6 Crucial Steps to Write Top-Ranking SEO Articles in 2021
Creating SEO articles is a challenge that anyone who wants to run a successful website needs to overcome. Whether you’re trying to create fresh content for your private blog or for your company, good SEO writing practice is a necessity if you want to grow your site and reach an audience that cares about what you have to say.
At Eleven, we publish over 200 SEO articles every month on our clients’ behalf. We know that writing SEO content is something many bloggers and first-time website owners struggle with, and that’s why we’ve decided to put together six straightforward steps to meeting your SEO targets.
If you’ve already done some research, you’ve probably seen that countless guides claim SEO is as simple as writing quality content and putting your audience first. But how, exactly, should you go about doing that? By following the workflow detailed below, you’ll be able to quickly figure out what your audience is looking for and determine the best way to present your content.
What is search engine optimization (SEO)?
Whenever you search for something on the web, advanced algorithms will take the words you enter and use them to find relevant results among content indexed by the search engine. SEO is the name given to a bunch of techniques you can use to optimize elements of your web pages so that they rank above other results that come up for the same search terms.
Google doesn’t want people to be able to game its technology too easily, so it doesn’t say much in public about how its page ranking system actually works. However, it’s well known that page relevance and authority are two of the most important factors that Google’s algorithm considers.
Page relevance means exactly what you’d expect it to: it’s whether or not the content of the article relates to the search the user has made. To determine this, Google evaluates how often keywords – and keyword variants – are used and in what context they appear.
This means a page that only uses a keyword once may be ranked lower than an article that uses it twice. The same goes for an article that uses a keyword too often and unnecessarily as Google knows this could indicate spam.
Another major factor when it comes to page relevance is whether your article actually provides the information that the user is looking for, known as search intent. From the phrasing of the keyword, Google will know what type of page or article (guide, review, news etc.) is most appropriate to answer the query.
Google’s algorithms will also take into consideration the bounce rate of your article—if visitors load and then quickly exit your page because it's irrelevant or low-quality, your ranking will suffer.
Authority, the other major factor in Google’s ranking algorithm, is all about whether a website or page can be trusted. If the site has been around for a long time and is frequently linked to by other websites, especially those with credibility, Google takes this as a sign that its content is trustworthy. In response, it will boost the ranking of its pages.
SEO, then, is all about maximizing the relevance and authority of your pages. Although there are plenty of important details to pay attention to, you can think of most SEO strategies as breaking down into four main stages:
- Researching what your target audience is searching for.
- Identifying a relevant keyword that your audience uses.
- Creating quality content that matches the search intent, heightening your relevance score.
- Finding ways to get other bloggers, website owners, and social media users to link to your articles, boosting your authority rank.
1. Begin with keyword research
The first step to writing a high-ranking article is to find out what people are searching for. This process is known as keyword research, and what you find will influence the rest of your SEO strategy. The idea is to end up with a list of relevant search terms, or keywords, that you can base your articles around.
Kick off your keyword research by brainstorming a list of relevant topics for your business or blog. For example, if you’re writing about travel, you might list topics like travel gear, flight booking, or resorts.
For each category that you’ve identified, spend a few minutes thinking about what the potential keywords associated with it might be. For example, in the travel gear category, you might guess that a relevant search could be things to bring backpacking.
Next, you should use a keyword planning tool to bulk up your list of related search terms and determine which keywords would be worth your time—those with your desired balance or imbalance between search volume and competition. There are plenty of great platforms available. One of the best free options is the Google Ads Keyword Planner, but SEMrush, Wordtracker Scout, and Bulk Keyword Generator are also worth checking out.
So how should you go about using a keyword planning tool?
Unsurprisingly, things vary significantly between platforms. Let’s say that you decide to use the SEMrush Keyword Overview function. With this tool, all you need to do is enter an example search term and you’ll immediately see a page of generated statistics and alternative keywords.
