Whether you’re a seasoned writer with years of experience under your belt or just starting out, understanding how to write for SEO is crucial if you want your content to be found, read and shared.
Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs) are competitive, and it’s important to have a complete understanding of how you want your copy to rank before you start writing it, and what you’re dealing with. Who currently ranks? Why? Is it worth my time to compete?
There’s a lot involved in writing top-quality content for SERPs. We’ve shared some actionable SEO writing tips on how to ensure your content is best placed for indexing before Google gets its hands on it.
SEO copywriting is about much more than just writing well – you will need to think it through carefully.
First, you’ll need to consider relevant keywords. In SEO, a “keyword” is the search term you’d like your content to be found in the ranks for. It can be a single word but it’s more commonly a phrase – something like “best bicycle helmets,” “how to start beekeeping” or “cool ways to tie shoelaces.”
You’ll find that it’s easier to come up with a blog topic around your chosen keyword rather than shoehorn it into one you already had. Ideally, you want to pick your keyword and then brainstorm a blog title that uses it. The more original, the better.
Now, you might be thinking: “But how do I pick which keywords I want to rank for?”
First, think about who the target audience for your blog is and then what they’re likely to be searching for. Say you ran a beekeeping blog; you’d want it in front of people who are interested in beekeeping, right?
But how do you know if someone is interested in beekeeping? When writing blogs for SEO, searches like “tips for taking care of a new beehive,” “how to introduce a new queen bee” or “best types of flowers for bees,” demonstrate search intent – you can assume that users making these kinds of searches are part of your blog’s target audience. Plus, there are a number of tools available to aid your keyword research and provide you with search volumes for your terms.
When you decide on your keyword and original blog title, the topic should be relevant, timely and value-adding for audience members. To use an example, a blog titled “A Beginner’s Guide: How to Take Care of a New Beehive” is prime to appear in the search rankings for “how to take care of a new beehive.” Producing content in this way allows you to meet different touchpoints for your target markets, from research right through to purchase.
Your keyword should be included in your H1, within the main body copy, metadata and image alt tags.
When you publish content online, search engines “crawl” through everything you’ve written to try and figure out what it’s actually about. Repeating your keyword a few times in the main text helps make it clear to search engines that your content is relevant to users making that search and could be a good fit for the higher ranks.
Be careful of “keyword stuffing,” however. If you try and force too many mentions of your keyword, search engines are wise to it and it can actually be detrimental to your blog’s rank. We’d recommend aiming for 2-3 natural mentions of your keyword throughout your piece, alongside some semantically related keywords – words or phrases that are similar to your original keyword, but not the same. For example, “best affordable cycling helmets” and “riding a bicycle safety” are semantically related.
SEO copywriting isn’t just about writing a brilliant piece; it’s about everything on that page. A page’s metadata is made up of two key elements: page title and description.
The title of your page is one of the most important ranking factors and should therefore be optimized to include your primary keyword. This will directly impact how Google indexes your page and decides which keywords it is most relevant for.
On the other hand, your meta description is not a direct ranking factor. This does not, however, make it any less important.
The page meta description is what encourages users to choose to click on your page as opposed to all the others on SERPs. To encourage users to click, your meta description should include a keyword and make mention of what a user will get if they visit your website: Why should they click?
This will directly affect your click-through rate (CTR), which sends positive or negative user signals to Google. For example, if lots of users are searching for a keyword and clicking on your page but bouncing, this implies to Google that you are not a relevant result for that particular term, so when writing meta tags for SEO it’s important to note that relevancy is what matters.
Particularly for eCommerce businesses, the product descriptions you provide on your website are vital and will ultimately help to determine if your product is found by potential customers or not.
It’s important to get a good understanding of what your competitors are up to in this case. You’ll need to know what keywords they rank for, where and in which verticals. If your competitors are ranking well in image, video or map search, you will need to do the same to feasibly compete!
When targeting high-volume, broadly targeted products it’s important to prioritize your battles: Be aware that high-volume keywords are not always necessarily the most suitable for you even if they’re relevant, no matter how appealing the reach might be. Still not sure where to start? You can always read a guide to choosing the right SEO keywords.
Once you’re happy with your keywords, you will need to include them naturally within the product description – note that it’s a very good idea to have a different keyword for each product – as well as the title and meta description (above), and don’t forget to optimize your images.
Images are often left behind when it comes to SEO because it’s all about the written content – but image search is an increasingly important vertical, especially significant for visual buying processes and image-driven sales (think fashion, furniture and holiday destinations, for example).
Every image that you upload to your website should be given an alt tag. In most content management systems (CMS) you can add this in the media library – it’s usually quicker to just add them whenever you upload an image.
Your alt tags should be as specific and descriptive as possible, ideally. Instead of “yellow flower,” it might be “yellow flower on grass in front of a brick wall.”
The purpose of these is that they will show up if your image is unable to load for any reason as well as on accessibility readers. Equally important to note, though, is that Google cannot read images and will use your alt tag to work out what your image is about – meaning no alt tag, no rank.
H1s are an important ranking factor and every page should have one. Note: No two should be the same.
Your H1 (heading one) is the first title on your page but is different from your meta title. Still with me? Your meta title appears in search results,; your H1 does not.
However, this doesn’t mean that one is more important than the other. Google will use your H1 when working out which pages to rank for a search term, so it’s important that it is not only optimized but genuine and descriptive.
Before you write anything, you will need to do some research into the search engine landscape for your chosen topic or keyword(s). Have a look at what your competitors are doing, which keywords they’re ranking for and where, and have a look at who you’re competing with for search terms.
