SEO copywriting is both a key element and a big challenge in every SEO strategy. As search engines crawl web pages, the content of your website should be fine-tuned to the – ever-changing – algorithms of search engines. In addition to that, you should write clearly so that your audience both enjoys and understands your website. After all, we know that readability ranks.
This complete guide to SEO copywriting takes you through the process of keyword research as well as the 3 stages of the writing process. It will also help you write the readable and SEO-friendly articles your website needs! And last, but not least, we’ll give you some insights into writing content for international sites, and the challenges that come along with that.
This guide to SEO writing covers:
SEO copywriting and holistic SEO
At Yoast, we practice what we call ‘holistic SEO’. This means that our primary goal should be to build and maintain THE BEST possible website. Ranking in Google will come automatically if your website is of extremely high quality. The reason for that: Google wants to serve its customers what they want. Their mission is: to index all the world’s information and make it universally accessible. In addition to this, Google, of course, wants to make money, but they’ll have to show people results they are looking for – otherwise, people stop using Google. So, we can agree Google wants to show people the best results. If your website is the best in your niche market, Google wants to rank it high up in the results.
Holistic SEO is an interdisciplinary marketing strategy aimed at making the best website in a specific niche market. In order to do so, the technical design of your website should be excellent, the UX of your website flawless and all security aspects covered. Most important, however, is that the content of your website should be well-written and targeted at the audience your website serves. This approach requires rather advanced SEO writing skills.
Write the best copy!
To make sure your website is the best in your sector, the text on your websites should be nice and easy to read. Without making any concessions to the quality of your content, you should tweak and fine-tune your text to the specific demands of search engines. The process of SEO copywriting is very much like the process of writing anything else, so it’s hard work and inevitably some of us have more writing talent than others. Unfortunately, we can’t all be Ernest Hemingway, but with a little training, anyone should be able to write better SEO copy.
Read more: 5 tips to write readable blog posts! »
Before writing: always start with keyword research
The very first step of SEO copywriting has little to do with writing. First, you need to decide what you’re going to write about. Which topics do you want to be found for? You’ll need to use the keywords you want to rank for in your copy, so the first step of SEO copywriting is keyword research. Keyword research is what you do in order to list the keywords and keyphrases which you want to rank for.
Proper keyword research consists of these three steps:
1. Formulate a mission statement
Before starting the actual keyword research, you should think about your mission statement. This is what makes you stand out from the crowd. While formulating your mission statement, you should consider questions like: who are you and what is your blog about? What makes it unique? Take your time to formulate and write down your mission statement. For more information on creating mission statements, read our post about the mission of your website.
2. Make a list of relevant keywords
Once you have formulated a clear mission statement, you can start making a list of all the search terms (keywords) you want your website to be found for. Once your mission is clear, you should have little trouble coming up with search terms that apply to your niche market and your unique selling points. These will be the keywords you want to be found for.
In order to come up with good terms, you really have to get inside the heads of your audience. How are they most likely to find you? What would they search for on Google? At the end of your keyword research, you should have a list of all the relevant search terms people might use. Also, think of combinations and variations of these terms. There are a few tools that can make keyword research easier. Read our post about keyword research tools and the post about how to choose your perfect focus keyword for more practical tips.
Create an overview
Eventually, you should have a useful overview, which will be a great help in your SEO copywriting process. It helps to create a table of your keywords to summarize the information. Try to come up with combinations of keywords as well, then order the keywords by some kind of priority. Which of these keywords are particularly important to rank for and closest to your mission statement, and which ones less so? When choosing which keywords to tackle first, you should also consider how likely it is that your pages will rank for that specific keyword. In many cases, focusing on less popular and less competitive keywords can be a good strategy at first. Read our posts about why you should focus on long-tail keywords if you would like to know more about the importance of less competitive keywords.
3. Look at search intent
SEO strategies should, nowadays, largely revolve around answering the questions people have. Whenever someone enters a search query into a search engine, they are on a quest for something. There are 4 kinds of intent searchers can have:
- Informational intent: to find information on a specific topic.
- Navigational intent: to access a specific website by entering the term in a search engine.
- Commercial intent: to buy something sometime soon and are doing research before making a purchase.
- Transactional intent: to buy something after doing their commercial intent searches.
In your keyword research, you need to find out which kinds of intent apply to your keywords and try to match these search intents. Which intent you’re targetting should also affect your writing style, we’ll go into that later in this guide.
4. Construct SEO landing pages
The final step of keyword research is to create awesome landing pages for the keywords you want to be found for. A landing page is a page that is tailored to draw in visitors who found your blog through a specific keyword. This could be a dedicated page or a blog post optimized for a specific keyword. Do make sure your visitors can navigate your blog from every landing page. And make sure you have a landing page for every relevant keyword you come up with.
