SEO writing - Search Engine Optimisation

The aim of writing for Search Engine Optimisation, or SEO writing for short, is to write online content in a way that is friendly to the way search engines work. When you research what people search on, and write and publish content in a way that makes it more searchable, you increase the reach  and engagement of your writing. Learn how keyword research, website set-up and writing skills combine to boost your SEO writing. 

SEO writing

How this guide raises your game.

  1. Define the role of search and SEO writing for marketing.
  2. Research consumer needs and writing topic ideas based on search behaviour.
  3. Write and publish content on your website in a way that’s SEO friendly.

Whether you write your own content or outsource it to an agency, it’s an important part of the business writing process that the writing has a target audience and an objective.

The target audience is who the writing is for. It’s a group of people that you want to change their attitude or behaviour. You want them to think, feel or do something different based on the the writing. 

But the objective then normally relates to how many of the target audience change their attitude or behaviour. And this means you needs to consider the reach of the writing, as well as the message. 

To reach a target audience, you usually need to use push or pull digital media to make people aware that the content even exists.

Research on your own using tools from Google

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Push vs pull media

Advertising and social media are usually paid “push” channels where you put short messages in front of consumers to capture attention. 

With “push” channels, YOU take the first step in the process.

You create an advert or post, then pay to push this message out in front of your target audience.

Your audience doesn’t choose to see your message, they see it because it’s part of the media they consume.

Boy shouting into microphone

And, you have to plan and hope that the message finds enough of the right audience. That it finds them at the right time. And that it is relevant and captures their attention.

Push media is like you shouting at the audience and hoping they will stop and listen to you.

There’s a lot of inefficiency in advertising when messages reach the wrong people, at the wrong time, and just aren’t relevant.

Pull media

Search, on the other hand, is a very different media channel. Search is much more of a “pull” strategy. The target audience starts the process, not you. 

The consumer has an issue or a question first. They put this into a search engine like Google. And if your website has content that is SEO friendly, they find their way to your brand. Not the other way round.

The real strength of search as a media channel is that it starts with the consumer.

And it starts with the consumer essentially telling you that they have an issue or problem, that you can help them with. It’s a much easier job to do marketing and write content when you know what the consumer needs.

laptop google search

What search means for marketing

The basic premise of ALL marketing is that you research what your target audience needs. And then you create a solution to that need. You make that solution better than the competition. And this is what drives sales and profit for your business. 

But easier said, than done, right?

But, here’s the great thing about what search and SEO writing means for marketing. Search Engine Optimisation or SEO, is the series of skills and steps that you take to make sure that your website content and writing identifies and meets consumer needs. And that it reaches the most relevant consumers at the right time, and pulls them towards your brand.

Why you “do” search

So, search and SEO writing actually makes that basic process of marketing much easier, faster and more impactful.

When you apply SEO tools like Google Trends and Google Ads Keyword Research, you have direct access to information about what consumers want and need. What they search for tells you what people want or need. Free, up-to-date secondary market research available to anyone. 

From a content writing point of view, this research gives you ideas and topics to write about. Because, you can use this research to write content about how to solve those wants and needs. When this content solves consumer wants and needs, you provide a positive customer experience with your brand. And positive customer experience is what drives sales and profits. 

Search is important because if’s where the customer experience starts. It’s the first point of contact. If people can’t find you, they’ll never engage. If you always have to push out advertising and media, that’s expensive. Search is much more cost-effective, and more impactful with consumers.

So, if that’s “why” you should do SEO, the next obvious question then is “how” you do it..

Where SEO writing fits in

SEO writing is “how” you as a business, do search. 

It is a combination of three things. 

Firstly, secondary research skills using online tools to understand consumer needs based on what they search for. 

Then, a good understanding of search as a digital media plan, and how to make content on your website more search friendly. This impacts how you write online advertising copy, how you write blogs and how you create sales copy.

