By Shaye Moessner
There’s a world of information at our fingertips. Have a question? Google it, and you’re sure to find what you’re looking for on the first page of search results. In fact, according to Hubspot, 75% of Google users never go past the first page of search results.
So how do you make sure that your website pops up on that first page? The key is Search Engine Optimization, or as it’s commonly called, SEO: the practice of making your website favorable to Google’s organic search results.
How Does SEO Work?
When Google’s crawlers visit your website, they scan your content and index each of your web pages accordingly. This helps them determine the quality of the content and where you’ll rank in a search result. After all, Google’s goal is to provide users with the most relevant answer to their search query.
In the past, Google primarily focused on keywords to rank results… which led to people “keyword stuffing,” or writing one word over and over again to “trick the crawlers” into ranking them first for that keyword. To combat this, Google’s search algorithms stopped purely focusing on keywords and began also looking at context and user intent when serving up results for search queries.
Google has started placing more focus on user intent (determining the intention of a person’s search and serving up related results), but this doesn’t mean that you should leave keywords in the dust — you just need to change how you’re using them.
Long gone are the days of writing a word over and over again with the hopes that you’ll rank on the first page of results. Your keywords should act as a North Star for your content, guiding how you write individual articles and how you structure your content strategy as a whole.
SEO can seem like a big undertaking, but researching keywords and using them to plan content is a great way to dip your toes in and get acquainted with how SEO works.
Let’s get started, shall we?
Step 1: Create Content Pillars
When writing content for SEO, you want to think outside the box. You can write about your core product or service, but you also want to write about your areas of expertise.
For example, Scrub Daddy is a popular brand that sells sponges. If they weren’t great at SEO, all of their blog content would be hyper-focused on their sponges: how they’re made, what materials they’re made of, why they’re better than your average sponge. All of their content would be about their product.
On the other hand, because they’re SEO pros, they recognize that the Scrub Daddy brand has expertise and authority on cleaning. With this in mind, a whole world of possibilities opens up for their brand. As cleaning experts, they can write articles about the best way to clean floors, windows, cars, or even dog cages. The article doesn’t have to be about their sponge, but they can mention their sponge in the article.
People care more about content that brings them value versus content that’s informative. The best content is a bridge between the two.
Creating content about cleaning helps Scrub Daddy not only rank for “Scrub Daddy sponge” search queries, but also “how do I clean my dog’s cage?” or “what’s the best way to clean my windows?”
Take a moment to think about your core values, company culture, brand ethos, and types of customers. What are you all about? What distinguishes you from others? Choose four to five areas where you can provide value and expertise, then look for keywords that are related to those areas.
Step 2: Use Research Tools to Find Your Keywords
There are plenty of tools to choose from, but you can’t go wrong with UberSuggest or Moz. UberSuggest is a free tool from Neil Patel, one of the leading experts in SEO. Moz is a paid tool with a free trial that you can test out.
UberSuggest is a really easy tool for anyone who’s starting to explore SEO, and it’s a great place to find keyword ideas. Type in the keyword you’re looking for and choose “keyword ideas” from the left-hand column. Then, click “related.” This will show you what people have typically searched for in tandem with that one word.
This tool will also show you the keyword’s search volume, cost per click, paid difficulty, and SEO difficulty. Unless you’re planning to invest in paid search, you don’t need to worry about cost per click or paid difficulty. Focus on keyword search volume (the estimated number of searches a keyword receives on a monthly basis) and SEO difficulty (estimated search results competition, AKA, how hard it will be to rank for that keyword).
Pro Tip: If you’re offering a forward-thinking product, you might want to get ahead of the curve on an up-and-coming keyword. Ten years ago, no one was searching for “CBD,” but it has since grown in popularity (and search volume). If search volume for a certain keyword is low but you anticipate it growing, you can latch onto it, create content around it, and get ahead of the curve.
Step 3: Plan Out Your Content
Before taking a deep dive into keyword research, create a spreadsheet where you can organize all of your information. You’ll want to add your content pillars to the spreadsheet, then organize keywords by pillar. This will not only help keep all your keyword research in one place but also help you brainstorm content.
Remember, you don’t want to stuff your content with a certain keyword. Instead, think of the words and phrases you want to rank for as your North Star and use them to guide the topics you’re writing about.
After organizing your keywords by content pillar, sort them by volume first and difficulty second. This will give you a really quick view of your top volume keywords and how difficult it is to rank for them. With this information in one easy-to-access place, you can reference it anytime you need ideas and write content that’s inspired by your keywords.
