The process of creating an amazing blog post is a lot like an oil refinery.
You start with raw ideas that have plenty of intrinsic value. But it’s not until you refine those ideas that they obtain true value in the marketplace of ideas.
I recently published a post about the ongoing debate among marketers that asks if you should focus on quality/passionate content OR search engine optimization (SEO). It was a decent piece of abstract reasoning defending my position that you need both.
But it didn’t offer you any practical advice on how to create content both people AND search engines love. I’m going to fix that problem today.
The Human in the Machine … Get It?
Don’t worry, this section will do more than reference obscure and very bad early ’90s horror movies.
Heidi Cohen is known as the “Actionable Marketing Guide.” If you subscribe to her blog, you know the title is spot on.
She recently published a piece asking leading marketers to define “content quality.” Scott Abel, “The Content Wrangler” (another very fitting title), provided this gem:
Quality content is clear and concise … It’s written for humans, but optimized for machines. – @scottabel (tweet this)
I couldn’t come up with a better definition if I tried. Seriously. I’ve been trying for months and I couldn’t do it. Scott nailed it!
Quality content is content that is “written for humans, but optimized for machines.” In other words, it is content that is easy to understand that provides actionable information you can use right away in your life or business.
But don’t let anyone try to convince you it’s only about making your content actionable and easy to understand. You also need to give search engines cues to serve up your content to the people searching for answers you can provide.
To paraphrase another marketing genius:
When (content is) as shareable and as findable as possible, people will latch on to it and share it. – @MitchJoel (tweet this)
And you can’t make your content “as findable as possible” without some level of SEO.
The Digital Oil Refinery in Action
Knowing that, here are 5 steps to making sure BOTH people AND search engines love your blogs. To ensure this post is absurdly practical, I am going to show you exactly how I keyword targeted this blog post.
#1 – It all Starts With an Idea
Sadly, amazing blog posts don’t just write themselves. You have to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and just start! This means it’s time for some good ol’ fashioned brainstorming.
It doesn’t matter if you prefer to capture your ideas in digital or analogue form. If you’re old school, grab your favorite notebook. If you’re like me open up your digital capture platform of choice and start typing everything that comes to mind.
When you’re brainstorming don’t edit or question anything. Just let the ideas flow!
I like to dump blog ideas straight into WordPress. Here is a screenshot of a few of the dozens of ideas I’m working on (typos and all).
Once you have a solid group of ideas out of your head and into the world, pick one.
Don’t get hung up on the details. You don’t need a PERFECT title right now. Just pick one you think it would be fun to write about.
This post started out as, “How to Write Content People AND Search Engines Love.” But just like every other idea in life and business, it couldn’t become anything until it was out of my head.
#2 – Write Your Post
This step is admittedly MUCH easier said than done. I don’t know about you, but it’s easier to convince myself I could become the next Michael Jordan than it is to convince myself I can write another blog post.
It seems to be part of our fallen nature. Adam got a craving for apples and next thing you know we can’t even believe we can do the things we’re good at.
As Pressfield writes:
Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work. It will perjure, fabricate, falsify; seduce, bully, cajole. Resistance is protean. It will assume any form, if that’s what it takes to deceive you. It will reason with you like a lawyer or jam a nine-millimeter in your face like a stickup man. Resistance has no conscience. It will pledge anything to get a deal, then double-cross you as soon as your back is turned. If you take Resistance at its word, you deserve everything you get. Resistance is always lying and always full of (it).
You can’t let Resistance win! It is relentless, and it deserves a relentless beating from your keyboard.
Spare no expense in your fight to overcome it. In fact, I was having trouble sitting down to write this post so I brought in the BIG guns – my son Fulton!
Tell me you’re not FIRED UP after watching that!
Once you find your muse and start writing, don’t edit or hold back. Just let your thoughts flow and go with it. You can come back and clean up later.
#3 – Refining Your Content
Now that you have spilled your brains, it’s time to hone your message. But we’re not ready to target just yet. Right now, we want to tighten up the copy, correct typos, and polish the content.
Here are a few tips that will keep your readers reading.
- Stop short: Keep your sentences short. Reading long sentences feels like work. People don’t like work.
- Get to the Point: This is not Chaucer or Tolstoy. We don’t need flowery language and poetic prose. We need you to state your case and get on with it already.
- Be Funny: I tried this once. It never works.
- Be a Teacher: Give people valuable takeaways they can use right away. There is nothing more memorable than being helpful.
- Be Transparent: My man Marcus Sheridan drives home this point better than anyone else. He not only saved his swimming pools company, he GREW his business during the Great Recession. Simply because he had the guts to be radically transparent and honestly answer his prospect’s questions on the internet.
In addition to great copy, you need a great format. If you’ve ever had a conversation with me, you’ve probably heard me compare digital marketing to movies.
Every genre has a formula. Blockbusters, comedies, romantic comedies, action movies, action comedies, and the list goes on. We’re all basically watching the same 10 movies over and over.
There’s a formula for great blog posts too.
#4 – Find Your Target Keyword
By now, you should have a good post going. You came out strong up front, supported your opening with solid body copy, and gave your readers a strong takeaway that will make them remember you.
