October 9, 2015

How to Write SEO-Friendly Web Copy

Once upon a time, the only thing that mattered in writing SEO-friendly web copy was zeroing in on a keyword or two and repeating them ad nauseum. It didn’t matter if doing so made your page utter nonsense. In fact, some tricksters profited by publishing pages featuring a white background with keywords also in white, so no human eyes would be the wiser to the mischief happening there. It was pretty much the worst thing to happen to ideas and intelligent thought since the invention of reality TV. (Not that I don’t watch insane amounts of Big Brother and Top Chef, but let’s call it like it is here, people).

Google, however, has become increasingly savvy at punishing bad content with each new release of its search engine. Now, rather than rewarding a site in the search rankings for being filled to the brim with irrelevant keywords, Google punishes them. This is good for the most part — hey, who wouldn’t like any move to privilege intelligent reading material over spam — but even well-meaning small business owners just looking to get found online can get pinged if they’re not keeping up to date with the latest SEO best practices.

So what can you do to ensure your web copy and blog content is up to SEO-snuff? Let’s take a look.

1. Focus on the Content

Think of it this way: Google is in the business of providing web searchers with information that matches what they’re looking for, is written in a clear, interesting and helpful style and is packed with expertise. Every new release of Google, no matter how it might manifest, is designed to make this happen even better than the last version did. That means that the single best thing you can do to up your SEO-mojo is to write web copy that fits all of that criteria. The Google bots reward this on their own, but you’ll get a second bit of juice when your excellent content is shared and linked to across social media, as this indicates to the web crawlers that many other people find your content trustworthy and helpful (think of it like vouching for a friend). And really, if that web copy is so good, your initial visitors will decide to return often or sign up for your mailing list and Google will also reward you for your high levels of repeat traffic and engagement.

So, what’s the secret formula for web copy that people actually want to read?

Sales Copy
If you’re writing sales copy, your first goal should be communicating all of the essentials as succinctly but alluringly as possible. Your target keyword should be the exact phrase you want consumers to type into a search engine in order to find your product. There are many ways to approach the structure of a good piece of sales copy, but I particularly like using introductory and conclusion paragraphs to set and tie things up with bulleted lists highlighting key features in the middle, so that visitors can easily scan for what they’re looking for. And of course, nearby there should be an easy way for the consumer to either purchase the item or sign up for your mailing list (i.e. engage more deeply with the brand), with an enticing call to action.

Blog Copy
The same principles apply to writing blog copy, with the key difference being that a blog allows for more space. As a writer, this is your opportunity to establish your brand’s relatability and voice, not to mention your expertise. This means spending more than ten minutes whipping something together; rather, focus on producing blog posts that answer your audience’s most burning questions, leaving no stone unturned. If your posts get too long, just break them up with bolded headers and images, or turn them into a series by splitting them into several different posts, scheduled at different points in your content calendar.

Not only will establishing your expertise in this way help you win customers, who will be impressed with your knowledge, but it will also allow you more opportunity to naturally use keywords.

2. Keywords

Now we come to the elephant in the room: keywords. Should you use them? If so, how many?

To the first question: yes! Keywords definitely still matter when it comes to getting found online. The the latter, the answer is a little more zen: whatever feels most natural, oh grasshopper.

Yes, it still makes sense to try to sneak your keyword into your page titles and tags, as well as somewhere within the first paragraph of text. However, whenever you use a keyword, it should feel like it’s meant to be there, not shoved in. Put another way, anyone who isn’t in marketing shouldn’t be able to figure out what keyword you’re targeting. In fact, if you’re doing all of these contortions, it probably indicates that your keyword and your content don’t match, and that’s a big no, as you want your keyword choices to guide your content decisions.

From there, you can certainly feel free to use your keyword again, but it’s generally best to let it flow naturally out of you, rather than pressuring yourself to find more opportunities. After all, the latest version of Google is designed to to seek out only the keywords that are meant to be there.

Pro Tip: Notice how we’ve used the singular form of keyword here? That’s because you really should only be targeting one at a time — two, max. Why? You guessed it — too many keywords leads to keyword stuffing and unnatural language usage, which will get you penalized.

3. Links

As mentioned above, Google deems a site that’s linked to often as trustworthy based on social proofing. For a long time, this lead to spammy guest posts across the internet, where SEOs would place an article with a single link just to drive traffic back to their targeted site, with little regard to the quality of the post.

However, just like with keywords, Google now punishes this behavior. Linking is still a good thing to do, but only when you’re linking to sites that will actually prove helpful to the reader and that discuss a related topic. Think of this like citations in a more traditional academic paper.

Your links will do you all the more good if you choose relevant anchor text as well. In years past, this has meant your targeted keywords, but again in its move to reward natural speech, it’s now better for your anchor text to be an entire phrase (see what we just did there?). What’s more, once your site has built a fair amount of blog posts or pages, feel free to link internally as well as externally, just as long as they remain relevant (all the more motivation to start a good blog!).

Our Number 1 Tip:
Throughout all of your web copy writing exploits, keep in mind that latest version of Google punishes “thin” (read: poorly written) content. That makes re-reading (and re-reading an re-reading) your web copy in search of errors a must-do before hitting publish.

The Takeaway
If there’s one phrase that you should take away from this post, it’s this: keep it natural. Give your customers content they actually want to read, limit your use of keywords, link only to the most relevant sites, and you’ll have a website and blog that not only converts customers but gets them to your page in the first place, too. Good luck!