SEO Writing: How To Create Optimized Content

No matter how great a writer you are or how much of an expert you are on your topic, if you don’t know how to create optimized content, you’ll have trouble getting people to find your work online.

What Is SEO Writing?

SEO writing is a method of creating online content for the purpose of being ranked highly (as in, on the first page) in search engine results.

Usually, SEO writing revolves around what Google needs to get your page to the No. 1 spot in the SERPs, and other search engines usually want to see the same best practices.

The Basics of SEO Writing

Knowing how to write well — being interesting, editing out grammatical errors, etc. — is a start when it comes to SEO writing, but there’s a lot more to consider. Let’s go through the different aspects of how to create optimized content.

Title and Headers

Your title and headers have a lot of work to do. They have to:

  • Clearly explain what the content is about without being misleading
  • Guide people through the content, which is especially important for readers who like to skim
  • Introduce each section and sub-section in a way that honestly represents the information that follows

Additionally, titles and headers should include keywords. This tells search engines that your content revolves around a main topic.

Readability

Readability is a measurement of how easy your content is to read and understand. In most SEO plugins for WordPress, you can see a readability score.

Rank Math readability section.

In Rank Math, readability elements include:

  • Table of contents
  • Short paragraphs
  • Multimedia

Yoast, another popular SEO plugin, has more items that it checks for readability, such as:

  • Passive voice
  • Sentence length
  • Subheading distribution
  • Transition words
  • Varied sentence beginnings
  • Word complexity

A great, free tool for checking the readability of your content is Hemingway.

The Hemingway tool for improving SEO writing readability.

You can enter your copy into Hemingway and it’ll tell you the grade level of readability. Plus, you’ll see suggestions for improving readability. Color coding shows you which sentences are hard to read, where you’ve used passive voice, etc.

Tone and Search Intent

Your tone will change based on your brand, audience and the search intent of the content you’re creating.

Search intent refers to the reason why the person is searching for a specific query. There are four types:

  • Informational: Basic information about a topic that the user wants during the research stage.
  • Navigational: Searches for specific places, whether that’s online, like a particular website, or offline, like a restaurant.
  • Commercial: Research into products or services that are for sale.
  • Transactional: Searches for specific brands, products or services.

Informational searches mean that the user wants to learn something. Navigational searches mean that the user wants to go somewhere. And commercial and transactional searches mean the user wants to buy something.

Knowing the search intent of a query will inform the tone of your content.

For example, in informational content, the tone will be helpful and approachable. You don’t want to push a sale here. The user isn’t ready for that, and you’re more likely to lose them as a reader than to gain them as a customer.

With a commercial or transactional query, though, you can be more straightforward about promoting your brand, offering incentives and encouraging a sale.

Best Practices for SEO Writing

The following tips will help you improve your SEO writing so that you can create competitive content.

Understand and Conduct Keyword Research

Keyword research is when you figure out the words and phrases your audience will type into Google to look for the content you provide.

This is important for SEO writing for several reasons:

  • Keyword research unveils the target and secondary keywords to use throughout your content.
  • You can brainstorm subtopics to cover in your content based on what people are searching for.
  • You’ll get insight into the search intent of a query, which helps you create content to match.

Keywords can tell you about the query’s search intent because different wording can mean different intent. For example, “what are the healthiest packaged foods” is informational, while “buy groceries online” is transactional.

We have a lot of articles to help with keyword research, including the following:

Create an Article Outline and Structure

You don’t always have to create an article outline before you start writing. However, it can help you plan ahead to make sure you cover every aspect that a reader will want in the content.

Plus, your article structure should improve the flow and readability of the content. You do that by grouping similar topics together and using hierarchy to showcase what’s most important and which subjects are part of other, bigger subjects.

You can see that in this article you’re reading.

I started off by giving you a broad overview of SEO writing. Then, in the next major section, I introduced the basics of SEO writing and created a separate header for each topic. In this section, I’ve introduced SEO writing best practices and have broken down each section by subtopic.

I’ve also arranged them in a way that makes sense in terms of flow. If you look at each subheader in this section, they go from what to do before you write to tips for writing and then to advice about content maintenance.

You can also use a tool like Surfer to insert an outline for you. It does this by pulling information from top-performing posts for your keyword and then arranging headers in a way it thinks is logical.

Surfer's auto-generated outline tool to help plan out SEO writing.

As you can see, this is imperfect — there are two titles, the conclusion is up top, etc. But this tool from Surfer is free, and it can get you started if you’re unsure of how to plan your content.

Write for People, Not Search Engines

This tip can sound counterintuitive in an article about SEO writing. But natural writing is SEO writing because search engines want quality content, and quality content is written naturally.

That’s why search engines use tactics like keyword stemming — to figure out not just text, but context as well.

