I’ll cop to it: I’m a bit of a SEMrush superfan. Of all the SEO tools I’ve used for keyword research, site audits, and competitive analysis, SEMrush has always felt like the most comprehensive and usable platform for crafting a content marketing strategy and writing killer copy.
So when they announced their newest “TEXTension,” the SEMrush SEO Writing Assistant, I was stoked. The SEO Writing Assistant is a Google Docs add-on that essentially coaches you through the process of optimizing your content in real time, all from a convenient right-hand pane inside your working document. Think of it a bit like the Yoast SEO Plugin for WordPress, but for Google Docs — and with a heaping helping of keyword research.
I’ve been using the SEMrush SEO Writing Assistant for the past two weeks across a variety of content writing projects. I’ve used it for blog posts and internal pages on websites, for healthcare services and technology firms, and I’ve rendered my verdict: this extension rocks.
Here are three reasons why:
1. SEO Writing Assistant suggests keywords right in your document, with volume and difficulty on hover.
After you start your SEO Writing Assistant add-on, plug in a couple of keywords you’d like to target. SEMrush then loads related keywords right inside the extension pane, and when you hover over each, you’ll see its search volume and keyword difficulty.
This drastically streamlines my SEO content writing workflow. Before, I’d have to open up a new tab, run a SEMrush search, pull my favorite queries based on a combination of volume and difficulty, copy them into my doc for reference, then remind myself to work them into the content.
Now, the SEO Writing Assistant does all that work for me, and serves it up right in my content doc. What did we content marketers do to deserve this level of convenience?
2. SEO Writing Assistant grades (and gamifies) your content as you write it.
SEMrush knows their audience: content marketers are obsessed with metrics. Whether it’s social media shares, page traffic, SERP trends, click-through rates, Fitbit step counts, or cups of coffee (I’m up to, what, five today?), we live to hit our KPIs. And the SEO Writing Assistant has a few features that plug right into the reward system of a marketer’s brain and load it up with dopamine — in real time:
- Readability level
- Word count
- Overall SEO score
SEMrush grades your content readability against that of your top 10 competitors, giving you a score to aim for. It also suggests an ideal word count based on that competitive analysis. For example, at this point in my draft, my readability score is in the green, and I have plenty of words to go:
The overall SEO score takes readability, word count, and keyword density into account, then grades you on a scale of one to ten as you write. That’s where the fun comes in — you can watch your scores tick up with each sentence, and everything you need to improve your search engine optimization efforts is at your fingertips. For example…
3. You can download an SEO Content Template for customized optimization tips.
At the bottom of the SEO Writing Assistant pane is a link inviting you to “Download original SEO Content Template.” Click it, and you’ll receive a Word document full of bespoke content writing and link building advice based on your keywords, competitors, and topic.
Now, the SEMrush SEO Content Template isn’t new, but I’ll confess to having mostly ignored it before the introduction of the SEO Writing Assistant. The Google Docs extension makes this feature more accessible by providing fast access through the easy-to-use add-on — as soon as you input your initial target keywords, SEO Writing Assistant generates the template for you.
From there, it’s like having your own SEO consultant feeding you data-backed ideas for optimizing your content (while spying on the competition).
3 Features and Updates I’d Like to See From SEMrush
While I’ve spent the past two weeks spamming my team’s Google Hangouts chat with screenshots and breathless adulation for the SEMrush SEO Writing Assistant, no brand new application is ever perfect. I expect that as SEMrush receives feedback from other content writers, they’ll do what they usually do — iterate the product into something even more awesome. Here are my suggestions:
1. Allow writers to edit the SEO Content Template after starting the add-on.
When I first tried out the SEO Writing Assistant, I loaded up my template with too many keywords. Rookie mistake! I couldn’t hit every possible variation of the phrase I was targeting, and my overall SEO score reflected that. (While the score is just an estimate based on parameters you set and should be taken with a grain of salt, it stands repeating: marketers really love their metrics.)
Right now, there’s no easy way to remove, add, or change keyword targets. You also can’t attach a new template to a document — you have to duplicate your doc and restart the add-on. Again, the net convenience of accessing so many SEO tools from within your open document outweighs the minor annoyance of having to dupe out your post to restart the template, but avoiding this workaround would be ideal.
2. Resolve bugs that fail to identify keywords with hyphens.
The other day, I noticed that no matter how many times I used a particular keyword, SEO Writing Assistant failed to highlight it in the add-on pane. The template identified every other keyword without an issue, but seemed to get hung up on the only hyphenated term. To test my hypothesis, I fired up a new document and configured the template to target a variety of hyphenated keywords. Sure enough, none turned green as I used the terms.
For now, there’s a simple workaround: if you’re targeting a hyphenated query, don’t include the hyphen in the template. If you’re optimizing for “long-term planning,” for example, you can tell SEO Writing Assistant to identify “long term planning,” and the term will still light up if you use the hyphenated version in your writing. Easy-peasy.
With that said, if you forget this workaround and accidentally include hyphens in your template, you’ll still have to duplicate your document and restart the add-on because of the aforementioned inability to edit a template after the fact.
3. Grade based on more under-the-hood factors, like heading usage and meta descriptions.
Right now, the SEO Writing Assistant provides a quick-and-dirty assessment of your SEO best practices by grading based on readability, word count, keyword usage in body text, and keyword usage in your document title. These features alone make the add-on well worth downloading, but it would be fantastic if SEMrush added more ranking factors to the extension.
For example, the current iteration of SEO Writing Assistant can identify when you’re using keywords in text formatted as a document title. It seems possible, then, that the add-on could also notice when you’re using other formatting styles in Google Docs, like headings 2 and 3. SEO Writing Assistant could weigh keyword usage in these subheads as part of the overall score.
For even more usefulness, SEMrush could take another page from the Yoast SEO Plugin for WordPress, which includes a graded Snippet Editor. While the SEMrush SEO Content Template suggests best practices like writing a keyword-optimized meta description of 230 characters in length and a 55-character title, it would be amazing to include this metadata as part of the overall SEO score.
I could see functionality like this being especially useful for content marketers just learning the ropes when it comes to SEO, or small businesses who aren’t quite ready to invest in digital marketing services and want to take a DIY approach.
SEO Writing Assistant: A No-Brainer for Current SEMrush Users
If you’re already a SEMrush user, SEO Writing Assistant comes at no additional cost — just download the “TEXTension,” sign into your account, and get the search optimization started. With so little risk or barrier to entry, I thoroughly recommend giving it a try. After two weeks of using this add-on, I don’t have the data to prove it makes a huge difference in organic search traffic, but I can say that it’s streamlining my content writing workflow and adding a delightful layer of gamification to my SEO efforts!
Have you been using SEO Writing Assistant? Has it been helping your content marketing efforts? Let us know what you think by tweeting us @MilesTech!
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