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SEO | SEO Training

The Ultimate Guide to SEO Writing: How to Choose Keywords and More

By | April 12, 2022

Once upon a time, you could load your web page up with your favorite keyword, pay for a bunch of low-quality backlinks, and call it search engine optimization.

But Google is a lot smarter now — the algorithm knows if you’re producing high-quality content that matches what a searcher is looking for.

That’s a good thing! Everyone benefits when Google connects search engine users with the content they actually want to see.

But it does make SEO content strategy a lot more complex. Luckily, there are still best practices you can follow to help your content rise in search engine rankings. This article will tell you how to master SEO writing and drive more traffic, leads, and sales with your content.

What Is SEO Writing?

Let’s start by defining search engine optimization, or SEO. SEO is a set of practices aimed at improving a website’s visibility on search engines.

SEO writing is the process of writing search-engine-optimized content for your site — for example, including semantically related keywords, covering often-searched-for questions with dedicated content sections.

At its core, SEO writing is about creating high-quality content that matches the search intent of your ideal audience. The goal is to create the exact page the searcher is looking for when searching for a specific keyword.

Mastering the skill of SEO writing can get you better search engine rankings and boost your organic traffic.

Is SEO writing just keywords?

When people think about SEO, they often think about keywords first — words or phrases that you can target with content to show up in relevant search results. For example “how to learn guitar” is a great keyword for a tutorial post on playing the guitar.

And sure, keywords are a big part of any SEO content strategy. But there’s a lot more to planning, creating, and optimizing content than just keywords.

But it’s not enough to just stuff your content with keywords. You need to create the page or article that’s closest to what the searcher wants to see. You also need to optimize your page speed, the user experience, and write copy that keeps searchers engaged and on your page. We’ll cover exactly how to do that later in this article.

Why Is SEO Writing Important?

Mastering SEO writing is crucial because it can help you reach your target customers in an effective way at scale.

When looking for information on a specific product they want to buy, 57% of shoppers turn to a search engine. Others are on Google trying to solve problems that you could help them with — if they only knew about you.

Where consumers turn for product information

Increasing your search engine visibility helps you connect with your potential customers.

You need to rank toward the top to get noticeable traffic

You might not think it matters much if you rank at the top of the first page or near the middle somewhere, but it makes a big difference.

28.5% of all users click the first result when making a Google search. The second spot gets 15.6% of traffic, and the third gets 11%.

By the time you get down to the 10th spot, only 2.5% of searchers click the result on average. Hardly any users ever make it to page two.

To have any chance of ranking an SEO article on the first page, you need to master the art of SEO writing.

SEO writing builds brand awareness

80% of companies drove increased brand awareness in 2021 using content marketing.

Producing search-engine-optimized content puts your brand in front of more people, which builds awareness and trust.

How to Choose SEO Keywords

While SEO writing is more than keywords, keyword research is the foundation of any SEO content strategy. That’s because keywords are the language your potential customers are speaking. When they want to know something, they turn to Google or Bing with a specific keyphrase.

So how can you signal to Google that your content is the answer to that searcher’s query? Start by finding the right keywords.

Use a keyword tool to brainstorm ideas

The first step is to create a master list of all the keywords you might want to rank for. You can narrow this down later.

A smart way to get started is with a keyword planner tool.

We recommend our totally free Keyword Planner Tool, but there are many free and paid options, including Google’s own Keyword Planner.

Just type in a word or phrase, and the tool will give you a list of related keywords complete with:

  • Keyword search volume
  • How competitive the term is
  • How many results there are for the keyword
  • The cost-per-click, or CPC (indicator of commercial intent or keyword value)
  • Whether it’s trending up or down in search

Results in The HOTH Keyword Planner

Check the SERP & autocomplete

Another way to brainstorm keyword ideas is to do your own search and get ideas from the search engine results page (SERP).

Say you run an interior design business. When you type “interior design” into Google, you get a few sources of keywords and phrases.

For example, you can use questions from the People Also Ask section of the search results, including:

  • What does an interior designer do?
  • Do interior designers get paid well?
  • What are the 6 types of interior designers?
  • What do you study in interior design?

Or related searches at the bottom of the page, like:

  • interior design salary
  • interior design ideas
  • interior design course
  • interior design websites

You can even rely on Google’s autocomplete function, typing in your keyword and seeing what Google comes up with.

Research the competition

Next, you should look at your competitors’ websites and see what keywords they’re targeting. Doing this manually isn’t feasible. Instead, use our free Keyword & Content Gap Analysis Tool.

