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  • How to Write for SEO: A Guide to SEO Copywriting

    How to Write for SEO: A Guide to SEO Copywriting

    Combine phenomenal copywriting skills with SEO, and your content marketing strategy will be on the road to gaining highly targeted readers that instantly become hot leads and customers.

    But how do you come up with persuasive blog and content copy that’s also highly optimized for search?

    You can either:

    1. Hire our blog & content writing service or
    2. Do it yourself (start your own blog and write your own content)

    If you opt for the latter, we suggest following this basic, but powerful process.

    What does it mean to write for SEO?

    What does it mean to write for SEO

    This definition of SEO writing from Ahrefs explains it nicely:

    SEO writing is the process of researching, outlining, creating, and optimizing content to rank for a target keyword in Google and other search engines.

    Write your content for people and optimize it for search. Your web presence won’t get far without quality content, but it’s equally important to add the elements that make it consumable for search engines.

    Start with good writing. Crap, I got a D in English class, you think. Well, don’t worry. We have plenty of free advice about SEO copywriting and creating quality content. In this post, we want to focus more on the optimization part.

    Keyword Research & Content Gap Analysis

    Other than writing well, choosing a keyword is probably the most important part of this process because it’s essential for getting found on search engines.

    Use keyword research tools to help you find relevant keywords that have 1) low competition, and 2) a good amount of search.

    There are lots of free and paid keyword research tools available, but I recommend Google Adwords Keyword Tool.

    Google’s very own keyword research tool helps you find and target keywords by competition level (low, medium, or high), search volume (local or global), and match type (exact, phrase, or broad match).

    We also actively use Ahrefs for the following:

    1. Content gap analysis. Compare your site against competitors to know where your existing content is deficient or what target keywords you may not be targeting or ranking for but should.
    2. Keyword search volume analysis. Using Ahrefs Keywords Explorer, find opportunities in various low and zero volume search phrases as well as high volume keywords that you can target for SEO purposes.

     

    Keyword Research & Content Gap Analysis

     

    That’s why it’s important that when you write copy, first create an outline of what you plan to write. You’ll want to visualize what points you want to make, and how to break those points into smaller chunks so that readers can easily scan through it while still absorbing information.

    The article’s most important points should be found in the headline, sub-headlines, bullet points, and in the first few lines of every paragraph.

    To attract your target customer when you’re searching for a term, you need to stand out against the crowd of competitors and other businesses. Keywords, in a sense, act like banners that say, “Hey!  Hello? I’m over here, and this is what my web page is about” and drive visitors to your site. They are terms and phrases that help humans and search engines identify the topics that your content covers.

    One way to narrow down on a primary keyword for your piece of content is to check how competitive certain search terms are. In your favorite keyword tool enter the keyword or phrase you’re thinking of and see what comes up. The keywords and phrases with the higher search volume numbers are the more competitive ones and therefore harder to rank for. Singular keywords like “shoes” are usually the most competitive.

    Therefore, you’re probably better off with long-tail keywords, which are usually more specific and less common than other keywords. An example of this would be choosing “striped rubber ducks” over “rubber ducks.”

    Outline & Begin Your Draft

    An outline keeps you organized and provides a useful frame of reference. You can keep it high-level or granular. Highlight the main points your content will cover, and determine subheadings and sub-points.

    In our outline, make sure you answer the questions:

    • Who am I writing for?
    • What’s the topic?
    • Why should they care about the topic?

    Next, go forth and draft! This is where you empathize with the user’s pain points. Paint a picture of where they’ve been, where they are, and how you’ll help them get there. Give tangible examples and guide them with practical steps at each point in their journey.

    Start with a Solid Promise

    Your headline, or subject line for emails, should make a bold promise that your target audience couldn’t possibly ignore. The promise within the headline should compel your audience to want to consume the entire message below.

    A headline such as “50% Off for the First 10 Subscribers” has all the elements of a sure hit. Other headlines that offer gripping promises tend to include terms like Guaranteed, Fast, In Two Days, etc.

    This strategy works best for marketers who have already established strong relationships and trust with their customers.

