SEO Content Strategy: How to Write Articles that Rank

When it comes to ranking well in Google search results, there are several factors to consider. Improving website health, targeting keywords, leveraging social media, and many other strategies are just a few of the ways that you can try to improve your position in search. Perhaps the most important tool at your disposal when it comes to SEO is content – developing an SEO content strategy is vital to improving your business’ visibility in search results.

SEO content is all about answering questions, or queries. When people search for something in Google, they’re looking for an answer. Writing comprehensive, high-quality content can help your website rank higher in Google, bring more people to your website, and establish you as an authority in your field.

What is SEO content?

SEO content is content that is specifically created to rank in search results, or help your website rank in search results. To do so, content created to help improve your SEO is often oriented to specific search queries – the words, phrases, and questions people search when looking for information.

Content is a vital part of an effective SEO strategy. Over 90% of all pages online get zero organic traffic – or people visiting your site – from Google searches; however, utilizing content in your SEO strategy can have a significant impact on the traffic you receive. Hubspot has reported that businesses that publish regularly on their blogs get 350% more traffic than those that don’t.

Inbound Traffic
Source: Backlinko

A strong content strategy can help search engines identify what your website is about, which can improve your ranking in relevant results, thus increasing your visibility to your target audience. Quality content can not only help you increase traffic to your site, but your credibility and expertise on the topics you produce content about.

What goes into an effective SEO content strategy?

First things first: I can’t emphasize the importance of having an SEO content strategy enough. Not utilizing SEO content is a missed opportunity, as content is key to improving your ranking and establishing your brand voice and expertise online.

While you want to write your content with SEO in mind, you don’t want SEO to be the driving factor. Write for people, not search engines. While you may be able to rank okay with optimized content, if people aren’t clicking, reading, and sticking around, it won’t help you in the long run.

Since Google’s Hummingbird algorithm update – and subsequent updates like RankBrain and Bert – the focus for content has shifted from keyword stuffing and writing for search engines to thinking about the users reading your content, and if you’re answering their questions. It’s not just about traffic, but traffic conversion – content that doesn’t keep users on a page for long, or causes them to leave without clicking through to another page on your site, won’t help your business or your ranking in search results.

Plus, content can be an opportunity to develop your brand voice and establish your business as an authority in your industry. Stronger, person-oriented content will not only have a positive impact on your SEO, but on your reputation as well.

What makes good SEO content?

What your content looks is dependent on your industry and company identity, but there are general rules of thumb to keep in mind when considering quality:

Content should answer a question.

The goal of SEO content is to have it rank for specific keywords – and those keywords are largely informed by search queries. These search queries are words, phrases, and questions that users search to find more information, so it’s important to identify the question at the root of the search in order to answer it most effectively.

As you determine the question you’re answering with your content, consider search intent. Search intent is the reason or intention behind a query – what is the reader looking for an answer to with that particular phrase? The average #1 ranking page will also rank in the top 10 results for nearly 1,000 other relevant keywords, so answering the intended question – instead of targeting one keyword too directly or literally – can also help you rank for related phrases.

Content should be unique.

Content that doesn’t stand out doesn’t have a very good chance of ranking in search results. Identify what is missing in other answers to similar questions, or how your expertise or perspective can contribute to your answer. Give users a reason to read your content over the other answers that are out there. And there will be several – in the first quarter of 2021 alone, over five million blog posts were posted per day on WordPress sites alone.

Content should be for the user, not the search engine.

Although the purpose of SEO content is to rank in search results, avoid writing for the search engine. Since the 2013 Hummingbird update, which aimed to improve user experience by having the search engine process the intention behind search queries as opposed to literal matches, Google has rolled out several algorithm updates designed to penalize low-quality content and reward high-quality content that provides value to users. Addressing pain points – or the problem users are hoping to address with their searches – will not only benefit your prospective customers and target audience, but will have a more positive impact on your search results.

Additionally, high-quality content written for users is more likely to result in users spending longer time on the page and clicking through to other pages on your site. Pages that experience a high bounce rate – the percentage of visitors to a website who navigate away from the site after viewing only one page – can actually experience penalties in search results, ultimately harming your SEO efforts. There is a strong correlation between time on site and Google rankings, so keeping user experience at the forefront is a must.

SEO Content Guide

Developing your SEO content strategy takes planning, thought, and patience. While the benefits of an effective SEO content strategy can more than justify the effort put in, it may take time to see those results. Here, we’ve outlined a step-by-step guide to help you establish your own SEO content strategy.

Before You Write

In order to have an effective SEO content strategy, you have to make a plan before you start writing. A plan will not only ensure that your content strategy is sustainable, but will help you define your goals.

  • Set goals. Before you start writing, establish and clearly define your long- and short-term goals. Goals for your content strategy will not only inform your overall approach, but help you establish benchmarks and other ways to measure success.

    The general question you’ll likely ask yourself is something along the lines of “why am I developing a content strategy?” However, that may be too general to be helpful. Some other questions to consider are:
  • Are you trying to send more customers to your website? Followers on social media? Establish a stronger presence online?
  • Do you want to improve your ranking in search results? For which queries?
  • What does your web presence look like now? How do you want it to look?
  • What would a successful content strategy do to positively impact your business? What are your expectations?
  • Identify your audience. As we talked about earlier, the best content is content that addresses questions or pain points of your target audience. In order to write content that best serves and informs your audience, you have to identify who that audience is. Who are you writing for?

    When you’re identifying your audience, you don’t just want to identify who they are – though that is important to do – but what they’re looking for online, or the intent behind their searches (what your target audience is asking about, common questions, etc.). Current customer reviews, customer support interactions, and forums related to your company or industry can all be valuable tools for gaining insight into the questions your audience wants answered
  • Find what sets your brand apart. A key element of developing a strong SEO content strategy is not just defining your own area of expertise to write content about, but to identify what sets you or your company apart from the competition. Why should readers come to you for insight?

