There are various marketing channels for your company, both online and offline. One of the most sought-after online methods is content marketing. It enables companies to engage with their users and reach out to their target audience. This is where Search Engine Optimization (SEO) copywriting comes in.
Here’s the deal.
SEO copywriting focuses on creating content for both people and search engines, emphasizing the former. Search engines are designed to present the most accurate information and references for what people are looking for. Sites use SEO copywriting primarily for producing articles, blog posts, product descriptions, web copy, and even press releases.
Whether you’re already engaged with SEO efforts or just getting started, here are some of the best practices for writing SEO-optimized copy that you can integrate with your strategy.
21 Best Practices for SEO Copywriting
In no particular order, here are some tips for making your content better in the search engines’ and readers’ eyes.
1. Write for Humans
According to Search Engine Journal, Google rewards content that’s written for humans. While the first iterations of the algorithm were based on numbers and statistics, Google has become more competent and can identify good content for humans. It’s still important to add on-page SEO elements, but the main focus for content should be on the visitors.
The best advice here is to write using language and tone that mimics how we talk –use conversational and straightforward language. Avoid jargon, buzzwords, and robotic-sounding sentences that make the reading experience worse. Excellent writing is fun and engaging to read, which should be your primary goal with any content creation actions.
2. Write Content for the Visitor’s Search Intent
The primary goal of a search engine is to give its users exactly what they’re looking for. According to Google’s SEO guidelines, the user’s search intent is one of the essential ranking aspects. Broadly, the specific search purpose falls into one of three categories: navigational, informational, or transactional.
Using the search intent principle, craft your content around one of the visitor’s goals. Start by defining if your content’s purpose is to lead the visitor to what they seek, give them the information, or let them purchase what they’ve set out to buy. People have different purposes for using search engines, and your content needs to reflect that intent.
3. Answer Questions Within Your Posts
Questions are a massive part of informational search intent. According to Moz, on top of creating valuable content, answering a specific question might land you on “People Also Ask” sections in search engine ranking pages (SERPs).
When creating your content, research related questions around your topic. Start by typing in your targeted keyword to Google and check out the People Also Ask section for which questions you should target within your content. You can then naturally fit the answers into your content either with a sentence, a paragraph, a step-by-step guide, or a list.
4. Create Linkable and Shareable Content
Creating linkable and shareable content creates organic traffic, is highly valued by search engines, and enables more effective link-building for additional SEO purposes, according to Ahrefs. For search engines, links represent a voting system and tell the algorithm which content is authoritative.
Creating sensational content that people are eager to share and reference is easier said than done. You can’t control how social media or other sites behave, but you can still maximize your chances. This means that when planning your content, add in a few content pieces around unique ideas.
Here are a few examples of content that tends to be valued more by readers:
- Original research
- Aggregated data
- Definitions or explanations
- Industry insights
- Research-based unique conclusion
5. Use Keywords Naturally
Keywords are a huge part of SEO since they are one of the most important factors for how search engines evaluate the content. When the search engines just got started, using a specific keyword numerous times sent a clear signal about the content.
However, according to Cyberclick, search engines aren’t ranking content based on the number of times a keyword is inserted anymore; they actually punish sites for it.
While inserting keywords is still an important step, make sure not to overdo it, as you’ll get penalized for keyword stuffing. The optimal route you can take is to insert your main keyword in the first paragraph (if possible and natural), add it in the middle of the article, and once in the conclusion section. You can then treat your additional keywords the same way to avoid keyword stuffing.
6. Target Long-Tail Keywords and Keyword Phrases
People aren’t constantly searching for single or two-word keywords in the search engine. Quite often, to get a more accurate result, they use multiple words or a sentence. In the SEO world, these are known as long-tail keywords. Long-tail keywords have a lower search volume, but the search intent is much more accurate, leading to better performance, according to WebFX.
When researching keywords you want to target with your content, include some long-tail keywords with less search volume. You can start by inserting your main keyword into Google Keyword Planner. Then, look through the list of keyword ideas to find the long-tail keywords best suited for your content.
Also, these longer search inputs often have a particular goal for the user, so your content needs to cater to this search intent to get the maximum effect.
7. Include Related Keywords
The term related keyword often refers to synonyms and includes words closely related to the main keyword’s topic. For example, related keywords for “marketing” could be “email automation,” “social media,” or even “building customer relationships”–depending on your content.
