HOW TO: Optimize Your Content for Social Discovery
David Sasson is the chief operating officer of Outbrain, a content recommendation platform that is based in New York. You can follow him on Twitter at @davidsasson.Since the rise of search over the past decade, few obsessions have run deeper in the world of online publishing than search engine optimization (SEO). In an attempt to grow their audience and gain exposure for their content, publishers have increasingly focused on keeping Google’s crawlers well fed with tasty morsels of meta data, keyword repetitions, internal linking and more. But designing websites for crawlers often has a downside; namely, it can lead to a poor experience for flesh-and-blood users. How often have you actually used a keyword tag like the one below to navigate a site and discover new content?
Probably never. It’s wasted space cluttering the page, used only to help Google instead of actual readers.Luckily, this mentality is beginning to change as the sources of traffic into publisher content diversify. While search may have constituted the majority of referrals to a publisher five years ago, we now see it giving up ground in favor of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter and through the recommendation of other content creators and curators who link out more frequently than ever before.This development is great for publishers. Not only does it mean they can return to their emphasis on structuring content for humans instead of crawlers, but the audience engagement levels from these sources is much higher. For instance, across the hundreds of major publisher sites where my company operates, we see that bounce rates (meaning people who consume only one page on a site before surfing elsewhere) from search traffic is generally 14% higher than from other sources. Similarly, time spent on site from search traffic is lower by about 16%.
These changes aren’t totally surprising. After all, someone accessing content from search is usually looking for an answer to a question. If Google does its job perfectly, then the person should never need to go deep into a publisher’s site to get what they came for. Meanwhile, how do people find great, original content using a search engine if they don’t even know it exists? They can’t. Search provides wonderful answers to directed inquiries, but it is not the natural starting point for discovering new, interesting content.
This changing landscape, however, means that publishers need to refocus on the larger question of content discovery: How do you create content that will find its way to people who are in browse mode? And equally important, once people come to your site, how do you help them discover great additional stories so they stick around longer? Fortunately, a lot of the tactics required to improve discoverability are a return to common sense principles.
1. Write Better Headlines
Your headlines need to be interesting and feed people’s curiosity, not simply focused on keyword density and repetitions. Good titling boosts clicks, especially from social networks like Twitter where users won’t see a blurb or image.
For example, print publishers like Cosmo have known for years that people love lists. This translates to digital, too: “The 9 Reasons We Love Fatty Foods” will pull in audiences, even if you’re boxed out on Google for the keyword “foods.” (Interesting tidbit: Research on the publishers in my company’s network indicate that odd-numbered lists will net you a 20% increase in headline click-through rates vs. even numbers.)
2. Make It Visual
Add an engaging thumbnail image representing your story. Just as photos draw people into content in newspapers and magazines, a great image goes a long way online. Now that sites like Facebook automatically pull in your thumbnail when people share your story, it’s more important than ever to designate engaging images in your page structure in order to capture audience attention from outside and within your site. At my company, we find that when we add thumbnail images as part of an article headline, we see a 27% increase in click engagement and content discovery.
3. Hold On to the Readers You Have
Use your page’s real estate wisely. We tend to focus on tactics for drawing new audiences into our content, but it’s equally important to think about how to ensure those people quickly find additional great reading material once they arrive. This means analyzing the real value you’re getting from each navigational device on the page. Are people using them and clicking deeper into your site? Or are you simply cluttering the page with links that have diminishing returns? Avoid the notion that you can spray paint your way to a work of art. If you’re not getting at least 1% engagement on a navigational module, junk it and keep the page clean.
4. Create the Best Possible Content in the First Place
Write great, original pieces. Easier said than done, of course. But now that content discovery is moving more and more into the hands of real people who are sharing it, recommending it and reading more of it once they come to your site, there’s a limit to how far you can get through repurposed or aggregated content. The tactics used to optimize for overall content discovery continue to evolve. While making sure your content is well represented in search will always play a role, SEO should be seen as just one piece in a much larger puzzle. It’s now more important than ever to design your content for humans, not just crawlers.
Original article found HERE