Writing Content That Ranks: How to Write for People and Google

When you’re browsing the web, the content you come across can come in a number of different flavors. Often, the nature of the content can tell you a little about the owner of the blog/website too. Either this is a website belonging to someone who is mostly interested in their visitors and who doesn’t care whether they ‘rank’ or not; or it’s content that is clearly aimed at Google, with the visitors as an afterthought.

But as is so often the case, neither of these extreme strategies is really what you should be doing. What you in fact need to recognize is that there’s no reason you can’t focus on both. There’s no reason you can’t write ‘for’ Google as much as you write ‘for’ your audience.

And in fact, if you’re doing this right, then both should be essentially the same thing.

How Google Ranks – Then and Now

Once upon a time, getting to the top of Google was a very simple matter. All you had to do was look up the keywords you wanted to target, then create as much content as you possibly could for your site, all while stuffing those keywords in as much as possible.

And for a while this genuinely did work. Google wasn’t very sophisticated back then and it could tell when it was being played.

But in time, this led to an awful lot of very bad quality content starting to fill up the web. You would end up finding tons of articles that read like this:

“Are you looking for buy hats online? Then you’re in the right place to buy hats online! Buyhatsonline.com is the ultimate one-top destination for those who want to buy hats online!”

Ugly right? So Google smartened up. It learned to identify when someone was trying to game the system and when a site wasn’t really offering the use any real quality content.

Thus ‘Google Penguin’ and ‘Google Panda’ were born. These two monstrous algorithms took out 90% of the web and put many businesses out of commission. In their wake though, those sites that had been focussing on quality finally got noticed and got the attention that they rightly deserved. This made Google’s users happier because it meant they were finding better stuff – and that makes Google happy.

The Signals That Google Looks for Today

But that’s ancient history and most SEOs know the story well.

The question is: how can you survive in this new era of quality content?

Because while Google has gotten a lot smarter, it’s still not ‘human level’ smart. Google still needs to look for certain indicators and certain signals in order to know if a site is relevant to a particular search and in order to try and calculate if it’s good.

You need to write for the user but you need to write for the user in the way that Google thinks is right.

So what is Google looking for now?

Well, keywords are still a part of it. This is still how Google knows whether your content is relevant, so you don’t want to completely throw them out the window. Likewise though, you really mustn’t ‘stuff’ those keywords.

Instead, once you’ve identified your term, you need to try and include it with around 1-2% density, with erring on the lower side being preferable. That means that you should try and include your keyword not more than once in every 100 words.

So how do you get your keyword in there lots? One strategy is to increase the length of your blog posts. And certainly this is something that seems to serve a lot of bloggers and webmasters well: 1,800 words is currently considered to be roughly the ‘optimum’ length for a blog post.

Another trick is to write ‘around’ the subject. That means that you want to write naturally about the subject and then just allow certain keyphrases to emerge naturally. Two things should occur this way:

  • Long tail keyphrases – these are long sentences that people might search for relating to your topic
  • LSI – “Latent semantic indexing”

LSI basically means that you’re not just including your keywords but also lots of relevant and related terms. Google looks for these in order to understand what your site is really about and thereby to bring it up as a response in contextual questions.

You can also help to tell Google what your site is about by linking out to other high quality sites, by getting high quality links in to your site and by using rich snippets.

It’s All About the User

At the same time though, Google is also smart enough to now look at behavioural indicators regarding your site’s quality.

In particular, if people are visiting your site and spending a long time on there/clicking links to go deeper into the page hierarchy, then this will tell Google that you’re delivering something high quality that people actually want to read. Social sharing might also serve as a cue in this regard.

This is only going to become more and more important as we go forward, so what you need to do is to focus on the kind of content that gets users to engage. This will also help you to generate more links and to gain comments on your site etc.

How do you do that?

Partly it’s about being a great writer. Spend some time learning your craft and understand how to write in a manner that compels your audience to keep reading to the next line. Where appropriate, try using a narrative structure.

The other reason this is so important is because it’s what will allow you to build trust with your audience and convert sales – it’s not just about getting seen, it’s about what you do once you’re seen!

At the same time, make sure you’re focussing on the right subjects. Make sure that you’re offering something new, something exciting and something different – don’t be derivative or dull.

In fact, the best litmus test you can always use is to ask yourself: would you read it?

If the answer is no, then you better go back to the drawing board!

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