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How to use Surfer SEO: Tips from the people who built it

What is Surfer SEO?

Surfer SEO, or simply Surfer as we like to call it, enables writers, content managers and agencies to scale their content efforts, automate their SEO workflow and rank higher and faster than ever before. 

Our goal is to make SEO (search engine optimization) accessible, measurable and profitable for small businesses, freelancers, and large companies alike.

The key to SEO analysis is understanding the nuanced ranking factors that Google and other search engines take into consideration.

It's more than word count, or keyword density. It's more than writing an entertaining blog post that people will love. And yes, it's also more than acquiring a backlink, understanding search intent or identifying your target keyword.

With Surfer, there is a big focus on combining keyword research, creating quality and legible content that users, and search engines will love, post-publishing optimization (like internal linking) into one, smooth process.

We all know that if you want to see your page have success with search engines such as Google, the optimization doesn't stop once you hit 'publish'.

Surfer is an all-around content intelligence platform that constantly checks thousands of data points, analyzes its findings, and prioritizes tasks for the user based on the potential impact.

Why do people love SurferSEO?

Take a look at what some folks have to say about Surfer! In the SEO Surfers Facebook group, people share their wins, gets answers to their questions and interact with the community!

Create a Content Strategy in Minutes

Surfer makes creating a content strategy simple and straightforward. The ability to streamline the content strategy process saves content marketing teams time, energy and resources.

Content creation starts with the planning stage, and Surfer's Research Tool is where you should begin.

How to use Surfer's Keyword Research Tool to create a content strategy:

Keyword Research is one of the SEO tools you'll use once, and wonder how you ever lived without it!

Imagine creating a blog for your e-commerce shop... There are thousands of article ideas waiting for you! But, how do you pick the best one? What are the factors worth taking into account? How do you pick those which will help you gain topical authority, and as a result, rank high for keywords you want to rank for?

Well, with Keyword Research you can just start with your main keyword (for example "wedding" if you are selling things related to organizing weddings). 

It allows you to create an entire content plan with one click. It factors in the volume of organic traffic you can get by writing within a specific topic cluster. Another benefit to Surfer’s Keyword Research is that it factors in search intent which will help you choose the most relevant cluster according to your niche. 

Search intent is important as it’s your job to meet the buyer at the place of their journey. If someone is looking for information, and you’re trying to sell them something, that causes friction in the process. 

Apart from standard keyword research, using Surfer's Keyword Research will show you secondary keyword opportunities, help you build topical relevance for your domain, and quickly and easily reference keyword difficulty and relative difficulty before diving into a new post.

When you choose the topic cluster that you want to write about, you can then open a Content Editor directly from the Keyword Research page and start writing! 

What is keyword difficulty? 

Keyword difficulty is an essential metric that measures the amount of effort it would take for your content to rank on the first page of Google. It matters because being visible and occupying prime real estate on Google’s SERP is the goal if you want to reach your target audience. 

How do you know how difficult a keyword is? Well, luckily Surfer will tell you, but there are a few factors that are taken into account such as search intent, competitors, domain authority, backlinks and overall quality of the content. 

Keyword difficulty goes beyond search volume which refers more to the number of search queries. It’s important to be strategic and precise when trying to rank for a specific keyword. 

Not only can you use Surfer’s Keyword Research to check out keyword difficulty, you can also get an idea of relative keyword difficulty! This refers specifically to a metric which tells you how hard it’ll be to rank for a specific keyword on your domain. 

When you connect Surfer to your GSC, you’ll get insights not just on keyword difficulty, but also relative keyword difficulty based on your domain strength.

You can easily launch a couple month's worth of content with one Keyword Research query using your seed keyword. Build your money page, and your supporting pages in a click!

How to use Surfer's Content Editor

To set up Content Editor,

  1. Enter between 1-5 primary keywords
  2. Select your country and device preferences
  3. Click the Create button

Hot Tip: We recommend keeping Surfer’s default crawler choice of mobile, as Google maintains a mobile-first indexing policy. You may switch to desktop if you prefer, however. You have a choice!

Most of the time you're ready to start writing straightaway! However, you can always customize your guidelines by clicking on the “Customize” cog, top-right above your guidelines.

Organic Competitors are the top-10 (can be expanded to top-20) pages that rank for the main keywords on the SERP location chosen. The competitors selected will have a direct influence on your guidelines!

Surfer will automatically select the top-5 pages with the highest Content Score. 

