It’s Google’s world and for those of us with websites, we’re just living in it. And while the various Panda updates have proven to be a major thorn in the side of content providers and SEO experts, search engine optimization isn’t going away… and despite Google trying to kill it, SEO article writing will not die.
That doesn’t mean it hasn’t changed dramatically, however. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, those who write content with the intention of ranking well in the SERPs have had to make major changes in how they write.
I’ve put together this article to help you learn what’s working now and what you better avoid is you still want to achieve good search engine rankings for yourself or for your clients.
This guide will help you get long term results from your SEO article writing efforts.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the most exciting of topics in the world and is a bit more technical than most of what you’ve read before. Heck, the first draft didn’t have a single shit, damn, layin’ the smack down, cotton pickin’¸or hornswoggled in it.
Yeah, that means it’s pretty boring. Skip the beer until you finish this one, it took me three cups of coffee to write it. You’ll probably need at least one to read it. But alas, if you do SEO for a living, or play an SEO expert on TV, you should probably read this article… or stay in a Holiday Inn Express – the choice is yours.
Ready to get started? Take a deep breath – here we go.
The Old Formula For Articles That Rank Well
They say those who ignore the past are destined to repeat it (or something like that – I’m pretty sure I heard that when I was in school). So let’s look at how things used to work.
The Old Formula
Links + SEO Shenanigans + Content = Rankings
… and in that order.
Heck, in the past I was able to get websites to rank in the top 10 on the power of links (and anchor text) alone. I know this because there was no content on the page I was linking to. If you’re an SEO trying to sell your services, showing that to a prospective client sure looks impressive. I could honestly tell them,
“It really doesn’t matter what’s on your website, I can get it to rank well in Google for you… so long as your check clears.”
Of course that goes against what Google wants. Just like a fresh pint of milk, they want the cream to rise to the top, naturally. Google has publicly said they don’t want the top ranking websites to be the ones who can afford to hire the best SEO guys. They want the top ranking websites to actually be the best.
They’ve hired a not so small army of manual reviewers trying to get rid of the riff raff for years now. However, in February of 2011, Google had finally figured out a way to get rid of low quality content algorithmically. If you’re not a tech geek, that means that it’s so easy a computer can do it – no human intervention required.
And they’ve continued to tighten the screws… creating low quality content just to rank in the search engines is now just a waste of time, money, and resources.
The New Formula For Articles That Rank Well
Expert Quality Content + Quality Links + Warm Fuzzy Factors = Rankings
Expert Quality Content
One tip I’ll give you that works really well when you’re not an expert on the topic is to think like a reporter. Pick up a newspaper and read it. If it was written by a reporter, they probably interviewed someone to write it. They may have done plenty of research to write the article, but there is also the story and personal experiences of one or two people interweaved into the article itself.
I’ll be honest, if you’ve never written like that, it’s a challenge and there’s a certain amount of skill required, but it’s easy to see why that kind of content ranks so well in Google – it has all those warm fuzzy factors we’re looking for.
Yes, there are plenty of classes you can take to learn how to do this – after all, journalists do go to college to learn their craft, but you can get a quick crash course just by googling “how to write like a journalist.” Then it’s just a matter of practicing.
I’d also recommend subscribing to a newspaper. Personally, I think it’s hard to find a newspaper that does it better than the New York Times (even if they are a bunch of liberal bastards… but I digress) , but what newspaper you subscribe to is up to you though I do recommend subscribing to the print edition and reading it somewhere away from your computer screen. Just absorb the writing style and let it soak in.
Here’s a great list you can use – turn it into a checklist. It’s was written by a Google employee and gives some insights into what Google wants to rank highly in their search engine.
When it comes to getting quality links to your website, I have good news and bad news. Studies have shown that people respond better when you give them the good news first so here it is:
You don’t need very many quality links to rank well!
Which is good because getting quality links is tough.
Here’s the thing. Google wants you to create content that is so awesome and so compelling that other website owners, including the authority websites in your niche to link to your content out of the goodness of their hearts.
It happens on occasion when you do a good job but I’ve found one Google approved link building technique that can get you those oh so important quality links… Guest Blogging.
It’s a lot like the old days of article marketing but instead of your article being potentially syndicated across hundreds of websites, your article is only published on one website. And while you have to work with each website owner individually, the highly relevant and contextual links you get from these websites is worth the extra work.
Plus it gets your message in front of that website’s audience… which is probably the people you want reading your message anyway. So even if you get no SEO benefit from the article, you still get the people you really want reading your article anyway which is probably what you were going for in the first place.
