Updated: Aug 12, 2021
The first step in search engine optimization is really to determine what it is you’re actually optimizing for. This means identifying the terms people are searching for, also known as “keywords” that you want your website to rank for in search engines like Google.
Sounds simple enough, right?
I want my Shoe company to show up when people look for “Shoes,” and maybe when they type in things like “Buy Summer Shoes.” Onto step three!
First, you need to understand who your prospective customers are and what they’re likely to search for. If you don’t already understand who your prospects are, thinking about that is a good place to start, for your business in general but also for SEO.
Once you’ve got your high-volume, low-difficulty keyword, it’s time to start creating your content.
Full disclosure here: There’s never any guarantee what you create will rank. There are complicated Google algorithms working behind the scenes that ultimately make this call, and lots of other factors go into rankings that we don’t cover here, for example, website speed.
Here’s what makes for strong SEO writing.
1. Study Google
Outside of your keyword research tools, Google is going to be your No. 1 resource for SEO writing.
With your keyword in hand, open an incognito window (so your previous search history doesn’t taint your results) and search your keyword. Take a look at the results.
You’ll want to focus on five key features on this page:
The featured snippet: This is the box that appears at the top of your search. Typically, it includes a headline and a numbered list. With our “how to grow lavender indoors” example, the snippet features a list of tips.
People also ask: Right below the snippet you’ll find this section. These are related questions people have searched for. It looks like folks are curious about “How long does it take to grow lavender indoors?” and “How do you care for an indoor lavender plant?” These are questions you’ll want to answer in your article.
The top three to five results: Because we know Google likes these articles (they’re on the mystical page one, after all), take some time to read the articles and consider their contents and organization. This will help you better understand readers’ search intent.
People also search and related searches: You’ll find both of these sections at the bottom of the page. These can also help inform what goes into your article. For instance, I might want to include information about “how to grow lavender from seeds” and “benefits of growing lavender indoors.”
I like to take notes on all this information and throw it in a document.
2. Make an outline
Armed with your intel, it’s time to make an outline. Typically, I despise outlining articles, but this is an essential step in SEO land.
In your outline, you’ll want to include the recurring themes, elements and keywords you collected from studying page one. I like to take pieces from each Google element and each top-ranking article and create my own rendition.
While you’re doing this, keep the reader in mind. If you were searching for “how to grow lavender indoors,” what would you want to read about? I leave little notes to myself where I want to address commonly asked questions, related search terms or specific keywords.
To really create the best content, go above and beyond. See if you can pinpoint a missing theme, section or element the other top-ranking articles didn’t cover. For instance, I notice none of the top-ranking articles for growing lavender indoors include ways to harvest and use your lavender (for oil, baking, tea, etc.), so I could include an ideas section at the bottom of my article.
3. Ask the experts
One of the reasons I love working with SEO content is because Google values page quality. It’s looking for content with legitimate information from legitimate sources.
In fact, there’s a popular acronym in the SEO community: EAT. It stands for expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness. Keep this in mind as you write.
To beef up your SEO article, reach out to an industry expert for an interview. You might also cite credible sources or databases. Adding external links (these are the hyperlinks to other websites) can also help.
4. Use your keywords wisely
There’s a popular phrase out there called “keyword stuffing.” It basically means a piece of content is unnaturally stuffed with keywords; the sentence structure is awkward, and all grammatical rules have gone out the window. Yikes.
You want to avoid keyword stuffing at all costs. Even if “growing lavender in apartment” is a related search, I wouldn’t add it to my content as such — that’s robot speak. It’d be OK to write about “growing lavender in an apartment.”
Write as naturally as possible, and don’t stretch to fit specific keywords or phrases into your content just because Google seems to like them. Keep to your craft, and write in a way that’s clear and concise.
On that note, there are some important places you’ll want to incorporate your primary keyword. (But avoid using it too much, see: keyword stuffing.)
Places you’ll want to use it include:
The headline: Like always, you’ll want your headline to be enticing, but you’ll also want to incorporate the keyword you chose. For example, “Your Guide to Growing Lavender Indoors (Even If You Don’t Get a Ton of Natural Light)” could be a catchy headline.
The excerpt/description: When you upload your article to your website, write a strong excerpt that features your keyword. It never hurts to spark a little curiosity.
The URL: It’s important to include your keyword in your URL.
The article: You want to let Google know you’re actually writing about the topic at hand, so try to incorporate the keyword into your introduction and in a subhead, if you can.
The featured image description: Google doesn’t just focus on the text — it also looks at the images. Write an image caption and description that includes your keyword, so Google knows it’s relevant.
Above all, always keep the reader in mind. Generally, if you can make them happy, Google will take notice.
5. Don’t overthink it
My biggest piece of advice is don’t overthink this! Don’t worry about hitting a specific word count or implementing any SEO “hacks.” As long as you create a strong outline and write with the reader in mind — meeting their expectation and serving their needs — then you’re doing exactly what you need.
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