Your focus keyword is the keyword you want your post or page to rank for. Some people like to use the same focus keyword over and over again. But, that’s not what a focus keyword is for! You should use a focus keyword only once. But why? And what should you do if you desperately want to rank for that one specific keyword? Don’t despair: I’ll tell you all about it in this post.

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Not competing with your own articles

The main reason why you should not use your focus keyword more than once is that you do not want to compete with your own content for a position in Google. If you optimize two different articles for the same focus keyword, you would like to have both posts to turn up in Google. You’ll be telling Google: these two are both suitable for people searching for my keyword. You would like both of them to turn up. That’s hard to do, not impossible though, but very hard.

You need to have a site with quite a bit of authority to rank with two articles in the top ten search results. If you’re already ranking with one of your articles in the search results, you’ll probably have enough authority to try and rank with a second one. If you’re not yet ranking on a focus keyword, never use it twice! Update and improve your original article and write another post surrounding a slightly different keyword.

Ranking for your most desired keyword

What should you do if you want to rank for that specific keyword you’ve set your mind to? Imagine yourself starting a webshop selling clothes for dogs. You probably want to rank for ‘dog clothes,’ but as you are a starter, that’ll be rather hard. Optimizing all of your posts for ‘dog clothes’ is not the right strategy. So what should you do? Your keyword research has given you some ideas what other terms to target.

Your most precious keyword ‘dog clothes’ is a so-called ‘head’ keyword. It’ll be competitive and rather hard to rank for. You should write an awesome, lengthy cornerstone article about dog clothes and optimize it for the term ‘dog clothes’ using our Yoast SEO plugin. Make sure to indicate in our plugin that this specific article is a cornerstone article.

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Improve your site structure

The next step you’ll need to take to rank for your most desired keyword is to make sure your site structure is flawless. You’ll need to write a lot of posts each surrounding a specific aspect of your ‘head’ keyword. You could write an article and optimize it for focus keywords like ‘clothes for small dogs,’ ‘clothes for big dogs,’ ‘dog clothes for rainy days’ and so on. These focus keywords are called long tail keywords. If you link from these long tail articles to your ‘head term’ article, you’ll be telling Google which one of your articles is the most important one. That’ll help with the ranking of your most precious article. At the same time, you’ll be attracting traffic for those long tail articles as well.

Should I use a keyword more than once?

Unless you’re a high authority site and you’re already ranking for a specific keyword, you should NOT use a focus keyword more than once. Ranking for that one specific focus keyword is possible if you write an awesome cornerstone article about that focus keyword. On top of that, you’ll need a kickass site structure to make sure that article will start ranking!

Read more: ‘The ultimate guide to content SEO’ »

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Headings play an important role in structuring text, whether it’s on paper or online. Since reading from a screen is already quite difficult, you should make sure you make proper use of headings. There’s a hierarchy in heading tags, with <h1> being the most important, and <h6> the least important. This will help both your visitors (whether they’re reading or using a screen reader!) and search engines understand what’s most essential on a page. But what if your theme only allows the use of one type of heading? Is that bad for your SEO, and what does it mean for your visitors? In this Ask Yoast, I’ll get into that.

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Nikola emailed us her question on WordPress themes and heading structure:

My theme has no H1 headings on the homepage (or category and archive pages). All headings are H2. My developer says it isn’t bad for SEO, it’s worse to use multiple H1s on a single page. Is he right?

Watch the video or read the transcript further down the page for my answer!

A logical order in your heading structure

Is he right? Well he is and he isn’t…it really depends. If you’re using HTML 5, you can have multiple H1s, depending on how your page is structured. At the same time, not having an H1 at all in your page sounds very weird.

On a post page the title of that post should be in the H1. On an archive page the title of that archive should be in the H1. On your homepage your brand name should probably be in the H1. So, I’m not entirely sure that he’s right. I would prefer that he does it right in terms of using one H1, then some H2s, etc.

This is more of an accessibility issue than it is a specific SEO issue. But it’s important for people who are blind, or otherwise have a hard time reading your page, because they can actually follow the structure of the headings on your page. So do think about the headings on your page and make them follow a logical order. Good luck!

Ask Yoast

In the series Ask Yoast we answer SEO questions from our readers. Have an SEO-related question? Let us help you out! Send an email to ask@yoast.com.

(note: please check our blog and knowledge base first, the answer to your question may already be out there! For urgent questions, for example about our plugin not working properly, we’d like to refer you to our support page.)

Read more: ‘SEO Basics: How to use headings on your site’ »

 

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Does it pay off to write a text that is nice and easy to read? Will readable content lead to higher rankings and more traffic? Is readability a ‘ranking factor’? At Yoast, we are strong believers in writing texts that are nice and easy to read. We’ve developed an entire tool to help people write readable texts. We truly believe that readability ranks. Writing readable texts will lead to higher rankings and more traffic.

Learn how to write engaging copy and how to organize it well on your site: Combine our SEO copywriting and Site structure training. »

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So why is readability becoming more important? I’ll discuss two reasons why we believe readability is of increasing importance for SEO. In our view, it’ll become essential for every copywriter. The first reason why readability will gain importance is because of the growth of and focus on voice search. The second reason is because of the fact the algorithm of Google is getting better and more ‘human-like’.

