Transcript: How to Optimize Your Content Without Sacrificing Pizzaz
Hi there, and welcome to How to Optimize Your Content Without Sacrificing Pizzazz, which is geared towards content creators who are interested in learning how to write for SEO, for Google while at the same time keeping in mind that they are actually writing for an audience. This presentation was actually originally given at MegaComm 2018, but instead of just throwing this onto SlideShare, which wouldn’t make so much sense because without an actual explanation of what’s in the slides, there’s really not much to gain out of it. So, I decided, being that the original presentation was not recorded, let me just throw this together and, and provide you with an actual overview of what was discussed at the conference.
So, for those of you who don’t frequent the Rank Ranger blog and don’t regularly read my content, which of course you should, my name is Mordy Oberstein. A little bit about me, I used to be a teacher back in the day and over the years I have developed into the content manager – marketing manager that I am for Rank Ranger, which of course is a digital marketing and SEO platform where you can track your rank, etc…etc…etc…etc.
That aside and moving to the heart of the matter
You are also writing for this guy, and that’s Mr. Spock, in case you are not a Star Trek fan, and Mr. Spock has absolutely no emotions and writing for him is not fun. It’s boring and it could be slightly annoying. In case you’re wondering. I’m really talking about Google as you can tell by the massive letters that spell out the word… GOOGLE. So let’s give this a bit of a more “real” context. Your readers, those, those slightly drunk guys that I alluded to before, so they might prefer something like this out of their content. It’s spicy, interesting, it’s tangy, you might even lie to yourself and consider it healthy. While as Google, well Google may actually prefer something like this out of the content that you produce, and obviously there’s a schism between what I just showed you previously… and this piece of toast.
So, let’s actually play this out. So say you are the content guru over at Goodyear tires and Goodyear had just released a new high-quality tire, and you are charged with writing a piece of content about this new awesome tire. You sit back in your executive chair and you think, “Wow, they’re paying me the big bucks and I need to come up with a great title”
Now, let’s say you are an SEO expert and you’re going to say, “I’m not going to let a title hold my content back from showing on the SERP,” and you go with something like this: Goodyear Tires are the Best – Buy Them! Now, your audience, your actual readers, think that perhaps you are on drugs. Whereas Google, Google is right with you. The first three results all hit the Goodyear website. The first one is Best Buy tire centers tire store in Glendale. Again, Google thought we were in Glendale. It’s giving me the Goodyear tire shop in Glendale, off of the Goodyear website. The next result, the second result on the SERP, is the actual Goodyear homepage. The search result is the find the shop near me feature that’s on the Goodyear website. So this title works for Google, not so much for your audience.
I’ll give you another example, Okay. So let’s say you’re going to write a piece of content about how to do things you hate doing. Right, we all have things we hate doing and you’re going to write a piece offering tips on how to actually, you know, get through it all. And for your first tip you’re going to write, well, if you’re going to have to do something that you don’t like to do, you might as well make it fun in some ways. Sweeten it up. And that of course, reminds you of Mary Poppins – just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. So you say, “Well, I’ll head this tip about making what you’re doing interesting even though you don’t like it somehow… I’m going to head that off with Just a Spoonful of Sugar.” Now, you think you’re being creative, you think that you’re being exciting, [you think], your audience will understand it for the most part [,etc.].
But Google thinks you’re talking about Mary Poppins. So what good is that? Right, that Google thinks that your content about things you don’t want to do is really about Mary Poppins does what for you exactly? Again, I’m looking at this in a vacuum and that the only way Google is interpreting your content is via this heading. Right? Obviously, that’s not the case, but should it be so, Google will think that you’re talking about Mary Poppins and obviously that doesn’t really do anything for you.
So that’s really the problem. It’s a
So on the one hand, you create really catchy content that no one can find and what good is that? On the other hand, you have kind of bland content that people can find but no one really wants. So what do you do?
Now before [we move on], again a lot of this is for beginners, let’s get into how does Google show relevant search results to you?
