How to properly research, plan and write an article for your business website
This guide is designed to give a framework for written content to be planned, researched and created for a business website. The plan can be used for any size of business in any sector/industry. We hope you find some value.
While it is impossible to create a “one-size fits-all” approach, the intention is that this process can be applied across most content topics and for all target markets – be those geographic, or as defined by the business. For this example, we mainly use an example for a Spanish business selling in all Spanish speaking markets.
1 – SEO Writing Glossary
To start, it may help to clarify some terms and mention some important factors that search engines take into consideration:
Traffic = Number of visitors to a website.
Lead = a specific inquiry that comes into a business from a potential customer.
Keywords = the terms that users enter into a search engine when looking for information. These can be 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or more words in length.
Seed keyword(s) = The main term that a piece of content is focussed on e.g. Work and Study in Canada.
Semantically related keywords or Secondary keywords = These are terms that are conceptually related linked to a particular topic e.g e.g. Work and study visa or Can I Work & Study in Canada or Best city to study in Canada or Jobs for international students in Canada
When modern search engines look for webpages to rank, they attempt to identify the intent and deeper meaning of the words used in a search query. Google/Bing/Yandex and so on now try to understand language on a “higher” level to give more accurate results to users.
Long-tail keywords = Longer, more specific, search terms e.g. What are the visa requirements for the Work & Study programme in Canada for Mexican students? Long-tail keywords, in general, can be easier to rank for and are likely to be used by people who are further along the customer journey. That means they are more likely to be users who are “closer” to making a purchase, as opposed to those who are still in the early phase of their research and make more general searches. Long-tail keywords generally do not produce as much website traffic as popular short keywords, but the traffic they do produce is, generally, of higher value to a business as the customer is more likely to contact a business and become a lead, or even make a purchase straight-away.
Keyword research = This is the process of researching what are popular search terms for a topic, what are the keywords used by competitors and trying to find opportunities (gaps). This is a CRITICAL part of the process and MUST be followed before…
Keyword planning = The process of selecting which keyword(s) to use for a particular piece of content BEFORE starting to write. As with everything in life, “if you do not plan properly, you are planning to fail”
SERP = Search Engine Results Pages e.g. the famous ten blue links that Google (and others) returns to user quieres.
SEO = Search Engine Optimisation is the process of trying to make a piece of content that ranks highly in SERP. This is an on-going process that is never complete. The reason it is never complete as EVERY business is doing this to constantly try and improve their SERP results. Unless a business is one of the most important brands in their niche, they will be unlikely to be able to stay at the top of rankings without constant on-going SEO work.
There are more than 200 factors that Google considers when ranking pages, so SEO work is multi-faceted, time-consuming and is never an exact science. The SEO term is also used for the people who do this work – Google, and others, do not give out the ranking information to anyone, so SEO’s have to constantly work on their knowledge, test, and optimise tactics and strategies.
Bounce-rate = How much time a user spends on a webpage before closing it or hitting the ‘back’ button. The higher it is, the less Google thinks of your content. 70% is normal. Don’t panic.
H Tags/ Heading Tags = These are HTML (coding language) tags for titles on any given page of written content published on the internet. All internet browsers and search engines recognise these. There are 6 levels of heading tags:
<h1>This is heading 1</h1>
<h2>This is heading 2</h2>
<h3>This is heading 3</h3>
<h4>This is heading 4</h4>
<h5>This is heading 5</h5>
<h6>This is heading 6</h6>
As you can see, there are stylistic changes in each level. These are “standard” fonts/sizes as per the default options in Google Docs/ Microsoft Word – you can choose your own styles and save them.
You can select them here inside Google docs/Word:
When the text is later copied into wordpress or website builders the heading tags are maintained – saving a job and reducing the chance of manual errors at later stages.
H1 = the page title – THERE SHOULD ONLY BE 1 H1
H2 = section headings
H3 = section sub-headings
H4 = section sub-sub-headings
These are the most commonly used and many articles published on the internet will not use H5/H6/H7. It really depends on if the piece of content requires them or not.
The more organised content is – broken into relevant sections and subsections – the more Google, and other search engines, like it. It also ensures that text is easier to read and allows writers to give very specific information to readers. This can help a business to guide potential customers to the next stage of their purchasing journey and to answer questions they have before they even contact the business.
