While SEO can sometimes seem like technical wizardry that only the high-ordained Masters of the Google-verse can succeed at, SEO copywriting is really not that hard. Once you have the basics you can easily start implementing SEO strategies in everything you write for the web. This article contains more than enough SEO copywriting tips to get just about anybody started writing search-engine-friendly copy.
We strongly believe that SEO copywriting should not appear (on the surface) any different than non-SEO copywriting. In fact, it should be more informative, more focused, and easier to read than most copywriting. After all, Google ranks websites that people genuinely find valuable. Website copy that is stuffed with keywords can be unpleasant and unnatural to read, so Google does its best to weed out content that doesn’t provide a good user experience.
Answers and Questions
The not-so-secret trick is to create content that thoroughly supports the purpose of a page. (Notice I said “purpose” not “focus keyword”). A page’s purpose or relevance is the most important thing to take into consideration if you want to grow your traffic. When you write for the web, focus on a question or problem that people are trying to resolve. Your web copy, photos, infographics, and videos should support that purpose.
Search engines are basically question-and-answer machines. People have a question and they type something into Google to get an answer. Google serves up answers in the form of web pages. For a search engine, every web page is simply a potential answer to hundreds (or millions) of related questions. SEO copywriting should always be focused on answering the question that many people across the web are asking.
I won’t go into keyword research too much in this article because it’s not always necessary to rank well (but it can help). The general idea is to focus on a phrase that people use frequently when searching for a particular thing, and then using that phrase in your titles, meta descriptions, and body copy. The simplest way to conduct keyword research is to search for topics related to your subject in Google’s search engine. Take note of what appears in auto-complete, related suggestions, and what competitor sites are doing with their meta titles, meta descriptions, and content. (More on what these things are below).
Targeting a single keyword phrase is a little simplistic because Google understands synonyms (and language) enough to rank pages for searches that don’t even contain the exact keyword phrase that was typed in. There are many ways to ask a question and many ways to word it. You want to address all of the ways a single question can be asked by answering in an extremely helpful way.
It’s important to think of the intent behind any given keyword phrase. If your chosen keyword is “Portland real estate brokers” you are essentially answering the user’s question of “Where can I find a great real estate broker in Portland, OR?” There are likely a few hundred ways of asking that question, and an infinite number of ways to answer it. If you want your website to rank for this question (and/or related questions) you must ensure that your copy answers that question as thoroughly as possible. Google will reward the answer by sending you the traffic for all of the different permutations of that question.
If you know what keyword phrase you are targeting, that’s great, but please don’t stuff that keyword everywhere and call it a day. Create a really helpful answer.
Say that someone thinks to themselves: “Where can I buy affordable black Adidas running shoes near me?”
There are quite a few ways to type that query into Google.
- Black running shoes Adidas
- Find black Adidas running shoes in Portland, OR
- Adidas black jogging shoes store
- Adidas jogging shoes black cheap
- Affordable Adidas running shoes near me
A few examples:
For the most part, Google understands that all of these queries represent a similar intent. Therefore, you can increase the likelihood that Google ranks your pages higher by addressing the user’s intent. This would be accomplished by focusing on Adidas, your location, the color black, and affordability on your web page. Will Google understand if you call the shoe charcoal instead of black? Yes, but it could be beneficial to use whichever is the more commonly used color name. Do a few Google searches to see which color is more common.
Important Page Elements
Not all page content is created equal. Google knows that people don’t always read every word or read to the bottom of a page. That 8 pt text at the bottom of your page will not be given as much weight as the 12 pt header and intro paragraph at the top of the page. Address your users and their questions at the top of a page, using well-titled sections, a bolded format, and bullet points for brevity. Optimize for skimmers and short attention spans. Headers also help users zero-in on the most important content.
The Meta Title
The best place to address a user’s question is in a page’s meta title–those blue links that show up when you type something into Google. This is often referred to as just “page title,” but I’m going to use “meta” to differentiate it from a title that might appear on a web page.
The meta title appears in search results and sometimes in your browser’s window tab—depending on what browser and device you are using. The title should use your focus keyword phrase and address the question you are trying to answer clearly, and with a common language.
How to write SEO friendly Meta Titles: Do’s
- Page titles should answer a potential customer’s question
- Get specific. “Shop Adidas Black Series Z Shoes” is a million times better than “Buy Shoes”
- Use Title Case. This is not a hard-fast rule, but lowercase titles tend to get a slightly lower click-through rate.
- Title length depends on the device. Google will shorten your title based on space available. We recommend writing titles that are no longer than 70 characters (including spaces). Google actually uses pixel length not character length. So if you use a lot of skinny letters or symbols–you may be able to fit more characters.
- Your title must do an excellent job of describing the content on your page
- Your title should be clear and easy to read and comprehend
How to write SEO friendly title tags: Don’ts
- Don’t use the same title tag on more than one page
- Avoid excessive use of special characters: @*&^%$
- Don’t stuff your title with keywords.
- Don’t feel like you need your business name in every title. Use that real estate for what matters most to the searcher.
The Meta Description
The meta description is the descriptive text that follows the title in search results. The meta description also does not appear on the page. The meta description does not affect search rankings, but when you include your focus keyword phrase in the meta description it will appear bolded in search results when people search for that particular keyword phrase, therefore making your search result stand out more.
If you’re interested in improving your search traffic, carefully crafting your meta descriptions is an art you need to master. Meta descriptions can heavily influence click-through-rate (the number of people who see and click on your link). Meta descriptions help both search engines and people understand what your page is about on search results pages and every meta description represents another opportunity for your web page to stand out against the rest.
