Successful SEO campaigns always include an active blog. A properly planned blog, compared to the rigidity of a website’s static pages, boosts the potential of your online presence and propels your marketing strategy to greater heights and improved conversions.
Jack & Bean’s professional content writing, when coupled with our potent keyword research and other SEO services, empowers your blog and website content and delivers a steady climb towards Search Engine Results Page (SERP) domination.
We also believe in sharing our insight. So read on if you’re interested in successfully cultivating your own professional-grade blog. You’ll learn why it’s a crucial component for any business’s organic online presence.
What a Blog is: and What it is Not
Perhaps it’s easiest to define a blog by what it isn’t. By our professional definition, a blog can include all article topics except a website’s core static content, that being essential pages: products, services, about, etc.
Static content pages (SCP) must convey crucial information directly related to your business brand and offerings. SCPs are distinctively different from peripheral (blog-appropriate) topics. From a direct business perspective, static pages are the most important elements on your website because they sell your product or service value to prospective customers.
But on the other hand, a blog can serve as a “catch all” when sharing relevant information with your customers. Most focused blogs do just that, being careful not to mirror a website’s static (or core) content page topics. Blog pieces can include articles that support your SCPs: how-to guides, trend topics, recommendation listicles, and virtually anything that’s relevant.
Blogs are typically written in a conversational, casual tone when compared to the more formal content found on business SCPs. And ours is certainly no exception. Sometimes, that casual flair can produce a topical “randomness” in some blog posts. That can work, if properly categorized to strengthen your website’s overall core mission.
Though we believe focused SEO audience and keyword research should be utilized, it shouldn’t come at the expense of well written content that engages your target niche. We like what Over the Top SEO’s Guy Sheetrit has to say when it comes to blog content – he’s right on the money!
Why is a Blog Vital to Your SEO Success?
Sadly, just about all business websites’ SCPs have limited SEO value due to their necessary relevance. That need for accurate core static information severely limits their SEO conversion rate potential in two critical ways:
The quantity of necessary content can hobble keyword value.
Inability to factor-in accurate keyword research.
And though you could research relevant keywords for your core pages, it becomes a fool’s errand because regardless of how difficult a topic may or may not be for the purposes of ranking, keyword restrictive static content is necessary. You have no choice.
On the other hand, a conversational blog offers limitless organic exposure. Blogs by their very nature strengthen your core information, while simultaneously bypassing your webpage content restrictions.
Over time, everyone discovers their website’s static pages have content quantity limitations. In years past, many would try to continuously build-out their static content pages and subpages by just tossing in more words to increase organic potential. Some still do.
But as SEO algorithms evolve, this tactic has the opposite effect when it comes to rankings. And a consumer engagement “sweet spot” has emerged that rewards succinct and concise core webpage’s and penalizes superfluous build-outs.
Your brand, products, and services information must be conveyed quickly and accurately lest you bore or confuse prospective customers. And when too many website words get in the way, they further undermine your online marketing goals by diluting the message as you get knocked further down in search engine rankings.
In contrast – and in an organic sense – a blog has no such limitations so long as the topics are discussed in-depth, and organized fashion. Blog readers crave organic content. Such helpful information can justify their decision to buy/convert. Longer articles rank better, which we’ll discuss in a moment.
Moreover, the number of blog articles you create can be limitless. But again, don’t sacrifice quality for quantity in word counts or your number of articles. In both cases, “better” is better than “more,” especially if your objective is to nurture a professional looking blog.
Longer Blog Articles Rank Better Organically
Your blog articles are free to be lengthy once you’re no longer concerned with being concise for the purpose of sales. This empowers you to provide in-depth commentary that is useful for consumers, and offers the added opportunity to engage, subscribe, or convert them.
At some point in a Google search you’ve likely landed on a high-quality article, only to find it’s just a mere few hundred words. It probably left you wanting more information because it could (and should) have been lengthier. This high-quality piece should have engaged you longer with more in-depth discussion; it could have left a more positive and memorable impression. You weren’t “engaged” like you hoped. Nor were you converted into a subscriber or customer.
Blogs also typically have more backlinks, more social shares, and more organic traffic, according to SEO giant Neil Patel. His long blog article about long blog articles goes over these facets in great detail, and he just got another backlink from us – which is good for him because search engines love backlinks. He also reiterates that quality, depth, comprehensive coverage, and topic focus are all correlating factors to effective blog articles. We also cover these same basic principles in our own blog article on the anatomy of successful website content.
When crafting blog articles, be thorough and comprehensive. Don’t overwrite just to rack-up word count. But don’t hold back if you have something of value that engages the reader. A good median “target” is 1,500 words with a minimum of 1,000. If you can’t write that much on any topic, you might not have enough to say. But don’t take that minimum word count as gospel. We’ve found superb shorter articles that offer great value even if they might not rank well with Google.
A Blog’s Topical Freedom Allows for Keyword & Audience Targeting
Topical freedom allows competitive keyword research to guide its content towards sought-after organic search results. Unlike those keyword restricted core SCPs, blogs give you freedom to write about whatever related (or occasionally unrelated) topics you deem relevant.
Moreover, a blog’s topical freedom offers the opportunity to perform greater keyword and audience research on topics with maximum organic traffic potential. If done properly, your blog can attract much less competitive traffic than your SEO static pages. This produces more “bang for your content-writing buck.” Small wonder that high-quality blog content converts incidental site visitors into subscribers, and often, paying customers.
Blog Articles Topics Are Limitless
But limitless doesn’t mean you can write about anything. Topics that are too distant from your business offerings are discouraged. If a visitor is impressed by an article but finds little relevance in your other posts, products, or services you offer, then any sort of conversion is likely to fail.
But there’s good news, there is limitless potential for appealing blog articles in any industry. You just have to know where to look for those ideas, and how to properly vet them for SEO viability.
More high-quality content with keywords means higher organic rankings. And good solid content delivers these desired rankings. But again, unlike with your core SCPs, your blog needn’t be concise or careful with its topics for the exclusive purpose of rankings. Organic visitors won’t concern themselves with the importance of your blog posts, relative to your site as a whole.
Let’s assume your blog’s main goal is cultivating SEO-rich content and increasing organic website traffic. If your blog is positioned correctly, the vast majority of its visitors arrive from a relevant organic SERP – Google for example. That “hit” likely comes from someone’s prominent backlink because the visitor asked Google for specific keyword information. This focused intent means many visitors won’t necessarily care how relevant your article is, relative to the rest of your website. They just want credible, focused, and useful information. And they don’t care where Google finds it.
If you (or we, on your behalf) write your blog content well, visitors will successfully digest your article’s information and find what they seek. A generous number of them will further interact with your site. They may then want to read even more related (or unrelated) articles. Or better yet, the reader may want to know more about your services. Some will then convert into consumers. And that’s your goal: organic engagement with increased conversions.
The amazing thing is you can produce this conversion without being overly concerned about the relevance of the article’s content to your website. And even if you write about topics that might not convert, they can still bolster your website’s ranking capability if the visitor interactions with your blog article are genuinely high quality.
Organic Traffic: a Business Blog’s Nirvana
Your business blog typically attracts visitors for one of two reasons.
You have useful “news” about your products and/or services.
You have revenue generating ads that produce income through impressions and “clicks.”
Many successful blogs subsist just by displaying ads along with information. Some make millions with this formula. Paid ads on huge reputable news sites like CNN and The Huffington Post reap millions from organic traffic which is why they have massive blogs that are updated daily or even hourly.
We usually don’t recommend this option for business blogs because ads can compromise the perceived quality of your content. How often are you turned off by a reputable site with a banner ad for some bottom-feeding product or service you would never buy; or some “click-thru jail” that sticks its greasy hand in your pocket the moment you arrive? We are all judged by the company we keep. There are niche applications for banner ad business sites. But the vast majority must avoid this model.
Our sustainable SEO service offering depends solely on quality blog content. A business blog’s success is geared towards ongoing engagement and driving organic traffic. The unlimited content potential of a blog is crucial to SEO success and a pillar of our SEO services. Over time, a blog can also bolster the rankings of your firm’s overall online business presence.
