How to write SEO friendly content in 2022
Content, in the form of articles, blog posts, white papers and so on, has always been important from an SEO perspective. But in the early days of SEO, it was far easier to write with the intention of manipulating the algorithm than it was to write high-quality content – and that’s exactly what people did. Google has spent years updating its algorithm to promote superior content, therefore the way in which articles should be written in order to rank well has evolved over time. This article aims to describe the current lay of the land with regards to content production and optimisation best practices, and provide some helpful tips.
Content production through the ages
In the early days, search engines largely worked on a simple keyword matching principle. Therefore, a website which mentioned a particular keyword the most frequently could be perceived as being the ‘best’ and could easily find itself at the top of the SERPs (search engine results page).
But of course, an article which simply mentions keyword X dozens of times doesn’t necessarily mean it is a well-researched, well-informed article which will provide benefit to the reader. To tackle this issue, and to set themselves apart from their competitors, Google used a method which classed external links pointing to a website as votes of confidence, thus promoting sites which had more links. Another method was to ‘punish’ websites seen to be ‘keyword spamming’ and trying to manipulate the algorithm, rather than producing premium content.
After this update was realised, there followed many years of content writers seeking the ideal number of keyword mentions for any given word count (for example, 20 mentions of the target term in a 500 word article).
Thankfully, search engines have now advanced far beyond this point, leading us nicely into to our next section.
The Google updates which changed the content landscape
Several Google algorithm updates aimed to reward well-written content and penalise poor quality, manipulative content.
Panda in 2011 – In Google’s own words: “This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites – sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites – sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.”
Hummingbird in 2013 – Hummingbird was the algorithm update that got the ball rolling on contextualised and individualised results, but also the first that attempted to understand natural language better. Prior to this, if Google didn’t return the results users wanted to see, they’d have to conduct increasingly specific searches. This update meant Google could understand context and intent, allowing users to search using natural language.
BERT in 2019 – Google’s intentions behind the BERT update were pretty revolutionary in the field of SEO: “These improvements are oriented around improving language understanding, particularly for more natural language/conversational queries, as BERT is able to help Search better understand the nuance and context of words in Searches and better match those queries with helpful results.
Particularly for longer, more conversational queries, or searches where prepositions like “for” and “to” matter a lot to the meaning, Search will be able to understand the context of the words in your query. You can search in a way that feels natural for you.”
What to consider when producing content
Where does all this leave content creators in 2022? It could be argued they’ve got it both easier and harder than content producers of the past. Previously, content writers would have to work hard to get the ideal number of keyword mentions into a piece while ensuring it still made sense. Now, quality trumps all, meaning content writers have to work harder than ever to write engaging, well-informed content.
And this is the crux of where content production is at in 2022 – the single best thing that can be done is to write content that people want to read. Ensure that it reads and flows well, is factually correct, cites its sources, provides useful links and presents content in the best format possible (whether that‘s through written word, image or video).
Having said that, there are ways of getting a ‘leg up’ which may help your content rank higher in the long term, and get there sooner.
Keyword research – This will always be the foundation on which to build any content task that has SEO in mind. Even if you have pre-conceived ideas of what you want to write about, it’s always worth carrying out keyword research on these subjects. You might find frequently asked questions to answer in your article, which may score you some featured snippets. You could discover terms your audience are using but you’re currently not. And, despite Google understanding natural language and context better than ever, your content will always struggle to rank for keywords if you’re not featuring them in important places and signalling relevance to Google.
Headers – Google now says it is intelligent enough to distinguish when headers aren’t used ‘correctly’, meaning it’s not totally necessary to follow the hierarchical structure of H1, H2, H3, H4 and so on. Saying that, we always see the best results when we use those headers intelligently. Why ask Google to work harder than it already has to, when you can structure your article in such a way that makes sense to the user, and sends very clear signals to Google? There’s still a lot of sense in featuring keywords, long tail keywords and frequently searched questions in the headers of your piece.
Internal links – Your content needs to have links feeding both into, and pointing out of it. Not only will links pointing to your content ensure it gets crawled quicker, the anchor text and surrounding content will help send relevancy signals. Links pointing out of your content demonstrate to Google that you’re trying to provide a good user experience, and / or are citing useful sources.
Images and videos – In 2022 people consume content in various formats. Articles featuring images and videos, properly tagged up where relevant, rank better than those that don’t. Again, this is due to the perceived improved user experience that you’re providing.
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Written by Ewan Burkinshaw
Digital marketing manager Ewan is behind all SEO strategy and works tirelessly to help clients achieve significant organic growth.