If content is king, SEO writing is its most trusted advisor.
SEO writing is a strategy that improves your chances of ranking highly in search results, and a higher ranking means more clicks. One 2020 study found that 28.5% of searchers clicked on the first search result, compared to 15% and 11% for the second and third results, respectively.
Writing content for SEO can improve your search engine rankings and make you an in-demand contributor. Here are the essentials to know about SEO, including its meaning, purpose to marketers, and how to use it effectively.
What Is SEO?
SEO stands for search engine optimization. It's the practice of creating websites and content that rank highly on search engine results pages (SERPs). There are numerous elements to SEO success, from page design to complex technical aspects like tags and indexing.
Optimizing content isn't just for search engines. By improving the SEO of your site, you create a better user experience for your readers. Optimization is about providing the best information to your audience for your target keyword.
Why Is SEO Writing Important?
Writing for SEO is valuable for any business. A well-optimized piece of original content can rank for thousands of keywords. SEO is the cornerstone of many digital marketing strategies and it has defined how people write content for years.
Here are just a few things SEO writing can do:
- Expand your online presence. Content quality is one of Google's most important ranking factors. The better your writing is from an SEO perspective, the bigger your audiences will be.
- Encourages social sharing. When audiences see value in content, they're more likely to share it with their friends. Shares mean more exposure and even better search ranking.
- Generates more backlinks. If your content stands out, other websites will link to it. Those backlinks boost your reputation and your standing in search engine algorithms.
- Improves overall site performance. Every time you publish content that Google sees as valuable, the website earns more credibility. This translates to better rankings.
Ready to get started? Here are some of the SEO best practices to implement in your content.
7 SEO Writing Best Practices
SEO writing is the process of creating high-quality content to rank for target keywords. By doing so, you can appear at the top of major search engines and potentially increase organic traffic.
Writing articles or blog posts for SEO differs from standard content writing. You must make sure your content can be easily picked up by search engines and that it covers the target keyword effectively.
1. Create Valuable Content with Your Target Audience in Mind
Writers often hear the term "content quality" and assume all they have to do is write well. Clear, error-free writing certainly is more attractive to readers — but there's more to the story.
In SEO terms, the best-quality content gives the best answer to the reader's search query. The specifics look different for different types of content.
According to Section 5 of Google's Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines:
- Informational content should be clear, accurate, comprehensive, and original.
- News content should be in-depth and feature original investigative reporting with a description of primary sources.
- Artistic content should be high quality and created with skill.
Gauge how well you meet these requirements by putting yourself in your reader's shoes. Ask yourself two questions:
- If you were entering your target keyword as a search term, what information would you want to see?
- How complete is your answer, and are there any lingering questions you need to answer?
If your target audience can get everything they need from your article and any linked sources, you're good to go.
2. Choose Keywords That Match Search Intent
Keywords are the words and phrases that match your content with a user's search.
How Keywords Work
Say someone searches "healthiest dog food 2022." That phrase is a keyword. It tells Google's algorithm to return content that recommends health-focused pet food brands.
Google will rank appropriate articles based on how well they answer the reader's question. Search engine crawlers scan published articles for phrases that mean "healthy dog foods."
In the early days of the internet, articles only ranked highly if they matched search terms exactly. Writers would enter various forms of "healthy dog food" — like "healthy food for dogs," "healthful dog food brands," and so on — to correctly guess as many user phrasings as possible.
Fortunately, such verbal gymnastics are no longer necessary. Search algorithms now focus on "user intent," meaning they match with different versions of the same term as long as the meaning is the same.
Primary and Secondary Keywords
Google's webmaster guidelines say:
"Think about the words users would type to find your pages, and make sure that your site includes those words within it."
If you have an article titled "10 Healthiest Dog Food Brands in 2022," you're likely to rank high for the above search — assuming your body content delivers on the title's promise.
You might also rank for related or "secondary" keywords. A secondary keyword matches a different search to which your article is also an appropriate response. "Organic dog foods" would be a good secondary keyword for the search above, but only if your body copy discusses organic brands.
Many writers try to shoehorn unrelated secondary keywords in the hopes of ranking for more terms. That only works if the content is a quality answer to the query. Your dog food article won't rank for "best vets in Cleveland" unless you can thoroughly discuss Cleveland vets and connect them logically to your food recommendations.
3. Use Your Primary Keyword Early
Backlinko, a popular SEO resource, recommends using your primary keyword in the first 100 to 150 words of the article. Google's algorithms focus more on content at the top of the page.
The reasoning is simple: Good articles introduce their topic right away, without a lot of exposition. If a word or phrase doesn't appear until the fifth or sixth paragraph, it probably isn't the article's primary focus.
4. Sprinkle Keywords Organically
In the early days of SEO, there was a technique that marketers called "keyword stuffing." It involved including as many instances of a keyword as possible to emphasize the page's focus. It looked something like this:
If you want to know how to write for SEO, this article on how to write for SEO will tell you everything you need to know. You'll learn how to write for SEO as a content writer or copywriter and why learning how to write for SEO is important. But first, let's look at what it means to learn how to write for SEO.
This kind of content may have worked for older, unsophisticated search engine algorithms, but it's off-putting to readers and doesn't offer value.
