John is an experienced freelance content writer with an eclectic employment history.
Writing content is a bit like putting a message in a bottle and throwing it into a sea of bottles. Writers produce new content all the time, and because of this, you may find it near-impossible to get noticed. You can pay for promotion, of course. Boosting posts on Facebook, promoting tweets, Google Adwords.
All of these things work, but they don't work for long. And content will fade back into obscurity when the promotion is over. Unless, of course, it's SEO friendly. Here's my guide on how to write SEO friendly content.
What Is SEO?
SEO stands for search engine optimisation and is exactly what it sounds like. Writing in a manner that appeals to search engines will ensure your content continues to show up in searches. And it won't cost you a penny. In cases where you're monetising your content, ensuring it is SEO-friendly is an absolute must. A bit of care and attention to detail will ensure your content carries on being viewed long after it's written. And, while there are many ways to monetise content, all of them require people to be looking at it.
So what is search engine optimisation exactly? Search engines are constantly evolving in an effort to provide the best results for their users. Google doesn't want to serve up a spammy page stuffed with keywords and no real information. Their struggle lies in trying to find the absolute best example of whatever it is that you search for.
Your struggle lies in creating the best example of that content, but there are things you can do to help.
What SEO Is Not
When deciding how to write SEO-friendly content, you should absolutely start with the content itself. If you try to create a page of keywords and squeeze a little information in the gaps, you might succeed for a time. As I said, however, search engines are constantly evolving to provide the best results. Attempts to "game" the system outright will eventually fail as the algorithms get wise to your tricks.
SEO is not about doing only what is necessary to rank high in search terms. It's about making your useful and informative content clearer to search engines. Think of it like having a shop that sells tools. The tools are good quality, people need the tools, but no one knows your shop is there. Good SEO is like putting an honest and informative sign on the shop that lets people know you're there.
Now, let's get into some tips on how to write SEO-friendly content.
Keyword stuffing, long-tail keywords, search terms. All things you need to know about to make your content SEO friendly.
Keywords are the root of your subject matter. You might have the most informative and useful content ever on caring for sick guinea pigs. If you never actually say the words "How to look after sick guinea pigs", however, search engines will never know.
They're getting smarter all the time, search engines, but they're still limited to looking at the actual words you use. Keywords are a combination of words in a specific order that people may be searching for. "Cheap vacations" is an example of this. Now, "cheap vacations" is a crowded keyword. A lot of people are searching this term, which means a lot of content is competing for those eyeballs. In short, it will be much harder to get noticed using a keyword like that.
Long-tail keywords, as the name suggests, are just longer, more specific keywords. "Cheap vacations" may be a difficult keyword to get noticed with. "Where to find cheap vacations in Southern California" will be far less competitive, however. Now, granted, there will be fewer people searching for the latter. Getting some share of a small number of eyeballs is better than getting no share of a larger number.
A perfect example of this is this very article. The focus keyword for this content is "how to write SEO-friendly content". That is actually a very competitive keyword, but it's far less competitive than "SEO-friendly content", or "SEO content".
A "focus keyword" is the main keyword you want your content to represent when people search, by the way.
Any rules regarding the use of keywords within your content should be considered secondary to the one main rule. Only add a keyword if it helps your reader. At the end of the day, that is the be-all and end-all of how to write SEO-friendly content. If adding a keyword in a certain spot makes your content more useful for those reading it, do it. If having your focus keyword in your content two hundred times helps—genuinely helps—then do it.
Beyond that there are some loose guidelines for how to go about this. Firstly, keywords should only be used where they make sense organically. This is something to consider when choosing your keyword in the first place. It's all well and good picking "how to make bread no gluten" for your gluten-free blog. How many times can you fit that into a post in a way that makes sense, though? At this stage it's more of a reader thing than an SEO thing—you want readers to like your content. But if search engines aren't already checking this kind of thing, you can bet they will in the future.
Recommended for you
It can't hurt to future-proof your content, and the easiest way to do that is by writing it well.
As a rule of thumb, 0.6% is a good target to aim for. This means that your keyword should appear roughly once for every 160–170 words you write. And, on the subject of words, you want to aim for a minimum of 300. Again, the driving factor should be what is useful to your reader. If your post only needs to be 50 words long, don't ruin it by fluffing it out with meaningless filler. If there is more relevant information that can be added, add it. Longer content tends to be looked on more kindly by search engines.
Ultimately your content is for your readers, so it pays to make it readable.
It is unclear to what extent search engines take into account readability when ranking content. It is generally thought they do to some extent, however. Regardless, this falls into the category of write for your reader, not a search engine. This will give your work greater potential to make regular readers of those who see it.
It will also make it safer if-and-when search engines improve their ability to notice this.
Write for your reader, not a search engine.
So what do I mean by readability? As a general rule it helps to get others to read your content first and see what they think. If people have trouble following convoluted sentences, or they get bored, your content probably needs work.
There are some quantifiable metrics, however.
For example, too many sentences that are longer than 20 words are generally considered a negative. Obviously it will occasionally be necessary to write longer sentences. If more than a fifth of your sentences are longer than 20 words, however, consider rewriting them.
Another thing to consider is breaking your content into sections with subheadings. This is as effective on readability as it is on SEO. Breaking up content—especially longer content—gives readers a more manageable reading experience. It also gives search engines a better idea of what your content is about and how it is organised.
If I've not beaten you around the head with it enough, the basic premise here is to write good content. Every change search engines make to the way they rank pages is geared towards finding better content. You can write for the current algorithms and game the system and maybe have a good run, sure. But if you write good content, it will have longevity, and it will be safe from future search algorithm updates.
Obviously there's more to SEO than what is in this article—I wanted to focus on the content. There could be a whole post on writing a good title for your page alone. Not to mention the URL, metadata, rich snippets, and more. But if you take away one thing from this post, it should be this:
The one sure-fire rule for how to write SEO-friendly content is to write good content.
© 2016 John Bullock
Kari Poulsen from Ohio on November 28, 2017:
Thank you for this explanation of SEO keywords. I think I need to polish my use of them. :)
Calin Colas on December 23, 2016:
You have very clearly distinguished between seo friendly content and content for search engines. One should also take care that after all the content is to be read by human to make him come again or get benefited from it.
So keep content unique & understandable is the best key to content writing.