Writing useful content is a necessary skill if you want to attract potential customers to your blog.
It’s not enough to simply write well, or write frequently, and wait for people to find your website – writing content that is optimized for SEO takes strategy and planning.
But I’m sure you already know that.
If you’ve been writing and publishing for months, and still waiting for it to pay off, don’t worry. We’ve all been there! And yes, seeing results from SEO takes time.
And you’re in the right place to start getting better results from your hard work.
Warning: It’s not easy to research, plan, and write excellent SEO content. But if you follow our process, it WILL work.
The majority of blogs and websites don’t get any meaningful traffic – or as we like to call it – a consistent flow of customers to your website. If you’re willing to put in the time and effort, it’s an investment you won’t regret.
Now let’s get into a step-by-step approach to SEO content writing.
What is SEO Content?
SEO is a big topic to cover, with a constantly-changing landscape. Unless you want to become an SEO specialist, you don’t need to know everything about it.
But to understand what makes content rank, you need to understand what the search engines look at — not just in blog posts, but your website as a whole.
Search engines use a variety of ranking factors to determine whether your website is worthy of placing above others in search results. For example, Google’s algorithm uses 200 ranking factors.
That’s a lot to think about. So how do you know which ones to work on first?
It’s easier when you consider those 200 factors as three categories:
- Technical: Hosting, site speed, plugins, etc.
- User Experience: The design and structure of your website
- Content: The quality and quantity of your content
Before you can have any success with #3, you need to have #1 and #2 sorted out.
Issues like slow page loading speed, lack of mobile-friendliness, and anything that blocks Google’s ability to crawl your site must be addressed before anything else.
Start with this site audit for non-technical people, and get to work fixing any major issues.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get to the issue at hand.
Definition of SEO content
Since I’m here to talk about content, here’s what I mean:
SEO content is researched, structured, and written with the goal of ranking well for a particular search term.
That’s the fundamental difference between search-optimized content and any other type of content. It’s the underlying goal — to attract search traffic and potential customers.
You may have pages on your website, even blog posts, with other primary goals. For example, some people blog to entertain their existing audience, or they include pages aimed at conversions, not search.
SEO content means considering the goal right from the very beginning, every time. From choosing a topic to writing subheadings to tagging images, every decision about your blog post has to be made with SEO ranking factors in mind.
SEO content starts with research
The number one mistake I see in people who come to us for SEO help is not bad writing, poor effort, or lack of creativity. It’s the complete absence of a data-backed content strategy.
Writing is a creative endeavor. The end result is an article that people will find valuable, useful, and enjoyable to read.
SEO, however, is based on research and data.
Can the two co-exist?
Absolutely, we call it the creativity of constraint. By writing within a data-backed framework, a writer can get into a state of flow without concern for SEO or keywords.
Harnessing the power of data simply makes sure your hard work pays off.
SEO content begins with keyword research, and then incorporates writing, editing, and publishing best practices.
How to Write for SEO: 6 Steps to an Optimized Blog Post
You’re about to get all your questions answered, including:
- How many times should I include the keyword?
- What’s the best length for a blog post?
- Is it better to write a list-post or an ultimate guide?
Unfortunately, there are no simple one-size-fits-all answers. However, this process ensures you’re not guessing. You’ll start with all the data you need to make those decisions, before you start to write.
Here it is: a proven strategy for SEO content writing.
Step 1: Choose a topic (and keyword research)
Creating content for search engines starts with choosing a keyword or phrase to target.
There are two main approaches to establishing your article topic — and yes, they both require research!
Start with a topic idea.
If you already know what you would like to write about, you need to find the best possible keyword to target.
Every keyword has many variations and related terms — your task is to sort through these options and choose the best one for your topic.
I recommend using a tool like SEMRush
Whatever tool you decide to use for keyword research, the main pieces of data you want to look at in this step are:
1. Monthly search volume
Look for terms people are searching for in meaningful numbers.
When you’re starting out, it will be hard to rank for high-volume competitive terms. But if there are only 50 people a month searching (or none at all), find another topic.
You may be surprised to learn that people are using terms for your topic you hadn’t thought of. This is your chance to dig around and find popular terms.
For example, I want to write a guide on how to deal with a smelly cat. Using SEMRush’s Keyword Magic Tool, I entered some terms I might use if I needed to wash a cat.
Check out these results for the keyphrase “how to wash a cat”:
And these results for the keyphrase “how to bathe a cat”:
With this research, I discovered that significantly more people search for “how to bathe” vs “how to wash” a cat. I would focus my article around “how to bathe a cat.”
And a side bonus:
I’ve uncovered some variations and related keywords to incorporate into my article. Some of them could even become future articles — washing cats without shampoo, and without getting scratched.
2. Keyword difficulty
Generally speaking, the higher the difficulty, the harder it is to rank for that term. It means there are many high-quality competing pages for that keyword.
