If you want to create content that ranks, drives traffic, and makes money, you need to pay attention to search engine optimization.
Sure, search engines are getting better at understanding context and ranking content without heavy-handed keyword targeting. However, they still need help understanding what your content is about.
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.
In this guide, we’ll show you how to:
- Master basic copywriting principles to write content that sells.
- Do better keyword research and understand search intent to connect the dots between your content and your audience’s needs.
- Optimize your content to rank higher and dominate organic search.
Grab Your Free SEO Copywriting Template Bundle
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:
- An On-Page SEO Checklist to make sure every piece of content you publish is properly optimized.
- An SEO Content Strategy Template to figure out what you’ll publish (and why).
- An easy-to-follow SEO Copywriting Template to simplify and organize your content writing process.
Download all three before we get going.
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What Is SEO Copywriting?
In simplest terms, it’s the practice of writing content that’s optimized to drive search traffic and make your business money. It involves writing copy that solves your audience’s problems and compels them to convert while dominating search engine rankings.
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?
It's helpful to keep these points in mind:
- Your goal is not simply to rank in search engines. Rankings are important. They drive traffic, which help drive conversions, after all. They’re not your end goal, though.
- Your goal is to connect the dots between your audience’s problems and the solutions your content provides. Ensuring your content ranks is a means to this end. That means understanding the search intent behind targeted keywords and creating stuff that delivers an “aha!” moment for your reader. That’s what’s going to lead to more conversions and sales.
- If you have to make a trade-off between search optimization and readability, put your audience first. It’s blatantly obvious when marketers don’t do this, and the results are never as good as catering to your reader’s needs first.
Got it? Let’s move on.
Let’s Kill Some Common SEO Cliches
SEO isn’t dead. These cliched writing practices should be, though. Never, under any circumstances, let yourself get caught committing these atrocities.
Never, Ever Resort to Keyword Stuffing
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.
You Are Not Writing Content Just To Rank!
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 repeated enough.
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. It’s as simple as that.
You Are Not Wasting Your Time
It’s common to hear writers say “I focus on providing value instead of keywords,” or “Google has gotten so good that SEO is a waste of time now.” These comments usually come from one of two places:
- The writer creates content that doesn’t need to rely on organic search because they’re able to rely on email or social media for traffic. For some copywriters, organic search really isn’t a concern for them. That’s cool.
- They’re looking for excuse to dismiss SEO entirely instead of taking the time to incorporate its basics into their skill set. This is lazy and leads to a lot of time wasted creating content that never gets found.
If capturing organic search traffic is in any way important to achieving your goals as a writer and marketer, then SEO should matter to you.
Copywriting 101: Get a Grip on the Basics
Copywriting is copywriting, whether SEO is a consideration for you or not. Without a strong foundation in fundamentail sales writing techniques, your efforts will struggle.
In this section, we’ll walk through some basic tactics and techniques for effective copywriting, from audience research to formulas you can follow for success.
Understanding Your Audience
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.
Understanding Problems and Pain Points
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.
To do this, you can:
- Talk to your sales team.
- Ask them on social media.
- Lean on customer and audience surveys.
Basic user personas are essential for understanding your audience. At a minimum, they should tell you a few basic things:
- Who is your target consumer?
- What are their interests and concerns?
- What are their primary pain points?
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.
Understand Basic Copywriting Formulas
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.
PAS (Problem / Agitate / Solve)
This classic formula has been kicking around for decades. Here’s how it works:
- Identify a problem. Since you spent time researching your audience, you should know common problems they face.
- Agitate anxiety around that problem. What makes this problem particularly pressing?
- Offer a solution. How can your product or service make your audience’s life better?
Let’s say you’re selling rain repellant auto-glass coatings. Here’s how this formula breaks down:
- Problem: Driving in rain can be difficult when your car’s windshield doesn’t deflect moisture.
- Agitation: This problem is made even worse when driving through storms at night.
