How To Be An Expert SEO Copywriter
Recently, I did a quick Google search of the phrase “SEO writing tips.” To my surprise, almost every article that came up in the results gave some variation of a tip you may have heard before: “Write content for humans, not robots.”
I was left asking, “What does it mean to write for humans first and search engines second? How do you do that effectively?”
With those questions in mind, I drew on my writing experience—and the experience of my Nectafy teammates—to create this list of tips, tricks, and tools that will help you find the balance between creating content that is optimized for search engines and content that is pleasing to your human readers.
To start, let’s go over a brief lesson in keyword research. Then, I’ll walk you through my step-by-step article writing process.
A Quick Lesson In Keyword Research
Before you can create content that’s optimized for search engines, you’ll need to have a list of keywords and phrases to use in your copy. You find these phrases by examining your target audience. Think about the people you’re trying to attract with your site’s content, and figure out what “language” they use. When they set out to do a Google search, what words are they going to type into the search bar?
You can find this out by talking to your current customers (or to your salespeople about your existing and past customers). How do they describe your product or service? What terms do they or would they search for to learn more about your industry? Once you have a brainstormed list, you can enter those phrases into Google Adwords Keyword Planner to find exact phrasing and related keyword opportunities. (We’ve compiled a list of eight of the best keyword research tools if you’re looking for more in-depth information.)
Pick out the phrases from your research that are most relevant to your target audience—and voila! There’s your list of keywords (and potential blog topics)! As soon as you have that list, you’re ready to write.
My Step-By-Step, SEO Article Writing Process
Whenever I set out to write an article, I always try to have a keyword or phrase in mind before I start. I’ve learned from experience that writing an article without a specific keyword phrase in mind, and then going back to add one in later is much more difficult in the long run. (It can end up chopping up the flow of my piece.) Having the phrase(s) right from the start allows me to form my ideas and structure my sentences around those particular words, which ensures my article flows smoothly and is easy to read.
Once I’ve got a phrase picked out, I’ll start on the title of the post.
The title of your article is one of—if not the—most important elements of your entire piece. Even if you’ve done an amazing job with SEO, and Google ranks your post number one in the search results, the person behind the computer still has a choice as to whether or not they click on your article. That means you have to spend some time creating an intriguing, attention-grabbing headline—that also happens to include your keyword phrase.
When I write a blog post, I spend several minutes brainstorming title ideas. I try several different headline combinations before, during, and after the post is finished to see where the keyword best fits and to make sure the title is an accurate (and eye-catching) representation of the article.
Use This Tool
A great tool that our Nectafy writers use when creating headlines is CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer. (In fact, I use it so much that it’s one of the first bookmarks on my browser’s toolbar!)
This blog post headline analyzer tests your title ideas for social sharing, traffic, and SEO value. It will rate your headline on a scale of 0-100 (so you can play around with different wordings to try to increase your score), and it will tell you whether or not you’ve included searchable keywords. And as an added bonus, it will show you what the title will look like as a Google search result and an email subject line. (It’s awesome—we love it!)
When it comes to the body of your article, it’s important to balance keywords with tone. You want readers (and search engines) to view your post as a credible source of information, so definitely don’t overuse the keyword phrase. We generally stick to keeping the keyword phrase below 2% of the total content, and try to include the first mention of the keyword as close to the beginning of the article as possible. (Oh, and don’t forget to use your keyword phrase at least once in a header!)
Focus on writing helpful information about the keyword. If, in the end, you find that you’ve only used the word two or three times, but have some really great ideas laid out, that’s OK. Both readers and search engines will appreciate helpful content more than content that is “keyword-stuffed” or lackluster.
You should also use related phrases throughout your article. Google tries to match their search results with the intention of the person doing the search (which is a concept called latent semantic indexing), so using synonyms, related keywords, and grammatical variations can make your content more relevant without cramming the exact keyword phrase into the copy too many times.
Links—to both your site and others’ sites—are also important to your SEO. You can mention the keyword phrase in a link’s anchor text, but avoid linking only the keyword phrase when you cite sources. In Google’s eyes, “perfect link text” is a sign of intent to manipulate rankings. So if your keyword is “SEO tips,” it’s better to link to SEO tips like this rather than to link to an article about SEO tips like that.
Use This Tool
Another pretty cool tool that can help with your writing is Cliché Finder. Just copy and paste your article text into their search box and it will analyze your copy for clichés or overused phrases. If you have used a phrase too many times or have used phrases that are completely meaningless (because so many other people use them) it will find and highlight them for you.
