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The Do’s and Don’ts of SEO Content Writing: How to Write for SEO

By: Joyce Chou — January 10, 2019

So you’ve heard about search engine optimization (SEO).

Google’s ever-changing algorithm is unpredictable and hard to please, making SEO a finicky science at best. In spite of that, digital marketers swear by SEO content writing for seeing business results.

But what exactly does that mean?

SEO content writing is the use of copywriting techniques and optimization tricks to make content rank better on search engine results pages and drive targeted traffic.

Unfortunately, major changes to Google’s algorithm have given rise to a number of misconceptions about what kind of content it favors. As a result, many websites still use outdated practices in the hopes of getting their pages to rank higher, with no luck.

Because so much misinformation persists, we’ve made this guide to help clear things up. Keep reading to find out what it means to write SEO-friendly content.

Do: Answer your readers’ search queries

Google’s mission is to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

How does this relate to you and your content?

It means that your content should be useful. This requires thinking about user intent when brainstorming content ideas. That is, what are users trying to accomplish when they Google something?

High-ranking content tends to be reader-centric. It isn’t focused on making a sale; instead, it caters to readers’ needs.

For instance, the keyword phrase “cheap vacation ideas” is searched for over 8,000 times a month. If you wanted to target this phrase, it wouldn’t make sense to create content about expensive trips—or worse, something completely unrelated, like garden spades.

Try searching the phrase yourself—you’ll see that the top-ranking pages for this keyword are indeed about budget-friendly vacations and cheap getaway ideas.

Google search results for cheap vacation ideas

Google does its best to give users the most useful, search-relevant results.

Sometimes companies attempt to get more organic traffic by mislabeling their content with popular but irrelevant keywords in their titles. This kind of mismatch is a no-go for Google, as it misleads users and doesn’t actually answer their search query.

Don’t: Ignore the competition

You want your content to rank over hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions, of competitors.

But getting your website to outperform your rivals requires understanding what exactly they’re doing.

Studying the competition can clue you in on what kind of content Google favors. Moreover, it’ll help you see your competitors’ SEO strategies as well as their weaknesses.

When studying your competition, pay attention to:

  • The number of words their articles have
  • How and where they insert keywords, e.g., their titles, headers, meta descriptions
  • Their use of images and alt text
  • How frequently they link internally and externally

This can give you an idea of how to structure your own content—although of course, you shouldn’t plagiarize your competitors’ work. Think of your competitive analysis instead as a way to learn from the best … and then outdo them.

Do: Conduct keyword research

Which sounds better: 1,000 users who don’t care about what your website sells or 100 who know and care about your product/service?

If you’re drawn to the higher number, remember that it’ll be harder to sell to them. The hundred who care specifically about your product, on the other hand, will be easier to convert.

In other words, quality is more important than quantity. When it comes to traffic, you want the right visitors to click on your website.

To get the right visitors, you need to rank for the keywords they’re searching for. That’s where keyword research comes in.

Doing keyword research will help identify:

  • High-volume keywords (what users are searching for)
  • Low-volume keywords (what they aren’t searching for)
  • What keywords are related to your business
  • Who your competitors are

There are dozens of keyword research resources at your disposal, including SEMrush, Ahrefs, and Google Trends. Though they vary in terms of their free and premium features, they all provide the same general functions.

SEMrush keyword research example

With SEMrush, you can see a keyword phrase’s top organic search results as well as related queries.

Not everyone likes to pore through search query data, but it’s an absolute must.

Think of it like this: studying your competitors gives you just one piece of the content puzzle, and search volume data behind keyword research provides another. Combined, you’ll be better prepared to build a targeted content strategy.

Don’t: Keyword stuff

Keyword stuffing is an outdated SEO practice in which webmasters load as many keywords as they can on a page, regardless of how unnatural it sounds. Take a look at this example:

Looking for really yummy cupcakes? We’ve got really yummy cupcakes for great prices. Check out our website to order really yummy cupcakes today.

Can you tell which keyword phrase is being stuffed?

It’s “really yummy cupcakes,” which sounds odd when used so frequently in a short piece of text.

Once upon a time, in the late 1990s, keyword stuffing worked. As you can imagine, it gave rise to spammy websites created for search engines, not people.

As Google became more sophisticated, keyword stuffing became obsolete and is now considered a form of black hat SEO. Unfortunately, it’s left behind mistaken notions about just how often keywords should be included.

Among them is the idea of keyword density, the percentage of times a keyword phrase appears on a web page out of the total number of words on it. Some marketing experts claim there’s an ideal range for keyword density—2-3%—that will make a web page rank well.

If only SEO were that easy.

Both Matt Cutts and John Mueller of Google have advised webmasters to avoid fixating on keyword density. According to them, there is no optimal number of times a keyword should appear on a page. Instead, content creators should focus on naturally including keywords and variations of them in their content.

Do: Improve your content’s readability

Your content might have perfect grammar and zero typos, but if it’s not readable, neither users nor search engines will like it.

What’s readability?

It’s how easy it is for readers to understand a piece of content. Scientifically, readability is calculated based on text visibility, reader eye movements, and other similarly quantifiable factors. Readability is important to SEO because human behavior contributes to a page’s ranking.

Imagine a website with tiny fonts, neon colors, and an overload of images and flashing animations. Do you think readers would be compelled to explore such a website?

Probably not.

These low-readability websites usually cause readers to exit immediately, and thus result in high bounce rates and low pages per session. To Google, these pages look spammy and useless.

Screenshot of Arngren's homepage

Websites that are visual eyesores have low readability.

On the flip side, websites with high readability—which tend to be websites that see more user engagement—appear useful to Google.

Thus, to make your content easier to read, try the following techniques:

  • Choose clear typography for your website.
  • Bold important words and phrases to emphasize them.
  • Incorporate images and videos to break up long blocks of text.
  • Use bullet points and numbered lists where appropriate.
  • Write a variety of both long and short sentences.
  • Shorten your paragraphs.
  • Proofread and spell check.

Don’t: Neglect your content

You’ve published your content and that means you never have to deal with it again, right? Wrong.

Don’t let articles gather dust in your archives. Instead:

  • Check site analytics. Regularly monitor your content to see what’s performing well and what isn’t doing so hot. All that data has rich insight about your website; although it might be tedious to go through, you can use it to find out what resonates with your audience and what doesn’t.
  • Test your content. Your content strategy decisions shouldn’t be made on a hunch. If a piece of content isn’t doing well, try testing different aspects of it. For instance, rewrite the title, insert new CTAs, or swap out your feature image. Just remember to test one variable at a time in order to avoid confounding effects.
  • Update and republish old pieces of content. Notice any older pieces of content performing poorly? Try re-optimizing and republishing them. This will give them a new chance at life, aka traffic. Doing this can also give you a break from producing entirely new content.

Just as Google’s algorithm changes, so should your SEO strategy through periodic content updates. Old content ultimately presents an opportunity to learn from your successes and failures as well as an opportunity for further improvement.

Final Takeaways

There’s been hot debate over the past several years about whether or not SEO is dead. But most experts would agree it’s far from being dead; rather, it’s very much alive and evolving.

After all, SEO best practices aren’t destined to stay the same forever. With frequent algorithm updates, you can expect new trends to come and go. But one thing that likely won’t change anytime soon is the value of quality, SEO-friendly content.

Got any other do’s and don’ts for the content writing aspect of SEO? Share them with us in a comment below.


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