The web sites that actually rank in the top Google search results pages have one thing clearly in common: good writing. That doesn’t come as a surprise, considering how often officials at Google proclaim the importance of good content. Yet traditional SEO wisdom has little to say about good writing. Whatever the technical mechanism, Google is doing a pretty good job of identifying websites with good content and rewarding them with high rankings.
Search engine marketing specialists know that each search engine has its own algorithm. Ranking involves a combination of proprietary secrets and public knowledge. These algorithms are basically a way to automatically evaluate and rank websites based on a set of pre-defined criteria. Speaking of public knowledge, here are a few ways to make a website more visible and better ranked:
- Keyword usage - Let's say there are two websites about dark chocolate. They are equal in all regards except one. Website ‘A’ uses the phrases “dark chocolate,” “dark chocolate recipes,” and “dark chocolate health benefits” throughout key locations on the site. But website ‘B' often replaces it with “chocolate,” “candy,” and other non-descriptive phrases. Because of this fundamental difference in keyword usage, website ‘A’ will outrank website ‘B’ for dark chocolate phrases.
- Age of domain - How old a website is plays a role in how well it ranks. This is especially true with Google, since this well-oiled machine tends to favor older, well-established sites. So now let's assume that our two dark chocolate websites are the same size with similar, keyword-rich content. But this time, website ‘A’ is 8 years old and website ‘B’ is 14 months old. Chances are, website ‘A’ will outrank the younger website.
- Size of website - In this scenario, our two dark chocolate websites are the exact same age, have similar keyword-rich content, and are similar in most regards. But website ‘A’ has 45 pages of content, and website ‘B’ only has five pages of content. Website ‘A’ will outrank the smaller website ‘B’ in the search engines.
- Link popularity - This refers to the quantity and quality of inbound links. Inbound links are links from pages on external sites linking back to your site. Inbound links can bring new users to your site, and when the links are merit-based and freely-volunteered as an editorial choice, they're also one of the positive signals to Google about your site's importance.
- Usage data - When people find your website through a search engine, the search engine can track the visitor long enough to see how they react to your website. Do most people who find your site through search engines go on to read several pages, or do most of them hit the ‘back’ button upon reaching your home page? This is usage data, and it gives search engines another tool in measuring website quality and relevance.
What Does all Successful Web Content Have in Common?
Once you’ve covered the basics in attempting to rank well in search engines, what else can you do to improve your site’s content? Simply put, make sure that it is well-written and caters to your customers. Upon examining a few Google search results, it’s evident that the ‘served up’ web pages all contained original, concise, well-written content and shared the following features:
- Fresh Updated Content: Frequent updating of content -- at least once every few weeks -- makes a big difference. Not only do the search engines pick it up, customer frequency will improve as viewers are more apt to check back for timely information.
- Spelling and grammar: Few or no errors should be your goal. Typically, no high-ranking Google page has more than three misspelled words or four grammatical errors. Who knows if Google uses Spellcheck, but they’re finding a way to check for accuracy. Keep in mind that no one really knows what the 100 factors in Google's algorithm are. But whether the mechanism is Spellcheck or something else, grammatical integrity remains the same.
- Lists: Sites that rank well seem to feature both bulleted and numbered lists as a large part of the text. There’s really no mystery here - the more scannable your content, the more useful it becomes.
- Sentence length: Mostly brief (10 words or fewer). Medium-length and long sentences can be sprinkled throughout the text. Long-winded sentences all clumped together makes for a laborious read and pretty much guarantees that a vast majority won’t be read.
- Contextual relevance: Text that contains numerous terms related to the keyword, as well as stem variations of the keyword, is the goal.
Here’s What We Recommend
- Web content is too important to hope for the best. Make sure a professional writer, or some facsimile thereof, is creating your site's content. Just like an ‘armchair quarterback’ on Sunday, everyone seems to be an ‘armchair copywriter.’ But unfortunately, most visitors simply hit the back button when confronted with unpalatable text.
- If you write your own content, make sure that it passes through the hands of a skilled copywriter before going online.
- Readers should benefit from content. Highlight your brand’s benefits, explain how you differ from your competition, and persuade your customers to take action.
- Use informal, active language. Forget the writing style used for term papers. You know, where boring isn't just expected - it's rewarded. Many people with excellent verbal communication skills have a writing style that's downright painful to read.
- Update your content often. It's important to both add new pages and update existing ones. If you can't afford original content, use free-reprint content.