The goal of all website copy is convey a message to a target audience. For that to happen, your content needs to be well-crafted so it communicates its information effectively. Additionally, you need to have a way to get your website content in front of your desired visitors.
SEO copywriting will enable you to accomplish both of those things because it focuses on creating content that is valuable for readers and optimized around a target keyword.
I sat down with Inbound Journalist Daryn Forgeron and Search Strategist Ellie Miner to discuss SEO copywriting tips for ranking well in search results while still creating content that resonates with your audience.
1. Be Natural with Keyword Usage
First and foremost, your content needs to be reader-friendly. While it is important to use your keyword throughout the content of a blog or search-optimized webpage, you shouldn’t force the keyword use to the point that it hampers the reading experience.
“Adding the keyword as many times as you can naturally is the way to go,” Ellie says. “The reader shouldn’t be able to tell that a post is optimized from just looking at the content.”
If you’re optimizing around a long-tail keyword, sometimes using it naturally involves rearranging the word order or splitting up the term with conjunctions, articles or prepositions. Algorithms are smart enough to pull together the words and recognize the term.
“Don’t make the keyword the focus. Instead think about what you’re trying to say and then think about where the keyword fits into what you’re trying to say,” Daryn says. “Especially with your titles — I think it’s really easy to see a keyword and be like ‘here’s a title that makes sense for the keyword’ and then be done. I would say go back and rework it and rethink it to try and find a way to make it sound as natural and as fun and as fitting your brand as possible, because there are likely many ways to write that title that could be way more engaging than ‘X Tips About Keyword.’”
Remember that to rank well, your content needs to signal to Google that it’s a good fit for the keyword. But, for your company to see results from that content, you need to entice searchers to actually click on your listing.
If the best title for your reader includes a variation of your keyword instead of the exact term that’s fine as long as you use the exact keyword in your metadata. Additionally, Ellie says that while it’s ideal for the keyword to be in the URL, you should prioritize matching the URL to blog the title.
2. Choose Keywords Based on Your Audience
As you’re selecting keywords to optimize around, don’t just think about what your company wants to be known for. Consider what your buyer personas are searching for and base your keyword strategy around that.
In addition to evaluating what your audience is searching for, look up the keywords you’re considering going after in Google and see if the intent of the high-ranking content matches what your personas will be looking for.
“Look at the types of content that are ranking for the keyword you want to optimize for,” Ellie says. “If there’s a bunch of blog posts and content offers that are ranking, great that’s a keyword Google likes to skew toward content. If it’s all solutions pages maybe it’s not great for a blog.”
Additionally look at who the high-ranking content is from. If Wikipedia is the number one search result and you have a newer website with a low domain authority, you probably won’t be able to reach the top of the search results. You will likely see more traction from a less-competitive niche keyword instead.
“It’s ok — and sometimes really good for rankings — to go with a keyword that is lower volume but also way lower difficulty because then you can really own it,” Daryn says.
A low volume keyword that is niche to your buyer personas will likely result in higher quality viewers. So, that niche lower volume term can net you the same amount of traffic and more leads if the majority of the people coming to your site are high-fit.
3. Write for Featured Snippets
One way to guarantee your content will be at the top of the search results is to become the featured snippet for a query. The featured snippet, also called position zero, is the content box that appears at the top of search engine results pages and provides immediate information about the search term.
“To optimize for a featured snippet all you have to do is take the keyword and think about the answer to that keyword,” Ellie says.
Concisely answer the question behind the search intent as early in the post as possible, making sure to use the keyword. For example if you’re going after a definition query, like “what is keyword” you’d want to include a sentence like “keyword is [definition].” On the other hand, if you’re trying to appear for a list featured snippet, you should use the keyword in the title or introductory sentence right before the bulleted or numbered list.
In addition to helping your search ranking, writing for featured snippets helps you weave your keyword into the beginning of your post and provide immediate value for readers.
