Just like people scan texts in a certain way, so does Google. Let me give you 3 examples of how Google uses text structure for its ranking:
1. Google defined, in some of its patents, ranking signals such as semantic closeness. Semantic closeness refers to the proximity of related words in a text while taking into account the formatting of that text. To be able to understand semantic closeness of words, your text’s structure must be clear.
2. In another Google patent, “the reasonable surfer“, Google explicitly talks about headings. Headings containing certain keywords are important for the topic of a given page.
3. With the Hummingbird update, Google became a lot better at recognizing synonyms.
There are more patents that hint at using a text’s structure to understand the text. Google, over time, has become much better at analyzing content. The better you write, the easier it becomes for Google to understand your content and therefore to rank it. Plus, Google is working hard to truly understand language. For example, in 2019, Google introduced BERT, a Natural Language Processing (NLP) model that helps Google understand language better in order to serve more relevant results.
Setting up articles with clear structure has a positive effect on the ranking for another reason as well. Well-structured texts have lower bounce rates and higher chances to receive social media attention. This, in itself, leads to higher rankings.
Tips on improving the structure of your text
If you want to improve the structure of your text, you need to pay attention to:
1. The first paragraph of your text
2. Your headings
3. The first sentence of every new paragraph
Some time ago, I wrote an article on how to set up the structure of a blog post. Make sure to read that article if you have trouble setting up the structure for a text.
You should clearly formulate what your post is about in the first paragraph. In printed texts, a writer usually starts off with some kind of teaser, but there is no time for that if you are writing for the web. You only have seconds to draw your reader’s attention. Make sure the first paragraph tells the main message of your post. That way, you make it easy for your reader to figure out what your post is about and: you tell Google what your post is about. This is also known as the inverted pyramid style. Don’t forget to put your focus keyword in that first paragraph!
Headings should be attractive and should clearly state the content of the paragraph below it. Headings allow your readers to quickly scan through your text and to decide whether or not they would like to read your article (or which parts). We would advise you to put a header above every long paragraph (or above a group of paragraphs which are thematically similar).
It’s helpful to search engines if a heading defines what a piece of text is going to be about. Whether they’re a ranking factor or not (and SEOs do quarrel about that), headings are of great importance to the structure of your text. Google will therefore probably use them to determine what the text is about.
Focus keyword in first paragraph. Another reason to have the focus keyword in your first paragraph is simple psychology. People recognize the word they sought for and think they’re in the right spot!
Make sure the first sentence of a paragraph is the most important, the core sentence, of that paragraph. After all, people tend to read the first sentence of every new paragraph as they’re scanning through content. The other sentences in a paragraph elaborate upon that first core sentence. Chances are Google will pay extra attention to these sentences, in order to determine the topic of a text. They are great places to use your keyword, if possible. If you’re writing a well-structured article and staying on-topic, your keyword will come up naturally in many core sentences.
Text structure is important to attract readers to your blog, as well as for SEO reasons. Writing well-structured and well-written texts isn’t easy, though. At Yoast, we are strong believers in the importance of quality content. That’s why the readability analysis makes part of Yoast SEO and we offer a Content SEO training subscription that includes a SEO copywriting course. In this SEO training, we teach you how to write the best copy for your audience and search engines, and how to structure your text well!