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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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New Google Ads Feature: Account-Level Negative Keywords

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New Google Ads Feature: Account-Level Negative Keywords

Google Ads Liaison Ginny Marvin has announced that account-level negative keywords are now available to Google Ads advertisers worldwide.

The feature, which was first announced last year and has been in testing for several months, allows advertisers to add keywords to exclude traffic from all search and shopping campaigns, as well as the search and shopping portion of Performance Max, for greater brand safety and suitability.

Advertisers can access this feature from the account settings page to ensure their campaigns align with their brand values and target audience.

This is especially important for brands that want to avoid appearing in contexts that may be inappropriate or damaging to their reputation.

In addition to the brand safety benefits, the addition of account-level negative keywords makes the campaign management process more efficient for advertisers.

Instead of adding negative keywords to individual campaigns, advertisers can manage them at the account level, saving time and reducing the chances of human error.

You no longer have to worry about duplicating negative keywords in multiple campaigns or missing any vital to your brand safety.

Additionally, account-level negative keywords can improve the accuracy of ad targeting by excluding irrelevant or low-performing keywords that may adversely impact campaign performance. This can result in higher-quality traffic and a better return on investment.

Google Ads offers a range of existing brand suitability controls, including inventory types, digital content labels, placement exclusions, and negative keywords at the campaign level.

Marvin added that Google Ads is expanding account-level negative keywords to address various use cases and will have more to share soon.

This rollout is essential in giving brands more control over their advertising and ensuring their campaigns target the appropriate audience.


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Google’s Gary Illyes Answers Your SEO Questions On LinkedIn

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Google's Gary Illyes Answers Your SEO Questions On LinkedIn

Google Analyst Gary Illyes offers guidance on large robots.txt files, the SEO impact of website redesigns, and the correct use of rel-canonical tags.

Illyes is taking questions sent to him via LinkedIn direct message and answering them publicly, offering valuable insights for those in the SEO community.

It’s already newsworthy for a Google employee to share SEO advice. This is especially so given it’s Illyes, who isn’t as active on social media as colleagues like Search Advocate John Mueller and Developer Advocate Martin Splitt.

Throughout the past week, Illyes has shared advice and offered guidance on the following subjects:

  • Large robots.txt files
  • The SEO impact of website redesigns
  • The correct use of rel-canonical tags

Considering the engagement his posts are getting, there’s likely more to come. Here’s a summary of what you missed if you’re not following him on LinkedIn.

Keep Robots.Txt Files Under 500KB

Regarding a previously published poll on the size of robots.txt files, Illyes shares a PSA for those with a file size larger than 500kb.

Screenshot from: linkedin.com/in/garyillyes/, January 2023.

Illyes advises paying attention to the size of your website’s robots.txt file, especially if it’s larger than 500kb.

Google’s crawlers only process the first 500kb of the file, so it’s crucial to ensure that the most important information appears first.

Doing this can help ensure that your website is properly crawled and indexed by Google.

Website Redesigns May Cause Rankings To Go “Nuts”

When you redesign a website, it’s important to remember that its rankings in search engines may be affected.

As Illyes explains, this is because search engines use the HTML of your pages to understand and categorize the content on your site.

If you make changes to the HTML structure, such as breaking up paragraphs, using CSS styling instead of H tags, or adding unnecessary breaking tags, it can cause the HTML parsers to produce different results.

This can significantly impact your site’s rankings in search engines. Or, as Illyes phrases it, it can cause rankings to go “nuts”:

Google’s Gary Illyes Answers Your SEO Questions On LinkedInScreenshot from: linkedin.com/in/garyillyes/, January 2023.

Illyes advises using semantically similar HTML when redesigning the site and avoiding adding tags that aren’t necessary to minimize the SEO impact.

This will allow HTML parsers to better understand the content on your site, which can help maintain search rankings.

Don’t Use Relative Paths In Your Rel-Canonical

Don’t take shortcuts when implementing rel-canonical tags. Illyes strongly advises spelling out the entire URL path:

Google’s Gary Illyes Answers Your SEO Questions On LinkedInScreenshot from: linkedin.com/in/garyillyes/, January 2023.

Saving a few bytes using a relative path in the rel-canonical tag isn’t worth the potential issues it could cause.

Using relative paths may result in search engines treating it as a different URL, which can confuse search engines.

Spelling out the full URL path eliminates potential ambiguity and ensures that search engines identify the correct URL as the preferred version.

In Summary

By answering questions sent to him via direct message and offering his expertise, Illyes is giving back to the community and providing valuable insights on various SEO-related topics.

This is a testament to Illyes’ dedication to helping people understand how Google works. Send him a DM, and your question may be answered in a future LinkedIn post.


Source: LinkedIn

Featured Image: SNEHIT PHOTO/Shutterstock



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Everything You Need To Know

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Of all the many, many functions available in Google Ads, I have a few that are my favorites. And sitelink assets – previously known as sitelink extensions – are at the top of my list.

Why? Because they’re so versatile. You can do almost anything with them if you think through your strategy carefully.

For example, you can use the mighty sitelink in your advertising to:

  • Promote low search volume themes.
  • Push lagging products out the door.
  • Maximize hot sellers.
  • Highlight certain product categories.
  • Answer common questions.
  • Handle PR problems.

And that’s just a start! Sitelink assets can almost do it all.

Best Practices For Using Sitelink Assets Extensions

If you truly want to get the most out of your sitelinks, you need to think about your intention.

To help you with that, I’m going to lay out a few sitelink guidelines.