Alternative keywords help search engines identify the intent of your content better and give your audience a better idea of what your content is about, according to Semrush. Thus, not only will you increase your chances with the algorithm, but you’ll also improve the reading experience for your visitors.
You can add related keywords in multiple steps throughout your content creation. You can include them in the first step of your keyword mapping or substitute them when editing content. But, remember that all of these keywords should fit your content naturally and avoid overstuffing them.
8. Focus on Writing a Killer Headline
The headline is most likely the first piece of the content users will see–either when they’re on your site or browsing the search results. The importance of creating engaging and accurate headlines is also emphasized by Google’s SEO guidelines.
Focus on writing a unique and accurate title that sums up the page for potential visitors. Again, we can’t predict how people behave, but we can increase our chances of success. Your headline should reflect what your content is about and what’s in it for the reader when they decide to read it.
However, a word of caution, don’t use clickbait headlines–it might work for some publications, but it doesn’t serve the search engines and often doesn’t improve the reading experience.
9. Write a Compelling Introduction
After you’ve managed to pique a reader’s interest with your killer headline, the next part they’re likely to see is the introduction. According to Time, an average reader spends around 15 seconds on a site to determine if they will continue or leave. This gives them enough time to read the introduction and maybe the first header.
There are various ways to start an article, depending on the nature of the content in general. It all depends on the content’s tone, the target audience, and the topic. However, if you have no idea where to start with introductions, use the problem-solution-reveal technique.
First, you propose a problem, a pain point that’s present in the world. Then you offer a solution, a way how the problem could be solved. And you end up with a reveal, how this piece of content will guide the reader through solving the problem.
Suppose you’re writing an article about useful iPhone apps. The problem is that there are thousands of apps out there. The solution is picking the best ones to maximize your efforts. And the reveal is that the article will list all the necessary apps according to their usefulness and functionality.
10. Engage Readers with Bucket Brigades
In the writing world, a bucket brigade is a classic copywriting technique that aims to intrigue a person to keep on reading. It’s a word or a short sentence that builds a bridge between paragraphs and encourages the reader to continue.
Here’s the thing.
Copywriting, in general, aims to keep readers going for the following sentence, and the next after that, and so on. Short and engaging sentences allow people to easily consume them and move on, making them more immersed with every line.
Using these phrases too often will get annoying since they rarely add additional value to the reader other than breaking up text. So, use them sparingly at the start of your content and a few times within the content where they make sense.
11. Use Stories to Keep People Engaged
We’ve all grown up with stories, either from books, movies, theater, and other people. And we love them. According to Writing Cooperative, storytelling is a powerful tool that compliments copywriting because it keeps people engaged. A well-crafted story can also induce emotions in the reader, getting them to take action.
Add stories to your content that illustrate or confirm the point you’re trying to get across. These can also be real or fictional, depending on the content. However, real-life feedback, case studies, and user success stories work better than made-up scenarios in the business setting.
12. Structure the Content for Easy Reading
In today’s day and age, there’s far more information available to us than we could possibly consume within our lifetime. The short attention span coupled with our limited number of hours each day also influences how we absorb content. Research by the NN Group shows that people tend to skim-read rather than read word for word. It then makes sense to modify your content according to the majority.
Format your content by bolding key phrases, use bullet points, add subheadings, and break up long paragraphs. If you’ve built your website in WordPress or use any other content management systems (CMS) available, formatting content and structuring a page is relatively straightforward and often doesn’t require any coding skills. Most CMSs have a drag and drop feature, making it effortless to structure and move sections around.
13. Keep Paragraphs Short
Nobody likes walls of text (that could be biased), and having breaks between key ideas enables us to pause and reflect, even if only for a second. According to WordCounter, the rule-of-thumb for the optimal amount of sentences in a paragraph is 3 to 8. Furthermore, this rule approximately translates to 5 to 7 lines visually.
During the editing phase of new content, make sure the paragraphs stay within the optimal lines and break up any long sections. Doing this increases the readability and improves the content’s visual outlook, making it more appealing to readers.
14. Break Up Content with Relevant Visuals
Based on Search Engine Watch’s research, visual content has a huge positive impact on marketing, such as increased time on page, a higher chance of sharing, and an opportunity for further SEO optimization through image search. Thus, images, GIFs, graphs, and other forms of visual content improve users’ reading experience and the aesthetic of your site.
Add visual content throughout your site and include it to break up your text-based content. Use images that complement the content and offer readers extra value. Avoid using stock photos as these usually don’t provide additional value for the reader, other than breaking up text. Also, using a CMS makes it effortless to add visual content to your content since almost all have options for inserting images.
