93ft's guide to content - why it's vital to the success of your e-commerce or brand website, and ten tips on how to make sure you have a presence online to reach customers and grow your business.
When it comes to getting clients in 2022, if you’re not online you might as well not be in business. But it doesn’t stop there - being online doesn’t mean much if you can’t be found. With well over 1 billion websites on the internet, having a robust strategy to ensure that your ideal client can find you is essential, and being found generally means being on page 1 of Google. According to Moz, a search engine optimisation tool, results on the first page of Google are responsible for 71% of click throughs (this has been as high as 92% in recent years), while second-page results are a far inferior 6% of all website clicks.
But of course, if getting to those coveted page 1 places was easy, everyone would do it. So where do you start?
SEO (search engine optimisation) is the process of improving your website to increase its chances of being found by, and on, Google and other search engines. It can be seen as something of a dark art, a practice that ordinary people can’t quite get to grips with, or conversely, as something which isn’t really that important and can afford to be placed at the bottom of the to-do list.
Actually, neither are true. There are plenty of aspects which can be addressed by your usual team (as well as a few which need specialist attention), but however you approach SEO, it’s not something that can be ignored without significant cost to your business.
Google wants to show searchers the very best the internet has to offer, and it’s getting better and better at doing this. Google’s software can now recognise and understand not just the words used – the keywords – in the copy (the words on a site) but their relationship to one another and the context in which they’re used. This means that the software is ever more sophisticated at knowing what a searcher is asking for, and how to show them the most relevant results to answer their question.
How does this apply to you and your website? Simply put, all you have to do is make sure that you’re giving the best answer to the specific question being asked. This means that being crystal clear on what your business offers, who you’re talking to (your target market) and what they want, has never been more important. If you don’t know what the question is, you won’t be able to answer it.
There are some technical aspects of your website which contribute to SEO - our web design and development team, guided by our SEO specialists, are experts in building the responsive websites that Google wants to see. Once your website is technically up to scratch, the best way of increasing your chances of ranking well is a robust content strategy which is expertly executed.
Marketing expert Heidi Cohen describes content as:
“High quality, useful information that conveys a story presented in a contextually relevant manner with the goal of soliciting an emotion or engagement. Delivered live or asynchronously, content can be expressed using a variety of formats including text, images, video, audio, and/or presentations.”
High quality and useful are the aims, but it’s important to note that not all content on the internet meets these benchmarks! A simplified definition of content from Social Triggers founder Derek Halpern:
“Content comes in any form (audio, text, video), and it informs, entertains, enlightens, or teaches the people who consume it.”
Again, to inform, entertain, enlighten and teach are the goals of great content. Thin, filler content posted for the sake of it, just won’t cut it. At its foundation, content should be useful and relevant to the reader.
Content on a website is most often in the form of blog posts, articles and case studies, and these can include video and images, such as infographics, as well as text. The content should complement the copy on the site – the core web pages – and give extra context and information to site visitors exploring your business as a solution to their needs.
While the exact content your business needs depends on various factors, including your offering and your target audience, there are a few points which apply to all businesses.
Here are 93ft’s top ten tips for using content to boost your website’s search engine ranking.
For your content to have SEO value, Google recommends it should be:
Write content which meets these benchmarks and you’re off to a great start, however Search Engine People recommend a few more fundamentals to consider when creating content for SEO.
Length – Longer content pieces of 1000+ words have been shown to perform better on Google and other search engines. Writing a blog post of under 1000 words is of dubious value as there’s simply not enough there for Google to analyse, and probably not enough to answer your reader’s question. It’s important to structure your post well to ensure it’s easy to read, and try to keep paragraphs short - at most 3-4 sentences - to avoid an intimidating and dense wall of text which readers may not bother to tackle.
Readability – Google prefers content that is easy to understand This doesn’t mean dumbing down your content, but presenting the information in a way that makes it accessible to a wider audience. Knowing your audience is key here though, if you’re writing for young teenagers your style and the language you use will be very different than if you’re aiming at academics.
