Online written content has seen many changes take place in the last few years. Google’s Panda and Penguin updates have made quite an impact and forced low quality content, that was written purely for SEO, down the rankings or offline altogether. Where once content mills were common and peopled by a raft of wannabe writers (who were forced into bad habits, hardly surprising at $5 per post), now there are less of them around.
Businesses are also waking up to the fact that if you want to get people to visit your site, then it’s best to present them with well-written and useful material. However, that doesn’t always mean that they’re willing to increase budgets in order to employ skilled SEO copywriters, instead, many just create content themselves. Whilst this isn’t a terrible approach if the site owner knows how to turn a phrase, not too many business owners have the skills to write with SEO in mind.
Write for your Audience
SEO isn’t that complicated when it comes to the written material on a site. First, it’s necessary to understand that above all else, you’re writing for your audience and not for the search engine. Your writing can be optimised so that it’s discovered by search engines more readily, however.
A copywriter who is experienced in creating web content is a skilled professional who understands how to communicate in such a way that the reader will want to take action.
- Understands the audience
- Knows how to present written work in such a way that it resonates with the audience
- Knows how to format work for readability
- Can effectively research and reference other material
- Produces unique ideas and text
Copywriters have been used for many years offline, to create brochures, sales letters and other marketing material. What sets online copywriters apart is the ability to optimise text so that it’s search engine friendly.
An SEO copywriter:
- Can perform keyword research
- Understands how search engines work
- Knows how to craft text to include keywords and phrases without alienating the reader
- Understands meta descriptions
- Can craft clickable headlines
- Knows how to use H1, H2, etc.
- Understands links and their importance to SEO
- Is aware of what black hat tactics are and how to avoid them
SEO copywriting then is all about creating useful content that solves a problem for the reader, or appeals to the emotions. This content will target specific keywords and will help to increase the authority of your site and improve its rankings for these keywords.
Before you get writing then, you will have to perform keyword research and identify a list that you will later use in your copy.
Let’s have a look at the main elements of SEO copywriting in a little more detail.
Crafting the Perfect Headline
According to Quick Sprout’s Neil Patel, 8 out of 10 people will read your headline whereas just 2 out of 10 will read your content. The headline is your chance to grab the reader’s attention and prompt them to read on, so it pays to take some time over it.
A good headline should communicate to the reader what the post is about and how it can help them. It should, ideally, be no more than six words long and should avoid words with more than one meaning.
‘How to’ posts and those with numbers in the title – for example, 6 ways to sell your house – always perform well because they explicitly tell the reader what they will learn from reading the post.
As you can see from the Conductor research, numbered headlines outperform any other kind. Interestingly, the study also found that addressing the reader directly is also highly popular. We’ve seen a spate of posts on social recently that support this. Those that tell you that you’ve been ‘peeling eggs all wrong all this time’, for example.
Headlines that work:
- Teach the reader something – e.g. How to, learn how to, discover how to, etc.
- List useful resources – 25 hacks for creating killer headlines, 10 WordPress themes for responsive design, etc.
- Explain why – why you need to create great headlines, and so on.
- Ask a question – are you making these mistakes, are you using these strategies, etc.
- Offer a shocker – a shocking 80% of people, the hidden dangers of, etc.
- Point out mistake – 5 SEO mistakes you’re making, etc.
- Expert knowledge – 5 secrets of successful SEO professionals, etc.
Spend time on your headlines and have a look around at others in your niche, paying attention to the amount of engagement on posts, to further inform your choices. You can also later use analytics to help you to understand which headlines have attracted the most clicks.
Your chosen primary keyword should be used in the headline, as close to the front of the title as possible.
When it comes to the actual content of your post, the first thing to bear in mind is that you should use keywords sparingly. The days of writing posts optimised for a specific keyword density are well and truly over. You should write naturally and for your audience above all else if the post is to be truly useful to your reader.
You can and should use your primary keyword a couple of times throughout the text, and in one sub header. Most of the time, you’ll find that the keyword occurs naturally throughout the text as you write. Use contextual phrases to give additional context to the search engines too.
Consider too the use of long-tail keywords whilst carrying out your keyword research and which are the best to target. The Panda 4.1 update was introduced in order to winnow out shallow content, so don’t write 300-word posts, they provide very little in the way of value to the reader. Instead, you should look to create longer posts of 800-1000 words and occasionally, up to 2000 words.
This should present a solid overview of what the post is about and contain at least one of your targeted keywords and phrases. It should have the ability to hook the reader in and make them want to read on.
To do this, the introduction should offer something of interest such as statistics, little-known information or an emotional hook.
Here you discuss the main principle of the post, detailing how to go about something or giving further information. Again, write for your audience, using language that they understand and formatting for readability. You can also use Flesch Kincaid readability scoring if you feel that it’s necessary.
- Include sub headers around once every three paragraphs or so
- Leave clear white space between paragraphs
- Keep sentences and paragraphs short (around 6-8 lines deep maximum)
- Use images to illustrate your points and further break up text
- Use bullet points to break up text
For SEO, you’re using keywords, but for the reader, you need to ensure that the content is scannable as people read differently on a screen than they do print – generally in an F-shaped pattern. This means that the more that you can break up the text, the easier it will be to read.
You should avoid using industry jargon, or words that are long and convoluted. This isn’t ‘dumbing down’ the piece, but is working to ensure that it flows well for the reader. As soon as a reader has to stop in their tracks to make sense of a word or sentence, you’ve lost them.
Your conclusion should wrap up any argument and give a summary of the content of the post. You can if you like emulate some web writers and place a list of key takeaways at the end, for easy reference. You should also include a CTA, such as an invitation to comment, or an offer to get in touch to discuss a product.
You shouldn’t include footnotes as reference, as I see some sites do. This just gives the reader more to do and it’s much preferable to link to something in the body of the post so that readers can see that there’s supporting information on the subject, should they want it.
The Meta Description
For many site owners and SEOs, WordPress has made it a simple affair to optimise the meta description on the fly using one of the plugins for SEO such as the ever-popular Yoast. Meta descriptions are there for the search engines to understand what the post is about.
The meta description is the part that appears under the post title in search, so it’s also useful to readers. It should be 160 characters long as a maximum and it should contain your targeted keyword or phrase. Don’t use the same meta description in more than one post and do ensure that it acts as a CTA so that people click through to read the post.
The meta description is your second chance when it comes to getting that all important click through to the post after your headline. So give context, make it sound intriguing and promise to deliver a great post.
Learn how to write compelling headlines that drive engagement and clicks in this excellent post by ….
Or you can start with a question:
Want to learn how to write compelling headlines that drive engagement? Joe Bloggs offers some valuable tips in …
Links point to referring and supporting information in your copy and also tell Google that it’s useful content. You should use both internal and external links within your post; the former allows for better search engine crawling of your site and tells them that there’s further useful information to be found there.
Linking out to sites that have a larger domain authority than your own, or is a respected resource (such as academic sites) demonstrates to the search engines that your site values good information that others create.
You should link to:
- Pages that support something you discuss (research, stats)
- In-depth content on your site that’s relevant
- Sites that are in the same niche as yours, or discuss the same topic
- Useful resources discussed in the post
- Further reading on the subject you’re discussing
If you create great content that is truly useful to the reader and distribute it across various channels and in email newsletters, then you will attract links back to your site/post naturally. Link building remains relevant to SEO, but should be approached with caution if you’re a beginner, as poor quality, spammy backlinks can be harmful.
Find Your Voice
It’s not useful to post blogs that are overly promotional as these don’t give any value to the reader, particularly. You should focus strongly on your audience and their likes and needs above all else, including the search engines. Avoid too getting carried away with your own writing prowess; whilst it might seem like a great idea to post an opinion piece, listing all of the things you dislike about something, courting controversy is risky.
Of course, it works for some sites. I’ve read a few posts recently that have been littered with profanities which I can only imagine appeals to a specific demographic that the site knows well (I can’t think of any other reason for doing it).
When writing, allow your own voice to shine through. Inject a little of your personality and it will be much easier to read and for readers to relate to you, your experiences and expertise, rather than just offering a dry list of facts. You can have an opinion (but it helps if you know your stuff) and you can offer it, but do try to back up any claims that you make with relevant research to give further weight to the post. New writers, or those who are not particularly confident of their skills, tend to avoid writing in their own voice as they worry that they’re not good enough. Leave that at the door, use great, and relatively extensive research, and write about subjects that you know well – this will boost your confidence and allow your voice to shine through.
SEO copywriting is a skill that’s often dismissed, but it takes work, practice and experience to get it right. The words on your site, whether they’re for the front page or a blog, are what will convince people to trust you and your business. With this in mind, it pays to construct them with care, and to understand why people will want to read and what they hope to gain from doing so.