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9 costly SEO writing mistakes I was making as the company's blog journalist

Simple steps to a top business blog that ranks well with readers and Google

I'm an old media hack. 
30 years of hitting deadlines and writing content for newspapers, TV and radio has served me well. 

But, business blogging is a slippery bugger.
It kills me to admit it, but after writing blog posts for more than a year, I don't know my bum from my elbow.   


9 mistakes I was making when content writing for SEO:
 
  • Writing lots about the topic but not SEO optimising.
  • Not seeing the company blog like a coral reef.
  • Leaving keywords out of titles and first 300 words.
  • Thinking “pillars” and “clusters” were things you’d find in Rome.
  • Not looking for content gaps.
  • Paying scant attention to structure.  
  • Not understanding what gets backlinks and social shares.
  • Not doing a tonne of other stuff - details follow

Now remember, I’m a trained journalist. I can get to the heart of the topic.
I’m really good at grammar, and you’ll never see a rogue apostrophe on my watch.

I’m fast and I can be amusing. In short, I’m a good professional writer.
It's a start, but it's not enough for business blogging.  



Step-by- step analysis of the 12 mistakes I’ve made when crafting articles:

#1Mistake: Writing stuff but not SEO optimising.

I can write pithy, helpful, informative stories. And, articles that ask and answer the right questions are the core of professional content writing

But Google’s algorithmic updates are key to ranking. 


According to digital experts:
  • Rankbrain, the machine learning system, is now “quality scoring” results from all organic search queries, much like its AI parent scores Adwords.    
  • It’s learning from human decisions – specifically what they click on (CTR).
  • Google's algorithms are also scoring for authority, dwell time, and engagement. 
  • Compelling coverage of the right topic with significant keyword volume is key.
  • Brand recognition helps CTR, and remarketing helps recognition.
A case study by Medium.com showed how labour-intensive writing for SEO is. It took one 3 person team 3 months to get top spot on the search engine.   

“To beat RankBrain, "OK" isn't enough. Your organic listings must have REMARKABLE click-through rates.”  Larry Kim, founder of Wordstream.com


#2 Mistake: Not seeing the blog as an interconnected ecosystem like a coral reef.

My blogs were like pretty little fish swimming in a big ocean.  

But, now I understand, we don’t want to be little fish (especially bottom feeders).   

We want to build a beautiful coral reef of a blog that visitors flock to.

Each story needs vivid colour, strength and detail, and our brand and keywords must be calcified within it.
  • Via thoughtful hyperlinks, a post must touch, and interact with, other vibrant stories on our blog, and safe expert content on other reefs.


“When you get the concept that links pass their link value on, you’ll understand that more links to a post mean more value.
Because Google deems a page that gets lots of valuable links as more important, you’ll increase the chance of that page ranking.” 
Meike Hendricks, digital marketer, Yoast.com



#3 Mistake: Leaving keywords out of titles, and first 300 words

Customers clicking on a headline alerts Google's Rankbrain
An action like this signals to its search engine bots that a human can't resist this headline.   

It's highly attractive to a bot.     

In most cases, the title (known as Heading 1 or H1) is where humans and bots expect to first find topic clarification via specific keywords.
The sub-heading (H2) too, and if not there, in the first 300 words.

Experts at Moz.com report studies that say 8 out of 10 people will read your headline. Two out of 10 will read the rest of what you wrote.  

Getting on the winner's podium of page one of organic searches is down to effort, experience, and experimentation.  

The best-performers often have keywords AND emotional trigger words

Main takeaway: a relevant title sparking a compulsion to click is ideal. 

Other key lessons from research:
  • “Never” or “Worst” (ie. negative words) outperform positive words by 59%.
  • “Introduction” and “Beginner’s Guide” do well.
  • 80-100 characters in your title is best (Source: Backlinko content study).
  • Longer headlines (14-17 words) are correlated with more social shares.
  • Eye-tracking research shows readers FIXATE on numbers.
  • A conductor study found headlines with numbers were 36% more popular.
  • Brackets like [interview] perform 38% better than without.
  • “Model the masters”: to quote Jack Daly, author and sales coach. Look at titles of blogs that rank well.
  • Experiment.
“Among our discoveries was that numerals often stop the wandering eye and attract fixations, even when they're embedded within a mass of words that users otherwise ignore.”  Jakob Nielson, UX expert.

And, an interesting thing I noticed to round off this lesson on headlines - take a look at the #1 ranked post for the query “CEO leadership”:

HE DIDN’T HAVE A COMPUTER GROWING UP. NOW HE’S CEO OF GOOGLE.

It’s ranked only #8 for search query “CEO of Google” – well below a headline that includes the words “Google’s CEO”.   
Here’s one of the top results for “CEO of Google” - CNBC’s catchy headline:

15 YEARS AGO, GOOGLE’S CEO HAD A BRILLIANT RESPONSE TO A TRICKY INTERVIEW QUESTION AND IT HELPED HIM GET HIRED.  

So clickable.

#4 Mistake: Thinking of pillars and clusters as things you’d find in Rome.

Pillars and clusters sound architectural, and that’s exactly what they are. 

Hubspot.com in 2017 began completely rebuilding the skeleton of its blog to best take advantage of new ranking algorithms.  Instead of having all the blogs in one bucket, they put them into cluster groups


Imagine a house. The pillar page is like the concrete foundations.
 
  • Pillar page = comprehensively covering the topic, but without too much detail.  So, for The Growth Faculty, a pillar page might be Thought Leadership.  

Cluster content is the scaffolding that lends its weight to that concrete foundation.
  • Cluster content = “specific, deep-dive blog posts that made up a topic cluster(Source: Hubspot).
 
