Content Marketing

9 Ways to Break Your SEO Writer’s Block

Contextual relevance greatly impacts organic search rankings. But relevance requires words, which are sometimes difficult to produce.

Contextual relevance greatly impacts organic search rankings. But relevance requires words, which are sometimes difficult to produce.

You have a topic to write about and a blank page. You also have writer’s block, that dreaded mental paralysis that accompanies a clean sheet of paper or empty Word doc. Now what?

Contextual relevance is one of the primary elements that determines search rankings — organic and paid. But relevance requires words, and words require inspiration.

As search engine marketers, we have access to many resources to help. Here are nine of my favorites.

9 Ways to Break SEO Writer’s Block

Research keywords. The first way to break writer’s block is to consult the foundational tool for SEO: keyword research. Since search queries reflect information that people want to know and products they want to buy, it’s a natural tool to consult when you’re not sure what to write next.

Start with the primary keyword phrase you’re targeting in your post and look for related phrases and questions that you can answer. Layer in long-tail keywords that represent fewer searches than the most popular terms. These can support the contextual relevance of your content, and create a more natural tone.

Search on Google. Content that ranks well is an excellent model for creating more content that ranks well. Look to manufacturers’ descriptions and competitors’ sites as jumping off points.

Never plagiarize, both because it’s illegal and the search engines will detect it easily and deflate your rankings anyway. But there’s no harm in using the content that others have written as inspiration for your own.

Mimic customers. If your products are in the marketplace, chances are that consumers have reviewed them, blogged about them, or mentioned them on social media. Take note of the way they describe things — the words they use and the attributes that matter to them.

Your company might use slick marketing phrases, but if no one is talking about those phrases, it may be because that language doesn’t resonate. How do shoppers talk about it? Mirror that language, at least to describe the slick phrases.

Solve a problem. Imagine what your target customers want. Then imagine how your product can fulfill that need. Consumers don’t initially want the product itself; they want the benefit that the product brings.

A shopper may want a high heel shoe because it elongates her legs and makes them look thinner. She wants a Bluetooth headset because she is tired of accidentally ripping ear buds out by the cord when she’s lifting weights at the gym. He wants a single cup of coffee quickly without spilling messy coffee grounds.

Make an outline. List the main points of your story, then turn those thoughts into sentences and paragraphs. It’s an excellent way to cover the critical points and then organize them in a coherent order.

Don’t think of an outline as the rigid device you were taught in school with Roman numerals and requisite indentations for each sub-thought (unless that helps). Rather, think of it as an evolving scratch pad that contains your rough content.

Start small. Sometimes it helps to simply get words on paper. Don’t worry about writing perfectly or even spelling correctly. Write one crummy sentence. Then congratulate yourself, have a cup of coffee, and set about fixing that sentence and elaborating on it.

A coworker of mine who is a writer reminds me to “Say it square, then say it with flair.” It’s a tenant of writing strong advertising copy that we can borrow for SEO. Write something and then optimize it for target keywords.

Apply your brand’s voice. If you’ve written in a purely descriptive tone, apply the voice and tone of your brand to augment the words.

Slick marketing phrases are not necessarily negative. On the contrary, your content must represent your brand well or it has no place on your site. However, to drive natural search performance, always balance the branding tendency of using abstract and fluffy terms with straightforward and precise language.

Use an SEO content editor. A few companies have developed tools that allow you to write your content while tracking the optimal length and keyword usage. (Searchmetrics Content Suite is a good example.) Essentially, the tools analyze the pages that are ranking in the top spots for a certain keyword, or based on a certain URL, and extract the text length and relevant words that they use to influence their rankings. Then they track how close your content is to those criteria as you write it.

But be careful with content editors. Use them to write brand-conscious, meaningful, and unique content — as opposed to inserting every recommended keyword. Don’t over-optimize. Create something that works for SEO and engages your target customers.

Consider a thought starter. Automatic content generators that take a phrase or URL and “write” a related piece of content are, in my experience, either thinly veiled plagiarism devices or they miss the mark entirely — or sometimes both. But they could help as thought starters for writing your own unique content. Remember my colleague’s maxim: “Say it square, then say it with flair.” Use the content generator to say it square. Then rewrite it.

Jill Kocher Brown
Jill Kocher Brown
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