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How to Make Excellent Content that People (and Google) Love

By: Joyce Chou — January 24, 2018

laptop on work desk

Looking to make excellent content that’ll bring in web traffic and increase your social shares? We’ve outlined the key steps to creating content that both users and Google love.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Why Great Content Matters
  3. Plan and Research
  4. Strengthen Your Copywriting
  5. Enhance Usability and Engagement
  6. Review and Analyze
  7. Wrap-Up

Introduction

SEO experts are quick to tell their followers that the secret to high page rankings and endless web traffic is great content.

Here’s the funny thing, though:

Not many actually share how to make great content.

It figures — after all, there is no magic bullet for producing quality content.

Simply put, making great content is hard and takes time.

While no easy recipe for success exists, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide for designing and creating effective content.

Keep reading to get started.

Why Great Content Matters

Laptop in office workspace

Ready to get started on creating content? First, find out why quality content matters.

Before we dive into the nitty-gritty details, here’s a quick lesson (or refresher) on why producing excellent content matters and what makes content “good.”

Google strives to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

In other words, Google wants to produce the best results for users’ search queries.

This means great content will rank, or be positioned, higher on search engine results pages (SERPs). The higher the page ranking, the more users see a page, thereby driving web traffic.

The desire for greater traffic and a higher rank is ultimately why the field of search engine optimization (SEO) exists. SEO strategies focus on increasing traffic by affecting web page visibility on SERPs, a major component of which includes producing quality content.

But what exactly is quality content?

According to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, quality content:

Google also goes on to list major content don’ts, including pages with little or no original content, hidden text or links, and malware-ridden pages.

You’ll notice that these guidelines generally outline what not to do, making it difficult to actually distinguish good from great, and great from excellent.

While this leaves marketers in the dark about what makes the best content the best, these guidelines are crucial to understanding what search engines like Google prioritize when crawling the web. (Crawling refers to the process of exploring webpages to find data that matches user search queries.)

Though these guidelines don’t paint a clear picture of what makes content great, they provide a basis for what it generally looks like.

So, here’s how to really think about quality content.

Just imagine the kind of content you’d want to bookmark for later or share with your friends.

You certainly wouldn’t bookmark or share something that’s poorly written, hard to read, or provides useless or unoriginal information.

Most likely, a page is worth saving for later or passing along because you find it helpful and interesting. Entertaining, even.

That’s quality content.

Generally speaking, it’s original, informative, and well-designed.

And in this guide, we’ll dive into how to create just that — quality content that people and Google love.

Why not just copy great, preexisting content?

Google specifically warns against duplicating content to manipulate search engines.

This deceptive practice creates repeat appearances of the same content in search results. Since this negatively impacts user experience, Google may remove duplicate pages from its index.

(Note that this specifically applies to duplicating content maliciously, or for the sake of manipulating page rankings. Unintentionally created duplicate content will unlikely be penalized.)

Big Tip
If you find that someone has copied your content, you can file a request under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to get it removed.

In addition, you should avoid producing “thin” content that contributes little or no value to a reader. That means pages that are poorly written, make little sense, or that exist only for the sake of linking elsewhere. Like malicious duplicate content, thin content is grounds for the removal or deranking of a website.

Plan and Research

Now that you’ve got an idea of why quality matters, it’s time to take the first steps of content creation: planning and research.

Determine your marketing goals

An effective SEO content strategy requires clearly defined goals. Ask yourself questions such as:

The more specific your answers, the better, as these will help shape finer details such as your work’s length and tone.

Big Tip
Pay special attention to the “who” — understanding the demographics of your audience and its needs and preferences will go a long way. For instance, a page catering to female millennials should look different from a page for female retirees even if they’re about the same topic.

Got your marketing objectives down? It’s time to do research for your content, which brings us to our next point…

Do keyword research

Keyword research is integral to SEO content because it establishes a framework for your piece, reveals how most users search for keywords related to your business, and shows what Google provides those users in response.

Specifically, doing keyword research sheds light on three critical pieces of information:

There’s a whole world of keyword research tools out there, but for the best results, we recommend SEMrush, Google’s AdWords Keywords Planner, Answer The Public, and LSI Graph/LSI Keyword Generator.

SEMrush (starting at $99.95/mo)

SEMrush is an online marketer’s best friend. In fact, it was recognized as the “Best SEO Software Suite” in the US, UK, and EU Search Awards in 2017.

