Sometimes search engine optimization gets a bad rap because so many people abuse it.
That’s too bad, because SEO copywriting is a great (and smart) way to drive traffic to your site or blog.
It will help you get more visitors through organic search, and when it’s done properly, it can even attract links, since your search-optimized content will be compelling, useful, and authoritative.
I’ve been working in this field for the last ten years — writing copy myself and helping clients tweak theirs — and I want to share with you the five tried-and-true SEO lessons I’ve learned that will drive more traffic to your site.
Of course, there are no tricks or cheats here. Just good common sense, strategically deployed.
Step 1: Create content landing pages that become link magnets
Content marketing strategy involves building a site that has authority in your niche … and you do that by writing valuable content related to the subject matter most important to you and your blog.
This content is called cornerstone content. For example, on my blog my posts on 9 Hard-Hitting Content Strategies for Small Business Blogging and How to Optimize Your Business for Local Search and Social Marketing make up some of the cornerstone content on QuickSprout.
It is what defines my blog … and it’s created around focused keywords like “blogging,” “content marketing,” “SEO,” and “search.”
To take this a step further, build a tutorial of cornerstone content and then create a landing page where you park all of the links and optimize it around a certain keyword.
This is what Brian Clark did with Copywriting, Content Marketing, and other content landing pages here on Copyblogger.
It’s also what Darren Rowse did with Blogging Resources and Your First Week of Blogging.
This is a powerful SEO strategy since you’re putting a lot of content on one search engine optimized page, to focus links on a single great page rather than spreading them across many individual pages.
Another advantage includes a much higher likelihood that people will like, tweet, and plus your content landing page.
More important than any other factor, this type of page works because it’s easy and useful for your audience.
On one page your visitors can scan a particular topic. They’re happy to share it, because it’s such a useful resource.
Step 2: Update your content to lower bounce rates and rank higher
As advances in SEO like semantic search continue, search engines are trying to more closely match what people search for and the most relevant resource to satisfy that search.
For example, during research for an article on mobile SEO, I came across scores of pages on the topic.
I thought I’d hit pay dirt.
But what I found as I analyzed all of the data, was that most of it was irrelevant. The landscape is so new and constantly changing — especially in the last year — that articles written even two years ago were obsolete.
These articles were heavily search optimized for “mobile SEO” — and ranking very well — giving the impression that they were highly relevant to what I was searching for.
But the user experience sucked, and I was frustrated. All of the truly relevant articles were buried.
What does this have to do with SEO copywriting? Everything.
The situation above resulted in low-conversion pages (low-conversion because they resulted in higher bounce rates from those search results). High bounce rates will eventually show the search engines that your site quality isn’t good — which is bad news for your rankings.
For the “good stuff” to rank well, the publisher would need to optimize the copy by way of creating updates, or creating new and better pages that the old pages could point to.
If updating old content sounds like a pain … well, it is.
But the rewards — higher rankings because you are adding value to the web — are absolutely worth it. If nothing else, make sure you’re keeping your content landing pages up to date and extremely relevant for your readers.
Step 3: Create highly readable pages for more social shares
One surprising result from optimizing your content for search engines and for people is that it is much easier to read.
A page that is written in a conversational style, with correct grammar, good spelling and a reading level at about fifth-grade will be read by more people — and attract more links — than content that looks as if a lawyer or doctor had written it.
Keep your language simple and your thinking clear. This isn’t about “dumbing down” your content — in fact, highly readable content is often harder to write.
You need to write so that even a fifth grader will understand it. When you do that, you will up the chances that people will understand — and share — it.
Step 4: Use the right keywords in the right place
Keywords are the tools that will unlock the doors to great traffic for you, both in organic search and attracting links.
There’s nothing magical about them — keywords are simply the language your audience and customers use when they’re thinking about your topic.
Unfortunately, too many people still think in old-fashioned terms of “keyword stuffing” and trying to cram as many keywords into an article as possible.
So how often should we be using those keywords? Here’s a graphic from SEOmoz that explains …
What the graph doesn’t tell you is how often your keywords should appear on the page relative to the entire article. That range should be between 1% and 4%. As you can see from the graph, any lower (or higher) and you’re less likely to get the results you want.
In other words, if you were aiming for 2%, you’d include your keyword phrase twice for every 100 words you write.
Most of my articles are over 1,200 words and I usually aim at a keyword density of 2%, which adds up to 24 times that keyword appears in my article.
A tool like Scribe can be very helpful in quickly determining if you’ve overused (or underused) your desired keywords.
But where you position those keywords matters, too. Stuffing all of your keywords into the first 200 words of your articles will definitely send up red flags, not only from search engines but from people as well.