If people are searching for a word or phrase, that means there’s a question there. When you’re planning out new content for your blog, look at the keywords in your spreadsheet, and ask “How can I best answer this?” Write down your ideas in a different tab of the same spreadsheet. Ta-da! Now you have a handful of blog ideas that are relevant to your business.
Step 4: Write Articles with Google in Mind
When you’re searching for something, do you say “I’ll Bing it,” or “I’ll Yahoo it”… or do you say “I’ll Google it?”
There’s a reason why Google has become a verb: It’s the go-to search engine.
Users know that Google values their time. When you search for something on Google, you don’t have to submit multiple queries. You can type a string of words into the search bar, and Google will serve up what you’re looking for in the top results.
Like any business, Google wants to stay at the top of their industry. They’re equipping us, training us, and trusting us to create great content that they can pair with user searches. If you want your content to rank high up in the search results, write with Google in mind and remember that their goal is to serve up content that best answers their user’s search query.
Don’t try to plug keywords in every sentence. Write naturally, focus on your intent for the article, and make it easy to read by breaking up the text with headers or bolding important information.
What About Images, SEO Titles, Meta Descriptions, and URL Slugs?
Image Alt Text
Google’s crawlers might not be able to see your photos, but they can read the image’s alternative text (AKA alt text). Adding alt text to your images won’t necessarily tip the scale to make your article rank higher, but it will help boost your ranking in conjunction with everything else you’re doing for SEO.
More importantly, not adding alt text to your images can hurt your search ranking because it can keep Google from “seeing” these images. By adding alt text, you’re telling Google two things: that you have images in your article, and that these images are relevant to what you’re writing about.
There’s no need to stuff your alt text full of keywords, just be descriptive about what’s in the photo so that Google’s crawlers can take it into account when indexing your article.
Your SEO title gives you an opportunity to directly respond to what people are searching for. Let’s say that you wrote an article called “101 Ways to Unclog Your Garbage Disposal.” Although this title will automatically populate as your SEO title, you don’t have to use it.
In fact, using “101 Ways to Unclog Your Garbage Disposal” as your SEO title will bury the article’s intent: how to fix a clogged garbage disposal. It would be more effective to use “Clogged Garbage Disposal? Here’s The Best Way to Fix it” as your SEO title.
At the end of the day, this is a chance to reword and reframe the title of your article so that it responds directly to the search query while maintaining the integrity of your content.
Like your SEO title, your meta description is another chance to appeal to your audience. If you don’t write a meta description, Google’s search result will auto-populate with the first paragraph of your article.
Although it’s easy to let Google auto-populate your meta description, the first paragraph of your content and the description of your content are two very different things. Take advantage of this opportunity to speak to your audience by writing a helpful meta description.
For example, if you’re writing a description for “101 Ways to Unclog Your Garbage Disposal,” it could read “Learn from our garbage disposal experts on the best way to unclog your garbage disposal in less than five minutes.” This tells the reader that your article has valuable information from experts and offers a quick solution.
You want to include your keyword in your meta description, but don’t try to keyword stuff. It’s more important for your description to answer the search query and provide value to whoever’s looking for an answer to their question.
Writing a helpful URL slug is yet another opportunity to answer someone’s search query. Yes, your URL slug will auto-populate with your article title, but it’s highly unlikely that someone is searching “101 ways to unclog a garbage disposal.” They’re probably looking for “clogged garbage disposal” instead.
Don’t worry, you don’t need to change your article title — just tap into this search query by formulating a new URL slug: “clogged-garbage-disposal.”
Step 5: Keep Learning From the Pros
SEO is ever-changing. It’s important to have a list of resources on hand if you want to keep up the pace! Head to Google and search for “SEO tips,” then look at who’s ranking first or second for this highly-searched term.
After all, if you’re taking advice from someone on SEO, they should have great SEO themselves.
You can learn from expert’s blog posts and use their tools, but you should also look at the practices they put into place. How often are they publishing content? How long is their content? When you read it, what stands out? Is it well organized? Do they have informative headers? All of these factors have helped them rank on the first page of results for “SEO tips.”
Keep researching keywords and using them as your North Star, but read up on best SEO practices so that you can make sure you’re writing your content strategically. The more high-ranking content you read, the more likely you’ll be able to create content that plays by Google’s rules as their search algorithms evolve.