“All those copywriters bleating on about not wanting to SEO their copy because it will ruin the conversations, the conversion and the creativity? They don’t know a damn thing about how SEO copy really works.”
Whenever I’m in a copywriting group I see the same comments.
“SEO ruins conversational copy.”
“SEO ruins conversion copy.”
“You don’t need to use keywords any more. Google will work it out.”
“SEO copy is boring copy.”
These kinds of comments show a fundamental misunderstanding of what SEO copywriting is and how it works.
And these copywriters who think that Google will magically work out where to rank you no matter what you write on the page, well they’re either naïve or just plain lazy.
If anything great SEO copywriting is even more important now than it’s ever been.
So in this podcast, I’m going to get back to basics and give you an overview of the important elements in SEO Copywriting, and a few tips on how to please humans and Google too.
Tune in to learn:
- What is SEO Copywriting and how does it differ from SEO content writing
- The CGF way to understand your customers
- Why the marketing funnel and searcher intent matters
- How to choose keywords
- How to set up your structure
- How long should SEO copy be?
- Why does readability matter?
- Beyond copy: Layout and links
- My SEO copywriting process
- Important measurement metrics
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Whenever I’m in a copywriting group, I see the same comments, “SEO ruins conversational copy. SEO ruins conversion copy. You don’t need to use keywords anymore anyway, Google will work it out. SEO copy is a boring copy.” And it’s these kinds of comments that I think show a fundamental misunderstanding of what SEO copywriting is and how it works. And these copywriters who think that Google will magically work out where to rank you no matter what you write on the page, well, they’re either naive or just plain lazy. If anything, SEO copywriting is even more important now than it has ever been before. So in this podcast, I’m going to get back to basics and give you an overview of the important elements in SEO copywriting, and a few tips on how to please humans and Google too.
Hello, my name is Kate Toon, and I’m the head copy beast at The Clever Copywriting School. But some of you may know me as the head Google beast at The Recipe For SEO Success. You see, SEO and copy are my two passions. And today, I want to talk about them. I want to talk about SEO copywriting. This is a slightly long episode. It’s not a tip, it’s not a chat, it’s a learn episode.
So dig in, sit down, grab a cup of tea, and we’re going to talk about SEO.
So a quick history first. Why am I talking about SEO copywriting? I’ve been involved in the world of SEO copywriting for a long time, since really before SEO was an actual thing. So in that time, I have worked at agencies like advertising.com, helping big brands like Pedigree Chum to work out what SEO is and how it impacts websites. From there, I went back into the advertising world, working with brands across Australia until I went freelance in about 2009.
And then it was time to use my superpower for my own good because I wanted to set up as a copywriter. But when I Googled copywriter, there were already hundreds and hundreds of people, not just in Australia, but in my local area. And I wanted to know how the heck I was going to beat them to the top of the rankings because I knew that ranking in Google on page one was the thing and it still is.
96% of clicks go to businesses on the first page. And we all know that the majority of them go to the businesses in the first couple of spots. So I used my superpowers for good. And in about a year, I was ranking for about two, 300 phrases, including the word copywriter, writer, SEO website, freelance writer. And for a brief time, I was number one in Australia for the word copywriter. Wikipedia has taken that now. And that was the start of a lot for me. It started my business. I was able to build a successful copywriting business very quickly because I just had leads pouring in which meant I could pick and choose, I could set decent pricing. And after that, it became the foundation of The Recipe for SEO Success and to a degree, The Clever Copywriting School as well. Ranking for the word copywriter meant that lots of copywriters were finding me and I had nothing for them.
So I built The Clever Copywriting School, which now has a shop, a membership, a conference, a directory, a job board, and everything you need to be a successful copywriter. So for me, SEO is everything. It’s the foundation of my life, my business.
I never thought it was something I wanted to do, but here I am. And what I think is really important, and I hope one thing you take away from this episode, is that SEO doesn’t have to impenda… Impenda?
See, I just made up a word. SEO doesn’t have to impinge upon your creativity. It’s not about that. In fact, it helps you be more creative.
Anyway, I’m waffling. Let’s talk about some basics. Let’s start with the absolute basics.
What is SEO writing?
