The Complete Approach to SEO Content:
How to Write SEO Content That Performs
Content is a major part of any SEO strategy. Without content, you'd have nothing to optimize for, nothing to get you search visibility, and nothing to provide value to users.
That value and trust works to generate leads and conversion and altogether drive your company's bottom line. All thanks to content.
But not all content is created equally — that is, not all content is good content. In order to rank well on the Google search engine results pages (SERPs) and earn your company search visibility, your content needs to be relevant and authoritative.
A lot goes into SEO writing, and the best copy sits at the intersection of human talent and AI. Before we cover the nuances of creating great SEO content, let's cover the basics, like: what do we mean by SEO content?
Note: If you're here for the tactical approach, use the navigation bar to the left to skip to each respective section.
SEO content is content that is created to earn search visibility on the SERPs. It prioritizes the experience of the organic visitors by offering useful information that matches the intent of the searchers' queries.
Because Google shows various types of content on its SERPs (depending on the underlying intent of the query), SEO content can be anyone of these content types — that is, you can create these types of content knowing that Google may present them on the search results page.
SEO content isn't just adding keywords to a page and with hopes that the page ranks well. This was how search used to operate, but Google has evolved over the years. Now, everything is dependent on value and the search experience. Essentially, Google's approach has changed, and digital marketers' approach has to change, too.
In fact, you need to understand the history and evolution of Google before you can fully understand the ins and outs of SEO content writing.
Google used to register the total count of keywords on a page as a signal of that page's relevance for a target keyword or query. This is what led many content creators to keyword stuff — the practice of filling a page with the same keyword as many times as possible in a way to show Google that their content covers the topic at hand.
However, as you can imagine, keyword stuffing provides little value to searchers — it's extremely high-level and superficial. (As a matter of fact, keyword stuffing is now considered to be a deceptive tactic, and should be avoided.)
As Google began to introduce changes to its search algorithm, marketers' approach to content needed to change.
RankBrain gave Google the ability to understand the meaning behind a query when only brief fragments of information were given. This machine learning system was a move away from individual keyword usage, toward a more holistic understanding of a query and its semantics.
Another advancement for Google was BERT — a move toward natural language processing. This gave Google the ability to understand the context of a word in relation to the words used around it.
You can learn more about Google's various improvements in the world of artificial intelligence with this post at Perfect Search Media.
All of these changes come together to prove that Google has a powerful understanding of the intent behind search queries, and the only way to create SEO content that lands in front of the users’ eyes is to adapt to this way of thinking.
Search intent is the underlying reason why someone makes a search on Google, or any other search engine. There are four types of intent, and a query will fall into at least one of the four types:
The Google SERP will change its presentation based on what the underlying intent of a query is. The search engine may present an Answer Box for an informational intent query, while it presents product advertisements for a transactional intent query.
Try this for yourself: search for some or all of the example queries listed above to see how the SERP changes. It does this to present the best possible experience to you, the searcher.
SEO content today has to address the correct user intent, in the right format, for the right target audience.
It's so much more than adding keywords to a page: it's providing value.
Since proper SEO content addresses a users' intent in the correct way, it allows those users to find your site and what you have to offer — even if they weren't looking for your site specifically. That's the power of SEO-optimized content: it places your brand and your content in front of searchers along their buyers' journey.
It's a key component to the inbound marketing strategy: letting potential customers find your brand naturally, and form a trustworthy relationship with it on their own accord.
Content that is optimized for both search engines and end users will not only earn you search visibility, it can also work to push your competitors down the SERP so they have less visibility. This is especially true — and all the more valuable — for those high search volume, relevant topics that are directly related to your company.
The key to doing this involves demonstrating the authority in your content. Read on to see how exactly to do that, according to Google.
“Content is the bedrock of practically all SEO efforts … It's what drives traffic, pushes the sale to close, and leaves the reader interested in what you have to say ..."
In order for content to rank well in the SERPs and earn search visibility, it must follow a framework. Not all content is SEO content.
Google lays out their E-A-T search quality guidelines for content creation. Let's break down what that stands for.
Expertise: the content is attributed to an expert in the area. Give the byline to someone knowledgeable on the topic.
Authoritativeness: the content earns backlinks, which shows that others in the industry (and beyond) use your content as a resource. This demonstrates authority and thought leadership.
Trustworthiness: the content lives on a website with a positive reputation — spam free.
Notice how the search engine is concerned with offering the users the best experience possible, with accurate and strong information. This should be your goal, too.
There are multiple steps that come together to form expert, authoritative, trustworthy SEO content. Each of the sections below will include hyperlinks to further readings and resources so you can master the process of SEO content creation.
All content marketing efforts begin with thorough keyword research.
In fact, you should conduct keyword research before you begin to write! This is a crucial step for any content strategy and its execution.
