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How to Write SEO Content That Ranks on Search Engines

When learning how to write SEO content for better search engine rankings, it’s often a good idea to begin by understanding why these coveted top rankings are important. It’s here that I’m always reminded of the following quote:

“Content is where I expect much of the real money will be made on the Internet, just as it was in broadcasting.” – Bill Gates, Content is King (essay)

SEO content marketing is the strategy of creating valuable, discoverable, and relevant content to build a following based on trust. Content, in general, is any helpful information, typically in the form of articles, videos, podcasts, and graphics.

In a market saturated with advertisements and pitches, content exists to help prospects and customers solve problems and learn new things—no strings attached. That’s it. Content marketing is special.

image depicting content marketing vs. sales pitches for how to write SEO content article

Of course, the ultimate reason behind SEO content marketing, and the reason companies can afford to do it, is that eventually, your audience is likely to convert into customers.

The goal of a salesperson is to seem like a trusted advisor rather than a vendor, and content marketing builds trust between companies and prospective buyers while also building brand awareness. Salespeople can’t do it all.

Bonus: Check out the video summary!

What is SEO content?

Search engine optimization, or SEO, is the process of tailoring your website and content to get more organic traffic from search engines, like Google, Bing, or that cool tree-planting search engine Ecosia.

SEO is easier to accomplish on some web builders than on others. For instance, if you use WordPress, the Yoast SEO plugin will advise you on SEO as you create posts and will also insert special indicators (structured data) into your posts that satisfy search engine algorithms’ basic questions like “who wrote this post,” “is this a job posting,” etc.

Yoast will also advise you on how to improve your pages’ SEO as you compose them, such as increasing the number of times the keyword appears in the copy or improving your headings.

example of Yoast SEO recommendations for learning how to write SEO content

Visual website creators, like Wix, allow users to do some basic SEO content tweaking in their own tool (Wix SEO Wiz) while creating a site or page. This still doesn’t compare to WordPress’s Yoast because users will need to enter their own structured data manually, but it’s a start.

In visual creators, you’ll need to make sure the pages are created with proper titles, headings, paragraphs, and so on since the site builder doesn’t automatically do any of this. It can’t, as its user interface is basically like Adobe Illustrator made easy.

There are over 200 factors that determine a site or page’s SEO ranking, varying from details on a specific web page to overall website authority and more.

Fortunately (for me, having to write all this), there are 10 of these that are easy to optimize and will gain you the most “bang for your buck” in terms of visibility, and they’re also easy enough for any DIYer to tackle solo.

Vintage Pepsi Cola ad for how to write SEO content article
Can we start saying this instead of “bang for your buck.” (Image source)

How important is SEO content for your business? 

SEO is still a major factor in internet visibility and success for businesses in all industries. As long as people use search engines for answers to their questions, solutions to their problems, and scratches to their itches, strategic SEO content will help you gain traffic to your site from your target audience.

Top 10 SEO ranking factors

Paying attention to these 10 crucial SEO ranking factors should help elevate your content, improving rankings, traffic, and conversions.

1. Effective keyword research and optimization

Search engine algorithms read web pages like a third-grader who’s late for recess: keyword skimming. Your keywords should be a word or phrase you think people might be typing into search engines, like “what is a sales funnel” or “cold email templates.”

Make sure your keyword is evenly distributed throughout your content and is also found in the headings and subheadings—but not all of them. Too many keywords will make search engines think your page is spam.

Let’s say that you’re specifically trying to rank for local traffic. In that case, your keywords will be more focused with keyword extenders like “near me,” “close by,” and “in city“ since people are telling Google they want a certain thing in a certain geographical location.

Focusing solely on “hacking” SEO content rather than readability, you may employ a strategy to simply plug your keyword as often as possible, along with variations and related phrases. That would be a mistake.

Instead, I prefer to account for readability and helpfulness and allow organic shares and long pageviews to help boost my content’s ranking. These are both SEO indicators that search engines also use to determine content quality.

I’d rather post something fun, informative, and helpful than post an SEO keyword grab to occupy the #1 spot on Google. There are a bunch of different strategies. Don’t be the bad guy.

humorous Billie Eilish GIF for how to write SEO content article

2. Clickable headings

Headings are the titles, varying in size, at the beginning of pages, sections, and paragraphs. For SEO and content quality purposes, search engines “scan” a page’s headings to determine that:

  • The keywords and related words are found in the page’s main headings
  • The page’s sub-headings reflect the main headings
  • The page’s content (paragraph text) reflects the sub-headings

If you’re writing a coffee-rubbed steak recipe, you’ll need to make sure you list ingredients under an “ingredients” heading, and so on. This will ensure that search engines understand what’s happening on the page and may even score you a featured snippet.

learning how to write SEO content using featured snippets
This is a featured snippet explaining what a featured snippet is.

