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Search engine optimization (SEO) is arguably the most powerful digital marketing strategy for building sustainable businesses. And though much of it can be done yourself, it can also be deceptively complex.
Robots.txt files, canonical tags, backlink generation — these are all concepts that can be quite confusing.
SEO writing, though, is something you can learn fairly quickly and hone over time. And it might just be the most important thing you can do to appear higher in Google search results.
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What is SEO writing?
SEO writing, also known as SEO copywriting, refers to the practice of writing content that is optimized for search engines. This includes techniques like blogging, organizing content with subheaders, internal linking, and chunking.
When content is optimized for search engines, there is a greater likelihood that it will appear on search engine results pages (SERPs). The higher it appears on SERPs, the more organic traffic it will generate to a website, which means more potential customers for your business.
What SEO writing is not
Before we get into how to write for SEO, it’s important we clarify a few things:
- SEO writing is not just about where you put keywords
- SEO writing is not just about how many times you use keywords in a given piece
- SEO writing, in fact, is not just about writing
When some people think of SEO, they think of a discipline with strict rules that need to be followed to satisfy an algorithm. And so they consider SEO writing something that’s as simple as plugging in the perfect keywords in the right places the perfect amount of times.
But what many people forget when they start out SEO content writing is that Google is not just analyzing the words on the page — where they are, how they are used, if their synonyms are used, etc — they’re also measuring the quality of that writing.
How does an algorithm measure quality?
It can judge how comprehensive your content is, the date it was last updated to see if it’s recent, and especially backlinks, to see if people find your content valuable enough to link to it.
It used to be that you could include your target keyword many times on a page, and that alone would be good enough to improve your ranking in Google. Today, not only is that an ineffective tactic, it’s something that will get you penalized by Google.
All this is to say that SEO writing isn’t just about plugging in keywords, stuffing a page with keywords, or writing the bare minimum to satisfy the search engine. As with all SEO strategies, to succeed, you have to start with the user in mind.
SEO writing: A step-by-step process
SEO writing doesn’t have to be a mystery. The process can be difficult at first, but with knowledge and practice, you can start creating search-engine-optimized content quickly and efficiently. Here are the five basic steps you’ll need to do it, along with a few writing tips and SEO tips, too:
1. Find the keywords that fill your marketing funnel
Though SEO writing isn’t all about keywords, they’re certainly a major component. To figure out the words your target audience is using to find answers to questions related to your business, it takes thorough research. Keyword tools like Ahrefs, Clearscope, Google Keyword Planner, and other popular choices can help.
“Do keyword research” is vague advice and not so helpful. What this actually means is “find the keywords that will fill the gap in your marketing funnel.” And every business is different.
Different keywords can bring different kinds of traffic. Long-tail keywords have lower search volume but higher intent, whereas short-tail keywords can bring more search traffic in general.
Other types of keywords can bring visitors, profit, clicks, higher conversion rates, and more. The specific keywords you’re looking for are going to be based on what your business is lacking.
For Granwehr clients, the most effective way to determine how SEO can move the needle is by auditing a website to discover which keywords are bringing the most value. Then, a strategy can be developed to boost the search engine ranking of the pages ranking for those keywords.
2. Determine search intent
There’s a problem with the perception of search engine optimization. A lot of marketers still think of SEO as a strategy that revolves around satisfying search engines with specific tactics. But search engines want to please users. And so, if you focus on satisfying users, a lot of the SEO will take care of itself.
For SEO writers, this means figuring out exactly what users want to see before you start creating content. A lot of people make the mistake of creating content they think people will want to consume instead of actually finding out the content that they want to consume.
How do you find out what people want to consume? Simple. You go to the SERPs.
On search engine results pages, Google has already done the work for you. It monitors all kinds of user behavior to figure out what searchers want to see when they search a term, known as “search intent.”
Do users want to see an ecommerce product page? A landing page? An infographic? A top-10 listicle?