Get your Business Blog Right the First Time with Jack & Bean
Blogging is our SEO first-love. Our mission is to help you reap the full benefits of proven SEO processes. Jack & Bean’s “white hat” SEO strategy can virtually assure steady increases in high-quality organic traffic to your total online business presence.
This proven blogging formula combines professional content writing services with continuous organic keyword research and quality link building for maximum SEO results. We do this by working with you, the business owner, to create long-term content strategies that align with constantly evolving internet search protocols to leverage steady organic traffic growth.
A few words of caution though. A successful blog doesn’t build momentum overnight. Jumping in with both feet by creating tons of content is not enough. You must:
Ensure your desired keywords are deftly folded into your content through proper keyword research.
Create your website’s backlink profile to empower your blog to rank high for your selected keywords.
The time and expertise your business blog needs to properly succeed requires either a host of in-house specialized employees, or a seasoned content marketing agency partner – like the professionals at Jack & Bean. We deliver all forms of content creation that include our highly-valued static business content writing services.
And even after the content has been carefully crafted, it still needs some promotion and quality link building to organically stand out with Google and other search engines.
If you don’t know what Ahrefs Keywords Explorer is or why it is such a powerful tool, you should start by going to the source. Ahrefs themselves wrote a large article explaining the features of Keywords Explorer when they launched version 2.0 back in 2016.
This guide channels Keywords Explorer’s features to explore and analyze keywords for ranking viability across a host of parameters. Once discovered, you then can write content capable of ranking with Google – assuming you follow the tenants detailed in our White Hat SEO Guide.
The “Key” to Keyword Research
We know, we’re clever. The goal here is to go after keywords that you can realistically rank for. You do not want to go after broad, difficult keywords from the start that you have no chance of ranking for. Instead, the goal is to discover and target niches with low difficulty and acceptable traffic volumes.
For many businesses, this often means just targeting variations of keywords in their area, rather than making the rookie mistake of trying to rank at a national level. For example, “seo company” gets about 5,800 clicks (Volume) per month, but has a Keyword Difficulty (KD) of 44. “phoenix seo company” has only 150 clicks per month, but has a KD of just 24.
The KD scale used by Ahrefs is logarithmic, and each percentage increase of 10 represents a 10X increase in rank difficulty, similar to the Richter scale used to measure earthquake intensity. Thus, ranking for “seo company” is about 100X more difficult to rank for than “phoenix seo company”, 44 vs 24, respectively.
We recommend only going after keywords under 30 (lower is always much better) until you have a sizeable backlink profile built. Our general rule of thumb is don’t go after a keyword whose difficulty exceeds your own Domain Rating (DR). You can learn more about the importance of backlinks and their effect on DR in our White Hat SEO Guide.
Lastly, you do need to have a few rough ideas of what you want to write about before heading into this exercise, and the rest of this article assumes you have at least one to explore. If you’re having trouble coming up with sources of content, we have an article coming soon for that. For the sake of this article, we provide an keyword topic that’s near and dear to Arizona: rattlesnakes.
So without further adieu, here are the steps to using Ahrefs Keywords Explorer to research excellent keyword topics.
Step 1: Brainstorm Search Queries
Our first step is to take a metaphorical step back and attempt your best leap into the various shoes of your potential visitors and customers. What might visitors be searching for in Google to find your topics? Word the queries as naturally as possible, in ways that make sense to you. Come up with 3-5 search queries that are your best guesses and plug them into Ahrefs Keywords Explorer tool.
Your example queries may have little to no traffic volume – but that’s okay! They’re just a means to an end, and as long as you are somewhere in the remote vicinity of search relevance, you’ll be able to build on these in the next step. You’ll see our example keyword has very few results, but we use it to find related topics that have much more traffic potential at similar keyword difficulties.
Step 2: Review Top Pages (SERPs) for Traffic Potential
Once searched, navigate to the Metrics tab, next to Overview. When under the SERP column of each keyword, click and expand the button. This will drop down and show you the top 10 organic results for that individual keyword.
Here, you should also note the total traffic each resulting page gets, which will not necessarily correlate with ranking for your specific keyword, as pages can rank for thousands of other keywords that add up to vastly different amounts of total traffic.
Our example is the keyword “how to identify a rattlesnake” which has a Keyword Difficulty (KD) of just 6 and fairly low search volume of just 90 clicks per month.
The top result, “How to Identify Baby Rattlesnakes”, ranks for 994 keywords, including ours. As a result, it gets over 3,000 visitors per month. Combined with the other top 5 search results (Ahrefs will display many more than this if you want), its easy to see that there are many thousands of searches occurring monthly for similar topics related to identifying rattlesnakes.
So there is definitely some traffic potential for this keyword, despite the initial low volume of our exact combination. Perhaps most importantly, although not being covered in-detail in this article, all of these results have few backlinks, and could easily be outranked with a proper white hat SEO strategy.
Step 3: Compare Their Top Keyword(s)
Going back to the first result, “How to Identify Baby Rattlesnakes”, we see that it ranks for 994 keywords. Clicking on the number of keywords for that article brings you to a list of all the keywords the article ranks for, ranked by traffic by default. You’ll notice that many of the keywords are similar, and demonstrate why you should always write your article naturally with plenty of variation and don’t just repeat the same keyword, so you can rank for multiple keywords in addition to your top choice(s).
The top keyword, “baby rattlesnake”, gets 13,000 monthly searches, bringing this article an estimated 642 visitors every 30 days. Amazingly, it also has a KD of just 2, making “baby rattlesnake” an incredibly easy keyword to rank for with a high search volume. Keywords like this, with low difficulty and decent traffic, are exactly what you want to try and discover.
In contrast, simply “rattlesnake” has a KD of 41, and only gets 89,000 searches per month, a traffic increase of only 7X for a nearly 100,000% increase in difficulty! Again, you’re searching for that sweet spot of low difficulty with desirable levels of traffic, and “baby rattlesnake” fits that bill. You’ll notice Ahrefs Keywords Explorer tells you how many backlinks you’ll likely need to rank in the top 10 for a keyword. For “rattlesnake”, it’s 58 unique backlinks, but for “baby rattlesnake”, it’s just 3. The former is pictured below, just under the KD meter in light gray font.
So if you decided to write an article about rattlesnakes, you would want to consider writing and titling it something along the lines of “How to Identify baby rattlesnakes” as opposed to just “How to identify rattlesnakes”. Going after this keyword will yield much more effective results, due to the excellent traffic-to-KD ratio detailed above.
A Quick Note on Keyword Variations
Although picking the best-performing keyword variation for use in your title may have a minor effect on the performance of your article, as a rule, don’t stress about targeting specific keyword variations. For example, “Arizona rattlesnakes” vs “rattlesnakes in Arizona” should be treated as synonymous in almost every case . 75% of pages that rank on page one of Google results do not even have the exact matched keyword they rank for in their content anywhere.
We also believe that spamming exact keyword phrases unnaturally will increasingly get Google’s attention in the wrong way. Instead, focus on writing naturally about your keyword topic and ensuring your content is useful and high-quality.
Step 4: Save Your Best Findings for Comparison
If you’re 100% convinced you’ve found an inspirational and amazing topic by this step, then congratulations! You can skip straight to step 6!
If you don’t happen to know specifically what topic you’re interested in writing about, we advise copying promising keywords and their related information into a spreadsheet for you to compare later. Be sure to save at minimum: the keyword/topic itself, search volume, top 2-3 articles, and how much traffic those individual articles get. It might also serve you well to record their DR and number of backlinks as well.
Step 5: Repeat Steps 1-4 Until Ready to Write
This step works in-tandem with step 4 above. Until you have confidence in an article topic to pursue, you simply need to repeat steps 1-4 until you’ve managed to come up with enough ideas that at least one of them stands out as a keyword worth pursuing content for.
Step 6: Write Your High-Quality Article
Armed with the knowledge that your keyword(s) and topic are capable of ranking with Google, you can now begin the process of writing high-quality content. Be sure to follow up the completion of your article with adequate promotion and pursuing authoritative backlinks. Below are links to additional resources in the writing and overall SEO processes.
