As an SEO specialist myself, it might seem odd for me to open a guide to SEO copywriting by saying that I actually despise that term. To me “SEO copywriting,” is reminiscent of days of old where it was all about shoehorning in as many keywords to website content as you could.
But SEO considerations really should have a key place when it comes to writing web copy and it is possible to create compelling, engaging copy optimised for search without it reading like cr*p.
What is SEO Copywriting?
Right. Let’s start with this because there are lots of varying opinions on this. In my view (and for the purposes of this guide) I’m considering SEO copywriting to be essentially any copy for a website, landing page or digital asset that is optimised for specific keywords and topics with the core objective of driving traffic from search engines.
In my view, SEO considerations shouldn’t come at the expense of the quality of the content, the flow of the content or the overall objective of the copy (whether that’s to convince, convert, inform or anything else).
How to Get Started With SEO Copywriting
So, you’re a copywriter. You can string a sentence together and have a way with words that makes people buy.
Fantastic. Your skills are exceptionally in demand.
This guide isn’t here to teach you grammar and spelling. And I don’t believe anyone can fully teach great copy. Some people just have a knack. What it is here to do is to make recommendations for things to consider in your copy to ensure key SEO elements are taken care of.
So without further ado (or waffle) let’s crack on with practical tips for SEO copywriting.
1. Start with Your Objectives and Audience
Whenever you start a piece of copywriting, you’re probably already considering objectives and audience.
Are you trying to sell a product? Or inform? Are you trying to build trust or credibility? Don’t start copy with SEO objectives. Start with the what the goal is once you get users on your website because that will make your writing better, in my view.
From there, who’s the target audience? What’s the demographic? Because that too could influence how you write, the sort of language you might use (or indeed avoid).
2. Keyword Research
At this point, I’d suggest moving into keyword research.
Keyword research at full scale is its own beast and we link to some great guides on it in this round up of SEO resources.
But some keyword research as a part of any copywriting is a sensible early step. Everyone goes about it in different ways, but here’s my take:
Start with a pen and paper (old school, I know) and write down the things you think people might type into Google when they’re looking for the information, products or services on the page you’re writing. So, if it’s copy for a washing machines category page for an appliances website, you’re probably thinking words like “washing machines,” and “buy washing machines.”
They’re the immediately obvious ones. But don’t forget other variants (“large washing machines,” “narrow washing machines” or “combined washer and dryer).
Write down as many as you can think of.
Then hit the tools.
If you’re writing copy with SEO objectives, then investing in a keyword research tool will be useful.
The quality of the output of any tool is limited by the quality of what you put in. And that’s why I’m a fan of doing the above exercise first with pen and paper so you have a number of different options in mind already.
Once you have these ideas, you’re going to want to know how many searches there are for these.
A number of third party tools will estimate this for you. Personally, I like Kwfinder.com for its simplicity as a keyword research tool.
It lets you put a keyword in:
And then tells you roughly how many searches there are per month in your chosen territory for that query and other similar ones:
But more than that. You can choose to view “autocomplete” or “questions.” Auto complete are suggestions derived from Google Suggest (the suggestions that Google makes when you start typing your query in, which based on previous search queries entered).
Questions uses that data to pull out related questions that people ask Google and that you might want to address in your copy too.
From here, you can compile a list of keywords. Personally, I like to split them into primary and secondary keywords – the primary ones being the biggest, often largest volume and most competitive. The secondary queries include variants and sometimes include some of those question keywords as well as other supporting queries.
Beware of keyword cannibalisation. For those of you not hugely familiar with SEO that might sound like some weird virus! But what we mean by that is don’t deliberately set out to optimise this page for keywords that other pages on the site are optimised for.
So, for example, your main washing machine categories page wouldn’t be optimised deliberately for “hotpoint washing machines” if your website also had a brand page that showed all the Hotpoint machines.
You can read more about keyword cannibalisation here.
So by the end of this process you want a list of keywords important to your landing page. And now we’ll talk about the next steps and what to do with them.
