When I first began my career as a search engine optimizer (SEO), I was immediately intrigued by the role that optimization for content and optimization for search engines intertwined. As I began to dive deeper into what SEO is, I realized that content didn’t always correspond with what search engines were looking for, and vice versa. Writing SEO-rich content that humans like is a delicate balance.
As a user, I want content that’s engaging, understandable, and that answers my query without using jargon. Think about online recipes as an example. When I look up a recipe, I want the recipe itself; I don’t want the “this is my entire life story and how I invented this dish” nonsense that didn’t relate to what I needed.
Google and other search engines, however, tend to favor a specific word count, a strategic use of keywords, correct usage of headings, domain authority, photos optimized for web publishing, and more. Its goal is to provide users with relevant, trustworthy, and high-quality information, but I just want that one morsel of information without all the fluff.
That’s when it hit me that SEO-rich content is a lot like Beef Wellington. The meat of the article is the content, and Beef Wellington wouldn’t be Beef Wellington without, well, beef. SEO is the dough and optimizations are a compliment to the dish, not the main focus. Good content is able to stand on its own, and SEO should wrap around it to make the best Beef Wellington possible.
In the past, we’ve shared tips for writing compelling content and why updating old content is important. To keep the food analogies going here, I’m revealing my six-step recipe for the best SEO-rich web content that’s still written with actual people in mind.
Define your audience and purpose
In writing SEO-rich web content, it’s important to ask: who are you writing for? If it’s fellow professionals or experts in your industry, skip explaining granular terms because they probably already know them. If it’s someone unfamiliar with the subject matter, get more detailed and thorough in explanations.
Then, answer this: what’s the purpose of the content? Different intentions will provide different results. A 2,000-word blog post isn’t the best way to sell a cut of beef, and a 250-word landing page isn’t going to give the best information on how to cook different cuts of beef.
Always know who your audience is and what the purpose of the content is before writing it.
Research competitors who are already ranking
Look at what’s currently ranking for the topic you’re going after. What’s the average word count? How many keywords and keyword variations are included? How many images did they use and how were they spaced out? What content did they include?
Take notes from your competitors and formulate an outline for content before you start writing based on the answers to the questions above. You may be an expert on the topic that you are writing about, but in order to have the SEO juice needed to rank, you also need to understand what’s working for competitors.
If you can reverse-engineer your competitors’ success, you’ll save yourself time and effort.
Write the answer, then expand on it
People are looking for answers to questions, whether it is phrased as such or not. Give them those answers clearly and concisely at the beginning of the page in the most straightforward way possible. This is called the “inverted pyramid” method of writing.
After you write the most important part, dig deeper. Include answers to related questions, tell a useful story, and give readers actionable tips. Don’t include useless jargon to get the word count up. Everything written on the page should be engaging and beneficial in some way.
Use a call to action at the beginning and at the end. Users want to be directed to what they should do next. Point them to buy a product, learn more, call your business, or visit another page on your site.
Format, format, format
In writing for SEO, use headings to your advantage. Include your keywords in them. Use the proper hierarchy. Search engines and users alike love bulleted lists, numbered steps, and information split up so that it’s easy to see and understand.
Large blocks of text are not easy on the eyes for users, and search engines are smart enough to understand that splitting up information is a good thing. Use shorter paragraphs, photos, videos, buttons, icons, and white space to give readers a visual break.
Formatting is critical to writing content that’s easy to digest, for humans and for Google’s algorithm. Give both what they want.
Optimize the page
“SEO” is a term that encompasses so much, but for an individual page, there are a few measures to focus on that increase search visibility. Link to relevant pages on your website and other credible websites that talk about the same thing. Build links to the page being optimized from other websites.
Ensure there are enough of the primary keyword and keyword variations, but not too many. A good rule of thumb is using one keyword every 200 to 500 words. Keywords should fit in as people speak; if the content is read aloud, it should sound natural.
Make sure images are under 100kb, have proper alt text, and are useful. Don’t only use stock images. Infographics and other forms of your own intellectual property are great to include. Check Google Pagespeed Insights to make sure that the page isn’t being weighed down by extra code, image issues, etc.
There are hundreds of other ways to optimize SEO, so check out this step-by-step SEO guide for more information.
Revisit your content often
Sometimes, no matter how well-written or well-optimized, content doesn’t rank or it loses rankings. That’s okay! Just tweak the recipe. So often a page will rank for some time, and then eventually, something newer and better-optimized will come along and your page will tank. This is especially true with time-sensitive content such as events and news articles.
Monitoring your pages and keyword rankings regularly will show what content has the biggest opportunity to rank or rank again. Updating old content regularly sends the message to Google that it’s still relevant, still important, and still being checked on.
And don’t just add a couple of paragraphs to old content, either. Repeat the entire process outlined above.
Creating SEO-rich content is a process
Overall, content and SEO can make a delicious dish when they work together. Writing for the web is different from writing a book or a newspaper because not only do you have to keep your audience in mind, but you also must take how search engines will “read” the page into consideration. Define your purpose, look at the competition, write in a human-centered way, format your piece, and optimize it for the internet.
Don’t forget to monitor and update content regularly. Seeing what works and what doesn’t and making changes accordingly is a crucial part of any content marketing strategy.
Think back to our recipe analogy. If your content is under-seasoned, season it better. If it’s overcooked, grab a new cut. It may take a few tries to get the recipe right, but keep trying because people (and Google) will eat it up.