How to write SEO content which still reads well
A guest post by Oli Graham.
Bloggers who want to optimise their posts for search engines, eg write SEO content, often aim to hit certain quotas. These are usually ‘keyword density’ (how often it is used in an article) and word count.
This is mainly down to criteria offered by WordPress ‘SEO’ plugins. Articles have to accommodate these criteria in order to be optimised for search engines.
These plugins supply clues as to the types of SEO content search engines like to rank. However, this means bloggers forget their most important aim: to write an excellent article on their chosen topic.
Certainly SEO is important when writing a post you hope to rank organically. But the search engines’ ultimate goal is to expose the best articles which match a searched topic.
The balancing act of writing SEO content should therefore lay firmly on the side of the reader’s needs rather than specific metrics.
This post explains how to write posts that read well and also satisfy search engine algorithms.
1. Focus on a specific keyword and the ‘searcher intent’ behind it
Let’s start with the most technical part of planning a blog post, as far as SEO content is concerned. This is discovering what search engines see as the ‘searcher intent’ behind a given keyword.
For the last couple of years, Google seems to have decided certain keywords indicate a need for certain types of content. Writing with SEO in mind now equates to matching the ‘content-type’ for a specific keyword.
There are two main consequences of this, as far as blogging is concerned. They are:
- The type of Google wants to rank, and therefore the SEO criteria you should aim to meet, varies from keyword to keyword.
- Stop trying to hit keyword-based metrics like keyword density. You should match the structure and style of posts offered by Google for a particular keyword.
To best illustrate this second point, let’s look at an example.
Say you want to write an article about how long a blog post should be. These are the types of articles that Google believes should rank for the query: ‘How long should a blog post be?’
From these results, we can see Google wants to provide user information based blog posts in answer to this query.
This may seem like a trivial point, but compare this to the results given for the keyword ‘running shoes’:
For this keyword, Google has decided searchers are looking to buy running shoes. They are therefore presented with pages selling running shoes rather than blog posts about such shoes.
Therefore, if we wanted to write a blog post about running shoes (say comparing different running shoes), we could not rank for the keyword ‘running shoes’. We would need to target a longer-tail variant such as ‘what are the best running shoes?’.
Searcher intent determines SEO content type
Searcher intent is more than determining the basic ‘type’ of post you should write targeting a specific keyword. It can also help you plan what actually goes into our post.
Let’s refer back to the example ‘How long should a blog post be’. All the top five results suggested the ideal article length depended on the broader goal of your content. They then listed different types of content strategic goals, giving specific ideal lengths for each article type.
Also, three of these cited studies which compared average rankings of articles vs word count, with one article even conducting original research into this.
This shows Google ‘thinks’ a good article on the topic will acknowledge ideal article length does depend on external factors, and multiple answers should be given to this question. The search engine also ‘thinks’, as the question is an empirical one, an answer should be based on cited empirical evidence.
Information taken from results which already rank should not exactly dictate what you should put in your article, but it is useful to consider this when planning your post.
2. Focus on how ranking articles can be improved
Once you have looked at what Google ‘wants’ in an article for a specific query, you can dig deeper into the articles which currently rank. This is to see which information is missing from these ranking articles and work out other ways you can improve upon them.
Although Google has, to an extent at least, decided the type of content it wants to rank for a post, the search engine’s ultimate goal is to provide the best possible content to its users.
Articles which draw upon already ranking content, but go a step further in terms of richness of information, should do well in organic search.
Although the specific methods you can improve on current content varies from keyword to keyword, here are some common techniques that can give you inspiration:
- Do the existing articles cite studies? If so, conduct your own study and present this data in your post.
- Do the articles draw upon data through text alone? If so, add an easy to digest data-visualisation elements such as graphs or tables.
- Do you have any follow-up questions after reading a currently-ranking article? If so, answer these questions in your piece.
Use Google’s suggestions for SEO content
You can find follow-up questions to specific queries in Google’s autosuggest tab. Below are the autosuggested questions for the query: ‘How long should a blog post be?’:
If the top-ranking posts do not mention blog title length, including this fact is a way to improve on these posts. Google has already determined this as a relevant follow-up question to your target query. So answering this question will give Google a justification for ranking your post higher than articles which do not address this question.
You should always aim to write the best article on your chosen topic on the internet.
You can narrowly focus your posts by analysing exactly which currently ranking posts are doing well (and which elements they are missing).
3. Never sacrifice readability
A problem in SEO content is people focus too much on quantifying exactly why articles are ranking. This means they lose sight of fact that internet users want articles which read well.
Even though you might have worked out exactly which information needs to be included for an article to rank, simply putting all this into your article without focusing of flow and readability will not lead to success.
Google wants every ranking article to read well. Although the algorithm to do this might not be here yet, it is getting closer every day.
Putting the required care and attention into writing an article which is easy to read, free of mistakes and entertaining will always see you win in SEO in the long run.
About the author
Oli Graham is the Marketing Manager for digital copywriting agency RightlyWritten. He has six years of experience working in content marketing and digital PR.