Armed with great content and understanding your plight, you’re ready to invest both time and money into promoting your content. Great. Strap in as we discuss in detail some white hat promotion methods aimed at acquiring quality backlinks.
1) Engage Your Existing Audience
This one should be a no-brainer. Any time you publish new content, let your existing audience known about it. Email your subscribers and post on social media. Go for the low-hanging fruit. If you are not actively engaging these crucial audiences, then you need to start doing so yesterday.
Ensure your site has a moderately aggressive email blast prompt and have an active presence on appropriate social media channels. This does not mean you need to hit these channels with content constantly or even at any given interval. We discuss post frequency in more detail in our article on writing successful blog content, but the general premise is quality vs quantity. Subscribers and followers are much less likely to unfollow you for lack of activity versus putting too much “fluff” in their faces.
Your audience will need to be very large to gain backlinks from them. We typically recommend an expectation for 1 backlink per 10,000 subscribers or followers. This may sound daunting, but you have to build your foundation here, so suck it up and build proper habits with your existing audience.
2) Update and Expand Your Existing Content
This is one of the low-hanging fruits that we think even many of the most active online businesses overlook. Your existing content you’ve already written, even when aged, is likely still very relevant, you probably just need to update it after some time. Every few years you should refresh and re-promote your existing articles, saving you a ton of time trying to find new topics and ensuring your existing content stays relevant and accurate.
For most businesses, somewhere in the 2-5 year range, they’ll need to refresh or update their content. When you hit this point in your publishing career, it is almost always best to be sure your existing content “foundation” is solid and up-to-date before venturing back to writing new content. You don’t want to have your content outdated and lacking relevance. It works against you in multiple ways.
Updated content is also an easy sell for promotion. “Remember this useful article from year such-and-such? Well we’ve updated it to be even more relevant today!” An article that’s already credible and established can even gain traffic and backlinks exponentially and regain momentum that can exceed previous interest. You also may find opportunities to expand greatly on previous articles and give them more breadth and depth. On average, we recommend spending about half your writing time updating outdated articles and the other half writing new ones.
3) Repurpose Content into Other Formats
Another great way to promote your content is to repurpose it into other formats besides just text. Video (think YouTube, vlogs, etc.) is probably the most commonly used repurpose method, but audio methods like podcasts can also be immensely effective. Above and beyond the usefulness of the content itself are the backlinks that submitting these kinds of content to appropriate platforms can provide. Even slideshows and single images can provide extra avenues for customers to reach you.
You may find that a really useful and properly submitted YouTube video can far eclipse your original on-site content if viewers find it particularly useful. You may get some website referral traffic, but more importantly you will have established yourself as a subject matter expert for that topic for the viewer. They may subscribe to you and are likely to get recommendations to additional videos by you, leading to future content promotion opportunities.
Podcasts are another great way to repurpose content, particularly if you already have a large amount of content to draw from and/or can dedicate the time necessary to churn up quality episodes at a rate that will keep your audience engaged, should that be your goal. Either way, backlinking to yourself from podcast platforms can be another great repurposing tool.
4) Replicate Your Competitors’ Backlinks
If you are struggling to find outreach and backlink opportunities at this point, well, shame on you. We’re a forgiving agency, though, and will grant you one more vast source of backlinks: your competitors. If you are reading this article, odds are you are not the industry leader and top Google result for all keywords you want to rank for, which means you have competition that is surpassing you with their SEO efforts and results. Bummer. But this also means you can utilize tools to analyze and go after the same backlink sources they’re using. We again use Ahrefs for this ourselves.
To research a specific competitor’s backlinks, we recommend Ahrefs’ Site Explorer. Under Backlinks > New, you can see the most recently acquired backlinks. These will be the most likely domains and authors to consider linking to your content as well via outreach, since they were just recently active. You can even set alerts in Ahrefs so you receive notifications whenever your selected competitors’ domains get new backlinks, so you can potentially capitalize on the relevancy and obtain one yourself by reaching out. Just like many forms of lead generation, these alerts and the resulting opportunities should be considered extremely time-sensitive.
To analyze multiple competitors simultaneously and see who is linking to some/all of them, we again use Ahrefs’ Site Explorer > Pages > Best by links, filter by “HTTP code > 200 ok” and then take the top 3-10 page URLs and run them through Ahrefs’ Link Intersect tool (under “More”). Strip the protocol from the links pasted and use the “Prefix” setting for each link for best results. You will be shown sites that link to all the articles you included, which should be very solid candidates for backlinks to your similar high quality content. You can even narrow down further to display sites that have linked to all of the domains you selected but not your own.
You can also find backlinks utilizing Ahrefs’ Site Explorer > Referring domains section and filter “Link type > dofollow”, but you’re likely to end up sorting through a bunch of low-quality and spammy domains that you don’t want to be associated with. The previous methods will yield much higher quality results, albeit with a bit more effort involved.
5) Community Discussion and Comments
One of the easiest (and sometimes sleaziest) ways to get backlinks from unique domains is to leave comments with backlinks in them. This is frowned upon as spam most of the time, for obvious reasons – if you’ve ever had a blog or perused the open comment section of one, you know what these look like. But it can be done ethically and usefully.
With proper research, you can find articles to comment on and provide meaningful feedback that contributes to the discussion. Sometimes it will be appropriate to leave a backlink and others it won’t. We recommend establishing yourself within niche online communities without promoting yourself – at least at first.
Once you’re a trusted member of a community, and have “selflessly” contributed for a while, the occasional self-promotion in the interest of the original poster (OP) in a thread will be overlooked, even in hostile environments. Be sure your linked content is helpful, relevant and in fantastic shape – the obvious stuff.
Tolerance levels for this kind of self promotion will vary. Reddit, in particular, is notorious for roasting and banning users who self-promote. However, backlinking in comments can be a very legitimate way to create useful backlinks that not only benefit you, but other readers as well due to your fantastic content.
You can find comment and discussion opportunities on other blogs, forums, QA sites like Reddit and Quora, Facebook groups, Slack channels, and even in the comment sections of YouTube videos.
6) Targeted Outreach
Backlinks are hard to solicit. But one of the best sources to solicit are other authors and experts who you reference and include in your work. Not only they are obviously interested in the same topic, they’re almost guaranteed to have a website to backlink from. Collaborating with other authors and experts in your community is also great virtual networking and can open doors as you establish credibility and reputation in your niche.
The typical way to approach this sort of outreach is usually to include their work and backlink to them as a courtesy, and then notify them of the reference and make any relevant introduction. Alternatively, you can reach out prior to writing, requesting “permission” to cite authors, to vet the odds of them even responding. Direct solicitation of backlinks may or may not be appropriate in either case, but you may be able to imply or slip in the request sometimes.
7) Guest Blogging
This straightforward method of writing content for other blogs in exchange for a backlink to your own can be both powerful and tricky. On the one hand, you want to blog for websites that have high DR – you don’t want to waste your time guest-blogging for low DR sites. On the other hand, you don’t want to be turned down unanimously in your outreach attempts, potentially wasting your time failing to gain opportunities to guest blog.
Google themselves have warned against improper guest blogging in certain “spammy” contexts and promises algorithmic penalties. But when done for the right reasons, guest blogging can be very beneficial. Guest blogging is its own intricate beast and we will cover it more in detail later in a future article already in the works and include a link here.
8) Paid Advertising
Circling back around to this pillar of obtaining backlinks, paid ads are almost always a necessary evil for building backlinks, especially at first. Relevant both as a supplement to manual backlink building and as a complete replacement once you hit a certain threshold, paid advertising allows you to trade money for your valuable time to gain highly-targeted visitors, a small percentage of which will ultimately backlink to your content – if your authors are worth their salt.
Even large and successful companies have advertising budgets to supplement their content promotion efforts. Worded differently, corporate giants who already dominate their niches and who have naturally growing backlink profiles still see the need for advertising budgets to reach a larger audience. This should be a massive indicator that such a budget is indispensable for a business (like yours) looking to carve their way into the SEO ecosystem.
