This guide will help you create content that will be useful for both people and search engines.
A copywriter’s job has always been a tough one — create engaging copy that showcases the value a business or product holds, establish trust, impress potential customers, and turn readers into buyers.
With the arrival of the digital era, the job acquired a new critical dimension — search engine optimization (SEO). Hence, the need for SEO copywriting. Without it:
Your content will not show up for target keywords.
You will not be able to turn visitors into buyers.
No one is born an SEO copywriter; it is a skill you can acquire and perfect. This comprehensive guide to SEO copywriting will take you through the entire process from keyword research to writing engaging and optimized copy.
These are the key SEO copywriting areas this guide will cover:
What is SEO Copywriting?
SEO copywriting is all about finding the perfect balance between content that engages (and persuades) users and content that Google ranks highly for your target keywords.
On the one hand, your readers need to love the content you have created — it has to be relevant and engaging. On the other hand, Google needs to understand what that content piece is about, what information will be provided to their users, and whether it has more and better information than your competitors’ websites.
By successfully employing SEO copywriting, you can:
Rank higher in the SERP.
Drive qualified traffic (not just any traffic).
Engage readers and create trust.
Convince readers to take an action and/or convert.
According to a joint SEMrush and CMI study, the most challenging task for copywriters is to find a balance between the creative element and search engine optimization.
How is SEO Copywriting Different Than Copywriting?
Let’s first understand how SEO copywriting is different from good old copywriting.
A copywriter is traditionally considered to be a creative professional who knows how to write to appeal to the target audience and boost customer engagement. The particular copy they create is supposed to persuade the customer to take the desired action (go to the store, sign up for a class, etc.).
SEO copywriters tailor this skill to online content. Only, they also take into account how Google operates, what kind of copy gets clicks/shares and satisfies user intent, and what keywords they should tackle with their copy.
SEO Copywriting vs. Content Writing
Now, you may also confuse two other terms — content writing and SEO copywriting. They both have to do with putting words to a webpage. However, they are inherently different by the purpose they each serve.
Content writing has a primary goal of bringing organic traffic from search engines. A content writer’s job is mainly to provide valuable content aimed at your buyer personas (you can check out our latest SEMrush chat dedicated to content writing).
SEO copywriting has to also “sell” them on your product and brand, as in to convert this traffic further down the marketing funnel.
Why Is SEO Copywriting Important?
When done right, SEO copywriting can become a powerhouse for your digital marketing efforts. It can help you to:
Get higher rankings for the right terms (target keywords).
Make sure readers take the desired action (download your app, subscribe to your podcast, etc.)
It should create a content and internal linking structure for your site.
SEO copywriting entails some of the key ingredients of a success formula for marketing success. It ensures:
- Your copy is focused on user intent and contains the right keywords for each of your target audiences (SEO)
- It adds engaging content to the mix (copywriting).
- It leads the reader to take the right action (call-to-action -> $$$).
Our Top 19 SEO Copywriting Tips
As mentioned before, SEO copywriting is not a skill you are born with. A copywriting and SEO background will help you perfect your job and, with a lot of experience with failures and successes, you will be able to understand what makes your copy effective in achieving the business goals.
So, let’s unravel some tips you can employ to make your SEO copywriting as impeccable as possible.
1. Get Keyword Research Right
Top 3 search engine results receive over 66% of all clicks, and since bringing qualified traffic is one of your SEO copywriting goals, most try to get content within the top 3 positions. Successfully targeting the right keywords, while keeping search intent in mind, will help you get there.
What not to do:
Google has smart algorithms, so if you think you can “cheat” the system, you are in the wrong. The days of “keyword stuffing” practices when you could just get away with repeating your target keyword throughout your copy are long gone.
Example of keyword stuffing from Google.
2. Find the Right Keywords
What are the most relevant keywords your copy should target?
You shouldn't guess at the right keywords — this is one of the most “tech-savvy” and data-driven parts of SEO copywriting. Make use of online software to do the keyword research job for you. Here is how the entire process could be run with SEMrush.
Get an overview of your target keyword.