Basically, you’re killing two birds with one stone.
The Warm Fuzzy Factors
Okay, so I could have called these “user behavior metrics” and could have thrown in the new buzz word “social signals” but I wanted to make sure you’re still awake and are still slogging on through this with me… plus warm fuzzy factors sounds so nicer. J
Here’s the thing. It used to be that those of us in the SEO world could do a pretty reasonable job of backwards engineering Google’s ranking algorithm using statistical analysis.
Without getting too much into it, we could look at what currently ranks well across thousands of keywords and find certain correlations.
For example, pages that rank on the first page of Google tend to have that keyword in their title tag.
If I want this article to rank well for “SEO Article Writing,” then I should make sure that keyword shows up in the title somewhere.
Of course, it’s not perfect. Statistical analysis never is.
For example, if you were to conduct your own analysis, you’d find a positive confidence interval for domains names that are 9 characters long. Does having a domain name that is exactly 9 characters long have anything to do with ranking well? No – nothing – why would it? However, Wikipedia happens to be precisely 9 letters long and with millions of top ten rankings, they can easily give you a false positive for ranking factors.
You’d find the same for domains that are 6 letters long because Amazon.com is that length and they get just as good of rankings but for products people want to buy.
Fortunately, there were plenty of rankings factors we could reverse engineer that did make sense. So we used them, then abused them, and then abused them some more.
And now we’re at a point where Google uses several factors we can’t use good ole statistical analysis to backwards engineer anymore. It’s a simple matter of Google having so much data we don’t have access to anymore.
Their ranking algorithm is getting closer and closer to having every page behave like articles submitted to a peer reviewed journal. In case you’re not familiar, when you submit an article to one of these journals for publication, it goes out to three peers deemed to be experts on the subject and if they don’t like it, it doesn’t get published (they’ll typically ask you to make revisions).
Basically we now have a computer that is an expert on every subject on the planet and can tell if what your wrote is B.S. or if it’s actually worth reading. Keep that in mind when you create content. Focus on the people that will ultimately read it. It’s what Google wants and Google’s been tweaking their search engine to behave the same way over the years.
Backlinks used to be the holy grail of rankings and was the basis for Google’s Pagerank algorithm. When it was developed, Larry Page assumed (correctly) that you could gauge the importance of a website and a page on that website by the amount of links pointing to it. The more links pointing to a particular page, the more important it must be and thus more deserving of a high ranking in Google.
Makes sense if you think about it, right?
And it worked great… until people figured out that was what was going on. Then all hell broke loose.
Everybody and their brother starting concocting link building schemes that would artificially inflate the importance of their website.
The reason backlinks and nothing but more backlinks worked so well for so long was simple – a better solution didn’t exist.
Yes, backlinks still matter and still matter a lot. But they are only effective as part of a larger overall strategy. Google uses over 200 ranking factors (and no, they’re not sharing specifically what they are) to determine quality.
Here are a couple important ones you should be paying attention to… when combined I like to call them “warm fuzzy factors.”
Basically, this is a measure of how long someone stays on a page and how long someone stays on your website.
If everybody who clicks on your website and immediately clicks the back button on their browser, that’s a giant red flag and Google can track that by measuring the clickthrough rate and “dwell time.”
Bottom line: You want people to visit your website and stay around a while.
Improving the stickiness of your website:
- Make sure your articles are easy to read. Yes, people will read long articles as long as they’re interesting, but it’s important to make sure you use short paragraphs and include white space between all paragraphs. If your article looks like it’s going to be hard to read, people will leave.
- Don’t autoplay music on your website. I still see people doing this and it’s annoying. I have my own music playing and don’t want yours (and statistics prove that most people agree with me). Rather than finding the button to turn off the music, I’ll leave and do business with a competitor.
- When in doubt, include a video. Putting a video at the top of your article can significantly enhance the stickiness of a web page. No, not everyone will watch it so make sure you include text too, but it provides a different modality for those who don’t want to read much.
- Use pictures. People like pictures so sprinkle them throughout long articles. It keeps people around by breaking up the text a little bit.
- Avoid having too many ads “above the fold” on your website. First of all, Google is directly penalizing sites that it considers to have excessive ads but just as important is that too many ads can cause people to immediately leave your website, resulting in a low dwell time.
Social signals may sound like a fancypants term but it’s actually very easy to understand and describe. When someone tweets about your article, likes it on Facebook, or shares it with their circles on Google + by giving it a “plus 1”, these are social signals that real people are reading and sharing what you wrote.
