• Rob Swystun

Understanding SEO for the New Entrepreneur

If you understand SEO and how to use it, your web pages can easily stake some prime real estate on the first page of the search results. To get one of those coveted spots, you can reverse engineer what is working for the top ranking sites so you can emulate that and join them.

Get your site to the front of the line and people will automatically trust it more and your visitors will grow. Add an effective sales funnel and your revenue will grow, too.

The good news is that you really only have to understand one fundamental rule when it comes to SEO; it’s all about having high quality content that provides value to the reader. That’s it. Now, there’s a bunch of little tricks and tweaks you can do to push your content up the rankings, but valuable-to-the-reader content is the bedrock that all SEO is built on. You simply can’t rank highly without it.

Now that you have the starting point, let’s look at the various ways you can tweak your content to get it on the first page.

Basic ranking factors for Google

While Google isn’t the only search engine around, it’s the one most SEO specialists aim to please. However, you shouldn’t ignore others like Bing, which plays a significant role in voice search.

The five most important ranking factors for your website content are:

  1. User intent

  2. Readability

  3. Length

  4. Keyword density

  5. Perceived content gap

Let’s go through them one by one to see how you can use these to climb up the search engine rankings.

1. User intent

An indirect, but incredibly important ranking factor is user behaviour on a page. Basically, you must ensure that your content satisfies the intent of the user when they visit your page. If the user’s intent is to find a specific bit of information, your page should satisfy that intent.

One way to make sure your page satisfies your users’ intentions for visiting is to research your higher ranking competitors and see what they’re writing about. If they’re ranking highly for a particular keyword, then readers must be finding value in their content.

Look at the subjects they write about, how they structure the content and how it provides information to people.

Pages that consistently remain at the top of the search rankings are fulfilling the intent of searchers, which means they’re providing valuable information in accessible ways.

A helpful way to predict the intention of people who are searching for a term is to search for it yourself and see what comes up in the results.

For example, if you search for “instagram strategy” on Google, the first page is populated by results talking about marketing tips on that social media platform. That gives you an idea of the type of content people are looking for when they search for that term.

So, to rank for “instagram strategy,” you would want to write content in a similar vein to what is ranking highly for that search term since that is obviously fulfilling searchers’ intent.

2. Readability

You’ve almost certainly seen this one before. People tend to immediately switch off and tune out when their eyes are hit with the dreaded wall of text (at least online). They -- much like you and I -- prefer to see little bits of text with breaks in between and helpful headings along the way.

Make sure your copy is in small paragraphs with headings that help guide readers through the content.

Speaking of headings, many readers will simply skim your copy, only really reading the headings, so make sure your headings are helpful, too.

Informative copy that answers readers’ questions and having readable copy will prompt visitors to stay on your webpage, which is optimal visitor behaviour for search engines. They like it when visitors spend a lot of time on your pages.

Look at the top-ranked competitors’ pages. What’s the average length of a paragraph? How many paragraphs do they have in their content? How many words, on average, do they have in their headings? All of these will tell you the best way to format your content.

3. Length

Often, the search result ranking correlates directly to the word count of your copy. The ideal word count for copy on a page is exactly 3,189 words.

Just kidding.

There actually is no such thing as ideal article or copy length. Generally, longer form content ranks higher, but that doesn’t apply to every keyword.

The ideal length of your copy for a given keyword is again determined by user intent. If it’s a complex problem and it requires a lot of words to explain it fully, then longer content will do better.

But, it varies depending on your niche and the keywords you’re trying to target. To determine how long your copy should be, we again go back to looking at your competitors. If all the pages that rank at the top of the search results have long-form content, then that should be a good indication that you will need copy of a similar length to compete with them. If they all have 4,000-ish words on a page that ranks for a given keyword, then your 1,000 word piece of content isn’t going to cut it.

4. Content Gap

What the heck is a content gap?

To put it simply, the content gap is a perceived lack of information on a page. As the search engine’s algorithms scan the various content about a subject, it will pick up on common words and phrases associated with a subject. If your content doesn’t have these words and phrases, the search engine perceives them to be missing from your content.