Surfer requires a minimum of 3 unique domains to select from in the Organic Competitors list. If there are less than 3 unique domains available, reach out to our Support team to have the credit restored, and create a new Content Editor using different (likely less specific) keywords.

Other sections worth reviewing are Content Structure, and Terms. 

Hot Tip: Be careful when adjusting the recommended ranges given in Content Structure. The more you change it, the more difficult it will be to get a high Content Score. This is because as you align with the custom ranges, you’ll be straying away from what Surfer says is optimal!

You can manually include and exclude recommended terms to use (keywords) in the Terms section. The list is hierarchical, with the most important keywords (for SEO) at the top. Oh! Don’t forget: you may also manually include keywords you want included in your guidelines by clicking the ellipsis button on the far right of the section.

The article’s level of optimization is simply communicated at a glance by the  Content Score! This is a live-updating figure that considers many different factors that can be summarized by the following categories:

6. Aim for a score in the green (>68). Beware of number chasing once you meet this minimum standard, however.

Hot Tip:  your time will be better spent writing several optimized articles, then getting a score of 100 on a single article.

  1. There are several ways to share access to an individual Content Editor - even with individuals without a Surfer subscription!

    A shareable link can be generated by clicking on the purple share button. You must generate a link through this button; copying and pasting the URL at the top of your page won’t work. 

Hot Tip: You should set up the Content Editor (through the Customize cog) prior to giving out the shareable link, as users with this link will not be able to adjust any settings themselves.

You may also download a Chrome browser add-on which allows you to apply Surfer’s guidelines to a GoogleDoc.

If you use WordPress, you can directly export from Surfer using our integration

How to use Surfer AI 

To begin crafting articles with Surfer AI, navigate to Surfer Content Editor and choose the Write with AI tab.

Select your target keywords

The initial step involves defining your primary keywords or main topic for your article. If you're uncertain about which keyword to use, leverage Surfer’s keyword research tool. Follow these steps to begin writing your article

  1. Enter 1-5 primary keywords
  2. Choose your target country and device
  3. Hit the Create button

The Content Editor window will appear, prompting you to select settings within the panel.

A new 4 part window will walk you through the settings to choose for your article before it is written by Surfer AI. Your chosen keyword and geography will be on top.

Select your content format

Surfer AI will offer you three options to choose from. 

Blog Post

Select this if you would like your content to be generated in a blog post format. 

Product Roundup

Select this option if your article is a listicle on tools or products. For example, if you’re writing an article on “best books to learn about investing,” you may want to select a few and leave the rest for Surfer to pick up from analyzing the SERPs.

Single Product Review

Use this template if you want Surfer AI to write a review about something. 

Select your tone of voice

Use the dropdown menu to select a voice that best suits your content. This instructs Surfer AI to stick with your brand’s tone of voice while creating your blog post. Alternatively, leaving the selection on Auto allows Surfer AI to mimic the top SERP pages in terms of voice and tone.

Edit your outline

In the next step, Surfer AI will generate an article outline that you can adjust to incorporate your specific points and guide the article's structure. To modify the outline, mark the checkbox as illustrated.

Confirm organic competitors

This feature enables you to pick the top-ranking pages for your keyword that you aim to compete against with your article. While Surfer's algorithm already picks out the most relevant blog posts, you have the final say.

A minimum of 5 organic competitors is suggested.

Avoiding AI content detection

Our advice is to keep this feature deactivated, given that Google is equally accepting of AI and human content, provided the articles deliver value. Plus, detection tools that are frequently incorrect undermine the utility of concealing AI-generated content.

Click on the Create outline button at the bottom when you're happy with your settings.

This instructs Surfer AI to produce your article's outline, that you will be allowed to edit prior to the final article. In a few minutes you will be presented with a screen featuring an outline for your topic.

Examine the AI-produced outline and modify your article's headers until it meets your needs.

Generate a draft

Once ready, press the Let's write button. Surfer AI’s algorithm will take into account your preferences, combining them with insights about your target topic to produce SEO-optimized content for your blog post.

And there you have it. Your article should be ready within 10-15 minutes.

Shortly, you'll see a fully optimized article, that includes your chosen headers, highlights, a summary and FAQs to enhance your chances in the People Also Ask section of Google's search results.

Surfer AI wrote 1928 words within the suggested 1900-2185 words range, earning a content score of 93 in Content Editor. 

All in about 20 minutes. 