    However, nothing says a newbie marketer mustn’t use this technique in a headline, especially if he or she can honestly deliver on a bold promise.

    Write for “Skimmers”

    The odds are relatively good that you’re simply scanning or skimming this very blog post. That’s actually how most people normally consume content online.

    In fact, the heat map data confirms it:

    Heatmap
    Source: BusienssInsider

    Write a Killer Headline & Meta Description

    So, you have a layout of how your copy will look; it’s now time to hook potential readers with a killer, magnetic headline.

    Magnetic headlines and meta descriptions should compel potential readers to want to read your article. Some elements of a powerful and magnetic headline or meta description include:

    • A power word such as “Amazing”, “Revealed”, “Introducing”
    • A number (Top 3, Top 10, Five Things You Need to Know, etc.)
    • Statement of at least two bold claims (promise)
    • Keywords

    The keywords should be included within the headline and meta description in order to optimize for SEO, since the headline generally becomes the title tag of the page as well as the H1 tag. The H1 tag is still one of the most important elements in on page SEO, and the title tag is the single most important factor.

    Write Killer Sub-headlines

    Now that you’ve chosen a primary keyword and what stage of the funnel it maps to, you’ll want to consider the subtopics you’ll want to cover in your piece. It’s not a bad idea to check out the competition to get inspiration (not duplicate, of course) for ideas. Look at your competitor’s high-ranking pages and the headings on their pages and note common topics. This is also a time to check out in your SEO tool what keywords and search engine rankings your competitors are holding for so you can strategize about how to out-optimize them.

    The sub headline (which, for you SEO junkies, are usually surrounded in an H2 tag), usually comes after the main headline and before every major section of the copy. Each sub headline should contain LSI (related) keywords. For a list of LSI terms, use the Google Keyword Tool for keyword research and it’ll suggest a whole slew of related terms.

    You can also get ideas from the People Also Ask boxes to see common questions people are searching for the answers to. You want evergreen content—content with topics that will always be relevant and compelling and don’t have an expiration date.

    People also ask

    The sub headline should also summarize important points of the copy (remember the scanners?).

    Highlight, Bold, Underline and Italicize

    When you highlight, bold, underline and italicize a key point, you put emphasis on the main points. That helps readers; especially the scanners. It also helps search engine robots determine relevance of your article for keywords.

    Emphasizing the keywords by underlining or bolding them sends a signal to the robots on what the content is all about.

    Use Bullets

    The important sections of your copy could also be emphasized with bullet points. Cutting down your points into smaller chunks also makes your copy very easy to read and more engaging. This is especially true when you want to convert people on a services page. Our SEO services page is a good example:

    Use Bullets
    We try to include creative (non-dot) bullets with smaller, digestible chunks of information, rather than long paragraphs.

    Clarity

    Clear writing is writing that communicates all of your intentions with as few ambiguities and as many details as possible. It’s not a new phenomenon; companies have been striving for better clarity for decades, and it’s always been a part of academia.

    Clear Writing

    (Image Source: Hubspot)

    You could just strive to “write clearer,” but that isn’t a specific or actionable strategy. Instead, let’s take a look at specific ways you can increase the clarity of your writing.

    Front-Loading

    Front-loading is the process of including more relevant information earlier on in your writing. It’s important for several reasons, and manifests in multiple different ways. For example, you can front-load an entire article by putting your most relevant information in the headline of your piece, or you can front-load a single sentence by leveraging the most useful and/or necessary information in your first few words. Why do this?

    • Attention. Your readers’ attention spans are short, valuable, and fragile. Many of them will only skim over your article, but almost all of them will catch the earliest information in your headline, intro, paragraphs, and sentences. Front-loading takes advantage of this, and gets your message to the greatest possible number of people.
    • Context. Writing is a process of introduction and clarification; just as this sentence illustrates, your job is to introduce a topic and then explain how or why it’s relevant. Introducing your main point earlier gives readers a grounding of context before they move on to your examples.
    • Memory. Introducing your valuable information earlier on gives you a chance to strengthen the overall memorability of your message, especially if you repeat that message tastefully in the rest of your work.

