Enter “is SEO” into Google in 2020, and one of the most-searched phrase suggestions happens to be “is SEO dead?” And of course you’ll hear those of us in content marketing and SEO tell you that it isn’t, but it has evolved. We all know that keyword stuffing and buying backlinks are not going to work in the long run – but how do we do what makes a difference since this is a marathon marketing practice? Search engines don’t only reward good answers, they reward readability and relevance.
That means we are focusing on searcher intent. Why are they looking for content, what kind of content are they looking for, what format do they want the content in – these are all questions to address. Writing for SEO today means writing for intent, so let’s talk about what that looks like.
Do your keyword research!
We keep saying it because it keeps getting passed by or halfway done. Here’s the deal with keyword research – it’s not just for SEO, it’s for all of marketing. The right keyword strategy touches every aspect of your marketing efforts. Why is that? Here are a few reasons:
- Correct keyword research is based on intent. That means understanding WHY someone searches. To understand that means you must understand what their wants and needs are, and you can address them. That information is useful for every single thing you do.
- Intent is psychological. We can get into the minds of our audience and figure out why they consume the content they do and abandon others. We can address why they prefer video for some things and articles for another.
- If you know what your audience wants you can match everything, not just your content, to it. That means email marketing, social media, advertising, sponsored content, and more.
Of course, keyword research is key to the success of SEO too. But lots of folks aren’t doing it quite right. They’re looking at solely at the higher volume terms or looking for new content to create. There’s a lot to a good keyword strategy – check out our Found Friday articles for some deeper dives:
- What is a good keyword strategy and how does it impact marketing?
- Choosing the right keywords for your SEO and content marketing strategy
- Building the best keyword strategy for marketing
The best SEO platforms and solutions providers can help you devise a good keyword research strategy or help do it for you. (We can give you a hand with this.)
You may find that there’s so much data out there that it feels overwhelming to figure out where to start. Or you may look at keywords that are less difficult to rank for but have a low search volume and think, “Should I waste my time here?”
Those less-difficult keywords can prove trickier to capitalize upon than difficulty scores suggest, but if you think tactically they’re a gold mine. They are usually highly targeted and the more specific an audience member is, the more you know that you can provide what they need if they’re describing your offering with lots of detail. For example, maybe I am looking for an SEO tool so I put “SEO tool” into Google. However, I actually need something that works in several countries, languages, and across lots of search engines so maybe I need the best “global SEO platform” – the results are different but more tailored to my needs.
If you’re looking for better insights on keyword research and strategy, definitely check out the articles mentioned above.
Become a topic expert
E-A-T is a concept Google rolled out in 2014 as a way to judge a site’s relevance. E-A-T stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. While E-A-T isn’t necessarily directly correlated with Google’s ranking metrics (but we betcha they are), the priorities are great to keep in mind as a guide to user friendliness and content value.
In order to build expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness, your informational content should include, well, information – and potentially citations and links to the data cited. Your content should be accurate! Inaccuracies in one area may drive users away from your site. Guess what that means? Bounces! And even sometimes negative reports. Here’s the thing about inaccuracies – you may not have even done it intentionally – it may be content from a contractor that didn’t check their sources, or an update that needed to be made after additional facts were revealed. One of the reasons people were so interested in SMEs (subject matter experts) 15-20 years ago is because they wanted someone who lived and breathed a specific topic.
Now, we have the internet and everyone is a publisher of content, regardless of being an “expert” on anything. That means it’s important to double check what you read, so you can be more sure of what you write, and really sure about who you hire!
You should also keep authority-building keywords in mind as your build your content. You should use lingo common to the topic – for example, “E-A-T” makes sense in this SEO article, but using it to describe the expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness of a medical study might not be effective, since it’s not a medical term. That brings us to our next point…
Writing for SEO is about humans. You know, other people. What YOU would want to read if you weren’t responsible for writing it.
Writing for search engine optimization today is totally different than writing for SEO in the early 2000s, when marketers created long, semi-poetic sentences like “Whether you’re looking for casual jeans, work wear, or weekend outfits, we carry women’s jean trends you want, like light wash jeans, ripped jeans, black jeans, non-stretch jeans and a bunch more women’s jeans styles!” These Bubba-from-Forest-Gump-style lists worked well when keyword-stuffing mattered more than user intent. Those days, however, are gone.
Writing like a human
Good SEO and content marketing focuses on relevance to the audience, so writing naturally interesting, engaging, and insightful content is what they want all along. Instead of keyword-stuffing, write like a real person. Create sentences that make sense! Write to engage! All of the things you learned in high school English apply here.
Searcher intent matters
This is really the big piece of findability – both in 2020 and beyond. Use your SEO tools to really dig into what your audience is searching for. Map your content back to your consumer’s journey to find your product! Make content that is personalized to your ideal customer, and make sure it makes sense for the audience you are trying to engage with.
As we’ve mentioned before on this blog, searcher intent generally falls within one of the three categories below:
- Informational: This is typically our “top of the funnel” if you’re into the funnel situation (I personally am not.) These are your folks doing some initial research and probably looking at broader queries or general concepts. They are also the likely to get drawn into the “article rabbit hole” or click around lots of products (think Facebook or Instagram ads late at night.)
