I think you’ll agree with me when I say that top-notch content is critical for ranking in Google. But no matter how effective the content is, it won’t rank high without proper search engine optimization.

And that’s where legit SEO writing comes into play.

In this post, you’ll find nine strategies to help rank your content higher in Google’s SERPs.

But first things first:

What is SEO writing?

SEO writing, aka “writing for SEO,” is the process of creating content that ranks high in search engines and is more visible online.

It includes planning, writing, and optimizing content to drive more traffic, engaging the target audience, and ultimately convincing them to take the desired action.

Why is SEO writing important?`

We know that the higher a page ranks in search engines, the more people will see and visit it (according to the most recent CTR study, more than half of all clicks in a SERP are made on one of the top three results). For a website, it means more readers, subscribers, and, in the long term, more sales.

For Google, quality content is good, but on its own, it’s not enough, and you need good content with a focus on SEO to rank. Legit search engine optimization matters, and that’s exactly what SEO writers arrange.

Writing for SEO is about the strategic use of keywords and search terms. It provides social validation through satisfying a user’s search intent and motivating them to share.

High-quality SEO writing furnishes backlinks, which number and quality influence a website’s positions in SERPs by far.

Plus, writing for SEO gives content a purpose, contributing to the Searcher Task Accomplishment factor. Content won’t rank in search engines without proper optimization. Simple as that!

That said, let’s continue with nine strategies to consider for stellar content creation.

1. Satisfy search intent

Google has hundreds of ranking factors, and no SEO expert can give a secret formula to get perfect results for your keywords. However, there is clear guidance from Google about what is considered quality content.

It’s E-A-T.

E-A-T is Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. They are three elements to consider when optimizing content to meet Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines.

Screenshot with Google's Quality Rater Guidelines

Please note that E-A-T is not what you think of as a traditional ranking factor, but a guide on content optimization for us to influence the overall page quality rating a bit.

Search engines want to award high rankings to content that comes from expert sources, is valuable for users, and optimized for semantic SEO. Google’s algorithm RankBrain examines how much users interact with your website page and, based on that, learns if your content matches their search intent.

In plain English, search intent is the reason behind a user’s search. If a user clicks to your page and spends a few minutes there, Google’s algorithms see it as a signal the result matches a user’s search intent, so it’s valuable and worth ranking higher.

Four main types of search intent exist: informational, navigational, transactional, and commercial. All you need to do is optimize your content for these searches, so users find what they need and help you rank higher.

Here’s how to find search intent:

  • Check your target keywords in SERPs and see what content types Google prioritizes for them. Craft your SEO content accordingly.
  • Know the indicators for particular types of search intent. “What is” and “how to” indicate informational intent, while “buy,” “register,” or “sign up” signal a transactional intent.
  • Check the “people also ask” section in SERPs. The key phrases there will help you understand the search intent behind particular keywords.
SERP screenshot for SEO writing with people also ask questions highlighted

2. Target the right keywords

SEO wouldn’t be possible without keywords. Indeed, how would search engines understand your content and rank it accordingly if keywords were not important?

In 2020, search engines will go far beyond product-defining and short-term keywords. For your SEO writing to rank high in Google, include the following keywords in your content:

  • Niche keywords. We also know them as LSI keywords, conceptually related terms to our exact keyword. These words help search engines understand the content topic and context better. Consider the “Searches related to” section or specific tools like LSI Graph to find LSI keywords for your content piece.
  • User-generated keywords. As a rule, they are long-tail, matching the queries users type when trying to answer their questions. Q&A websites like Quora or topical forums will help you identify such keywords, as they may differ from those you see in SEO tools.
  • Vertical keywords. They come from markets closely related to your industry. For example, if you are a scuba diving company, your vertical keywords can be “aluminum 80,” “underwater photography,” “marine animal identification,” and so on.

Plus, remember to analyze the backlinks of competitors, as it may help to find relevant keywords you might otherwise miss in your content optimization.

3. Pay attention to intros

Why should you care about the introduction to the page?

While a headline is what makes users click, the first paragraph makes them stay on your page and keep reading, influencing dwell time and bounce rate.

The opening of your SEO copy lets users decide if they want to stay with you, and if your content meets their search intent. Write short, eye-grabbing, and relevant introductions. Use hooks, transitional words, and previews so the audience wouldn’t leave your page once they opened it.

Compare this intro:

Screenshot of article intro that is not compelling
Long sentences, general information, no clear target keywords, boring to read 

To this one:

Screenshot of compelling article intro
Clear structure, preview, invitation to read.