Tone of voice – Tone of voice is a key aspect of copywriting and content marketing and one which anyone involved in your business’ communications should be well versed in. Keeping your tone of voice consistent contributes to the readers’ understanding of your perspective.
Formatting – The way you format your blog post or article plays an important role in its SEO value. Using headings and subheadings throughout the article helps Google understand the key points the article covers, as well as helping the reader navigate the content.
Linking – Internal linking to other pages on your own website, and external links to other sites (preferably with more authority than your own) as well as backlinks from other websites to yours are important to SEO. Backing up your words with links to other high quality sites increases your credibility, while links to other pages on your site helps readers find other relevant information. Backlinks can be viewed as a vote for your site from other websites, and backlink outreach should form part of your long term SEO strategy.
Alt text – Providing a description of an image for accessibility purposes is important both for site visitors who use screen readers, and to let Google know what an image is about. This adds weight to their assessment of your content in whether or not this blog post or article is answering the question asked. Remember to consider accessibility first – an accurate and comprehensive description of the image is your goal, not “keyword stuffing”.
Google is famously secretive about its algorithm and how it decides which pages to rank well and which to leave in the obscurity of page 5. One thing both they and the SEO experts who make a career of figuring out Google’s motivations, can agree on though, is that content should be informative, engaging and compelling, and written in a way which inspires confidence.
An acronym to remember is E.A.T: expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness.
Expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness are similar – but not identical – concepts, and are evaluated using independent sets of criteria.
To demonstrate expertise, the writer must have a high level of knowledge or skill in the field the content relates to – Google is looking for content created by people who know what they’re talking about, and have the formal qualifications (in the case of medical, financial or legal advice) and/or the experience and knowledge (in the case of other topics) to be considered an expert.
Authority is about the reputation of the writer or business/organisation. Are you seen as the go-to source of information on a given topic? If so, you’re considered an authority. Reputation can be measured using reviews, testimonials and feedback from clients, recommendations by experts, positive mentions in the press, and other credible references and information about you/your business.
Trust – essential in business – is about legitimacy, transparency, and accuracy. Trustworthiness can be measured in a number of ways, including whether it’s made clear where information has come from, and even whether sufficient contact information is available and easy to find.
The accuracy of content is also a deciding factor. When stating a fact, are there links or citations to trustworthy sources to support it?
Expertise may be indisputable – if the writer holds a PhD in the subject they’re writing about we can say that they are considered an expert – however trust and authority can be relative and subject to change.
The take home here is: content must be quality. Don’t be tempted to put out “thin”, low value content for the sake of it. Not only will this not help your SEO, it could actively harm your ranking.
In a 1996 essay published on the Microsoft website, Bill Gates said content is king.
Most SEO experts would agree that this is still the case, but to take it one step further, content alone isn’t quite enough. Content may still be king, but consistency is queen.
“The broad opportunities for most companies involve supplying information or entertainment. No company is too small to participate.” - Bill Gates
We’ve talked about the essence of great content, but it’s not enough to put out a couple of brilliant, expert, authoritative and trustworthy pieces every few months, or to put out 6 pieces in a week and not update your site again for the next year. Consistently putting out great content will do significantly more for your website’s SEO than a flurry of posts followed by radio silence.
Google looks at how often a website is updated with fresh content, and site visitors do this too. A website that hasn’t had a new blog for 6 months looks like it’s gone out of business – Google won’t send searchers there, and people who do find it, may leave in search of more up to date info.
Unfortunately, there’s no hard and fast rule to this, like much of marketing the answer is “it depends”.
Huffington Post, one of the world’s biggest blogs, began by creating a post every 58 seconds, or up to 2000 per day! Conversely, Brian Dean, of Backlinko, reached over 1 million unique views in a year with only 32 published posts, or just under 3 per month. Both sites are successful, but using drastically different methods. So which works best?
Knowing your audience and what they want is a great place to start. You need to know not just what information they want from you, but how they want to receive it and in what form. For some, quality blog posts will be best, whereas other audiences will prefer short video tutorials (squeeze every last drop of value out of content like this by also turning it into a blog post with the video embedded).
