Writing that ranks – a primer on SEO copywriting

“An SEO copywriter walks into a pub, bar, public house, venue, beer, lager, wine, spirits, cocktails, pub food, gastropub, happy hour…”

The Atlantic called it Twitter’s best joke. You’ve probably seen it. Apparently, SEO copywriting is all about cramming as many synonyms into a page as possible to con Google into putting that page at the top of the search engines.

It’s a terrible joke.

It’s also a terrible way to write a website.

Even if the above method worked to get your page a top billing on the search engines (it doesn’t), would it help you turn a client into a customer?


Readers aren’t idiots. They don’t need to see that a website is for a pub, bar, public house, hostelry and drinking hole. They just need to see a drinks menu.

Google’s indexing algorithm is an idiot, so you’re going to need to signal to the search engines that you are running a pub.

The trick to writing that ranks is to show Google what it needs to see, without disrupting the flow of your sales message. And that starts with the phrase your client wants to rank for.

Step 1: Choose your key phrase

The first thing to decide on is the key phrase you want to target. Steer clear of generic terms.

For example, if the client sells shoes and you put together copy trying to rank for ‘shoes’, you’ll be up against high street chains and over 700 million other websites. Plus, who searches for ‘shoes?’

Google screenshot

A slightly better phrase would be ‘women’s shoes’. Adding a description to focus on ‘designer women’s shoes’ is even better.

This isn’t just about reducing the competition – longer phrases are proven to deliver more sales too. So make sure you’re aiming for a phrase of at least three words.

Before you finalise the phrase with the client, double check. If it’s not being searched for, there’s no point ranking for it. As this ‘professional digital copywriter Salford’ can attest.

SEO Book has a free keyword tool that should be enough for beginners – drop your key phrase into that and make sure it’s got a decent search volume. And remember, ranking #1 for a phrase with 100 searches a week will deliver more leads than ranking #11 for a phrase with anything less than 100,000.

Step 2: Position is everything

Once you’ve picked your key phrase, it’s time to work it in to your content. I’ve worked with SEOs that like to go in and amend your existing content to wedge in phrases where they can.

This doesn’t work. And not just because it’ll destroy the flow of your copy and disrupt your sales message.

Where you place your keywords is important, as Google views phrases in particular places as reliable indicators of a page’s overall subject. As a rule of thumb, you want your exact key phrase (or something very close to it) repeated a few times throughout the page you’d like to rank, in the following places:

1. Page title: The page’s ‘meta title’ appears in the search engines. Add your key phrase here.
2. Headline: Your key phrase needs to be included in the page headline (which should be coded as a H1 header) – without making it boring to your readers.
3. Opening paragraph: Your copy needs to mention your phrase. So use it in your opening paragraph. The earlier the better, but try not to make the repetition obvious to readers.
4. Body copy: Finally, drop the phrase into the body copy a few times. Don’t worry about keyword density, it’s a myth. Just a liberal scattering of two or three repetitions should do it.

Step 3: Internal linking shouldn’t be overlooked

Link building is beyond the remit of a copywriter, and if you’re an experienced link builder, this post will be up there with ‘101 ways for granny to learn how to suck eggs’ in your swipe file of posts pitched below your skill level.

Before you think about finding links elsewhere on the web, you need to look inwards for some internal links.

Because the search engines look at internal links too, and they’ll think a link called ‘click here’ is to a page about the benefits of clicking here. Whereas you want them to know that the page is about the targeted key phrase.

If you specify internal link text for your clients, make sure the links are built around key phrases for the target pages – not just generic calls to click. That way, you’re adding a little more weight to the on-page text.

SEO copywriting in one sentence

Choose the right key phrase, incorporate it into the page you’d like to rank, and then build in some internal links from elsewhere in the site.

Do that and you’ll have a solid foundation for an ongoing SEO campaign.

And I don’t see what’s funny about that.

This post is an edited extract from my free ebook, which may as well be titled Andy teaches professional copywriters to suck eggs. It’s got a nice infographic in it though.

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