SEMrush separates relevant searches into three lists—Keyword Variations, Questions, and Related Keywords. You should treat each of these slightly differently. For example, in the Keyword Variation section, you’ll find near-matching search terms that can often be combined in the same article. Meanwhile, many of the terms in the Questions list might be best targeted with individual walkthrough guides.
Pay close attention to the statistics SEMrush presents you with for each term. The search volume and trend chart will indicate whether a keyword is popular enough to be worth targeting and if it’s likely to stay that way. Also, check out the difficulty rating of any keyword you consider using. This will give you an idea of the competitiveness of a search—if you’re running a small site, you’ll struggle to rank highly for keywords dominated by media giants.
2. Be smart about keyword use
When it detects that you’ve used a keyword, Google will add your site to the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) for relevant searches. However, it’s important to avoid overusing keywords from your list. Spamming keywords or using them out of context, a practice known as keyword stuffing, will be penalized by Google’s algorithms and damage your page ranking.
Most website creation platforms come with tools to help you ensure that your keywords are being used with the right frequency. If you’re managing your website through WordPress, one of the best tools to help you do this is the Yoast SEO plug-in.
After you’ve told Yoast which keywords you’re targeting in an article, the plug-in will automatically scan your text to see how frequently they appear. It’ll warn you of things like low keyword density, unreadably long sentences, and whether your keyword appears in key areas, such as your title.
Keyword phrases see better results than plain old keywords
Another important keyword tactic is to target certain keyword phrases rather than single-word searches. This is because most web searchers add everyday language to their queries like best flight booking day or when should I book my flight. In fact, almost 60% of searches use more than three words.
Best day to book a flight is a fairly general keyword phrase, meaning tougher competition for a top search result but potentially thousands of visits if you do well. Book flights on a sunday is more specific, making it easier to rank on the results page, but doing so won’t bring in as many readers.
In short, using keywords and keyword phrases correctly is all a balancing act. Don’t go too extreme when it comes to keyword frequency, using popular terms, or specific searches. A happy medium between these factors is what you should be looking to achieve.
3. Use eye-catching titles
Before opening your article, the only thing readers get to see is your title, meaning that you need to do whatever you can to maximize its impact. Fortunately, creating an attention-grabbing headline is simple once you memorize the tips below.
Throw in a number
One of the most effective things to do is to add a number to your title. This works because a title like 5 Ways to Find a Better Deal on Your Next Flight immediately signals to visitors that your article has substance and is laid out logically (ideal if they’re in a hurry). Some studies have even suggested that adding a number to a headline can double the amount of shares an article gets on social media.
Weirdly enough, our brains are more attracted to some numbers more than others. People think of odd numbers as more random and are more inclined to trust them. The Content Marketing Institute has found that using 7 in a title could increase reader engagement by a fifth compared to other numbers.
Highlight your content’s relevance with the year or month
Another simple trick for optimizing the clickability of your title is to throw in the current year. This immediately shows potential readers that your information is up to date:
Appropriate title length plus use of the current year to indicate that content is up to date. Image credit: Google
Emphasize or minimalize – avoid the middle ground
Knowing when to compromise is a key part of writing good SEO content – you shouldn’t be too sparse or heavy-handed with keywords, for example. However, one place that rule of thumb doesn’t apply is using superlatives (e.g. best, worst, most, least) in your titles.
In a conductor survey, it was shown that 51% of readers respond well to titles containing zero or a single superlative while 25% prefer headlines with more than four. However, people aren’t keen on headlines that split the difference (using two or three). Put briefly, the lesson is that you need to overstate or understate your content but avoid the middle ground.
Get the length right
It’s important to make sure your titles are the optimal length for someone browsing a search results page. They are cut off at around 62 characters depending on the device and characters, so be sure to keep them within that limit.
Stick to a formula that works
A unique headline can help your article to stand out from competitors, in turn boosting its performance. Fortunately, coming up with a distinctive headline is easier than it sounds thanks to headline formula guides. In these, you’ll find ready-to-go title templates with proven SEO performance to plug your keywords into.