The second intro belongs to Brian Dean of Backlinko. His guides are full of expert advice and can serve as examples of stellar SEO writing in 2020.

Brian is the author of two introduction formulas we can use when writing our content:

1) APPagree, promise, preview.

Screenshot with agree, promise, preview formula
1. Agree   2. Promise  3. Preview

2) PPBpreview, proof, bridge.

Article intro using preview, proof, bridge formula
1. Preview   2. Proof  3. Bridge

Both allow you to keep introductions short and to the point, inviting visitors to read. At the same time, please remember about on-page SEO and make sure to mention your target keyword in the first paragraph of your content.

4. Consider content usability

SEO writing is not about keywords and meta tags only. Content formatting plays a critical role, too, as it influences a user’s behavior and interaction with your content.

How do you format your content for better usability?

  • Use short sentences and paragraphs, no longer than 3-4 sentences.
  • Avoid blunders that can make you lose readers: Remember subheads, color-contrast ratio, spacing, font size, text structure, etc.
  • Include images and other interactive content elements when appropriate. High-quality visuals influence your E-A-T rating. Make it easy for readers to embed them into their content; it will encourage sharing and linking back to you.
  • Make sure your content is designed to be rendered properly on mobile devices.
  • Don’t ignore calls to action in the conclusion. Mention your target keyword there and tell users what to do next: Ask a question to encourage comments, share something to “read more,” invite them to subscribe, you name it!
Article call to action example

Since their introduction in 2014, featured snippets are still exciting for most SEOs to win. 

Oh, come on, don’t tell me that you didn’t think of how to make your content appear at the top of the search results!

And while you might have heard that it’s impossible to get there (Google displays the result programmatically) a few years ago, nothing is impossible for SEOs in 2020. 

Some content optimization tricks can help Google determine your page is an excellent answer to a user’s query — and place it in a snippet.

But there’s a catch:

For that, your page has to be in the top 10 of SERPs already.

So, here’s what you can do:

  1. Audit your website to find first-page results where you don’t own featured snippets yet.
  2. Check your target keywords in Google to see what types of featured snippets are there now.
  3. Optimize your content to increase its chances to rank first. If you see a “definition” featured snippet, include a definition in your SEO writing; if it’s a “list” featured snippet, structure your page as a step-by-step guide, etc.

That’s exactly what I did to my post about the essay outline:

Definition content block highlighted in an article
I added a definition content block

The result:

Featured snippet based on definition highlighted
It’s a featured snippet!

6. Update your old content

Not only can it help you build brand trust and readers loyalty (they’ll see you stay up-to-date and think of them, sharing helpful guides and providing value with your content) but it can get more backlinks too:

It stands to reason that no website wants to link to a site with outdated content, but they are ready to share relevant assets that are full of the latest information on the topic.

To get the most benefits from your old SEO content, update the assets that still generate some organic traffic, and are relevant for your content strategy. Go to Google Analytics to find your top-performing content (go to Behavior > Content > Landing Pages, segment your organic traffic and select the past year as your date range), and consider updating the following page types:

  • Pages with high traffic and low conversions.
  • Pages with low traffic and high-quality backlinks (use the Google Search Console or a backlink analysis tool such as Moz or Ahrefs).
  • Pages that are no longer popular, have high-quality backlinks, and declining search rankings (use Advanced Web Ranking).

Next, here’s how to update your old content for SEO:

  1. Recheck the target keyword’s search volume, and optimize if you need to adjust your keyword.
  2. Include any new, closely related keywords.
  3. Update the headline for more clicks.
  4. Consider the searcher intent that leads a searcher to click on this page, and revise the content accordingly.
  5. Check the research, data, visuals, and links on the page and update them as necessary.
  6. Add links to internal content.
  7. Proofread for spelling and grammar.
  8. Repurpose some sections for better formatting and reach.
  9. Update meta tags and alt texts as needed.
  10. Improve the content itself: rewrite its introduction, add new information, quote experts, update the call to action.
  11. Update the post date to improve its CTR. (People are more likely to click on recently published articles.)

But:

Don’t overplay! There’s no need to make too many drastic changes at once, as it may hurt your SEO endeavors. Sometimes a few tweaks will be enough. Don’t update for the sake of updating; update to provide extra value.

When updating the content, don’t change the URL of your page. (The older content can benefit your website’s authority.) Consider a 301 redirect if you have to change URLs. Also, a good practice would be to avoid using dates in URLs.

