How to write for SEO
57% of B2B marketers say that Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) has a bigger impact on lead generation than any other form of marketing. Learning to write for SEO is therefore an essential skill for any content marketer.
What is SEO?
There are a bunch of content marketing acronyms, but SEO is probably the most important.
SEO or Search Engine Optimisation is the name given to activity that attempts to improve search engine rankings.
When writing for SEO, you are aiming to get as many of your website pages to appear in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) as possible when users make relevant queries.
Being on the first page of Google’s SERPs is really important. If your content appears on page 2 or below, your traffic will be negligible. According to Chitika, a whopping 91.5% of traffic to websites from Google’s SERPs comes from page 1.
Google’s search engine ranking system
72.48% of the world use Google to search the Internet for information. So it makes sense that they set the pace when it comes to SEO and page rankings.
Google’s aim is to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
They do this by ranking pages according to several factors – using intelligent algorithms and crawlers to assess each webpage.
Over the last decade we’ve seen many iterations of Google’s ranking algorithm try to reflect this. Among them, PageRank, Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird, Pigeon and Possum.
These changes have been made as technology and search behaviours have evolved. Because Google is constantly updating, it can be tough to keep up.
Should I write for SEO or for users?
Many writers feel that you write either for people or for SEO, but the gap between the two is growing narrower by the day. Google’s competitive advantage depends upon its ability to return relevant results to its users. In other words, if it allows websites to manipulate its algorithm and position content on page 1 that has no relevance to what the user is looking for, it risks being overtaken by another search engine. That’s why, first and foremost, your SEO content must be relevant.
The dawn of semantic search
Google now wants to go beyond the words and phrases people use, to figure out what they actually mean. This is what’s known as “semantic search”.
Hummingbird was the first Google algorithm to focus on semantic search and was put in place in 2013. It analysed search queries as a collective whole rather than a string of individual words. Its aim was to understand the user and the meaning of their searches. In theory, Google should know if a user searching ‘1984’ is looking for information about the year 1984, or the George Orwell novel. (Whether it can actually do this yet is another question!)
Think about how your audience will find you, the language they’ll use and create pieces centred around them.
It may seem like a lot of work, but it’s worth it! Follow our top tips on how to write for SEO so the search engine (and your readers) are happy.
How to write for SEO: our top 7 tips
1. Conduct keyword research
What are your customers searching for? What questions are you answering? With what terms can you be competitive?
These are all questions that can inform your keyword strategy. Use Google’s keyword planner and other tools to help you identify the most important keywords for your site.
Remember keywords are “the words people type in when they use search engines. It’s the language real people use when looking for stuff.” (Brian Clark, Founder of CopyBlogger)
Don’t just limit yourself to one-word keywords. Embrace longtail keywords – 50% of search queries are four words or longer! These keywords are more specific, much easier to rank for and more likely to convert.
Tip: Try running searches on your keywords in Google. Who/what is appearing on the first page of the SERPs for each term? Are the results in tune with your own content? If not, you might not be targeting the most effective keywords.
2. Use your keywords effectively
Chucking keywords in at random is not enough to help your content rank in the SERPs. Choose one focus keyword per page and use it strategically in your:
- First and last sentence
- Metadata and tags
Don’t forget to include plenty of semantically-related terms too.
3. Write your piece, and make it long (if appropriate)
Content under 300 words will struggle to compete with long form content in the SERPs, as it runs the risk of being considered ‘thin‘ by Google, so we always say it’s best to aim for a 500 word minimum. However, this should never be at the expense of your user experience – sometimes content really doesn’t need to be this long, and Google won’t think any less of your site if some of the pages are longer/shorter than others. Don’t use words just for the sake of it – make sure every phrase progresses your argument.
When it comes to blogs, however, long is best.
Research suggests that 1,600 words is the ideal blog article length for both readers and search engines, so start beefing up your blogs today. Google has a special ‘in depth’ label for pieces of more than 2,000 words that it considers to be authoritative, so try creating a few of those.
Bear in mind that readers don’t want to see long blocks of text. Keep your paragraphs short, and break up your text with images – use keywords in titles, alt tags and descriptions – as well as other formatting techniques such as headers and pull-out quotes.
4. Try online tools
Lucky for us content marketers, there are lots of tools, plugins and apps that can help us write for SEO.
For you WordPress users, Yoast is a must-have tool. It’s one of our favourites, and is constantly updating to keep up with Google’s algorithm updates. It will tell you about your keyword usage, readability and more!
5. Link to other content
Linking to outbound content may seem counter-intuitive, but it is effective. Link to highly-ranked sites, and search engines will recognise that you’re making the effort to supply your readers with helpful resources.
It’s not just outbound links that can help you: use anchor text within your content to link to your existing pieces too. Building up these backlinks will help your website’s SEO and credibility.
6. Write consistently
Search engines rank your site based on the frequency of how often it’s updated. That’s why blogs are so SEO-friendly – they’re updated much more regularly than static websites.
7. Make sure your content is really good!
Google’s crawlers are becoming more and more sophisticated. Eventually they’ll be able to identify what good content is and whether you’re matching the criteria.
So every time you write something, aim for high-quality educational content that ticks all the boxes.
Don’t forget you’re writing for readers, not just Google, so make sure it’s in a conversational, relatable human tone.
The Golden Rule: Never sacrifice readability to write for SEO!
Finally, make sure each piece is relevant to the audience and their needs, while tweaking it to optimise the keywords you researched way back at tip number one!