It’s no wonder why — for any given keyword, SEMrush provides comprehensive analytics abouts its top ranking websites, monthly search volume, and related keywords.

Check out our sample search for “cryptocurrency” below.

You can even conveniently export data from SEMrush to your computer.

SEMrush’s analytics indicate that “cryptocurrency” has a monthly search volume of 8,100 while also revealing low-volume phrase match keywords like “cryptocurrency news” and “cryptocurrencies” — the perfect targets of a long-tail SEO strategy. The report also shows the top ranking organic search results for a keyword, helpful for studying your competition.

Besides its use in keyword research, SEMrush comes in handy for understanding web traffic, ad history, and backlink data. Though it may be hard to navigate for the novice web marketer, SEMrush’s extensive data makes it the perfect launchpad for building an effective SEO strategy.

Google’s AdWords Keyword Planner (free)

Google also offers a free handy tool for keyword research: the AdWords Keyword Planner.

It can be a little difficult to access without creating an AdWords campaign, but rest assured that it’s possible.

Google Adwords Keywords setup

Be sure to skip the tool’s guided setup in order to access the Keyword Planner.

Once you’re in, you can identify new keywords to target, find trends in search volume, and multiply keyword lists for new combinations.

Google AdWords Keyword Planner landing page

Keyword Planner’s three tools are helpful for not only generating search volume data but also brainstorming new keyword ideas.

The Keyword Planner’s extensive search volume statistics include average monthly search volume, an assessment of competition level, and a suggested bid for your keyword against online ad competitors. This information is especially helpful for gauging how intense the competition is for a particular keyword or phrase.

Google Adwords Keywords Planner sample results page

Compare search volume data and competition across multiple keywords at once with Keyword Planner.

A word of caution: Keyword Planner’s average monthly searches appear as deceptively large ranges. You can access exact search volume data only if you’re running an active campaign.

Answer The Public (free)

Ever take a look at Google’s autocomplete results while typing in your own query?

The results are occasionally entertaining, but more importantly, they’re informative. These search predictions are based on the very text you’re typing, the relevance of your past searches, and recent trending topics.

Google autosuggest example

You can find out what topics are most commonly searched for by using Google’s autocomplete results. If you want even more information, like how keyword searches have fluctuated over time, take a look at Google Trends.

This is where Answer The Public steps in. By analyzing search query data from auto suggest results, this tool reveals the most common questions and phrases related to a target keyword.

Just take a look at our sample search for “self-driving cars.”

Answer the Public and sample results for self-driving cars

Answer The Public organizes its results both visually and in table form, making it easy to share for brainstorming sessions.

Answer the Public and sample table results for self-driving cars

The tool’s comprehensive data gives content creators an idea of what exactly users are searching for.

This wealth of data provides insight on trending topics and specific things users want to know about a given keyword — for instance, in our sample query, “what are self driving cars” and “self driving cars and ethics.” Though it doesn’t provide keyword volume figures, Answer The Public can help ensure that you answer all the questions users have about your topic, which improves the quality of your piece.

LSI Graph / LSI Keyword Generator (free)

Web pages can rank for hundreds of keywords that are closely related, and these words that are related to the main keyword users search for are called Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) keywords.

LSI keywords are important because they provide search engines with page context, clarifying what exactly your content is about. In fact, Google has confirmed that including more typically helps pages rank higher. This is because LSI keywords help Google distinguish between a page about Lion, the 2016 Oscar-nominated film, from a page about lions, the cat species commonly found in Africa.

With the handy LSI Graph/LSI Keyword Generator, you can identify LSI keywords for your target keyword. It’s neither possible nor ideal to include all of them in your page, but including relevant LSI keywords can help it rank better.

LSI Keyword Generator and sample "lion" search query

You should only include the LSI keywords relevant to your specific topic, i.e., “felis genus” for a page about lions, the mammals. Including “Giants vs. Lions” would be appropriate for a page about the Detroit Lions of the NFL.

Aim for novelty

As you conduct research for your target keyword(s), you’ll likely notice how saturated the competition is. After all, the world wide web is full of content, so it’s doubtless that your chosen topic has been written about time and time again.

To make your content stick, find a different angle to approach it from.