4. Break Up Content with Optimized Headers and Images
Website visitors don’t want to read a wall of text, and you don’t want your content to feel heavy. Images and headers improve user experience and have technical benefits.
“Not only does [using headings] make your content easy to read and digest, you can also add your keyword in there, and H2s and H3s are more heavily weighted than normal body copy in terms of keyword value,” Ellie says. “In the same vein of breaking up the content, images are great. You can optimize the alt tags for your keywords as well.”
If you’re including a visual example of the keyword topic, you could write alt text like “image content description, an example of keyword.” If you’re writing a pros and cons post, you can use “Pros of Keyword” as your section header instead of just “Pros.”
When determining where to place your headings, Daryn recommends thinking of how you’d outline your content. What’s the hierarchy?
“Your content needs to feel easy to grasp, and the best way to do that is to give people little tastes here and there,” Daryn says. “If you have a really long list, maybe give bullets up front like ‘Here’s the list you’re gonna get. Now read all the details.’ Or if it’s a story with a lot of facts, give subheaders. Barricade it in its own little section with a bullet or a header and don’t try to include multiple ideas per section because that’s not how people read online.”
Those headers can reinforce the idea you’re trying to convey within the section, and they make your content more scannable.
5. Include Internal Links that Add Value
“Include links that actually add value,” Daryn says. “I think we often are guilty of just stuffing in a link because we want to promote it instead of thinking ‘what is the natural next step a user would take to go to this place?’ Really think about whether the linked content is relevant to the persona the blog is written for, and if so, if where you’re attaching the link is a good place for you to send them to the next blog.”
Internal links can improve a reader’s experience by providing relevant information and improve SEO metrics like time on page and pages per session. Internal linking also helps with the crawlability of your site and leads to pages being indexed faster.
To maximize the impact of internal links try to use the keywords that linked content is optimized for as its anchor text.
“That’s a lot better for your SEO because Google knows that not only is this a good place for users to go, but also it’s a good place for users to go for this keyword,” Daryn says.
6. Consider the Type of Content You’re Creating
The best practices for optimizing a blog post aren’t exactly the same as the steps you’d want to take when optimizing a web page. You need to account for the differing intentions of visitors arriving on those different types of pages and how you expect them to get there.
“The difference between a blog and a product page is that there is less content to work with [on the webpage], but you still want to use alt tags on your images, have the keyword in the metadata and you want to be natural,” Ellie says.
However, on a product page, you shouldn’t include as many internal links as you would in a blog because you’re not trying to create a web of content in the same way and you want visitors to stay focused on your product and on making a purchase decision.
While the main goal of a blog post is to attract traffic and get visitors to initially convert, solution pages aim to educate users about your solutions and landing pages aim to get visitors to submit information. The differing primary purposes can make it more difficult to optimize your copy around a keyword.
“Keywords are often so much harder to work in [on a webpage],” Daryn says. “You have a limited amount of copy to work with, all of which must adhere to a highly rigid structure, and you don’t necessarily have flexibility in terms of what information you can include — you can’t compromise on the information and message you’re conveying.”
A product page might only have five sections, and three of the five could be focused on specific features, making it impossible to work in the keyword naturally more than twice on the page. If that’s the case, Ellie says do the best you can and focus on optimizing the technical aspects of the page while creating the best user experience possible.
SEO Copywriting is About More Than Pleasing Algorithms
It’s easy to fall into the trap of being overly search-engine centric in your SEO copywriting. However, an algorithm isn’t going to become your customer in the end, a person will. Additionally algorithms do care about user experience.
“Those signals, like average time on page and number of pages per session, are becoming more and more weighted by Google. User behavior and user experience on your website is going to become even more important. Even if your page is technically good, it won’t rank well if it doesn’t have good user experience signals to Google,” says Ellie.
So, the most important SEO copywriting tip is to stay focused on the needs of your buyer personas. They’re the audience you should be optimizing your content for.
This post was originally published July 14, 2014.
Quinn is a writer and copyeditor whose work ranges from journalism to travel writing to inbound marketing content.