So SEO stands for search engine optimization and it’s the art of writing content that appeals to humans and Google too.
We want to create content with the goal of ranking in search engines for relevant keywords. And we can apply that writing to homepages, blog posts, products, sales pages, services pages.
Now, just as in normal copywriting, you can split it to content and copywriting as you can with SEO content. So SEO content writing appeals more to those who are looking for information. It informs, it educates, entertains, or solves a problem.
SEO copywriting focuses more on those looking to buy stuff, converting traffic. It’s about converting browsers into customers. It persuades, it explains, and it sells. But the basics of how to write either of these types of material is the same. So let’s start with the basics.
Step one. What do we need to do first? Well, as with all copywriting, it’s no different here. We need to understand our audience. We need to dig into their preconceived beliefs, their deepest desires, their darkest fears. We need to get insight into who they are as a human. Now, often in marketing, we think about demographic information, this is Clive, he is 67, he has a sausage dog, he’s married to Susan. None of that is really that helpful when it comes to SEO. Instead, we need to think about what is Clive Googling in the middle of the night? He’s just woken up. His sausage dog has woken him up again, going out for a wee.
And Clive’s up and he’s lying there in the dark worrying about stuff.
And he gets out his phone and he taps into Google a question.
What would that question be? It might be, “Google, what is this rash in my groin? Google, why can’t I…”
Oh, I don’t know. I’m going to stop there.
I’m going to say something I’m going to regret.
If we can be there for Clive in that moment, if we can help him, then he’s going to remember us. In that point, he’s probably in information mode maybe. He wants an answer to a question. And then later, when he’s in buying mode, who’s he going to remember?
He’s going to remember the brand that he trusted at that 3:00 AM moment and he’s going to go back to them. So you can see that we need to dig beyond the demographic and really think about the questions that our customers are asking because they’re not asking them direct to us. They’re asking them to Google first, and then they’re finding the best answer.
And that leads us into the funnel, the marketing funnel. Everyone’s at different stages in their journey with you as a business, right? In different stages in the buying process. We think about top of funnel. When customers are really unaware of your brand or your product, they know they’ve got a problem, but they don’t really know that you’re the solution. Middle of funnel, customers know they need a product or solution, but they may or may not be considering your brand. Maybe they’re comparing your content with someone else’s content. And then bottom of the funnel. People are ready to make a purchase. They’re aware that you have a product that they want and then they need to be persuaded. They need the right price. They need to see some features and some benefits and some proof.
So we need to think about our content in relation to where people are in their journey, not just what types of searches they’re making, what questions they’re asking at 3:00 AM, but how sophisticated that search is, whether it’s a problem search, whether it’s a solution search, a comparison search. So when you’re writing copy for your site, it’s critical to understand which stage you’re writing for. Does your audience know anything about the product?
Are they at the stage when they’re comparing a solution?
You’ve got to think about these things.
And, of course, this leads into point three, searcher intent.
So searcher intent, which is also known as user intent, is about thinking, “What is the primary objective of the customer when they’re seeking information from a search engine?”
And if you think about your own searches, they kind of fall into four core categories,
Informational intent. I want to know something. I want information on a specific topic.
Then we have investigational intent. I want to buy something sometime soon. I’m ready to buy, but I want to compare X and Y. I’m doing a bit of research.
And then transactional intent, conversion intent. I am ready to buy, and I am putting those buy keywords, using those buy modifiers into search engines.
Piglet jumpers is the example I always use. Piglet jumpers, gosh, where did I get that? It’s terrible, but we’ll go with it. How to make a piglet jumper is going to return a completely different set of results than buy warm piglet jumper.
Yeah. One’s going to provide you with blogs and videos and instruction manuals. The other’s going to provide you with pictures of gorgeous pigs in little warm jumpers, shopping carousels, stores, product pages. So thinking about the searcher intent is going to dictate the types of content you write and the types of keywords that you use.
So when we get to keywords, let’s think about keywords, many SEO copywriters don’t do the keyword research.
They choose not to do that bit.
And instead, they’re provided with keywords by the client, which is all very well and good, but often, clients aren’t that great at doing their own keyword research. And you get keyword lists that have things like cheese, “I’d like to rank for the word cheese.”