Image from SEMrush’s Keyword Overview (Nespresso)SEMrush’s Keyword Overview will help you find some general information about your “seed” keyword (as in, your primary search term). Make sure to look at the general search volume (the average number of monthly searches for the keyword) and keyword difficulty (shows you how hard it would be to rank on the first page of Google for the keyword) metrics.
Find semantically related keywords to enrich your copy.
Targeting several related keywords and entities with a single piece of content will help you reach a wider (yet qualified) audience. And with the Keyword Magic Tool, you can create a list of terms your copy should target along with your “seed” keyword. It is a powerful tool for comprehensive keyword analysis.
Image from Keyword Magic Tool (Nespresso)
By entering your primary keyword, you will get a list of semantically related long-tail keywords. Play with filters and group the keywords by search volumes, keyword difficulty, or other metrics.
Create a list of keywords your copy should entail.
From the list of related keywords, pick a few that are relatively easy to target, yet have solid search volumes. Pro tip: long-tail keywords may be easier to rank for and help with search intent. This is this master list of target keywords you should keep in mind when crafting your copy.
3. Enrich Your Keyword Research with Related Questions
Search engines are now, essentially, answer engines. Around two-thirds of people between ages 25-49 use voice-enabled devices on a daily basis. According to Google, 41% of people using voice-activated features admit they talk to their devices as if they are human. So, it is smart to incorporate this trend into your SEO copywriting strategy by using question-based keywords.
And SEMrush’s Topic Research tool provides headlines and questions based on your keywords. Users will also get:
- Related searches
Image from Topic Research Tool (Nespresso Capsules - Questions)
Once you have identified which questions pop up most frequently, add some of them (use the exact wording for these questions) to your copy and provide comprehensive answers.
4. Identify and Map Search Intent
Each webpage and the content that is placed on it should be focused on user intent. Your content will vary depending on what stage of a customer journey your reader is at. And so should your keywords.
By identifying the reason behind a user typing in your target keyword in search engines, you will uncover the “keyword intent”.
There are three types of intent searches:
- Informational intent: Users want to find more information on a specific topic, product, or industry. Example: “best coffee machines”
- Navigational intent: Users intend to visit a specific site or page. Example: “Nespresso coffee machine types”
- Commercial intent: Users aim to purchase a product/service. Example: “buy a new Nespresso coffee machine”
Your copy should target keywords that closely match the search intent of the user.
5. Group Your Keywords Properly
When you know that each piece of content should target certain search intent, you can create a strategic keyword matrix.
This matrix should reflect:
A list of keywords you aim to target with your website.
The number of pages needed per each keyword to tackle a customer at each stage of search intent.
A list of webpages to create and update to have an overarching content-keyword strategy.
6. Optimize Like Your Competitors Do (But Do Better)
Once you have your list of keywords, start looking at the pages that already rank highly on Google’s SERP for your keywords.
- Enter your primary keyword into the search bar, and look at the top 10 search results to identify what these pages have in common.
- Then, do some investigating and uncover which websites rank the highest for your keywords and gather some optimization and copywriting ideas from your top competitors.
Using SEMrush’s Organic Research report (make sure to select the URL option), we can see that the following keywords drive traffic to this page:
Image from Organic Research report
Expand this report to view all organic keywords. You can then choose the ones you want to target (make sure to look at high-volume and low-difficulty keywords first) with your copy and send them to the Keyword Manager to keep track of your choices.
Run this report for a few of your top competing pages and go through the same process.
In the end, you will have a great list of keywords to target with your content. Now, you can start writing and optimize your copy to outperform your competition.
7. Craft the Perfectly Optimized Title
The first thing readers see when looking at Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs) is the title of the page (it should correspond to the headline of your copy).
You want the title to be enticing and offer the reader information that they need — this encourages clicks.
A well-optimized title can:
Boost your organic click-through-rate (CTR).
Increase your pageviews.
Enhance your rankings.
Your title should help both people and search engines determine what your copy is about and what information they will find on your page.
There are two aspects to title copywriting that we should cover: Titles for SEO and titles for readers.
Crafting the Perfect Title for SEO
The ideal title length is 55-60 characters long, and they should have a 600-pixel width limit. (SEMrush guide to Title-Tags)
Your title should include your target keyword, and it is best to place it towards the front of the title tag.