For promoting content, we currently strongly recommend Facebook ads, which can reach thousands of users targeted for various provided demographics for a fraction of the cost of Google Ads and other more expensive PPC options.
Promoting content is often the toughest part of creating a successful blog. No matter how good the content is, it can be difficult to gain traction in the massive void of the internet without a solid promotion strategy. Luckily, there are no shortage of options either. You just need to be diligent and keep your focus on quality, and the momentum will build.
To continue learn more, we recommend you (continue to) read our guide on white hat SEO. If you find you don’t have the time to promote your content, we are always available to help with our professional SEO services.
As an agency, at Jack & Bean, we offer unique content creation services for our clients as part of our suite of SEO services. We write a lot of content, not just for ourselves, but in collaboration with clients who do not or cannot do so themselves. I’m plugging us here because we have done this – a lot. Through both industry research and trial-and-error we have figured out a slew of factors you need to consider whenever you set to writing seo-friendly content.
1) The Quality of Your Writing
The first obvious aspect of successful content is simply writing well. This skill is acquired with practice, and you will get better over time by just doing as well as analyzing your successful competitors. However good or bad you are now, you can and will get better with critical repetition. You can always come back to older web content (that you control) and improve it as your skills advance.
Utilizing content-creation platforms like webtexttool can help assist your web-focused writing. This particular tool gives you two scores out of 100 for SEO and content. For SEO, it ensures your page title, description, headings, main content and other aspects align with your main target keyword and general SEO practices. The content score is determined by estimated reading level/difficulty, text credibility, gender neutrality, sentiment and even text layout.
We use webtexttool internally to guide our content creation efforts. We don’t take its advice as gospel. For example, sometimes it will tell us we’re too verbose or long-worded when we want to be, but it’s an excellent content-creation anchor. Yoast’s extremely popular SEO plugin for WordPress is a great free alternative that has more limited but still useful functionality to help guide SEO-focused content writing. Again, don’t obsess with all the metrics, but it’s a solid guide in most aspects, and there is a paid version as well with more features.
2) Topic Uniqueness
What makes your content different than what’s already been said? This is a huge question that must be answered before you begin, or your content will just a clone of other content already published. Don’t just rewrite an existing article. Take a topic, and do one of the following, ideally aiming for this prioritization:
Discuss something that hasn’t been discussed before by anyone. This is the best type of content and is SEO gold, even in extreme niches. Naturally, such topics are also extremely difficult to come by, and your opportunities for these topic gems will be rare.
Find a dramatically new angle on something already discussed. Always aim for this if you can’t achieve brand new subject matter. A good guide is to be controversial yet defensible, to stimulate discussion and interaction.
Explain an existing topic better. This will likely be your bread and butter, in conjunction with aspects of the previous approach when possible. You often won’t have much to go on for some subjects except to try to improve upon what’s already been discussed.
You can craft unique content from:
Data your company produces
Insights you have because of your industry experience
Stories from people you have access to
Customer experiences and reviews
Unique and genuine content stands out and is much easier to promote. Visitors and other authors will be receptive to your unique and improved discussion and backlinks will be more likely to develop as a result. Even excellent content will often be ignored if it is too mainstream.
3) Understand Your Audience
We have found that focusing on large, unique utility articles such as tutorials, thorough guides and how-tos (like this article) have been most effective at ranking well for both B2B and B2C content writing. Most of the time we barely promote the company’s offerings, if even at all, in successful content pieces. The point rather is to offer a resource that is relevant, useful, and will build credibility and DR, influencing our overall Google ranking. This is because we understand the audiences of our industries we write for, and what they’re actually searching for.
Case studies, examples and authoritative interviews/quotes are also great, but we have largely used them as supplementary material, in addition to number-based research and data with references to add authority. Most of our articles have irrefutable references that make our core points for us.
This simply illustrates how we tailor the content we write to appeal to our (client’s) target audiences. Consider yours carefully and understand that some trial-and-error may be required to find what your audience is interested in. However, you can minimize wasting time writing content your audience doesn’t want with the proper tools, a solid loadout of which are explained in our article about free bottomless content sources. Part of writing successful content is making efficient use of your time.
4) How Your Content Looks
The way your content displays on-page also makes a tremendous difference in how it is perceived. You don’t want to just throw thousands of great words on a page. Most visitors will scroll through and browse your page, either looking for something specific or deciding if they want to stay and read your article. You want the structure to be idiot-proof and attractive. Make use of layout variations, quality images, short paragraphs and sentences, headings and subheadings, quotes, lists and other enticing features. Your goal is to get visitors to find your page attractive and want to stay.
One great tool we use for creating visuals quickly and professionally is Visme. You should also look to your competition for inspiration if you find yourself struggling to add variation in your own content. We recommend outlining your topic, consider your structure and images based on how much you can write about each section, write it, and then lastly…
5) Create an Enticing Headline
Your title is often the only thing people will see when they have the opportunity to click on your article. It needs to snag their attention, and yet contain some variation of your keyword/topic for relevance. You are essentially aiming to create accurate clickbait. Be sure to brainstorm at least half a dozen title options and spend significant time perfecting it.
As we mentioned in the last section, we recommend waiting until you’ve written your content to craft your title last. Sometimes the direction of your article will change and morph as you write, making the title you began with no longer representative of what your article is about. And since your title is extremely important, you don’t want to burn time creating a title you end up ditching due to inaccuracy. Take our word for it, do this last.
Utilize the knowledge of those who came before you and are experts in the field you’re writing about. Cite often and bolster your arguments with legitimate data and sources. If you ever had to write a high school or college research paper, the concept is virtually the same. What you say matters very little unless you obtained the research yourself.
Always cite your own professional experiences when possible. However, since you probably aren’t obtaining research-grade data consistently, look to authoritative sources whenever necessary to round out your arguments.
Always look for opportunities to interview and chat with giants in your niche. If you can manage to interact with and interview subject matter experts in your field, not only will you have incredible insight and accuracy for your content, but you likely can score a backlink from them to your article!
7) Internal Links
The big articles you write, “cornerstone” pieces as the online community has come to call them, are the breadwinners. They are the articles the majority of your backlinks will ultimately link into and what will earn most of your SEO authority. However, you likely have content, products and services on other pages relevant to these articles. These cornerstone pieces give you the opportunity to link to other internal pages for increased traffic as well as potentially passing on some SEO credibility.
Here’s a shameless relevant plug of an example of relevant internal links from this, a cornerstone article of ours: We offer SEO content writing services for businesses who can’t do it themselves. if you’re reading this article and the task of writing content and dominating your SEO competition seems more than you can handle, it might be time to have a conversation with us. If it seems up your alley to handle it yourself, we invite you to dive deeper into the SEO process by utilizing our white hat SEO guide.
Be sure to round out your large content pieces by promoting both further reading and your products/services. Your site should be an interconnected web of links, and once you have a few related pieces written, they should all link to each other where relevant.
You always want visitors to stay engaged on your site as long as possible. It’s good for SEO, and it’s good for business. Towards that goal, take care to not overdo it with internal self-promotion and risk annoying your visitors into bouncing. Keep internal links appropriate and relevant.
8) External Links
External links to outside websites serve several roles. External links are how you promote the content of others altruistically in the form of a backlink. You can also use external links to reference authoritative external sources as a way of establishing credibility, as we have done quite a few times in this very article. Just take care to add rel=”nofollow” to links you don’t want being considered part of your content or that you don’t want to potentially share your SEO profile with. For more on this here is a candid support article from Google themselves on rel=”nofollow” that we have appropriately linked to in that very manner.
According to a well-controlled study done by rebootonline.com, “outgoing relevant links to authoritative sites are considered in algorithms and do have a positive impact on rankings.” Google does indeed seem to weigh the quality and relevance of linked content and factor it into your rank. So not only are external links recommended, you should be including them in all of your content whenever possible. To beat that dead horse though, focus on quality over quantity.
