SEO is an absolute minefield when it comes to confusing terminology and, dare we say it, jargon.
For many beginners, this can act as a bit of a wall. What on earth are these marketers talking about, and where’s the nearest exit?
However, when it comes to SEO, you can’t afford to get bogged down with your marketing strategy. Time and time again, case studies have shown the tangible positive effects that good SEO can have on your blog or online enterprise.
So, where’s the best place to start?
Now, I’m going to hedge my bets here and assume you already know a bit about online copywriting. If not, there are countless articles out there on the subject of basic SEO practice and more advanced optimisation techniques.
Therefore, we’re going to be focusing on 5 SEO hacks that directly affect two incredibly specific and important ranking signals in the eyes of Google: Dwell Time and Click Through Rate.
1. Knowing What You’re Up Against: Google’s RankBrain and the influence of UX Signals
It should be no surprise that our first hack is to know exactly what you’re up against, in terms of search engine algorithms and ranking factors. Knowledge is power, after all…
Now, it is important to remember there is no way we can cover every cloak and dagger theory regarding how Google decides who gets the top spots. We can, however, cover two incredibly important ranking factors, and how improving Dwell Time and Click Through Rate is going to boost your rankings.
Let’s start with Google RankBrain. What is it?
For the purposes of understanding how to improve your content, all you need to know about Google RankBrain is that it will try and understand your content. It does this by using artificial intelligence.
Now without getting into too much detail (others have posted amazing guides to RankBrain already), the fact that RankBrain allows Google to understand search queries Is huge in terms of how you should optimise your content.
It means that Google will not only identify your keywords (as it did in the past) but also the relevance of your content, which allows it to calculate how it believes readers will interact with your website (and therefore rank accordingly!).
In short, no more keyword jamming, readers don’t like that!
Which brings us to UX Signals…
Reading your content is only half the battle. Google then has to assess how well it has ranked all the content options availabe, and continually re-rank according to how users interact with the search results.
UX Signals are therefore incredibly important: you need users to enjoy your content, both in terms of clicking on your headlines and reading your website for long periods of time. If your content is indigestible or lacking in quality, then Google will penalise you.
It was this shift, instigated by Google RankBrain, that put the nail in the coffin of spammy articles and keyword jamming. In short, if a reader doesn’t like what they read, neither does Google.
Still with us? Good, because here’s where things get really interesting…
Let’s dive into how to please both readers and RankBrain, by optimising your content for Click Through Rates and Dwell Time.
2. Attracting Readers and clicks with the right kind of headline
Given that we’re in 2018, I think we can officially wave goodbye to the idea that clickbait headlines are a sustainable marketing strategy.
Because clickbait invariably leads to hollow content, full of spammy adverts and pop-ups. The few users who do decide to click through to the website, will quickly scroll to find their answers and leave.
However, the larger problem with clickbait headlines is that users just aren’t clicking anymore. We know a clickbait headline when we see one, and 99% of the time we avoid them.
In the absence of luring readers in with sensationalised headlines, copywriters have discovered a number of successful headline-writing techniques to increase the Click Through Rate from search engines to your content.
- Include figures and numbers in your headline: While we may not know much about the psychology behind this, numbers and title tags in headlines just work. Just take a look at the headline of the article you’re currently reading: quantifying your content can have a huge positive effect on the number of people clicking through.
- Use grammar tactically to draw attention: Ahrefs, one of the largest data gathering sights with regard to search engine rankings, suggest adding brackets and parentheses to directly influence Click Through Rate. Again, this may be psychological: it draws the eye of the internet searcher. Punctuation like ampersands, plus signs, and equals signs, are also great for shortening your headline, making your content more concise.
- Make your headline current with a date (2018): The logic behind this tip is a little clearer: make your content look as relevant as possible, and people will want to read it. Including the current year is a guaranteed method of showing your readers that you are updating your content on a regular basis.
3. Clean up your URL by making it shorter
Before we get into the research, let’s think logically about how and why shorter URLs may help Click Through Rate, and more generally, your rank in Google.
