There’s no sugar-coating it: The world of SEO can be tricky to navigate — but it’s absolutely doable, even for the newest of newbies.
It’s so worth it, too. SEO is a powerful long-term approach writers can utilize to boost (free!) traffic to their websites or blogs.
Sure, you can build an SEO article from the ground up. (Might I suggest this writer’s guide to SEO writing?) But it doesn’t have to be that complicated just yet. You can start by optimizing your existing content.
I’ll walk you through my approach — as a writer myself — to on-page SEO optimizations.
On-page SEO optimizations: What does that mean anyway?
Let’s start with the basics. In the SEO world, there are a ton of technical terms, but don’t let that scare you.
When we talk about on-page SEO optimization, we’re talking about taking an existing article or page and updating it to increase its chances of ranking on Google — aka attracting more eyeballs.
On-page SEO optimizations can be a relatively easy way to step into the SEO world. After all, you already have the content out there. You just need to make some updates so Google will take notice.
How to identify content worth optimizing for SEO
First and foremost: It’s not worth attempting to optimize every single article on your website or blog. You have to remember different pieces of content serve different purposes. Some will work better on social. Others are perfect for your email newsletter audience. And some just might have the potential to rank on Google.
So how do you determine which of your existing articles are worth optimizing?
I suggest starting with the low-hanging fruit. Using a free SEO tool like Ubersuggest, search your website’s URL. You’ll see which pages get the most traffic through Google and with what keywords. You might identify a great opportunity to optimize what’s already working well and climb the (Google) ranks.
If you don’t yet have enough traffic to your site, or you’re not spotting any obvious keyword potential, you can always do a quick DIY survey of your content.
When doing this, I like to think about what folks Google. I look for articles that take the shape of ultimate how-to guides, “best of” lists, product comparisons, recommendations, questions answered… you name it. These posts tend to be more all-encompassing and lengthy in nature. Perfect for Google.
Let’s take a quick assessment of some articles on The Write Life and use them as examples.
I’m seeing articles about the best laptops for writers, how to self-publish a book, how to get paid to write and a guide to Upwork. I suspect people are searching these terms, so these all have the potential to make strong SEO articles. (And in many cases, they do!)
On the other hand, something like “ways writers can recreate the coffee shop experience” probably isn’t something that gets searched a ton, so you probably wouldn’t want to focus your efforts on optimizing it. However, it’s great content for other platforms like social pages, community groups or newsletters.
Once you pluck a few ideas from your site, it’s time to dive in with some keyword research.
A step-by-step guide to the on-page SEO optimization process
This is the fun part of SEO optimizations (at least in my humble opinion). I’ll walk you through each step I take when optimizing an article for SEO.
Step 1: Pinpoint your target keyword
If you don’t already have a selected keyword, you’ll need to do some research. Remember, your keyword is the word or phrase you want to rank for on Google.
Use a keyword research tool for this. We love Ahrefs around these parts, but again Ubersuggest is a great (and free!) alternative.
So let’s say you want to optimize an article about cold brew coffee. Type the core terms into Ubersuggest. In this case, it’d be “cold brew coffee.” Leave out any unnecessary adjectives, prepositions or articles. Here’s another example: If you were optimizing a post about how to self-publish a book, you might simply search “self-publish book.”
Going back to the cold brew coffee example, when you search that term in Ubersuggest, you’ll find there’s a high search volume (49,500 when we looked). That’s great! That means tens of thousands of people are searching the term each month.
However, you’ll see the SEO difficulty (SD) is pretty high. (At the time we checked, it was 58.) The SEO difficulty ranges from zero to 100, and the closer you can get to zero, the better.
If you scroll down, you’ll find more keyword ideas. View all keyword ideas to see what related terms people search. Consider the different angles.
Remember: Your goal is to find a relevant keyword with a high search volume and a low SD.
