SEO for Copywriting: How to Write Great Content
Get to grips with content that’s attractive, engaging, and SEO-driven.
The year is 2022. You spend nearly 11 hours per day consuming written content online. In fact, you’re actually consuming SEO for copywriting online. However, there’s a problem with your own work… the content you produce isn’t reaching nearly as many people as it should be. Users aren’t engaging with your copy and your conversion rates are poor. You’re probably tearing your hair out thinking “people are spending more time than ever online, why can’t I get through to them?!”
To answer this and more, we’ve put together this SEO for copywriting guide. Let’s jump right in!
- What is SEO optimised copy?
- How do I write SEO optimised copy?
- What makes great copy?
- Narrative and storytelling
- Narrative structure
But first, what actually is SEO optimised copy?
What is SEO for copywriting?
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the practice of increasing traffic to your website through organic (i.e. non-paid) methods. Great SEO optimised copy generates clicks. It appears at the very top of search engine results pages (SERPs) and gives your content a huge advantage over the competition due to enhanced visibility. If you can’t see it, you can’t click it.
How do I write SEO optimised copy?
Use SEO optimised keywords, headings, meta titles and meta descriptions. These techniques get web users to notice your site, while the style, structure and content of your copy will get them to stay. These are the factors that engage users and determine conversion, two essential features of great and effective SEO optimised copy.
You need SEO if you’re going to attract visitors to your page.
That’s your primary goal, getting the reader to notice. This is the job of SEO for copywriting. If potential customers don’t notice your page, they can’t engage with your content and ultimately won’t invest in the products and services you offer.
So you’ve got the reader to notice your page, now what?
It’s in Google’s best interests to provide content producers with the most up-to-date information regarding SEO practices, and their guide is a great resource.
After all, their founding mission was “to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Just like you, Google’s always looking to improve user experience, and its guide to SEO is constantly evolving as it advances its algorithm.
Appropriately, Google’s first piece of advice to SEO beginners is “your number one priority is ensuring that your users have the best possible experience on your site.”
You need a strong foundation on which to build an SEO strategy and strengthen your audience base. You’ve got to ask the following: What ensures users have the best possible experience? What makes great copy that engages users and keeps them coming back for more?
First, we’ll discuss the importance of style and structure, before discussing narrative as a vehicle for empathy to connect readers.
Let’s break it down.
What makes great copywriting?
Using the correct SEO for copywriting is hugely important, but you also need to get your reader to engage with your content, too.
Successful copy gets the reader to do 3 things:
When considering content, it’s useful to think about user traffic (Notice), user engagement (Engage), and user conversion (Do). Effective content uses every sentence to achieve one of these three goals.
We’ll come back to Notice, Engage, Do (NED) later on.
Initially, it’s SEO for copywriting that will help get the reader to notice your page. Next, it’s all about clear and simple communication. Great copy has to be user-friendly and accessible to your average reader. It also has to reflect your brand in a way that users can relate to.
This one’s taken straight from George Orwell’s writing guide, so you know it’s important:
“Never use a long word where a short one will do.”
The average reading age in the UK is 9, so it’s best to try and keep your writing clear and concise. Avoid long, heavily-punctuated sentences that span multiple lines and are crammed full of pretentious vocabulary and complex terminology.
The above sentence scored poorly when pasted into a readability calculator. It’s ‘very difficult to read’ because it contains 39 syllables in just 18 words.
Over-indulgent writing doesn’t sell and you won’t gain the reader’s trust this way. It only shows that you own a thesaurus (i.e. you can use Google!). Long words with extra syllables are clunky and they interrupt the flow of your writing. Skilled writers use short words and simple sentences.
“A copywriter walks into a bar…”
In addition to style and a strong SEO for copywriting strategy, humour is a powerful weapon in the copywriter’s armoury. Laughter’s an emotional response, and a shared sense of humour forms a connection between writer and reader.
The team at Money Saving Expert, for example, will know that their readers don’t have a taste for jokes about financial irresponsibility. That’s not what they do. Here, light-hearted puns like this make more sense: “Have a pet BUT no pet insurance? Hot deals to get a cheep and purrfect policy”.
Humour is an effective copywriting tool that can help establish your brand’s voice and win the reader’s attention.
Clear and simple writing + a well conceived SEO for copywriting strategy + appropriate use of humour = great content.
