Content has always been important for search engines, but now more than ever. Google has always stated very clearly that they want to deliver search results with links to great websites that offer their users the best experience and the most relevant information. The result is that old SEO ‘tricks’ that used to be commonplace no longer really work. It’s because those tricks were designed to raise the credibility of websites by manipulating things like links, keyword stuffing or fairly weak or even totally bogus ‘press releases’, while referring to a site that might have been light on content or offer little value to its visitors. SEO is now mostly about creating great content.
These days, probably the simplest formula that you can follow in regards to SEO is that if your rank competitor has 10 pages of content of average length of 200 words, then you have to create more than that to have a chance of ranking higher than they do. OK, it is a little simplistic, and there are more factors to consider, but if I was able to give only one piece of advice about SEO then this was it. Be prepared. Hiring SEO services now means being open to changing some or even all of your website content. More on my formula below.
A ‘rank competitor’ is a website that ranks ahead of you in search results for a search phrase that is highly relevant for you. A rank competitor is not necessarily in the same business as you, but they are the ones you have to beat to get ranked higher.
In regards to industry competitors, it’s completely feasible for a small business to rank much higher than a multi-million dollar corporate in the same industry, if they know how to create better content. The size of the business doesn’t dictate any part of page-rank in Google. Page-rank can’t be bought and is not influenced by any spend in search engine marketing channels either, so the rank a website receives is given entirely on the merits of the site, its content and its overall appeal to searchers.
TEXT & PAGE CONTENT FORMULA FOR SEO POWER:
The formula I suggest in regards to content goes something like this:
If your rank competitor has website text content that could be summarised like this:
a) 10 pages of content with less than 50 words
b) 10 pages of content with over 100 words
c) 5 pages of content with over 300 words
d) 2 pages on content with over 500 words
e) All pages are about your topic
Then, you must produce about 20-30% more content to have a good chance of ranking ahead of them. Your site should have:
a) About 12-13 pages with about 65 words
b) About 12-13 pages with over 125 words
c) About 6 or 7 pages with over 375 words
d) About 2 or 3 pages with over 625 words
e) All pages are about the topic
f) Every page is only about one aspect of the topic and focuses on one semantic set (keywords with same or similar meaning)
Note that I changed the number of words AND the number of pages by about 25%.
If you follow this formula, there’s a great chance that your ranking will eventually drift higher than the rank competitor. If you are able to do this for the page content metrics of all of your rank competitors (not collectively, just individually), then there’s a great chance you can reach #1 position for at least some of your keywords. You still do have to follow ALL of the other SEO steps I’ve noted in this site to achieve this.
As an example, this site at time of launch, will have approximately 40 pages and a total of at least 40,000 words. My other SEO services website has around 30 pages with a total of about 20,000 words which at time of writing holds #1 rank. I aim to outrank myself, and have increased my content of freshly written text (you can’t just use the same texts – see later this page about ‘content duplication’). This is called ‘practicing what I preach’, because I’m sure you wouldn’t appreciate SEO services applied to your site based on ‘guesswork’.
To test a methodology, try it, measure the results, improve on it and learn from what didn’t work. This fundamental principle got me to page 1.
If your rank competitor has 10 pages of great content and you are making a new website with just 5 pages with little text, mostly just pictures, it will probably never gain the rank you want. It’s highly unlikely than any SEO work like link-building or content marketing will gain you the better position.
Pages in your website should be search optimised for no more than two keyword phrases. It’s very unlikely that adding more phrases will help you gain rank unless the phrases are very closely related in meaning.
This means that if your site is about 10 different things, you should have at least 10 different pages for each of those things. But if your site is about a single narrow topic, it doesn’t mean you can get away with one page, you should still find keywords about your topic that you can split up into different pages. Doing so will give your pages the best chance of gaining rank. Each page should contain information that concentrates solely on the topic and avoids crossover of content.
FRONTING & TAILING:
This is the SEO copywriting strategy of highlighting keyword phrases by placing them at the front of a body of text, for example at the beginning of a paragraph. It signals to the reader that this paragraph is probably going to be about ‘SEO copywriting’. Often, the most effective texts for SEO have one or two keyword variants placed strategically. One near the beginning of a paragraph, one in the body near the middle, and one near the end, being careful to not overuse them in case the content begins to look too contrived or manipulative. Both the human reader and the search engine will then get clear signals that this paragraph, section or page was about SEO copywriting.