That’s one way a search engine like Google can tell what the people like and want. It also means you want your best stuff to be shared on those sites as well.
Now don’t get carried away with social signals. Remember that people probably aren’t going to share yours salespages with their friends. But your best, most interesting, creative content should be. The first step is to share it on your own networks. If you’re not willing to publicy share what you’ve written with your friends and followers why would anyone else.
Of course it’s always best to let nature takes its course and let things happen organically but if you want to give your best content a little extra oomph, services like Synnd can help. As always, be very careful about using services that aren’t natural. I like them because they can provide that initial spark you need to get something started but once it’s started, let it stand on its own from there – if it crashes and burns, so be it. Try again tomorrow.
SEO Article Writing Tips
I’m going to give you a crash course on what it takes to write expert quality content that will get those warm fuzzy factors we’re looking for so buckle your seatbelts boys and girls… this could get a little rough.
First of all – I’m going to assume you already have some writing skills. If you failed English in high school then you might want to consider a different line of work.
There are plenty of fantastic resources out there that can teach you how to write. I think Copyblogger has a lot of solid tips for bloggers. I recommend taking a couple days and perusing their vast archives. It’s also a good place to see excellent writing in action. I’m also a big fan of Cracked.com. Many of their articles can legitimately make you laugh out loud. There is so much personality in those articles, if you can conjure up a fraction of it for your own writing, you’ll be in good shape.
There are also books on the topic as well as classes… I’m sure there’s an online class or one being offered at your local community college if you’re serious about improving your writing skills.
What I can help you with is what should be included in your articles.
SEO Basics & Best Practices
- Put your main keyword in the title or your article
- Try to offer something in your article that nobody else offers even if it’s just a personal story or experience. Case studies are great too!
- Do give credit where credit is do. Link to resources on the topic (basically, it’s like citing your research). Contrary to popular belief it doesn’t hurt your rankings or cause you to leak Pagerank. It actually helps!
- Be detailed on your articles
- Write for people, not machines.
- Promote your writing. Share it wherever appropriate whether its on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, or wherever.
- Proofread all your work. It doesn’t have to be grammatically perfect but you should have spelling errors and silly little things fixed.
- Ask yourself, “Would I consider this article to be one of the ten best on the topic?” If the answer is no and your goal is for the article to rank in the top 10 of Google, then go back and edit the article until you can honestly answer, “yes.”
- It’s okay to write a contrarian viewpoint or to agree with conventional wisdom but Google really wants to see some balance. They consider the authority on the subject to be the one that mentions multiple points of view.
Practices to Avoid
- Never publish anything that is comprised of “spun” content. Same goes for PLR content.
- Avoid too much duplicate content. Yes, it’s okay to reprint and occasional very well written article from an expert but for the most part you want to stick to unique and original content on your website.
- Steer clear of blackhat linking practices including xrumer blasts, massive profile links, anything built by SENuke and it’s competitors, and excessive social bookmarking links.
I’ve been saying this for years – keyword density is dead. That hasn’t stopped self appointed SEO experts from extolling its virtues from on high to make them sound smart. Heck, I was just talking to a guy yesterday who was convinced that 4% keyword density was critical to his SEO success. Here’s the truth. At any given time you can figure out what appears to be an optimal keyword density for an article. The problem is it changes. Heck, for a while there were two sweet spots – 3% and 9%. Fortunately, the correlation between a certain keyword density and rankings has dropped which in layman’s terms means don’t worry about it. Your keyword will work itself into your article without you thinking about it much. Make sure it’s in the title and put it in the first paragraph. After that, it’ll probably show up here and there, but you don’t need to worry about it.
Plus, if you keyword density is deemed too high, you’ll get hit with Google’s new “over-optimized” penalty. Google is on the prowl looking for websites whose content was clearly written to rank well in the search engines and they’re casting those pages asunder to troll the depths with other low quality and spammy content even if the information is quite good and useful.
What’s the keyword density of this article? I have no idea. I didn’t check because it really doesn’t matter.
Okay, So How Long Do My Articles Need To Be If I Want Them To Be Considered Expert Quality Content?
I’ve been asked about this many times and while I understand why you’re asking it’s the wrong question.
I’ve have pages that have ranked in the top 5 of Google for years that have less than 400 words on the page – heck I have a client who has less than 50 words on his homepage and still does well, albeit in a small market. On the flip side, I have articles that are 2,000-3,000 words long. Guess what? They rank well too.
There is not one size fits all recommendation.
