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It’s not enough to write great articles to get found in the search engines. Sure you may be a domain expert in your niche, but the philosophical thought experiment of “If a tree falls in the woods, does it make a sound?” applies to your writing.
If you write great content, but yet no one finds it in the search engines, is it useful?
According to the research site GrowthBadger, up to 80% of all traffic to a blog is from organic search. Also, another interesting stat, 91% of online content receives no organic search traffic from Google. This is according to the SEO tool Ahrefs.
If you aren’t writing content that can be “found” by Google, you are missing out on a large number of visitors. Especially today, many editors and blog owners are looking for writers who can not only write but understand how to write for SEO.
Sure you can get traffic via other means like paid ads, but I’ve found SEO is one of the few long games in blogging that can reap benefits for years.
There are many misconceptions for writing content for SEO. So let’s start with the basics first.
What is SEO Writing?
SEO writing is the process of planning, creating and improving articles on a website to appear in the organic (unpaid) search results of a search engine.
Traditionally, writing is mostly about storytelling. When writing for SEO, while storytelling can part of your writing, it is much more transactional content. It is important to understand that people go to search engines to solve a specific problem. You must write content to solve the problem they are seeking to resolve.
SEO writing fits in the category of copywriting and as you’ll see has some similarities.
Your goal, as a writer, is to satisfy the itch they must scratch with the content you write.
Let’s be frank, while we are writing for all search engines, you really are writing for one search engine. That search engine is Google. Google accounts for 91% of all search engine traffic. So yes most of what I discuss can apply to any search engine. The reality is Google is what matters most.
What Skills Should an SEO Content Writer Have?
An SEO writer should have these skills:
- Domain knowledge on the topic
- If you have no experience, the ability to research and understand the topic
- Explain the topic in a clear and concise manner
- Write grammatically correct sentences and check for spelling errors
- Match the intent of what the reader expects (see below for more info)
- Ability to create article topics and research keywords
- Analysis of existing articles in SERP (Search Engine Result Placement)
- Update existing poorly ranking articles to improve SERP
- Ability to meet deadlines and good time management skills
How to Write for SEO
You are creating content that is best suited for organic search traffic. With writing for SEO, all you are doing is writing in a way that makes it easier for the search engines to know what your content is about. Therefore SEO is not only what you write, but how you write it, and how it is presented.
You aren’t “tricking” Google in any way. In fact today, you aren’t writing for Google, but writing for readers.
You write an article that’s confusing or hard to understand? More than likely it won’t rank well in Google either. Though writing content for SEO is different than for writing for say a book it is much more about having good copywriting skills.
SEO Content Writing Tips (TL;DR)
- Get To The Point — SEO isn’t about storytelling but solving a problem
So when creating the introduction to a topic try to get to the point of the article within the first two to three paragraphs.
They want to fix their sink from your how-to article. Do not ramble on and on about how your dad helped you because no one cares about your life story.
- Good Headline — The page title is the most important part
Writing the headline (like with newspapers) is one of the most important things you can do when improving the ranking of your article. Like traditional headlines, SEO headlines are an art form itself.
As a freelance writer you may not have the final say in the headline but for most writers today they do. So write a headline that while not clickbait, is something that will entice the reader to read your article. For ideas see existing SERP (Search Engine Results Page) for possible headlines to swipe.
I recommend creating a swipe file of generic headlines from articles you click on as a starting point of possible headlines you can reuse yourself.
- Use Formatting — People don’t read blog content, they skim
One of the key differences for writing for traditional media to the web is the way people read the content.
That means you should not write for a wall of text. That will cause your reader’s eyes to glaze over the bounce to another website.
Instead, write the antithesis of how you learned to write in school.
- Focus On One Primary Primary Topic
Do not try to be too many things when writing an article. Focus on a primary keyword to go after when writing an article.
Google is smart enough to figure out the secondary keywords
- You. Must. Write. Short. Sentences.
Obviously not that short, but short succinct sentences (and paragraphs). I tend to write with no more than 3-4 sentences per paragraph.
It is much easier for your reader to skim your content and pick up the gist of what you are writing and perhaps read it more in-depth for the second path.
- Use Formatting built into WordPress
Use these options:
- Unordered lists (AKA bullet points)
- Ordered lists (AKA numbered lists)
- Bold text
- Call-out blocks
By breaking up the “wall of text” (like I just did here) with these various formatting techniques, it makes your content easier to read. Which in turn creates a better user experience. That user experience Google uses as one metric to rank a web page.
This is the first step in SEO content writing is researching what keywords to go after.
Keyword research is a multi-layered topic and I’ll only cover the basics to get started.
A common question I get is “How many keywords should I use when writing an article?” That’s the wrong question to ask since that’s not how SEO works today.
I can tell you the old SEO technique of keyword stuffing (the act of repeating the same keywords multiple times in an article) does not work. Don’t do this and don’t waste your time with this outdated SEO trick. Google is much smarter today and understands much more about the content you are writing.
In the ever-evolving Google search algorithm, it no longer just understands just broken-up phrased keywords. Google understands natural language more than ever and you should write content around topics. Then make sure you reference a keyword ‘X’ amount of times in an article.
This doesn’t remove the importance of keywords, but understand SEO keyword research tools, while valuable are meant as a guide. It should be used as what topics you should cover in the articles you create.
Why? because it matches the intent of what users are expecting when searching that topic.
SEO Strategy: Write for keywords that have the most monthly search volume with the least amount of competition.
Focus On Long Tailed Keywords
A common mistake when performing SEO keyword research is going after short-tailed (length) keywords. Shorter-tailed keywords do have more volume, but almost always have lower intent.