9) Content Post Frequency
The frequency with which you post content does nothing for your Google ranking, and in fact can lead to you cannibalizing your own articles by having them compete with each other for the same keywords. It’s much better to have a few large “cornerstone” articles than many small ones about very closely related topics.
You’re also less likely to keep your existing audience engaged if you are constantly bombarding them with mediocre content updates. Frequent posts for the sake of frequency do nothing except water down your efforts. It’s fine to post frequently, as long as you are not sacrificing the quality of your content. In our opinion, if you are posting articles daily, you are likely sacrificing quality, unless you are dedicating your efforts full-time to content writing.
10) Content Depth & Length
Fewer, high-quality articles should also be larger and more in-depth. Better, deeper content coverage leads to more organic traffic potential, even if it’s ranked lower than the competition for some specific keywords, as it will rank for more keywords overall when written in a balanced and natural manner. Google also factors in time visitors spend on page when considering ranking, so the longer you can actively engage readers, the better.
Due to this, the search volume for a single keyword is a very poor indicator of potential traffic, due to multiple keyword rankings, which means the actual search traffic can be many times higher. This is why we recommend you look at the total search volume traffic for top-ranked articles and not just the traffic for a given keyword, when researching keyword topics to include in your content. More on that in our article about proper keyword research with Ahrefs keywords explorer.
That being said, you can always have too much of a good thing. Even the greatest, largest articles can hit a point where they become too large, and need to be split up into sub-articles.
TL;DR: Writing for SEO is Hard!
Content writing is time consuming, difficult, and even if you’re an excellent writer for traditional mediums, your style may not be optimal for the web for a variety of reasons. You need to constantly stay critical of your work and utilize any tools and peer-review at your disposal to hone your craft and keep your quality superb. Should you ever decide you don’t have the time or patience to write for yourself, our content writing services are always available for consideration.
In our opinion, writer’s block should be a thing of the past. Inspiration for blog content is everywhere, if you just know where to look. Content brainstorming can be a bit time-consuming to do properly. With the right tools though, you can speed the process up immensely. When these tools are paired with proper keyword research, you can be sure your content is both sought after in volume and capable of ranking well with Google – which should be your end-goal.
In this article, we’ve outlined seven effective categories for content inspiration. Although far from exhaustive, the sources below contain bottomless content ideas, all of which can be returned to over and over again for additional inspiration.
This is a bonus inclusion, and not one of the seven sources, but it probably should be. Ensuring your existing content is up-to-date is incredibly important. So before you go and create new content, make sure your existing foundation of content is in order. Not only is this far easier than coming up with and vetting new ideas, updating existing content also has additional benefits:
It gives you an edge over your competition, most of whom will not put the effort into updating their existing content.
You may already have backlinks and established authority with Google to springboard off of.
You likely already have a known audience interested in the content.
Visitors love to see an article has been updated and/or has a recent date, as it shows them you’re actively maintaining your content and reassures them of the accuracy and quality of the content.
You might need to adjust keywords and add/remove sections based on trends over time.
Even if just once a year, come back to and review your existing content. Re-read it, be critical, and update it. Have peers review it as well. This will ensure the quality of your content is top-notch and ensure relevance within your niche.
1) Ahrefs Content Explorer: Find the “Low-Hanging Fruit”
Ahrefs’ Content Explorer has over a billion keyword topics indexed. After searching for a keyword in it, you can narrow down by filtering by organic traffic (high threshold) and referring domains (low threshold, preferably zero) to reveal the content that people are searching for that is being served up in high volume with virtually no backlinks. Once you’ve narrowed down a topic’s top articles, you can click the details on each one and see what keywords they rank well for as well as the backlinks they have, if any.
Identify “low-hanging fruit” – topics that rank well with few to zero backlinks. These topics should be easy to rank for with just one or two high-quality backlinks, and in rare cases where their DR is low as well, you might even be able to pull off ranking without any backlinks – although you should not consistently expect to do so. Read more about why here.
2) Analyze and Improve Upon Your Competition’s Content
Using Ahrefs’ Site Explorer, you can dissect your competition’s website and content. Start by entering a competitor’s domain in Site Explorer. The “Top pages” section under Site Explorer will show you the best trafficked pages, while “Competing Domains” will show you keyword overlap with dozens of other competitors. Lather, rinse, repeat, and down the rabbit hole you go.
3) Study Your Niche Community: Reddit, Facebook, Forums, etc.
Whatever your niche, there are online communities talking about it. Facebook, Reddit, forums – even Slack channels. Find out what their questions and interests are. Interact with them. Even ask candidly what they’d like to see you write in-depth content about. Then take that insight and try to answer a question that hasn’t thoroughly been explored, or approach an existing topic with a unique perspective.
Going directly to the community can be extremely powerful and help you stay relevant. We have found Reddit in particular to be very helpful, with active members consistently contributing to discussion. Just beware to avoid blatant and undeserved self-promotion, as you’ll find yourself quickly banned and socially blacklisted.
Answerthepublic.com is an awesome tool that uses the autocomplete results from Google and Bing to generate content ideas. You plug in a topic or subject and have hundreds of search queries spit back at you. You’ll then just have to narrow down what you want to write about, as you’ll likely be somewhat-overwhelmed with great options. Just be quick about your searches, or that old hipster in the background will get pretty irate…
You can view results in various formats, like questions sorted by verb, prepositions, comparisons, etc. With nearly limitless potential, answerthepublic.com is a great alternative to using Ahrefs’ keyword explorer, and a great way to come up with relevant ideas based on the most popular autocomplete results.
Recently Acquired by SEO legend Neil Patel, Ubersuggest (formerly ubersuggest.io) is a content and keyword research tool quite similar to Ahrefs’ keyword explorer. It will show you showing you estimates of search volume, cost per click (CPC), paid difficulty (PD) and SEO difficulty (SD). It also gives you a very quick summary of how difficult overall the keyword is and what your chances are (by percentage) of ranking in the top 100 for the keyword.
Disclaimer about Neil Patel: Neil Patel’s site also has other useful SEO tools as well, and arguably the most successful SEO blog on the web. Just be prepared to sometimes have his pricey SEO services pushed on you fairly hard. Wading through his self-promotion and finding straightforward SEO advice can be difficult at times, but there are also plenty of helpful articles to be found – just not easily from the front-end. He has become very successful, but his days of providing selfless SEO advice appear to be waning, and the SEO industry has become quite critical of his now-proprietary approach, and we lament he no longer shares as much as he used to.
6) Identify Problems You Can Write Solution-Articles About
Over time, you have likely have Googled dozens of “problems” you want solutions to, and almost always find a relevant article detailing one or multiple ways to solve that problem. Your goal: just be that article in a niche whose keywords you are capable of ranking for. Easy enough, right?
Any time you can find a problem that you can write about a solution for, you can the use the search tools in Ahrefs as well as the other tools in this article to vet the viability of the topic/question. Detailed above, online communities are a great way to find trending problems that need answering.
7) Keyword Planner by Google *
Google’s Keyword Planner is the most accurate source for volume of searches, since Google itself is giving you these ranges. However, many of the stats you’ll be interested in won’t be available to you unless you have paid ad campaigns setup and running, so this is best used when in conjunction with a PPC, hence the asterisk. Google’s Keyword Planner can be used for free, but becomes most powerful when paid.
A Means to an End
Choosing something you’re interested in to write about is important, but it isn’t the most important factor. You can write about passionate topics all day, but if nobody is searching for them and you aren’t taking the necessary steps to rank competitively, your great content will be lost to the internet ether.
You’ve probably noted our tidbits about keyword research and related SEO goals sneaking their way into this article. We can’t really help it, as this step in the content writing process is simply a means to an end. You need to be sure that whatever topics you choose, that they’re viable for ranking organically. For more on the general SEO process, check out our Ultimate White Hat SEO Guide.
This guide is a combination of our extensive experience as an agency, aggregated data from some incredible tools and sources, and advice from industry experts. It began long ago as an internal process document, and slowly evolved into something we were proud to share with our clients and the public.