And you say, “Can you get a bit more specific? “
And they’re like, “Goats cheese. I’d like to rank for goats cheese.”
And you have to kind of explain to them that, “Maybe you’re going to have to go a bit more long-tail than that. You’re going to have to move away from these short head and body keywords one and two and three-word phrases, and maybe go for four, five, six, seven, eight-word phrases or even questions because there’s just no chance for you to rank for those short phrases.” And of course, the point is, someone typing cheese into Google maybe isn’t your ideal customer.
Maybe they’re not ready to buy your handmade unicorn milk cheese that’s rolled on the thighs of Peruvian badgers. I don’t know. It needs to be more specific because specificity sells.
People want what people want. And if they’re searching for something and they get to your site and you don’t have it, that’s not a good SEO result.
So the keyword here is focus. The key here is focus.
When it comes to keywords, the key focus is focus.
You need to pick your keywords based on relevancy.
As I just said, there’s no point ranking for something that you don’t do or sell. Volume, the more eyeballs, the better. But also, check trends over time. Some keywords ebb and flow over time. Ease. We want to choose keywords that have the least competition. And then conversion. We want to choose keywords that are typically going to lead to someone buying something. Usually, cost-per-click price is a good indication here. If someone’s willing to pay for a keyword, it probably has some conversion intention there.
After we’ve chosen our focus keywords, we want to pick one focus keyword for each page product post. One really, the main thing we’re going to focus on. And then after that, we want to pick synonyms. So phrases that are similar enough. Buy warm piglet jumper is probably the person who types in buy woolly piglet jumper is going to have the same kind of intent. Why do they want woolly? They want woolly because it’s warm.
So you wouldn’t want to have separate pages for warm and woolly, you’d want to treat them as synonyms for the page because they have the same intent. They may not be exactly the same word, it’s not just about picking plurals and very similar verbs and very similar adjectives, it’s about thinking, “Would someone be satisfied with this page if they typed in this alternate term?”
Yes, well, then use that term on the page. Have one rich quality page rather than lots of thin pages just to kind of tick off every keyword in the book. And remember, a single piece of content can rank for multiple phrases.
Some of the posts on my site rank for 10, 20 different phrases because they’re long and they’re rich and they’re beautifully written, obviously.
So you don’t need to spread your keywords out so thin. Think quality, not quantity. So point four. Are we up to point four? Let’s see, we’ve done customers, the marketing funnel, searcher intent, keywords.
No, we’re up to point five already. Structure. Once you’ve chosen this focus keyword, and you’ve got your synonyms, you’ve got your focus keyword on a blue Post-it note and your synonyms on a pink one, what should you do with them? Well, the truth is you should ignore them and you should go away and write the best piece of content you’ve ever written that’s engaging and informational and entertaining and all the things you want it to be. But then afterward, you’re going to go back and you’re just going to check that you’ve used that keyword. Now, if you’re writing with the audience in mind, with the funnel in mind, you’re probably going to have used it naturally in all the spots you need to, but you can just double-check that you’ve used it in the URL, you’ve used it in the title tag at the start, and you’ve made sure your title tag is under around 60 characters, including spaces. You’ve used either the focus keyword or the synonym in the meta description, keeping it under 150 characters.
You’ve used an active voice in your title and meta. You’ve included a call to action. You’ve popped that focus keyword in the H one, maybe the synonyms in the H two and three. You’ve got the focus key in the first 100 words, in the image file name, in the image alt, and you’ve used nice, strong, contextual linking. And that’s a lot to take in. I’m just going to say at this point, if this is feeling a little bit overwhelming, of course, you can re-listen, but remember, I do have lots of courses that teach SEO copywriting. The 10-day SEO Challenge is the entry level course. And then I have a larger course, The Recipe For SEO Success. I’ll drop some links for those into the show notes for this episode because we cover all of this stuff in much more detail there. Okay, let’s get back to it. So titles and metas. Titles are the blue underlying links that show up in Google and meta descriptions are a little short description that come up afterward. Now, Google will rewrite a lot of these. You’ll see it happen.
Depending on what you type into the search box, it changes the structure of your title and meta description. And sometimes it just completely ignores what you’ve written and just pulls different content in. But that only happens about 20% of the time. If that happens to you, have a look at why it got rewritten.