These are the kinds of things you can look for on the first page of Google search engine results. Simply searching the keyword term can reveal of content you need to create to rank well. There are several types of search intent, and understanding them is key to developing an SEO content strategy.
3. Create your content
Content creation is the hardest part of a content writer’s job. And that’s because there’s so much on the internet to compete with. To beat your competition on search engine results pages, you need to create high-quality content. It has to be better in some way — offer a unique perspective, more comprehensive information, an easier reading experience, etc.
Study the SERPs
To figure out how to beat your competitors, take your study of the SERPs a step further and actually read top results. What do these posts have in common? What’s different about them? How can they be improved upon? How are they structured? This will inform the direction of your post.
Create an outline
Once you have the direction, create an outline. Determine the way to best organize and present the information you want to get across. Organization is a big part of user experience. You want to write using the inverted pyramid technique of presenting information.
Get to the stuff people want to know first, and then share supporting resources. Always think of the user. What do they want, and how can you give it to them as easily as possible?
It’s important to keep in mind that not every topic you write on will need to be in-depth. For example, to satisfy the search “Content marketing guide,” you’re going to need to write a lot more content than you will to satisfy the search “Content marketing definition.”
That’s because one searcher is looking for a long and detailed “how-to,” whereas the other is looking for a short and simple “what-is” definition. Google rewards content that is comprehensive, but as is the case with a definition, comprehensive content can sometimes be short.
Make it skimmable
When people read digital content, most of them aren’t doing it for pleasure. They’re reading to find specific information. That means an SEO content writer needs to present information in an organized way that makes it easy to skim.
Do not write long blocks of text. These can intimidate readers and exhaust their mental endurance. Instead, “chunk” and organize content by breaking it up into small sections with headers. This will communicate your ideas and how they relate to other ideas within the content.
Each page should have one H1 and one title tag. Your H2s should be broad concepts within the article, and within those should be H3s and H4s when you get more specific. Here’s an example.
Within those H3s and H4s, make sure your paragraphs don’t get too long — 2-4 sentences each — and use bullets when you can, like in lists or components of a whole. These help break up the text and enhance skimmability.
4. Optimize your content for SEO
The body of your content is 90% of the work. But there’s still a 10% that can take your SEO writing from good to great. Now that you’ve written content focused on readers, it’s time to go back and make sure it communicates effectively to search engines, too.
A great tool for this is Clearscope. Clearscope will analyze all the top results on Google and tell you which keywords they have in common, how many times they’re used, and where they’re used in a piece of content.
Why is this important? Because not all text in your content is created equal.
How to tell Google your information is relevant
Google weighs the words in your H1 and your page title very heavily. That’s because these are essentially the title of your content. If your H1 is called “SEO Writing in 5 Easy Steps,” Google immediately believes that the content on the page is relevant to people who want to learn about SEO writing.
Your H2s are also very important for communicating the relevance of your content to Google. These tell search engines what the broader concepts of your article are.
The same way an H1 communicates what the whole page is about, H2s communicate the concepts within each section. You should attempt to include your keywords in these key places on the page.
You’ll find that if you’ve studied the SERPs and other high-performing content, your writing will already naturally contain a lot of the keywords that a tool like Clearscope will tell you to use in your content. Then it’s just a matter of going back and fitting in the words and phrases and synonyms you’ve missed.
Of course, never force a keyword if it doesn’t appear relevant or natural. Your goal is always to write for the user first. Search engines come second.
PRO TIP: Integrate Clearscope with Google Docs to see the keywords you’ve included in your piece as you write them. This will allow you to adjust your content as you go to fit in relevant keywords. That way, it won’t take too long to optimize the body of your content when you’re done.
PRO TIP: Do not worry about keyword density. Google has already said that keyword density is not something its algorithm focuses heavily on for content rank. Fit your keyword into the content naturally. Don’t try to fit it in as many times as possible, this is called keyword stuffing and can get you penalized in search results.