SEO writing - key skills - Venn diagram of secondary research, media and website and writing skills to show where SEO writing sits

And finally, still being able to apply solid writing skills to create content that is easy to read, adds value to consumers and grows your business.

Together, these skills increase the reach and engagement of your business writing. They help you to understand and meet consumer needs, and apply that on your website to grow your business. 

Understand consumer needs based on what they search for

In the thirty or so years since the internet started, an unprecedented volume of data, information and knowledge has been moved online. 

Latest estimates put the volume of data at some 40 trillion gigabytes. And as internet users, every one of us has access to all of this data with a few clicks on our mobile phone screens. The sum of human knowledge and experience at our fingertips. 

But is that what people really need? 

Well, yes and no. The ability to access all that information is important, but at any one moment in time, people don’t need 40 trillion gigabytes of information, they need one piece of information. And where search and SEO writing really matters from a marketing point of view, is when you can match what you write to that consumer’s need for that one piece of information. 

Whether it’s the opening times of your store, that nut-free but delicious cake recipe, or the footie scores and the latest reality TV show gossip, the ability to find that right piece of information at the right time out of those 40 trillion gigabytes of options, that’s what really matters. 

And that’s where search and SEO writing comes in. 

Search queries generate data that you can use in marketing

You probably use the ‘search’ functionality of the internet without giving it a second thought. We are all “unconsciously competent” at it.

We know we can input literally any thought or idea into that little white box on Google.

And we’ll find stuff out right away.

It’s just how the internet ‘works’.

Blurry street scene with person holding glasses one metre in from of them - getting clear vision is part of market research skills

But, when you think about search from a marketing point of view, and what happens when you hit enter to search, there’s a lot more going on.

Because every search query adds more data to the Google Search ‘machine’. And as a marketer or writer, you have access to that data to grow your business. Search data is an important secondary research tool you can use to understand consumer needs.

Search analysis tools

As we outline in our guide to secondary research, you can analyse what people search for online with a number of tools such as Google Autocomplete, Google Trends and Google Ads Keyword Research

Google Autocomplete

When you put a search query into Google, Autocomplete is the function that generates suggestions of the nine most likely search terms before you hit enter. Most people see this as a convenient way to find what they want quicker online. It predicts what you are looking for. 

But for marketers, it’s a useful insight tool. Because Google’s own data drives those autocomplete predictions. Google Autocomplete shows you those predictions based on the most common and most engaged with search terms around the topic. 

Just think about that for a moment. For whatever topic you write about, you can get an instant sense check of what interests people about that topic. From a business writing point of view, this means you can write on topics that are more relevant and more likely to reach a bigger part of your target audience.

So, if you look at this example from our writing blogs guide, you can see related or common search terms around writing blogs.

These Autocomplete predictions give us ideas to help narrow down the focus of what to write about. 

It’s a great place to start to research what needs your target audience have. These needs help you identity topics to write about. 

But of course, interesting as these predictions are, the tool clearly has some limitations. 

 

Writing blogs - screengrab of Google Autocomplete for writing blogs

Those nine related search terms are what Google think you, based on your search history will be looking for. They are not necessarily what will fit your target audience. And it only gives you a list. There’s no indication of the relative scale of the number of searches against each other. Or how timely the search information is.

For example, you cannot tell how many people search on that first suggested term versus the second one. Or the ninth one. 

You cannot tell if a term is always really popular. Or it is just temporarily popular? You cannot tell if it is increasing or declining in popularity.

Google Trends

So, to get deeper insight into what people search on, you should also look at Google Trends.

This is a free service where you can compare different search terms with each other. You can get a history of their relative popularity going back as far as 2004.

This helps you identity for example, seasonal spikes such as in the vegan ice cream case study we cover in our guide to secondary research.

Google Trend screenshot - Vegan, ice cream, vegan ice cream

You can adjust the geographic coverage. And you can narrow your research down to quite specific timeframes with Google Trends.

