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Marketing | Aug 13
Jessica Greene on June 24, 2019 (last modified on July 19, 2020) • 32 minute read
SEO has a history of making content worse. A decade ago, the internet was filled with low-quality and robotic 300-word pieces, and frankly, SEO was to blame. That turned many writers and editors off of SEO for a long time—probably even to this day in some circles.
But the truth is that content and SEO need each other. A single piece of high-ranking content can drive traffic to a site for years to come. Content posted to social or distributed through an email newsletter has a significantly shorter lifespan.
And SEO is largely pointless without content. High-quality content is one of Google’s top three ranking factors. Without content, it’s very difficult for a site to rank for anything other than its brand name.
So how do you marry SEO and content together in a way that lets you please both your audience and the search engine algorithms?
To find out, we asked 104 content marketers and SEOs to share their best SEO copywriting tips.
They shared the 29 tips below. Use them to create content that your audience can’t wait to read and the search engines can’t help but rank.
Editor’s note: Need a better way to track how your content is performing in search? Download this free Improve Your Google Search Position dashboard to quickly identify changes in search rankings and get a high-level view of your total clicks and top-ranked pages.
When creating a new piece of content, should you write for search engines first and optimize for humans later, or should you write for humans first and optimize for search later?
More than three-fourths of our respondents said their first priority when creating copy is writing for people. Only 21% said they prioritize writing for search engines and algorithms.
“Write for people, not search engines,” says BretzMedia’s Sam Bretzmann. “In the long run, that’s what wins. If you provide the best answer to the search query, Google will figure that out. Trying to take shortcuts won’t get you to where you want to go.”
Lots of other respondents agreed and offered these tips:
“If you write for search engines, people won’t enjoy your content and will leave your site quickly,” says Amazon SEO Consultant’s Brett Downes. “That lack of time-on-site feedback is a signal to search engines that your content is bad, and they’ll demote your site accordingly.”
“It might sound harsh, but this has been my experience: no amount of SEO will save bad content, but great content will rank even if it wasn’t written with SEO in mind,” says Commusoft’s Cristina Maria. “At the end of the day, it’s people, traffic, and organic shares that get your content ranked highly.”
Go Up’s Charlie Morley agrees: “Set out to create content you genuinely believe will be the best source of information for that topic on the internet. Holding this sort of standard means going the extra distance with research, writing style, and execution—all of which combine into the highest quality content possible.”
So how do you know if your content is high-quality? Danielle Fernandez of Williams Law, P.A. says, “A great rule of thumb to go by when you’re writing content is to ask yourself: ‘Would I share this on Twitter?’ or ‘Would this help me if I was in ______ position?’”
“If the answer is no, then it’s time to go back to the drawing board. Your content is your opportunity to build trust with your potential clients, readers, or customers. Give them something valuable, and you’ll be remembered,” Fernandez says.
Pest Rank’s Dan Christensen offers another couple of questions:
“Sometimes the answers to these questions will help you generate new ideas, such as visual media to add,” Christensen says. “I’ve even scrapped complete pieces because I felt that the answers weren’t compelling enough.”
“If all else fails, write amazing content that you, yourself would delight in reading.”
“Pay attention to the intent—what information the searcher is looking for—behind the keywords you’re targeting,” says HELLO Marketing Agency’s Renee Bauer. “If your content doesn’t satisfy user intent and provide what searchers want, it will never rank.”
COFORGE’s Eric Melillo agrees: “Writing better copy for SEO means considering the user intent and solving for searchers’ challenges, needs, or opportunities.”
Messente Communications’ Taavi Rebane says there are four types of user intent:
So how do you identify the intent behind a keyword?
Rachel Cottam of ZipBooks recommends “doing a simple Google search and checking the top results. The results that rank highly contain the answers that searchers are looking for.”
Yellowball’s Anya Gair says to review the top results and ask yourself: “Are the results transactional or informational? Are they image-heavy? Do they have integrated video? This gives you an indication of what search engines think is valuable content for that query. It’s like competitor research for each blog post.”