How to give your SEO writing that extra bump
Keywords and where you put them are really important for communicating to Google that your content is relevant. But these aren’t the only things you should be optimizing to make sure your content looks relevant to Google. Also…
Write a compelling meta title
Your meta title is the title of your search engine listing, which visitors will see when your page appears on SERPs. Meta title isn’t something Google’s algorithm looks at specifically to rank your content, but a good meta title does contribute to SERP click-through rate (CTR), which SEO experts believe to be an official ranking factor. Make sure your meta title includes a value proposition and it separates your content from the rest of the page.
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Write an informational meta description
Meta titles should be short and compelling, while meta descriptions should be a little bit longer, elaborating on the title to give the visitor an even clearer idea of what they’ll find on the page when they click through. Meta descriptions also contribute to SERP CTR, which may contribute to search engine ranking.
Internally link your content
Internal links are important for multiple reasons. Most importantly, they give your readers a way to learn more on a specific topic or claim a specific resource. But they’re also valuable for SEO. Googlebot actually finds your web pages by crawling internal links from page to page.
Not only that, but linking from a high-ranking page to a lower-ranking page can actually help bump that page up in search rankings. In this way, internal links to a page can work similarly to the way backlinks from other websites do (though not as powerfully).
PRO TIP: For best SEO, make sure your internal links have short but informational anchor text, and that you know which type to use in various situations.
Write optimized image alt text and filenames
Image alt text is a description of an in-content image that screen-reading software reads aloud to people with visual impairments. It can be added in your content management system. You should write alt text like a sentence, describing exactly what the image shows to someone who cannot see it.
Alt text also help search engines understand your image so they can better rank your page as a whole. In addition, it will make it more likely your image gets found in a Google image search, which can earn you additional page visits. Try to include your keyword, but don’t force it. You don’t want to be marked as spam.
PRO TIP: Image filenames can also help search engines understand your images better. Unlike alt text, filenames should be short, descriptive, and contain dashes between each word. Try to include your keyword for best SEO results.
Write an SEO-friendly URL
In-content writing isn’t the only kind of writing an SEO copywriter will need to do. Aside from headers, meta titles, and meta descriptions, writing an SEO-friendly URL is crucial to improve the experience of users and crawlers. An SEO-friendly URL is one that is short, descriptive, and contains your keyword.
At Granwehr, our blog post URLs are all strictly based on our keywords. The slug is always the keyword phrase we’re trying to rank for. For example, this post will be granwehr.com/seo-writing. Instead of a long string of words, numbers, letters, and characters that doesn’t communicate anything about our page, users and search engines will have a clear idea of what they’ll find when they click through the URL granwehr.com/seo-writing.
5. Analyze and improve
SEO is a rapidly evolving discipline. And when Google’s algorithm changes, you have to be ready to pivot.
Luckily, writing for humans first will help you future-proof your content. Google will always operate with the ultimate goal of serving users, and so if you make your goal the same, algorithm changes should never impact you too negatively.
But how do you make sure you’re satisfying users the best you can? By tracking success metrics for content marketing. Things like…
- Click-through rate
- Scroll depth
- Bounce rate
- Time on page
- Social shares
- Content attribution
Even comments can help you figure out how users are responding to your content. Keep users satisfied, and Google will keep moving your page up its SERPs.
That means updating your content to keep it as relevant as possible, adding internal links to new and valuable resources, and monitoring SERPs to make sure that the content you’ve created is still what Google wants to show searchers.
Tools that can help you monitor SEO and content marketing metrics include:
- Google Analytics
- Google Search Console
- Bing Webmaster Tools
Get a complimentary SEO audit
Writing is one of the most important aspects of on-page and off-page SEO. On-page, it gets people reading, engaging, and sharing great content. Off-page, good SEO writing can translate to backlinks from other websites, and link-building opportunities like guest blogging and brand partnerships.
Want to find out how you’re doing in all areas of SEO? Get an instant SEO audit below, or get a free consultation to find out how intent SEO can boost traffic revenue by 700%.