Your title’s message should accurately match the content of your copy. If your title is not relevant to what you are saying on the page, users will just bounce off the page. This response would indicate to Google that you are not providing relevant content to your users, which might, in turn, affect your rankings.
Do not overuse the same keyword — this will be considered keyword stuffing, which is against Google's guidelines.
Crafting the Perfect Title For the Reader
Make sure your title makes readers want to click. SEMrush recently released a content study and broke down H1 tags (typically article titles) into five groups: questions, guides, lists, how-to, and others, to see which performed better. We found that articles with lists in the headline got up to 2x more traffic and up to 2x more shares compared to other types.
- Using numbers can work towards your advantage — it can boost both your CTR and social share count. Example: 10 Quick Ways to Create the Perfect Title
Hubspot reported that headlines that included bracketed clarifications, like [interview], [video], , actually performed 38% better than headlines without clarifications, which could suggest readers like to have a full picture of what they will get when they click.
Make sure the title fits within the 600-pixel width so readers can see the entire title (too long and Google truncates it).
Use actionable words that will help readers understand what they will gain from the page (learn, take, boost, enhance, etc.).
Use power words and emotional triggers to get attention and create interest.
8. Four Ways to Create Structure for Each Page’s Copy
Whether you are creating a commercial page or a blog post, crafting the perfect structure is crucial. To create a content structure that will make sense to both humans and search engines, you can follow this framework:
1. Create an overview of your topic and subtopics.
To do this, keep in mind a few points from your previous research:
Your target keywords.
How the content is structured within top-ranking pages.
User's queries and questions.
Based on these points, you will have your list of subtopics to cover within your copy.
2. Bundle Up Your Subtopics
Combine some of the subtopics you have identified and bundle them together; this should help you see how many key areas your copy should include.
3. Place Your Subtopics in a Coherent Order
All that’s left to do is to place these subtopics in a logical order — this will form the skeleton of your copy, and you will be able to elaborate on each subtopic without constantly worrying about the logic and coherence of your structure.
- Coffee Machines
- Single Serve Coffee Machines
4. Use Headings and Subheadings
Once you have your structure set, keep in mind that it has to guide both users and the search engine through your content as smoothly as possible.
Clear headings are crucial to both your readers and bots. Each new point within your copy should get reflected in H2, H3, and H4 headings. Furthermore, try to incorporate your target keywords within your headings as well.
Bonus tip: “Front-load” your copy with key information within your title and subheads.
Nielsen Norman Group's Eye-Tracking Study revealed that users read in an F-shaped pattern:
This graphic proves that using your target keywords within your headings and subheadings will make sure the readers (and the search engine) easily navigate through your page.
SEO Copywriting Best Practices
9. Write Introductions that Magnetize Your Audience
Having an intriguing and well-optimized title that meets the needs of a user means people will click and visit your page.
What’s next? You have to get people “hooked” and keep them reading by providing a strong opening. You don't have long to convince them to stay, so quickly break down:
- What the reader will gain.
- What questions will be answered.
- How the content will help them or provide a solution.
- Why they should continue to read.
Keep readers engaged by:
- Entertaining — family-friendly humor is good.
- Creating an emotional bond.
- Demonstrating your brand voice and your company's core values.
- Lean on the FOMO feelings — what could they miss or what could happen if they don't act soon?
What to Avoid:
- Overly wordy intros that take too long to get to the point.
- Intros about you and why you are great (the readers don't care; they need an answer to their query).
- Selling — you sell by providing info, not pushing sales from the beginning.
10. Focus on Content Flow
Joseph Sugarman, one of the best copywriters of all time, once said:
“Your readers should be so compelled to read your copy that they cannot stop reading until they read all of it as if sliding down a slippery slope.”
Image from KopywritingKourse
Your copy should entice readers to move down the page, raising and answering their questions, and keeping them away from bouncing. To ensure a smooth content flow, create an immersive reading experience. This was a topic we discussed recently in our #SEMrushchat.
✅Skillful keyphrase usage. Great web copy doesn’t look optimized because the keyphrases flow naturally.
✅Write engaging content.