So obviously it’s complicated and anybody tells you here is how it happens, or here is how it works, they’re lying to you. Whether purposefully or not purposefully or out of their ignorance, it’s not the truth. Google uses machine learning. It’s ever-growing, ever-complicated. Google themselves can’t tell you here’s exactly how it works because that’s not the nature of machine learning, right? So even Google can’t tell you exactly 100 percent how it’ll play itself out. At the same time, there are certain givens. For example, Google, still, focuses on titles and headers. Much like a reader would. If a reader got to your page, they’ll look at your title, they will look at your headers and say, “Ah, this content is about this.” Well, Google does the same thing, to a lesser extent than they may have in the past, but it’s still relevant.
So, let’s just say we’re going to write about a content strategy plan. I plugged in content strategy plan to Google and I got eight organic results. Out of those eight organic results, four of them contain the word develop in some form. Right, there’s some incarnation of develop within the title of four of the organic results showing for this keyword. Why? Well, Google thought the intent of the searcher is to develop or to create a content strategy plan. Now, when someone types this in they’re looking to create a content strategy plan. So if I’m going to write a title for this piece of content about a content strategy plan, and if I want to show up on page one of the SERP, I might want to gear that content, I might want to have a title that’s also related to developing, creating, or formulating a content marketing strategy or a content strategy plan.
Now I’m not saying that there is a causation, that doing that, having the word develop will make Google put you on page one of the SERP. I’m simply pointing out that there was a very strong correlation between content that has a title along the lines of developing a kind of strategy plan and showing up on the SERP in a top position.
What we’re going to do now is we’re going to actually go and see how do you cater to your readers. How do you create that creative flair of yours and at the same time make sure that Google understands what you’re writing so that it can show your content in the search results, so that people can find it? We’re going to talk about titles. How do you create interesting, but Google sensitive titles? How do you go about creating headers? H2s, right? At what point should I cater to my readers? At what point do I cater to Google? How do I do both at the same time? Is it possible to do both at the same time? How do I sort of balance that out? And lastly, we’re going to talk about storytelling, because what Google considers good storytelling is not synonymous, at all, or I should say to a large extent with how your readers would associate good storytelling.
Great. So for titles, let’s get into title tags. Title tags, for those of you who don’t know, you have the ability to show Google one title and to show your readers another title. The obvious benefit is you can tell Google one thing and write a title that’s suited for Google, while at the same time keeping your title on your actual page relevant and interesting for your readers. For example, in this case, the actual title that Google sees is Best Group Vacation Spots – Friends and Family. In other words, this website wanted to rank well, or wanted Google to understand, that the content that it wrote and that it posted was related to group vacation getaways. It therefore offered Google a very simple, straightforward, uncomplicated, can’t really screw it up title so that Google would understand it. However, that title is boring.
So what this website did instead was, when you actually get to their page, you see Come Together, Seven Group Getaway Ideas. Okay, so that’s their H1, obviously playing off a Beatles’ song come together, right? I’m not going to sing it because that would be harmful to your ears, but it’s catchy. It’s much, much catchier than what they showed Google. So what the site has done was [they] catered to Google [and they] catered to their audience at the same time by using the Meta title tag.
For those of you who are not technically oriented, and are strictly content creators, this title tag or the Meta title tag exists within the HTML of your page. For example, here I wrote what I thought was a very SEO oriented title, A Look Back at SEO in 2017. Now our SEO team, our SEO manager said, “Hey, you know what? Based
You might ask, by the way, “Well, my readers are going to see that boring title on the Google search page?”, and that’s fine. And the reason that’s fine is that what you expect to read on the Google results page and what you expect to read in an actual article, that’s supposed to draw your attention for an extended period of time, are two different things. So your audience, your actual readers, when they see that boring title on the search page, it’s fine. It’s not where you expect to be drawn into a deep connective feeling towards the content. It’s meant to tell you what’s there and that’s what a reader expects, it is what a user expects, so you’re okay.
By the way, just because you think, “Oh yes, and I can write whatever I want for Google in my Meta title tag, I can stuff in keywords (which you should not do anyway)…” just know by the way there is a character limit. It actually works in pixels, but we average it out in characters to make life easier and you have about 54 – 55 characters depending upon where in the world you are. Each search engine is different, but 54 as of now is the relative average, and that can change. It has changed for Meta descriptions, which is something else entirely.
