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Content - the single most important factor in determining your page rank

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1. Structure and Organisation

While your web content may not resemble an academic whitepaper, let me tell you that the structure of your copy is important. I'm going to introduce a term here - authoritative. Google loves written content and it will rate more highly a well written, well organised document that is authoritative above all others. As well as improving readability for your users, copy that is organised by headings, sub-headings and paragraphed properly will do well. As a web developer, I use tags to identify these structural elements of your content so it is important to include these in the files that you send me. It is essential that keywords (search terms) are included in these headings where possible - more on that later.

An almost infinite number of sub-headings can be used, text can be made bold to highlight an important point, or emphasised. Quotes can be attributed to an author and links between pages also provides a great way of showing that keywords in your content may be used to navigate to a relevant page or document. Bulleted lists are another form of structure that can help with layout and also provide important key points at a glance.

Readability, as measured by the Flesch test is being used by many search engines as one of the factors that their algorithm will assess - and then contribute to your page rank.

2. Length or word count of your web copy

The length of your pages in terms of word count is important. So if you're struggling to come up with more than a hundred words to describe your business or activity then you might have to put your writer's cap back on - or hire someone that can help. Historic guidelines of around 800 words per page being ideal are now being shifted to somewhere north of 1,500 words! 1,500-2,500 words per page would be what I would consider the sweet spot now, given Google's love of authoritative content. So, write well using correct grammar and if you need to balance a casual feel for your site with content bear in mind that if you want your page to rank well the content still has to be there. An authoritative page will gain inbound links (still important as long as the linking site is 'respected') and be widely shared in social media networks - and that is exactly what we want to happen. Struggling to think up 1,500 words per page? Don't be tempted to copy and paste from someone else's site - here's why.

3. Ethical SEO principles

Originality of web content

Make no mistake, plagiarism or copying content from another website or source will not benefit your website. I'm not trying to be overly moralistic here, but the fact is that Google will not only ignore duplicated content, it may well penalise your site's domain for doing so. Who knows what future algorithm updates will contain? It's a reasonable guess that penalties for copying someone else's work will increase. There are methods available to a coder to attribute the original author or website with duplicate content, so if you must reproduce text then it should be tagged with the origin to avoid penalty.

Keyword stuffing and other black hat tactics

'Black hat' tactics have been used by certain web designers and SEO specialists since indexing of web pages began. This term loosely covers any activity that attempts to fool or coerce a search engine into thinking that a page or website has greater relevance than its actual content would suggest. This initially was achieved by using the "meta keywords" tag that told search engines what a web page's content was all about. That was back in the dark ages of the internet and search algorithms have developed significantly since then to the point now when Google will ignore this tag completely. When it indexes a page it looks at content - so trying to fool it with the keywords tag is now a pointless exercise. It will also look at keyword density and if it thinks that you are tyring to play it by stuffing your page with the same keywords over and over again you'll pay the price. Relax, by all means include your keywords, but write naturally and focus on your page structure.

Hidden content

A method used by some designers to include content or links in the code of an HTML page that doesn't display visibly to the user. Not an ethical technique and one I have never engaged in, nor will use with my clients.

4. Keywords

OK, so I've just told you not to stuff your page with keywords - but keywords are an essential part of the success of your site's SEO. Deciding which key words to target and include in your copy isn't easy but here are a few guidelines and tips:

Use a targeted approach

Let's imagine that you have a villa in Tuscany that you want to rent out. Please don't tell me that you'd like to get on page 1 of Google for the keyword search of "italy villa" as that is a rather unrealistic expectation. Choose several targeted terms that your potential customers would use and try a 'long tail' approach - a more focused search that is honing into the relevance of your website. Locations and key services are excellent places to start, so a keyword phrase could be "Montepulciano villa rental" or "cooking classes in Tuscany homestay".

Getting back to my first point, the structural elements of your copy should include these keywords where possible - and early in your writing. Headings, links, emphasised text are all great places to put your chosen keywords - this way Google knows that they are important parts of your page and if they match the context of your copy then we have achieved what we set out to do - that is write authoritatively, naturally and with structure.

When you are coming up with your keyword strategy remember that while long-tail or detailed search terms are increasingly important, don't ignore your mobile audience. Search terms favoured by mobile users tend to be shorter and are often more location-based. Include those as part of your thinking and overall keyword planning.

Keyword stuffing (density)

So how much is too much? That's hard to say, the Google algorithm factors are never published and are one of the most closely guarded commerically-sensitive secrets of all time. Read through your content aloud; if it sounds like you're repeating yourself, you probably are trying to hard - think of different ways to get your message (or keywords) across.

This is backed up by a good article written by Julia McCoy of SiteProNews

For a writer, the rules of SEO are relatively simple. It revolves around good and natural writing skills. Back in 2011, I had to know things like calculating keyword density on every page I wrote. Today, it's more about optimizing your headline, subheaders, and most importantly, writing well. Engaging headlines that are optimized for your reader matter more than stuffing them with keywords.

Google Keyword Planning Tool

Grab yourself a Google account and search for Keyword Planning Tool. You can view global or local volumes of searches for certain terms. This can be an excellent tool when trying to decide upon a domain name, as you get some great (free) SEO points by including keywords in your domain name. Do remember that the high-volume search terms may well be competitively fought over, so use your imagination and target a few of those long-tail or detailed search terms.

5. Call To Action (CTA)

Littering the modern web are obvious, well placed, tempting buttons to sign-up, buy, read more or try a product or service. These are known as 'call to action' buttons and when used well they are powerful magnets to get your website visitors to go down the path that you are trying to lead them to. This doesn't have to have the same result on each page. For example, on the homepage of a New Zealand accommodation website in Taupo the CTA might be to entice the visitor to view the gallery of incredible images on display. The CTA on that page might be the hook, to make a booking.

The CTA forms another essential structural part of a webpage and thought should be given to wording these important links. An overly aggressive approach can deter, one that is too bland will result in fewer hits.

6. Non-text based content

Another factor in the mysterious Google algorithm to consider is that it's not just text-based content that is being assessed by the bot that is crawling your website. Images and videos add not only interest to your visitors but to the search engines that consider this as an important part of your content. Embeding YouTube videos (or even better, ad-free original versions of video) are a great way to add vitality to your website. Images are always tagged (by me at least!) with a description so that they appear in Google Image searches.

7. Content with a point of difference

To stand out in a crowded internet, try to come up with content that makes, and has a difference. It's competitive out there so think about what you can offer that adds value and a point of difference to your product or service. Trying to achieve brute force results in a competitive market often meets with resistance and provides little gain. Niche subjects, articles or blogs can tap into a stream of results and visits to your site. Write about local events - even if they have only a tangential applicability to your business if you can see a gap in the web enviroment there, you might be surprised how many views this will achieve and how widely it gets shared. Interesting developments related to your product or specialty field? Writ eabout it and get it published on your website. Keep your content fresh and updated regularly; if Google detects that your web pages are static and neglected the results will reflect this.

Thanks for reading!

I hope you have found this content writing for the web article interesting and helpful. Comments, criticisms or questions? Please contact me. There it is right below - my Call To Action.

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