3. Content quality

Look, there are no two ways about it: your content needs to be good—no matter what type of content it is.  Content exists solely to help people, which, in turn, fosters trust and builds your following.

This means you should be publishing original, novel insights—things people haven’t heard before—on topics you’re passionate about. It’s not really possible (or advisable) to spoof your way onto the front page of search engines just by stuffing your page with SEO and keywords.

Write this down somewhere: If your content isn’t genuine and compelling, your audience won’t grow.

Relevant topics

This one’s sneaky. The content topic must be relevant to your readers. Obviously. You knew that. But it must also be relevant to the content on your website and your other blogs.

If one day, your local movie theater started publishing software reviews instead of showtimes, their organic traffic would drop to zero. Search engines take topic into account for SEO because sites that give information on topic X aren’t necessarily experts on topics Y or Z.

Pro tip: Once you’ve got your topic picked out, type it into Google as a question. Try incorporating some of the “People also ask…” points into your copy. This will make it rank better.

learning how to write SEO content using Google's People Also Ask section

4. Readability

Another aspect of content quality is readability. It’s important enough to warrant its own section. It’s best to structure your content logically to keep the reader scrolling through to the end. 

You can also apply formatting to make your content easier on the eyes. That means liberal use of whitespace and visual breaking up of long text with images, other media, and lists.

5. Meta tags and descriptions

The click-through rate is an essential metric to boost if you want to improve your content ranking. That’s why compelling meta tags and descriptions are important skills for mastering SEO content. 

Descriptive title tags that include your target keyword and infer benefits to reading within 50-60 characters might be too small to include everything you want. So, you can also rely on meta descriptions. These are the small blurbs of text that display underneath the clickable heading in the SERPs. They are used to mention what the article is about and why you should click through to read. 

Often, writers and companies leave this tag blank, and the SERP defaults to the first few lines of the page. But you should definitely take advantage of this prime real estate to enhance your SEO. 

Try the free Meta Tags tools to test out titles and meta descriptions while getting a preview of what it would look like on various search engines and social media posts.

6. Internal and external linking

External links are links from your content to other domains. When linking out, you get SEO points for linking to domains with content similar to the topic you’re writing about.

For instance, it’s totally cool for you to link to Nutshell when writing about awesome CRMs. Highly advised, in fact. ☝🤓

The actual text you choose to transform into a hyperlink is known as the anchor text. You get bonus points if the anchor text contextually matches the content on the page you’re linking to. You get fewer points if your anchor text is random.

Internal links work the same way external links work. Good anchor texts, relevant content, and all that stuff make your internal links more solid. The difference is that, with internal links, you’re linking to other pages on your own website rather than external pages.

This serves as an excellent method of giving your favorite web pages the highest link value and, thus, more visibility. If you have a good piece of SEO content your users enjoy, link to it from your other posts!

7. User experience and loading speed

Page loading speed is an important factor in ranking for SEO, but it’s also a usability issue. The higher a page’s loading speed, the higher the bounce rate. These numbers start to get scary, with almost 50% of users giving up after five seconds of page loading time.

table comparing page load speed vs. bounce rate for how to write SEO content article
Image from Pingdom

There are a bunch of useful resources available to help content creators reduce their page loading times.

At a bare minimum, make sure to manually downscale your landing images before applying them to your content.

Also, large pieces of content like long videos or large photos should be linked to from another domain rather than hosting them on your piece of SEO content. Trim that fat!

8. Mobile-friendliness

Mobile traffic accounts for roughly 50% of all web traffic as of Q4 2019. Search engines constantly test a page’s mobile-friendliness and provide higher visibility to the pages that perform well to give their users the best possible experience.

Most web builders automatically publish mobile-friendly pages. Others just publish the page as-is, and it’s up to you to make your own pages mobile-friendly.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to mobile-friendliness, as the mobile issues that arise relate to the content you’re trying to publish. As a general rule, make sure all of your content elements will span a mobile page easily without creating the need for horizontal scrolling or mini-text.

Some visual web editors get confused about margin spaces, so make sure nothing on your published mobile page overlaps or is in the wrong place. If your pictures are huge, make sure they’ll resize on mobile. It’s all about fitting everything properly in that tiny vertical screen.

Remember that you can always test your mobile usability yourself and update your published SEO content as needed.

illustration depicting a mobile-friendly design for learning how to write SEO content
Image via 79Design

9. Domain authority

Arguably, one of the most critical factors in a page’s SEO ranking is its page authority, combined with the website’s domain authority. What is domain authority exactly? Good question:

What is domain authority, and why does it matter for SEO?

