Are you an amateur writer, business owner or marketing manager without copywriting experience, struggling to write content that ranks?
Well, let me tell you, you’re not alone. I’ve worked with many individuals who’ve spent hours writing content that won’t get found online.
And to put a stop to this, I’ve compiled the advice I’ve given these individuals and created the SEO Content Guide For Amateur Writers. Use this guide to learn about the process of writing high-quality content that follows SEO best practices.
First, we’ll define what SEO content is and why it is important to write content with SEO in mind. Then, we’ll go into the factors that make great content and how to actually structure and write it. As a bonus, you’ll find an SEO content writing checklist at the end.
Ready? Let’s go!
What is SEO content?
SEO content answers your audience’s questions and solves their problems. It’s sexy and insightful.
In a nutshell, SEO content is any form of content created with the goal of attracting website visitors (your audience) and search engine traffic.
Generally, we distinguish between transactional content and informational content:
Transactional content is content that caters to transactional search queries.
A transactional search query is a query that indicates an intent to complete a transaction, such as submitting a contact form or purchasing a product. Transactional search queries may include exact brand names (like “contact MyBusiness”) or be generic (like “buy product XYZ”). Transactional keywords infer that the searcher is considering making a purchase/transaction in the near future. In other words, they’re at the business end of the conversion funnel.
Transactional content includes:
- Product Pages – If you run an eCommerce business then product pages are your money pages and having them rank high in the SERPs for competitive keywords is invaluable.
- Category pages – Category pages are just like product pages, they are the bread and butter for eCommerce websites. Category pages serve as an umbrella and direct high-intent users to where they need to go.
- About us & Contact pages – About us and contact pages provide users with topical content about the company/person. These pages are important for building trust amongst users and Google.
Informational content caters to informational search queries and serves as a solution to people’s problems/needs (answers to their questions).
Wikipedia defines informational search queries as “Queries that cover a broad topic (e.g., how to sell a business) for which there may be thousands of relevant results.” When someone enters an informational search query into Google, they’re looking for information – hence the name. They are probably not looking for a specific site and they are not looking to make a commercial transaction. They just want to answer a question or learn how to do something. Informational content can take many forms, such as:
- Blog Posts – A blog is one of the easiest ways to create a regular stream of effective SEO content. In general, blog posts are more engaging than e.g. product pages, so they can be a great way to build backlinks and authority for your site. (Keep in mind that blogs are very flexible, and you can use them to host any of the below types of content in this list.)
- Articles – Think news article, interview, or feature piece. This is the main kind of content you’ll find on most newspaper- or magazine-style websites.
- Lists – A list is really just a kind of article, but framing it as a list (such as “10 Ways to Eat Healthy” or “101 Things I Hate About Google”) makes it easier to scan. These types of titles also seem to be more clickable when found in search results or in social media feeds.
- Guides – A guide is a longer piece of content that explains in detail how to do something. Guides are a very effective way of generating links from other websites and building website authority.
- Videos – In general, there are fewer videos on the web than pages of text; consequently, it can be easier to rank on the first page for a competitive keyword by creating a video instead of an article. You might consider including a text transcript of your video to increase the chances to rank for it. Optimising videos for SEO requires additional steps, which are not discussed in this guide.
- Infographics – Infographics, or large-format images that contain a lot of data (often in the form of graphs or charts) on a single subject, can rack up a lot of page views and links. However, because so much of the content is embedded in the image and therefore not readable as text by search engines, it’s important to carefully optimize the rest of the page.
- Glossaries – A well built-out glossary can be a good way to capture some search traffic by explaining industry-specific terms a la dictionary.
- Directories – A directory is a useful taxonomy of links to sites or resources around a given topic.
Why is SEO-optimised content important?
There are approx 4.45 billion websites indexed in the Google Search Results (SERPs). All of these websites have multiple pages, ranking for multiple keywords and ultimately, competing for the top spots on Google and other search engines. You can imagine, competition is steep.
The only chance of cutting through the clutter and winning a top spot for a given keyword is through content that attracts search engines and users -> insert SEO content.
Having content that shows up in the organic search results is very important for customer acquisition and the bottom line. And when done right, optimised SEO content is very effective in driving long-term, high-quality traffic to your website.
The 6 most important content optimisation factors
But how do you optimise content for SEO?