What is Surfer Outline Builder + How to Use It:

We can all agree that creating a comprehensive outline is the first step towards organizing your article. Great outlines  lead to high-ranking content, and if you don’t believe us, here’s an article which will tell you exactly why!

Surfer's AI Outline Builder

Surfer’s AI outline builder will allow you to add relevant H1 headings and AI-generated paragraphs to your article in a click. You can pick and choose which sections you find the most relevant to ensure that your article is cohesive and smooth. 

You can count on:

  • subheadings which are nested under headings to help you keep the logical structure
  • pasting only the heading or paragraph instead of the whole section (options!) 
  • smoother UI and clearer labeling (Titles, Headings, and Subheadings)
  • content is based on selected relevant competitors.

What is NLP (Natural Language Processing) and how does Surfer use it?

During the BERT algorithm update, Google introduced a machine learning component in order to better understand all of the content which appears on the SERP.
Their use of NLP helps them to distinguish and reward good content.

BERT analyzes the context, entities, sentiment and overall meaning of the page. The idea is to help the search engine understand the search intent behind the user's query and provide the relevant content or direct answers. 

Surfer uses NLP, for example, to create natural sounding, highly-rankable keyword suggestions.

NLP-powered entities are also included in the Audit.

They're located in the True Density section where relevant phrases and words that have been labeled by Google as NLP entities are kept. They're labeled with an NLP icon!

Why does NLP matter? 

NLP's job is to select and evaluate the entities. 

Entity is a word or phrase that represents an object which can be identified, classified, and categorized.

Objects are persons, consumer goods, events, numbers, or organizations.
Since Google distinguishes those entities, the search engine utilizes information to satisfy the user and provide better search results.

By using NLP entities (a.k.a keywords), you can increase the quality of your content, provide exactly what Google is looking for, and – as a result – climb the SERPs! 
NLP is a very complex concept. As an SEO specialist, you don't need to be a machine learning expert to use available tools to enhance the SEO methodology. Let the search engines' tools do the hard work for you.

Pixabay integration

Since Surfer suggests certain aspects for better organized page structure like number of paragraphs, word count and headings, it's only fair that images are also included.
Images help provide context for your writing, are an opportunity for SEO with the alt-text, and improve the user experience by breaking up the text.

There is a Surfer integration to help boost your on-page SEO strategy which is a built-in integration with Pixabay.

You no longer need to navigate away from your writing platform to access top-notch photos. In fact, Surfer will suggest relevant ones, or you can choose from the expansive database yourself!

Extension – Google Docs / Wordpress

First off, the most important thing to mention is that this feature is free! 

If you are a Wordpress user or prefer the Google Docs interface, here is a comprehensive article to help you install the extensions!

To use Surfer in Google Docs, you’ll need to download Surfer’s free Chrome extension. These two go together like peanut butter and jelly! 

On the other hand, after you install the specific Wordpress plugin, you can use Surfer to update existing content on your WP site! You can refresh existing content, or publish new articles!
We know that many Surfers use the Content Editor to optimize their content, but that their writing journey doesn't stop there. 

This is just one of many features to make it smoother! 

Surfer’s Wordpress Plugin

This plugin is also free! 

You can use Surfer’s Wordpress plugin to create new articles and edit existing ones in the Content Editor. You can publish without leaving the Surfer interface!

This plugin allows you to speed up your content creation process - you can skip copy-pasting your articles and also avoid versioning mistakes. 

You can easily manage who has access to your Surfer account and Wordpress. If you want your collaborators to publish their articles, they can do from with their Surfer account! 

Hot Tip: This plugin also takes care of your media management - you can add images to your article in Surfer and they will be seamlessly transferred to your media folder in Wordpress.

All you need to set it up is download and install the plugin - it’s as easy as that. Once you do it, you don’t need to worry about waiting for updates - you will be notified in your Wordpress admin panel. 

Audit: Post-Publishing Optimization

Why is it important to continue optimizing your posts after they've been published? SERPs are constantly changing, and no one's position is 100% guaranteed forever. Using the Audit tool, you can track your progress compared to your current organic competitors, and make post-published changes to secure your position.

Check How to Optimize a Blog Post After It Goes Live: A Three-Step Process by Surfer co-founder, Michal Suski.

How to use Surfer's Audit - one of the best SEO tools

  1. You can run an Audit report over an individual page (but not an entire domain) by pasting the relevant URL into the tool, and choosing a representative keyword.

