If you want to grow your business by having a better digital presence and generating more online leads, then you have to incorporate SEO into your strategy.
SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is a series of optimizations made on your website and its content to improve the website’s ranking on the SERP (Search Engine Results Page), and one of the most important aspects of SEO is content quality.
Your website content is what Google uses to understand and rank your website. On the other hand, your content is what attracts, informs, and persuades your audience to convert. This is why, if you want to master SEO, you also need to learn SEO writing.
SEO writing is the process of developing content that meets Google’s and the search engines’ preferences, which should achieve two key objectives:
- It should be accessible and easily understood by the search engines’ crawler bots
- It should be relevant and valuable to the target audience and meets their search intent
In practice, SEO writing is a very complex process that involves researching keywords, a thorough understanding of your target audience, and thorough optimization of your content. A properly executed SEO writing will not only be effective for driving valuable traffic to your website but also for establishing trust, authority, and credibility with your readers.
So, how do you write great content that satisfies both your target audience and Google?
That’s where this ultimate SEO writing checklist comes in.
In this article, you’ll learn actionable tips and best practices for SEO writing to ensure your website can rank high, drive more organic traffic, and converts well. Whether you are a complete SEO beginner or an experienced marketer, this checklist should help you improve your SEO writing skills and achieve your goals.
Without further ado, let’s dive into this article.
Ultimate SEO Writing Checklist for 2023
Before we start, this checklist will be divided into three main sections:
- Planning and preparation: what you should do before writing your SEO content
- Content creation: what you should pay attention to during the SEO writing process
- Editing, optimization, and evaluation: further optimizations and adjustments you’ll need to do after the content creation process
Let’s start with the first section.
Before Writing: Planning and Preparation Checklist
In SEO writing, a “keyword” is a word or phrase that people enter into Google (or other search engines) when looking for information. The idea behind keyword research is to make sure your content is properly targeting the right keywords, so when your target audience looks for information or solutions related to your topic, your content ranks high enough on the SERP (Search Engine Results Page) so they can find it.
Keyword research is a critical foundation of SEO writing because it helps you:
- Make sure there’s enough interest in your content, so you can attract enough organic traffic to the website. The more traffic you can generate to your website, the higher the likelihood of converting these visitors into actual customers.
- Understand your target audience’s search intent, which is the purpose behind their search queries.
- Create content that caters to their needs and meets their expectation. This way, your content will be valuable for your target audience and/or provide solutions to their pain points.
- Identify opportunities and gaps to develop better content or optimize existing content and outrank your competitor.
Understanding search intent
“Search intent” refers to why your target audience types a query into a search engine, the goal or purpose behind their search.
There are four basic types of search intent:
- Informational: the searcher wants to find information or learn more about something, such as a question, a topic, or a problem. Examples of informational intent include “how to make fried rice”, “what is SEO writing”, “who is the current emperor of Japan”.
- Commercial: searchers want to research and compare different products/service before deciding on a purchase. Examples include “iPhone 14 vs Samsung S23”, “top restaurants near me”, “best hybrid cards”.
- Transactional: the searcher wants to purchase something or perform specific actions like booking a hotel, signing up for email newsletter, downloading a free trial app, etc. Examples include, “buy Air Jordan 1”, “book a flight to Paris”, “download Adobe Firefly”.
- Navigational: the searcher wants to go to a specific website or page that they have already known but uses the search bar instead of entering a full address. For example, “Facebook login”, “Hubspot blog”, and “Rotten tomatoes”.
Understanding the potential search intent behind each target keyword is crucial because it helps you:
- Create content that aligns with your target audience’s goal or purpose so they’ll find it relevant and valuable.
- Optimize your content for the target keywords according to the search intent, and rank higher on the SERPs to attract more organic traffic.
- Measure your content’s performance by analyzing how well you match the search intent of your audience.
SEO is, by nature, a competition where you are trying to outrank your competitors.
Once you’ve identified your target keywords via keyword research, you can manually search these keywords on Google and look at the top-ranking pages for these keywords. Then analyze the following:
- The type, format, and length of content that is ranking well for your target keyword.