The lower the difficulty score, the better your chances of rising above the competition.
In the examples above, you can see the keyword difficulty score (KD%) gets higher as the monthly search volume increases. That’s generally how it works.
Targeting lower volume, less difficult keywords is a good strategy to get results faster.
Or — Start with competitive research
You can find topics by examining some competing websites to see what’s working for them.
Again, use a tool like SEMRush. It can show you exactly which pages are getting the most organic search traffic on any website — and exactly which keywords each page ranks for.
Look for keyword opportunities with lower difficulty, and enough search volume to make it worth your time.
Regardless of which approach you choose, at the end of this step you should have:
- A main keyword that matches the topic you are going to write about.
- A list of variations and related terms to incorporate into your writing.
Step 2: Choose a format
Before you begin writing, you’ll need to decide what kind of article to write.
There are some basic formulas a blog post can follow, and the one you choose depends almost entirely on search intent.
Search intent is a fancy SEO term for the reason people type a query into the search bar. It’s one of the most important ranking factors. Search engines aim, above all, to provide searchers with the most helpful results.
What type of page are people hoping to find when they type your keyword into Google?
For example, are they looking for a product, a helpful guide, or a list of resources?
With an informational search, like our cat bathing example, you might find results like these:
- List-Post 27 Tips for Bathing a Cat
- Step-by-Step Guide 6 Steps to a Clean Cat
- How to How to Bathe a Cat
- Ultimate Guide Everything You Need to Know Before Bathing Your Cat
The best way to find out what people want is also the easiest — do a Google search!
Google already knows search intent for your keyword, using data from the billions of daily searches happening, and it promotes the best matches to the first page of results.
Model your article after what you see in these results. If you can do this, while making your article stand out as better than the others, you’re well on your way.
For example, “how to bathe a cat” brings up a mix of formats:
There are some list posts of tips, as well as some how-to guides in the top positions.
Remember: the goal is always to create something better than the competition.
If it’s not obvious right away which format is the most popular for your topic, choose the one you think will work best — the format you can do the best job in writing.
Now let’s create an awesome piece of content.
Step 3: Write an outline
Now that you’ve done your research, you may be tempted to jump straight into writing.
Don’t make that mistake!
Take the time to plan your blog post with a logical structure. This makes the writing and editing process go more smoothly. But more importantly, it’s good for SEO.
Search engines pay special attention to the use of text formats on the page — titles and subheadings are major clues as to the topics covered in your article. They also indicate that the content is well-organized and make it easier to read.
In our collaboration with content creation expert Pamela Wilson, you can find a simple blog post template to make sure your outline covers all the bases.
To get started, here are some tips to make sure your outline does the job:
1. Write down the main points you want to cover.
2. Arrange them in a logical sequence.
3. If a section has multiple points to cover, break it into subsections.
4. Write compelling, but clear, subheadings for each section:
- Treat each one like a mini-headline to draw people into reading the section.
- Don’t be so clever that readers won’t know what the section is about.
- Include related search terms and keyword variations where it makes sense.
When you think your outline is ready to go, read through it from your potential reader’s perspective.
Would you know exactly what’s covered if you only read the subheadings?
If not, work on the outline until it’s clear and compelling, even for people who may skim and read only the subheadings.
Step 4: Write the first draft
By this point, you may be thinking:
Wow, step four, and we’re only just now starting to write?
If you’ve followed the process up to now, you’re about to find out the best part of creating content this way.
When you sit down to write your draft, you’ll know exactly what to write. You know what order everything will follow, and you’ve already got subheadings for each section.
Writing the draft is like filling in the blanks.
But I’ll be honest — no matter how you approach SEO content, your first draft is likely to be the most time-consuming part, and the hardest for most of us. Make sure you have an uninterrupted stretch of time to focus on getting words onto the page.
Here are a couple of tips from Pamela Wilson’s Master Content Marketing that always helps me stay on track:
- Don’t stop to fix mistakes or change anything: Your only job right now is to get all of your ideas down, so you can finesse them during the editing stage.
- Write out of order: When you start with an outline, you can jump around and write any section you want. If you get stuck, jump to a different section and keep writing.
When you’re done writing all the sections in your outline, close the laptop and take a well-deserved break.
Step 5: Editing a blog post for SEO
Editing for SEO is like any other kind of editing. Your primary goal is a quality reading experience.
And there are also a few things to optimize at this stage, to ensure the search engines can decipher the quality and content of your article.
To make it really simple, I’m sharing the editing checklist I use for this blog, and the blogs we help manage for SEO clients.
Some of these items should be considered during writing. However, many of us work with freelancers, guest bloggers, and non-writers contributing expertise to our blogs.
If that’s the case, editors have to take on a bigger role to edit and optimize.
If you’re editing someone else’s work, take the first pass through to familiarize yourself with the article. If it’s your own writing, jump in and go through the checklist.
SEO Content Editing Checklist
- Is it clear and compelling?