What did they do that was different? What’s better about it? And see if you can replicate that. And, of course, if after several months, your content is page one, but you’re not getting the clicks, then you need to test out different titles and metas. Okay. We could go on. There’s a lot to say there about where you put keywords, but I guess the idea is not to think about keyword density and not to think that you just need to keep adding the keyword again and again and again. And the more that you add it, the better it’s going to be.
So let’s talk about point six, length. How long should SEO copy be?
There is no magic word count. I’m sorry. You have to forget that whole 300-word thing. I don’t know where that came from, but it needs to die. Sometimes 50 words might be enough. Sometimes 5,000 words might not be enough. It’s about what you’re writing about. If you’re teaching someone how to bang a nail into the wall, you might need four bullets. If you’re teaching someone how to fix a motorcycle, you might need 50,000 words. You cannot set a perfect copywriting number or a perfect keyword density because although Google is an app, is an AI, is a robot, the humans reading it aren’t. So while stuffing keywords in might get Google to the table at first, probably won’t in the long term, the person who reads that copy is going to find it intangible and unenjoyable. And then what’s the point of it, right? Because the whole point is you’re trying to sell stuff to humans, you’re not trying to sell stuff to the robots. They ain’t got any money yet. They will soon.
So think of it like the Tolkien line, try not to spread too little butter over too much bread. Spread it out, people. Okay. So next, let’s talk about readability. I think we’re up to point seven, I’m losing track. Now, one of the tools I love for this, which you’ll all have heard of already is called the Hemingway App. It’s a free app that you can use online and you can pop your copy in and it’s going to give you a grade for your readability. Agreed, a grade. It uses, I think, the Flesch–Kincaid readability methodology. So generally, we look for around grade seven, grade eight readability around the age of 12, 13, 14, not graduates. And that’s not because people aren’t graduates reading your copy, it’s because it’s harder to read online. So keep your sentence… I can’t say this. Keep your sentences short, under about 16 words. Keep your paragraphs short. Break up your copy into long sentences and short sentences and bulleted lists.
And if in doubt, read it out loud. If you’re running out of breath like I am on this podcast, then you’re probably reading too fast, not breathing enough, or you have terrible flu, which I have at the moment, or it just doesn’t sound right. If it doesn’t sound right when you read it out loud, then rewrite it. Okay. It’s a really easy grade test. And if you don’t like the sound of your own voice, you can use the little word dictation tool and it will read it out for you.
So another thing to consider when we’re thinking about SEO copy is not just what we write, but how we write it and how we lay it out on the page. Big chunks of copy on websites, they’re just not appealing. They’re really hard to read. They’re really impenetrable. So if I’m doing a very long blog post, often I’ll add a table of contents at the start or jump links to make my article more user-friendly so people can jump to the bit that’s relevant to them.
My goal is not that someone has to read every single word of my blog post. My goal is that my blog post solves the problem, builds some trust, passes on some knowledge, and I could do that in one paragraph, they don’t have to read it all. So providing a table of content allows someone to jump to the section they’re interested in.
That’s good usability. I’m going to fulfil my goal. I break my content into chunks with lots of whitespace around them. I use subheaders to signpost the content, probably pop my synonyms in there as well. I use lots of different formats. Maybe I’m using icons instead of copy. Maybe I’m using photos instead of copy. Not everything needs to be words. Look for opportunities to reduce the amount of words on the page. Fewer words, more impact.
I like to break the content up with rich media. There’s a whole new part of the algorithm, which we won’t cover here. It’s called Google MUM. And Google MUM loves rich media. We’re going to include breakout quotes and references.
We’re going to use bulleted lists, and we’re going to bold some key phrases to make it more readable. And then we need to think about links, links to content in our site. Internal linking is an important part of SEO. And as an SEO copywriter, you need to think about more than just the words on the page. This is why I can’t abide SEO copywriting courses that don’t teach the tech or that don’t teach links, that don’t teach keyword research because you can’t outwrite bad tech.
You can’t outwrite bad keyword research. And it really is kind of unethical of you to take on an SEO copywriting job if you don’t understand the bigger picture, right?
