September 30, 2022

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How to write your next SEO article in half the time (student success story)

This article originally appeared on my website, InkwellContent.com. To read the article there, click here: How to write your next SEO article in half the time.

What’s the number-one mistake I see SEO writers making? 

Failure to plan. 

They get so eager to go for a keyword or get an idea out of their head, they skip over the outlining and planning phase. A recipe for disaster.

Without a proper plan in place before you begin to write, there’s a ~95% chance you’re going to end up spinning your wheels. 

And even if you get the project finished, it’s probably going to take you 10x as long and be 10x less enjoyable than it would have been otherwise. 

But before you go thinking that this is just a doom and gloom piece, let me add: 

A little time spent on strategy upfront can save you days or weeks of wasted effort.

In fact, a student of mine saw this for themselves earlier this year.

Enter Michael Draper of Two Wolves Creative

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Michael & his business partner Wade run a boutique design studio that helps small businesses go toe-to-toe with industry giants using standout branding. 

He’s a wonderful web copywriter and fantastic brand strategist, but until recently, he didn’t have any experience writing SEO content. 

As this was something he was interested in learning more about (both for his own benefit and for his clients), he figured he’d try his hand at writing something for his business blog. 

What he did next was engage in a process I see many freelancers and business owners follow: 

  1. Do some quick keyword research using a keyword tool, found something you like and run with it
  2. Create a brief outline of what you want to include in the piece
  3. Jump right into writing the piece (it’ll come together once you start drafting, right?)
  4. Realize something isn’t quite right, so you go back and edit it
  5. … And edit it
  6. … And edit it
  7. … And edit it once more for luck

We’ve all been here before. When you’re sitting in your living room writing stuff for your eyes only, you get a stage where all you can think is: 

Is this any good? Or have I totally lost my mind?

It was at this point that Michael got in touch with me. And after chatting with him over text, I knew he’d be a great fit for my Content Training service

I ran through his article draft, left plenty of comments with suggested changes, then hopped on a call with him. We spent about an hour going through the piece together and doing some more in-depth keyword research to put him on the right path. 

After that, Michael got to work – and the results were astounding. 

With just 4 hours invested into conducting keyword research and creating a detailed outline, Michael was able to turn his unpolished draft into a high-quality article that he’s really proud of (rightfully so – not only is it super-informative, but it’s absolutely gorgeous).

This piece wouldn’t look out of place on the biggest branding blogs out there. And not only that: It’s created some really positive results for the business too. 

In just a few months, Mike’s article was already ranking under position 50 for his top keyword. (Keep in mind, SEO usually takes a few months to start working even for the most optimized sites.)

On top of that, the blog has an average time on page stat of 4 minutes and 30 seconds—that is hard evidence that people are spending a good amount of time actually reading the article, rather than skipping around or bouncing away. 

In other words, Michael discovered the true value of taking the time to outline, plan, and execute a fantastic piece of search-optimized content.  

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I sat down with Michael to talk about what this whole experience was like for him. You can watch our whole interview below, or keep scrolling to read the 9 main takeaways from this interview:

Pro Tip: If you’re looking for an experienced coach to walk you through the entire process of writing better SEO copy (from start to finish), then you might be a good fit for my Content Training service too.

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9 tips for making a killer outline for your SEO content

1. Copywriting ≠ content writing.

I’ve worked with a lot of talented writers & copywriters over the past few years. Time and time again, I’ve seen people with excellent skills fall prey to one simple mistake: 

Content writing is not the same thing as copywriting. 

Yes, many people use these terms interchangeably. And yes, you will find plenty of long arguments on writing groups about the nuances of the difference between the two.

But for the purposes of this article (and anything else you read on my blog), when I’m talking about SEO content, I’m typically talking about long-form content. That means 1,000 words or more, usually closer to 3,000. Why? Because we have seen time and again that when it comes to creating content that ranks on the first page of Google, it’s hard to beat long-form content, at least as of 2021. 

Producing a 2,000-word deep-dive into a given topic is very different to writing a snappy slogan, crafting a brand value proposition, or drafting some web copy for your client’s new landing page. 

While the fundamentals of writing well are universal, creating great long-form content requires its own approach. 

At its core, the goal of super-sharp web copy and compelling content is the same: to drive the users to take action. But the particular action you want people to take differs depending on your business and goals.  

