My social media profiles read that I went from making a living waiting tables to making a living blogging. That's the CliffsNotes version.
I waited tables in 2011 when Sugar & Cloth was just a side hustle. It wasn't until three years later, in 2014, that the blog was able to become my full-time hustle. Fast-forward to today, and that blog sustains my family and a team of contributors. So, can you make money blogging? Yes! There are many ways to monetize your blog, but that's only true if your content is SEO-friendly.
What is SEO and why is SEO writing so important?
SEO stands for search engine optimization, which is the process of implementing best practices for web content to enhance its relevance to searchers. The better your writing matches what people are searching for, the higher the URL housing that writing is likely to rank in search results. Studies show that search results on the first page get 28% more clicks. Optimizing your site is the only thing you can do to organically improve your search ranking.
The saying "slow and steady wins the race" applies to SEO. Now that we write with SEO in mind, organic traffic to Sugar & Cloth results in more than 50% of our traffic referrals.
What makes for good SEO writing?
Search engine algorithms are complex and constantly changing. This means there isn't an exact formula to follow writing for SEO. It also means it's unclear how much difference quality writing makes on its own, but we do know that writing (and other content) is key to capturing clicks from the search engine results page (SERP), and click-throughs are part of the magic math that shuffles the ranks of your URLs.
SERP rankings aren't fixed; instead, they're arrived at by measuring several factors:
- Searching meaning. What are the terms the searcher is using and what is the intent behind the search? Search engines build language models to understand how we search so they can serve the most relevant content.
- Content relevance. Your content is deemed relevant to a searcher through signals—keywords in your writing, your metadata, etc.
- Content quality. Knowing if a search engine considers your content authoritative is tough, but strong internal and external linking schemes are key indicators, as well as how long visitors tend to stay on the URL and how deeply they explore your site after landing there from a specific query.
- Webpage usability. Is the navigation of your site easy to understand? Is your content easy to find and read? Do your URLs display well across different platforms and browsers? All of these factors contribute to a URL's usability.
- Context and settlings. SERP results are different based on the user who is searching, including whether they're logged in to the search engine in question, their search history, their location, their cookie settings, and more.
Helpful tools for SEO writing
Now that you know what the search engines look for, you'll need the tools of the trade for ensuring you're following SEO writing best practices. I highly recommend using a suite of tools; the search algorithms are always changing so it's beneficial to have resources that are up to date with the latest SEO changes.
There are many SEO tools, but I've found that you'll be best served if you use search engine-provided site performance monitors (such as Google Search Console), keyword research tools (there are several free and paid options), an SEO audit tool that can keep tabs on the overall health of your SEO strategy as well as drill down page by page, and CMS-based plugins that can streamline your backend SEO implementation.
How to do SEO writing, step by step
Step 1: Research and choose target keywords.
Every blog post you write should have target keywords—at least one primary keyword and a handful of secondary keywords—that are included naturally in your text and metadata. These are selected via keyword research: looking up the average monthly search volume of a list of potential target keywords.
This is why I highly recommend a keyword planner to assist with your keyword research because you are going to need to know all the possible keywords or phrases that make sense for your content. Choosing something too broad is unhelpful, while choosing something too narrow is equally faulty.
For example, when we decided to publish a gift guide for girls, KWFinder showed us that people were searching online using the words "gifts for girls," "gift ideas for girls," and "best gift for girls."
We used the data to assess the search volume trend, the level of competition, and the keyword difficulty to rank.
We ultimately decided to go with the keyword "gifts for girls." With over 336,000 search quiries, our competition to rank would be insanely high. However, Sugar & Cloth is a niche site for gift guides. If we could write an keyword-rich article, then we knew that the gamble would pay off, and indeed, it did! Our gifts for girls post continues to be the most-viewed page and biggest traffic referral to our blog.
Step 2: Create an outline
Posts that are easy to read result in more engagement and returning visitors—all factors to the search engine ranking. To help organize your thoughts (and strategize keyword use), create an outline to structure your posts.