How do you do that? This topic would require a separate guide, as there are plenty of techniques you can employ. Essentially, your structure should help you out here:
Put your copy’s skeleton on the page -> Start elaborating on each subtopic -> Build bridges to move between the sections.
Google's Gary Illyes stated at Pubcon Austin 2020, that flow and readability are important for ranking, which leads us to our next point.
11. Improve Readability
Another important aspect of SEO copywriting is to make sure your text is readable. If your vocabulary is over their head or the reading-level is too advanced, you will lose the visitor. Half of the US population reads below an 8th-grade reading level.
It is not because they are incapable of reading more complex copy; they just choose not to (especially online). This implies that your copy will not get shared, liked, or lead to conversions if it is too difficult for some audiences. You have to know your audience.
Professionals will not be okay with a 7-8th grade reading level if they are researching services — you need to earn their trust by sounding professional, so for a more educated and professional audience, up to a 12th-grade reading level is fine.
Basic Rules to Make Copy Readable
Create Skimmable Headlines That Inform Without Reading
Readers often skim before they read. Make sure your headlines inform a reader of what they will gain by reading individual paragraphs or the page as a whole. When you think about search intent and what answers people need, you can include those answers in your headlines, and then elaborate in the following paragraphs.
Your headlines help people readers on the page.
Create Clear and Informative Paragraphs
Just like headlines, readers like to quickly skim through paragraphs to find the information they need. Huge walls of text are daunting and difficult to skim. Use short paragraphs that start with the key message, and add a few sentences elaborating on this point. The more white space you leave, the better the user experience.
You want to break up long paragraphs with bullets or numbered lists and graphics that inform the user.
Use Bullet Points and Numbered Lists
These techniques help you guide your reader through your copy without making them work too hard to find the information they need — they are also skimmable, which is a bonus.
Write in Short Sentences
With shorter sentences, you are once again making the reader’s job easier, and your message more digestible.
SEMrush’s SEO Writing Assistant extension can automatically analyze your target keyword and suggest the best readability rate for your copy (based on your top rivals).
It will analyze your copy’s readability and offer improvements (including which sentences are too long). It also offers insights in terms of originality, SEO friendliness, and consistency of your tone of voice.
Simplify Your Vocabulary
Make sure to limit the use of words that are too difficult to read. At the same time, you can educate your readers on your industry or brand terms, but you must explain what they mean and make the explanation as easy as possible.
You want to avoid using your main keyword too many times; it just makes content hard to read. Utilize your list of related keywords to avoid repetition (and to enhance your SEO, of course). This applies to headlines as well.
12. SEO Copywriting Is Not Just About Words
One image is worth a thousand words.
So, use visuals throughout your page — videos, images, charts, infographics, etc. In 2019, 74% of marketers used visuals in more than 70% of their content. They do this because it works.
Videos and informative images, charts, and infographics can increase a reader's time on page and trigger them to share the visual across social media accounts. This strategy could potentially increase the reach of your content, and the media, when optimized properly, could be used in Google SERPs.
13. Stick to the Essence
Try to stick to the essence of your key message and don’t go into lengthy discussions around your idea. Clarity and concision are the keys to great readability and user experience. People need answers fast. An overly wordy piece will just distract your readers and, thus, send negative user engagement signals to Google.
The end goal of any SEO copywriter’s job is to create a relevant page for a given keyword based on the user's search intent.
14. Write Copy that Engages
According to another study by Nielsen Norman Group, only 16% of people will read your copy word by word.
Image from Telegraph.co.uk
We have explained that using images, shorter sentences, bullet points, and including easy-to-scan subheadings are SEO copywriting best practices. But you should try to engage your readers and keep them on your site for as long as possible. And this is when copy engagement comes into play.
There is no golden rule as to what makes a copy engaging. There are thousands of techniques - from storytelling to PASO formulas. However, there is one underused technique that we feel SEO copywriters could employ in their content. It is an engagement approach deriving from the movie industry - “open loops”, or cliffhangers.
Basically, you have to set up a suspense element early on in your copy to make your readers curious. Then, wait a bit before you resolve it. The more questions you raise, the better. This is what keeps people on the edge of the seat and gets readers engaged.
But remember to always close the loop.
