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How to Write Website Content That Ranks (And People Want to Read)

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How to Write Website Content That Ranks (And People Want to Read)

If you want traffic coming to your website, you need website content—but not just any content.

Specifically, you need website content that: 

  • Ranks on Google – You need a way for people to discover your content. Google’s your best bet: 53.3% of all website traffic comes from organic search. 
  • Engages your audience – Your target reader should consume your content and be compelled to take the next step, whether it’s subscribing to your email list or buying your product.

In this post, you’ll learn how to create content that achieves both goals.

You can’t get search traffic if no one’s searching for your keywords on Google. That’s why the first step is to figure out what your target audience is searching for. 

This process is known as keyword research. 

To get started, make yourself a cup of joe, sit down, and ask yourself: “What would my target audience type in Google if they were looking for my website?”

For example, if your website sells coffee equipment, then someone may be searching for websites similar to yours using these keywords:

  • Coffee
  • Espresso
  • Cappuccino
  • Coffee beans
  • French press

We’ll then take these keywords and use them as seeds in a keyword research tool like Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer. So here’s what we’ll do:

  1. Go to Keywords Explorer
  2. Enter the keywords you’ve come up with (in this example, we’ll use the five coffee keywords)
  3. Go to the Matching terms report
Matching terms report, via Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

Here, you see more than 4 million potential keywords you can target. However, not only is that too many, but most of them are also too competitive. After all, Google search doesn’t exist in a vacuum—if there are many websites vying for pole position, it becomes harder to rank. 

So we want to narrow down the results. We’ll do this using two filters:

  1. Keyword Difficulty (KD) – How hard it is to rank for a particular keyword. We’ll set it to something low and manageable, around 20.
  2. Traffic Potential – The potential amount of search traffic your page can get if it ranks #1. We’ll set it to 500.
KD and TP filtered in the Matching terms report, via Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

It’s much more manageable now. Go through the list and pick out the keywords you think are relevant to your site.

With a list of keywords to target, it’s time to create content.

Here’s how:

Choose your content format

Your content can be a listicle, a how-to guide, an opinion piece, or more. 

Which one should you choose?

The most straightforward way is to look at what’s ranking in Google for your chosen topic. For example, if we look at the search engine results page (SERPs) for “how to save money,” we can see that—despite the two words “how to”—people are actually looking for a list of tips.

SERP overview for "how to save money," via Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

So if you’re tackling this topic, your content format will likely be a listicle. This helps you compete with the existing results on the SERPs.

Choose your angle

You’ll want to make your content specific so your audience can clearly identify its value. This is conveyed via your content’s angle. 

For example, a blog post teaching how to cook fried rice fast has a clearer proposition than simply how to cook fried rice. 

There’s no “best” or “correct” angle to select, so choose one that’s novel and interesting to your readers. Here are some questions that could spark ideas:

  • Do you have personal experience or expertise? If you have a unique fried rice recipe, share it.
  • Can you interview experts? For example, you can interview the chef making the fried rice that’s rated 4.5* on Google.
  • Can you crowdsource ideas? For example, you can poll people part of r/chinesecooking on their best fried rice recipes.
  • Can you back your content with data or science? For example, you can explain how to make egg fried rice using molecular gastronomy (and explain the science behind it).

Figure out important subtopics to cover

You don’t want to miss out on subtopics in your post—especially if it’s something searchers expect to see. 

We can figure out what these subtopics are by looking at the common keyword rankings among the top-ranking pages:

  1. Enter your keyword (e.g., “inbound marketing”) into Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer
  2. Scroll down to the SERP overview
  3. Select three to five top-ranking articles (make sure they’re similar)
  4. Click Open in and choose Content gap
Using the feature "Open in Content Gap" to see common keyword rankings, via Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

Here, we’ll want to make sure to see only the most relevant subtopics. We’ll do this by selecting the Intersection dropdown and choosing the highest two targets (in this example, 4 and 5).

Common keyword rankings, via Ahrefs' Content Gap report

From here, we can see that searchers also want to know:

  • The definition of inbound marketing.
  • Examples of inbound marketing.
  • Inbound marketing strategies.

