Tag Archives: search engine rankings

Google’s Featured Snippets: How to rank at #1 with strategic content writing


I was checking the rankings of my blog posts that I have recently published and I suddenly found one of my links in Google’s Featured Snippets box. Here is the screenshot


What Are Google’s Featured Snippets?

Nobody knows exactly how Google decides to feature a particular piece of content in its “featured snippets” box, but you must have noticed that sometimes when you do a search on Google, one of the links appears at the top with highlighted paragraph, or some portion of the web page or blog post, along with the link.

Some call it ranking #0 because the link that is featured in Google’s Featured Snippets box appears even before the first link on the search results page. But many would be scared with #0 so, in my title I have used #1.

As you can see in the image above, the Google’s Featured Snippets box appears at the top, within the highlighted box, and a description almost as long as a paragraph.

It isn’t always a paragraph that is featured in the snippets area. Even if you represent the information in bullet points, it can appear over there. See for example, this one…

another example of Google snippets

How does Google pick a particular link for the Featured Snippets box?

As I have written above, it is unclear how Google decides which link to feature in the snippets area. Many SEO experts and content marketers have tried to figure out but there is no algorithmic logic to it. Google seems to be picking the information randomly.

Here is a very extensive blog post on how to optimize your content so that it can feature in Google’s Featured Snippets box [HubSpot link].

The author says that whether you get featured in the snippets box or not doesn’t depend on the SEO quality of your link. Your link may not even appear on the first page of search results and still appear in the snippets box.

Of course, it doesn’t mean that even if you throw all SEO benchmarks out the window you are still going to feature in the snippets box. No, that won’t happen. Your content must be of good quality and it must give some indication to Google that it deserves to be featured in the snippets box. Read What is quality content and how does Google recognize it?

Is focusing on the Google Featured Snippets box good for your SEO?

People are sometimes worried that featuring in the Google Featured Snippets box deters people from clicking the link because what they are looking for is given in the box itself. Since they have found a solution to their problem, there is no reason for them to click the link.

The author of the above HubSpot link says:

From a sample of just under 5,000 queries, I found that the CTR to the HubSpot website for high volume keywords increased by over 114%, even when we ranked #1

What he means to say is that even when their link was already appearing at #1 there CTR increased by over 114% once the link started appearing in the Featured Snippets box.

Even I feel that this should actually increase traffic to your website because one, people who know how important search engine rankings are, are quite impressed that you are bang there in front of them, at the top, even above the link at #1, and two, they want more information. A single paragraph may provide a concise view of the solution they are looking for. They can only find a detailed description when they visit the link. Most do.

Here is a Moz link that demonstrates that traffic to your website actually increases if your link features in that box.

How to write content for #1 ranking by Google’s Featured Snippets?

As I have mentioned in this blog post titled 20 Evergreen Characteristics of Quality Content, focus on quality.

Provide to people what they are looking for. Don’t mislead them. Don’t create titles and headlines in such a manner that people are tricked into visiting your website and then when they come there, they are disappointed.

In fact, due to the “Search Task Accomplishment” factor, web pages and blog posts that don’t provide straightforward answers to people’s questions will start ranking lower even when they are decently optimized and even when they have quality back links. It matters what you are providing.

In order to be able to feature in Google’s Featured Snippets box, it has been observed that

  1. Try to create a question out of the main expression and put that question within the <h1> or <h2> tags.
  2. Try to enclose the main quarry by the user in the above tags.
  3. Just beneath the question, provide an answer. Try to provide the answer within 50-60 words.
  4. Use the language as if you are providing an answer to a question. Your answer should follow the question naturally.
  5. For question-oriented keywords, Google prefers bullet points but if you are searching for something like “content writing services”, Google prefers to pick a paragraph.

Focus on answering questions when writing content keeping Featured Snippets in mind. Ask a question, and then immediately provide an answer, preferably in 50-60 words.

Does this guarantee that your link will appear in the Featured Snippets box? No.

It is quite random.

Then how can you get your link featured in this coveted section?

Create lots of content. Create many webpages and blog posts providing high-quality content.

You have to establish your authority. Many of your links should already be ranking well before Google begins to notice useful chunks of information on your web pages and blog posts. You cannot suddenly start publishing blog posts and then expect that your links will be featured in the snippets section.

Follow the pattern. Follow the SEO format that includes

  1. Use the main search term or the keyword at least once within <h1>, <h2> and <h3> tags.
  2. Write shorter paragraphs under the headings and try to provide as complete an answer as possible to the main quarry within 40-60 words in a paragraph.
  3. Use bullet points wherever possible to present stepwise information.

