How to write content that ranks on search engines

There are millions of articles online that don’t receive any organic traffic. It’s easy to put something on the web but not so easy to make it rank in search engines.

Sound familiar?
Writing content that ranks on page 1 of Google and other search engines requires a process. 
We have created content which brought thousands of visits to clients’ websites. Want to know how we did it?

In this blog, we share our process:

  1. Identify subject
  2. Turn an idea into content
  3. Analyse the competition
  4. Write!
It is important to note that you shouldn’t create content just for the sake of it. You must think about your content achieving a business goal or aim. It should engage, inform or entertain your audience.

Now, let’s get started!

how to write content that ranks

Identify subject

In most cases, you have an idea in mind for a piece of content. You know what you want to discuss and what you want to achieve from it.
In other cases, you know what subject you want to discuss but you don’t know exactly what to write about.
That’s where these three tools come in.

Tools to find article ideas

Here, we identify three ways to find content ideas based on what people are searching.
Answer the public
AnswerThePublic provides phrases and questions people ask around a keyword which inspires content.
According to AnswerThePublic:
“It’s a goldmine of consumer insight you can use to create fresh, ultra-useful content, products and services.” – I agree.
It’s user-friendly, the information is presented in a very clear way making it easy to extract ideas.
All you have to do is head to the site type 1 or 2 words and hey presto – content ideas! Let’s check it out.
answer the public
AnswerThePublic 'questions' results

Let’s say you are a tour operator specialising in trips to Namibia. You want to get more traffic to your site and need to write some informational content. So, repeat the process (above) and type in Namibia and see what comes up…

Once again, you are presented with hundreds of ideas, now not all will be relevant but you’re bound to be inspired. I can see several questions which would be relevant such as ‘Namibia what to see’ and ‘Namibia what to pack’.

Now, you have an article idea ‘what to pack for Namibia’.

Google Autocomplete

Google Suggest or autocomplete is a Google search engine function that provides suggestions as you enter a search query into the search box.

Head to Google and start typing words relevant to your business. Let’s stay with travel and Namibia.

google autocomplete
Google autocomplete
When typing ‘what Namibia’ into the search bar you will see several search suggestions. If you change or add words you will get different suggestions.
google suggest
Google autocomplete

Typing ‘Namibia what to pack’ gives more specific suggestions relating to the subject. Each of these could be a blog post.

Using this information you could write an article titled ‘what to pack for a trip to Namibia’.

Keyword tool

Using a keyword data tool such as Google Keyword Planner or Ahrefs Keywords Explorer you can get hundreds of content ideas.

Enter one or two terms relating to your business or an idea you may already have and see what comes up.

I used Google Keyword Planner and searched ‘travel Nambia’ and selected the UK as the location I wanted results for.

Here are a handful of the results:

Google Keyword Planner results
Google Keyword Planner - Keyword Ideas

This is a snapshot of the 168 keyword ideas available. Many of which could be an article.

Besides keywords, there is the average monthly search volume and the competition level.

“Competition” regards ad placement – so, not organic ranking.

Monthly search volume is important but don’t be discouraged if it is low. A well-ranked article can rank for various terms.

According to Ahrefs, a page that ranks for one term will likely rank for hundreds of others.

“The average #1 ranking page will also rank in the top10 for nearly 1,000 other relevant keywords”

Which means one post that ranks well can generate a tonne of traffic!

turn an idea into content

Turning an idea into content

At this point, you will likely have a few article ideas or at least an awareness of what topic to write about.

In the previous step, we identified the broad topic ‘Namibia’ we then used AnswerThePublic, Google autocomplete and Google Keyword Planner to find keywords relating to Namibia.

Let’s look at a few results from our research so far:

  • What to pack for Namibia
  • Best places to visit in Namibia
  • Namibia tours from Windhoek

Each one of these can be the subject of a great piece of content.

If you have several ideas, pick one to write about first and then select another topic the following week. It is important to consistently produce content for your blog. This way you become the authority in your niche and the go-to resource for information!

For this exercise, we will pick ‘what to pack for Namibia’.

Find what content ranks on Google

By now, you should have your topic.

Our topic is ‘what to pack for Namibia’. The next step is to Google the term and see what ranks.

This is a very important step and integral to producing a piece of content that ranks on page 1 of Google. What you want to do here is analyse the competition.

In establishing what already ranks you have an idea of what it will take to get your content on page 1 of Google.

What do we want to find out?

  • To determine the type of content that ranks; long-form or short-form content? Video? Infographic?
  • The type of site ranking; travel blog? Tour operator? News publication? YouTube? Forum?
  • The title tag; does it contain numbers? ‘How to’?

