In the world of SEO and content marketing, the only reliable factor is change. No matter how you approach writing for SEO or what strategies you use, those strategies will become obsolete within a few years.
This is how Google and other search engine giants prevent people from gaming the system. As time goes on and marketers get better at manipulating results, Google adjusts algorithms to end that manipulation.
Each change aims at better solving the searcher’s needs, rather than giving marketers the ability to sell more products.
“Wait,” you’re thinking. “Isn’t that a bad thing?”
That’s absolutely how it looks at first, but we’re pleased to say it’s mostly a misconception. Google’s changes may make writing for SEO more challenging, but they also create new opportunities for SEO writers to create highly marketable content.
Writing for SEO Is More Alive than Ever
For content marketers, Google’s constant changes to foil their efforts can be a tough pill to swallow. It makes writing for SEO effectively more challenging, and that has some SEO experts predicting a total failure of the industry. That’s a knee-jerk reaction; in reality, it’s more alive than ever.
It just doesn’t look the same.
Admittedly, the last five years have been incredibly rough in the SEO industry. So much changed, and unfortunately, some just couldn’t keep up with those changes. We saw a massive shift as lower-quality SEO providers and writers found themselves suddenly without work as mass-producing content fell by the wayside.
That left businesses suddenly faced with paying far more than they normally would for content just to achieve the kind of quality needed to prevent de-listing.
If you’ve been feeling disillusioned by the industry, know that the increased focus on user experience and quality isn’t necessarily an undesirable thing. Adjusting algorithms to better target these metrics also produces a marketing industry where skill + time + effort = results.
If you’re willing to do the work and hone your skills (or at least pay someone who can), you are significantly more likely to succeed in ranking. Instead of hacks and cheats, SEO is becoming about transparent, honest strategies that provide real, useful content.
Next, let’s look at exactly what’s changing, how it affects writers, and how you can adapt to make the most of the current (and future) changes for 2018.
Searchers > Search Engines
The most prominent feature we’re seeing for the coming year is a continuation of Google’s focus on user experience. Rather than writing for search engines, you should tailor your content to the needs of searchers and/or your audience instead.
Here’s a quick fact: 93 percent of all searchers land on your website after using a search engine to seek “answers.” To create successful content, you should try to provide those answers within your content. To achieve this goal, you need to learn the searcher’s intent.
To nail down intent, gather a list of keywords you want to target. Next, ask yourself exactly what it is the searcher is trying to solve when they search the keywords.
Keep in mind that questions aren’t always obvious. You can expect searcher intent to fall within one of these categories:
- Navigational – Searchers in this category are seeking guidance on how find specific websites and/or resources.
Examples: Trying to find a website, looking up local classifieds, searching for a local organization’s website, searching for the best website for a specific product.
- Transactional – Transactional searchers want to complete a web-based transaction when they search.
Examples: e-commerce transactions and non-monetary transactions, like downloading forms, getting a free quote, confirming a price, or subscribing to a platform like Netflix.
- Informational – Informational searchers make up the most common sector of searchers. They want information on products, services, concepts, ideas, or other intangible topics.
Examples: animal care tips, a local TV schedule, the answer to a math question, DIY tutorials, and most healthcare information.
If you manage to answer these questions, you will benefit from a boost in the search engines through intent matching. But you’ll also see a boost simply because your content will become more useful – and that’s what leads to more organic shares.
Where and When to Use Keywords
We’re hammering home the idea of writing for searchers, but that doesn’t mean you should totally forget keywords exist at all. Instead, you should search for keywords with intent in mind and slot them in where they do the most good:
- Title tags
- Meta tags
Which keywords should you use? Unlike earlier years, you should start targeting more than one keyword on the same page. Start by finding your main keywords, then use keyword planner, Google Trends, and other platforms to find commonly associated keywords that relate to your topic, concept, or niche (more on this in the next section).
How much is too much? There’s no specific percentage to aim for; in general, you should worry much less about keyword density achievements than the quality of the content. Anything over two to three percent is, however, probably too much, especially if it’s the same keyword every time.
Using Commonly Associated Keywords
Let’s talk frankly about the commonly associated keywords (we’ll call it CA keywords from here on out) we mentioned further up. What exactly are CA keywords, and how should you implement them into your text?
The first thing you need to know is what CA keywords aren’t. Specifically, they aren’t necessarily Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) keywords, variants, or long-string phrases. A CA keyword can sometimes fall within these categories, but those descriptions just don’t get at the heart of what Google means by common association.
Which brings us to the inherent problem in the term “commonly associated;” it isn’t always easy to identify exactly what search engines mean by that. Generally, it means that the concepts and phrases used within your article all share a relationship somehow, but this is a really basic description. It also involves the kind of relationship between each phrase, keyword, or topic.
Finding CA keywords can be challenging, but usually, it comes down to common sense. A page about baseball isn’t going to talk about living room curtains, but they might talk about sports-themed window decals. Similarly, a page about pet care wouldn’t necessarily talk about human health topics, but they may discuss zoonotic diseases (like salmonella) that humans can catch.
CA keywords impact writing for SEO in a few specific ways. To start, it means you should stay relatively on topic within each article or content piece. But for some writers, it also introduces more freedom to diversify within the same theme.
Advanced AI and Algorithms
We mentioned CA keywords and how it changes content relevance. One of the reasons CA keywords have become so important is because search engines are now using incredibly advanced algorithms to decide exactly what “relevance” means. This includes entity salience, semantic distance, and phrased-based indexing.
First, let’s talk entity salience. Entity, in this case, refers to anything within the article that fits into a specific definition – a phrase, a word, a topic, or a concept. Salience is a measure of prominence or importance.
Entity salience, then, interprets meaning by identifying prominence, importance, and relationships between the various phrases, words, topics, and meanings in your content.
Salience isn’t just about relatability; that’s a common misconception. It’s also about the search engine’s experience with trillions of other content pieces. Algorithms try to show how people behave when they interact with similar content, including how likely they are to consider it related and which combinations of words perform better alongside one another.
Semantic distance takes this one step further, using the relative distance within HTML elements of certain phrases or words to measure how likely they are to be related to one another. In practice, this looks a little something like using related keywords in the same paragraph or content block.
Need examples? A paragraph that has the words apple and pie, for example, is much more likely to be about food than computers. Conversely, a paragraph that holds the words apple and monitor is much more likely to be about tech.
If a writer is really skilled, they’ll weave multiple CA keywords into the text at regular intervals that make sense without feeling spammy. It’s all about balance.
Phrase-based indexing completes relevance analysis by allowing Google to identify very specific phrases, words, or even sentences that usually predict other relevant phrases. For example, people who write about cardiology would naturally use phrases like “high blood pressure,” “heart health,” or even, “The American Heart Association.”
How to Write for People and Algorithms
So, what exactly should writers and SEO experts do with all this information? You should continue to focus on improving relevance and writing quality while also diversifying within related topics. Focus on answering searcher’s most pressing questions, and always write first using a natural voice.
Lastly, the same old content tips for writers still apply. Keep it interesting, lively, informative, well-written, and well-structured for easy digestion. This will always be the number one way to avoid writing content absolutely no one wants to read.