For example, you could:

Alternatively, consider narrowing your subject matter. The broader the topic, the harder it is to find a unique spin. Niche fields are less saturated, leaving more room for novelty.

Regardless of how niche your topic is, though, you should give some thought to the level of depth you want in your content.

Have you noticed any major holes in your competition’s work? Do some market research and find where you can beat them. However, beware that in order to produce more detailed, novel material, you’ll probably have to conduct larger research projects and surveys yourself.

Check out what achieving different levels of depth in your content might entail in the table below.

Difficulty of Research Required to Achieve Content Depth

Easy & Low Depth

Medium & Average Depth

  • Interviews
  • Small-scale surveys
Hard & High Depth

  • Large-scale surveys
  • Data/Research Projects
Big Tip
Just because some types of research are easier doesn’t necessarily mean that the content is weak. If you’re the first person to nicely organize and synthesize existing ideas, it’s still great content.

It’s all in the name

As you plan your content, come up with a catchy title tag for your work.

A title tag is the HTML element that tells users and search engines what a web page is about.

The best title tags help increase your content’s click-through rate, which measures how many users actually click on your page in search results.

You can create a title with a high click-through rate in two different ways: SEO-centric and social-centric titling.

SEO-centric

Taking an SEO-centric approach means including your target keyword and any other relevant words in your title tag.

Specifically, you should aim to get keywords toward the beginning of your title.

Having your keywords early on in your title tag means search engines will recognize it earlier, giving your content more potential to rank higher on SERPs. Just remember to do this in a natural way — after all, your page is meant for a human audience.

With that in mind, you should also avoid stuffing your target keyword across one or multiple page titles, especially if it’s irrelevant. Your title should ultimately be descriptive but concise.

Check out these examples of SEO-centric titles:

As you can see, SEO-centric titles are simple and to the point.

Social-centric

Social-centric title tags, on the other hand, require thinking a little more outside of the box.

They’re designed with the intent to entice users to visit a page, otherwise known as clickbait. Unlike the more conventionally named SEO-centric titles, social-centric ones incite curiosity and promote sharing across social platforms.

For examples of eye-grabbing titles, take a look at BuzzFeed’s articles:

Of course, BuzzFeed’s content is titled in such a way to appeal to its target demographic — you wouldn’t see publications like The Wall Street Journal and The Economist using similar ones. Thus, you’ll need to choose an appropriate tone for your own social-centric title, one that matches the nature of your content and appeals to your specific audience.

Once you’re done planning and researching your piece, get ready to move on to actually creating content.

This begins with strong copywriting.

Strengthen Your Copywriting

girl writing by laptop

Copywriting is content written for marketing and advertising.

The quality of your copywriting can make or break your content.

Think of it like this:

Copywriting is the voice that delivers your message.

Is it interesting and exciting? Or dry and uninspiring?

There’s no question which leaves a better impression. To enhance your web copy, follow these tips.

Create a good hook

Just like a catchy title, it’s important to develop a powerful first sentence to draw readers in. Consider some of the world’s literary greats and their alluring first sentences:

Notice how these authors create intrigue by making readers wonder what they’re writing about?

Literary writing is certainly different from web writing, but the idea of leaving readers hanging is the same. Consider using one of these openers to get your readers’ attention:

Take a look at these intriguing first-liners from around the web for example:

Cut the clutter

Writing effective copy for the web requires writing clearly and concisely. Forget long-winded narrative writing from the days of yore — online copy should be succinct.

If a word or phrase doesn’t meaningfully contribute to your work, nix it. Think quality over quantity when it comes to word count; you’ll lose reader interest with sentences that are longer than they need to be.

On a similar note, use industry-specific jargon wisely. Some experts recommend avoiding it altogether, as it may confuse readers and narrow your potential visitor pool. However, there’s good reason to use it as well — particularly in establishing your familiarity and credibility with a topic. Just make sure that if you’re using it, you’re also explaining it.

When writing for broader audiences though, stick to simple vocabulary. Easy readability makes for easy comprehension, and studies show that most American adults read at or below an 8th-grade reading level.

Big Tip
To see if your content’s language level matches your audience, try running it through Readable.

Give actionable advice

Excellent content provides users with practical tips they can use after reading.

Unfortunately, many marketers produce content that lacks concrete, actionable takeaways. For instance, SEO experts often recommend creating “good content” to get more web traffic — yet they rarely share insight on what good content is and how to produce it.