Domain authority is a score that predicts how well a website will rank on search engines. The score is determined by a special SEO algorithm primarily focusing on links—how many inbound/outbound links per site and the authorities behind them.

High-ranking sites that link to yours will increase your authority. Naturally, low-ranking sites that link to yours (known as toxic backlinks) will hurt your site’s reputation, resulting in less visibility for your pages and SEO content.

Domain authority is comparative rather than concrete. Since sites vary drastically in nature, and there’s only one scale to measure all the websites ever, it makes sense that similar sites’ scores will be within similar ranges.

For example, Wikipedia has 6 million English articles, all of which rank incredibly high for their targeted keyphrase, and their domain authority is 93.

Don’t compete with them! Save yourself 6 million articles and focus on capturing your own SEO keyphrase relevant to your topics and helpful for your audience.

Wikipedia articles visualized as books for how to write SEO content article
All English Wikipedia articles visualized as books

10. Image optimization

Alt tags (or “alt text”) are invisible bits of data associated with images that tell search engines what’s going on in the picture.

Image alt tags matching the topic and keywords tell search engines that even the photos on the page are relevant, thus boosting its SEO value.

Alt tags are also read aloud to visually impaired users via their web browsers, making them a vital accessibility feature. Be sure to include alt tags on any photos you use in your SEO content.

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How to write SEO content: a repeatable recipe for beginners

Remember, content marketing is about attracting an audience. Content is supposed to be helpful and compelling. Your content marketing strategy will fail miserably if your objective is to simply publish more arbitrary content, even if the SEO is adequate.

The price of SEO services from an SEO agency varies depending on the size of your business, the services you want, and the company you work with. But if you want to write SEO content yourself, make sure you’re really publishing something genuine and forget about putting your sales pitch in there.

What you’ll need:

  • A word processor: Use a word processor to make your content and share it with your team for edits. Once it’s beautiful, copy and paste it into your website’s blog. Your word processor can be Google DocsMicrosoft WordOpenOffice, or whatever else, as long as it has the ability to format documents with all of the functionality you’ll need in your content, including:
    • Titles
    • Headings
    • Text alignment
    • Photos
    • Font styles
  • A web editor with blogging functionality: This is something you’ll need to become familiar with, as your blog is the actual manifestation of your SEO content marketing strategy, and your users will be interacting with it regularly. Most blogs work the same way, and are easy to use, so there’s not a big learning curve here. Be sure to look at your SEO content immediately after publishing it to make sure there are no discrepancies between the draft version and the live version.

Step 1: Make an outline

You have to know where you’re going to get to where you want to be. Before you start writing, you want to get a good idea of what you want to say, what you’ll cover in your content, and what you won’t. Outlining potential blog posts in Notepad or a similar editor will help you shape the post before it’s written, thus making the writing process so much easier.

A good outline gives you a roadmap to guide your content before you write, to ensure you stay on track.  Sections should be split up and organized so that, when it comes down to it, you already know exactly what you’re going to write about.

example of article notes for learning how to write SEO content
My actual notes for this very post

Step 2: Write and edit your content

Now it’s time to actually write your content. Keep any needed research notes or references on hand to streamline the process. Follow the outline you created to organize your writing in a way that will be easy for the reader to understand.

Don’t worry about getting your blog post right the first time. Expect to edit and rewrite sections on multiple passes to get your content just right.

Step 3: Optimize your content

Using my handy list of top-ranking factors, you can now optimize your post for search engine results. 

For example, you can check your headers throughout the post – do they mention your target keyword, and are they compelling enough to make the reader want to read the content underneath it? Is your content formatted for easy readability? How’s your link situation?

These are the kinds of questions you can ask yourself to optimize your content for SEO.

Step 4: Add images and media

Next, you can add extra visual elements to make your content stand out. You want to add photos and other media, all optimized with relevant and descriptive tags. 

Another great element to add is a landing image. Also known as a “hero image,” a landing image is a large, appealing image featured at the top of your blog post. It’s the first visual element that users interact with and will also be the featured image that automatically appears when you share this page on other platforms, like LinkedIn. 

Free image sites like Unsplash are a great place to find high-resolution images to use in content. Not always necessary, but feel free to put your own spin on these images to make them even more exciting and clickable.

example of royalty-free image from Unsplash for learning how to write SEO content

Step 5: Publish, rinse, and repeat

The average age of top results pages is 2.6 years. Be prepared to be in it for the long haul when it comes to your SEO content strategy. 

