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SEO Step Four of Ten: Content Optimization

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Content Is King

Content is king. More than a truism, the phrase is a mantra. Content is the stuff people are looking for on a website. A commitment to developing and deploying great page, document and site content is a commitment to good SEO.

Comprised of the most common site elements, content is the most effective tool SEOs have to work with. Loosely defined as All Things On-Page, the term “content” would include titles, tags, text, in-site links and out-bound links. In some SEO practices, the acronym ATOP is used to refer to the hands-on work environment. (ATOP, i.e.: Mark sends the keyword targets to Jade whose staff works ATOP in the overall SEO effort) Content optimization is where creative art gets mixed into the webmaster science of SEO.

In the SEO process, content optimization describes most of the hands-on work done to make unique documents place well in search engine rankings. For the purposes of search engine optimization; content either exists, has to be created, or both.

Sometimes optimization of existing site content only requires the SEO to perform minor textual tweaks. Sometimes content does not exist and has to be written by the SEO. Frequently, SEOs come across pre-existing page content that needs to be totally rewritten or redeveloped.

The object is two-fold. The first goal is to feed data to search engine spiders, the second to serve information to human visitors.

Writing for Robots

By basic definition, the goal of search engine optimization is to achieve high search engine rankings. That means writing for robotic consumption. The first rule of writing for robots is, keep it simple.

For all their silicon guts and algorithmic abilities the robots are not that bright. They cope best with one concept at a time. Though a page might rank well for any number of keywords or phrases, the best site copy is written to focus on one topic per page. Addressing multiple topics per page dilutes the overall effectiveness of a site-wide SEO effort and the ranking potential of individual pages.

Limiting your focus to one topic per page makes it far easier to work keyword targets into each of the basic on-site content elements; titles, meta descriptions, body text and links. When optimizing site content, each of these elements needs to be worked on one-by-one and then examined in relation to each other. In practice, I prefer to work from the top to the bottom of a page before spending the bulk of my time messing around in the middle.

Titles are important

The first page element search engine spiders and most human visitors see is the page title. If you found this article on a search engine or through an RSS feed, chances are the title of the page was used to make the reference link you clicked on to get here. Passing primary topical information to bots and to search engine users, the title of a web document is used by SEOs to address specific keyword targets and to convince human visitors to select the page.

A lot of webmasters overlook the title when designing and maintaining their websites. To make the point, think of the countless number of websites with index pages sporting the title “Home”.

Look at the very top of your screen. See the words beside the Firefox or Internet Explorer symbol? That’s the title of this page. Being published in WebProNews, the title of the original page this piece was published on reads, “SEO Step Four of Ten: Content Optimization | WebProNews”.

Each page in a website should have a unique title. As pages in the website gets more specific, so to should the titles of those pages. Since SEO is about getting good placements under a variety of keywords or phrases, including “long-tail” placements, topically relevant keywords should be worked into the title of each page.

Here are a few examples of optimized page titles in a general page-tree order:

  1. Eco-Friendly Products for Healing Healthy Hippies :: Green Wingnuts (INDEX page)
  2. Ecological Alternatives :: Healing Healthy Hippies :: About Green Wingnuts (About page)
  3. Magic Healing Balms, Tinctures and Lotions :: Health Products for Hippies :: Green Wingnuts (Product Stock Page)
  4. Organic Yellow Blue Algae Lotion :: Nutritious Health and Healing Products :: Green Wingnuts (Specific Product Page)

Search engines use titles to gauge the topical intent of individual pages in a website. So do human search engine users. It makes sense to give both the information they need to make the decisions you want them to.

Meta Descriptions Make a Difference

There are dozens of meta tags that have been used in the history of search engine optimization. The only extremely important one is the meta DESCRIPTION tag. Though found in the source-code and not part of the visible website, the meta description tag can have a decisive impact on rankings and selection.

Search engines use the meta description to help confirm the topical intent of web pages. They also use them for a much more practical purpose. The description is often used to phrase the short paragraphs found under the Title in search engine results. When a search engine users is making a decision which link to click, a well written meta description might make the difference. Don’t ignore this tag, each page should have a unique one.

