5 things your editor wants you to know about SEO writing
Hint: Write for readers, not robots
I looooove SEO.
Your editors and clients probably love it, too, but I’m guessing it’s not for the same reason.
They want free website traffic. I love the craft of SEO. And I think every creative writer can.
Writing for search engine optimization is about learning what the reader wants — nailing that is the key to writing anything well. SEO gives you this incredible framework to figure it out.
As important as it is, few writers thoroughly grasp the concept or the craft of SEO. Stick a few of these tricks up your sleeve to stand out and boost your value.
5 things your editor wants you to know about SEO writing
1. These definitions
You’ll hear this jargon bandied about in SEO circles:
Search traffic: Clicks to your site from Google (or, LOL, other search engines).
Keyword: Word or phrase that signals the topic of an article or web page.
Query: The question or terms a reader types into the search bar.
SERP: “Search engine results page,” the first page of results in a Google search.
Ranking articles: Articles that appear on the SERP.
Featured snippet: Box of info that shows up at the top of search results with a link to an article. The club everyone is trying to get into.
Bounce: When a reader clicks onto your site then quickly clicks away, like oh, nevermind.
Mobile-first: Designing a website and writing content for readers on smartphones (i.e. small screens with much scrolling).
TF;IDF: “Term frequency; internal document frequency.” Yikes, I know. It’s just a new way of measuring whether your article has the right words in it to let Google know it’s a good fit for a query.
Search volume: The number of searches per month for a keyword.
Difficulty/competition: Search difficulty, keyword difficulty or competition refer to how hard it is to rank for a keyword, given the amount of content online that already covers it.
2. Good SEO is audience-first writing
SEO experts will come at you with a lot of numbers and algorithms (and, er, terms like “TF;IDF”) that aren’t exactly inspiring to a creative writer.
But mostly what you need to know is a search-optimized article is one that does an amazing job answering a reader’s question. And that is something writers do swimmingly.
A company’s SEO guy* might send you a list of keywords and term frequencies to hit, give you an outline that’s basically a copy of ranking articles or tell you thisreally needs a chart somewhere. Their guidance is fine, but your final loyalty is to the reader.
Get in the reader’s head and ask yourself, if you were to Google the target keyword, would you be satisfied with what you find in this article?
*No offense to the cool SEO guys and gals out there (you know who you are)!
3. ABC: Always be clarifying
(I just made that up. Should I put it on a mug?)
A reader who comes through search has a question, and they’ve found your article to answer it. Take your responsibility for disseminating information seriously.
Don’t meander. Don’t linger on an irrelevant intro. Be clear, focused and direct. That’s not to squash your creativity but to stay on task and serve the reader with every word.
Imagine a friend asks you, “How do I ride a bicycle?” And you start with an anecdote about where you bought your bicycle. I think you’d lose a friend. They want to hear, “Here’s how to ride a bicycle. Step 1…”
If your article poses a question — in the headline or in the sub-heads throughout — get straight to a clear and concise answer.
4. Keyword research helps your pitch
Strengthen your pitch by adding suggested keywords and their stats, and watch your editor swoon. Some tips:
Use a free tool like Ubersuggest or WordStream to find a good keyword that matches your pitch topic. Good = high number of monthly searches, low search difficulty.
Check the site for other ranking articles to avoid overlapping information. (Do a site search in Google — “site:example.com: keyword.”)
Adjust your pitch if the site has already covered the topic comprehensively.
Check out my Craft Your Content article on SEO writing in the resources below 👇👇 for more details on SEO keyword research to impress the pants off your editor (gosh, is that phrase appropriate anymore?).
5. Search traffic is good traffic
Editors and site owners care about SEO because the traffic is free and the readers are pre-screened to be interested in the topic (“prequalified”) — because they came searching for it.
Compare that to Facebook traffic, people who find your article while scrolling their feed for distraction on the toilet. Search traffic is a lot more valuable to a site looking for engagement, subscribers or sales.
1. How To Write Well While Writing for SEO (Craft Your Content): Writers should love SEO writing, because it helps you understand what readers want! I wrote this guide to invite you to this love fest and show you an easy and intuitive way to do SEO keyword research and planning.
2. SEO Copywriting: How to Write Content For People and Optimize For Google (Neil Patel): Neil Patel (who created Ubersuggest) shares how to write people-first content that also ranks in Google and can persuade people to act to support an online business.
3. How to Unlearn Everything You Learned about Writing in School (The Write Life): You have to know how to write for online audiences to write good SEO content. This is my primer on blog writing for anyone who was taught the five-paragraph essay is the One and Only Correct Way to Write.
4. Writing Online Headlines: SEO and Beyond (Poynter Institute): Eric Ulken of PMN (the publisher of The Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com) teaches journalists how to write headlines for online platforms, including getting the right keywords for SEO. This self-directed online course costs $29.95.
5. The Beginner's Guide to SEO (Moz): For an SEO deep dive — so you can totally hang in conversations with those SEO guys — turn to Moz, home to some of the internet’s most respected SEO experts. This guide takes you through what SEO is, how it works, how to do it as a writer and as a developer, and how to measure success.