Search engines are essential for attracting an audience
25 tips for optimizing your content for users and search engines. Today, content optimization needs to combine a user-centric approach with good SEO fundamentals.
We’ve noticed that Google is moving more and more towards delivering content written for people, by people. With this in mind, it should be possible to optimize content for both people and search engines.
Here are my top tips for improving your content to get better search results and keep your readers happy.
1. Assess readability
Assessing readability is one of my top tips for optimizing online content. Online, we read and assimilate information differently from the printed press. Short, simple sentences are easier to assimilate.
Putting this recommendation into practice is more difficult than it sounds, and is often overlooked. Search engines also like “readable” content. They use Natural Language Processing (NLP) to process language based on linguistic rules to understand the relationships between words.
The intended meaning can easily be lost if these relationships are too complex.
2. Use simple, precise and concise language
As an extension of readability, it’s best to keep your language as precise and succinct as possible. Remove any unnecessary or complex words.
Do your best to write things down in their simplest form, while maintaining the pace to keep things interesting. This will help readers follow your content and search engines process it.
3. Use synonyms and close variants
Repeating the same terms or expressions is not a good idea. This creates content that is laborious to read and may seem unreliable to an informed audience.
Optimize your content by replacing recurring words with their equivalent alternatives. This makes for a much more interesting and engaging reading experience.
This will also provide search engines with more contextual information and avoid the temptation to overuse certain keywords, which could lead to poor search performance.
Using synonyms reinforces the subjects you’re writing about by providing many different points of reference. It can also offer you wider filing possibilities.
4. Search for and include related entities
Each piece of content is a set of entities, and both search engines and web users understand the relationships between many entities.
People have learned over time, for example, that Buckingham Palace is a royal residence located in London, England: It is therefore linked to entities such as London (place), the late Queen Elizabeth II (person) and certain events, to name but a few.
While some relationships between entities like these are well-defined and obvious, others are more subtle. That’s why it’s important to look for associations between entities, and to take into account the links you establish in your content.
Making the right associations helps you see the big picture and give context to your subject. It’s useful for your readers and search engines. If you write about Buckingham Palace without mentioning the royal family, your content will be incomplete.
But relationships between entities also help to clarify meaning. If you’re writing content about the historical figure Anne Hathaway, related entities like William Shakespeare and Stratford Upon Avon provide context. Content about Anne Hathaway, the modern-day movie star, will likely connect entities like movies, actors, the Oscars and New York City.
So when you include a set of relevant entities in your content, you improve the document as a whole. This gives search engines broader reference points to improve their confidence in what you’re talking about, and it shows your readers that you’ve researched a topic thoroughly and provided them with a valuable resource.
5. Structure your content
Make sure your content follows a logical, orderly structure. This makes it easier for readers to assimilate and search engines to interpret.
For example, an Ideal Home article on how to load a dishwasher is structured simply and effectively. It gives general advice on how to achieve the best results, and then discusses top and bottom baskets.
Other competing articles offer a host of tips. While useful, their structure is not as logical and easy to follow.
6. Use titles
An effective title structure is vital for users and search engines alike. Clear, descriptive headings enable readers in a hurry to skim through your text more quickly, or to jump straight to the parts that interest them.
Properly structured titles are also essential for accessibility. They’re used by assistive technologies, so good titles allow screen reader users to navigate efficiently and understand your content as intended. Just like people, search engines also like titles.
Clear headings (H1, H2 and below) help search engines understand what your page is about, what each paragraph covers, which topics are important and how they relate to each other.
7. Use formatting correctly
The way you format your content helps convey its meaning.
For example, a numbered list can represent a step-by-step process or a filing system. Bullets generally indicate a list of items of equal importance. Bold or italicized text helps to highlight and emphasize elements.
You’re reading this article, and I’ve promised you 25 tips. So I titled them 1-25 to reinforce the message of the title.
Good formatting will help people read your content the way you intended. It will also be easier to read and process. But it also helps search engines, because they also recognize these formats and their common meanings.
For example, some formats suggest a classification such as an address. Other elements, such as tables, imply certain relationships. Graphs can show averages and ranges.
