When it comes to ranking number one in Google search results, which do you think is more important?
Technical SEO—things like getting meta tags, alt descriptions, and heading text right?
Writing really really really really useful content?
From my experience, it’s a mix of both, but more importantly B: Writing really really really really useful content.
Over the past year, I’ve been able to rank more than 100 blog posts from the Wild Apricot Blog in Google search results, many of which hold the top position for their search term. From what I’ve learned, technical SEO only gets you so far.
To truly reach the top and stay there, an article has to be useful to the reader.
The biggest reason for this is because it aligns with Google’s number one priority—they want to rank the best, most useful content first. In fact, Google even mentions this in their SEO Starter Guide:
Creating compelling and useful content will likely influence your website more than any of the other [SEO] factors discussed here.”
To help you out, here are six of the blogging best practices I’ve used to help my blog posts rank at the top of Google’s search results. By the end of this post, you’ll have a simple playbook to do the same.
1. The Perfect Word Length
If you Google “Perfect word length for a blog post” you’ll come across this commonly used chart from a SerpIQ study:
Many people use this chart to justify writing really really long posts.
Unfortunately “really really long” and “boring” usually go hand in hand, and I’ve seen some bloggers write what I call “filler content” (useless run-on paragraphs) just to meet this quota with the hopes of ranking.
From my experience, a super-useful 200-word guide will outrank a mediocrely useful guide of 2,000 words any day.
However, my personal rule of thumb is to aim for 1,500 words. And while I just said there is no perfect length, I follow this rule because it forces me to consider all angles of the topic I’m writing about. I don’t want any of my readers to leave with unanswered questions—I want to tackle the who, what, where, when, why, and how of a topic, which usually means writing a longer piece.
2. Why Short, Concise Paragraphs Do Well
People don’t read things on the Internet anymore.
In fact, research finds that you’re lucky if more people read more than 20 percent of what you’ve written.
So, if you want to keep people engaged with your article, you’ve got to break down your writing into short, concise paragraphs.
The other problem with large blocks of text is that they’re difficult to read (especially on a mobile device). They look like work. They scare people off.
If you scare people off, they leave your website. And if they leave your website, that’s an indicator to Google that your article isn’t very helpful. And if it’s not helpful, you start to drop in rankings.
So, when you write, look for opportunities to split up your paragraphs into shorter chunks.
3. Why Your Headings Need Hooks
Look at these two subheadings and pick the one that captures your interest more:
“Use Cooking Spray When Frying an Egg”
- “This Ingredient Makes Frying an Egg 10 Times Easier”
The second headline captures my interest more, and I’ll guess it does for you too.
The first headline has the answer to the problem within it. How do you fry an egg better? Use cooking spray. There’s no hook. There’s no reason to keep reading the article.
The second headline creates interest. You don’t know what will make an egg easier to fry unless you keep reading.
Plus, when you write headlines that compel someone to read more, they are more likely to stay on your page longer.
And if they stay on your page longer, that’s an indicator to Google that you’ve got good content.
So, after you’ve written your post, go back and look for opportunities to create hooks.
If you need help with your hooks and headlines, one resource I turn to time and time again is this free guide on How to Write Magnetic Headlines.
4. The Big Benefit When You Use Steps and Lists
Have you ever wondered why we like lists so much?
It turns out our brains are wired for lists.
A study conducted by Florida State University found that list-making eliminates the cognitive effects of unfulfilled goals. Participants in the study were far more likely to achieve goals when they created lists than those who did not.
On top of this, Google might just give your list post the following special treatment:
This is a screenshot of a Featured Snippet, which I call the Holy Grail of Google search results.
A Featured Snippet is simply an answer to a search result that Google picks from an article—and most often it’s in the form of a list.
In the example above, Google shows a number of steps on how to plan an event right within its results.
The reason Featured Snippets are so valuable is that if your article is the one Google picks to feature, your click-through rate skyrockets. One study found that getting a Featured Snippet increased traffic by 516 percent for that article.
I’ve seen firsthand how valuable Featured Snippets have been for many of Wild Apricot’s articles, as they’ve increased both our rankings and our traffic.
If you want to get a Featured Snippet, there’s still some speculation on how Google picks them, but generally whenever I write a blog post, I try to include lists or steps as often as possible. That’s worked best for me.
5. The Types of Images That Work Best
Take a look at these two images. Which do you like better?
(Images from BigStockPhoto.com)
I’ll take a guess and say it’s the image of the happy, smiling people.
It’s not that the picture of rocks isn’t attractive, it’s that we’re actually hardwired to like pictures of people better.
In fact, images with people attract 38 percent more likes and 32 percent more comments than images without people.
Since I started using pictures of people in my blog posts, I’ve noticed they get shared a lot more, which is another factor Google considers in its rankings.
It’s a small change that makes a big difference.
6. Why Your Posts Should be Evergreen
Have you ever clicked on an article from a Google search result only to find the content outdated?
When I come across outdated content, I click the back button and try another result.
Outdated content is not helpful, and if Google realizes something is outdated, it pushes it down in search results so people don’t see it.
That’s why if I want something to rank highly, I try to create what’s called “evergreen” content—content that stays relevant over a long period of time. This means I avoid writing about things that include time-based information or fads.
Some of Wild Apricot’s evergreen content has been at the top of Google’s search results for years.
How to Get My Full Playbook on Reaching #1 Rank in Google
Over the past year, I’ve been able to rank more than 100 blog posts in Google, many reaching the number one spot for their search terms. This has increased our blog traffic over 400 percent.
I’ve put everything I’ve learned into a simple playbook that covers how to write and technically optimize posts for Google’s search results that anyone can use, no matter the size of your organization.
If you’d like my full playbook on nonprofit SEO, you can watch my free webinar “How to Grow Your Organization by Getting Lots and Lots of Traffic to Your Website.”
All the best with your nonprofit SEO!
Terry Ibele is the head of SEO at Wild Apricot, a leading provider of Membership Management Software. When he’s not writing blogs or articles, filming videos, or launching email campaigns, Terry can be found animating, and working on his art.