For example, a search engine results page (SERP) shows 9 recipes in the top 10 results. This indicates Google thinks a recipe is best to answer the query. So, you should present your content as a recipe to give it the best chance of ranking.

If every result is a how-to guide then you should format your post as a ‘how-to’ guide too. If every result is tips and tricks then, you guessed it, produce something in that format.

When searching ‘what to pack for Namibia’, the top 10 results are articles by either tour operators, travel bloggers or travel specific publications such as Travel Africa.

Google featured snippet
Google SERP - Featured Snippet
In this case, Google has placed one of the pages as a featured snippet. They deem that page answers the query best. The result is a page from the parent FAQ page. Looking at the page (Namibia packing list), there isn’t loads of copy. It simply answers the query directly.
This result is a featured snippet because it meets the criteria:
  • The content uses bullet points – a format favoured by Google for featured snippet results
  • The page utilises Schema mark-up (structured data) which helps Google understand the content of a page
  • The domain authority of the website is good – this tells Google that the site is trustworthy and warrants a higher ranking
Taking a closer look and analysing ranking pages is the next step in getting your content on page 1 of Google.

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Analyse the competition: Content

The previous step provides an overview of the type of content that ranks. Next, you need to view the results, scrutinise them and consider how you can produce something better!

What’s ‘best’ can be subjective but when analysing what ranks on page 1 of Google there are several factors to consider.

Firstly, the content:

  1. Content angle
  2. Content length
  3. Points discussed
Content angle

Look at the page titles to understand more about the type of person searching for this. Are they an experienced traveller or a first-time traveller? What do they value? Are they looking for a quick read or something more in-depth?

For example, many of the pages ranking for “what to pack for Namibia” pitch a packing list, which may suggest people are looking for a quick read:

search engine results page
SERP - What to pack for Namibia
Content length
The key here is to look for similarities in the results. If every result is around 1200 words in length then it’s likely you will need to write at least 1200 words to provide the value that Google is looking for.
All things considered equal, to reach a word count does not mean your content will rank. What is essential when writing content is to provide value to the end-user. Write articles that provide practical value to your audience.

People don’t want generic content they want to read something that will be worth their while.
If your reader finishes the article thinking I am going to act on this now, then you have produced something worthwhile.
Points discussed
Next, you need to identify topics within the different results which keep coming up and make a note of them to discuss in your article.
In doing so, you find out what subjects Google associates with the search query and thus expects to find in other articles (your article).
Let’s look at the pages ranking for “what to pack for Namibia” and identify recurring themes.
  • Travel documents
  • Gadgets
  • Toiletries
  • Medicine
  • Clothing
  • Photography equipment
  • Money
Each of these topics is in one way or another mentioned in each of the top 6 ranking pages.
The number 1 ranking result (not the featured snippet earlier mentioned) covers this and more:
  • “what we packed for a 4-week trip in Namibia”
  • “what to pack when camping in Namibia”
  • “what to pack when travelling with kids…”
  • “what not pack to Namibia”
  • “Packing FAQs”
This website left no stone uncovered in answering the query “what to pack for Namibia” and have received a first-place ranking.
Check out the article at Full Suitcase.

Analyse the competition: SERP

To rank on page 1, or even better position 1, your article must be better than the thousands of other results.

You can write the most in-depth article, answering every possible question and still not gain the coveted position 1 ranking.

Disheartening, I know, but it’s a reality.

When ranking a web page, search engines don’t consider the “body text” (the main written content on the page) alone – oh no! They look to other factors…

200+ ranking factors to be precise. You cannot consider all 200+ ranking factors. A good SEO has a deep understanding of these ranking factors and is able to optimise a site accordingly.

In our analysis of the SERP, we will analyse 4 of these factors.

  • Domain rating (DR): this shows the strength of a website’s backlink profile. This is a number out of 100. The higher the better.
  • URL rating (UR): this shows the strength of a page’s link profile on a 100 point scale. Like domain rating except only for the individual URL (web page) not the domain.
  • Backlinks: Shows how many backlinks (links from other websites) are pointing to a URL.
  • Domains: Shows how many unique websites (domains) have at least one link to a URL.

Analysing these metrics gives an idea of how strong your URL & domain needs to be to compete with the results on page 1.

