If your goal is to create high-quality SEO content, good keywords are not enough.
In the early days of search engine optimization (SEO), you could write high-ranking content simply by knowing which keywords to use. But SEO content strategy isn’t just about keywords anymore.
Keyword planning tools are more accessible and user-friendly than ever, which means anyone can figure out a basic keyword strategy. If you want to write SEO-friendly content that ranks on Google, you need a more sophisticated approach.
In simple terms, quality content is the only way to outrank your competitors. So how do you write better content?
In this article, you’ll find a step-by-step guide to writing SEO content that ranks, starting with keyword research. Then we’ll go past keywords and teach you how to understand what search engine users really want, so you can meet their needs. Providing content that resonates with someone’s search intent is key to better ranking, more click-throughs, and more conversions.
What is SEO Content?
Before we can get into SEO content, we need to back up and define a few key terms. First, let’s talk about search engines.
A search engine is a software system that’s designed to find things—articles, webpages, images, and other resources—inside a database by using keywords. Major search engines, such as Google, Bing, or Yahoo, are built to search virtually the entire internet, which means they are constantly sifting through massive amounts of data.
Search engines are also programmed to assess the value of what they find, so they can display the best results first. In other words, if you run a Google search for “vegan waffle recipe,” Google won’t just show you every vegan waffle recipe on the internet. It will show you the best ones first, so you don’t have to do it yourself.
The best results will be served to you on the SERP, or search engine results page. If you so choose, you can click through dozens of SERPs to see every result of your search. But search engines are designed to fill that first page with the best of the best, saving you from all that clicking.
That first SERP is very important to anyone who does business on the internet. Most people don’t look past the first few results. So if you’re going to find potential customers via a search engine, you need to rank high on the first SERP. But appearing on the first SERP is not always easy. Experts say there are over a trillion web pages on the internet, so you have a lot of competition. This is why SEO matters.
SEO refers to any tactic or activity that’s designed to make your webpage or content as attractive as possible for search engines. SEO strategy comes in many forms, including content marketing.
SEO content is an all-encompassing term: It refers to any content that is written or produced with the goal of helping your page rank higher on the SERP. SEO content can refer to blog posts, articles, whitepapers, product pages, and more.
How to write SEO content?
Writing good SEO content is about more than learning the nuances of the search engine’s algorithm. SEO content has to be valuable to the reader as well.
If someone visits your page and doesn’t find what they need, they’ll leave immediately. If this happens repeatedly, the search engine will deduce that your page isn’t meeting the needs of the searcher, and your page rank will drop.
Balancing the best practices of SEO and the needs of the searcher requires careful planning and research, starting with keywords.
Conduct keyword research
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Think about how a search engine works. You can’t just pull up Google or Bing and expect it to read your mind and show you exactly what you want. You only get results after you’ve entered a few words.
Those words are keywords. Keywords are how the search engine actually categorizes and finds specific pages and resources. Without keywords, a search engine would just be a database.
Keywords are absolutely critical to your SEO content strategy. Keywords are the link between a search query and the right webpage. It’s how your potential customers find you.
Your first step is creating a list of target keywords related to your content. Creating a keyword list is, to some degree, an exercise in common sense. You don’t need a digital marketing background to understand why it would be silly for a shoe company to choose “women’s hats” or “frying pans” as their main keyword. A person using those keywords isn’t looking to buy shoes, which means they’re probably not your target audience.
In the early stages of creating a keyword list, it’s okay to go for the most obvious options: men’s shoes, women’s shoes, children’s shoes, etc. But you can also use online SEO tools to make that list even better, such as Clearscope’s Keyword Discovery tool.
Keyword research is incredibly valuable for writing content that ranks. You can enter any high-level topic or concept into the tool, and Keyword Discovery will produce a list of Google’s most popular autocomplete suggestions related to that topic. This can help you identify what people are actually searching for.
You can also see data on monthly search volume, cost-per-click (CPC), and Google Ads competition for each keyword, as well as which keywords are trending. Even if you’re not looking to place any ads, that ad data can tell you a lot. If there’s a lot of competition for a keyword, and people are willing to spend a lot of money on ads related to it, then you can usually assume it’s a pretty valuable keyword.
You’ll probably discover a few related keywords that you may not have considered. For example, the shoe company may find that “volleyball shoes” and “Adidas womens shoes” are excellent keywords.
Keyword Discovery also lets you filter your results to show questions. In other words, Keyword Discovery will tell you exactly what questions people are asking related to your topic. This is an excellent starting point for brainstorming titles for your SEO content.
Google Search Console is another excellent source of valuable keyword data. Google tracks metrics related to organic traffic, or how people are already finding your website. Google shares which organic search terms are leading people to your site. You may find an unexpected keyword or two to add to your list.
Once you have a robust list of keywords, you can shift your focus to finding the most impactful ones.
Identify the search intent
Knowing what your audience is searching for is just the first step. It’s just as important—if not more so—to understand why they’re searching for something. If you can figure out what’s motivating your audience, you have a much better chance of giving them what they want.
It can be tempting to take a brute force approach and just aim for as much traffic as you can possibly get. You might plan your content based on every keyword you find that’s even tangentially related to your product or service offering, or you might try to cram as many keywords as possible into every piece you write. This is called keyword stuffing. Including a high volume of relevant keywords in your content is essential, but keyword saturation alone is not a good content creation strategy.
Writing high-quality content starts with understanding user intent, or what your customers really want. To be more specific, you need to understand what is motivating your customer to search in the first place.