Proper use of H2/ H3/ H4 tags allow for a contents section to be added at the start of an article so that users can navigate to exactly what they are looking for.
Search engines also LOVE H-tags as it means they know what a piece of content is about and can assess if it is relevant to a user’s search query. This provides writers and SEOs with the opportunity to OPTIMISE content and give it a better chance of appearing higher on a SERP.
One tactic to optimise H-tags is to use Semantically related/Secondary and Long-tail keywords as H2/ H3/ H4/ H5 & H6 tags. You will read and hear different opinions about this and can see many different approaches used by different businesses. Unless someone works for Google – they do not have all the answers. So, it is important you read, listen, test and learn so that you can form your own opinion about what works for your business.
Anchor text = often in the contents section of an article on the internet, you can click the section you are interested in and the page moves to the location. This is anchor text. The term is literally the text used on the link between one webpage and another (there are six kinds, but we will not be discussing anchor text in that context in this article).
Images = Any photo, graphic, logo or icon that appears in a piece of content. Sizes and quality are important so that the images are correctly displayed on different devices and different browsers
ALT-Text/ Alt description/ Alt Tags = Alternative Text – this is used by search engines to read what an image is about to people who are visually impared. It is a literal description of the image. Best practice is to keep alt text to 125 characters, as this is the point that search engines ‘stop’ reading it.
Alt text can be added in Google docs/word by right clicking on an image and entering the text. This saves time later (*and reduces the chance of manual developer errors at later stages!).
Alt text provides us with another opportunity to optimise for search engines by including keywords in the descriptions. For example
standard alt text = woman pointing to a computer screen
optimised alt text = a teacher pointing to a student’s computer screen during a lesson at <BRAND> English school in Vancouver, Canada
standard alt text = Stanley Park Vancouver
optimised alt text = <NATIONALITY> Study Abroad Students beside the river in Stanley Park, Vancouver, Canada
So, now we have some clarity with terms, let’s look at a process.
2- Keyword Research & Planning
Defining a starting point:
- What keywords are your competitors getting a lot of traffic for?
- What products are people searching for in your target markets?
- What do you need to sell more of?
- What content is missing from your website?
Sticking with the example already used in this article, we will use – Work & Study in Canada as our main keyword.
There are many tools and platforms that are both free and paid to use for keyword research. We use one of the best paid platforms, SEMRush, and the screenshots in our guide are taken from there. The best free keyword research tool, in our opinion, is Wordze.com. UberSuggest by Neil Patel is also great. While not as powerful as a paid tool like SEMRush, they are both very good options with excellent data.
This platform allows us access to data that makes the process a lot quicker than by doing it manually or with less well established tools (who do not have access to the same volume of data). There are also many different tools within SEMRush that allow us to have a more ‘global’ approach to content planning. More information here: https://www.semrush.com/kb/807-seo-keyword-research
*SEMRush has many excellent free training courses to follow, we recommend ALL of them.
It is important to realise that this tool, although it has a huge database bigger than most of its competitors, does not have 100% of the information. It is unlikely that the information will be massively different from reality – so we can trust SEMRush, but we must always also use our own experience and knowledge when making decisions.
We must always relate our decisions to our business objectives and, critically, to the needs of our market. Referring back to your target market personas is an essential part of planning all content & strategy – digital or otherwise – and also decision making. If you don’t have them, make some.
Back to our research process..
Step 1 –
Step 2 – Select which database & device – we are using Mexico and desktop devices (includes laptops)
Step 3 – review the results
- Top left we can see the approximate monthly volume of searches for this keyword in our selected market on our selected device. (1.6k)
- We can see how difficult SEMRush estimates it is to rank in the top 10 SERP results for this keyword. A general breakdown of the results are:
Below 60% = Low Difficulty – easier to rank for BUT the hardest to find
60% – 80% = Medium Difficulty – It will be hard to get on the first page for this keyword, it requires not only great content, but also good page authority. SEO work is required on an ongoing basis to rank for keywords in this range. Probably best to try and avoid anything over 70% for your initial campaigns, and then build up over time. If you are 100% new, go for the easiest ones you can find.
