SEO Copywriting: The Insider’s Guide to Rank Content Fast
Jan 17, 2020|Read time: 16 min.
- Map your audience’s needs, interests, pain points and search behavior to keywords.
- Analyze competitor content to identify gaps in your keyword strategy.
- Use stories, bucket brigades and visual content to keep readers engaged.
- Leverage SEO copywriting tools like Yoast and Clearscope to fine-tune your content.
- Optimize headings, subheadings, URLs and body copy.
You’ve probably heard this phrase before: “Write for people, not for search engines.” That seems logical, right? After all, Google uses natural language processing (NLP) and understands semantics, so who needs SEO copywriting anymore!
Although there is some truth to that quote, it’s easy to misinterpret the intent. What it really means is that you should create high-quality content that users will love, while also following SEO best practices. In other words, don’t just write for users and ignore search engines, or vice versa.
This is a massive topic that bridges multiple disciplines. So, I’ll break it down step-by-step in this practical SEO copywriting guide that will teach you how to drive traffic to your website.
What is SEO copywriting?
SEO copywriting is the art of writing great content for users that also ranks well in search engines. Unlike traditional writing, SEO writing requires expertise in keyword research, on-page SEO, and search intent.
An SEO copywriter’s goal is to craft keyword-focused content that increases your ability to rank, thereby improving organic traffic and conversions. If your site is technically sound and your copy is perfectly optimized, then your off-site SEO will be much more impactful.
Why SEO copywriting matters
You’re probably wondering why SEO web copywriting matters if Google’s algorithm has become so sophisticated that it can comprehend meaning without simply matching keywords. The short answer?
Google prefers optimized content because people prefer optimized content.
In other words, Google does what’s best for its users. And people gravitate towards optimized content because it:
- Strengthens topical relevance
- Improves depth of coverage
- Ensures alignment with search intent
- Provides clear next steps
That means SEO content is more relevant, better aligned and more actionable than non-optimized copy. As a result, users love it, Google ranks it, your lead gen landing pages get more traffic, you lower your bounce rate, and increase conversions.
Content Brief Template
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Hiring an SEO copywriter
Before we jump into some SEO copywriting best practices, let’s talk about who’s going to do it within your organization. Believe it or not, assigning the job to the right person, team or company is just as important as the tips we’ll cover shortly.
You can’t just move one of your existing content strategists into an SEO writing job without a substantial investment in training, certification and oversight. So, unless you already have in-house experts, you’re left with three alternatives.
Hire a specialist who understands content strategy
Depending upon the scope of your content strategy, you may need to hire several specialized SEO writers. That means your infrastructure needs to grow to accommodate the additional employees, including training, development and oversight. This could be more internal friction than you’re willing to take on.
Outsource to a freelancer
Freelancers will put less strain on your infrastructure and budget than full time employees because you can activate them as needed. However, you may determine their risks outweigh their benefits. Since freelancers are usually paid per post, they’ll crank out content quickly to maximize their income. They also might have several clients, and you may not be their top priority. What’s more, they might even sneak a few links into your content to other clients or brands to make some extra cash on the side.
Beyond those issues, freelance SEO copywriters might also be too busy with client work to stay abreast of the latest SEO trends.
Work with an enterprise SEO company
You can overcome nearly all of those hurdles by partnering with an enterprise SEO company like Terakeet. Rather than relying on a single individual for keyword research, competitive analysis, content production and optimization, SEO companies deliver cross-functional expertise that ensures each step in the SEO copywriting process is executed by the most qualified person.
If you’re already working with a firm, make sure they execute their SEO strategy in-house. Many larger agencies outsource some of their activities—such as link building and copywriting—which puts you right back where you started.
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s jump into the tutorial so you can learn the actual processes and tools to get results!
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SEO copywriting best practices
This section boils down some of the best SEO copywriting tips, tools and best practices to help your content achieve better search engine rankings and deliver a bigger SEO ROI.
Know your buyer personas
Writing good SEO copy starts with understanding your target audience and their goals, so develop buyer personas that reflect each of your customers. Look beyond the obvious demographics and think about their psychographic profiles as well.
Great content marketing understands how the audience thinks. What are their values? Their dealbreakers? Their objectives, needs, frustrations and pain points? What voice and tone resonates with them? Write your copy directly to these audience personas, situating your product or service into the larger story of their life or journey.
Map the customer journey through the funnel
Once you know your audience’s goals and pain points, create a customer journey map.