2. Get to Understand Your Competitors
So this is all about understanding who’s ranking already and what they’re doing in terms of the copy and content on their landing page.
You need to understand (ideally for all of those who rank in the top 10 for your most important target keyword):
- How much content they’ve got on their landing page
- The way in which they’re using keywords throughout content
- Their use of subheadings
- Synonyms and close variants of keywords they use
You can, of course, manually source all of this information. But there are tools like Frase.io which can do a lot of this research for you. You simply enter your query and select “create new content” with the search type of “Top Google Results.”
From here, you’ll get information like this:
And then a breakdown of specific structures of content on each competing page:
You’ll also find topics to include based on competitors performing well and questions you can include.
The tool goes a step further and will even export a brief for you based on the data. Frase is a time saver for competitive analysis. But my advice is that the output of Frase, as with any other tool, needs careful review and don’t follow tool output blindly. Use some common sense and don’t get too tied up with what it says.
Another tool that does something similar is SurferSEO.
3. Write a Structure for Your Content (with Subheadings)
The next thing to do is write a structure for your content. I’m going to go back to an original point here: lead with your target audience in mind. What questions do they need answering on this page? What objections do you need to overcome and what reassurances do you need to make? This, you will often find, naturally aligns with many of the secondary and supporting keywords and questions you identified in your research.
Once you know roughly what your structure should look like, including subheadings (which should become h2 tags on the page itself), try and make an effort to ensure keywords are in there. Subheadings should ideally include these words where they fit naturally.
4. Page Title Time
One of the most important content elements will be the page title. It should include your most important keyword(s) but equally needs to make sense and compel users to click when they see it in search.
Above is an example of how page titles on some high performing websites look in Google search results.
Argos keeps it simple and short (perhaps an automated approach to scale across their site). Others include a number of variants of keywords. Those who have the ellipsis at the end are showing this way because the titles contain more characters than Google will show in search results.
With that in mind, it’s a good time for us to talk about page title length. There’s not a specific page title length in terms of characters. It’s more about width in pixel terms. Moz has a really hand page title preview tool that lets you type in your title and see how it might look in search results. You can find that here.
5. Writing a Meta Description
Your meta description is, in many cases (but not all) what Google will show beneath the page title in the search engine results pages. So actually, one of the key roles is has to play is in determining whether your listing entices people to click.
Now, technically speaking, you can put whatever length of meta description on a page that you wish. But Google will generally snip them and pop that old ellipsis in at around 155 to 160 characters. So it’s probably a good idea to create a meta description that:
- Reads well and naturally
- Is focussed on enticing users to click
- Uses keywords where they fit naturally
6. Getting the Copy Together
This is the bit where many actually start with their copywriting – by diving right in and putting the words together. But actually, by starting with the research you’ve done into target audience and keyword research piece, you go into this bit armed with more information. And you should also have a structure in mind.
Many in SEO might make their own recommendations and have their own opinions here. But here’s the advice I’d give you:
- Remember that this is about the user. Write for humans
- Don’t worry about keyword density – the idea that a keyword makes up a certain percentage of words on a page oversimplifies SEO copywriting
- Write without overthinking the SEO at first
Once you’ve written a first draft, then go back and look at whether you’ve used keywords in the rough quantities your initial research suggested you might need them.
I generally find that where the keyword research is properly aligned, the words work themselves in naturally. But sanity check – make sure missing variants are included and your word count is roughly in line with what your competitor research suggests it should be.
7. The Read Aloud Check
So call me old fashioned. But my personal view is that your absolute final checks shouldn’t be about keyword counts. Remember, this piece of copy might have an important part to play in a content marketing campaign, in overall user experience or even in the conversion rate from visit to sale on this page.
So read it aloud. Does it read well? Is it in keeping with the tone of the website?
This piece should sound like a great, natural piece of copy. While this very much is SEO copywriting it, the SEO should be a background thing – something your users don’t see. Don’t let it get in the way of great content.
Ok, so we appreciate this is a really brief guide and there’s a lot more to it than we can possibly fit in a single article. So here are some further resources you may find useful in mastering the art of SEO copywriting: