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When writing content to rank in search, it can be easy to focus on creating content for search engines and lose track of the ultimate goal: to reach real humans. The good news? Search engine optimization (SEO) is simply an avenue that helps businesses better understand what’s important to their customers, and the No. 1 priority of search engines is to meet user needs. It all boils down to the idea that the better you tailor content to your customers, the more qualified traffic you’ll get from search engines.

What is search engine optimization?

SEO is a marketing discipline focused on increasing the quantity and quality of your website through organic (non-paid) search engine results. There are a number of important SEO ranking factors that determine how well a website or piece of content ranks online — the first two will be addressed as we discuss how to write for SEO:

  • Optimized content
  • Technical SEO
  • An accessible URL
  • Page speed
  • Mobile-friendliness
  • Domain age, URL, and authority
  • User experience
  • Links

SEO writing tip #1: Start with keyword research

Do you know how your customers are searching for your products? What are pain points they may be experiencing? Or what questions are they asking? Conducting keyword research before developing content helps identify answers to these questions, offering a focused starting point for topic brainstorming.

After all, both users and search engines depend on keywords to find your site, so targeting the wrong keywords can result in attracting the wrong visitors to your website. Conversely, when done right, keyword research has the power to meet your customers in their current stage of the buyer’s journey, pulling them further down the purchase funnel.

Make a keyword list

Before you dive into your preferred keyword research tool, start by making a keyword seed list to ensure no core opportunities are missed. A seed list is the baseline for keywords and phrases most relevant to your business and provides the foundation for all of your expanded keyword research. There are several ways to approach creating a seed list, such as identifying the following:

  • How customers talk about your products or services
  • Other terms or phrases used by your customers
  • Related search terms found in Google
  • Already ranking pages and content
  • Competitor keywords

You can also better understand the language and terms used by your audience through:

  • Blog comments
  • Social media posts and comments
  • Reviews
  • Forums
  • Support tickets
  • Sales/customer service personnel
  • Google Search Console

Use keyword research tools

Your seed list is a great starting point to conduct keyword research. Begin by plugging your keywords into keyword research tools, such as Google keyword planner, to understand which terms have the greatest search volume and opportunity.

Don’t overlook long-tail keywords in your keyword research, such as “how to” and question queries. Not only does targeting long-tail keywords (three or more words) in your content increase the chances of appearing in featured snippets or voice search, they account for 70 percent of all online searches.

Identify primary and secondary keywords

Now that you’ve finalized your keyword list to include high-search-volume keywords, it’s time to leverage the research to develop content topics. Each piece of content should focus on a target keyword, also known as a primary keyword. Great target keywords are those with medium to high search volume and medium to low competition.

Though your primary keyword is the most important part of your optimization efforts, with the shift to semantic search, Google understands how all of the content on the page relates to one another, not just the keywords you used to optimize. To reinforce what topic your SEO content is about, include closely related keywords, also known as secondary keywords or latent semantic keywords.

SEO writing tip #2: Prepare an SEO-friendly outline

How you structure your content has everything to do with how likely the content is to rank online (and appear in featured snippets and voice search). When approaching each piece of online content, consider outlining it with the following:

  • Easy-to-reach, eye-catching title
  • Keyword-rich subheadings (especially H2 tags)
  • Bullet points or lists
  • Brief conclusions with clear calls to action

SEO writing tip #3: Just start writing

While SEO is a critical part of ranking, we know that readability is also a top ranking factor. SEO copywriting should be subtle and flow naturally in your content. In addition to that, aim to write clearly so that your audience both enjoys and understands your online content. Because you have already done the heavy lifting of conducting keyword research and creating an SEO-friendly outline, you should be able to easily focus on your main points and weed out what’s less important, making the writing process go much more smoothly and efficiently.

SEO writing tip #4: Use SEO best practices

Yes, writing for the reader is important, but SEO best practices are still a vital part of reaching the reader in search. Before your content is published, ensure that your primary keyword is included in the following locations:

  • URL
  • Title tag
  • Meta description
  • H1 tag
  • H2 tag or two (recommended)
  • Body copy
  • Anchor text linking content across your domain
  • Image file names
  • Image alt text

Your secondary keywords should also appear in various H2 tags and within the body of the content. Efficient HTML coding and schema markup will also be a crucial element to finalizing on-page optimization.

Creating great content for your audience means leveraging SEO to understand exactly what content will benefit them. And, finding that right balance of great content and SEO best practices is the best way to please both search engines and your customers.

Want more tips on how to write for SEO? Visit our blog archive for more tips and trends.