How to Write SEO Content — The RIGHT Way (ie, Using Google Guidelines)

Learning how to write SEO content — the right way — has evolved since this post was first written in 2011. The good thing is, the foundational basics haven’t changed all that much, as these 23 SEO writing guidelines Google published highlights.

Back then, the Google Panda Update had sent many webmasters into a tizzy. Many were scrambling to invest in SEO content because their sites had lost rank, and one of the things Google pounded home — then and now — is for site owners to invest in high-quality, original content if they wanted to regain rank and/or continue to rank well.

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How to Write SEO Content: Evergreen Writing Rules for Bloggers

Around this time (Spring 2011) Google, notoriously tight-lipped about any of its algorithm changes, published a list of 23 questions that gives some insight into the mind of the search giant when it comes to content that it considers good and/or bad. The WebPro  News article, Google Panda Update: New Advice Directly From Google, explains, stating:

The company [Google] is careful to note that it’s not disclosing actual ranking signals used in its algorithms, but these [23] questions will help you “step into Google’s mindset.” These questions are things that Google says it asks itself as it writes algorithms.

Learning How to Write SEO Content: Can You Pass Google’s Test?

In short, does the content you create for clients — and/or for your own blog — pass the search giant’s 23-question test? Here, we delve into these questions one by one, giving you some insight to help you create better content for your clients (and for yourself) that will increase organic traffic to your site.

Once you make writing SEO content with these guidelines in mind a habit, going with the flow of any algorithm changes will be that much easier to stomach. And oh boy, does Google like to keep webmasters on their toes!

1. Would you trust the information presented in this article?

One of the main reasons Google updates its algorithm so frequently — over 500 times a year — is to stay ahead of spammers, schemers and scammers. Around the time these guidelines were released, it was in response to the Google Panda update.

Google did this update ostensibly because web surfers were complaining about articles from content farms – eHow, Helium, AssociatedContent, etc. — that ranked ahead of other, more trustworthy content. For example, would you trust information about Level 4 brain cancer from a freelance writer on eHow with no credentials in the field? Probably not, right? So Google set out to rectify this, as the linked-to post on WebProNews explains, writing:

How is someone with brain cancer searching for information on the subject supposed to gain anything helpful from this without questioning it? This is just an example, and it’s not that the article shouldn’t have been written, but should it be the most prominent piece of information related to this query?  There is no information on the page indicating that the writer is in any way an expert on the subject of brain cancer.  He’s simply an “eHow contributor.”

Note: Many of these content farm-like sites have gone offline since then. Although many freelance writers disparage then, when I first learned how to write SEO content, I made some decent money writing content for sites like these. Many times, it meant being able to pay, for example, a monthly utility bill, or not.

While I don’t advise freelance writers to stay on these kind of sites, if you’re just cutting your teeth in the industry and want to build up some experience and get comfortable interacting with clients and learning how this whole “SEO writing thing” works, they’re not a bad place to start.

And, rates have increased since then. Sure a lot of horrible, low-paying gigs can still be found, but there are some good ones too. Proof? See this freelancers’s story. She earned $20,000 in one month — and a big part of her success was leveraging a job site (Upwork) that some might consider a content mill. But, I digress. Back to Google’s SEO writing guidelines.

2. Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?

The reason trust is important on the web is because many sites try to “game the system,” creating content just to rank well. And, the vast majority of it is not sourced (ie, backed up by research) and/or written by a credentialed professional, eg, a journalist or an expert on the topic.How to Write SEO Content Using Google Online Writing Guidelines

FYI, this is why linking out to credible sources is so important when learning how to write SEO content. It gives readers a place/places to further their research if they so wish. And, it gives more validity to your piece.

3. Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?

In this sense, Google is not referring to the duplicate content penalty (which is really not a penalty).

As discussed in Question 2, content created to “game the system,” will often be the same regurgitated content, just written using different keywords so that a site can rank well for different keyword phrases. Many niche sites cover a topic in depth, so the same subjects will be covered over and over again.

HOWEVER, they will be covered from different perspectives for various reasons (eg, a recent industry change, agreement/disagreement with another source, etc.).

Keyword Tip: One way to find oodles of organic traffic-generating keywords is to use a proven keyword research tool.

4. Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?

Some sites inspire trust; others don’t. Sometimes there’s just something that sits in the pit of your stomach that makes you not trust a site. Content creation is a part of this. Is the info presented professionally, is it in depth or general, is it keyword stuffed, etc.?

This piggybacks on the next question, which is . . .

5. Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?

If a site is riddled with spelling and grammatical errors, it makes it hard to trust the actual facts of the content.

