The formula to creating strong online copy is simple: Create for the user first, and the search engines second.
But problems lurk. Sometimes a writer is focused solely on the user without considering SEO – or the complete opposite.
The latter class of writers creates content across most of the web mostly due to businesses or affiliate marketeers hiring the absolute cheapest copywriters available to “churn” out content quickly.
“Just give that team from overseas a list of high-volume keywords, and be done with it.”
Nope. Not going to work most times.
Then there’s the other school of writers – those who want the most creative content available but pay zero attention to searcher intent.
They think SEO is some mythical creation for money-sucking agencies and if good writing is good, well, people will find and read it.
“Just find someone who writes like Gabriel García Márquez, and the words will sell the product.”
Again, nope. The vast majority of the time and outside of the biggest brands, this just won’t work.
SEO-friendly content is the best of both worlds.
It considers the reader’s intended query outcome first, then the use of proper on-page SEO and related keywords, etc.
You’ll learn more about the “etc.” below. In this column, I’ll share 17 tactics that will help you create engaging, successful SEO-friendly content.
But first, a quick answer to a common question…
Why Does SEO-Friendly Content Matter?
I continually stress the importance of hiring strong copywriters because of something I call the “online engagement ladder.”
Searchers begin at the lower rung and work their way up (read up the ladder, ascending from 1-4):
4. Content engages the audience.
3. Title attracts an interest; meta description builds upon this interest.
2. Content ranks high for search queries and keywords through strong SEO.
1. A search query is entered into a search engine with various keywords.
The end result of a business that follows the simple online engagement ladder?
Searchers quickly transform from prospects to customers/clients/readers (based on the proverbial Holy Grail of online industries: products/services/news).
Once these customers/clients/readers are exposed to engaging content on a consistent basis, they become loyal to your brand. Without getting too deep, loyalty enables easier up-selling and higher ROI.
Now, let’s get into the 17 essential tactics I use when training my agency’s writers.
These are chronologically ordered for maximum impact. Notice the added energy that’s needed toward the revision stages of creating engaging and SEO-friendly content.
1. Keyword Research
As much as we know about keyword research, for some reason loads of content is continually created without proper keyword research.
Too often, a clear keyword strategy that includes optimizing each page or post for target keyword(s) is lacking, as well.
With proper research, you’ll know what type of keyword volume and trends are out there, and you can optimize your post or page to capitalize on that research.
Main service/product/category pages – especially “parent” ones – can chase the higher volume keywords.
All other lower “child” pages and, especially blog articles, can chase the long-tail, lower-volume keywords that are typically endless in any industry.
Note: Optimized website hierarchy and keyword mapping are paramount for success. If your agency refuses to mention this before creating content, run.
2. Related Keyword List
During your keyword research, you’ll also discover related keywords. These are the ones that, when properly implemented, demonstrate the content’s relevancy to the target keyword(s) and theme.
Spend time creating this list of related keywords. It will be vital to your overall strategy, especially after some other things are done that cater more to the writing side versus the SEO side.
3. Engaging And Optimized Title Tags Supersede Everything
You can have the best piece of content in the world, but if the title tag is not engaging, not many people will notice.
First, try to use the target keyword(s) as close to the beginning as possible, and keep that title around 60 characters.
Next, the title must do one or all of the following:
- Explain how to do something.
- Establish credibility.
- Create curiosity.
- Command a benefit of a product/service/news headline.
- Engage the conversation within the reader’s head.
- Explain the idea of the “WHY” of your brand (read Simon Sinek).
Also, two things that are statistically said to attract attention from a psychological stance are:
- Brackets or parentheses.
- Odd numbers.
Put the effort into creating title tags that drive clicks. Also, A/B testing of a few title tags will result in much higher results.
4. Now Forget About The Keyword Research
Now that the keyword research is complete, and you’ve created your headline, it’s time to focus on creating the content.
Put SEO out of your mind. Focus on creating the content itself.
Mentally make a note of the related keywords, and most importantly the theme of your title, but clear your mind of any thoughts of SEO.
Just focus on the writing for now.
5. Consider Your Searcher’s Intent
Search intent represents what a searcher is attempting to accomplish through a query.
A user’s intent typically lands in three buckets:
- Transactional: User seeks a specific action such as getting a service (think of booking a massage) or buying a product. This is content can be short and snappy because this user is ready for action.
- Informational: These queries are for those that need to learn. Here is where I argue most organic revenue begins (read, not organic rankings). Unlike transactional content, this type of intent needs longer-form content that fuels the prospects learning needs and brings them into your sales funnel.