    Use the dropdown menu, and begin typing out the name of a town, city, or country. The list is pretty extensive, but if you don’t find what you’re looking for, reach out to our Support team and they’ll try to add it for you!

    Choose your SERP location carefully as this will determine your Organic Competitors, which are pages to be compared with and to learn from.

  2. After generating your report, be sure to click on the Select competitors button. 

Organic competitors in the Audit report are the top-10 ranking pages on the SERP location chosen, for the main keyword used when creating the Audit. 

Sections breakdown: 
  • Content Score - this is a live-updating figure that considers many different factors represented by the other sections in your report
  • Missing common backlinks - kickstart your backlink strategy by identifying backlinks that are shared by at least 3 Organic Competitors from the top-20 pages that rank for the main keyword on the SERP location set for the report.
  • Internal links - it’s important that your domain is structured logically. Surfer identifies relevant pages on your domain that should link to the audited page. You’ll also get guidance on optimal placement of the link! 
  • Terms to Use - not only will you get a list of keywords that should be included, but you’ll also get information on their true density (that is, how often they should be included). Moreover, you’ll get examples of their use by competitors so you can clearly understand optimal placement and how to implement it in your own work!

    You may sort the list by relevance to your own work, and search volume making prioritizing terms easy. 
  • Word count + Page structure - a well-structured article is pleasing to the eye and to Google’s algorithm. Surfer’s guidelines are easy to follow and implement. 
  • Exact keywords + Partial keywords - your exact keyword is the main keyword used when creating your Audit report. A partial keyword is any word that shares the first-3 letters of your exact keyword. 
  • Title and meta description length + Time to first byte + Load time (ms) - these supplemental sections will give you valuable insight into how your competitors handle titles and meta descriptions, as well as the speed of your page.

  1. To implement changes suggested in an Audit report, you can either head to your CMS (content management system) and work there, or utilize Content Editor’s Import content from URL toggle.

    When using the toggle, you’ll paste in the URL that you’ve audited to have the page pasted into Content Editor. 

4. Hot Tip: You will likely see some difference in Content Score and guidelines. This is because the two tools are considerate of different things (Content Editor considers only that which is written in the tool, while Audit is considerate of everything within the <body> of the HTML). 

Think of it like this: Content Editor is what you’ll see; Audit is what Google sees!

There may also be differences in Organic Competitors selected, so be sure to check that by clicking on the Customize cog, top-right above your guidelines. SERPs are live and ever-changing, so don’t be surprised if the order has changed slightly! 

  1. Click on the purple Copy link button to share the report with anyone (they don’t need a Surfer subscription)!

Hot Tip: You must use the URL generated by pressing this button. Copying the URL from the top of your page won’t work.

  1. After implementing your changes and confirming that the page has been re-indexed by Google, return to your Audit report and click on the Refresh button. Surfer will re-crawl your page and update its guidelines accordingly.

Learn more about how to Audit your content here! 

How to use Surfer SEO Keyword Research

Keyword Research is an ideal tool for anyone who wants to: 

  • Find secondary keyword opportunities 
  • Build topical relevance 
  • Create a solid content strategy and plan 
  • Get a glimpse of keyword difficulty and relative keyword difficulty 

In order to get started with Surfer’s Keyword Research you must first choose a keyword and a location. 

When choosing a keyword, you should done one of the following:

  • Choose a broad keyword 
  • Choose category for your business niche 
  • Choose a category on your blog or website 

The keyword that you choose doesn’t need to be your target keyword, and if you niche down too much you’ll get limited suggestions.  Since there’s no limit to how many Keyword Research searches you can make, feel free to try out lots of main keywords until you find the perfect cluster that matches your audience’s needs! 

After inputting your preferred keyword, you’ll see a page full of topic clusters. These are keywords and topics that typically rank together.
You’ll also receive vital information on search intent, which matters when trying to meet your audience at the appropriate position on their buyer’s journey, monthly search volume, and keyword difficulty. 

If you’re interested in relative keyword difficulty, which refers to your own domain’s ability to rank the desired keyword, you’ll have to connect to your GSC!

When choosing SERP location, click on the dropdown menu, and type out your desired location (a town, city, or country). If your choice isn’t available, reach out to our Support team and request its addition. Most of the time, it may be added for free for all of our users!

Surfer is compatible with most languages. For best results, type your keyword in your preferred language, and choose a SERP location that is dominated by it - e.g. [German keyword] + [German SERP location]. 

