With this guide, the pieces of the SEO copywriting puzzle will fall into place. You will learn the meaning of SEO copywriting, what to expect when ordering SEO content writing services, and what to include in your terms of reference.
With the arrival of the digital era, a huge new space that allows you to reach potential customers has emerged. At the same time, if you want to maneuver in this space, you have to play by its rules. I am referring, of course, to search engine optimization (SEO).
- What is SEO copywriting?
- SEO copywriter, copywriter, or content writer – what is the difference?
- Should you hire an SEO copywriter, train your staff or outsource SEO copywriting?
- Data, keywords, search intent – how to set a task for an SEO copywriter
- Optimized text – how to evaluate the work of an SEO copywriter
- Top SEO copywriting tools – SEMrush and other helpful tools
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.
Three simple reasons why you need SEO copywriting for your business:
- To attract more qualified traffic (not just any traffic) at minimal cost.
- To create trust by providing the content your audience is searching for.
- To convince readers to take action (download your app, subscribe to your podcast, etc.) and/or convert them into customers.
SEO is a way to explain to Google what your content piece is about, what information will be provided to their users, and whether it has more and better information than your competitors’ websites.
SEO Copywriter, Copywriter, or Content Writer – What Is the Difference?
When business leaders or managers come to the conclusion that their site needs SEO, many are at a loss as to which specialist is right for them. At least three specialists can write copy for you, but there are differences between them.
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, but 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.
According to a joint SEMrush and CMI study, the most challenging task for writers is to find a balance between the creative element and search engine optimization.
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 due to 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 (for more, check out our SEMrush chat dedicated to content writing).
SEO copywriting also has to “sell” visitors on your product and brand, as in convert this traffic further down the marketing funnel.
Should You Hire SEO Writers, Train Your Staff or Order External SEO Copywriting?
Business leaders often have to choose between hiring an experienced SEO copywriter, training their existing content staff, and outsourcing SEO copywriting. It’s a tough call, so let's examine some things to consider.
Hiring SEO Copywriters
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.
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’s 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?
- 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.
Training Your Staff
If you have someone with creativity and some writing experience, you can save some money and time by teaching them optimization skills.
Technical knowledge is easier to learn and get to grips with than developing creativity!
How to train your staff:
Start your employee on the theory of how SEO works and how to write SEO copy. There’s a lot of information on the Internet, and we at SEMrush also have free Academy courses on the topic:
Outsourcing SEO Copywriting to Freelance Writers
Hiring a freelancer for article writing services has several advantages:
- You can choose to pay a fixed price per piece, regardless of the time it takes to complete the task.
- You can usually get copy any time you need it, regardless of staff workload.
- Freelancers’ future work depends on their past and current projects and feedback they get from it. So, most probably, they are motivated to complete the task and to do a good job.
- You can hire as many writers as you need – each one has their own vision and style. You can choose one you are comfortable with or work with several to get the job done and achieve results in the shortest possible time.
Knowing our users’ needs, we at SEMrush came up with the Content Marketplace, a place where you can order your own content written by an experienced copywriter. Each freelance SEO writer was manually selected by experienced writers sourced from among our clients. We currently have approximately 500 copywriters covering all major topics.
Data, Keywords, Search Intent – How to Set a Task for an SEO Copywriter
A well set task is half the battle. Here's what you need to know to assign a task to an SEO copywriter.
- Find the right keywords
- Find questions that people ask
- Identify and map search intent
- Check competitors' articles for your target keywords
- Gather original data
1. Find the Right Keywords
An SEO copywriter will be able to do their job better if you give them more background information like:
- Text type (blog post, landing page);
- Aim of the text (subscribe, leave an email);
- Style and/or tone of voice;
- Right keywords to target.
Let's talk about the latter in more detail. Keywords are terms that people search for on the Internet to find information. The 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.
You shouldn't guess at the right keywords — make use of online software to do the job of keyword research for you.
At SEMrush, you can run the process in the Keyword Magic tool. Type in your primary search term (“seed” keyword) and the tool will show you semantically related keywords. Play with filters and group the keywords by search volume, keyword difficulty, or other metrics.
Make sure to pick high-volume* and low-difficulty* keywords for targeting, i.e. those that are relatively easy to target, yet have solid search volumes.
* Volume is the average number of monthly searches for a keyword. Keyword difficulty tells you how hard it would be to rank on the first page of Google for the keyword.
Pro tip: long-tail keywords may be easier to rank for and help with search intent.
2. Find Questions That People Ask
Search engines are now, essentially, answer engines. Around two-thirds of people between the ages of 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.