To use it for SEO writing, you would start with broad topics. You would then look for related search terms and terms that were growing in popularity. This gives you a good indicator of the needs of your target audience based on what they search for. This research helps you write content based on a more specific query or question. It means that what you write about is more likely to be interesting and relevant to the target audience. 

Google Ads Keyword Research tool

As we cover in our guide to digital media, there are two types of search engine marketing. There is organic search, which you can impact by the quality of the content on your website. We’ll come on to that in more detail shortly. But there’s also paid search (known as Pay-per-Click or PPC). You pay to appear top of the search lists with sponsored search result posts. 

As part of Google Ads information services, you can access the Keyword Planner tool with Google Ads. The aim of this is to help you choose keywords to bid on for paid search. But, because it also indicates the number of searches on those keywords, and how competitive the bidding on these keywords are, it’s also another useful tool to generate ideas and topics to write about. It gives you a lot of direction on the popularity of certain keywords and phrases that people search on. 

While not strictly an SEO tool (as it’s to support paid rather than organic search), it does have SEO writing uses. If you haven’t already, we highly recommend signing up with Google Ads. All you need is a Gmail account to sign-up.

The Keyword Research tool is accessible through the top menu when you log in to Google Ads. We recommend you start with a couple of keywords that you think might be relevant for your article. Look at the volume of searches and how competitive the keyword search term is. 

Look at the keyword suggestions to see if you can find less obvious keywords and phrases that you can build in to your writing. 

Google Ads Keywords tool

Even if you never run a paid search campaign, you can still use it as a research tool. But when you do run a paid search campaign, it give you even more specific information about the number of searches. 

From an SEO writing point of view, you’ll be able to use this tool to help identify ideas, topics and even words that are more likely to be found through search. 

Identify more commonly used words

For example, when we were writing the section on market research on this site, we started calling the section ‘consumer insight’. 

Except after using the Keyword Planner, we found that ‘market research’ was a much more commonly searched term than consumer insight. More searches on “market research” meant if we used that term rather than “consumer insight”, we could get our website content on that topic in front of more people. 

And that would mean more potential visitors to our website. So that’s what we did all the way through our market research guides.

(We’ve got a whole article on using ‘market research’ versus ‘consumer insight’ by the way)  

Another example of how to use Google Ads Keyword Research tool

When we started to write this whole section on writing skills, we weren’t 100% clear on what the topics would be. So, we used the Google Ads Keyword Research tool to help us generate ideas.

We started with very broad topics like ‘writing’. ‘writing skills’, ‘how to write better’ and ‘get better at writing’ as some example topics we might want to write about.

From this short list, the Keyword Research Tool was able to give us a list of suggestions which we could then review. We could then decide if they were relevant for the target audience. So, some suggestions like ‘essay writing’ and ‘letter writing’ were not relevant. Those we ignored.

But we found some suggestions like ‘persuasive writing’ and ‘business proposal’ which generated a new set of ideas for keywords to research. And from those ideas, we arrived at ‘business writing’, ‘advertising copy’ and ‘sales copywriting’.

So you can see how we were able to go from broad “writing” down to much more specific ideas. Like SEO writing for example.

Which is how we arrived at the idea for this article. 

Other search tools you can use

Those who work regularly in SEO writing will use these three tools from Google often. But they are not the only tools you can use. 

You can also use tools like answerthepublic.com for example. Here, you input a general topic and it finds the most commonly related questions to those topics. It works on the same basic principles as Google Autocomplete, but is a bit more practical to use and generates a wider range of ideas. It’s another tool you can use to generate ideas and topics to write about. 

There are also a number of SEO tools like Ahrefs, Moz and SEMrush where you can analyse competitor websites. You can identify who your competitor websites are by searching on the topics that interest you, and see who tops the current search rankings. Then you can enter those sites into Ahrefs, Moz or SEMrush and get an SEO analysis of their sites. 

