How to Write SEO Content Like a Pro [Step-by-Step + Examples!]
Writers and marketers all want to earn more. Our (and our clients') time is valuable. We don’t want to become mindless robots, pumping out articles for low pay, with no end in sight. So stop repeating that all you can do is write when in reality, you can do so much more.
You can even earn more with SEO best practices. Don't just bill yourself as a general writer. Instead, bill yourself as an expert in multiple fields. It differentiates you from the competition, plus you become more valuable to clients when you can wear multiple hats.
If you're thinking “I’m not an SEO expert. I’m a writer,” know that it’s not as complicated as some try to portray. You might already know SEO's best practices and not even realize it.
Why is SEO important?
If you’re writing for the web, you need to understand how to optimize your writing for search engines. How many time have you heard clients ask:
Can you get my site on the first page on Google?
Clients are looking to be #1 in their main keyword’s search results. That's just how businesses work these days.
This is why search engine traffic is so huge. Google handles over one trillion searches a year. This means if you know SEO, then you can create visibility for your clients. Visibility brings in the readers. And it's the eyeballs that lead to conversions.
Bringing in results means you can earn more with SEO know-how because more results equal more profit.
Of course, before we get to the nitty-gritty, you first have to know what you're getting into.
What is SEO?
SEO stands for search engine optimization. The term refers to creating organic traffic through search engine positioning. Links on the top of the page are more likely to receive click-through, so that’s where you want to be for search terms you’re writing for.
There are many schools of thought on how to get to the top of the results page. And this is where disagreements and misinformation emerge - but more on that later.
Top results are ranked by Google based on user experience. The key in user experience is the article's relevance with what's typed into the search bar.
From Google, “When a user enters a query, our machines search the index for matching pages and return the results we believe are the most relevant to the user. Relevancy is determined by over 200 factors.”
Why not take advice from Google itself? They would know best!
Here is some advice from their search guidelines page:
"Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines."
"Don't deceive your users."
"Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you'd feel comfortable explaining what you've done to a website that competes with you, or to a Google employee. Another useful test is to ask, ‘Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn't exist?’"
"Think about what makes your website unique, valuable, or engaging. Make your website stand out from others in your field.”
Google is in the business of serving their customers, the searchers.
You’re in the business of serving the searchers with useful content.
It’s a mutually beneficial relationship. Everyone wins with focused, useful content.
What SEO is NOT (This is Important)
There are SEO "facts" floating around since the early 2000's that were never updated. It used to be much simpler to rank on Google. Then Google got smarter as their technology advanced. But some of these easy, and sometimes shady tactics are still being practiced. Read up so you don't make the same mistakes.
You’ll hear SEO marketers telling you that you need a specific keyword density, or tell you that you need to write nonsensical keywords that make your writing awkward, or you might even see businesses purchasing hundreds of backlinks.
They’re not looking at the big picture.
SEO is not spam
Gone are the days when you can spam a keyword on multiple 100-word blog posts and hope that you rank first. Google will penalize your site for this practice.
SEO is not writing like robots
Plus, your visitors will be disappointed. What they’re reading will sound more like a broken robot rather than a sensible human.
SEO is not random content for everyone and no one in particular
Nowadays it’s all about creating quality content that’s useful. And that’s what every writer wants to do, isn’t it? To create something valuable for their audience?
At the end of the day, high SEO ranking is based more on providing useful information than filling your article with a dozen nonsensical keywords.
That said, there are still tried and tested ways to rank better.
6 Factors for Better Search Ranking
Google said that they determine relevancy by over 200 factors, but we're people, not robots that can calculate complex algorithms. There's no humanly possible way for anyone to rank their content perfectly. But we can learn from what others have done and worked in the past.
Look to independent studies, like Moz’s in-depth Search Engine Ranking Factors Study.
They studied the top 50 Google results of 16,521 search queries, resulting in over 700,000 unique URLs.
Here is what their study found important for page ranking:
- User time on page
This shows how engaged a reader is with your content. The more engaged they are, the more influence you have. And more influence indicates more credibility. Search engines use this to measure your page's quality.
- Social shares
Social shares affect your rankings in 2 ways. First is through relevance. If it's relevant enough to be shared, you get plus points for that. Second, is through presence. Just like viral videos, content that's been shared and re-shared becomes more visible to search engine bots.
- Keyword usage
This doesn’t mean a keyword should be spammed. It should be in the title tag, near the beginning of the page, and a few times in the body. Other places where a keyword could be used are the page URL, in image ALT tags, and the meta description tag. We've covered this in depth in an earlier blog post.
- Content length
Length determines readability. But don't sacrifice information just to keep the word count low. It's more important to have a long article filled with useful information, than to have a short article with no substance. Other factors in readability are format. Short paragraphs, white space, and lots of room to breathe make an article read better.
- Media like images or video
Not only does media help with readability, but ALT tags and links used on the photos or videos also help make your page more searchable.
- Link building
Backlinks to your page from credible websites or blogs help indicate the high quality of your page, which helps boost rankings.
