On a previous episode of the Reunion Marketing blog, we talked about Google ranking factors all content writers should keep in mind for SEO purposes. Those 11 ranking factors focused on keyword usage, readability, and content strategy, and they came from Brian Dean’s master list on Backlinko.
There are more ranking factors we should be aware of, though. For a list that’s over 200 items long, it wouldn’t make sense if only 11 of them were important.
Remember, some of these ranking factors are sure things, some are more like guidelines, and some are the best guesses from the smartest minds in our industry. It’s important to ask your own questions and study your own data to see how these factor into your site’s performance.
Now, let’s look at the next 8 ranking factors that every content writer should know. These tips will cover on-page SEO, content optimization, and what not to do when writing content for websites.
Stay on point with on-page SEO factors.
Our Director of Account Management, Andrew, has already written at length about solving the on-page SEO puzzle, so you should definitely jump over to read his post if you haven’t already (after you’re done here, of course). This section will build upon some of the things he talks about with clarification for how these factors relate to your content.
Keyword Use in the Title Tag
The title tag for your web page sends important signals to both Google and your readers. A well-written title tag will communicate relevancy, as well as an accurate description of what is on the page.
That means the title of a landing page should give a concise summary of the service it discusses, and the title of a blog post should make it obvious what question or topic the blog addresses. It follows that if you want to target a specific keyword, that keyword needs to be in your title tag.
According to MOZ, keyword prominence also plays a factor here in addition to the content of your piece. You should always try to put the core keyword as close to the beginning of the title as possible.
Keyword Use in the URL
You want your target keyword in the URL as another indication of relevancy, but don’t stop there. There are more ways to clean up what you find in the address bar so that it’s more presentable to readers and crawlers.
Back in 2009, Search Engine Journal noted that a shorter URL can lead to a better user experience. Most readers don’t even pay attention to the contents of your URL, but there are occasional users who can navigate back to a webpage just by filling in what comes after the / in your domain name. Try making URLs for your landing pages as intuitive as possible and see if it improves your direct type-in traffic.
On the technical side, you’ll want to simplify the URL path down to between 3 and 5 words. Anything long won’t be given as much weight, so if you have to have a longer URL, make sure your keyword is given prime real estate near the front end. This might already be the case anyway if you’re giving the keyword prominence within your title tags.
In addition to possibly ranking higher, shorter URLs also have a superior click-through rate on SERPs – about twice as often, according to SearchEngineLand.
Constant improvement through content optimization.
Once your content is written, make sure you’re taking the time to polish what you’ve come up with. Don’t settle for a first draft, especially if you look at the numbers and think a blog or webpage should be converting better. Here are a few items to consider for purposes of general optimization.
Make Content Updates Known
Google has been accounting for recently updated content since 2010’s Caffeine update. It’s important to spruce up your evergreen content when needed, and you want to make sure that your most current update is reflected in the publish date that shows up in SERPs.
To be clear, we’re not talking about changing a few words here or there. These content updates should be significant, such as adding a new paragraph to reflect new information (or removing content that’s outdated or no longer relevant).
Google should pick up on any changes and update your SERP within the next few times your website is crawled, but you should make sure there are user-facing indications as well. If you can, modify the publish date in your byline, or throw in a note like “Last updated in August 2016” at the top of the page.
It stands to reason your readers will want the most current information available. If they don’t see a recent date next to your content, they’ll probably go elsewhere.
Good idea: citing other pages that you have referenced to write your content, just like you would have in every research paper you ever wrote for school. Instead of stuffing a bibliography at the bottom of your content, we usually just link back to the page where we originally found the information within our own text.
Bad idea: thinking that references or links will have a huge affect on your page rank.
This is another one of those factors that is more about quality than a straight up ranking boost. Linking to your sources makes your content look good, and it gives readers a reason to trust you. Just don’t expect those kinds of external links to give you a huge push one way or the other.
What you should pay attention to is where your links are on the page. For internal linking, remember that links found early in your content are clicked more often than links near the end. Links embedded in your content are also more attractive than anything you put in your footer, sidebar, or anywhere else.
While you’re updating your content, take a look at the multimedia on each page.
Quick backstep: are you including multimedia in your content? We’re talking images, videos, and that sort of thing. If there isn’t, add some – it’s a signal of good quality content. People are drawn to visual elements, so if you have some eye-catching images spread throughout your content, they’ll be more likely to read the words in between.
Then when you’re doing optimization, see if you can replace older images with newer, high-quality versions. Make sure the image has proper title text and alt text. For an in-depth look at image SEO, check out this guide from Yoast.
Protect your site from pagerank penalties.
Wrapping up, let’s take a quick look at some negative ranking factors that content writers should know. These are all on the “Don’t you dare…” list, so if you find anything on your site like what is described below, fix it — and fix it quickly.
This is one that every SEO knows, but it’s always worth a reminder. Duplicate content can only harm your site’s ranking. Our own Director of Content, Dane Saville, has also written at length about how duplicate content can harm your business, too.
The best practice is to create unique content for your own website. You or your content marketing team should carefully tailor every word on every page in your domain to serve your best interests and meet your goals.
That goes for your meta-information as well. Each page needs a unique meta title and description. Repeats will get lost in the crowd, and your pagerank will suffer as a result.
Avoid the Panda Penalty
When we talk about content quality, in a lot of ways we’re talking about Google Panda, which dropped back in 2011. The goal of Panda was to return high-quality search results while devaluing what Google considers low-quality or “thin” websites.
How do you stay on Panda’s good side? Cyrus Shepard has a list of the 5 sins you’ll want to avoid:
- Heavy template footprint: We just got done talking about how duplicate content is bad, but sometimes it can come from how your website is built in the first place. Talk to your website design and management team and make sure your site is conducive for original content.
- Empty content: No page should exist solely to link to another page. Either put something useful there or get rid of it.
- Overlapping and redundant articles: If you’re following the content strategy tips from my first post on ranking factors, then each page you write should be focused on a core keyword as well as a set of related keywords. It’s important to condense these into one robust page rather than a shotgun spread of pages that are trying to answer every variation of the same question.
- High ad ratio: If you run ads on your site, make sure you have someone on board who is helping you optimize that side of your website management.
- Autogenerated content: Pro tip: don’t let robots write your content. Machines haven’t exactly grasped the nuance of our language yet, and Google will just shake its head if they catch you. They won’t be mad. Just disappointed.
The first section of this post talked about a number of on-page factors. You want to give these elements of your site as much attention to detail as the rest of your content, but make sure you’re not trying too hard.
It’s possible to get flagged for keyword stuffing in your header, meta tags, and other places beside your content. Keep your keyword usage in those places as natural as you would in the rest of your writing.
Remember, not one of these ranking factors is as important as all of them considered together. The best SEO comes from a holistic approach, so you should check off everything on this list (and the other one) for the best results.
Thanks again to Brian Dean and the folks at Backlinko for the master list. If you haven’t already read their full list of Google ranking factors, we strongly recommend it. Let us know if you found our condensed version helpful, and check back regularly for updates.