High search engine rankings won’t happen overnight. That’s why you must stick with a consistent content production schedule before you see results.

SEO content promotion and engagement

Great SEO content alone won’t propel your site into stardom. If the SEO is well-structured, people will find it and engage with it, but there are still a bunch of things you can do to give your content more visibility.

Your network (see also: “fans” 😎) should be the first place you share your content. If you’re already doing a good job choosing topics, there should be numerous people within your network who will benefit from your content.

Rather than blasting your content to every single person in your phone book, send the right content to the right people. Matching topics with interests and understanding your target audience ensures your content actually gets read, and also proves you’re not a jerk.

If you have an email marketing strategy, adding your new content to your email distribution lists can be a great way to boost your content’s visibility. Sharing your SEO content on social media is acceptable since your social media following literally subscribed to you for your content.

It’s also highly recommended that you share your content with other marketers or people in the same industry and ask if they can link to it from somewhere on their site. This will increase your content’s page authority, and the inbound links will help your off-page SEO ranking.

example of link swapping outreach email for learning how to write SEO content
This bad boy has gotten me tons of links.

Of course, asking for a link is almost always met with a request for a backlink in return. Before asking for a link, make sure you’re ready to add external links to their website if it comes up (it will.)

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SEO content writing toolkit for beginners (free tools)

You’ve got the SEO boosting strategies, you know what to optimize for search engines and how to do it. You’ve even got a little SEO content recipe, and you’re itching to start. 

We’ve compiled a list of free tools you can use to get started on your SEO content writing today!

Semrush for keyword research

Semrush is marketing analytics software that’s an excellent tool for finding the keywords that will boost your SEO efforts. With a pretty generous free option, you’ll have access to a database of keywords from which you can search. 

You can leverage Semrush for insights into which keywords get the most traffic, which keywords are related, how competitive the keywords are, etc. If you’re iffy about a topic or keyword, a few queries in a keyword tool can give you a clearer idea of how to phrase your keywords to get the most traffic.

You’re allowed 10 queries a day, and you’ll find information such as the search volume, the value, intent, and overall difficulty for ranking. You can use this tool to plan your SEO content strategy.

example of Semrush keyword research for the keyword: how to write SEO content
The low search volume proves I’m writing this piece out of the kindness of my heart

Google Docs for content editing

Google Docs home page for learning how to write SEO content

You’re probably already familiar with Google Docs, but here’s a quick refresher. Google Docs is an online word processor that’s perfect for writing content, sharing, and collaborating across your marketing and writing teams.

This powerhouse is unrivaled as one of the most powerful tools for online document editing. With a Google account, you can access it for free, along with other Google Suite software.

Grammarly for proofreading

Grammarly's home page for learning how to write SEO content

Grammarly is a robust spelling and grammar checker that you can get as a Chrome extension. It integrates with most word processors and almost anywhere you type words.

The free version is pretty decent, with a spell checker and grammar checking. Overall, Grammarly is a great tool for proofreading to ensure your content won’t frustrate your readers with terrible spelling errors.

Confused “their” with “there” again, didn’t you?

Yoast SEO for on-page SEO editing

Yoast SEO home page for learning how to write SEO content

As mentioned earlier in the post, Yoast SEO is a plugin for WordPress that analyzes your content and makes suggestions for optimization based on your chosen target keyword. A high Yoast score for your content is a good indicator that your content has the potential to rank high.

Google Analytics for checking your progress

Google Analytics home page for learning how to write SEO content

Implementing Google Analytics on your site is the easiest way to keep on top of your site’s traffic. Google Analytics is multifunctional and offers tons of different metrics and reporting styles. But at its bare minimum, it can be used as a simple means to see how many users are hitting your pages, making it phenomenal for measuring the impact of content and SEO.

Honorable mention: Hemingway for readability

Hemingway home page for learning how to write SEO content

Considering that 50% of US adults struggle to read higher than a ninth-grade level, it’s essential to ensure your content is understandable at a broad level. It’s best practice to have a middle-school (grade 6 – 9) level for non-scientific topics.

Hemingway is a free online tool for checking how complicated your content sounds to readers. Simply copy and paste your content into the editor, and Hemingway will show you the reading level of your content and how to fix it by highlighting excessive use of adverbs and difficult-to-read sentences.

SEO content can be a walk in the park if you’ve got the right map

Writing good SEO content is a cakewalk, as long as you’ve got the right recipe and ingredients.

Remember that consistency and quality are key when implementing an SEO strategy for your business. Check out our other posts on SEO and other marketing topics to give your business a competitive edge in the online space.

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