For publishers, success depends on two things: getting your content to rank high with search engines and convincing users to stay on your website and engage with your content. However, rather than an easy two-step process, this translates into a network of critical factors and procedures.
Why uniqueness is important
The first step in ensuring that you reach your traffic and monetization goals is to make certain that your content is unique. Search engines downgrade websites that contain duplicate or plagiarized content. Google, for instance, checks for duplicate content both within your website and outside it; once found, it makes a determination as to who is plagiarizing whom. If your version is not the original one and it closely resembles prior web content, yours will simply not rank. That is the equivalent of digital death.
How can you make sure your content is unique?
Sometimes a content writer may replicate existing content without being fully aware of it: sometimes it is a deliberate act of copying. To certify your website is unique, it is a good rule of thumb to run checks on any number of tools on the internet, either by uploading or copying the text or by providing the URL of the web page you want to check.
Included here are some of the better known and most reliable options.
- Copywritely checks, at no cost, for plagiarism, grammar, readability and keyword stuffing.
- SmallSEOtools, a WordPress plugin, runs one-click checks (within certain tier caps) straight inside your CMS.
- Unicheck is an efficient, accurate paid tool used at both an academic and enterprise level.
- Grammarly acts as both a freemium grammar and tone check service, as well as a plagiarism checker.
- Duplichecker is another free option to scan for duplicate issues either via text or URL.
How to optimize your content for Google
The way search engines rank content has changed dramatically. Nowadays, Google, for example, tries to answer searches in its SERPs without forwarding users to websites (0-click results), indexes passages in search of the best results and uses a radically different measure to rank pages.
Not word count…
Google, for instance, has repeatedly stated that the length of the text does not matter but rather the extent to which the content answers user intent. Still: don’t rush to publish 300-word articles. Long-form content signals authority and gives Google a better chance at understanding the topic and your expertise, and at identifying indexable passages. In addition, long-form content receives 77.2% more links than short articles — and links are an essential ranking factor.
In the end, balancing short- and long-form content means you need to base your content structure on another consideration altogether.
No, not keywords. With its increasingly complex algorithms, from RankBrain to BERT to MUM, Google has enormously improved its capacity to find and interpret relevant data. Instead of looking for keywords, Google deploys machine-learning algorithmic models that attempt to understand the sentiments, context, entities and user intent behind each query and content piece.
…but user intent
What do users mean when they search for something? Google tries to understand that and answer with the most relevant web pages. You can generally optimize for user intent by anticipating complex searches a user might perform (e.g., best winter running shoes women) and encorporate titles and headings that contain interrogative words (who,what, why, where) or lists (6 best, 8 most useful).
This also means that your content needs to provide simple, clear answers to commonly asked questions. Optimize for readers who are busy or lazy.
Finally, answering user intent also means avoiding dishonest practices, such as clickbait, biased reports, misdirected links and false labeling in link anchors.
How to keep users engaged
Rather the opposite.
You need to rank with search engines through the authority of your content. Then, once you have the user on your page, you have to quickly convince them to stay.
So, how do you keep your users engaged? Two words: structure and quality.
Users do not read; they scan content. Once they are convinced of the value, they may dig deeper. For that, you need to make your web pages easily scannable.
Add author profiles and bylines. Google’s E-A-T includes, among other factors, a preference for authored content with expertise in the respective subject area. Who wrote the piece and on what authority? Make it clear to both Google and your visitors.
Start with the value proposition. Make your value proposition clearly visible as early as possible: what are you offering and why should they care? In journalism, this is the inverted pyramid: the most important information is relayed first.
Use headings and short paragraphs. Break up larger chunks of text into shorter paragraphs (no longer than 200 words or 4-6 sentences). H1 and H2 are essential ways for Google — and users — to understand focus points.
Make an impact with visual media. Static and dynamic media help readers understand content more easily and help retain information. Make sure you use color palettes and contrasts that aid rather than hinder retention.
Use visual cues. Bold text, bullet-point lists, caps and indents are undervalued ways of guiding your readers’ attention. Google knows better: it considers bold text a valuable SEO cue because it signals important information.
Use structured data. For some content, this can be an important tool to help Google classify and display certain information (recipes, personal data, product info, etc.).
Quality is a ranking signal for search engines. From the quality of your technical solution (how fast your page loads) to the quality of your on-page text and media, Google is watching.
Media quality. Low-res images are a bad quality signal for both users and search engines — same as media that fails to load. Also, use free stock photos cautiously: there is a high chance many other webpages are using the same, detracting from your originality.
Text quality. Search engines rank text quality implicitly. Grammar and spelling mistakes signal low quality and can easily trigger page downgrading.
Page experience. This is not just a general notion but a set of specific ranking factors that Google has deployed for mobile since August 2021. Beginning in February-March 2022, this will also apply to desktop rankings. This set of signals includes the Core Web Vitals, HTTPS protocols, and intrusive interstitials. While not directly connected to web content, it is an essential aspect to consider when designing the content page.
Know your audience’s problem and provide the best solution
If you want your pages to rank and your users to engage, the solution is simple: know your audience, understand the searches they will perform and anticipate these queries by providing the most relevant, authoritative content.
Wrap that content in a package that is well-structured and easily scannable and make sure its value is clear from the outset. Once in the user’s hand, excellent user experience is at their fingertips.