The purpose of writing content for your business website is to be found by potential customers, and to engage them with your words. But being a talented writer doesn’t mean you’ll do well in terms of SEO, and vice versa. So you need to learn how to write in a way that pleases both people and search engine robots.
In this post I’ll explain how to write great SEO-friendly content in the appropriate marketing style and SEO format. This will help give your website the best chance of success.
Write In A “Marketing Style” — For Humans
No matter what you do to appease search engines, you can’t disguise the audience’s response to your content. To truly improve your SEO, you’ll need to write materials that humans like to read.
Analytics metrics such as bounce rates, and time on page determine how Google rates your performance. If the public likes your content, then so will Google. So let’s firstly focus on how to achieve the ‘marketing’ style of writing, in a way that an average internet surfer will approve of.
I’m going to rehash some of what I learnt from A-level English (around a decade ago), and try not to contradict myself in the process!
1. Write Short Sentences and Paragraphs
Have you ever noticed that a lot of the posts you read online share a similar format? Short sentences and paragraphs, and a fair amount of white space. That’s the norm.
It’s easier to read that way — which is all-important when the majority of your readers are using mobile devices (around 51.%, in fact).
So don’t over complicate your writing style. People want to receive your message as easily as possible, without need to spend time decrypting it.
The good news is, this means you haven’t got to be a very articulate writer to be successful at online marketing. Simplicity accommodates busy or impatient people of all ages — even those with poor English literacy skills.
Keep it simple.
2. Use Headings and Subheadings to Separate Each Topic
It’s like any good essay. Work towards one main point but divide your text up into key subtopics that support your argument.
In the case of SEO content, the subtopics are represented by your headings. And within those headings are subheadings of “deeper” points. Where possible, relate each of the headings to the main title to remind both readers and search engines that you are still on the same subject.
My advice is to create all your headings before you write anything else. Before you fill out the content check that your headings on their own make sense. It should be easy for an outsider to follow the subject you’re writing about without the content. That’s (roughly) how I was taught to plan an essay, and it works well for online marketing.
The bulk of what you write thereafter simply fills out the points you’ve already made in the headings. Just ensure that each heading is followed by no more than 300 words.
I’ll talk about headings some more in the next section on SEO-friendly content for Robots.
3. Maintain Focus & Purpose
Everything you write needs to have a clear topic. If you veer too far off-course then you’ll lose readership.
Start out your post with a good page title. There’s a few formats I generally go for:
- “How to…” — that’s what this post is. It’s offering solutions to a problem.
- “What … ?” or “How … ?” — this is similar to the above, except it poses a question that I will answer in the post.
- Then there’s one’s I call the ‘keyword packer’ — this is where I essentially stuff as many key words into the header as I can, without jeopardising readability.
The first paragraph is vital. It needs to follow on from the header, to fully introduce the topic. This enables readers to judge whether the writer is following through with promises made by the page title. Broken promises will result in people leaving the site pretty quickly.
For example, I wrote a post in 2017 with the title “Best Horse Racing Form & Stats Websites (Databases)”. The introduction to this post is as follows.
It’s not a perfect introduction by any means, but the topic is made clear and I’ve summarised the gist of post in 3 sentences (I aim for 2-4). Importantly, I remained on-topic from the outset and carried it right through till the end of the post.
This example post didn’t take a great deal of effort to structure or write. It’s not my finest work. But it maintains focus and has a purpose. It’s ranked 1st in Google for my target keywords, and is one of the most popular posts on Punter2Pro.
5. Tailor the Tone to Your Audience
Marketers often think in terms of how to lure people in. But on the web, the primary concern is to avoid driving people away.
You only have 10 seconds to convince visitors that your site deserves a closer look, according to a recent study from Microsoft Research. So be careful not to strike a wrong chord with your sales pitch. People have to trust you to buy from you, remember.
Take this as an example:
It’s pretty pushy, and reads like one of those American TV ads on the late night shopping channels. This should never be your default style.
Yet the “appropriate tone” is subjective. As hard as it is to believe, this sales tactic works on some people. It preys on insecurities by being brash, assertive, and confident. It resonates with self-conscious, passive readers; the opposite of what the seller comes across as. The aim is to target and motivate those types of people to take action.
To apply this same tone to luxury items — where you want to show prestige — would be suicidal.
Imagine some at Mercedes-Benz emailed you: “I GUARANTEE that you’ll prefer our new car to your Ford. But you HAVE to buy it today — right NOW — or you’ll miss out!”.
A sackable offence, for sure.
You can be informal and professional at the same time, though. It adds value that more people can easily understand your content, and relate to it. But I’d personally avoid pushy sales styles at all costs.
6. Use Correct Spellings and Grammar at All Times
Too obvious? You’d think so — but I see mistakes all the time.
Using correct spellings and grammar isn’t unique to online marketing by any means. It goes for everything you write across all areas of your business. Emails, business cards, letters, the lot.
Your content is a snapshot into your company. Mistakes — no matter how small — suggest you’re sloppy and inaccurate. Poor spellings = less sales.
So use the spell-checker, and read through your work several times over.
Write In An SEO-Friendly Format — For Robots
With all written content there are steps you must take to ensure search engines favour your site. Here’s how to adjust your posts to an SEO-friendly format.