You will notice that we refer to tools from Ahrefs (ahrefs.com) frequently. Yes, we do utilize Ahrefs’ paid tools internally as an agency and use them to great effect for our SEO clients. However, we have no incentive from Ahrefs to promote their products here. We, like thousands of other agencies and even direct Ahrefs competitors, just recommend certain tools within their suite because they are simply the best available and in many cases have no equal.
The SEO Challenges and Goal of a Website
At its core, a business’ website is a customer acquisition channel that converts visitors into customers and makes money. In order to gain visitors, a website must be promoted or found via organic searches with engines like Google. The purpose of this article is to show you how to succeed at the latter: organic rankings with Google. The common term for this is SEO, or Search Engine Optimization.
A website has two primary SEO challenges to overcome to gain significant organic traffic:
A website’s content must be high-quality: extremely well written, useful, relevant and unique.
A website needs a strong, high-quality backlink profile to help prove the relevance of its content to Google.
To overcome the above two SEO challenges, a website must develop itself as a resource of high-quality and extremely useful content that is well-linked to by other authoritative domains in order to prove to Google your content is relevant and worthy of consumption, and therefore rank well in organic search results. To rank well with Google, you must write high-quality content and get high-quality backlinks to your content.
This is not easy, however. Researching trafficked keywords you can realistically rank for and creating useful and unique content that is also well-written are both extremely time-consuming. And no matter how good your content is, quality backlinks won’t happen naturally at first either. You’ll need both a large audience as well as an advertising budget to gain traffic and build links, both of which pose their own obstacles.
Fret not though! This is why you come in armed with powerful SEO tools and proven techniques so you can crush these obstacles! This guide builds on the data from powerful tools and the knowledge of industry experts, and addresses these challenges and how to overcome them.
If you glean nothing else from this guide, remember this fact: backlinks are the MOST important factor in determining Google rankings. Yet obtaining them properly is difficult and time-consuming. You will see this fact repeated throughout this guide, as it is crucial to keep in mind. Nothing correlates stronger with Google ranking than a site’s backlink profile. And don’t worry, we will prove this premise later in this article.
Defining White Hat SEO
As you probably know, SEO (Search Engine Optimization) refers to optimizing a website or web page to rank well in organic (unpaid) search results. As an SEO marketing agency, we focus on Google’s preferences due to their immense market domination. However, the techniques detailed in this article should prove just as effective for the other major engines.
Google determines the rank of websites automatically through complex and top-secret algorithms. Overtime, people and SEO companies have learned to exploit these ever-adapting algorithms through techniques that have proven to work well to improve rank, but in ways which Google never intended to be done. In fact, the search giant has told the public time and time again that exploiting their algorithms can lead to deindexing and blacklisting of your pages and/or domain. Although such “black hat” and “gray hat” techniques are waning in effectiveness, they still can work – until Google catches you.
We’ve seen it happen. A client’s competitor has nearly-unbeatable SEO, until one day they just fall off the face of the SEO earth. What happened? Google wised up and put the pieces together. They were manipulating Google’s algorithms, and paid the price. It is only a matter of time before Google’s algorithms become so intelligent that black and gray hat SEO techniques become completely obsolete. Money put into these methods will have decaying results as well, as they are more and more easily discovered and disregarded by Google.
All of this is detailed to explain why we take the high road at Jack & Bean and only focus on true White Hat SEO – as you should as well. White Hat SEO is the optimization and promotion of a website in moral, natural and Google-approved methods for the purpose of ranking well with Google. White Hat SEO is the only sustainable method moving forward in our professional opinion, and if you don’t believe us, just check out the opinions of these SEO giants: Backlinko & Ahrefs. But first let’s back up a bit and lay some groundwork regarding Google and its search engine.
As of 2018, Google has over 90% market share for search engines. 9/10 people use Google to search the internet. Thus, you can expect most of your organic traffic to come from Google.com. Being “top of page one” for target keywords and key phrases on Google is a no-brainer to gaining necessary target traffic and should be the obvious goal of any website or blog. The first search result position gets nearly ⅓ of all organic search clicks, and the top three positions on Google get over half of all clicks, in a 30/15/10% split for 1st/2nd/3rd, respectively. This is the kind of traffic you want: organic, sustainable, relevant.
The Enigma of Google’s Algorithms
Technically, nobody knows exactly how Google determines its algorithms – except Google, of course. It’s a closely guarded secret worth countless trillions. Their algorithms also change constantly and they roll out large updates periodically. However, in a Q&A session in 2016, Google’s Andrey Lipattsev revealed the two most important Google ranking factors, “I can tell you what they are. It is content. And it’s links pointing to your site.” He wouldn’t explicitly say which one was more important – content or backlinks – and honestly it technically can depend. Building on those pillars though, we can deduce which one has a more consistent direct correlation with ranking. Spoiler alert, it is not content.
Your Backlinks Drive Google Rankings
As previously stated, we do know with relative surety that quality backlinks are the most important factor in determining Google rankings, much more so than even any on-page factors. One proof of this premise is a study done by Ahrefs analyzing over 2 million keywords. Ahrefs, by the way, has the most active bot crawlers on the web after Google themselves, making Ahrefs’ data arguably the best we have complete access to. Additionally, the above article primarily details what on-page factors have positive (and surprisingly in some cases, negative) correlations with Google rankings. Give it a read, it’ll surprise you. Hint: stop stressing about page load speed and url structure. Yes, generally and logically optimize your content on-page, but don’t obsess about it. Once you’ve finalized your page/article, your ongoing goal will be to continually pursue backlinks properly. We will later dive into the details of backlinks, which ones matter, and how to go about obtaining them – properly. Yes, that last modifier is incredibly important.
Your Content Drives Backlink Acquisition
You’ve always heard that “content is king” when it comes to SEO. Despite backlinks being the most important Google rankings factor, this is still true. Without high-quality content, you’ll never obtain the backlinks you need for your website to succeed – or at least you shouldn’t. If you are obtaining backlinks with poor-quality content, you are likely going about your SEO efforts incorrectly, and should take a step back and see if you’re in dangerous black hat territory.
To Google, backlinks appear to be the ultimate litmus test of whether or not a website’s content is useful and worthy of ranking for its relevant keywords. This is why backlinks are the strongest indicator of a website’s worthiness for a given keyword, and why Google chooses to rank it accordingly. High-quality content will promote itself, and visitors will want to engage with and share it and link to it – and eventually, given enough visitors, you’ll get a percentage of them backlinking to you. True, large numbers of interested visitors have to find your content first – that’s covered later – but once they do, if it’s good enough, you will gain subscribers and your backlink profile will grow. Backlink profile growth is a direct result of your high-quality content.
Quality of Content, Backlinks and KPIs
You can have lots of content and backlinks, but if they’re low-quality, they’re largely useless from an SEO standpoint, even with a large audience – and by large audience, we mean at least in the tens of thousands.
Quality Content for Visitors
Your content needs to be high-quality first and foremost. Visitors need to want to consume it, stay on the page for long periods of time, and want to share and link to it. In theory, this system can grow itself over time with adequate promotion. Remember, high-quality content promotes itself once discovered/consumed. Low-quality content will almost always fizzle out once no longer being actively promoted.
Quality Backlinks for Google
Your backlinks need to be high-quality as well. Having a few backlinks from domains with a high Domain Ranking (DR) is much more powerful towards SEO than having thousands of links from low-quality websites. The latter can even get you penalized by Google if they see you’re just spamming links to your site somehow. In our context, the term Domain Ranking (DR) comes from Ahrefs’ ecosystem meaning the domain has a strong backlink profile of its own. Google will often deindex sites that it sees abusing their algorithms for the sake of SEO benefits. This is one of many black hat SEO strategies which are becoming less effective every day and you should avoid at all costs. One quality backlink from Wikipedia is worth more than backlinks from 10,000 obscure domains. So focus on the quality of backlinks from domains with high DR and similar, relevant content, not the quantity of backlinks.