- Solution: Spraying coating on your windshield can decrease your chances of getting in a wreck due to poor visibility.
AIDA (Attention / Interest / Desire / Action)
This formula follows four phases:
- Capture your reader’s attention. This often starts with writing headlines and title tags people can’t help but click.
- Stoke interest. Follow through on your headline with interesting information that keeps them reading through to your call-to-action.
- Inspire desire. Show your reader how life could be better with your product or service.
- Drive action. Roll out your call-to-action and tell them how they can learn more or make a purchase.
Using our auto-glass coating example from before, let's create a hypothetical example of this formula in action:
- Attention: You've never seen through a windshield this clear (even on the darkest, stormiest, nights).
- Interest: It's made possible with a secret solution no one else has.
- Desire: And it can be yours for one low price at your nearest retailer.
This isn't a fantastic example, but you understand how it works.
The Four Cs (Clear / Concise / Compelling / Credible)
This formula aims to achieve everything authoritative content should be. For that reason, it’s perfect for crafting search-optimized content that convert.
- Clear. Make your point plain as day.
- Concise. Cut anything from your content that doesn’t directly help your reader.
- Compelling. Make it interesting. Work in stats and other data points that are accurate but hard to believe.
- Credible. Back up your claims with reputable sources.
Let's go back to our auto-glass coating example one more time:
- Clear: Nothing maintains windshield visibility like this auto-glass coating.
- Concise: How? With a patented tri-chemical compound.
- Compelling: Nothing else cleans windshields better ...
- Credible: ... and it's backed by a five-star review in Motor Trend.
Again, this isn't a wildly creative example. But, you can see how this formula's individual components work.
Getting Started With SEO: Keyword Research
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?
Start with a solid and repeatable keyword research process.
First, identify topics your audience is interested in. There are tons of different ways you can do
Next, put together your keyword research toolbox. Here are some popular options we like here at CoSchedule:
- Adwords Keyword Planner: Sure, it’s more of a PPC tool than an SEO one. It’s also free and still provides valuable keyword insights to incorporate into your strategy.
- Moz Keyword Explorer: If you have a paid Moz account, you’re probably familiar with its built-in Keyword Explorer tool. It’s robust and feature-rich, providing tons of information around keyword volume, difficulty, related terms, and more.
- Ahrefs Keywords Explorer: This option from Ahrefs is similar to the Moz tool above. One cool feature it adds is the ability to identify the parent topic of a given keyword. Pretty cool. Again, this is a paid-only tool.
- LSI Graph: This free web-based tool finds terms related to a core keyword.
- Ubersuggest: This classic tool rounds up autocomplete results for keywords, helping you turn one keyword into tons of potential ideas.
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.
When selecting which keywords you’ll target, pay attention to the following:
- Volume: The number of people searching for a keyword. It’s tough for keyword tools to represent this data with total accuracy, but it’s worth taking into consideration.
- Difficulty: The level of competition you have for a keyword. The more difficult a keyword is to rank on, the higher your Domain Authority will likely need to be to rank.
There are certainly other metrics different keyword tools allow you to analyze. No matter which tool you’re using (Keyword Planner, Moz, or something similar) though, these two metrics are going to be key.
The most valuable keywords are often those with high volume and low difficulty. They’re rare, but worth considering targeting when you do uncover them.
Understanding Search Intent
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, while most of the world calls soccer “football,” here in the US, there’s a good chance I might have wanted American football scores from the NFL. If I were in Canada, I might have wanted scores from the CFL, too. Our friends in Australia might have even wanted Australian Rules Football scores. In Ireland, it’s also possible I may have wanted 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:
- There was a major soccer (or football) tournament happening. Since Google processes searches for relevancy, it made a guess that’s what I was looking for.
- The NFL is out of season (but, maybe I wanted to find historical scores from season’s past--I’m a sponge for useless football trivia).
- The search wasn’t quite specific enough. If I wanted NFL scores, I could have adjusted my search to be more narrowly targeted.
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.