Also, keep your reader top of mind. The keyword “how to make cold brew coffee” has a lot of potential — 33,100 monthly searches with a 22 SD. But if you want to optimize a review you wrote of the Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew from Starbucks, readers are less likely to click because you’re not giving them what they’re looking for.
For the sake of this example, let’s optimize our hypothetical article with the keyword, “how to make cold brew coffee.” It has a high search volume and a relatively low SD.
Step 2: Read Google’s mind
You’re about to read Google’s mind. Think you’re ready? It’s not as difficult as you might think!
In this step, your goal is to better understand what Google considers top-ranking material for this keyword. Really, you’re just surveying your competition.
Here’s what you’ll need to do: Search your target keyword in Google, and take a good look at the first page of results. Start taking notes on:
- The top-ranking articles: Read through the top three to five ranking articles. What content do they cover? What questions do they answer? Take inventory of headlines, formatting, tables and graphics.
- The featured snippet: For some keywords, Google will populate what’s called a “featured snippet.” This is the box of text that populates at the top of your Google search. Note the content it’s highlighting. This is Google saying, “Hey, here’s the best answer!” If you can rank in this top spot, you’ll get more views, but fair warning: It’s pretty tough.
- People also ask: This box contains questions related to your keyword. Consider: Are these relevant questions you could answer in your article? For instance, people also ask, “Can regular coffee be used for cold brew?” You could probably easily answer this somewhere in your article: “You can use regular coffee for cold brew. In fact, you can use any sort of coffee you’d like.”
- Related searches: Finally, scroll down the related searches at the bottom of the first page. See if anything stands out. You might get some good ideas for topics you can add to your existing content like, “how to make cold brew in a mason jar” or “how to strain cold brew coffee.”
Again, the goal here is to simply take inventory and survey your competition. In a way, you’re getting inside Google’s brain to see what it “likes.”
Step 3: Beef up your article
It’s finally time to write!
With on-page optimizations, you’ll work with the existing content you have. There’s rarely a reason to delete everything and start over. You simply want to beef up your article with additional information, reporting, graphics or sections you noted in step two.
Of course, you never want to copy what exactly another top-ranking site is doing. Make this your own! But maybe one article included a neat graphic, and that sparked an idea. Or maybe another article listed several cold brew coffee recipes at the end of their guide. Perhaps you add one or two of your own. Again, use your research as inspiration and guidance — not your rulebook.
As you work, keep your reader in mind. This is one reason I love SEO writing — your goal is to serve the reader and give them all the information they’re seeking. Now, this doesn’t mean you want to jam-pack your article with every single element you noted from the top-ranking articles.
Instead, ask yourself: If I wanted to learn how to make cold brew coffee, what would I want or need to know?
Additionally, maintain your natural writing style and voice. Although SEO writing may feel a bit more prescriptive, you’re not writing for a robot. Avoid keyword-stuffing at all costs. (That means awkwardly wedging keywords into your post.) Again, SEO is all about the reader.
You’ll want to pay close attention to your headline (or title tag), excerpt (or meta description), you subheads (or H2) and your image descriptions. If you can do so naturally, include your keyword in these.
Links also help boost page rankings, so find opportunities to link out to credible sources. Or, once you republish your newly refreshed article, see if you can find other pages to link to it on your site (again, when relevant!).
Step 4: Give it a week and check in
The optimization process is ongoing, and it’ll likely take a good bit of experimenting.
Once you update your content, give it a week or so before checking in on it. Again, you can use Ubersuggest to peep your top pages and keywords.
After a few months, take another look at what’s ranking on Google for your intended keyword, and see if there’s anything else you can do to boost your rankings.
The ultimate key? Patience and persistence. The optimization process is ongoing. Google is constantly shifting its algorithms, and new articles are jumping in to compete for those rankings each day. Just keep your fingers to the pulse, and keep working. I have faith you’ll land on the magical Page One eventually!
Got an article in mind you’d like to optimize? Share your updates in the comments below!
Photo via franz12 / Shutterstock