Avoiding keyword stuffing, improving readability and writing conversationally instead of robotically is how you write for people, not web crawlers.

Aim for Long-Form Content

We have an article that goes in-depth on the topic of long-form content vs. short-form content. But basically, long-form content is what it sounds like: content that’s long in terms of word count.

A lot of long-form content is geared toward the top of the funnel, which is where the informational search intent falls.

The reason long-form content is great for SEO writing is that thanks to the higher word count, there are lots of opportunities for incorporating keywords and information. The longer the content is, the more thorough it can be, and Google likes thorough content.

Plus, long-form content can increase time-on-page metrics, and it also has a better chance of gaining a backlink because it shows authority.

Break Up the Text and Make It Skimmable

Headers and subheaders are one way to break up text and make content skimmable, but that’s not the only way.

Using short paragraphs — sometimes as short as one sentence, which you can see in the paragraph above — makes it easy for users to skim the article, find what they want quickly and digest the information.

Other ways you can break up copy is by adding multimedia, like charts, images and videos; bolding certain words, phrases or sentences for emphasis; and using bullet points when information is more clear in list form.

Enhance With Other Types of Content

Adding multimedia is great for breaking up long chunks of text, but it can also add value to your content.

Sometimes, a concept is better represented visually than in words.

For example, if I wrote an article about the NYC subway system, would it be better for me to explain each subway route to you in words or to show you the map below?

A NYC subway map.

Other times, information can be presented in a few different ways, and the reader can decide which is better for them.

For example, if I wanted to tell you the different reporting features of the Link Whisper plugin, I could write out sample data like this:

  • Posts Crawled: 794
  • Links Found: 11,840
  • Internal Links: 7,314

Or I could show you this infographic from our home page:

A Link Whisper infographic.

The colors, icons and general layout make this more pleasing to the eye for some people.

Add charts, graphs, images, infographics, pull quotes, social media posts, videos and other elements throughout your content to enhance it.

Add Internal and External Links

With internal linking, you link to other pages on your website. With external linking, you link to pages that are outside your website. Both strategies are important for SEO.

We go over the benefits of internal linking in this blog post.

When it comes to external linking, Google takes it as a signal that you have a high-quality page, because it’s the high-quality pages that link to other valuable pages.

Also, check out our article about internal links vs. external links.

Write Meta Information for the Page

Meta tags happen behind the scenes. They’re not part of the main page copy; instead, they’re part of the page’s HTML code. Metadata tells search engines what your page is about.

Your SEO plugin will have a few sections where you can add metadata, and you’ll want to add your target keyword to whatever you enter.

The metadata section in Rank Math to improve your SEO writing rank.

Some of this information will show up publicly. For example, the title of the blog post in the example above is “Here’s How I Carried My DSLR at Disney World.” If I update the title tag to “How to Carry a DSRL at Disney World,” that’s the title that will be shown in search results. You can see it reflected in the preview at the top:

Update to the Rank Math metadata box.

Your SEO plugin will tell you when your metadata is missing or needs to be fixed in some way, like if your description is too long.

Polish and Finalize Your Draft

Google values quality writing, so your finished copy should be error-free. Make proofreading and checking for plagiarism a regular part of your writing routine.

Tools like Grammarly can help you catch errors you missed, but don’t rely on it for 100% of your copyediting. Instead, use it as a second pair of eyes once you’ve already proofed your work.

It can be especially helpful when it comes to your editing blindspots. For example, you may have difficulty with commas or words with double letters that Grammarly will find to have you fix.

You should also make a habit of running your work through a plagiarism checker (Grammarly has one built-in).

Even if you didn’t do it on purpose, you could have inadvertently plagiarised by wording some of your copy in the same way as another source. Google won’t know that you did that accidentally, and it could penalize you for it, so it’s better to ensure you have unique copy before publishing.

Stay Up-to-Date With the Google Algorithm

Google updates its algorithm thousands of times a year. Most of these changes are small, but once in a while, they’ll have a bigger impact on your website.

Stay on top of industry news by adding a Google alert for “Google algorithm.” Whether it’s a blog post from Google itself or a report from an authoritative source, you’ll find out the latest information.

Track Your Results

Analyzing your performance is an important part of running a website. If you don’t know how a page is performing, you won’t have any idea if your SEO writing is working or not.

Whether you use free tools like Google Analytics and Google Search Console or a paid one like Ahrefs or Semrush, make tracking and analyzing the results part of your SEO strategy.

Wrapping Up

SEO writing is a big job. That’s why marketing teams have members who only work on content creation, and some people will have SEO writing as their main responsibility.

But whether you’re part of a larger company or you’re running a website on your own, SEO writing should be a major part of your efforts.

Here’s how to set SEO benchmarks so you can decide if you’re on the right track or not.

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