Picture the scene, you’re interviewing two candidates for a job at your company. They have exactly the same qualifications and experience. However, one candidate is dressed in joggers and a t shirt, and the other came dressed in a suit.
Even on a subconscious level, you’re going to want to go with the candidate wearing a suit.
The same logic applies to your URL. Long and messy URLs tell readers that your website isn’t as clean as it could be, so even if your content is great, they may look elsewhere. Now, this may not be the case with every reader, but you want to minimise the chance of it happening at all.
Just check out this super-detailed piece of fitness-related content I posted recently. Even though general fitness reader may not be remotely concerned with the state of your URL, the presentation of the content instils trust, which is crucial if we want a reader to commit to reading such a large article.
This logical assumption is also backed by research from Backlinko and data analyst Erin Van Buskirk, which found that shorter URLS are correlated with better rankings.
As a general guide, try and keep your URL below six words, including, if possible, your keyword.
4. Mastering your introductions to convince readers to stay on your content
So, you’ve got readers to click through to your site (Click Through Rate), and now you want them to stay there (Dwell Time).
Perhaps obviously, your primary concern should be mastering your introduction.
Without a good intro, there’s no way readers are going to commit to reading your content. To maximise the chance that readers are going to read your whole article, which in turn will improve your rankings and traffic, try improving your introductions with these easy copywriting hacks:
- Make it short: When it comes to your content (as we’ll soon discuss), length is key. However, for your introduction, the opposite is true. Welcome your reader, introduce the problem they have come to resolve, and pitch your article as the answer. In most cases, try and do this in around 150 words or fewer.
- Short paragraphs: Just like your introduction as a whole should be short, try and minimise the size of your paragraphs too. This will make your copy punchy and easy to read, especially for people skimming your copy.
- Provide Information gaps: In just a moment, I’m going to tell you what an information gap is… exactly what I just did. In truth, your whole article should be peppered with them, to keep the reader enthused throughout. However, they are particularly important in your introduction. Try and think about the primary goal of your article, and frame it as an information gap to compel your reader to stay on your site.
- Don’t state the obvious: introduce something new: If you’re writing an article about the easiest ways to eat Paleo, don’t use your introduction to describe at length what Paleo is. Your reader will already know that if they’ve searched for your article. Instead, offer a personal take: an anecdote about why you have had success with Paleo, or a success story to pique their interest.
5. Striking a balance between length and formatting
There is a reason why you see so many listicle and awards style posts online these days: regardless of length, they are easy to digest.
Here, you get the best of both worlds: you can create an amazingly in depth piece of content which may be anything up to 7,000 words long, and you can format it in a manner that will keep your reader hooked.
There are two important factors to remember here:
- When it comes to Dwell Time, longer articles are better: Obviously, if you want your reader to stay on your page for longer, a 3,000 word article is going to perform better than a 500 word one. However, there’s a catch. You can’t just write long-form content about anything and expect readers to stay. You need to offer value, new insights, and entertainment to have any success with a long-form marketing strategy.
- When it comes to long-form content, formatting is essential: Even for the most avid researcher, a wall of text measuring in at 2,000 is going to be intimidating. As such, subheadings, bullet points, infographics, and images are essential. As a rule, try and go no more that 300 words without having something break up your text. Take a look at this article (the one you’re reading, and have nearly finished!) as an example: I’ve divided into five individual pieces of advice, and within that advice used bullet point lists to make the content more easily digestible.
When you’re creating content, it’s probably best to remember to optimise for two audiences: the reader, and Google.
Of course, purist copywriters will also place more emphasis on the reader. But, contrary to popular opinion, optimising for Google does not mean that you have to sacrifice readability or enjoyment value.
Gone are the days of keyword jamming; we are now in the era of Rankbrain and ever-more discerning online audiences.
This post was written by George Aird. He is a content marketer, with specialist knowledge of social media marketing, content creation, google analytics, and SEO. He has worked in many industries, and has an extensive knowledge of start-up businesses and the fitness industry. He currently works as a content marketer for OriGym Centre of Excellence.