Just enter your website URL and a few competing domains, and the tool will give you a list of keywords your competitors rank for that you don’t.

Some of them might not be relevant to you, but you’ll likely find hundreds you can add to your list.

Don’t forget about long-tail keywords

As you make your keyword list, don’t forget to include long-tail keywords. Long-tail keywords are words or phrases with a low search volume but high specificity.

For example, “Kayak” is a broad term that will be difficult for a small business to rank for. A lot of people search it, but those people might be looking for a sea kayak, a toy kayak, or the travel search engine called Kayak.

“Lightweight inflatable kayak,” on the other hand, doesn’t have a high search volume. But anyone who does search it will happily click on your page about lightweight inflatable kayaks.

Long-tail keywords aren’t named for the number of words — it’s because they make up the “tail end” of all searched keywords.

What are long-tail keywords?

That being said, most long-tail keywords are at least a few words long because they’re more specific by nature.

Longer keywords are necessary to match common search queries — key phrases of three or more words account for over 40% of search queries.

How to Write a Piece of SEO Content

So, you’ve compiled a long list of keywords, and you’re ready to turn them into high-performing SEO content. In this section, we cover how to write content tailored to match those keywords.

Make a content plan

A content plan is the best way to organize your content. There are several ways you could prioritize your list of topics. We recommend following a content pillar strategy.

A content pillar is a piece of long-form content that covers one main topic and serves as a hub for a variety of subtopics.

For example, you could start with a page about jigsaw puzzles. This is your pillar. After you’ve created that page, you start building a cluster of related topics, like:

  • Where to buy jigsaw puzzles
  • How to choose a jigsaw puzzle
  • Types of jigsaw puzzles
  • Jigsaw puzzle tips and strategies
  • History of jigsaw puzzles

The pillar page links to each of these subtopics, and they link back to the pillar.

Dividing your keywords into clusters of related topics will help you prioritize your content ideas. Write the pillars first, and then work on building out the clusters.

Once you have a shortlist of pillar pages to start with, put them onto a content calendar. This will help your team plan content production.

Example of editorial calendar

Consider search intent

Let’s say your business makes cat furniture. One of the keywords on your brainstorming list is “best cat furniture.” Your cat furniture is the best, right? So it’s natural to think that you should try to get your product page to rank for it.

But if you put that keyword into Google, you’ll see that the searchers want something different. All the pages that rank for “best cat furniture” are comparison lists reviewing many different cat trees.

The search intent is what Google thinks people want when they search for that term, so that’s what you must write to rank.

Sometimes user intent is intuitive. A person searching for “oil painting tips” wants information on how to paint better, while “buy oil paints near me” means they’re ready to make a purchase.

Don’t try to shoehorn your article onto the search results page if it doesn’t match the search intent. The goal is to give searchers the content they want.

Write for your target audience

While keywords and other SEO techniques are important, don’t forget about the human reader. The end goal isn’t to trick Google into putting your page on top of the results list; it’s to connect with potential customers.

The good news is that these days, Google can recognize high-quality content almost as well as your human visitors. So writing content that’s genuinely helpful and informative is also good for search engine optimization.

Think about your ideal customer and what they would want to read about. Make sure you consider their needs at different stages of the funnel.

For example, say you sell running shoes. Customers at the top of the funnel might be looking for information on running and running gear. Do they really need running shoes? Should they get shoes with lots of support or those funny ones with the toes?

The middle of the funnel is where you can break out the product comparisons and case studies.

And finally, for the bottom of the funnel, write informative SEO content about the value of your product.

Match keywords from your list to each of these stages for the greatest reach. 

Stages of the customer journey in search

Avoid keyword stuffing

It’s important to use keywords in your content, but don’t overdo it. You can actually be penalized by search engines for trying to manipulate the algorithm with excessive keywords. And, of course, your content will sound unnatural to the human reader.

So how frequently should you use your primary keyword?

There’s no hard and fast rule. It’s a good idea to use it in the title and the meta description. In the body of your content, a few times is usually enough.

Don’t overthink it — if you’re writing about folding exercise bikes, you’re bound to use the phrase “folding exercise bikes” here and there. But there’s no need to stuff it into every paragraph (notice how we’re not bombarding you with the keyword in this post).

Instead, aim to cover a variety of “semantic keywords,” words and phrases that Google thinks are related to the main topic (the easiest way to achieve this is with an SEO tool, more on this later).