Here are three takes on our flight-day booking example using reliable headline formats:
- Little-Known Ways to Book a Cheaper Flight
- What Everyone Ought to Know About The Best Day to Book a Flight
- Book a Flight Like You Own The Airline
4. When it comes to content, the reader comes first
If you want to create a high-ranking SEO article, nothing is more important than reader intent. Your text needs to address exactly what your visitors have in mind when they enter the search term you’re targeting.
Let’s imagine that your primary keyword is website design tools. When someone types this into Google, what are they looking for? Getting this right is vital.
One plausible theory might suggest they are looking for information on tools they can use to create a website. That means the majority of your article should be dedicated to presenting the reader with descriptions of particular services. You should highlight important details such as pricing and how easy each product is to use.
Not least of all, you can further enhance your visitors’ experience by making articles easy to read. The average person spends less than a minute on any given web page, so it’s important they can quickly scan through your content and pick up the main points.
Concise headings and small, easy-to-digest paragraphs will not only facilitate skim reading, but also help the text to appear less daunting, encouraging users to read thoroughly and finish the article. The more of your article they read, the better – bounce rates will be through the roof, which is great for your SERP ranking.
5. Spy on your competition and employ the Skyscraper Technique
For popular keywords, you can guarantee that the competition for top SERP rankings will be intense. Before crafting your own article, spend some time researching your keyword competitors to get an idea of the kind of content that has done well in the past.
It’s important to avoid copy-pasting or replicating competitor articles. Instead, ensure that the information in your piece goes above and beyond what’s already available. If you manage to do this, readers will spend more time on your pages and clicking your links. Those interactions will be reflected in your metrics, which in turn will boost your ranking.
Behold, as this is the foundation of the Skyscraper Technique, a link building strategy made famous by Brian Dean of backlink.io in 2015. Here’s how to use the Skyscraper Technique to improve your article’s SEO performance step-by-step:
- Identify a popular trend.
- Find a piece of relevant content that has performed well.
- Improve that content by adding extra value, such as newer information or fairer, more reliable statistics.
- Share your content with anyone who has linked to similar pieces in the past.
The Skyscraper Technique is an excellent strategy because it means you only focus attention on a topic for which there’s plenty of proven interest. Done well, with a group of SEO factors pulling together, you could generate huge numbers of page visits in a short amount of time.
6. Optimize your content for Google Snippets
Google’s ranking algorithm is extremely complex. We’ve already discussed two of the main influences on where it will decide to position a page (trust and relevance). Other important factors that impact page performance include load speed and word count.
However, getting a lot of clicks from Google isn’t just about getting your link high up on a results page. Another consistent way to boost your view count is to get featured as a Google snippet.
What is a Google snippet?
When Google detects that a page contains a short, concise piece of information that directly answers a reader’s query, it extracts it and presents the relevant content before all other search results. This is what’s known as a snippet. Pages featured as snippets see a massive increase in site traffic as snippets immediately capture the attention of Google users.
In the past, snippets used to be restricted to 155 characters, but today most snippets are between 160 and 230 characters in length.
How to rank for Google’s featured snippets
In general, you are most likely to get land a featured snippet if you answer a highly relevant search query without using many words. You should use the keyword above or within your answer to show Google it might be worth displaying that piece of text.
There are numerous types of snippets including paragraph snippets, table snippets, and list snippets. In the list snippet below, SiteBuilderReport – an Eleven client – has managed to get a list from its article on the Best Website Builders for 2021 into the featured snippet position.
The writer achieved this by using the keyword Best Website Builders immediately before a list of relevant options. Each listed service is followed by a short (roughly four-word) description. This means the list is informative to readers at a glance so Google’s algorithms are more likely to feature it.
Conclusion: SEO is a constant learning process
As you’ve seen, writing a good SEO article means taking numerous considerations and factors into account. Over time, these will become second nature, but it’s always worth asking yourself what you could be doing better. It’s also worth checking in periodically with the latest guides on SEO best practices as search ranking algorithms are always morphing.
Every topic has its own audience which means that some techniques will work better than others for specific niches. If you pay attention to which SEO style works best for you, you’ll be ranking highly in no time.