A friend recently asked if I could recommend any good books for learning SEO principles. And despite working as an SEO specialist and consultant, I didn’t have any recommendations for him. Why?
The principles of SEO and content strategy are constantly evolving—so much so that books can be outdated by the time they’re published. And while a lot of the basics stay the same, advice that was published even a year ago may not account for recent changes in Google’s algorithms or user behavior.
For example, some of the biggest trends lately involve dwell time, depth, and snippets.
To create content with higher ROI in 2019, here’s what you need to know:
1. Make Your Content Easy to Read
Sometimes writers and business owners are offended when I tell them they need to make their content more readable. And I get it. Oftentimes, what they’ve written isn’t technically incorrect or even unclear. They feel like increasing the readability of their content means dumbing it down.
But that’s not what I’m asking for at all. In fact, well-research, well-written, in-depth pieces tend to rank highest.
Readability has a lot more to do with how you format the content on your page than how “smart” your content is. Remember, we read differently on screens than we do on paper. Especially when we’re reading from mobile devices, we tend to have a harder time reading long blocks of text and a lot of long, complex sentences.
So why is this important for content strategy in 2019? Dwell time is one of the metrics Google uses to determine how useful your site is. The longer visitors stay, the more Google can assume that the page’s information is useful.
If users jump away after a few seconds, however, this signals that your site really isn’t worth visiting. And most users don’t stick around web pages that make it hard to find the information they want.
Keeping paragraphs small, utilizing subheadings, and including bulleted lists where relevant help your reader move through your text and absorb the information with minimal effort, keeping them from jumping away to the next search result.
And don’t get too caught up in tools that promise to “objectively” measure the readability of your text. Oftentimes, these tools provide you with a grade-level for your text based on a standards that are more or less arbitrary. I’ve seen writers randomly split up a perfectly fine sentence or nix nearly all long words just to achieve a better readability score. The result is often choppy text that does feel like it’s been dumbed down.
2. Focus on Depth
These days, a lot of top-ranking pages tend to be in-depth, longform posts. Conversely, short posts that skim the surface of a topic aren’t ranking as well. Depth promises to be one of the most important SEO factors of 2019.
Sure, not every topic merits hours of research or thousands of words. But for topics that are nuanced, complex, and of high importance to your readers, aim to match or surpass the depth of the best posts you’ve seen on the topic.
So how do you define “depth”? Or, more importantly, how does Google define it? Here are some of the key factors:
Everyone defines “longform” a bit differently, but typically, a post has to have at least 2,000 words to be considered longform. If you’re hitting this length, you might be producing in-depth content already.
A word of caution here: don’t ramble just to achieve a higher word count. It won’t help your rankings, and it certainly won’t help your dwell time. Longer posts only benefit you if they feature high-quality content.
Research and Citations
If you can perform original research on a topic, take the opportunity. It increases your chances of being linked to from other sites and differentiates your post from others on the same topic.
For all other research, try to cite or link back to your sources as this signals that you’ve done your due diligence to present reliable information.
If a topic has room for multiple perspectives, try to at least offer some insight into each of them. No, this doesn’t mean you have to agree with every viewpoint. But addressing them—even if it’s just to disagree—means that you’ve considered every angle, allowing your readers to find all of the information they want in one place.
This isn’t something that Google can detect (yet), but it is a hallmark of the thorough, longform posts that rank well.
Snippets have already changed the face of mobile search engine use, and the trend will likely continue to grow in 2019.
Snippets are Google’s attempt to answer your question without making you click to another website. When Google feels confident that it can give you the information you want, it pulls the relevant information from the lucky website and features it in an excerpt above the top search results.
Snippets have caused more users, especially those on mobile devices, to forgo clicking on result links altogether. And when they do click, the sites featured in the snippet tend to steal traffic from the other top search results.
But wouldn’t writing in-depth, longform posts be completely counterintuitive if you hoped to snag a snippet spot?
Not at all. Google only uses snippets when it’s fairly confident that the featured text can thoroughly answer your question. In-depth posts are actually more likely to be featured in the coveted snippet space because they offer enough detail to fully answer your questions.
However, you do want to focus on being concise. Fortunately, this goes hand-in-hand with writing readable text. Keeping sentences clear and presenting information with as little fluff as possible makes it more likely that you’ll land a snippet.
SEO algorithms and trends may change year-to-year, but Google’s goal is always the same: find the results that help users the most.
For 2019, that means thorough, in-depth posts that are still concise, clear, and easy-to-follow.