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SEO writing: how to create content for Google (and delight your users)
Search engine optimization (SEO) is a popular inbound marketing strategy for good reason. Done well, it works wonders—magnetically drawing users from Google to your website.
But writing for SEO is challenging. Search engines use complex algorithms to sift through billions of pieces of content, selecting a treasured top ten for each query. You have to use a seemingly magic combination of ingredients on your web page for a chance at a high-ranking spot on the list.
Last updated25 Sep 2023
Reading time10 min
In this article, we unpack six ways to write user-centric content with search-engine appeal. You’ll walk away with actionable tips and tools to create compelling SEO content and drive traffic to your site.
Writing SEO content is a win-win: you improve your rankings in the search results pages and answer users’ burning questions. Follow these six strategies to optimize your SEO writing:
Find out what your users want to know by analyzing website data, monitoring social media sites, and surveying real users
Conduct keyword research to identify words and phrases with high volume and low competition
Write satisfying content by collecting data on how existing pieces perform
Localize your content by translating it into your target audience’s language, writing new content just for them, and finding keywords they’d use
Optimize meta titles and descriptions by writing unique ones that accurately reflect your content and contain keywords
Update and refresh existing content by considering search intent and using a content optimization tool
6 ways to write SEO content that satisfies people
Search engines created algorithms to discover what real human beings want when they type in ‘red ski jacket for kids’ or ‘how to code an app’. Google and Bing want their users to be satisfied with the results they see on page one, so they use machine learning (ML) to analyze user behavior and refine their algorithms. In other words, search engines get to know what people want so they can provide them with the most relevant results.
Over time, writers and content marketers have learned how to optimize their content for search engines. But search engines are driven by people, depending on what they type into the search bar and what results they click on.
So really, optimizing your content has everything to do with understanding—and satisfying—real humans. By keeping your users at the core of each decision, you connect with audiences and rise to the top of the rankings.
1. Find out what your users want to know
Writing stand-out SEO content starts with figuring out what interests your ideal customers. If your company has user personas, start there. These semi-fictional profiles capture who your typical customer is, with their goals and pain points.
But users’ interests and issues are always changing. To keep tabs on the latest topics they’re searching for, try these tips:
Keep an eye on your web analytics: pay close attention to which of your current blog posts receive the most traffic and the average time people spend on the page. Then, generate a list of related topics that users may also like.
Monitor social media: websites like X (formerly Twitter) and LinkedIn are excellent low-stakes testing grounds for new content ideas. If something resonates—as evidenced by the number of likes, comments, and shares—add it to your idea list for guides or FAQ content.
💡 Pro tip: use session recordings and heatmaps to get clues on topics users engage with.
Session recordings show mouse movements, clicks, and scrolls from real user sessions. Use them to see how visitors interact with the content from your site—what topics they pause their cursors on and what calls to action (CTAs) and links they click.
Heatmaps provide visualizations of aggregate user behaviors, so you can discover what resonates on your site and what content your visitors ignore
2. Conduct keyword research
Once you have a list of topics your audience is interested in, you can conduct keyword research.
Keyword research involves investigating the words or phrases people put into search engines to find information. Conducting keyword research helps you understand your audience better and drive more organic traffic to your website.
Run the list of words and phrases you generated through a keyword research tool, like
Google Keyword Planner
Moz Keyword Explorer
All four of these offer a free version, or you can upgrade to a paid version for more searches and robust features.
The goal is to identify keywords with a high volume of search inquiries and low competition or ranking difficulty.
For example, entering the phrase ‘social media marketing’ into Moz Keyword Explorer shows that it has tens of thousands of monthly searches. It also has a high level of difficulty, 71 on a scale of 1–100—meaning you face fierce competition for a spot near the top of the search engine results pages (SERPs). If ranking for a popular term seems daunting, look through the provided list of keyword suggestions for one that might be a better fit.
3. Write satisfying content
Google’s not a fan of ‘thin’ content—writing that lacks value, original ideas, and structure. Your target audiences aren’t big fans, either.
Quality content is informative, trustworthy, and engaging. These kinds of pieces keep readers on the page longer, signaling to search engines that they liked the content and solidifying their place in your funnel.
But quality writing isn’t necessarily easy to define. There’s no hard and fast rule about the writing style, word count, or number of images you need.
Instead, collect data to find out what content appeals to your readers:
Home in on click-through rates (CTR): your CTR is the ratio of visitors who click your call to action compared to the total number of people who viewed it. High click-through rates indicate effective, engaging content—showing you what resonates.
Check the rankings: your current blog posts with the highest rankings in the SERPs have hit on a winning formula for readers. Reverse engineer these posts, so you can see what they have in common and include similar features in future pieces.
Ask your readers: put a feedback widget on any page of your website (like the one on the right-hand side of this page →) to collect users’ in-the-moment insights about their experience. Or, survey your readers to find out what they think of your existing content and what they want to see more of in the future.