Segmenting And Mapping Keywords By User Intent
So, how can you better understand search intent?
First, understand that keywords typically fall into three different categories:
- Navigational: Someone is trying to find a particular website.
- Informational: Someone is trying to gather information on a topic.
- Transactional: Someone is looking to buy a product or service.
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 what a typical marketing funnel looks like:
So, How Do I Know Exactly What People Are Looking For?
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:
- Are there any common themes in the SERPs? If every result appears to cover a similar topic, that’s a sign the search intent is clear.
- Do the search results appear mixed? Or, if results look like a mixed bag of different specific topics, it could be that search engines can’t quite determine exactly what someone might want with that given phrase. In this case, it might be better to choose a more specific term.
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.
Latent Semantic Indexing: Targeting the Entire Topic
Understanding latent semantic indexing is a powerful skill for any SEO copywriter. In plain English, LSI refers to the processes search engines use to understand relationships between related terms. In practical terms for you, that means you need to incorporate terms related to your primary keyword. This helps you target not just one keyword, but an entire topic thoroughly.
Here are a few easy ways to find LSI keywords:
- Use a high-powered keyword research tool like Moz or Ahrefs Keyword Explorer. These platforms make it easy to compile lists of related terms.
- Check out related searches in Google. Google (and Bing) often displays related searches at the bottom of search results. This can give you ideas for other content you can create, or terms to include in your piece.
- Use LSI Graph. This aforementioned tool makes it easy to spin off tons of LSI terms from one seed term. Just visit the website, enter a keyword, and let ‘er rip.
Or, you can use the new LSI Graph WordPress plugin (if you’re using WordPress for your CMS).
Put It All Together: How to Write SEO-Optimized Content
“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.”
As a reminder, 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.
Title Tags and Meta Descriptions
If you’re unfamiliar with what these are, they’re the blue links and informational snippets you see in search engine results:
If it makes sense, place your main keyword as far to the left as possible in your title tag. Of course, make sure it sounds easy to read, though. If forcing your keyword to the left results in an awkward-sounding page title, then write it more naturally.
While meta descriptions aren’t used to determine page ranking, they are important for encouraging click-throughs. Since your keyword is what users are looking for, including it in your meta description reinforces the relevance of your content.
On-Page Keyword Placement
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.
- Your URL: The URL slug should include your primary keyword phrase.
- H1: The headline should be in an H1 tag and should include your primary keyword phrase.
- H2 and H3 subheadings: These are great places to include secondary and related keyword phrases (if and where appropriate).
- Introduction: If your keyword truly is the topic of your content, it shouldn’t be hard to reference it somewhere in your introduction.
- Throughout your content: Odds are, your primary keyword (and related phrases) are going to show up naturally throughout your content as you write. If not, consider rereading your content after you’ve finished a draft to make sure it’s present.
Infusing Latent Semantic Indexing Into Your Copy
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:
- Search engines have gotten much more accurate at understanding connections between different words that mean the same thing. For example, a piece of content about “red sneakers” might also rank for “red tennis shoes”. That’s because Google (or Bing or Yahoo) can understand that “sneakers” and “tennis shoes” mean nearly the same thing (and a person might use those terms interchangeably).
- Search engines reward content that targets an entire topic, rather than just one keyword. When someone enters a keyword phrase, the search engine’s job is to return results that answer that searcher’s query thoroughly so they don’t have to do another search. This means content that answers a question completely and comprehensively is more likely to rank well.
So, this means 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.
This doesn’t need to be as complicated as it might sound, though. It simply means being mindful about selecting related keywords and strategically working them into content. Here’s an easy visual reference to illustrate what we mean:
In this hypothetical example, the searcher is looking for how to catch fish. So, the body copy targets not only how to catch fish, but how to catch several different specific kinds of fish. Since search engines can understand that “walleye,” “trout,” and “bass” are different types of fish, they can infer that this would be a comprehensive piece of content to rank for this search term.
Now Start Writing Better Search-Optimized Copy
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.