By Nicole Bermack, for Edwardsturm.com.
As editor of this website, I have to sift through a lot of guest articles- and sometimes these articles, despite my best efforts to prepare contributors beforehand, don’t fit the parameters for what a search engine optimized article should look like.
What does this mean? In a nutshell, there are small UX changes a contributor should put in her/his written content to make it perform better than it would otherwise. Obviously, if the writer is good enough, this doesn’t necessarily apply- but most aren’t and need a list of best practices.
This article, the first actually written by me (and not just edited by me), is my attempt at decreasing common errors I see so that I no longer have to deliver the bad news to would be contributors.
Divide the Article into Sections by Using Descriptive Headers
These headers could be individual topics or various pieces of advice that will be expounded upon. This article is a perfect example of this.
Why is this effective? Think back to any book you read. How painful would it have been if that book didn’t contain chapters breaking things apart?
For a reader, headers make a piece of online content easier to digest; and then using descriptive headers makes it easier for readers to skim.
For a writer, thinking of the headers in advance helps to create a more organized article, again benefiting the reader. Content improves and user experience improves.
Aim for a Word Count over 1,000 Words
According to this study done by Moz and Buzzsumo, “Long form content of over 1,000 words consistently receives more shares and links than short form content.”
Why might this be? Perhaps this is similar to the Ben Franklin effect, in which somebody who performs a favor for you is more likely to behave favorably than if you were to perform a favor for that person.
“If I spend this much time reading this, then I must have liked it.” This Medium study says that the ideal length of a blog post is 1,600 words or 7 minutes. The trick is to write something short enough that people will read it, but long enough that people will feel indebted to it.
Use Outbound Links to Give Examples and Cite Sources
In the spirit of this header, this article explains why outbound links are important to search engines: “It suggests that you cite your sources, and that you are offering readers a chance to find out more from the same sources you use.”
One of the common problems I see with this is that contributors mistake this to mean that they should link to every brand name they mention. Over-linking in articles is annoying and bad for SEO. Linking to examples doesn’t mean that you need to link Google to the Google.com homepage.
Don’t worry about taking a user away from your page, worry about delivering the best user experience possible- and part of this is citing your sources and providing examples. “If they [links] are good for users and don’t make your site look too spammy, then use them.”
Include Images and/or Video
Entertaining media is a necessity.
According to this Buzzsumo article- images or video should occur every 75-100 or 125-150 words.
Images improve user experience by helping to keep readers engaged. While data driven images are great, as long as you focus on providing an image with entertainment value, you’ll be golden.
I’d also advise throwing in a video.
Try to Find or Create Original Images
While we’re on the topic of media…
Nobody wants to get a cease and desist letter and nobody wants to get sued. Try using images labeled for reuse, but if you can’t find one for a specific image, at the very least label the image with its source after making sure that the image isn’t from a stock photos site and that a bunch of other sites are using that image too.
Here’s how you find an image labeled for reuse. First go to Google Images. Then search for something. Next, select the “Search tools” tab, then go to “Usage rights,” then click “Labeled for reuse.” You’ll get something that looks like this:
Your image opportunities will decrease a lot, but that’s a heck of a lot better than getting in trouble.
…By keeping the article more knowledge based.
Overtly promotional articles could be seen as being too spammy by search engines and excluded from results for specific more knowledge seeking keywords.
Overt promotion also reduces trust in the host site, thereby reducing CTR and increasing bounce rate.
Over time something like this has the potential to not only damage the SEO of the site that the spammy content is hosted on, but also the sites that that site links to.
Worried about how you’ll get credit for your great content? Your bio at the bottom of the article, will be used to show why you’re an authority on the matter.
Simplify Sentences and Avoid Verbosity
This doesn’t mean that you can’t write about complex subjects. Avoiding verbose sentences means removing extra words and making writing easy to digest.
Nobody likes really wordy articles. When you proofread, objectively ask yourself, “Which words can I remove to make this flow better?”
According to this Yoast SEO writing guide, “Short sentences are easier to read and understand than long sentences…We consider sentences containing more than 20 words as lengthy. Try to limit these lengthy sentences.”
Great advice, which I would encourage everybody to follow.
This one should be a no brainer, but far too many times have I received articles with more typos than would be accepted on a pre-school book report.
Proofread your article 2-3 times, and definitely not just once.
Proofread it the same day you wrote it. Then proofread it one more time the day after, when your language isn’t as fresh in your mind. Try to give yourself distance before you proofread as it will help clear up your sentences and explanations.
Not proofreading articles is one of the most noxious and offensive things a contributor can do. Do your best to write an article free of spelling and grammatical typos.
Writing a search engine optimized article isn’t difficult, but it requires the writer to provide less written diarrhea and more value. Think about what you want to write in advance, make a short outline, write it, provide examples and media, and proofread to the moon.
This is the process that yields great articles that users want to share and that search engines want to provide to their valued searchers. SEO starts with a good user experience; follow this guide and you’re sure to deliver one.
Do you have any burning questions? Anything you’d like to add? Let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.