So understanding how internal linking works and how linkages passes from pages is really important. We need to use contextual links and relevant anchor text. So if I’m linking to a page about blue widgets, the link literally says blue widgets. We don’t want to go overboard with exact match anchor texts, especially for linking externally. That can actually be a negative signal. We want to avoid terrible links that say things like, “Click here,” and other generic phrases. We want our links to be as explanatory as possible. Now, when we’re thinking about copywriting, we talked about where people are in the funnel, where they are on their journey, but I just think, think about as well, the level of conversion intent someone has.
Once you have your keywords and you’ve grouped them into conversion keywords, then look at the degree of keenness. How keen are they? If they’re low-keened, they’re going to be typing in things like Ford truck parts, Ford spare parts. If they’re mid-keen, they’re going to be typing in phrases like Ford truck Crew Cab accessories, a bit more detail.
I don’t just want any old spare parts, I want something for the Crew Cab. And if they’re high-keen, they’re going to be typing in something like Ford F-1 500 pickup, FX2, 5.4 parts. I don’t know anything about Fords or parts, so that’s probably all nonsense, but the specificity is going to get there. Now, what you want to do if they’re typing in such a detailed phrase, you want them to go to a page that only talks about that. That’s not generic. We don’t want them dropping on your homepage. We want them to go to the product page for that product.
They may never even see your homepage, which again, puts pressure on you as the SEO copywriter to make sure that every page of the site has strong voice, is clearly branded, offers an opportunity to contact the business, offers an opportunity to learn everything I need to learn about that product on a single page. Yeah. So we have to think about the user journey through the site. How have they got there? What else have they seen? What were their previous touchpoints?
Very noisy dog in the background. I hope you can’t hear it. Specificity is key, right? So look, there’s a lot more we could talk about when it comes to SEO copywriting and the more advanced things such as natural language processing, LSI keywords. Featured snippets are a big part of SEO these days, making sure that you get that. It’s no longer position zero, but it’s that kind of prominent area in the search engine results pages where you could get a featured paragraph, a list, a table. Super powerful.
There’d been a lot of SEO copywriting-friendly algorithm updates. We had Panda that looks at duplicate content, Hummingbird that looked at not just what we’re searching for, but why we’re searching for it. And we’ve had BERT and MUM that are so sophisticated. They can break sentences down into their basic structure and understand how prepositions like to and from impact the meaning of a search query. We also need to think about things like the impact of EAT, expertise, authority, and trust, and how that changes the way that you write articles, that they come from people in positions of knowledge and power, that trusted sources. Oh gosh, there’s so much more we could talk about. Paragraph referencing and schema, lots more.
But we’re not going to cover that today, otherwise, this episode would be too long. As I mentioned, we have courses and resources, both in The Clever Copywriting School and The Recipe for SEO Success if you want to dig a bit deeper. But before we wrap up, I want to talk about my SEO copywriting process. So it’s a simplified version of it, but here’s what I pretty much do. First of all, I choose an achievable keyword. Now that’s a big job. I’ve got to think about relevancy, I’ve got to look at the traffic, I’ve got to look at the search results, but I have to choose a keyword that I have any chance of ranking for. And it might be really low volume, but better to rank for something low volume than not rank for something high volume.
If you’re on page 72, it’s just a pointless piece of content. No one’s ever going to see it unless you have a strategy, social media strategy or ad strategy that’s driving people to that page. But if you’re writing SEO content, the goal is you’re driving Google to that page. So step one, I choose an achievable keyword. Step two, I look at the top-ranking content. How long is it? Is it actually relevant or did Google just have to find something that was the best fit? Does it have a really good title and description? What content types does it contain? Does it have video? Does it have infographics, PDFs, quotes? Can I make it better? One of the SEO gurus, Brian Dean, has this whole idea of skyscraping, that someone else may have built the foundations, but on those foundations, you are going to skyscraper that content. They provided this much information, you’re going to double that. They have one video, you have three. Yeah, go big or go home.