This competitor research will give you ideas on keywords they use. It will give you information on backlinks they have set up and how well their sites perform from a search point of view. These give you further insights about what to write about and how to set it up on your own website.

From research to writing

So, after you have research on keywords that are the most relevant to your target audience, the next step is to actually start writing content. Whether this is for advertising, a blog, general website content or as sales copy, you should use the research on Keyword to create a list of ideas, topics and keywords.

At this stage, you also want to set business objectives. The business objective of any writing you create or commission for your business is to change the way consumers think, feel or act. You need to think about how you will measure this. Can you track it through website analytics? Or do you need to commission market research?

And when it comes to SEO writing, you obviously want the biggest number of relevant consumers to find and read that content. How many people do you want to see the search summary (impressions) and visit the site (Click through rate)?

You’ll also need to be clear on whether you will write your own copy, which you might well do for your website. But if it’s advertising copy, you might well use a freelancer or agency. 

For the purposes of this guide, we’ll assume you write your own copy for a blog or website page. But you can apply the same principles to review and approve writing that someone else has done. 

How to write with SEO in mind

The way you write needs to fit with the brand identity, the business objectives and the needs of the target audience. But from an SEO writing point of view, there are further specific writing factors to consider. 

Avoid keyword stuffing

When you have done the research and identified a keyword or keyword phrase, you then need to work out how and how often to include that keyword when you write.

 

Writing - person typing text into a laptop

You need to include it often enough so that Google’s search algorithm recognises it as an important part of the purpose of the article. But you need to avoid using it too much, as you run the risk of being seen to be keyword stuffing.

Keyword stuffing is a practice that dates back to the early days of Google. To get your webpage to appear for a search term, you would repeatedly use the same keyword over and over on a page. Even if the content on that page didn’t actually serve the purpose of what people were looking for. This was not a good experience for the user. 

So, Google has worked hard to make sure search results point more to better quality content that meets a searcher’s needs. Google tries to make sure that searchers see results from credible websites that meet the needs of the user. Pages that get stuffed with keywords but don’t meet the needs of the user, get penalised and don’t appear in searches. 

It’s a fine balance when you write website content to include the keyword enough times, but not so much it feels unnatural. You need to be able to include it in the right context so that the consumer finds it appropriate to what they have searched on. 

Use exact match

When you do choose to use a keyword or phrase, make sure you try to match the way it is phrased from your research. From a pure writing point of view, it’s fine to use a synonym or paraphrase, but the search algorithms may not recognise this. 

This can be challenging to avoid sounding repetitive. It means you need to be careful in the keywords and phrases you choose to highlight. So for example, “writing blogs” as we cover in that guide was fairly easy to work naturally into the copy. 

But “how to get started with writing” which we had in a now deleted article was much more challenging to use repeatedly in the same article. 

SEO and punctuation

One thing to consider is that the search algorithms usually ignore punctuation. This can sometimes help you overcome repetition issues. So for example if your keyword phase was “business writing”, you could split those two words across two sentences and it would still count as a key phrase.

e.g. This skill is important for your business. Writing can add a lot of value. 

Linking – internal and external

The other key point to consider when SEO writing is how you link the text to other parts of the internet. If you reference a particular point, or think the reader might want to find out more about a particular topic, you need to set up hyperlinks to that content when you publish the article. 

These links can be internal to your website. They can point to another part of your website where the reader can find out more about a specific topic. 

Or they can also be external and point to another website, if your website doesn’t have the right information. 

Search engines see links as positive, because they are there to help the reader. They essentially ‘glue’ content together across websites. Google likes you to have a combination of both internal and external links on your pages. 

These links should feel natural where you can. It’s considered better practice to have them embedded into the text rather than overtly called out as links. So, for example, it’s better to say “we could talk about how to improve advertising copy” than to say “click on this link to read about advertising copy.” 

Follow and Nofollow links

For external links, you should decide whether to make these “Follow” or “Nofollow” links. 