- What subtopics or questions is the content covering
- Other keywords the website is targeting. This allows you to identify gaps (keywords that are valuable to your business but aren’t currently targeted by your competitors) and opportunities to outrank your competitors.
- Backlink profile (websites that are linking to your competitors.) This allows you to identify potential backlink sources.
Develop content outlines
Before creating your content, create an outline for each.
A content outline is a basic structure or plan for your article that helps you organize your ideas before creating the content, which can allow you to avoid missing important arguments or repeating yourself throughout the content.
To create your outline, brainstorm the main topics, subtopics, or questions that your target audience may have about your target keyword, then arrange them in headings, bullet points, or numbers to mark each section in a logical order.
Develop content calendar
Once you’ve gathered your content outlines, you can start creating a content calendar as a roadmap for your SEO writing strategy.
A content calendar is, simply put, a visual tool that shows the following details about your content strategy:
- Timeline. Key dates for publications, deadlines, and important media releases such as product launches, events, etc.
- Type of content to be created within the designated time frame (blog posts, videos, eBooks, infographics, podcasts, etc.)
- Topic ideas and outlines for each content, complete with objectives and actions.
- Editorial schedules, including approval timelines, feedback cycles, revision deadlines, etc.
- Roles and responsibilities for those involved in the content production, distribution, and promotion processes.
- KPIs and performance metrics to measure the effectiveness of each content
You can use various tools like Excel, Google Sheets, Trello, CoSchedule, and others to help you create and streamline your content calendar. It’s best to create a long-term strategy with a calendar that spans a year and at least a quarter, so you can align your SEO writing with seasonal events and your overall marketing objectives.
During Writing: Content Creation and Optimization Checklist
Now that you’ve finished your preparation stage and have prepared a content calendar, it’s time to start writing.
This is often the most challenging aspect of the SEO writing process but is also the most important. Remember that SEO writing should equally pursue two objectives:
- Pleasing the search engine algorithm, and
- Providing value to the target audience
This checklist below will help you create a successful content piece by paying attention to the important components below.
An optimal and compelling title
With today’s internet users having very short attention spans, your title alone can make or break your content’s success.
If your title is attractive, the searcher may click on it when it appears on the search result. If not, they’ll simply pass on.
Your content’s title should:
- Be catchy and descriptive so it immediately captures your target audience’s attention.
- Should naturally include your content’s main target keyword so the search engine algorithm knows exactly what the content is going to be about.
- Matches the search intent for the target keyword.
For these purposes, you can follow these best practices:
- Make sure your title is attractive, compelling, and captures the main idea of your content. It has to entice your target audience to click on it.
- Include the main target keyword, preferably near the beginning of the title. This will signal the search engine algorithms (and also the readers) what your content is about.
- Re-evaluate the search intent of this content’s specific target audience, and make sure the title matches this intent. For example, if the intent is informational, write a title that promises to provide information.
- Keep your title clear and to the point, ideally not more than 50 to 60 characters long. Titles that are too long will be cut off by search engines or social media platforms, especially when displayed on mobile devices.
An effective introduction is one that hooks the reader as soon as possible. The introduction should be written in such a way that builds trust and promises a solution to their problem so they’ll continue consuming the content.
Here are some best practices when writing your introduction:
- The purpose of the introduction is to grab your audience’s attention immediately and entices them to read more. There are various techniques you can leverage here, such as including thought-provoking questions, interesting statistics, quotes, a compelling story, or even surprising facts.
- Build trust and establish credibility with the reader, for example, by sharing your credentials, case studies, testimonials, your experience, or any other information that can show that you are a thought leader or expert on this topic or niche.
- Communicate that you recognize the target audience’s pain points or problems and promise a solution to this problem throughout the introduction. For example, you can include a preview or a call to action (CTA) showing the audience what they will gain or learn from consuming this content.
Create informative headings
Based on the content outline you’ve developed, break your content into headings and subheadings (H1, H2, H3) to organize your content into logical sections and subsections.