Your keyword research will give you a good idea of what to blog about. Then, you’ll have to unlock content around a specific word. A word is not a topic though. Next to a keyword (or keyphrase), you will need an angle, a specific story around that keyword. Read our tips on how to come up with ideas for your blog if you would like to know more.
Three phases of writing an article
Once you’ve decided upon a topic or a story you want to write, the actual SEO copywriting begins! The SEO writing process consists of three stages: preparing, writing and correcting (or editing).
Phase 1 of the writing process: Preparing your text
The first phase of the actual SEO copywriting process is planning your piece. Before you put pen to paper (or fingers on the keyboard), take some time and think about what you’re going to write. You’ll have a topic in mind, by now, but before you start writing, you should have clear answers to the following questions as well:
- What’s the purpose of your article? Why are you writing? What do you want to achieve?
- What will be the main message of your post? What’s the key question you want to answer?
- Who is your audience? What are they looking for?
- What information do you need to write your piece?
- In what order will you present your information? What will be the structure of your article?
In our post about preparing a blog post, you can read all about how to come up with proper and clear answers to these questions.
The purpose of your text and search intent
The first question in the list is: what’s the purpose of your article. It’s important to think about that beforehand, because it affects how you should write your article. Do you want to inform users? Amuse them? Or persuade them to do something on your site? The preparation step is also when you should consider your visitor’s intent. If your keyword research clearly demonstrated that intent behind a certain query is informational, and you want to write a persuasive, sales-focused page for that keyword, that’s not a great match. Of course, if you’ve given your keyword strategy some thought, this won’t be a problem.
In any case, you need to think about your user’s intent before you start writing, simply because an informative text is written differently from a persuasive text. The language you’ll use when writing an informative text should be clear and focused, whereas persuasive language will usually be very positive, with more focus on the reader. And amusing texts tend to use more informal language, wordplay or exaggerations.
Keep reading: Why the purpose of your text is important for SEO »
An important element of planning your article is setting up its structure. The structure of the text on your site is vital for SEO copywriting. If your content has a clear structure, you have a better chance of ranking well in Google.
It really pays off to think about the structure of your piece before you begin. Because the structure is the skeleton of your text: it will help the reader grasp the main points of the article.
Posts and pages with a clear structure will also result in higher conversions on your website. You have a better chance that your visitors will buy your products or return to your website if they understand your message properly. For practical tips on how to set up the structure of a piece of writing, you should read creating a clear blogpost structure.
Phase 2 of the writing process: Writing your text
Now you can start the actual SEO writing process! This only takes about 20% of the total time you spend on your article.
The most important tip for this phase of SEO copywriting is to just write. People often have trouble coming up with the first sentence (or the first paragraph for that matter). But, at this stage, you can skip writing that first paragraph altogether. Just put down a couple of words referring to the content that your first paragraph should contain and start writing the second paragraph. Beginnings and endings are easier to write once you’ve fleshed out the main body of your post.
If a sentence isn’t grammatically correct or sounds awkward, just keep going and don’t worry about it just yet. You can rewrite these things in the next phase, which is editing. In the writing phase, it is important to stay in the flow of writing.
Stick to the structure of your text
While writing, use the structure you created in the preparation phase as an outline and write the paragraphs according to that plan. Make sure you write clear paragraphs. Start each paragraph with the most important sentence, then explain or elaborate on it. Your readers will be able to grasp the most important content from your article, by just reading the first sentences of your paragraphs.
Make sure your text is readable
Reading from a screen is hard, so if you want your readers to read your entire blog post, you need to make it easy to read. Posts that are nice and easy to read will result in more returning visitors and a higher conversion rate. Most importantly, make sure your text is pitched right for the audience you’re writing for.
To read more tips on writing readable texts, read our post with tips on how to make blog posts more readable and our post with tips on how to improve the typography of your blog. These tips will really help you fine-tune your SEO copywriting process.
A few ways to improve your writing style
Some people are natural writers and don’t need any tips for their SEO copywriting – they are able to write an attractive, fun, readable article in a few minutes. Others lack that skill. But, while attractive writing is a matter of talent, practice surely helps! Let’s look at some tips to improve your writing style, as well as two writing styles to experiment with.
Tip: Read a lot!
If you want to develop an attractive writing style, it really helps to read a lot. Reading (novels, blogs, magazines, whatever) will inspire you to write your own awesome articles. It will teach you how other people form their sentences and build their paragraphs. It teaches you how to use humor and how to play with language. Plus, it allows you to develop a gut feeling about what makes a nicely readable article. If you want more tips on how to develop your writing style, read our blog post about how to achieve an attractive writing style.