15. Keep Your Content Focused and Inclusive
Staying within the lines of a single topic serves the readers who are looking for specific information. When your writing is all over the place and jumps from topic to topic, the reader probably isn’t getting a complete picture of the subject. According to Google’s SEO guidelines, one of the primary questions you should ask is if you serve high-quality content to your visitors.
Create content focused around a specific topic and offers every bit of information about it, including different angles and viewpoints. Doing that makes your content inclusive and highly informative and serves your reader giving your content a better chance of being shared and found on search.
16. Aim Around 1,500 Words
A study by BackLinko shows that long-form content performs better in SERPs. Also, the average word count for top results is around 1,500 words. The reason behind the higher performance is that shorter content often doesn’t give an inclusive idea of the subject and longer content fails to stay focused. However, this is not always the case and highly depends on the subject and nature of the content.
Take inventory of your content pieces and look up the word count for each one. Here’s how to maximize your chances of getting to the top results. If the count is below 1,000 words, try to expand the topic and find additional information within the title. If the count is above 2,000 words, break it down into two or more separate content pieces–unless the subject itself requires a longer explanation to be inclusive.
17. Only Use Authoritative Sites for External Linking
Linking to outside sources enables you to bolster your content with amazing external sources. According to Andrey Lipattsev from Google, external links are considered more valuable in the search ranking than internal links. Linking to authoritative sites in your content tells search engines that you’re building content to be definitive and valuable by referencing quality information.
Use the Ahrefs’ Website Authority Checker tool to find the domain rating (DR) of a target website. The higher the rating, the more authoritative and substantial the target site is. Look for a DR higher than 60 or 70 for the highest effect.
18. Add Internal Links Only if They Provide Value
Opposed to external links, internal links are references to your own site’s content. The internal linking structure offers search engines and visitors a navigational guide throughout your website based on Moz’s links and link-building guide. Internal links take users further into your site and enable you to keep them engaged for an extended period.
Add internal links throughout your content that take the visitors further into your website, following the information they might find interesting. However, only add relevant links to the content and avoid promotional or misleading links that could hurt the reading experience.
19. Include a Single CTA
Call to Actions (CTAs) are essential elements to guide your visitors to take the next step. These can lead to purchasing, downloading assets, getting in touch, leaving a comment, or anything really. However, according to Science of People, people tend to experience decision paralysis when presented with multiple choices, leading to an inability to take action.
It’s important to avoid overwhelming your readers with offers and CTAs as they might have the opposite effect. Instead, focus on a single CTA within your content based on what step you’d like them to take next. Creating a multilayered funnel might seem difficult at first, but it helps navigate your users more efficiently and creates more engaging leads.
20. Aim for Featured Snippets
The featured snippets are part of the search results that appear at the very top. These usually answer specific questions that users have typed into the search bar and won’t require them to delve deeper to look for an answer. While it might seem counterproductive as there’s a good chance that users aren’t clicking on your site, you still get more exposure and possibly a more significant number of clicks despite the lower click rate.
According to Moz, well-thought-out lists, definitions, and conclusions that appeal to readers have a high chance of getting on Google’s “Featured snippets” feature. While the algorithm chooses the featured snippets’ site itself, you can still optimize your content for them.
Here’s an example of a definition as a featured snippet:
Here’s an example of a list:
21. Use SEO Tools to Perfect Your Work
Last but not least, using technology to improve your chances of getting good results on SERPs should be a no-brainer. There are both free and paid SEO tools available for each step of the optimization process, from finding the right keywords to checking the readability score of your content.
You can start by checking out these tools:
- Google Search Console; search traffic analytics and issue tracking.
- Google Keyword Planner; for researching keywords.
- Ahrefs; for auditing your site, analyzing competitors, researching keywords, and identifying best-performing content.
- Grammarly; for grammar, editing suggestions, and sentence structure.
- Hemingway; for determining the content’s readability score and editing suggestions.
Use What Works to Get Better Rankings on Search Engines
Optimizing your content for humans and search engines is a long process, and following the best practices increases your chances of success. The whole concept is multifaceted and requires both technical and creative areas of content creation.
While you might think that doing SEO is purely for algorithms, remember that the goal is still to serve the users. This means that you can have a head start with creating fantastic content from the get-go. You can also get help from a professional content marketing service and outsource the content creation efforts.