SEO content is not like your regular writing. It requires researching keywords relevant to your subject to find those used most frequently and then incorporating them strategically throughout your content. Below is a step-by-step process.
Step 1: Understand what people are searching for
Keyword research is essential before beginning SEO writing. You can’t just choose random keywords for your content and then expect your page to rank high up in the SERPs. You have to learn more about your niche in the marketplace. What are the keywords that people often use in searches related to your product? What keywords do your competitors use to rank their websites highly? Answers can be found using tools available on the internet like Google AdWords and SEMRush.
Keyword research is important because it can help you formulate a battle strategy to boost your website’s rankings. Google AdWords Keyword Planner is a widely used SEO tool that provides excellent data for keyword research. Another tool I commonly use — even though it is not free — is SEMRush. With these tools, you can look up the volume of people searching for a specific keyword either globally or within a specified region. Data for monthly search volume is also available, giving you a glimpse of market trends in internet search.
Finding Good Topics
On a larger scale, researching questions that people are asking is a great way to find broader topics to write about. Sites like Quora and Yahoo Answers provide a great knowledge base for this. You can also use tools like Google Trends and Uber suggest to complement your keyword research as well.
Step 2: Writing your content
Write Around Your Keywords
Based on your findings in your keyword research, you can then choose the keywords that you want your webpage to rank for. Choose a keyword phrase that has healthy search volume. It is a waste of time optimizing for any keyword that gets searched less than 250 times per month. Begin writing around your keyword phrase. Make sure you use it in the following places:
- Meta Title
- Meta Description
- Article Title
- Heading Tags
Also use LSI variations of your keywords in header tags and in body content as described below.
Leverage Latent Semantic Indexing
Complement your targeted keywords with synonyms and related terms, a practice known as Latent Semantic Indexing. Have you ever noticed how a search query can bring up results containing words that aren’t even included in your query? On a second look, you may notice these words are related to your original search query and the contextual meaning is similar.
Search engines use Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI), a process that associates words that are closely related with each other. You can broaden your article’s reach by including words or phrases that are similar or synonymous to your target keywords and key phrases.
Step 3: Focus on algorithmic elements important to rank
Now that you have identified your topic and have your keyword research in place, it is important to know what page elements are valuable to ranking algorithms. Google’s algorithm has more than 200 signals that are factored together to determine your ranking position. Here are important elements to focus on while you are writing:
Keyword Density Elements
Keyword density is becoming less important as Google’s algorithm evolves. There was a time when keyword dense articles ranked high in search engines. However, Google has become savvy to the idea that natural writing uses variations of terms relative to the topic rather than highly dense repetition of one keyword. Goggle’s algorithmic updates have targeted ways to better detect natural writing. So keep in mind that putting too many keywords into your article can get your website penalized for keyword stuffing — a Black Hat SEO tactic. The optimum keyword density according to good SEO practice is around one to three percent. Matt Cutts, Google’s head of web spam, said in a video that a keyword mentioned once or twice within an article can impact a website’s rankings.
Keyword Placement Elements
Your target keywords should appear in the title tag, the meta description, the heading tags (h1, h2, h3, etc.), and a few times within the body of the article. Keywords should be strategically placed at the top portion of your web page since keywords tend to have more algorithmic weight above the fold.
On Page Media Elements
As Google sees it, the more variation of content provided on a webpage, such as pictures and videos, the better the experience for users. Fill your content with videos and pictures when possible. Be sure to tag them correctly by using the alt-attribute for images and wrapping your video in microdata like Schema.org vocabulary so search spiders understand what those elements are.
Semantic Markup Elements
Semantic markup is a system to help search engines understand what a webpage means. Over the last few years, the search community began establishing a precise vocabulary of html markup language. It is designed to capture more concrete and unambiguous information about a page in small snippets, instead of relying on parsing through large blocks of text.
The most effective elements of markup for SEO include Schema.org vocabulary, Open Graph Protocol, Twitter Cards, and Google Authorship. In addition to assisting with search engine parsing, semantic markup can dramatically increase your click through rate (CTR), as it is responsible for delivering the rich snippets in search results.
On Page Metric Elements
As mentioned above, Google factors on-page analytics such as bounce rate into its ranking algorithm. Say your article appears on the first search result page for a specific keyword. Many people click into your site because of a good meta title and description. But your potential readers go immediately back to the search page (known as a bounce) because of low quality content. Google assumes your page is not providing a good user experience or is irrelevant. It drops you down in search results.
Because Google factors in bounce rates and time-on-site, it is paramount that you offer compelling, high quality content. It’s also important to have a compelling site design to encourage users stay on the page longer.
Meta Tag Elements
It is important to create engaging and accurate meta titles and descriptions for your webpages because they appear in three strategic areas:
- the search engine results page
- the browser window
- on social media when they are shared (for example on Facebook)
It is imperative that you create unique meta titles and descriptions for each of your webpages — search bots do not like duplicate content. If you are not able to create a unique meta tag for a page, then it probably shouldn’t be a standalone page. Google does not rank (and sometimes penalizes) duplicate content. So it’s important to make sure you don’t have duplicate meta tags or content on your site.