Voice search becomes more dominant

Although few people use voice search, Google (and other search engines) are focused on voice. They present their results in a voice-like matter; they rank their results in a voice-like matter. The very fact that search engines want voice search to be the next big thing, makes readability so important. To understand the importance for readability in voice search, look at this video:

People searching for information with voice search could end up listening to a rather long piece of information. In the example in the video above, the search result consists of an entire paragraph. Imagine such a paragraph consisting of long sentences and containing lots of difficult words. The voice result will become impossible to understand. Google will never rank such an impossible result. Neither in the voice results, nor in the normal results.

Google will prefer understandable content, because Google is focused on voice search. Google wants voice search to become the next big thing. Whether that will happen or not, doesn’t matter for the importance of understandable, readable content. Google simply dictates the search results and the algorithm. We just have to go with it. And in this case, it’s a good thing. Writing readable content is a blessing for the reader.

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Read more: ‘How to prepare for voice search’ »

Google’s algorithm becomes more human-like

Google has become much better at predicting what people want to read. The algorithm of Google is mimicking a human. It tries to read texts like a human being. As Google becomes more capable of understanding and scanning texts in a human-like way, the demands on the readability of texts also rise.

Google will, increasingly, assess the topic of a text the way humans assess the topic of a text. People scan through texts, read subheadings and the first sentences of paragraphs. People look for transition words in order to quickly abstract what the main conclusion of an article will be. All the things humans do while reading a text, are things Google will do. That means that the structure of your text, the way you write your paragraphs, will become increasingly important. Core sentences (the first sentence of every paragraph) will gain importance. Having a clear and logical structure in your text will be invaluable.

What will be the demands on readable content?

Understandable, readable content contains lots of transition words, as these words help people understand the connection between sentences. Content that’s easy to understand has short sentences and few difficult and long words. The structure of a text is very important. Core sentences will be the most important sentences in assessing the topic of an article or blog post. These will be demands copywriters will have to deal with. It might sound scary, but if you simply write a good text, you’ll please your readers and Google.

Keep reading: ‘The ultimate guide to content SEO’ »

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Content SEO is a major aspect of an SEO strategy. Without content, it is impossible to rank your site in search engines. It is, therefore, crucial to write and structure quality content! This ultimate guide covers the most important topics for content SEO.

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What is Content SEO?

Content SEO encompasses all the aspects that have to do with writing and structuring of content on your website. There are three major topics you should keep in mind to produce content that will make your website rank: keyword strategy, site structure and copywriting.

Content SEO is important because search engines, like Google, scroll text. They decide whether or not your site will rank in their result pages based mainly on the words. Of course, your website should be very nicely designed, with a great user interface. And all the technical stuff that makes your site rank in Google should also be covered. But without content, your site does not stand a chance in the search engines.

Keyword research

What is keyword research?

Keyword research can be defined as the activity you undertake to come up with an extensive list of keywords you would like to rank for. Every content SEO strategy should start with keyword research. You have to know what your audience is searching for if you want to generate traffic. Keyword research helps you to discover what you should be ranking for, or aiming to rank for.

In our view, keyword research has three steps:

  • First, you write down the mission of your business;
  • Next, you make a list of all the keywords you want to be found on;
  • Finally, you create landing pages for all these keywords.

In the next chapter, we will take you through these three steps in much more detail.

If you do your keyword research right, you should have a clear overview of the terms people use and the terms you want the pages on your site to be found on. This overview will function as a guide for writing content on your website.

Read more: ‘Keyword research: the ultimate guide’ »

Why is keyword research important for content SEO?

Proper keyword research will make clear which search terms your audience uses. This is imperative. At Yoast, we regularly encounter clients that have a specific set of words they use when referencing their products, while their users use an entirely different set of words. Optimizing content for words that people don’t use does not make any sense. Doing proper keyword research makes sure that you use the words your target audience uses and therefore makes the whole effort of optimizing your website worthwhile.

Some terms we use in keyword research

Keywords and keyphrases

We tend to use the word keyword all the time, but we don’t necessarily mean it has to be just one word. ‘WordPress SEO’ is a keyword, as is ‘Google Analytics plugin.’ So you can have keywords containing multiple words!

Long tail keywords

The longer (and more specific) search terms are, the easier it will be to rank for the term. Keywords that are more specific (and often longer) are usually referred to as long tail keywords. Long tail keywords are more specific and less some. They focus more on a niche.

How many keywords?

It is very hard to give an exact number of keywords you should focus on. And then again, it’s very simple. You just need to have a large number, as large a number as is feasible for you. More than a 1000 keywords are probably more than you can handle.

Even if you’re a reasonably small business, you’ll probably end up with a couple of hundred keywords. But you don’t have to make pages for all of these immediately. The great thing about having a Content Management System (CMS) like WordPress is that you can gradually add content. Think about what keywords you would like to rank for right away, and which ones aren’t that important (yet). Determine what your priorities are and plan the creation of your content.

Head or tail?

Classifying your keywords is essential. Some keywords are very common and competitive (head), while others are long tail. Decide which are your most critical high-level keywords, the ones that generate sufficient traffic for your business and fit your business best. You should only have a few of these general keywords for your business. The rest of them are bound to be more down the tail. In the next chapter, we will give more in-depth information on long tail keywords (and the importance of these keywords).

Content focusing on the most common keywords should be on the most high-level pages on your website (homepage and the pages one level beneath your homepage). Content focusing on long tail keywords should be more on the tail end of your site as well.