- Navigational: User seeks a specific website or location, such as looking for a brand name like Ducati. You should not find Harley-Davidson in organic search results for this query, though you may be able to bid for these terms in paid advertising.
Undisciplined SEO pros will chase keywords by volume, disregarding those with little volume or zero volume whatsoever.
But that’s all wrong, and can fall into the “vanity metrics” file. If you rank for a high-volume keyword that does not fulfill the searcher’s intent, that keyword is worthless.
Optimize for long-tail keywords and satisfy that searcher’s intent first before thinking about chasing high-volume keywords.
And don’t shy away from keywords with zero search volume. Search them on Google – you may be surprised at who’s ranking and how successful they are.
There’s also a chance to create your own “Blue Ocean” of search queries, referring to a must-read book for every marketeer: Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne.
In business, it’s smart to avoid focusing on the “red ocean” where all the competitors are.
Rather, create your own “blue ocean” where you’re the market leader in your super-defined niche.
You can do the same for your SEO content strategy and create content that will begin ranking for keywords specific only to the products you’re marketing.
6. Now Write
Begin writing the first draft with one mission: to explain the topic to your readers in the simplest form.
The quickest way to achieve simplicity and organization (which is explained below) is to begin with a simple outline.
Draft the most important thoughts and create your subheadings (if using numbers, don’t insert them yet). All thoughts will likely change, but for now, just get the main ideas down that support the overall title.
The ideas may start slow, but once the mood sets in (which occurs quicker when you practice this technique) words will flow.
Don’t worry about sloppiness or correcting facts. Let the mind go and brainstorm on the screen or by handwriting with a non-stop flow. (I’d say stream of consciousness, but we want short paragraphs that will help us in the revising phases.)
Handwriting may sound like some archaic process but for some, this process just works.
It works for me with certain articles like this, which are outlined in a tub while taking a break from client work.
Remember, even in the first-draft phase, try to avoid writing in long, dense paragraphs.
This will help save time in future revisions, and with practice will help press the ideas of short paragraphs and white space between words.
Again, we’re writing for a smooth transition of ideas to the reader. The easier we make it, the faster these transitions will happen.
7. How To Battle Thorugh Writer’s Block
After working with hundreds of writers for over a decade, I despise the term “writer’s block.”
Often, it’s just an excuse for laziness, the fear of rejection, or the lack of focus required to edit the same material multiple times.
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with delaying the entire process of writing. I sometimes wait until moments before the deadline to begin a project.
It isn’t writer’s block; rather, it’s a personal process to force creativity.
But when I sit down to write every day for multiple clients, I never suffer from writer’s block.
If ideas won’t begin, simply start by writing words. Just the physical process of writing can get the mind flowing.
A few tips to start the act of writing are:
- Rewrite the title in paragraph form.
- Write a few URL structures.
- Retype your related keyword list.
- Brainstorm bullet points of what you want to say to someone as if you were talking to them.
The last point is my favorite. I imagine talking to the reader, explaining all the main themes of my article, and saying the words out in my head as I type or write each bullet point.
Sometimes I compose 100 bullets; other times 10. Regardless, they get the mind in unison with the fingers to write.
8. Time For Organization
Whether you have 1,000 words, 100 bullet points, or 10 subheads, it’s time to organize your writing.
Organized writing conveys organized thoughts.
Always organize with an end in mind:
- What do you want to achieve here?
- What is your overall mission?
- Why would you waste time writing if there was no ending in mind?
As for the actual writing process, some focus on creating the beginning and ending before the middle, and others vice versa.
Find what works for you. Experiment with both back-to-back, and find your way.
9. Drafting Begins
This is where the real work begins.
I use the Pareto principle for all business practices, making sure that 20% of my efforts achieve 80% of the results.
Your first draft may have 80% of its efforts going into 20% of the ideas that need to be explained. Cut useless ideas and words aggressively.
Don’t be afraid – it’s only your first draft.
Think about your first moments at anything; driving a car, starting an agency or business, love, music, etc. Most would likely never repeat what happened first.
The same goes for your first round of edits:
- Think 80/20.
- Repeat the process.
I’ll sometimes begin with 2,500 words for a “simple” blog item, cut it to 800 words, rebuild, and cut again. Rebuild until it achieves everything you want to say.
10. Now Walk Away
Don’t continue writing until your head explodes. When fogginess starts to set in, you need to refresh your mind.
This is when it’s time to walk away.
Contingent on the size of the content, this break period may take a few hours, days, weeks, months, or years.
