Sweating over creating content, but the big guys are flooding the search results? The upside is that you can still beat them — because they didn't buy the organic result, they won it. And so can you.
In this article, we reveal blog writing tips that help you rank better organically, get more relevant traffic and, ultimately, drive more leads.
Before diving into the writing tips, make sure to download our free Ultimate Blog Writing Checklist — a handy resource to have each time you are building a blog post. Use it to check whether your content is optimized for success — in 5 simple steps.
The Top Blog Writing Tips: Pre-Writing
1. Define Your Reader Personas
While marketers usually talk about “ buyer personas,” we like to refer to them as “reader personas,” since the group of users consuming your content can be broader than just buyers. As an example, you create blog posts to also get people to share them, and while not all of them will be potential buyers, they are still highly valuable as they help you spread the word.
So, you need to understand who you’re writing for, their background, and what information/value they are looking to get. This will help you tailor your content, messaging and tone of voice to meet the specific needs, behaviors, and concerns of your readers, and, ultimately, build trusted relationships with them.
Here’s the kind of information that can help you understand them better:
- Demographics (age/gender, level of income, location, family status, level of education);
- Professional status (job title, level, industry);
- Psychographics (professional/personal goals, beliefs and values);
- Pain points and challenges;
- Influences and information sources (preferred blogs, social networks, websites, influencers they trust, favorite events);
- Buying habits (their role in the purchase decision-making process, potential lifetime cycle, what can stop them from making a purchase).
You can get creative with your research, but here are a few ways to uncover this information:
- Carry out interviews with your existing customers or talk to your sales team — they speak to customers and high-potential leads all day.
- Look for audience data from Google Analytics and Facebook Audience Insights.
- Dive into the communities your reader personas are present in, adapt to the way they speak, and consider the problems they face.
- Discover the in-market audience data from Semrush market research tools.
2. Understand Your Audience’s Search Intent
Google pays a LOT of attention to understanding user queries and delivering results based on them. The Hummingbird algorithm, which is based on a semantic approach, has changed the SERPs dramatically.
Here’s an explanation by Danny Sullivan, journalist and co-founder of Third Door Media:
“Hummingbird is paying more attention to each word in a query, ensuring that the whole query — the whole sentence or conversation or meaning — is taken into account, rather than particular words. The goal is that pages matching the meaning do better, rather than pages matching just a few words.”
There are four different types of search intent based on what a searcher is looking for:
- Informational — looking for specific information on a topic (e.g., “what should my tire pressure be”).
- Navigational — wants to get to a specific web page or site (e.g., “walmart tires”).
- Commercial — wants to investigate their options (e.g., “best all season tires”).
- Transactional — wants to purchase something as soon as possible (e.g., “tire shops open near me”).
The readers’ search intent determines the content format you choose, the message you convey, and the call-to-action you include.
3. Come Up with a Win-Win Formula: Your Goal + Readers’ Intent
Make sure to set a goal for each blog and map out a way the blog facilitates this goal.
For example, let’s say your goal for a post is to bring attention to an ebook you’ve recently published.
Your blog post content would be related to the content of the ebook — likely at a higher level — and then your call to action (CTA) for your reader, at the very end of the post, and possibly throughout the post, would be to download the ebook to get deeper insights.
To get them there, it’s important that your post is answering readers’ questions (discovered through keyword and topic research, etc.) and satisfying their search intent. If you write for your reader and address their needs, concerns, interests and objectives, then they’ll be more likely to accept your CTA.
In other cases, your goal might be to increase organic traffic to your site or get X number of shares for your post. The key is to:
- Set your goal(s) prior to creating your content so you know how to track progress and determine whether the blog has been successful.
- Think in advance about what will help you achieve this goal. For example, if you want the blog to be shared on social media, consider all the creative assets you'll need, who will produce them, how to make it viral, which influencers to attract, etc.