Tools you can use

There are multiple free tools available to help you with your keyword research. Check out our article about keyword research tools if you want to find out more about practical tools.

Adapting your keyword strategy

Your keyword strategy isn’t static. It should change and evolve alongside your company or your website. It should evolve and grow with you. If it doesn’t, you’re doing it wrong.

You should be on top of the changes in your company and adapt your strategy simultaneously. If your online shop starts selling new products, extend your list with more keywords. If you’re aiming for new markets, it’s vital that your keywords are aimed at these new markets as well.

There are several keyword strategies to adopt. One of them is to start off trying to rank for long tail keywords and aim at more general keywords afterward. But you could also aim for more long tail keywords after focusing on general ones. You can zoom in and pursue more niche activities, or broaden your approach, adding more content on different things. And you can do both at the same time.

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Site Structure

The second important aspect of Content SEO is the structure of your site. I will first explain why site structure is critical. Then, I’ll show you what an ideal site structure looks like. And, I will give tips on how to (quickly) improve the structure of your site without completely disrupting the core of your website.

Why is site structure important for content SEO?

In our opinion, there are two main reasons why site structure is an important ranking factor:

1 A decent structure makes sure Google ‘understands’ your site

The way your site is structured gives Google significant clues about where to find the most important content. Your site’s structure determines whether a search engine understands what your site is about, and how easily it will find and index content relevant to your site’s purpose and intent. A good site structure will, therefore, lead to a higher ranking in Google.

By creating such a structure, you can use existing content that has attracted links from others to help other pages rank as well. Your site’s structure will help spread some of that link juice to the other pages on your site. On a commercial site, that means that you can use quality content you’ve written to boost the search engine rankings of your sales pages too.

2 A decent structure makes sure you do not compete with your content

On your website, you will probably have multiple articles about similar topics. At Yoast, we write about SEO. If we would write eight articles about SEO, Google wouldn’t know which of these pieces is the most important one. If we didn’t clarify this with our site structure, we’d be competing with our own articles for a high ranking in Google. So, solving problems like this with an excellent internal linking structure will result in higher rankings.

The ideal structure of a site

Ideally, you build your site like a pyramid. On top of the pyramid is your homepage and on the homepage are some other pages (categories). These pages, in turn, refer to even more pages.

In an effective content SEO strategy, your keyword strategy and the way you structure your site are related. In a proper keyword strategy, you have thought about common, competitive keywords as well as more long tail niche search terms. You should make a similar dichotomy should in your site structure. Pages focusing on more common search terms should appear high in your pyramid, while pages optimized for more long tail keywords should appear in a lower part of your site structure. These long tail pages at the bottom of the pyramid must link correctly to the pages higher in the pyramid.

Keep reading: ‘The ultimate guide to site structure’ »

Practical tips on improving one’s site structure

If you’re serious about content SEO, you’ll probably already have a live website. So it might be a bit too late to set up the structure of your site in an ideal pyramid-like way. Don’t despair; there are plenty of things you can do to improve your site’s structure and your content SEO.

Decide upon Cornerstone content

You should focus your efforts on cornerstone articles. These are the articles you’re most proud of, that fit the mission of your website best. This ultimate guide is, in fact, one of our cornerstones. You want to rank for these articles the most. Haven’t put any thought into which are your most important articles yet? Well, start thinking about that today. Make these articles the best ones on your site. Give them extra TLC and update them regularly.

Read on: ‘What is cornerstone content’ »

Link from tail to head

Once you’ve decided upon your precious cornerstones, make sure you link from all your ‘tail’ articles to those cornerstones. That way, you’ll tell Google which articles to rank highest. Read all about this in our article about incorporating cornerstones in your site structure.

Use tags (but not too many)

Your site will also benefit from adding tags. Tags and taxonomies will give your site more structure – or at least, Google will understand it better. They’ll group your articles about similar topics. Don’t overdo it, though. Some people use more tags than they write articles. Using too many tags will lead to less structure on your website.

Always avoid duplicate content

The same content can turn up at multiple places on your site. As a reader, you don’t mind: you’ll get the content you came for. But a search engine has to pick something to show in the search results, as it doesn’t want to show the same content twice.

Moreover, when other websites link to your product, chances are some of them link to the first URL, while others link to the second URL. But if these duplicates were all linking to the same URL, your chance of ranking top 10 for the relevant keyword would be much higher. Canonicalization is the solution to duplicate content. In the advanced tab of Yoast SEO, you can configure the canonical URL.

Remove old content

If the content on a page is outdated, remove it! However, you may have had some valuable links to that exact page. You want to make sure you benefit from these links, even though the page doesn’t exist anymore. That’s why you should redirect the URL.

Redirecting pages is not that hard. Our Yoast SEO Premium plugin can help you to take care of redirects. Preferably, you redirect the old URL (301) to the page or product that replaced the old page or product, or a related page if there is no replacement. That could be the category page of the specific product, or, as a last resort, your homepage. This way the (outdated) page won’t interfere with your site structure anymore.

Solve orphaned content

The term ‘orphaned content’ refers to articles that don’t get any links from your other articles or posts. As a result of that, these articles are hard to find, both by Google and by users of your site. Google will consider this type of content less important. So, if an article is important to you, make that clear to Google (and your visitors). Link to that specific article from other (similar) content. Read more about orphaned articles and how to solve the problem in our article about orphaned content.

