Many marketers hate my name and many writers get me wrong. Yet, more businesses and brands than ever are investing in me. I make tons of money for the ones that get me right. What am I?
If you guessed SEO writing, you’re spot on. And, given its rising popularity, you have a decision to make. Should you stick to just writing content without taking search engine optimization into consideration? Or should you hop on the SEO writing bandwagon?
If you choose the latter, a solid understanding of best practices is essential. As is an SEO content writing checklist to help you apply those best practices consistently and, more importantly, generate more brand awareness, traffic, and leads for your clients.
The 21-point SEO content writing checklist
In a nutshell, writing effective SEO content involves checking:
- Alignment with business (and audience) goals
- Content quality compared to competitors
- The presence and quality of calls-to-actions
- Internal links
- Appropriateness for readers
- Topical relevance
- Topic coverage
- Mechanics (spelling, grammar, and punctuation)
- Logical flow
- Use of rich media
- Consistency throughout the content
- Accuracy of facts
- Credibility of sources
- Recency of information
- The chances or banking for your focus keyword
- On-page optimization
- How keywords have been used
- That content satisfies search intent
- Content length
What should a content writer know about SEO?
Before we dig deeper into the nuances of each point on the checklist above, let’s set one thing straight. So many people—professional content writers included—think SEO writing is simply repeating a keyword a certain number of times in content to get it to show up in relevant search engine results.
Yet, keywords are only a fraction of what it takes to optimize content to rank.
What else is involved? Time would fail us if we tried to go into all the details. There are literally hundreds of ranking factors. But, thankfully, you don’t need to know them all. What you do need to know are the best practices in the following five categories we’ll cover.
How do you write good SEO content?
Let’s see how to measure content quality with 1) your goals, 2) your audience, 3) user experience, 4) your credibility, and 5) on-page optimization in mind.
Category 1: Your clients’ goals
In business, there are precisely ZERO people creating content just because. Whether they want intangible benefits such as increased credibility or tangible ones like more traffic, everyone has a goal.
The trouble is: When you’re knee-deep in the content creation process, it’s easy to lose sight of the big-picture goal. It can happen to the best of ‘em so you and I are not immune; no one is. And that’s why it’s necessary to check that every piece of content you write is aligned with what your clients want to achieve.
Here are five goal-related criteria you must consider.
1. What is the SMART goal?
Both big-picture content marketing goals and goals for each piece of content need to be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. They need to be SMART. If not, you’ll just be spinning your wheels AKA flushing time, money, and other resources down the toilet.
That said, get as much information as you can about what your clients want to achieve and when, the baseline you’re starting from, and how they plan to measure success.
2. Does the content blow competitors’ out of the water?
Before pouring hours of time and energy into a blog post, for example, check out what pages are ranking for your focus keyword. Whether you do an incognito Google search or use tools like thruuu or Surfer, the goal is the same. Compared to what’s already out there, determine how you can make your content more:
- Enjoyable to consume
In short, look for ways to make your content different and, ideally, better than pages ranking in search results already.
3. Does it promote conversions?
Thinking back to the core goal for the content you’re writing, determine whether or not it encourages people to take the desired action. And not just subtly or by inference.
While varying degrees of intensity are appropriate in different situations, no call-to-action (CTA) is not an option. Research has consistently proven that calls-to-action are non-negotiable. People are far less likely to take action when they’re not specifically prompted to take a next step. So use clear CTAs to highlight what you want people to do next; don’t expect them to mind-read.
For example, if you want to boost engagement with your blog posts, ask a thought-provoking question to prompt discussion in the comments or encourage readers to share the content on social media.
4. Is it shareable?
This is a nice follow-up to our last point. When readers share your content with others like them via email, social media or other channels, it means more of the right eyes on your clients’ businesses. And more eyes equals more opportunities, especially as you continue to build trust with each audience. But what makes content shareable?
Valuable information is, of course, essential. But the way you present it matters too. So:
- Practice writing better title tags, meta descriptions, headlines, and intros to get readers interested in what you have to say
- Try to approach content with fresh perspectives and angles
- Use examples that are hyper-relevant for the target audiences you write for
- Share personal experiences that demonstrate your expertise and make your content stand out
And avoid overcomplicating things as far as optimizing for search engines goes. Don’t let bad practices like keyword stuffing distract you from what’s most important—giving readers what they want and need from your content.
5. Does it contain appropriate internal links?
Your content should include internal links to other relevant pages on your website, encouraging your audience to explore more of what you publish. The more they explore, the stronger their ties to your business. Your brand becomes more memorable, trust is established and, as a result, the audience is more likely to do business with you down the line.
