It’s as if they live in different countries: Searchlandia and Socialstan.
Search optimizers and social media marketers don’t get together a whole lot, at least not in the same piece of content. But there’s no reason they can’t peacefully coexist in one article, in one URL.
Imagine. One topic, one message, united in quality, but with two separate and equally powerful sources of traffic: search and social.
Is it possible? Can one post be optimized for both?
Yes. And when it happens, the traffic is greater than the sum of its channels.
Um. Actually, the traffic is equal to the sum of its channels. But we’re not here to do math. We’re here to create the right type of content that gets traction everywhere.
Optimizing for search
Let’s start with a rundown of search optimization.
Our goal here is to indicate relevance, not trick a robot.
After you’ve identified a target keyword phrase:
Use the phrase in highly visible places
Those places are the title, header, meta description, and body text (of course). Yes, the tiny, barely visible places are nice too — such as alt text and the file names of images — but they’re not as important as those primary spots.
If this isn’t obvious, just ask yourself:
If you were building a new search engine today, would an image file name be a major search-ranking factor?
Include words and phrases semantically connected to your phrase
You see words and phrases semantically connected to your phrase everywhere when you use search engines.
They’re suggested in the search box as you type. They’re in the “related phrases” at the bottom of the search results page. They’re in the other high-ranking pages.
Now work these words into your copy. This is the key to semantic SEO:
Target the topic, not just the phrase.
Go wide and cover related topics and phrases, so Google has more reasons to believe that your content is relevant.
Answer all the questions related to your topic
Find the questions that are related to your topic and answer them with your content.
You’ll find these questions in Quora, AskThePublic.com, LinkedIn Groups, and even your sent email folder.
Greater depth means a greater likelihood of ranking.
Optimizing for social
You’ve indicated your relevance, gone wide across semantically connected phrases, and gone deep into the answers that your reader is hoping to find.
Now that your content is rankworthy, let’s make sure it’s shareworthy.
We’ll focus on headlines first, since they’re such an important factor in social optimization. They’re critical.
Think of it this way:
Articles don’t get shared, only headlines do.
Our goal here is to trigger a social interaction. The advice below is more about psychology, so it’s a bit less prescriptive and a bit more fun.
Choose unexpected words
You always want to avoid creating boring content. That advice is especially true for social media.
After all, your potential reader is on social media looking to cure their boredom, right? We need to trigger their interest with some unexpected words.
- Short, simple words will pop off the page.
- Delightful words will squeak past the other headlines.
- Direct words will skewer them before they scroll past.
- Negative words kill it in social media
- But be careful with long words — the circuitous path through the frontal cortex is too slow
Readers scan quickly, so we need some stopping power. That one, extra word can disarm, charm, and twist their arm.
Take a look at the headline below. It was one of the top three most shared headlines on Copyblogger over the last year:
One Skill that Will Take Your Writing from Good to Great
Does it make you wonder what that skill is? Me too. It’s hard not to click on it. And what gets clicked often gets shared.
Headlines that trigger curiosity and fascination are great for social media.
Fascination is one of the two most important qualities of compelling content. What’s the other? You’ll have to click here to find out.
See what I did there?
Here’s another one of the top 10 most shared headlines on Copyblogger in the last year:
21 Juicy Prompts that Inspire Fascinating Content
Numbers in headlines have always correlated with clicks and shares. There are at least two reasons why:
- Numbers are a clue that the content is scannable (low investment).
- Numerals stand out among letters in a line of text (high prominence). This gives them a big advantage in fast-flowing social streams.
Don’t break your promise
Your headline is a promise. Clickbait is a broken promise, a lie.
Everyone who sees your headline in their social stream does a split-second cost/benefit analysis. They think, “Is this worth the click? Is this worth two seconds of my attention?” The headline’s job is to tell them, “Yes, it’s worth it.”
Be specific. Let the reader know what they’ll get, what they’ll learn, and why it’s important. Give them a reason to stop scrolling. Look closer. Click.
Once they’ve clicked, you’d better keep your promise. Your job now is to meet or exceed their expectations. All the depth you added while optimizing for search will help.
Customize your images
If your content has no featured image, or a weak one, it has less stopping power in social streams.
Two main elements make images more likely to be clicked:
- Faces. We are hardwired to look at faces. It’s no wonder you’ll see them on virtually every cover of every magazine in the checkout aisle.
- Text. Since your image appears in a social snippet, it’s a chance to make that promise we talked about. It’s a chance to indicate the benefits of clicking. So put a benefit of reading the post (possibly the headline itself) on your image.
YouTubers learned these tactics years ago. Look at any popular YouTube channel and you’re likely to find both faces and text within the images in their custom thumbnails.
Collaborate (a social approach to writing)
If you want someone to share your piece of content, invite them to contribute to it.
An ally in creation is an ally in promotion.
Adding contributor quotes from experts both improve the quality of the piece and increase its social reach. If contributors are invested in an article, of course they’ll share it.
It’s also more fun to make things with collaborators. Content optimized for search includes keywords. Content optimized for social includes people.