MORPHOLOGY & SPELLING VARIATION:
When applying keywords to a body of content, it’s not necessary to use every possible version or spelling, plurals, or ordering. Search engines like Google are smart enough to figure out that in New Zealand we will spell ‘realise’ with an ‘s’ instead of a ‘z’. Such variations do not need to be accounted for in your text content. Just write naturally and in the local version of spelling and grammar. Let the search engine take care of the variations.
You also don’t need to account for plurals or all verb paradigms either. For example: ‘t-shirt’ and ‘t-shirts’ will be recognised as a single word with two variants by Google. These will be shown in your Google Search Console account under the section about content keywords as a single entry. Similarly, any verbs are grouped based on the root, so ‘swim’, ‘swims’ and ‘swimming’ are grouped. Past tense (swam) is a little different for some (but not all) verbs, so include it where appropriate. The key is that you should use each morphological item as appropriate for the context. Do not feel as though you have to use each equally.
The next consideration you should be aware of when writing content for your website is that Google can associate the meanings of words with the intended meaning of a search. What this means in practical terms is that you may be able to optimise for keywords that have similar meanings all in a single page and not have to repeat the exact same words over and over again. It makes for much better reading for the user, and that’s essentially what they’re after.
Here’s an example: You may wish to optimise your page for ‘accounting firm’ because that’s what your business is, it’s what you do, and you did the research and discovered it’s searched a lot. But you should also consider how many different ways you can say ‘firm’ and mean the same thing. Like ‘company’, or ‘business’ or even ‘advisor’ in some cases. To test the theory, type into Google ‘SEO company’ and see what results it produces, paying attention to the bold content in the results. Wade through a few pages and you will find other words are made bold – ones that were not included in the search at all, like ‘firms’ and ‘services’ and ‘search engine optimisation’. These are connected through semantics, even though they are not matches to the exact form of the search.
FONT TYPE & SIZE:
Search engines will be assessing the legibility of your font type and size as a ranking factor for SEO. If the font is too small to read, search engines know this and judge your content accordingly. The ideal font is one that can be read easily by all viewers of your website, so bear this in mind when selecting fonts for a style sheet. It’s estimated that this optimum size is about 15 or 16px. Smaller sizes become less legible, and this may create a poor user experience for your clients, so try to avoid anything smaller than about 14px. While there is probably no disadvantage in using a font size larger than 16px, it may be confused with heading fonts. You might want to use a complete set or larger paragraph and heading sizes if this is in keeping with your site design and the genre it targets, for example, fonts may slightly be larger for sites targeting young readers, or the elderly, but that’s a fairly broad generality.
USING HEADINGS FOR SEO:
Headings are one of those things that are so simple for you to fix, but probably nobody ever told you that you should.
Headings are usually pre-sized and styled by the person who made the website, or they may come pre-set in a theme you applied to your CMS. There’s usually a range from H1 being the largest down to H6 being the smallest. Sometimes there’s a font type change between sizes, but not usually. The H1 font might be quite large, like around 40-50pixels (40px – 50px). Usually the smallest heading (H6) is close to the size of the paragraph font <p>.
Here are some font size examples native to this website:
Using headings in a web page as styling tools is a bad idea. They are designed to be used as headings only. On every page there should be just one instance of H1 used – because it’s the main heading of the page. You should use keywords in the H1 heading, and it should be fairly short and sweet stating clearly what the page is about. That makes for best reading. If the H1 title size is used again in the page, it can cause the reader some confusion about the subject of the page, and it’s the same for search engines. H1 and H2 is considered as part of the overall page analysis by Google when assigning rank. If the content of these elements bear no relationship in meaning to the content of the page, you will miss scoring the point with most search engines. Often I see H1 used to say “Welcome to our website”, which doesn’t inform the reader, or search engines, about the content of the page at all. Often, H2 is not even used at all.
H2 is optimally used as a secondary heading, like for a subsection, or a subtitle. You can use it more than once, but only really if it makes sense to do so for the content of your page. It should signal that your content has a slight change of topic, but is still part of the rest of the ‘story’ covered by the main heading, H1.
So it goes on progressively if you have lots of content. If you don’t have much content, try to generate some more if you can, I keeping with my +20-30% formula from above, and just use H1 and H2 for titles if you have no need to H3 or smaller. If you think the headings are simply too big, consider changing the settings, don’t just use a smaller heading like H3.
