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According to Internet Live Stats, Google processes over 60,000 searches per second. That means its sending tons traffic to websites all around the world. As a result, it’s unsurprising that 61% of marketers say improving search engine optimization is their top marketing priority.
It also means the competition is fierce. To make matters worse, it’s often tough to know whether your current tactics are effective.
One thing is for sure, though: successful SEO starts with effective content.
So, does that mean if you write great stuff, your pages and blog posts will rank?
Not exactly. That content needs to be written to appeal to both search engines and humans, so Google (and others) can send traffic to the best possible sources. And this means understanding both search engine optimization and copywriting in equal measure.
At this point, you probably have some questions. Fortunately, you’re about to find answers. Read on to find the answers and master SEO copywriting, once and for all.
This post is packed with practical tips to help you write better copy that ranks and converts. In order to help you apply what you learn, we’ve put together this free downloadable bundle of useful templates and other resources. You’ll get:
Download all three before we get going.
Here are some tools and gadgets to keep at your disposal:
In simplest terms, it’s the practice of writing content that aligns content with search queries. This involves writing copy that connects content with search intent and solves your audience’s problems. Ultimately, that’s what powers the top-performing content on Google.
Sounds simple enough, right? Well, it isn’t quite that easy.
Sometimes, incorporating keywords can mean rephrasing your wording (even if you’d prefer another choice of words). Or, you might even feel tempted to give into spammy old-school tactics like keyword stuffing (cramming keywords everywhere possible—a quick way to turn off readers and get slapped with a penalty from Google).
What’s an aspiring SEO copywriting wizard to do? Keep these points in mind:
Your business needs new customers to keep the lights on. Search engines are one of the best ways to attract them.
Now, you may have heard that SEO is unnecessary because Google has gotten better at understanding content without using keywords. It’s true that search engines are better at understanding topics and context without heavy-handed optimization than they once were. However, they still need help understanding what your content is about, and getting this right is key to maximizing organic search traffic.
That’s where your SEO copywriting skills come into play. By understanding how to write for humans and optimize for search engines, you can make sure your content ranks for the right search terms to reach the right audience. Do it well, and you’ll drive tons of high-converting traffic to your content and bring in more customers.
It’s useful to have a working knowledge of SEO before moving forward. Unfortunately, well-meaning marketers often make this more confusing than it needs to be, causing writers to overthink what they’re being asked to do. This post will attempt to make the essentials easily digestible.
In their legendary SEO beginner’s guide, software provider Moz says:
Search engines have two major functions: crawling and building an index, and providing search users with a ranked list of the websites they’ve determined are the most relevant.
The way search engines build indexes relies on links. Links between pages help the search engines understand the relationships between sites across the Web. To quote Moz once again:
Imagine the World Wide Web as a network of stops in a big city subway system. Each stop is a unique document (usually a web page, but sometimes a PDF, JPG, or other file). The search engines need a way to “crawl” the entire city and find all the stops along the way, so they use the best path available—links.
How do Google (and other search engines) understand what’s on each stop? That part relies on the content of each web page, or other document or file in its index. Webmasters might link content that is related on their own sites, or link out to relevant content on other sites. This creates the necessary pathways search engine bots need to crawl through the web and understand how the web is constructed.
In order to create content people want to link to, and that search engines can understand, it needs to be relevant to topics people search for. It also needs to be well-written, structured in a way that’s easy to read, and include on-page elements that tell search engines, “This content is relevant to this topic.”
It’s okay if this doesn’t quite make sense yet. Give it time, and it’ll start to click.
When it comes to SEO, it’s important to understand the big picture. There are tons of different ranking factors that can impact your performance. This infographic from Backlinko illustrates some of the most important elements a copywriter or content creator should know:
Copywriting is a timeless art, whether you’re concerned with SEO or not. Without a strong foundation in fundamental sales writing techniques, your efforts will struggle. This section will walk through basic techniques for effective copywriting, from audience research to formulas you can follow for success.
Copywriting all about writing that converts readers into customers. This video from Kopywriting Kourse offers a succinct explanation:
If your copy is going to stick, you need to know exactly who you’re writing for. With some simple audience research (and maybe a persona or two on hand), you can make targeting your message to the right customer much easier. The best copy addresses a problem, at the intersection of your product’s purpose and audience’s needs. This forms your “content core.”
Your product or service helps solve a problem. Your copy needs to communicate what makes your product the best option. To do this, you need to have a clear understanding of your target customers’ pain points. Here are a few places to start:
You may not have the time or resources to build personas. But, if you can, they’re helpful for understanding your audience.
Personas are like character descriptions of customers. At a minimum, a persona should tell you a few basic things:
This is a (very) short list of everything a good persona should tell you. For a more detailed guide on developing user personas, check out this post here.
Marketing funnels map intent to different stages of the purchasing process. They typically include at least three stages:
Some marketing funnel visualizations add more stages. Here is an example:
As a copywriter, it’s important to understand which stage you’re targeting. A lot of content written for SEO purposes targets the top of the funnel. However, you may also need to write copy targeting the bottom of the funnel, too. This could include writing landing pages or product descriptions.