The headings should be clear and informative so that they can help guide your audience through your content while also naturally including your target keywords.
Here are the best practices to do so:
- Headings should summarize the main point (or subtopic) of each section of the content and help your readers in navigating your content. Group related subtopics and questions under one main heading that summarizes the idea of this section.
- Headings should include the target keywords while considering the target audience’s search intent.
- Divide each main heading into subsections. Each subsection should include smaller chunks of information covering a specific detail of the subtopic or question at hand.
- Arrange your headings and subheadings in a logical and consistent structure and order. Use consistent numbers, statements, questions, and use proper punctuation/capitalization so your readers can follow a clear and consistent progression.
Create engaging and valuable content
We’ve come to the most important part of SEO writing: writing your content’s body.
Again, here we have two main objectives: making sure the content is recognizable by the search engine algorithm and making sure the content is valuable, engaging, and helpful for the target audience.
You can follow these best practices:
- Naturally, include your main target keyword, its variations, and related keywords throughout your content. However, avoid stuffing the content with keywords, and focus on making it readable and valuable for human readers.
- Make sure the content matches the target audience’s search intent. Answer their questions, provide solutions to their problems, and add value.
- Support your arguments with examples, practical tips, evidence, and examples. Cite reputable sources to support your claims.
- Avoid passive voice (as much as possible, use active voice). Use simple/non-technical words unless they are absolutely necessary. Keep your paragraphs and sentences short to ensure readability and clarity.
- Use transition words, white space, headings/subheadings, bullet points, and lists to make your content more skimmable and recognizable by search engines.
Diversify your content
One of the best ways to make your SEO writing strategy more engaging is to diversify your content. This refers to publishing other forms of content like videos, images, infographics, podcasts, etc., as well as incorporating these different formats into a single content.
You can, for example, add infographics in the middle of your blog post to change the content’s pace and support your arguments with visual elements. Doing so can help you keep your audience’s attention and engagement by making your blog posts more attractive and memorable.
Here are some best practices on how to diversify your content:
- Don’t be afraid of changing content formats. Using different types of content, whether in multiple publications or in a single content, can help you build more engagement, showcase your creativity (and thought leadership), and reach different audiences.
- Break up long blocks of text by adding visual elements like infographics or even embedded videos. This can help make the content easier to read and scan and help you highlight important points by organizing the information better.
- Strategically use different content formats to maintain the audience’s attention and interest. For example, use visually-pleasing photos or images to create a certain mood, or you can surprise them with graphs and statistics to support your thought-provoking argument.
Use internal and external links
Internal links are hyperlinks pointing to other pages on your website, while external links are links that point to other websites outside your own, hence the names.
Both are equally important in SEO writing and can help your website’s SEO performance in different ways:
- Internal links aid users’ navigation and can improve user experience. For search engines, an optimized internal links structure can help search engine crawlers understand your website’s structure and context, which may boost your ranking.
- External links to reputable sources can help you support your arguments and claims by citing your sources. This will show the search engines that your content is well-researched, which may help improve your site’s authority and credibility. External links can also help provide additional value to your target audience.
For internal linking, below are some of the best practices to follow:
- Link to relevant and important pages of your site. Put yourself in your target audience’s shoes and aim to help your target audience find more information to provide more value.
- Don’t link to irrelevant or low-quality pages on your website.
- Don’t use too many links on one page. Keep it natural.
- Use relevant target keywords in your anchor text, but do not use too many exact-match anchor texts.
- If you are linking multiple pages on one page, do not use the same anchor text for two different pages.
- Avoid linking only to your homepage and top-level pages, but link deep to relevant content. This can help search engines index your pages and understand the structure of your website as a whole.
On the other hand, here are the best practices for external linking:
- Don’t be afraid to lose your traffic by linking to other sites. In fact, external links can actually improve your site’s overall user experience.
- Only link to relevant pages that are both related to your topic and provide value to your target audience.