Today's algorithms penalize writers for keyword stuffing. Algorithms still search for keywords as proof of the article's focus, but the piece's flow is much more important.
Use your primary keyword where it flows naturally. There's no magic number for keyword density — the industry term for how many times a keyword appears — but a standard recommendation is to use the focus keyword every 100 to 150 words.
If it feels too keyword dense, back off and use some synonyms. You'll know if a piece sounds packed with a particular keyword (as the above example shows).
5. Be Concise
Comprehensive information is important, but the internet isn't the place to be long-winded. People consume web content differently than they consume print or even digital long-form journalism, and SEO principles reflect that.
A classic Poynter Institute study shows that short paragraphs get twice as much reader attention as longer paragraphs. The Institute defines a short digital paragraph as one or two sentences and medium as two or three.
SEO rules have changed since the study came out, but the underlying principles are the same. If anything, readability is more important.
Today's SEO rules focus on reader needs, so make your articles as digestible as possible. Aim for a maximum of three sentences in a paragraph most of the time — but include some variety. If your paragraphs are all the same length, your piece will look and sound robotic.
6. Use Headings
Any word processing tool or content creation platform will let you use descending levels of headers. Webmasters can also create headings manually using code.
- H1 headers are your article titles.
- H2s are for first-level headings within that article.
- H3s are subheadings of H2s.
- H4s go under H3s.
Headings serve several purposes:
- Most importantly, headings improve your content's structure and make it easier to understand. Well-structured articles get more reader engagement which directly improves SEO ranking.
- Google also weighs keywords more heavily when they appear in headings. If your keyword appears in a heading, especially in an H1, it confirms that your article matches the user's intent.
7. Link to Authoritative Websites
In 2020, Reboot Online ran an experiment. Researchers created 10 new websites with articles about a fictional beauty product. Half of the sites had external links to highly reputable sites, including Oxford and Cambridge Universities. The other half mentioned those same sites but didn't link outward.
The sites with links consistently ranked above those without.
For search engines, building links boost a site's expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. E-A-T, as SEO pros call it, is a major ranking factor — especially for topics like health, science, and finance, where subject authority is extremely important.
Including authoritative resources also helps you build reader trust, which increases your chances of getting social shares and clicks. The more attention your article receives, the better your SEO results will be.
SEO Writing Tools for Content Creators
SEO content writing shouldn't be guesswork. Several SEO tools allow you to plan and coordinate your SEO content strategy. From creating effective meta descriptions to analyzing keyword difficulty, the following are useful tools for any SEO writer.
SEO Writing Checker: SEMRush
Semrush's SEO Writing Assistant is your one-stop shop to check your writing's search engine friendliness. Paste your content, and Semrush will offer recommendations for readability, keyword use, and overall content quality. The checker is free to use, but features like the originality checker are only available to paid subscribers.
Keyword Research: Google Keyword Planner
If part of your job is choosing the right keywords for your content, Google's free keyword planner will be an invaluable tool. It can:
- Suggest relevant keywords for a topic
- Report on how often certain keywords appear in searches
It's primarily a tool for creators of paid ads, but you can use it to choose keywords for any content.
Want something with a few more features? There are plenty of paid tools out there. Some of the top choices include Ahrefs, Semrush, and LongTailPro.
Keyword Idea Generation: BuzzSumo
BuzzSumo is geared toward content strategists and writers who have to generate article ideas. It draws on billions of data points to show you:
- What content is trending for a particular topic
- Which content pieces perform best for your competitors
- What formats resonate with potential customers
- Which keywords get the most search traffic for your subject matter
BuzzSumo's plans are priced between $99 and $299 per month with a 30-day free trial available.
There's also a free plan with limited functionality and 10 searches per month for writers who don't need the paid version.
Keyword Density: Small SEO Tools
Small SEO Tools' keyword density checker is one of the best-kept secrets in SEO. If you want to know how a search engine sees your article, paste the text or a URL into the free scanner.
It will scan your content and report on:
- Which keywords appear most frequently
- How many times does each keyword appear
- What keywords are most common for that topic
Most importantly, the checker will give you a density percentage, which shows how much article space your keywords take up. There's no magic number since Google no longer counts keywords, but staying between 1% and 2% will keep you from getting flagged for stuffing.
Next Steps: How to Build Your SEO Writing Skills
Congratulations — by reading this guide and learning actionable tips you can use in your next piece of content, you've already taken the first steps to become a skilled SEO writer.
Before you do anything else, bookmark this page and file the link somewhere you'll remember to look for it. Pull it up the next time you write for the web. If you review the above SEO writing tips when you're writing, you'll internalize them better.
Next, check out some SEO writing samples. Google a topic you might get hired to write about and read the content that ranks first or second. Pay attention to how the writer structures the content and lays out the page. You can even enter the URL into an SEO writing checker and find out why it ranks well.
Finally, find some SEO industry resources you like and subscribe to updates. For example, the Search Engine Journal's newsletter will deliver tips straight to your inbox. Many SEO podcasts will give you the news you need whenever you're ready to listen.
Stay plugged into the SEO world and most importantly, keep writing. Before you know it, you'll be incorporating keywords organically and structuring H2 headings with ease.