Over 80% = High difficulty – hard to rank for, will require serious SEO investment (both time and money). It is best to avoid these keywords for your site, or call us to help you.
- CPC & Com. – Cost Per Click & Competitive Density – tell you the average amount being spent in Google Adwords on this keyword and the level of competition between advertisers, 0.00 – 1.00
- Global Volume – here we can see the search volumes by country
- Results on SERP – how many pages are returned
- SERP Features – what things appear in Google’s results; here we see there are the following:
Featured Snippets, Site Links, Video, People Also Ask, Video Carousel
These are all things that we may like to optimise out content for as Google displays them in the SERP; e.g. we may want to add a youtube video or add special code to the page to try and get a Featured Snippet or Site Links
- PLA & Ads – look them up if you are interested
- Trend – a graphic showing how popular the search term is, as per our parameters, over time
Next, we see the keyword overview information
- SEMRush gives us variations on the keywords and also the approximate monthly search volumes
- It gives us some questions that people use as search terms
- It gives us related keywords and their search volumes
We will come back to this data shortly.
Next, we see the SERP results for the search term, in the given market/device
And we can click in the top left to see the next 10 results as well
Page AS = Page Authority Score – SEMRush calculations (not Google’s) to give an estimated score for the page between 0-100. The higher the authority, the better. New pages start at 0 by default. This metric is not as important as Domain Authority (the overall score for the whole website).
Ref. Domains = Referring Domains – how many other websites link to this article / URL
Backlinks = How many actual backlinks there are to the site, it’s possible that on one website, there are more than one link to a an article/ URL
Search Traffic = SEMRush calculations (not Google’s) to give an estimate of how many users visit a given page over a 28 day period. Very hard to estimate this without access to google analytics for every website in the world, but a good guide for our purposes.
URL Keywords = How many keywords this page ranks for – SEMRush calculator, not Google’s, but this is likely to be quite accurate.
NOTE: there are some results that appear as zero. This can be because of a couple of reasons (probably more, but there are the ones we know about). 1. There is code on the webpage that stops SEMRush for discovering this information 2. The SEMRush database hasn’t returned the data it doesn’t have
The information we have here is very interesting, it gives us a guide as to what we have to achieve for our article, after it is published, to get on the first page of Google’s results and ahead of our competitors. We can also see, in the 11-20 results, what is “trending” (new) content that may reach page one soon.
Key points our search has taught us:
- Our competitors are doing SEO work, frequently, and many try to hide their information from competitors; meaning we need to do some manual work.
- We need our Domain Authority & Page Authority to be 19 or above to hope to rank our article on the first page
- We will need to target at least 5 backlinks from other domains to rank onto page one
- It is in our interest to produce the best article possible for this term so that we can try to rank for as many semantic keywords as possible
- Results 1 & 2 have outranked a government website – they are good examples to follow.
For the next stage of our research, we are going to look more closely at our competitor’s articles that are ranking – that Google is rewarding.
3- Manual Competitor Keyword Research
In order to protect the privacy of the websites ranking for our example term, we are going to switch our manual research to use another keyword in another market for this stage. The process is identical, it can be used in any country and for any sector.
- Open a new spreadsheet & list your top 10 competitors
- List the key information you want to know about your competitors:
Word counts for each section
You may also want to note down how many images are used, how many videos are used and anything else you think is relevant and will help you when you start writing
Our completed manual spreadsheets always look like this >
You can zoom in to the image to look in closer detail.
We colour code the H2 & H3 tags so that we can visually see what the competitor pages are doing.
We keep a note of EXACTLY what tags the competitor pages use.
But – how did we find this information from our competitor’s sites? Easily….
- Open the webpage
- Select a piece of text and right click – choosing the “inspect” option
- You will now see the source code of the page – DON’T PANIC – you do not need to understand what you are looking at. We are only paying attention for <P> or <H1> or <H2> or similar tags.
We can immediately see our selected passage is normal text – paragraph text.
- Repeat for the titles, we can see here that “Finance your Studies” is an H2 heading
- Repeat this until you have all the headings on the page listed, copy and paste exactly what they are as well.
- Copy and past the text into a word document, google docs or use the free Chrome extension “Word Counter Plus” to calculate the word count for each section.