Write longer blog posts

Search engines reward content that provides in-depth information. The average first-page result on Google is 1,890 words long, and longer content tends to rank higher.

However, don’t write unnecessary fluff just to make your blog posts longer — some articles should be short. If you can’t think of anything else to say, explore competitor articles on the same topic. Try to be at least as comprehensive as they are.

If their articles have sections that yours doesn’t, consider including that information. If their content is also short, the subject may not warrant a 2,000-word post.

Don’t plagiarize yourself (or anyone else)

When you’re writing for SEO, sometimes it feels like you’re writing about the same thing again and again.

But it’s important not to actually copy sections from pieces of content that you’ve written before — duplicate content is bad for SEO.

It goes without saying that you shouldn’t copy your competitors either. Original content is favored by Google and by humans.

Quality over quantity

You have a long list of content ideas to get through, and it’s tempting to rush the process.

But a 2021 survey of bloggers revealed that those who spent more time per post were more successful. Content writers who took six hours or more to write an article were significantly more likely to report “strong results” than those who took an hour or two.

More hours per blog post means better results

Six hours might not be the magic number for you. What matters is that you give each piece of content the effort it deserves.

Mastering the art of writing SEO content takes a lot of time and dedication. If you’d rather let an SEO pro take it off your plate, we’ve got you covered. HOTH Blogger is a blog writing service that provides well-researched, professionally written SEO content for your blog.

How to Optimize Your SEO Writing

You’ve written an informative and engaging article that used your primary SEO keywords.

But your work isn’t done. There are a few more steps to follow to ensure your content is fully optimized for search engines.

Add internal links

An internal link is a link between two pages on your website. Internal links help search engines discover pages on your site and determine the relationships between them. They also help your human visitor find their way from one interesting piece of content to the next.

We’ve already mentioned linking your pillar pages to each subtopic. You can also create a network of links between the articles in the cluster or to other relevant content.

Think about the user’s journey through your site. If they’re reading this article, what else might they want to see?

Include metadata

Make sure every piece of content has a page title and a meta description. These things are called metadata, and they appear in your search engine results listing along with the page URL (which you can also optimize).

Metadata on a SERP listing

Search engine users are more likely to click on your link if they understand what the page is about.

Build backlinks

Google wants to deliver quality results that come from “authoritative sources.” The number and quality of links are one way Google decides which site is authoritative. Quality is key. If a well-known blogger in your industry links to your site, it’s awesome for SEO. If a low-quality, spammy site links to you, it could actually hurt your rankings.

You can use our free Backlink Checker Tool to find out which sites already link to yours. There are a few ways you can build high-quality backlinks to your content, including:

  • Offer to write guest blog posts on other sites
  • Create shareable content and send it to bloggers in your niche
  • Find unlinked mentions of your brand and ask the source to add a link
  • Work with influencers

Use an AI-powered optimization tool

To make sure that you’re using the right semantic keywords and answering the questions that your reader wants to know, you can use an AI-powered content optimization tool.

AI-powered optimization of SEO content

There are many options here:

  • MarketMuse
  • Frase.io
  • Clearscope

These tools let you simply copy and paste your content and enter your focus keyword. They’ll then highlight key phrases, questions, and sections that your content is missing to match the search intent.

Don’t set it and forget it

Keep an eye on your content with tools like Google Analytics or HOTH Ranking Tracker. Track metrics for each piece of content, including:

  • Traffic
  • Rankings for relevant keywords
  • CTR
  • Bounce rate
  • Conversions
  • New backlinks

Use this information to continually optimize your content. For example, if one of your articles has a high bounce rate, it might not match the typical user’s search intent.

Or, if one piece of content has a particularly high conversion rate, you can add internal links from your other pages to shuttle more users to that page.

Analytics is important — 94% of the most successful organizations use metrics to measure content performance. Only 60% of the least successful organizations do.

Ready to Start Growing Your Organic Presence?

SEO writing boils down to creating a high volume of interesting, relevant content that your ideal audience is searching for. Anyone can learn to do it.

But we don’t all have the time or the desire to become SEO writing experts.

If you’re interested in getting help with this essential part of your marketing strategy, schedule a call with an SEO pro today.


Director of Brand Strategy

Rachel is The HOTH’s Director of Brand Strategy. In 2016, she launched The HOTH’s content department, including HOTH Blogger. Rachel speaks at 1-2 industry conferences per month while overseeing The HOTH’s organic content and brand strategy. To book some time to chat about content creation, SEO, and SEM, click here.

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