1. Write an Optimal Page Title
I’ve briefly touched on the site title from a human perspective. For SEO you need to make sure your site title includes as much detail as possible, without making it too long. According to Moz:
So keep it under 60 characters, and incorporate your main key word(s). To keep it simple, let’s assume your main keyword is “SEO”. You might create a page titled: “How can I improve my website’s SEO? (Top Tips)”.
That’s 46 characters. I’m comfortably getting “website(s) SEO”, “improve” and “tips” in there. Importantly, it’s immediately clear to a search engine what this post is all about.
To take it a step further, put the most important key words at the start of the title. For example “SEO Tips — Improve Your Website” would also work. Don’t worry too much on rigidly applying that format, though. Clarity is just as important.
2. Create the Perfect Page Slug
In WordPress, the page ‘slug’ is an editable part of your URL that you can set when writing a new post. With the right permalink settings it looks like this:
The slug should made up of the most important words which make up your page title, separated by hyphens. To make the perfect slug, do the following:
- Remove stop words. Filter out “a”, “the” and “and” and similar words.
- Check it through. Make sure the slug still makes sense after stripping out the stop words.
- Keep it short, but descriptive. The URL of your page is shown in Google search results. Don’t make it too long or it will lose its impact.
The slug for this page is “write-seo-friendly-content-website” (which makes sense, I hope).
Page slugs are an easy way for Google to further understand what your page content is about.
3. Add a Meta Description that Summarises the Page
The meta description is a snippet of up to 320 characters that summarises a page’s content.
Search engines show the meta description beneath results when the search terms are contained in the description. Optimising the meta description is important for gaining user click-throughs on search engine result pages.
If you’re unsure what to put into your meta description, a quick tip is to rephrase the introductory paragraph of your article or page. Make it around 2-4 sentences long, and ensure all your main keywords and phrases are packed in.
4. Include Keywords and Phrases in Your Copy… Several Times
This means everything when it comes to writing SEO-friendly content.
Words and phrases in your copy make it a whole lot easier for search engine robots to work out your topic. So you have to go out of your way to help them. Don’t let them try to guess what your content is about!
You can make your subject crystal clear by raising the “keyword density” of search words and phrases you want to rank for:
Yoast SEO recommends the keyword density for your post is between 0.5 and 2.5%. So use that a guideline. Some sources do however disagree, and believe there is no “formula” for keyword density.
The trick is to try writing as naturally as possible. Focus on your topic, deliver a clear overall message, then raise the keyword density afterwards.
At times it’ll look unnatural, continually repeating a set of words on the same page. I admit, it is odd to have keep reminding search engines that this post is all about writing excellent SEO-friendly content for websites.
See what I did there?
5. Add Keywords to Your Headings and Format them Correctly
You won’t always instinctively place your keywords into headings throughout your written posts. Especially when it’s not necessary for the reader.
But search engines aren’t people — they’re robots. They’re not good at making assumptions. So you have to continually provide cues in your written content. So go out of your way to throw in your key words into the odd heading here and there.
Then there’s formatting your headings the right way. Start your main headings with <h1> or <h2> tags, then cascade your subheadings.
For example, if you started with <h2>, then the subheadings would need to be formatted using the smaller <h3> tag, followed by <h4> within that. And don’t jump tags by going from <h1> straight to <h4>, for example. Google prefers it to be gradual, like this.
Personally, I finalise the formatting after writing the post itself.
6. Don’t Duplicate Any of Your Other Written Content
Every written page on your site must be uniquely devoted to one particular topic.
Yet it’s surprisingly hard to get that right when you’re writing about a niche with several overlapping topics. Right now I’m having to be cautious not to overlap this page with my post on general search engine optimisation (SEO) tips.
The way I’m tackling the problem is to do what I’ve just done above — link to other posts in my copy, passing on the unwanted “SEO juice”. In doing so, I’m continually reiterating that this post is exclusively about SEO-friendly content writing; a related, but more specific area of SEO.
Search engines read all of those internal anchor links and use them to distinguish the difference between similar topics on your site. So use this technique frequently. Learn more on using anchors.
7. Make Your Posts a Decent Length
According to Yoast SEO:
I try to aim for 1,000+ words per post. There’s not much advantage in making search engine robots meander through waffle, though. A continuation in the topic is vital.
SEO-Friendly Content For Humans And Robots
Don’t Forget the Real People
Consistently impress your visitors with your written content and you’ll be rewarded with more traffic. Consistently deter them, and you’ll tumble right back down the search rankings (and won’t convert many sales, either).
Bounce rates and other analytics metrics alert Google to how real people respond to your content; they judge you on that. Google’s scoring impacts your future rankings, therefore it’s not sufficient to perfect your SEO writing format on its own.
Essentially, humans are the ones buying your products — so they can’t be neglected.
Start Writing Your SEO-friendly Content
If you’re about to begin writing SEO-friendly content, my advice would be to focus on the topics you know best; the ones where you can express yourself, and nail the appropriate ‘marketing style’ with relative ease. Please your human audience first.
Then go through that same content — a few times ideally — making it legible to search engine robots. That way you’re doing the boring bit afterwards.
The end result? SEO-friendly written content that succeeds with two equally important sets of readers: humans and robots.
By the way — If you use WordPress, install the free Yoast SEO plugin immediately. It’s a game-changer when it comes to writing SEO-friendly content.