Writing SEO content is about helping people find your blog posts, resources, etc. when they’re searching online.
SEO stands for search engine optimization, which is just a fancy way of saying that you want search engines to connect the dots between what someone is looking for and the content you’ve created.
The good news is that writing SEO content isn’t 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. What worked yesterday may not work as well tomorrow because the rules and best practices are constantly evolving.
The focus of this article is on-page SEO, which is about making sure your writing is both reader friendly AND search engine friendly. This is all about words, page layout, and design elements, not coding – so relax. And don’t worry too much about terminology and jargon. I promise to avoid most of it, and I’ll define the remaining bits 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 get people to your content without paying. The opposite of organic traffic is paid traffic. This is often referred to as pay per click because one of the most popular payment models is based on how many times people click on the sponsored promotion.
When you search for something online, the first search engine results page (SERP) shows you a few sponsored links. After the ads, you see the organic (not paid for) results. If you’re like 70-80% of all people, you skip over the ads and start looking at 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.
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.
FYI: Never prioritize search engines over real-life people. First and foremost, you want your words to engage, inform, and help your audience.
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 long-form content, like 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 to 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, because 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 More Inclusive Organization in 2022” might do well for a few months, but an evergreen post titled “5 Ways To Be a More Inclusive Organization” would be perpetually relevant.
When it comes to evergreen versus time-sensitive content, it’s not an either-or situation. Both timely and timeless pieces can be purposeful and impactful. 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 content 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, my keyword phrase for this blog post 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 five locations:
- your headline
- the title of the page
- the page url
- within the content of the article
- 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
Long-form content, like blog posts, usually have three basic parts: an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. Within the body of your piece, you may cover several points related to the topic. Make an outline that includes headings, and sub-headings where necessary. This outline helps present information in an orderly, logical fashion, and it also gives you opportunities for keyword placement. Ideally, at least one heading and sub-heading should include your focus keyword or keyword phrase.
Tip #8: Think Strategically About Headings and Sub-Headings
Headings and sub-headings are important in so many ways. Firstly, they help put your thoughts in order, which speeds up the writing process and makes your content more readable. Secondly, they’re important for SEO because they help search engines figure out what you’re writing about, 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 sentences 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 five or six sentences. Personally, I prefer them shorter than that and try to keep mine to less than three sentences.
Tip #12: Break Content Up Evenly
Make sure the content is divided up evenly between headings. If you have one heading that’s followed by 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 nine hundred words than turn it into a rambling mess just to hit fifteen hundred. That said, if it’s possible to expand on a particular point and thereby increase the word count, go for it. Search engines like longer articles.
Note: In general, avoid going under five hundred words in a blog post or resource page. It seems thin.
Tip #14: Check Your Keyword Density
Incorporate your focus keyword or keyword phrase into your content, but don’t overdo it. Google will punish you for ‘keyword stuffing’. More important, the reading experience will be terrible. A good rule of thumb is 1-2% of your text. So, if you end up with a fifteen hundred word article, you could safely mention your keyword fifteen to thirty 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.
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.
FYI: The third type of links are in-bound links, often referred to as backlinks. These are links from other websites to your content and they’re wonderful for SEO, 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
Avoid creating long-form content sans images. It’s just dull. And when adding images, edit them first to make sure it contains alt attributes with your keyword or keyword phrase.
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 things.
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 content 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’ because it gives you some cool features you don’t get in the free version.
Tip #21: Keep Writing!
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. More content also builds authority with REAL people and gives them ongoing reasons to visit your website.
Don’t sacrifice quality for quantity, but try to produce content on a regular, sustainable schedule. 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 organization’s online authority. And as mentioned in my opening paragraph, it’s not that 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 be an SEO master in no time!