In fact, that’s the kind of unreadable rubbish that gave SEO a bad name in the first place. It’s not good for readers and it doesn’t work for search engines either.
Instead, follow these rules of thumb:
- Add keywords in H1 tag: The first place to stick your keyword is in H1. By the way, do not include more than one H1 tag on a page.
- Use keywords in your title tag: As always with modern SEO copywriting, do this gracefully in a way that works for readers too.
- Add keywords to H2 and H3 tags: These tags are usually used as sub headlines throughout your content.
- Mention a keyword in the first paragraph: The next place to position your keyword is in the first paragraph of your article. It’s even better if you can mention it in the first sentence.
- Add keyword to images: If you use images in your content, which I highly recommend, then include your keywords, assuming they match the image you’re using. For example, if your keyword is “iPhone protective covers,” you might name one of your images iphone-protective-cover.jpg and use that phrase in the alt and title tags. Remember that these tags need to match what the image is actually of.
- Create anchor text with keywords: Since search engine spiders crawl from website to website and page to page via links, including keywords in your anchor text will help them correctly identify your content. Remember that using a keyword phrase in your title makes it more likely for that phrase to show up in anchor tags when others link to you.
Don’t be afraid to occasionally clump the keywords together when that feels most natural, but for the most part, evenly distribute them throughout the content.
And last but not least …
Step 5: Create compelling content
Attracting links — from real websites with good reputations — is the number one thing you’re going after when it comes to SEO.
This is why you have to create compelling content.
Search engines analyze the links coming into your site, and they look specifically at the pages those links are coming to.
Those links coming into your site become votes for the credibility and authority of your site. One link from CNN will be worth more than one hundred links coming into your site from no-name websites.
Search engines also look at the words people use to link to your site. These anchor texts are one way that search engines decide what a page is all about.
Keep in mind that people link to you because they get something out of it — because your content is useful or practical for their audience, or your content is controversial or funny.
The formula for creating compelling content is simple:
- Use simple words
- Use the word “you”
- Write how-to posts
- Write detailed posts
- Hook your readers
- Create a conversation
- Prove your points
- Show you are an authority
- Care about your readers
These are points that I explain in more detail in my guide to blogging and how to write a blog post articles.
Of course, you can also take a look through the Copyblogger archives, since they’ve been writing about that topic for nearly six years now. 🙂
No matter what happens with the search engine algorithms, compelling content will continue to drive SEO for a long time.
An SEO copywriting cheat sheet
Let’s finish with a little cheat sheet:
- Write grammatically correct, compelling content that is at least 300 words long. Make it detailed and support your argument with statistics to add authority.
- Create content landing pages that centralize multiple links to great resources.
- Make the content highly readable, aiming for a 5th-grade reading level.
- Include an appropriate amount of keywords in your content — not too many, not too few — including keywords in your title tags, first paragraph, images if appropriate, and throughout the article.
You don’t need an advanced degree to write SEO copy well. You just need to understand a few basics.
As you practice over time it will become natural to you, driving more and more traffic your way.
What elements of SEO copywriting have you used to help drive more traffic to your site? Let us know in the comments.
Our Free Workshop
On February 19th at 3pm Eastern, Copyblogger partner Tim Stoddart is teaching a free workshop on SEO titled, Cut Through SEO Confusion and Get More Google Traffic. Simply fill out the form below, and we’ll save your seat for the upcoming live training. Learn more about the workshop here.
Reader Comments (37)
Ankesh Kothari says
I remember reading about research done on courtroom persuasion. The researchers wanted to find what kind of expert witnesses had the best effect – were most persuasive. Would it be experts who dumbed their topic down and talked in a language that even 5th standard students would understand? Would it be experts who used a lot of technical jargon? Would it be experts with Steve Jobs level oration skills?
What the researchers found was surprising. Experts that used technical jargon persuaded more than experts with better public speaking skills, more charisma and folks who explained things in easy to understand dumbed down language.
So apologies Neil – for nitpicking one small point of your awesome post. But when I read the sentence: “Make the content highly readable, aiming for a 5th-grade reading level” – thats what came to my mind.
Talk to people assuming that they are smart. Use technical jargon and they will perceive you to be a credible expert.
Brittany Highland says
Ankesh, I think there is an important difference between the courtroom (or any real life, face-to-face situation) and writing online. Those speaking to a live audience have many more tools at their disposal than words in black and white. They have volume, eye contact, tone, sarcasm, and gestures to hook the audience and make them pay attention. Because the audience is paying more attention, the audience can mentally process at a higher level. Not only that, but it’s a courtroom where matters of life and death are decided, and therefore technical evidence and expert witnesses are highly valued.
