Content is the foundation of an effective SEO strategy. Search engines, such as Google, strive to give searchers the best possible experience. Without quality content, it’s nearly impossible to achieve high rankings.
Many factors come into play when creating optimized content. In this article, I’ll cover seven practical steps to help improve the effectiveness of your quality content in search.
1. Optimizing for the answer box
A Google answer box or snippet is a unique result that stands out from other listings on the search engine results page. It usually appears at the top of the page with a little text and a link to the site:
Google provides an answer box to help searchers find the answer to their question immediately – without having to click on the result. The text can be in a variety of formats, including lists, tables or a single paragraph.
When optimizing your content for the answer box, focus on two things: answering the questions people are asking and properly formatted lists.
Answer specific questions
First, you need to know which questions to answer. Not all search queries trigger a snippet that appears. Many answer boxes appear when search queries contain words related to the question-who, what, where, when, why and how, often at the beginning of the query.
Proper keyword research will let you know what questions your audience is asking. Once you find relevant queries, you can create your content to answer those questions.
You want to give comprehensive answers, but you also need to be concise. An ad snippet is a brief space to answer a search engine question.
To answer questions like “why” and “what,” include a summary answer at the beginning or end of your content.
Optimize list content
Lists are a popular and effective way to earn answer space.
Highlighted article snippets show a bulleted or numbered list on the results page. They’re great for “better” and “how-to” searches. With a list, searchers get a quick and clear answer.
For example, here’s a post with a bulleted list of digital marketing certificates:
A few simple structuring techniques optimized this post to appear as a snippet. Here’s how to do it:
- Use the right headlines and formatting: The H1 tag for the headline should describe what the article is about, and ideally match the target query as much as possible. Each step in the list should have an H2 tag.
- Use an HTML list element: In this case, make the list title an H2 tag and each list element an H3 tag. Wrap the list items with an HTML list element (UL).
- Use list item and named anchors: Extend the above technique by adding anchor links to each list item.
- Use a how-to scheme: A how-to scheme is a form of structured data that explicitly tells Google that your content contains a list. It also allows you to specify what the steps are.
2. Improve internal linking of important pages
Internal links play a big role in SEO and in the user experience. They establish the hierarchy of the site, help visitors navigate the site and spread link resources between your pages. Descriptive anchor text and internal links can help Google better understand what the page is about.
Internal links also help show the contextual connection between two pages. Search engines begin to understand that the first page is linked to the second page. This determines the page’s relevance.
You want to create a strategy to add contextual links to the most important pages – the pages on your site that target your main keywords. These often have the most backlinks from external sites.
Make a list of the most important pages based on your strategic priorities. Then create thematic clusters by identifying related content. You want all related content to link to the home page. This indicates that the home page is the most authoritative.
An effective way to track and manage internal links is the Google Search Console link report. It shows the total number of internal links and the most popular pages with internal links. If you implement your strategy, your most important pages will be at the top. When you click on a page, you can see a list of all the other pages linking to it.
3. Check for orphaned content
Orphaned content is a page that has no internal contextual links from your other pages. Search engines have a hard time finding orphaned content. It may be accessible through the sitemap, but it’s not available when search engines crawl the site.
As a result, orphaned pages usually don’t rank well. They are also harder for visitors to find and generally generate less interest.
You can check for orphan content with tools like Semrush or Ahrefs. If you have ownerless content, find the most appropriate pages to link to and add some links.
Further, make it part of your content creation process to add links to new posts as soon as you publish. When you publish a post, add a link to some older posts to make sure they are not orphaned.
4. Add alt text and captions to images
Optimizing images can greatly improve your SEO performance. Google considers many factors to understand an image’s subject matter and the role it plays in the content. One of the most important factors is the alt text of an image.
Alt text is a written description of an image designed to help people who can’t see the image. Google uses alt text to better understand your images and related keywords. When used properly, alt text can help your images rank in Google Images, bringing quality traffic to your site.
Here are some examples – good and bad – from Google:
Note that in the bad example images, the alt text is missing or has too many keywords in it. The best example clearly states the theme of the image, and the best example uses relevant keywords and describes the action.
Although captions don’t get as much attention, they should be included in all images. They don’t have a direct impact on SEO, but they help improve the visitor experience. And when customers spend more time on your site, it signals to Google the value of your content.
Additionally, search engines look at captions, which provides another opportunity to include targeted keywords to make the image more relevant to priority search queries.
5. Use keywords strategically
Google relies on included keywords to determine if your content is relevant to the query. The most important places to include keywords are in headlines and headings. If possible, include them in the first couple hundred words. Many SEO experts believe that Google places more importance on the beginning of content. (This makes sense, given that readers think so, too.)
Your content should have a healthy mix of primary term, secondary keywords and any related keywords. The primary keyword is the primary focus of the content. Secondary keywords are variations of primary keywords. Related keywords are terms that are contextually related to the content. For example, if you wrote a post targeting the phrase “how baseball works,” the terms “baseball glove,” “batter,” and “pitcher” would be related keywords.
6. Allow comments
Many people refuse to allow comments because they believe they provide little or no value for SEO. Others want to avoid having to moderate comments, including spam.
I don’t recommend refusing to allow comments for several reasons. First, Google employees themselves have stated that comments can have a positive impact on SEO, as shown in this tweet by Gary Illies of Google:
It makes sense. When people interact in comments, it increases average time on site, signaling to Google that they like the content and find it valuable.
If comments are included, you should take responsibility for moderating them. Avoid posting spammy or useless comments and respond to almost every comment left by your visitors.
7. Improve readability and usability
If your content is hard to read, it’s unlikely that many people will stick with it. You can avoid this by optimizing it for readability. Keep your ideas short and easy to understand. Here are some simple ways to do this:
- Use short words: Words with fewer syllables are easier to read.
- Use short sentences: Like words, long sentences are harder to read. Break up long ideas into several short sentences. There should not be more than one idea in sentences.
- Use plain language: Avoid jargon. Choose words and phrases that will be understandable to the uninitiated.
Today, there are many readability assessment programs that allow you to assess how easy your text is to read. Some of them highlight difficult places so that you can quickly improve the quality of your text.
Along with readability, you want to optimize the usability of your site. Visitors should be able to see and navigate your content clearly on any device. Use elements such as headers, images, bold text, short paragraphs and bullets.
A quick way to check the usability of your pages is to view your site’s Core Web Vitals report in Google Search Console. Each URL is given a rating: bad, needs improvement, or good for desktop and mobile.
Google also suggests steps to take to fix the problem areas. After making changes, you can ask Google to check the fixes and make sure that the problems are resolved.
Optimize for search and visitor experience
By following these seven tips, your quality content is more likely to be found by Google and clicked on by users. But it requires constant work, whether it’s moderating the comments section or adding alt-text and captions to each image, you have to be committed to it for it to bear fruit in the form of higher rankings.