That sounds easy enough, is that all there is to it?
User-friendly content also has to follow a clear structure. Recent studies prove this. 39% of texts without a structure performed low in terms of both user traffic and engagement.
Your content needs to be well-written, well-structured, and include specifically placed SEO. These are the factors that determine accessibility, so that your message reaches the widest possible audience.
We’ve got short – and shortening! – attention spans.
A clear structure, built upon solid SEO copywriting foundations, helps the reader navigate your page. Research shows that we skim web pages and scan documents for information that’s relevant to us. Visitors only read around 20% of the words on a webpage, so a clear structure outlining what you’re going to say is vital.
Even if your webpage offers content that’s both informative and relevant to your reader, they’re not going to spend all day trying to find it when they could be swiping on Tinder or watching cute kitten clips on YouTube. Studies show that users regularly leave web pages within the first 10-20 seconds! Remember, your reader is only ever one click away from closing your page and never coming back.
Headings and subheadings
Use headings and subheadings as signposts. This way, web users can skip to information that’s relevant to them. You’re taking the reader on a journey, so they’ll want to know where they’re going and what sights they’ll see on the way. You’ve got to provide this information. Guess what? Headings and subheadings also provide a great place to house SEO.
Dream all you like, the majority of readers won’t read every single word on your site. And they shouldn’t have to. Listing is another great way to organise your content, and it helps readers process information more easily too.
Research shows that pages with at least one list per 500 words of text get 70% more traffic than those without. And content lists help readers scan and skip to the information that’s relevant to them.
Think of your introduction as something of a travel agent’s pitch.
Getting customers through the door is one thing, selling them premium package holidays is another. This is where the copywriter’s contents list stands in for the travel agent’s itinerary. The reader asks: I could go anywhere, why should I go there?
What can help a user to make that decision? Yep, you guessed it. SEO.
Today’s readers have better places to be. On your page, headings, subheadings, lists, and bullet points can all grab their attention and convince them to stay. Poorly formulated headings and subheadings have the opposite effect.
Users want to know that you’ll answer the questions that they asked for in their Google search, which is where supporting your SEO for copywriting with quality content is integral.
Quality over clickbait
‘10 Potatoes That Are Way More Important Than Work Right Now’
I got this fake Buzzfeed headline from a random generator based on patterns found in real Buzzfeed headlines.
Buzzfeed headlines hook readers by exciting one of our most basic human instincts: curiosity.
Curiosity goes some way to explaining why toddlers reach to touch hot stoves and stick their fingers in electric sockets. It also explains why Buzzfeed headlines like this: “Non-Americans are Sharing the Bizarre Things that Americans Think are Normal and it’s Surprising” attract hundreds of millions of clicks.
Here are some questions you might ask yourself after reading this headline:
What are the weird things Americans do?
Why do they think they’re normal?
Why do non-Americans think they’re weird?
Why and to what extent will I be surprised?
“Weird Things Americans Do” would suffice, but it’s not quite as effective as it only asks one question.
Although you should use the reader’s curiosity to get them to notice your content, always remember that you’re not Buzzfeed. Buzzfeed clickbait burns like touching a hot stove — you learn these things the hard way. Their headlines are great for generating clicks (and are directly influenced by SEO), but that’s about it. They get the reader to Notice. You know your target audience, and your aim is to gain their trust, so your content needs to be relevant, relatable and informative (no clickbait!). You need to get them to Notice, Engage, and Do.
When visitors to your site can’t find the information you promised then the trust is broken. This is important because an unfulfilled promise damages your brand’s reputation and credibility, so you may be doing more harm than good. Keep your promises!
- Excessive use of heading tags on a page.
- Very long headings.
- Using heading tags only for styling text and not presenting structure.
The importance of first impressions
Allow your writing space to breathe with paragraph breaks. They’re great for pacing your narrative, and white space provides visual relief by splitting up long passages of text.
You’ve probably had the misfortune of finding yourself on one of these pages.
Click! You see a wall of singularly-spaced text written in size nine font without headings or paragraph breaks. Your brain hurts. The information you were looking for is probably there…among it all. Just a second ago you wanted to be here, but you don’t anymore.
Learn from personal experience, don’t cram your copy with information! It’s difficult to Engage with content that’s overwhelming or visually unappealing. It’ll intimidate readers, and no matter how good your writing is, no one’s going to read it if this is their first impression. Google’s SEO guide makes it clear that you’ve got to avoid this, too.