<meta name=”description” content=”Green Wingnuts makes healing products for healthy hippies. Ecological alternative health products for a better planet” />

Visible Elements, Text, Images and Links

When approaching a fresh optimization project, SEOs takes stock of what they have to work with. SEOs often think like doctors when assessing a website with the understanding that they could do quite a bit of harm if they are not extremely careful. More often than not, changes made to titles and meta descriptions are beneficial to clients. As they are frequently overlooked or under-utilized, augmenting the titles and descriptions of pages usually helps a site achieve better rankings. Changes to the text that appears on a page, on the other hand, might unleash a host of unintended consequences. Aside from the chance a SEO might mistakenly change the message the client is trying to convey, messing around with body-text might also damage current search engine rankings. Keep that in mind as we move into making content optimization decisions.

The first task in content optimization is analysis. Having a full understanding of where a clients’ web pages rank, under which keyword phrases and the degree of success current placements enjoy is critically important for making decisions about what to work on. Analysis requires data and data requires information.

In an earlier part of this series, Dave Davies addressed Keyword Research and Selection and the making of a list of several keyword phrase targets. Content optimization analysis is about figuring out which pages are most relevant to keyword phrase targets on the list.

Almost any page in a URL has a good chance to achieve strong search engine placement under a limited number of keyword phrase. In deciding which phrases to apply to which pages, I start by dividing items on the keyword selection list into categories ranging from general to specific.

On the INDEX page of the Green Wingnuts site, the phrase “Green Wingnuts” would be the most general phrase as it is the business name of the client. The target market is deemed to be health conscious hippies, hence the slightly more specific variations on “healthy hippies”. Ecology is an important interest for most health conscious hippies, thus the use of “Eco-Friendly Products”. In this example, the index page is primed to rank for three unique keyword phrases and is easily associated with variations on each.

At first mention, content optimization might be thought to be about writing primarily for search engine spiders. It’s not. Well optimized website content should be created for live-human visitors and deployed in a way that that draws the reader towards a decision. Anyone can talk to a bot. Compelling website visitors to commit to an action and achieve a conversion is a bit more difficult.

As noted earlier, a good working rule is to stick to one topic per page and to consider the overall website as a document tree. The top of the tree is the INDEX page. Below the INDEX are the second or upper-level pages that tend to describe the company, its mission, goals, general services, and contact information. Pages found on subsequent levels of the website tend to feature more specific information the deeper a document is found on the tree. In the Green Wingnuts example, you can see in the titles how content gets more specific as we descend down the document tree.

Writing for a web-based readers and search engine spiders is much like writing for newspaper readers. Because the web is a dynamic environment, readers have notoriously short attention spans. Important points and keyword phrases need to be mentioned early in the copy and, by the end of the third short paragraph; the reader should know what they are supposed to do next. Subsequent paragraphs are used to support the story told by the first three. The goal is to hold their interest long enough to confidently direct them to the next step.

For instance, when writing copy for a real estate website, I want to ensure the readers are A) getting the information they need to assess the local area and decide they want to live there, B) understanding that the realtor is there to provide whatever they need to make a decision, and C) confident enough know how to move to the listings of properties for sale.

When applying text to a page, content optimizers need to think about its placement against other elements present on the page. How headlines or “strong” text looks beside an image is as important as the slight algorithmic bump that emphasized text brings. More important to the goal of improving the page is making it accessible to all users. Adding descriptive Alt-tags to images helps visitors who use screen readers and gives SEOs opportunity to insert relevant keywords into the alt tags. While I still use <h1> and <h2> tags, I tend not to worry as much about SEO considerations as I do page layout considerations. As long as the target keyword phrases are prominent in the titles, meta description, body text and judiciously used as anchor text, I trust the search spiders to find them.

I am far more concerned about where the pages I work on are being found. An emerging consideration in content creation asks the question, “What if it plays better in Pittsburg than it does in Cleveland?” Search engines are getting far better at delivering the right information to the right person. Knowing that there are fewer common standards in search engine results, content optimizers have to think about the regionalization of search.

Finding your regional audience

One piece of SEO software I really like that is called Enquisite. Designed to tell users how pages within their websites rank from the points of view of search engine users in regional markets around the world, Enquisite provides extraordinary information about what ranks well where. Having used Enquisite for over a year, Metamend finds it an indispensable tool.

When we develop new content or think about making changes to existing page content, we check how that site is performing in regional search markets using Enquisite. Because search engines have become extremely good at targeting where a search engine user is located they are able to serve regionally relevant information to different users in different places. While the overall object is high rankings for search queries everywhere, the advent of personalized, localized and “universal” search results make us consider create regionally specific content for the strongest markets indicated by Enquisite.