Analyse where your traffic comes from and which content performs best. You might think that your target market prefers one thing, but a visit to Google Analytics can be surprising (93ft will set up Google Analytics on your site when we build it, and make sure you know how to use the information it gives).
It’s much better to put out one piece of excellent content religiously every month, than to put out poorer quality posts more often, or to begin at a higher frequency and find you can’t maintain it.
Long form content (several thousand words), report style content is great for your business site’s SEO because it allows you to drive traffic to your website, add value to your website and for your site visitors, and generate backlinks and brand awareness – all of which helps you to build authority and credibility.
Not every piece of content you put out needs to be this weighty, switching things up ensures you cater for members of your audience who prefer other methods of communication, but do consider long form for at least some of it.
One of the reasons long form content works so well for boosting your SEO is that the more copy there is, the more you can demonstrate your expertise. Of course, this comes back to quality – the content has to be of high value to be of use here. So, where do you start with long form content?
What do you want to be known for? What do you have to offer? What do you have the expertise to speak about in an authoritative and trustworthy way?
Brainstorm these questions to compile a short list of core topics, or content pillars, that you will consistently talk about. When it comes to actually creating the content, just ensure that you are covering all of your content pillars to demonstrate your expertise on the subject.
Instead of starting with the idea to create some long form content, look at the topic you want to write about and figure out which is the best way to communicate it. It may be that a short video or an infographic is better suited – in which case, trying to pad it out into a long form piece will just result in poor quality content that doesn’t meet your goals.
Jot down the headings or sections of the piece you want to write, see if there are different points or subheadings within that, and if several different angles emerge then this should be a good piece for a long form structure.
The phrase 10x content refers to the gold standard in content marketing: content which is not simply better than anything out there, but ten times better. Not only is 10x content likely to rank well for your targeted keywords, but it will also receive more shares on social media, broadening its reach.
According to Rand Fishkin, who coined the phrase “10x content”, there are 6 points to cover if you want your content to make the grade:
Research what’s already been written about your topic. Which articles and blogs are performing well, and how could you do it better? If there are lots of shorter blogs covering different aspects of a topic, could you write the definitive guide? Could you include more thorough research, perhaps interviews with key experts or links to various studies? Perhaps you’ll give detailed, step-by-step instructions or include videos or infographics.
10x content isn’t easy to create and not every piece you write will hit the mark. Rand Fishkin suggests that for every 5 to 10 pieces you create, just one may be 10x content. But don’t let that stop you - aiming for 10x means the others will be high quality in their own right.
Depending on your business and the content you’re already putting out, you may have a specific kind you favour, or believe your audience responds to best. While it’s a great idea to keep doing what works, if you stick to just one or two types of content, you might end up missing a section of your target market who would respond better to something new.
Moz recommends several different content formats to try:
It can feel daunting to branch out into other forms of content if you have a comfort zone of just one or two different formats, but start small, analyse the results and build on your successes.
One of the biggest misconceptions about SEO is that writing for Google will result in stilted, keyword stuffed copy that reads as if it were written by a particularly inept bot. And let’s be honest, we’ve all read blog posts that appear this way, so it makes sense that we hear a lot of clients say “We want our content written for humans, not Google”.
Thankfully though, it's actually the same thing. Brilliant content that humans love is exactly the kind of content Google is looking to rank highly. Here are a few tips to make sure you’re writing for humans and considering your website’s SEO.
Don’t be tempted to simply repeat your keywords over and over and assume that Google will be fooled - its algorithm is much more intelligent than that.
This means it’s important to include topical and related terms in your content to ensure that Google has a full picture of what you’re writing about - so stuffing your keyword into every sentence not only makes for a terrible user experience, Google won’t rate it much either.
Keywords are still important, just make sure you use them naturally, and talk around the topic to create context as well.
When you’re writing for the web it’s vital to ensure that your content is easy to read and scan - this helps both humans and Google to digest and understand your content.