Meta Description Length
The rule of thumb is that your meta description should be no longer than 140-160 characters, but it’s worth testing. Google likely uses a pixel measurement rather than a character limit—so if you use lots of skinny characters, you may be able to squeeze in a little more.
Unique Meta Descriptions
Like the title tag, the meta description is designed to describe a single page. Ideally, this means every page on your website should have a unique description.
If you do not include a meta title and meta description, Google will do its best to create them for you based on the content of your page.
Use a Call-to-Action
Ask your users to do something and you will increase your click-through-rate.
Example call-to-actions: Get our Guide, Learn more, Find out more, sign up today, etc.
Headers are the most important on-page SEO element for a web page. Headers are often denoted as H1, H2, H3, H4, H5. H1 is usually the main page header and should only appear once on a page. It is also usually the largest text on the page. Google understands that the H1 element should be a high-level description of what your page is about. It can be valuable to address your user’s question in the H1, but it is not always necessary if the supporting information makes it very clear. H2s and H3s are usually used to separate different sections of information on the page, and they will communicate to Google the depth to which your page answers queries. H4s and H5, while used less, can further break down information under a H2 or H3.
Bold and Italic
Bold and italic words, when not used excessively, can communicate emphasis. When you emphasize words or phrases you are telling Google that these phrases are more important than other words on the page.
Google loves links. When you use in-paragraph links to send your site visitors to other relevant pages within your site, you help both Google and the end-user understand the flow of information on the website.
While images are not always the domain of the copywriter, it’s important to know that images play a big part in SEO. Images that are too large can slow page load and hurt your rankings. Poorly chosen images can increase your bounce rate and thereby tell Google that your page has less value. Images that are plucked out of Google Image Search without a license can get you a DMCA notice. Images that are missing metadata may not add any value to your rankings.
The file name, alt tag, and title tag can all convey important information to Google. These properties can also help seeing impaired individuals understand an image with a screen reader.
Image File Name
Write your filename so that anyone can understand–at a glance–what the image is without seeing it. Use dashes between words, use all lowercase and avoid abbreviations unless the abbreviation is well known by your audience. For utility, you probably don’t want to make the file name too long.
Example image name: “adidas-running-shoes-black.jpg”
Image Alt Tag
An alt tag’s purpose is to help the seeing impaired. It should describe what an image depicts. It also helps Google understand the visual content on your page.
Example alt tag: “Adidas black running shoes displayed in store”
The image title will sometimes show up when you hover over an image. It can be useful in providing further context for an image, but it is not as important (SEO-wise) as the file name or alt tag. (I usually don’t use the image title).
Example title: “Adidas Z Series Running Shoes in Black”
If you use captions for photos on your website they will usually appear on the page near the photo. Here you can tell a little more of a story or provide image credits. Image captions can be valuable in certain situations but are not a vital SEO component in most cases.
Example caption: “Pictured above: Adidas Z Series shoes displayed in store at Lloyd center mall in Portland, OR.”
SEO Copywriting Tips and Best Practices
Every page is your homepage
When you optimize your website’s pages to answer user questions, people may visit your website for the first time on a landing page–not the homepage. What does this mean for copywriters? It means your page copy must make sense to a complete stranger who is a first time visitor and may know nothing about your business. In a sense, you should treat every page as a potential introduction to your website and the business it supports.
Google likes copy and content. If your page has fewer than 250 words and no photos or videos, Google may ignore it. I recommend using at least 500 words on any page with an SEO focus. 1000+? Even better. Not only will this help your rankings, but it should also give your website visitors more to sink their teeth into. Just make sure it is accessible and easy to scan. Nobody likes a wall of meaningless text.
Writing for the web
It is also important to utilize best practices for readability and comprehension. Google knows when users hit the back button, so it’s vital to keep them engaged by using common copywriting conventions that are used on the web.
Common Guidelines for Web Copy
- Put a space between paragraphs of text for better readability
- Use headers liberally so visitors can quickly scan the page for information
- Use bullet points or numbered lists over large chunks of text whenever possible
- Use imagery, videos, and photographs to keep users engaged
- Bold important phrases
- Craft strong calls to action that tell visitors what to do next
- Avoid jargon, acronyms, and industry speak a user may not understand
- Triple-check grammar and spelling
Not every page needs SEO optimization
Some pages just don’t make sense as a landing page and therefore don’t require an SEO focus. Examples include pages that exist behind a secure login and pages that are part of an ordered series–such as signup pages. While the first page in a series may be a good landing page, the fourth or tenth page in a series could be a confusing place to land. With pages like this, you should request your webmaster to exclude these pages from search results. However, be careful not to exclude pages just because you think they won’t be useful as a landing page–your users may think differently.
Blogging is awesome for SEO, but the issue I see most often is writers neglecting the question/answer aspect of Google in their blog writing. What are people searching for? Even if you’re writing a simple piece about your grandmother’s church bake-sale, you can be strategic in how you write your titles and meta descriptions.
Don’t title your blog post “Grandma’s Cookies” because nobody will find it.
Who is interested in the bake sale? Probably members of the church and family members. What would they type into google to find out about It? Why not use the church name, day, and other relevant info to name the article and craft your meta title?
St. John’s Church 4th of July Bake-Sale in Portland, OR
Now that title could help people find the event! And there’s probably half a dozen ways to write it. The point is not to get the perfect order of words and phrases, all you have to do is address the user’s need.
There are millions of articles out there about how to optimize web pages. Some are amazing, but many are extremely technical, some will steer you in the wrong direction, and others are just trying to rank with little thought of who is reading them. I wrote this article to help our clients and friends that need some help in understanding the basics without getting lost in the weeds. I didn’t focus on any keywords when I wrote this, I focused on making something useful. I hope that this intuitive approach will help you cut through the jargon and write search engine friendly copy.