    The most important opportunities for front-loading exist in your headlines, sub-headers, and topic sentences.

    Organization

    The organization of your article is also necessary to communicate your points clearly. Again, there are a number of reasons for this.

    A casual reader or skimmer will be able to browse the article from a distance and pick out precisely the information he/she needs with minimal effort. In-depth readers will appreciate the logical flow of one idea to the next. During the writing process, it can even help you flesh out some of your most important ideas. Take a look at how the simple topic breakdown of the Wikipedia page for the Beatles immediately makes the long, complex page more decipherable and approachable:

    Wikipedia

    (Image Source: Wikipedia)

    This should be your goal, though you don’t need to have a strict table of contents like this. Throughout your article, you’ll want to hit on the main points of organization quality:

    • Logical transitions. Don’t include points randomly, and don’t use non-sequiturs to jump from one topic to another. Even a casual reader should be able to identify why your sections exist as they do, and feel comfortable shifting from one to the other.
    • Deliberate order. If you can rearrange the list of sub-topics you present in your article, you’ve probably done something wrong. There should be a meaningful and deliberate order to your sub-sections, even if that just means including your most valuable points at the end of the article.
    • Framing. Your introduction and conclusion are the most powerful parts of your article; use them wisely.

    This should be one of the first things you accomplish for your article, since you can do it during the outline process, and it basically dictates everything else in your piece.

    Formatting

    The formatting of your article can also lend some serious clarity to your piece overall. Though some elements of formatting and organization are somewhat interchangeable, there is a truly significant distinction; organization refers to your choice and order of broad topics, while formatting refers to how you present those topics in a visual format.

    For example, breaking up your content into paragraphs of related, short sentences is far better than leaving your audience exhausted with long, rambling blocks of text. Similarly, bulleted and numbered lists offer concise, punctuated items that represent or verify your arguments, and using bold and italics can help you make certain elements of your sentences stand out.

    Formatting serves two important functions; it gives skimmers a chance to get the gist of your article and gives other readers a “recap” that helps them return to and better understand a given section. With this in mind, your biggest job in formatting is making sure you select the best parts of your content to emphasize.

    Specificity

    Even topics that offer well-organized subtopics and decent formatting can fall victim to ambiguity if you don’t offer enough specific information to your readers. “Specific” here can mean a few different things, so I’ll explore them.

    First, specific means deliberate. Your word choices have a powerful effect on how your content is interpreted, so be choosy and only use the words that communicate your ideas best. A perfect example of this is the difference between passive voice, which uses indirect references, and active voice, which uses direct references:

    passive and active voices

    (Image Source: Writing Commons)

    Notice how all the passive phrases sound clunky and awkward, and how most of them make you think, if even for an extra second, to fully understand the phrase. The active phrase counterparts are much more straightforward and accessible.

    Second, specific means precise. Don’t use vague words or generalities when you can substitute highly targeted words and phrases for them. For example, don’t say “a lot of companies” when you could substitute something like “80 percent of companies.” Even if you don’t have access to this data, you can use more specific terms like “the majority of companies I’ve worked with” or “most B2B companies.” Leave no room for misinterpretation.

    Illustrations

    The human mind is programmed for abstract thought; it’s easier for us to think in metaphors, illustrations, comparisons, and ideas than it is to think in words and numbers. While improving the specificity of your writing is important, it only appeals to the “words and numbers” part of the brain. If you want to make your ideas as clear as possible, you need to appeal to that intuitive, abstract part as well.

    The best way to do this is with illustrations. You can take this literally and include things like charts and diagrams in the body of your work, but don’t underestimate the value of a good metaphor. For example, Einstein’s theory of general relativity is mathematically complex and almost inaccessible to the average person, but as soon as you liken the curvature of spacetime in the presence of massive objects to a bowling ball warping a taut rubber sheet, it starts to make sense.

    Don’t worry about the details here; your illustrations are not meant to be taken literally, nor are they going to be the only means your audience has of understanding your ideas. Instead, think of them as a complementary service, like condiments at a hot dog stand.