Now it’s time to take on “The Google.” Don’t worry, it’s not as complicated as it sounds.
I have been using Google’s Keyword Planner for a long time to target my content. But thanks to the guys at Marketing Over Coffee, I discovered a new workflow that makes finding the best keywords crazy easy.
Open up the Keyword Planner and click the first line that says, “Search for new keywords and ad group ideas” This opens up a new window where you can enter keywords, a landing page, or a product category.
There are also various filters to choose from, which we’ll get into in a minute.
I used to plug in random keywords to see what I could come up with. Taking the fantastic advice from Dan Shure, I now enter a Wikipedia page that fits my target audience.
This brings back highly-targeted keywords that are perfect for your niche.
For this post, I chose to use the Upstream (petroleum_industry) page. I also clicked the “Keyword filters” button and narrowed the findings to only display words that got less than 15,000 searches per month, and were ranked “Medium” or “Low” for Competition.
In my experience, these are the money keywords you can easily dominate if you execute properly. Depending on your site’s “Domain Authority”, you might be able to get away with going as high as 25,000. But you’ve got to have a fairly strong page rank to take over those keywords.
Trying to rank for keywords marked for “High” competition is a fool’s errand. Don’t waste your time. Even if the word has less than 200 searches per month. There is a reason Google says it’s a really competitive keyword. Move on.
Here is a shot of my screen when I was ready to run the search:
After you click “Get Ideas”, the screen refreshes with all of the keywords that match your criteria. Sort by “Avg. monthly searches” and start working your way down the list.
As you read the various keywords, think about the content your wrote, your working title, and the message you want to convey. Can you work any of the words listed into a metaphor, idiom, or phrase that fits the point you’re driving home?
Here are the search results based on the criteria above:
As I read through the suggestions, my eyes quickly settled on “oil refinery.” With 3,600 average monthly searches and low competition, it is begging for keyword dominance. Plus, it’s a “dog food” keyword people outside of the industry aren’t likely to search.
I also wouldn’t mind getting in front of the midstream market. I have a really strong network and presence in the upstream community, but I haven’t worked with any midstream companies yet.
Lastly, I could fit the keyword into my content without sounding awkward or robotic. This is critical. If you try to force keywords where they don’t belong, you will annoy your readers and anger Google’s robots.
But “oil refinery” was a perfect fit. I could use it as a metaphorical springboard to discuss the process of going from raw ideas to finished content.
Keyword in hand, I headed back to my post to add the finishing touches.
#5 – Keyword Targeting Your Blog Post
WordPress SEO by Yoast makes this the easiest part of the journey. It scores your content and gives you simple advice to improve your search rankings. Here is what the plugin looks like in WordPress as I’m typing this paragraph:
I entered “oil refinery” for my keyword (add one!), entered my “SEO Title”, and added the “Meta Description.” The SEO Title is what search engines will display. This feature gives you the ability to use a catchier, shorter version of your title in search results and a longer one on your website. I’ve used this feature a few times, but in general I keep my titles the same across the board.
The Meta Description is the short snippet that shows up under your link in search results. It blows my mind how many people don’t write unique meta descriptions for their blog posts. This is your opportunity to intrigue people to click your link – USE IT!
I love how the plugin shows you what it will look like in Google. The “Page Analysis” tab is extremely helpful as well.
You can practically learn SEO just by writing content and following the advice you see here. I’ll have to write a separate post digging into what each of these points mean. But for now, just know that you’re shooting for zero red circles.
One last point. Notice we haven’t bombarded the content with “oil refinery.” That’s because there are only a handful of places you need to use your focus keyword:
- Your title – at the beginning, if possible (don’t force it!)
- One subhead using the h2 tag
- The meta description
- 3 or 4 more times throughout the post
- In the alt tag for each of your pictures. This is what pops up when you hover over the picture. I always enter the blog post title.
As long as you stick to the basics and don’t go crazy with it, you’re good. But if you open the choke and decide to see if it’s possible to break the internet with keywords, be prepared to suffer the consequences – from both your readers and Google.
Shipping Your Post
If you’ve hung with me until now, good on you!
We’ve covered A LOT of ground, and I really appreciate you sticking around until the end. Hopefully, you’ve had at least one “ah-ha” moment. But don’t head out just yet because it’s time to ship your post.
This is another place where some people (read: me) can get hung up yet again. If you’re a perfectionist, you can spend countless hours tweaking. But if you never stop tweaking your content, no one can ever start reading it.
To this, Seth Godin says:
Ship often. Ship lousy stuff, but ship. Ship constantly. – @SethGodin (tweet this)
With that, it is time for you and I to click “Publish.” We have defeated Resistance, we have added value to our reader’s lives, and we have let the search engines know we mean business.
Our posts could be a smashing success, or they could float into the internet ether and quickly be forgotten. Either way, we have done our work. If we keep following these steps to produce high quality content that is properly keyword targeted, sooner or later our readers AND Google will reward us.
You just read a 2,300 word blog post about how to write blog posts – was it worth your time? What were your key takeaways? What did I miss? What questions can I answer for you?
Come on, Tribe! I want to hear your thoughts in the comments!