While your SEO piece might have some soft CTAs layered in throughout to keep people engaged & convert readers to email subscribers or customers, the emphasis is mainly on keeping your readers engaged. 

Contrast that with the typical goals of copywriting. The emphasis is on converting readers into leads, converting prospects into customers, or getting existing customers to commit even more value (read: $) to the relationship. 

When we write copy, our core goal is action. We only use as much content as we need to help us achieve that goal. 

When we’re writing long-form content, our core goal is engagement. You want to keep people reading/watching, or moving on to another piece of content. 

Beyond that, you can use long-form content to educate your audience about a particular topic, and help them remember your brand as trustworthy. 

And when we layer SEO on top of that, long-form content serves to bring in more of the right type of people to your website through the power of search rankings. 

In other words, there’s a lot happening when we create long-form SEO content! We need to be writing to educate our audience, achieve our business goal, and tick all the SEO boxes as well. 

Here’s the distinction Michael used to drive this lesson home: 

2. Know what kind of piece you’re writing. 

There’s no “one size fits all” when it comes to content writing. But in my experience, pretty much every article you’ll read online falls into one of the following two categories: 

  1. Written for the writer
  2. Written for the reader

Now, there’s a time and a place for creating something that’s done to scratch your own itch. 

Maybe you’ve got a particular concept you want to attach to your name. 

Maybe you’re testing out some different ideas to see what resonates with your market. 

Or maybe you’ve just got something on your mind and want to see if anyone else feels like you do!

But if you’re hoping to achieve SEO results with your content, then it makes sense to write for the reader (not just yourself). 

This means taking the time to figure out what your audience cares about. Guessing and assuming isn’t going to cut it. 

What are they actually searching for, according to the data? 

What problems are they trying to solve? 

What words do they use to describe their pain? 

Having solid answers to these questions is absolutely critical when you’re planning a long-form content piece. If you don’t get clear on these things during the planning stage, the chances of you creating a final product that’s highly valuable to the reader are slim. 

Great SEO content is written for the reader, not for the writer. 

And when you write something that’s perfect for your audience, you’ll benefit too. Win-win for everyone 

Here’s Michael & I talking about this exact distinction: 

3. Take the right approach to keyword research. 

When it comes to keyword research, there’s usually more going on than you’ll see at first glance. 

Doing any amount of keyword research (hopefully with the help of a tool like Ahrefs) is better than nothing. But it’s important that you engage with the process correctly. 

When I’m coaching writers through keyword research and planning their articles for maximum SEO impact, I always remind them that they shouldn’t latch on to the first juicy-looking keyword they see as the basis of their piece. 

Instead, they should dig deeper and try to find at least 3-5 viable, related keywords—the ones that you will focus on for this specific content piece. 

By doing this, they avoid falling into the common pitfall of keyword blindness: thinking that whatever keyword you’ve got your heart set on is the perfect one for you. 

About 80% of the time, the first couple of keywords you see aren’t going to be the best ones to focus on. That’s because there’s more to keyword research than keyword difficulty and search volume. 

A critical – and often forgotten – benchmark to bear in mind is search intent.

Think of it this way: if someone types “app development” into Google… they could be any of the following: 

  1. A student looking for courses & training
  2. An app developer looking for industry blogs
  3. An app development firm scoping out the competition
  4. A business that’s actually looking for app development services

Not only is ranking for “app development” going to be super difficult, it may not even be that useful for your business. 

On the other hand, imagine if you target “app development agencies Boston” instead. Competition will be lower, the amount of random drive-by traffic decreases, and you can write something that’s hyper-targeted towards solving problems that your target audience will care about. 

There’s more to great keyword research than just looking at search volume and KD. Take the time to figure out a couple of different viable anchors for your piece, then dig a little deeper. 

Put yourself in the reader’s shoes and see which of those keywords is most likely to be correlated with the correct level of intent. 

The “correct” level of intent is going to depend on your goal. 

If you’re just trying to build your audience, then more general intent is fine. 

But if you’re looking to create content that turns first-time readers into long-term clients, you’ll have to give serious thought to what keywords you focus on. 

And if you need a little help with this, I know someone who can help  

Hear Michael talk about his early experiences with keyword research here:

4. Don’t start writing without an outline. 

About 30% of the time, when I talk to writers about creating a detailed outline before they begin writing, I can see their eyes glaze over as they’re transported back in time to their high school days.