Additionally, when you maximize internal links in your content, you help search engines crawl, index, and understand your website better. This can translate into higher, better rankings in search engine results.
Category 2: Your target audience
Part of the reason you produce content is to benefit or give some sort of value to your target market, right? It only makes sense, then, that who you’re writing for is one of the most important considerations when running down your SEO content writing checklist. Here are some things to think about.
1. Does the content match your audience’s knowledge level?
You’re an expert in whatever you do or offer. You know your industry inside and out. But can the same be said of your readers? Probably not.
Create content on their level, not yours. Be mindful of how much they know. After all, if they can’t understand it, how can you expect them to see the value of the content you share with them? You can’t. And you’d only be wasting your and your reader’s time.
On the flip side, it would also be a waste of their time if your content were too basic. So it’s all about balance and helping them build on what they already know.
A few general guidelines to help with this: Keep your vocabulary simple, use examples to clarify complex thoughts, and stay focused on your main points (side points and loosely-related info may be better as their own piece of content).
2. Is the topic relevant?
This is where understanding the demographics and psychographics of your audience comes in handy. Your content should, of course, be well-written and informative. But that doesn’t count for much if it doesn’t also speak to what your audience really needs or cares about. So do both audience and keyword research to find relevant keywords and topics worth creating content on.
3. Is your coverage of the topic comprehensive enough?
You’ll want to make sure that your reader’s expectations are met fully. By the time they reach the end of your content, have they learned or gained whatever they expected to gain at the start? The answer should always be “yes.” But it doesn’t stop there.
Don’t forget to check, based on your business goals, that you’ve given all the info needed to nudge people toward your desired next step.
Category 3: Use experience (UX)
As you may know, user experience encompasses the way a user feels as they interact with your business. One of the ways they interact is by consuming the content you produce. So the smart route is to prioritize creating a positive user experience that will delight the people you work hard to reach with your content. Here are five aspects of UX worth thinking about.
1. Is the readability good?
Humongous chunks of text and run-on sentences have never been a good idea. But in 2022 and beyond, they’re an absolute no-no.
Not only do people skim and scan more than ever to save time but, in general, they have shorter attention spans. Plus the use of mobile devices is steadily on the rise, which means that walls of text are even tougher to get through.
So if your content is barely readable or nothing in particular stands out, you can hang it up. People will quickly move on.
The way to prevent this is by using:
- Headings and subheadings
- Varied sentence and paragraph lengths
- White space
- Transition words
- Bullet points
Doing so prevents the eye from being overwhelmed, highlights key points at a glance, and keeps readers engaged. Tools like Grammarly and Hemingway that give some variation of a readability score can be helpful for optimizing your writing in this way.
2. How are the mechanics?
In other words, are spelling, punctuation, and grammar good? Be sure to double-check since glaring errors can seriously hurt your professional image and credibility.
I say glaring errors because there’s no need to become a hardcore grammar Nazi (unless, of course, you’re creating content for hardcore grammar Nazis). Most often, naturalness is more important. But, you will want to correct obvious mistakes such as typos and awkward sentences.
3. Does the content flow logically?
Don’t expect people to stick around for the ride if your content is all over the map. Spot a logical train of thought, get on it, and don’t stray.
Bonus points if you enlist another set of eyes to review your content objectively and confirm that you’ve achieved a logical flow.
4. Is it media-rich?
Humans are visual creatures. That being the case, visual stimuli can elicit strong emotional responses, which, in turn, influence decision-making.
In the context of what we’ve been discussing, the point is this: Rich media content can prompt more positive responses from readers than content that’s “one-note.” This includes boosting shares and even increasing sales. Could you make greater use of pictures, videos, GIFs, and other media?
5. Are you consistent?
Consistency prevents confusion. Confusion prevents conversions. So consistency is good.
Stay consistent in the terminology you use, your stylistic choices, and your overall messaging. This will keep the focus where you want it—on your content and desired next steps—instead of distracting from them.
Category 4: Your credibility
Next up on the list is credibility. Being seen as a trustworthy source of information is a must. If your credibility is in question, trying to reach your goals will be an uphill battle. So here are three things you need to check to make sure that’s not a problem.
1. Has your content been fact-checked?
There’s a ton of misinformation out there in every industry, including yours. You don’t want to pass any of it along unknowingly. So although it may take a bit of extra time, it’s worth it to double or even triple-check your facts.