After I’ve looked at the top-ranking content, I’m going to think about the searcher intent. If I’m going off the transactional keywords, I’m going to be looking at writing products, service pages, category content, all that kind of sales pages. If I’m looking to inform and educate and entertain and build trust, I’m going to be looking at blogs, lists, I’m going to be writing how-to videos, making resources. Once I’ve decided that, I’m going to look at the structure, how am I going to map this content out? And in the show notes for this episode, I’ll include links to a couple of our templates. We have a template for blog posts, for webpages, local landing pages, SEO product descriptions, everything that you will need. We have already created a paint by numbers template that says, “Hey, use the keyword here. Don’t use it here. This is a good spot for a bulleted list.” It just makes life so much easier.
All copywriters use them. You’re not cheating if you use a template. Of course, you have to make it your own, make it gorgeous, but we all want to start with something other than a blank page. So once I’ve mapped out the structure, I’m going to prioritise quality. I’m going to make sure that what I’m writing is in-depth, it’s original, it has analysis and thoughts, not just facts and statistics. I’m going to sex up those statistics. I’m going to have the razzle-dazzle. It has some expert information. If I’m writing about a topic that requires a doctor to discuss it, then I better get a doctor. And that doctor better be a lecturer at the University of Doodle Doodle about that topic. I need someone with gravitas.
And of course, I’m going to check proper grammar and spelling. Google’s not going to derank you for bad spelling, but it is going to put off real customers, real humans if they notice loads of typos because they’re not going to trust you if you can’t even type correctly. Unfortunately, I make lots of typos. It’s very expensive for me. And there’s just been a big algorithm update. I’m recording this episode in June, the day before my birthday, send me birthday wishes. So there’s just been an algorithm update, core update. And lots of people are saying it’s to try and remove the reliance on AI copy because while you may not have used artificially intelligently generated copy, lots of sites are. And the whole site is just this weird spun robot copy and Google doesn’t like that at the moment. It’s actually stated, “We don’t really like AI copy.” They don’t think it’s ready yet, nor do I.
So this algorithm update is looking for sites possibly that have used too much AI copy and it’s too obvious. That’s good news for us SEO copywriters, okay? Now, when you are writing SEO copy, clients are going to ask you things like, “Well, how is me spending all this money on you writing copy going to help me?” And obviously, they’ll just be thinking in terms of ranking, but you need to steer them away from ranking and think about things like, “Well, this piece of copy is going to improve your brand awareness. It’s going to lead to more lead generation, more email subscribers. We’re just going to work on your titles and metas because all we want to do is improve your click-through rates. We want to increase your traffic. But rather than increasing your traffic to new traffic, we want to get more existing traffic. We want to get more people to come back to the site. Maybe you are just going to work on improving the time on page. The longer someone spends on a site, the more likely they are to convert.
Maybe your client has a challenge of people not looking at many pages in the site. So you are actually going to help them work moving people through the site, looking at multiple pages. Maybe your goal is really just to get shares and likes. Maybe you’re looking for engagement, you want to get comments. Maybe you want to write the kind of content that gets backlinks. Content that’s so good that other people link to it. The ultimate guide to this and people are like, “This is such great content. I’m going to include it in my newsletter. I’m going to include it on my website as a useful resource.” Maybe that’s your goal.
So you have to set your goals and your KPIs before you write. And then as an SEO copywriter, when you built your confidence up, you need to be able to go back and say, “I think I can get 10 times more likes. I think this article is going to generate you 20 comments. I think this article is going to get you some backlinks.” Just like a conversion copywriter would have to kind of give some information around the percentage increase in conversions, you will have to do so as a copywriter too.
So I guess in summary, I want to say that SEO copywriting does not have to ruin your copy. Thinking about your audience, what they want, where they are in the funnel, what they’re typing into Google, how you would refer to that in your article, that’s not techy, that’s human. That’s marketing, right? So that’s all you need to think about. It’s not some weird dark art. It’s just really thinking about what would you type into Google to find the piece of content that you are about to write? What’s the best outcome.
So as a copywriter, you get to choose what you do. You don’t have to do the whole thing. You can outsource the keyword research. You can outsource the tech. But I do think it’s behooven on you or of you to understand the big picture before you narrow down to a little picture. Know what you know and know what you don’t know. Don’t go out there saying you can do SEO copywriting if, really, all you’re doing is writing normal copy and then making a bit of a fiddle of the title tags. You need to understand the big picture.