1. Get clear on your objectives. Before you start, you need to think about your goals. What are you trying to achieve with these assets? Are you advertising products or services? Will the asset work well with both branded and non-branded keywords? Your answers to these questions will help determine if your sitelinks are versatile and useful to the searcher.

2. Use sitelinks as part of your larger strategy. Don’t think of your sitelinks in isolation. You should also consider the accompanying ad, landing page, and other assets. Make sure they all work together in service to your overarching strategy.

3. Use a mix of sitelinks. Sitelinks can serve multiple purposes, so make sure you’re using a variety. For example, you don’t want to use every sitelink on an ad to promote on-sale products. Instead, use a mix. One could promote an on-sale product, one could generate leads, one could highlight a new product category, and one could direct prospective clients to useful information.

4. Create landing pages for your sitelinks. Ideally, you want to send users to landing pages that tightly correlate with your sitelink instead of just a regular page on your website.

5. Track sitelink performance and adjust. It’s not enough to set up sitelinks. You should also track them to see which links are getting traction and which ones are not. This doesn’t mean that all sitelinks should perform equally (more on this below), but it does mean they should perform well given their type and objectives.

Why it’s Better To Use A Mix Of Sitelink Assets

Let’s dive deeper into this idea of using a mix of sitelinks by looking at an example.

In a new client account, we created four different types of sitelinks:

  • Two sitelinks are product-focused (as requested by the client).
  • One sitelink connects users with an engineer to learn more about the product (“Speak to an Engineer”). It has more of a sales focus.
  • One sitelink allows users to learn more about the products without speaking to an engineer (“What is?”).

The “What is?” sitelink is outperforming the “Speak to an Engineer” sitelink when we measure by CTR. While we need more data before making any changes, I predict we’ll eventually swap out the sales-y “Speak to an Engineer” sitelink for something else.

The fact that the educational link (“What is?”) is performing better than the sales-y link (“Speak to an Engineer”) isn’t too surprising in this case. The product is a new, cutting-edge robot that not many people are aware of, yet. They want more info before talking to someone.

sitelink extensions - performance exampleScreenshot by author, January 2023

By using a mix of sitelinks, and assessing the performance of each, we gained a lot of valuable information that is helping to guide our strategy for this account. So going with a mix of sitelinks is always a good idea. You never know what you’ll discover!

Sitelink Assets Examples

Now, let’s look at some specific examples of sitelink assets in Google Ads.

Example 1: Chromatography

Sitelinks extension - Chromatography exampleScreenshot from Google, January 2023

Application Search: This ad is for a highly technical product that can be used in a wide variety of applications. (Chromatography is a laboratory technique for separating mixtures.) So putting “application search” in a sitelink here might make sense. It helps prospective clients find what they’re looking for.

Sign up and Save Big: A good sitelink for lead generation and potential revenue.

Technical Support: I’m not a big fan of putting technical support in sitelinks. Tech support seems more targeted to current users rather than prospective users. But who knows, maybe they really do want to help current users get tech support via their advertising.

Guides and Posters: Again, this sitelink is a bit unusual, but it might be appropriate for this product. Perhaps people are downloading branded posters and posting them in their workplaces. If so, it’s a great way to build brand awareness.

Example 2: Neuroscience Courses

Sitelink Extensions - Nueroscience courses exampleScreenshot from Google, January 2023

I love everything about these sitelinks! The advertising is using them to reach people in all phases of the buyer journey.

For people not ready to commit:

  • Study Neuroscience: This sitelink is broad and informational. It’s helpful to people who have just started to explore their options for studying neuroscience.
  • Get Course Brochure: This sitelink is also great for people in the research phase. And while we mostly live in an online world, some people still prefer to consume hard-copy books, brochures, etc. With this sitelink, the school is covering its bases.

For people getting close to committing:

  • Online Short Course: This is the course the school offers. It’s a great sitelink for those almost ready to sign up.

For people ready to sign up:

  • Register Online Now: This is the strongest call to action for those ready to commit. It takes people directly to the signup page.

Example 3: Neuroscience Degrees

Let’s look at another example from the world of neuroscience education: this time for a neuroscience degree program.

Sitelink extensions - neuroscience degree exampleScreenshot from Google, January 2023

In contrast to the previous two examples, the sitelinks in this ad aren’t as strong.

Academics Overview: This sitelink seems more appropriate for a broad term search, such as a search on the school’s name. If the searcher is looking for a specific degree program (which seems like the intention based on the term and the ad), the sitelinks should be something specific to that particular degree program.

Scholarships: Just as with the above sitelink, “Scholarships” doesn’t seem very helpful either. The topic of scholarships is important—but probably doesn’t need to be addressed until the person determines that this school is a good fit.

Example 4: Code Security

Next, let’s look at two Google search ads for code security products.

Sitelink extensions - code security exampleScreenshot from Google, January 2023

 

The sitelinks in these two ads look like typical assets you’d find for SaaS, cloud-based, or tech companies. They click through to a lot of helpful information, such as product plans and success stories.

I particularly like the Most Common Risks sitelink in the second ad. It leads to a helpful article that would be great for engaging top-of-funnel leads.

On the flip side, I’m not a big fan of the Blog sitelink in the first ad. “Blog” simply isn’t very descriptive or helpful.

Still, there are no right or wrong sitelinks here. And it would be interesting to test my theory that blog content is not a top-performing asset!

Sitelink Assets Are More Than An Afterthought

I hope I’ve convinced you of the usefulness and versatility of sitelinks when created with specific objectives that align with your broader strategy.

So don’t create your sitelink assets as an afterthought.

Because if you give them the careful consideration they deserve, they’ll serve you well.

Note: Google sitelink assets were previously known as sitelink extensions and renamed in September 2022.

More resources:


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