Did you hear the Google joke about where to hide a dead body?
Page 2 of the search engine’s natural rankings.
With 90% of search traffic sticking to page 1, it helps to know as much as we can about Google-friendly content and how to score a top ranking.
Coming in at the top of the priority list, Google wants you to know that people come first. If you read nothing else, that could be your main takeout for top-performing content (and in life, arguably) – people are important.
This means creating content that accommodates the web user and not a search algorithm. In the search world after Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird and Pigeon, Google’s algorithms and updates, Google made it clear that superb user experience needs to eclipse everything else you can throw at a search strategy.
Putting the user first means clear, useful, informative, interesting and unique content that has real purpose and impact – these are all cool places to start.
Become a natural authority in your category (where attributes like relevance, accuracy and objectivity count for a lot), help users like you and share things about you (being helpful, inspiring or funny will come in handy) and make your language easy and accessible (we call it plain English).
What else does Google-friendly content look like?
1. Mobile. With everyone accessing the world in their pockets, Google likes to buddy up to sites that translate beautifully to mobile. Technically, your content should work more for the mobile space than for the desktop, notebooks or tablets (think all the usual strongholds – succinct copy, short paragraphs, subheadings, bullet points, mobile-friendly design including iconography, fast load times and flawless rendering).
And while everyone seems to be using hamburgers for mobile navigation, always start with brilliant information architecture and sitemaps so your first priority is – you guessed it – a good user experience.
2. Keywords. A few years ago, content optimisation for search was a straightforward analytical strategy: do your keyword research, insert keyword phrases at a 4% density in a webpage of 450-600 words (the jury was out on exact word count but there was consensus within that range), and monitor the site as it landed a strong position on page 1 of Google’s natural search results within about 4 months.
Today, there’s still a place for good keyword research and use, but keyword phrases only need to feature a few times. Don’t get fancy with density. Make it ruthlessly relevant. And it still pays to feature part or all of a keyword phrase in a subheading, or to use the question a web user may search under.
Google considers long-tail content (responding to search questions that are longer in length, but lower in volume) a sign of expertise that enhances your natural authority, because you can clearly advise on detailed, specific or narrow queries, so you must be amazing, just quietly.
3. Social. If everyone else loves you, Google will love you. The search giant is very interested in your level of social amplification (how many times news and information from your site or profiles are shared through platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter).
Previously falling under the umbrella of vanity metrics, social activity like shares, clicks, likes, retweets and behavioural data (explaining what a user did at your site like filling out a web form, getting a quote or lingering on an article for a decent length of time) have become signals of quality and relevance.
Online content is now driven by the concept of “spaces, not pages”, where interaction is rewarded. Your content strategy should factor in content that’s designed to be shared, reviewed and engaged with.
4. Responsive design. We work in a multiscreen environment (consider the way someone simultaneously answers emails on a notebook, waits for data to download on their desktop, looks for a movie screening time on their tablet and parks their mobile on their desk to catch a mate’s text).
All signs point to a need for content that renders beautifully and efficiently on multiple screen sizes and web browsers. Don’t worry about old-school editorial rules like correcting orphans (a single word hanging over on a new line) because break points will change the way a page looks across different devices.
Focus instead on how to respond well to your web user’s need for information in different environments, supported by clear wayfinding queues to get people moving around your site.
5. Links. Where can you weave high-quality, useful links into your content to genuinely complement your message, making contextual sense, at times linking to news or social pages that are updated regularly and attract loads of shares and interaction in their own right?
How can you use anchor text that tells you exactly where you’re going, like this awesome tool that measures how mobile-friendly your website is? (Did you notice that? We just showed you how to link nicely with anchor text.)
How can you establish relationships with third-party sites, publishers and brands that carry authority and have them link to you, in a strong backlink strategy? (And if you want to get your head around what authority looks like, keep in mind that Wikipedia is often the only site in the world to achieve a Google authority rank of 10/10 across different search metrics).
6. Word count. Use only the number of words you need to convey adequate and accurate information. Don’t use more, thinking you need to “pad out” content to make it look decent and robust. Don’t use less than about 100 words per topic because it may be judged as thin content with the intent to spam. Say what you need to say, and move on.
Google-friendly content won’t ever change in its most essential form – just deliver the answers people want, with some of the language they’re using in their search, through top-quality content that people genuinely want to read and engage with, on a site that looks good on any device, and you and your customer should cross paths online soon.