I would like to stress again that there is no set formula for appearing in Google’s Featured Snippet box. All you can do is, keep publishing great content.

10 content writing best practices to improve your search engine rankings

10 Content Writing Best Practices To Improve Your Search Engine Rankings

Irrespective of what the latest wisdom says about writing content to improve your search engine rankings, there are some fundamentals that have not changed, although how those fundamentals are implemented is a different story. Content writing best practices for SEO use some of the same rules that were being used in the mid-2000s and no matter what SEO experts and evolved content marketers say, the way you use your keywords still matters. Maybe it doesn’t matter the way it used to matter 5-6 years ago but you should definitely know how to use them to rank well for those keywords.

Why should you worry about keyword-related SEO while writing content?

Yes, I know that you are constantly advised to just worry about relevancy and quality and if you take care of these traits, you automatically get better search engine rankings. This is not bad advice and you should definitely follow it. There is no use writing content if it is of inferior quality. I am a content writer and through my content writing services I help my clients sell more, so I understand the importance of quality and relevance.

Still, one should know how to strategically use the keywords while writing content in order to improve search engine rankings because eventually, it is the keywords that are evaluated. Yes, these days aimlessly stuffing your keywords is not a part of the content writing best practices, but you should definitely know how to use them enough times.

Why you should worry about keyword-related SEO while writing content and why it is an integral part of best practices is because people still use keywords. When you search for products and services, you use words, and these words are called keywords. Yes, they can be primary keywords, secondary keywords, or even longtail keywords, whatever you call them, they are keywords. If you search for “content writer for my legal services” you are not going to get results on “interior decorator for my office”. The keywords “content writer” and “legal services” definitely matter here. So yes, you cannot create content without your keywords.

Does using synonyms and related words while writing content matter for your SEO?

Yes they do. These days search engine algorithms also factor in other meanings of the same word. If I optimize my webpage for “webpage content writer” and if I rank well, I will also rank well for “web content writer”, “website content writer” and even “website copywriter” for that matter. In order to avoid getting penalized for keyword-stuffing, you should use a healthy dose of synonyms of your main keywords.

Best content writing practices to improve your SEO

Listed below are the 10 content writing best practices that can help you improve your search engine rankings.

  1. Use your primary and secondary keywords while writing your content: As explained above, since people use keywords, you should also use them. Without using your keywords, you cannot tell the search engine algorithms for which search terms your web page or blog post must show up in the search engine result pages. Don’t try to use lots of keywords on the same page or blog post. Just keep one, two or three keywords in mind while writing your content in order to improve your search engine rankings.
  2. Don’t go overboard with using your primary and secondary keywords: Going overboard with the use of your keywords may get you penalized and instead of improving your search engine rankings, you may end up worsening things up. A good rule of thumb would be, use your keyword in the beginning, preferably in the first sentence. If you have multiple keywords, then after you have used the first keyword in the first sentence, you can use your second keyword also somewhere in the same paragraph. After that, use your keywords every 150-200 words, although this is not necessary. But don’t use them more than that – don’t use them after every 50-60 words. Most importantly, there should be a need to use your keywords. Don’t use them purposelessly as this defeats the purpose the best content writing practices.
  3. Use your primary and secondary keywords in the title and description of the page: Using your primary and secondary keywords in the title and the description of the web page is very important. Although descriptions don’t affect your search engine rankings, they do make an impact on the number of people clicking on your link from the search engine result pages and it has been observed that if the descriptions carry the keywords that have just been used, people are more prone to clicking the links. Your keywords in the title of the page have a direct bearing on the rankings of that page so pay close attention to that. Your title has to be compelling and it also needs to be optimized. Again, when people see the keywords they have just used in the title (and the title appears as a hyperlink) they are more inclined to click it.
  4. Use your primary and secondary keywords along with their synonyms in the headlines and sub-headlines: Headlines and sub-headlines are great places to use your primary and secondary keywords because they are definitely taken into consideration while evaluating your page for those particular keywords. It also helps you organize your content under various sections.
  5. Link to other webpages under your domain and include full URLs: Whereas linking to other webpages on your website may not have direct bearing on your search engine rankings, it definitely helps the search engine crawlers reach pages that are not directly accessible from the main navigation or the pages that haven’t been included in the site map. Also if you use your keywords in the hyperlinks that link to those pages it helps your SEO.
  6. Never lose focus on relevancy, value and engagement: Yes, focusing on your keywords doesn’t mean that you pay less attention to the quality of your content. In fact, first focus on the quality and when you are sure that your content is of high class, then start brainstorming on how to incorporate your keywords. Although keywords matter, they don’t matter more than the quality and relevance of your content.
  7. Create blog posts and articles that go beyond 1000 words: Longer blog posts and articles are preferred by the search engines over shorter ones. Shorter articles are normally used by spammers. If you are creating longer, information-rich articles and blog posts, it means you are putting in effort and hence, you must be a genuine content producer or content writer.
  8. Make your content easily scannable: This means organizing your content under various headlines, sub-headlines and bulleted points. A person who goes through your headlines, sub-headlines and bulleted points should be easily able to get the gist of whatever you have tried to communicate on that particular web page or blog post. The search engine crawlers first go through these sections before analysing the main body of your content. In fact, this could be one of the best content writing practices because even when you are in the process of writing, you can quickly organize your thoughts with various points and then simply go on expanding them.
  9. Use analytics tools to make relevant changes: You may not get it right the first time. You may be attracting wrong traffic and it means people are able to find your particular web page or blog post for the wrong keywords and this means, inadvertently, you have optimized that particular web page or blog post for the wrong keywords. This is something that analytics tools such as Google Analytics can tell you and accordingly you can make changes and resubmit your link.
  10. Write content regularly: There is no use writing content to improve your search engine rankings if you are not regular. Whether you like it or not, you have to create lots of content on an ongoing basis because your competitors are doing it. Even if you are able to attain better search engine rankings for a particular link, you can be never sure for how long you are going to enjoy that position because sooner or later, someone else is going to work harder, write more content, and overtake you. In fact this tendency is encouraged by Google and other search engines so that there is more and more quality content to index and rank.