- Do not link to low-quality or spammy websites. Doing so may harm your website’s rankings and reputation.
- Before linking a site, it’s best to check for the site’s authority and trustworthiness. Use your SEO and analytics tools to check for metrics like domain authority, page authority, trust flow, etc., to evaluate the quality of potential external links.
Last but not least, it’s important to maintain an appropriate ratio of internal and external links on your page. Keep them balanced, and focus on providing a better experience for your target audience by making it easier for them to find more information.
After Writing: Editing, Optimization, and Evaluation Checklist
Proofread and edit
Before publishing, make sure your content doesn’t contain any grammar, spelling, punctuation, or readability errors.
Even one small typo can harm your credibility as a brand and lower your content’s readability. You wouldn’t want to lose your audience’s interest and trust just because of these seemingly “harmless” errors.
Here are some tips you can follow:
- Proofread backward, meaning, try reading your content from the last sentence to the first sentence, one at a time. Doing so can help you focus on punctuation and individual words rather than the content’s overall flow and meaning.
- Reading the content out loud and slowly can help you catch any awkward phrasing or errors that you might miss otherwise. If necessary, use text-to-speech software to read the content for you.
- Try to identify common errors like punctuation, spelling mistakes, incorrect usage of words, subject-verb agreement, consistency of verb tense, etc. If necessary, use tools like Grammarly or Hemingway Editor to check and improve your writing accuracy.
- Measure the consistency of your content by checking whether it follows a specific style guide (MLA, APA, etc.) Make sure to use the same spelling, capitalization, and punctuation for names, products/services, and industry-specific terminologies across your content and channels.
Write and optimize meta descriptions
In SEO writing, a meta description refers to an HTML attribute where you can write a brief snippet of text that summarizes your content. When your website is featured as a search result, the meta description will appear below the clickable title and URL of your page.
As you can see, just like your title tag, your meta description will significantly affect your website’s click-through rate when it appears in the SERP. Your meta description should convince potential readers that your content is relevant to their search intent and valuable for them, so they’ll click on it.
To write an SEO-optimized and effective meta description, you can follow these tips:
- Naturally, include your main target keyword, preferably earlier in the meta description. This can help search engines, and potential audiences understand the topic of your content and the relevance of your page. However, do not use keyword stuffing in your meta description.
- Make sure your meta description summarizes the main idea and purpose of your content and matches the search intent of your target audience.
- Your meta description should be compelling so your target audience will click on your page. There are various techniques you can adopt for this purpose, such as making a promise, asking an interesting question, offering a tangible benefit, and so on.
- Keep your meta description short and to the point. Don’t include any unnecessary information, and keep it between 150 and 160 characters long (one or two sentences in most cases. If the meta description is too long, it may get cut off when displayed on the SERP.
- Make it clear. Your meta description should be easy to understand. Make sure there are no grammar, punctuation, or spelling errors, and avoid any vague statements. Use active voice and avoid filler words.
Optimize non-textual content
If you’ve incorporated non-textual content like images, infographics, or videos in your content, make sure to optimize them properly. Images and videos typically have larger file sizes and, when not optimized properly, can slow down your site’s loading speed and hurt its overall user experience.
Some key considerations when optimizing your non-textual content for SEO:
- Use descriptive filenames for your image, audio, and video files. For example, instead of keeping the original filename like “IMG_2345.jpg”, use more descriptive filenames with words separated by hyphens, such as “how-to-SEO-writing-1.jpg.” This can help search engine crawlers understand the context of these files and your content.
- Optimize your images and videos with alt text. Alt text is a description of what the image/video shows, which can help search engines and screen readers interpret your non-textual content better. This can also help provide accessibility and a better user experience for visually impaired audiences. Include your target keyword in the alt text when possible, but focus on making it descriptive.
- When appropriate, give captions for your images and videos either below or above them. This can provide additional context and/or information, and again, include your target keywords in the caption when you can.
- Make sure non-textual content is formatted properly and with appropriate size. Larger files can significantly slow down your website’s speed, which can affect your SEO ranking. Resize and compress your files to reduce their size without sacrificing quality.