The inverted pyramid style
A well-known writing style in journalism, the inverted pyramid basically means you put your most important information upfront. You don’t bury your key point halfway down the third paragraph, but tell the complete story in the first paragraph. Of course, you can elaborate in the following paragraphs. But you get your main message across right away. This writing style holds up pretty well for some types of articles. It especially comes in handy now that web content is increasingly used to answer every type of question a searcher might have.
Everyone loves a good story, and most people can probably also tell a good story -especially from personal experience. Great news: you can use the power of stories in your SEO copy! Whether it’s in blog posts or on product pages, including a (relevant) story will go a long way in catching your reader’s interest. Stories can provide more clarity and could even help your readers remember you more easily.
Keep on reading: What is storytelling and why should you use it? »
Take a break every now and then
SEO copywriting can be a fairly intense process. If you write for long periods of time, you’ll find that concentrating becomes harder. The exact time span, however, will be different for every individual. If you find that your mind has started to wander, that’ll be the time to take a break.
Personally speaking, I’m not able to write for more than 20 minutes at a time. But to be honest, my attention span is quite short. At that point, I get up to take a walk, look at my Facebook timeline or make a cup of tea. Even a minute-long break can be enough to return to your writing with a fresh and renewed level of concentration and creativity.
Phase 3 of the SEO writing process: Editing your text
Once you’ve finished writing your piece, you’ll have the first draft of your article. This first draft is the thing you will improve upon in the final phase of writing. The final step will still take quite a lot of time.
The editing phase is the phase of the SEO copywriting process in which you should ‘kill your darlings’. Don’t be afraid to throw stuff out. You should read and re-read and re-re-read your post and correct any awkward sentences, unclear phrasing, and jumbled paragraph structures. Here are five steps to take in order to thoroughly edit your article.
Step 1: Read slowly (and out loud)
You can start this phase by reading your piece slowly (and even out loud, this can really help). Each sentence should be grammatically correct and the spelling must be flawless. You need to be very critical of your own work.
Step 2: Focus on sentences
Start by making sure each and every sentence is correct. Focus on the spelling of words and rephrase awkward formulations. Make sure sentences are grammatically correct and check for readability: make sure your sentences aren’t too long.
Step 3: Focus on paragraphs
If all sentences in one paragraph are approved, look at the structure within a paragraph, focusing on that first sentence. Does that first core sentence really capture the thing you wanted to say in that specific paragraph? Are the sentences within a paragraph presented in a logical order? Do you use transition words in order to make the connection between sentences clear?
Step 4: Check text structure
Check whether the structure between paragraphs is clear. Are the topics in your article presented in a logical order, or do you need to make some changes?
You should also check your headings and subheadings. Make sure your focus keyword is in one of those headings and subheadings. But equally important, make sure the headings help your readers to grasp the structure of your text. In the article on how to use headings on your site, we explain how to use them.
Step 5: Ask for feedback
The very final step in your SEO copywriting process is getting feedback. After editing your text, you should ask people for feedback. At Yoast, all the posts we write are read by at least two of our colleagues before we publish them. Feedback allows for the perspective of someone other than the writer and almost always leads to vast improvements in the post.
It would also be useful to let someone from your audience proofread your post to test whether the message is communicated properly. Also, feedback from someone with professional writing and grammar skills, such as an editor, will help you improve your blog post even further.
Use Yoast SEO
While editing your text, you will find our Yoast SEO plugin really useful for SEO copywriting. Because it helps to optimize your text for search engines and to make your text more readable. For a detailed overview of how to use Yoast SEO when optimizing your content, you should read our post about the content analysis feature in Yoast SEO.
SEO copywriting for international sites
Writing well is hard, writing well in multiple languages is even harder! If you own websites for multiple regions and languages you know this is true. Translating content can be a tricky business, because of the phenomenon of false friends in different languages. False friends means that words look alike in two different languages, but actually mean something different.
Creating content for your multilingual sites is not easy. It’s doable though, and we think there are 3 ways to go about this:
- translate the content;
- create new content for that market ;
- transcreate content: a combination of both.
Getting translations probably is the easiest. But it’s also the most tricky one. Are you sure your translation sends the same message and has the same tone of voice as your original article? That’s hard to judge if you’re not a native speaker. Therefore: always have a native speaker check the copy. At least.
Creating new content by your local team is the safest choice, with probably the highest quality result. However, it is very time consuming and you’re not taking full advantage of the content that’s already there.
Therefore we’d advise to “transcreate”: take what you already have as a basis, but rework it so it fits the local target group. Make sure native speakers that know the local market create this content. If you’d like to know more about this, read my article on creating great copy in multiple languages.
Conclusion: SEO copywriting is a process
SEO copywriting works best when you follow a defined process and make sure your text is as good as possible. While not everyone is a natural writer, SEO writing is something everyone can get better at with practice.
Read more: The ultimate guide to content SEO »