Review relevant topic clusters grouped by search intent. Expand each cluster for data on monthly search volume, total traffic, and keyword difficulty. Building a winning content strategy that develops your topical authority and fills content gaps is simple! 

Once you’ve chosen the desired cluster, simply click the button that says “open Content Editor” to start writing! 

If you’d like to learn more about using Surfer’s Keyword Research, just click here!

Who uses Surfer SEO?

Surfer for Businesses

Businesses use Surfer to scale their content efforts. They take advantage of the larger pricing plans which give them more credits, and therefore more freedom to write the amount of content they need to move the needle. 

The amount varies depending on the sector, but the Surfer for Enterprise plan allows several people access to write on your team, optimize existing content with NLP, audit 100+ pages every month and white label! 

Surfer for Small & Medium Businesses

Having an online presence is essential for many SMEs, small and medium-sized enterprises. Whether you’re totally virtual, or you have a brick-and-mortar store and want to increase your brand awareness, Surfer can help! 

An Advanced plan perfectly balances cost-effectiveness with the control needed to ensure that you stay on top of your SEO game. Not only can you conduct keyword research, but you’ll also be able to create 300 articles per year, and optimize pages already uploaded to your site!

If you want higher limits, consider a Max plan.

Surfer for Freelancers

The hardest part about being a freelancer is simply that you need clients, and not all clients are in the same sector that matches your area of expertise. But also, you need to keep up the demand and turn out content that meets your client’s expectations.

Surfer is a tool that allows you to measure, using data, the rankability of a piece of content which gives the writer peace of mind. Our AI writing tools such as the Outline Builder, and the Brief tool allow writers to streamline certain essential elements of the writing process without sacrificing quality. 

What used to take 2 hours to complete can be done in a fraction of the time. 

How to Optimize Existing Content With Surfer SEO

4 Steps to a comprehensive Audit

  1. Identify a page on your domain that’s in need of optimization. Maybe it’s not generated the impressions and clicks you want; maybe it’s within striking distance of the first page of Google and needs that final push to break into the top-10; maybe it’s been a while since it was uploaded and, as we know, good SEO requires a consistent and holistic approach - no hitting publish and forgetting about it! 
  2. Generate an Audit by selecting a representative main keyword and target SERP location for the article you’re auditing.
  3. Review the report, and implement the suggested changes you think are most relevant.
  4. After updating your article and confirming that it's been re-indexed, refresh the Audit report to see what effect your changes have had! 

The Takeaways!

Objectively, the best part about Surfer is how it evolves and grows according to the needs of the market, but also the demands and desires of its loyal users. 

This isn’t a static product on its way to becoming obsolete. In fact, it’s quite the contrary! We’ve launched amazing updates, integrations and improvements such as  Surfer AI, Surfy, and more is on the way! 

Surfer SEO FAQs:

What is a good score on Surfer SEO?

We encourage Surfer users to go for the green. 67+ should do the trick! 

What is Keyword Surfer?

Keyword Surfer is a free Chrome extension which allows you to do keyword research while you navigate within your Chrome browser. 

What is NLP and how does Surfer uses it?

NLP refers to Natural Language Processing. Surfer uses it when suggesting natural sounding, highly-rankable keyword suggestions.

How does Surfer use AI?

Surfer uses AI on a variety of levels, for example the free AI outline generator, which will help you create comprehensive briefs in a matter of moments. Surfer also recently introduced Surfy, which is our AI writer! 

Are there Surfer SEO alternatives?

There are, but Surfer truly is leading the charge with tools such as Surfer AI and Keyword Research. Surfer continues to evolve and collaborate so that your content needs can be met conveniently and in one place.

What is Surfer SEO used for?

Surfer is an all-in-one growth management tool which allows you to research keywords, draft outlines, write content and audit previously published content in one place! 

How much is Surfer SEO?

Surfer subscriptions are available paid monthly, or annually. There are four tiers of plans; Lite, Essential, Advanced and Max. This allows you to choose the best price point and tool access for your needs!

There are also custom plans available or users who need higher limits than the Max plan offers. Reach out to our sales department for a quote! 

You can check out Surfer’s pricing plans here! 

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Screenshot of Surfer SEO Content Editor interface, displaying the 'Essential Content Marketing Metrics' article with a content score of 82/100. The editor highlights sections like 'Key Takeaways' and offers SEO suggestions for terms such as 'content marketing metrics