Check for duplicate content issues
Use tools like Copyscape or Grammarly to compare your content with millions of websites and published documents for any possible duplication or plagiarism. You can use these tools to check whether there are other websites duplicating your content or to prevent yourself from performing unintentional plagiarism.
Once you’ve ensured there’s no duplicate content issue with your content, use a canonical tag (for example: <link rel=“canonical” href=“https://example.com/sample-page/” />1) to tell the search engines that this version of the content is the canonical/preferred one. If you have multiple URL versions for the same page (i.e., if you have multiple top-level domains), make sure to also set a canonical tag on the preferred URL.
Check keyword optimization
During the writing process, you should have optimized the content for the target keyword(s). This time, assess your content and check for keyword density, frequency, and placement.
Here are some tips for doing so:
- You can leverage tools like Yoast SEO (if your website is WordPress-based), Rank Math, SEMRush, or Ahrefs to evaluate your content. Check for both your main target keyword(s), their variations, and related words/phrases.
- Evaluate whether your content has matched the target audience’s search intent for the target keyword. To do so, you can analyze the other top-ranking pages for these keywords and see what type of content they provide. Compare your own content with them, and look for factors such as content length, readability, format, structure, links, and so on. See how you can improve your content to match search intent better.
- Monitor your content’s ranking and overall performance over time, and make adjustments to the keyword optimizations as needed. Track your organic/referral traffic, rankings, clicks, and conversions, among other relevant metrics.
Page speed refers to the time it takes for a web page to fully load and display its content to the visitor. It is important as both ranking and user experience factors and will affect website ranking, traffic, and conversions.
Some best practices for evaluating and optimizing page speed are:
- Use Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool to evaluate your website’s page speed for both desktop and mobile devices. The tool will also provide suggestions on how you should optimize the page for better speed performance. Alternatively, you can use tools like GTmetrix, WebPageTest, or Pingdom, each with its own advantages and disadvantages over Google’s free tool.
- Use the 80/20 rule to prioritize your page speed optimization. That is, focus on the pages that have the most impact on your business goal (i.e., homepage and product pages)
- Compress and optimize images, videos, and other non-text files to optimize their delivery
- Enable browser caching
- Eliminate render-blocking scripts
- Leverage preloading and prefetching of resources
- Improve server response time by using reliable and fast web hosting (or invest in a private server)
- Use a Content Delivery Network (CDM)
- Optimize database performance
Use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool or UCraft’s Mobile-Friendly Website Checker, among others, to evaluate how well your site currently performs on mobile devices and optimize accordingly.
Some best practices to improve mobile-friendliness are:
- Use a mobile-responsive layout so your website can automatically adapt to different screen sizes. If you are on WordPress, you can do this simply by using a mobile-responsive theme.
- Compress and optimize files (images, videos, etc.) to improve loading time on mobile devices
- Use a simple and intuitive navigation menu so users can easily access and use your site on a small screen
- Avoid using Flash or plugins that are not supported on some mobile devices
- Use large enough font size to ensure readability and optimize contrast for your text. Avoid using too much text on a single page.
- If your site use forms, make sure they are large enough and clickable on smaller screens. Don’t include too many fields.
- Test your site on different devices and browsers. Fix any identified issues accordingly.
SSL certificate and HTTPS
An SSL certificate allows your website to encrypt the data that is transmitted between your visitors’ browsers and your website, protecting your visitors from data theft and other forms of cyberattacks.
A website with SSL certificates enabled has a padlock icon in the address bar, as well as HTTPS, instead of the traditional HTTP.
Google now considers SSL certificates and HTTPS as ranking factors, and it can also improve your website’s security and user experience. By making your visitors feel more secure, we can also increase the likelihood for them to convert.
Also worth considering is that if your website accepts online payment, SSL certificates may be needed to help you stay compliant with PCI/DSS requirements so you can avoid bans or penalties from payment processors.