“Intent is the key to SEO going forward,” says CHILLREPTILE’s Sam Rexford. “If you’re just trying to rank for a keyword but not trying to solve for the intent behind the search, you’re creating bad content experiences, unhappy visitors that bounce quickly from the page, and a poor search experience.”
And a poor search experience is exactly what search engines want to avoid. As Portent’s Kyle Freeman says: “Google is trying to provide the best content based off of the searcher’s intent.”
Freeman continues: “By writing to satisfy user intent, you can create content for each type of user through each stage of the buyer’s journey. By doing this, you will not only earn higher rankings and drive more relevant traffic to your content, but you will also increase conversions.”
“One SEO copywriting tip marketers should follow to create content that ranks is to make pieces of content comprehensive,” says Brooks Manley of Engenius. “Content that ranks in 2019 doesn’t just answer the user’s initial question; it also answers questions searchers didn’t even know they wanted the answers to.”
Our respondents offered lots of tips on how to make your content more comprehensive:
And while “comprehensive” content often means long content, a long post isn’t necessarily comprehensive. As Gregory Golinski of YourParkingSpace says: “Long content that’s poor quality won’t rank. Your content needs to be in-depth and well-written.”
“Each keyword users are searching for is a topic that they would like to know more about,” says Appleton’s Tori Ferrante. “When you’re writing on that topic, answer the questions they have.”
“When you feel satisfied that you’ve covered everything they need to know about the topic, that creates value for the reader. That value is provided to every user searching for info on that topic and, in turn, translates into higher search rankings for your article,” Ferrante says.
“Write copy that answers questions your customers are actually asking,” says Rantizo’s Emily Carlson. “By doing this, you will establish yourself/company/brand as an authority, which is favored by search engines.”
Kaleidico’s Bill Rice agrees: “Google seems to love very specific and detailed responses to searches that are frequently in the form of a question. By looking for these kinds of searches and keyword opportunities, you are being more supportive to your customers and ingratiating yourself to Google at the same time.”
There are plenty of ways to find out what questions your audience is asking.
After you’ve identified the questions you need to answer in your content, G2’s Lauren Pope recommends “turning each of your headers into a question. For example, instead of making your header ‘Podcast Computer,’ turn it into ‘What is the Best Computer for Podcasting?’”
Best Company’s Alice Stevens agrees that you should use questions as headings, explaining that “voice search is gaining more influence over what people see in Google’s results. Answering as many questions as possible in the article will optimize it for voice search, which will help boost its rankings.”
If you don’t want question headings, Schutt Media’s Andrew Schutt offers another option: “If you write an article on a topic, include some FAQs.”
“Your content should be answering the queries you want to rank for,” says Matt Potter of PACIFIC – The Discovery Group. “That means providing an informative and engaging response that satisfies a user’s question. If your content does its job, search engines will reward you for providing thoughtful and focused information.”
“Writing content with SEO in mind means writing content with your audience in mind,” says Relay42’s Julie Alexander. “For each piece I write, I hammer a question out first, keep it in front of me on a sticky note as I work, and refer back to it constantly to keep myself on target.”
Talar Malakian of Salted Stone agrees: “Keywords are important, but what your audience wants is even more important. Ask:”
“By understanding who your audience is, what their pain points are, and what motivates them, you can better determine what information they may be searching for and address questions they may have,” says Accelingo’s Sergio Guillén.
Guillén also recommends two ways to define your target audience: “explore your current client base and identify the demographics of your social media followers.”
“Be the expert in everything you write,” says Friday Agency’s Martin McGuire. “Get inside your user’s heads and try to provide them with all the possible solutions to their queries—and more!”
“Research is the key to becoming an expert. The more in-depth your research is, the easier it will be to produce content that is not only informative but also covers the breadth of a topic,” McGuire says.