After our competitor research is complete; we can calculate the following;
We use the Skyscraper technique for content; producing articles that are a little longer and a little better written, than the competition. For us this usually means we will add around 500 words to the average length of a piece of long-form content. If it were an article with an average of below 1000 words, then we would likely add around 300 for our piece. It’s all relative, and you have to think about the quality first and foremost – write for the readers, not the search engines.
We also know exactly how many sections Google expects to see from a top ranking article for our keyword. We know how many of them are the key H2 & H3 tags and what the word count is for each of those sections.
We now know all the exact heading tags our competitors use in their articles and can see patterns, similarities and differences. We learn what Google is rewarding and what it expects to see in articles about our keyword and topic. We can safely assume at least some of the top ten pages have been optimised and have keyword rich headings. So, we use this knowledge to plan our article. We need to deliver a similar structure with similar headings to match, mirror and move past our competitor’s content. We can produce our first plan of our article sections at this stage and write them down.
We are now going to look for some opportunities, some gaps, for us to perhaps add some keywords into our H2 & H3 headings that our competitors do not have in theirs.
4- Secondary and long tail keywords
To complete this task, we go back to using a tool. We are again using SEMRush, our favourite tool. We highly recommend it and if you are interested in learning more about it, we offer training and can also provide your business with projects and reports for low fees. We can also help businesses to sign-up for the platform at a reduced rate, please contact us for details if you are interested.
SEMRush Keyword Magic Tool
You can perform these same tasks using the free tools we mentioned earlier in this guide.
Here is where we can get deep into our keyword research
We can choose if we want to see all keywords or only questions (generally, stick to All)
Broad Match Any variation of our seed keyword
Phrase Match match our seed keyword with the words in any order
Exact Match match our seed keyword in the same order
Related a list of keywords that are similar to our seed keyword
We can add filters to narrow down the results. The important ones are
Volume of searches – we are not interested in keywords that no-one searches for BUT if we find long-tail keywords of 4,5 or 6 words long; that have some searches and low keyword difficulty, these are VERY interesting.
KD% – how difficult they are; e.g. we want to filter out anything that is too hard (above 80%)
Exclude – we may want to ignore those with certain terms
Next, we go through the lists looking at the data we have an we select the ones we like/are most interested in
We can then create a list of these keywords by adding them to the keyword manager
There is a maximum of 1000 keywords that can be added to a list – it is unlikely that for one piece of content we will want to add quite so many!
We want to make sure that we add all those we believe are most relevant for our business in our target market. International campaigns should include keywords from multiple markets – but be aware of language differences, not many people in Japan search in English, and vice-versa.
We should repeat this process using our selected H2 & H3 titles that we decided upon in our manual research to the list as well. We may decide to change word order, or the titles completely at this stage.
We now go to our list in Keyword Manager
- Find your list
- Look through the data and further refine. Perhaps you decide to remove some that are less important. Perhaps you may want to add in some more H2 & H3 sections that our manual research did not show up on competitors pages – THIS IS IMPORTANT. As we have potentially found gaps on our competitors pages, so we can make our article BETTER than theirs.
- Ideally, we want to get down to a manageable number of semantically linked keywords. This is now our “master” list for the topic.
- Note down a list of keywords you think will be important that ARE NOT in H1/H2/H3/H4 headings. These are terms that it would be great to get into the text as it will support SEO for the article. Around 10-15 is a reasonable number to consider.
Once you have finished this you will have:
- A very clear picture of what information is vital to rank
- A complete list of H1/H2/H3 and maybe even H4/H5 for the article
- A list of other terms you plan to include, where it is natural to do so in the article.
- The “optimum” word count for each section/ the article overall
- A document with all our sections planned out and the text tagged correctly in our word processor of choice
You are now ready to write your article.
Writing your article
- We take each section in turn and treat it as an individual piece of work.
- Our best-practice is to do a search for the H2/H3 term and have a quick read before writing
- If our section is as good as whole articles on a topic, then logic dictates that it will rank not only for our seed keyword, but also for our secondary/semantically related keywords.
You can take two approaches now, and this is very much down to the individual and their preferred way of writing for SEO purposes. You can either write the section and then optimise, or try to optimise as you are writing. A combination of the two is likely what most people are comfortable with.
