How to Write SEO Content That Ranks in 2023

Knowing how to create SEO content (the right way) separates the amateurs from the pros.

In this guide, I’ll show you my exact SEO content creation process step-by-step.

So if you want to rank #1 on Google, keep reading because exceptional powerful SEO content is the lead domino for getting more organic search traffic.

Let’s jump right in.

What is SEO Content?

Most people think of blog content when they hear “SEO content.” This is a common misconception. SEO content applies to any page targeting a specific keyword phrase.

That means “SEO content” applies to local pages, category pages, product pages, blog posts, and much more.

It’s important for me to make this distinction because creating effective SEO content isn’t always about writing 2,000-word articles.

More on this later, but for now, let me introduce you to my 80/20 rule.

The 80/20 Content Rule

I believe that 80% of your content should target a specific keyword phrase, and 20% of your content should be designed as link or share bait. The good news is that these two types of content don’t need to be mutually exclusive. Meaning, you can create keyword-targeted content that also acts as link bait.

The topic of linkbait is complex; I’ll save that for the next post. Today, I want to focus on how to create effective keyword-targeted content.

Let’s begin with a 30,000-foot view.

The SEO Content Process

The process of creating effective keyword-targeted content can be broken down into the following steps:

  1. Find your keywords
  2. Qualify your keywords
  3. Select a keyword (based on competitor analysis)
  4. Establish your search intent strategy
  5. Develop your content strategy
  6. Create your content
  7. Optimize your content
  8. Publish
  9. Repeat

These steps may seem basic on the surface, but many micro-steps and strategies go into each one. That’s what this guide is all about.

Let’s start with step #1 of the process.

Find Your Keywords

I’ve covered keyword research in great depth on my YouTube channel, so I won’t bore you here.

Start with this video, which shows you seven of my favorite ways to find keywords and content ideas:

Subscribe on YouTube

I recommend building a keyword database with at least 100 keywords, but more is better. The key point is to remember that this is nothing more than a rough keyword database. You will NOT be targeting every keyword you find because some may not be qualified and some may be too competitive.

With that said, let me show you how to qualify your keyword database.

Qualify Your Keywords

The most important action you can take for creating effective SEO content is to base your decisions on data. This is the most predictable way to get results. To “qualify” a keyword means to verify that the keyword is worth going after.

What makes a keyword “worth” going after? User signals.

I personally use five different methods to qualify keywords, and here they are:

1. Search Volume

Search volume from Google Keyword Planner is the most popular method for qualifying keywords.

It’s simple. The problem is that most people stop here. They make all their decisions based on how much or how little search volume a keyword gets. This is a mistake because many keywords may not have search volume, but they may be qualified in other ways.

2. Trends

I highly recommend you take advantage of Google Trends to see how your keywords are trending over time.

In the perfect world, you would only target keywords that are trending upward. This isn’t always possible. It’s also important to note that Google Trends is a supplementary tool for your keyword qualification process.

3. User Engagement

I know it’s probably annoying how much I talk about this, but it’s so valuable. While search volume is a great qualifier, user engagement is more widespread.

Just go to any forum or Facebook Group in your niche, Reddit, Quora, or ANYWHERE your potential audience gathers online. Find what topics generate the most views, comments, and engagement. These user signals are all qualifications.

For example, let’s say you wanted to target the keyword “creatine monohydrate.” You’ll have already established that it has search volume, but you want to qualify further. Simply copy the keyword phrase and leverage the search function on any website, such as Reddit.

You can also use Google to gauge user engagement around these topics quickly by using a simple search string such as “creatine monohydrate site:reddit.com.”

The main takeaway here is to look for user signals when search volume isn’t present.

4. Social Signals

While not every topic is “share-worthy” on social media, it’s still a great supplementary qualifier. Just go to BuzzSumo, enter your keyword (you may have to go broader to get a better analysis), and see if it has social signals/engagement.

5. Link Worthiness

Backlinks are one of the most important pieces of the SEO puzzle. That’s why you need to verify that your target keyword is link worthy.

Meaning, are other websites willing (and able) to link to your SEO content? In an ideal situation, you should prioritize keywords proven link-worthy.