There are many factors that influence the performance of a piece of content. Being a subject matter expert is one of them. But what exactly the secret sauce is to Google’s ranking algorithm, no one really knows.
To make the optimisation process easier, I’ve compiled a list of the 6 most important factors that need to be considered when writing SEO content.
1. Content Quality & E-A-T
Quality is the name of the game when it comes to SEO content. Google’s mission is to “Deliver the most relevant and reliable information available”.
How does Google know what’s most relevant? Search engines are getting smarter and smarter by the minute and thanks to algorithm updates such as BERT, they are able to detect what’s original and compelling versus spammy or duplicated content. In fact, Google even gives penalty warnings to sites that have “thin content with little or no added value”.
Especially websites that focus on ‘Your Money Your Life’ (YMYL) topics, such as website’s giving financial advice and health advice or eCommerce businesses, have to make sure they provide 100% expertise, trustworthiness and authoritative content (commonly referred to as E-A-T framework).
What is Google E-A-T?
Expertise – Authoritativeness – Trustworthiness. This is how Google describes three core pillars of website evaluation, as conducted by its quality raters. The quality raters manually assess the quality of the search results by studying the top-listed results. The quality raters’ work according to a handbook drawn up by Google, and made publicly available, called the Google Quality Rater Guidelines. You can find the current version here.
“Expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness are the three most important aspects of a website that Google uses to evaluate its quality.”
5 Ways to Improve your E-A-T Scores
Content quality and freshness
Create comprehensive, trustworthy content that gets reviewed and updated at regular intervals. When refreshing content, it is extremely important that the date when content was last modified is clearly displayed. Before publishing new content you should always ask yourself the following questions:
• Does the content provide original information, reporting, research or analysis?
• Does the content provide a substantial, complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
• Does the content provide insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
• If the content draws on other sources, does it avoid simply copying or rewriting those sources and instead provide substantial additional value and originality? Does the content link back to its original sources?
• Does the headline and/or page title provide a descriptive, helpful summary of the content?
If you can’t answer yes to all or most of these questions, it might be advisable to review your content and make sure it’s up to scratch before publishing. It is better to have a few really good content pieces than many weak ones.
The individual authors of each content piece should be named and each author should be someone who is credible and has experience in the given field. If you don’t have access to expert writers, make sure content gets reviewed by credible sources.
Additional author information, like a short description, CVs and links to other online profiles also helps to raise an author’s (and the website’s) expert status. Contact options, a detailed website imprint and an “About us” page are other ways of increasing trust.
For example, you can link each article back to the ‘about us’ page or a LinkedIn profile. Or you could create a dedicated section at the bottom of each article that gives an overview of the author.
Screenshot: Example of Author bio at the bottom of an article.
The article concludes with a little blurb about the author, clearly stating that she is an expert in the field.
When clicking on the ‘Read full bio’ section you’re being redirected to an author page with even more information.
Earn trust and authority through backlinks
When ‘good websites’, that are considered an authority within an industry, link back to yours, Google associates a positive sentiment towards your site. Google then thinks “Well, if this really influential website is pointing to it, the content they provide must be trustworthy”.
It can also help to do the opposite and link to 3rd party websites that are considered an authority, from within your content. This in return gives Google the signal that you want to provide your users with the best information possible.
Researching the keywords (the search terms your target audience is using) is perhaps the most important SEO factor after creating quality content. It will help you develop content that “answers” what people are searching for. Keyword research can also carry benefits beyond ranking for those queries.
Keyword research can provide you with insights on the nature of your audiences’ pain points and needs — whether that’s informational or transactional — their interests, the amount of interest out there (indicated by search volume), the level of competition for those queries, and even the format in which they prefer that information.
The preferred method is to create a keyword map in which you outline each page on your site to its focus keyword and respective secondary keywords. This will eliminate any chance for keyword cannibalization (ranking multiple sites for the same keywords, thus competing against yourself). It will also help to create ‘topic clusters’ to support your authority towards a given topic overall.
Each page and each content piece needs to be optimised towards its target keyword. Incorporate the keyword(s) within the body of the content, the subheadings and the titles — but not at the expense of readability or other compromises that prioritize search engines over readers.