Just so you know, plug for our software Rank Ranger, we will tell you how you are doing with your title, with our On-page Optimization Tool. You can see if you’ve gone over the number of characters or pixels, really pixels is the most important thing. If you’ve used a keyword properly or not properly. OK, moving on.
I’m actually going to play this out, okay? As a good teacher, I’m going to show you how it plays out with a real topic, with a real piece of content… and the content topic will be Making a Wife Happy. Which of course made my wife happy that I’m writing about this, much happier than how to lose your father-in-law in the woods in ten easy steps. Which I actually wanted to do but decided against my inclination to do so.
My title tag version might be How to Make Your Wife Happy, simple, straightforward, very hard for Google to mess that up. My H1, the page title, the one I’m showing my readers on the actual page, that might be The Making of a Happy Wife – Five Survival Tips Every Husband Needs to Know. The upshot
OK, now subheadings, H2 and H3s, H2 are more important than anything else. When do you go creative, when do you not go creative? We’ve hit a sort of fork in the road, which you can see. It’s an actual fork in the road, get it? I thought it was cute. When it comes to this I will say the most important thing I can offer you is: That main piece of content that you’re writing, that main section of content, whether it be your most important tip or the central idea of, you know, let’s go back to fifth grade and the main idea of your story… don’t mess with that. What it comes to the main idea of your content cater to Google. Offer them something that Google can understand easily, that it won’t foul up in any sort of way, [so] that it won’t be confused by what exactly you meant. Why? Well, because you want to make that connection between that topic, that main idea of your text, to your readers who are looking for that. If Google can’t understand what you’re talking about, it obviously can’t serve up your page for searches that are related to the main thing you’re talking about.
OK, so let’s again play this out a little bit. I would avoid, in our case of making the wife happy, content about how to do so, I would avoid headings like Tips so That You Don’t Miss with the Mrs. It’s cute. It’s catchy, you may get a smirk or two out of it… Google will not know what you’re talking about. I would go with Top Tips to Make Your Wife Happy. It might be a little boring for your readers. There are ways around dealing with that, but Google won’t miss that. It’s unavoidable that Google will understand that, yes, this section of your content is talking about tips to make your wife happy, and now we’re going to show your content to readers who are looking for tips to make the wife happy. Great.
There is another tip, another way to do this. Another way to create headings that both deal with Google and deal with your readers at the same time, a mix and match, having your cake and eating it too, so to speak. What you can do here is you can sort of create a header that Google can understand and that your reader will enjoy. For example, in our case, A Hug a Day Keeps Alimony Away – How to Build a Healthy Marriage. Now the hug that keeps alimony way is cute and catchy. Your readers may enjoy it, or not enjoy it. Google understands the second half – How to Build a Healthy Marriage. Now, Google may also try to show you content for keeping alimony away. Fine, Great. You know, the more often it shows up, fantastic. But they will understand How to Build a Healthy Marriage. It’s in there, Google will be able to translate that into matching user intent.
I would caution against doing this too often. Why? Well, one, it could, you could confuse Google if you’re not careful about how you do this. It will be rather easy to do that. But mostly because it’s long. I would never use this actual header. It’s too long. The attention span of the average reader is what, like, eight seconds according to Microsoft, something like that. If you have too many long headings, you’re going to lose your audience. You’re going to lose your readers and inherently speaking, these sort of headings are going to be longer because you are writing the same thing twice. So it’s going to be longer. There’s no way to avoid that unless you’re like super-hyper-creative and the topic and the heading lends itself [to doing so ], but most of the time it’s going to be longer.
My last tip for navigating the heading conundrum, catering to Google, catering to your actual readers, is to always walk off in style. What am I talking about? That last paragraph that you write, that really sort of sums up what you’ve done in the previous how many paragraphs of content that you wrote, so that’s really a literary element. Generally speaking, you aren’t really adding anything new there. You’re really writing that to give your reader a sense of closure. Of course. Right? You’re writing something that’s a literary element. So why would you go ahead and write something that’s catered to Google? The entire purpose of that paragraph is for your reader and you’re going to use a Google optimize heading there? It doesn’t make any sense. A reader sort of expects something catchy at the end. So why not just give that to them at the end. Of course, it being at the bottom of the page, it’s not as significant to Google and we’ll discuss that in a moment. Again, go ahead. That last paragraph, just go for it. Your users expect it. It’s a literary paragraph to begin with. It’s at the bottom of the page. Go for it, walk off in style.