Steer clear of needlessly complicated sentences, or paragraphs which go on and on (a good rule of thumb is no more than 4 sentences to a paragraph, and to switch it up with some even shorter). Your tone and the level of readability will depend on your target audience, but remember that writing a blog post or website article is not the same as writing your Master’s dissertation.
When writing for both humans and Google, don’t make either have to search for the point of your content. Make it clear from the outset what topic you’re covering and what questions you're asking (and then answer them immediately).
Don’t make your reader, or the Google bots, work hard to figure out where you’re going.
Divide your content into logical headings and subheadings, bullet point lists and paragraphs, to make it easy to scan, read and understand. In order to make this work for Google as well as your human readers, make sure you’re using the correct HTML heading tags.
Each page should have one tag - this tells humans and Google what the main topic of the page is about. You can then divide the bulk of your writing into different sections using and further subdivisions of etc.
Adding media like images, podcasts or videos in your blog posts keeps visitors on the page for longer.
Note: Embedding media can slow down your page, but as long as your site is well designed and you’re thoughtful about what to include, this shouldn’t be a problem.
If you’re wondering what you can possibly write about as a restaurant/vintage clothing retailer/hairstylist/optician/etc., don’t worry, you’re not alone. It can be daunting to start to figure out what content to create but it’s important not to get bogged down in what you do and instead to think about what your audience is actually interested in.
If you run a hair salon your clients will want to know about the work you do and to see pictures of your cuts, however if this is the only content you put out, your audience won’t stay engaged for long. Put out great E-A-T information on the related topics that your target market also cares about, however, and you’ve just given them an excellent reason to hang around on your website long after their next appointment is booked.
Try: The Ultimate Guide to Natural Hair Products; How to Deal with Post Natal Hair Loss; What to Eat for Healthy Hair; or How to Keep Your Hair Extensions Looking Great.
At 93ft, we share the ideas and insights which help shape our business across website, brand and interior design, touching on varied topics that matter to our clients. We talk about how the subscription model can serve e-commerce businesses - we don’t offer subscriptions to anything in our business but this is directly relevant to many of our clients; we look at neon signage for brick-and-mortar businesses, again, we don’t create the signs ourselves but having seen the effect they’ve had on our clients’ businesses we know that this is relevant and valuable information.
Get clear on who you’re writing for and what you want them to take from the article. Not every piece of content should be selling something to the reader, and in fact you should avoid this - no-one likes pushy, sales-y content continuously. A roughly 80/20 split between informing, educating and entertaining/selling works well.
Each piece of content, whether directly linked to a sale or not, will be helping to build brand awareness and establish you as that trustworthy, authoritative expert.
If you build it, unfortunately, they will not necessarily come. On an internet which hosts over 1.5 billion websites, just writing a great post about your new lunch menu - even when it’s optimised for search engines to the very last comma - isn’t quite enough. While the hope is that sooner or later Google picks up on your site and understands how relevant and helpful your content is, at the beginning at least, you’ll need to give it a helping hand.
This means being proactive about distribution, and working hard to make sure that your content is seen by the people you created it for.
Sharing your posts on social media is a good start, but building and maintaining a healthy and active email list is the gold standard. Email lists, done right, give your business direct access to a highly engaged market who are primed to buy. Sharing your content here, providing it meets the standards we’ve laid out, gets visitors to your site, sending signals to Google that your website has content worth reading and sticking around for, which helps the SEO of the page, and your site in general.
Working on your business website’s SEO takes time, effort and, if you hire SEO experts and copywriters, money, so it’s reasonable to wonder how long it will take before you see the benefits.
Search engine optimisation is more of a marathon than a sprint - it takes time to see results, but those benefits build and grow over time. Semrush advises expecting to wait 6-12 months before you notice a measurable increase in traffic and leads. SEO is not a quick fix. Putting the time in now to earn those top spots on Google’s page 1 is undoubtedly worth it, though.
Work on building a robust strategy for content creation and distribution, and ensure that your site and everything on there is optimised. Analyse your results and adjust your strategy accordingly. Be consistent.
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