The Ultimate Guide to Writing SEO Content in 2020

Learn today’s SEO and content optimization best practices. Grow your organic traffic and make a bigger impact with your content.

Introduction


SEO changes fast. And as a writer or content marketer who’s focused on creating great content, you don’t have time to keep up with the latest best practices.

So, you do your best to implement what you know: picking a focus keyword and then using it in the title, description, and body of your post.

Finally, you hit publish, hoping that your content will be found by your audience. When the traffic doesn’t come in, it’s hard to tell what went wrong.

Unfortunately, these old techniques aren’t enough to cut it in today’s competitive content marketing landscape.

However, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to generate significant organic traffic with content. Quite the opposite.

All you need to do is learn how SEO has changed, and how to implement modern best practices to ensure your content gets the traffic that it deserves.

The best thing is that it’s not rocket science.

The graph below is the organic traffic for one of our clients.


In the beginning of 2019, they came to us asking for help overcoming the plateau in organic traffic they were facing.

We helped them implement the modern SEO best practices detailed in this guide and they saw a 100% increase in traffic and sustained, long-term growth.

Ready to learn how to do the same for your content?

In this guide, you’ll learn:

Why Old School SEO Doesn’t Cut It Anymore


If you’ve written a blog post in the past decade, you’re probably familiar with SEO content tools such as Yoast which check whether your content contains a specific focus keyword.

Content marketers have relied on tools like these for years to score their content before hitting publish, to make sure their content had “good SEO”.

And for the most part, it worked!


It worked because, back in the day, when tools like Yoast were first developed, the main challenge that you faced as a content marketer was making sure that Google could find your content.

For example, if the majority of your target audience was searching for a specific keyword like “best running shoes”, and you wrote a guide titled “Ultimate Guide to Athletic Footwear”, then Google was unlikely to send traffic to your content.

Adding the correct focus keyword into your title tag, description, and content was a great way to help Google match your article with your audience’s search query.

However, in the past decade, Google and other search engines have advanced beyond just matching content with search queries.

Thanks to advances in machine learning, search engines are able to better understand the meaning behind a word or phrase.


All of these changes mean that the focus of SEO has fundamentally shifted from satisfying the search engine to satisfying the reader.

And for a content marketer, that’s great.

Because SEO is no longer about writing dry, computer-friendly code to satisfy a search engine, but instead is about creating high-quality, compelling content for real people.

Modern SEO: Making Your Readers Happy


So if modern SEO is all about satisfying the reader, well, how do that?

The first step is to put yourself in your reader’s shoes and ask yourself, “What do I want to learn?”

For example, let's say you are targeting the keyword “how to sell a house” by writing a guide to home sales. It’s very likely that your readers also want to learn more about “how to stage an open house”, “how to choose the right realtor”, and “how to assess a home’s value”.



The reader may also have questions related to the topic. They might be asking “What are the costs involved?”, or “What can I do to sell my house fast?”.

As a writer or editor, your goal is to ensure that your content covers all of these subtopics and questions.

Because if you can keep your reader satisfied and engaged with your content, search engines will see that it is relevant and be more likely to send it traffic.

Conversely, if your content only covers the basics of selling a house, readers are more likely to bounce out, spending very little time on the page.

Google will see that your thin content is not satisfying the reader and will rank it lower.

That’s what Modern SEO is all about, making sure that your content and the reader’s goals match up and that your reader is satisfied after consuming your content.

4 Steps to Crafting Satisfying Content


Assuming you aren’t a mind-reader, figuring out what your audience wants to read about can be nearly impossible.

Then comes the challenge of weaving together a compelling story that keeps them on the page. Without the right process and tools, it can be a time-consuming and expensive endeavor.

Even more so if you’re not an expert in the subject you’re covering.

Luckily, after years of work advising companies on SEO, we’ve figured out how to get it done quickly and efficiently:

Step 1: Check if your audience is interested


You first need to make sure that your audience is actually interested in reading what you are planning to write about.

Keyword research is your friend here.

Use paid keyword research tools like Ahrefs or Moz, or a free tool such as Google AdWords Keyword Planner to determine the search volume for your subject:


Include both the focus keyword as well as any major secondary target keywords that your content would also rank for.

Keep in mind that typical CTR for the top 3 search results are 30%, 25%, and 18% respectively. So if the monthly search volume for your keywords is 100, then you could at most expect 30 clicks a month.

Ask yourself if this traffic is worth the effort you plan to invest in producing this content.

Don’t be afraid to change direction at this step!


One big mistake we see frequently is when content teams skip the initial keyword research and produce content that has no potential for traffic.

Step 2: Find out what you need to cover


So now that you’ve found a demand for a specific piece of content, the next step is to do some thinking around how you’ll approach the subject. 

You’ll want to find out what you need to cover by searching Google for using your focus keyword, opening the top articles and skimming through each piece. You’re looking for:


User Intent
- This is what the user wanted to see when they made the search. Take a look at the search engine results page (SERP) for your query.

Is your audience looking for a quick answer, a comprehensive guide, or a product?

