Writing great content for web pages, articles, and blog posts.
The first step towards writing great, SEO friendly content is great writing!
“Nothing any good isn’t hard”
– F. Scott Fitzgerald
In spite of F. Scott’s sage advice, writing copy, articles, or blog posts doesn’t have to be any harder than it needs to be.
Writing great content might be a little lofty as a goal for this article. However, knowing some of the basics of writing will help you get your point across to your visitors in a way they can understand and connect with. Just about anyone can patch together some content that follows all the SEO rules and use just the right keywords at the right density.
Your customers want more than that. They want something useful. Your customers want something of value.
Having a lot of content on your website can improve search ranking and bring you more traffic. But what will all the new visitors do when they get there? Will they be able to understand your message? Are they going to find just the thing they were looking for or will they leave in a few seconds and head somewhere else? Our aim is to give them something worth reading or, at the very least, something that doesn’t hurt.
Let’s start with the basics.
1. Identify the point of the content, or “Why am I writing this at all?”
This is by far the most import part of writing anything. All writing that’s worth anything has a point and it will say it right up front. This should be where we put most of our work! Before we even think about typing a word, we need to sit back, close the browser window, and think for a while. What do why want to write about? What specifically do we want to say about it? Is some research necessary first?
Once we have a really good idea of what we want to write about, it’ll be time to put it into words. Once we sort out our thoughts about the topic, the rest will fly by. This approach works for all writing not just something made for the web.
2. Know the Audience and Know Ourselves, or “Who am I and who the heck is going to be reading this?”
The basic point of writing anything at all it to take the thoughts in my head and as accurately as possible put them into another. If we know about this new website, service, band, etc. that we think is really great and want to tell a friend about it, where do we start? We want them to think it’s great like we do, right? What words will we use? How do we describe this extra-amazing new thing? We need to know both about the thing and about our friend.
We start by figuring out who our audience is and try to imagine how they might think. Is the audience mostly men, women, or both? How old are they generally? What are they’re interests? Sometimes we have a lot of information but other times we have to rely on an educated guess. Knowing who we’re writing for will give us an edge in making some important decisions about which writing style we will use.
Writing style is the tone, manner, and/or character of a written work. Is it going to be business, technical, or conversational? Do we use everyday language or should the content be formal? Are we persuading someone, should we speak plainly, will we tell a story to deliver our message? Whichever voice we settle on, we need to stick with it. Jumping back and forth comes off as amateurish.
3. But where’s the SEO?
We don’t want to write our little masterpiece and then squirrel it away in the attic of our hard drive. We’re writing for the web so we’re not just writing for people, we’re also writing for search engines.
What are our keywords? We did do our keyword research, didn’t we? If not then it’s off to the keyword tool. There aren’t so many free options for keyword picking anymore but we can still use Google. Google Adwords is the new home of Google’s Keyword Planner (previously called Keyword Tool).
Select “Tools and Analysis” and then click on “Keyword Planner”. On the next page, there are a few options but we’re looking for “Search for new keyword and ad group ideas”. Fill in the fields and click on “Get Ideas”. Make sure to include the topic of our page or article in the input field.
The results table is grouped into “Ad group ideas” and “Keyword ideas”. We’re not building an ad campaign so we can go straight to the keywords. From there we can sort through the results and look for the most appropriate terms.
For good SEO, focus on the more specific, lower competition key phrases. Think “places to hike in northern California” instead of “hiking”. There’s no need to shoot for a number one rank for hiking when Northern California is our target.
The key phrase shouldn’t dictate how we write or what our topics are. Instead, we need a key phrase closely related to our topic. Then we can adjust our writing and word choice to suit it.
4. Start Organizing
Remember the steps for essay writing from grade school? Here’s a refresher:
- Tell them what you’re going to say.
- Say it.
- Tell them what you just said.
These simple instructions tell us all we need to know about organizing what we’ve written. We’ll probably want to abbreviate these rules here and there but it helps to know the guidelines before we start trampling on them.
- This is our main idea. It’s the thing that got us thinking in the first place. Now we just need to put it into one or two clear, concise sentences. This is also a test to see how clearly we’ve thought about our topic. If we can’t state the main idea briefly then we have more refining to do.If we were to talk about a new shampoo we want to sell, it could read something like: “Extra-Awesome Shampoo is exactly what you’ve been looking for. It’s made from the finest ingredients and infused with rare herbs hand-picked from around the world.”
- Now, we tell the story. We’ll elaborate in detail about our topic – letting everyone know all about how luxurious and silky smooth their hair can be. Maybe we tell a story about the tribesmen that we get the herbs from.
- Wash, rinse, and repeat – right? This is the wrap up where we make our closing remarks. Here, we should echo what we’ve just told our audience and remind them that “Extra-Awesome Shampoo is designed for you with both the needs of the modern world and the traditions of the past in mind.”
If this is copy we’re writing, these sections may appear in different sections or on different pages entirely. Think of the Home, About, and Contact page trio. This is essentially the beginning, middle, end of a website. In each area, we can repeat our message in exactly the same essay format.
5. Write, write, write!
Write it all down. Get it out and onto the page.
“The first draft of anything is sh#t”
– Ernest Hemingway
No matter how garbled or convoluted it might look — just write! We need to include every rambling sentence, fragment, and half-thought. There is going to be a lot of garbage in there but hidden away is going to be our page content, article, or blog post.
This is the raw material that we’ve just mined. Plan on rambling on as long as possible. Letting the ideas flow free will help us get more and more creative as we go. Don’t even think about hitting the backspace. Ignore typos, misspellings, and grammar. Write now and edit later.
6. Edit and then edit some more
Now, take the steaming pile of everything we just wrote and put the scalpel to it. Remember the focus we settled on earlier — use it as a compass and edit away. Cut, without any mercy, everything that doesn’t relate directly to the topic. Look for unnecessarily complex words and jargon and replace them with straight talk.
For longer articles and blog posts, separate sections into sub-topics with sub-titles. If we’re adding the content to the site ourselves, we can’t forget the heading tags. This is great for SEO! With some work, what we’ll have left will start looking like the refined and polished piece of writing that we dreamed it would be.
7. Proof read – Read it through again – and maybe again after that.
Go through the piece thoroughly. Spell check. Keep an eye out for confusing statements, words or fragments left over from cutting and pasting, bad grammar, and clunky sentences. Look for inconsistencies in writing style and material left over from earlier drafts. We can ask ourselves if the ideas flow naturally from one to the next or if words look out of place. Reading the piece out load can reveal a lot of the troubles in our writing. We can then get a friend to read it through and catch what we’ve missed.
Bonus: Some more SEO before we wrap things up
We should also use all or part of your key phrase in our title, title tags, and meta tags. Don’t forget our URL. The address to our page matters too so we’ll make sure the key phrase appears there also. This doesn’t need to be complicated. We’ll just take our title and remove the common words like “it”, “the”, “and” and so on. Content management systems such as WordPress will do this automatically but it’s still good to check and maybe edit the URL they create. SEO isn’t your only consideration. You also want the URL to be memorable by a human.
As always, if you want some advice or need a hand with your website content, contact me.
Photo by Nana B Agyei