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7 Steps to Create Search-Optimized Content

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7 Steps to Create Search-Optimized Content

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a lot more than just writing. However, you can’t have SEO without writing. It’s a crucial aspect that helps you show up in the search results.

But what is SEO writing? How do you write for search engines while still writing for the people who use them? Is there a process anyone can follow to be a better SEO writer?

In this guide, I’m going to answer all of these questions and give you a step-by-step approach to creating perfectly search-optimized content your readers (and Google) will love. 

What does it mean to “write for SEO”?

SEO writing is the process of writing content with the intent of ranking on the first page of a search engine, e.g., Google. 

To do so, you must focus on three things:

  1. Know what searchers need when they search your target keyword (i.e., search intent)
  2. Create the best possible answer to a given search query (i.e., research and knowledge)
  3. Present the answer in a way that’s easy to read and understand (i.e., have good writing skills)

Beyond that, you also need to understand the basics of on-page SEO elements, such as meta tags, image alt text, internal links, etc. But I’ll get to those later.

For now, let’s explore this question: “Why should you even care?” 

Why is SEO writing important?

SEO writing is important because Google gets an estimated 3.5 billion searches per day. This means your customers are most certainly using Google to find information.

Additionally, once you rank on the first page of Google for your target keywords, you’re getting free, recurring, and highly relevant traffic to your website.

In other words, SEO = money in the bank.

As paid advertising costs rise and social media engagement becomes harder and harder to come by, organic traffic continues to dominate as one of the most important marketing channels any modern business can invest in.

So how do you get those coveted organic page #1 rankings?

Seven steps to create search-optimized content

Luckily for you, the process I use is fairly simple and easy to follow. Once I finish my keyword research and know what keyword(s) I’m targeting, every article I publish on my blog goes through the following seven SEO writing steps:

1. Research the SERPs for your target keyword(s)

Remember I said writing for SEO involves understanding search intent?

Search intent is the intention a searcher has when they type in a query. For example, if someone searches for “best restaurants near me,” their intention is to find a good restaurant near their current location.

Sounds simple, but it can be surprisingly easy to get wrong. And if you get it wrong, you have no hope of ranking on page #1 of Google—no matter how great your content is.

How could you get it wrong, you ask?

Let’s say you’re targeting the keyword “RV storage ideas.” At first, you may think this keyword will return results with ideas on how to store your RV when you’re not using it.

But if that’s what you think, you’re wrong. At least, in Google’s eyes. Here are the actual results:

Top search results for "rv storage ideas"

As you can see, the top results for this keyword are all guides on how to get more storage inside your RV, not RV storage locations.

That’s why it’s so important to check the search engine results page (SERP) before you even start writing anything. You can do this quickly and easily with Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer (as I did above) or by Googling the keyword.

Additionally, in the research stage, you’ll want to look for featured snippets. A featured snippet is a snippet of information Google takes from a ranking webpage and displays right in the search results:

Featured snippet example

You can optimize your content for featured snippets like the one above as a way of bypassing some of the competitiveness of a keyword and ranking for it quicker.

The best way to quickly and easily find featured snippets is with Keywords Explorer. Just enter the keywords you’re thinking about targeting, click the dropdown “SERP features,” check off Featured snippet, and click “Apply.”

Finding keywords with featured snippets in Keywords Explorer

Now you’ll only be shown keywords that have a featured snippet! Follow our guide to optimizing for featured snippets to learn more about how you can implement these in your writing.

Once you understand search intent, there’s one more step to take before you start writing.

2. Create an article outline

Creating a content outline is a crucial step in SEO writing. An outline makes the writing process faster and easier while ensuring a high level of quality control.

Part of the outline process is filling in crucial SEO details, such as common questions people ask when searching for a given keyword.

Another part of the process is determining the heading and subheadings, goals, and approach angle of your article. What makes your article different from or better than all the others out there?

Here’s an example of part of the outline I made for one of my other articles:

Example outline for an article

I’ve already written a guide to creating content outlines here, so head to that article for the details of this step.

3. Write your draft

Nearly every great article begins with a rough draft.

Why?

Because the draft process helps you refine your ideas and get the research phase done. And it helps you flesh out the flow of your content. Also, you get the opportunity to easily change and revise things without feeling like you’re starting over after having a finished product.

