How to Write Content that Ranks
It isn’t complicated to figure out the winning formula in your industry if you know where to look. Learn how we ranked #1 for key terms like “best black tea” and “tea blog.”
Now that you have your content plan for the first few months, it’s time for the fun part.
A common question we get asked is, “How do I make sure my content will rank in the top 10?”
And our answer is simple: Create the best article on the topic possible.
We know that’s a little vague. “Best content” may sound subjective and you’re probably sitting there thinking, “Obviously I want the best content, but what does that actually look like?”
The truth is, there’s no magic checklist that can guarantee overnight SEO success. What readers (and Google) are looking for may change depending on your industry or keyword.
But it isn’t complicated to figure out the winning formula in your industry if you know where to look.
We can apply the tested process that got Cup & Leaf ranked #1 for key terms like “best black tea” and “tea blog.”
Today you’re going to learn the art of writing a great article for SEO.
So grab the first keyword off your content plan and follow along!
Step 1: Researching the Current Top Results
No one knows exactly what goes on inside the black box of Google.
They rarely announce much about their algorithm. And when they do, it’s super vague:
But don’t lose hope.
We can get a peek inside the system by analyzing search results.
Obviously, the articles ranking on the first page of Google are doing something right. So why not learn from them?
Specifically, we can learn two critical things by looking at the existing search results:
- What related topics and terms are important for this keyword?
- What article structure does Google prefer for this keyword?
For this lesson, let’s take a look at our article for “rooibos tea benefits,” which alone brings our site over 10,000 monthly readers as a result of this writing technique.
We start with a fresh document:
Then head over to Google and search for your exact keyword. Open any pages that seems relevant to our target audience for this article:
Since these articles are ranking well, we know that they contain the topics and information Google thinks are most relevant to the search query “rooibos tea benefits.” So if we want to rank well, we should make sure to include all this information in our article, too.
You especially want to keep an eye out for specific topics that are repeated across multiple articles.
For example, many of these articles include a section about the potential side effects of drinking rooibos tea.
Side effects aren’t exactly benefits, but since several of the top 10 articles have this section, we can assume Google has determined that readers prefer content that is more comprehensive and includes this type of information.
Section headers like this are the easiest way to discover important sections to include, but you should also look for key terms mentioned within the article.
These may be Latent Semantic Index (LSI) keywords that Google associates with the keyword. Using them shows Google that you’ve covered the topic in-depth.
In our example, this tends to be nutritional terms and medical conditions:
Just like with important topics, you want to pay special attention to terms mentioned in multiple articles. It’s probably not a coincidence that each of these articles used terms like “polyphenols” and “flavonoids.”
After going through a few articles, here’s our list of terms and topics for “rooibos tea benefits”:
You should also make a few mental notes during this phase of research:
- What structure do the posts follow? Are they mostly lists, stories, or some other format?
- What tone do the pieces have? Are they formal? Casual?
You shouldn’t outright copy your competition’s articles. But if you notice any clear patterns in the search results, it’s a good sign that Google is preferring that type of content for this query. Incorporating that into your own post will help it rank higher, faster.
If your niche warrants, you might also want to take note of their sources. They may come in handy when you’re writing your own piece and need to cite a claim like “rooibos tea can lower blood pressure.”
Lastly, if you’re a topic expert and know about important things not covered by the competition, make sure to add them to your list, too.
Once you’ve gone through all the relevant articles on the first page, you’re ready to sketch out your post.
Step 2: Outline Your Article
If things go well, your competitive research should include most of the research necessary to write your entire article.
You just need to take all these topics and organize them.
There isn’t a single correct way to build an outline, so you have some flexibility here. Do whatever helps you get your thoughts straight without missing important sections.
Here’s the outline for our “rooibos tea benefits” article:
If you’re new to writing, you may wish to use a slightly more structured approach. That’s completely up to you.
This outline is just a guide for your writing; you don’t have to make it perfect before moving on. It’ll likely change a little as you write.
(If you want more structure, copy this template to get started.)
Step 3: It’s Time to Write! Finally!!
Now we’re ready to actually write the article. :)
This part will depend on your personal style and voice, but remember to consider what your audience is looking for.
