Free Account
  1. SEJ
  2.  » 
  3. Careers & Education

The Surprising Secret of Successful SEOs

If an SEO works on improving in this one area, I think that he or she can dramatically improve his or her skill as an SEO.

The Surprising Secret of Successful SEOs

I’ve always been curious about what makes a “good SEO.” I’ve seen a lot of highly competent SEOs. They know their stuff inside and out. Some of them are deep and highly specialized in a narrow niche. Others are broad, able to create far-reaching strategies for search success.

There is one salient characteristic, however, that I’ve observed in many successful SEOs. I’ve come to see this feature as a mark of some of the most creative and forward-thinking SEOs.

If an SEO works on improving in this one area, I think that he or she can dramatically improve his or her skill as an SEO.

What is the Surprising Secret of Successful SEOs?

Answer: They know great content.

The sign of a high-quality SEO is one who understands and possesses a knack for great content writing.

Think about it. Much of SEO revolves around content. For this reason, SEOs immerse themselves in a world of content.

Continue Reading Below

SEO is all about the content.

Consider each of these elements:

  • Keywords – All of SEO goes back to keywords. Without keywords, there’s no such thing as SEO.
  • Queries – Queries, unlike keywords, are what users use to find websites and content. Every single user search involves words, spoken or typed, and they drive the entire world of search.
  • Titles – The single most important on-page SEO element is this: Titles. And from what are titles formed? Words. Copy.
  • URLs – URLs have come a long way from their garbled code-like origins. Today’s best URLs are clean, simple, and made out of words.
  • Headings – One of SEO’s most notable powerhouses are the page headings. Far from being mere stylistic panache, those H1s, H2s, and H3s are what make for highly optimized pages.
  • Meta Descriptions – Even though they allegedly have no algorithmic value, meta descriptions nonetheless possess incredible value for the kind of search that truly matters — users reading copy. Yes, metas matter to SEO.
  • Links – Inbound links are what turn nice websites into traffic-deluged sites. Never underestimate the power of a link. What are most links formed out of? They are formed out of words — one set of words pointing to another set of words, joined by a URL (made out of words).
  • Anchor Text – Anchor text is a significant part of what makes a good (or bad) link. What’s the core of an anchor text? It’s text — words.
  • Quality Content – It is widely known that Google judges websites based on their content quality. Quality is all about the writing.
  • Copy – Last but definitely not least, we have copy. What are websites made out of? Yes, there is underlying source code. Yes, there is a development genius. Yes, there is graphic design power. But what do users see? What do their minds interact with? It’s copy — words, sentences, paragraphs, articles, stories, information.

Since SEO is largely built upon the foundation of content, it logically follows that a great SEO will be familiar with great content.

Many SEOs Grew From the Field of Content Writing

I used to wonder where all SEOs came from. What industries were they involved in before becoming SEOs? What skills were they trained in?

I soon found out that many SEOs came from the marketing field. More specifically, many of them were born of copywriting positions. Some were freelance copywriters. Others created ad copy. Some were hired to write articles. Others simply had a knack for writing great stuff.

Many of them had writing skills. Others who merged into the SEO field from, say, development or programming, also possessed a penchant for writing and interacting with content.

Continue Reading Below

SEOs Don’t Have to be Great Writers. But They at Least Know Great Writing.

I want to introduce a disclaimer at this point.

You can probably think of many exceptions. You probably know an SEO who can’t create a sentence to save their life. Or maybe, you’re aware of an SEO who never touches content. Instead, they only work on the technical side of things, jiggering robots.txt, configuring schema markup, and validating HTML codes.

I get that.

It’s true that there are legions of exceptions to the SEO-as-writer rule. By and large, however, a good SEO will at least know the value of good writing. For example, I work with skilled SEOs who are not fluent in the language of the sites they are optimizing. Still, however, the principle holds true — great SEOs know great content.

That’s the benchmark — knowledge of good content, not necessarily the practice of writing great content. Honestly, most of the really top-notch SEOs can push out some pretty sweet content, but such a skill is not requisite for the trade.

Rand Fishkin, founder of Moz, is one of the world’s most well-known SEOs.


Rand sharpened his teeth by posting copiously on SEO forums. He went on to write books and dozens of articles. The guy knows content. And SEO.