Your smallest font is probably going to be the font used for the majority of the text, and that should be the paragraph <p> style. If your paragraph style is too small, try to resist the temptation to just use H6 or H5. Remember, those are for headings only. To make any Headings or the Paragraph font larger, smaller, or styled differently, you should do this via the Cascading Style Sheet (CSS). CSS is a data file(s) that tell browsers what size and style to apply to your content. If you don’t have access to the CSS files, ask your web developer. It’s better to edit them so that your changes in font size and style are applied universally through your site, because that makes for a better overall design flow. If you really need to style an H2-H6 or <p> differently on one page or section only, then apply a Class. Classes are just CSS styling groups that instruct browsers to look up a modified or ‘special instance’ of a given H-type or p-type.
To review how I have applied Headings in practice, take a look at the largest title on this page, at the top of the page. “Writing Powerful Website Content” leaves nothing to the imagination, and contains the main keyword set for this page. In the first section of the page, I use H1, H2, H3, H3, H3, and then later I use H2 again twice but never re-use H1. Finally in the bottom section headings drop to H4 which I use several times. The main text is <p>. The first instance of H2 also has keywords, so do some of the H4 elements. The body copy has lots of relevant keywords, but I try not to overcrowd the content or use commercial keyword phrases like ‘SEO services’ unnecessarily or out of context.
PARAGRAPHS AND SECTIONS:
Each paragraph or section in your page should be clearly about a single topic. Slight changes in the topic would probably belong in a new paragraph. Bigger changes in topic may require a new heading.
Apply the fronting and tailing principle on each section, but only if it continues to read well.
Content duplication is shrouded in a bit of a myth. Search engines don’t penalise websites for having duplicated content. They just give content originals the preference when assessing rank.
Let’s say you build a website and you make a copy of that same website on a different domain in a hope that you gain rank on both of them. It’s unlikely that you’ll succeed, because usually only one version gains rank. The duplicate is actually competing against yourself. What’s worse is that you may damage rank for both sites. These are not penalties, they are just content confusion.
If at all possible, try to avoid duplication of any content in your site. This is because when two pages have very similar or identical content, search engines like Google have to decide which one gets ranked ahead of the other. It may in fact choose the wrong one, or not the one you preferred. This happens a lot in eCommerce websites that have many instances of the same product but which appears many times in the site due to categorisation or search functions that lead to the same page. This should be resolved by setting an instruction in the code of the page that tells the search engine which one is the original and preferred for ranking. Any duplicate versions will then probably not get ranked or may not appear in search engine results at all. The code instruction is called rel=”canonical”. This code also provides a link to itself, so that if it appears elsewhere, like in a product search, it can refer credit to itself via this link.
Content duplication also often occurs in parts of websites that are repeated due to their design or layout. Common spots are header, footer and side-bars. Avoid adding text to those that you want assessed for ranking, because they may be heavily repeated and can come across as a little spammy! Again, there’s no penalty, but there is a chance of being ignored.
CONTENT DUPLICATION ACROSS BORDERS:
You may have read above that I said you shouldn’t duplicate your website. That’s true if you aim to have both websites ranked in the same country. Trying to gain rank in the same set of search results with two websites of the same content is seen as unfair and manipulative by search engines like Google. It also means the Google user may not get a good selection of different sites to choose from, and that leads to a bad experience for the user, something Google is trying hard to avoid happen.
If you want the same content served to different countries and use ccTLD domains, then the content duplication issue goes away, because ccTLD domains are automatically targeted at the country to which they apply, and Google does not see that as an issue. To be doubly safe, you can also add a language target, and you probably should set that if you have a gTLD even if you already geo-targeted it. These are settings that target a website to a specific user language, and again signal to search engines that your two sites are not designed to rank in the same set of results. The two languages may well be English, but one set to EN-NZ (New Zealand English) and the other set to EN-AU (Australian English). For details on how to geo-target a gTLD to a specific country, see my page on Google Search Console.
Notice I haven’t yet mentioned images or videos? I’ll cover those in Step 9.
PDF documents can be read by search engines, so they can go to your advantage. Consider all of the same content structure suggestions I have noted above.
Other documents like Microsoft Word files, architectural files, some data files etc cannot be read by search engines, so content in them does not have to be optimised for SEO.
SINGLE BIGGEST SEO TIP FOR WEB PAGE CONTENT?
Write lots of good relevant stuff on your topic that people will read, while optimising for one or two keyword phrases per page.
THE THREE BIGGEST FACTORS FOR GETTING RANKED IN GOOGLE IN MY OPINION?
#1 Content. #2 Originality. #3 Googlebot Crawl.
#2 relates to how well you cover the subject in a way that sets you apart from others.
#3 relates to how often you can get Google to visit your site – and this is done primarily by way of links, but I make a distinction here between links and crawl that says, it’s crawl that really matters.