For example, let’s say your product is small business accounting software. When your customer is ready to buy, they’re well past the initial research phase. They’re not running broad searches for “small business accounting” so they can learn the ABCs of bookkeeping for their business. No, they’re looking for a tool that will help them manage their finances better now. They’re searching for “small business accounting software.”
This is what we call a high intent keyword. It’s a keyword used by someone who has a high intent to convert. In sales terms, they’re at the bottom of the funnel. They’re ready to talk to a salesperson, start a free trial, and make a purchase. This is where you should focus your SEO content strategy.
Studies show that SEO content focused on high intent keywords has much higher conversion rates than SEO content that focus on broader topics—even if the search volume for that keyword is lower.
For example, if you write a piece of content that’s optimized for “small business accounting,” you might attract a lot of visitors—but their intentions will be all over the place. You might end up with a bunch of clicks from people who are simply entertaining the idea of starting a small business and doing a little preliminary research. They’re nowhere near ready actually to convert and make a purchase. On the other hand, if you write a piece of content that’s optimized for “small business accounting software,” you’re more likely to reach people who are actively seeking a software program to purchase and thus ready to convert.
There’s no need to start with content that targets people at the top of your funnel or just becoming aware of a need for your service. You can go straight to the high intent keywords.
Once you’ve identified your high intent keywords, type them into a few different search engines and take a look at the SERP. Make note of what types of content are already ranking for your keywords. Don’t just do a quick scan of the page titles, either. Click on each page, one by one, and see what you find.
Watch Bernard (Clearscope co-founder) run through the above process for a post by Deel here.
Ask thoughtful questions as you review the SERP. What are you seeing? What are these other sites doing well? What are they missing? What can you do that’s different?
Remember: High-ranking content meets the needs of the searcher. These pages are high on the SERP because searchers are clicking on them and spending time on the page. They’re offering value to the searcher. See if you can figure out what that value is—and find a way to do it better.
For example, let’s say you run a search for “small business accounting software” and discover a SERP full of product pages for software programs. That might tell you that most people searching for this keyword are looking to start a free trial or buy the software. They’re checking out different product pages because they want to compare their options. You might make it easier for them by writing a blog post comparing the top three results on the page—plus your own product.
Alternatively, you might discover a mix of blog posts and product pages on the SERP, which means your searchers have mixed intent. Some are ready to buy, while others are looking to learn. That demands a different strategy.
Your strategy should not be to replicate what you find on the SERP. Otherwise, your piece of content will end up looking exactly like everyone else’s, which means you’re not adding any value—and you can’t stand out. If you want to outrank your competition, you need to write original, relevant content that does a better job of meeting the searcher’s needs.
Write your first draft piece of content
Once you’ve identified your strategy for outranking competitors, you can finally start outlining your article.
Your post doesn’t need to be a five-paragraph essay. You have a lot of options for structure when writing content. You can write:
- A list (often called a “listicle”).
- A how-to article.
- A comparison of 3-5 competitor products.
- A product overview.
- Case studies.
You can use Clearscope to see what sort of content structures your competitors are using, too. In the sidebar of Clearscope’s text editor, you can see how your competitors are organizing similar SEO content. Clearscope will also tell which specific keywords are most commonly used in headers and titles and make recommendations so you can capitalize on the most popular search terms. This is especially valuable when writing SEO content that ranks since your goal is to outrank your competitors.
Titles and headings are key to an effective SEO content strategy. Virtually all content management systems (CMS), such as WordPress, make it easy for you to tag headings and subheadings as H1, H2, H3, etc. This changes the appearance of the text—usually by making it bigger and perhaps changing the font—and the way the text is tagged in HTML.
Using headings throughout your article increases page SEO in two ways. First, it breaks up the text and makes it easy for visitors to scan the page and find what they’re looking for. This improves the readability of your page, which is valuable for SEO. Second, search engines scan headings and subheadings to gather more data on what your piece of content is about. When you use keywords in your headings, you can impact how a search engine categorizes your piece and, in turn, your content ranking.
As you write, pay attention to your introduction. Your intro should summarize and position your piece, so the reader knows exactly what they’re getting. The introduction’s sole purpose is to build context and pull the reader down the page.
The top half of your article or post will get the most engagement, in terms of both clicks and people actually reading it. So if you’re writing a post to promote a specific service or product, make sure it’s mentioned in the top half, even if you’re writing a product comparison post.
You may have heard that you should list your own product or service last, to keep your post from seeming too promotional. But that logic is counterintuitive. Remember, we’re working with high intent keywords. Our audience is ready to buy. It’s not only okay to list your product first; it’s in your best interests. The data shows that prioritizing your own product or service on the page will yield more clicks—and more conversions.
You can also leverage the top half of your page to drive traffic to other pages on your website via internal links. For example, if you mention a specific product feature, add an internal link to the blog post you already wrote about that feature. This will make it easier for visitors to find more information about your product, and it’ll keep them on your website longer. This is important for keeping your bounce rate low.
Bounce rate is an important ranking factor for SEO. A high bounce rate means that visitors are leaving your page just moments after they arrive, presumably because they didn’t find what they need. But a low bounce rate means they’re staying on the page because the content is valuable. If you make it easy to find even more valuable content through internal links, they’ll stick around even longer.
Once you’ve written your first draft, you can use Clearscope to get a sense of how SEO-friendly it is. Clearscope will analyze several ranking factors instantly and make suggestions for improvements. For example, Clearscope shares a range of how many times a keyword is used by the other web pages on the SERP. Clearscope also shares where the keywords are used, such as in a heading.