How to write for SEO in 2020
Writing for SEO can be a tricky balancing act. Do you write for machines, topics, and use a ton of keywords? Or do you write for people, and risk not being found in “the Matrix?” The answer is: Both. And neither. Let me explain!
How search engines view content
Writing content for SEO begins with understanding what search engines look for, and who they’re trying to serve.
Who search engines serve
Let’s take a look at the most famous one – Google. They’re pretty open about their goals, and what they’re looking for.
This is taken from Google’s company webpage.
So one of Google’s goals (as far as websites are concerned) is to be useful to its users by giving them any information they need. How do they do this? Organizing information. And who primarily provides that information? Websites like yours.
How does Google find information from websites?
Search engines discover websites through backlinks that link one website to another. Once they get to your website, they’ll start crawling through your site trying to learn everything they can and categorize the information to later help their users. Now that we know the basics of SEO, let’s look at how to make it easiest for search engines to crawl and categorize your information.
Rules for writing for SEO in 2020
Rule #1: Write for customers and people, not search engines and bots.
Rule #2: Know where search engines look to get good info.
Rule #3: Keywords and related topics matter, but see rule #1
The goal of Google and Bing is to be the best virtual assistant possible for anyone with a phone. That means they care about showing users content that the user is going to love – meaning you’re not writing for Google as much as you’re writing for Google’s users.
In order to understand what to show their users, search engines need to understand what a website (or webpage) is about, so they can make sure it matches what their users want. In order to figure that out, they look at specific places on a webpage to get some clues. Those places include:
- Title tags
- Meta Descriptions
- H1 tags (on page title tags – eg: the title of a blog post)
- H2 tags (on page title tags – eg: the subtitle of a blog post)
- Anchor text (the text you use to hyperlink to a new page)
- P tags, span tags (the body copy of the webpage)
Keywords still matter in 2020, but search engines have become much more sophisticated. It’s not enough to just stuff the same keyword a million times into a webpage and get it to rank (that’s actually now a bad thing).
As a matter of fact, search engines prefer you use synonyms and different ways of saying the same keyword instead of repeating your keyword a million times. The reason is because it helps the search engines get smarter and deliver better results to their users.
Example: If I have a page about how to build a car, I should make sure to include “secondary keywords” (related topics or synonyms) on my webpage. So I’ll also include the words: BMW, Mechanics, Racing, etc.
Checklist for writing for SEO
- Find the primary and secondary keywords/topics for your webpage
- Understand what the users really want when they land on the page
- Have a visual layout to work with
- Write first and then go add the keywords and the crucial, related terms
- Include links to the pages of products or categories you mention in your content – make sure to use the primary keyword as the anchor text
- Craft the hook, the hook that will make influential people and publications in this space likely to share
SEO writing tactics that don't work in 20120
Here’s the TL;DR version of stuff that won’t work when writing for SEO in 2020:
If it smells like spam, feels like spam, looks like spam, it’s probably spam. So don’t do it
Let’s start from around the beginning age of SEO. The way search engines found and understood content used to be pretty rudimentary. From 2001 – 2004, using the same keyword over and over again in your content (keyword stuffing), search engines like Google used to think that was a big clue you were a super relevant website for whatever keyword you stuffed.
Another way people would stuff keywords is by placing “invisible” keywords at the bottom of the page. Basically they’d make the keywords white on a white background. This has been out of practice for at least a decade.
Now, Google’s updated their algorithm to look for related keywords and synonyms instead of spamming the same keyword all over the place.
Some other SEO writing tactics that don't work anymore
Pumping keywords into <h> tags.
H tags are title tags in HTML. And can be made to look like regular text with CSS. Some SEO’s used to make subtitles h1’s (the largest and most important), instead of an h2 or h3 because they wanted all the benefits of including a keyword in the h1, with none of the weird-looking design issues. But that tactic comes with a misunderstanding of how H1 tags work.
Htags help search engines understand the semantic relationship between the topic you’re talking about and the content on your article.
Although it’s still best practice to include your most important keyword in your main tile of your webpage (your h1), you shouldn’t abuse it. Only have one h1 on your article, and make sure it describes the topic of your article well.
Excessive amounts of internal links on a page
Search engines use anchor text to figure out what a webpage it’s about to go to is about. So it’s tempting to put a ton of links on a page with your keyword in the anchor text of each link.
Healthy internal linking is a good thing. But don’t over do it. If it makes sense to include a link, do it! But remember who you’re writing for – users, not bots. So if it’d be useful, include it!
Limiting outbound links on your article
Webpages accrue “SEO Authority” as it’s known in the industry. When you link to an external website, you pass on that authority. Kind of like a vote of confidence. It used to be common practice to try and limit external links to keep your SEO authority for yourself (kind of like Golum and the ring from the Lord of the Rings Series).
But there have been studies about outbound links that disprove that tactic. So if you’re going to mention someone, feel free to link out. It won’t hurt you.