Content is the backbone of an effective SEO strategy. Search engines like Google aim to give searchers the best experience. Without quality content, it is next to impossible to earn high rankings.
Many factors come into play when creating optimized content. In this post, I share seven practical steps to boost the performance of your quality content in search.
1. Optimize for answer box
The Google answer box or featured snippet is a unique result that stands out among the other listings on the search engine results page. It generally appears at the top of the page with a bit of text and a link to the website:
Google provides the answer box to help searchers find the answer to their question immediately – without needing to click on the result. The text varies in formats, including lists, tables, or one paragraph.
Focus on two things when optimizing your content for the answer box – answers to questions people are asking and properly formatted listicles.
Answer specific questions
First, you must know the questions to answer. Not all searches trigger a featured snippet. Many answer boxes appear when searches include question-related words – who, what, where, when, why, and how, often at the beginning of the query.
With proper keyword research, you can see what questions your audience is asking. Once you find those relevant inquisitive searches, you can create your content to answer those questions.
You want to give thorough answers, but you need to be concise. The featured snippet is a brief space to answer the searcher’s question.
To answer why- and what-type questions, include a summarized answer at the beginning or end of your content.
Optimize list content
Listicles are popular and an effective way of earning the answer box.
The featured snippets for listicles show a bulleted or numbered list on the results page. They are great for “best” and “how-to” searches. With a list, searchers get a quick and easy-to-understand answer.
For example, here is a post that contains a bulleted list of digital marketing certifications:
Some simple structure techniques optimized the post to help it appear as a featured snippet. Here’s how to do it:
- Use proper headings and formatting: The H1 tag for the title should describe what the article is about and ideally match the target query as much as possible. Each step in the list should have an H2 tag.
- Use the HTML list element: In this case, make the list title an H2 and each list item an H3. Wrap your list items using the HTML list element (UL).
- Use the list element and named anchors: Expand on the above technique by adding anchor links to each list item.
- Use how-to schema: A how-to schema is a form of structured data that explicitly tells Google that your content contains a list. It also lets you specify what the steps are.
2. Improve internal linking of your important pages
Internal links play a big role in SEO and the user experience. They establish a hierarchy for the website, help visitors navigate the site, and spread link juice among your pages. Descriptive anchor texts and internal links can help Google better understand what a page is about.
Internal links also help show the contextual relationship between two pages. Search engines begin to understand page one is related to page two. That establishes page relevancy.
You want to create a strategy for adding contextual links to your most important pages – the pages on your site targeting your primary keywords. They often have the highest number of backlinks from external sites.
Make a list of the top pages based on your strategic priorities. Then, create topic clusters by identifying related content. You want to have the assortment of related content all link back to the main page. This indicates the main page is the most authoritative.
An efficient way to track and manage your internal links is to use the links report within Google Search Console. It tells the total number of internal links and the top internally linked pages. If you’re executing your strategy, your most important pages will be at the top. When you click on a page you can drill down into a list of all the other pages linking to it.
3. Check for orphaned content
Orphaned content is a page that doesn’t have any internal contextual links from your other pages. Search engines have difficulty finding orphaned content. It may be accessible through the sitemap but not when the search engines crawl the site.
As a result, orphaned pages typically do not rank very well. They also are more difficult for visitors to find and get less engagement overall.
Going forward, make it part of your content creation process to add links to your new posts immediately upon publishing. When you publish a post, add that link to some older posts to ensure it is not orphaned.
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4. Add alt text and captions to images
Optimizing your images can go a long way in strengthening your SEO performance. Google looks at a variety of factors to understand an image’s subject matter and the role it plays in the content. One of the most important variables to the image alt text.
Alt text is a written description of an image designed to assist people who cannot see the visual. Google uses alt text to better understand your images and the related keywords. Used properly, alt text can help your images rank in Google Images, bringing quality traffic to your website.
See below some examples – good and bad – from Google:
Notice how the bad image examples omit the alt text or go overboard stuffing keywords into it. The better example clearly identifies the image subject matter while the best example uses relevant keywords and describes the action.
While captions don’t get as much attention, include them for all images. They don’t directly impact SEO, but they help improve the visitor experience. And when customers spend more time on your site, that signals to Google that your content is valuable.
Plus, search engines crawl captions, presenting another opportunity to include your target keywords to make the image more relevant to priority search terms.
5. Use keywords strategically
Google relies on the included keywords to determine if your content is relevant to a query. The most important places to include your keywords are titles and headings. If possible, include them in the first couple hundred words. Many SEO experts believe Google weighs the beginning of content more heavily. (That makes sense, given readers do too.)
Your content should include a healthy mix of the primary term, secondary keywords, and any related keywords. The primary keyword is the main focus of the content. Secondary keywords are variations of the primary keywords. Related keywords are the terms contextually relevant to the content. For example, if you wrote a post targeting the phrase “how does baseball work,” the terms baseball glove, batter, and pitcher would be related keywords.
6. Enable comments
Many people forego allowing comments because they think they offer little to no SEO value. Others want to avoid having to moderate the comments, including spam.
I do not recommend forgoing comments for a couple of reasons. First, Google employees themselves have stated comments can have a positive impact on SEO, as shown this tweet from Google’s Gary Illyes:
It makes sense. When people engage in the comments, it increases the average time on site, signaling to Google that they enjoy the content and find it valuable.
With comments enabled, you must take on the responsibility of moderating. Avoid publishing spammy or useless comments and reply to almost every comment your visitors leave.
7. Improve readability and usability
If your content is difficult to read, it is unlikely many people will stick with it. You can avoid this by optimizing for readability. Communicates ideas concisely and in an easy-to-understand way. Here are some simple ways to do it:
- Use short words: Words with fewer syllables are easier to read.
- Use short sentences: Like words, longer sentences are harder to read. Break up longer ideas into several shorter sentences. Keep sentences to no more than one idea.
- Use clear language: Avoid jargon. Choose words and phrases that an uninitiated person will understand.
Today, a lot of readability evaluators are available to score your content based on how easy your text is to read. Some highlight the difficult areas so you can quickly improve the quality of your text.
Along with readability, you want to optimize your website’s usability. Visitors should be able to clearly see and navigate your content on any device. Make good use of elements like headers, images, bold text, short paragraphs, and bullet points.
A quick way to check the usability of your pages is to review your site’s Core Web Vitals report in Google Search Console. Each URL is given a rating of poor, needs improvement, or good for both desktop and mobile.
Google also provides the steps to take to resolve trouble spots. Once you’ve made the changes, you can ask Google to validate the fixes and verify the issues are resolved.
Optimize for the search and visitor experience
By following these seven tips, your quality content is more likely to get found by Google and clicked by searchers. But it requires ongoing work, whether that’s moderating your comments section or adding alt text and captions to every image, you must be committed for it to pay off in higher rankings.
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Please note: All tools mentioned in this article come from the author. Feel free to include additional tools in the comments (from your company or ones that you have used).
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute