11 Important Google Ranking Factors You Need to Know for Content Writing
One of the main goals of content writing for websites is to improve your SERPs ranking. If you want to convert readers, you first need them to click through to whatever you just wrote, and that means ranking at the top of the page. What steps can you take to improve your content and page ranking at the same time?
Brian Dean at Backlinko curates a complete list of Google Ranking Factors. There are more than 200 items on the list. Some are certain, some are debated, and some are just speculation from passionate SEO experts throughout the industry. It’s an excellent resource, though, and it comes with a free checklist if you’re getting started.
I’ve gone over the list and pulled 11 of the most important ranking factors that an SEO content writer should keep in mind. These tips cover keyword usage, readability, and content strategy — and ought to help writers and editors alike.
Let’s jump in.
Keyword Usage Tips for Content Writers
The secret to writing great website content is keyword research. Whether you’re writing a landing page or a blog post, keep your goals in mind and choose strong, relevant keywords that will strengthen your content. Pick a precise, narrow topic and hone in on that while remembering these ranking factors:
As Matt Cutts said in this video from 2011, there are diminishing returns to keyword density, and for that reason, there is no ideal percentage to shoot for. Finding a mythical sweetspot for how many times you use your keyword in a given piece of content is probably not going to have a dramatic effect on your ranking.
What keyword density will do is help Google determine what the topic of your content is. If your keyword is “siding installation,” and you write that into your content in a way that is natural, Google will know your web page is talking about home improvement. When you keep your keyword specific, your site will show up higher in more specific search results.
Front loading your keyword goes a long way to boost its relevance, both for Google and readers. The sooner you mention the keyword, the better. SEOs often tell content writers to use the keyword within the first 100 words of a page’s body.
For writers, that means our “hook” has to be shorter and more to the point. You don’t have time to set up a joke or tell a moving story before transitioning with “And that’s why we need to talk about getting your car’s oil changed.” Don’t waste time or words.
Use the Keyword in H1, H2, and H3 Tags
While we’re talking about prominence, remember to put the keyword in your title and heading tags, too. Title tags are a critical piece of the on-page SEO puzzle, and having your keyword near the front of that will have a positive effect on your ranking.
I talked about how important H2 and H3 tags are in my post about readability, so you should already be structuring your content with clear sections and transitions. Putting core keywords and related keywords in those headings can also help, though not to the same extent as the meta title and H1.
Keyword Word Order
Here’s another factor that stresses the importance of keyword research (which deserves its own discussion). The order of your keyword matters, and while supplementing your content with related phrases helps, those related words are not a substitute for the core keyword.
That means if you optimize a page for “website content writing,” you need to keep using your keyword in that order. “Content writing for websites” is a similar phrase that people search for, but you need to pick one as your focus and continue using it so Google knows what you’re targeting.
Backlinko’s study from April shows this factor is losing significance as Google moves forward with Semantic Search, but we think it’s still worth your consideration for the time being.
Remember to Write Readable Content
I’ve referred back to this post once already, but it turns out there are a number of ranking factors that directly and indirectly relate to readability. These have a lot do with what Google considers quality content, and higher quality content shows up higher in SERPs.
Grammar and Spelling
Pages that have been edited for grammar and spelling tend to show up higher in search results than those that haven’t. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Matt Cutts has more to say on the subject, but he encourages you to look at grammar and spelling less as a ranking factor and more as a means of being user friendly.
If you don’t have a dedicated editor as part of your content writing service, at least get someone else to read your work before you publish it. A second set of eyes will catch more errors than you if you’ve been staring at the same document for a long time.
Cutts also touches on reading level, a metric that Google used to let you filter search results by. It was possible to use Google to evaluate a page as having beginner, intermediate, or advanced reading level. This probably still happens behind the scenes.
For SEO purposes, content writers can use any number of reading level calculators to see how their pages stack up. If you aim for the middle of the pack, you’ll probably wind up with better results, but it’s not a sure thing. Also, some keywords and topics might naturally skew your content’s reading level upward.
Bullets and Numbered Lists
This is another way to make your content more friendly to users, similar to breaking up your text with subheadings. Bullet points and lists give readers bite-size, skimmable chunks of content to consume.
The easier a page is to read, the more likely Google is to favor it. Which might have something to do with…
Google wants you to have a responsive website to make life easier on mobile browsers, and they will even tag your site as “Mobile Friendly” in SERPs. You can test how mobile friendly your site is using this tool, but that will only help you so much.
To optimize your content for mobile devices, you need to think smaller. Smaller paragraphs, smaller sentences, smaller images. This is where those bulleted lists come in handy.
Think of how fast the average smartphone user can move their thumb from the bottom of a touchscreen to the top. If they can’t skim your content that fast and get the point, consider reworking it.
Develop a Coherent Content Strategy
The final 3 ranking factors will play into your overall content strategy. These are important when deciding what kind of content you want to write for a website, as well as how much you’re planning to write.
Word count is something that Google might use to separate stronger content from superficial chaff. The folks at serpIQ found a correlation between the number of words on a page and page rank. The more robust your content is, the more research you do, and the more topics you cover, the more authority your site stands to capture.
How does that factor into your strategy? If you’re managing your own SEO and writing all of your own content, you might find the time in a week to publish one or more beefy blog posts. If you’re part of a content-writing service and have multiple clients to write for each day, you might have to balance your workload with more medium-sized content.
Content length should also weigh on you less when you’re writing a landing page where you want to drive your point home and push someone further down your conversion funnel.
There’s a discussion at Search Engine Roundtable over whether Google distinguishes between content quality and content usefulness. The comments from Google’s Ryan Moulton are compelling, and it’s clear that content writers should try to strike a balance. In ideal circumstances, your content would be quality and useful.
Writing quality content requires execution, and you need to pay attention to the factors in the previous section. Writing useful content for your website demands that you focus on your goals.
Is your goal to educate a reader or consumer? Make sure you answer their question. Give them a basic answer first, in case that’s all they want. Then go into more detail for people who need more explanation or evidence.
Is your goal to convert a customer? Make sure you present a solution to their problem. Describe the service your company or client provides, and then make sure the next step is given prime real estate on the page.
You can spend a lot of time and energy writing otherwise strong content, but if you aren’t presenting any new information, Google might not care.
In order to thin the results of so-called affiliate websites, they look for unique content that is more valuable to consumers. Wherever possible, you should be putting your own spin on your services. Tell the reader how your company or client is different from its competition.
We see this all the time with our automotive clients who come to us with websites built by a manufacturer. You can paste the text from their “About Us” or “Service” pages into Google and return thousands of identical matches.
Your content isn’t going to show up if you don’t have something new to say, and if you can’t do anything to set yourself apart, you might have bigger problems than SEO.
The sum of these ranking factors are far greater than any of them taken individually. If you want better results, you’re going to have to give each point a fair shake and incorporate them all into your content writing process. SEO can’t be done in half measures.
There’s more on the Backlinko list to cover as well – I haven’t even covered linking practices or things you don’t want to do. Watch this space for more advice on content writing for SEO purposes.