Once you have identified which questions pop up most frequently, add some of them to your technical requirements for the writer. Ask them to use the exact wording for these questions and provide comprehensive answers.
✅Skillful keyphrase usage. Great web copy doesn’t look optimized because the keyphrases flow naturally.
✅Write engaging content.
3. 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 deending on what stage of the 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 four 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 consider a purchase and want to investigate their options. Example: “coffee machines comparison”
- Transactional 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.
4. Check Competitors' Articles for Your Target Keywords
Enter your primary keyword in the search bar and look at the top 10 search results to determine what these pages have in common. This is what a good writer should do in the first place in order to collect optimization and copywriting ideas from your main competitors.
At SEMrush, you can quickly get SEO recommendations for your future content using the SEO Content Template. You will see how your top-10 competitors use your target keywords in the article, which semantically related words they are likely to include, the sites that link to them, their readability score, and their text length.
You can export all this data in advance and send it to your SEO copywriter.
6. Gather Original Data
An efficient tactic to engage readers is to share unique and original data. This can help you generate backlinks to your page, which will positively affect your rankings.
An external writer definitely won't have all the insights into your company (although they can ask the right questions before starting work), and an internal writer may not have enough information. So, gathering data is partly your area of responsibility.
But what if you don’t have enough 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 is especially interesting to look at during times of crisis when many industries are under severe stress (negative or positive). Industry writers will 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."
Authentic data, original visuals, and catchy sentences encourage readers to share your message with their followers on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. Brainstorm and come up with sources of data your company has on hand, and start collecting data for content.
Optimized Text – How to Evaluate the Work of a Writer
Regardless of whether you are working with an in-house SEO copywriter or outsource the work, you will need to evaluate the results of the work done.
So, let’s unravel some elements you can check for SEO-friendliness.
- Check use of keywords
- Make sure the title is perfectly optimized
- Check optimization of the meta description
- Make sure the introduction is magnetic
- Make sure the copy is easily read
- Make sure there are visuals
- Include CTAs (Calls-to-Action)
- Check the links to relevant on-site and off-site resources
1. Check Use of Keywords
The text, H1, meta title, meta description, and subheadings must contain keywords.
But not too many...
Google has smart algorithms, so if you think you can “cheat” the system, you’re wrong. The days of “keyword stuffing” practices when you could just get away with repeating your target keyword throughout your copy are long gone.
An example of keyword stuffing from Google.
2. Make Sure the Title is Perfectly Optimized
The first thing readers see when looking at Google’s search engine results pages is the title of the page (it may correspond to the headline of your copy, but not necessarily).
You want the title to be enticing and offer the reader information that they need — this can boost your organic click-through-rate (CTR) and increase pageviews.
The title should help both people and search engines determine what your piece of content 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 (meta title) and titles for readers (H1 Tag).
The Perfect Title for SEO (Meta Title):
- Is unique and includes your target keyword.
- Is 55-60 characters long. Google truncates title tags that are longer than 55-60 characters, and they have a 600-pixel width limit (but this can sometimes vary depending on the device being used).
- Sends a message that accurately matches the content and search intent. If the content doesn’t live up to users’ expectations after they click the title, they will just bounce off the page. This will indicate to Google that you are not providing relevant content to your users, which might in turn affect your rankings.
- Includes a Call-to-Action. A CTA is a crucial addition to your title or meta-description. CTAs should motivate users to go to the website.
The Perfect Title for Readers (H1 Tag):
- Fits within the 600-pixel width. Within this width, readers can see the entire title, otherwise Google truncates it.
- May include numbers, for example, “10 Quick Ways to Create the Perfect Title”. Articles with list headlines get up to 2x more traffic and up to 2x more shares compared to other types.
May include bracketed clarifications like [interview], [video], . Articles with bracketed clarifications perform 38% better than those without clarifications, which could suggest readers like to have a full picture of what they will get when they click.
Includes actionable words like “learn”, “take”, “boost”, “enhance”, etc. This may help readers understand what they will gain from the page.
Motivates users to go to the website. Emotional triggers may help get users’ attention and create interest. According to Backlinko research, while power words (like ‘secret’, ‘powerful’, ‘ultimate’, ‘perfect’, ‘best’, ‘insane’, ‘amazing’) decrease CTR, emotional titles can increase it.
3. Check Optimization of the Meta Description
In addition to the text of the copy itself, ask your SEO copywriter to prepare the meta title, which we talked about above, and the meta description.
The meta description is the text displayed with your URL and title in Google search results. It has the most real estate (two lines of text compared to one line for the title and one line for URL), so take advantage of the opportunity to send a meaningful message to searchers.
Which of the following descriptions tells you about the pages or confuses you?