Check out our article on how to improve your site structure in 4 simple steps for more tips and practical input.

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Copywriting

The third and final aspect of a successful content SEO strategy is copywriting. You should write texts that are attractive to read. Texts that’ll make your audience want to stay on your website. At the same time, you want to make your content attractive for Google. But some people go a bit overboard and optimize their texts so bluntly that they become terrible to read. At Yoast, we propose a strategy in which you optimize your text for the search engines, without making any concessions to neither the originality of your idea nor the readability of your text.

Read more: ‘The ultimate guide to SEO copywriting’ »

Copywriting starts with an original idea

The first requirement for high-quality copywriting is to write original content. Your blog post or your article should be ‘fresh,’ new and original. It has to be different from all the other blog posts and articles that are already on the internet. Content that people will want to read.

If you did your keyword research right, you ended up with a long list of terms you want to be found for. This list can function as a guide for you to choose from. A keyword is not yet a topic, though. You should make sure to come up with an original idea for your blog post. An idea in which the desired focus keyword has a prominent place.

Original content doesn’t necessarily mean new content. Of course, if your story is totally new, that’ll automatically mean it’s original. However, giving your (professional) opinion on a particular topic also counts as original content. Your angle to a story will make your content unique and original.

Think about your audience

If you want to write original content, you should think about your audience. Who are they? What do you want to tell your audience? What’ll be the main message of your article? And what is the purpose? What do you want your audience to do after they’ve read your article? Do you want them to engage, to buy your stuff, to read more posts? Thinking about these questions will help you to come up with an original idea for your post or article.

Copywriting requires readable content

A second requirement for writing high-quality content is to write content that’s readable. Your article should be nice and easy to read. Readability is important for your audience and Google. After all, people read your text, but Google reads texts too.

If your text is well structured and clearly written, readers will understand the message of your text. It will also help Google understand the message of your text. If the main message of your post is clearer to Google, it’s also more likely that your post will rank in the search engines.

Readability has to do with text structure, sentence length, writing clear paragraphs and much, much more. Read all about it the importance of readability in this post. For more tips on readability, you can read our post on how to make an article more readable.

Content should be optimized for the search engines

The final requirement for writing high-quality content is to make sure the content is optimized for the search engines. You want your content to be findable. Findability has to do with maximizing the likelihood Google picks up your content for the result pages. It’s important that you take this final step after you’ve written an original and readable post.

Yoast SEO can help you tweak your text just a little bit better. If you’ve written your article, focused on that original idea, and optimized the readability of your post, you should take a look at the SEO analysis in Yoast SEO.

Red and orange bullets will indicate which aspects of your findability need a little bit more attention. Our plugin could suggest using your focus keyword a little bit more often. Maybe you should put it in the first paragraph or one of the headings. Yoast SEO will help you to optimize your snippet preview as well. These tweaks can improve your chances to be picked up by the search engines. Read much more about optimizing your post in our article on how to use the content and SEO analysis. 

Conclusion on Content SEO

Content SEO is a huge part of SEO. It contains all the aspects that have to do with writing and structuring content on your website. Content SEO is essential. Google reads and scans text. Google’s algorithm decides the ranking of your site largely based on the texts you offer Google. And we all know content is king. So, you need to write awesome content, focus on the right keywords and structure your website in such a way Google understands it. It’s a lot of work, but it will pay off in the long run.

Keep reading: ‘Blogging: the ultimate guide’ »

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If you’re serious about your SEO, you’ve probably set (implicit) goals on what you want to achieve. Perhaps you want to rank in the top ten search results for a specific keyword. Maybe you want your organic traffic to rise with a certain number. But what do you do if you are unable to meet your goals? Simply reset your goals? Or do you adapt and improve your SEO strategy? And how should you do that? In this post, I’ll talk you through the most important and effective tactics in content SEO strategy that’ll help you to achieve your SEO goals.

Why set SEO goals at all?

If you set SEO goals, chances are much higher your content SEO strategy will be successful. Specifying your goals will give you the motivation to meet those goals. They will give focus to your strategy. Also important, you’ll be able to measure the success of your SEO strategy, if you make your goals specific.

You could set goals for ranking top 10, top 5, top 3 or taking the number 1 position in the search engines for specific terms. You can also set goals for the amount of traffic you want to attract from the search engines. Make goals specific and put deadlines on them. That’ll help you become extra focused and determined to achieve your SEO goals.

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Not meeting your goals isn’t that bad…

It can be disappointing if you’re unable to meet your SEO goals, especially if you put a lot of effort into your content SEO strategy. No worries, though. The next step is to analyze what went wrong. If you analyze and evaluate properly, you’ll uncover valuable information. That information will help you to set realistic new goals and to improve your SEO strategy on all fronts.

Are all technical SEO aspects taken care of?

Make sure your technical SEO is in order. Yoast SEO takes care of these things for you. Still, you won’t be the first to accidentally have a noindex/nofollow tag in the wrong place. If you’re blocking – perhaps even without knowing it! – crawlers from your site, you’ll never rank high in Google.

Read more: ‘Technical pointers’ »

Evaluate your keyword research

A common mistake in content SEO is to aim for keywords that are simply too competitive to rank for. It’s understandable that we all want to rank for terms that generate the most traffic. Competition on those terms is killing, though. We can’t all rank for the same terms. If you are unable to meet your goals for certain keywords or keyphrases, you might be aiming too high.