    Simplicity

    Next, we move onto simplicity. There’s significant overlap between clarity and simplicity, since the clearest writing is often simple by default. However, these are independent ideas, and if you want your content to be as effective as possible, you’ll need to simplify your message drastically.

    Take a look at this ad from Dove:

    Dove Ad

    (Image Source: Coull)

    This ad actually sacrifices some clarity by refusing to elaborate on the details of its intentions. Instead, a simple pairing of words is enough to convey the powerful idea behind this campaign—and that makes it all the more effective.

    Just as long, rambling jokes often fail to be as clever as basic one-liners, simple content outperforms weighty content almost every time. How can you accomplish this for your own writing?

    KISS – Keeping it Short & Sweet

    The first couple sentences of every paragraph should be the most important. The following sentences should expand on those important points. In order to convey maximum information to your reader, keep your paragraphs short.

    A big chunk of text or a lengthy paragraph tends to turn readers off. Its field of grey (or whatever color the author has chosen for onscreen text) evokes the feeling that it’s going to take some effort to read the message.

    Your sales copies should be easy to read. One way to accomplish this is to shorten the paragraphs. Don’t cram too many ideas into a single straight block of sentences.

    Long paragraphs should be broken into smaller ones. This is especially beneficial for readers who like to skim.

    It’s also highly recommended to keep sentences short.

    When composing paragraphs, try to place the most important ideas or information right at the start of each paragraph or sentence. This makes it easier for readers to figure out the gist of the copy.

    Write for Search Intent

    Understand Your Searcher’s Intent

    To narrow in on a keyword choice and serve up the most relevant content for your searchers, you need to get into your audience’s head. When someone enters a search query into a search engine, they are on a hunt for something. What do you think your prospective customer is looking for?

    Typically, according to Yoast, there are four kinds of intent searchers can have:

    • Informational intent: Finding information on a specific topic. Keywords in this category can contain words like:
      • Information
      • how to
      • best way to
      • why
    • Navigational intent: Accessing a specific website by entering the term in the search engine.
    • Commercial intent: Wanting to buy something sometime soon and doing some researching before purchasing.
    • Transactional intent: Buying something after commercial intent research. Transactional words often contain words like:
      • Buy
      • Deal
      • Discount
      • Product names

    You’ve probably heard of (and are hopefully referencing) the different stages of marketing funnels: Top of the Funnel (TOFU), Middle of the Funnel (MOFU), and Bottom of the Funnel (BOFU). Once you determine the intent of your content, you can map it to the appropriate stage of the funnel.

    For example, TOFU pieces are about generating awareness and introducing a reader to a topic which means informational intent. For this stage, you might want to try a “how-to” piece. Use your keyword tool to see how competitive a “how-to” piece with your keyphrase would be.

    Don’t write about what you want; write about what your audience wants. The key to successful copywriting is to devise marketing content that empathizes: it should make the readers feel they are understood, that your copy is appealing directly to them. In other words, match your writing to search intent.

    That’s why you need to do enough research to determine the exact needs of your audience before you set out to write any marketing copies. What are their pains? What gives them pleasure or satisfaction? How can your product or service ease their pain or increase their pleasure?

    Stay on Topic

    Focus on your audience’s problem. Don’t try to talk about a lot of stuff or cram in several issues when you’re trying to solve just one problem.

    Focus, focus, and focus. This also plays into your audience’s desire to get to the bottom line (your solutions) even more.

    Optimize With Key SEO Components

    Optimize it with key SEO components

    We’ve discussed the importance of keywords, but that doesn’t mean you should “stuff” your pages with your keywords. Keyword stuffing may cause you to be hit with a Google penalty that could remove you from the SERPs all together. Weave your keyword so that it appears naturally in your content—four or five times is a good number to strive for. Make sure it appears a couple of times in your subheadings as well.

    There are certain other elements you need to incorporate when you write for SEO.