We once again go back to the top ranking pages to find what these missing common words and terms might be.

Find your targeted keyword on top-ranking pages and look for common topics and phrases among those pages that relate to the keyword subject. The search engine has determined these topics and phrases are commonly associated with this keyword. If you don’t have them, the algorithm detects something missing from your content.

When you find these common topics and phrases in the top-rated content, list them so you can address them in your own content and close this gap.

Let’s say that you have a piece of content that is talking about eating healthier, but you don’t use the terms “breakfast,” “lunch,” “dinner,” or “supper.” (Maybe you just substitute “meal” for all of these.) If the search engine’s algorithm consistently detects these words on the top ranking content, it’s going to associate them with content about eating healthier and it’s also going to detect that they are missing from your content, which will negatively affect your ranking.

5. Keyword density

Keyword density is probably another term you’re familiar with, even if just in passing. It’s how frequently your keywords appear in your content. Use them too many times and the search engines think you’re trying to stuff them in unnaturally and you get penalized. Use them too little and the search engines won’t recognize that you’re talking about that subject and you’ll make it harder on yourself to rank for that word.

It’s a balancing act, y’see.

Primary keyword density isn’t enough to fully optimize your content. You also need to cover common topics associated with your keywords and use the relevant common terms associated with your primary keyword that we covered in point four. Oh, and this semantic optimization also relies on density of those common terms.

(This is why business owners hire others to deal with SEO. It’s a pain in the ass.)

There are some SEO tools out there that will figure out the density of keywords and common phrases that you need. You could try to do it manually, but it would take a lot of time.

Optimizing your content

Let’s go back to content length for a minute.

We’ve already established that there is no ideal length for any given piece of content if you’re trying to target a specific keyword. It can vary tremendously.

One way that you can get a ballpark figure on what the ideal length of a piece of content would be to perform some research on the top ranked pages for that particular keyword. The search engines use the same algorithm on all the sites, so if they’re ranking those sites highly, they must have good length for their content, right?

Take the average content length of the top X results (maybe 6 or 8). You should aim for content length right around that average. (Note that Google also includes comments as primary page content.)

Keyword density

If you want to get really fancy and math-y, you can count the number of times your targeted keyword appears in the copy of the top-ranked page and then divide that by the copy length in words to get the keyword density of that page, which should be a good indicator of the density the search engine prefers.


# of times target keyword appears/word count = keyword density

Here is a simplified, fictional example using “project management app:”

If “Project management app” appeared 20 times on the top ranked webpage for that targeted keyword and it had 1,000 words on it:

20/1,000 = 0.02 or 2%.

Now you have an ideal keyword density to shoot for. You can add to that the average numbers of headings, paragraphs and even images that the top ranked competitors have so your content pages align with theirs even more.

Peripheral keywords

As we’ve established, search engines don’t just take into account your exact keywords. Their algorithms are smart enough now to also look for common words and phrases associated with your targeted keywords.

For example, if you are writing about “vegan diet plans,” associated words and phrases might be along the lines of “breakfast,” “lunch,” “dinner,” “meal,” “schedule,” “vegetables” and “protein.” If these words are found fairly regularly throughout the top rated content for your exact keyword, then the algorithms are going to expect to see them associated with that keyword in other content it ranks highly.

Obviously, you don’t just want to put these peripheral phrases and topics in for the sake of having them in there. You want to flesh out your content so it makes sense for them to be in there.

Something like this, of course, is incredibly time-consuming and isn’t really worth it to do manually, but there are good SEO tools out there that will do this kind of calculation for you.

This is why new entrepreneurs who are trying to get their sites ranked highly in search results should invest in an SEO specialist. That way, you get to concentrate on running your business while they take care of the SEO. It’s even better to hire a content creator who understands SEO so you don’t have to hire multiple people. A copywriter with an SEO background can take care of every aspect of content creation from keyword research to content creation to content optimization.

If you want your new site to rank highly, please contact me and I’d be delighted to help you with your SEO optimized content creation.

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