Our respondents agree that research is a key activity in SEO copywriting. In fact, it’s the activity they report spending the most time on—even more time than writing the content itself:
“With any piece of content, creating a framework and planning is 60% of the job,” says Creative Asset’s Adam Cook.
“Analyzing the top ranking content for LSI keywords, sub-topics they’ve included, who they link out to, what kind of media they use, etc. can be really effective at helping you understand how Google wants to answer the searcher’s query.”
“It’s important to find out what’s currently ranking,” says Angela Ash of Flow SEO. “Do a quick search for your target keyword and review the posts that are already ranking highly. Then, use these posts for inspiration when creating your own content.”
John Morabito of Stella Rising agrees: “Pay attention to the length and nature of articles ranking in the top 10 for the keyword you want to target. There’s no magic number of how many words an article should be, but you should consider the length and breadth of top-ranking results.”
“Also, look at the nature of the content. Is it a list? Is it a step-by-step guide? Make sure to consider what content types are ranking for the keywords you want to rank for. Then, make sure to create content that is of that nature,” Morabito says.
Zack Reboletti of Web Focused offers a few more suggestions for what to look for:
And Branko Kral of B King Digital says to “Search for your target keyword, read through what ranks on page one, find a common theme among those posts, and match that theme in your own content and its metadata. Then, make your piece of content stand out big time.”
“You want to match the theme but give it your own, bold spin,” Kral says.
Finally, G2’s Alan Santillan recommends “using live SERPs to compare H2s of competing articles to get ideas for both your title and your headers. Those results are implementing the keyword and semantic variations well, and using their keyword research helps you run in and compete with more comprehensive content.”
“Write simplistically,” says Clutch’s Riley Panko. “You may think that writing highly technical, jargon-filled content means you’ll come across as the most knowledgeable. But people skim when reading on the web, and this type of content will make their eyes glaze over.”
“Marketers—especially when they’re also the business owner—often make a common mistake: they think like the business, not like the customers of the business,” says Gary Ennis of NSDesign.
“They describe their products and services using trendy marketing terms, they use industry jargon and acronyms, and they speak like people who have been in that role for many years and know the industry inside out.”
“But stop and ask yourself: What does my target customer call it? What do they call me? What are they searching for on Google? If your language doesn’t align with their language, then you’ve missed the point of SEO.”
“If your website refers to you as a ‘UX Interface Specialist’ who can help ‘SMEs construct the perfect online digital experience,’ then you better be sure your typical customer isn’t searching Google for a ‘Website Designer,’” Ennis says.
To evaluate your content for complexity, Roger West’s Samantha Simon says to “run a Flesch–Kincaid readability test. It measures how complex your text is. A score of 60-70 is considered acceptable for web copy.”
“My top tip is to always find where your audience is active online, look at the content they read and share currently, and try and reflect a similar written style, language, and tone in your piece of content,” says Jordana Hargreaves of High Speed Training.
“For example, if your audience is receptive of opinion pieces of content and you know they enjoy reading lighter-weight publications such as Medium, I would use an anecdotal and informal writing style.”
“Similarly, if I know my audience is looking for how-to guidance or definitions of terms, I would set the tone of the piece to match an authoritative, more academic writing style.”
“Tailoring your writing for a style you already know resonates with your audience will not only attract them to your page, but it will also encourage them to spend more time on that page because they are getting the true value from your content.”
“This does not mean that you have to abandon your own writing style. Stay true to the voice of your business and include your own flair. That’s what makes you unique. Just make sure you are writing for your target audience in the format they prefer to receive it in.”
“Demonstrate empathy with your audience,” says Donna Duncan of B-SeenOnTop. “Make them believe you understand their situation by describing the problem they are facing in enough detail for them to be able to recognize you have first-hand experience and understanding.”
“Empathy builds trust and trust plants the seed for a healthy and mutually-beneficial relationship with prospects and customers.”
“I’ve found success following the advice that a high school teacher gave me when it came to writing essays,” says John Donnachie of ClydeBank Media. “Tell them what you’re going to tell them (introduction), tell it to them (body), and tell them what you just told them (conclusion).”