- Will it stand out in some way from the top competition?
- If possible, it should include the main keyword.
- Are subheadings formatted in a logical structure, with H2, H3, H4 text?
- Do they include related keywords and variations?
- Are they clear and compelling?
- Are there any long sections of text that should be broken into subsections?
- The opening sentence has to hook people in so they stay on the page and start reading — spend some extra time to make it really good.
- Include the main keyword in the opening paragraph.
- Keep it fairly short. In 5 – 10 sentences, let readers know they are in the right place.
- Main body of text
- Proofread for errors.
- Break up long sentences and simplify to improve readability.
- Include one or two links to high-quality references or sources (if the writer hasn’t already).
- Add several internal links, throughout the text, to relevant content on your website.
- The main keyword, some variations, and related supporting keywords should be included naturally in the text and subheadings.
- Closing section
- Wrap up the article with a call to action. Remember, this is content marketing. Tell readers what you want them to do next to engage with your business.
When you’re finished editing, you should have an article draft that’s polished, easy to read, and ready to set up on your blog.
Step 6: On-Page SEO
This step covers some best-practices for optimizing a new article or blog post within your website.
Assuming you’ve copied over the text, including the formatting of subheadings and links, you just have a few things left to do:
- URL: The url slug should be as short as possible, and include the main keyword. If your keyphrase is too long, simplify to the main words, or just use part of it.
For example, look at the URL for this article: https://hacktheentrepreneur.com/seo-content-writing/
- Images: Include images to break up your text, and add visual interest.
- Use file names related to your article topic.
- Compress the images to a small file size (<150 kb).
- Include “alt text” with related keywords where it makes sense.
- SEO Analysis with Yoast:
- If you don’t already use Yoast plugin, get it! It’s free and very useful tool.
- Enter the Focus Keyphrase and save draft to complete the analysis.
- Review the recommendations and incorporate as many as you can to improve the SEO Score. For example, Yoast will tell you how many times to mention the focus keyword, based on word count. It will recommend adding more, or removing some to avoid keyword stuffing.
- SEO Title & Meta Description:
- Both should be optimized for length (Yoast will help with this too) and include the main keyword.
- These make up the snippets listed on search results. Spend some extra attention here to make them compelling and clickable!
Disclaimer: Yoast itself will not make your article rank in the search engines, but it is a great tool to ensure you don’t miss anything essential when publishing.
When you’ve gone through these optimizations, you’re ready to publish.
You can celebrate for a minute, but don’t forget to come back for the final step!
Step 7: Promote your optimized post
Once you’ve hit publish on your brand new optimized blog post, you may be tempted to sit back and rest.
That’s a big mistake.
Now is the time to promote your post, and do anything you can to get some initial activity to the page. Even if they aren’t coming from search, any clicks to your page will help at this stage.
Brian Dean of Backlinko calls this the “Eyeball Phase” and it’s part of his strategy to rank on the first page of Google:
1. Share on your social media accounts.
Set up a simple post to share on any social media accounts where you’re active.
2. Send an email to your list.
Write a short message to your list, letting them know you have a great new piece of content for them to check out.
Don’t have an email list? Check out this definitive guide to email marketing and get started.
3. Begin reaching out for backlinks.
Other websites linking to your content is one of the most important ranking factors you can work on. Make this part of your ongoing promotion strategy.
Content Writing Tools for SEO
There are plenty of resources available, both free and paid, that can help you produce SEO content more efficiently and successfully.
These are the three that I recommend, and personally use on a daily basis:
This is the one tool that will make the biggest difference in your content marketing strategy. It’s a set of tools that provide super valuable data and insight — in terms of market research and analyzing competitors.
Check out this in-depth SEMRush review to find out how our team uses it for content strategy.
2. Hemingway Editor
Hemingway Editor is a free online tool that can drastically improve your writing. The main function is to improve readability, making your writing more clear and bold.
Hemingway Editor highlights long, complicated sentences and hard-to-read sections in your text, so you can work to simplify them.
There’s also a desktop app you can download and use offline to write, edit, and publish.
Many of us running online businesses have to wear many hats — including being both writer and editor.
Grammarly is a big help with the tedious job of proofreading your own, or another writer’s work. It’s especially useful if you aren’t a confident writer or a grammar expert.
The premium version has even better features — it offers vocabulary suggestions to avoid overused words, and checks for plagiarism. Basically, it helps you sound better and smarter!
Ready to Grow Your Traffic?
Now that you have a solid process for writing SEO content, it’s time to start using it. Make a goal to get one optimized post done in the next week, and stick to it.
Soon, you will enjoy the rewards of an effective content strategy — lots of people reading, enjoying, and sharing your blog posts. Ultimately, you’ll build an engaged audience of the exact people you want to help with your business.
That’s what content marketing is all about.
If you’re not sure about any part of this process, we want to help! Check out our proven organic traffic solutions to start growing your online business today.