In the awareness phase of the conversion funnel, customers know they have a problem, but they might not have a solution in mind yet. Perhaps a “Top 10 List” or an infographic would be a good fit here.
During the consideration phase, searchers often weigh several possible solutions or products. At this stage, a white paper or product comparison video might be helpful.
But what if they’re ready to make a final decision? Potential customers might want to see a case study or testimonials to confirm the ROI they’ll achieve.
Ultimately, you should create web pages that help customers achieve their goals by meeting their needs at every stage throughout the purchase funnel.
Does your audience want to be convinced, educated, inspired or converted? How does the copy interact with other page elements to meet search intent? What messages do they need to hear at each stage in the funnel (ToFu, MoFu, Bofu)? What call to action should you include in each content piece to guide them to the next phase of the funnel?
As an extra layer of insight, you might want to develop an empathy map to better understand your audience’s emotions and thoughts.
Conduct keyword research
Doing keyword research uncovers how your audience thinks, revealing the questions they have throughout the customer journey.
Depending on the page, you might focus your keyword research on questions, pain points, products or actions. Brainstorm a seed list of possible keywords for the page, then use your preferred keyword research tools to expand the list and pin down the high-impact keyword variants.
While doing keyword research, avoid the temptation to grab only the highest volume terms. It’s critical to consider search intent as well.
Do a thorough competitive analysis
Competitive analysis can help you sniff out unknown competition within the search engine result pages (SERP). Dig into the top-ranking content for your target keyword. While the majority of web pages may be familiar businesses, I’ll bet there are plenty of savvy bloggers and marketers holding top positions as well.
While doing a competitive analysis, ask yourself the following questions about the copy:
- What’s the search intent of the target keyword?
- What is the length and format of the pages?
- How well-written is it?
- What are the H1s and H2s on the pages?
- Are the title, meta description and URLs optimized?
- What’s the keyword density?
- How well-designed are the pages?
- Are there interactive elements?
- Rich snippets?
- Tools or templates?
- Can your page’s copy and design do better?
Take stock of your business competitors too, not just your SEO competitors. After all, even if a competitor is not ranking high in Google on a specific term, your piece of content will still need to be comparatively stronger.
Craft your content
Search engine optimization copywriting can feel a bit chicken-or-egg sometimes. For instance, many SEO strategists swear by working in related keywords as they write. And others prefer to draft the content first and optimize for search terms later.
Personally, I like to build an outline using the framework of my competitive analysis. Then, I write the body copy with my list of keywords nearby for quick reference. After I complete the draft, I add relevant long-tail keywords and related phrases where they fit naturally.
I also recommend including your primary keyword within the intro paragraph, and even the first sentence if possible. Whether or not it’s a ranking factor, it helps to quickly reinforce the topical relevance of your post to readers.
Align with search intent
Some keywords carry obvious search intent, while others are a bit more ambiguous. If you aren’t sure what type of content users prefer for a specific search term, Google it. One of the most critical steps in SEO copywriting is knowing how to determine search intent.
For example, if you’re managing SEO for an ecommerce site, you probably wouldn’t optimize a product page or category page for an informational keyword like “how to decorate a coffee table.” Similarly, a term like “best project management software” returns third-party review sites rather than a single company’s landing page.
Look beyond the obvious types of intent, like informational and transactional, and think about how the content is presented. Are the majority of ranking URLs on the first page of Google for your target keyword listicles, tutorials or definitional blog posts? Use these insights to inform the structure of your content.
Start with a story
Stories are effective. Stories change the brain of the reader.
When a person reads, watches or hears a story, neural activity increases five-fold. The human brain actually produces oxytocin when it’s engaged with a story. Oxytocin is often called an “empathy drug” because it causes people to care. Obviously, this is a good thing when they’re interacting with your brand.
Stories trigger our empathy and imagination by placing us in someone else’s shoes or asking us to imagine a better version of ourselves. They let us simulate common problems we face and then present solutions. They create a world that’s perfectly designed for the target persona, reflecting their concerns and desires.
Aim to invoke as many of the five senses as you can in your story, activating regions all over the brain and increasing the odds of your reader forming a lasting memory. People are 22X more likely to remember something when it has been wrapped in a story. More importantly, stories make an optimized post read more naturally.
