Do you know how to write content that Google loves?
It’s not impossible to write snappy copy that capture the attention of your reader AND gains traction with the major search engines.
You just need to know a little about search engine optimisation (SEO).
And as we’ll see shortly, some of the techniques that help with SEO are also good for your readers – so you can optimise content for search engines without sacrificing readability or quality.
But first, the bad news about SEO
We’d be lying if we said there was a quick route to success.
SEO – the art of engineering content that performs well in search results – is notoriously slow-acting.
This bad news has a very positive upside:
SEO may be slow-acting but it is powerfully long-lasting. While many other marketing tactics create an immediate impact, SEO is like planting trees; you plant them today because you know they will bring you fruit in future years.
With SEO, you need to commit for the long haul. Given that you’re not planning on your business giving up the ghost any time soon, we’ll assume that’s no problem.
That said, there are some shortcuts and quick fixes you can take.
You may still be a slow snail, but these techniques make you marginally faster than all the others in the race. And that’s all that matters.
There are two key techniques you need to master: SEO writing and making use of your web analytics.
SEO writing as a weapon in ranking wars
Copywriting is the art of putting words on a page. SEO writing is the art of putting words on a page in such a way that Google thinks the page is important. This is an interesting marriage between two, quite distinct, niches: writing and SEO.
The two disciplines aren’t always the most amicable bedfellows – primarily because some search engine optimisers prioritise performance over the quality of content.
There are some basic rules to SEO writing:
- Write for the audience: Not yourself, not your ego, and not what you want to sell.
- Create the best: It has to be more informative, more authoritative, longer, and frankly more all-singing-all-dancing than the rest.
- Use links: Links raise the authority of your content.
To achieve success with these rules, you’ll therefore need to start with some research. For the majority of small businesses, this means carrying out some keyword analysis.
As tasks go, getting some keyword and SEO analysis done isn’t too hard. You can outsource it and buy it as a set job from a freelancer and Bob’s your uncle.
Alternatively, you can use one of these keyword research tools to generate a long list of keyword (and keyword phrase) suggestions.
Once you have a list of keywords, the trick is to know which keywords to ignore and which to focus on.
Choosing keywords for your SEO strategy
If you’ve used a keyword research tool, you may have a long list of keywords – possibly thousands. In the short term, you need to condense this down to a few hundred of the most relevant keywords for your brand.
Think like your customer:
What questions are your customers asking?
Before people buy from you, what do they want to know? What problems are your customers struggling with?
In some cases, your potential customers know about your business or your product, but there may be people that need your products – but don’t even know it yet.
Some keywords indicate that the searcher is looking for information, while others suggest the searcher wants to buy. You may want to use a mixture of these two types of searches – or just focus on the searchers who are ready to buy.
You should choose keywords that reflect a variety of needs and situations, including:
- People who know about your business already
- People who have a problem and don’t know what the solution is
- People researching alternatives to their current solution
- People who are looking for alternative providers of something they already buy
- People who want a specific solution to a niche problem
Generally speaking, longer keyword phrases are less competitive than one- or two-word phrases.
For example, it’s easier to compete for ‘copywriter hove’ than it is to compete for ‘copywriter’. This is one reason why many businesses focus on local search results first. You may not want to just serve local customers, but adopting a local SEO strategy can be a good way to get started – particularly if you’re starting a new website or optimising an under-performing website.
You might also want to focus on more specific searches to begin with.
Instead of trying to rank in search results for ‘shower pump’ you would instead focus on so-called long-tail keywords like:
- silent shower pump
- energy efficient shower pump
- Salamander shower pump
Having identified your most important and relevant keywords, it’s time to start writing optimised copy.
SEO writing skills
Taking you back to the basic rules of SEO writing, we talked about writing for your audience. This is absolutely true. However, we need to split your audience into two types: your readers and your linkers.
Then, armed with a keyword you’re targeting, go and have a play.
Take a look at what’s coming up on the first page of Google when you enter the keyword. Whatever it is that they have in common, you need to do the same, but outperform it. These pieces of content are ranking super highly because Google loves them.
So spot what they are doing, and do it better.
At this point you can start crafting your SEO writing.