So, how do you find that out?

Go to Ahrefs and enter your target keyword into the Keyword Explorer, scroll down, and look under the “Backlinks” section.

If the competitors have backlinks, then you know it’s a link-worthy keyword.

For keywords that are NOT link-worthy, you need to focus on growing your overall website authority. That’s possible through link bait development and other non-content-centric link acquisition tactics such as guest posting.

On the other side of the coin, if a keyword doesn’t seem to be link-worthy, that also implies that it isn’t very competitive. That means you likely won’t need many backlinks to rank.

This qualification process will narrow your keyword list and help you prioritize which ones will have the greatest impact. The next part of the process to tighten up the list even further involves analyzing the competitors.

Analyze the Competition

Knowing that a keyword has interest is critical, but you must also figure out whether your website is actually capable of ranking for it. That’s what a competitor analysis will help you accomplish.

The first step is to choose 10 prospective keywords. Then, pick one to begin your analysis.

Perform a 10-Second Analysis

The 10-second analysis is the best way to prioritize a list of keywords.

Here’s what you do:

  • Download the Ahrefs or Moz toolbar
  • Go to Google and enter your prospective keyword

Now, you’re going to scan the results quickly. So, how does a keyword “pass” this initial test?

Here are good signs you want to look for:

  • Low authority websites: Any page ranking with a DA or DR lower than 50 is a good sign.
  • YouTube videos: This is another good sign because YouTube pages usually aren’t content-rich.
  • Subdomains: Web 2.0s such as “https://coolwebsite.wordpress.com/ranking-page/” and “https://coolwebsite.blogspot.com/ranking-page/” are usually low authority and easy to beat.
  • Forum or Quora threads: These pages can be content-rich, but the information is unorganized. I consider it a good sign when I see these results.
  • Press releases, Ezine articles, eHow articles, Hubpages, etc.: Any general article website or press release website is a good sign.
  • Limited SERP features: Less SERP features means more SERP click-through rate for you (in most cases).
  • Google AdWords ads: If advertisers are willing to invest money into your prospective keyword, you know it has value.

Here are bad signs:

  • Super authoritative websites: If all the ranking pages are authoritative (DA or DR 70 +), then it’s a bad sign. This isn’t to say that you can’t beat authoritative websites. It’s just much harder, and it’ll likely take longer.
  • Excessive SERP features: As I mentioned above, your CTR will decrease if Google is serving many SERP features. It’s possible for your website to get into the SERP features, but it isn’t as predictable as traditional organic search rankings.

What do you do if a keyword doesn’t pass this initial test? Don’t delete the keyword from your list; just push it down the priority list because you could target it in the future when your website becomes more authoritative.

This process will help you quickly prioritize a large list of keywords. Now, you need to pick a keyword you want to target and move on to the next stage of the process.

Establish Your Search Intent Strategy

You’re probably sick of me talking about this at this point, but satisfying search intent is fundamental to your SEO success. The good news is that it’s easy to satisfy search intent.

All you need to do is analyze the rankings results for your target keyword.

search intent

If the majority of the results are blog posts, you know you need to create a blog post. If the majority of the results are product pages, then you know it would be wise to try to rank a product page.

Makes sense? Let Google show you what it’s looking for.

Model the ranking results and you’ll be good to go.

The main takeaway is that you need to avoid following the blanket advice that you should just write 2,000-word articles. What matters is satisfying search intent. Sure, more content is usually a good idea, but that doesn’t mean it needs to come in the form of a blog post.

The next part of this process is to develop your content strategy.

Develop Your Content Strategy

Developing an intelligent strategy is the most important part of this process.

My formula for beating the competitors is simple: create a page that’s substantially different and 10x better than what’s currently ranking. The “different” part of this strategy is critical. You’ll notice that pages that rank well in Google follow these principles.

That’s why I’m going to show you several ways to differentiate your content from your competitors. However, before we get into that, you must see what you’re facing. You must analyze your competitors to see what their strengths and weaknesses are. Do this before you even think about creating your own content, as it’s much easier.

I recommend creating a Google Doc or Word document for your analysis.