    Understanding what sets your brand apart will not only help you differentiate yourself from competition, but can help guide your overall content strategy by impacting your voice, style, and approach to certain topics. As stated earlier, the vast majority of pages online get no organic traffic, so you have to find what makes you unique in order to write truly unique content.
  • Brainstorm topic areas. Once you have identified your target audience and what sets your brand apart, you are ready to begin brainstorming topics. Points of expertise, areas you can provide unique insight on, and pain points expressed by your target audience are all things to consider. What have customers asked you about? Are there any gaps when it comes to content put out by other players in your industry? What questions would a prospective customer ask to find your business?

    As you brainstorm topics, consider three to five larger topic areas, with more specific pieces of content under one or two of these topics. This can help you maintain a focus while also allowing flexibility to avoid being too limited.
  • Identify keywords. After you have established potential topics for your content, brainstorm keywords based on what you think users will put into search engines to get to those topics. Check out our recent keyword research guide to learn more about determining which keywords to target.

  • Look at what’s ranking for those keywords. As you identify keywords, be sure to check for what is already ranking. What kind of content is ranking? What about related keywords? Sometimes checking out the results can give you insight on how competitive a keyword is, or what types of content rank well for that particular keyword.

    When checking out the search results for a particular query, don’t forget to look at the suggested and related search terms (the phrases populate in the search bar and at the bottom of Google’s results page) and the People Also Ask feature in results. These can all provide additional insight into related questions and topics that searchers are wondering about, giving you more keywords to target or ideas for how to discuss a specific topic.
  • Create a content calendar. Effective content strategy requires consistency and organization, so be sure to create a content or editorial calendar to keep track of your posts, topics, and target keywords. You can also keep track of ranking progress and traffic in this document to see how your pieces perform over time.

As You Write

Once you have determined what you want to write about, it’s time to write content that will rank and resonate with your audience.

  • Outline, research, and draft. Once you have picked a topic for your next piece of content, it’s time to write the thing! Take the time to outline and research your topic. Not only will this ensure your piece is accurate – and that you as the writer are well-informed – but it will give you a sense of the other content that is out there and what you’re up against. Thorough research and outlines can also help to simplify the writing process, cutting down on rewrites and writer’s block.
  • Aim for a specific word count. Generally speaking, the longer your piece of content, the better. Longer content doesn’t only help search engines better understand what that page is about, but will likely provide a better answer to users’ search queries. Longer content also tends to receive more backlinks than shorter content, which can have a positive and significant impact on your website’s ranking in search results.
Referring Domains
Source: Backlinko

According to Backlinko’s Google ranking signals study, the top 10 results for most keywords have an average word count of roughly 1,450 words. This can be a good target word count to aim for, though some topics may benefit from a longer piece.

  • Consider readability. When organizing and formatting your content, make sure to consider readability for both users and search engines. Content that is difficult to understand, poorly organized, does not answer search queries clearly and directly, or does not make use of sections and headings can risk lower performance in Google search results.

    To improve readability, include clear and defined sections with headers, and use lists and subsections whenever possible. Answer the question addressed by your post early on, and make sure your content is accessible to readers and free of too much jargon.
  • Use your keyword effectively. While your keyword should not dictate your writing process, make sure to optimize your content for your keyword before posting. Regarding SEO, the general consensus is that the target keyword should make up between 0.5% to 2.5% of the words in your content. Too low, and search engines may not recognize what your content is about. Too high, and you may run the risk of being penalized for keyword stuffing.

    In addition to including your keyword in the body of your content, make sure to include it in the title, slug, headers, categories and tags, and your meta description to help search engines and users more easily identify the general topic of your content.
  • Include other media and links. Include links when referencing information or data that is not internal to your business – not only is citing your information the right thing to do, but doing so can strengthen your overall piece. Additionally, media can be a valuable opportunity not only to strengthen your piece, but improve user experience by breaking up the text and providing additional resources – such as graphs or videos – to help them engage with your topic.

After You’ve Posted

Once you’ve posted your content, there are additional steps you can take to improve its performance and give it a boost.

  • Share on socials. Posting your content on your social media accounts will not only give your content an SEO boost, but can expand your reach and keep your socials active. Sharing your content on social media can also help you define your brand and further establish yourself as a thought-leader or expert in your industry.
  • Update your content. Don’t let pieces go stale! Your content can continue to work for you after you’ve posted it. Updating your content can help you ensure that it is up-to-date and accurate, and give you a little boost in rankings if you keep the information current, as Google prioritizes accurate and fresh content.
  • Track your progress. As we stated earlier when it comes to developing your goals, part of defining these goals is making it so that you can track your progress. Tracking the progress of your content in search results and when it comes to engagement can help you determine which of your pieces are the strongest, and give you insight on which topics or approaches resonate most with your audience.

    Look at engagement with your pieces on social media, and comments on the pieces themselves, as well as where they land in search results. Set up Google Search Console for your website, as it can also give you insight into how certain pages are performing and the engagement they receive.
  • Stay up-to-date on Google updates. SEO is constantly evolving, and so are Google’s ranking factors. Over the years, Google has updated its search algorithms to cut down on spammy content, keyword stuffing, and other SEO tricks in an effort to increase the ranking of high-quality content that provides value and answers to users, so keeping up with the latest updates can help you produce the best content possible.
  • Audit your content. Regularly checking to see which content performs well and which doesn’t will not only give you insight on what resonates with your audience, but can also help you decide which pieces to remove over time. Underperforming or out-of-date content can actually harm your website in the long run, so make sure to remove, update, or rework those pieces.

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