“One often-neglected area of copywriting is making the content skimmable,” says MediaSesh’s Christina Brodzky. “While optimizing an article with targeted keyword phrases and internal hyperlinks is important, the readability of a website can also directly contribute to its success.”
Orbit Media’s Andy Crestodina agrees: “Everyone knows to include keyphrases, but not everyone appreciates user interaction signals. Google knows if your visitors stayed on the site for a few short seconds or several long minutes. And that dwell time is a powerful clue for Google about the quality of your content.”
“The key to creating long visits is simple: formatting,” Crestodina says.
So how do you format your content to increase dwell time? Our respondents offered several suggestions:
“Organize the content in a way that makes people want to read it,” says Ellen Huang of Integrated Management Systems. “Anyone can write an article, but most people don’t focus on the structure/formatting or write in a way that keeps people on the page.”
“If you want your content to rank high and generate massive amounts of traffic, then you must make content for the Linkarati,” says Rio Rocket of Rio Rocket SEO Services.
“That means your content verbiage must be written the way it is on the really big sites that get massive traffic on a daily basis. It may alienate a portion of your audience, but it’s what Google is looking for and, in return, will yield visitors in the hundreds of thousands.”
“As an example, a copywriter for a life insurance business found an article with twenty facts about death. After paraphrasing many of the weirder facts, such as ‘you’re alive for 10 seconds after being decapitated,’ he placed it on Reddit and Digg with a link to the entire rewritten article.”
“It instantly ranked them on the first page for several life insurance keywords.”
“One tip for writing copy that ranks well is to ensure you are writing content that people are excited about sharing,” says Flower Glossary’s Antonella Pisani.
“By creating a fun and/or engaging piece, people will be more likely to link to your page and share it with their website’s audience and friends on social media. This, in turn, will help make your site more appealing to search engines and improve your rankings.”
“Write a compelling headline to get more clicks,” says thumbprint’s Morgan Lathaen. “Headlines are the secret sauce to getting more clicks, shares, and sales.”
Need help crafting more compelling headlines? Our respondents offered a few tips:
“You absolutely need benefit-rich headlines,” says The Good’s David Hoos. “Your readers have limited time, so to keep them engaged, you need to highlight the benefits they’re going to get by continuing to read.”
“Create a compelling introduction to make readers want more,” says Tom Shelton of Top Explainers. “You need to grab them from the beginning. If you don’t, your readers will bounce. Really focus on those first few paragraphs and make sure that you are satisfying user intent.”
Ron Stefanski of RonSki Media agrees: “Make sure you start your posts with a story that immerses the reader in your content. It’s not an easy skill to learn, but once you are in the habit, you tend to keep people more engaged with your content. This leads to a higher average time on site, which is great for SEO.”
“Your SEO title is the single most important part of your content,” says Chas Cooper of Rising Star Reviews. “Without a more compelling SEO title than competition on SERPs, you’ll get fewer click-throughs, and the rest of your fantastic content will never get read.”
“Even worse, clicks are a major ranking signal, so content with a poor SEO title may never even make it to page one of search results.”
“To beat the competition, go into incognito mode in your browser and search for the term your content is targeting. Every link you see is the SEO title of your competing content. Use your best copywriting skills to come up with a page title that will attract more clicks than all the competing titles you see on the SERP,” Cooper says.
“There are numerous websites that will analyze and score your titles and let you know how effective they are for SEO purposes,” says Dear Cynthia’s Cynthia White. “Use those websites, and come up with a title that gets a high score.”
Our respondents also offered a couple of words of caution for creating and editing SEO titles.
“If you already have high rankings and a decent CTR, be careful about changing your SEO title,” says Team Building NYC’s Jennifer Chen. “A substantial decrease in CTR can lead to a quick rankings decline.”
And Cooper says to “beware of clickbait titles. Although you want your page title to attract lots of clicks, you don’t want those clicks to turn into bounces, so make sure your page title doesn’t make any promises your content can’t deliver on.”
