In today’s blog post, I hope to accomplish two things. First, I want to share what I’ve learned about content from working on some of the most frequently visited websites in the world. Second, I want to convince you to stop writing it.
What I’ve Learned About Content
I remember my early days of writing and editing content. Obsessing over keyword placement in title tags, headings, and paragraphs. Using all kinds of tools to come up with secondary and semantically-related terms. The deeper I got into the process, the more unnatural it felt. But once I had the opportunity to take part in an SEO audit for a major news outlet, my outlook on content creation changed dramatically.
Reviewing their webpages was an enlightening experience. Their content, especially in the eyes of an SEO analyst, was something to behold. It had enticing title tags, appropriate heading structure, and robustly informative content that exhausted every angle and made mention of the article’s direct subject and all related entities. These pages were a truly great resource for search engines to deliver, and something that would not only keep users on the page for extended periods of time but would also build trust that this news outlet was the only source they’d need for information on a story.
Now let’s be clear on something – some big reasons this content ranked so well was due to the long history of the website, the deep brand development, and a very strong backlink profile. But there is no denying that these articles were superb and a model for sending powerful ranking signals.
The epiphany happened for me when it came to breaking news stories. To optimize for these stories, the news outlet used Google Trends, but it wasn’t possible to do keyword research in the traditional sense. I know what you’re thinking – optimizing a web page without doing keyword research? Blasphemy! But when I thought about it, it made perfect sense.
There is a stiffness to the process when we are beholden to a single primary keyword and a suite of third-party tools, constrained by the motivation to work things in and smartly place words and phrases. I believe that, more often than not, our content output suffers for it. We get too focused on the SEO goals we have for the page, rather than being focused on the content. We try to be clever instead of trying to be informative. Look at the top-ranking results for a wide array of queries. Experienced SEOs will know what I’m talking about when I say there is a “comfort” to good content; a freedom and ease to the writing, rather than having obvious SEO elements planted all over the place. I’d like to do better in 2018 and beyond, and I believe I know how.
Pick a topic, gather as much information as you can, clearly state what you’re writing about in your title tag and main heading, and then write. Whether you’re writing metadata or body content, avoid the contamination of doing keyword research as the first step and just write.
To Improve Your Content, Stop Writing It
But let’s back up. Before I share what I feel is a better process for writing content that can improve the SEO performance of your website’s pages, let’s get right to the big reveal: how can you improve your content without writing it?
That’s right – speak it.
Whether you’re writing from scratch or updating something that already exists, I recommend using voice-to-copy software on your computer or phone to produce it. There are steps you must complete before doing so, which I’ll outline below, but this is a technique no one is talking about that could be a game changer in terms of the quality of content you produce for your own site or for your clients. And if you’re an SEO tasked with writing content (which many of us are), let’s not sleep on the time you could save with this method.
The specific tool I use is the dictation option that can be found under Google Chrome’s edit menu (note: I’m on a Mac):
Another option I use frequently is the “Memo” app on my Android phone. I find the phone’s voice-to-copy to be more accurate than the browser option. When I’m finished dictating, I just email the draft to myself.
This will take some practice. It will feel awkward at first. You’ll spend a lot of time saying partial sentences, stopping, and then starting over again. But you’ll get better at it quickly, and you’ll soon find that your word counts will increase with less time spent and your content will have a natural flow to it that you weren’t seeing before. It will be more readable and easily digestible because it has a more conversational feel. It will “speak” to readers like content riddled with sections of SEO chess moves never will.
How To Write New Content
- Choose a topic – This can be a news story, a product if it’s for e-commerce or a service-based site, etc. It’s simply what the page you’re creating will be about.
- Ask questions – Write down every question you have on the topic.
- Research – Don’t skip leg day. There is sometimes a reward for laziness, but it is always temporary. Read everything you can on the topic, and compile notes. If certain things keep getting mentioned, write them down. Then, read your notes.
- Ask more questions – Now that you’ve researched, try to think of questions you didn’t think to ask in step 2. What would people who had no knowledge on the topic wonder? Search for an FAQ list on your topic for more ideas.
- Create – You can either verbally answer all of the questions you’ve come up with, or simply speak on the topic as if it were a presentation. Hit that record button and go!
- Review and organize – Make edits as you see fit. Not everything you said will be perfect, but you’ll have a terrific foundation that you can now make small adjustments to. Read through everything, move sections around, and make sure it’s all well organized. Above all else, make darn sure the page is as informative as it can possibly be. Pro tip: make the questions above part of your content!
- Metadata and headings – I like to create and read my content before creating a title tag, meta description, and heading/subheading for it. That way, I can see how it came out, what it’s really saying, and give it appropriate metadata and headings.
- Perform KW research – Now is the time to ask, “are there some language adjustments that can be made to the content to help more people find it?” Take your primary topic, do keyword research, and make the appropriate adjustments. Don’t let this step get away from you – season to taste. You’ve chosen a topic and have thoroughly “written” on it – the search engines will see that.
How To Update Existing Content
When you’re looking to update content that already exists, the biggest difference is that you’ll be identifying a topic for the page rather than choosing one. Another difference is that we’ll be working with and working around content that is already there.
- Identify the topic – Answer “what is this page about?” by reading the entire page.
- Ask questions – Write down every question you have on the topic.
- Research – It’s leg day again.
- Ask more questions – Think of questions you didn’t think to ask in step 2. What would people who had no knowledge on the topic wonder?
- Create – Hit that record button and go!
- Review and organize – Make edits as you see fit. Since we’re working with existing content, some sections may need to be adjusted, moved, or taken out (if they meander off topic, for instance).
- Metadata and headings – Give the content appropriate metadata and headings.
- Perform KW research – Season to taste.
If the page already has some good content and merely needs some fine tuning, just perform the last step from the list above (“season to taste”).
I believe that this approach is, at best, a superior way of producing content that performs well, and, at least, another tool in your arsenal. For SEOs, I urge you to adopt this methodology. We’re responsible for becoming experts on the subject matter of our clients and producing better resources for users, and for me, this has been the single most effective way of doing just that.
Please share your thoughts on this post in the comments! If you give this approach to content creation a try, come back and let me know your experience with it and the results you saw. As for me, I’m going to go back and edit out all the throat clears that occurred during the making of this post.
Thank you for reading!