Use these five easy SEO tactics to help readers find your stories online.

Search engine optimization (SEO) may seem extremely technical and not something that a writer should bother with.

But I’m here to tell you that’s as far from the truth as you could get. To ignore SEO on your landing pages, Medium articles, and even personal blog posts is to basically shoot yourself in the foot.

Without SEO, your content has lower chances of being found and read. And, as a writer, that’s pretty much a nightmare.

So without getting too technical, here’s how you can add a little SEO magic and get your writing ranking in Google search results in no time.

1. Include the primary keyword in your title

My guess is, you’ve already landed on the main topic of your article or genre of your story. That gives you an idea of what your primary keyword is.

Once you have that primary keyword in hand, you can and should expand your keyword list to include (natural) variations of that keyword. And if you dig in deep enough, you’ll likely unearth sub-topics or additional questions to cover when talking about your primary keyword.

But before you get lost in that lengthy list of SEO phrases, make sure you use your primary keyword in your title.

Your title is one of the main signals your site sends to Google in order to tell it what this particular page is about. The title is also the first thing your readers see when they open your link. So keep it clear and to the point.

Why are natural keywords important?

Using natural language when you write for SEO is important because it enhances user experience (UX).

No one wants to read an article with stilted phrases or miss-spelled words with incorrect punctuation. Yes, we all search this way, but Google has learned enough over the years to know that “how to write an SEO-friendly article” means the same thing as “how to write seo friendly article.”

2. Use keywords naturally, don’t stuff them willy-nilly into your content

I mentioned above that using natural language, even when it comes to your keyword phrases, is important because it enhances user experience.

Natural language is also important because it helps you avoid “keyword stuffing.” This is an older SEO gimmick that “refers to the practice of loading a webpage with keywords or numbers in an attempt to manipulate a site’s ranking in Google search results.”¹

According to Google, keyword stuffing is detrimental to user experience, and it can also make your site’s search ranking take a nosedive.

“Using natural language when you write for SEO boosts your content’s user experience — and you’ll avoid keyword stuffing.”

Natural language is so important to Google that it created a whole department dedicated to researching it. Its Natural Language Processing research uses algorithms that analyze syntax and semantics to improve user experience in its search, ads, Google translate, and more.

If natural language is this important to Google, it should be just as important to you.

3. Be mindful of how your SEO approach affects user experience

I’m a huge proponent of good user experience (UX). But what does that have to do with SEO? A lot, actually.

Because you can still earn a top spot on page one of the search results for your primary keyword, but not deliver what your readers (users) want or need.

This can result in a high bounce rate, meaning someone clicks a link to your site, then does nothing once they get there. They don’t read more of your stories, click your links, or sign up for your newsletter. This tells you that users aren’t finding what they’re searching for when they click your links.

So despite lots of people clicking your links, you’re not getting eyes on your contentYou’re not building a positive reputation — likely you’re building a negative one. And you’re not making money off your affiliate links or ads.

“Bad user experience can result in a high bounce rate. This means that users aren’t finding what they’re looking for on your site.”

4. Take a look at competitors’ snippets to see what’s working — and what’s not

Do me a favor:

  1. Open up an incognito or private window in your web browser. (Incognito or private mode lets you search without your browsing history influencing your search results—you now see what your potential readers see.)
  2. Go to Google and type in your primary keyword.
  3. Find the featured snippet that ranks at the top of the search results.
A screenshot of a Google search result featured snippet for the term “how to write for seo”
The site Titan Growth currently owns the featured snippet for “how to write for SEO.” | Screenshot by the author.

Looking at which website has that coveted featured snippet spot at the top of the search results for your keyword. Then open up the link and see how your competitor approached the following aspects of their content:

  • The title and subtitles
  • The format (listicle, short, long and in-depth, etc.)
  • Supporting graphics or imagery
  • Meta title and description (you can use a web browser addon like SEO Meta in 1 Click)

Get a peg on what’s working for this page — and what it’s missing. If you can create better content for your readers, it’s likely you’ll nab that featured snippet spot.

What does the bolded text in a featured snippet mean?

The bolded text you see in some featured snippets is sort of like Google highlighting words and phrases it thinks directly relate to the search term you used.

In my example above, my search term is “how to write for SEO.”

Google highlighted the word “write” and the phrase “SEO writing” in the featured snippet because they correlate with the topic, “how to write for SEO.”

The bolded words in a featured snippet can give you a hint at what kind of content Google is looking for in regard to a particular subject, so don’t overlook them.

5. Directly answer questions posed by your title and subheadings

If you format your title or subtitles as a question, make sure you provide a direct answer to that question right away.

Doing this can boost your chances of gaining a featured snippet spot for that question, or help you gain a snippet in the form of an answer box.

Google search results for “what is the oldest book in the world,” with the answer snippet of “The Epic of Gilgamesh”
This snippet from YouTube provides a direct answer to the question posed in the search, “What is the oldest book in the world?” | Screenshot by the author.

And, hey, don’t forget to use this strategy in your meta title and description too. Offer value to your reader in the form of a direct answer to the question or questions you think they might have.

Bonus: recommended character limits for meta titles and descriptions

To truly optimize your meta title and description, you want to be aware of the character limits for both:

  • Meta title: Generally 60 characters or fewer are recommended.²
  • Meta description: Google usually displays your meta description up to 155–160 characters

Takeaway: 5 SEO tips every writer should know

Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, landing page copy or blog posts, SEO is your best friend when it comes to getting your content ranking in Google search results. Once again, here are five easy tips to get you started on your way to SEO domination:

  1. Use your primary keyword in your main title.
  2. Add your keywords naturally into your writing, don’t force them and, whatever you do, don’t keyword stuff.
  3. Make sure your SEO writing gives your readers what they want.
  4. Do a little snooping and check out your competition by looking at Google’s featured snippets.
  5. Directly answer any questions posed in your title or subtitles.

Do you have any SEO tips for writers that I missed? Let me know!

Sources

1. Google, “Irrelevant Keywords,” 2020. Accessed September 18, 2020.
2. Moz, “Title Tag,” 2020. Accessed September 18, 2020.
3. Moz, “Meta Description,” 2020. Accessed September 18, 2020.