Keyword research allows you to understand how your target audience searches for information, and more importantly, that they're searching for that information in the first place.
You don't want to create content around a topic that has no search demand!
This would mean your time was wasted and no value was provided where it matters most!
One manual way to do this is to leverage Google's autofill feature to see what people search for.
However, this method is tedious and allows no room for scale. Instead, we recommend you use a keyword research tool, or the keyword research feature built into your SEO platform of choice.
Don't have any SEO technology and not sure where to start? We've put together a list of the best keyword research tools to help with that.
Keyword research is also where the four types of search intents come into play. If you skipped down to this section, the four search intents are:
The underlying intent determines the form of content that you create.
For example, a blog post is best suited to address an informational intent, where product pages are best for a transactional intent.
A proper keyword research tool will reveal the intent(s) for the keyword that you input, as we see here for the query "what to do in chicago" in seoClarity's Research Grid.
(This query demonstrates an informational intent.)
Content that covers a keyword or topic with an informational intent is best presented as a blog post or listicle. But as we can see from the "SERP Features" section above, this query also triggers video results on the Google SERP. So for this example, we may benefit from creating a listicle with video content embedded into it.
If you don’t have access to a keyword research tool to automatically reveal intent, you can review top ranking content to locate patterns.
This clues you in on what Google considers best practice/the best content for your topic of interest. If all the top ranking content is a blog post, you can surmise that the intent is informational, and that’s the type of content you should create, too.
We know you’re eager to get writing, but bear with us!
Creating an outline before the writing process begins ensures all major topic areas are covered and accounted for correctly so that the end result can be authoritative content.
If you hire a content writer to conduct the actual writing for you, a content brief also works to eliminate miscommunication of the assignment and prevent re-work.
There are a few key elements to include in your content brief:
Let's dive into some of these!
Remember that Google understands queries and content beyond the individual keywords used — it understands the semantic content and meaning of the page as a whole. This means you need to include semantic variations of your target keyword throughout your content.
What exactly do we mean by this? Let's stick with our "what to do in chicago" example from above.
In the old days of SEO, a writer would be concerned with putting that exact phrase ("what to do in chicago") in as many places as possible on the page. It may have looked something like this:
Are you wondering what to do in Chicago? If you come to the Windy City, you may wonder what to do in Chicago. Luckily, there are many things that you can do in Chicago to make the most of your time. Here is a list of what to do in Chicago.
Do you see the problem with that?
It sounds mechanical, and offers no value to the end user reading this. The content is more concerned with cheating the algorithm in an attempt to rank well than it is with providing a positive end user experience.
Today, content needs to address the entirety of the topic, and that's where artificial technology and machine learning technology comes into the content creation process.
When we enter the query into Content Fusion, our AI-driven content writer, we see a list of 20 must-use topics to cover in the content.
(Content Fusion must-use topics for a query.)
Now, we know what to include in the content that will demonstrate our overall understanding of the topic. If this content piece was hired out to a writer based in New York, they may not have known about the Lincoln Park neighborhood or Grant Park.
This serves a variety of purposes:
A content brief should also lay out possible internal linking opportunities. Having an established internal linking strategy in place can help strengthen site authority — and the links pull together topic clusters.
Topic clusters are groupings of related content connected with internal links, with each asset covering a different angle of the subject.
This methodology works to prove to Google that you have extinguished all possibilities of covering the topic, which demonstrates your authority on the subject.
We're using this approach for this very piece of content. This guide serves as the "pillar" or "hub" for all our various assets on SEO content writing.
You'll notice that we've included many internal links that bring you to their respective destination that covers one aspect of SEO content writing.
All of those assets are interlinked together, too, and of course, link back to this hub. All roads lead to the pillar content.
When all of this information is made available in a brief, you (or the designated content writer) will have a clear understanding of what the content needs to include, and what purpose it serves.
This step is to be expected: actually writing the content! Little has to change in your writing style, you just need to be sure to incorporate the information from the brief. An AI-writer isn't meant to completely alter how you create content; instead it's supposed to allow you to create authoritative content at scale like never before. Remember, this is a move away from the technical, robotic sounding writing of the past.
One thing that is important to SEO content, however, is how you deliver the content. In a world where a user expects so much — the advancements of the Google SERPs with their Answer Boxes, images, People Also Ask, etc. have really elevated people's expectations in terms of information delivery and online experience — you need to make sure you pay as much attention to the presentation of your content as the substance of the content itself.
This means you need to add engaging elements. If you can't keep users engaged with your page, they'll bounce back to the SERP and end up on a competitor website instead. Not good.
So, how do you create an engaging page? Here are a few ideas:
Our own content team put together a list of 8 tricks to create engaging content — choose a few of these to include on each page to capture and keep users' attention!
Recommended Reading: 19 SEO Content Writing Tips: Create Copy That Both Google and Users Love
Google uses hundreds of ranking factors to determine which content will appear in the search results, so writing the content isn’t the end of the journey!
