06.12.2019 - Copywriting

The Ultimate Guide to Copywriting for SEO: How to Produce Quality Content that Ranks

At a time when Google is placing more emphasis on the user, publishing content that meets both their demands, and the demands of search bots, is becoming more and more difficult. But then again, copywriting for SEO has never been easy, especially when new rules and ever-changing best-practice advice mean there’s rarely a once-size-fits solution.

Whether you’re new to SEO copywriting or you’re reviewing the latest do’s and don’ts, our ultimate guide can teach you how to produce quality content that ranks. Use the links below to find what you’re looking for.

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What is SEO Copywriting and Why Does it Matter?

SEO copywriting is an important part of a website’s SEO strategy. It informs every piece of a business’ content that gets published online and is central to how well a site ranks in Google.

In the past, the criteria for writing effective web copy was a bit more black and white. There were tactics which copywriters, webmasters and bloggers could easily rely on to appease Google and help pages shoot up the rankings.

But as search engine algorithms have moved towards prioritising unique, quality content, copywriting for SEO has become a bigger challenge. Now, user experience should take priority over simply pleasing Google bots, but not at the expense of a site’s SEO health.

The goalposts for writing optimised content may have widened, but this has only made things more challenging from an SEO copywriting perspective. Now, a more complete approach which factors in readability, user experience and technical on-page ranking factors is needed to keep both users and search engines happy.

How Much SEO Should a Copywriter Know?

This is a long-running debate in the copywriting community when it comes to SEO for copywriters. While a basic understanding of SEO is a prerequisite for writing optimised content, Google’s shift towards prioritising user-centric pages means that learning the technical ins and outs isn’t essential.

With best-practice guidance changing with every Google update, it’s inconceivable for copywriters to know everything about technical SEO and stay on the ball with changes. So really, a basic level of SEO knowledge shouldn’t be an obstacle to creating engaging and effective content.

SEO Copywriting Guide: The 3 Stages of Writing for the Web

Copywriting isn’t simply a case of sitting down and typing. Preparation is arguably the more important aspect, and the same could easily be said of editing and proofing.

Below, we take a look at the 3 stages of SEO copywriting, offering practical tips for refining and optimising your work at every step.

Before you start writing

Whether writing an article or populating a website with new content, here’s what you can do to prepare before putting pen to paper.

Get to know your audience

Great web copy should serve your audience, answer their questions and give them what they want. This is Google’s ethos too, so you can appeal to both the search engine and your audience by making this approach a central focus of your content.

Of course, you need to know who your audience are (and not just who you’d like them to be). By gaining a deeper understanding of your users, you can develop content that not only boosts your site’s engagement, but also helps to grab those vital conversions.

One of the best ways to use audience research to inform your content is to create a set of customer personas. These are profiles of your audience based on existing user data and market research, ultimately representing your ideal customers and their aspirations.

Check out our guide on how to create customer personas can help with this. And the insights you gain from creating them have a big influence on your content, letting you build TOV and brand guidelines that deliver a consistent user experience across all content channels.

Women in an office smiling at her laptop.

Research your keywords

Keywords still remain a fundamental part of SEO copywriting. Targeting relevant keywords in your writing will add context to your pages to help them perform in Google SERPs.

If you’re populating a new website with content, you should start by listing the keywords you want the site to rank for in Google. For landing pages and product pages, these keywords should focus on your product offering and USPs. This makes it more likely that Google will match your products and services with your users’ search intent.

When writing articles for a blog, it’s also a good idea to keep in mind the keywords that the piece will focus on. The best-performing blogs directly answer user queries, so using keywords in H tags will add relevancy to your content and show Google that you’re offering genuine value to its users.

There are a number of tools you can use for keyword research, including several that are free to use. Ahrefs has compiled a comprehensive list of the best free keyword research tools; Answer the Public is one of our favourites from a copywriting perspective, letting you quickly expand your keyword list based on a seed term (basically short-tail keywords with high search volume) – perfect for building out blogs to answer user queries.

Look at the first page of Google

Another great method to inform your SEO copywriting with is by typing in the target keyword(s) you’re writing for. What is it throwing back at you? The content it returns is what you should be aiming for – so take a look through the first 10 results, investigate their structure and see what their sub-topics are saying.