Even when you’re taking search into consideration, the basics principles of the craft still apply. Use these simple formulas to craft content that connects with your audience and motivates your desired action.
This classic formula has been kicking around for decades. Here’s how it works:
Let’s say you’re selling rain repellant auto-glass coatings. Here’s how this formula breaks down:
This formula follows four phases:
Using our auto-glass coating example from before, let’s create a hypothetical example of this formula in action:
This isn’t a fantastic example, but you understand how it works.
This formula aims to achieve everything authoritative content should be. For that reason, it’s perfect for crafting search-optimized content that convert.
Let’s go back to our auto-glass coating example one more time:
Again, this isn’t a wildly creative example. But, you can see how this formula’s individual components work.
Keywords are your guiding light for SEO copywriting success. They offer insight into what your audience needs from your content and which problems they’re looking to solve. So, how do you find which keywords your content should target?
First, identify topics your audience is interested in. If you completed the customer research steps in the previous section, you should have some ideas around general topical areas.
The way these tools work on a fundamental level is simple: you enter a keyword, and it either provides you with relevant metrics, related ideas, or both.
For example, a company that makes electric cars may want their homepage to rank for “electric cars.” So, they could use Ahrefs to see if people search for this keyword:
It turns out lots of people search for this term, which isn’t surprising. But, what does all this information mean?
Different tools offer different metrics you can analyze. No matter which tool you’re using though, difficulty and volume are key. The most valuable keywords show high volume and low difficulty. They’re rare, but worth considering targeting when you do uncover them.
It isn’t enough to find keywords you can rank for and move on. You also need to understand what people are really looking for when they’re searching for a particular term. This is especially true for search terms that are similar in spelling or phrasing, or words with multiple meanings.
Let’s take the search term “football scores” for example. Even though I’m in the United States, here’s what I see:
Now, most of the world calls soccer “football.” However, here in the US, it’s more likely I wanted American football scores from the NFL. If I were in Canada, I might have wanted scores from the CFL, too. Someone in Australia might have been looking for Australian Rules Football updates. In Ireland, a searcher could want Gaelic football scores.
That’s a lot of different possibilities for one keyword phrase (and a lot of different types of football).
There are a few reasons why I probably got the results I did:
The takeaway here is you need to know exactly what your audience is looking for. There are no room for assumptions here. If your selected keyword is off-target, your content will be, too.
So, how can you better understand search intent?
First, understand that keywords typically fall into three different categories:
Segmenting keywords into each bucket is easy enough. Odds are, you’ll likely focus on the second two categories (informational and transactional).
Now, it’s important to understand where in the sales funnel each of these types of keywords aligns with. Here’s another look at what a typical marketing funnel looks like:
Once you have a keyword selected, it’s time to figure out exactly what people want when they search that specific term.
Start with a simple Google search and review the results. Then, ask yourself a couple questions:
Then, ask whether your given keyword is navigational, informational, or transactional. You can determine this by whether the term is intended to provide a basis for research or to actually get the credit card out and make a purchase.
Understanding secondary keywords is a powerful skill for any SEO copywriter. If your parent topic is your primary keyword, then secondary keywords are related terms that should be included in your content. Here are a few easy ways to find these terms:
Or, you can use the new LSI Graph WordPress plugin (if you’re using WordPress for your CMS).
“Only after I’ve published do I actually think about tweaking it so search engines can understand my post better. I like to write for humans first and search engines second.”
This piece of advice came from the founder of an SEO tool, no less. So, what does that tell you? When it comes to SEO copywriting, people are your priority.
Once upon a time, SEOs would jam keywords wherever possible. This routinely resulted in terrible copy that ranked well because search engines were less effective at filtering out crap.
Fortunately, things have long since changed.
Generally speaking, you need to think people first and search engines second if you want to succeed. But, it’s still Search engines need some guidance to understand what your content is about. So, strategic keyword placement is still an important part of any search-optimized content strategy, and that isn’t likely to change in the immediate future.
Let’s dig into the where and why of on-page keyword placement.
Headlines are extremely important for any copywriter. Advertising visionary David Ogilvy once famously said:
“On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”
The CoSchedule Headline Analyzer is a free tool for optimizing headlines before you publish. Plus, it’s also built into CoSchedule:
When writing headlines for search engine optimization purposes, remember the following:
Look at this headline example from the Moz Blog. Dominic wrote this post about “technical SEO problems.” Therefore, he included this phrase in the headline, sending a strong signal to search engines about this content’s topic.
Search engines use keywords in page URLs to help them understand its content. Follow these guidelines:
Here is the URL from the previous Moz Blog example:
Notice how it includes the primary keyword. Plus, it also includes the term “checklist,” which will help this page rank for searchers looking for one to solve this problem.
