This post is for anyone who is tasked with writing content to go on a website, whether it’s a blog article or copy for a services page. I want to highlight eight SEO guidelines that will help Google love your writing and rank it in their search results when people search for its topic.
I won’t be giving any advice on the craft of writing, that’s up to you. I will be harping on about audience vibes, page structure and, of course, the use of keywords!
1. Understand Your Audience
The first task when writing for the web is to understand your audience.
- Who are you writing this content for?
- What do you want them to think while they’re reading it?
- What do you want them to do when they’re finished reading it?
Let’s imagine you’re a purveyor of natural dog nose healing balm. You’ve developed a secret mixture of shea butters, beeswax and essential oils that seem to heal cracked and dry dog noses right up.
Who is your audience?
Unfortunately, not the tail-wagging dog who will love you no matter what.
Nope, your audience is the dog lover, Karen.
When you write you need to write for dog lovers. Understand what their concerns are. Understand how they see the world. Do some research, find a dog lovers group on Facebook or join a dog breeder forum. You don’t need to be an FBI profiler, but you need to know enough about this group of people to write for them.
The Micro-Moments of Dog Lovers
In my last post about On-Page SEO, I mentioned Google likes to categorize search into micro-moments:
- I want to know
- I want to go
- I want to do
- I want to buy.
It’s useful to keep this in mind for our next guideline to writing content with SEO in mind.
2. Dig Deep into Intent
What do you want your dog lover, Karen to think while she’s reading your content?
To transfer your mojo about your awesome dog nose balm to Karen, you need to dig deep into the search terms she may have used to get to your post or page – you need to understand her intent.
Was she wanting to know something, go somewhere, do something or buy something?
These different intents will guide your writing.
Research the search terms she will use. There’s tons of information about how to do this online. Here’s my favorite guide.
Once you’ve done your keyword research, you should have a primary keyword that you want your writing to rank for. This is the keyword that’s going to give you Karen’s intent and your spell to get her to think what you want while she reads your article has been cast.
For this example your primary keyword is: How to Heal Dry and Cracked Dog Noses.
This keyword falls under the I want to know micro-moment.
Things you may want Karen to think about when reading your writing are:
- Does this writer love dogs as much as I do? Yes!
- Will this article give me truthful information? Oh, there’s some before and after photos of damaged dog noses, the results look fantastic!
- Can I trust this site? Mmmm, they have an endorsement from a Veterinary association, good!
Cover as much information on the topic of How to Heal Dry and Cracked Dog Noses as possible so that Karen’s intent is satisfied and we can change her I want to know moment into a I want to buy moment.
Now that you understand your audience and what you want them to do when they finish reading your content. How can we convince Google to rank our writing for what our audience is searching for?
3. Ranking Signals
Google ranks pages, not websites. It looks for ranking signals in your writing, based on your primary keyword, and in your page structure.
The best way to see what ranking signals Google is looking for within your topic is to do a search for your primary keyword and see what the top search results are doing.
What type of content is Google ranking tops for How to Heal Dry and Cracked Dog Noses?
- Blog articles
This immediately gives you a good idea to include a video on how to apply your dog nose healing balm in your article. It will increase the likelihood of Karen switching to an I want to buy moment and add extra ranking oomph to your article.
This part gets a bit techy, but bear with me, it’s worth knowing. Google looks for your primary keyword in these high signal locations, so be sure to include How to Heal Dry and Cracked Dog Noses in:
- Page/Meta Title: This is the page title that shows up blue in Google’s search results
- H1 Heading Tag: This is the main heading on a page
- Paragraph Tag: Contains your page copy
- Image ALT Text: The ALT text that describes an image.
4. Write Great Page Titles
As with any sales copy, writing great headlines (or in our case page titles) is really important because you want to grab the attention of the searcher and convince them to click through to your article from the search results. It gets a bit trickier when you have to write creative + clickable page titles while being restrained by an exact keyword.
But, there is a trick that seems to work for most SEOs: modifiers.
Adding modifiers to your exact keyword in your title has been shown to increase click-through-rate and extend your keyword further so that there’s more opportunity for Google ranking it for variations. Here’s a list of modifiers:
- The current year
So, we could rewrite our exact keyword like this: 4 Tips on How to Heal Dry and Cracked Dog Noses.
The Best SEO Title Structure
I’ve tested tons of title structures over the years and all my research points to Google favoring the exact keyword at the front of the title. Sometimes this can’t be done because it just reads badly; my trick is to use the exact keyword as a sort of introduction to the topic of my page. For example, Natural Dog Nose Balm: The Best Solution for Dry Dog Noses.
5. The Lead
The lead is the first paragraph of any article. It should entice a reader to want to carry on reading. It should summarize what the reader is about to dig into. A good book on the subject is Great Leads by Michael Masterson.
An SEO tip for your lead is to use it in your page description which shows up in the search results along with the blue title. The lead is designed to keep the reader reading, so it may increase click-through-rate in the search results.
6. SEO Page Structure: How People Read on The Internet
The trouble with writing articles for print and writing for web pages is that people read them differently. Readers on-the-line are in much more of a hurry than if they were soaking in the bath reading a Mills and Boon. Online readers skim read, so a logical page structure using subheadings and bulleted lists helps to break up content, making it more “scannable”.
SEO Page Structure Tips:
- Use only one H1 heading per article
- Use H2 and H3 headings to segment content by topics and subtopics
- Use paragraphs to spread your content out so that readers can read in chunks
- Use unordered and ordered lists when listing points or features.
7. Add Rich Media
Adding rich media such as video and images to your content will help illustrate your topic and data shows that it increases rank. Google really only ranks it’s own video service, so if you add video make sure it’s hosting on YouTube.
8. Link to Stuff
When writing content don’t be afraid to link to other stuff. Especially other articles on the same site that may relate to the topic your writing about.
Make sure to include the keyword of the article you’re linking to internally, this helps the rank of that page and gives readers and Google context on where you’re linking to.
For example, on my How to Heal Dry and Cracked Dog Noses article I want to link to the sales page for my dog nose balm, I can write the link as “check out our Natural Dog Nose Healing Balm“.
Most writers write from the inside out, they know they’re subject and write from the heart. SEO writers write from the outside in, they research the audience, topical search terms, intent and ranking signals and then write with these elements in mind.
It’s a bit more of a schlep, but SEO focused content gets more traffic from Google and other search engines and ultimately is worth the return on investment.
Fine Tuning with Relevancy Rank by NTopic
If you want to boost your SEO writing further, I like using nTopic’s Relevancy Rank to fine tune my content’s relevancy. It’s a clunky, but nifty tool that pulls relevancy signals from Bing and Wikipedia and gives your content a relevancy score. Your content should score 99%, for it’s keyword topic, if not then add some of the words that nTopic suggests to up your score. So much fun!
BOOM! I’m off to listen to Future Islands.