Let me tell you what I always tell them: 

Unlike when you were back in high school, creating an outline for your SEO piece isn’t a time-waster. It’s actually a time-saver. 

Skipping out on your outline won’t save you any time when it comes to long-form content. 

Sure, you might feel like you’ve saved yourself a couple of hours upfront when you jump straight into the writing. But when you’ve got your first draft done, odds are you’ll have a lot of work on your hands to get it from draft to done. 

With a clear idea of: 

  1. What you want to say 
  2. How you’ll structure it 
  3. How you’ll tie it all together 

You’ll be able to get your first draft written much, much quicker than you would otherwise. 

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When it comes to long-form content writing, there are two modes you can operate from: Heads Down and Heads Up. 

Heads Down is when you’re focused on cranking out prose, building your points, and drafting your piece. 

Heads Up is when you’re focused on conducting research, setting your structure in place, and thinking objectively about the work to be done. 

And just like how we get nothing done with 57 open tabs and 6 concurrent client projects, having to switch between Heads Down and Heads Up mode kills your productivity. 

Before you put your head down and get to work, keep your head up. 

Take the time to create your outline up front and you’ll save yourself hours of time in the long run. 

5. Map the reader’s journey from start to finish. 

When you’re writing a long-form SEO piece, your article needs to mirror the journey you want the reader to go on.

No matter what anchor keywords you choose, there’s a specific sequence of points you need to deliver for maximum impact. 

The best SEO articles are those that take the reader by the hand and walk them through a topic from start to finish, answering questions and introducing new topics at the exact moment they’re required. 

That sounds good in theory, but how do you apply it in practice? 

To answer that question, let’s look at Michael’s article. 

Once Michael had settled on the anchor keyword of “responsive logo” (which we chose because of its strong search volume, low KD, and subjectively high search intent), he knew he had his foundation in place. 

Now all he had to do was craft an article that established him as an authority on the topic. 

Some writers and marketers have common misconceptions around the phrase “establish your authority”. They think that means: 

  1. Define the topic in as complicated and fancy a way as possible
  2. Give some examples of work from their portfolio to show that they can do the thing

And sure, that’s not a bad way to impress other professionals. 

But your customers? 

They don’t have the same reference experiences you have. 

So, once again, we come back to this idea of writing for the reader, not yourself. 

That’s exactly what Michael did. 

Michael structured his article to take readers on the following journey: 

  • The two main elements of a Modern Logo
  • What makes a Responsive Logo?
  • What is a Wordmark?
  • What is a Lettermark?
  • What is a Brandmark?
  • What makes a Minimalist Logo?
  • How to make your professional logo stand out using the SMART method
  • What makes a bad logo?

Straightforward, logical, and crafted with the reader in mind – an excellent example of a great SEO outline. 

When you map out your reader journey from start to finish, you’ll be able to create an outline (and article) that gives your readers the precise information they need, when they need it, in the format they’re looking for. 

That’s how you create an SEO piece that has the legs to go the distance.

Learn more about how mapping out his reader’s journey in advance helped Michael to get his article finished in record time here:

6. Go the extra mile to help your piece stand out. 

After our first coaching and strategy call, Michael took my feedback and wrote out a new outline. I was so pleased when I saw what he’d done with my comments and how happy he was with his new outline.

The work he had done to create a fully fleshed-out plan for his piece was astounding. So when he came back a couple of weeks later with the next draft, it was no surprise that the content was fantastic. 

But Michael didn’t stop there. 

Since Two Wolves Creative is a full-service branding and design agency, Michael knew his work would be judged on how pretty it looked. 

Sure, the content quality was important. But it wasn’t enough to just write a great article—to stand out, he had to put in even more work to take his piece to the next level. 

The final result was a long-form content piece that wouldn’t look out of place on any of the biggest blogs in the space. 

If you’re looking to write a long-form blog article that… 

  1. Engages your audience 
  2. Performs for your business, and 
  3. Helps you stand out in your industry

then you need to think about more than just the quality of your writing. 

The quality of your writing is fundamental. But great visuals will help you get even more mileage out of your work. 

If you end up doing any promotion of your piece on social media, having ready-made visuals to tap into is a great place to start from. 

And even if you never do anything with your piece but let it sit on your website and pull in visitors organically? 

Professionally designed visuals will create a better first impression than having no visuals at all. Guaranteed. 

