So, you want to be a great marketing content writer. You’ve got the wordsmithing capability and writing talent down pat, and you think you’re ready to dive in. Hold up there, wordmonger! You won’t reel in an audience (or impress your clients) unless you learn some basic SEO writing skills.
You simply cannot write for the web without possessing and fine-tuning your SEO skills. If you’re not optimizing your content, it probably won’t perform as intended when published. If you’re writing for a client, they might send it back, dissatisfied. You don’t have to be an absolute SEO guru, but you do need to be able to optimize your piece and write with SEO in mind.
Learn the basics of SEO to become a capable marketing content writer
Instead of providing you with some sort of huge, all-encompassing guide to SEO for writers, we’re going to hit on the important basics here. That way, you can research certain strategies, tactics or skills that you need more clarification on, if that’s the case, instead of becoming so overwhelmed you stop reading and curl into a fetal position under your desk. You’re welcome.
6 basic SEO skills for marketing content writers
SEO used to be a total spam fest. Did you know that people actually used to hide keywords in their website’s background? They’d just make them the same color, so they’d be invisible to users. Thank Google that’s not how it works anymore!
Here are six up-to-date SEO writing skills you must learn now.
1. Understand search intent and use it accordingly.
With every new search algorithm update, Google tries to become more and more… well, human. To provide you, the searcher, with the most relevant results for your query, Google aims to understand and use language like a human does. So, you should spend a little time doing that, too.
In short, search intent is this: What is the searcher looking for when he or she types in a query?
For instance, if a mother is searching for a new family vehicle and safety is her number one priority, she’ll type in “safest family vehicles.” Most likely, she’ll expect to see a list of SUVs and vans and their safety ratings. That’s her intent.
There are four types of search intent.
In general, there are four different categories that searches fall into.
Examples: Who wrote the book ‘Hillbilly Elegy’? How does a vaccine work? What is the Electoral College?
Examples: LinkedIn, usbank login, Walmart Black Friday ad
Examples: Unlocked Google Pixel, Frozen Elsa doll, Old Navy coupon
- Commercial Investigation
Examples: best email marketing tool, top safe cars for teens, Rocket Mortgage reviews, Sam’s Club vs Costco
How to use search intent for content writing
All right, you understand search intent. But what does it mean to you, a marketing content writer?
It means that now you know exactly how to frame and spin your content for the people who will be searching for, finding and consuming it.
Let’s say you’ve got a local pet store client asking you for an optimized article on how to choose the best harness for your dog. Because you’re such a search intent smarty pants, you know that someone searching for that content is probably looking for some information, but also possibly to purchase the harness they find is best for their pup. So, you use headings like “Best Harnesses for Small Breed Dogs” and include links to the products on the client’s website for purchase.
If you’re looking for a really deep dive into search intent, check out this guide by Ahrefs.
2. Sharpen your keyword knowledge and usage skills.
SEO used to be ALL about keywords. Keyword research and including keywords in content is still important, but especially for marketing content writers, shoving your content full of keywords is definitely not your goal.
Neil Patel explains:
Keyword research is often a waste of time when it comes to blogging.
Stuffing keywords in your HTML tags and within your content isn’t what ranks you.
It’s about producing the best content with a dynamic range of terms and context on the topic.
Context > keywords.
Google scans your page and understands if your topic is relevant to a search rather than looking for keywords to determine it.
Don’t waste your time searching for keywords when most are already crowded with top-ranking sites.
Context and topics are more important than keywords when writing for a blog. In the rest of his article, Neil goes on to suggest focusing on user intent (which you’re now familiar with), topics you’re an expert on, and Google’s “people also ask” topics instead of keywords. Those are awesome points and ideas, but let’s take his and add a few.
4 Keyword and topic research and usage basics
- Research both topics and keywords. Taking your topic idea and researching both topics (what’s already out there, what’s missing, what related topics are, etc.) and keywords (with a tool like Ubersuggest) will give you the clearest focus.
- Laser-focus your topic. The best pieces of content that rank highly in Google are focused on one main idea. The more topics you try to include in your article, the less likely it is to gain visibility in Google. Save extra ideas that come up for other articles.
- Use keywords in your title, page headings, and meta description. Your title should obviously include your primary keyword or topic, followed by some more natural usage in your headings. But…
- Do NOT overuse keywords. For the love of good content, please keep your keyword usage natural! Keyword stuffing is something we SEOs did back in, oh, 2015, maybe? Google is smarter, users are smarter, and there’s just no need for it. It won’t help you.