Consider ranking for long tail keywords. The longer and more specific your keywords are, the less competitive they’ll be. If you focus on many of those long tail keywords, you can generate lots of traffic with those. And, after a while, you’ll be able to rank for more head terms as well, as your authority in your domain will increase.

Ranking for competitive search terms is always a longterm SEO strategy. I’m not saying you shouldn’t set goals to enter the top 5 in Google on a competitive term. I’m just saying that you should give yourself some time to achieve those goals. In the meantime, set goals on entering the top 5 in Google on more long tail and less competitive keywords. You’ll be able to celebrate successes while working towards your ultimate ranking goal.

Keep reading: ‘Keyword research: the ultimate guide’ »

Evaluate your content

Another reason you’re not ranking (yet) could be that your site lacks awesome and SEO-friendly content. A successful SEO strategy requires lots of great quality content. A few thin-content sales pages will not get you in Google’s top 10. You need to incorporate several awesome, informative cornerstone content pages. Besides that, writing informative, unique and well-optimized articles and blogposts will do the trick.

When tackling your content to achieve your goals, check the following things: Did you write multiple lengthy articles or blogposts? Are they optimized for the right search terms? Did you update old content? Writing SEO friendly content is a lot of work. It’ll pay off, but you need to make an effort. No shortcuts here.

Learn how to write engaging copy and how to organize it well on your site: Combine our SEO copywriting and Site structure training. »

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Update that site structure

A third reason why you’re not ranking well or attracting as much traffic as you’d like could be that your site’s structure isn’t up to scratch. If your website is about ballet shoes, you’re probably writing many related articles about ballet shoes. But you want to tell Google which of these articles is the most important. Otherwise, you will end up competing with your own content in the search results. That could result in lower rankings for all of your articles.

The best way to improve your site structure is to choose a cornerstone approach. Determine which article on each main topic you’re writing about is most important. Link from all other blogposts on that topic to your most important one. Our Yoast SEO plugin has several features to help you improve your site’s structure. Using these will do wonders for your SEO!

Conclusion

Whether you reach your goals or not isn’t the main issue; you just need to set them. If you don’t manage to reach those goals, it’s a good starting point to look for the reasons you did not meet them. And that’ll allow you to improve your SEO strategy.

Read on: ‘The ultimate guide to site structure’ »

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Are you aware of the risks of overusing the passive voice in your writing? In the readability analysis in our Yoast SEO plugin, we recommend using the passive voice in a maximum of 10% of your sentences. But why? In this post, I will discuss a couple of key questions pertaining to the passive voice. I’ll start by explaining what it is. Then, I’ll explain why it is usually best to avoid using the passive voice in your writing. To cap it off, I’ll describe some situations in which using the passive voice makes perfect sense.

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What is the passive voice?

The passive voice is a grammatical construction. The easiest way to explain the passive voice is by contrasting it with the active voice. The active voice is the standard English sentence structure. The simplest possible sentences feature an actor (the subject), who does (the verb) something to either a person, animal or thing (the receiver).

Word Mom hugged me
Semantic function actor direct verb  receiver

In the passive voice, the actor and receiver are switched around. The receiver becomes the grammatical subject. Note that the meaning of the sentence stays exactly the same. The only difference is the word order.

Word I was hugged by mom
Semantic function receiver direct verb actor

In some passive sentences, you can omit the actor. ‘I was hugged’, for example, is a perfectly sensible passive sentence, although it provides less information.

Why should I avoid the passive voice?

Let’s cut to the chase: using the passive voice almost always makes your writing more distant and your message less clear. There are two main reasons for this.

Wordy

First of all, the passive voice is wordy. The passive alternative to an active sentence is simply longer. Consider these two sentences:

1. The passive voice almost always makes your message less clear.

2. Your message is almost always made less clear by using the passive voice.

You convey the same message by using the passive, but add three words. When overusing the passive voice in your text, this can really add up.

Sentence structure

In addition, the passive voice uses a sentence structure which requires more cognitive effort. Your reader will spend valuable working memory on making sense of the sentence. This decreases the likelihood of you getting your message across.

Let’s explore why the passive voice demands more effort. As I told you before, the basic active sentence structure is quite consistent and logical in English. The passive voice turns this all the way around. You first read what was affected. Then you read what happened to it. Then you learn how it was affected. You discover who or what was responsible only at the very end. This sequence differs from how we usually make sense of events. Moreover, we expect the actor to be in the subject position, so we are slightly disoriented. This means constructing an image of what happens takes a tiny moment longer. Again, these moments can easily add up if you overuse the passive voice.

In the example I gave, there is no added benefit to using the passive: the active sentence conveys the same information. Whenever you use passive voice, always consider whether a better, active alternative is available.

What are the exceptions?

Sometimes, using the passive voice can be the only logical way to word a sentence. Mostly, this occurs when the actor is unknown or irrelevant. Let’s look at an example I used in the first paragraph of this very text:

In the passive voice, the actor and receiver are switched around.

There is no identifiable actor here, nor would he or she be relevant. After all, we’re talking about a general action here, not a specific one. Any alternative active sentence would be less clear and concise than the passive sentence I wrote, so it’s the best option available.

Alternatively, you may want to use a passive sentence to focus on the receiver. This works when the object is more central to the topic than the actor:

J.F. Kennedy was killed in 1963 in Dallas, Texas by Lee Harvey Oswald.