Quality KPIs for You
Focus on quality key performance indicators (KPIs) that actually matter. Again, a website is a customer acquisition channel, NOT a traffic acquisition channel. Do not focus on traffic alone, but the quality and intent of your visitors. Yes, traffic is important and can be strongly indicative of success. Yes, you should be paying attention to traffic – in context. Especially organic traffic. However, you can have a ton of website traffic, but if your content is not relevant or targeted, the visitors will bounce and not convert into subscribers or customers. Google will take note of this too, and may reward or penalize you appropriately for your perceived relevance.
Popular KPIs that should NOT be focused on:
Number of published articles per X (quantity of content)
Number of website/blog visitors per month (quantity of traffic)
Number of email subscriptions per month (quantity of outreach potential)
None of these are direct indicators of success or conversions. They can correlate and indicate, but they can also be completely misleading and arbitrary. Rather than these metrics, focus on engagement (time spent on the site, comments, reshares, open rates) and conversions (form submissions, sales, click through rates, etc.). Engagement will lead to quality control as well as additional backlinks. Conversions lead to sales. Search volume doesn’t translate into business. The searcher’s intent does.
Researching and Vetting Content Ideas
Creating high-quality and useful content can be extremely time-consuming and difficult. Just finding topics to write about that people are interested in but can feasibly rank competitively given your DR can be daunting. However, the process can be made easier with some great research tools and proper analysis of your competition.
Article topic selection and keyword research can be a bit chicken-and-egg in nature. Either can come before the other and be successful. Sometimes you will discover excellent keywords first and then go find related topics to work them into. Other times (and more often and naturally in our opinion) you will come across a topic you want to write about, and then vet its viability by researching related keywords.
We find ourselves almost always taking the latter approach, so that’s what we’ll detail here: topic selections first, keyword research second.
Just because you have a solid content idea doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be possible to rank easily for it. You should come up with several topic ideas before you move to keyword research, just in case one or more of your topics gets shot down by sheer competitiveness and ranking difficulty.
If you find yourself struggling to find sources for content… well, you shouldn’t. We’ve detailed a list of content sources that will provide a virtually unlimited supply. Used properly, you will be writing for thousands of years without issue. We also cover them each in more detail in our article: Seven Free Content Sources for Bottomless Blog & Website Ideas.
To ensure your content is successful, you must first ensure what you plan to write about is both sought after and capable of realistically ranking. Thus before you can begin crafting your excellent content, you need to find relevant topics that you are capable of ranking for, which leads us to our first recommended tool: Ahrefs’ Keyword Explorer.
So what makes content successful? Yes, it must be high quality. You’ve been paying attention. But quality is largely subjective to the visitor, so we’ve created 10 guidelines to help you obtain this intangible aspect of content. We will touch upon it briefly below, but we expound in much more detail in our article: Writing for SEO: The Anatomy of Successful Website Content.
Quality of Your Writing
Quality writing is achieved only through practice and critical review of yourself as well as your competition. This is the foundation of successful writing.
The more unique your topic, the better it will rank and attract visitors. Try to discuss something completely new, take a unique angle on an existing topic, or just explain something better than it has been. Use your personal experiences to stand out.
Understand Your Audience
You need to tailor the your content to appeal to your target audiences. Be sure to use tools like Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer to ensure the topics and related keywords are both trafficked and capable of being ranked for.
How your Content Looks
Try to make use of layout variations, quality images, short paragraphs and sentences, headings and subheadings, quotes, lists and other enticing features. Always look to your competition for inspiration!
Create an Enticing Headline
Your title will be the single biggest determining factor for someone clicking on or avoiding your article. We recommend waiting until after you’ve written your content to brainstorm several title options.
Authority & Citations
Citing lends credibility to your premises, and bolsters your authority as a subject-matter-expert. Lean on the verifiable findings of others whenever you can.
Big “cornerstone” articles, like this very one you’re reading now, should promote further reading (as this section does) and even your products/services – where perfectly applicable. Don’t spam but round out your offerings.
External links allow you to lend credibility to your own writing as well as promote the content and offerings of others, and can have a positive effect on ranking.
Content Post Frequency
Quality over quantity: the frequency of your posts does absolutely nothing for your ranking, and can even lead to you cannibalizing your competitiveness with your articles competing with each other for the same keywords.
Content Depth & Length
Longer articles rank better on average, and the longer a visitor stays on your site the more credibility you build and the more likely you are to convert them to a subscriber or customer.
Some of the above attributes likely strike you as common sense, while others might have been a bit counter-intuitive. We invite you to explore these “body parts” heavily and develop a process or checklist for each content piece you create, to ensure you are considering each attribute before posting. Again, we address these aspects of successful content in-depth and provide more industry examples a separate article: Writing for SEO: The Anatomy of Successful Website Content.
Backlinks: Assume You Need Them. Always.
Again, backlinks are essential to ranking on the first page of Google. Nothing correlates more directly with search ranking than domains with large numbers of quality backlinks. There are exceptions to this rule, but when you consider them in-context, they don’t truly contradict this notion. We cover those exceptions in our article on ways to rank well with Google without backlinks.
The Backlink Challenge: Acquisition
So you have written an amazing cornerstone article. And you’ve waited. Google has indexed it and you can find it buried in the search results, but nobody is linking to it! What is the deal?!
In a perfect world, you would just write great content and people would find it through Google and link to it because of how amazing it is and because Google’s amazing algorithms would see how awesome and relevant your content is. But since Google isn’t quite omniscient (yet), they rely heavily on backlinks to determine content relevance.
Bad news: even amazing content does not naturally acquire backlinks.
Natural vs. Unnatural Backlinks
Stopping for a moment, let’s define a “natural backlink” as a link that you didn’t make any direct effort to connect with the linking website (or any person associated with it) to obtain. A social media post promoting your content that resulted in a follower linking to you would be considered natural. An outreach email to an individual, even if it didn’t explicitly ask for a backlink, would be considered unnatural, as you made a specific effort to gain that link. You want the former long-term. You want natural backlinks. However, it is acceptable (and necessary) to settle for solicited backlinks as long as they’re relevant and helpful to visitors on both ends. Above all, you have to keep Google happy.
According to a study done by Ahrefs.com tracking 2 million pages, only 5.7% of content manages to get on the first page of Google for even a single keyword within one year of being published. And the majority of the published content that does make it there tends to be published on established websites with a powerful backlink profile, like Ahrefs.com, for example. Those domains are also usually growing their backlink profile faster than their competition due to their increased exposure and considerable resources allocated towards marketing. This makes breaking into most niches very difficult.
Further compounding this difficult situation, people only backlink to websites that they not only know and trust, but that also have something incredible worth sharing. They don’t do it lightly. Can you think of the last time you were so moved by content that you created a backlink to a website? Do you even have a website platform you can backlink from? Most people do not. This is why acquiring backlinks is so difficult even when you have a decent sized audience. Most of your readers don’t even have a website to supply you with a unique backlink and Google has repeatedly preached that social media backlinks have virtually no direct effect on rank. You should only expect about 1 natural backlink per 1,000 visitors to your article – the odds are stacked against you on a per-visitor basis, and growing your audience is crucial – but more on that later.
The Secret to Acquiring Quality Natural Backlinks
The secret to acquiring quality backlinks naturally is having both a big audience and having a sizeable advertising budget. It’s a numbers game. Unfortunately, until you get a large audience to grow backlinks naturally or are willing to pay to reach a large relevant audience, then you’ll have to build most of your backlinks manually, through outreach and interaction. If you are unable (or afraid) to spend money on an advertising budget, you’re missing out on the opportunity to surgically target highly relevant audiences in large numbers, which is a replacement for or extension of a large audience. Furthermore, a study done by hootsuite.com reveals that paid promotion has nearly double the SEO benefit of organic promotion – so don’t discount it.
Don’t have either of those key ingredients? Well, then be prepared to manually build your backlinks. As an agency, we end up having to help build most of our clients’ backlinks manually for the first 12-24 months as clients rarely have any useful following when they start utilizing our SEO services.
Can’t Backlinks Just be Purchased?
