Writing SEO Content: A Step-by-Step Guide For Nonprofits

The good news about writing SEO content is that it’s not as technical as it sounds. The bad news is that there are a lot of moving parts. And search engines, like Google, Chrome, Bing, etc. tweak their algorithms all the time, so the “rules” are constantly evolving.

SEO stands for search engine optimization. It encompasses the many things you do to attract search engines and help people find your content when they’re looking online.

The focus of this article is on-page SEO, which is about optimizing the content on your website pages for search engines and users. Don’t worry too much about terms and jargon. We’ll define things as we move along.

Let’s start by talking about organic SEO versus paid ads.

“Organic” = Free

When people talk about organic traffic, they’re talking about ways to attract people to your content naturally – without paying. The opposite of organic traffic is paid traffic. This is sometimes referred to as pay per click because one of the most popular payment models is based on how many times people “click” on your sponsored promotion.

When you search for something online, the first search engine results page (SERP) shows you a few sponsored links, followed by the organic results. You may (or may not) be surprised to learn that 70-80% of people skip past the ads and click on the organic options [Source: Inforza.com].

Organic traffic is better than paid traffic

There are lots of reasons why writing SEO content and getting organic traffic is better than simply paying to get eyeballs on your content:

  • It’s affordable.  No direct charge per click or impression.
  • It’s sustainable.  Unlike paid SEO efforts, your organic traffic won’t dry up the moment you stop paying.
  • It gives you a way better click-through-rate (CTR).  Generally, more users click on the organic results.  This means that you can expect to get more clicks from a highly placed organic listing than from a highly placed paid ad.
  • You have a strategic advantage over paid ads.  Once you’ve made it to a good place in the organic results, competitors can’t just buy their way in.  They can buy ads, but you still have the advantage.

<21 Tips To Writing SEO Content

Now that I’ve explained why organic traffic is the BOMB, it’s time to start learning how to create content that both search engines and readers love.

As promised in the title, this is a step-by-step guide, so I’ve organized my tips into chronological order, based on the steps I follow when creating blog posts.

Step 1: Topic Research

Tip #1 Know Your Audience

Who exactly are you writing for?  When you deeply understand your audience and you can see them in your mind – it becomes easier to “talk” with them through your writing.

Every element of your content, from your topic, writing style, and tone, to your choice of images, should be designed to connect with that audience.

Tip #2: Know Your Topic

Research your topic thoroughly.  If you will be using quotes, statistics, or excerpts from other articles, don’t forget to cite sources. And link to those sources in your content. Out-bound links are an SEO plus!

Tip #3: Make Evergreen Posts Whenever Possible

Evergreen content remains fresh and relevant to readers over the long haul.  In contrast, time-sensitive content may create an immediate buzz but its life span is short.

For example, a post titled “How to Be a Better Manager in 2021” might do well for a few months, but an evergreen post titled “5 Ways To Be a Better Manager” would be perpetually relevant.

When it comes to evergreen versus time-sensitive content, it is not an either-or situation.  You need to create both timely and timeless pieces.  The important thing is to make the choice BEFORE you start writing.

Tip #4: Don’t Fall Into the Research Rabbit Hole

Once you’ve started writing, don’t allow yourself to keep searching for more information.  Research is an important part of writing SEO content but it can turn into a rabbit hole. At some point, you need to stop googling.  Set the timer on your phone and when the alarm goes off, close your browser and start writing!

Step 2: Keyword Research

Tip #5: Know Your Focus Keyword

The focus keyword is the most relevant term that you want your post to rank for. When people use that keyword in their search, you want them to find you. For several reasons – too complicated to bother getting into – it’s usually best to use a long tail keyword.

A long tail keyword is a phrase containing multiple words.  For example, in this post the focus keyword is “writing SEO content”. There are lots of great sites to help you decide on the best focus keyword or keyword phrase.  I usually start with Google Adwords Keyword Planner.

Tip #6: Use Your Keyword Strategically

When writing SEO content, you want to use your focus keyword in 5 locations:

  • your headline,
  • the title of the page,
  • the page url,
  • within the content of the article, and
  • in the meta-description.

After reading this post, do a quick check and you’ll see that I have followed my own advice.

Step 3: Write

Tip #7:  Lay Out the Bones Before You Start Writing

Every blog post should have three basic parts: an introduction, a body, and a conclusion.  Make a list of headings to guide the order of information within your post.  If possible, one heading should include your focus keyword.  In most cases, you final heading should be “Conclusion”.

Tip #8: Think Strategically About Headings and Sub-Headings

Headings are important in so many ways.  Firstly, they help put your thoughts in order.  This speeds up the writing process and makes your content more readable.  Secondly, they are important for SEO.  Headings and sub-headings help search engines figure out your main topics, which helps with ranking.