Your competition for ranks may not be a business competitor. It’s important to understand this and make decisions as to whether you can feasibly compete for ranks based on who has the top spots. If the top spots are taken by Google, media outlets, business directories or industry leaders, it’s going to be difficult to beat them unless you’re a similar organization or have the budget to do a similar amount of SEO.
When doing this research and reviewing top ranks for your keywords, have a look at why those pages might be ranking well. Google has clearly decided that this page is most valuable or insightful for the search term, so it’s your job now to essentially better what they’ve done – if you’ve decided that you can realistically compete.
Have a look at their word count, page structure and readability, the media they’re using and the quality of content, and use this information to shape your own page.
Perhaps a slightly controversial one, but you should think about word count when SEO copywriting. However, we’re not saying that more is necessarily merrier.
There have been countless studies that show a correlation between higher word counts on a page and how well it ranks, but there’s a bit more to it than that. One of Google’s senior webmasters, John Mueller, said in February 2020 that having the same word count as a top-ranking article doesn’t make your page any more likely to top it. And this makes sense – there’s a lot more to how search engines pick who comes top.
Having the same word-count as a top-ranking article isn’t going to make your pages rank first, just like having a bunch of USB chargers isn’t going to get you to the moon. But, I’m still tempted to buy some of those USB chargers…https://t.co/TIuJHwHufn
— 🍌 John 🍌 (@JohnMu) February 8, 2020
However, we think there is some benefit to writing longer articles if – and only if – your article actually needs to be that long. The rule to aim for around 1,500 words is often touted, but also arbitrary. If your writing naturally ends up as 2000 words, that’s excellent; but if you get to 1000 and start writing more for the sake of it, that can do more harm than good.
The ideal word count varies for every topic and industry, so the best way to determine the ideal word count for your target keyword is to check the copy of the pages that currently occupy your target ranks. As they already rank, you could assume Google has decided that is an optimum word count and amount of information on that topic to provide enough value for users searching for that keyword.
When you’re learning how to write for SEO, it’s important to remind yourself that quality is key. Always stay on subject and don’t force anything for the sake of word count!
Our theory as to why longer articles tend to correlate with higher rankings is because of what search engines are trying to do: They want to match your search query with the web page most likely to answer it in the most valuable way. Since longer articles contain more information, a search engine can be more confident it will have the right stuff to answer your query. This is a simplified idea but it helps to illustrate the point.
In summary: Consider writing longer articles where you can but don’t write for the sake of it, and remember quality comes out on top.
There’s a good chance you already include links in your writing online because it’s helpful for a number of reasons besides SEO. However, there are some thoughtful ways and places you can include links to really boost your blog power.
Both have their place when you’re writing for SEO. Internal links are helpful for making your website more user friendly. By linking directly to any pages mentioned, you save the user time and effort in finding it themselves, as well as offering that page to them at the moment it is most relevant. They can also boost the amount of time people spend on your site as they click around from page to page.
Outbound links could be considered more powerful in SEO terms. One good reason to link to an external website is to use them as a source for a fact or point you make. Not only does it increase the quality and credibility of your writing, but it also helps build your “digital footprint” by creating a history of links between your own website and other larger or more authoritative ones.
Both these techniques are valuable for different reasons, so implementing both in tandem can really help boost the SEO relevancy of your content.
Remember that crawlers move around the internet from site to site using links. Googlebot (like most other search engine bots) prioritizes pages that have plenty of external and internal links directing to them. You can earn backlinks – and we strongly recommend that you do – but to complement that you can make sure you include internal links as well.
A crawl budget is the number of pages a search engine bot crawls and indexes on a website within a given timeframe. It could be 10 pages per day or week, or 100 or 10,000.
A site’s crawl budget is typically determined by the size of the site, its health and its links. Internal links direct search engine crawlers to the different pages of a site but they’re not only useful for helping crawlers move around and index websites – linking is also a common tactic to increase a website’s crawl budget. Increasing the number of pages and frequency that your site gets crawled will be part of achieving your target rankings, so we strongly encourage you to create internal linking opportunities in the copy you are writing, whether it’s for SEO acquisition or not.
The answer box (sometimes referred to as a “featured snippet”) is somewhat controversial in the world of SEO. For users, it provides an answer to their query as quickly as possible. But in doing so, it reduces the need for them to click on a search result. This can therefore result in fewer clicks for businesses.
However, when you think about the types of common questions that are likely to return an answer box – “What is the time in California,” “Tom Hardy wife,” “when did David Beckham start playing football” – these search terms do not indicate purchase intent. When they do, your CTR is less likely to be affected due to one of two reasons:
Answer boxes are usually served as responses to simple searches or yes/no answers. First, consider whether this is relevant to you and your content; then, whether it’s feasible for you to compete. As SEO experts, we know that if we’re writing content about SEO, we’re likely to be beaten in the ranks by the likes of SEMrush, Moz and, of course, Google content – and there is nothing to be done about that. You have to choose your battles in SEO.
Once you’ve decided that an answer box is both relevant and achievable, you need to be including definitions with appropriate subheadings, for example, “what is an answer box,” lists and answers to questions that your target markets are asking.
The “readability” of your content is an important SEO factor that Google uses to determine how useful it is. This is determined by the following:
Writing in Google’s “readable” way is surprisingly difficult. There are a few tools out there that will help you to determine where improvements could be made to the readability of your content. Try the Yoast plugin if you’re using WordPress or the Flesch-Kincaid test.