As you can see, Google’s search engine acts more human now. It analyzes hundreds of factors to find what a searcher finds useful. To try to game a system as advanced as this would be folly.
How to Choose Keywords Like an SEO Pro
First, you should have a good idea of what your main topic is.
We’ve written a handy guide on how to come up with content ideas here.
Most of the time, the client will have a keyword or keywords that they want to target, but sometimes, like if you’ve been hired to work on their entire SEO strategy, you might have to find the best keywords yourself.
1. Plug your content’s focus into a keyword tool like Google Adword’s Keyword Planner.
You can see by my example “SEO” that it shows the average monthly searches and the competition to rank for that term.
A smart idea is to pick a term with high search volume but low competition.
Avoid trying to rank for terms with competitive sites crowding the top search results.
A competitive site is one with authority, usually a brand name that is trusted. For example, if your keyword was “news” and you were trying to rank on the first page, you’ll be taking on global news organizations that have vast resources and name recognition.
2. Once you’ve picked your keyword(s), try to put yourself in the searcher’s shoes.
What was their intent when plugging that into their search bar?
Transactional: (purchase) ex. “Get a new comforter”
Informational: (know more) ex. “How do you snorkel?”
Navigational: (go to a specific website) ex. “Walmart.com”
Intent decides how you’ll create your content.
This is highly important. By taking one of our examples above, “How do you snorkel?” and then giving someone a shop that sells snorkeling supplies, your page is not a satisfying result.
You gave them a transactional page instead of an informative page. It would be the same as giving someone information on comforters if they were only looking to purchase one.
By knowing the intent, you can hone your message so it connects with the searcher. Which means a lower bounce rate. As mentioned above, the longer a reader stays on your page, the better for SEO.
Dealing with Site-side SEO That is Out of Your Control
There are certain factors that you might not be involved with. Factors like site design and security might be under the control of your client.
They might have hired you to write SEO posts, but their site might not be SEO compliant. That means they’ll post your wonderful SEO optimized posts, but it'll never reach its full potential.
Let them know that some of these factors might factor into search engine ranking. Here's an email template you can use to inform your clients about factors of SEO that they should look into, aside from content:
(Copy and paste the below template to send to your clients.)
Thank you for choosing me as your preferred content writing service. A big part of my work is to ensure that your content is constantly up-to-date on various SEO ranking factors. However, there are also factors that are unfortunately out of the content scope and can only be acted upon through your in-house development team. These factors include:
- Backlink profile
- Site load speed
- Mobile optimization
- Use of accelerated mobile pages (AMP)
- Site security (ex. SSL and spam removal)
- Bounce rate
- Robots.txt or XML sitemap
I highly suggest that you monitor these underlying factors as well to ensure your SEO health is at an optimum.
They might not know that any of these factors are crucial to SEO success. By being aware of these, your content will do better and hopefully, your client’s site will too.
Scale Up and Earn More With SEO
The more value you bring to the table, the more leverage you have when negotiating.
Bringing in traffic is massively valuable to clients.
Not only is it potential income, but it’s also very easy to track. Site traffic reports are quite prominent on an average web host. It doesn’t take special tools or cost more to see if your traffic has spiked. It’s one reason webmasters often obsess over traffic.
Use these new income-generating skills to your advantage.
It seems that you’ll have two new paths available…
Take Control of a Client’s SEO Strategy
By taking control of their whole SEO strategy, you’ll have a lot more work available than if you simply offered to write a few blog posts.
You’ll need to research keywords. Maybe you’ll even change your content calendar based on your research. Or if a piece of content isn’t bringing in results, edit it so that it’s more relevant to your search term.
With more responsibility comes the potential to ask for a higher rate. By doing this, you can earn more with SEO since search is often number one when it comes to a business’ online traffic.
Be a Content Writer Who Excels at SEO
Or you can even bill yourself as a content writer who knows SEO.
After all, great content is one of the key components of a winning SEO strategy. You can claim that each individual post you create will be optimized to reach high search rankings.
Clients want to feel at ease when hiring you, so show them examples of your links ranking high in search results. You’ll have proof that you’re capable of bringing in traffic. You won’t just be an average writer, but one who offers proof of success.
More Opportunities With SEO
Knowing SEO opens more opportunities for you. You can approach a past client, or maybe even after writing a post, and ask if you can help them with their search engine ranking.
Since you now know that link building is one way to rank higher, could you ask if they’ve thought about a link-building strategy?
If they say no, that gives you an opportunity. You can pitch yourself more work by offering to write guest posts. Or you can write other promotional material, like reports or e-books that can build backlinks and increase their site authority.
Now that you know that longer content works better for SEO, you can pitch longer content, and more words usually mean better pay.
All of these new opportunities, and becoming a master at SEO writing won’t take years of training.
In fact, you are probably already doing most of it by creating relevant, useful content for your readers.
Just follow a few steps like those outlined above, and you can be billing more than ever before.