Another notable SEO is Danny Sullivan. Sullivan messed around with graphic design, but his real skill was in content. He worked as a reporter for the L.A. Times and Orange County Register. Along the way, he was developing as one of the most knowledgeable SEOs in the world. Not surprisingly, he’s also an amazing writer. Sullivan is the founder of Search Engine Land and regularly writes for the site. “Writer” or “editor” is all over his resume. Plus, the guy regularly posts uber-readable content on his personal blog.

Continue Reading Below

Many SEOs know the name “Barry Schwartz,” and drink from the daily fountain of Search Engine Land and Search Engine Roundtable. Barry is the guy behind it all. Undoubtedly, he knows his SEO, and he produces highly read content.


The most well-known SEOs — the ones whom you read, follow, and retweet — are great writers.

But perhaps some of the world’s best SEOs are those you’ve never heard of. They’re working in agencies, pounding out awesome work for the world’s highest-ranked websites. Or, they own their own companies, and are unleashing their SEO wizardry, probably outranking everyone else.

Continue Reading Below

The chances are pretty good that they know content. They optimize their titles. They create content. They do content marketing.

SEO and Writers Have a Lot in Common

When you think about it, SEO and writing have quite a bit of overlap.

  • SEO is about reading subtle signals and cues. Writers know how to intuit signals and cues in people and contexts.
  • SEO requires keeping up with changes and updates. Writers are constant learners.
  • SEO is largely about user experience. A writer is focused on shaping that user experience.
  • SEO requires adherence to rules and standards. Writers are skilled in following rules and standards.
  • SEO requires creativity. Writers are creative thinkers.

Exceptions abound, but many of the greats in SEO have the companion skill of being good at content — writing it, critiquing it, producing it, analyzing it, and consuming it.

Four Ways to Become a Better SEO and Copywriter

I’m convinced that if you improve your writing skills, you will also improve your SEO skills. Why? Because the two go hand-in-hand. Here are some suggestions for growing your writing ability.

1. Read More

Read what the best SEOs have to say. Read the best quality sites on SEO and content marketing.

Continue Reading Below

When you read good stuff, you gradually learn how to write good stuff. At the very least, you can recognize good stuff when you see it.

There is a definite difference between poor-quality content and high-quality content that goes beyond mere spelling and grammatical issues. When you can discern the good from the bad, you will grow your own ability to put the best of best on your own or clients’ sites.

2. Write Headlines

Headlines are the perfect training ground for developing one’s writing ability. Headlines are the hook that compel readers to engage with your content.

A headline isn’t long — ten to thirty words at most. That’s why it’s a great approach for improving your content ability. It doesn’t take long to write, but it has a major impact on your search performance.

3. Make Recommendations

Use your SEO knowledge to make content recommendations. When you see the integral connection between content and SEO, you begin to sharpen your strategic insights.

Continue Reading Below

For example, you’ll be able to make recommendations regarding:

  • Homepage copy length
  • Meta descriptions
  • Headlines
  • Title tags
  • Anchor text
  • Keyword presence in articles

And so much more. Simply knowing content makes you a better SEO.

4. Keep a Blog

One of the most powerful things you can do as an SEO is to keep your own blog. In addition to the advantages of personal branding, you’ll evolve as a great writer.

If you don’t have a personal blog, that’s not a huge problem. It’s easy to start one, or you can develop a circuit of guest-posting on other notable industry blogs.


We are in the age of the content marketing SEO. Today’s SEOs have to be invested in content in order to be truly successful.

It’s hard not to use your content skills. When you are in possession of content writing ability, you can write sizzling hot copy, unleash powerful content marketing campaigns, produce viral articles, weave together perfect organic longtail pages, and make your business successful. It simply requires a passionate excitement about content plus SEO.

Continue Reading Below

SEOs may not be doing all the writing themselves, but they recognize its value, maximize its potential, and prove its worth.

What do you think? Is knowledge of content a mark of successful SEOs?


Featured Image: Rawpixel via Shutterstock


Subscribe to SEJ

Get our daily newsletter from SEJ's Founder Loren Baker about the latest news in the industry!

Topic(s) of Interest*
By clicking the "SUBSCRIBE" button, I agree and accept the content agreement and privacy policy of Search Engine Journal.

Neil Patel

Neil Patel is the co-founder of KISSmetrics, an analytics provider that helps companies make better business decisions. Neil also blogs ... [Read full bio]

Read the Next Article
Read the Next