8. Use a content section and skip links
If you’re producing long-form content, adding a content section with skip links to each main section can be a useful optimization. Readers will be able to move easily from one section to another and access the information they need. This improves the user experience and makes your content more digestible.
From an SEO point of view, these unique internal links help clarify the purpose of certain passages, which can boost rankings based on passages in long-form articles.
Search engines are therefore able to identify useful passages and match them to queries, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to point them in the right direction with a clear content section.
9. Put usefulness before word count
When writing or optimizing content, aim to cover what’s useful to your users rather than focusing on word count.
Most people can see through written content to reach the word count. And so can search engines. Content becomes empty and meaningless.
Google ‘s guidelines on useful content raise the following question:
“Are you writing based on a particular word count because you’ve heard or read that Google has a preferred word count? (No, we don’t)”.
Clearly, they have their eye on this too. If you focus on providing enough depth to satisfy your target audience, they’ll actually find it useful. You’ll avoid empty words and information that’s there just for the sake of it.
10. Do your research on search terms
Quality content should always be based on research. Often, we think we know what our target audience wants, but as content producers, we can have a skewed perspective.
This is where search query data comes in. It’s a mine of information about what people are really looking for. While it’s important to use them with care, they shouldn’t be neglected.
Knowing how people search for the topics we write about is essential for content optimization. Readers will see that your content is more in line with what they searched for to discover it, and search engines will serve up your content in the right context.
11. Identify a suitable range
Ask yourself where your content begins and ends. Should it be combined with other resources to create a more effective and useful asset? Or should it be divided into smaller pieces?
When you’re optimizing content, it’s best to consider its scope, both for web users and for search engines. A very short article may be considered thin content from the search engine’s point of view and lack detail for your readers.
Conversely, an extremely long resource may be easier to digest in parts or interconnected sections. By breaking it down, you can create a series of more targeted content elements that get better search results because they’re more precise.
For example, Search Engine Land’s guide to SEO covers high-level information and includes links to more in-depth chapters on sub-topics. Trying to cover everything to do with SEO in a single resource would be too vast.
12. Give direct answers to questions
If you ask a question in your content, give a direct answer. Don’t equivocate or prevaricate. Use the expected units or classifications in your answer. Think of the answer you’d like to see!
13. Use images to improve understanding
People are visual learners by nature, so consider updating or augmenting your images to optimize your content.
The key is to ensure that your imagery really adds value to your content.
- Does it help to illustrate something that is difficult to understand?
- Does it make a key point more memorable or moving?
If so, it’s likely to enrich your message.
14. Add videos to enhance the experience
More than 3 billion Internet users consume video content online. This figure is set to rise to 3.5 billion by next year, according to Statista figures. So when videos are adapted to support or enhance your content, they deserve to be considered as part of your optimization plan.
Many people prefer to watch rather than read, so video content enhances their overall experience.
Overall, the aim is to create a better content resource, which could translate into secondary benefits such as more shares and backlinks.
15. Evaluate internal links
When optimizing your content, don’t forget to take internal links into account.
Is your content linked to other useful internal resources? And do other internal pages link to it?
Improving internal links enhances the reader’s experience, enabling them to find out more about a subject that interests them. It’s also essential for search engines, as it helps them discover content, determine its importance and establish topical relationships.
16. Update external links
Adding external links to your content is an excellent way to enrich and optimize it.
This may seem counter-intuitive at first. Why should you send your readers to another website? But the benefits are many if you take a considered approach.
People will find your content more trustworthy and useful if you back up your claims, statistics or quotes with an authoritative external source. They also add value by giving your audience a quick way to access additional information.
But these sources need to be checked regularly to ensure that you’re always sending your readers to the most relevant source. A clear, relevant source also demonstrates expertise in your field, which search engines appreciate.
They provide a context that helps solidify the relationship between your content on a certain topic and other expert or authority sites that also cover it.
17. Give some examples
A good tip for improving your content is to provide concrete examples. Are there areas that might be better explained by showing how something works rather than trying to explain it in words?
You’ll notice that I’ve provided numerous examples throughout this article to help you follow my reasoning. They reinforce my arguments by showing you a representation of the board in action, making it easy to apply to your own content.