Below is the “what to pack for Namibia” SERP. Data provided by Ahrefs*

ahrefs serp result
Ahrefs SERP overview for "what to pack for Namibia"
Using this data you can compare your website’s DR, UR, backlinks & domain against the competing pages.
Based on the data:
  • If your website’s domain rating (DR) is below 30 it will be harder to rank for this term. As 8 out of 10 web pages shown have a DR of 30 or higher.
  • 4 out of 10 web pages have backlinks. So, it isn’t essential to have backlinks pointing to your web page to rank, however it would help your web page to rank.
  • The top result has 49 backlinks from 6 domains. This shows the importance of backlinks.
To get these metrics you will need (paid) tools such as Ahrefs or Moz.
If you don’t have either of these tools, you can use a free Moz tool – Free Domain Analysis, however you will not get a URL rating.
Now you know what you need to do to beat the competition!

How to write content that ranks: Final thoughts

Like anything worthwhile, writing content that ranks takes time.
Using our process, you can find content ideas and analyse the SERP to get your article on page 1 of Google.
Now, it’s over to you!
  1. Identify subject
  2. Turn an idea into content
  3. Analyse the competition
  4. Write!
Following a proven process to write content makes sense, and it certainly improves your chances of ranking. But it’s important to remember that things don’t always work out, even if you do everything “right.”
If you find your article isn’t getting organic traffic, you may need to acquire links through outreach to boost its position in the SERP. It may be that you have misjudged the intent or level of competition. Don’t be afraid to rewrite and republish.
TIPS for writing content that ranks

BONUS: 10 Tips for writing content that ranks!

1. Find a proven topic
Find a relevant topic with “traffic potential”. You can do this by following the steps under ‘identify subject’.
2. Analyse search intent
Search intent is the main goal a user has when typing into a search engine. Common types of search intent include informational, commercial, navigational and transactional.
Satisfying search intent is Google’s #1 goal. Google has to provide the results which best match the users search intent.
You want to take a look at the search intent for your keyword before you write a single word.
Look at the pages that already rank for that keyword and create a page that closely matches what you find on page 1. Why? Because these pages have passed Google’s user intent test.
3. Write an outline
As a result of your research, you will have identified subjects to include in your article. Use those findings to plan your article.
Using our example of what to pack for Namibia, it may look something like this:
  • Introduction
  • Clothing checklist
  • Accessories
  • What gadgets to pack
  • Weather in Namibia
  • Visa & requirements
4. Write a draft
Most of the best blog posts are written in an informal, conversational tone, so there’s no need to agonize over every word. Write as you speak. If you have someone in your team who is an excellent writer ask them to produce the article. You have followed the process and done the research but they have the knowledge and ability to write something great. Let them.
5. Finalise article
  • Does it flow?
  •  Is it easy to read? Use Hemingway to find complex sentences which you can then shorten and edit to read easier.
  • Correct spelling and grammatical errors! For this Grammarly is fantastic. It will highlight misplaced commas and sentences that don’t make sense.
  • Get feedback – you don’t want all that hard work to go to waste by not quite delivering an excellent article. Ask a friend or colleague to read over it and give their constructive feedback. 
6. Make your content aesthetical
A wall of text can be a massive turn off. One which may make visitors leave your page. So, break up your text with rich imagery and video.
Media should provide value to the user and help explain your point or at least have reference to what is being discussed.
7. Write a compelling meta title (title tag) and meta description
The title tag and meta description are very important for two reasons. 1 to help rank your content and 2 to encourage users to click through to your page when viewing search results.
You will want to include your keyword/article subject in your title tag. This tells users what your article is about. If it matches their search intent they will be more likely to click-through.
title tag & meta
Example of title tag & meta description
8. Other considerations…
· Support key points with data
· Make sure to answer ‘shoulder questions’ too not only the main question
· Name images with keywords. “keyword.jpg”. Use keywords in the alt text
· Use an image or video towards the top to get readers attention
· LSI (latent semantic indexing): LSI keywords are terms relating to the topic. The best way to explain this is with an example. If you were discussing safari you would mention game drives, walking safaris, Africa and wildlife.
· Use targeted keywords in headings.
9. Publish!
You have researched your idea, written it, re-written it, added rich imagery and optimised it for search engines. Now, it’s time to publish!
10. Share – you’ve put in the work now share it with the world!
Share your article across all your social media channels. Be sure to make the most engaging post so people want to click on it and read it. To boost it further you can use Facebook ads to reach a new audience. You can also promote it to your mailing list.
If you reference or promote another business/person in your article, reach out to them and let them know. They may link to it or share it via their social channels.

We hope you find this process helpful in ranking your content better in organic search! 🚀

If you try our process, we’d love to hear your feedback.

Have your own tips or process? Let us know below.

Helpful? Share with a friend (or two)! 😊

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