Your primary keyword should always be in your title tag and meta description. If you’re unfamiliar with what these are, they’re the blue links and informational snippets you see in search engine results:
Search engines give the most weight to keywords placed closest to the left. But, make sure your title tags are easy for people to read. This should be your priority.
While meta descriptions aren’t used to determine page ranking, they encourage users to click. Since your keyword is what users are looking for, including it in your meta description reinforces the relevance of your content.
To make sure both look good in search results, follow these character counts:
You can test your title tags and meta descriptions before publishing using the Spotibo Google Search Results Preview Tool:
It’s important to write great introductions that hook readers. But, did you know it’s also crucial to include keywords and phrases in your intro, too? Make sure your primary keyword, or a close variation, is included somewhere within the first few hundred words of text. This should be easy to do naturally.
Once again, take a look at the example from the Moz Blog:
The primary keyword is included in the second paragraph. The author also included “checklist” in the third paragraph. This clearly communicates what the page is about to both readers and search engines.
HTML uses six levels of header tags to structure content. Including keywords in subheads sends the message that they’re important. Here is what they look like in the WordPress editor:
Subheads should target secondary points about your topic. The example post from Moz uses an H2 tag here:
This achieves two goals:
While we touched on this topic briefly before, now it’s time to actually apply it to your writing. For a brief recap on why this is important, consider the following two points:
Your content needs to include not only one targeted primary keyword, but other terms and information related to the core topic your content is about.
Go back to the Moz Blog example. It uses terms that are related to “technical SEO problems” from start to finish. Look at this paragraph:
“Invalid HTML” is a technical SEO problem, right? By touching on tons of different examples like this, the author sends the message that this is a comprehensive piece of content, that addresses a broad topic in deep detail.
This post previously explained the importance of links. That includes links to your page from other sites, and links between pages on your own domain. These help search engines understand which pages are most important.
If you link to a page more frequently, it sends the message that its a useful page. However, be careful not to overdo it. Include links when they’re helpful for readers.
Look at this example from Musicians Friend. The article is all about Fender Telecaster guitars, so its links to a page where shoppers can find and buy this model:
Links to quality sources show that your content is well-researched. They also help readers by directing them toward other relevant content. It also shows search engines that you’re associated with strong sites that people want to visit.
Here is some example text from a post on the Raven Tools blog:
Since this post is about building a checklist for a new website launch, it links to content that helps readers get this job done. Note the blue text link that goes to an official support doc from Google:
That’s certainly a quality source, and it helps the reader accomplish their goal. This should always be your aim.
You’ve now put in tons of work. How do you know if it has been worth it? The answer: invest in a quality SEO platform that can track performance.
Here are some metrics to monitor:
You will need the right tools to measure success. Here are some recommended options:
If you put in tons of work and do everything right, you should succeed.
What happens if you don’t, though?
Start diagnosing the issue. Then, correct your course of action.
People don’t like waiting for pages to load. So, Google rewards pages that load more quickly. To check your site speed, use Pingdom’s webspeed tester. It’s a free tool that detects how fast a web page loads:
Show your results to a web developer. Then, ask them to work on improving your site speed.
Google Page Speed Insights is another tool you can use to provide detailed recommendations on where your site can be improved:
If you use WordPress, the plugin WP Smush can help compress images. This can help pages load faster, since images are a common culprit behind slow loading times.
If your page is getting lots of traffic, but conversions are low, your calls-to-action could need work. Follow this guide and make them more compelling.
It’s also possible that lots of people are finding your page … only to learn it’s not what they thought it was. Remember the example about how many different kinds of football exist in the world? If someone is searching for a word that means multiple things, it’s important that your content makes it clear exactly what the page is about. Yoast created an excellent guide that explains how search intent works.
You are not churning out content for the sake of ranking on specific keywords. Rather, the keywords you choose should be relevant to your business, and the content you create should be relevant to the needs of the person using those keywords. This point cannot be stressed enough.
It’s almost hard to believe this still needs to be discussed in 2017. For the uninitiated though, consider this a warning: don’t try to fool search engines by unnaturally stuffing full of keywords.
Keyword stuffing involves awkwardly and repeatedly cramming a specific keyword phrase into your text. Here’s an example of what it might look like:
Dave’s Shoe Shop is the best shoe store in Dallas, Texas. If you’re shopping for shoes in Dallas or Fort Worth, Dave’s is the footwear outlet for you. No one carries more casual or athletic footwear in the region.
In this hypothetical example, it’s obvious the writer is targeting shoe shoppers in the Dallas area. So, they shoved terms related to “shoes” and “Dallas” as many different ways as they could into three sentences. This kind of content doesn’t rank well, though. Worse, it certainly isn’t compelling anyone to buy shoes from poor old Dave.
The information in this post is applicable to almost any kind of content you might write. Whether you’re writing product copy for an ecommerce site or search-optimized blog posts to generate leads, you’re now equipped with the knowledge you need to write copy that’s the easy to find and drives conversions.
This post was originally published on Aug. 10, 2017. It was updated with new information on July 11, 2018.
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