I always write my drafts in Google Docs. This allows for easy communication between my editors, designers, etc., and me. In fact, here’s what this very section looks like in draft form:

Example of a draft in Google Docs

Your draft is the perfect time for free-flow writing without worrying too much about making the words perfect or formatting everything. Just get the meat of the content on the page.

4. Get feedback and revise the draft

While not always possible, getting feedback on your draft can be helpful. As writers, we often have trouble seeing the wood for the trees, so having a second pair of eyes never hurts.

If you have team members or employees, have them review the draft for you and give their thoughts. Better yet, if you have an audience, get their feedback as well.

A Facebook group or email list can be perfect for this. If you have a few trusted members, submit your draft to them to see what your actual customers think of your writing. They may offer feedback you didn’t think of. In fact, the feedback may contain information that isn’t even on Google yet.

Once you get the feedback, revise your writing accordingly. Then move on to step #5.

5. Edit and format the draft into a proper article

This is your time to polish the article.

Investing in an editor, if you don’t already have one, can dramatically improve your content quality. But if you can’t afford one, you can edit the content yourself.

How do you do that?

When I create SEO content, my goal is simple: provide the best possible answer in the fewest possible words in an easy-to-skim format.

So as you’re editing, ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Is this the best answer? 
  • Am I explaining it simply? 
  • Is this article easy for someone (with limited time) to skim and get what they need?

You can improve your writing by organizing your content better with headings and subheadings, using italics or bold to make key points stand out, and varying sentence length to keep things interesting. 

It’s also a good idea to avoid overly complex words, as these can make your point difficult to understand. Of course, it’s fine to use more technical words if there’s no simpler way to explain something.

Finally, it’s a good habit to use photos, videos, and bulleted lists to break up long stretches of text and show your points visually. Having media may also help with SEO.

As you’re editing, consider reading your content out loud to yourself. Reading it out loud shows you where the dry or boring parts are, highlights where things get overly complicated or unclear, and can make grammatical errors stand out.

Speaking of grammar—Google Docs also automatically shows you where you misspelled something or made a grammatical error. This useful feature lets you focus on the quality of content rather than the technicalities when you’re editing.

Example of Google Docs highlighting a grammatical error

6. Set your SEO elements and publish your post

While having a great article is a big step to rank on Google, it takes a bit more than that to achieve those page #1 rankings.

I mentioned on-page SEO at the beginning of this article. This refers to the following:

  • Title tag
  • Meta description
  • Open graph tag
  • URL slug
  • Page or post categorization
  • Image alt text
  • And more

Every page on your site needs this optimization during the writing process. I personally use WordPress and have a plugin called SEOPress that allows me to set these things easily.

Optimizing titles and meta descriptions using the SEOPress WordPress plugin

However, most content management systems (CMSs) have a plugin or setting where you can upload this data. If they don’t, I highly suggest switching to one that does!

But this post isn’t about on-page SEO. Though, you can refer to this guide if you want to learn more.

7. Update internal links

After your post is published, you should always add internal links from other pages on your site to the new article to help search engines and users navigate to it.

Not only does this make your site user-friendly, but it also helps Google crawl your site and establish what your new page is about (via anchor text) to properly index it.

An easy way to quickly identify internal link opportunities is with the Google search operator, site:. You use it by typing “site:yoursitehere.com [related keyword here]” into Google.

For example, when looking for internal link opportunities to this “SEO writing” page, I searched “site:ahrefs.com SEO writing”, and it returned over 1,000 pages with relevant text on the page.

(Obviously, we write a lot about SEO.)

Finding internal link opportunities with Google

Scroll through the results of relevant articles and choose a few to add internal links that point to your newly published post. 

If that search modifier doesn’t provide results that are relevant enough to find internal link opportunities, you can get even more hyper-relevant results with an exact-match search operator.

Sounds fancy. But all you have to do is put your keyword in quotes: site:ahrefs.com “SEO writing”.

Finding internal link opportunities with Google

I always aim to add at least three to five internal links to every new article. But this number depends on how many pages you currently have—you may want to add dozens or even hundreds of internal links if you have thousands or tens of thousands of pages.