Now, before you write any more, go back to those top ranking competitor pieces. Whizz through and spot their links to external sources. Follow them and see where they take you. You’ll need to use these, and more. Yes, it’s a bit laborious but it’s worth it.
You could be all geeky about it and set up a spreadsheet to write down the good, the bad and the ugly. Mimic the good, improve upon the bad and cut out the ugly.
SEO writing: time to put pen to paper
Okay, so your Word document is currently looking a little lame. You’ve got a title and maybe a keyword friendly opening paragraph.
At this stage, get the framework down. You can tidy it up afterwards. You can also bulk it out later too (given that we know size matters).
From here, go back to that introductory paragraph. This paragraph is so important we cannot stress it enough. Not only is that true, but the first line of the first paragraph is like the keyhole of a door. If you don’t even get the reader to put the key in the lock, the rest of the page is wasted.
The first paragraph in SEO writing
The first sentence of your first paragraph needs to clearly tell the reader (and Google) that this piece of content answers their question. It needs to show complete relevance to what you’re going to be writing about.
Then, the rest of the introductory paragraph (as well as including your keyword), needs to prove that they are going to get valuable information.
You’re gaining trust, and a reader.
The importance of length for SEO writing
How long should your content be?
Some search engine optimisers will tell you that the most successful content is often several thousand words long. But that doesn’t mean every piece needs to be an epic.
On the one hand, Google loves meaty content. But on the other hand, the average reader is in a hurry.
Balancing these two contrasting forces is just one of the many reasons why ‘SEO’ and ‘copywriting’ aren’t necessarily best buds.
This is where a good rule of thumb will help you out.
Go for length, but with no padding.
Give readers at least one new point per paragraph.
Use some formatting tricks to reduce the appearance of length.
Keep sentences short.
Try to limit them to 3-4 per paragraph.
Include plenty of white space to improve readability. What’s more, website readers are skimmers and white space and headings both aid skim-reading.
If you want a piece of content to rank highly, consider what additional value you can add. Could you add graphics, pictures, tables, charts, audio or video? How can your page or article be the most interesting and useful piece of content on that subject?
Additional SEO writing techniques:
- Bullet points
- Images (not forgetting alt tags)
- Broken up text
- Bold, italics, underlining to highlight points
- Bucket brigades (here’s CopyCon 21019 speaker Joanna Wiebe explaining bucket brigades)
Lastly, for the love of all English pedants, check your spelling and grammar. Get a third-party proofreader in on the act.
Website analytics and SEO
Back at the start of this post we mentioned you have two key weapons for ranking highly on Google: SEO writing and analytics. Once your content is written and ready to be uploaded, you then move on to this second weapon.
Given how much effort you (should) have put in to your SEO writing, you don’t want to ignore this one.
In a nutshell, this is the process of quantitatively checking how your SEO writing is doing, and how the page in general is doing, and refining it. The clue is in the name: Search Engine Optimization. It’s not a one-off process per piece of content. To get it to rank highly, you have to go back, and back, and back again.
If you simply want to rank highly for ‘something’, then Google Analytics will help you out here. You can use your Google Analytics reports to see which pages function most effectively and target your revisiting efforts on them.
To be fair to our readers, analytics and its use in SEO writing is a mammoth topic in itself. We can’t do justice to it here. However, for now it is important to know that you can’t just hit ‘publish’ and be done. You’ll need to keep reviewing and optimising.
Much of this is trial and error. Make some changes, give it a few days, and then come back to your analytics. Are there changes? Small changes can be incredibly powerful.
Ranking highly on Google takes effort
So there we have it. There isn’t a quick fix.
However, no effort is wasted. Get SEO writing ‘right’ and it goes on giving for years. These pieces of SEO writing are the ones which will drive real traffic to your site.
We’ve possibly made you despair at the amount of effort involved. However, remember that this isn’t a one-shot wonder. It’s a process of refinement. If you’re struggling to know where to start then follow this process:
- Develop a list of keywords.
- Write copy that covers the most important keywords.
- Monitor your web analytics and optimise your articles.
This is an abridged version of a post first published on www.thecontentninja.co.uk. Chrissie Brown is a freelance copywriter who brings together awesome UK freelance writing talent to meet the needs of businesses and start-ups through a one-stop content shop.
Image source Flickr