Use Voice of the Customer (VoC)
Voice of the Customer (VoC) is a term that describes the feedback from your customers. It includes their experiences with your company as well as their product-related needs, likes, dislikes, misconceptions and more. Involve VoC in your keyword research, content strategy template and storytelling. You’ll be able to attract the right customers to the right pages, capture additional traffic, deliver messaging that resonates and guide them to the actions that matter most.
Use “bucket brigades”
“Here’s the thing.” “It gets better.” “Want to know the best part?”
Bucket brigades are bridge phrases that add conversational value to your copy. This old-school copywriting tactic has a huge impact on SEO because it keeps readers engaged. The snappy phrases are a compelling, relatable way to grab your readers’ attention when they start to drift. Think of them as the punctuation marks for your key points or the mini-headlines that introduce the next concept. Furthermore, they’re an excellent way to add white space to a wordy post.
Fortune 500 Enterprise SEO Playbook
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Link building magnets
Natural backlinks drive search engine optimization success. The more link magnets you include in your content, the less blogger outreach you’ll need to do to earn a sizable backlink profile. What’s more, they also tend to increase social media sharing.
But what are link magnets, and how do they work?
A link magnet is an element within a post that encourages others to share or cite your article. Here are just a few examples:
- Original research
- Aggregated data
- Definitions or explanations
- Industry insights
- And much more
Make it visual
If you want to grab your readers’ attention fast, use visual content.
For example, let’s say you’re targeting high-level executives and you want to describe a tense boardroom meeting. Instead of saying “Your CEO looks tense,” paint a picture using the visual cues that would represent a person under pressure. A clenched jaw or fists, sweating, fidgeting or frowning all convey stress in a more immersive way than simply telling someone.
On a more literal note, you should aim to include more photos, images, data visualizations, callouts or colorful backgrounds within your content. Half of the human brain’s neurons are dedicated to vision. Vision is by far the dominant sense on a neuronal level.
Want more effective engagement? Massive sections of text can quickly exhaust a reader, so separate your copy into digestible chunks with visuals.
Ensure a great experience
Great SEO copywriting isn’t just about high-quality writing, though. It’s essential to pair your master wordsmithing with an excellent user experience. If you’re only writing content to rank high in Google, you’ll greatly limit the digital marketing and business impact from your content. Think more holistically, and consider the business outcomes you’re striving to produce.
Here are some ways to align your copy with great UX:
- Use clear, concise language.
- Don’t tax your readers with long paragraphs and sentences.
- Break up your copy with images, videos, pull quotes, CTAs and other visual elements.
- Make your text visually pleasing and easily skimmable.
- Avoid technical jargon and hyperbolic marketing speak.
- Use bullet points, numbers, bold text, H2s and H3s to add variety into your copy.
- Consider using accordions or sidebars for long blocks of content.
- Add helpful, relevant and descriptive internal links.
- For long blog posts and guides, mix up your formatting. Use lists, quizzes, interactive tools, timelines, infographics and more to break up standard paragraph-style content.
- Define what the reader should do next and make it easy for them to take action.
Content Strategy Playbook
The Fortune 500 CMO’s guide to content strategy.
Optimize your content
It wouldn’t be SEO copywriting if the content weren’t actually optimized. You’ve set a solid foundation with keyword research, compelling writing and a great UX. Now take an SEO pass to make sure all SEO systems are go.
Write a compelling title, meta description and heading
Your title tag, meta description and H1 should all be keyword-optimized, yes. But make sure they also grab the searcher’s attention enough to boost your click-through rate (CTR). Title tags and meta descriptions are like highway billboards: they’re your first chance to tell your customers they’re just a click away from the very best.
Pay close attention to your SERP competitors’ title tags. Are they using keywords first, or formatting titles as a question? Are there synonyms within their page titles as well? What about any other common words?
Capitalize on any patterns you discover while also differentiating your copy from the sea of sameness.
Pay attention to keyword density
Keyword stuffing is perhaps one of the most common mistakes in search engine optimization copywriting. It’s not just bad for search engine optimization, it also makes text painful to read.
Make sure your target keywords appear naturally throughout your post, and use plenty of long-tail keyword variations to reinforce depth of coverage. You should aim for an optimal keyword density that’s in line with the top ranking content for that search term.
Use related and semantic long-tail keywords
Using long-tail keywords in your posts is an excellent way to communicate breadth of coverage. As Google determines the relevance of your page for a particular keyword, it doesn’t just track exact-match mentions. Any time you break your keyword up, pluralize it or use a semantic variant, you’re adding vital context that reinforces the appropriateness of your target keyword.