The second description explains the benefits of a page better. Here are a few simple guidelines on optimizing your meta description:
- Contains target keywords
- Calls to action and/or targets an emotion
- Consists of 140-160 characters (1-2 sentences). If it is too long, it won’t fit, Google will truncate it, and people will not understand what your site can provide.
- It should be unique and describe a webpage. Make it meaningful – offer a compelling reason to visit the specific page. Google encourages including specific information like price, manufacturer, etc. scattered throughout a page.
4. Make Sure the Introduction Is Magnetic
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 copywritingcourse.com
Your introduction should entice readers to move down the page, raising and answering their questions, and keeping them from bouncing.
How to get people “hooked” in the introduction:
- Tell them what they will gain: what questions will be answered, how the content will help them.
- Make it entertaining — family-friendly humor is good.
- Create an emotional bond.
- Demonstrate 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?
There is no golden rule as to what makes 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.
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 by pushing sales from the beginning.
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.
5. Make Sure The Copy is Easily Read
Google's Gary Illyes, at Pubcon Austin 2020 said that flow and readability are important for search engine rankings. So, make sure your text is readable. If the text’s vocabulary is over their head or the reading level is too advanced, you will lose your 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 means 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.
What is readable copy? Here are its characteristics:
- Good structure
Good structure guides both users and search engines through your content as smoothly as possible. Each new point should be reflected in H2, H3, and H4 headings. According to our research, 36% of articles with H2+H3 tags have better performance in terms of traffic, shares, and backlinks.
- Skimmable headlines that inform without reading
Readers often skim before they read. According to the study by Nielsen Norman Group, only 16% of people will read your copy word by word.
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 give those answers in your headlines, and then elaborate in the following paragraphs.
- 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.
Nielsen Norman Group's Eye-Tracking Study revealed that users read in an F-shaped pattern:
Make sure the copy’s paragraphs are short and start with the key message. Clarity and concision are the keys to great readability and user experience – the more white space, the better the user experience.
- Bullet points and numbered lists
Long paragraphs can be broken up with bullets or numbered lists and graphics that inform the user.
These techniques help you guide your reader through the copy without making them work too hard to find the information they need — they are also skimmable, which is a bonus.
- Short sentences
With shorter sentences, you are once again making the reader’s job easier, and your message more digestible.
- Subtopics are covered within the copy
Keep in mind a few points from your previous research: target keywords, structure of the top-ranking pages, users’ queries and questions.
They can be separated into paragraphs or bundled together but should be included in the article and placed in a logical order.
- Simple 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.
If you want to check the readability score, SEMrush’s SEO Writing Assistant extension can help. It automatically analyzes your target keywords and suggests the optimal readability level for your copy based on your top rivals.
With this tool, you will also:
- Find out which sentences are too long.
- Discover which parts of the copy may be not original.
- Ensure your text is perfectly structured for a target keyword and written in an SEO-friendly style.
- Make sure your content piece complies with your overall brand voice — casual, neutral, or formal.
6. Make Sure There Are Visuals
A picture is worth a thousand words. Use visuals throughout your page — videos, images, charts, infographics, etc. In 2019, 74% of marketers used visuals in more than 70% of their content — 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.
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. You’ll find more information in our Image SEO and Alt Tags Guide.
7. Include CTAs (Calls-to-action)
SEO copywriting has a clear purpose — to drive users further along the customer journey. That is where calls-to-action come in handy.
Remember us mentioning “search intent?” If users land on copy that was produced for informational intent, include a CTA that will direct them to another page that targets keywords with navigational intent, and so forth.
From a copywriting perspective, this will improve your copy’s conversion rate and the ROI of your content. From an SEO perspective, this may 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.
8. Check the Links to Relevant On-Site and Off-Site Resources
When you include a link from your copy to an internal or external page, you’re simply following 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 expands on the idea you are covering. This will show that you are a valuable source of quality content, which 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.
Top SEO Copywriting Tools: SEMrush and Other Helpful Tools
If you prefer to order SEO-optimized content without undue effort, our Marketplace is your SEO copywriting solution. The Content Marketplace is a place where you can order your own content written by an experienced copywriter.
Here is more information on how Marketplace functions.
If you need to control the copywriting process and/or equip your 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.
- SEO Content Template to get SEO recommendations for your future content based on top-10 competitors.
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 successfully employing SEO copywriting, you can get higher rankings for the right target keywords, make sure readers take the desired action, and create trust.
But keep in mind, good SEO copywriting takes creative skill, knowledge, and experience. We’ve included in this guide SEO copywriting best practices, so you can also share it with your writer to make sure you stay on the same page.