SEO for content writers: a copywriters guide
Writing for the web can seem like a minefield. There are things you definitely need to do, but all hell breaks loose if you do them too much! And to top it off, the goal posts are seemingly always moving.
It’s the unfortunate truth that just writing a good piece of content won’t cut it without some knowledge of SEO best practice.
‘SEO’ for content writers isn’t as simple as shoving in the same keyword 12 times. That might be what we used to do as an industry, but now that’s a sure fire way to get your content buried in the graveyard SERPs (i.e. beyond page one). Now, content writers need to wear two hats, and SEO plays a critical part in every stage of content creation; from research and planning, to reporting.
So if you’re a content writer feeling oppressed by the gatekeepers of Google’s page 1, then read on and get the tools you need to plan, write and evaluate search engine pleasing content.
What is SEO content?
SEO content is any content online that’s optimised to perform well on search engines, such as Google. Usually focused around a keyword or phrase, content that has SEO in mind has the power to drive traffic to your website, boost engagement with your target audience, and ultimately result in conversion.
How important is content for SEO?
Hugely! If you don’t have content to answer the questions your audience needs to ask, they’ll never find you! Good content increases your CTR, and as this is a ranking factor on Google, you need this to ensure your site performs.
Think about your audience
Whilst SEO writing may feel like your audience is a search engine algorithm, you need to fight against that. You’re actually writing for a human searcher; what do they want to read about? How will your content answer their questions?
Understanding your target audience, and writing with them at the forefront of your mind is the best way to ensure the quality of your copy. And, since search engines are working harder with every update to ensure that relevant, unique and quality content surfaces first in the SERPs, it’s more important now than it’s ever been to get into the mind of the searcher!
You can get a clearer idea of what content your audience wants to consumer by doing things like:
- Talking to the Customer team, and making best use of customer data to understand who your ideal client really is, and work out your customer’s biggest problems that you can solve.
- Looking at the SERPs and the competitor articles already ranking for your content topic. The SERPs are totally reflective of searcher intent – search engines pump millions into making sure that is the case! So, what can you learn about a searcher’s intent from the content already returning?
- Using social data to see what your target audience is discussing and what they care about.
- Using search volume and trend data to understand which topics resonate best with your audience, and when that interest peaks.
- Thinking about where your content would sit in the overall customer journey – will it be the first touchpoint, or will they have engaged with your content previously?
With this insight, ask yourself: What questions do my readers really need answering? What tone do they like to write in / consume? What do I want my reader to do after they’ve read this?
This stage can be exhaustive, and is really something that needs to be considered strategically – not just at the point of writing – so hopefully you’ll have a lot of existing audience insight to consider, before you even think of putting (figurative) pen to paper. If you don’t, then take a step back and focus on filling the gaps in your content strategy!
Do your keyword research
You need to know what keywords you want to drive people to your site.
The first step should give you a considerable foot-up in this arena!
Once you know the overarching topics your readers want to consume, you can outline your own clear brand objectives, and start to think about what a searcher might type into a search engine to find your content.
There are a host of great free tools to get your started with this, and we go into the whole process in far more detail via our keyword research guide – so check that out for building a value-led keyword strategy.
But for now, here are the key things you need to remember:
- Locate keywords that actually get searched
Tools like Google Ads Keyword Planner are critical for showing you how many times your keywords get searched a month. At Pi, we track this data in our platform so we can sort by our highest volume keywords and prioritise them in our content creation!
- Look for a primary & secondary keyword to rank your article for multiple terms
You don’t just rank once for one keyword – create a list of the keywords you’ve found in the step above, and choose two to focus on.
- Look for long-tail keywords and synonyms too (i.e. questions)
With the rise of voice search, and the continuous developments of Natural Language Processing, it’s safe to say that search engines are much better at understanding complex or contextual queries than they once were. If you write the words ‘Clown’ ‘Acroboat’ and ‘Trapeze’, you don’t even need to mention the keyword ‘Circus’ for search engines to rank you for it. According to our unique voice search SEO research, there is a ‘Direct correlation between query length and satisfaction’ meaning long-tail queries are more likely to lead to a conversion, while synonyms enable us to write like humans and still rank. You should definitely include synonyms, short-tail and long-tail keywords in your content! Look at ‘People Also Ask’ and ‘Google Auto Suggest’ for ideas.
- Critical: Discover the organic value of your keywords
At Pi we look at our proprietary formula ‘Organic Value Score’ as the zenith practice of SEO for content writers. Why? Because it enables you to get to grips with the content that is actually going to convert. The data you find in Google Ads Keyword Planner – and in Pi – isn’t just ‘Search volume’, it’s also ‘Competition’ and ‘CPC’. ‘Competition’ refers to the amount of people paying to rank for that keyword in Google (i.e. for Google’s ads), and ‘CPC’ (or Cost Per Click) is the amount of money those people are paying everytime a searcher clicks on that ad. When you combine these three figures, you get a far better idea of a keyword’s value than you would if you just looked at search volume alone – because searches don’t necessarily mean clicks and conversions! At Pi, we add in other elements to refine this formula even further, including CTR data, but you work out OVS yourself quite simply with a spreadsheet formula.
Here’s a spreadsheet we made earlier, just for you. Just copy and paste your keywords & keyword data into the relevant columns, and OVS will be calculated for you. All you need to do then is filter from ‘Z to A’ to find your highest OVS keywords, and BAM! You’ve found your article’s focus term!