When you set a link as Follow, it tells the Google search bots to register your link between your website and the external website. If you are a popular website, this effectively boosts the popularity of the linked website by authenticating the authority of the link. But if you do not wish to pass on this popularity or link juice as it’s sometimes known, you can set the link to NoFollow. 

To the website user, they won’t see any difference, the link will still work, but Google won’t recognise the value of the NoFollow link. 

 The more that other sites link to your site, the higher your perceived Site Authority is. In the world of SEO, this is called Domain Authority and sites like Ahrefs, Moz and SEMrush can help you identity your sites authority and also those of your competitors. 

Publishing and technical set-up

When you have written the content for your webpage, there are a number of additional steps you need to cover when you publish the content on the webpage.

These steps also help to boost your SEO performance. They make the content more search engine friendly. 

So, even though our included the keywords or phrases when you wrote the content, you need to make sure this also sits in the right places in the Content Management Systems to make it super clear to the search bots.

This information is called the Metadata for the website page. 

For example, you should aim to include the exact keyword or keyphrase in the title of your page, in the opening paragraph and use it in at least some of the sub-headlines of the text.

The search bots look in these key places. When you place the keyword or keyphrases there, the search algorithm will be more likely to recognise the link between the keyword and the content. 

 

Google M and Ms

The snippet

You should also make sure to include the keyword or phrase in the snippet. The snippet is the short text description of the content that appears in the search results.

If you do not complete the snippet information, Google will automatically try to make the best 160 character description from your text. But these may not be what you want to appear in the search results.

It’s important to write your own snippet to make the content sound as interesting and relevant as possible. Your aim is to encourage your target audience to click on the search result. It should reflect your brand identity and have a strong call to action.

Post or article length

While there are no specific limits on how many words to use, you should definitely avoid writing that is too short. Anything under 300 words is unlikely to appear in search results. As we cover in our guide to writing blogs, blog content seems to optimise at between 1,500 and 2,000 words. 

Articles such as this one you are reading can go longer. But you need to make sure they contain enough interesting and relevant content all the way through. 

If people click on the page the page but then drop out quickly, long content won’t help boost search ranking. But if your SEO writing content keeps people reading all the way to the end, Google’s search algorithm will see that as a positive. This will help that page rise up the search rankings as Google will see it as a better quality page. 

Images and videos

While not strictly SEO writing, it’s also worth considering if you can use photography or video content to make the overall article more interesting or appealing. When you can break up large blocks of text with relevant images or videos, this creates more engagement. Google sees this as a positive. 

You should make sure that any images or videos you use have appropriate ALT-tags when you publish them. These are written descriptions of what is on the image. They are useful for accessibility e.g. for blind people who depend on voice readers to read out website content. And they are useful for when users might have wifi or mobile data coverage issues. The ALT-tag will display when image file sizes are too large to download.

Publishing tools – Metadata

Depending on your website Content Management System (CMS), you should be able to access more online tools to help refine your metadata inputs. 

On WordPress sites like this one, you can use Yoast to audit your metadata on every page. It will flag issues and recommend improvements. 

Tools like these can check that the focus keyword or phrase appears in the title for example. They can check it appears early enough in the writing and in enough of the sub-headlines.

 

Three brains working together

They can also check that the keyword or phrase appears in the URL address of the page.

These tools will also look at the length of the total article. They will tell you if the keyword appears too little, too often or is about right. And, similarly, they will also check the number of internal and external links. They will direct you, and tell you if the number of links is in the right range for the length of the article.

Publishing tools – Readabiliity

Tools like Yoast will also run readability checks on the content you write. While Google’s search algorithm won’t directly audit the readability of your site, it will audit how people interact and engage with the content. And the more “readable” the content is, the more readers will interact and engage with it. This can boost your “quality” score with Google. 

These basic readability checks act as a kind of robot editing for your writing. They won’t audit the context of what you say. But they can point out any obvious challenges in the way that you write it. 