If we’re covering the same topic (“inbound marketing”) from a similar angle (“beginner’s guide”), then these subtopics would make good subheadings. 

Design your content to be readable

Nothing is worse than having to read a chunk of text. You’ll want to make your content comfortable to read and easy on the eyes.

You can do this using the ASMR formula:

  • Annotations – Add elements like sidenotes, blockquotes, and call-out boxes to break up the monotony of the post.
  • Short sentences and paragraphs – Break long sentences with lots of transitional words like “and,” “because,” and “that” into shorter ones.
  • Multimedia – Including videos, images, and GIFs helps illustrate your points without extra words.
  • Read your copy out loud – This pinpoints areas where the content doesn’t flow smoothly.

Write like how you talk

You don’t have to puke out a word salad to impress your readers. The best online writing is friendly and casual. Treat it as if you’re talking to a friend. 

If you’re afraid your writing is too business-like, paste your draft into Hemingway:

Hemingway app

Reel your readers in with an eye-catching headline

The famed adman David Ogilvy once said:

On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy.

People are busy. You need to catch their attention with the headline. So no matter how hard you work on your content, if your headline doesn’t hook them, they won’t read it. 

The best way to come up with a good headline is volume. In other words, brainstorm as many possible headlines for your article as possible. Viral site Upworthy used to create 25 headlines for each of its articles, and bestselling author James Clear brainstormed 400 before coming up with “Atomic Habits”:

Fortunately for you, there’s a faster way to reach this volume today. You can use ChatGPT:

Click-worthy headlines generated by ChatGPT

Don’t use what’s generated verbatim, but use it to spark inspiration and help you create the perfect headline.

Add your on-page SEO

On-page SEO focuses on helping Google and searchers understand and digest your content.

Follow these best practices:

3. Get a peer to review your work

Our content is well known in the SEO industry, and we’re often complimented for our content quality:

Our secret sauce? Peer review.

Each writer on our team is paired with another to review each other’s work. We point out inaccuracies, logical loopholes, structural issues, spelling errors, and grammatical mistakes. We help each other improve phrasing, suggest examples, or give more ideas.

This is so important to us that we even dedicate a section in the author’s box to contributors:

Highlighting the contributor for an Ahrefs blog post

A writer can’t write alone—they’re too close to their own work. They need a third party with a fresh set of eyes to go through and provide feedback. That’s why authors hire editors—they’re there to sharpen the prose and tighten the copy.

If you have an editor to show your draft to, great. If not, you can always get the help of a friend, family member, or colleague. 

Even if they don’t finish reading, it’s still helpful because it tells you where they stopped reading. That’s most likely the part where they lost interest, so you know where you need to improve. 

4. Publish and monitor your performance

Before you publish, run your draft through a tool like Grammarly to fix up any final grammatical, spelling, or phrasing errors.

Once that’s all done, hit ‘“publish.”

Then, head over to Ahrefs’ Rank Tracker and set up a project for your website.

Creating a project in Ahrefs' Rank Tracker

Follow through the steps. And then in step #4, add the keyword(s) you’re targeting:

Adding keywords to track in Ahrefs' Rank Tracker

The tool will track your website’s ranking positions for the keywords you’ve added. 

SEO is a continual process, and a tool like Rank Tracker will enable you to keep track of your underperforming content so you can improve it over time.

By the way, do I have to write all the content myself?

No. You can outsource.

To help you decide if you should create content yourself, here are a few points to consider:

  • Do you like writing? If you feel like vomiting every time you sit down to write a post, you should consider outsourcing.
  • Is content creation the most important thing you can do? I’m a content marketer, so writing is my most important task. But if you’re in another role, say an entrepreneur or a salesperson, then perhaps writing is not your “one thing.” It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t create content, but it may mean you don’t do the actual writing. (Remember: Many books are written by ghostwriters.)
  • Are you overwhelmed with tasks? If you can never find time to create content, e.g., you’re a solopreneur, then it’s probably better if you outsource.
  • Are you in an industry that requires domain expertise? For some industries (e.g., health), expertise is vital not just for the sake of your readers but for ranking. If you don’t have the required expertise, you may want to consider outsourcing it to someone who does. (Although you can overcome this through interviewing experts.)
  • Do you have a budget for hiring? Time is money too, so it doesn’t mean you should create all the content yourself just because you don’t have a budget. Make sure it’s the most important thing you can do.