Yes, there are paid backlink services out there that will build backlinks to your site for absurdly affordable rates. But you get what you pay for and we don’t recommend any of them. These services tend to be in a very gray area with Google, the backlink domains will almost always have poor DR (which means they influence your ranking minimally) and it is usually only a matter of time before they’re de-indexed by Google or just disappear completely on you.
So rather than spend your money gaining low quality and potentially harmful backlinks, we’d recommend putting that money towards a paid advertising budget to acquire quality backlinks, engage targeted audiences and grow a following. You may also need to consider a service that will help craft high-quality content for you in collaboration with your own expert knowledge, if you don’t have the time to do so yourself. SEO-focused content writing is part of our SEO offerings at Jack & Bean – shameless plug.
The Backlink Acquisition Solution: Content Promotion
Amazing content in hand, you now move to what most of our clients find the most difficult part of SEO: promoting your content. This is the only way you are going to attract significant traffic and build backlinks early on. Even once you’ve achieved success and are obtaining natural backlinks, you should always be utilizing at least a few of these techniques to stay competitive and maximize your exposure.
We often get the question if it is acceptable to use outreach to solicit backlinks. Back in 2017, Google warned against guest blogging for the sole sake of link building, and are adapting to negate the benefits of such backlinks. But that’s okay! Google went on to elaborate on what was acceptable and/or encouraged, and luckily it falls in line with our theme: create useful content and increase awareness. If you’re doing this, it’s perfectly fine to solicit and reach out for backlinks.
We cover the following tactics in much greater detail in our article dedicated to blog content promotion methods. But a quick survey is warranted here.
1) Engage Your Existing Audience
The obvious “low-hanging fruit” of the list, you should always notify your social media and email followings of new content postings.
2) Community Discussion and Comments
Actively engaging in online communities (which you should already be doing for content brainstorming) can provide great opportunities to share your content and supplement your community’s information needs. Take care not to be spammy though, it can easily blow up in your face and get you banned.
3) Targeted Outreach
Other experts and active authors in your niche are excellent avenues for collaboration and backlinks. Anytime you quote someone, you should let them know and see if you can establish a relationship that may eventually lead to…
4) Guest Blogging
An often-misunderstood creature, quality guest blogging with the right intentions can be extremely effective for both parties involved. This method requires the most refinement in our opinion. Read more about why in our section on guest blogging.
5) Update and Expand Your Existing Content
Yes, we’re sort of double-dipping, but any time you do this you afford yourself the opportunity to re-engage existing audiences and promote the relevance of your updates. You should be spending significant time updating your existing content.
6) Replicate Your Competition’s Backlinks
Ahrefs’ Site Explorer has a great feature that allows you to analyze your competition’s most recent backlinks, who are most likely to be open to providing you a similar opportunity due to their implied interest and activity. You can even set alerts in Ahrefs to be notified when your competitors obtain new backlinks, so you can quickly swoop in to pursue one yourself!
7) Paid Advertising
If you’ve been paying attention you knew this one was coming. We consider this staple necessary even once you’ve become successful, as it never hurts to widen your exposure, no matter how successful you’ve become. We recommend Facebook Ads for most B2C blogs, for maximum cost-effectiveness and demographic control.
Sustainability: Grow and Engage Your Audience
As part of a well-balanced marketing effort, you need to have a plan for not just gaining visitors through your content and backlink efforts, but also converting visitors to subscribers and followers – in a word, you need to grow your audience. This involves active calls to action (CTAs) to follow and subscribe to you – don’t expect people to do it on their own. There is a reason so many websites you visit push email sign-up lists in your face.
If you aren’t utilizing one already, set up an email list signup form on your website and get it in front of visitors. This is one of the crucial ways to secure and grow an audience. If you don’t convert a visitor into a subscriber or follower during their first visit, you will likely never see them again. Ensure there are prominent social media share options as well somewhere on your articles. When it comes to enabling your audience to subscribe and share, do not leave a stone unturned. Keep it classy, but be pervasive.
Once you have an audience, you then need to weigh how frequently you need to engage them. Does your industry want frequent engagement to supplement content creation? Or do you find you lose followers if you post too frequently? There is a balance that must be struck that will likely require some trial and error, but more often than not we recommend erring on the side of restraint and focusing on the quality of postings and engagements, as subscribers will not likely punish or leave you for engaging too infrequently, but they will unsubscribe for being engaged too frequently. Do not spam your audience.
Putting all the pieces together
At this point in this guide you are probably daunted by the challenges and intricacies of being competitive with Google. Honestly, you should be. There is no secret, it is time consuming, hard, and requires lots of practice. But with the right tools and dedication, you can be successful at it.
However, we have found that many businesses that approach us exclusively for website development fail to adequately produce quality SEO content on their own. Even when clients are enthusiastic about publishing content, in the end they rarely manage to do so. Even when they do, it is almost always poor quality and not focused appropriately to rank for anything useful.
So you have two options you need to weigh. Can you do this realistically yourself? Or should you hire an expert like Jack & Bean? If you truly think you can dedicate the time involved to craft SEO-competitive content, we encourage you to do so. But if after a few months or a year you’ve found you haven’t made a dent due to any number of factors, at that point we recommend seeking us out for professional help.
We can craft a solution that fits your preferences. Some clients like to collaborate with us and help with the content writing. Others prefer to throw money at the problem and let us do our thing. We are happy to consult with you and answer questions. Worst case, if our services aren’t right for you, we will see if we can at least point you in the right direction.
If you’ve read our other SEO content and guides, this article title probably confuses you. If we preach backlinks as being the most important factor in determining Google rankings, how can you possibly rank without backlinks?
It is technically possible to rank well without any backlinks, as this article will explain in detail. Disclaimer, however: we do not recommend making this your regular process or expectation, as you will heavily limit yourself to outlier subject matter to achieve SEO success in this manner. We still consider backlinks the most important component of ranking well with Google, and they should always be pursued properly. For more information on the importance of backlinks, check out our White Hat SEO Guide.
Backlinks are the rule, but there are exceptions where you can succeed without them. However, these exceptions are really are just outliers that still adhere to backlinks being essential. But enough qualification, here are the three exceptions.
1) If you have no real competition, you can rank without backlinks.
Lack of competition makes backlinks less necessary, or in some cases, completely unnecessary. It is easy to stand out if you’re the only one around. However, these niches usually won’t be large or monetizable. Unless you’re on the cutting edge of a topic, you’re guaranteed to have competition, because… well, it is the internet.
However, it is possible for you to find a niche subject so specific and unusual that you have little or no competition, and are able to rank well without worrying about backlinks. If so, you’ve struck SEO gold, and you should definitely stake a claim. Ironically, being in this sort of “big fish in small pond” position also makes it very easy to acquire backlinks, since you easily establish yourself as an authoritative source on whatever niche subject matter you have laid claim to.
2) If the top ranking pages have zero backlinks, you too can rank without backlinks.
In these rare scenarios, you will have the ability to outrank your competition with better-focused and higher-quality content – the other most-important ranking factor besides backlinks themselves. Again, it is easy to stand out to Google when you set yourself apart from your competition with superior content, all else equal.
To seal the deal, just one or two high-quality links will go a very long way in these situations, further differentiating yourself as superior, boosting your SEO ranking with Google and ensuring total domination over your competition. Insert mad scientist laugh here.
3) If your website has a high domain rating (DR), an individual article can rank without backlinks.
The problem with this individual scenario is that to have a high DR, a strong overall backlink profile is required. You will still need to have backlinks pointing to your site somewhere. So yes, you can write an authoritative article without backlinks that will rank well, but to do so your website will have to already have an established backlink profile with other pages on the site that do have backlinks.
On top of the challenge of having a strong backlink profile alread in-place, you will likely need to lean on one or both of the first two scenarios to stand out even further. This scenario is a bit of a catch-22. However, it definitely has its merits, especially if you have a well-established suite of content that is well-linked to.
TL;DR: You Still Need Backlinks, Long-term
Despite these very specific opportunities, the vast majority of the articles you write will have enough competition to need backlinks, so develop your process to factor this in, rather than chasing outliers and hoping for fringe situations. We consider it not possible to consistently or sustainably rank well with Google without a strong backlink profile.