sure that a piece of writing such as a blog post or article contains keywords—the terms peoplecommonlysearch for—repeated enough so that search engines will think your Web page is a good match for it.

That’s important. But, too often, writers become so focused on using the keywords that they lose sight of what they’re trying to say while churning out monotonous text—like in the example above.

You probably already know the keywords potential customers use to find companies like yours. If you want to learn more about identifying keywords, read: Does Your Website Speak The Same Language As Your Customer? and 8 Places To Use Your Keywords.

Unfortunately, there’s no hard-and-fast rule about the optimal number of times you should repeat your keywords. If you use them too often, as in the example at the top of the page, search engines may actually downgrade your article as spammy.

Worse, searchers may feel the same way. When they scroll through search results, they seek content that appeals to humans, not to search engines.

Up with people

“My advice to people is, don’t write for the engines,” says Dave Davies, CEO of Beanstalk, an agency specializing in search engine optimization. “There’s debate as to whether keyword density is a factor in search rankings. If you know your keywords, use them as many times as possible as long as it still reads right, and you will probably sit within the acceptable keyword ranges.”

Keywords are important, but Davies says engaging people who come to your blog or website could be even more important. In fact, he says, Google seems to take into account the time visitors spend with your content after they click on it. The more useful and interesting it is, theoretically, the longer they spend—and therefore, Google ranks it higher.

Heads up

Two areas where you should be serious about keywords are the headlines and meta tags. First, forget cutesie headlines (like the one above) and go for something descriptive that uses the most important keyword. A better headline for this section might have been, “Keyword-rich headlines.”

Says Davies, “Title the blog post to be descriptive and clickable. Grab their attention.”

Second, you should take the time to write the page description for each page using your best keywords. This element of your website’s HTML code is one of the Meta tags that site visitors don’t see; but search engines often—although not always—display it in search results. (Learn more here: How to Driver Conversion by Tweaking Your Page Descriptions.)

Don’t be afraid to use synonyms once in a while instead of keywords. According to Davies, Google is now smart enough to understand that two different terms are related. For example, if someone searches for “plumbing,” search results will show page descriptions with the words “plumbing” and “plumber” both bold, indicating they’re a match for the search term.

“When you know you’ve used your main keywords as much as you can, then you resort to synonyms,” Davies says.

Remember: Write for people, not machines. Even an expert SEO like Davies blows off the keyword tool once in a while. Sometimes, that’s because a topic is too newsy to wait. Other times, Davies says, “We’re just trying to provide useful content that will attract links and social signals. Don’t stop yourself from writing just because there isn’t a keyword for it.”

Susan Kuchinskas of American Express Open Forum