Here’s an example from my series How to Rank Higher on Google, Episode #1.

You’ll want to analyze a few key elements.

1. Media

Are your competitors using images, videos, or audio? If not, these are all strategic advantages for you. Do what they aren’t doing. Articles are easy to create, but creating other forms of media is more challenging. The more challenging something is, the less likely people are willing to do it.

2. Word Count

Remember that satisfying search intent is the most important action to take. However, in most cases, a higher word count is a good idea. Get an average word count for your top five competitors, and then double it. That’ll be your target word count. For example, if the average competitor has 1,500 words on its page, you should aim to create a 3,000-word content asset.

3. Readability

Can you make your content easier to read and digest? This is achieved with headings, short paragraphs, efficient writing, and multimedia.

Internet users are repulsed by blocks of text.

Another readability point you want to analyze is the simplicity of the content. Is their content written for the average person or is it written like a dissertation?

Simple and easy-to-read content performs better on all fronts.

Since the bulk of your audience is “average” in any given industry, you need to write to them, not to the experts in your industry. The only exception is if your target market is the experts within your field.

4. Site Design/UX

Some websites focus on monetization instead of UX. This is your advantage. Websites that perform well in organic search are usually user and content-centric.

You have to remember that searchers are coming to your website because they’re looking for a solution to a problem. It’s your responsibility to help them, not distract them from what their objective is. You’ll get the opportunity to sell them something if you give them the value they requested.

Now that you have a firm understanding of your competition, you need to figure out how you’re going to differentiate your content.

How to Differentiate Your Content

The good news is that it’s easy to differentiate content. Why?

It’s simple: your experience is unique and different from everyone else on this planet. No one has walked a day in your shoes. Good content is the product of real-life experience.

To put that into perspective, people are attracted to my content on GotchSEO.com because I have real-life experience in SEO, and that shows in my writing, in my videos, and in my teaching.

Real experience is obvious; you can’t fake it.

The main takeaway and mindset you need to have when you’re creating your content are that, 1) You are different, and 2) Since your experience is unique, just be yourself.

Don’t try to emulate other influencers in your industry (you can learn from them); always be yourself because that automatically makes your content different.

Now that my rant is complete, here are some practical ways to make your content different.

Use Unique Case Studies (with Quantitative Data)

Case studies and unique data are an excellent way to deepen your content. There are two ways to go about doing it. First, you can create your case studies, which is the best route. Alternatively, you can reference existing case studies or data from authoritative resources. Each method will strengthen your content and add another level to it.

This resource and this one give you plenty of third-party sources for finding unique data.

If you want to find niche relevant case studies, go to Google and enter the following search string: “YOUR NICHE + case study” (example: “SEO + case study”).

What if there aren’t case studies in your industry? That’s a golden opportunity for you to lead the way!

Case studies go hand-in-hand with my next differentiation method.

Inject Relevant Stories

Relevant stories make your content relatable and engaging. They’re also a powerful tool for teaching and persuading. You should build a story database. That means sitting down and brainstorming your experience in your industry. If you’re living, then you have stories; you just need to flush them out.

Here’s an example from this blog post:

What if you’re new to an industry and don’t have any relevant stories to share? No worries; a story is a story. That means you can borrow stories you’ve heard from friends, customers, competitors, or anyone else. Any relevant story can deepen your content and make it impactful.

Leverage All Media Types

I believe that the more media types you can add to your content, the better it’ll be. Everyone digests content differently online. Some people love articles while others love video or audio.

You need to cater to these preferences.

Not only that, but it makes your content deeper and unique. Most businesses won’t go through the effort of recording videos, creating audio, etc. It’s easy to sit behind a computer and write an article. It’s intimidating and logistically challenging to record high-quality videos and audio.

Don’t be afraid, because you can blow past your competitors if you leverage different media types. It’s tough initially, but it gets easier once you’ve built a system.

There’s one huge point that I want to emphasize here:

ALL of the content on your website should be 100% unique. That includes images, videos, charts, etc. This adds levels to your content and makes it substantially different from your competitors.

Some media types to use in your content including images, graphics, diagrams, charts, videos, audio files, GIFs, and infographics.

