Copywriting for SEO 101
Copywriting and SEO are two distinct skills that require specific knowledge and expertise. Copywriters master the art of speaking to their customers in creative ways that solve their problems. SEOs know how to optimize websites and landing pages to rank highly on search engines.
Copywriting for SEO involves combining these skills for content that is both engaging to the user and appealing to search engines – it’s not easy.
However, SEO copywriting has become an essential skill for digital marketing. Don’t worry – whether you’re in technical SEO, an experienced copywriter who made the move to digital, or a new marketer just starting, you can write stellar content optimized for search. Here’s a guide for all of the things you should consider when copywriting for SEO.
What to Consider Before Writing for SEO
The first step in SEO copywriting is not writing your first draft. There is a lot of planning involved to make sure that your copy is as user and search engine-friendly as possible.
Consider the user first, always
Set aside everything you think you know about SEO, for now. The first person you need to consider is the person that you’re writing for. Writing for SEO should never focus on Google first. After all, what’s the point of getting organic traffic to your website if doesn’t provide value to the user?
“Write for people first, search engine second”, says Erin Jones, Local SEO Analyst and Account Manager for Sterling Sky Inc.
Think of the purpose of your copy. What do you want the user to gain from it? Some things to consider include:
- Why is the user arriving on this page? What problems are they looking to solve?
- What questions might they have about my product or service that they are hoping to have answered?
- What are our competitors doing that is different than we are, and how can we prove to the user that we are a better option?
- What knowledge are they coming onto this page with? Are they deeply familiar with our product or industry and looking to make a decision? Or are they new to us?
Take the time to get inside your users’ minds and reflect on their needs, so you write your copy FOR the user. Next up, it’s time to start your keyword research.
Choose Your Target Keywords
Once you have figured out the questions that your users have, you can take the next step – selecting your target keywords. Keyword research is an essential step in the SEO copywriting process.
Think of the questions your user needs an answer for and think: what would our audience search to find the answers to those questions? Use this as a starting point to begin your research, using your software to determine how many searches per month there are for your search queries and how competitive these search terms are.
Use both short tail keywords that encapsulate what you’re helping the user find, and longer-tail keywords, such as questions, that you’ll answer on your page. (For example: If you’re opening a hot dog store in New York, your short tail keyword could be “best hot dogs NY” and your long tail keyword could be “Where can you find the best veggie hot dogs in New York?”)
If you’re just starting with keyword research, there are lots of resources available to help you; check out this comprehensive guide from SEM Rush here.
Do Your Competitive Research
Now that you’ve selected your keywords, it’s time to do a bit of competitive research. Start looking at what is already ranking for your target queries. How do the top-ranking pages answer users’ questions? Consider how you can present it differently, in ways that your audience will respond better to.
(It should go without saying, but if you choose to quote or take ideas from competitors’ websites, properly attribute their work to them. Plagiarism is not cool… and can negatively affect your organic search rankings. Hubspot has a great guide to citing sources online here.)
Another important consideration is your target area. The search engine results page (SERP) will be different in Vancouver, BC than the SERP in Vancouver, Washington. Use a location changer tool to properly evaluate the SERP competition in your target locations. We recommend GS Location Changer, an easy-to-use browser extension for Chrome and Firefox.
The SEO Copywriting Process
You’ve determined the purpose of your copy, done your keyword research, and performed a competitive analysis. Congratulations! You’ve completed the groundwork for copy that performs well in organic search. Now it’s time to write, which, depending on your experience, can either be the easiest part of the scariest part. You’ve got this – we believe in you!
From landing pages to blog posts to product descriptions, keep the following things in mind when you’re writing your content.
Keep Your Copy User Focused
It’s a point so important that I mentioned it twice. While you’re trying to include target keywords and outrank the competition, never lose sight of who your content is for – the end-user. After all, Google and other search engines favor high-quality, user-friendly content over a certain template or format.