These are the 10 content writing best practices that you can implement on your website or blog to improve your search engine rankings. Remember that your rankings don’t improve just because you have started writing content. It needs to be a sustained effort in order to be able to show results. Besides, it is not just your content that helps your SEO, people should be able to access that content using different channels and they should find your content worthy of sharing with each other. Engagement level is a big part of SEO these days and although it is altogether a different topic, you need to write your content in such a manner that people are moved to not just read it themselves, but also share it among friends, colleagues and relatives. Only then you can improve your search engine rankings.

Best practices other than content writing to improve your search engine rankings

What other practices can you follow to improve your search engine rankings? Content writing is something that is totally in your hands, but as I have just written above, that is not the only thing that impacts your SEO. There are many external factors that might not be directly in your hands and they definitely have an impact on your search engine rankings. Some of the external factors that you can focus on are:

  • Get incoming links from other websites and blogs. Just make sure that the websites and blogs linking to you are of good quality and not simply link farms. Getting links from other websites and blogs proves that you have great content on your website.
  • Get rid of unnecessary bells and whistles. You don’t need Flash on your website (yes, some people still use it). Are you showing animations with JavaScript libraries and people can still easily use your website if these animations are chucked? Chuck them. If the search engine crawlers have to process lots of JavaScript before it can reach your main content, the crawlers may leave your website without even reaching your content, no matter how well-written and high-quality it is. This is something you will have to talk to your web designer about.
  • Create an active presence on social media and social networking websites. This way when you post your content links under your profiles, more people will be able to access them and share them around. Content writing coupled with social sharing can give your search engine rankings a great boost.

How better content improves your search engine rankings

Better content improves your search engine rankings

I have many clients who need content to improve their search engine rankings and this is why they hire me. They know that I can write them optimized content without having to resort to keyword stuffing and creating nonsensical content just to fill up blog posts and webpages. But how does it actually happen? How does better content improve your search engine rankings?

Better content and search engine rankings are interconnected

Search engines survive on the strength of the content they can index and rank for the users. Why would you use Google if you don’t find what you’re looking for? When you use a search engine you’re looking for some information that you can trust and rely on. Suppose the search engine is unable to provide you that information? What do you do? Perhaps due to the preconceived reputation you go on using it for some time but eventually you give up and then you try to find another search engine that can give you better results. When you shift your focus to another search engines, the search engine you have abandoned (Google, for instance) loses business because in order to earn money, they need more users.

This is the reason why the quality of your content matters to the search engines. Is this foolproof? No way. Lots of shoddy content shows up, undeservedly, on the first page, even at the first spot at the first page, but with every successive update (Penguin, Panda, etc.) they are weeding out such aberrations.