To put it simply, consider the words you want your page to be found for and use them naturally. The trick is not speaking in terms of what the searcher is going to type into the search box, but speak in terms of what the searcher wants to read. Always keep in mind that you’re writing for users first and that search engines are getting much better at understanding natural language.
Search engines love timely, up-to-date, “fresh” information. But don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about minor updates to a page, or even updating the publish date without changing the content. Continuously churning out new, low-quality pages to get a freshness boost can harm your site.
Quality over Quantity! It is much more valuable to have a handful of great content than having many low-quality, low word-count articles.
If you have a stack of aging content, update it, merge it with other pages or retire obsolete and expired pages. Doing so will make your site more useful to viewers and also indicate to search engines that your content is well maintained.
Your content should be deep enough to answer the user’s question in a ‘substantial, complete or comprehensive’ manner.
Are you providing ‘insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?’ Does it contain original information? Is that information researched and factual?
You want to make sure your content provides substantial value when compared to other pages in search results, because that is exactly what type of content Google wants to rank at the top of its results.
Take the keyword, your audience’s preferences and your competitor’s offerings into account when deciding how deep to dive. For example, if all the top-ranking pages have 1,000 words, then you’ll also need around 1,000 words of text (or you’re some sort of word-magician who can squeeze all the needed information into 500 words).
Consider using images, video, audio or other formats that appeal to your audience and set your brand apart from competitors. After you settle on the format that’s best for your users, optimize your multimedia as well as the pages you embed it within to make it more discoverable.
Always make sure to use descriptive text to supplement your content and provide context to search engines and users alike.
If it’s a video or a podcast, you can add a transcript. If it’s an image, make use of alt-text and captions. You can also mark up your multimedia with structured data to increase the chances that it gets returned as a rich result.
Embedding multimedia in your content also keeps your users engaged and longer on a page. Time on site and other behavioural metrics aren’t direct ranking factors but they do indicate to Google that users like what they see.
(Too many gifs, unrelated videos and media that drags down your site speed can have a negative impact so be mindful when choosing your creatives).
How to write SEO content – 9 Steps
Now that we know what factors are important in order to rank, we want to look at how to write it.
There is a method to writing content that ranks – SEO content is not just copy on a page. We’ve outlined the 9 steps to write great content with SEO in mind:
1. Know your audience
Job No. 1 when writing content is to attract and serve customers — the people who would want what your website offers. Your content must meet their expectations, grab their interest, and lead them to whatever conversion goal the site has.
So primarily write for people, not search engines. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What kinds of people are interested in my services/information?
- What are they looking for?
- What needs/questions would they have on my site?
- What communication style would feel natural to them?
- How can my site make them feel welcome?
- What would appeal to them and make them respond?
2. Know the goal for each page
Before writing anything, have a clear goal in mind and understand the intent behind each page. Otherwise, you’re likely to write rambling text that isn’t relevant for anything.
The goal shouldn’t be “to rank high for keyword XYZ.”
Instead, always set a user-focused goal. For example, category page’s goal is to direct people wanting to buy a specific item into the right direction and provide them with as much information as possible.
3. Find a proven topic/ keyword
There is content and there is SEO content.
Content that sits on your site and provides people that are already on your website with engaging information is one thing. But content that aims to attract people who are searching for related keywords and topics to your website is another.
If you want to bring people to your website you need to identify topics and keywords that are worth writing about. Keywords that only get ~30 monthly searches might not be worth the effort. And keywords that bring in over ~1,000 people a month are usually highly competitive and hard to rank for.
It’s important to find a sweet-spot and work your way up towards the more competitive keywords over time.
As mentioned earlier, I highly recommend creating a keyword map to help optimise website content. For new content, it is important that you do your due-diligence on a topic or keyword before writing. That means, ask yourself the following questions:
- How many people search for a given keyword/topic?
- Is it seasonal?
- When I search for it in the SERPs, who do I compete against and what is the search intent behind the keyword?
- Are people looking for guides or news articles or listing pages etc.
4. Identify the word count of the page
Each page should have a target word count. To get a more precise word count target for your page, get a word count of the pages you’re competing against in the search engine results page (SERP). Set a target word count in the range of the top-ranking pages.
You should always say as much as you need to thoroughly cover a topic and provide something of value. There is typically a minimum word count around 450 words.
5. Write an outline (structure)
Start putting down the logical outline (the skeleton) of the article, the listing, the category page, whatever it might be.