    1. Don’t listen to Megan and Harry—titles are important. Create a compelling title is critical for search engine traction. Your title tag will be what’s most visible on a given search engine results page (SERP), and it needs to incorporate your primary keyword.

    2. Slugs are gross, except in URLs. What the heck do slugs have to do with SEO? Consider the URL “seo.co/digital-marking-trends.” The slug is the end part that says “digital-marketing-trends” and must feature your primary keyword. Your URL should be also short and straightforward because long URLs get cut off in the SERPs. Also, stay away from using numbers and dates in your URLs because they’re hard to change if you want to update your content in the future.

    3. This preview is brought to you by… Optimize your piece of content for how it would look in featured snippets. These are the short summaries that appear when you search organically in Google. Structure your article so that the answers to your searcher’s questions and/or a summary can easily be extracted and the user at a glimpse will know the subject of your article.

    4. Internal links: “Me and you, and you and me. We’re happy together…” Internal links are great for SEO because they connect your content and give Google an idea of the structure of your website. Use anchor text as a gateway to link to other pages. It’s best if the anchor text matches the keyword in the URL of the page you want to link to. For example, anchor text is awesome. If you properly promote your content through direct backlink outreach or our link building services, you’re also more likely to see it rank high in search results.

    5. Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. Consider the user’s experience as they interact with your page and structure your page accordingly. Do you really think they’d want to read paragraphs with large blocks of text? Smaller paragraphs are best for user engagement and search engine viability.

    Images also help break up the text, draw users in, and help users and search engines understand what your content is about. From an SEO standpoint, images can also rank in image search engine results and lead to more visitors to your web page. For maximum readability add captions and alt text—descriptive text in place if the image can’t be displayed for any reason. The alt text should contain your keyword to signal search engines.

    6. It’s go-time. You want your readers to take action when they consume your content, and closing it with a call-to-action (CTA) is the right opportunity to do it. You can link to other authoritative content or encourage them to book a call with a sales team member. Keep the language in your CTA basic and concise with a keyword if possible. The idea is to move your reader along to the next phase of their buyer’s journey.

    Always Include a Call to Action

    In sales, the only way to make people want to buy your product is to “show them what you want, and help them get it.”

    Your goal should be to stop when their interest level is white hot. Helping them get what they want is the ultimate purpose of the call to action. Let them know what to do next, where to buy your product or how to get in touch with you.

    • Show them the Buy Now or Subscribe button
    • Show them an email address or a phone number
    • Make the call to action urgent so they take action now, as opposed to later

    We attempt to do this in our above-the-fold forms:

    Get Your Custom Marketing Plan from SEO.coWe also attempt to do this site wide on our live chat:

    Live chat with SEO.co expert!

    To optimize for SEO, be sure to include your keyword nicely within the last paragraph. Ideally, your keyword should be in the headline, first paragraph, body, and last paragraph.

    Conclusion

    You should write your content for humans, but it also needs mileage from search engines. We h

    Following the process, we’ve described will help you strategically write content that can get discovered on search engines. Then you can reach your target audience by providing answers and solutions to the questions they’re looking for.

    If you’re looking to hire SEO writers to scale your content creation we’re your team. Get in touch!

    Chief Revenue Officer at SEO Company
    Industry veteran Timothy Carter is SEO.co’s Chief Revenue Officer. Tim leads all revenue for the company and oversees all customer-facing teams for SEO (search engine optimization) services - including sales, marketing & customer success. He has spent more than 20 years in the world of SEO & Digital Marketing, assisting in everything from SEO for lawyers to complex technical SEO for Fortune 500 clients like Wiley, Box.com, Qualtrics and HP.

    Tim holds expertise in building and scaling sales operations, helping companies increase revenue efficiency and drive growth from websites and sales teams.

    When he's not working, Tim enjoys playing a few rounds of disc golf, running, and spending time with his wife and family on the beach...preferably in Hawaii.

    Over the years he's written for publications like Forbes, Entrepreneur, Marketing Land, Search Engine Journal, ReadWrite and other highly respected online publications. Connect with Tim on Linkedin & Twitter.
    Timothy Carter