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How to Write Content that Ranks Well

Writing great content doesn’t automatically mean it will rank well in search engines. There are guidelines to follow if you want your content to be visible in relevant organic searches. Here’s how.

Know Your Keyword

The first step is to know what your content should rank for. These days, that is usually “keyphrase” rather than a keyword, since most users search for something more specific than a single word. Do some research using a keyword tool or even just some online searches to understand how your target reader searches for content like yours. You want to know the best keyphrase to use.

Good places to find the right keywords include Answer the Public, SEM Rush’s Keyword Magic Tool, and Google’s Keyword Planner.

Use Keywords in the Right Places

To rank, you need to place your target keyphrase in all the right spots through the text, while being careful not to use too much of it. Too many uses of the keyword is called “keyword stuffing” and that is something that will actually hurt your search rank.

In general, use your keyword:

  • In the title of your content
  • In the first sentence or two of your content
  • In subheads
  • As link text
  • In the alt text for any images
  • In the meta description for the content

Make Sure Your Text Is Worthy

Keywords alone will not get your text a high rank. It needs to be something that people value – that they click on and read. Make sure that you are saying something that is worthwhile. Write your content in a way that is easy to read and understand online, especially on small screens.

The other day I needed to find out if the buttermilk in my fridge was still fresh enough to use. (True story!) I did a search, picked a top result and scrolled and scrolled. Never did get a good answer to the question. There were a lot of words and keywords used, but the content was valueless. That content won’t be highly ranked for long.

In addition to the content, pay attention to your writing style. Keep your writing to the point. Use words that are easy to understand. Keep punctuation to a minimum. Don’t justify text and make paragraphs short. Make sure your content is easy to read.

Add Links

Be sure to link your content to related content for readers who want to know more, and for search engines that want to understand where your content fits in the world wide web. Link to content within your site (internal links) that is related and enhances the content. Link to external authoritative sites when you think such links will help the user get what they need.

Write for Online Readers

The rules you followed to make your print newsletter grab readers don’t work anymore. As we have transitioned to reading online, how we read and the time we are willing to give have changed. You need to change the way you present your communications to successfully compete for time and attention.

You Get 10 Seconds

Yup, just 10 seconds. Most people give your content 10 seconds (or less) to convince them to read on or they move on. Even your top readers likely spend about two minutes on your content.

Capture Readers With the Headline

The headline of your content is the first thing that will be read. This is where decisions will be made to proceed or move on. Spend the most time writing headlines that are meaningful to your target audience.

Next in importance:

  • Subheads
  • Bullet points
  • Pullout quote

Online Readers Are Scanners

It’s more accurate to think of people scanning your content than reading it. They look for key takeaways and don’t read all your text. And, they don’t necessarily review your content in a linear fashion.

You need to tell your story in the headline and subheads. Add more in the bullets. Consider a pullout quote if there is a statement or sentence that is compelling.

Use an illustrative image. Caption it in a way that relays the key message of the content.

Writing for SEO

Most of us want our online content to be found, and the most common gateway between you and your readers is a search engine. To get search engines to find and connect people to your content, you need to write with search engine optimization (SEO) in mind.

Start with Keyword Research

Writing for SEO starts with keyword research. If your content is not optimized to rank for search terms that people actually use, it may live in obscurity. Take time to think about the terms you want to be found for and do research to confirm how people are searching for that type of content. Using the same vocabulary as your target audience is critical to SEO success.

Understand Intent

As you determine the right keywords, you need to be sure that when people are using the words and phrases you find, they are actually looking for what you offer. This is referred to as search intent.

You want to optimize with the words and phrases used by searchers who are looking for what you offer. Tricking people to get to you will not lead to success. If you don’t meet the searchers needs they will move on.

As you’re doing keyword research, analyze the search engine result pages (SERP) for the keywords so you have an idea of the intent behind the keyphrases you’re targeting.

Don’t Get too Creative

Search engines are not your high school English teacher. They are not wowed by your creative vocabulary. They don’t give extra credit for finding new ways to say things. Instead, they get confused.

Search engines do understand that some words can have the same or similar meanings. Use that to your advantage! Don’t stuff your text with contrived occurrences of your exact focus keyphrase. Instead, make sure you use synonyms of your keyphrase.

Write from the User Perspective

When you write, put yourself in your reader’s shoes. Speak to their interests and questions. In short, write about the things they care about.

Readers don’t care about your internal structures, product jargon and preferred way of looking at things. They want to know what problem of theirs you will solve or what they will get out of reading your content.

Make your content about your user, not yourself!