When I was 20-something, I worked as a designer and writer for a mommy magazine. I once wrote an article about baby wraps, a popular product at the time. The product owners sent me a sample to review, and I used a rugby ball as my baby and figured out how to wrap it to my body. I wrote about how the fabric felt, how secure and snug Timmy (my rugby ball baby) was in the wrapping, and about the colour options available (my favourite was peach).
The article was published on the magazine’s website and got tons of traffic – many a baby wrap was sold.
After leaving the mommy magazine, a couple of months later, the editor called me to say that none of their new articles were getting as much traffic as my baby wrap article. She wanted me to come in and teach her new writers how to write articles that get traffic from Google, just like my articles did.
This is what I taught them.
Why is Writing for SEO Important?
Writing content for your website is the best way to grow your traffic without paying for Google or Facebook ads. A well-written blog about your industry, product, or service can be a gold-mine for your business. But, while it’s essential to write for humans, it’s also necessary to keep search engines in mind. If Google can understand your content and rank it high up in their results, then the return on investment is enormous.
So, how do you write for search engines?
1. Finding the Right Topical Keywords
When I get given a topic to write about, I always look to see what search terms people are using to find information around the subject. This activity is called keyword research, and it’s my favourite part of doing SEO.
I usually start by using a keyword research tool like Ahrefs.com or Google Keyword Planner. There are some free tools out there, such as Ubersuggest, if you’re starting out.
I put the topic I’m writing about into the Keyword Explorer tool in Ahrefs.com so that I can see some metrics such as search volume (how many times a month people type this exact phrase into Google), keyword difficulty (how hard it would be to rank for this search term) and organic clicks (what percentage of the clicks on this search term are organic vs. paid vs. searches without clicks).
From the screenshot above, I can see that the ranking difficulty for “baby wrap” is medium. The search volume is a 6,600 search per month and that organic clicks are at 16%.
So, the topic of “baby wrap” is an excellent topic to write about because people are searching for it. But, I want a keyword within this topic that is interesting to write about and has some search volume. An excellent way to expand on the subject is to use one of my favourite free tools, Keyword Shitter.
The aptly named Keyword Shitter tool uses Google’s auto-suggest function and spews out auto-suggested keywords in alphabetical order. Very useful!
This tool gives me tons of suggested keywords that I can use in my article about baby wraps. I’ve chosen just one to roll with in this tutorial: how to use a baby wrap. This will be my focus keyword for my article; it has a monthly search volume of 250 searches per month and has a low difficulty score in Ahrefs.com.
2. Understanding Searcher Intent
Now that I have my focus keyword, I need to understand the intent of why someone would be searching for this.
The search term on how to use a baby wrap is informational intent; the searcher is looking for instructions on using the product that they probably already bought or are thinking of buying.
It’s essential to understand this so that I can think of other intents this searcher may have. If they’re searching for instructions, they might have bought the product, so what other related products could I talk about in my article? Maybe they would like the matching baby beanie. Or, the searcher may be thinking of buying the product, so I need to link to it within my article.
This is called aggregating intent. People search with focused intention, but they always have a secondary intention. I could link to the matching beanie or an article on how important it is for newborns to be close to their mothers.
3. On-Page Ranking Signals
I understand the intent behind my search term. I have thought of other articles and products this searcher may be interested in so that I can link to them within my article. All is well in the world!
Now I move on to the technical bits of writing with SEO in mind. How is Google going to understand what my article is about, and how will it decide how high it should rank my article?
Google cannot read. It tries to, but it sees words, sentences, and paragraphs as binary code. So, it looks for signals that it can recognise. Each topic has a set of signals that Google uses to understand that specific topic. Signals such as entities related to that topic (entities are things, places, and people), variations of the focus keyword, and contextual terms, such as synonyms.
Google also looks in specific locations on your page where it expects these signals to be, optimising these locations is called on-page SEO.
It’s important to add your focus keyword to high priority ranking signal locations; these locations are:
- Meta or page title: this is the title that Google uses as a blue heading in their search results
- H1 heading tag: this is the main heading of your page
- H2 heading tag: this is used to break the topic up into segments, I like to put my related keywords into H2 tags
- Paragraph tag: this tag contains the text of the page
Image ALT text: this tag describes what the image is.
When I search for my focus keyword, I always note down the related keywords Google suggests and use these as subtopics within my article. Because Google is recommending them, I know that they’re being searched for, and my writing has a chance to rank for them.
When a search is done in Google, Google bolds variations of the search term’s search results. I want to use these in my ranking signal locations.
Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI)
LSI is a fancy word the SEO world has coined for contextual terms, synonyms, and related terms that give context to a topic. For example: if Cars the movie is my topic, then Google expects to see associated terms such as Disney, animation, cartoon, film, Lightning McQueen, Bender, etc.
The term Latent Semantic Indexing is a bit controversial in the SEO industry; some SEOs don’t like using it. Latent means ‘other’ and semantic means ‘meaning’. LSI means ‘other meaning indexing, it should be LSA, ‘other meaning analysis, but whatever floats your boat.
Is the word count a ranking signal? I say yes, especially for informational intent searches. I like to look at who’s ranking on the first page of Google for my focus keywords and tally up the word count average of the ranking pages; this tells me how much content Google expects for a page to rank on its first page.
4. Use Rich Media
Research shows that adding rich media to your articles helps them rank. Add images and video where appropriate.
Graph by Backlinko.
5. The Call-to-Action
I always like to include a call-to-action at the end of my articles. If my writing was interesting enough for my reader to read to the end, then what do I want them to do?
I either guide them to related articles, link out to the product on an eCommerce site I’m writing about, or have a sign-up box to join a newsletter.
Writing for SEO is essential because Google expects individual signals for specific topics.
A great way to find out what these signals are is to look at the top ten results for your focus keyword and analyse the web pages that are ranking, look at the signal areas such as page titles, H1 headings, H2 headings, paragraph tags, image ALT tags, and word count.
How often was the focus keyword used in these areas? How many related searches and variations were used, and how many LSI terms were used?
This analysis will give you a good idea of what to include in your article to make Google happy.