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Content Marketing

How to Write Articles for SEO That People Love (9-Step Guide)

Written by Simon McMahon

November 29, 2022

A term that has become very popular in recent years is “SEO writing.”

But how is writing articles for SEO different from regular writing? Are there any SEO writing tips or tricks that can help your article skyrocket up Google Search?

Well... yes, there are!

I’ve written over a hundred articles that have ranked for tens of thousands of keywords over the last ten years.

As Eleven’s Lead SEO, I don’t write as much these days. However, I ensure our content is optimized for search engines—and for people too.

You can find all my secrets below in this 9-step guide.

Step 1: Let Competitors Do Your Keyword Research

If there’s only one thing you take away from this guide, it’s that over 90% of all blog posts receive zero traffic from Google.

Want to be in the 10% that does get traffic? Then you need to get proficient at keyword research. We’ve found the keyword research method I discuss below to be very effective. Surprisingly, it’s not discussed that often online

.If you’re a freelance writer, you might not have too much input at this stage. You can still use this method to suggest alternative keywords that stand a better chance of ranking in the SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages).

Many keyword tools, such as Ahrefs, Semrush, Moz, and KW Finder, exist. Whatever tool you use, the first step is learning how “powerful” your website is. You can then target keywords your competition, or equivalent websites, are ranking for.Ahrefs provides this website score as a “Domain Rating” (DR).

Other keyword tools might give a “Domain Authority” DA score. The number is not too important as they are 3rd party metrics (ie. not from Google). However, they are very useful to compare websites.

The next step is to find similar websites writing about the same topics. To find them, enter a search term related to your industry, or use the Organic Search tab in Ahrefs.

On the right side, you’ll find a list of 10 competitors.

The first competitor on the list has a Domain Rating (DR) of 15, much lower than ours. That makes me very interested in its top-performing pages.

In Ahrefs, you can find competitors in Site Explorer, under Organic Search.

Please note, I’ve edited this screen grab slightly to help it fit better on the screen.

This image shows our competitor’s top five articles bring in over 8,000 organic visitors (estimated by Ahrefs) every month. Ahrefs also gives us the main keyword and the position of our target website in the SERPs.

As it is a direct competitor, I will note down all of these keywords. To build up a big bank of keywords, keep finding and inputting competitor websites.

If you don’t have Ahrefs, you can find a workaround in other SEO tools to use the same concept.

Step 2: Establish the Type of Article Needed

Having a good keyword is only the first step to ranking on Google. Before writing, you`ll need to establish what type of article Google—and by extension, its users—favors.

Blog articles usually fall into the following types:

  • How-to guides
  • Listicles/round-ups
  • Original research
  • Product reviews
  • Videos
  • Image-heavy content

To know which one to use, type your target keyword into Google.  Here’s an example with “Do I need a new laptop?”:

These search results show writing a listicle will bring the best results. The top pages also use “signs” or “ways” in their title, which is another good hint. Consider another keyword, “How To Tie Shoes For Kids”:

For this keyword, Google shows YouTube videos at the top of the SERPs. It’s highly unlikely a 3,000-word how-to guide without a video is going to rank.

Establishing the article type should be performed before you write every brief/outline. This gives your content the best chance of ranking high in Google.

Step 3: Get the Word Count Right

As we’ve previously written, getting the word count right is vital for SEO success. One size does not fit all.

If all the top search results have 3,000 words plus on “The benefits of switching to Windows 11”, a 600-word article is unlikely to trouble the top 10.

There is a caveat to note here.

If a website has a lot of authority (as shown by a high domain rating) or the article gets many backlinks, it’s possible to rank with much fewer words.

Conversely, newer websites with less domain authority can rank with longer word counts than average. These two things need to be kept in mind when analyzing the search results.

But how do we get the word count right?

SEO tools like Ahrefs, SEO Surfer, and Frase can provide word counts for the top-ranking articles. To look at individual websites, you can use the free browser extension SEO Minion.

There’s also a bulk word count checker on Searchbloom.com.

Be aware these word count checkers are not always 100% accurate. They count all the words on a page, and this might include calls-to-action, advertisements, and other unrelated content.

That’s why it’s a good idea to take an average from comparable blog pages (i.e. not including forums, home pages, product pages, etc.) and remove any outliers.

Step 4: Write Titles for Google & Humans

The page title tag is a powerful SEO ranking factor. It also entices humans to click on your search results. Follow these 5 tips to write the best title tags.

1. Keep titles under 60 characters to avoid truncation

Long titles in the search results get truncated by Google.

This is confusing and causes people to choose other websites. It also negatively affects the click-through rate (CTR), which is bad for SEO.

2. Avoid short title tags to prevent Google from rewriting them

Industry research finds that Google rewrites too long or too short title tags 61% of the time. The results are often less than spectacular. A short title usually has more scope for extra keywords or “power words” to make it more enticing.

3. Include your primary keyword in the title

You’ll be surprised how many people forget this golden rule. 

4. Let the search results guide you

Check what's currently ranking in Google and copy all the best elements. For example, here is the keyword “3 Days San Diego”:

The top 3 search results all have the word “itinerary” in their titles. This suggests we should also include “itinerary” in our title. It might also be a good idea to structure our article around it (as discussed in Step 2).

The top search results also use words like “unmissable, perfect, ultimate”. Using these kinds of power words can really make your page titles stand out.

Another trick is writing words and numbers in parentheses, and adding the year (as shown above).

5. Use a Headline Tool

There are some free headline analyzer tools like Coschedule and Monster Insights that can help you write compelling page titles.