15. Use Original Data
Another efficient tactic to engage readers is to share unique and original data. This can also help you generate backlinks to your page, which will positively affect your rankings.
But what if you don’t have large chunks of data to share?
You can set up surveys and ask customers about their preferences, lifestyle, etc. And then, share the results of your poll. Chances are, bloggers and news sites writing on your industry can refer to your survey results or just share them across social media.
Look through your sales data to uncover patterns. This especially interesting to look at during times of a crisis when many industries are under severe stress (negative or positive). Industry writers would appreciate some inside data to look at.
You can also use customer-generated content. Ask your customers to share success stories with some stats on how your product or service has helped them increase their sales. Examples: "Save up to 80% more time on keyword research."
Brainstorm and come up with sources of data your company has on hand, and start collecting data for content.
16. Include Links to Relevant On-Site and Off-Site Resources
When you include a link from your copy to an internal or external page, you simply follow Google's philosophy that “there’s always more information out there.”
But why would you drive people off your page with internal and external links?
By linking to external content, you can build trust around your copy. Any time you include some stats or want to support a claim you are making, linking to an authoritative source can support your point.
By linking to internal content, you can guide users through their customer journey and point them towards pages that convert. You can also link to some other content that elaborates on the idea you are covering. This will show that you are a valuable source of quality content, can result in the reader spending more time on your site.
Pro tip: Make sure the external link opens up in a new window to avoid distractions from your copy.
17. Include CTAs (Call-to-action)
Your SEO copywriting job has a clear purpose — you have to drive users further down the customer journey. But if you don’t tell them where to go next, they simply won’t.
That is why call-to-actions (CTAs) are a crucial addition to your copy. But you cannot just place a button saying “buy my service/product” throughout your copy and expect conversions.
Remember us mentioning “search intent?” If users landed on a copy that was produced for informational intent, include a CTA that would direct them to another page that targets keywords with navigational intent and so forth.
From a copywriting perspective, this will improve your copy’s conversions and the ROI of your content. From an SEO perspective, you could improve your page views, decrease bounce rate, and send positive engagement signals to Google.
Pro tip: Include a few CTAs throughout your copy as readers might not read the entire page. Add one CTA after a few opening paragraphs, another one somewhere in the middle of your page, and one more at the very end.
18. Optimize Your Meta Copy
Meta descriptions are supposed to give search engines and readers information about your page’s content. Thus, all metadata should be optimized with information that will entice users to click. If your metadata is too long, Google will truncate your title tag and meta description in SERPs.
You want readers to get relevant information about your page, so, here are a few simple guidelines on optimizing your meta copy:
As mentioned, your title length should be around 60 characters. It should include your target keyword and reflect what the page is all about in an enticing manner.
You should also think about your meta description (the text displayed below your URL). The description should be around 156 characters or less. So, keep your description concise and persuasive to encourage searchers to click and visit your page.
Does the following meta tell you about the pages or confuse you?
An example of a bad meta description
Does this meta description explain benefits? Which is more useful?
And don’t forget about adding image alt tags (descriptions for images you use throughout your copy). With Google’s image search on the rise, you should tap into this trend by adding short yet clear descriptions for your visuals.
19. Make Your Content Shareable on Social Media
If you want your copy to reach a wider audience, you have to make it easy for the reader to share your text, image, a single phrase, etc. Here is how:
Add social sharing buttons to your site and blog pages.
Provide an option to press on a few lines of your copy and tweet directly.
Use authentic data, original visuals, and catchy sentences to encourage readers to share your message with their followers on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.
Making sharing easy — make sure the text and title that load on shares are accurate.
Make sure website images properly render in social shares.
Should You Hire an SEO Copywriter, or Can Anyone Do It?
There are various types of pages that need SEO copywriting — landing pages, blog posts, product pages, sales pages, etc. They all need different kinds of content and different kinds of knowledge about a business or industry.
The main “quality check” for a great SEO copywriter is whether they successfully convert traffic into leads and sales. Therefore, an SEO copywriter has to know conversion copywriting basics. For this, they need quite a wide skill set — from basic SEO knowledge to great copywriting skills that can make copy persuasive.
