The Content Corner: Optimize Your Content

A word cloud for optimization and related website terms.

For the past several weeks, I have been writing about fairly cerebral and more technical aspects of content generation and language in general. This week, I felt it was time to get back to a more basic content concept: content optimization.

Frequently when content optimization is discussed it is heavily focused on search engine optimization (SEO) and the development of keywords. Doing everything you can to help people find the information you have created is important, but it goes far beyond chasing a search engine’s ever-changing algorithm. As content creation and SEO have evolved, the importance of well-written, concise content as part of your optimization strategy cannot be discounted.

Keywords Still Matter
A compass and various letters surround a search box.

In the early days of SEO, the quest for perfect keywords drove content creators or content strategists to start cramming their content with words that would boost their search engine ranking. And while at times this was successful and you were likely to find this content easily, reading it was a chore. The keyword and the quest for higher and higher search engine rankings was having too great an influence on the content itself, and in the end, if you deliver subpar content, a customer will remember that experience and be very hesitant to click on a link associated with your agency again.

First, make sure that the keywords you choose (more on that in a sec) are more naturally occurring in your content, and you are not sacrificing the quality of the content nor the readability (more on that later also). The selection of keywords should depend on a wide-range of factors such as:

  • Existing content
  • Planned content
  • Website age
  • Domain name (It helps to include a keyword or phrase.)
  • Website structure (whether search engines can index the content)
  • Inbound links, and
  • Website design and navigation (including mobile).

A wide-variety of tools do exist for guiding your selection of keywords in order to help you refine certain words and phrases used in your content (the oddly named Übersuggest, for example). As long as you don’t alter the quality of the content being created itself, I think of the output of these tools as being like a thesaurus, which can help you select a more impactful keyword phrase without any change in meaning.

The Long and Short of It

Research has found the length of your content is also extremely important (I always strive for between 900 and 1,400 words) to users and search engine results. Longer content has been shown to rank better on search engines, but concise content that quickly provides the information a user needs is also of high value: So what is a content creator to do? Find a good balance, and when in doubt, follow these guidelines or refer to this great infographic. For example, for both search engines and humans, it has been found that a blog post should be at least 1,000 words, with 1,600 being the optimal length for readability. Ninety-four percent of all posts that are read can be read in under 6 minutes, which on average means less than 1,600 words.

Within these 1,600 or so words, make sure you are creating short paragraphs (40-55 words) with clear breaks and frequent headings to assure optimum scannability. Bullets and images can also help a user move through a piece of content.

All About the Content
The word Content and acronym SEO (search engine optimization) intersect at the common letter e.

At times I have to fight the urge to discount all SEO methods in favor of a “best content wins” methodology. We live and create in an environment controlled by algorithms, and anyone who ignores the rules on which search engines operate is taking a risk. But in the end, a great deal of success depends on the quality of the content we are creating from the technical SEO and customer satisfaction aspects as well.

One of the most effective ways to improve search engine rankings is by raising the number of inbound links to your content. In other words, create content that is shareable and that others want to link to from their site. This means creating content that is of interest to a community and provides helpful or actionable information that solves a common problem. It also relates to how the content you are creating is delivered.

As we discussed above, length is important, and for concise content make sure that every word is important and review your writing to strive for the most efficient way of getting a point across. Can you use less words to convey the exact same point, and do those fewer words actually clarify your point? Many times, short sentences are more likely to be read and therefore have a greater chance of actually imparting critical information. The acronym TL:DR (too long, didn’t read) has become more and more popular, and it should influence our word choices and sentence structure.

More shareable content can also take the form of infographics or animated gifs, which have become more and more popular as tools to quickly and easily convey large amounts of information. This can also lead to more links to your content, which not only increases its visibility but also increases your search engine rankings.

If you are reading this column (thanks!), then you care about the quality of the content you are creating and want it to be found and be helpful to as many people as possible. Don’t fall prey to fallacies about agency content: We can’t assume the public knows every agency and knows where to go for information; the “build it and they will come” philosophy has never worked. We all need to make sure our content is not only concise and easy-to-read, we also need to be mindful of search engine rankings. You can apply some of the SEO strategies I’ve briefly shared today.

You’ve just finished reading the latest article from our Monday column, The Content Corner. This column focuses on helping solve the main content issues facing federal digital professionals, including producing enough content and making that content engaging.

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