There’s a chance they’ll be missing certain content, and it’s here you can go one better by plugging the gaps with what you find elsewhere. Try gathering the H2s from the top 20 or 30 pages for the term.

Don’t forget to look at the type of content which is ranking either. Is it simply blog posts, or can you see landing pages, whitepapers, PDFs and videos too? What format does this content take too: are they how-tos, listicles, opinion pieces or product reviews? And what do they have in the way of imagery or video clips?

Lastly, how is the content positioned? Does it appeal more to the beginner, or is it something an expert can really sink their teeth into? And is angle positive, negative or more neutral?

Don’t forget about the “people also ask” section

See the “people also ask” section beneath the Google ads on an SERP? These dropdowns can be a real treasure trove, so be sure to use them to your advantage. By including, and answering them thoroughly, you can make your content way more comprehensive.

Women sat in a coffee shop wearing a red jumper and black rounded glasses.

Use Google’s E-A-T method

Google loves web pages that are authoritative, relevant and trustworthy. And it really swoons when a web page has plenty in the way of expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness. So what can be done to make sure your content has all three in spades?

You can boost your expertise by writing content on a topic you know like the back of your hand – or working with someone else who is (just be sure to credit them where necessary). Whatever credentials you supply, even if they’re your own, make sure they’re clearly stated and can be verified.

Backlinks can optimise your content’s awareness. When credible sources link back to your content, it’s a stamp of approval that you know your stuff – just make sure they’re quality links. A Domain Authority (DA) that’s high is going to be a huge help, but a low DA will likely be the opposite. You can check who’s backlinking to you through things like Ahrefs and SEMrush.

Lastly, you can take your trustworthiness up a notch in a few different ways too. Make sure your webpages tick the following criteria:

  • Great reviews on Google
  • A secure website domain
  • A high DA score
  • Easily locatable contact details
  • Accessible Terms of Service and Privacy Policies

Think about the structure of your content

At BANC, we use the SEMrush SEO Content Template to help inform the structure of blogs and articles. Based on a single parent keyword, this tool provides recommendations based on competitor analysis, giving you a list of terms related by topic that you can use to outrank competitor content.

On-page ranking factors, like header tags and images, make it possible to optimise your on-site content and blog articles by following a specific structure. SEO best practice dictates that some elements are more favourable to Google than others, so you should use these insights to inform the structure of your content.

For example, let’s say you’re writing a piece on SEO copywriting, like the one you’re reading right now. You can insert ‘SEO copywriting’ into the SEO Content Template, and the tool will provide helpful insights that can inform your piece, including recommended word count, optimal H tags and a list of backlinks that you may want to try to optimise the promotion and outreach of your content.

Using a tool like the SEMrush SEO Content Template is a great way to make sure your content will be competitive. Developing your structure before you start writing can also be really helpful, ensuring you cover all the bases whilst ensuring your content is optimised based on relevant keywords.

The Copywriting Process

Copywriting for SEO isn’t easy. Backlinko research shows that posts of around 1,800-2,000 words perform the best, while readability is now a major ranking factor. That means your site needs to publish long-form content of a high standard, and on a regular basis, to guarantee organic performance – and that can be easier said than done.

Below, we’ll run through a few tips – some technical, some not – on the copywriting process.

Prepare your document

There’s something daunting about an empty Word document, that cursor flashing ominously with a word count stuck at zero. That’s why it’s a good idea to prepare your document before you start writing, so you stay focused on the task and break your work up into manageable chunks.

Begin by listing your section headings, highlighting these with the relevant H tags. Remember, these should contain relevant keywords, which you’ll have discovered at the research phase.

Next, annotate the document with comments so you’re always aware of what to write and where. For example, include a short comment in each section with links to any research or sources.

It can also be helpful to break the article up by its estimated word count. For example, if you’re hoping to cover 2,000 words, make a note of how many words that will be per section. This will not only help you to stay true to the structure of your piece, but will also make the work seem more manageable when you’re first getting started – it’ll also stop you from waffling too much.

Man sat at a window whilst typing on his laptop.