While a misspelled word here and there happens perhaps more in web writing than print (because content tends to be presented in real time on the web), if an article is not professionally presented, eg, spell checked, fact checked, etc., it lowers the overall quality of the content. Google pays attention to this when ranking sites.

6. Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?

Niche it, niche it, niche it – as in, when a site is created by someone who has a genuine interest in a topic, this will be reflected in the content. It won’t be driven by keyword research, which goes back to sites created just to game the system (eg, made for AdSense (MFA) sites)).

What are Made-for-AdSense Sites?

Some scraper sites are created to make money by using advertising programs. In such cases, they are called “Made for AdSense” sites, or MFA. This derogatory term refers to websites that have no redeeming value except to lure visitors to the website for the sole purpose of clicking on advertisements.

I don’t think anyone does this too much anymore, and it’s just not profitable — a result of many of the algorithm changes Google has put out over the years to stop this practice.

7. Does the content provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?

Many MFA sites use content created by $1 per 300-word SEO article writers that is just recycled information that can be found in a 30-second web search. In the old days, many of these sites would rank high – if they had the right keywords. No longer. As an aside, can we get an “Amen!” to this!

Google wants content that provides actual value to web searchers. And this is why long-form (aka skyscraper, foundational) content has gained popularity the last few years.

You’re not going to find anyone to turn out a 2,000, 3,000 or 5,000 word article for a few bucks — even if they are just learning how to write SEO content. This type of content takes research, time and effort to produce. This costs, and if you’re not totally invested in the subject matter as an honest-to-goodness business, it’s highly unlikely that you’re going to be willing to shell out the dough the get well-written, in-depth content like this.

8. Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?

See #7. And, ask yourself, how your content compares to what’s already out there. Practically no topic under the sun is new. If you’re going to write on a subject – even when 10,000 others have already done so — be sure to provide actual value by giving readers a different point of view, new/different insight, new/different research, etc.

This is what we surmise Google means by “substantial value.” In short, just remember not to recycle what’s already out there.

9. How much quality control is done on content?

Has the piece been researched, fact checked, spell checked, grammar checked, etc.?

One other non-obvious thing here – if the topic has been discussed on your blog/website before, does it contradict what was said before? If it does, an explanation should be given as to why.

It’s ok to change stance/position on a topic, but an explanation should be given to the end user (web surfer) as to why so they aren’t confused. This is another reason intra-site linking is one factor Google considers when ranking sites. You see, when you write genuinely (eg, NOT based solely on keywords or to rank high in search engines), you’re bound to cover a topic from various angles. Hence, the need/opportunity to link out to other articles you’ve previously written.

10. Does the article describe both sides of a story?

Sites that have content created to sell something will often only tell one side of the story. While selling something (eg, affiliate marketing) is not a problem, remember, Google wants sites that provide “value” to the web surfers.

Full disclosure (telling both sides of the story) is part of presenting value.

As an aside, if you promote affiliate products on your website/blog, one of the best ways to do it is to write unbiased reviews. Tell the good and the bad about the product/service. Learn how to REALLY make money in affiliate marketing.

11. Is the site a recognized authority on its topic?

When you create value-based content, readers will share it with others as a matter of course. They’ll tweet it, share it with their friends on Facebook, discuss it in groups on LinkedIn, etc. All of this creates backlinks. This is why it’s important to learn how to write SEO content … the right way. Besides giving potential customers the information they need to make an informed decision, getting backlinks are kinda the whole point of creating good content.

What are Backlinks?

Backlinks are simply when another site links back to your site. They drive traffic and position your site as an authority site. Get a fuller understanding of how backlinks affect your site’s SEO.

12. Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care?

Here, we surmise that Google is trying to cut down on the power of content farms / content mills, which were discussed earlier.

While sites with multiple authors are not a bad thing — sites deemed content mills have thousands of authors (aka content creators) – remember search engines want value-based content created by webmasters who are vested in (ie, passionate about) their niche.

If your site is about freelance writing, it’s highly unlikely that you’re going to post content about that one day, then an article about tomato sauce the next day — unless you’re discussing how a freelance writer can break into food blogging or recipe writing.

13. Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?

See #’s 1, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9.

In-depth content takes time to create. It’s one of the first thins you should get comfortable with when learning how to write SEO content.

It has to be researched, fact checked, spell checked, cross checked, etc. You can’t “hastily produce” quality content that will get shared over and over and over again. Unless you’re some type of guru in your niche with a massive following who hang on your every word (no matter how sparse), hastily produced content just won’t get the eyeballs you want and need to make money online — which is kinda the whole point is an online entrepreneur, right?