The closer your content matches what the user wants to see, the higher your content will rank.



Questions
- Examine the "People Also Ask" (PAA) box in Google to learn what questions your audience is asking related to the query.

The questions are a great way of putting yourself in your audience's shoes, and answering these questions makes your content more valuable.

Tip: Clicking on any of the questions in the PAA box will bring up more questions related to the question you clicked on.



Keywords / Jargon
- This includes both the keywords that the audience is using, and the terminology that experts use when covering the subject.

Using terms that the audience is expecting to read increases the chance that your content will come across as trustworthy.

But be careful to avoid using too much jargon if your content is meant to appeal to novices.



Conceptual Breakdown
- Taking a complex subject and breaking it into simpler concepts can be done in an almost infinite number of ways. The key is to do it in a way that makes sense for your audience.

If you do this right, it'll make your content easier to skim and reduce the chances that your visitor will bounce.

Looking at how competitors organize their content can give you an idea on some of the possibilities.



Statistics
- Cite academic or industry research from well-known sources to reinforce your message.

Readers are more likely to engage with content that's backed with hard data, especially given the level of misinformation on the web today.



Quotes
- Find out which experts your competitors are quoting as inspiration for who you can contact to do the same. Quotes from experts increase the trustworthiness of your content and can offer unique perspectives beyond your own.

Luckily, most experts are happy to share their knowledge in exchange for additional exposure. Getting quotes from experts can also be a great way to build relationships that you can lean on for future content.

Tip: Use a tool to speed up the process


Doing the research manually can be time-consuming, laborious, and inconsistent.

That’s why we recommend using an SEO tool like Topic.

By using AI to quickly analyze the top results in Google, it will give you a Content Brief that shows you exactly how to write content that will resonate with your audience (and generate more organic search traffic).

Simply give it your focus keyword and Topic will generate a Content Brief based on what your audience is actually searching for.

The brief gives you all of the background research you need in order to create a satisfying piece of content:



Step 3: Write your draft


Now comes the most challenging (and fun) part, turning your outline into a first draft.

Luckily, you’ve done most of the hard work already.

Before you start to expand on your outline, we recommend spending time honing in on the title.

Not only is the title a key component in how you structure your post, it is your reader’s first impression of your content.

Check out this title tag guide by Ahrefs to learn more. Once you have a title you are confident in, it’s time to start writing.

At this point, your goal should be to write content that’s better than the content you are competing with.

You want to find a unique way that will jump out to the reader and add even more value. Here are a couple of ways to create something unique:

The key is to use the research you've done to create a piece of content that engages your audience more than your competitors.

The more engaged they are on the page, the higher the content will rank, and the more traffic your content will attract.

Step 4: Make sure your draft is up-to-par


Once your draft is finished, you need to be sure that you are covering the relevant sub-topics and questions. Again, a tool like Topic can help make this process easy and simple.

By pasting your draft into Topic’s content grader, you can get real-time feedback on your draft’s topic coverage and find any gaps that you need to fill.

Maximizing topical coverage increases the chances that your readers find your post valuable and stay on the page longer, increasing the post's ranking and organic search traffic.

Keep in mind that the intention here is NOT to stuff more keywords into your post, but rather to provide content that will genuinely provide value for the reader.

The key is to find natural ways to integrate the sub-topics into your post so that it fits the greater narrative you are building.

Bonus: Boost Your Existing Content Library


If you already have a library of content that you have published, then you have a treasure trove of untapped potential organic search traffic just waiting to be unearthed.

Now that you’ve learned how to use modern SEO practices to optimize new content, let’s look into what you can do with your existing content library.

Step 1: Find out which content is working for you


The best part about having an existing library is that you can quickly find out which pieces of content are resonating with your audience.

Focusing on pages that are already generating traffic allows you to focus your efforts on optimizing pages that have the best chance to generate significant traffic.

To do this, go to your Google Search Console and sort your pages by traffic.

Choose the top 20 pages, these will be the ones that we will focus on optimizing.

Step 2: Find declining pages


Look at the traffic patterns for the past 16 months for each page, identifying pages where there has been a steady decline.

This kind of decline indicates that the content was once successful, but that competition has slowly eaten away at its traffic.

The previously high traffic level shows that your domain has enough authority to regain the traffic if the content is of sufficient quality.

Step 3: Revamp your content


The final step is to improve the quality of each of the articles identified in the previous step.

Similarly to Step 2 of the section on creating new content, search for the focus keyword for the article in question and take a look at the other top results.

Here you’ll examine each of the competitors, taking note of what questions they are answering and how they cover the subject.

Now your goal is to upgrade your content so that it is superior to that of your competitors.

You can make this process even more effective by using a tool like Topic.


Simply paste in the URL of your content and its focus keyword into Topic.

Then, we’ll grade your content and show you anything you may have forgotten to cover.

Below are the results of performing this technique on one of our clients:



Summary


Although Modern SEO is more rigorous than what you may be used to doing, it’s what you need to do to drive consistent traffic and leads.

Your audience will be more satisfied with the end product and you are more likely to find potential customers.

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