SEO Writing 101: Write Content That Ranks On Google
Welcome to Brand Backstory's on-page SEO writing webinar. I'm Wayne Jordan. In this training, I will show you how to make your content writing stand out in a crowded marketplace. Writers who have mastered these skills are in demand and make more money.
First, a disclaimer:
On-page SEO (search engine optimization) relates only to what you, as a writer, can control. There are many other facets of SEO that writers cannot control—like a site's core vitals and domain authority—so I won't cover those points.
Seo Writing Satisfies Two Masters
Let's start by discussing what on-page SEO writing is and why it is essential. Then, we'll move on to what it takes to create a well-written search-engine-optimized article.
Writers who publish online have two masters: human readers and the search engine bots that index their articles. You can be a brilliant writer, but if the bots can't figure out what your article is about, it won't be correctly indexed. If it's not correctly indexed, it won't be found in search results. If it's not found in search results, no one will read it. If no one reads it—well, you get the point.
So we need to write for humans but leave clues for the bots. Doing so is the essence of SEO writing.
Writing For Humans
Let's talk first about writing for humans. Article readers are browsers. They browse headlines and glance at pictures, then read the first paragraph, scan the sub-headings, and, if they are interested, read the entire article.
If your article is to be read, you must engage the reader. Doing so is a tall order. You must grab readers' attention, hold their interest, engage their intellect and emotions, and leave them satisfied. A good article is an emotional and intellectual journey for your reader. Lead them. Coax them along.
Readers want to be entertained as well as informed. Don't bombard them with facts, figures, and history. They got enough of that in school. Your article readers are looking for insights and new information. What they want is your unique perspective on a topic. Don't just regurgitate facts you find online. Here are some suggestions on how to approach this:
Begin At The End
Start by reverse engineering your article. Begin at the end. Once you have decided on a topic, think about how you want your reader to feel about the subject when they finish your piece. Satisfying them intellectually is rarely enough; often, you need to make an emotional connection. In the end, you want them to feel that they have gained something by reading your work. Unfortunately, most of the articles found on the internet don't meet this standard.
The first thing readers see is your headline. Based on the headline alone, they will decide whether to keep looking. A good headline should tell a reader what the topic is and what they will gain by reading it. I regularly see clever headlines that offer no clue about an article's topic. Such headlines are death for online content.
Here's an article I wrote for WorthPoint a while back. Rather than risk embarrassing another writer, I'm using one of mine from 2015. Here's how the headline appears on the web page:
Wayne Henderson's Handmade Guitars Are the Perfect Collectible
Here's how the article looks in search results.
Wayne Henderson's Hand-Made Guitars Are The Perfect [52 characters]
Notice that the headline is cut off. If you're writing long headlines (like I did), you're wasting your time. Search results viewers won't see your entire headline. How long should a headline be? 50 to 60 characters, including letters, spaces, and punctuation.
The rule for headlines is to be straightforward.
Use the keyword
Keep it under 60 characters
State the premise of the article
Let's rewrite my headline.
Wayne Henderson's Hand-made Guitars Are The Perfect Collectible [63 characters]
To adjust the length, Google removed the word "Collectible." But then, readers don't get the complete headline.
Here's a rewrite that offers the keyword and a promise that is under 60 characters:
Wayne Henderson Guitars are the Perfect Collectible [51 characters]
By the way, you don't have to count each character in a headline. In Word, check a headline's length by selecting the headline, then navigate to the Home ribbon, > go to Review, > then Word Count.
Writing The First Paragraph
In the first paragraph, develop a reader's interest. Tell them the point you will make (in academic terms, a thesis statement) and why your thesis is important to them. Explore why they should read your article. Make a promise. For example, you might state a problem and imply a solution, tell a relevant story, or suggest an insight from which they might benefit. It's your call. But you're dead in the water if, in the first paragraph, you don't give them a reason to keep reading. You will waste your time writing. No one is going to read it.
SEO Writing Must Stay Organized
Stay organized. A thesis statement is hinted at in the headline and established in the first paragraph. Subsequent paragraphs must support your thesis statement. Each paragraph should cover just one point that supports your thesis statement. Don't change topics in the middle of a paragraph.
Generally, paragraphs begin with a topic sentence that establishes the paragraph's main point. Every sentence in a paragraph should support that paragraph's topic sentence. For example, you might start a paragraph by making a statement. If you do, then support your statement withinformation or examples. This is called the P.I.E. method: point, information, or example. Remember, this method doesn't have to be a dry recitation of facts. Storytelling to support your point is encouraged. Keeping your information engaging and relevant will stretch your skills as a writer. Not everyone can do it, which is why SEO writers are better paid than writers who just recycle other people's content.
Vary sentence lengths. Have short ones, medium ones, and a few long ones when necessary. But remember, run-on sentences are the death of good copy. An article's readability score (level of reading difficulty) is directly related to the average number of words and syllables in a sentence. Write concisely. Keep your vocabulary accessible.
Pages that are an unbroken block of text are intimidating for readers. So, use headings to break up long blocks of text. A good heading hints at the content of the paragraph below it. Also, use either the primary keyword or a synonym in the heading.
Conclude your piece by restating the benefit you promised in the first paragraph or otherwise linking back to your opening.
SEO Writing For Search Bots
Now let's talk about writing for search bots. Here's how to leave them clues. Bots scan articles in much the same way as humans. To learn what an article is about, they check the following:
Of course, this is an oversimplification of SEO writing, but it's all you need to know to write an article.
What are bots looking for when they scan an article? Keywords. A keyword is a word or phrase that specifies the topic of your article. It's the phrase that researchers type into a search bar to find information about a topic.
Search engines index content by keywords. Therefore, your keyword or its synonyms must be stated explicitly in your headline, first paragraph, headings, and body copy.
Search bots will also scan the text of your article for content clues. Keywords and their synonyms must be present, and the number of keywords must be proportional to the number of words in the article.
Think of your article as providing a recipe to the bots: the ingredients must be balanced. Too much sugar in a pie doesn't make it better; it makes it worse. Follow the recipe for the best results.
SEO best practices dictate that writers use the keyword in the first paragraph. I have mixed feelings about this rule. Do so when you can, but not at the expense of capturing a reader's interest. Readers come first. The lack of a keyword in the first paragraph can be made up later in the article.
The ratio of keywords to total word count is called keyword density. A keyword density of about ½ to 1% is appropriate. A 1,000-word article will use the focus keyword or a synonym five to ten times in the article, including text and headings.
Having too many keywords is worse than having none at all. This is called "keyword stuffing."
In the first iteration of Google in ancient times, Google ranked articles based on keyword density. Black-hat SEO specialists would cram an article with keywords to get their pages to rank well. Sometimes, they would double-space black text, and the lines between would be filled with the keyword written in white so it would be invisible to readers (but not bots). Of course, this caused Google to change its algorithm, and to this day, they penalize pages for keyword stuffing, even if it is done inadvertently.
To determine how often your keyword appears in an article written in MS Word, navigate to the Home ribbon and click the Find drop-down. A navigation bar appears in the left sidebar. Type in your keyword, and every instance of the word will be found.