This means that we’re not here to tell you to avoid the passive voice like the plague. If it beats the active alternative, by all means: use it! Rules pertaining to style are seldom cast in stone, so don’t make the mistake of following the rule of thumb too strictly. Do what seems right to you and what makes your text flow nicely. A maximum of 10% generally suffices. You should be able to achieve numbers even lower than that by following our advice.

Conclusion

Using the passive voice is generally a bad idea. After writing your text, scan it for passive voice constructions. Always ask yourself: is a better, active alternative available? If there is, use it. If not, use the passive voice.

Read more: ‘SEO copywriting: the ultimate guide’ »

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Writing English can be hard, especially if it’s not your first language. But how important is it to use correct English? Does it even matter? In this post, I’ll explain why it’s so important to use correct language in your posts and articles. So: How’s your English?

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On a personal note

Most of the writers here at Yoast are Dutch, so our English is by no means flawless. We’ve all done courses to upgrade our writing skills, but most of us are not at native speaking level – yet.

As our company grows, so do the demands on our English skills. We have an awesome content team, but they’re just not native English. That’s why we’ve partnered with howsmyenglish.com, where Patrick and Fiona Barnes edit many of our articles and give feedback on our use of English. We’re learning a lot from them!

Why is language so important?

There are three reasons why the correct use of language is important:

1. People will understand your message better;

2. Google will understand your message better; and

3. Discussions will focus on content (and not on poor use of language).

1. People understand your message

People are less likely to understand the message you’re trying to convey if there are errors in your writing. Perhaps you’re not making ‘real’ mistakes, but you’re using words or composing sentences that just ‘look wrong’ to native speakers. That makes your content harder to read, which makes it more difficult for readers to understand what you’re trying to tell them in your article.

So, using correct language improves the readability of your text and means people will understand your writing much better.

2. Google understands your message

Good language is not in itself a ranking factor, however Google does read your content to work out what it’s about. So if your grammar is not entirely correct, Google will have a harder time figuring out your message and assessing the topic of your article.

If people have trouble understanding your text, Google will have difficulty as well. Therefore, good grammar will help Google grasp your topic more easily, eventually resulting in Google ranking your articles for the right keywords.

3. Discussions on your content, not your language skills

You want discussions to be about the content of your articles, not your use of language. If you’re making mistakes – typos, misspellings, grammar errors, whatever – trust us when we say that someone is sure to point it out in the comments! And these are not the sorts of comments you want.

You want in-depth discussions about the subject of your post, not about your grammar. Making sure your language is as flawless as possible will create space for the relevant discussions you want to have.

Ask for help to improve your language

Nobody learns to write in a foreign language overnight. Even after extensive practice and writing a Ph.D. in English, I still make lots of mistakes. The best tip I can give you to improve your written language skills is to ask for help from a native speaker of your chosen language. Working together with Pat and Fi from How’s my English is wonderful if you have a budget for it.

Asking for feedback from colleagues and friends can work as well, especially if they are native in the language you are writing in. This second pair of eyes will help you to improve those awkward formulations and to avoid misspellings and grammatical errors. Using an app like Hemingway could also be a big help! Ask for feedback and check the changes people make. That’ll help you to avoid similar mistakes in the future.

Read more: ‘SEO Copywriting: the ultimate guide’ »

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If you want to grow your audience, it could be a great strategy to focus on a different language. Creating content in a foreign language can be quite a challenge though. In this post, I’ll discuss three ways to create content in a foreign language. I’ll also share some useful tips on how to write in a language that’s not your mother tongue.

Multilingual keyword research

SEO copywriting always starts with keyword research. Creating copy in a foreign language makes no exception to that rule. Jesse, our academy lead, wrote an awesome post in which he explains that creating copy in a foreign language could have large implications for your SEO. If you’re going to aim your content at a new foreign audience, you need to find out what words they are using when they search in Google. You’ll have to get in the heads of your foreign audience.

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Take cultural differences into account

Next to using the words your audience uses, you’ll need to make sure that the content you create matches the local niche of your audience. If you’re a British company and you want to get started on the French market, you’ll encounter some cultural differences. If you are a British company and you want to get started in the Chinese market, you’ll come across some really big cultural differences. Being aware of cultural differences is important if you’re going to create content in a foreign language.

Three options to create content

After you’ve focused on your multilingual keyword research, and on the possible cultural differences, you’ll want to start creating content. There are three ways to create new content:

Translate

You can translate the content you already have on your original website in the language of your choice. You can do that yourself (provided that you have mastered the language) or you can outsource this. Translating is the cheapest way to create new content. That’s a huge plus for this strategy. However, it hardly leaves any room for the keyword research you’ve done, nor for possible cultural differences.

Write new content

The second strategy for creating content in a foreign language is by writing entirely new content. Again, you can do that yourself (provided that your writing skills in the new language are up to scratch) or you can outsource this. If you choose to outsource, I would advise you to give a detailed outline of what you want your article to say. Native writers are usually best at embedding an article in a local culture. They can use examples of current affairs in a specific country. That’ll make the copy appealing.

Transcreate

The third option for creating content in a new language is a combination of the two other strategies mentioned: transcreation. A blog post from your ‘old’ website will be the inspiration for a new article or blog post. However, keyword research and cultural differences are taken into account. The content will not be translated literally, but in the end, the articles will pretty much have the same message. This strategy is probably is the most efficient way of creating new content in a foreign language. You do not have to come up with all new ideas, but the local culture and the specific words of your audience are taken into account.