7. Try topic clusters

By organizing SEO writing in topic clusters, you get more opportunity to win traffic and conversions from Google’s organic search.

A topic cluster is a group of interlinked pages on your website. One page is a pillar content piece targeting a high-search-volume keyword, and all others are related content pieces, each targeting a more specific keyword of smaller search volume.

Links in topic clusters go from pillar content to all the related pieces and vice versa.

Graphic showing pillar and cluster content in a topic cluster

Why topic clusters for SEO?

  • They allow you to target entire topics rather than single keywords, boosting interlinked pages all in one.
  • They are easier for the visitor to navigate, encouraging their interaction with your content, and influencing RankBrain accordingly.
  • For Google, topic clusters are about a semantic relationship between pages, pushing the entire topic further up in rankings. Plus, it’s faster for Google’s bots to find all the cluster articles, indexing them for more keywords that are relevant.
  • Topic clusters boost organic traffic and allow generating more backlinks to your website.

That’s what I did to the persuasive essay blog post at Bid4Papers. The result: organic traffic growth by 30%, a stronger backlink profile, and better content conversion (higher dwell time, natural backlinks growth, more shares on social media).

Today, a year since publishing, its referring domains keep growing.

Screenshot showing referring domains growth in Ahrefs

How to create topic clusters?

  1. Choose a topic with traffic potential that is relevant to the audience and your content strategy.
  2. Choose keywords, considering their difficulty and search volume: Identify a core keyword for pillar content and group related keywords around subtopics.
  3. Write and publish the articles, interlinking them into a cluster.
  4. Measure the results. (Google Analytics or HubSpot’s Content Strategy Tool will help here.)
Graph showing example of topic cluster

8. Follow the “Unique + Valuable” formula in SEO writing

You know that any content copied from external online sources decreases a site’s ranking. And that’s why most SEOs use duplicate content checkers to check texts for uniqueness (to avoid text matches) before publishing at websites.

But “unique” in this formula is not about avoiding duplicates only. “Unique” is about creating something that hasn’t been published yet, bringing something new to your niche’s online community.

Think of a new strategy, share a new case study, craft a list of resources, streamline a step-by-step process, etc. Unique content gets HUGE chances to rank high because… well, it’s one of a kind.

But it’s not enough.

For Google and users to notice your content, it should be super valuable. So make sure to add value and not just keywords to your content:

  • Make it engaging with strong copywriting.
  • Make good use of formatting and visual elements so it is easy for visitors to read and put into practice.
  • Include new strategies and examples from someone with first-hand experience with the topic.

9. And what about word count?

We’ve seen dozens of studies trying to figure out the correlation between content length and its rankings on Google.

Backlinko analyzed 11 million searches and found the average first-page search result was 1,447 words. However, despite the fact that long-form does better with link building, the study found no direct relationship between word count and rankings.

Tim Brown from Hook Agency went further: Declaring 1,760 words as “the absolute ideal blog length for SEO in 2020,” he specified nine must-have elements other than word count for a content asset to rank high.

Screenshot highlighting elements of a perfect blog post

Long story short, the ideal content length depends on your situation, and a shorter blog post of high quality will still outperform a longer one of low quality. The lengthier content will rank better if it covers the topic inside out, and if it’s every part brings value to readers.

A key SEO benefit of lengthier content is that it naturally contains more relevant keywords to rank for and helps you avoid penalties for keyword stuffing that may occur with shorter content.

Takeaways

SEO writing goes far beyond keywords in meta tags and headings. For our content to rank high in Google, we need to consider many factors and focus on its overall quality. 

Here goes your checklist for writing and organizing content assets for better SEO results in 2020:

  1. Your content matches a user’s search intent.
  2. It contains different keyword types, including niche and user-generated ones.
  3. You’ve formatted it with content usability in mind: It follows the rules of web writing, is split into segments, has an engaging introduction and call to action, includes visual elements, is organized for mobile and voice search, etc.
  4. You’ve optimized it for Featured Snippets.
  5. Your content is up-to-date, and you update your old content pieces regularly.
  6. It’s arranged in topic clusters where applicable.
  7. Your content is unique and valuable.

And now, over to you:

Do you create content assets with SEO writing strategies in mind? What tricks do you consider the most effective ones for better ranks in Google? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Oh, and don’t forget to try Advanced Web Ranking’s rank tracker to check and measure the results of your SEO writing campaigns.

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