Copy that persuades, content Google can find

There’s SEO. And there’s copywriting. Both are powerful marketing tools in their own right but when you put them together then the sky’s the limit for your business visibility.

So how do the two successfully combine? What elevates SEO copywriting above the ordinary? In this article we’re going to answer these three key questions:-

  1. What is SEO copywriting?
  2. How is it different to “normal” copywriting?
  3. How do I write SEO copy?

What is SEO copywriting?

SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) copywriting is a specialist form of writing designed to help your online marketing content rank higher on search engines like Google.

By “online content” we mean any information that lives on the web, whether that’s on a website, blog, social media, online forum, etc.

SEO copywriting helps your online content rank higher by driving qualified traffic to your website. It does this by making intelligent use of the keywords and key phrases that your ideal customer is currently typing into Google when they’re looking for a business like yours.

The real skill with SEO copywriting is knowing exactly where to place these keywords so that they not only tick the right boxes for search engines but also blend with a user-friendly marketing story that your readers enjoy and engage with. That doesn’t mean using keywords just in the headlines and main copy, but also in the background settings of a web page such as metas and image tags. A good SEO copywriter will be able to expertly craft every SEO element into the content to create a consistent and compelling narrative that’s fully optimised for search engines. 

In the bad old days this would have meant indulging in keyword “stuffing” which is the act of inserting keywords into every sentence, headline and orifice regardless of whether it made sense or not. Fortunately Google got wise to this “black hat” practice and now penalises such content as a poor user experience. After all, no-one wants to read content that looks like it’s been written by a bot.

SEO-rich content also includes the judicious placement of optimisation signals such as links and anchor text to back up the narrative and point the reader to other useful and relevant resources. Great SEO content also uses images, photos, diagrams, infographics, etc to help illustrate the key points and stop the text from becoming too boring. Properly sized and tagged images are also a useful SEO indicator. Hopefully you’ve noticed this article has numerous links that point either to previous blogs we’ve written or to external websites that provide helpful additional information, and we’ve used lots of images. That’s SEO copywriting at work.

To sum up: SEO copywriting is the art of ensuring that your online content gets found when people search Google for specific terms or ask Google a question (such as “What is SEO copywriting?).

How is SEO copywriting different to “normal” copywriting?

SEO dictionary listing between visibility and search

Copywriting is the art of writing persuasive marketing and promotional words that motivate people to take some form of action, such as make a purchase, click on a link, donate to a cause, book an appointment etc.

Copywriting is also one of the most critical elements in any marketing content whether online (websites, social media, blogs, etc) or offline (brochures, flyers, etc). An expertly worded slogan or headline will make the difference between your customers noticing your business, promotion or product, or passing you by.

SEO copywriting combines two disciplines:

•             Expertise as a copywriter

•             Expert knowledge of SEO

Search engines interpret content on a web page entirely differently to humans. For example when you see this:-

screen shot of BBC News home page
© BBC News 2021

A search engine will “see” this:-

screen shot of source code

A skilled SEO copywriter understands this difference and writes content that both readers and search engines can read and understand. They know which SEO signals within a page a search engine will pay attention to. They know how search engines analyse online content and its relevance to the person searching for the information (i.e. the keywords being used in the search). While at the same time crafting compelling content that your target audience will want to read, share and act upon.  

How do I write SEO copy?

scrabble tiles spelling out Audience, Relevant, Target, Content

There are two main things you need to know to become proficient at SEO copywriting:

1 Your focus keywords – and how and where to use them

2 That you need to write for people first and search engines second

Know your focus keywords

Keywords are vital to any SEO content strategy, and you should continually research and refine your focus keywords. Keep a list handy of all those keywords and phrases that your ideal customers are using so that you can refer to them when you’re composing your online copy.

Keep your keywords natural and varied. Remember to include synonyms and don’t be afraid to use them: Google have refined their search algorithm to the point where they will use semantics to analyse what they call “search intent”, so the more keyword variations you use in your content the better your page ranking prospects.

Where to use keywords in your SEO copy: some suggestions

  • Main headlines (H1) and sub-headings (H2, H3, etc): Structure your main headlines and sub-headings around your keywords to catch your reader’s eye as they scan through the page
  • In your first paragraph (or first 100 words): You have a limited amount of time to catch your reader’s attention and they’ll be looking for immediate clues to confirm that your content answers their query – otherwise they’ll “bounce” to another site
  • In page metas (titles and descriptions): Metas are the words and phrases you see in a list of search engine results that provide a preview of what’s on a web page. You should treat these as “mini-adverts” for your website and include keywords in their composition. With most website platforms you can access metas through the main SEO menu (such as Yoast, RankMath or SEOPress in WordPress).

This is not an exhaustive list so for more information we have this handy guide for when and how to use keywords in your online content.

Write for people first, search engines second

Mug on wooden table with Begin logo

It’s important to keep in mind that to please both search engines and potential customers and return visitors, you need to offer value. This means answering your customer’s questions,* demonstrating your expertise, and keeping your content updated with the latest information.

*Use a tool such as Answer the Public to find out what they are.

Keep your writing authentic and compelling. Don’t be afraid to let your personality come through, your readers will want to get to know you a little before trusting you.

Use some classic copywriting techniques such as:

Telling a story: Don’t just list dry facts. Choose a clear central message and then craft a narrative that  progresses towards that message. Use your own or your clients’ experiences to weave a story that engages your readers so much that they will want to know how the story ends.

  • Using Active Voice as much as possible: Active voice means keeping your sentences concise and ensuring that your copy is direct and easily read. It means “speaking” directly to your reader using phases such as “You can use this to …..” rather than “This can be used to….”. It also focuses your mind on getting to the point you want to make.
  • Checking your copy for clarity and readability: Your reader’s attention span is being challenged at the best of times so the clearer your content is the more likely they are to keep reading. This means paying close attention to your sentence structure, your use of jargon, adjectives, adverbs etc. The Hemingway App is a great free tool for checking your copy for clarity and readability.
  • Checking spelling and grammar: Poor spelling and grammar give a bad impression: if you’re careless about the quality of your written content your readers may wonder what else you’re sloppy about. Unfortunately, no matter how many times you read something you’ve written you will frequently overlook errors because your brain is automatically correcting them for you. The most fool proof way to avoid mistakes is to get someone else to read your draft before you hit Publish or Send. But if that’s not feasible then both MS Word and IOS have built-in screen readers in their Review or Editing options. It’s amazing how hearing your words out loud will highlight a wrong word or clumsy phrase! Or there are free apps such as Grammarly to help you edit your copy as you go along.

SEO copywriting takes practice – lots of it – and the smart application of a few tried and tested techniques. The key point to remember is that to be successful you need to compose a great story that your readers will love and that Google understands. It’s a delicate balancing act but if you focus on creating great quality content and pay attention to a few basic SEO rules, you will be rewarded with higher search engine rankings.

If you’d like more copywriting advice we offer free website reviews where we’ll analyse your chosen key website landing page and give you some quick tips.

Plus we have other useful SEO and copywriting resources for you to explore, such as tips on blogging for your business, and how to work with a professional copywriter.

Good luck!

About the author: Helen Say is one half of CBL Copywriting & SEO, an award-winning marketing agency based in Hertfordshire. Helen loves coaching small business owners about the benefits of telling their marketing stories in ways that will make search engines sit up and pay attention.