Link-seeding

Helping site visitors move from their point of entry to an essential action or a conversion is an important part of content optimization which will be fully addressed in the ninth essay in this series. To touch on it briefly, if the overall site optimization effort goes according to plan, search engine users will be able to find specific product pages on the first page of search results. That’s an optimal visitor but a content creator has to think about directing visitors who find their way to a page from a link on another site.

Internal links are important enough to obsess on. Designing a practical and elegant navigation path through a website is essential to gaining and retaining converting visitors. A big part of an elegant navigation path is how internal links are written and phrased; a process that also has an effect on a search engine’s impression of the site.

Internal links should be short and, whenever possible, be phrased with the most relevant keyword targets to the page the link leads to. A link leading to “Health Products” is far more compelling than one leading to “Green Wingnuts Products” and gets another mention of a target keyword phrase in an area that associates it with the page the link leads to. A similar approach should be taken to phrasing links in a sitemap file.

Content optimization comprises the bulk of the work SEOs do when working on a website but that work doesn’t stop when the initial optimization process ends. Content optimization also includes the regular creation of new pages and periodic changes of existing content. These topics will be covered in future essays in this series, most likely in the ninth and tenth articles, Conversion Optimization and Keeping it Up.

More Info on This Series

This article is part of a ten part series of essays on SEO written by search marketing experts from several unique disciplines. The series is being supplemented by a weekly show on Webcology at WebmasterRadio.fm Thursdays at 2PM eastern. Be sure to tune in or download the podcast to hear the authors talk about their takes on search marketing.

The next article in this series will address one of the most important aspects of an overall SEO campaign, Link Building. That will be in two weeks as next weeks Webcology broadcast will be pre-empted by WebmasterRadio coverage of the SMX-West conference in Santa Clara.

SEO Step Four of Ten: Content Optimization
About Jim Hedger
Jim Hedger works with Metamend Search Engine Marketing as a SEO Consultant, lead copywriter and head blog writer. Jim has been involved in the SEO field since the days of the dinosaurs and felt he had lost a personal friend when Disney went "ol' Yeller" on Infoseek. Over the course of his career, Jim has gotten drunk with Jeeves the Butler, tossed sticks to that sock-puppet dog from Pets.com and come out of a staring contest with Googlebot confidently declaring a tie. When not traveling between conferences, Jim lives with a perpetually annoyed cat named Hypertext in the Pacific techno-outport of Victoria British Columbia. WebProNews Writer


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  • http://www.metamend.com/blog Jim

    Hi Fione,

    Thanks for the comment. A number of people have asked about my use of  double-colons as separators. I only use them because I think they look kinda cool and because the make spotting placements in the SERPs much easier.

  • Barry

    Hi.

    Wonderfully written, and easy to read… but I’m now a little confused.

    I’ve seen it mentioned in several places that the meta-description has no relevance at all for hte major search engines… the only use is they "may" display it in the search results — yet you say it is used?

    Also, were you hinting that certain content tags could have an effect on SE’s (the header tags such as the h1 etc.

    Is it they have more "eight", or they increase the chance of the spiders paying attention to them?

     

    Hping you respond, as I find all the conflicting statements more than a little confusing… and no one seems willing to confirm.
    Again, thanks for hte great article.

    • http://www.metamend.com/blog jimhedger

      Hi Barry,

       

      Thank you for your kind words regarding the article.

      I share your frustration with the contridictory information given out regarding SEO techniques. In my opinion, (that’s an important phrase to remember when reading about SEO), content optimization is a game of inches. If a well written description tag "may" be used to phrase the descriptive paragraph beneath search results, USE IT!

      My research says that Google tends to use the tag to make the description however, Google might also extract snippets from the body-text to phrase that short paragraph.

      As for H1 or H2 tags, I don’t think they have the power they once did however they indicate headline or emphasized text and are treated as such by Google.

      Now, as for the conflicting comments from SEO/SEM writers. Every website is different and every SEO/SEM campaign requires slightly different technique. I urge you to read as much as possible and figure out what best applies to the campaigns you are responsible for.

      again, thanks for the response.
      jim

  • http://www.thenichemarketingstrategy.com Zacky

    Hi Jim,

    This article is well written and I am looking forward to the rest of the 6 chapters which you are going to cover. Been following your articles closely and it has taught me alot.

    Keep it coming Jim.

