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So now let’s jump another decade forward. We’re in 2020. This year, what does writing for SEO mean? Well, a bunch of things.

  • Solving the searcher’s query matters most — writing that doesn’t do this tends not to rank well (for long)

Because search engines have gotten so much better, Google in particular, but Bing as well, have gotten so much better at optimizing to solve the searcher’s task, helping them accomplish what wanted to accomplish when entering the query, the writing that does the best job of solving search intent is the most highly prized in Google’s eyes.

Content that doesn’t solve the intent of the searchers tends to rank worse, or doesn’t rank for long. You can sometimes game the top of the search result, but you will almost certainly be outranked by someone who does a great job of solving the search intent of the user

  • Intent matching matters a lot more in 2020 than keyword matching

Today, no credible SEO would tell you to create separate pages for blue watch and blue watches and blue watch accessories. Instead, SEO is about figuring out what issue, function, or feature the searcher is looking to find.

If many keywords share the same intent we’re going to create a single page that serves the intent and covers all of the keywords or at least many of the keywords that the intent is represented by.

  • Only a few tags are still crucial to doing SEO correctly

When writing for SEO in 2020, there are really only two tags that critical. Those are the title tag and the H1 tag. That’s not to say that you can’t rank without using the keyword in these two tags, just that it would be wise to include the targeted keyword in both these tags. The reason for this is two-fold, it helps the search engine crawler and the searcher.

When users see the keyword that they search for in the title element of the page in the search results it is bold and users are more inclined to click than if they don’t see it. So while it’s possible that a page can rank without the keyword included in the title tag, not including it is a missed opportunity to generate a click-thru to your website.

A few other elements that are still advisable in 2020:

H tags (the H2, the H3), a continuation of the H1 tag to identify additional supporting paragraphs.

URL Optimization If you can include the keywords and phrases that people are searching for in the URL, that is helpful. It’s helpful for searchers who see the URL and would think, “Oh, okay, that is referring to the thing that I want,” as well as for people who copy, paste, and share the URL with others.

The meta description is not used for rankings, but it is read by searchers. When the users see a meta description that includes the keywords and phrases they’ve queried, they are more likely to think it will be a relevant result – which will generate a higher click-thru-rate. More clicks and higher engagement is a signal to Google (or other search engines) that your content is valuable, therefore improving the probability of ranking higher in the search results.

The image alt attribute is helpful for regular search results but particularly helpful for Google image search. Optimizing for image search is becoming more and more important. Just think about Pinterest. Google image search gets a tremendous amount of traffic and is another opportunity to capture the search market share.

  • Employing words, phrases, and concepts that Google has identified as commonly associated with the primary query

This can provide a significant boost. We’ve seen some really interesting experimentation on this front, where SEO’s will take a piece of content, add in ‘associated’ words and phrases (think keyword cloud) that users may also use when searching. The net result is greater coverage of the searcher intent, and in the eyes of Google you are demonstrating subject expertise.

As an example, I frequently use “Los Angeles Neighborhoods” and if a page is missing words like Santa Monica, Venice, Hermosa Beach, Downtown LA, that’s weird, right? Google is going to be much more likely to rank the page that includes these city names than one that doesn’t for this particular query because they’ve learned to associate these cities with relevance for the query “Los Angeles Neighborhoods.”

What I do want to make clear here is this does not mean LSI or some other particular tactic. LSI is an old-school, early ’90s computer /software tactic for identifying words that are semantically connected to each other. There’s no reason you have to use this methodology that became like pseudoscience in the SEO world. But you should be using words and phrases that Google has related to a particular keyword.

  • The user experience of the writing and content matters more than ever, and that is due to engagement metrics

Essentially, Google is able to see that people who click on a particular result are less likely to click the back button and choose a different result or more likely to stay on that page or site and engage further with that content and solve their need. That is a good sign to Google and results in your content ranking higher than your competitors.

The SEO Writing Process in 2020:

So, pragmatically, what does this history and evolution mean? Well, I think we can craft an SEO writing process for 2020 from this. This is what I recommend. If you can do nothing else, do these five steps when you are writing for SEO, and you will tend to have more success than most of your competition.

Step 1: Assemble all the keywords that a page is targeting

There should be a list of them. They should all share the same intent. You get all those keywords listed out.

Step 2: You list what the searchers are actually trying to accomplish when they search those queries

So someone searched for blue watches. What do they want? Information about them, they want to see different models, they want to know who makes them, they want to buy them, they want to see what the costs are like, they want to see where they can get them online, probably all of those things. That is the intent behind the query.

Step 3: Create a visual layout

This is our headline. This is our subheadline. We’re going to put this important key concept up at the top in a callout box. We’re going to have this crucial visual next. This is how we’re going to address all of the searchers intent on the page visually with content, written or otherwise.

Step 4: Write first and then go add the keywords and the crucial, related terms, phrases, top concepts, topics that you want into the page

The ones that will hopefully help boost your SEO, rather than writing first with the keywords and topics in mind. You can have your target keywords in mind but start by writing a great piece of content first, then sprinkle in your keywords, related terms, and phrases later.

Step 5: Craft the call-out, a well written call-out will make influential people and publications more likely to amplify and link back to your article

Because, in 2020, links matter and they are still an important part of SEO.

If you follow this guide you’ll do a much better job creating great content that has the potential for high SEO value. And most importantly, you’ll solve the user’s problem which is what Google and the other search engines ultimately want from us.