Also, organize your writing using H2 and H3 subheadings that answer common user questions pertaining to your topic.
Step 3: Write and optimize your post
Once you've selected your keyword set, your post should be written with those terms in mind. Utilize the keyword and its keyword phrases within your title, subheadings, body, tags, and meta description (we'll get to more of that later).
However, beware of keyword stuffing. Search engines will penalize your post if you overuse your keyword. This is a nonissue, though, if you always remember to write naturally and for a human reader, not the algorithm.
Because people tend to quickly skim through text, we prefer to write short paragraphs with short sentences (no more than 20 words) that are scannable. We limit our paragraphs to one to two sentences each because the majority of our traffic now comes from mobile users (a trend many blogs are seeing). Paragraphs will appear a lot lengthier on a mobile device than a desktop device, so this approach works for us. However, this isn't a hard-and-fast rule. If your readers tend to be on desktop browsers and are engaging with long-form content, ensure you have breadth and depth they can enjoy too!
The ideal post length varies, but the most informative posts tend to contain between 1,000 and 2,000 words. This length gives you plenty of space to cover your topic without exhausting your reader.
Just remember: The content itself is king. You do not want to write for the sake of having something to publish. Search engines are analyzing how robust your content is—and, more importantly, so are your visitors.
Step 4: Incorporate images and videos
Humans are visual—and the Internet is a visual medium—so make your posts pop with original and engaging images, videos, and infographics.
Using images is also a great way to break up your text.
Visuals further assist with narrating your story and supporting your topic. And sometimes an image can be faster than words to convey your message.
Images are especially crucial for Sugar & Cloth when we are trying to explain a complex DIY tutorial or recipe. Remember the better the user experience, the better the ranking!
And don't worry – you don't have to do everything yourself. Start with beautiful, professionally designed social media and video templates from Microsoft Create and then layer in your own images and video clips to make them your own.
Step 5: Include high-quality links
Providing links to other pages within your blog and website (internal links) and links to other sites (external links) helps search engines crawl your content, but it may also help boost your authority in the eyes of the algorithm.
External links that point into your site are also referred to as backlinks, and they should come from high-quality, trusted resources that are related to your post.
No matter how much search engine algorithms have changed, links have always remained a top ranking element.
Step 6: Don't neglect your backend SEO writing
Don't forget that writing that isn't in the body of your blog posts is also vital to your SEO writing approach. This includes all of your metadata and image ALT text.
The backend copy should always be short and straightforward. One of the most important backend SEO writing is your meta description. The meta description summarizes your blog post. It might be used in the search results, so it could be the first thing a potential visitor sees, meaning it can be the deciding factor on whether a reader decides to click on your page. Keep it catchy and informative, use your keywords, and have a call to action.
Here is an example of the meta description for our foolproof macarons that ranks third for "foolproof macarons recipes."
It is also important to write SEO-rich text for your media.
How does traffic equate to money?
To monetize your blog traffic, make sure to join an advertising network to generate income through advertising. There are many different platforms to choose from, such as Google AdSense (who we started with) and Mediavine (who we grew into), and they all cost NOTHING!
Ad programs display ads that are relevant to your site and to your visitors (and their browsing history). Bloggers are then paid per click (PPC) or per impression (PPV), which is how many times the ad is viewed.
Once you set up your ad displays, your revenue becomes 100% passive income!
The key is this: once you bring traffic to your site, your job isn't done. Turn your anonymous visitors into warm leads by encouraging visitors to fill out a form or subscribe to your newsletter in exchange for exclusive information.
As we mentioned before, our gift for girls article is our top performing page. It was published in 2020 and continues to bring in revenue every day to this day.
Follow these steps, and you will see how writing for SEO can monetize your blog. And keep in mind that even though you may have already launched your site, it's never too late to start optimizing your blog now to make money!