  • Hyperlinks cross-reference posts to each other, building up an entire house (aka topic).  All cluster content related to the topic should link to the pillar page.

Here’s an infographic showing Hubspot’s new-look blog model: 
 
Hubspot-blog-system-infographic
Image source: Hubspot.com



#5 Mistake: Not looking for content gaps when writing blog posts


Instead of looking at what's there, look at what's NOT there.

I needed to ask What can I provide that’s unique? What are our customers looking for? What are their pain points and challenges? Common complaints? Questions? Most-used hashtags and phrases? 


I'm only going to attract readers if I identify strong keywords, and create content which matches the search queries around those words.  Where are the gaps?
  • Skyscraper from digital marketing expert Brian Dean identifies what keywords your competitors are writing from.
  • Fatrank checks if your blog’s ranking in the top 100 search results.
  • Ahrefs Site Explorer Tool finds keywords that your competitors rank for, but your website isn’t ranking for, in the top 100 results.
  • Buzzsumo lists the posts with the most social shares of your competitors.
  • Answerthepublic.com lets you type in a keyword and it will offer up questions around that topic. It gave me 40 okay suggestions around “Thought Leadership.”
  • Google’s own tools. Look at the “People Also Ask” box for suggested questions around your keyword.
Content gaps can increase link building. Find gaps in other companies’ posts, and offer them to include your info for a win-win.  
  • Eg. You see a well-ranked article on “How to Write a Business Proposal” and you’ve interviewed a thought leader on that topic - ask to contribute a paragraph for their blog in return for a link. 
  • Send articles in PDF-format or a Google doc. file with already-embedded links to affiliates and PR agencies. 

#6 Mistake: I thought about 600 words was a good length for a blog

I thought I was being naughty going well over this word count. 

Yet, our best performing blog is over 2000 words. Is it a coincidence?


Data from a comprehensive recent study by Backlinko found:
  • Longer content outperforms short blog posts.
  • Long-form content (over 3000 words) get 77% more links than those under 1000 words.
  • The sweet spot for articles appears to be 1000-2000 words, esp. for social shares.

Medium.com found:
 
  • Posts that took seven minutes to read earned the most engagement and attention.
 serpIQ.com research says:
  • Most of the top-10 Google results are between 2,032 and 2,416 words.
An analysis of 518 sites by New York Times bestselling writer, content expert Neil Patel showed websites that ranked well on Google were able to keep people around for at least 1.6 minutes if not all the way up to 5 minutes.

#7 Mistake: Paying scant attention to structure

When I write, I just go for it. I don’t plan out my blogs.

But, my analysis shows the best-ranking blogs take structure seriously. If it matters to the reader, it matters. So, plan blog structure.
  • Readers like short (50 words or less) introductions.
  • Quote from good sources and add own insights and anecdotes.
  • Break up text with headlines every couple of paragraphs.
  • One idea per paragraph & each paragraph should not exceed 6 lines.
  • Try shorter sentences; under 25 words.
  • 7 chunks of information is “magic” (Jakob Nielson, UX expert, NNGroup)
  • List posts get 200% more shares on social media than “How to” posts and infographics. (Source: Backlinko content study).


#8 Mistake: Not understanding what gets backlinks and social shares.

The Backlinko content study of over 900 million blogs found what gets backlinks (links from other people) and what gets social shares differs.
It also found that when content gets shared on social media, those shares don't result in more backlinks. 

People share and link content for different reasons

 It found: 
  • List posts are heavily shared on social media. They get 200% more shares than HOW TO posts.
  • Question headlines get 23% more social shares than those without.
  • Long headlines work for social. The headline "Shoppers are buying clothes just for the Instagram pic and then returning them" got 77.3 thousand shares.
  • B2C content gets shared but B2B not so much. 
  • Best-performing blogs for social shares shows length peaks at 1000-2000 words. 
  • Infographics and visual content, plus long-form content are better for backlinks. 
  • WHY posts and WHAT posts get 26% more backlinks compared with HOW TO and videos.
  • 20 Amazing Writing Prompts! has 200 thousand shares and zero backlinks.
  • Content longer than 3000 words gets an average 77% more referring domain links than content shorter than 100 words. 
Only 6% of the content in the sample had at least one external link.
Why are backlinks so hard?

There's simply so much content being published every day. 
A Wordpress report showed 87 million posts were published in just four weeks. 



#9 Mistake: Not doing enough of this other stuff
  • Not using & citing enough facts, studies and research.
  • Avoiding hyperlinks to to other people's blogs - scared I’d lose readers.
  • Not knowing internal links (to articles on own blog) signalled expertise to Google.
  • Leaving thinking about backlinks to SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) agencies.
  • Not optimising images to be a smaller file size for better page load speed.
  • Not using “soundbites” for readers (ie. breakout quotes) to share the best bits.


Summary findings:

Writing for SEO means fewer posts and a good plan.  I need to work on longer articles with shorter text and better structure.
Each piece of writing must contain only one aspect of our brand, considered deeply.
Every part of the blog must be questioned, including the framework underpinning it.  


Content Marketing Institute’s Joe Pulizzi, interviewed for The Growth Faculty, says in the future "more companies will look like media companies"
Competition is hotting up.


In short, I need to learn to hug the bot. 

I need to research and offer only stuff that humans feel a compulsion to read and compelled to share.
And, if I do that, I'll be feeling not just their love, but Google's love. 
And surely, that's the holy grail of a company blog writer. 






Christine Kininmonth is the presenter of The Growth Faculty's online business book club, and journalist-in-residence.
This article grew from a task given her by The Growth Faculty CEO Trent Brown as a presentation to the team on Writing for SEO.
  
To access the book club and international bestseller authors discussing their books, become a member of The Growth Faculty.
Members get the greatest discounts to live events. 

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