2. Have you used credible sources?
To add to our last point about accuracy, let’s discuss the importance of sources with the help of an example.
You find an interesting statistic that will back up your arguments and add value to your content. That statistic is mentioned on two sites—a local small business website and one of the most authoritative websites in your industry. Which one should you reference in your content?
Clearly, the more credible source is the authority site, although both sites reference the exact same statistic. Because that source is trustworthy, you’ll seem more trustworthy by extension. The takeaway? Choosing the most credible sources gives you a credibility boost.
3. Is your information up-to-date?
This is another facet of accuracy that you can’t afford to forget about, especially in industries that change often.
During the fact-checking stage, you may find information that seems to confirm the facts shared in your content. But how old are the sources you’ve used for confirmation? Have things changed, making your “facts” outdated? You’ll want to be sure that you’re using only the latest info.
Pro Tip: As a general rule of thumb, try to use sources that are no more than one or two years old. And, even then, triple-check that they’re up-to-date. (The exception to this is being unable to find a more recent, credible, non-competitive source. In that case, still try not to go beyond three years old.)
Category 5: On-page optimization
Last but not least, it’s important to evaluate the quality of your content from a search engine optimization (SEO) standpoint. The core question here is: Does it have the potential to rank well in relevant search results and bring online traffic to your business? Here’s how to tell if the answer is “yes” or “no.”
1. Have you chosen a smart focus keyword?
It might be tempting to choose popular keywords, thinking that they’ll bring you a ton of traffic. However, such popular, high-volume keywords are often incredibly competitive and not worth targeting. Especially if your website’s domain is far weaker than the sites already ranking for them.
In many cases, it’s better to target longtail keywords, longer and more specific keyword phrases that, although they have lower search volume, are much easier to rank for. The traffic from them can add up, growing your traffic and improving your rankings gradually.
2. Have you done on-page optimization?
On-page optimization includes balancing quality content with strategic use of your primary keyword in headings, image filenames and alt text, and throughout your content. The more optimized your content is, the better the chances of it ranking well in search for a well-chosen, relevant keyword.
That said, search engine optimization has its complexities so if it’s a part of your content marketing strategy, it’s best to hire an SEO writer or SEO specialist to take the reins.
3. Have you incorporated keywords naturally?
Or have you stuffed them into every other sentence, making the content seem spammy?
Needless to say, naturalness is the way to go from both an SEO and user experience standpoint. It’s more effective to use your target keywords naturally even if that means the exact match phrases are only used a few times in your content.
Hey, some pages even rank in SERPs without using the target keyword at all! It just goes to show that providing as much value as possible on a subject is a higher priority than using a keyword x number of times at all costs.
4. Is search intent satisfied?
Even more important in than using your exact focus keyword exactly x number of times in x, y, and z spots within your content is matching search intent.
In other words, do you deliver whatever value your target audience expects to get from your content? For your SEO content to truly be optimized, the answer must be “yes.” It’s about more than just confirming that the overall topic of your content is the same as what people are searching for via Google and other search engines, though.
For example, it may not be enough that your content shows up in search results related to interior design just because it has something to do with interior design. Is a user who types in an interior design-related keyword looking for an explanation of what interior design is? Are they looking to hire an interior designer? Do they want to become one? Are they seeking inspirational content for their home?
You must consider the intent behind each of the keywords you target and create content that satisfies that intent. That way, your content is more likely to be shown to the right people. People who will actually be interested in what you have to share.
5. Is the length appropriate?
Numerous studies have confirmed that longer content often performs better. More comprehensive content tends to rank better and see more engagement. However…
…that doesn’t automatically mean that all of your content should be thousands of words long. In some cases, that can be detrimental.
For example, if you become too concerned with hitting a certain word count, you may veer off course in terms of satisfying search intent. You may end up talking less about what your audience really needs to know and more about less relevant topics. This would only make it harder to rank well in search results and decrease engagement potential.
So how long should your content be? Identify the maximum length at which you can deliver pure value and don’t go beyond that limit.
Improve your SEO writing skills
Many checklists for SEO content writing focus solely on optimizing titles, meta descriptions, images, and things of that sort with keywords. And those things are beneficial and important.
However, it’s often forgotten that alignment with business goals, understanding and writing for a certain audience, user experience, and building credibility all play a part in making SEO content effective also. That said, you’ll be ahead of the pack if you take the more well-rounded, balanced approach to this craft. Some of the resources mentioned in my guide for getting started with content writing may help you so be sure to check them out.