If Peggy Olson had lived in the 21st century, she'd have written a lot less copy for magazine advertisements and a lot more copy for digital media. One of her copywriting tasks would have included writing copy optimized for search engines.
The term “SEO writing” gets an unfair stigma in the freelance writing community, as though writing copy for a Web page is inferior to other types of writing. At its core, good SEO writing is good marketing copy with some keyword and linking strategies thrown into the mix.
The best SEO writing connects with customers and persuades them to purchase a product—in fact, you’re reading optimized copy right now. Hopefully, you’re engaged enough to keep reading, and you didn’t notice you were reading SEO copy.
What’s the Difference Between SEO Writing and Plain Old Copywriting?
When Peggy Olson wrote magazine copy for Belle Jolie lipstick, she only had one audience: the customer. Good SEO writing is optimized for two audiences: computers and customers.
SEO writing explains your offerings so that the computers that run search engines understand your purpose. It increases the likelihood that when customers search for a company like yours, they’ll discover your page in the search results. As search engines increasingly recognize your website as an authoritative resource for certain search queries, they’ll feature it more prominently and more often.
The computer isn’t the only audience for SEO copy; your customers read it, too. Once customers click over to your site, they need to read copy that’s optimized for them. Your copy should show that you understand what your customers need and why they searched for a company like yours. Also, it should explain how your company will solve their dilemmas, clearly laying out the products and services you sell. Ultimately, it should persuade them to complete a task, such as call you, complete a contact form, or make a purchase.
Your website, whether you have an e-commerce business or not, becomes your online storefront. Good SEO writing determines whether customers find you online and whether they’re persuaded to stick around. SEO copy might be a workhorse, but it’s one of your most important weapons for earning and keeping new customers. Giving your copy an SEO once-over could turn your website from a dead zone into a powerful lead generation machine.
Writing for the Machines
Until Skynet becomes self-aware or Cylons gain free will, computers still exist to serve human beings. When searching for something online, a customer types a query into a search engine field. The computer endeavors to understand the request and deliver the answer the customer wants.
SEO writing helps the computer connect the dots and to deliver your business to customers as a solution for their problems. If you own an accounting firm, for example, you probably use words like “accountant,” “tax preparation,” or “business tax services” in your website copy.
A search engine bot scans the copy on your website, notes these important keywords about your business, and remembers that your website might be an option for someone searching for an accountant. The next time someone types “accountant” into Google, your website might come up in the results.
Unfortunately, as of today, a search for “accountant” on Google produces 528 million results. That’s because accountant is a very common keyword, which would make it tough for your website to compete in the mind of a machine. How could you make your site more competitive in the search rankings? By using more specific keywords that help customers who are conducting a specialized search.
- Longer keyword phrases. Instead of accountant, you could incorporate “small business accountant,” which generates just 31.2 million results. You could narrow it down further by adding a location, such as “small business accountant Hartford CT.” That drops you to 325,000 results.
- Additional keyword phrases. In addition to using your main keyword phrase, you could incorporate other useful phrases into your copy. Think about what someone would search for if they were looking for someone to do their small business taxes. You could add “small business tax service Hartford” to your website copy, or “Hartford CT small business tax planning.” The key is to find the right blend of common search terms while also attracting highly specific customer searches.
You can open a Google AdWords account to do keyword research. You can also use WordStream’s keyword tool or free tools like Übersuggest. Over time, Google or Bing will learn to associate your website with certain keywords and keyword phrases. Keywords are just one element of SEO writing. The other factors include semantics and quality content.
Thanks to mobile devices and voice technology, more people use vocal interactions to search Google, Bing, and other search engines. “Siri, can you find the nearest gas station?” and “Hey Google, where’s the closest arcade?” are replacing traditional typed queries.
Google’s Hummingbird algorithm update has made it smarter about understanding what searchers want when they ask these questions. Therefore, it’s important to create content that answers common search questions. It’s a great exercise to brainstorm a list of potential queries that might lead to your website and phrase them as though they’re being asked in voice search:
- “What’s the best seafood restaurant in New Haven?”
- “Is there a movie theater near me?”
- “I need a financial planner in Glastonbury.”
After brainstorming a list of queries, try to incorporate answers to those queries directly into your content. It’s good marketing to say you serve the best seafood in New Haven—so long as you do—or to say you own multiple movie theaters in certain towns.
Also, think simple yet thorough when you answer questions. Computers are more savvy all the time about understanding the human intent behind a spoken search question, but they’re hardly Commander Data. Include plenty of information in your copy, but keep it on an easy reading level.
When people search for “financial planner Glastonbury,” they’ll find a number of websites, each of varying quality. Your website needs to feature content superior to what customers would find on other websites. In my years of experience as an SEO writer, I think quality boils down to these factors:
- Cleanliness. There’s no excuse for poor grammar, lousy spelling, or iffy punctuation. If you’re uncertain about your writing skills, hire a freelance editor to proofread your content.
- Specificity. Instead of just saying that you’re a financial planner in Glastonbury, Connecticut, explain the services you offer–in depth.
- Usefulness. In addition to SEO writing designed to persuade your audience, you need to give each person who visits your website something useful to take away whether or not they become your customer.
- Relevance. Your content should be relevant to your customer persona. Write content a customer visiting your website would find relevant to his or her situation.
- Accuracy. It’s okay to make some squishy claims, like saying you operate the best pizza restaurant in New York City. It’s not okay to make false claims about your products or services or to share incorrect information.
Quality is a complex judgment for search engines, and your copy isn’t the only thing a search algorithm takes into consideration. Inbound link quality, number of visits and conversions, time on page, and other factors fit into whether Google thinks your page offers high-quality content.
The Human Factor
Although SEO writing places a lot of emphasis on the machine audience, don’t forget your other audience: the humans. When you incorporate keywords and semantics into your content, try not to let them sound stilted and unnatural.
Also, remember everything you know about Marketing 101 and incorporate those tactics into your SEO writing. All website copy, in addition to showcasing your creativity, should convey your appeal, your positioning, and what distinguishes you from your competitors.
Finally, SEO is never a one-and-done process. It’s an ongoing study of what brings visitors to your site and what transforms them from mere visitors into paying customers. Put some SEO copy out there, test it to understand what works, and adjust it as needed.
Remember that SEO is about more than just copy; it’s about building inbound links, improving your social presence, and publishing fresh and frequent content. Let me take your SEO writing drab to dynamic. Contact me about your SEO writing project today.
Featured image credit: Sean MacEntee from Flickr