“Pay attention to the click-through rate (CTR) estimate for keywords,” says Airy’s Mason Mitchel.
“Google has been siphoning valuable organic traffic from high-volume search phrases with the introduction of rich snippets and other automated SERP features. Therefore, it’s now essential to also consider CTR probability when choosing keywords.”
“Moz Pro includes this metric in its Keyword Explorer, and it’s super helpful for crafting SEO-driven content.”
Editor’s note: Want an easier way to track the click-through rate of your top pieces of content? Download this free Google Search Console Basics dashboard to see the CTR for your top posts alongside other key pieces of data like your top keywords and total clicks.
“Make sure your content is based on relevant keywords,” says Whetstone Education’s Libby Fischer. “Ideally, your content will answer a question or offer a solution to a problem that your prospective clients have. In order to reach these people, it’s important to use keywords that will help them find your content.”
“To write content that ranks, it’s important that you do your keyword research,” says Best Company’s Alayna Okerlund. “Using keywords that have a high search volume and low difficulty can help your content rank.”
To find those keywords, Slickplan’s Tom Willis recommends “using a keyword tool like Moz Keyword Explorer or even Google Keyword Planner to see monthly search volumes and keyword competitiveness. If you find a great keyword with little competition, snap it up quick before somebody else sees it.”
And Isabella Federico of WeBizz recommends “looking at trends on Twitter, YouTube, and Google Trends and reading posts on forums and communities. These can help you identify popular questions your audience has.”
“Favor useful content over keyword-stuffed verbiage,” says Ken Newman of DMA | Digital Marketing Agency. “Some content marketers try to include as many keywords as possible, but doing so will detract readers from engaging with your content, which will negatively affect your Google rankings.”
Royal Media’s Andreea Giurgea agrees: “Don’t overuse keywords just for the sake of ranking better because Google knows what you’re doing.”
“Your users will leave your page immediately if it looks like a robot wrote it, and your bounce rate really does influence your rankings,” Medicare Plan Finder’s Troy Frink says.
So where is it important to include keywords in your content? Our respondents offered several suggestions:
To avoid keyword overuse, Eric Tyler of Innovate House Buyers says to keep an eye on your keyword density: “Keyword density is a term that describes the number of times a keyword or phrase is mentioned in relation to the overall amount of words on the page.”
And Advice Media’s Dylan Myatt says, “the Goldilocks zone for keyword density is anywhere from 1.5-2.5%. Anything more or less will have the opposite effect.”
“Focus on writing the best article on the subject, and it will naturally include a lot of relevant keywords,” says Vital Dollar’s Marc Andre. “If it’s great content, it will have a better chance to rank, and Google will likely rank it for a wide variety of related keywords.”
“How? It checks your content for uniqueness, redundancy, and keyword stuffing. You receive a score for each. And when it’s done checking your content, it even does competitor analysis for you.”
“The one thing we always account for when we write for SEO is Term Frequency-Inverse Document Frequency (TF-IDF),” says Julienq Raby of Best Outdoor Items. “In short, it’s an approach to holistically gather the most relevant keywords related to a topic.”
“By analyzing the content of the top 10 results, you can come up with the most frequently used terms. You can then make sure to include those keywords in your content to ensure you completely cover the topic.”
“Fortunately, there are multiple tools to help you. You can start by using the free version of Website Auditor. It will automatically gather the most frequent terms of the top ten results for your main keyword,” Raby says.
“You might think TF-IDF is the same as keyword density, but it’s not,” says Ulysis Cababan of RapidVisa® Incorporated. “It has more to do with keyword relevancy—or how a certain keyword is associated with your target keyword.”
“One of the top SEO copywriting tips I have found that actually produces results is to make sure you research and implement the correct semantically related keywords into your copy,” says Colin Mosier of JSL Marketing & Web Design.
Mrs Daaku Studio’s Chhavi Agarwal agrees: “Use latent semantic indexing (LSI) keywords. LSI keywords are just synonyms of—or words closely related to—your primary keyword, that helps Google understand what is your page all about.”