- Navigational: Now we’ve got folks who are looking for specific information or resources. These searchers generally know where they want to go – they’re just trying to arrive at their destination.
- Commercial: Yay, you’re at the consideration stage! These customers are firmly in the funnel (ugh…funnels) and are possibly comparing features, looking at reviews, figuring out how hard it will be to use, etc.
- Transactional: Searchers of this stripe are looking to get it done, such as purchasing something through e-commerce but it also includes non-monetary transactions like finding a form, receiving a quote, or subscribing to a newsletter. Transactional searches almost always result in a conversion of some kind and those are typically brand, product, or service specific. (The best SEO solutions will tell you what intention segments your keywords belong to.)
As you develop your content, use the above search types to think through the length and style of the writing you want to create.
Use appropriate content types and lengths
For each page or off-site piece that you create, really get an understanding of the purpose of the content. Are you using a product page to describe a specific products? Are you creating a blog or Medium post to describe your industry to users? Are you answering Frequently Asked Questions? Each of these is going to have different content, and a different feel, than any other kind of content. Determining how many pages or properties should include a certain kind of content is really a judgement call for you – it depends on what your users expect, or what unexpected information you want to provide.
How many words should your SEO-friendly article run? It really depends. If you’re creating something like a blog post, how-to, or other informational piece, it’s going to be longer than a product description. And, your site should have some of those long-form pieces! However, you shouldn’t run a blog or DIY page only to attract clicks; it should make sense as a source of information about your organization or industry. A TikTok video or set of slides that resonates with your audience may not have a high word count as a PDF or FAQ page, but it might be more sharable for your audience. Again, think about what fulfills your users’ needs and inquiries.
Yes, keyword inclusion still matters
We may not be stuffing keywords in today’s marketing world, but we should definitely be using them. As we mentioned above, researching keywords through your SEO tools is still really important! Group your keywords by associated products, keyword type (product versus informational, for example), audience type, or whatever makes sense to you.
For each article or page, keep your content on a few keywords – again, getting keyword-stuffy will drive your audience away. Don’t just show the user the same keywords several times – create content that will answer audience questions about those keywords. You should also employ your keywords through both your content and site structure.
Look at the structural side
Site structure is still an important indicator for search engines determining what your content is about. Be sure to include keywords in:
- Your title tags
- Internal links to other content
- Image and video alt tags
- Headline tags
- And your meta description
In addition, consider the use of keywords in rich snippets and structured markup. If a keyword tends to bring up a lot of image results or news results, you want your site to show up in those results, too.
Use related keywords
While you need to choose only a few focus keywords, creating content that adds related keywords helps improve relevance. However, you do want to make sure that the keywords are relevant in the context of your writing. One way to do this is to use latent semantic keywords — keywords associated with your primary keyword. One easy way to find latent keywords is simply to Google that keyword and look at “searches related to” that keyword. You can also use Google Keyword Planner, or employ your SEO platform.
Here’s a tip to figure out if you’re on the right track… Take your target keyword and then do a “find” on your document and see how many times it appears. I’ll tell you that three times is about right for MOST content. Other than that you should be using adjacent keywords – those that still talk about your topic but don’t just parrot the same phrase over and over.
Develop an editorial calendar
It’s not enough to create good content – you need to get content out regularly, so that both search engines and your audience have fresh material to read. To borrow a term from journalism, you need to keep an editorial calendar. Setting what gets published, and how frequently, helps you stay on top of content creation and track your success.
As you develop your content calendar, tag each piece of content with information you can use to track its performance. We recommend a segmented approach, creating categories such as campaigns, messages, products, features, benefits, solutions, content type, or brand. By segmenting those categories, you can use KPIs to look at, say, which product-related content got the most views or which content type performs the best. Just like any digital marketing endeavor, writing should be measurable in its success.
Create an outline – and re-use as needed
As you research your topics, set keywords, and refine based on the KPIs of previously-created content, you may want to develop an outline for your work. An outline provides structure to your content and makes it easier to write, and easier to read: for both users and search engines. Use the inverted pyramid, and put your most important topics (and keywords) near the top of your article.
While an outline may feel like it’s hindering your creativity, it can be really useful in staying on-topic. An outline can also prove useful as you create other content for different mediums. Once you have a structured outline for, say, a video you want to produce, you won’t need to re-invent the wheel as you create a related blog post or Slideshare. Outlines can improve your efficiency and effectiveness in writing.
Get practice, and build on what you know
If you’re not a professional writer, creating content on a deadline can give you those “guess I need to pull an all-nighter to pass English 101” feels. But it doesn’t need to be this way. Keywords, competitor research, and outlines all provide structure to your writing: you really aren’t flying blind when you create content. Focus on topics that are important to you and your audience – and don’t forget, keyword-stuffing really is a thing of the past.
If you need help with content creation or your overall SEO strategy, let us know. If we’re not the right solution for you we’ll let you know and point you in the right direction.