Online content is a completely different story. Writers have little more than their words and reputation to grab attention. It has been proven that the scan rate is ridiculously high. I’m sure that Neil would agree that there are times to use technical language (e.g. When you know you are writing to a technical audience). But for most of us bloggers, that is not the case, and 5th-grade-level language is proven to be most effective.
I agree that in order to be effective with our content we need to use a language that explains rather than refers. But I don’t think the 5th-grade analogy is helpful here.
For instance, I tried to explain how email encryption really works in a blog post, recently. It would have been much easier to use the technical terms than explaining the fundamentals in a descriptive and memorable way. It took me more than a week to find the correct (mental) images that make things clear, and it was hard work to focus on the parts that usually are being ignored, because we think our audience know the facts and principles.
They don’t. What I needed was a mindset from which I could see what an intelligent reader needs to know – but does not know yet, to understand the thing in question, email encryption.
There are so many (good) articles using professional language, that don’t have an effect because of the lack of perspective and focus on the “hard to explain” but “necessary to understand” basics behind our topics. It was hard work, but in the end, it was more fun than writing an expert post.
Nigel Merrick (Photography Coach) says
A really great article, Neil, and this is something I’ve been focused heavily on in recent weeks for my own site, so this was very timely for me. As a Scribe user, I can say that it’s helped tremendously, reminding me when I’ve strayed off the path in an article or post.
Cornerstone content is what I’m working on now, and Brian and Darren’s examples are excellent as models for that type of strategy, as you pointed out.
My biggest challenge is that darned bounce rate, and how to get it down. I find that a lot of people spens a lot of time on the site, but on just one page, so they are engaged with the content, but Google still counts them as a bounce because they leave after just that one page. GetClicky only counts bounces if they leave in the first 30 seconds, so their bounce rate for my site is much lower (around 25%), compared to Google, but of course the only opinion that counts is Google’s, so I have to find ways to fix that – your tips in this article should help with that, thank you!
Jared Kimball says
Beating the bounce rate wars can be difficult and creating engaging content to get people to stay longer is challenging enough however, there are some things you can do to decrease your bounces.
Here are 2 ideas:
#1 Use video…get creative and research what types of videos others in photography are doing…aka Darren Rowse’s site Digital Photography School…here a sample video I found: http://digital-photography-school.com/a-simple-exercise-to-help-you-learn-to-see-light
#2 Create solid tutorial based content. Give step-by-step instructions. You know your niche/market better than me…so try to figure out what problems people need solving, and you can guide them with detailed steps.
ex: I have one post that shows people how to create a landing page with this software called Infusionsoft, and right now the average length of time on that post hovers in the 5 hr. range, because people use the instructions as reference while they build their landing pages.
Hope that helps you out,
Nick Stamoulis says
“You need to write so that even a fifth grader will understand it. When you do that, you will up the chances that people will understand — and share — it. ”
Great point. While it’s important to use your content to establish your authority, you don’t want it so filled with industry jargon that your customers can’t understand you. Write for your audience, not other industry professionals!
Alisa (Think Big Online Marketing) says
This is something i am really having a tough time getting clients understand. They are too “attached” to their product and talk about it in the most technical terms. Sending them this post now!
Linda Caroll says
Hey… you hit both here and Problogger today. Good one. You’re going to be busy today!
Biggest take home points of your article — write compelling content and don’t overoptimize. 🙂
Hey! Thanks for the tips. I’m just learning about the blogging world and SEO (can you believe that I didn’t even know what that term meant three weeks ago?). Thanks for the tips.
Last night my husband read my blog, his comment? “Is it good or bad?” His reading level is far below mine (hey, I’m an English teacher after all!) so I need to lower my writing level to generate more traffic.
I am discovering how to use a keyword, too.
How can I tell what Google thinks of my site? Is there a resource for that? Maybe I missed it in the blog…
Jared Kimball says
As far as I know Google doesn’t tell people what they think of their site, instead they tend to set a bunch of guidelines, which can be found here: http://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=35769&topic=1724121&ctx=topic and leave it up to you to abide by those guidelines.
However, a useful tool for comparing your site to others in your niche and getting a breakdown of your strengths and weaknesses is “Hubspots Website Grader”…Google it and make sure you have one or two other sites to compare to.
Hope that helps,
Brian Satterlee says
I do think you have to write at a level most people understand in order to appeal to more people. We are not just trying to educate the educated, we want people of all kinds to benefit from our writing.
Nice post on SEO… it can be tough to balance good SEO writing with good writing.
Gregory Ciotti says
Also that there are ALWAYS going to be more beginners than intermediate/expert level folks, so it’s always good to keep that in mind no matter why kind of content you write.
Sudheesh K Bhaskaran says
SEO is an overused subject in the web, as web traffic is key to an internet success.
So practically everyone likes to give advices on SEO.
