Digital marketing is funny stuff. Take SEO, which has been around for fifteen years or so in one form or another.
Some of the people I speak to have just caught onto SEO, with a basic understanding of what it means to optimise content for search engines and visitors. Some are still convinced it means stuffing content with key terms ’til it’s so full it groans. An alarming number of businesses guess their key terms rather than researching them. A few wouldn’t know SEO from a hole in the ground. Now and again I come across someone who knows their SEO onions.
I’ve provided a freelance SEO copywriting service since the early days, when it really did involve playing the system through keyterm stuffing. Thankfully my job is very different seven years on. It’s more creative and less mechanical, more about quality and relevance, pleasing people first instead of search engine algorithms. While the fundamentals of SEO copywriting still apply, it’s much subtler.
If you’re lost in SEO space without a clue about what to do and what to avoid, here are my top seven SEO copywriting tips for optimising your content. Just remember they’re not set in stone. Things change all the time. More probably than not, they’ll change again.
Top 7 seo copywriting tips
1. Research key terms and phrases
According to Google, using individual keywords in content isn’t as important as the overall flavour and meaning. But right now including the right key terms still makes a big difference. And not including them doesn’t do you any marketing favours.
Your first step is to identify the phrases relevant to your products or services, ie. those people actually use to find stuff like yours when searching Google, Bing and so on. The Google Adwords Keyword Planner, just relaunched, is a great tool and pretty simple to use.
You can forget single, top-level key words. It makes much better marketing sense to dig deeper. If you focus on the keyword ‘car’, for example, people finding your site could be looking for all sorts of random things to do with cars. It doesn’t signal their intent – it just isn’t specific enough.
When you use longer terms instead, things like ‘buy a 1990 Ford Fiesta’, you fulfil the searcher’s intent directly. Provided it’s good enough for readers to share it and even link to it, you’ll make a good impression on search engines as well as your target audience.
- Writing copy with key terms in mind means you know for sure the terms you’re using have an audience, and that there’s a genuine demand for the information. You can target your work directly to a proven need, interest or requirement, tapping into your target audience’s preoccupations, desires and the specific stage they’re at in the buying cycle.
- Writing copy without key terms in mind means you’re guessing what your target audience wants to know. You write the best possible content bearing in mind what you think their interests, preoccupations and on are likely to be, but you don’t know for sure. You might be way off, using terms people just don’t use in searches.
In a nutshell, it’s mad not to use keyword research to inform everything from your site architecture to the content itself, online marketing, advertising, PR and promotions. It’s the very first thing you should do.
Here’s what Moz says about keywords:
“Keyword research is one of the most important, valuable, and high return activities in the search marketing field. Ranking for the “right” keywords can make or break your website. Through the detective work of puzzling out your market’s keyword demand, you not only learn which terms and phrases to target with SEO, but also learn more about your customers as a whole.
It’s not always about getting visitors to your site, but about getting the right kind of visitors. The usefulness of this intelligence cannot be overstated – with keyword research you can predict shifts in demand, respond to changing market conditions, and produce the products, services, and content that web searchers are already actively seeking. In the history of marketing, there has never been such a low barrier to entry in understanding the motivations of consumers in virtually every niche.”
Here’s a link to the totally excellent Moz Beginners Guide to Keyword Research. And here’s a link to Bing’s keyword research tool, which comes with these cool advantages:
- All Data is from Organic Search – All query volumes and keyword suggestions are based on organic search, not on paid search or search advertising data, giving you the most natural ideas and accurate numbers.
- Up to 6 months of Data – The Keyword Research tool shows stats and suggestions based on up to 6 months of historical data. No averages.
- Keyword Ideas by Language and Country/Region – The Keyword Research tool can generate keyword suggestions in wide range of languages and countries/regions, allowing you to fine-tune your keyword ideas for the markets you serve.
- Research History – Simplify your keyword research with a history of up to 25 keywords for quick access to prior topics you researched.
2. Using key terms and related terms in your content
Years ago I’d calculate the percentage key term density in a piece of content. Nowadays I write naturally, including key terms and similar terms where they have the most impact, then checking I haven’t inadvertently overdone it.
It still makes sense to include key terms in your headline, the first subhead, and sparingly elsewhere, perhaps in italics, in bold or in a list of bullet points, simply because it still seems to help search engines classify where the content belongs in terms of search.
As a general rule, if your content sounds contrived and weird you’ve almost certainly over-cooked it.
3. Title tags and meta data
A title tag is simply the web page’s title, which shows up in the search results. The meta description is the two sentences underneath. If you’ve ever gone through page one of Google and rejected results because the meta description or title tag tells you it doesn’t contain the right information, you’ll realise how important they are.
It helps to put key terms in both of them because it still helps search engines do their thing, and helps people decide whether or not to click on your entry in the search results. Your title tag should be 70 characters maximum, and the meta description 160 characters max.
Your brief? To make the title and description as attractive, interesting and inspirational as possible, to encourage people to click through the search results to your site. It’s a marketing thing, and any good SEO copywriter will know how to craft something irresistible.
4. Write fantastic stuff
Everyone’s banging on about quality content. I’ve talked about it before, many times, in all sorts of contexts.
Quality content means writing intelligently in plain language. It means writing beautifully, so your message flows perfectly and the language supports your argument. It’s about being succinct, not waffling. Ordering your information logically so it makes sense. Including all the information people could possibly need without overdoing it, to the right level of detail. And including trusted references and research sources where appropriate. Good grammar, perfect spelling plus style, flair and personality.
5. Make it unique
It’s no good just doing ‘me too’ content. If you want to attract search engine attention, how can you add extra value? You need to give people more than your competitors by doing a better job.
You can include your own opinions and experiences. Other people’s feedback. Quotes from Wikipedia, the BBC and other trusted sources. You can go into deeper detail, focus harder on the nitty gritty, provide links to vital resources and reviews, add clear instructions and deliver ‘how to’ guidance. You could add a genuinely useful infographic or carry out original research through a survey or questionnaire. Just make your content, whatever form it takes, the best it possibly can be, all the time, every time.
Search engines can’t ‘see’ images. All they can do is read the image ‘alt’ text. You could include a photo of a space alien and use the alt tag “a slice of Battenburg cake” and Google wouldn’t have a clue. Which makes alt tags pretty important.
You can use key terms in the alt tag as long as it benefits human visitors. Put people with visual disabilities first. If someone can’t see your image, does the alt text make sense or just confuse the hell out of them?
Some content naturally works better with lots of images. Other kinds of content don’t demand imagery, although pictures always draw the human eye and often help keep people interested. Search engines are keen to make the pages they surface accessible to everyone, and optimising images for SEO helps them achieve exactly that. Which means it’s good for business.
7. Social promotion
The equation goes like this:
- Great content plus social media promotion equals sharing and links
- Sharing, links and the extra visitors they deliver all tell search engines that people like your content
- Search engines ‘reward’ you with better search results positions for the key phrases you’ve factored in
Add share buttons to every page or blog post you create, to make sharing easy for visitors. The harder you make it, the less likely they’ll be to share your stuff.
You need to promote your content on social media. You really can’t do without it in today’s SEO landscape. If you’e not in it, you can’t win it. If you don’t do anything else, get your Google + act together and join the dots.
Take the SEO route to better site visibility
If you’re looking for reliable, professional SEO copywriting services or an SEO blog writing service, I’m your lady. Walk this way.