The Basics Of SEO Copywriting: How to write for search engines and get more traffic
Once upon a time, people were the only possible intended audience for a piece of writing. Sure, you could run it by your dog for a bit of creative input, but his opinion was rarely useful, and invariably involved the addition of ‘woofs’ at inappropriate points.
Now we write for machines as well as humans. Not as all-powerful overlords (well, maybe a little), but as gatekeepers determining what content is worthy to be seen by their fleshy counterparts.
Before you can get your content where it can do some good – in front of your customers' eyes - it must first be judged and assigned a ranking. This ranking shows how relevant the search engine thinks your web page is for the search term that has been entered. And it determines when your web page will be shown, relative to your competitors.
There has been much talk of SEO being dead and advice from content marketers to "write for people, not search engines" but the fact remains that high rankings for terms appropriate to your products and services will lead to commercial gain. If you seek traffic, sales and success online, writing for search engines needs to be a top priority.
Mark your content out as relevant
Google's business model and very existence revolve around it showing users content which is as relevant to their queries as possible. So your first job is to create content which is relevant – which deals with common questions/ problems/ needs related to your offerings – and your second is to make sure that the search engines view it as relevant.
You can do this by identifying and then using relevant keywords.
Keyword research should start with a brain storm around what words and topics are the most relevant to your offerings and your core audience. Focus on the terms you think your customers will be using when they search for your service or product. This is the "art" bit of keyword research because you understand your market far better than anyone else. A good starting point is educated guess work before using tools to analyse your choices.
Also, don't get hung up on perfection - ultimately you will need to test your keywords in the marketplace to see what works. SEO is an ongoing, iterative process. Only the search engines know the secret formula for how to get rankings - everybody else works by testing strategies and seeing what gets the best results.
Another piece of advice for this initial brainstorm stage is to think about alternative reasons that search engine users might enter a term. You may think a phrase is a good match for what you want to sell, but there may be multiple reasons why someone would be using a key phrase.
For example, are most of the people searching for the term "travel copywriter" looking for a travel copywriter or are they looking for a job as a travel copywriter? Are they looking for articles on how to be a travel copywriter?
Often the best terms when it comes to conversions are those that have a limited set of meanings so there is a closer match between what the user is searching for and the products and services you offer. For example, there's less ambiguity in a phrase like "best restaurant in El Paso for Korean barbeque."
Once you have this initial list, it's time to refine it further. If you have a Google Adwords account, you can use the keyword planner tool to find out relevant statistics for your keywords, such as search volumes and competition levels for that particular keyword.
You can also identify related terms which are better suited or which you may also wish to search for. Alternative keyword tools include SEMrush, Adthena and Wordstream. In selecting useful keywords, you should pick those which:
- Substantial numbers of users are searching for (mid-high search volume)
- Are not already overused by your competitors (low-mid competition)
Long tail phrases that are highly relevant to your business but will result in fewer searches (low competition)
Once you've selected your optimal keywords, you need to use them in your content, BUT don't go nuts. Using each keyword 2-3 times in the copy (depending on the length of the piece) is enough to show that your content has relevance, and trying to cram them in wherever you can have a detrimental effect on readability for actual humans.
According to Rand Fishkin of Moz, you should also endeavour to include your chosen keyword in the following areas of your content:
- One time in the title tags of your page. Total title length should ideally be 55 characters max according to Orbit Media.
- Once in the page headline
- Once in the meta description. The ideal meta description is 155 characters max.
A quick note on meta descriptions. These are an important area of overlap for SEO and human usability because it's the first thing users see when glancing through search results. They must be accurate and compelling, summarising what users can expect to find if they click-through.
A survey by iAquire found that 43.2% of people click-through to a page from search based on what they’ve read in the meta description.
Get the length of content right
Although leading SEO tool, Yoast recommends content that is at least 300 characters long, detailed research by serpIQ paints a different picture. Their research reveals that top 10 ranking pages consistently have 2,000 words or more.
Satisfying the machines’ desire for well-structured content
Search engines are fanatical about structural precision. Their algorithms seek out content that is laid out to aid greater usability. Those that structure do so at their own peril.
In practice, this means a few things. Firstly you should write in short paragraphs for reading ease - 50% of what you would usually write for print is a general rule of thumb. For those of you who never write for print, we try to keep paragraphs to around four lines max.
You should also break up your content with headlines, sub-headers and bullet lists to aid scan-reading. Include keywords wherever possible to boost its apparent relevance to the search engines.
Finally, be sure to link internally and externally to relevant content. Your content is not an island, and Google is particularly fond of pages which link through to other authoritative resources.
Additional SEO techniques for content success
- Use long tail keywords – Modern internet users often enter their searches in the form of a question or longer string of words. You can capitalise on this fact by anticipating and using such phrases in your content, like ‘where can I buy wheels for a Honda Civic' or ‘How to make sure a dress will fit'. Sub-headers and page headers/titles are natural points to include these, and doing so will also boost your SEO relevance for these terms.
- Audit your anchor text – Does the physical text that links to relevant internal and external content contain your keywords? Carrying out an audit of your site-wide anchor text to ensure that this is the case may provide a significant SEO boost.
- Identify trends – When creating content for your blog and other regularly updated areas of your site, take a look at Google Trends to find out what search topics are currently popular and which are currently gaining in popularity. By tackling these topics in your content, you can gain additional traffic off the back of their popularity.