“Using the SEO tool of your choice, you should be able to input the keywords you are trying to rank for and then get a list of what related keywords you should use as well,” Mosier says.
“Finding and targeting keywords with low difficulty and high volume is a great way to help your content rank,” says Noelle Del Grippo of Sagefrog Marketing Group. “You can use the keywords found in your research that have low competition to structure how you write your content and decide what topics you should focus on.”
And Lake One’s Rachael Cecko recommends targeting long-tail keywords: “Use long-tail keywords to create content that’s worthy of a high search position. Often times, you’ll find it’s easier to rank for long-tail keywords on page one because fewer backlinks are needed to rank for the keyword.”
“We use a third party tool to estimate, but it helps us keep things in perspective and set goals. It depends on the specific phrase, but making an SEO play for long-tail keywords can be a quicker win if there’s search volume,” Cecko says.
“You need to target purchase-intent keywords,” says Growth Hackers’ Jonathan Aufray. “At the end of the day, you want to generate leads and revenue with the content you produce.”
“To do this, you need to have your buyer personas in mind. What types of keywords will they search for, and which ones have more chance to convert in terms of leads and sales?”
“Don’t underestimate the value of incorporating formatting and a structure that makes it easy to capture a featured snippet,” says Foundation Marketing’s Ross Simmonds.
“A lot of marketers create amazing lists, resources, and instructional pieces but never bother to format their posts in a way that is easy to be scraped and incorporated into a featured snippet. That’s a huge mistake.”
“Tell Google exactly what should be the in the featured snippet. Make it not only a part of the post but also call it out as a feature in the introduction as a quick summary of a key point in the article,” Simmonds says.
9Sail’s Bryan Pattman agrees: “Focusing on winning the featured snippet will benefit you in the long run. Having a dedicated paragraph or chart that specifically answers the question that users are searching for will give you a good chance of taking position zero and then moving up in rankings over time.”
“If you are able to secure position zero and position one, you will have a very successful article,” Pattman says.
“When starting to write a piece of content, create the structure first,” says Aleksandra Velkova of SEOtribunal.com. “Plan where you’ll place your subtitles, bulleted lists, and images. Then, insert the keywords where you see fit, as seamlessly as possible.”
I Wanna Be a Blogger’s Michael Pozdnev agrees and offers another approach: “After doing keyword research and coming up with a plan for the article, I recommend diving your screen into two parts. In one, you write an article. In the second, write an outline with keywords.”
“This way, you will always know what to write about and will never forget about the keywords that you chose in advance,” Pozdnev says.
“If I could offer one tip to marketers trying to produce SEO copywriting that ranks, it would be to start the process with a solid, well-researched, and logical site architecture,” says Blue Bamboo‘s Liz Hughes.
“Each page on a website is a topic—a topic that can be matched with appropriate keywords that provide a focus for any piece of content. The more focussed your copywriting, the more likely that page will rank.”
“Content should flow down from the URL to the page title, from the page title to the page copy, from the page copy to the image names, and so forth.”
If you’ve made it all the way to the end of this piece, the header above may seem laughable.
But contrary to what these 29 tips may convey—and although SEO copywriting is absolutely a balancing act of writing content that both humans and search engines will favor—you can succeed by just following a few basic best practices.
Jeff Hinkle of Polyient Labs provides a great summary of the basic SEO copywriting best practices below. If you do nothing else, start with these tips, and you’ll be well on your way to writing content that both engages your audience and ranks highly in organic search.
“If you really want to convince search engines to reward your hard work with page rankings, then offer readers material that is well written, insightful, cites credible sources, and is capped off with headlines—H2s, H3s, etc.—that encapsulate what you are offering readers.”
“Your work will be discovered, and you won’t need to worry about using the perfect anchor text, shoe-horning in keywords, or executing other SEO tricks.”
“Rankings naturally follow reader engagement.”
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