    Zacky

    • http://www.metamend.com/blog jimhedger

      Thanks Zachy,

      I would like to note that I am only writing three of the ten pieces appearing in this series. There are a number of other SEOs working on this series as well including webmasterradio co-host Dave Davies, StepForth CEO Ross Dunn, and Beanstalk-Inc SEO Daryl Quenet.

      thanks for the kind words

       

      jim

  • http://www.a-zremedies.com Raven

    Thank You Jim for a well written, easy to read article. I planned on changing my content on my homepage today. After reading this article, it has given me the direction and information that is much needed. I’m looking forward to the remaining articles. Once again, Thank You.

    Raven

    http://www.a-zremedies.com

  • http://www.metamend.com/blog jimhedger

    It appears we are both interested in helping other webmasters get it up Brianna. ;)   Glad the article (and hopefully the entire series) has helped.

    jim

  • http://www.webtacs.net/page-rank/ Page Rank Info

    I loved how detailed this guide is, I will deffinatly read the rest of the series.

  • Helen Boysee

    how the hell does a 87 year old lady (I still look 77) make my knitting site search engine buddies? I think thats the term. I am looking to attrack other knitters!

  • http://www.rankbetterseo.com professional seo company

    I would also add that if you have a page that is running more than a second or so of scrolling or needs to be optimized for more than 1 primary and 1 secondary keyword, I would break that page out into a couple pages that focus on the specific topics for that page.

  • http://www.bluewavedesignstudio.com charlotte seo company

    Great article.  Content optimization pared with well engineered H1, H2 and title tags is a great way to boost your rankings.

  • http://www.seowebdesignfirm.com/seo-company.htm seo company syracuse

    agree, content optimization is key to gaining good rankings for both short and long tail terms.

  • http://www.riversagency.com website design chapel hill

    Content is key to determining ranking potential. Having well constructed, keyword rich content on page is very important for capturing your converting audience.

  • http://www.jpnetquest.com Norbert

    I would only add to the importance of TITLE attributes. They work just as ALT attributes for images. I use them all the time with all of my links.

  • http://john.h.gohde.googlepages.com/ John H. Gohde

    Nice write up.  You can in fact place very well most of the time working just with the on-page factors of SEO.

    • http://travel-guide2india.blogspot.com travelling to India- Famous places in India

      I think it is the original content is king.Even a great piece of writing has no value in SEO if it is duplicate , that is why, it is the original and insightful content that is the real king.

  • http://www.thepoddrop.com ipod repair

    haits gome…nice piece..Thank you

  • http://www.greenlighting.wordpress.com Green lighting

    How many different ways can it be said?  Content is king…pure and simple

  • http://www.fiancee-visa.net fiancee visa attorney

    Another great article

  • http://www.iwanted.ca Internet Marketing Strategy Website SEO

    This is a great article that not only provides the foundation to great SEO, but provides a solid pointer as to what is required to succeed in this business.  There’s a few things here that I have to say I have neglected at times, but reading this has put it all back into perspective!

  • http://www.swankigifts.com/article/electronics electornic article and news

    content optimization is a key to capturing the short and long tail keywords

  • http://www.1seoexperts.com Cougar Thompson

    Yeah.. I appreciate this article for sure.  I am still learning new things about SEO.  Theres so much to learn… how long have you been studyting this?  Is there any classes that you offer?

  • http://www.cheesywine.com best wines

    thanks for this great information Jim. It was very helpful in our current site designs.

  • http://www.xeenit.com Guest

    I never knew META were that important. Thanks for sharing!

    _____________

     

    http://www.xeenit.com

  • http://www.playstationconsoles.com Playstation Consoles

     Thanks…. its always interesting .Especially like the info regarding keeping 1 subject to 1 page. Makes a lot of sense. Cheers

     

  • http://www.watchlivetv.co.uk/ BT Vision

    Interesting stuff about the meta and how it still plays a role in SEO. Thanks.

  • http://www.homeimprovementcorner.com Home Improvement Contractors

    I look forward to my emails from webpronews everyday. Always informative

    Thanks for the great content..

  • http://www.zurpit.com Boaz

    This is a great article and I agree with all the tips. content is king and its what will help you rank better on the search engines

  • http://www.healthwellnesszone.blogspot.com/ Peter

    Sorry but I’m going to have to disagree with the idea that content is king. I’ve seen too many great blogs with little attention. The notion that content will do everything for you is simply misleading. The internet doesn’t have time for everybody – you need to make a commotion.

    http://www.healthwellnesszone.blogspot.com

  • http://www.lapbandmd.net Jared

    true content is not always king. maybe that phrase was taken out of context. You have to do some marketing

  • http://www.superfastsubmits.com powerboss

    Hi,

    Thanks for giving such detailed information. I had some doubts which got cleard with this detailed description.