We often use the Content Marketing toolbox in SEMRush directly when writing content to speed up our working processes.
The content template is a good place to start
Important to choose our target market for the writing suggestions.
SEMRush compares the top 10 results from our keyword in that location and gives us information
Here, we see SEMRushes recommended some semantic keywords. These are often good to compare against H tag headings. Usually they will already match to some degree. It is possible there are some new ones that we may add to our list to include in the body text of our article. It is also possible that there are some that seem erroneous and are not of any interest. Those with spelling mistakes are worth including somewhere – but perhaps in alt image tags, not in the text of your article.
The tool, like many popular SEO writing tools, gives us a target readability. This is calculated using the Flesch-Kincaid Reading score
Somewhere between 60 and 80 is the best average target score for all content on the internet. If something is easy to read and understand, the higher the score, the lower the bounce rate will be and potential customers will continue to read. Most people are now very lazy readers and the internet has made us lazier. It is not our job to change this per se- we are generally writing for commercial purposes, so we give people what they want! Incidentally – well done for getting this far in our guide!!
It also gives us a recommended article length
HOWEVER – we have already completed MANUAL research into this, which is more accurate than a machine calculation as we have determined what is more/less relevant. Your experience will teach you how much to trust these types of calculations from tools. Write for the reader, not the search engine.
We then take this information to the SEMRush Writing Assistant; either in the platform itself, or in Google Documents with the add-on. It is recommended to do it directly in Google Docs.
- Open a new google doc
- Ensure the add-on is showing
Add in your SEED KEYWORD – the main keyword of the article & also the H2/H3 headings. It is possible to add up to 30 keywords at this stage.
Select the target audience and hit the button.
Write your article and you will get stats on the right for how you are doing from an SEO perspective, for your target keywords.
For our example case, we are jumping ahead to an article having had a first draft already and have some text content to work with and optimise.
The tool gives us this information right away:
We can see it calculates our target reading score as 57.7 and target length as 720. We know we have another objective (from our manual research) or word length. For the sake of this guide, it is being set at 2500 words. Click the pencil to update
Now, we can see the tool has updated our overall score (word length is important)
Perhaps, we need to reassess how long the article is and reduce it. It is relative, but important.
Scrolling down, SEMRush gives a very long list of things to do to further optimse our content. Before we start to do that, we must set our Tone of Voice.
This should be constant throughout all published materials and in the way that the business interacts with its customers. If our sector is quite informal – we may scare people away if the content is too formal. By the same token, if we are too relaxed, we scare away customers as well. It is probably best to aim to be somewhat casual/ neutral/ somewhat formal – depending on what the actual piece is about. In this case, we will select neutral.
SEMRush also gives us a list of paragraphs and sentences that are “hard to read”.
It tells us if our main keywords are included
Based upon our competitors articles, it gives us recommended semantically related keywords to include:
Those in white should be added to the text in appropriate places.
We should also click the pencil and add our own 10 or 20 semantic keywords here (from our keyword research and planning stage).
It is a good idea to find the images you think would be good for the article and simply insert them into the google document. Adding optimised alt text to them will improve the overall accuracy of your article score in the tool.
It tells us how we measure with the number of external links, and which ones need to be improved, and why.
Ignore the originality box. Not only does it cost money, you haven’t copied/pasted your content from someone else, so it is irrelevant.
Focus on the main box when you are optimising. The higher the number goes, the better it is and the more chance the content will have of ranking in Google. Of course, there are many other factors – like backlinks – that have to be considered also, but this article is clearly good and with some more optimisation, will have a score of 9.something against competitors BEFORE it is published.
You are then ready to set your content free into the wilds of the internet. And you have made sure that you have created some of your own “luck” with Google long before you hit the publish button.
Something that is VERY important to consider about SEO article writing and optimisation in general. Perhaps this your article is a key lead generating piece that is going to convert your traffic and make you a fortune BUT, what if it does not?
- What do you do if it is a supporting article for a main piece of content?
- How do you link them together properly so you send traffic where you want it to be?
- How do you avoid taking traffic away from your main article?
- How do you convert traffic in the first place?
Feel free to get in touch with any questions and we will help you, commitment free for 30 minutes. After that; we need to go on the clock.