4. Research the Topic from the Inside Out
Before the Hummingbird algorithm, everything was related to keywords. Now, topic research is a logical response to how Google is interpreting search queries.
Keyword analysis is just one step in your content strategy. It's also essential to investigate the topic from the inside out to really understand people’s challenges and intent. This knowledge, combined with keyword research, will lead you to the content that answers readers’ most common questions.
You won't believe how a helpful response to a reader's request can affect their movement through your marketing funnel.
Here are the techniques we recommend using to research a topic:
1. Explore Autocomplete Suggestions and “People Also Ask” in Google
These Google features are probably the most exhaustive source of people’s questions, pains, and interests. You can use many of them as ready ideas for your articles:
2. Uncover the Questions that Arise Around Your Topic on Forums and Social Media
Investigate resources like AlsoAsked.com, Quora or Reddit. You can also explore your and your competitors’ social media pages for keyword ideas and questions to answer.
For example, you sell sunglasses, and in the comments you often notice that people ask if there are any methods to get rid of scratches on sunglasses. Take note of this question, and if it is frequently asked, check whether there are similar keywords.
3. Use Tools to Automate Your Research
Collecting topic research data can be a manual, time-intensive process. Fortunately, there are some tools that can help simplify and streamline the process, such as Topic Research, which is a part of Semrush's Content Marketing Platform.
This tool gives SEOs, marketing specialists and content writers a helping hand in content brainstorming efforts and blog topic ideas that are focused on audience search intent.
Using the tool and its proprietary metric, Topic Efficiency (high Topic Efficiency reflects high search volume and low keyword difficulty). You can collect a list of efficient blog topic ideas entirely focused on your audience’s needs and interests, and find out what people on the internet ask about the topic.
5. Check Where Evergreen Content Fits in Your Content Hub Strategy
Evergreen content is content that not only drives and sustains traffic in the first couple of months, but retains relevance over time. These are the topics that are constantly searched for.
The Сontent hub is an increasingly important concept that supports evergreen content creation. Content hubs are destinations on your website containing pages around a certain topic. You start with core content around a topic and then support it with other more in-depth pieces, newsjacking content, videos, and other formats that drive engagement and virality — and thus traffic to your website. From an SEO perspective, a content hub lends topic authority to your brand.
6. Take the Best from Your Competitors
Looking at who else shows up on a search engine results page (SERP) can help you better understand search intent, as well as discover which content formats and headlines are used by your top rivals.
What makes these articles dominate the SERPs? Sometimes, the similarities can be identified at a glance, like with the query “best city bikes”. As shown in the example image below, lists (“18 Best Commuter Bicycles 2021”) and reviews (“Best Commuter Bikes 2021 | City, Folding and E-Bikes Reviews”) tend to earn top placement in SERPs. Including a year in your title can also be helpful, because it's safe to assume that people will be looking at trends for the current year.
If you happen to use the Semrush Content Marketing Platform, the SEO Content Template can help you automate your competitor analysis by pulling in the top 10 search engine results and giving you recommendations based on them, including semantically related words to include in the text, the readability score and word count to aim for, backlinking opportunities and more.
For step-by-step instructions on how to enhance your content strategy with competitive analysis, check out these two resources:
7. Always Map Out the Blog Structure First
In addition to offering workflow convenience, effectively structuring your content can indicate its quality to search engines.
According to our Anatomy of Top Performing Articles, more than half of the posts with a complex structure (h2+h3+h4) are high-performing in terms of traffic and engagement. Another finding shared in the study is that posts containing at least one list per 500 words of plain text get 70% more traffic than articles without lists.
So, if you’re focused on increasing engagement and traffic, it’s important to structure your content properly.
Recommendations for your blog structure:
- Add skimmable headlines that inform a reader of what they will gain by reading individual paragraphs or the page as a whole.
- Break up long paragraphs with bullet points, numbered lists, or graphics to make the material easier to read.
- Make sure there’s enough white space in your copy. This helps make the content more scannable and can make it easier to read.