If you’re new to copywriting, particularly longer-form content, focus on providing the reader with the most value as opposed to following a certain template or format. “[Your high school teachers] taught you to write in a way that’s easy to demonstrate your knowledge and quick to mark. Your target audience isn’t usually a teacher,” says Angie Nikoleychuk, the Content Marketing Manager at Search Engine Journal. “Break the rules. Write for the reader.”
Don’t Keyword Stuff
Which sentence sounds better to you:
- “Katie’s Dawgs is the best hot dog store in New York. From the moment you step foot in the restaurant, you inhale the delicious aromas of high-quality sausages and fried onions.”
- “Katie’s Dawgs is the best hot dog store in New York. From the moment you step foot in the hot dog store, you inhale the delicious aromas of hot dogs (from the hot dog store) and fried onions.”
A long, long time ago – in the early 2000s – a practice known as “keyword stuffing” was used to get pages ranking on the first page of Google. So, if your keyword was “hot dog store”, you would be including this word as many times as possible. However, as you probably noticed in the second example above, it makes for pretty bad content. (I’ll never forget the website I found once that had a list of keywords, with no context, at the bottom of the page.)
Not only is keyword stuffing bad for your user-focused content, but search engines also hate it. In fact, your page can be penalized for keyword stuffing if you use your keywords too frequently.
The solution? Write naturally. Include your keywords in a way that makes sense, not in a way that makes users want to buy hot dogs from literally anywhere else.
Key Places to Optimize
While you are writing for the end user, you do want to include your target keywords in places search engines will notice them. Try to incorporate your target keywords naturally throughout your copy – typically, two or three times should do the trick.
Three important places you’ll want to incorporate your main keyword target are:
- Metadata: Your title tag is one of the key components of a page that Google crawls to match your page with a relevant search query. While you don’t need to put your keyword target into your meta description, Google will frequently bold the parts of your meta description that match the search query.
- Headings: Your page’s H1 should always include your target keyword, but remember to phrase it differently from your title tag. When relevant, include keywords in H2 and H3s as well – search engine crawlers use your heading structure as an indication of where important information on the page is.
- Image captions and alt-text: Images can be an important way to illustrate points that you’re making in your content. If it makes sense to naturally incorporate your keywords into your captions and alt-text, include them here as well! However, even if there isn’t an opportunity to include your keyword target, you should still include alt-text – they’re important for keeping pages accessible to users who rely on screen readers.
Hear From Industry Experts
Read the latest tips, research, best practices, and insights from our community of expert B2B service providers.
After Writing Your SEO Copy
You’ve done it! You’ve written a high-quality piece of content that is optimized for SEO. While it might be tempting to celebrate being finished by treating yourself to your favorite dessert, you aren’t quite done yet. Here are a couple of things that you need to remember to do after writing your SEO copy. (Although, dessert is still encouraged.)
When copywriting for SEO, you want your copy to be found organically. However, you’ll want to link effectively to this fantastic page that you’ve just written on relevant pages throughout your website. This serves two purposes:
- Internal linking is a signal to search engines, telling them that your page is important. It is so important to use anchor text when linking to signify to search engines; this text indicates how these two pages are connected. You can learn all about anchor text in this great guide from Moz.
- Remember how you made your copy so relevant to the end user? That means that, beyond organic search, your content is going to be useful to so many other people. From organic users who arrived via another page, to users coming from another channel entirely, you want to make it easy to find your copy. Linking effectively allows you to do this.
Track and Test
It is highly unlikely that your first piece of SEO copy is going to be perfect. This is where tracking and testing come in handy. Keep track of when you published your copy (annotating in Google Analytics is great for this) and make notes of different things that you test out as you keep writing more and more copy. Do certain headlines lead to more contact form submissions? Do your users stay on the page when you write a long piece of content? Tracking your results, and testing new things, is how you find what works – and it helps you update your existing copy, too!
Time to Get Started
Copywriting for SEO is a skill that takes time, but can lead to so many rewards for your digital marketing campaigns. An SEO strategy can take a lot of time and energy; you don’t have to do it alone. A team of digital marketing experts can help you to create an online marketing strategy that works for your brand’s specific needs.