For example, according to Ahrefs the keyword “affiliate marketing” has 109,000 searches per month and a keyword difficulty of 87 out of 100. Yes, the volume is very high but would be a very difficult keyword to try to rank for. In addition, since the keyword is very broad the intent could in fact mean many different things. The search intent could mean many different things. Three examples if someone is searching for the keyword “affiliate marketing”:
- Wanting to become an affiliate marketer
- Wanting to offer a product to affiliate marketers
- Want to learn how affiliate marketing works because they are wondering how blogs make money
The intent (and audience) is much different for just these possible searches. Which makes an article harder to write.
So in my case, I decided to go after the long-tailed keyword “affiliate marketing for beginners”. Again, according to Ahrefs, the search volume per month is much lower at 3,100 but it also much easier for me to rank at a keyword difficulty of 71.
I currently in the 3rd search result for that keyword.
But more importantly, it allows me to write an article for a specific individual. Instead of targeting established affiliate marketers, I am targeting beginners. Which in fact if you think about someone searching for “affiliate marketing” most are in fact beginners.
When performing keyword research you are sometimes better to use long-tail keywords. The search volume may be lower, but the intent is higher and you’ll more likely stand a chance for ranking.
Go After One Primary Keyword
Do not try to be all things to all people. Write an article about one topic and one topic only. Like “How to unclog a toilet”. Yes you could also write about unclogging a sink as well, but you are best to satisfy the specific need of the reader than two topics poorly.
In most cases you’ll also rank for other related keywords to that same topic like “how to unclog a toilet from a toy” if you write about that possible situation. When performing your research, I would look at secondary keywords you should also rank for that article.
A tool like Surfer will make this research easy and will show you the topic and content that you need to contain in your article as well.
How To Find Search Volume and Difficulty?
Back when I first got into SEO, there were no tools to figure out search volume and keyword difficulty. I had to wing it.
Fortunately today there are plenty of SEO tools that can do this. The one I recommend is KWFinder tool.
KWFinder by Mangools not only includes a keyword research tool, but also includes:
- SERPChecker —SERP Analysis
- SERPWatcher — Rank Tracking
- LinkMiner — Backlink Analysis
- SiteProfiler – SEO Metrics & Insights
I found they have the most accurate data and have information for long-tailed keyword research. Though do keep in mind the source of their search data isn’t really well known and the tools keep it close to their chest how they get this data.
While I do use Ahrefs as well for competitive analytics, I found their keyword research tool wasn’t as accurate. Ahrefs didn’t help me with the low-volume search queries I recommend you go after.
Once you understand the basics of SEO keyword research, the often missed step is keyword intent.
A common misconception is thinking you must write for Google and not for people to read. Fortunately today Google’s algorithm is smart enough to not only measure good user experience but matches the intent of search results for what people are expecting.
When writing for SEO, you must match intent of the user. This is a key concept but unfortunately most writers miss.
You must get into the head of the reader and use the same terminology. Your content must match the audience you are writing for.
The example I often use is the different search intent for “what is a mortgage” compared to “what is the best mortgage” rate.
Both are great search terms but the intent is much different. One intent is informational, while the latter is transactional. If you were to show
How do you determine the intent? Success leaves clues and look at Google’s search results to see what currently ranks. This is perhaps the easiest, and most overlooked, method to match keyword intent.
Since you want to match the intent and the best way to look at competing websites and the content they have already on their website. The problem, is this can be a time consuming process.
Fortunately Surfer (see my review of Surfer) can give you instant results on what topics to include in your article before you start writing. Surfer also helps speed up the process of updating an existing article that’s not ranking well for the sought after keywords.
On-Page SEO vs. Off-Site SEO
On-page SEO means the content you write on a blog, the links within a site, the menu structure, the graphic design and user experience.
Off-site SEO is mentions and links to a web site homage or a specific article on a blog. You work on getting more backlinks to your blog.
I’m in the camp that with SEO you should focus on what you can control first. So that means the SEO focus should on what you write. Though backlinks to a website are still important, over the years, it has become less important for Google.
It is possible to rank for a low to medium competitive keyword with zero backlinks only because the blog is an authority on said topic and has written many articles about the same topic.
By inference, Google understand the article published should rank because of previous content.
That being said, backlinks to a website overall and to specific articles are important. Though for most writers, since your expertise in writing content on a topic, is outside the scope of your work and is more the focus of the blog owner.
On-page SEO then fits neatly into what an SEO writer should focus on since that is where you have the most control.
SEO and Conversion Rate Optimization
SEO is very much an iterative process. Organic search is purposely a “black box” in which you have a set of inputs (Google has over 200 ranking metrics) with then an output (SERP).
If you apply the scientific method, you should create an article, see what works, and adjust accordingly.
If you are an owner of a blog you must spend a considerable amount of time looking at search results and updating your content. When I owned the blog Investor Junkie, 80% of our time was spent updating articles. We updated content not only for accuracy but looking at Google’s feedback loop to see what improvements can be made in our content.
If you are just a writer for other people’s blogs, I would express this fact as well if not already known.
Most for-hire writers write an article once for a blog and never touch it again. Rarely does an article rank in the top 10 positions on the first try. It takes looking at the SERP and seeing what to improve.
If I was an editor of a blog I would seriously look at old content and make it part of your republishing schedule.
I’ve only covered the basics of becoming an SEO writer here.
I have a course on specifically helping writers with SEO. It’s a non-technical course and covers all you need to master SEO. Check out my course, SEO for Writers.