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Add internal links
Internal linking for SEO is a vital part of the copywriting process. Add useful, contextually relevant internal links to your copy to help both Google search and users continue their journey to related content.
Just remember not to add too many, and don’t force links where they don’t belong. Additionally, use descriptive, keyword-rich anchor text that conveys meaning about the page you’re linking to. Read my definitive anchor text guide for more insights.
Add image alt text
Another place for helpful and descriptive language? Your image alt text. Add alt text to every image on your site, making sure it’s keyword-optimized but that it describes the image first and foremost. Your vision-impaired users rely on these image descriptions to make sense of the page. And your site’s accessibility will impact its SEO. It’s also a common courtesy.
Write for featured snippets
Google doesn’t want to send its users on a journey when it doesn’t have to. Increasingly, the search engine uses featured snippets to answer questions directly at the top of the search results.
Featured snippets aren’t an SEO roadblock. They’re an opportunity. Write for featured snippets and you’ll be the cited resource at the top of the page. This increases authority and brand awareness, establishes your expertise and makes your content leagues more visible than every other result on page one. There are three major types of featured snippets: paragraphs, lists and tables. Match your content formatting to the type that’s most likely to come up for your target keywords.
Optimize your subheadings
By this point, your SEO copy should have an attention-grabbing and seo-friendly H1, along with similarly compelling H2s and H3s. In addition to moving the reader along, your subheadings provide another opportunity to optimize for keywords and key concepts. Make sure each header is descriptive and skimmable. And include your target keyword when it’s appropriate.
Add CTAs to increase conversions and engagement
Don’t just add the same cookie-cutter CTAs to every post. Think critically about their function and language: where should they go? What should they say? At what point will the customer be ready to click? A/B test different page layouts and CTAs against one another and use behavioral intelligence tools to see what elements grab users’ attention. Try different sizes, colors and words until you discover your winning CTAs. And remember that it’s perfectly fine to test the inclusion of multiple CTAs on the page.
Use SEO copywriting tools for on-page optimization
While they’re not quite a substitute for human eyes, on-page SEO analysis tools like Yoast and Clearscope can streamline your copy review process when you’re working at scale.
Typically, it’s hard for SEO metrics to measure qualitative values like writing. However, these tools do a great job of grading your content to improve rankings.
On-Page SEO Checklist
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Yoast’s readability score weighs your content against common metrics to make sure it’s easy for readers and search engines to understand. It measures how you use semantic elements such as active voice and transition words as well as structural elements like length of words, sentences, paragraphs and sections—all in real time.
Although “readability” isn’t an official ranking factor, it makes sense that writing more clearly helps search engines understand your text better and keep users engaged longer.
Yoast’s complementary SEO score is like a quick-and-dirty SEO copywriting checklist. It measures keyword usage in the URL, page title, meta description, H1, subheadings and body copy. But that’s not all. Yoast also keeps you in the loop about other on-page SEO best practices, such as image alt text and internal links. It’s a great way to take a baseline measurement so you can zero in on how to improve your SEO.
Clearscope content optimization
Clearscope leverages AI to bring you a more powerful and comparative on-page assessment tool to ensure your SEO copywriting is effective. The tool quickly analyzes the top 30 ranking URLs for your target keyword. Then, it scores competitor content against your own copy using several metrics including word count, readability and usage of “relevant terms.”
It’s important to note that Clearscope’s “relevant terms” aren’t the same thing as LSI keywords. Relevant terms are semantic entities that appear in competitor copy. In other words, they may not be directly related to your target keyword, but they tend to be used on many of the top ranking pages.
INK content optimization
INK is an AI-powered content optimization editor that combines multiple functions in one platform. The tool uses AI to score your content against your competitors’ content. Then, it provides SEO copywriting recommendations in the form of clear, actionable Task Cards.
INK features include headline optimization, spelling and grammar suggestions, metadata, image optimization, readability scoring, and several accessibility features.
SEO and copywriting go hand in hand. But they’re also just one piece of the larger enterprise search engine optimization puzzle.
In order to capture more organic search market share from your competitors, you must first build a strong foundation through technical SEO. Next, construct the scaffolding of your content strategy through intelligent keyword targeting and persona mapping. Then, produce incredible 10X content. Finally, boost your off-page SEO signals by promoting your content to earn valuable backlinks and brand mentions.