On to storytelling, the last topic of the day. So, Google wants you to do something insane, parental suicide let’s call it, and that’s to give the kids dessert first. Any parent knows if you offer the kids dessert first there’s no way that they will eat the actual meal. My kids won’t eat it anyway, so we just give it to them at the onset because why fight with them, but if you’re a good parent you won’t do that.
Google wants you to do the same thing with your content. All of you know a good story builds up. You know, again, let’s go back to fifth grade and you have your plot, right? You have your introduction, your rising action, all these, it builds up. All of these elements in the story that slowly build suspense, no matter what you are talking about, no matter how boring the subject matter, you can build it up to some degree. And that’s how you keep reader interest, and after you’ve built that suspense you sort of offer that main thing, the main idea that you want to get at. Google doesn’t view it that way. Google has a very simple way of thinking about storytelling. If it’s on the top, it’s good, it’s important. If it’s at the bottom bad, not important (not bad, [rather] not important). And that doesn’t really bode well for your storytelling. How are you supposed to keep your user interested, and organize your content in such a way [so as to keep them interested], if you’re showing your most important thing right away and after that you’re showing all these other details about your content?
Well, let’s think about this. In our case of How to Make Your Wife Happy, if I’m not considering Google, I might start off with some stats on marriage. Let me whet your appetite. Fifty percent of all marriages in the United States end in divorce. Oh really? OK. Let me keep on reading. Did you know that if you have a happy marriage, you are more likely to have a six-figure job, right? I might bring in some research on the effects of a happy marriage. Well, so only 50 percent of actual marriages last and having a marriage that’s healthy and well balanced can lead to this?! OK, how do I do that? What should be the last thing, right? I would build up one, two, three, offer the tips on how a husband might make his wife happy.
With Google, we would kick off with a something else in mind. With Google, considering only Google, forget step one. Forget all those stats and marriage. Forget step two. Forget the significance and importance of doing so. If we’re going to consider only Google, we would just go to the tips, offering those tips on how to have a happy marriage right off the bat. Which, as I mentioned, creates a problem because now that I offered all these tips on how to make your wife happy and navigate a healthy marriage with your wife, well now what? OK, if I’m going to write a well-developed piece of content, how do I do that? I’ve already offered you the main thing, so why would you keep reading?
Here are some tips. One, remember we talked about headings before? Well, after you offer those main tips, that main piece of content, you’ve shown your hand…. here it all is… But you still have other things to say, as well you should – well, now’s a good time to offer a catchy heading, right? Don’t think about it as, how do I maintain a continuous interest in the content? Think about how do I re-engage the user, because there’s going to be a gap right? I mean they just saw the main tip. They just saw the main takeaway. How do I re-engage them? And a way to re-engage them is, as they’re scrolling down, as they’re reading your content, they see in the corner of their eye a really catchy heading. Now you’ve re-engaged them again. So that’s one way.
Two, like a good Bob Ross painting, pictures… images… they captivate us. So, as you’ve offered your main tips, your main piece of content, your main whatever – follow it up with a really cool image because again, it’s a good… cheap… but good way to re-engage the reader by having an image, a cool image, following the main takeaway that you just offered in order to re-engage the user, the reader, and have them keep reading your content.
The last way I can offer you is more natural and it might be perhaps the best way to do this, and that is to sort of captivate the audience, or continue to captivate the audience, by taking the mojo that existed in your main piece of content, your main takeaway, and now sublimating it into other subtopics. Let me show you an example of what it would mean. In our case, after I show my main content, I might write Jackpot! The Happy Marriage Wealth Connection. So, I’ve taught you all these tips on how to make your partner happy, and now I’m going to say, “Hey, you know, here’s what you can do with these tips”, right? “You can do this, you can have a better career.” Now I might bring in those career stats or those career opportunities that come with being psychologically in-tune with your relationships and sort of take that mojo, that awesomeness of the main takeaways that you offered from before, and now sublimate them into other subtopics in order to keep the user, keep the reader, engaged the entire time. So, there’s less of a break in the intrigue of the reader in this case and it more naturally flows from topic to topic, and it sort of keeps interest continuous as opposed to trying to re-engage the reader.