If you’ll allow me to get a bit ‘meta’ (and excuse the SEO related pun), this article engages the reader (i.e. you!) by using a prime number, bullet points, and the rule of three.
Successful copy gets the reader to do 3 things:
It’s simply easier to process information that’s organised in this way.
Remember Pythagoras, everyone’s favourite ancient Greek philosopher? Well, Pythagoras said that 3 was the magic number. Yes, he may have been biased, there are three sides to his favourite shape, but he’s got a point. The number 3 represents a complete narrative with a beginning, middle and end. Sounds familiar? Notice, Engage, Do.
Of course, Pythagoras would’ve likely also included SEO on this list, had he been around today.
Once you’ve engaged the reader with a clear writing style and a simple structure, you can start thinking about your call-to-action. Getting them to do.
Narrative and Storytelling
Once upon a time there lived a copywriter and a behavioural psychologist… and they both lived happily ever after (kind of).
Storytelling is one of the copywriter’s most trusted tricks for two reasons: relatability and relevance. Storytelling allows you to speak on an emotional level directly with your reader.
In psychology, confirmation bias explains why we favour information that confirms the beliefs we already hold. It’s the copywriter’s job to tackle confirmation bias, and one of the best ways to do this is through storytelling. The copywriter eats at the same table as the psychologist and they both trade in patterns of human behaviour.
Stories help us make sense of the world around us and open our eyes to alternative realities and new possibilities. Stories offer moral guidance, that’s why it’s so important that children read from an early age. It’s important to remember, however, without correct SEO application, your story might not reach your target audience.
A complete narrative has a three-act structure. All good stories have a beginning, middle and end.
Steve Harrison, copywriter, creative director, and author, explains the structure of the copywriter’s narrative in similar terms:
Great copy convinces the reader that X product or service is the Solution to their Problem.
Here’s an example in action, taken from an advert for Google Chrome’s Hangout communication service, titled “Jess Time”. The ad follows a series of messages and video calls between a dad and his daughter, Jess. Jess has just moved to university, so they’re missing each other. They’re struggling to keep in touch, and grieving the loss of a mother and wife.
The three-part structure works because it has a beginning, middle and end. On a journey that takes us from loneliness and grief to love and connection, we witness a father-daughter relationship going from strength to strength as they stay in touch thanks to Hangout.
It’s effective because it presents Problem, Solution and Resolution.
- Problem: Distance
- Solution: Communication
- Resolution: Download Google Chrome’s Hangout communication service
A complete narrative in just sixty seconds, it dramatises the problem (distance) and demonstrates the solution and resolution (video chat with Google Hangout). It’s a masterclass in storytelling for advertising and, once that minute’s over, you’ll be drying your eyes and calling your loved ones for a catch-up.
‘The web is what you make of it’.
Google’s slogan for the campaign directly addresses you. This way, viewers see themselves as the main character at the centre of the story. Apathy is the enemy of the copywriter, and appeals to emotion encourage action. They get the reader to do. Google knows that loss and loneliness are strong universal emotions, so it ticks all the boxes in terms of relevance, relatability and emotive appeal.
When narrative copywriting is relevant and relatable to us, we can see ourselves enjoying the benefits of the products and services on offer.
The contents of the copywriter’s toolbox
Remember: Style, Structure, and Storytelling.
These are the 3 key elements of great copywriting.
Style, structure, and storytelling are the basic tools of communication in the copywriter’s toolbox.
Don’t forget, you need a solid SEO for copywriting strategy before you can even hope that users will find their way to your site. Still, it’s essential that you understand your target audience and keep their interests in mind every step of the way.
As long as you’re doing this, you’ll have success selling the ideas, products, and services you’ve got to offer. All of these factors impact the way that your page performs in terms of customer engagement and conversion.
So, when you’re stuck writing your next piece, ask yourself these questions:
- Am I getting the reader to Notice, Engage, and Do?
- Does my narrative have a beginning, middle, and end?
- Have I provided a solution to the reader’s problem?
- Am I getting the most out of my SEO?
Know the contents of the copywriter’s toolbox and use every tool to your advantage. If you can answer those questions, you’ll be crafting top-quality content in no time… and with optimised SEO on your side, you’ll be well on your way to the top of the hits list.