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Tips for writing in a foreign language

You can only write content yourself if your writing skills in the new language are up to scratch. Otherwise, you should outsource the writing. Writing in a language that’s not your mother tongue can be quite hard. I know from experience. So, what can you do to improve your writing?

Read a lot… and after that, read some more

The best thing you can do is to read a lot. Of course, you need to read texts in the language you want to master. Read blog posts, newspaper articles, novels. Your brain will recognize patterns of words and memorize phrases, sayings, figures of speech and preferred word order.

Practice and study

Reading will help you to passively use the language. Practising by actually writing stuff will improve your skills even further. Write, correct and write some more. It will also pay off to study the basic grammar and spelling rules before you start putting pen to paper. That’ll help you to avoid the most common mistakes.

Use a tool or a native speaker

There are lots of tools out there that’ll help you with grammar and spelling in a foreign language. I always use Grammarly to correct my English. Tools like this are helpful. Another way to get feedback on your writing is to ask a native speaker for feedback. Native speakers will also be able to correct spelling and grammar, and besides that, they could give valuable tips on style and sentence construction.

Conclusion

Adding a language to your website could very well open your site to a whole new audience. Creating content in a foreign language can be quite a challenge, though. If you want to create this content yourself, your writing skills in the foreign language should be rather good. In any case, you should always do keyword research in a foreign language and take into account any cultural differences there may exist.

Read more: ‘SEO Copywriting: the ultimate guide’ »

 

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If you want content to rank in Google, Google needs to know about the existence of that content. That means that you (or another site) should link to this content. Google will follow links and saves every post or page it finds through these links to in the index. So you’ll understand that it’s important you make sure you link to all of your content. That sounds ridiculously simple, but if you’re creating and publishing a lot of content, your linking structure might not be a top priority. That’s why we’ve added a new functionality to Yoast SEO premium, which will warn you about posts that aren’t linked to at all: the orphaned content feature.

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What is orphaned content?

The term ‘orphaned content’ refers to articles that don’t get any links from other articles or posts. As a result of that, these articles are hard to find, both by Google and by users of your site.

If you create a new post, it’ll appear on your homepage. That does create a link, of course. If you add categories or tags to your post, it’ll have a few more links. Orphaned content can have these kinds of links, but lacks text links.

Why is orphaned content important for SEO?

To rank with content in Google, Google obviously needs to know about it. Google and other search engines follow links and save all the content of pages in their index. Orphaned content has few internal links from other pages or posts linking to it. Google will consider this type of content less important. So, if an article is important to you, you should make that clear to Google (and your visitors). Link to that specific article from other (similar) content.

How is orphaned content created?

If you write a new blog post, publish it and then forget about it, you probably won’t link to it anymore in your new posts and pages. Is this a bad thing? Well, that depends on the quality of the blog post. It is definitely a bad thing if you want people and Google to find your post because it’s important. In that case: make sure Google and your audience can find that orphaned blog post. Linking to it from articles that generate a lot of traffic in the search engines will help Google and your audience get to your blog post.

How do I use the orphaned content check?

You can find the orphaned content filter in your post overview. If you’ve installed Yoast SEO premium, your post overview will look like this:

orphaned posts Yoast SEO 5.6

Clicking on the orphaned content filter will give an overview of all the posts without text links linking to them. At Yoast, we have quite a few orphaned articles as well (content-team are you reading this? We have some work to do here ;-)).

Scrolling through our own orphaned articles, made me very aware of the fact that recent articles are often orphaned. We just don’t get around to adding links to these articles in our existing blog posts. Still, for articles that are important to our SEO strategy or to our brand, we should make sure to add links in posts that generate a lot of traffic. That’ll help Google and our audience to find those important posts.

You’ll receive a notification in your SEO dashboard if your site has orphaned content.

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Should you always ‘solve’ orphaned content?

For some articles, it isn’t that important to solve an orphaned content status. Some blog posts are only important for a short period of time. At Yoast, we’re writing a lot about YoastCon at the moment, because that’s a big event coming up. Announcing such an event makes for a great blog post, but such a blog post probably has less value next year. It’s no problem for such a post to remain orphaned. In fact, perhaps you should consider deleting these pages (properly of course!) altogether. That’ll clean up your site a bit.

Conclusion: keep an eye on that orphaned content!

As I have shown, it’s easy to unwittingly create orphaned content, if you’re writing a lot of posts. From now on, you can use the orphaned content feature of Yoast SEO premium to stay on top of things. You can easily check which posts and pages are orphaned, and add links to important content, so both Google and your users can find it!

Read more: ‘Site structure: the ultimate guide’ »

 

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In this new Ask Yoast case study we’ll focus on an Australian real estate company: Building Properties Inspections Melbourne. This company specializes in building and pest inspections and provides its customers with reports, containing all the details of those inspections. What kind of customer makes use of these services? You could think of people who consider buying a property and therefore want to know if it’s in good condition. Or people who have already bought a new home and discovered timber pest afterward.

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People search online first

Of course, services like these are offline services. After making an appointment, someone of the company will actually come to your house for the inspection. However, to make this appointment, people need to find the company first. Some visitors may find the company thanks to the advice of a friend who has already used their services. People that don’t know this company will probably use an online search engine to find a business providing these services. This is where SEO comes in: if a website is at the top of the search results, people will be more likely to click on that website. In the end, this will result in more actual clients and more business for the company.