- Use Topic Research to see the questions people ask on your topic and use them to map out the structure of your blog post.
8. Use Keywords to Your Advantage
While you’ve probably already heard a lot about keyword research, let's focus on the three vital issues related to this topic:
1. Make Sure Your Copy has a Good TF-IDF
The term TF-IDF is an abbreviation of “term frequency — inverse document frequency.” It is a way of determining the quality of a piece of content based on an established expectation of what an in-depth piece of content contains.
For example, there are several blog-writing topics that a complete SEO guide would cover, such as “keyword research,” “meta data,” “site audit,” and “crawlability.” Other topics that might also be relevant but would likely appear less frequently: “SEO tools,” “core update,” and “H1 Tag.”
Keep in mind that it’s best to avoid overusing keywords. Doing so is called keyword stuffing and could result in your page being penalized by Google.
Instead of repeating the same keyword throughout the article, focus on adding valuable words conceptually associated with your topic. For example, if you’re writing an article targeting “kitesurfing equipment,” think about such terms as “kite surf gear,” “kite surf equipment,” “buy kitesurfing gear,” etc.
2. Gather a Set of Semantically Related Words
To keep the TF-IDF balance mentioned in the section above, you need to map out the semantically related keywords for each blog post. They can help the search engines understand what the content is focusing on and how deeply it goes into the topic.
Basically, semantic keywords are words or phrases closely related to your main keyword conceptually. “Semantic search” is Google’s attempt to understand language on a higher level in order to serve more accurate search results for a wider range of queries. It tries to identify the intent and deeper meaning of a search based on each of the words used in the query.
For a keyword like “cook a goose,” some semantically related keywords could be:
- Christmas goose
- Roasted duck
- Gordon Ramsay recipes
How to find semantic keywords:
- Check out the related searches at the bottom of the SERP in Google.
- Use the Keyword Planner that Google includes in Ads.
- Use Google Trends to uncover patterns within the searches that people make.
You can use one of the SEO Writing tools that help make your text more semantically relevant. For example, Semrush’s SEO Content Template and SEO Writing Assistant provide you with a list of semantically related keywords to use in your content.
3. Keep Mobile-Specific Keywords in Mind
Creating content that keeps up with mobile requirements isn’t just another trend.
Previously, a mix of the desktop version and the mobile version of any web page’s content was used by Google’s index to show results for a searcher’s query, with the desktop version being the primary source. Now, only the mobile version of your web page’s content is used, meaning:
‘You must pay attention to mobile users’ needs and pains; otherwise, you risk losing valuable organic traffic. As an example, certain types of queries, like ‘restaurants near me,’ can bring a good portion of local mobile traffic.
Here’s a list of steps you can take to better target mobile users:
- Take Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test — paste in your website’s URL or a specific code snippet, and Google will let you know whether the fed input is mobile-friendly or not.
- Run the Mobile Usability report from Google — it will show you which pages on your site have usability problems when viewed on mobile devices.
- Gather a list of conversational and question keywords that reflect natural language search — people might use voice search or literally ask Google, “what is the best air fryer.”
For this, you can take advantage of the Questions tab in the Keyword Magic tool, which offers keywords structured in question form:
- Improve your website speed by compressing images to optimal sizes, using lazy-loading images, using Google’s WebP image format, and serving responsive images with correct dimensions. More recommendations on site speed optimization here.
- Provide a good mobile user experience by improving content's readability on the device — use a font size of 15px or 16px, with short paragraphs of 2-3 lines, and include white space between text and other page elements for better visibility.
Top Blog Writing Tips: Writing and Post-Writing
9. Optimize Your Content to Earn a Featured Snippet
Featured Snippets — so-called “zero positions” — are the boxes shown right below the number of results found for your query.
They provide searchers with content that fulfills their request. And although this sometimes means they won’t need to click your link again to learn more, they will often still click on it, giving you a lot more visibility.