The best content has potential beyond just ranking well: converting well, sending a message, building a brand… if the only thing you do is show up, you’ve accomplished a tiny portion of what you could have.
Business owners often have to choose between hiring an experienced SEO copywriter or training their existing content staff. It is a tough call, so let's examine some things to consider.
Hiring SEO Copywriters
Here is some truth, anyone can claim to be an SEO copywriter, but not all have the experience and SEO knowledge to make it work.
Some things to ask when interviewing SEO copywriters:
- How did they learn about SEO?
- How long have they been writing? What kind of content do they write?
- Do they do keyword research or have it provided by the client? If they say they do keyword research, ask how?
- What kind of questions will they ask you? If they say none, that is a warning signal. They need to understand your brand and your industry to do a good job.
- Can they give you 10 examples of ranking content, and can they break down how their content helped with that ranking? H1, H2, H3 tags? Keyword research? Alt tags? Resources? Links? Schema? (How much do they really know about SEO?)
- Wait and see if they mention reviewing competitors or if they ask you who yours are. If they don't, ask how they do competitive research.
Going In-House for SEO Copywriting
Here are some things to consider:
How much writing have they done in the past? Can they show you pieces? Are they convincing to you? Does the content flow, engage, and sell?
Do they have SEO experience? How much?
What have they written that ranked? Can they show you? Can they explain what their SEO strategy was in detail?
Are they creative? And are they capable of learning?
Technical knowledge is easier to learn and get to grips with than developing creativity!
If they have never focused on ranking content before, they may not be the best choice if you need rankings immediately. It might be good to let them test some content pages and see how they perform, and let them learn from an SEO copywriter you utilize now.
If you have someone with creativity and some writing experience, you can save some money and time by teaching them the write optimization skills.
Our Top 16 SEO Copywriting Tools
Clearly, there are a lot of areas to cover when you are an SEO copywriter. So, you can make use of the following tools that facilitate many aspects of the job:
The SEMrush Toolkit for Writers:
- SEMrush Keyword Magic Tool is used to narrow down your keyword research and finding the best keywords to target with your copy.
- SEMrush Topic Research is used to discover new content ideas and uncovering what people search for around your topic (subtopics and questions).
- SEMrush Organic Research is used to find the best-performing rivals for your topic to learn from.
- SEMrush SEO Writing Assistant will help you optimize your content based on your top 10 rivals in Google rankings. Download its add-on to check your content’s SEO friendliness and originality, and to adjust your copy’s readability and consistency of your tone of voice as you write.
- SEMrush On-Page SEO Checker can help you set up monitoring after your copy is published to get SEO recommendations for improving your rankings.
Other Helpful Tools For Writers:
- Google Search Console and Google Analytics for analyzing your pages’ performance. See what has been working so far, what you might need to work on, and what can be improved based on user behavior on your pages.
- Google Trends use this tool to find out what topics are trending and for keyword research (it shows the search query’s volume and related keywords to look at).
- Grammarly will help you find all the issues wrong in your copy’s grammar and improve the clarity and engagement of your content.
- Hemingway App will help you improve your readability as it checks your copy for over-complicated sentences.
- AlsoAsked.com will show you questions that arise around your chosen topic.
- Typeform/Google Forms can be used to create and run surveys to gather data.
- Short URL/Bitly can be utilized to shorten your page’s URL, track link clicks, and the performance of social media sharing.
- Canva will help you create custom images, social shares, animations, and infographics for your website, articles, and social accounts.
- Unsplash/Flickr/Pixabay will help you find high-quality, royalty-free images.
- Seomofo for getting a preview and optimizing your SERP snippet.
- Google Docs and Google Sheets for enhancing team collaboration on the copy and helping with content calendar tracking.
By employing the tips from this guide, you can get a few steps closer to excelling at SEO Copywriting. But keep in mind, you have to impress visitors while ranking well in search engines — this takes creative skill, knowledge, and experience.
That is why true SEO copywriting experts cost a bit of money to hire, but their knowledge and expertise is one of the most powerful things you can utilize to enhance your business.
One last thing: tune in to the upcoming 5-hour live Bootcamp hosted by some of the most brilliant content marketers in the industry on May 28. You can check out the lineup and register for the webinar and learn from the best.