Showing a representation of your idea in action adds credibility, and makes it more useful and attractive.
18. Ask the experts
If you’ve produced thought pieces or content that answer a qualitative question, you may be able to improve it by asking experts in the field.
By combining clearly referenced expert citations, you’ll improve E-A-T signals for search engines by demonstrating that qualified subject matter experts are involved. Readers will benefit from a more balanced sales pitch, as well as the recognition of industry expertise.
You could even benefit from the attraction of everlasting backlinks or the social activity of the experts involved.
19. Find a new angle
Add value to your content by ensuring that you approach a given topic differently. If you simply rewrite a topic that’s already been covered many times, you’re unlikely to contribute anything insightful or meaningful.
Google’s guidelines for useful content state that you should avoid “mainly summarizing what others have to say without adding much value.
So if you have older content to optimize, you might be able to approach it from a different angle, or get additional information on the subject.
You could do some original research, test something out, or ask an expert in the field for additional feedback, as mentioned above.
20. Include data
When reviewing your content, ask yourself if you’ve made any claims that could be backed up by data. Providing hard facts builds confidence and shows readers that you’ve really researched your subject.
From a research point of view, the addition of relevant data can also provide opportunities for external links. You can reference useful data published on authority sites in your niche.
If you include your own unique data, there’s a good chance that others writing on the subject will link to your resource to support their own claims in the future.
For example, this study, which evaluates over 2,000 digital PR articles, obtained several relevant backlinks from industry websites in a short space of time, thanks to the unique, useful and interesting data provided.
21. Keep your content up-to-date
Content optimization never stops, and it’s essential to keep your assets up to date. By conducting regular reviews, you can prevent people from accessing out-of-date content that could provide obsolete advice.
Search engines use freshness as a ranking factor and therefore appreciate well-maintained and updated content. Studies carried out by Botify have confirmed this, even though it’s a complex issue.
An e-commerce site I worked on was experiencing a drop in traffic for a key page, and through analysis I noticed that “prices start from” was mentioned in the text, but that the minimum price had changed. After correcting the price, performance returned to previous levels.
22. Stay relevant
Make sure the subject of your content is highly relevant to your area of expertise.
People who read content detached from your main subject may find it confusing, unhelpful or distrustful.
As search engines strive to improve the user experience, they reflect this trend. Over the past few months, I’ve carried out a number of content audits on different types of websites.
Evaluating a site’s content as a whole usually reveals a lot, but one of the main conclusions is that relevant content performs much better than irrelevant content.
There are several reasons for this. In most cases, content is likely to be of higher quality if created by experts in the field. But the relationships between pages are also important.
Content grouping displays the breadth of knowledge on an interleaved topic, which can help you develop thematic authority over time. I covered this subject in greater detail in my recent article on the use of relationships in SEO.
23. Take your time
Considering the search and user implications of content optimization takes time.
The time it takes to write a blog post averages just over 4 hours, and this has increased by 67% since 2014, according to a large-scale study by Orbit Media.
This just goes to show that the quality, level of detail and expertise required are constantly increasing. Older content may need additional time to be optimized and brought up to current standards.
If you want to do a thorough job, give yourself the time you need to develop and strengthen your content.
24. Analyze the results
If you’re optimizing your content, use the results to guide you. The data will provide valuable insights into what works in search and how people engage with your content. You need to analyze both.
This page, which was improved using data from Google Search Console and Google Analytics, achieved much better results after optimization. Total impressions increased by 359% and clicks by 433%.
25. Check and check again
Check spelling, grammar and facts.
You may have missed something the first time around and published content containing inaccuracies. Any mistake will erode your readers’ trust. They can also affect your search performance.
I find it very useful to set up an auditing process within my team. It’s much easier to spot someone else’s mistakes and review content from a pragmatic point of view if you haven’t written it yourself.
Striking a balance between humanity and SEO
Finding the right balance between improving content for search engines and for people has never been more important.
The ideal mix is a user-centric approach and a good knowledge of SEO. Neither should be neglected when optimizing content.
Search engines are essential for attracting an audience to your content, but you don’t want your readers to be disappointed when they get there.
Keep both in mind, and the search engines and your readers can work hand in hand to achieve outstanding results.