Most Featured Snippets monopolize the first screen. As a result, the click-through rate of the content in it increases drastically — some studies report a four-fold CTR growth — and the other pages in the top 10 don’t get as many clicks. This is why organizing your content to appear in the Featured Snippets is crucial.
How to Win a Featured Snippet
There’s no sure-fire recipe that guarantees you’ll earn a Featured Snippet position on a SERP, but these tactics can significantly increase your chances:
- Google tends to pick pages from the top 10 for Featured Snippets. So, to understand which blog posts on your website can be optimized to win a Featured Snippet, filter out those that are already ranking high.
- Find a question-based keyword and give a clear, concise answer. The easier your answer is to understand, the better.
E.g. “How to cook spaghetti? Start with boiling water...”
- Use lists and “step-by-step” blog writing formats. Especially if a query starts with “how to,” breaking your article down into steps is a must: use numbers or subtitles to divide your content logically.
- Pay careful attention to your formatting, tags, and markups and that they are being used correctly. Ensure your content is clear, structured, and easily crawlable for Google bots. Some SEOs, including Barry Schwartz, recommend also using Schema.org Markup.
If your competitor has already earned a Featured Snippet for your target keyword, their position is not written in stone. Any other website can replace theirs sooner or later, so why not yours?
Find more tactics on how to win a Featured Snippet here.
10. Optimize Your Headline for Conversion
Crafting killer headlines is exactly the area where you use your writing skills to the fullest. A well-written, compelling, relevant headline can greatly influence whether a user clicks on a link.
There are a number of different approaches on how to write a headline — but which ones tend to perform better?
First, longer headlines (10 to 13 words) can better uncover the idea of what the copy is about, and therefore drive twice as much traffic and X1.5 more shares than shorter ones (< 7 words).
Second, list articles get 80% more traffic than other types of articles, according to our study. Consider crafting your headline to convey that the content is laid out in a listicle format. You can check with the ImpactHero tool whether a listicle or how-to format is the best option for your specific website to reach your goals.
Additional content creation best practices:
- Be specific and promise readers the answer to their questions or needs. However, be careful to not over-promise. Your blog post must deliver exactly what you indicated with your headline.
- Be provocative and pique readers’ curiosity, but never give the answer to their question in the post title.
- Do some research into headlines that have been proven to work in the past. If you look into a topic card in Topic Research, you’ll see a list of existing headlines, sorted by the number of backlinks to the article. Use them as a source of inspiration when crafting your own title.
- Implement certain trigrams, groups of three words, which are proven to bring more social engagement if you use them in headlines:
Note: If you write an evergreen piece of content (a guide, for instance), don’t hesitate to mention the current year in the title. You’ll eventually get back to this article to update it, so a “2020 guide” can then be renamed a “2021 guide” when you add valuable new information to it. It's one of the best practices for blog content writing, as you're providing useful data that is always relevant.
11. Make Sure to Check and Optimize On-Page SEO
We talked about the importance of understanding users’ intent earlier in this post, but the user experience is just as important.
For example, Google can penalize you for duplicate content, because it confuses Google and forces it to choose which of the identical pages it should rank in the top results. Google intends to provide the best user experience possible, which is why it strongly recommends that site owners make their websites mobile-ready, and improve their on-page SEO.
If you discover that your blog post isn't following what Google deems as a best practice for user experience, then these are the things you can do to improve your post:
- Create a clear structure of H1 and H2 tags — 39% of texts without H2 are low-performing in terms of traffic and engagement.
- Include links within your blog — internal linking will make it easier for searchers to further engage with your site, and decrease bounce rate. Plus, linking internally is good for your overall blog SEO.
- Incorporate important keywords into your URL to make a more obvious association between the page and the topic it covers.
- Create a strong title tag that encourages searchers to click on your results.
- A title should be unique.
- Include your target keyword.
- Send a message that accurately matches the content and search intent.