You will be surprised to know that the search engine algorithms these days also take into factor your bounce rate. If people aren’t spending much time on your blog or website, it means you’re not providing value. If people are going through various links within your website and spending a couple of minutes going through your important pages, the search engines can make out that your content is worth reading, and hence, good. If you don’t have well-written content, if your content doesn’t provide the information people are looking for, they leave your website within a few seconds. How do you keep people on your website longer?

  • Create compelling headlines.
  • Deliver on the promise you have made in the headline and in the title
  • Use shorter sentences because many people access your content via smaller screens, for example mobile phones and tablets
  • Don’t create very big paragraphs
  • Don’t clutter your webpage with unnecessary animations, images and links (every distraction can cost you a customer)
  • Make your content shareable

Social validation these days is as important as creating quality content (but don’t just focus on social validation at the cost of creating quality content). How many people find your content worth sharing? In this Moz Whiteboard Friday presentation Josh Bachynski explains how it matters that authoritative people in your niche talk about your content and share it on their own timelines and blogs. The more such people promote your content, the greater search engine improvements you experience.

Social validation depends a lot on how better you can make your content. It is voluntary action. People will promote your content only if it adds value or at least delivers something they are looking for.

So focus on the quality rather than quantity. Hire a content writer not to produce bulk content for you, but high-quality content.

How to make your business Google-updates-proof

Google Penguin update

Has your search traffic been hit by the latest Google Penguin update? Many websites have taken a hit and according to the various search engine forums, people are even considering layoffs.

That’s pretty serious.

Are these businesses asking for it? Why depend solely on a search engine for your business?

Anyway, that’s not the main problem. There ARE some businesses that invest heavily into getting targeted search engine traffic and there is nothing wrong in that. So if your website depends on Google traffic, how do you make it Google-updates-proof?

What exactly are Google updates?

On and often Google changes its ranking algorithm to, according to its decision-makers and search engineers at least, provide better results to its users. Fair enough. Google is a company and it constantly has to strive to improve its user experience. So they are better judges of how they want to do it. If businesses depend on their algorithms, that’s that.

The recent Google update is called Penguin and I’m too lazy to figure out why it is called so but the main gist is many websites and blogs have lost their good Google rankings and consequently their traffic has nosedived.

Why does it happen? If all Google wants to do is index better content for its users, why some websites lose traffic?

There might be some genuine cases of grief as there is always some collateral damage when a change takes place for good or for bad, but in most of the cases the websites that lose traffic do so because they are solely generating content for that purpose.

When you generate your content to improve your search engine rankings without paying scant regard to its relevance and quality you are bound to create content according to the current algorithm. This is how it works:

  • You figure out how some websites are getting better rankings by following certain practices
  • You try to replicate those practices and experience good results
  • You apply those practices throughout your business and feel very happy

This mostly happens by producing search engine optimized content. I myself have been providing search engine optimized content to my various clients. People also improve their search engine rankings by getting scores of inbound links but right now they are not the focus of my discussion. Since I provide content, my main focus is talking about Google updates vis-a-vis your content.

So when you produce and publish content just to improve your search engine rankings you are bound to be hit whenever Google changes its algorithm. This is because you and Google both are trying to outsmart each other all the time and since Google is a bigger player in this game, you are the one who is hit the most.

Here are a few things you can do to make your blog or website Google-updates-proof:

  • Publish good quality content for the sake of publishing good quality content: The content that you publish on your website or blog should be targeted towards your visitors. It should provide value to your visitors. It should be well written. Even if you are using keywords important to your business, use them when you really need to use them. Don’t just cram your keywords into every page or blog post you publish.

    Most of the websites that are hit by Google updates have inferior quality content (with a few exceptions that are termed as “collateral damage”). Since when you produce and publish content just to please search engines, consciously or unconsciously you customize your content according to their current algorithms. So naturally when these algorithms change, you lose your advantage.

    On the other hand from the beginning itself if you focus on your readers and if your content is ranked well for its quality it is never going to lose its position (again, with a few exceptions). Producing and publishing quality content takes time and a little bit of money (if you hire a content writer or a blog writer), but it is a lot better than completely going off the search engines radar due to a few algorithm changes.

  • Don’t just depend on Google and other search engines: There are many ways these days you can generate quality traffic to your website. It’s just a matter of changing your mindset. For instance, have you built a noticeable presence on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and YouTube? In fact there are many businesses that have bypassed the search engines and are still doing better than those depending on search engine traffic.

    Aside from social media and social networking websites you can also get inbound links from quality websites. Of course, you should also go for paid links if you are not worried about losing your rankings on Google. But a better way would be to write guest articles and guest blog posts on trusted and quality blogs and websites to not only expand your presence but also get quality inbound links.

