Content is for humans. You know, those living, breathing creatures with a pulse on the other side of the screen? Yep, even SEO-friendly content is, first and foremost, for them. But it’s a fine line to walk.
Even though humans will be reading it, algorithms will read it first. Consider them the Gandolf-style gatekeepers (“YOU SHALL NOT PASS,” anyone?) that stand between you, the top of the SERPs, and, ultimately, the eyeballs of your target humans. Thanks to those pesky products of artificial intelligence, writing in 2022 means learning how to write SEO-friendly content.
And it’s your lucky day because we're here to show you how.
Here are 7 top tips to write SEO-friendly content for humans.
What Makes Great SEO Content?
Great SEO content both answers the users’ initial question (the term they searched for) and satisfies their intent (what they wanted to achieve). Though the writing is certainly an important part of this one-two punch, your SEO strategy is equally as important.
Audit your SEO strategy to ensure you have a solid foundation. Foundation in place, it’s time to start building that SEO house with killer content that’s both Google and human-friendly.
7 Tips to Write for SEO
We said it before, and we’ll say it again: Don’t forget that your content is for humans. After all, it’s humans that will sign up for your newsletter or purchase your product, not Google algorithms or AI. The real challenge of writing SEO content is incorporating ranking signals without interrupting the flow that makes your content a joy to read.
Do all of the below to create SEO-friendly content. But, when in doubt, always think human.
Now, on to the good stuff:
1. Analyze the SERP
Google isn’t just a research tool for your target customer. SERPs are also a wealth of information for marketers — if you know what you’re looking for. To write solid SEO content, you need to understand three things: search intent, competition, and featured snippets. To do all three, you’ll start by plugging in your target keyword. This is where the analysis comes in.
You can assess search intent by looking at the types of ads that appear, the content that’s ranking, and the Google products that are listed. If you see Google Shopping, for example, it’s probably a transactional search. If you see the Knowledge Panel, it’s probably informational. If you see Google Maps, it may be navigational.
Informational search: For the term “best beaches,” Google shows listicles packed with information. This suggests that people who search for this term just want to learn.
Transactional Search: Notice that, for this search, Google is ranking the same organic results but including pricing and a CTA for Google Flights. This suggests that people searching this term are not only researching but trip planning — and may even be ready to book their trip.
Then, read the top five articles. Understand them well, since they are your competition. What questions do they answer? How did they phrase their headline? Did they include graphics or videos? You’ll need to one-up whatever they do, so be sure to thoroughly read and analyze each article.
Don’t just write what they write, either. Consider how you can add additional perspective or expertise so that your target reader is getting a little something extra from you that they won’t get in competing articles.
Finally, take a look at the featured snippets. These are a gold mine. Consider including content that appears in the snippets within your article. You can also incorporate People Also Ask queries as section headers in your article to send even more signals to Google that your content is relevant and valuable.
If you see a featured snippet like this, consider including similar information (and a similar format) in your own article.
Analyzing the SERP is critical because, in order to rank, you have to beat what’s already there and get ahead of position zero. That means if your competitors have a list of 10 things, yours better be 11. And if your end user wants to learn, you better have something unique to teach them.
2. Develop an Outline
Use your SERP analysis to develop a thorough outline for your content. Don’t worry about keyword placement just yet. Instead, this should determine your article structure. Consider:
- What sections will the article include?
- Where will you address “People Also Ask” questions?
- What internal and external links will you feature?
- What will the CTA be?
An outline will help you organize your SERP analysis and any other research you’ve completed to ensure you don’t miss a thing. You can also compare the article outline to the top-ranking articles for your term to double-check that you’ll beat them at their own game.
3. Write Engaging and Google-Friendly Headers
Your article headline (or the H1, in SEO speak) is the first thing a reader will see. It’s what will appear on your SERP, and it’ll also be the first line of copy on the page. Make it count.
This and other headers (H2s, H3s, and so on) should include your target keyword, but not at the cost of crafting something catchy. Don’t write something that sounds mechanical just for the sake of chucking in a keyword. Do, however, compare your headline to the articles that are already ranking. Use this to inform what your headline needs to highlight (a list, examples, best practices, etc.).
As important as your H1 is, don’t sleep on your section headers. A whole 79 percent of users simply scan a new piece of content. While some of them might go back for a more thorough read, for those that don’t, write section headers that are informative enough that they can follow along without reading every word.
4. Be Strategic About Keywords
Say you’re making a pasta salad and bell peppers are on the list of ingredients. Do you stick with just the red peppers, or do you go for a bell pepper rainbow? We say the more colors, the better. That’s how you should approach your keywords.
But before you get too keyword-happy, we're not suggesting that you include your target keyword every other word. What we are suggesting is that you also drop in related keywords. After all, you might search for a diner while your grandma is searching for a soda fountain, but ultimately you’re both after the same thing.
Strategically incorporating keyword variations will help your content reach a wider range of people — success! Be careful, though. While Google no longer uses keyword density as a ranking factor, keyword stuffing can still get you on the “do not rank” list.
5. Include Internal and External Links
Most people aren’t independent experts. They got their know-how from somewhere! And that’s totally okay and even expected. That’s why internal and external links are so valuable. Citing your sources and, better yet, incorporating stats from trusted entities can actually boost your authority. Links essentially create an association. So if you’re citing a trusted authority in your industry, a little of their shine can rub off on you.
Internal links can work similarly, except you’re keeping your authority to yourself. Google does consider user experience a ranking factor. If users click on links in your article, they’re staying on your site longer, which tells Google they’re satisfied. They might even find their way to your product, too — a real win-win!
Just be careful where you link. Consider linking from words and phrases other than your target or related keywords; otherwise, you might give the linked source the ranking signal rather than your own content.
6. Don’t Forget Captions!
Image captions are read 300 percent more than the body copy. Yes, you read that write. Turns out, those little phrases beneath images and videos actually draw a lot of eyeballs. That’s why SEO-friendly content doesn’t skip the captions.
Use captions as both an SEO tool and a conversion tool. Include your target or related keywords in your caption, but also consider including a CTA. Is the image a killer infographic? Ask your reader to sign up for your newsletter so they can see more great designs. Is it an excerpt from your white paper? Prompt the reader to download.
This boosts the experience of the page, which we already know helps with rankings. But it’s also valuable real estate for slipping in your keyword one extra time.
See how Rover uses this caption to add extra value for their reader and throw in another mention of "paw" and "protector."
7. Build Links
Off-page SEO matters. Even the most well-written content needs to make the rounds in order to rank, especially for highly-competitive terms. If your content is linked to by other reputable sources, Google will then consider your content worth the read. And if you’re worth the read, you’re worth the rank.
So how do you get more backlinks? For starters, don’t buy them. Blackhat SEO tactics like this will put you on the road to nowhere. Getting the right links the right way is all about the long game.
Make content that’s highly shareable. Develop relationships within your industry so other trustworthy companies will want to link to your content. And don’t forget to link to your own content either. A solid internal linking strategy can also work wonders as you move up in the SERPs.
Though we’ve covered how to write SEO-friendly content, that question is actually a little misleading. Great, SEO-friendly content requires so much more than good writing. It’s the pre-writing research, the optimization while writing, and the work you do after the writing is done to make your content really stand out.
With a little time and attention, these tactics will get you on the road to ranking. But to really make a difference, you’ll want to pair them with an effective SEO strategy that actually drives growth.