Final thoughts

SEO writing boils down to creating the best possible answer to a given query presented in a way that’s easily understood and skimmable.

As long as you nail that and the basic on-page SEO best practices I mentioned, you’ve mastered the content side of SEO.

If you’re eager to learn more about writing and SEO, check out some of these other guides:

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Google’s AI Overviews Shake Up Ecommerce Search Visibility

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Google's AI Overviews Shake Up Ecommerce Search Visibility

An analysis of 25,000 ecommerce queries by Bartosz Góralewicz, founder of Onely, reveals the impact of Google’s AI overviews on search visibility for online retailers.

The study found that 16% of eCommerce queries now return an AI overview in search results, accounting for 13% of total search volume in this sector.

Notably, 80% of the sources listed in these AI overviews do not rank organically for the original query.

“Ranking #1-3 gives you only an 8% chance of being a source in AI overviews,” Góralewicz stated.

Shift Toward “Accelerated” Product Experiences

International SEO consultant Aleyda Solis analyzed the disconnect between traditional organic ranking and inclusion in AI overviews.

According to Solis, for product-related queries, Google is prioritizing an “accelerated” approach over summarizing currently ranking pages.

She commented Góralewicz’ findings, stating:

“… rather than providing high level summaries of what’s already ranked organically below, what Google does with e-commerce is “accelerate” the experience by already showcasing what the user would get next.”

Solis explains that for queries where Google previously ranked category pages, reviews, and buying guides, it’s now bypassing this level of results with AI overviews.

Assessing AI Overview Traffic Impact

To help retailers evaluate their exposure, Solis has shared a spreadsheet that analyzes the potential traffic impact of AI overviews.

As Góralewicz notes, this could be an initial rollout, speculating that “Google will expand AI overviews for high-cost queries when enabling ads” based on data showing they are currently excluded for high cost-per-click keywords.

An in-depth report across ecommerce and publishing is expected soon from Góralewicz and Onely, with additional insights into this search trend.

Why SEJ Cares

AI overviews represent a shift in how search visibility is achieved for ecommerce websites.

With most overviews currently pulling product data from non-ranking sources, the traditional connection between organic rankings and search traffic is being disrupted.

Retailers may need to adapt their SEO strategies for this new search environment.

How This Can Benefit You

While unsettling for established brands, AI overviews create new opportunities for retailers to gain visibility without competing for the most commercially valuable keywords.

Ecommerce sites can potentially circumvent traditional ranking barriers by optimizing product data and detail pages for Google’s “accelerated” product displays.

The detailed assessment framework provided by Solis enables merchants to audit their exposure and prioritize optimization needs accordingly.


FAQ

What are the key findings from the analysis of AI overviews & ecommerce queries?

Góralewicz’s analysis of 25,000 ecommerce queries found:

  • 16% of ecommerce queries now return an AI overview in the search results.
  • 80% of the sources listed in these AI overviews do not rank organically for the original query.
  • Ranking positions #1-3 only provides an 8% chance of being a source in AI overviews.

These insights reveal significant shifts in how ecommerce sites need to approach search visibility.

Why are AI overviews pulling product data from non-ranking sources, and what does this mean for retailers?

Google’s AI overviews prioritize “accelerated” experiences over summarizing currently ranked pages for product-related queries.

This shift focuses on showcasing directly what users seek instead of traditional organic results.

For retailers, this means:

  • A need to optimize product pages beyond traditional SEO practices, catering to the data requirements of AI overviews.
  • Opportunities to gain visibility without necessarily holding top organic rankings.
  • Potential to bypass traditional ranking barriers by focusing on enhanced product data integration.

Retailers must adapt quickly to remain competitive in this evolving search environment.

What practical steps can retailers take to evaluate and improve their search visibility in light of AI overview disruptions?

Retailers can take several practical steps to evaluate and improve their search visibility:

  • Utilize the spreadsheet provided by Aleyda Solis to assess the potential traffic impact of AI overviews.
  • Optimize product and detail pages to align with the data and presentation style preferred by AI overviews.
  • Continuously monitor changes and updates to AI overviews, adapting strategies based on new data and trends.

These steps can help retailers navigate the impact of AI overviews and maintain or improve their search visibility.