I just want to end up with a few points of order. These aren’t hard fast you know these are the rules – “…there are rules,” to quote The Big Lebowski. These are guidelines. Every piece of content is different and I don’t really need to tell you that. Every piece of content has its flow, its own feeling. A Google optimize heading here might totally kill the whole flow, so don’t do that. “If I don’t do this here, I have to cater for Google over here like this and it’s going to ruin everything.” So obviously don’t do that. Each piece of content is its own entity, has its own flavor, its own structure, and that’s fine. With that though, there are going to be moments where you sort of hit a wall. Where you’re not able to satisfy both Google and your audience at the same time, and during this presentation, I’ve sort of given you ways to navigate that and sort of cater to Google and cater to your readers at the same time or sort of balanced that out. But, there may be moments where you sort of hit that wall where there’s nowhere to go. There’s no room to maneuver. Either you choose Google or you choose your audience, and that will happen, that may happen. And what are you going to do in those instances?
So, if you’re asking me, which I guess you are because you’re listening to this, if faced with this cataclysmic choice between your reader or Google, I pick the reader. Again, that’s just me. For two reasons. One is, Google’s end goal is the reader, right? Google’s entire purpose is to show relevant content to users. Content that is relevant, that answers their questions. It’s substantial. It’s high quality, There’s a big quality focus over at Google, because if the content that Google is serving up is junk, well, users will go somewhere else. In theory. So, if Google’s end goal is the reader themselves and you’re faced with the choice between Google or the reader, again, all things being equal, obviously if the choice is a major Google issue and a minor reader issue, so go with the major Google issue, but all things being equal, if Google is saying the readers more important then why aren’t you?
Now from a content creation standpoint, look, your whole purpose is your reader. You’re writing for your reader, you’re not writing for Google. Google is only a means to an end. So to me, it makes absolutely no sense to write for Google, if faced with this zero-sum choice between Google and your reader. Why wouldn’t you write for your reader? And I know it’s a bit of SEO heresy, [you know] ‘you have to write for Google and everything has to be optimized’ – and I think that’s total hogwash to be honest with you. I think it’s a lot of people in the industry getting a little bit too worked up about their industry. Your readers are more important than anybody else. Your readers are the ones who are buying your product, who are using your service, who are interacting with you. The reader is everything. Google is important but again, just me, go with the reader and I don’t see why you wouldn’t.
I really want to drive home the point though that, yes, I’ve shown you a bunch of rules, and strategies, and whatnot,
So just a point of order. A pragmatic tip. So, if you’re going to write, and I really don’t have to tell you this, if you’re going to write, with Google on the mind, or too much on the mind, so your content is not going to come out the way that you would like it to. You’re going to hinder your own creativity. The content won’t have the natural flow that it might have otherwise. Again, I don’t need to tell you this, but I feel it’s important to remind you of this. And you know, there’s no harm, and is what I do personally…. just write… let it go, rip it, let it fly, write what you want. Be creative, and like any other form of editing, go back and edit for Google. Optimize it for Google after the fact, in order to keep that natural creative flow, to keep it going and make sure your content has a natural sound to it.
Because again, at the end of the day, most of the time there is a harmony between Google and the reader. And I want to highlight that because I don’t want you to walk away from this piece and say, “You know what? Google is the enemy of my content”. It is not like that at all. I am not saying that. I’m simply pointing out, actually from my personal experience, where there might be some sticky points in creating content for your audience and creating content for Google and I’m trying to help you navigate that. But I’m not saying at all that Google is the enemy of good content. Google is in fact not the enemy of good content and, for the most part, there is a certain harmony because at the end of the day, both Google and your reader want quality content, as I mentioned before.
We’ve reached the end. So thank you. Be sure to share, like, this post, this video, on social media, on YouTube, wherever. It would be much appreciated. If you have any questions, if you want to reach out to me directly I’m most accessible through Twitter @mordyoberstein. Thank you very much for listening. Be well!