It is important that each piece of web content follows a structure and logical sequence. The structure helps users more easily ‘digest’ the information and it helps search engines to understand the topic of a page.
- Make sure each page has an introduction, a main body and a conclusion.
- Make sure each section is split into short paragraphs that are easy to read. Using bullet points is also highly effective to enhance readability.
- Provide a heading structure that lets people to skim through the content. Each article should hold 1 x H1. All other headlines can be split into H2s, H3s etc.
- Provide a unique page title that summarises what the page is about.
6. Identify needed links
Hyperlinks (underlined text that links from one page to another) are an important search ranking factor, so as a writer, you should think of what links should be included on the page to support the topic.
For instance, if you’re writing an article about a topic, you would want to link out to other articles related to that topic (if it makes sense to do so). These links will help Google understand what your content is about but they will also engage users and keep them on your site for longer (down the rabbit hole…).
Good SEO practice is to link to a high-value SEO page with anchor text (underlined text) that contains the primary keyword phrase of the page being linked to.
One more thing about link placement. The first 200 words of text are the most important in conveying to the search engine what the page is about; a link contained in the first 200 words will have additional weight compared to links later in the copy. Therefore, be mindful of where you include anchor text links within body copy. You may want to hold off on linking to external sites in the first 200 words of copy.
7. Write a draft
Exactly that, write a draft.
Not a perfect article, just words on paper (or screen).
The aim is to organise your thoughts and structure your article into something tangible to work with.
8. Edit your draft
Pulling readers into the flow of your content is important if you want them to stick around. Not only is this good for conversions (which is ultimately the point of ranking), but it also has a positive impact on user engagement metrics like time on page, dwell time, and bounce rate, which may indirectly influence rankings.
Here are three things to focus on:
- Correct spelling and grammatical errors
It is super important that grammar and spelling is correct. Content with spelling mistakes and grammatical errors might hint towards low authority and low quality.
- Keep word and sentence-structure simple
Having highly complex and hard-to-read content doesn’t help anyone. Make sure your content is easy to read and understand. Make sure it flows naturally and you don’t ‘stuff’ it with keywords.
- Where possible, include reliable and trustworthy sources
To support your effort of building authority and trust, you should cite and link to reliable 3rd party content where applicable and where it makes sense. If you do link to 3rd party sites, make sure you properly cite them and use descriptive anchor text.
- Make your content visually appealing
Nobody likes reading a wall of text. If you’ve written more than a few sentences, then you should work to break up the copy. The most obvious way to do this is with images or videos. Not only does this make things easier to skim, but it also helps to demonstrate what we’re trying to explain. But images and videos don’t always make sense. So another thing you can do is break lengthy chunks of text into subsections using H2-H6 headers.
- Write a compelling meta title and description
Meta decsription provides search engines with a summary of what a page is about but more importantly, it helps users decide whetehr or not to click through to your site. The two more important pieces of metadata are your meta title and description. Both of these show up in Google’s search results, and they’re effectively your sales pitch to searchers. Use them to explain why they should click and read your post.
Title tag: The title tag in a Google search result is approximately 70 characters including spaces. Make sure the most important information and top keywords are included in those first 70 characters.
Primary Keyword – Secondary Keyword | Brand Name
50 – 70 characters
Meta description tag: Best practice is to ensure the important keywords and descriptive information show up in the first 156 characters of the description tag so when the description renders in Google SERPs, those important keywords are showing. The description tag displayed in a Google SERP result is approximately 24 words or 156 characters including spaces.
Focus Keywords – Benefit – CTA
50 -155 characters
9. Publish your page
Now that you have edited your draft, optimised SEO factors and are confident that your page is the best match to the search query – you are ready to post.
We’ve talked about the different types of SEO content and how to make sure that the content we write provides value. We’ve also talked about ranking factors, researching your keywords and other factors that influence Google’s decision whether or not to rank your content.
You should now be able to build your authority, properly structure your content and focus on what matters from an SEO perspective.
Mastering SEO is a beast! And there is much more to ranking # 1 than what we’ve discussed here, such as content promotion, link building and more technical things like Schema Markup (just to name a few).
If you’re serious about SEO and really want to improve your website’s organic standing, but don’t know where and how to start, let’s chat!