Featured Image: Marco Lazzarini/Shutterstock



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Google’s AI Overviews Go Viral, Draw Mainstream Media Scrutiny

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Google's AI Overviews Go Viral, Draw Mainstream Media Scrutiny

Google’s rollout of AI-generated overviews in US search results is taking a disastrous turn, with mainstream media outlets like The New York Times, BBC, and CNBC reporting on numerous inaccuracies and bizarre responses.

On social media, users are sharing endless examples of the feature’s nonsensical and sometimes dangerous output.

From recommending non-toxic glue on pizza to suggesting that eating rocks provides nutritional benefits, the blunders would be amusing if they weren’t so alarming.

Mainstream Media Coverage

As reported by The New York Times, Google’s AI overviews struggle with basic facts, claiming that Barack Obama was the first Muslim president of the United States and stating that Andrew Jackson graduated from college in 2005.

These errors undermine trust in Google’s search engine, which more than two billion people rely on for authoritative information worldwide.

Manual Removal & System Refinements

As reported by The Verge, Google is now scrambling to remove the bizarre AI-generated responses and improve its systems manually.

A Google spokesperson confirmed that the company is taking “swift action” to remove problematic responses and using the examples to refine its AI overview feature.

Google’s Rush To AI Integration

The flawed rollout of AI overviews isn’t an isolated incident for Google.

As CNBC notes in its report, Google made several missteps in a rush to integrate AI into its products.

In February, Google was forced to pause its Gemini chatbot after it generated inaccurate images of historical figures and refused to depict white people in most instances.

Before that, the company’s Bard chatbot faced ridicule for sharing incorrect information about outer space, leading to a $100 billion drop in Google’s market value.

Despite these setbacks, industry experts cited by The New York Times suggest that Google has little choice but to continue advancing AI integration to remain competitive.

However, the challenges of taming large language models, which ingest false information and satirical posts, are now more apparent.

The Debate Over AI In Search

The controversy surrounding AI overviews adds fuel to the debate over the risks and limitations of AI.

While the technology holds potential, these missteps remind everyone that more testing is needed before unleashing it on the public.

The BBC notes that Google’s rivals face similar backlash over their attempts to cram more AI tools into their consumer-facing products.

The UK’s data watchdog is investigating Microsoft after it announced a feature that would take continuous screenshots of users’ online activity.

At the same time, actress Scarlett Johansson criticized OpenAI for using a voice likened to her own without permission.

What This Means For Websites & SEO Professionals

Mainstream media coverage of Google’s erroneous AI overviews brings the issue of declining search quality to public attention.

As the company works to address inaccuracies, the incident serves as a cautionary tale for the entire industry.

Important takeaway: Prioritize responsible use of AI technology to ensure the benefits outweigh its risks.



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New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

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New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

A keynote at Google’s Marketing Live event showed a new AI-powered visual search results that feature advertisements that engage users within the context of an AI-Assisted search, blurring the line between AI-generated search results and advertisements.

Google Lens is a truly helpful app but it becomes unconventional where it blurs the line between an assistant helping users and being led to a shopping cart. This new way of engaging potential customers with AI is so far out there that the presenter doesn’t even call it advertising, he doesn’t even use the word.

Visual Search Traffic Opportunity?

Google’s Group Product Manager Sylvanus Bent, begins the presentation with an overview of the next version of Google Lens visual search that will be useful for surfacing information and for help finding where to buy them.

Sylvanus explained how it will be an opportunity for websites to receive traffic from this new way to search.

“…whether you’re snapping a photo with lens or circling to search something on your social feed, visual search unlocks new ways to explore whatever catches your eye, and we recently announced a newly redesigned results page for Visual search.

Soon, instead of just visual matches, you’ll see a wide range of results, from images to video, web links, and facts about the knowledge graph. It gets people the helpful information they need and creates new opportunities for sites to be discovered.”

It’s hard to say whether or not this will bring search traffic to websites and what the quality of that traffic will be. Will they stick around to read an article? Will they engage with a product review?

Visual Search Results

Sylvanus shares a hypothetical example of someone at an airport baggage claim who falls in like with someone else’s bag. He explains that all the person needs to do is snap a photo of the luggage bag and Google Lens will take them directly to shopping options.