There are three basic meta tags to optimize for:
Keep character length under 55 characters
Most SEO experts agree that the optimum length for meta titles should not exceed 60 characters. Keep in mind that Google cuts off text that exceeds the allotted space it allocates for titles, not by word count. I recommend 45 to 55 characters. Google and other search engines automatically cut a long title short. Meta titles that end with an ellipsis “…” don’t look very appealing on search result pages.
Include your keywords
Best SEO practice demands that your target keywords appear in your meta title and in your body content — the closer to the beginning, the stronger they are.
Don’t bother with branding
Many website writers unnecessarily include branding in their meta titles. This means wasted space in a very limited area. Google’s algorithm does this for you. Unless you want your brand to be displayed in a specific way, such as unconventional capitalization for instance, it is not necessary to include it yourself.
Keep character count under 160 characters
The optimum length for meta descriptions is 150 to 160 characters. Anything longer will be cut short with the infamous ellipsis.
Include your keywords
Although Google confirms that meta descriptions have little effect on website rankings, it’s still good SEO practice to write keyword-rich meta descriptions for the benefit of the end users. So do it for the click. When users search for your keywords, the keywords appear emphasized in bold on the results page. Having keyword-rich and compelling meta tags can increase your click-through rate (CTR), an important traffic metric.
OR leave them empty
Alternatively, some SEO strategists leave meta descriptions empty. In such cases, the search engine automatically pulls out snippets from your web content that are relevant to the search keywords. This method works best for websites that have more than three keywords, or those websites that host a huge amount of interrelated content. However, you lose the control of displaying the description you want your users to see.
There is a meta keyword tag that can be used. However, it is not popular anymore. The meta keyword tag was a place to specify keyword terms you wanted your webpage to rank for. When new search engines such as Google emerged in 1998, they didn’t support the meta keyword tag. Search engines had learned that many webmasters would “stuff” the same word over and over into the meta keywords tag as a way of trying to rank better.
Even though Google does not support the tag, Yahoo and Ask.com still do. My advice is to continue using this tag. You may populate it with misspellings and unusual words that are relevant to your content but seldom used in your on-page content. Even though larger search engines do not acknowledge meta keyword tags, it doesn’t hurt to use them.
When all is said and done, linking is still the backbone of Google’s algorithm. Linking carries heavy signal weight when it comes to ranking. It is extremely important to understand the science behind linking and SEO.
- Notes the URL that the link is pointing to
- Shows in the browser’s tooltip on hover
- Says where the link will open: the same window, a new tab, or a new window
- Contains attributes that determines if the link will pass PageRank or not
- Shows what the link will display as, on the webpage
The fifth element is the link anchor text (the actual words that make up the link). This is the signal that gives SEO clout to a page. You want to make sure your anchor text contains the targeted keyword featured on the page you are linking to, so you can rank higher.
Penguin Friendly Link Building
As part of its Penguin update, Google’s algorithm became aware of link-spamming. This was a major game changer in SEO. It used to be extremely easy to rank for keywords by building massive numbers of low quality contextual backlinks. Google’s algorithm can now detect patterns of unnatural link building as demonstrated below.
It is obvious that when an article is very popular, people share it by building links to it. However, the majority of links tend to not all have the same keyword-rich anchor text. Instead, natural links have more emphasis on anchors like click here and variations of the URL (with and without the www). Penguin-friendly link building means to deliberately build links closer to the variation that you see below.
Link Building & LSI
The fact is, Google uses an algorithm that is based off of a set of rules that semantically tie words together. If you can reverse engineer the semantic correlation that Google associates between phrases, then you can capitalize tremendously on this power to rank high.
There are three different aspects of linking to consider:
Internal links connect pages within the same website. Using a link with descriptive anchor text helps Google understand what the page you are linking to is about. I have seen webpages rank well just from a good internal linking strategy.
Let’s say you write an optimized article targeting the keyword phrase lose weight fast. To take advantage of the power of internal linking, go to other articles on your site and build links to your article using lose weight fast (and its semantic variations) as anchor text.
External links point to webpages outside of your website. It’s a good practice to limit external links in your articles. That said, it is a very good practice to use them sparingly. To increase SEO value to your page, link out to authority sites elaborating on your topic. Google sees this as a positive signal of referencing good content. This in turn helps you to rank higher.
Backlinks are links TO your webpages from outside websites. Google holds in high esteem authoritative domains such as .edu and .gov websites, especially when it comes to building backlinks. For starters, look for relevant topics in high-authority websites and link to these articles within your website. Engage in active discussions with topics that are related to your niche, and entertain questions on your website. With well-written and highly optimized content, you’re bound to attract inbound links from high-authority websites. You may ask institutions and agencies with which you have a special relationship to link to your website. Your alma mater or a business organization to which you belong are examples that come to mind.