To make your content more actionable:

Pages that are vague and lack actionable advice don’t resonate with users and may encourage them to look elsewhere. Conversely, readers who come away from your work with practical takeaways will see its value and may recommend it to others.

Make it engaging

Cutting the clutter doesn’t mean your writing has to be boring and prosaic.

Even topics typically regarded as dull can be written about in a way that’s engaging.

Engaging writing will increase time on site — the amount of time visitors spend perusing your website. Though Google never explicitly identified time on site as a major factor in determining page rankings, Moz’s research found a slight relationship between time on site and ranking.

Similar to how a catchy hook draws readers in, you can sustain reader interest by using the popular copywriting technique, bucket brigades.

Bucket brigades are words and phrases that captivate reader interest and smoothly transition readers between sentences. Try inserting a few throughout your content:

But wait — there’s more. It gets better. Think about it.
Here’s the kicker. That’s only part of the story, though. You might be wondering…

Don’t forget to proofread

It’s a simple tip that’s often overlooked.

Get another set of eyes on your content to catch any typos you may have missed. Unsurprisingly, spelling and grammatical mistakes damage your website’s reputation and affect consumers’ trust. Visitors that spot typos on a page are more likely to bounce (or leave without any other page interaction), which will hurt your SEO.

If it’s not possible to enlist a proofreading service, take a break from your content and review it at a later time for errors. Content free of typos looks polished and adds to your website’s credibility and professionalism.

Enhance Usability and Engagement

Excellent content is defined not only by quality copywriting but by page usability and user engagement.

The concepts are closely related: usability refers to the level of ease with which visitors can navigate and use a web page while user engagement refers to how visitors interact with page content.

Both are critical to attracting users and sustaining their time on site.

Pay attention to page organization

Did you know that users spend 80% of their time looking at the content at the top of a page?

Consequently, it’s crucial to organize your content in such a way that draws the user in and keeps them there.

Specifically, put your most important information above the fold, the block of space users see immediately after entering a page. This should include your content’s title, company name, target keywords, navigation menu, and any copy or media you deem most necessary to be immediately visible to users.

Additionally, try using some of the following page organization strategies:

Create a table of contents

For long pieces of content that answer the questions of many different user personas, a table of contents is key to helping readers immediately find the section they care about. Otherwise, users may be intimidated by a page’s length, and bounce from it.

Big Tip
Wikipedia is a great example of a website that uses tables of contents to great SEO effect. Check out their table of contents page, which has a table of contents, and also ranks #1 for the keyword “table of contents.” Meta enough for you yet?

Use subheadings generously

Don’t be shy with your subheadings — they make your text more readable and boost your content SEO.

This is because subheadings separate content into easily digestible sections, making a lengthy piece more skimmable for readers. Since subheadings are larger and oftentimes bolded, they stand out to readers and give them a bird’s-eye view of what your content is about.

Moreover, including keywords in subheadings (formatted in h2 through h6 tags) tells search engines what your content is about. Although it may not be the largest ranking factor, Google’s algorithm uses subheading information to understand page structure.

Insert related content

Got related content users might like?

Don’t forget to add a section linking to related pages, and position it where appropriate, e.g., in a sidebar or at the end of a post. This helps keep users on your website and consequently, reduces bounce rate.

The Balance example of showing related content

The Balance includes links to related content at the end of each of its articles.

Link to your references

Websites without references offer little in terms of reliability.

You can build credibility and expertise by linking directly to your sources, even if it means linking to your competitors. Including backlinks (outbound links leading to another website) benefits your content’s SEO by positively adding to search engine algorithms and creating linking karma.

If you can link internally to other pages on your own website, that’s great. An internal linking strategy not only facilitates navigation around your site; it also builds page authority and ranking power.

If you can’t link internally, don’t worry. As a content creator, your goal is to make your content better than your competitors’ — and link hoarding, or linking only internally, won’t accomplish that.

When choosing resources to link to, look for trustworthy websites. This means websites from established institutions (e.g., universities, government offices) and companies with demonstrated expertise. Be wary of linking to online forums and commercial websites with biased content.

Big Tip
Consider using MozTrust to evaluate website trustworthiness. Its algorithm identifies the amount of websites that link to a domain, a good indicator of a website’s credibility.