If you’ve decided to outsource, then you can start looking for freelance writers on job boards and marketplaces. There are general ones like Upwork, and there should also be ones specific to your industry (e.g., Swipe Files is a job board for marketers).

Final thoughts

If you follow through the steps above, you’ll create content that Google loves. 

Over time, your efforts will be rewarded and you’ll see organic traffic flow to your website.

Any questions or comments? Let me know on Twitter.



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5 Questions Answered About The OpenAI Search Engine

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5 Questions Answered About The OpenAI Search Engine

It was reported that OpenAI is working on a search engine that would directly challenge Google. But details missing from the report raise questions about whether OpenAI is creating a standalone search engine or if there’s another reason for the announcement.

OpenAI Web Search Report

The report published on The Information relates that OpenAI is developing a Web Search product that will directly compete with Google. A key detail of the report is that it will be partly powered by Bing, Microsoft’s search engine. Apart from that there are no other details, including whether it will be a standalone search engine or be integrated within ChatGPT.

All reports note that it will be a direct challenge to Google so let’s start there.

1. Is OpenAI Mounting A Challenge To Google?

OpenAI is said to be using Bing search as part of the rumored search engine, a combination of a GPT-4 with Bing Search, plus something in the middle to coordinate between the two .

In that scenario, what OpenAI is not doing is developing its own search indexing technology, it’s using Bing.

What’s left then for OpenAI to do in order to create a search engine is to devise how the search interface interacts with GPT-4 and Bing.

And that’s a problem that Bing has already solved by using what it Microsoft calls an orchestration layer. Bing Chat uses retrieval-augmented generation (RAG) to improve answers by adding web search data to use as context for the answers that GPT-4 creates. For more information on how orchestration and RAG works watch the keynote at Microsoft Build 2023 event by Kevin Scott, Chief Technology Officer at Microsoft, at the 31:45 minute mark here).

If OpenAI is creating a challenge to Google Search, what exactly is left for OpenAI to do that Microsoft isn’t already doing with Bing Chat? Bing is an experienced and mature search technology, an expertise that OpenAI does not have.

Is OpenAI challenging Google? A more plausible answer is that Bing is challenging Google through OpenAI as a proxy.

2. Does OpenAI Have The Momentum To Challenge Google?

ChatGPT is the fastest growing app of all time, currently with about 180 million users, achieving in two months what took years for Facebook and Twitter.

Yet despite that head start Google’s lead is a steep hill for OpenAI to climb.  Consider that Google has approximately 3 to 4 billion users worldwide, absolutely dwarfing OpenAI’s 180 million.

Assuming that all 180 million OpenAI users performed an average of 4 searches per day, the daily number of searches could reach 720 million searches per day.

Statista estimates that there are 6.3 million searches on Google per minute which equals over 9 billion searches per day.

If OpenAI is to compete they’re going to have to offer a useful product with a compelling reason to use it. For example, Google and Apple have a captive audience on mobile device ecosystem that embeds them into the daily lives of their users, both at work and at home. It’s fairly apparent that it’s not enough to create a search engine to compete.

Realistically, how can OpenAI achieve that level of ubiquity and usefulness?

OpenAI is facing an uphill battle against not just Google but Microsoft and Apple, too. If we count Internet of Things apps and appliances then add Amazon to that list of competitors that already have a presence in billions of users daily lives.

OpenAI does not have the momentum to launch a search engine to compete against Google because it doesn’t have the ecosystem to support integration into users lives.

3. OpenAI Lacks Information Retrieval Expertise

Search is formally referred to as Information Retrieval (IR) in research papers and patents. No amount of searching in the Arxiv.org repository of research papers will surface papers authored by OpenAI researchers related to information retrieval. The same can be said for searching for information retrieval (IR) related patents. OpenAI’s list of research papers also lacks IR related studies.