Now you’re ready to start creating your content.
Understand the SEO fundamentals
Having a working understanding of SEO best practice will help you get the very most out of your keywords.
We’re not expecting you to know your canonical tags from your hreflang, but having a grasp of the on-page, off-page basics will make the actual writing process smoother.
- Keywords: try and use your chosen keyword(s) as close to the start of the H1 as possible, the first sentence and then use variations of your primary keyword throughout your copy. We suggest 4 to 5 instances of your keyword in the copy to ensure Google identifies this as your target term.
- Adding a meta-description: a meta-description shows underneath your link in the SERPs – whilst not as important as it once was, it’s another way to include your focus search term in your content and gives the user an idea of what to expect when they click on your link. Yoast allows you to manage your meta-description, and gives you an easy traffic light system for optimising.
- Backlinks: you can boost the authority of your content by acquiring backlinks from other sites to your webpage. So once your article is written it pays to do some PR outreach and get the word about your content. Ask your advocates to kindly link back to the article via your focus keyword – this is called ‘Anchor text’. At Pi, we use Majestic backlink data via our Backlink Analysis tool, to view new and lost backlinks to our content over time, view our ‘Top anchor text’ and find our most reliable sources of advocacy.
- Internal linking: this can work in two ways – you can view your new piece of content as a brand new opportunity to promote other relevant articles within your ecosystem, OR you can link back to your new content via existing articles, by peppering in instances of your new focus keyword – you can also locate pre-existing complementary and potentially conflicting articles that already feature your new keyword with a tactic that we at Pi call ‘Contextual optimisation’. This process is hugely important to the success of future content; essentially it’s how you curate your articles to ensure. These tactics strengthen both pieces in your digital ecosystem, and your overall site!
- Site speed: some parts of a webpage can slow down your page loading time, such as large images, or too many plugins. Ensure that your content isn’t too clunky, and isn’t going to increase waiting time between Google and your site – this can result in a high bounce rate.
The importance of SERP features
Google is adding more and more SERP features to its results pages, and knowing what to include in your writing to have the potential to perform in these coveted spaces is increasingly important.
- Content structure: Structuring your content correctly is one way to shoot for a feature; having a question/answer layout will greatly improve your chances, with the questions marked as a H2 or H3. This signals to Google that you’re directly answering a query, which is exactly what they’re looking for when it comes to SERP features.
- AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages): It is also important for your site to be AMP enabled – some studies have shown that having a mobile first site increases your chance of reaching those rich snippets. And as 52% of searches now begin on mobile devices, it’s good for the general performance of your site.
Pi’s SERP feature tools allow you to track which features are returning for your most valuable search terms. You can discover which features you should be focusing your writing efforts towards, and understand what kind of content already performs.
Pi’s SERP Features Matrix | 2-hourly snap shot of SERP for search term
Bring value to your content
Having the keywords to theme your copy around is not enough. Your content needs to bring true value to the user.
As discussed above, you need to pepper your content with your chosen keyword, but don’t desperately crow bar this term anywhere and everywhere, or else you’ll end up writing gibberish. Use the term when it’s natural, and ensure your copy stays on topic throughout.
Search engine developments are now prioritising semantic understanding to improve user experience, meaning that keywords are no longer the pinnacle. Instead, focusing on topics and providing unique insights that bring most benefit to the user is more important now than it’s ever been.
Strike the right balance of quality and quantity
So we want our content to be quality, not only for Google rankings but to strengthen our brand authority. But it also needs to be an appropriate length for SEO purposes.
But it’s not quantity vs. quality – rather a balance of both!
Content for content’s sake is never going to be quality, but equally a 200 word post (regardless of how groundbreaking) isn’t going to garner much interest.
However, there is some contention as to whether longer form content is favoured by Google or just has a higher probability of being ‘better’ content. Google has specifically said that word count is not a ranking factor, so bear that in mind when writing; don’t add paragraphs for the sake of it, make each word count!
That leads us to quality – be bold! Include quotes from experts, original research or helpful steps within the content. And remember, you know more about your company than anyone else – show off your own expertise!
Be your own cheerleader
Getting traffic to your articles is a great indicator to Google that your content is reliable. If you have a high traffic post, it’s more likely to rank well.
So you can’t just publish something and hope it ranks, you’ve got to be proactive and push your content out to your audience. Use your company and personal (where appropriate) social media channels and include your work in your email communications.
- Tag featured brands or quoted / referenced people on social
- Use relevant hashtags with a wide audience / many followers
- Share to a variety of social platforms
- Create email campaigns
All of these tactics will boost traffic to your article which is a signal to Google that it is satisfying user intent and deserves to rank higher
Keep reviewing your content
Once a piece is written and published, it’s never a done deal. Articles can be continuously worked on, using analytics tools, such as Google Analytics, to assess performance and make small tweaks to boost rankings.
Your analysis of each piece of content isn’t just useful for that one article – the learnings you take can be applied to content created in the future.
- Was your keyword used enough? Or too much?
- Did you use H2’s and H3’s effectively?
- Was your overall formatting conducive to performing for a featured snippet?
- How high was your bounce rate? Could it be improved upon?
- Do the analytics reveal how valuable your content was?