Now you know what you need to do to differentiate your content, but how do you make it BETTER than your competitors?

It’s actually much simpler than you think.

If you want to beat your competitors, simply do this:


For example, if your competitors are ranking with 2,000-word articles, then you need to 5x or 10x their value by creating a 10,000-word or 20,000-word resource.

If all the ranking results are tools or software, then you need to create a tool or piece of software that’s 10x more valuable than what’s ranking.

If all the ranking results are product or services pages, then you need to create a product or service that 10x more valuable.

You get the point. To be better, you have to be more valuable. It’s that simple.

Always ask yourself:

What can I do to enrich the lives of my prospects and add as much value as possible (given my existing time and resources)?

Now that you know how to make your content different AND better at a 30,000-foot level, let me introduce you to a few tactics.

HVC Method

This first tactic is what I coined the HVC Method. It stands for Hook, Value, CTA (Call-to-Action)

I use this tactic for 99.9% of all the content I create, and that applies to blog posts, sales pages or videos, Facebook posts, or literally any content I create online.

Subscribe for more.

The first element of the HVC method is Hook. The objective of the hook is to literally hook a prospect (if you can envision that in your mind) and pull him or her in. If done right, the prospect will actually consume your content.

The key element of an effective hook is the headline. Remember that ~80% of internet users won’t even read past the headline. That’s why you have to dedicate time to creating an effective one.

You should also be testing, improving, and optimizing the headline once your content is actually live.

H = Hook

So, here a few frameworks you can use to create effective hooks:

H & W Strategy

The H & W Strategy is my personal favorite. All you have to do is use one of the following words in your headline: “How,” “What,” “Why,” “When,” “Where,” or “Who.”

How to {Create | Learn | Build |Use |Leverage | Increase| Get | Do}…

What {are | is}?


Other Why combos

  • Why You Should ____
  • Why You Shouldn’t ____ (What to Do Instead)
  • Why You’re Not ____ (and What to Do about It)
  • Why This ____
  • Why That ____




{Number} {Simple |Basic | Easy | Quick | Fast | Best | Actionable} {Ways | Tips | Steps}

  • 7 Simple Ways to Get Better SEO Results

{Number} {Stats | Mistakes | Hacks | Secrets | Methods | Tactics | Lessons | Reasons | Rules | Resources}

  • 7 SEO Hacks That Worked!

{Number} {Famous | Outrageous | Most Important}

  • 7 Famous SEO Experts (And What You Can Learn from Them)

These {Number}

  • These 7 SEO Lies Will Kill Your Results

These are just a taste of the different frameworks you can use to “hook” your prospects.

V = Value

The next element of the HVC method is the “value” component. Take care of it by simply adding more value than your competitors add, as I showed earlier.

Your aim should be to add 10x more value than your competitors.

C = CTA (Call-to-Action)

The last element of the HVC strategy is CTA or Call-to-Action. Every piece of content you create online should have a CTA.

You should always ask for something, such as social share, a blog comment, for the reader to subscribe or follow you on social media, or in rare circumstances, you’ll ask them to buy.

This is where it’s important to understand sales funnels, but that’s a topic for another time!

So, now that you understand the HVC method, let me show some engagement “hacks” you can use to keep readers engaged and wanting more.

Engagement Hacks

The methods I’ve shown you so far are the high-impact actions that’ll keep your prospects engaged, but here are some additional micro tactics you should be using.

Write to an 8th Grader

I always say that you shouldn’t create your content for experts. Most people within any given industry are average. That means your content should be easy to read and understandable for the average person.

You’re not writing a dissertation.

Take advantage of the Flesch reading score metric so your content is easier to understand. I try to write at an 8th-grade level or lower.

Keep in mind that your content isn’t about displaying your knowledge. Design your content to help people achieve a goal or solve a problem. No one cares how smart you think are. People are only concerned about how you’re going to help them. Simplify complex problems and make your content EASY to understand.

Care About Grammar and Spelling

Do your best to clean up your grammar and spelling. Grammarly and Hemmingway Writer can help. You can also hire an editor if you have the budget.

