We are often asked by clients and partners who prefer to write their own content “How do I write for SEO?” Well, we’re here to help.
Stop Thinking About Writing for Google
First, we recommend that you don’t “try to write for SEO.” While there are certainly best practices, you don’t want to just try to write for Google for 2 reasons:
- Google does not want you to try to “game the system.” If you specifically try to write for bots instead of humans, it will backfire. Ask the websites that used to say things like “Our NJ Plumber is the best NJ Plumber in NJ. If you need an NJ Plumber… (if you used the internet before 2010, you know what I’m talking about)
- You can get all the traffic in the world, if it doesn’t convert it means nothing. You don’t just need eyes, you need the right eyes. You also need them to convert, and they’re not going to do it with a wooden site that feels unprofessional because you’re more concerned with a ranking.
If you write with the user in mind, that typically works best for both conversions and for rankings. There are, however, some specific things that you can do to help cater your writing to search engines that don’t affect user experience (in fact, most enhance user experience). These are the guidelines that we typically provide in order to help people write content that will rank better than most. They aren’t hard and fast rules so there is some flexibility, but adhering to them generally produces the best results.
Content Writing Guidelines
- Web pages and blog posts should be at least 750 words long. We know that sounds like a lot, but keep in mind that the average top results on Google are 900 words, so we really want to get close to that. Don’t stretch things out just to fill space, but try to write as much good content as you can on the topic.
- Use keywords in the title, and early if possible. (The exception to this is usually for “list posts” like “The Top 10 Content Guidelines for SEO”.) Think about what keywords a user may search for, and try to include that in the title. Google also gives more weight to keywords earlier in the title, so keep that in mind. For example, a title like “What Is PARCC: A Guide to Understanding the Basics” may be better than “A Guide to Understanding the Basics of PARCC.”
- As far as Google is concerned, titles typically have a limit of 68 characters, so try to keep within that limit as much as possible.
- Use keywords a few times per page, as well as variations of the keyword. Make sure Google sees that your keyword is the key topic that the page is addressing, and is relevant to search queries. Google also understands semantic phrasing, so using synonyms is helpful too (i.e., Google understands that “linguini” and “spaghetti” are both related to “pasta.”)
- Write for users, not search engines. Ultimately Google wants to turn out results that are good for users, not search engines. If you write for the user, and users find the content useful (it’s read more often, people link to or share it, reference it, etc.), you are better off. Google can often detect content that’s trying to manipulate them, and it’s not worth trying.
- Try to keep it to an 8th grade level. The general rule of thumb is “try to keep content as easily understandable by the average 12 year old.” Obviously, subject matter may affect this, but try as much as possible to keep your writing easily understood and clear to the intended target.
- Focus on one topic rather than diverting into many. If you have a lot to say and the page seems to be branching out, that’s fine. Make it two pages! The more targeted the writing is around a central theme, the better it tends to rank. Detailed content around a central topic is good. Don’t try to spread your writing around multiple topics on one page if possible.
- Cross-Link. On each page of content, try to link to about two other pages on the site from within the content. Do this where there is a natural link (i.e. when the content mentions a product, link to that product’s page). Don’t use “click here” or similar text, but link the actual relevant text (i.e. link the word “widget” to the widget page). In Word, shortcut for this is Ctrl+K (Windows) or Cmd+K (Mac).
- Use headings to break up your text. Very long paragraphs or pages of uninterrupted writing are hard for the user to read, and will also cause them to quit. Use headings to break up your content. It makes it much easier to skim as well, which honestly is what most users will do. If at all possible, try to utilize a keyword in the heading as well (Images and bullet points are also great ways to break up long blocks of text!)
Of course, the guidelines don’t guarantee rankings, but following these are a big first step. Have questions? Let us know and we’ll be happy to help!