It all depends on the market. But one easy way to find out is to check Wikipedia. How long is their article on your topic (assuming they have it and it ranks in the top 10 of Google)? If it’s 5,000 words long, your little 350 word blurb stands little chance.
Of course, you also need to deliver what the person is actually searching for. If they want a map – show them a map. If their search indicates they’re looking for a video, you probably want video embedded on the page.
I do understand that when you’re hiring writers you need to give them guidelines. These days I’m thinking most articles should be at least 750 words long with much of it exceeding 1,000 words. Keep in mind if it’s full of fluff and filler, length doesn’t matter.
That’s a lot of writing – what do I say?
Here’s what’d I’d recommend you do. Go take a look at how long obscure little topics on Wikipedia end up. When in doubt, you could cover historical aspects of what you’re writing about or do my personal favorite filler – tell a story.
People love stories! I love stories, you love stories, we all love stories.
Heck, I still remember being in grade school when we’d go to the library and our librarian would read a book to us. I remember being so excited to hear stories like The Wish Giver read and anxiously waited for the hour where she’d read to us every week. And considering I still remember names of obscure books like the one I mentioned above proves that stories really can stick with us.
And you don’t have to be a world class writer to tell a good story… good stories do all the heavy lifting.
What About Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI)?
I’m sure there are a few people thinking I must be smokin’ something (want some?) or just completely incompetent since I haven’t said anything about latent semantic indexing (LSI) yet. Here’s why. I already covered it.
If you stick to writing expert quality content or hiring those who are experts on the subject, you don’t need to worry about it… that stuff all shows up without having to think about it and that’s the whole point of LSI. Latent semantic indexing was created to identify expert quality content, not the other way around.
Do you think I spent any time reading about which keywords I need to mention in this article to make sure it ranks well for “SEO article writing?” No. I’ve done SEO for a living since 2005, I know this stuff inside out and don’t need to read up on what other people are mentioning in their articles. It may sound arrogant (and it is) but I don’t need to go read about what a bunch of amateurs are writing just so I can be sure to cover the right keywords. You will notice that I have linked to a few noted authorities for further study of certain topics, however.
Besides, Google has a variance algorithm (I can’t think of the name of it and no, not Universal Search but it’s part of it) built into their rankings so they can show several different types of content on the first page… and to make it nearly impossible for one person to control all top 10 spots on Google for anything but the most obscure of key phrases. Basically, it allows for several different pieces of authority level content to have a voice on the first page of Google despite the fact that they may all have contrary viewpoints or recommendations.
If you’ve never heard of LSI, ignore this section as it’s not important to you. If you’re still focusing on LSI content, silo structure, and pagerank sculpting, I’d recommend following your rankings and analytics carefully in the coming months. If it looks like something an expert SEO guy did, you might be exposing your clients to more risk than they’re willing to take and it might be time to back off.
Properly Outsourcing Content Creation
I remember when I first starting outsourcing content creation to freelance writers back in 2006. I learned quickly that you could get a decent article for $10 and a pretty good one for $20 or so. However, if you remember the old formula, the quality of the content wasn’t all that important as far as ranking well in the search engines were concerned.
That meant that more and more services popped up offering articles for $7, $5, and I’ve even seen people offering articles for as little as one dollar. What does $1 get you? Junk, drivel, and nothing quality minded webmaster should ever consider publishing on his or her blog.
If you’re going to hire someone to write for you, focus on people who know the topic you’re asking them to write about or find someone who will act like a reporter and get the real scoop from someone who does.
In the past, my best writers have read books on the topics they weren’t familiar with (I purchased and mailed them to my writers) or they’ve gone out and interviewed people who knew the topic.
Now that level of writing isn’t cheap but these days you get what you pay for and only quality writing is worth paying for. Nobody wants to publish worthless drivel and Google certainly doesn’t want it ranking on the first page of their search engine so even if you manage to trick them into ranking your content for a short while, rest assured you’ll be exposed soon enough.
Great Content Can Rank For Years
Yes, I know that everything I’ve described is a lot of work. It will drastically cut down on how much content you can produce and how many websites you can manage.
However, it can really pay off.
In competitive niches, it’s the only way to stay competitive and have a chance.
In less than competitive niches, you can create content that will rank at the top of Google for years. I have articles I’ve written that have been ranking in the top 5 of Google for 5+ years now. It has nothing to do with tricks – those articles are still the best on the topic… yes, they’ve even more comprehensive and helpful than what Wikipedia has to offer.
What’s Working For You?
So there you have it, my guide on SEO article writing. No it’s not dead but it has transformed and for the better.
What are you doing that’s working for you to get your content ranked?