Thanks to search engine algorithm upgrades, SEO writing has moved from being a small component of the overall searchability factor, to being the cornerstone of ranking on Google and Bing. As the search engines try to make the user experience even more effective, this will only become more prevalent and writing for SEO will become a mandatory skill.
There is the argument of course that creating content that resonates with your audiences crucial, and of course it is, but without an understanding of how to take a good piece of content, and translate that into copywriting that gets found on Google, you are leaving money on the table, and readers on other sites. The purpose of this article, is to clearly explain how to write for search engines without having to make any enormous changes to your writing style. It will mention tools you can use, hints and tips, along with what is regarded as SEO best practice to ensure the content you create is optimised, and found by the search engines.
Content Structure for SEO Writing
Good writers and content marketers can transition to good search engine writers quickly and easily by understanding the structure search engines use to find pieces of content that are relevant to the search. The copywriter's job is to produce content in line with that structure, and associate that useful content with viable calls to action and relevant products.
The structure of SEO content looks like this :
headline (H1 heading)
subheading (H2 heading)
Your H1 heading should begin with your target keyword, and be identified as an H1 title tag using your content management system - it's important that it is categorised in this fashion, and not just set to appear as an H1 title tag. Likewise, the H2 heading should complement the H1, but not mimic it. For example, if you are writing about why you should use an accountant for your tax returns, and your target keyword is "Tax Accountant," then your H1 H2 structure may look like this.
H1 Title Tag - Tax Accountant or No Accountant? What Expert to Use This Tax Season
H2 Title Tag - Why using an accountant is not a luxury when it comes to your money at tax-time
We will talk about keyword research in a moment, but in the meantime you can see that there are complimentary keywords in the subheading. Accountant, money, and tax-time all fall within a similar topic structure, and as a result will assist in SEO optimisation.
The Body Copy in SEO Writing
The body is obviously the most important part of any form of SEO writing. The most important thing to know is that search engines have become very clever and picking up attempts to cram in as many keywords as possible. As a result, if you have mentioned your target keyword too many times then you are just as likely to be punished by Google as you are rewarded. The exact percentage of keywords you should include in content varies, but averages out at around 2.7%. This means, that if you are writing a 500 word article then you should have your target keyword mentioned 3 to 4 times. Obviously, you double it for a thousand word article and so on.
With your keywords well-placed, you need to make sure that the search engines understand exactly what you're talking about. This is where you need to include other keywords to help Google differentiate your keyword from others of similar meaning. This is important because if Google doesn't understand, then you won't rank and when you consider the amount of pages and terminology online, it becomes clear why this is the case, for example:
Is the keyword, "new table," being used to describe a dining room table being built, or instructions for creating an Excel spreadsheet?
The way we differentiate our furniture manufacturing business in the example above is through complimentary keywords.
- Dining room furniture
- Modern furniture
- Ethically sourced wood
As a result, the search engines are more likely to understand what we're trying to say, rather than ignoring our content because they have no idea. Of course, having heaps of the same keyword in your SEO copy worked to get you ranked back when the search engines used a more simplistic semantic ranking system. But now, advanced algorithms can not only analyse the words within a piece of content, they can also – to a certain extent – understand what is trying to be said.
Keyword Research and Topic Clusters
SEO content is created for a specific purpose – to rank on search engines. Once the purposes been fulfilled, it can serve a secondary purpose of being useful, engaging and powerful enough to encourage action. SEO writers understand that if the content isn't found, then it can be the most brilliantly crafted piece of writing in the history of mankind, but nobody will read it.
Of course, in order to rank for a specific phrase or keyword, you need to understand who your target audience is, and what they are searching for online.
We have covered by personas enough in the past, but if you haven't defined exactly who your target audience is then click here for a free guide. If you know you're targeting, then let's begin the research process.
As with anything else, research is difficult at the start and becomes easier as you establish a process, and more simple as you define your target market. In fact, once you have a few keywords you will likely use your own intuition to create other opportunities, and then check them against your data and systems.
Before you begin, go back to your buyer personas, and work out what problem they are suffering from that you solve. It doesn't matter whether this is an immediate need or something they are just in the process of researching, as long as you suspect they will use search engines to gather more information, as they statistically almost definitely will.
Next, we need to work out what phrase they will use when searching within Google or Bing. The keyword itself may be present, but opportunity lies in what are known as, "longtail keywords," where phrases or sometimes even sentences are used as a search. For example, if you sell printing solutions such as business cards and letterhead to small businesses on a national basis, and you have defined that almost all of your new customers come to you when they are reviewing their branding, and want something new and interesting, you can start to understand what they may search for.
- Cheap branding in X
- Business card design
- Best branding company in X
- Logo design company
The list goes on. once you have created a list of potential short and long tail keywords, you can begin to expand your research on their viability. In other words, are these phrases actually used to make searches?
Google keyword planner, is a free and effective tool for not only understanding how much traffic is create by certain keywords, but also offering other keywords you may be interested in. Click here to try it. You will have to create an AdWords account, but don't have to do spend any money to use the tool.
SEM Rush is another excellent tool that gives you similar data to Google and also tells you how difficult it will be to rank for certain keywords and phrases.
MarketMuse does most of the heavy lifting for you, and creates a list of target keywords, and descriptive phrases you can use to differentiate your copy.
Remember, if you are ranking for a term that your market is not interested in, then there is no point. Begin with your target personas, and take it from there.
Once you've created content with the right headers, and content that is created with SEO in mind, you can begin optimising your page or post.
The meta title, or meta description is what is displayed by search engines when users are conducting a search. For example -
This can usually be manipulated by your CMS, but if you use WordPress then make sure you grab Yoast. click here for Yoast It's a brilliant tool and has the added bonus of telling you your percentage of keyword mentions, and heaps of other really useful metrics.
Your meta title should include your target keyword, and a reason for your target audience to click on the link. Don't just copy and paste the first paragraph of content, and make sure that the length is around 55 characters so that it shows up on most search engines without fuss. SEO writing doesn't end with the heading or the body, and while it's possible to rank without good metadata, as you can see above, poor meta titles reduce the chances of your users clicking.
The URL / Slug
On most platforms, the URL address or, "slug," can be changed so that it includes your target keyword. As with optimising the metadata, this is not a critical component of SEO writing, but rather best practice, ensuring you have the best chance of achieving good results.
Search engines don't like it when you include images that don't have a text component. This is because Google doesn't want to look bad when a slow Internet connection forces images not to load, and instead there's a big X staring back at a user. The alt attribute is the term given to the words that appear on the screen if images do not load. These can be manually added to all images, and it's also best practice that there is at least one image on your post or page.
This is one of the most overlooked, yet crucial components of effective SEO writing. When you link from one piece of content to the other, it tells search engines that those content items are interrelated, or part of the same topic cluster. In this way, you can become even more transparent with Google, and Bing, enabling them to confidently rank you. Outbound links or backlinks are also important, but work in reverse, as other sites link to your content.
The discipline of SEO writing stretches far beyond ranking on Google. The methodology itself enables writers to create relevant topics, and build an editorial calendar that resonates with their target audience. Thanks to the prevalence of search engines in our day-to-day lives, SEO writing has become a powerful differentiator, and a way to get to know what our audience wants, and give it to them. Treat it like a discipline, practice, test and measure.