14. For a health-related query, would you trust information from this site?

We think this is as a result of content like the article mentioned in Question #1, which you can gain more insight from in the post linked to in there, ie, Demand Media CEO: Google Not Talking About Us.

Possible New Google Guidelines for Certain Content?

When I first wrote this post in 2011, I stated the following:

As an aside, could special requirements for certain content (eg, medical, legal) to rank well be far behind? For example, will sites have to certify that the content produced is by a licensed doctor, lawyer? If not, will a disclaimer have to be included (eg, “This content was not created by a licensed professional. Please do further research or consult a qualified professional in order to learn more.”) Hmmmm . . . just something to think about.

Google did try to do this in a roundabout way in my opinion, with it’s Authorship Tag. While that didn’t go as planned, Google Author Rank is still alive and well, as the linked-to Search Engine Land post explains.

15. Would you recognize this site as an authoritative source when mentioned by name?

Certain sites are automatically trusted as authorities, eg, Komen.org for breast cancer; Realtor.com for real estate; SuzeOrman.com for financial advice; and InkwellEditorial.com for freelance writing advice (sorry, couldn’t resist adding my little corner of the web).

This is because they are undisputed sources for dispensing content that can be trusted because it has been sourced, proofed, fact checked and created by credentialed and/or experienced professionals.

Your site can become one of these, but it takes time. Keep in mind when you write every post that you’re building a brand; one you want people to come to recognize as a trusted source of information.

16. Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?

Content created just to rank well may sometimes have a compelling headline to draw you in, but it doesn’t deliver on the promise of the headline. This can range from completely shallow content, to being totally off-topic altogether. This is clear bait-and-switch and it will piss reader off to no end.

Don’t do this. While clickbait headlines may be able to draw visitors in that first time, they won’t be back. And, a good web business (any business) thrives on repeat visitors / repeat customers). So, deliver/over deliver on your topic; repeat visitors (and sales) will follow.

17. Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?

See #’s 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 15 and 16.

18. Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?

This underscores the point of being an authority site (see #10), as opposed to one created just for AdSense (see #6).

19. Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?

Again, see #6.

20. Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?

Here, what we deduce Google is after getting at is . . . is the article professional enough, trusted enough, fact-checked enough that it could appear in a trusted printed publication.

While there’s a lot of bad writing on the web, many blog and website owners consistently create in-depth, well-written content that could be a piece taken from The New York Times or Time magazine. It’s one of the reasons that blogging has matured, attaining “mainstream press/journalist” acceptance.

21. Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?

While length is not the sole indicator of quality content, it is one – one that Google is paying attention to. In fact, some sites require short posts by the very nature of their subject matter (eg, a blog that posts stock updates). BUT in general, it is hard to give “helpful specific” insight in 100 or 200 words.

When I first learned how to write SEO content, 400 to 500-word articles were the norm. I even wrote a book with these exact specs in it because that was the bulk of what my clients requested. Nowadays, as mentioned in #7, long-form content of 2,000+ words is all the rage. But there are no hard-and-fast rules about content length.

Learn more about the correlation between content rank and length. And, gain more insight on this in 3 Things to Consider When Deciding How Long Your Blog Posts Should Be.

22. Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?

This obviously has to do with the quality of the content produced, which we’ve discussed ad nauseam here, but also the design – eg, have special graphics been created for a particular post, have web writing guidelines been observed, have multi-media features been included (eg, video, podcasts, etc.).

The bottom line is – has care, thought and “attention to detail” been given to the post. This requires time – something MFA and sites created JUST to rank well often lack.

23. Would users complain when they see pages from this site?

If a user is searching for info on wedding dresses, yet when they click through to your site and it’s about online poker, they might be a bit peeved and report the site to Google as a spam site. Other reasons web surfers report sites range from phishing scams, to hate material, to porn, to content theft, to online scams.

Any and all of these can get a site delistedfrom search engines.

What Do You Think of These SEO Writing Guidelines?

Are there more guidelines you can think of that should be added to this list? Do you think these guidelines are too restrictive or not strict enough? Sound off in the comments section below.

Note: This post was first published on this site’s sister site, SeoWritingJobs.com, on May 11, 2011. It was updated, retitled and republished here in July 2017.

P.S.: Learn How One SEO Writer Earned $20,000 — in ONE MONTH. You Can Too!

P.P.S.: A Practically Fail-Proof Way to Start a High-Paying Online Writing Biz

As these freelance writing job listings highlight, there are many online writing opportunities in SEO these days. And, with the right knowledge, it’s great work-from-home career to start – PT or FT. Get trained to get started!

Learn How to Write SEO Content the Right Way: 23 Google Guidelines to Follow

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