- Write a compelling meta description. Your meta description can be a powerful tool to encourage searchers to click on your content link. Best practices for your meta description include:
- Keeping it to 140-160 characters (1-2 sentences)
- A clear description of what the content is about
- Target keywords
- Ensure there are no technical issues affecting your ranking:
- Follow load time best practices.
- Focus on the Core Web Vitals, which Google has incorporated into several of your top tools for developers and webmasters.
- Search for errors using the Semrush Site Audit tool. To see the impact of your site loading speed, you can use Semrush’s Core Web Vitals Report. This will show you how close your indicators are to the recommended values and optimize your site accordingly.
- Use Google’s PageSpeed Insights to see a detailed analysis of problems with site loading speed.
- Check that you have markups implemented on your site correctly with Google’s free tool.
- Check the presence of the OpenGraph markup with the validators from Facebook and from Twitter.
Here are some other SEO best practices to consider, too.
12. Add Visuals to Your Strategy
According to our Anatomy of Top Performing Articles, posts with one image get twice as much traffic as posts containing text only; they also get 30% more shares and 25% more backlinks.
Videos turned out to play a considerable role too — posts that don’t contain a video get 92% less traffic and 24% fewer shares than posts with at least one video.
Consider adding video content, informative images, charts, or infographics to increase readers’ time on page. Another benefit of visuals is that people tend to share them across social media accounts, which is always beneficial.
Don’t forget to optimize the images:
- Make sure they load quickly enough — if not, reduce the file size and implement lazy loading.
- Write alt tags for your images to tell Google what the image reflects. The alt text also assists visually impaired people using the site, ensuring they can fully appreciate your content. Use the SEO Writing Assistant to spot all images that are missing an alt tag.
13. Add Conversion Paths
Think about the conversion path for the blog post ahead of time. For example, if you have a Top of the Funnel marketing blog post, consider creating gated content offers to convert users landing on it.
- What's the goal?
- Which funnel stage does this content belong to?
- What would be the next desirable action?
- What is my CTA?
Consider trying Impact Hero, which gives you an opportunity to track conversion paths: see how successful your content is in terms of attracting new visitors, lead generation, and indirect conversion.
Also, if you want to build a high-performing content marketing funnel, this Guide to Building a High-Performing Content Marketing Funnel (+ Free Template) is definitely for you.
14. Think about Your Backlinking and Sharing Strategy
You need to think about the hook to attract leaders in your field, for example:
- Unique stats;
- Trending topics;
- Quotes from influencers;
- Ultimate guides.
Your content must resonate to help you get new backlinks. Researching backlink opportunities in advance is crucial, so you can adjust the content for the right websites and influencers.
But, depending on how well-known your brand is, you may need to do extra work. For example, researching and reaching out to influencers on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram, following and commenting on their posts, or reaching out to them directly through email.
15. Create a Process for Tracking the Blog Post’s Performance
Once you have your great blog post finalized, you’ll need to:
- Edit your post, implement the recommendations of the SEO Writing Assistant, optimize it and publish!
- Analyze whether you’ve achieved your content marketing goals with this piece of content, and how well the copy works as a part of your funnel. To answer this, you need data about your content performance, which can be found in ImpactHero.
This AI-powered tool can measure the impact of a certain page on lead conversion, analyze whether there are gaps in your funnel strategy, and provide recommendations on how to improve your content.
- Add the article to your content audit process, and keep it updated.
With the Content Audit tool you can automate the auditing process — the tool helps you identify the content that needs to be updated, saving you the time and effort of analyzing each piece of content individually.
Now that you have the blog writing tips and tools at your disposal, you can convert potential customers with your new articles.
Remember to focus on delivering real value for the reader, not just ranking for some keywords. Ultimately, how users interact with your content and how useful it is to them will determine whether Google will rank your article high and for how long.
To have all this information summarized into one concise form, download our handy Blog Writing Checklist below.