Some best practices for using SSL certificates for SEO are:
- Choose a reliable and reputable SSL provider. Make sure they offer high-quality certificates with strong validation and encryption.
- When migrating HTTP to HTTPS, use 301 redirects to redirect all your HTTP pages to HTTPS. This will help you avoid duplicated content issues.
- Update your robots.txt file and your sitemap to reflect the new HTTPS URLs.
- Update your Google Search Console and Google Analytics to track your new HTTPS traffic. Monitor your site’s speed and overall performance after implementing SSL/HTTPS, and optimize the site if needed.
Structured data markup
Structured data markup is the practice of adding information to your web pages using attributes with formats such as Schema.org.
For example, you can add a structured data attribute/markup to an image of your website, telling the search engines that this is an image. It helps search engine algorithms understand the content and context of your pages better and will allow your website to be eligible for being featured as rich results (snippets, images, ratings) on the SERPs.
Use Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper to easily generate and test structured data markups for your website. Make sure to only use the most relevant and specific type of markup for each element of your page, and provide as many details as you can. Avoid misleading markups that don’t match the page’s content or context.
Also, use only valid and supported properties. JSON-LD is the preferred format for structured data markup, and make sure to follow Google’s guidelines for each type of markup. Generally, sticking to Schema.org markup is the safe bet.
Fix broken pages
“Broken pages” refer to pages that can’t be found by the server, returning a 404 error code. Broken pages can be caused by various reasons, such as moving the page without proper redirection, accidentally deleting it, etc. You may also link to pages of eternal sites that no longer exist.
The existence of broken pages may hurt your site’s authority and damage your reputation, and when there are too many of them, they can waste your site’s crawl budget, preventing the search engine crawlers from crawling and indexing your pages.
Some best practices for fixing broken pages in SEO are:
- Use tools like Ahrefs, Moz, or even Google Search Console to find broken pages on your site.
- Use 301 redirects to point broken pages to relevant and existing pages on your site or elsewhere.
- Update your internal and external links regularly, so you can avoid linking to broken pages.
- Create a custom 404 page so you can provide visitors with information on how to navigate to other parts of your site and help them find what they are looking for.
- In general, don’t delete or move pages unless absolutely necessary. Always redirect them if that’s the case.
Evaluate and optimize the link profile
In SEO writing, “link profile” refers to the collection of internal links, external links, and inbound links/backlinks. A healthy link profile is one of, if not the most important ranking factor in SEO.
- Build high-quality and relevant links from trustworthy, authoritative, and relevant websites. You can leverage various link-building techniques for this purpose, but creating high-quality content that attracts others to link it remains the most important method.
- Make sure to diversify sources of your backlinks, anchor texts, and link types (natural, paid, social media, sponsored, editorial, etc.) to create a natural link profile.
- Regularly keep track of and analyze your current link profile. You can use tools like SEMRush, Ahrefs, or Moz to identify the number, quality, relevance, and diversity of your links, especially backlinks.
- Monitor and identify low-quality links and disavow or remove them. These include links from irrelevant/untrustworthy/spammy websites, links that violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, and over-optimized anchor texts.
- Use various broken link checker tools (i.e., Screaming Frog, Ahrefs Broken Link Checker) to find and repair any broken links on your website and those pointing to your website.
- Monitor your competitors’ link profiles using the same tools. Doing this may help you find link opportunities (i.e., websites that link to your competitors but not to you at the moment), influencers that can help promote your content, popular content that attracts a lot of backlinks, etc.
With this ultimate SEO writing checklist, you now have a solid foundation to help you confidently create content that ranks higher on the SERP and drives more traffic.
The actionable tips we’ve shared above will help you optimize your content and your website for both search engines and your target audience, so you can achieve your SEO objectives.
These tips will guide you in crafting high-quality, relevant, and SEO-optimized content, getting those valuable backlinks, and climbing higher in the search engine rankings.
Remember, SEO writing is not a one-time thing, but an ongoing process and a long-term game. Keep experimenting with different tactics, strategies, and techniques, and regularly monitor your performance.