In most cases you should present yourself as knowledgeable and authoritative (if you truly are). But you also want to keep the tone casual and easy to read.
If your article isn’t pleasant to read, it will get passed over — even if the information is incredible. And if readers aren’t sticking around to finish the article, Google won’t rank it.
You also want to make sure you’re citing quality sources in the body of your post. If you’re making any factual claims (especially about health or finances), they should be cited from established and respected publications like the National Library of Medicine.
Even if you aren’t making those kinds of claims, it’s a good idea to reference high-quality sources whenever possible in your piece.
Before you finish, you should compare your article to the competition we researched earlier. If you hope to beat them out for the top spots on Google, make sure you explain the information better or in a more interesting way than they already have.
Whether you’re a professional writer or not, have someone review and edit your article before publishing. It’s easy to overlook things when you’ve been working on the same piece for over an hour.
After you get some feedback and make an necessary edits, you’re ready to put it on your site!
Step 4: Before You Press “Publish”
There are a few technical details you should set up before the article goes live.
Handle these properly to increase the potential of your article ranking well:
- Meta Title
- Links to Existing Content
The SEO Title Tag
Your title tag tells search engines how to display your article on the results page. In most cases, it will match your article title, but it doesn’t have to.
A good SEO title entices people to click through to your site. As a general rule, it should include the keyword and promise additional value to the reader.
Here we are offering “benefits you didn’t know about,” which is exactly what we expect someone searching “rooibos tea benefits” to want. It promises a solution to their question.
It also includes the keyword in full: “rooibos tea benefits.”
Now compare that with another article ranking for the same term:
It’s a lot less clear what the WebMD piece is about or what someone will gain by reading it. As a result, our blog was able to outrank WebMD (one of the top 500 websites) in just a few months.
Many content management systems like Webflow will let you edit this. Just look for a field called SEO Title, Meta Title, or Title Tag:
If you’re on WordPress, we recommend the Yoast SEO plugin to customize the SEO title tag.
HTML Header Tags
If you’ve written an in-depth article, you need break it into multiple sections.
In our rooibos tea article we have a seperate section for each benefit as well as its origin, taste, and preparation instructions.
At the start of every section, we use a clear header to tell the reader (and Google) what that section is about. We also made sure to set these up with the proper HTML tags:
These tags are <h1>, <h2>, and <h3>, and they serve two primary functions:
- They tell your website what formatting to apply so that all of your headers are consistent and easy to navigate for the reader.
- They tell search engines that you’re starting a new section and what it’s about.
Just like a visitor will scan your post looking for bold section headers to understand how they’ll benefit from reading your article, Google scans your HTML looking for these tags to understand the main topics you cover.
Now don’t stress, you don’t actually need to mess with any HTML code here.
Most site builders like WordPress and Webflow will take care of it for you. But you need to make sure that the proper tag is applied inside the content editor when you’re posting it.
Simply highlight the text and select the appropriate tag in your formatting toolbar:
To avoid accidentally confusing Google, you shouldn’t use the H1 tag in the body of your post. That’s reserved for the page title.
You can use H2 headers for the main sections of your article and then add H3s inside those for sub-sections. There’s no SEO penalty for going deeper than that, but it can start to get cluttered for the reader. So we usually stick with H2 and H3.
Because both the reader and Google rely on these to understand your article, you should try to use your keyword and related key terms (from the outline) inside them when natural.
But don’t force it or stuff keywords. Awkward phrasing that looks like keyword manipulation will get you penalized.
Link to Existing Articles
As your article starts to rank, having internal links to other pages on your site can give those pages a boost, too. It will also keep readers on your site exploring as they click through different links.
That’s why we recommend all of our clients implement the Wiki Strategy on their blog.
Ideally, you should keep an eye out for good interlinking opportunities while you’re writing. But it doesn’t hurt to do another onceover after the article is finished.
Step 5: Press Publish!
Congratulations! You’ve published an article primed for SEO success. Doing this consistently 2-3 times a week is the best way to grow your blog following and weekly traffic numbers.
It’ll take some time for it to start pulling in organic traffic on it’s own, but the good news is you don’t have to wait. Our next lesson will teach you some simple promotion strategies to drive the first visitors to your post.
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