Incorporate multimedia

Effective content does not only appear as text.

In fact, building content made solely of text will likely turn visitors away. As Brian Dean’s study of 1 million search results shows, having at least one image makes pages rank higher.

It’s not just images, though. Including a wide variety of multimedia makes content more visually pleasing and interactive while also enhancing branding.

Multimedia includes:

Big Tip
Incorporating multimedia should be treated like text and done with good judgment. In other words, multimedia should also be optimized as part of a strong SEO content strategy. Avoid low-resolution media that is inappropriate or irrelevant to your page’s content.

Add a Comment Section

Did you know that user-generated content can also contribute to your SEO strategy? Specifically, comments.

Including a comment section not only makes your page more interactive but also increases the amount of related words on it — so long as the comments are relevant. In fact, it’s even possible for search engines to pull snippets from comments for results pages.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you should display spammy comments for the sake of having comments. Filter for those that meaningfully contribute to your page or incite discussion. For instance, comments with questions present the perfect opportunity for you to respond with clarifying details and include other relevant keywords.

Big Tip
If you’re hoping to add more SEO keywords to a page through user-generated content, like comments, beware of using popular software like Disqus. The way it’s coded makes it impossible for Google to crawl and index the content.

Review and Analyze

Phone screen with Google Analytics

Optimizing your content according to site analytics can do wonders for its performance on SERPs.

Making excellent content doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, it can take years before you hit a homerun.

With that in mind, it’s important to track your site’s performance over time to understand its successes and failures. From there, you can create new content accordingly.

Review page analytics

A variety of online analytic tools are available for free or monthly/yearly subscriptions. To get the most comprehensive data reports, we recommend Google Analytics and Clicky.

Google Analytics

As the most popular web analytics tool, Google Analytics provides a comprehensive host of data, such as visitor demographics, page views, and the types of device used to access your site. With a wealth of information at your fingertips, it’s especially helpful for tracking your page’s bounce rate and average session duration.

Bounce rate and average session duration are key pieces of information for understanding whether page visitors are engaged.

Bounce Rate

This refers to the rate at which users visit a page but don’t interact with it further, e.g., clicking on a menu item or an internal link. A high bounce rate indicates a large amount of single-page visitors, which may be a sign of poor engagement or low quality. While this is not always the case, bounce rate is a good way to assess whether or not a page needs further attention and optimization. According to the creative agency RocketFuel, an above-average bounce rate is between 26 and 40%.

Average Session Duration

Google Analytics defines a session as the group of interactions with a website in a specified time frame. Average session duration thus describes the average amount of time users spend on a website. Like bounce rate, this metric may be a sign of how engaging your content is. However, you should take this figure with a grain of salt, as average session duration can easily be skewed by external factors you have no control over — for instance, someone who steps out for a lunch break while in the middle of browsing your website.

Clicky

Clicky prides itself on providing real-time stats in all of its reports, which include live views of traffic and video player tracking. However, Clicky’s most defining feature is its heatmap function.

Clicky heatmap

With Clicky’s heatmap tool, you can find out which links users click most. [Photo credit: Clicky]

This feature reveals which links are most popular on a page, helping you gauge how effective certain strands of anchor text are in enticing visitors to click.

You can use this information as Lewis Ogden from Cloud Income did to identify a sub-niche. Moving a relevant link further up his page resulted in driving significantly more traffic to Ogden’s website; additionally, it inspired him to develop more related content.

Revamp and update pages

Along the same lines, use page analytics to adapt old content to new information and industry trends. Of course, this applies only to evergreen content, as these posts can be reused over and over again.

If you’ve noticed a steady decrease in pageviews, set aside time to do some investigative research and make any necessary changes to your content. This includes fixing broken links, rewriting article titles, and adding internal links to related posts. Perhaps a new product or buzzword has emerged — consider incorporating this information to make your old content more relevant.

Even major news companies like Vox rework their preexisting content; check out their case study of how updating old evergreen articles brought in over 500,000 readers.

Wrap-Up

It’s a long road to creating high quality and well-ranked SEO content — one that requires a large investment of both time and effort.

The wonderful thing about web content, though, is that it’s not permanent. In other words, you can edit and optimize your content again and again after publishing it, whether for better or worse.

Content experts, got any more advice you want to add? Leave a comment if you think our guide is missing anything.

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