When you’re structuring your SEO piece for maximum impact, think about how you’ll create something that stands out visually too. 

Learn more about how Michael did this here:

7. SEO takes time, but you speed things up with promotion.

Another common trap that writers new to the SEO game fall into is expecting their piece to rank well in Google straight away. 

If you have experience with trying to rank content or websites, you know that it can often take several months for Google to pick up on your work. 

If you want to know about how long it’s going to take for your content to start ranking, check out this article:

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But you don’t have to wait months to start seeing benefits from your work. 

There’s a faster way you can start getting positive feedback on your piece right away… and that’s via social media. 

If you have: 

  1. An audience on Twitter, LinkedIn, or any other social platform 
  2. An email list of subscribers who read what you send them
  3. Any Slack communities, Facebook Groups, subreddits, or other online forums you’re active in

Then you can put your piece out there as soon as it’s ready and start driving traffic to it. 

As people visit the article, use Google Analytics to monitor how long they’re staying on the page, and how quickly they are bouncing away. If you’ve created something valuable, then you’ll know you’ve struck gold. 

And if it’s really good stuff, you’ll start gaining back links to your content

And if you don’t get much response? 

Don’t lose heart. 

If you need to switch up some of your points, change your tone, or rethink your structure, then you can do so. You have plenty of time to tweak your piece before the SEO robots judge you as worthy of love. 

Achieving the rank you deserve with a new content piece takes time, but you can start leveraging your work via other channels right away.

(A good coach will help you figure out the best way to do this + apply other strategies for your business too. So bear that in mind if you’re overwhelmed and don’t know where to begin.)

Hear more about Michael’s experience promoting his piece on social media here: 

8. Remember that you’re in this for the long haul. 

One fantastic insight that emerged from my call with Michael (something any business owner could learn from) was this: 

Think of your content pieces as assets. 

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 When we look at our marketing To-Do List, it’s easy to view the stuff on there as expenses. 

Either we have to pay someone to do it, or we pay the price ourselves (with our time and energy). 

That goes for: 

  1. Making changes to your website 
  2. Documenting SOPs for your team to follow 
  3. Writing articles 
  4. Everything else 

They all cost something to produce. 

When you don’t think you’ll see returns from something, you procrastinate on it. 

That’s understandable—why waste money on something that’s not going to be valuable to you in the future? 

That’s why this mindset shift is key. 

A business with high-quality authority content can charge higher prices and make more money than less established competitors. 

A salesperson with beautiful brochures and sleek product demos will have an easier time hitting their numbers than one dependent on words alone. 

And the freelancer that finds a little time each week to document their core processes will find it much easier to scale their business than their overworked counterparts. 

When it comes to your business, these things aren’t expenses. They’re assets. 

Every high-quality article you write is like having a piece of digital real estate. 

Just like rental properties generate cash flow, these articles will generate ongoing returns for your business: attention, interest, and reputation. 

If you can make this mental switch, you’ll be able to stay focused on creating for the long-term. 

It’s not just going to be about how many articles you can crank out in a month or two and then milk forever… 

It’ll be about consistently building out these assets over the course of months and years. 

When it comes to creating SEO articles, think long-term. Just like Michael talks about here: 

9. Don’t get stuck in drafting hell – get help!

Last but not least, here’s one more thing to keep in mind: 

If you’ve been working on getting some content out there, but there’s something holding you back from hitting publish… 

Odds are you’re stuck in drafting hell. 

If you’ve been working hard on an article, but you’ve gotten lost somewhere along the way, remember: you don’t have to do this alone. 

You can connect with other writers and get their perspective on your work. Sometimes all you need to get unstuck is an objective pair of eyes. 

You can join groups and help other people sharpen up on their writing. Seeing other people overcome their obstacles is motivating (and could be exactly what you need). 

You can even find a mentor who can guide you through the process from start to finish. If creating excellent long-form content is a priority for you, then this could be a great option. 

Here’s what that process looked like for Michael & I:

There’s a lot of nuance that goes into creating something that ranks well, reads well, and (most importantly) performs well. 

But if you can keep these nine points in mind & put them into practice, you’ll be well on your way. 

If you want to watch my whole interview with Michael, you can check it out here: 

Got any questions on what we discussed? Have any tips on how you go about outlining and planning your SEO-driven content? Leave