Tip #9: Use a Conversational Tone

I try not to get too bogged down with readability and SEO preferences when writing the first draft. Instead, I pretend that I’m having a conversation with someone.  This approach helps keep my wording clear and simple.  A conversational tone keeps you from veering into jargon.

Step 4: Review

Tip #10: Review. And Review.  And Review.

Great writing requires great editing. When reviewing your post, you need to consider both readability and SEO.

Obviously, you should proof-read for spelling and grammar.  But that’s just the beginning. I go through my posts repeatedly, focusing on a specific issue each time (e.g. paragraph structure, transitional phrases, links, keyword density, etc.)

Tip #11: Keep Paragraphs Short

The average attention span is dropping like a stone in water.  Plus, the majority of your online readers are likely viewing your post on the small screen of a tablet, or the even smaller screen of their phone.  This makes long paragraphs even more overwhelming.

As a rule, paragraphs should not exceed 5-6 sentences.  Personally, I prefer them shorter than that and try to keep mine to only 1-3 sentences.

Tip #12: Break Content Up Evenly

Make sure the content is divided up evenly between headings.  If you have one heading that has way more text than the others, try to break it up.

Tip #13: Length Counts

Don’t drive yourself nuts trying to expand the length of your content. It’s better to say something perfectly in 900 words than turn it into a rambling mess just to hit 1500. But if it’s possible to expand on a particular point and expand the word count, go for it. Search engines like longer articles.

In general, avoid going under 500 words. Ideally, aim for 1500 words or more.

Tip #14: Check Your Keyword Density

Incorporate your focus keyword into the content, but not too frequently.  Google will punish you for “keyword stuffing.”  Filling pages with keywords results in a negative user experience, and can harm your site’s ranking.

A good rule of thumb is 1-2% of your text.  So, if you end up with a 1500-word article, you can safely mention your keyword 15-30 times.  Ideally, try to have it appear in your first sentence. That’s an SEO thing.

Step 5: Refine

Tip #15: Use Transitional Words and Phrases

Transitional words and phrases build connections between paragraphs and sections.  Readers appreciate transitions because they link ideas and concepts and make text easy and natural to read.

writing SEO content

Tip #16: Avoid Using Passive Voice

Passive voice is when you make the subject of the sentence the receiver of the action instead of the thing being acted upon.  When you switch to active voice, sentences generally move along better and seem more dynamic. For example:

Passive voice: Our program is recommended by teachers.

Active voice:  Teachers recommend our program.

There are situations where passive voice is appropriate.  That said, you should try to stick with active voice most of the time.

Tip #17: Add Links

Wherever possible, add links connecting your blog posts to each other. These are called internal links. They help to build authority and improve SERP rankings and organic visibility.

For example, in this post, I included a link to a post I wrote on the subject of Evergreen Content. (Here it is again!)

You should also include out-bound links to relevant content from high-authority websites. It’s helpful to point readers to reliable sources of additional information, and there’s evidence that it can improve rankings and visibility.

The third type of links are in-bound links, often referred to as backlinks. These are links from other websites to your content. Backlinks are wonderful – and you definitely want them. But they take time to nurture.

I highly recommend learning more about link building. A Beginner’s Guide to Link-building, by the digital marketing pros at Moz, is a great place to start.

Tip #18: Always Use Images

Never post an article without images!  And when adding an image to your post, edit the image first to make sure it contains alt attributes with the focus keyword.

Step 6: Reduce, Re-Use, Re-Cycle

Tip #19: Use a Variety of Formats

Writing content takes a lot of time and effort, so you want to get as much juice out of each article as you can. Think about all the ways you may be able to re-purpose that content.  

Can you condense the points into an infographic?  Video? Slideshow?  Are there quotes and statistics you could turn into tweets?  Do you have enough related posts to create something larger, like a guide or book?  

Tip #20:  Take Advantage of Online Tools

There are lots of free tools available online.  I have a constantly growing collection of favourites. Too many to mention.

That said, I highly recommend Canva to help with online images. And I admit that I upgraded to “Pro”, which isn’t free.

Tip #21:  Keep Posting!

Consistently adding more content reminds search engines that your website is alive and well.  Search engines crawl inactive sites less often, which can negatively affect your rankings.

Don’t sacrifice quality for quantity.  But do try to produce content on a regular, sustainable schedule.

More content means more reasons for people to come to your website. And don’t panic if you have an occasional run-in with writer’s block (It happens to everyone now and again).

Conclusion: Writing SEO content isn’t hard

Ultimately, learning how to consistently create SEO-friendly content will drive more visitors to your website and build your nonprofit’s online authority.

As I mentioned in my opening paragraph, writing SEO content isn’t overly technical, it just has a lot of moving parts. If you follow the steps I’ve outlined and keep my tips in mind, I’m confident that you’ll me an SEO master in no time!



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