Every website needs a search engine optimization strategy if you want to have any chance of making it to Google’s coveted first page. You may offer a product or service similar to a competitor, but what will set you apart from those competitors? What will make your pages rank higher? A good place to start is SEO. But with so much changing in Google search, how can you keep up and how do you ensure you’re doing the right things. Here’s how to write for SEO in 2020.
Keep up-to-date with Google’s updates
Google changes its search algorithm around 500-600 times a year. You may feel it’s impossible to keep up, but as long as you keep track of the big-picture updates and adjust your SEO accordingly, you’ll stay abreast of new developments. Moz keeps track of these updates with its Google Algorithm Update History and you can look on Google’s website regarding their pages on ‘How search works‘ and their explanation of algorithms.
We’ll just explore two major updates. There are lots to cover and many articles out there that cover them, especially on Moz’s website. But here are some basics you need to understand.
RELATED: Read about Google’s AI-first methodology here.
The Panda update focused on ensuring that Google’s top search results had high-quality website content, providing users with helpful answers. Google rolled out Panda because many websites had thin content, low-quality content, and unhelpful or untrustworthy content. The Panda update removed many high-ranking websites that didn’t provide quality content. So, the takeaway for anyone writing content on their website is to make sure that your content is quality, answers the pain points of your consumer, and is in-depth enough, using best-practices of SEO.
Google Penguin was launched to evaluate websites for their link quality. Many websites were found to be buying links, linking to low-quality links, repeating anchor text (no anchor text diversity), and keyword stuffing. Again, the takeaways for writing for SEO in 2020 is to analyze your content’s anchor text and ensure there’s diversity, try and gain as many high-quality links as possible, and add your keywords to your content naturally without stuffing keywords or writing text in an awkward way to fit in specific keywords.
Keep in mind, though, that it’s all well and good understanding Google’s updates, but the only thing Google has to base these searches on are the words on your website. Where do those words appear? In your blog content, your website copy, your eBooks, and so forth. These words are often called ‘keywords’ and you will choose your keywords based on what your business offerings are. You will need to understand how your content links to what people will search for, which leads us to our next point.
Consider keywords, search terms, and the buyer’s journey
When writing any content for your website, blog, landing pages, and email marketing, think about what you’d type into Google when searching for a solution that your company offers. When writing content for your website, write natural copy and don’t force keywords. Google will understand what your site is about but they want to know that you’re offering helpful content for the potential searcher and that that content matches their stage in their search journey.
So, if someone is looking for a vegetable peeler, they might just search ‘where can I find a vegetable peeler that makes coleslaw?’ And if you have a few blog posts and a couple of short videos that show how one of your peelers can shred cabbage, carrots, and onions, you might generate results.
Search journeys are also an important new concept for writing for SEO. Think about when you go to buy a new product. Let’s say it’s a computer. You don’t just type ‘Where to buy a computer’ into Google and then buy one the next day. You might search for ‘Compare iMac with MacBook Pro.’ You might search for ‘Compare iMac 27 inch screen to iMac 21.5 inch screen.’ You might look up specific products or features or compare Apple computers to HP. Your journey may take days, weeks, months before you decide on which purchase you’ll make. The same goes for any product or service you sell. It takes people time to decide what they want and Google now understands this concept.
They will track where people are on their journey. Are they in the initial research phase? Well, we’ll show them these search results? Are they almost to the purchasing stage? Let’s show these results.
Buyer’s journey: awareness, consideration, decision
What does that mean for your SEO? More than ever before, you’ll need content for every stage of the buyer’s journey: awareness, consideration, decision. You’ll want content that can attract and retain visitors at every stage.
Another way to bypass more ‘organic’ SEO results is to get your blog featured in Google’s featured snippets.
Try and create some simple answers that can feature in Google’s featured snippets, sometimes also known as ‘answer boxes.’ This Moz article will tell you more about how to get featured, but essentially there are three types: paragraphs, lists, and tables. You’ll want to have your content answer a question and put the answer in one of these three formats.
As with any writing, you want to do some keyword research. Long-tail keywords often have a higher chance of ranking than shorter keywords, but to understand your likelihood of ranking, you need to consult whichever keyword research tool you use. Some tools to use are Google Search Console, Ahrefs Keyword Explorer, Google Keyword Planner, Moz Keyword Explorer, SEMRush, Soovle, and Jaaxy. There are a mix of paid and free tools and these aren’t exhaustive (there are so many out there).
Ultimately, when doing keyword research you want to find keywords with the lowest competition with the highest search volume.
Some companies try to get lots of unique traffic by writing content for practically every keyword (low competition, medium search volume), but you also have to evaluate is there a good enough ROI churning out lots of content in the hopes that those few hundred people find you.
Here are some search stats.
- 10% of searches feature 1-word phrases
- 20% of searches feature 2-3 word phrases
- 70% of searches feature 4-word phrases
What that means for you is that most of your keywords need to be over four words. People type a lot into the search bar (or relatively a lot), so if your keyword phrase has four or more words, there’s lower competition and a higher SEO success rate, which, hopefully, means a higher rate of traffic conversion. But, again, there needs to be a balance, ensuring that overall your content is high-quality and helpful.