     

    Thanks again.

  • http://thebrewclub.com Scott – (The Brew Club)

    Kinda new at all this, and I found your posts to be really, really helpful.  Its a lot to absorb, but what you write is stuff even I can understand!  Thanks again!

  • http://webmasterssocialclub.com webmasters social club

    This great information! wish I had read 1,2 and 3 first but its not too late. You get into such details that makes it easy to understand and put into action. I find that most articles just mention what needs to be done but not how to do it. I will put this on my read list.

  • http://www.iwasreallyhungry.com/ Food Blog

    I always get a boost in traffic after posting some new content on my food blog  so "new content" is king.

  • http://www.best-price-comparison.com ipod touch 32gb

    Thanks for your really nice info. I believe and agree with you content is King and I also believe Link is Queen.

    Both of them should be done together with success SEO.

  • http://www.colondetoxification.com Dave

    Great article Jim, I couldn’t agree with you more. Content is indeed king, and the only thing better than content is cashflow!

  • http://www.learningsteps.com Computer Training

    I agree content is king, however as you quiet rightly pointed out a lot of other factors have to be considered also, great piece though.

  • http://www.seoclips.com jason

    thanks the whole series is great

  • http://www.nanomedicinecenter.com Nanomedicine

    Thanks for the great read! I really enjoyed it…

  • http://www.someuseless.info Make money online reviews|get paid to sites

    Often one of the most neglected parts of SEO, your meta description explanation is clear and concise.  All the little components that don’t seem important enough do add up. Thanks for your informative article.

  • http://moreblogmoney.com How to make fast money blogging | money making ideas

    Many important tips on seo here. Too many sites give misleading or vague info but this article is one of the most indepth yet clear that I’ve come across. Ignore these pointers at your own risk. Great stuff!

  • http://www.greymindz.com Amaan Goyal

    Content is imporrtant but not king, good content can help keep visitors for a longer time on your website but good content does not necessarily ensure traffic.

  • http://www.vtechcare.com Sanjeev Mehra

    Content is the building block for your website but it is all about links and importantly quality links that increases visibility of your website and traffic and only then content into play.

  • http://www.DollarShower.com/ Ajith Edassery

    Hi,

    According to me the double column separators are a bit outdated (even for clarity purpose)… I see them only on certain Wikis and free content management systems produced pages.

    I hope they have nothing to do with any SEO.

    Thanks,

    Ajith

     

  • http://www.sumcontent.com Sum Content

    So many people seem to look over keyword research which hurts the traffic of their websites gravely. I used to just throw up a website and hope people came, did a little SEO and would try to compete for large keywords. I figured out that until your page rank is high you should compete for medium traffic keywords and long tail because you will still get good traffic and it will help your websites get more backlinks naturally as well.

  • http://www.xseodir.com Peter Steven

    This article on seo and building keyword rankings helped me a lot.

    Thanks

  • http://fantomaster.com/fantomNews/archives/2008/09/24/search-result-hand-jobs-the-seo-implications/ fantomaster

    Of course you’re absolutely right about content. However, there’s no viable one-size-fits-all approach towards SEO these days anymore (if there ever was): depending on the market space you’re playing in, the rules may be vastly different for the simple reason that many industries’ rankings seem to be determined by human editors at least as much as by automatic algorithms.

    This, however, doesn’t seem to apply to all niches, so your mileage may vary dramatically.

  • http://mysigchat.uni.cc SigChat Forum Signature

    Backlinks and gaining trust are amonst the hardest things to achieve, which is why it’s getting even harder because most webmasters don’t want to share any link love even with link exchanges.

  • http://blogedy.com Jane

    Great SEO article, I learned a lot. Thank you so much.

  • http://www.meltinmag.com/technology Tech Mag

    Great article. Thanks so much. I’ll be looking into the software that you recommended.

  • http://otooo.com Otooo

    I’m not one that normally find’s blog content useful, but these SEO posts are written in so much detail they are just so amazing and useful

    You know what the great thing is? I can actually take something good away from reading this

  • http://www.lynteractive.com Guest

    I find this all to be very difficult

  • http://www.counterstrikestrats.com CSS

    Thanks for the tips on optimizing my content.  I already started making changes to some of my titles and meta tags.  This article is very helpful to someone new.

    -Charlie S.

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