What page should rank for your keywords?

The next step is thinking about what page should rank at the top of the search results. Probably one of the most important services of Building Properties Inspections Melbourne is the ‘Pre Purchase Inspection’. When someone is about to purchase a property, this service can be used to make sure the building is in good condition.

Searching for a service like this using a search engine such as Google, people might insert a keyword like ‘Pre Purchase Inspection’ or ‘Pre Purchase Inspection Home’. When your website ranks high for such keywords, lots of people will visit your website and call in your services. When your website is on the 3rd page of the search results, nearly no one will even see your website.

Adding sufficient content

It’s important to have one specific page for every keyword or keyword group: the cornerstone content page. When someone searches for a query such as ‘Pre Purchase Inspection Home’ in Google, you don’t want your page about pest inspection to rank first. That’s why you need to make sure that Google understands what page contains the best, most relevant information for a specific keyword.

Looking at the ‘Pre Purchase Inspection’ page on the website of this company, we noticed there is too little textual content:

Pre purchase inspection

The textual content on the service page.

The current text consists of nearly 100 words. You might understand that it’s hard for Google to rank this page as the best result when only such a small amount of content can be found on the page. Make sure you add a minimum of 300 words to all of your posts and pages. For a cornerstone content page -like this page should be- we even recommend a minimum of 900 words. Tell everything about the specific service, how you operate, why people should choose you (your USP) and of course, use the keywords you want to rank for with that page in the text.

Calling to the next action

Finally, add a call-to-action to the page to give your visitors the opportunity to contact you easily. There is already a contact form on the current service page, but, because of the dark background, it looks like a footer. Visitors could skip the content in the dark block altogether because it looks like it’s not relevant for the actual page itself:

Call to action on the inspection website

The testimonials and the current call-to-action

However, the testimonials and the call-to-action in the block are important. We recommend adding a button below the textual content which says ‘Book an Inspection’ and link that button to the contact page of the website. Below the button, you can show the testimonials. Showing this content on a white background just like the other textual content will help visitors understand that it belongs to the page.

The homepage as a landing page

Not all visitors enter your website on one of the service pages: most of the other visitors will probably enter the website on the homepage. This is why it’s important to make sure your homepage is clear and easy to understand.

The current homepage contains a slider at the top of the page:

homepage as a landing page

Readers who regularly visit our blog know that we’re not a big fan of sliders. Nearly nobody actually clicks on any of the slides and it often has a negative effect on the loading times of a website. We recommend removing the slider and adding some introductory content instead. This introduction needs to tell your visitors what your website is about and what your USP is. Below the introduction, we recommend adding a clear call-to-action in a color that’s not in your color scheme yet. There already is a call-to-action as you can see in the screenshot above: the ‘Click here to book online’ button. However, this button doesn’t stand out as it is a so-called ghost button. Make sure it does. On their mobile website, they’re already doing this better, as you can see on the image below.

Mobile homepageWe recommend switching the orange and white colors, so the button has an orange color instead of the complete bar, this would make it stand out more. Add some introductory content above the button, and the top of this mobile homepage would look great!

Lastly, on both desktop and mobile, the homepage contains a lot of textual content. Since it’s mostly the service pages that need to rank for specific keywords, it’s not necessary to add this amount of textual content to the homepage.

In our opinion, the homepage should above all tell your visitors what the website is about and guide them to your main pages. We recommend reducing the textual content on the homepage, especially for the mobile version of the website.

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The importance of local SEO

Since the services of this company are offline, it’s important for them to rank locally. You want visitors that live nearby to find your website in their search results. You’ll understand that it’s less beneficial when people at the other side of the country see your website in the search results. Those people will probably exit your site quickly because your company is too far from their area. To rank locally, there are 3 things to keep in mind: structured data, Google My Business and ratings and reviews.

Structured data

Structured data can be beneficial for lots of different pages but for local SEO you should at least add structured data to your contact page. The Yoast Local SEO plugin could help you with that. The plugin will add Google Maps to your contact page. Besides that, you can add your business address and opening hours. The plugin will automatically add structured data to that information and Google might show this directly in the search results as a rich result.

Google My Business

The second thing you need to optimize is your Google My Business account. Having such an account can also lead to a rich result, such as a knowledge graph. When people in your neighborhood search for your services, this knowledge graph might appear. Local SEO expert David Mihm tells you all there is to know about it in this Google My Business post.

Ratings and reviews

Adding ratings and reviews to your site will increase the trust of visitors. Furthermore, they’re a sign for Google that your company can be valuable to others looking for the same services. If you also add structured data to those ratings and reviews, Google might show them in the search results and the CTR to your website could increase because of that rich result.

To sum it up

It was great reviewing the website of Building Property Inspections Melbourne. We think it’s a clear website and with some SEO improvements, the rankings should increase. The first thing is creating cornerstone content pages of the services pages. Adding sufficient textual content to those pages, it will be easier for Google to rank them higher in the search results. The second thing we recommend is optimizing the homepage to make sure visitors immediately understand what your website is about. After that, they should be guided to the main pages of the website. With clear calls-to-action, you’ll create a clear path for your visitors. Lastly, optimizing the website for local SEO can be very beneficial since you want to focus on the people nearby. Good luck optimizing!

Read more: ‘Using cornerstone content to make your site rank’ »

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