It’s not that OpenAI is being secretive. OpenAI has a long history of publishing research papers about the technologies they’re developing. The research into IR does not exist. So if OpenAI is indeed planning on launching a challenge to Google, where is the smoke from that fire?

It’s a fair guess that search is not something OpenAI is developing right now. There are no signs that it is even flirting with building a search engine, there’s nothing there.

4. Is The OpenAI Search Engine A Microsoft Project?

There is substantial evidence that Microsoft is furiously researching how to use LLMs as a part of a search engine.

All of the following research papers are classified as belonging to the fields of Information Retrieval (aka search), Artificial Intelligence, and Natural Language Computing.

Here are few research papers just from 2024:

Enhancing human annotation: Leveraging large language models and efficient batch processing
This is about using AI for classifying search queries.

Structured Entity Extraction Using Large Language Models
This research paper discovers a way to extracting structured information from unstructured text (like webpages). It’s like turning a webpage (unstructured data) into a machine understandable format (structured data).

Improving Text Embeddings with Large Language Models (PDF version here)
This research paper discusses a way to get high-quality text embeddings that can be used for information retrieval (IR). Text embeddings is a reference to creating a representation of text in a way that can be used by algorithms to understand the semantic meanings and relationships between the words.

The above research paper explains the use:

“Text embeddings are vector representations of natural language that encode its semantic information. They are widely used in various natural language processing (NLP) tasks, such as information retrieval (IR), question answering…etc. In the field of IR, the first-stage retrieval often relies on text embeddings to efficiently recall a small set of candidate documents from a large-scale corpus using approximate nearest neighbor search techniques.”

There’s more research by Microsoft that relates to search, but these are the ones that are specifically related to search together with large language models (like GPT-4.5).

Following the trail of breadcrumbs leads directly to Microsoft as the technology powering any search engine that OpenAI is supposed to be planning… if that rumor is true.

5. Is Rumor Meant To Steal Spotlight From Gemini?

The rumor that OpenAI is launching a competing search engine was published on February 14th. The next day on February 15th Google announced the launch of Gemini 1.5, after announcing Gemini Advanced on February 8th.

Is it a coincidence that OpenAI’s announcement completely overshadowed the Gemini announcement the next day? The timing is incredible.

At this point the OpenAI search engine is just a rumor.

Featured Image by Shutterstock/rafapress

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Warning: Unpopular SEO writing opinion

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Warning: Unpopular SEO writing opinion

Unpopular opinion alert: Adding new blog posts may not help your site.

(No matter what that content marketing company told you.) 🙄

So many of my new clients — especially subject matter experts — don’t need new content (immediately).

They HAVE content — scads of it scattered across various platforms.

(Maybe that sounds familiar.)

What they DO need is someone to review their content and customer persona, pinpoint opportunities, and develop a baby-step approach to leveraging those older content assets.

Because there are always opportunities. 🔥

Before writing another word, ask…

  • Are you repurposing the content you have? Or are you writing it once and forgetting about it (which is so common)?
  • Is your customer/reader persona still accurate, or has your target audience changed post-COVID?
  • Do your sales pages showcase your benefits and speak to your customers’ pain points? Or are they flat and dull?
  • Does your content sound like YOU with a point of view? Or is there a massive disconnect between how you talk to clients and the words you use on your site?
  • When did you last take a peek at your old sales emails and email welcome sequences? Could updating those assets make you more money?
  • Isn’t it time to save time (and budget) and leverage your existing content?

If you need help untangling your content and messaging, let me know. I love creating content order out of chaos.

After all…

 

Warning Unpopular SEO writing opinion

 

What do you think? Leave your comment below.

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Google Bans Impersonation In Ads

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Google Bans Impersonation In Ads

Google bans impersonation and false affiliation in ads, enforcing policy changes in March.

  • Google bans impersonation and false affiliation in ads.
  • Policy enforcement starts in March.
  • Violators will be banned from Google Ads.

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