The battleground for search and social tension: headlines
Images, answers, contributors, depth … most of the aspects of search and social optimization can easily coexist side-by-side, but there isn’t much interaction between them.
The exception is the headline.
So, how can a headline both indicate relevance for search and trigger emotion for social? Can you satisfy citizens of both countries? Yup.
Here are examples of headlines optimized for both channels:
- Collaborative Content Marketing: 5 Ways to Make Friends and Rank Like a Champ
- How to Launch a New Product … and Make Your Mom Proud
- 10 Competitive Analysis Tools (and Tips for Spying on your Competitors)
Notice that in each example the target keyword phrase is near the beginning. They often use numbers and trigger words. Colons and parentheses allow you to add more benefits and details.
Here’s a template for search-friendly and social-friendly headlines:
keyword + colon + number + specific benefit and/or trigger words
Website Navigation: 7 Best Practices, Tips, and Warnings
Does it work? Search for “website navigation” and take a look.
A powerful way to attract more readers
Wherever you’re from — the land of search or the land of social — you’ll attract more readers if you optimize for both.
And you’ll push yourself to write better in the process.
The best content doesn’t win. The best promoted content wins.
Reader Comments (16)
Great article Andy! It made for a really fascinating read.
I couldn’t agree more about the inclusion of numbers. Over the last year or so, I have introduced more and more numbers into my blog post headlines, and have seen some really positive increases in both read and comment figures. It seems ‘list’ focused content is something that really appears to readers, especially when clicking through from social channels.
A quick question. How vital do you think the supporting social post, say tweet, is to the click through? Are people more likely to click through because of a catchy, clean looking tweet with a smart image the article link? Or will they look more at the headline of the article itself and be drawn in that way?
Andy Crestodina says
I think the image can have a big impact on CTR in social streams. It’s super important. Partly because the image itself is always clickable. An attention-grabbing image can “slow the scroll” of the person in social media. Without it, you’re at a huge disadvantage …does that answer your question?
Thanks for the note, Callum!
Totally! Thanks so much Andy.
Ravi Chahar says
It’s always been a challenge to optimize the blog posts for both social media and search engine.
The guide consisting the basic steps of adding the keywords in the headline, meta description, the first paragraph is always there.
But I like the point you have mentioned to use the unexpected words and numbers.
People always like to explore the content which has the hidden tips in a larger amount.
The promise you make in your headline should be delivered.
Andy Crestodina says
I know SEOs who would argue that numbers and unexpected words impact search rankings, even if they have nothing to do with the keyphrase.
If the post has a high clickthrough rate from a search results page (possible because of the number/unexpected word) then it’s sending a strong “user interaction signal” to Google. This is evidence to the search engine that it’s a good piece, which could help the rankings the next time someone searches.
There’s a debate about the effect of CTR on search rankings, but there is no debate about the effect of CTR on traffic! And the goal of SEO isn’t rankings, it’s traffic.
Michael LaRocca says
Would launching a new product really make my mom proud? She set the bar pretty low, but even so…
Janice Wald says
Thank you for the article. Much of this was review but I got some new tips as well. I especially enjoyed the tip about using the colon. Thank you for the headline template.
Andy Crestodina says
I’m glad you liked this one, Janice. Yes, the colon is a great way to work in a second headline, or a second element to the headline.
Short headlines often work well, but I once saw research showing that double headlines get a higher clickthrough rate. It makes sense because there are two chances to catch the readers attention.
Colons, paragraphs, dashes and elipses. All of those can work!
Avil Beckford says
You gave me a lot to think about in your article. I read it shortly before I updated a blog post about my reading challenge, which didn’t get a lot of shares. I used the headline formula and the semantic SEO. I’ll make the changes in some of my older posts and I’ll use the information in new posts. Thank you!
Trying to do the search part of search and social. When I type a keyword into my google search bar, once in a while it tells me how many results there are, but usually it doesn’t. It happens on my iPad, Mac and iPhone. I use safari on all. I’ve cleared history, caches and cookies.
Can anyone help me?
Andy Crestodina says
I wouldn’t worry too much about the number of search results. Sometimes it’s a bazillion! Other times is half a bazillion. But this number doesn’t have a big impact on your chance of ranking or your ability to write something great.
There is an art to evaluating the competition for a given phrase. The key is to understand your “Domain Authority” which is a metric created by Moz. It emulates part of Google’s own algorithm.
Here’s the important piece: If you Domain Authority is in the same range as the other pages that rank high for that phrase, you should have a chance …even if there are a bazillion total pages that rank for the phrase!
Wendy St Clair says
Terrific article and quite timely, as we discussed this very topic at our weekly meeting today.
Thanks for helpful points to share with the team!
Andy Crestodina says
I’ve been in a lot of meetings where Copyblogger was discussed. 🙂
Henry M. McClean says
Great article Andy!
David Boozer says
Great post Andy! Headlines, the one thing I am wanting to master this year…
Fernando D'Annunzio says
Great post Andy. Sometimes one tend to forget that Search is another language than Social but they have to work hand in hand to be successful.
This quote says it all, in my opinion:
“Articles don’t get shared, only headlines do”
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