3. Research, research, research those SERPs.
When you decide to write a piece or are approached by a client asking for specific content, if you just sit right down and begin writing it, you’re missing out on a HUGE part of SEO prep: SERP (search engine results page) research.
To begin, come up with the article title/what keyword phrase you want your article to rank for and get Googlin’ to see what content is already out there. Go through these three steps to gain crucial insights.
3 marketing content SERP research steps
- Is there a snippet (or “position zero”) in the results? If so, what is it about the article that gives it that coveted spot? What layout and informational elements can you emulate (but build upon and definitely not copy) in your own article? Gain some inspiration.
- What keywords or phrases are top-ranking articles using that you maybe hadn’t thought of? Make a list of keywords and topics you find in your SERP research.
- Look through the top few ranking pieces of content. What are they missing that you can add? Maybe it’s a graph or table or other visual, maybe they’re older and are missing a key new development, or maybe none of them is a deep dive article, leaving that job up to you. What can you do that they don’t?
4. Write a compelling, descriptive and optimized title and meta description.
“Yeah, yeah” you say, “I’ve heard this all before.” Well sure you have, but have you really thought about the title in SEO terms? You not only want searchers to feel compelled to click, but you also have to try to show up in the SERPs in the first place for the right keyword and topic searches.
You’ve already completed your SERP and keyword/topic research, so use that knowledge to decide what’s crucial to include in your title. What keywords and phrases are others using? What content is Google choosing to rank at the top?
Your title must be optimized, yes, but also compelling! Make it clear, but feel free to add some tasteful pizazz to draw in those clicks and shares.
For more on title writing, Wordstream has some pretty great general tips for crafting a great headline.
The meta description should be an introduction to your article, but you should also think of it as an ad. What will users find if they click, and why should they click?
Besides using keywords/topics and captivating your audience, here are the technical tidbits you need to know:
- Title length: Google will show 50 to 60 characters of your title. Your title can be longer, but Google will truncate it.
- Meta description length: Keep it to 155 characters or fewer. Here’s a handy guide from Yoast.
- Use a SERP preview tool to see how your title and description might look before publishing. Try this one from Portent or this one from SERPsim.
5. Use an optimal article structure.
You need to lay out your article both for Google to love and for your readers to find convenient. While styles across the web are different, especially depending on the type of content, there are some universal best practices that you’ll want to familiarize yourself with.
Let’s talk for a second about featured snippets before we dive in here. An article in the featured snippet position in the SERPs, otherwise known as “position 0,” is parsed by Google and partially included in the search results themselves, without the user needing to click. Depending on the content, it can often pull in a lot of traffic, as searchers click looking for the full article.
Layout is a BIG piece of Google’s choice as to which article to pull into their featured snippet. Of course, there are other parameters, like authority and trust, but layout is essential. The following guidelines are in line with featured snippet standards.
Article structure & layout guidelines
- Headings: H1 for your title, H2 for main headings, H3 for subheadings. Use headings to break up your content into consumable pieces for your readers. Readers should be able to scan it quickly to find the information they’re looking for. Google scans your headings before the rest of the content to decide what’s important on your page, so use them wisely.
- Paragraphs: In general, you want to keep your paragraphs short. They should be little bites of information — easier to chew and swallow than long paragraphs with a ton of information or ideas. Of course, not every piece of content was meant to have short paragraphs. If you’re going really in-depth or explaining something complicated, you might use longer paragraphs. In general, though, keep them bite-sized.
- Lists: Use lists! Google LOVES lists for their featured snippets, and users love lists because they’re easy to read. Whether they’re numbered lists or bullet points, use them, use them, use them.
- BONUS: Grab a couple of easy, SEO-friendly copy/paste blog post layout templates you can use today.
6. Cite credible, worthy sources.
Go ahead, bolster that argument of yours with great sources! Linking out to expert-level, subject authority content by others won’t take away from your own content. Quite the opposite, actually! Citing those experts will strengthen your content.
There are a few things to consider, though, when finding and referencing sources.
First, you might not want to link out to a direct competitor. If they’ve created some original research that you need, that’s one instance where it could be okay to cite them. But for obvious reasons, you’d rather not have your readers click over to a competitor while reading your content.
Second, find the original data sources. If there’s an article that says “according to (linked source), 25 percent of all…”, don’t quote it. Instead, follow the link to the original source. You may have to dig to find it, but it’s much more credible to cite that original source in your own content.
Citing relevant, credible resources will not only give you a stronger piece of content, but you can also try tagging your cited authors on social media to get some shares.