Keep writing content
Since this post focuses on ‘how to write for SEO‘, you should write content (no brainer). There are varying ideas on how much content you should write or how long your posts should be but the overarching theme is that you should have something and it should be high-quality and helpful.
How long should blog posts be?
CoSchedule has a great blog post on how long blog posts should be. The article indicates that long-form content outperforms shorter content by over 40%. The average blog word count is around 1,100 words but six times as many bloggers write content over 2,000 words. Both HubSpot and CoSchedule agreed that posts around 2,500 words were their best performing content that did better with organic search, but Moz cautions that you should analyze your own data and see what your audience prefers (it could differ). For more, see why blogging matters and best practices on a post we’ve previously written to help you write better content for users and search engines alike.
How often should I blog?
On the idea of the frequency of blogging, Neil Patel opens this article with some shocking statistics: the fact that the Huffington Post’s blog cranks out content every 58 seconds, meaning they publish 1,600-2,000 pieces per day. Rest assured, though, he also notes that Backlinko’s Brian Dean who has millions of visitors each month only published 32 content pieces total at the time of publication. The point is that no matter how often you publish content, you need to have quality content and you need an engaged audience. Patel’s article discusses how to experiment with engagement.
What are the frequency recommendations?
HubSpot has a statistic that companies who blog more than 16 times per month received 3.5 times more traffic than those who only blogged 0-4 times per month. However, HubSpot notes that engagement has some correlation with company size. Their advice is that small companies should blog around 11 times per month, medium companies should blog more than that, and large companies even more. So, that’s about 2-3 posts per week or more, which is doable depending on your resources.
Keep in mind that no matter how often you’re writing, what you’re writing is more important. Your posts need to be at minimum 300 words and your frequency of posting is recommended to be around 2-3 pieces per week. Here’s our piece on why blogging matters and best practice for more information.
But you want to speak to your audience’s pain points at every stage of their journey and capture keywords for those pain points, the keywords that point to you being a solution to their problem or query.
How to speak to your customer’s pain points
Think about the last product you searched for or, if you had a question about plant care or how to remove a stain from your pillowcase, what content did you find the most helpful? Often, we want content that is direct and to the point.
As content writers, we’d love if someone clung to our every word, but it’s unlikely, which is why we break up our paragraphs, add headings and subheadings, and we try and write as concisely as possible. People are busy and want answers as quickly as possible.
There are exceptions. Sometimes people want to read and understand deeply about a topic and in which case they may want long-form content, but you need to analyze what kind of content you’ll be writing and how that audience will want that content delivered.
The bottom line is that Google needs to know that you’re writing about topics that help your customer or potential customer. How do you gain new business through your posts? And, more importantly, these days is how do you retain existing customers? How do you speak to pain points they may have in the future? How long, short, or frequent that content should be ultimately depends on your individual consumer’s and what meets their needs.
Create great visuals
What’s content without visuals? When children are learning to read, pictures help clue them in to the context contained in the words they read on the page. From these visuals, they solidify their comprehension of the words. Even though we are all grown-ups now and many of us have had formal education to boot, visuals still help us understand the world around us, especially when reading and especially if some of your audience are visual learners. Some of this need for visuals is demonstrated in how well video performs. Relevant videos and compelling images help people understand what you’re writing. So, even if you just have an image at the top of the blog to attract people to click on social media, you need to have something. Better yet, create visuals, diagrams, and illustrations (where relevant) throughout your blog posts to aid understanding, comprehension, and memory.
Allow time to measure success
Finally, regarding any updated content plan, you need to give time to evaluate your results. You can’t start blogging three times a week with 2,000+ word posts and expect overnight success. Each quarter, you should evaluate your ROI and your website performance metrics to see if you’re moving in the direction you want. Those metrics will depend on your own goals whether it’s more traffic, more leads, more conversions, and so forth.
Then, every six months, you’ll want to analyze what content is performing well and how you can repurpose that content or how you can replicate those results. Content strategy and content tactics are a long-term game plan that work in conjunction with your SEO efforts to increase organic and social traffic.
Overall, when writing for SEO 2020, you need to ensure you keep up with Google, optimize for keywords, and write high-quality content that speaks to your audience. Besides being aware of Google’s switch to search journeys and cracking down on ‘bad’ website content, your content strategy should remain mostly the same as what you have been doing in previous years, but as always, you should continue to measure the success of your content and tweak your methods accordingly.
Do you need help with your SEO in 2020?
Since SEO is the driver of website traffic, you need to ensure that your on-page, off-page, local, and general SEO are in place. Key Medium is an expert in SEO. Get in touch if you need help discussing your content strategy or revamping your website’s SEO.
Elaine Frieman holds a Master’s Degree and is a UK-based professional editor, educational writer, and former marketing agency content writer where she wrote articles for disparate clients using SEO best practice. She enjoys reading, writing, walking in the countryside, traveling, spending time with other people’s cats, and going for afternoon tea.