April 29, 2016
If you want to succeed as a modern online content creator, it’s important to know a thing or two about good search engine optimization (SEO) practices.
SEO is the process of optimizing a website or content so that search engines and people can locate it and read it easier. The whole process of SEO has changed greatly since I stepped in, around 2011. (See my infographic timeline). For a writer, the rules of SEO are relatively simple. It revolves around good and natural writing skills. Back in 2011, I had to know things like calculating keyword density on every page I wrote. Today, it’s more about optimizing your headline, subheaders, and most importantly, writing well. Engaging headlines that are optimized for your reader matter more than stuffing them with keywords.
15 Guidelines for the SEO Writer
SEO involves many things and it can be a complex beast to tackle, but when it comes to writing SEO content, it’s fairly simple once you know the rules. These 15 guidelines are designed to help you win at SEO every time you sit down to type.
1. Do your research
A plane wouldn’t leave the runway without a designated flight plan and you shouldn’t start writing without first conducting ample, focused keyword research. Keyword research can help you determine which words you should be targeting and make you more visible to your audience.
2. Be descriptive
The “show don’t tell” spiel that was hammered into you by your Grade 6 English teacher has come back to haunt you after all. When writing SEO content, it’s important to be descriptive in everything you do. This includes your headlines, metas, body content and CTAs. What is the text about? What will it do for your audience? Why should they read it? What will they get for clicking on this button or that link? Make it all clear and you’re bound to have better conversions and more traffic.
3. Don’t duplicate
Duplicate content is dangerous for the SEO writer and when two pages look too much alike, Google removes one of them from the indexes. To avoid this, follow Google’s best practices and focus on high-quality, original content first, and then use canonical link elements to avoid duplicative content problems wherever they may arise.
4. Don’t stuff your content
Keyword stuffing is one of the cardinal sins of SEO and, if you don’t avoid it, it can kill your ranking. As a general rule, keyword density should be no more than three percent within your content. Once you’ve determined your target keywords and phrases, they should appear in your header if they can do so naturally, in the subheaders, and throughout the body content several times. This keeps your keywords feeling natural and prevents you from being dinged by the Google Gods.
5. Write great metas
The purpose of metas is to help search engine crawlers determine what the page is about. Therefore, the 150 character-long meta description may well be one of the most important pieces of your content. To write great metas, make them descriptive, persuasive and interesting. By doing this, you’ll ensure ample click-throughs and attention from readers.
6. Make your titles irresistible
Approximately five times as many people read your headline as read your body content. That said, headlines are the single most important piece of content you’ll write. A great headline does two things: it supplies information and it helps people decide if they should read or not. To make them great, headlines must be unique, specific, urgent and useful.
7. Don’t spam anyone
Nobody likes spam and if you head to forums or blog comments and create unnatural link profiles, you’re going to find yourself in a version of SEO purgatory. If you want to earn yourself links and views, get out there and interact from a point of genuine interest rather than spammy sneakiness. This means reading and commenting on other people’s blogs, asking and answering questions on sites like Quora, and getting involved in niche-specific communities. Although it won’t earn you online fame overnight, this approach is much more sustainable than spamming people with links to your site.
8. Write original content
People come to the Internet looking for answers and information and if all you do is provide them with a regurgitated version of someone else’s content, you’re not going to stand out from the crowd. With this in mind, focus on writing original content in your unique voice. What are you an expert at? What can you offer your visitors that nobody else can? Original content goes much further than the simple “don’t copy content” commandment; it also means being uniquely you in everything you write.
9. Post often
If users get to your site only to find out that it hasn’t been updated in six months, they’re going to click “back” immediately. Posting often can help you avoid this. Don’t kill yourself by posting every single day – simply set a realistic goal that you can adhere to and make an effort to update all of your social channels at least once a week. This keeps content fresh and users interested.
10. Incorporate quality links
One of the most important factors for SEO ranking is links. Google wants to see that you’re getting your information from high-quality sources. When writing your online content, focus on linking to industry leaders and well-known publications. If you need help determining what’s a quality link and what isn’t, download the MozBar to your browser and only link to things with a DA score of 50 or higher.
11. Vary your content
Would you want to eat the same thing for dinner every night? No! And your readers don’t want the same type of content over and over again. Your common denominator should be originality and value, but beyond that you should experiment with content types like blogs, videos, podcasts, memes, infographics, and Q&A sessions. This keeps your content interesting and helps you reach a wide variety of users.
12. Earn quality backlinks
Just like the links you use are important for SEO, so are the links that use you. Earning high-quality back-links is a process, and it often involves steps like offering guest posts, interacting with thought leaders in your industry, or offering to review a product. By writing high-quality content and reaching out to other SEO writers, you’ll begin to build quality backlinks in no time.
13. Pay attention to your site
When it comes to getting good at SEO, your content matters, but your site does as well. To make sure that you’re not missing rankings for silly reasons, ensure that your site is coded correctly, easy to navigate, loads quickly, and is visually appealing. Google hates sloppy sites and yours will be down-ranked if it fits the bill.
14. Use sitemaps
Want to make your site easier to navigate without a whole lot of effort? Install a sitemap. A sitemap is a Google plugin that creates a full list of all of your posts, pages, or archives. This sitemap then automatically submits the list to search engines like Google and Bing without you having to do anything. This makes your page easier for search engines to index and helps you be more visible online.
15. Beef up your social media platforms
As it stands now, Google is beginning to look at social media as an indicator of a site’s authority, relevance and value. This means that if your article has thousands of shares on Facebook or hundreds of re-tweets, that it’s probably pretty valuable. With this in mind, it’s important to beef up your social media profiles. This means ensuring all information within them is current, interacting with content, posting fresh content often, and getting verified accounts where you can. While it may seem simple, a solid social media strategy can help you stand out from the crowd.
In the modern world of SEO, it’s important to have good rules to write by. Incorporate engaging writing skills, optimize whenever you write as naturally as you can, and create content with your audience primarily in mind (not your keywords). Good writing is essential and the No. 1 skill when it comes to SEO content.
Julia McCoy is a top 30 content marketer and has been named an industry thought leader by several publications. She enjoys making the gray areas of content marketing clear with practical training, teaching, and systems. Her career in content marketing was completely self-taught. In 2011, she dropped out of college to follow her passion in writing, and since then grew her content agency, Express Writers, to thousands of worldwide clients from scratch. Julia is the author of two bestselling books on content marketing and copywriting, and is the host of The Write Podcast. Julia writes as a columnist on leading publications and certifies content strategists in her training course, The Content Strategy & Marketing Course. Julia lives in Austin, Texas with her daughter, husband, and one fur baby.