He explains:

“No words, no problem. Just open Lens, take a quick picture and immediately you’ll see options to purchase.

And for the first time, shopping ads will appear at the very top of the results on linked searches, where a business can offer what a consumer is looking for.

This will help them easily purchase something that catches their eye.”

These are image-heavy shopping ads at the top of the search results and as annoying as that may be it’s nowhere near the “next level” advertising that is coming to Google’s search ads where Google presents a paid promotion within the context of an AI Assistant.

Interactive Search Shopping

Sylvanus next describes an AI-powered form advertising that happens directly within search. But he doesn’t call it advertising. He doesn’t even use the word advertising. He suggests this new form of AI search experience is more than offer, saying that, “it’s an experience.”

He’s right to not use the word advertisement because what he describes goes far beyond advertising and blurs the boundaries between search and advertising within the context of AI-powered suggestions, paid suggestions.

Sylvanus explains how this new form of shopping experience works:

“And next, imagine a world where every search ad is more than an offer. It’s an experience. It’s a new way for you to engage more directly with your customers. And we’re exploring search ads with AI powered recommendations across different verticals. So I want to show you an example that’s going live soon and you’ll see even more when we get to shopping.”

He uses the example of someone who needs to store their furniture for a few months and who turns to Google to find short term storage. What he describes is a query for local short term storage that turns into a “dynamic ad experience” that leads the searcher into throwing packing supplies into their shopping cart.

He narrated how it works:

“You search for short term storage and you see an ad for extra space storage. Now you can click into a new dynamic ad experience.

You can select and upload photos of the different rooms in your house, showing how much furniture you have, and then extra space storage with help from Google, AI generates a description of all your belongings for you to verify. You get a recommendation for the right size and type of storage unit and even how much packing supplies you need to get the job done. Then you just go to the website to complete the transaction.

And this is taking the definition of a helpful ad to the next level. It does everything but physically pick up your stuff and move it, and that is cool.”

Step 1: Search For Short Term Storage

1716722762 15 New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

The above screenshot shows an advertisement that when clicked takes the user to what looks like an AI-assisted search but is really an interactive advertisement.

Step 2: Upload Photos For “AI Assistance”

1716722762 242 New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

The above image is a screenshot of an advertisement that is presented in the context of AI-assisted search.  Masking an advertisement within a different context is the same principal behind an advertorial where an advertisement is hidden in the form of an article. The phrases “Let AI do the heavy lifting” and “AI-powered recommendations” create the context of AI-search that masks the true context of an advertisement.

Step 3: Images Chosen For Uploading

1716722762 187 New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

The above screenshot shows how a user uploads an image to the AI-powered advertisement within the context of an AI-powered search app.

The Word “App” Masks That This Is An Ad

Screenshot of interactive advertisement for that identifies itself as an app with the words

Above is a screenshot of how a user uploads a photo to the AI-powered interactive advertisement within the context of a visual search engine, using the word “app” to further the illusion that the user is interacting with an app and not an advertisement.

Upload Process Masks The Advertising Context

Screenshot of interactive advertisement that uses the context of an AI Assistant to mask that this is an advertisement

The phrase “Generative AI is experimental” contributes to the illusion that this is an AI-assisted search.

Step 4: Upload Confirmation

1716722762 395 New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

In step 4 the “app” advertisement is for confirming that the AI correctly identified the furniture that needs to be put into storage.

Step 5: AI “Recommendations”

1716722762 588 New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

The above screenshot shows “AI recommendations” that look like search results.

The Recommendations Are Ad Units

1716722762 751 New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

Those recommendations are actually ad units that when clicked takes the user to the “Extra Space Storage” shopping website.

Step 6: Searcher Visits Advertiser Website

1716722762 929 New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

Blurring The Boundaries

What the Google keynote speaker describes is the integration of paid product suggestions into an AI assisted search. This kind of advertising is so far out there that the Googler doesn’t even call it advertising and rightfully so because what this does is blur the line between AI assisted search and advertising. At what point does a helpful AI search become just a platform for using AI to offer paid suggestions?

Watch The Keynote At The 32 Minute Mark

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Ljupco Smokovski

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