  • Build a mailing list: E-mail marketing still rocks no matter how much it is maligned by spammers. Build a double opt in e-mail list for yourself so that you can send routing updates to your subscribers. In fact it can be one of the most potent tools in your kitty once you have spent ample amount of time building your list. There are many ways you can build your list but this deserves a different blog post.
  • Have a business blog: It is surprising to know that there are still many businesses who don’t have a blog. A blog doesn’t just attract quality traffic from search engines it is also a good source for repeat traffic. It builds your brand. It helps to establish yourself as an authority. As a brand you can create a vibrant community using its comments section. Simply by becoming an important part of various blogging networks and communities you can get an uninterrupted stream of traffic without having to worry about Google and other search engines.

The main point is, don’t just depend on Google for sustainable business especially these days when multiple tools are available to you. It just doesn’t make sense.

External links on how to survive different Google updates

What makes your content click

Content writing is not as challenging as it seems sometimes. With little bit of dedication you can create 3-4 blog posts or webpages for your business, and you can also get an unending stream of topics and ideas by visiting other blogs and subscribing to their RSS feeds (you can also search Twitter and Facebook and stumble upon some really good stuff).

The real challenge is to make your content click. What does that mean? Your content publishing and content strategy has an objective or an agenda, right? Why are you spending so much time on creating and publishing content for your website? Fine, the quick answer would be to increase your search engine rankings. But are you really achieving that?

Very few people actually sit down and think about what they are doing when it comes to writing content and implementing a solid content strategy. Your content clicks when it has the desired effect. When you are publishing content you are trying to achieve the following (you may have different priorities though):

  • You want to increase your search engine rankings
  • You want to provide great and valuable content to your visitors so that they keep coming to your website
  • You want to maintain a lively buzz around your online presence
  • You want to educate and inform your prospective customers and clients so they are not in double mind when it comes to doing business with you
  • You want to establish yourself as an authority so that people trust your judgement, respect your knowledge and believe in you when you ask them to do something

These are but a few things you want to achieve through content publishing.

Here I am not talking about the base content on your website: your home page and other business pages. I’m talking about all the extra content that you continuously publish because eventually it is that content that increases your search engine visibility and keeps people hooked on to your website.

So how do you achieve the objectives mentioned above (and many more that you may have in mind)? Here are a few things you can do:

Have a consistent theme

Your visitors must know what they are in for when they visit your website or blog. Then they already have receptive by the time they start reading your content (or watching/viewing in the case of images or video). For instance, if you have a content writing and content strategy business, and if you want to publish a business blog then most of your blog posts must be centered around content writing and content strategy. This way people who are interested in your topic can relate to your blog or website.

Having a consistent theme also shows that you have a lot to say about your business and your expertise. In fact, you have got so much knowledge, that you can constantly share it with your visitors for a long time. Always remember that having a niche is always better than writing for a highly broad audience.

But having a theme doesn’t mean you cannot write on something else. For instance, some of my blog posts talk about SEO, social media and social networking, blogging and even web design and web structuring. I write these posts because I believe that they can help my business as well as my clients.

Provide solution-oriented content

Does your content solve a problem and makes life easier for your visitors? Does it give them what they are looking for? For instance, what do people look for when they come to my website or when they read my blog? They are either looking for a content writer or trying to figure out how they can write content on their own in a better and effective manner. They might also be interested in reading about content strategy – how to formulate it, how to establish it, and then how to implement it.

Provide content people can share

Eventually everything boils down to how much of your content is shared. You might be getting lots of traffic directly from search engines and that is really great, but if you don’t want to solely depend on search engines, then you have to focus a big part of your energies on to encouraging people to share your content through their social media and social networking profiles like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and YouTube. But they are not going to share your content simply because you have published it. It should be of great value whether it informs or entertains. People share content mostly for the following reasons:

  • They want to pass some relevant piece of information onto their followers and friends
  • They are curating quality content for later use
  • They want to entertain or make their followers and friends laugh by sharing something funny and amusing
  • They want to trigger a debate or discussion while using your content as a platform and as a central point
  • They want to associate themselves with the standards represented by your content
  • They want to show you that they agree with what you’re saying or disagree with what you’re saying
  • They want to highlight their online presence through the niche you represent and write about
  • They are your parents, siblings or friends who would share anything you post just because they love you and cannot resist that

So if you provide any of the above mentioned reasons people are definitely going to share and promote your content (although the last point may not have much business value but it doesn’t mean it is not important) and be affected by that.