For example, Yoast will flag if you have sections that are too long without being broken up by sub-headlines. It will flag if you start too many sentences with the same word. Or use sentences and words that are long and difficult to read. 

If you over-use the passive voice when writing, it will direct you to use the active voice more. Writing in the active voice creates sharper and easier to read writing. (check out Yoast’s guide to passive and active writing, well worth a read).

Tools like Yoast are often free or bundled in with your CMS. But they also come with additional paid features for more advanced users. But the basic free tool is good for most purposes. 

For non WordPress users, check what’s available on your website CMS system. Or use an online tool such as the one at WebFX. We haven’t tested too many of the competitors to Yoast, as we’ve found it pretty straightforward to use. But if you check it out and it’s not the right tool for you, you can review of alternative search tools.

Don’t forget you are still writing for an actual person

While all this technology helps boost your understanding of what people want and need, and how to make it more search friendly, you still have to remember that what you write will be read by an actual person.

Your business objective depends on an actual person thinking, feeling or doing something different. 

Woman looking at mobile phone screen at train station

You need to bear in mind the key elements of business writing and being a better writer so that your SEO-filtered content is still interesting, relevant and engaging enough for the target audience to read it.

The technology, particularly the research tools, helps you understand the phrasing that searchers use. This is a particularly strong way to boost the impact of your writing skills. You can use the same language and syntax when you write. So you will be playing back the words that readers use themselves. This makes it more likely that what you write will be relevant and understood better. 

Writing in a style that matches how your target audience thinks or articulates ideas is good practice. It creates empathy and engagement. It makes it more likely that the reader will enjoy and engage with your writing. You’ll reach more consumers and have a better chance of hitting your business writing objectives. 

Measuring your business writing objectives

The final area of SEO writing is then to track and measure how your writing performs against its objectives.

You should include measurement of key pages as part of your digital data and analytics plan. Set goals in Google Analytics and check how the pages perform in your SEO Webmaster Console reporting. 

Typical measures would include the number of visits, the time spent on the page, the bounce rate and the number of clicks or other interactions.

Marketing technology dashboard example on a laptop

Compare the different topics and subject areas that you cover. Build a dashboard to work out which ones are more popular than others. What learnings can you take from what worked and what didn’t that can inform your future business writing?

Consider how to include your business writing in your overall digital media plan and the set-up of your website. These key areas interact to help you drive reach and engagement of the content. They help you to deliver against your business objectives. 

SEO writing – conclusion

In very simple terms, SEO writing is a way of applying the basic process of marketing. But you also use secondary research; digital media and website skills, and solid business writing skills to create positive experiences between your brand and its target audience. 

With SEO writing, you use online tools to research consumer needs based on what they search for.

It means you can write content that taps into consumer needs, creates experiences that grow your business, and generates more data that you can use to create even better writing experiences in the future.

 

SEO writing - key skills - Venn diagram of secondary research, media and website and writing skills to show where SEO writing sits

When you apply SEO writing skills like setting focus keywords or phrases, metadata and performance tracking help you deliver more reach and engagement for your brand through your website.

But, remember search is also a way for consumers to find you. 

It is a way to create exposure for your brand by delivering answers to questions and issues that consumers have. It’s part of your digital media plan and has implications for how you set your website up. You need to understand how search engines ‘read’ your website to make sure what you publish is search friendly.

Remember you are writing for two audiences when you publish online. 

You want your ‘real’ audience to enjoy and get value out of the content. But if you use the right SEO writing tools and techniques, you make it much more likely that readers will actually be able to find your content in the first place.

Three-brains and Writing

We have a lot of experience and expertise in business writing, and especially in SEO writing. 

From creating and commissioning writing to the editing and refining of it for marketing and e-Commerce purposes.

We specialise in coaching and advising on how to raise your business writing skills. Whether you use writers, manage it in-house or want to build your own writing skills, we can help. 

If you want to know more about how we can support your business writing needs  through our coaching and consulting services, click the button below to get in touch.

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