Step 5: Optimize Your Headings

John Mueller is a Search Advocate at Google. He frequently interacts with SEOs on Twitter and gives advice. Back in 2020, he discussed the power of header tags:

So headings on a page help us to better understand the content on the page. Headings on the page are not the only ranking factor that we have. We look at the content on its own as well.

But sometimes having a clear heading on a page gives us a little bit more information on what that section is about.

Consider the following headings:

  • Pros
  • Cons
  • FAQs

In isolation, these generic headings could be used for any topic. To follow John Mueller’s advice, we should be more descriptive.

Here’s an example. Let’s assume we were writing an article about turmeric's cancer-fighting properties. The above headings could be optimized like this:

  • The benefits of turmeric
  • Turmeric side effects
  • Turmeric FAQs

To find these headers and subheadings, you can use a keyword tool:

You can also use Google’s autocomplete function to get sub-topic ideas.

These are some great additions for a pros/cons section. In addition, you can check the “People Also Ask” results if they exist for your keyword.

One final tip is to ensure your header tags follow a logical order. For example, avoid placing an H4 tag directly after an H2 tag.

Step 6: Don’t Overly Worry About Keywords

Keywords have been important since the very first search engines appeared on the net. I recommend placing primary keywords:

  • In the page title
  • In the meta description
  • In the first few lines of the introduction
  • In some of the headings (along with keyword variants)
  • Liberally throughout the article

However, it’s worth focusing on providing a relevant, useful answer for the search query as much as on how many keywords are used.

How can we do that?

The best way is to look at the competitors (the top results in search) and note the topics they cover. SEO Tools like Frase and Surfer SEO can make this process quicker.

Then, it’s a matter of taking the best topics from each article and putting them together into one comprehensive resource. To be most effective, you should also add an original twist on the theme.

This could be:

- Updating with the latest data/best practices
- Offering a counter-viewpoint that makes people think
- Adding first-person experiences that demonstrate expert knowledge of the subject matter

Forums, Quora, and Reddit subreddits are great places to pick up these content ideas. Alternatively, AnswerThePublic uses Google data to provide a fast overview of any topic.

With its natural language processing (NLP) algorithms, Google is becoming smarter at detecting context with every update. Optimizing for topics—with an eye on keywords—can help your article abide by SEO best practices for years to come.

Step 7: Write for Netizens Not English Teachers

Here are two quick stats that might surprise you.

1. In the USA, the average reading level is Grade 7.
2. In the UK, it’s just 9 years old (Grade 4 in the USA).

Yet many writers can’t resist the temptation of using complex words and long sentences. Both of these increase a blog post’s reading age. They can also alienate a large part of your audience.

Now you might be thinking that’s okay…I’m writing to an educated audience.

But imagine your target avatar is riding the subway to work. Her bag is in one hand and her phone in another. She sees a link to your blog post on social media, her stop is fast approaching…

Will she read all of your blog article?

This might be an extreme example, but research finds people only read 28% of all the text on a web page.

This means our writing must be easy to scan. Some tips for doing that include:

  • Replacing complex words with simpler alternatives
  • Cutting out long, run-on sentences
  • Reducing fluff and filler
  • Including more white space 
  • Using bullet points

All these things help time-challenged readers navigate your blog articles. It also encourages them to keep reading until they reach your calls to action (CTAs) rather than going back after being greeted with big walls of text. And it benefits SEO by increasing the time-on-page metric.

The Hemingway App is really useful for helping you reduce the reading age without dumbing down the content.

Step 8: Optimize for Featured Snippets

Featured snippets sit prominently at the top of search results and Eleven currently ranks for over 50 of them.

To rank for Featured Snippets, head over to Google and discover if they exist for your main keywords.

If they do, they will take the following forms:

1. Numbered lists
2. Bullet lists
3. Short paragraphs
4. Tables
5. Videos

As writers, we’re only interested in 1–3.

Once you’ve identified a featured snippet exists, you should include (not copy) the content and format into your article. Look for any ways to improve what is currently shown.

It’s worth noting that one article can rank for many different featured snippets. Drop the URL of a competitor´s article into an SEO tool to find them.

In Ahrefs, you need to go to Site Explorer, paste in the URL, and set the following filter:

This will bring up a list of all the Featured Snippets they currently hold. Make a list and add the most relevant to your article.

Step 9: Optimize for "People Also Ask" FAQs 

“People Also Ask” boxes are another permanent fixture in Google’s Search results. Here is one where Eleven features:

The process of optimizing for FAQs is similar to Featured Snippets.

First, you should head to Google and check if they exist for your keyword or parent keyword.

For example, there currently isn’t a People Also Ask box for “Best Laptop Backpack UK”. In this instance, I would search for “Best Laptop Backpack” to bring one up:

If you click on a question, another question will be added to the list. To save time, you could use a keyword tool like Surfer SEO or Frase (shown below).

As discussed in Step 6, some of these questions should already be included in your article.

If not, or you can’t figure out where to put them, adding an FAQ Section can benefit SEO.

Here are some tips for doing just that:

  • Add a keyword into the title, e.g., “Laptop Bag FAQs”
  • Use a H2 tag for the question and regular text for the answer
  • Answer the question in two to three sentences
  • Use (or recommend) FAQ Schema to further SEO optimization

Summary

Writing SEO articles begins and ends with the search results.

When planning your latest blog article, check it matches the type of content Google shows in the top places.

When writing, don’t overly focus on keywords. Remember the target audience is always people and never machines. Focus instead on providing the best answer for the search query.

Do all this, and your new blog article stands the best chance of SEO success.

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