Many people under estimates the value of a good content and Google’s commitment to give the right content to it’s customers.
Short cuts are always short lived.
Content will be always the king.
Niel, Thank you very much for a realistic post.
Michelle Furedy says
So many great ideas here. I especially like the tip about adding keywords to your H tags and updating old posts (it reminds me that I have a few posts that need updating!).
I think by taking this SEO copywriting approach and combining it with other tactics like social sharing, participating in communities, and guest blogging you’ll have a winning combination!
Kemi Bababusuyi says
Didn’t know I shouldn’t use more than one H1 headers on a page. This is really an eye opener for me.
Secondly, didn’t know that using a keyword in the first sentence of the post really has such huge impacts. Thanks so much for pointing this out, will pay more attention to my first sentences from now on!
Owen E. Richason IV says
I think there’s a lot to be said about updating content, as you point out in Step 2. It only serves to frustrate visitors to read through a post or page only to discover it was published a couple of years ago and is now irrelevant. What’s more is updating your content not only benefits readers but refreshes your site…good for SEO.
MaLinda Johnson says
In addition to writing fifth grade level words, you should also include a lot of white space in your copy. That will add to its readability factor. 🙂
Rob Dares says
Great post, especially the 9 points about content. It’s a delicate balance between content and SEO but ultimately, I believe if you follow the basics of SEO and write great content, readers will find you. The important thing is, if your content is great, they will come back again and again, much like I do here. Great content often results in great links too, which ultimately helps with SEO.
I also think it is important, as you mentioned, to update older content. Why leave all that great content to go stale when a couple days effort can freshen it up and bring more readers.
What you say makes good sense. It raises a question for me though. Suppose I go back a couple of years in my blog and update a post. Does that change the publication date in the search results? Do I move the post forward? Just drop the update into the blog stream? What’s the best way to handle that? Thanks.
Jared Kimball says
Updating posts in your blog doesn’t change your publication date. You can move the post forward, but you’re looking for the best way to handle content updates so here’s my suggestion.
Take a old post and write a completely new post that’s more current and compelling, because I’m sure your writing skills have gotten better over the years.
Publish the new post and go back to the older post (this one is already indexed by Google) and fit in a promotional link that directs any readers to reference your updated post.
Darren explains this idea in point #4 here: http://www.problogger.net/archives/2008/12/09/updating-old-posts-on-your-blog/
Hope that helps you out,
Jan Bear says
Thanks for taking the time to answer, Jared. Yes, that makes perfect sense. Thanks for the Problogger link, too. I’ll check it out.
Blaine Light says
Hi Neil, I follow KISSMetrics on Twitter, and that content is great (I reshare it frequently @blainelight). I then read this article, and thought, “Wow, this is great!” yet I didn’t realize you were the same person that founded KISSMetrics until I finished the article. You really write useful stuff!
Quick Question–for images, why do you have to have your alt tag and title tag match the name of the file? If it’s an image, how do search engines know what is in the image?
Jared Kimball says
I think Neil’s main point is that some people will post an image of an “umbrella” and then try to title it with a keyword that doesn’t match the image (like “blogging expert”) but matches their site keywords instead…this can be interpreted as keyword stuffing by Google.
Hope that helps,
Blaine Light says
Great, thanks for clarifying Jared. Sometimes I embellish the picture title/description. For example, if there is a section about landing a job at a startup, and I post a picture of a young man in a business suit, I’ll make the description, “Young Entrepreneur who landed a job at a Silicon Valley Startup”
Would Google view this as keyword stuffing?
Barry Magee says
Updating your content frequently with information relevant to your target demographic is super key to having a successful website. Not only for rankings, but it builds loyalty with your visitors.
Jerome Ibuyan says
this a great brief article about SEO copywriting. Actually I’m researching about this topic. Didn’t know that fewer keyword frequency has effect. Great reminder. Sorry for being a noob. This SEO thing is really new to me. . dugg it. =)
Ozio Media says
All of these tips highlight the importance of creating genuinely valuable content. In a well written article, the keyword density and spread will nearly always be at an optimal proportion for the search engines. This means, if you are too focused on making sure that your copy has all of its allotted keywords, the quality of the writing is probably suffering. The development of semantic search is a great thing that will only push better content further up the SERPs.
Tudor Davies says
I really like these on site tips, so many people forget about these factors and just focus on rankings. There is no point whatsoever in ranking no.1 but having content that is boring or unreadable. Great tips.
Shaun Colbrait says
These days I’m finding my blog’s visits can be largely dictated by when I send our the information through social media. The content always needs to be relevant to my topic of course, but the spike in visits when I tweet and share the post on Facebook is very noticeable.
I only discovered copyblogger like a month ago and I’ve only been blogging for 2 months! Useful advice definitely.
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