Check the readability

As you write, be mindful of your target audience and how easy your content is to read. For most web copy, you should aim for a conversational tone that’s free from convolution, but this will, of course, depend on your target audience and topics.

If you’re not convinced by your work midway through, read it aloud to check its readability before running it through a digital writing tool, like Grammarly. Grammarly is free to use, unless you opt for advanced features, and will rank your writing based on correctness, clarity, engagement and delivery. You can also select different options based on the tone you want to achieve, and the tool will make recommendations based on this.

Checking the readability of your copy while you’re still writing may seem a laborious process, but it can help to shave time off the editing and proofing stage – and makes sure that you’re including keywords and getting your desired message across at the same time.

Take a break and keep writing

Penning a 2,000-word article can be a challenging process, one that makes it difficult to keep your concentration all while make sure the quality of your work doesn’t dip. The longer your piece, the longer it will take to write, which is why it can be so helpful to break things up beforehand and schedule in regular breaks.

If you’re struggling to stay focused, take a break and come back. Good copywriting only happens when your mind is on the job, so don’t beat yourself up if you start to struggle after a couple of hours.

On the flipside, it’s sometimes better to continue writing even if you’re finding things difficult. Your mind will loosen up the more you write, and you’ll probably find that the next sentence comes to you more readily if you stick at it and start to get into a rhythm.

Editing, Proofing and Reviewing Your Work

The work’s not done when you’ve typed your final full stop. Now, it’s time to edit and proofread your work, before reviewing its effectiveness from an SEO perspective.

Here are our tips on editing, proofing and reviewing your writing to ensure it’s optimised for the web.

Proofread your work

Don’t rely on Microsoft Word or Grammarly to proofread and spellcheck your work. Sure, these tools can help put right any grammatical errors and mistakes, but they’re not always a fool proof way of assessing how your copy reads, and where you can afford to make changes.

To guarantee accurate proofreading, we’d recommend printing a physical copy of your document before going at it with a red pen. Assessing it in this way will make it more likely to spot errors and help you get a feel for how it reads away from your computer screen.

When you’ve proofread the physical copy, take it back to the word processor version and make your changes. Then, put this version through Grammarly to triple-check its accuracy and make additional changes.

When you’re happy, have a colleague review the work and offer their suggestions. This will be a real test of how well your copy reads and if it achieves the objectives set out in the brief.

Close up of a males hands typing on a laptop

Review the structure

During the proofreading stage, you should weigh up the structure of your piece. Does it follow a logical structure, with keyword-rich headings that add context and align with the topic?

Also, is the work broken up into bitesize paragraphs? At BANC, we try to make paragraphs no more than fifty words, with two sentences of up to 25 words each.

Although this is only a rough guideline, structuring your copy this way will maintain its readability and ensure it keeps your readers hanging on every word.

Is it optimised for SEO?

While Google’s most recent algorithms bolster the message that the user should come first, it’s still good practice to make sure your SEO copywriting is optimised, and that on-page ranking factors are considered.

As a rule of thumb, copy that’s optimised for SEO should contain the following:

  • An optimised title that’s relevant to your target keywords, and no more than 60 characters in length
  • H2 and H3 tags that are thematically similar to the parent keyword
  • An optimised wordcount that will ensure your content is competitive
  • Internal links to other relevant guides and pages on your site
  • External links to authoritative sites and pages that may add value for the user
  • A CTA that leads users further down the conversion funnel, increasing engagement
  • An optimised introduction that’s relevant to the topic and keyword, and that contains ‘fraggles’ or ‘jump to’ links that are intended to secure rich snippets and improve the user experience
  • An optimised meta description of no more than 160 characters

If you need help checking how well optimised for SEO your copy is, there are tools out there that can check and review this for you. For example, if your site is hosted on WordPress, we’d recommend installing the Yoast SEO plugin. This provides real-time analysis of how optimised your content is, so you can quickly make the changes that’ll bring greater organic value and performance to your published content.

Copywriting for SEO can bring real success for your brand, helping you win more traffic and conversions. If you’re looking for help with your content marketing and copywriting strategy, the BANC team can help. Click here to find out about what we can offer or call us now on 0345 459 0558.