You've targeted a search term with demand, created a detailed brief, and written the SEO content. Now, it's time to optimize the content before its publication.
Title tags and meta descriptions are short snippets of information that explain what your page is about. If they are written well, they can appear directly on the SERPs with your search listing.
Note: Each organic SERP listing will always have a title and meta snippet present, they just may not be the ones you wrote. What do we mean by this?
If your title tag or meta description doesn't include your target keyword (or provide any value to searchers), Google may rewrite your title for you. Even though Google thinks beyond individual keywords, doing this will make it clear for users what your page is about.
Resources on Metadata:
Images can include loads of relevant information, the only trouble is that search engines can't read them. This means that despite you having great content for the users, search engine bots will be none the wiser.
To overcome this, simply include an alt tag for the images on your site. Alt text is a brief description of an image that users don't see, but search engines do. Nothing too detrimental will happen if you don't include alt text, but it is a missed optimization opportunity if you don't include it.
A call to action (CTA) pushes your readers to do something. Whether it be subscribing to an email newsletter, downloading an ebook, or demoing a product, a CTA is your chance to have the readers take the next step. They've read your content — now what?
Sure, traffic is a nice metric to pay attention to, but that's only the beginning. What was this content trying to solve? If users come to your site, read the content, and leave, you've hardly pushed anyone toward a conversion. Remember that SEO content is meant to earn search visibility, provide value, generate leads, and score conversions.
Once you have your content written, you can enhance it with schema. You can add schema to new content, or go back and refresh your old content. Schema is not a necessity for content, which is why we didn't include it as its own step above.
So, what exactly is schema? Schema (frequently called structured data) is a snippet of code that is added to a page that offers more information to search engines on what the page is about. Plus, different schema markups can give your content rich results on the SERP.
Here is an example of SERP listing without and with schema:
No Schema FAQ and Star Schema
You can see the first SERP listing is pretty standard: the title tag, URL, and meta description. The second picture is where we really get an idea of what schema can do. The FAQ schema increases search visibility of the search listing (more pixel space) and offers immediate value to users, while the star schema offers a social proof.
This is all thanks to a simple code addition that brought about multiple benefits. There are hundreds of schema types and properties to choose from at schema.org, and free tools like Schema Builder let you build, test, and deploy the schema on your own, without the need for a developer.
While schema isn't required, it's a low involvement, high reward approach to enhancing your pages and their contents.
You’ve done it! Your SEO content is written and published.
Organic search is pretty powerful. Your content should work for you to bring in traffic and lead users to convert.
But organic search isn’t the only way to get eyes on your content.
A content distribution strategy shares your writing across various channels to give it more visibility.
This could be channels you own (like a blog or your social media accounts), earned recognition (like PR outreach), or paid channels (like pay-per-click ads).
You can also share your content on other sites to access a new audience. This is called content syndication.
The same concept applies here, too: there are free, paid, and earned channels to choose from.
Now, you have organic, your distribution, and syndication working in your favor!
The last step of SEO content writing is to track and report on the content's performance. After you publish, it’s crucial to monitor, track, and analyze your metrics.
Different organizations care about different key performance indicators (KPIs) since each organization has different business goals to work toward. Some may care about traffic, bounce rate, or time on page, while others may care about rank, and conversions.
(Page metrics for a blog post.)
Not sure what your KPI is? Ask yourself why you created the content. What was your end goal for this specific content piece?
Or, check out our post on the top SEO metrics to monitor for the user experience.
Two great tools to monitor search performance are Google Analytics and Search Console. Both are free to use, and are goldmines for discovering various insights into your content and audience.
There are a lot of other free SEO tools out there, too. Some help with keyword research, others are great for content marketing. We put together a list of the top free SEO tools you can use.
If you use an SEO platform, it should offer the ability to integrate your analytics data so you can see all of your performance data in one centralized location.
If you decide that it’s time to hire someone for SEO, specifically in the realm of content, that person should have an understanding of:
Another option is to outsource the content. This involves having an outside party complete the entire checklist: from conducting the background research to writing and optimizing the content.
This method can help guarantee that an SEO expert is crafting the content with all best practices in mind.
seoClarity's Content Writing Services, for example, creates authoritative, optimized content that performs for clients in various verticals. The members of our Professional Services team leverage our SEO platform to create data-backed content that delivers on your KPIs.
There you have it! A complete look at how to write SEO content. From the evolution of Google that changed how we consume (and create) content, to the step-by-step approach to demonstrating your authority — you now know how to create content.
Along your content creation journey, you'll discover that there are a number of tools that can help to simplify the process. We'd like to point you in the direction of the Spark Content Optimizer — our free Google Chrome plug-in that allows anyone on a team to create an all around better search experience for their users.
Good luck on creating your SEO content!