When you get to the conclusion of your article, it’s a good idea to mention the keyword once more, if possible. After I’ve finished a post, I’ll do a quick search of the text (using “Command” or “Control” + “F”) to see how many times I used the keyword, and where and how I used it, and I then make any adjustments needed.
Use These Tools
A tool that helps ensure you’ve optimized your copy for humans rather than search engines is Readability Score. Copy and paste your text into the tool, and it will automatically give you a score from 0-100 based on how easy your content is to read (the higher your score, the easier your content is to read). It will also tell you how easy your copy is to comprehend by giving you a grade level. The lower the grade level, the more people your content will speak to.
Another great tool I’ve recently discovered is nTopic. This site analyzes the relevancy of your content to your chosen keyword. Input a link to the copy you want to test (it must already be published on the web) and the keyword you want to rank for, and it will tell you what percent of your copy is relevant, and give you suggestions on how to update your text to be more on-topic (or nTopic).
Bonus: Other SEO-Important Elements
Wondering about the “behind the scenes” SEO stuff? There are a couple components of a blog post that aren’t obvious to your readers, but will affect your search engine rankings.
The first is the URL (the address at which your article can be found on the web). When creating the URL for your blog post, always include your keyword phrase, and put it as close to the beginning of the URL as possible. It’s also best to cut out any unnecessary words, like adjectives and articles. (Less jargon in the URL will make it easier for people to read, which will make them more likely to trust it.)
Next is the meta description. The meta description is the one- or two-sentence preview text under a search engine search result. It won’t show up anywhere on your actual site, but it’s important because it helps entice people to click and read your article. It just provides a little bit more information about your article during a search.
Although it used to be an SEO requirement to include the keyword phrase in your meta description, Google no longer uses that as a ranking factor. However, the click-through rate from Google to your website is becoming an increasingly important factor in how you rank. That means the more people that choose your site over other sites in search results, the more Google will trust you. So it’s important to utilize the meta description and make it as enticing as possible.
Tip: If you do include the keyword phrase in your meta description, Google will bold it in the search results for you. This helps attract people’s attention, since that’s the phrase they searched for. For that reason, I would recommend still including the phrase in the meta description (but don’t worry about it if it sounds too forced).
What About Those Really Tricky Keywords?
I’ll be honest with you—sometimes I look at a keyword phrase I’ve been given and think, “How in the world am I supposed to fit this into an article in a way that actually makes sense?”
When people do Google searches, they aren’t usually thinking about grammar or punctuation (or proper English at all!)—and that can leave you with some pretty interesting keyword phrasing. But, you have to work with what you’re given. That means you may have to do some thinking and be creative in the way you phrase things.
To show you what I mean, here are some examples of a few tricky keyword phrases I’ve come across in my writing and how I’ve worked them into an article.
- “display interactive”: This keyword is tricky because in the context of my article, “display” was the noun being described (like “display”—an “interactive” one), so my tendency was to switch the two words to “interactive display.” While I could do that for a related phrase, I still needed to include it exactly as it had appeared in our keyword research, so instead of using “display” as a noun, I used it as a verb—as in how someone could “display interactive” content.
- “internet of things security challenges”: This particular keyword phrase was difficult for a few reasons. Because the phrase is so long, I knew using it more than a couple of times in an article would quickly become obvious to the reader. Also, “internet of things” is popularly abbreviated “IoT,” so once it’s been written out the first time, it isn’t common practice in the industry to write it out again. In this situation, instead of trying to fit it in (in its exact form) several times, I used it sparingly in the text and took advantage of related words and phrases.
- Any keyword phrase containing an abbreviation of the word “versus”: As Henry stated in his latest article, “comparison keywords” are highly effective in SEO. But using a phrase with “vs.” in a grammatically-correct sentence can be difficult and can sometimes sound forced. When given a keyword phrase containing some form of “versus,” I usually end up using a variation of this sentence: “When comparing subject A vs. subject B, you can…” Even though I’d rather use “to” in place of “vs.” there, sometimes you just have to make exceptions! (And while it isn’t grammatically correct to write it that way, it is conversational—so that’s a bonus when you’re writing for humans!)
Be An Expert SEO Copywriter
When it’s all said and done, your readers are who you want to please. So remember that while Google is the one who will ultimately rank your article, there is person behind the search who is looking for helpful, informative content. Write your copy with this in mind, and you’ll quickly become an SEO copywriting expert.