I’ve been away from the final draft of my debut fiction novel for nearly six years, for example. I drafted another three but am simply not ready to finish that first one.
Of course, that novel is for my relaxation – not client work that needs finishing under tight deadlines.
11. Repeat Steps 9 And 10, Then Return To SEO Thinking
Repeat steps 9 and 10 for as long as it takes. Once satisfied, it’s time to return to the SEO thought process.
Start by revisiting your topic and keyword research.
Now that the tough writing is done and thoughts/themes are explored, some related keywords will make more sense than others.
Again, think like the reader. The keywords you’re using need to fit into your article in a natural flow.
12. Organize Again
Now that you’re satisfied with your implementation of the related keywords, it’s time again to get into the reader’s mindset and out of your own.
First walk away, then come back and read the latest draft out loud, making sure not to skip the subheads.
I like to have my Facetime app open on my Mac so I can see myself while reading. I guess this replaces reading in the mirror, which never worked for me.
When seeing yourself as most see you in the digital world, you will hear how you sound – and look – when your content is unclear.
Clean up the draft once again before returning to SEO.
13. Meta Descriptions Need As Much Energy As Revisions
Once you have your best possible draft (don’t be married to it just yet; if you are not the final editor, things are bound to change), it’s time to write the meta description.
Though Google says it has zero impact on ranking, it can have a significant impact on who clicks through to your website.
Don’t spend all of that time writing and revising just to let a meta description pass you by.
Use target and related keywords in your meta description where it makes sense. If in a search query, these keywords are bold in the meta description, which naturally attracts the eye, enhancing openings and user experience (UX).
Once your meta description is complete, the layout warrants it, write a “deck headline,” which is basically the original subheading that supports the main title.
The deck (as it is known in traditional journalism) is used to create curiosity around the title tag.
14. Optimize, Thinking From The Top Of The Page Down
Think from the top of the page down, and make sure you have optimized the following with keywords in mind:
- URL structure.
- Title (you centered your writing around it, but sometimes that title changes).
- Sub-heading and header tags. Make sure you not only optimize for keywords, but make them H2, H3, etc., tags as is logical.
- Descriptive image alt text, captions, and titles.
15. Improve Your Internal Linking
Too many forget the importance of optimizing your internal/external linking for the actual post/page content that you create (read: not footers, menus, sidebars).
What happens within your text or images can do much for UX – or destroy a reader’s focus.
- Optimize internal linking. Find the most optimal keyword or keyword phrase, and hyperlink it to an internal page of significance. One look through this article and you’ll quickly understand how much effort goes into internal linking.
- Use external links. This is especially important if you’re in a news-related industry where content depends on the exposure of possible advertisers. A simple followed link in the text can create a strong relationship with that prospective advertiser. Linking to authoritative information can instill trust in readers, as well.
Just make sure all internal/external links flow with the theme of your article.
16. Before Publishing, Revise Yet Again
Can I stress revising enough?
Many of these SEO elements will occur once your story is uploaded into the CMS.
That’s where you’ll do your internal linking and most on-site optimizations, such as making headline tags actual headline tags and optimizing your meta descriptions, URL structure, etc.
But once all of this is done, it’s time for one more revision – this time within a live screen. Preview your post before publishing it and proof it in this new format to ensure everything appears as you intended.
Also, it’ll show you how the article flows (is there enough white space?) and allows you to check all internal SEO elements, such as optimized header tags and internal/external links. You don’t want any 404s, ever!
17. Final Step: Get Social Early And Often
Socialize it through every online means you have, with a focus on Twitter and Facebook.
If you’re producing B2B content, you definitely want to be on LinkedIn, as well.
Your content and the conversation around it need amplification, and social is a great way to get there.
Embrace social. Grow social.
Amplify your brand across every social channel that makes sense.
Don’t overthink the most basic elements of content creation:
- Searchers must find the content.
- The content must engage those readers.
For long-term success, one element can’t go on without the other. When correctly implemented, both combine to create the strongest digital content possible – and the optimal solution for ROI.
This ROI compounds because strong content performs better with each organic click, whereas even the best PPC ad needs continuous investment for success.
The step-by-step tactics above are the proverbial roadmap for creating successful content in any business, regardless of whether it’s product or service-based, or a news organization that thrives on quality traffic for advertising dollars.
Engaging and SEO-friendly content is proven; don’t skimp on it.
- An Up-to-Date Guide on Good SEO Content vs. Bad SEO Content
- How to Evaluate the SEO Value of a Piece of Content
- Content Marketing: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to What Works
Featured image: Shutterstock/Pru Studio