In its Helpful Content Guidelines, Google states
“SEO can be a helpful activity when it is applied to people-first content, rather than search engine-first content.”
One way to interpret ‘applied’ SEO is to consider it a coat of varnish added to a handmade piece of furniture. It’s something that’s done after the fact as a finishing touch.
Following this interpretation, here is a process for following Google’s instructions to the letter.
I don’t necessarily recommend this process, but it can work.
Step 1 – Write
Author and publish a helpful blog post for your audience without targeting a specific keyword. Think more in terms of a topic.
You should follow structural and usability conventions.
Step 2 – Analyze Queries
Wait a week or two, then examine the top queries by impressions in Google Search Console.
Step 3 – Determine a Keyword
Use your favorite keyword tool to find the highest volume keyword relevant to your content from among those top queries.
Step 4 – Find Related Words
Use a tool like On-Page.ai to uncover words related to that keyword.
Step 5 – Reoptimize
Artfully and iteratively, work the keyword and the top related words into the content without detracting from the original goal of creating a people-first content piece.
You’ve then applied SEO to the people-first content, per Google’s instructions.