Use Short Paragraphs

Big blocks of text go unread on the internet. Your paragraphs shouldn’t be more than 1-4 sentences. If you’re having trouble writing shorter paragraphs, then you probably need to cut the fat from your writing or simplify it.

Keep Your Content Above the Fold

Keeping your content above the fold is particularly important for organic search visitors. That’s because they came to your site looking for a solution to their problem, and you should attempt to give them a solution as soon as possible (without them having to scroll). Anything that pushes your content below the fold is usually a distraction and doesn’t add value to your reader.

Use Headings That Tell a Story

I learned this method from Frank Kern. Most internet users scan content before committing to reading it. That’s when headings come into play. A reader should be able to understand what your content is about by only reading your headings.

Use Pattern Interrupts

You have to use every tool at your disposal to keep your reader engaged. Multimedia, bullet points, numbered lists, influencer quotes (or quotes in general), gated content, quizzes/poll, etc. are all methods you can use to break your content up.

Eliminate Distractions

Most websites are rife with distractions that add little or no value to the user. Some of these distractions include your sidebar, ads, or irrelevant pop-ups. Respect your users’ attention. Give them what they came to see. Avoid anything that takes away from their problem being solved.

You have to remember that the experience a user has on your website is what makes him or she come back (or not come back). Short-term, conversion-focused thinking usually leads to a poor experience. Stay content and user-centric and your site’s experience will start to improve.

Now that you know all the strategies and tactics you can use to create effective SEO content, it’s time to create it.

Create Your Content

I recommend that you build a content production process even if you’re the only person creating. It’s important to establish a system early on because you’ll be able to scale faster when you start to add new members to your team. Here are the positions you need for effective content production:

  • Project Manager: A PM oversees the project and makes sure that everyone knows what’s going on.
  • Content Strategist: A CS is the mastermind behind the content strategy.
  • Copywriter: The copywriter writes the content.
  • Graphic Designer: The GD designs all custom graphics for the content (remember unique is better!).
  • Subject Matter Expert: The SME is the person that verifies the accuracy of the information.

You may occupy each of these positions early on in your company, and that’s okay. Here’s how a content product workflow works with these positions in place:

Stage 1: Create a content brief

A content brief is an overview of what you’re trying to achieve with the content asset. It’s also where you should strategize.

Some key points to include in the content brief are:

  • Your target keyword
  • Target word count
  • Competitor weaknesses (that you’ll capitalize on)
  • Differentiation techniques you’ll use
  • Data or research you’ll use
  • A content outline or anything that can help the copywriter to do his or her job better

Stage 2: Send the brief to your writer

Stage 3: Assign graphics to designer

Stage 4: Have subject matter expert review content (writing and graphics)

Stage 5: Complete all revisions

After you get through these stages, it’s time to optimize your content.


I’ll dedicate an entire guide to optimizing a single page on your website. The one thing to keep in mind is that it doesn’t matter how much you optimize your page if your content is garbage.

Focus on the content quality and then optimize it. The most important actions to optimize a page are:

  • Keyword placement: Your keyword should be in the URL, title tag, first sentence, and sprinkled a few times throughout the content.
  • Keyword variations: Use Google’s suggested results to find keyword variations to place within your content and in headings.
  • Page loading speed/mobile-friendliness: These are no brainers. Your page should load fast, and it should be mobile-friendly.
  • External links: Link out to trustworthy sources in your niche or in general (.edu, .gov, etc). This adds a level of trust to your content.

Keep in mind that your content production process will vary depending on the type of content. For example, creating a text-based asset requires a different process than creating a video or audio asset.

After you’ve optimized your content, you’re ready to publish. That’s it right? You just sit back and watch your rankings climb?

I wish 🙁

Creating an asset is only the first stage. You then need to promote your content assets. I’ll save that process for another post!

FREE Download: See 21 examples of perfect SEO content that you can model to rank #1 on Google.
Photo of author

Nathan Gotch

Nathan Gotch is an SEO professional with over 10 years of experience. He's the founder of the #1 SEO business training program in the world, Gotch SEO Academy. And the author of The SEO Entrepreneur. Nathan's SEO expertise is featured on Semrush, Ahrefs, and Search Engine Journal.