How to Write Great SEO-Friendly Content (Updated)
2020 is here, (and suddenly, 2021 is almost gone!) and SEO is continuing to develop at a rapid-fire pace. With two or three major Google algorithm updates every year, we get thousands of minor changes on top of it. Thanks to AI and machine learning, the search engines are now smart enough to understand the search intent and the context of online content to rank it accordingly.
That said, SEO processes go far beyond using promotional keywords and building tons of do-follow backlinks. To win SERP in 2020, we need to focus on SEO texts that would look trustworthy for Google.
(As SEO is always changing, we’ve added a link to a 2021 Amazon guide, below)
Let’s see how to do that.
It’s All About E-A-T Now
In 2019, Google focused its Quality Rater Guidelines on website reputation and content purpose. Now it wants to rank “reliable sources,” i.e., those generating expert content, optimized for search intent and semantic SEO.
Sounds like Google wants to make E-A-T one of top-ranking factors for your content this year, no? So if you still focus on exact-matching keyword optimization, think again. Your content won’t rank in 2020 if it doesn’t look expert and doesn’t match the search intent of a user.
To be aligned with E-A-T, your SEO content needs to be:
- Written by experts in the niche.
- The more relevant research, actionable case studies, expert comments, or insights you use in content to help users, the better.
- Published at the reputable website: do your best to get cited or listed at trusted resources. In other words, you need to prove to Google that you’re an expert and that you’re worth trust.
- Encourage comments to the content for Google to see that you have an active community.
“Comments are better on-site for engagement for SEO than moving to social.”
~ Gary Illyes, Google
SEO Factors for Your Content to Rank High in 2020
With more than 200 factors affecting your SEO, here are the top five relating to content and its overall rankings this year:
1) Keyword Research
No matter what, keywords remain the primary factor for efficient SEO. They help search engines understand your niche and content topics for more relevant SERP results.
In 2020, semantic search and search intent call the shots; so, keyword types reshape all the time and go far beyond short-term and product-defining ones. For your SEO content to rank higher, find and group the following keywords:
- LSI keywords. Also known as niche keywords, they are lexical items relating to your exact keyword for Google to understand your topic better. Tools such as Linkio, LSI Graph, or the “Searches related to…” section of Google can help you identify them.
- Vertical keywords. They are words from closely related niches but with clear connections to your target audience.
- ExclusiveLV keywords. It’s your brand name and terms that help Google associate you with the niche. For example, the “skyscraper technique” keyword is associated with Brian Dean today, and the “smart blogger” keyword is about Jon Morrow and his website.
- User-generated keywords. It’s the lexical items your audience uses to find answers to their questions, and they may differ from target keywords from your SEO tool. Consider Q&A websites and topical forums to see what words people most often use when talking about your topic.
- Influencers’ names. Whenever appropriate, mention influencers or write about them in your content. It will help to attract targeted traffic and grow your website’s trust.
Also, remember that every keyword has intent (to buy, to inform, to compare, etc.). For your SEO content to rank high, make sure to optimize it for that intent.
Let’s say you want to rank for the “critical writing” keyword.
People searching for it could want to learn strategies of critical writing, or find exercises to practice it, or buy a critical writing course to enhance their skills in it. But Google search results tell us that the intent here could also be finding information about critical essay writing for students.
So, to rank higher, consider the search results to find out the search intent — and use semantic research tools to cluster your keyword into related concepts to cover them in content.
2) Topical Authority
A topical authority of your content does matter for high rankings in 2020. You know that lengthier content ranks better, but the sheer number of words won’t help here. Whoever covers the topic better wins.
Make sure to generate in-depth content assets, relevant and up-to-date for your niche. Include research, case studies, visuals, related insights, and expert feedback to cover the topic inside out. Add videos and interactive elements to engage readers and please the RankBrain algorithm.
The reason why lengthier content ranks better hides here: Google thinks that the more words with all the above elements are in your article, the more likely it is that you’ve covered the topic like a boss.
3) Content Optimization
This year, you might want to optimize your SEO content for not only keywords and readability but featured snippets, voice, and video search.
Featured snippets, also known as Position Zero of Google, steal tons of clicks from the #1 in SERP. When formatting your SEO content accordingly, you can improve its chances of getting there.
How to format:
- Choose a keyword among those you already rank in the top 10 but not in a snippet.
- Add a content block to your page, designed for a snippet: write a definition, create a table, add a step-by-step list, etc.
Also, if some of your content ranks in the top three search results already, you might want to optimize it for voice search. We know that 41% of users perform at least one voice search every day; so this SEO trick would come in handy too, right?
How to optimize:
Given that most of the voice searches are question-based, include a relevant question to your content and answer it as short and clear as possible.
Another strategy to try:
If you use video content at the website, make sure to optimize it for SEO and Google snippets, too: organize it into sections with a title for each, provide transcripts, and add corresponding video description and tags for Google to understand what’s in there.
4) On-Page SEO
Unlike with off-page SEO (do-follow backlinks to your content from high-authority websites in the niche), on-page SEO is what you can control:
- Use short and keyword-rich URLs for every page. (Short URLs rank better, as they get more clicks. URL shorteners can help you here.)
- Write SEO titles with one or two tag modifiers. (They help the audience understand what’s in the content. The modifiers in this title are “SEO” and “2020.”)
- Remember about SEO descriptions with keywords.
- Always add internal links to relevant pages from your website.
- Mention your target keyword in at least one subheading (h2 and h3) of your content.
- Add a few external links to relevant authority websites in your niche.
- And don’t ignore alt-tags of your images in the content.
We know that search engines measure how users interact with the content and rank it accordingly. In other words, the more prolonged and positive interaction, the more relevant and engaging your content seems to Google.
To convince Google that your content is worth top rankings, consider some SEO copywriting tricks that influence its dwell time, interaction, and overall virality.
- Use NLP copywriting tricks in headlines and subheads (numbers, power verbs and adjectives, persuasive writing techniques, etc.)
- Pay attention to how you write introductions: the opening paragraph of your content lets users understand if they want to continue reading it, so think of proper hooks, bucket brigades, or introduction formulas from Brian Dean. They are two: APP — agree, promise, preview, and PPB — preview, proof, bridge.
- Include relevant and high-quality images to attract readers. Consider concept visuals, too: brand images, graphs, original infographics — make it easy for readers to embed them into their content, sharing and linking back to you.
- Structure with content usability in mind: avoid blunders, use short sentences and paragraphs, and remember about a clear call to action in the conclusion.
- Share practical tips, answer user questions you’ve specified during the keyword research; remember: your content needs to match the search intent.
- Craft your SEO content with emotional writing tactics in mind: they engage users, appealing to their needs, and therefore influence content virality.
- Update your old SEO content regularly. Focus on the assets that could still be relevant for your content strategy and try topic clusters for more traffic and conversion.
And Now, Over to You
SEO is continually changing. With keywords and backlinks being vital, content outguns every other SEO factor today. It doesn’t mean you should rewrite it every time a Google algorithm changes. Instead, focus on its relevance for your audience: consider E-A-T, optimize it for search intent and semantic search, be flexible with keywords, answer user questions, and cover topics inside out.
As a rule, if the audience loves your content, the search engines will love it too. So, if it’s well-written and optimized, it will hit the target. The question is, are you ready to focus on quality and search intent rather than the number of backlinks this year?
Lesley Vos is a seasoned web writer from Chicago. Specializing in data research, text building, and content promotion, she contributes to publications on business, digital marketing, and self-growth. Feel free to get in touch with Lesley on Twitter @LesleyVos or check more of her writing here.
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