4. Localize your content
Content localization is the process of adapting your content to fit the language and culture of a particular country. For example, you might translate content into the local language, swap images for ones that will resonate more with this particular audience, or optimize for keywords users in that region might use.
Content localization improves the customer experience (CX) for your users—a recent Forrester survey of business-to-business buyers found that 67% of people prefer using a localized website. And by satisfying your site visitors in other countries, you open up new market opportunities.
Localization won't improve the rankings of your original piece, but it will allow you to rank for similar queries in other languages. For instance, our NPS® guide has been a strong historic performer. We localized it in French and, two months later, it's ranking for 100 queries in French, with several pages ranking on page one. Same in German and Spanish. That's traffic we wouldn't have captured without localizing our content.
To see the best results from localization, try these strategies:
Solidify your technical foundations: research which site structure—like subdomains, subfolders, or country-specific domains—works best for your setup. Use HTML attributes called hreflang tags to indicate the page’s language and region to Google, but always provide users with an easy way to switch between different page versions.
Write regionally relevant content: users recognize and appreciate when you tailor content to their needs. For example, if you want to sell more ski jackets in Austria, you could write a blog post about the best five ski trails in the Alps for beginners.
Research keywords locals use: for best results, you need to go beyond just a straight translation of your original keywords. Consider local ways of speaking, thinking, and searching. Even among users speaking the same language, these words may vary by region. For example, what an American calls an apartment is a flat in Britain and a unit in Australia.
And a final reminder: don’t localize for its own sake. Every time you add a new locale, your workload (and costs) increase. You need to create more content—and hire people to maintain that content. Do your research to make sure there’s a market opportunity to justify your efforts, and if you decide to go for it, be prepared that you may not see results right away.
5. Optimize meta titles and descriptions
A meta title (or title tag) is an HTML element in a page’s code that gives the title of a web page. Searchers see these titles in large font in the SERPs.
Typically only 50-60 characters long—that’s all Google will display at a time—a meta title may seem insignificant, but plays an essential role in SEO. Search engines and readers alike use meta titles to make sense of your content and decide how relevant it is.
Below the meta title sits the meta description, a blurb that describes what the page is about. The meta description helps users decide which link to click on a crowded SERP, increasing your click-through rate and (indirectly) boosting your ratings.
Optimize your meta titles and descriptions by
Aligning them with your content: think of meta titles and descriptions as the wrapper or packaging for your web page. If your user opens the link and finds something wildly different inside than what was promised, they’ll quickly bounce, annoyed.
Making them unique: this is especially important for ecommerce SEO. If you have similar products with similar meta titles and descriptions, they may have to compete with each other in the rankings.
Include your keywords: yep, this is yet another spot to strategically place your target keywords. Google bolds them in your meta description to make it easier for people to see—leading to more clicks.
6. Update and refresh existing content
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you notice that your pieces are dropping in the rankings over time. User preferences and keywords evolve constantly, and you may need to update your content to solve SEO issues.
Strategies that help refresh your content for users (and improve your rankings) include
Making sure your content aligns with users’ search intent: if someone is looking for information on ‘how to cook risotto’, they likely want a step-by-step guide with tips. You could cut out sections on the history of risotto and the 12 different types.
Updating outdated examples and links: articles or web pages with statistics from 2014 and mentions of obsolete tech features are red flags to readers who may reduce their trust in your brand. Replace these with more relevant examples to increase time on page and click-through rates.
Using content optimization software: a tool like Clearscope lets you see how a piece measures up, assigning it a letter grade for SEO-friendliness and providing tips for improvement. Avoid keyword stuffing though; don’t try to pack every suggested keyword into your piece.
A four-step framework to decide when to update your content
How do you decide which content to optimize when you have hundreds or even thousands of pieces on your site? Hotjar’s SEO Content Strategist Thomas Busson outlines our four-pronged approach to identifying pages that need an update:
Track rankings and metrics: Hotjar keeps a close eye on its historically top-performing content. When those pieces drop in the rankings, it’s time for an update. “It may be that the search intent has changed and the page no longer addresses it,” says Thomas. “Or newer pages that better address that search intent may have popped up and snatched the first rankings.”
Look for outliers: consider updating pages that have strong potential for more traffic or conversion metrics. Use Google Search Console or Ahrefs to identify pages ranking around the fourth or fifth position.
Identify inaccurate references and update: “The Hotjar platform keeps getting better, and we want to make sure our readers get an accurate representation of our product,” says Thomas. While these pages may still get traffic, visitors may be unlikely to convert if the product seems dated.
Let your users weigh in: Hotjar places a feedback widget on every page, so users can help them identify content—and specific page elements—in need of a revamp.
Write user-centric content to drive traffic to your site
Sometimes the statement "Write for people, not search engines" gets tossed around. But really, you can do both. Keep users front and center—providing helpful content that satisfies their curiosity is your primary objective. But with a few key strategies in place, you can also get noticed by search engines and drive more traffic to your site.
The goal is always to make content better for users. Google gives so much importance to user signals that creating content for search engines means creating content that satisfies your users. It's the same.
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