Friday, December 9, 2016

SEO Content Density: How to Write Like a Pro

In last week's post, urging readers to ignore SEO "trend" articles, we noted an egregious example of the genre: 3 Unstoppable SEO Trends To Look Out For In 2017.

The article, written by Sam Oh for Entrepreneur, cloaked three familiar SEO tactics--quality content, personal branding, and user experience--in the esoteric language of "trends."

Like many SEO trend writers, Oh failed to explain how or why familiar SEO tactics have become trends. To prove his points, Oh used bogus claims that defy conventional SEO wisdom. Writing on the "trend" of "increased quality content" and a new term, "content density," for example, Oh lies: "Every major SEO authority agrees that 2017 will be the year where we see the rise of content density across the board."

Oh defines "content density" obliquely, so it is hard to understand what he's talking about:

"Content density can be described plainly," he writes "as content’s 'per word value.' So for example, even though you might write a 3,000 word article that explains all the nuances of Snapchat marketing, the actual amount of value you deliver per-word might be very low. However, by providing denser content that is focused more on function than form, you can deliver the same value in only 300 words."

Is he suggesting that a 300-word article can replace the "function" of a 3,000-word article?

If so, he seems to misunderstand the functions of shorter and longer content. Both serve specific functions. To  conflate short content with long content is to miss this point entirely.

Even then, we can't find one "SEO authority" that agrees with Oh's assessment that "2017 will be the year when we see the rise of content density." This statement is pure flim-flam.

In fact, most SEO authorities believe the opposite to be true. For 2017, the prevailing SEO wisdom is the same: Longer pieces provide the most value and offer the best opportunity to attract clicks. The top result for "best content length 2017," from Snap Agency, confirms this wisdom:

"Regular content strategy: 1,000 word general blog posts. Heavy hitters, high competition, definite opportunities: 2,500 word blog posts."

The top result is presumably a major SEO authority, right? So does Snap Agency agree with Oh's idea?

Well, maybe. Snap Agency might agree with Oh's idea--but not as Oh has presented it in his article. Note the top of the Snap Agency post on content length for 2017:

"Size does matter, but quality matters more. When you’re writing a blog post, remember that length is secondary to the quality of your post, the structure of the article, its readability, and its engagement level. In other words, focus on how long people actually spend on your post checking out images, video, or eye-catching lists and stats."

Quality is more important than quantity. Perhaps this is Oh's point. After all, "per word value" is essential in any writing. Raymond Carver famously offered this writer's credo in The New York Times:

"That's all we have, finally, the words, and they had better be the right ones, with the punctuation in the right places so that they can best say what they are meant to say."

So Oh's idea, at root, is gold. Yet he fails to explain the idea in a convincing way. Since "content density" is such a crucial idea, though, we thought perform Oh's work for him.

How do you create impeccable "per word value"? What does content density actually look like?

Raymond Carver. As his quote implies, "per word value" is an essential writer's credo. [Image Credit]

Write a Succinct, Precise Title 

Clickbait rules the Internet because people follow enticing titles. To keep your audience's attention after the click, though, you need to answer the promise of your title. Clickbait titles are often misleading, yet some are clever.

Learn from click bait's successes and failures: Write a precise title--around seven words--that describes exactly what your article is about; if possible, be clever.

Don't Bury the Lede

In journalism the "lede" is simply the lead part of a story. The famous advice, "Don't bury the lede" describes a failure of many online articles: the tendency to offer secondary details first, delaying the point. Human attention spans are declining. After the click, you have a short amount of time to hook your reader. Dispense with the unnecessary preamble. Get to your point.

Cite Your Sources Clearly

Readers want to trust content. If Sam Oh had cited some source proving "every SEO authority agrees" we might feel differently about his article. As it is, his claim is dubious conjecture.

Citations--often in the form of links--trace your claims back to authoritative sources. The more you cite your claims, the more your reader will trust you.

Write Active Prose

Passive voice is the hallmark of bad writing. In a passive sentence, the object of the sentence becomes the subject.

Remember: The subject of a sentence is the noun or pronoun doing something. The subject is the noun or pronoun having something done to it. We like Grammar Girl's easy explanation:

"Just remember the sentence I love you. I is the subject of the sentence. You is the object of the sentence and also the object of my affection. How’s that? You are the object of my affection and the object of my sentence. It’s like a Valentine’s Day card and grammar trick all rolled into one."

Two more examples:

Passive Sentence: The article was written by Sam Oh.

Active Sentence: Sam Oh wrote the article.

Passive voice can lead to awkward sentence structures and excessive words. Remember, as Sam Oh writes, the key is "per word value."

Choose Your Adverbs Wisely

Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs--as in "Please run quickly," where "quickly" modifies the verb "run." In many cases, adverbs can seem redundant: "Please hurry quickly" is fairly ridiculous. That said, adverbs can spice up your prose. I'm seriously not joking! The key is to choose wisely. Too many adverbs and your writing feels awkward, even laborious.

The Hemingway App is a good tool for catching excessive adverbs and passive sentence constructions. 

For more simple writing tips, read: "How to Write Good Content"

Content Marketing with Stepman's PC

If you're looking for an SEO company that understands how to effectively promote websites with good content, we suggest contacting our sponsor, Stepman's PC: 215-900-9398 Stepmans PC combines traditional marketing methods and organic SEO--with an emphasis on natural website optimization--to design thoughtful, inspiring, and effective content marketing campaigns.