SEO copywriting is both an art and a science. Once you’ve done your keyword research and you know what keywords you’re targeting, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and do some heavy lifting.
There was a time when gaming the search engines (I’m speaking of Google, but it’s applicable to others) was fairly simple. You put up any random words, you add few keywords to it and you point links at it and you had the magical formula for ranking high in the search engines. That might be a over simplification, but you get the point. The algorithms of yesteryear were not very sophisticated and allowed for easy manipulation.
Fast forward to modern times, and Google alone has in excess of 20,000 manual reviewers who are constantly evaluating the SERPs and grading websites on the basis of Vital, Useful, Relevant, Off-Topic and Useless. The information that they pull from these manual reviews is fed into an algorithm that is constantly learning how to decipher quality websites from spam. If we go back in time to how Google deciphered quality content before, it was based on indicators such as keyword density, word count, character count, keyword association, etc. All of which are easily manipulable by today’s standards. You can easily put up a 500 words of rehashed spun content and slip in your desired amount of keywords and keyword variations and make a steaming pile look like Kim Kardashian.
What do Search Engines WANT to display in the top results?
If you look at SEO as a way of providing the most useful information on a given subject, it becomes rather simple. If you’re stuck in the mind frame of Google’s algorithm being the enemy where you have to game it into making you #1, it’s becoming increasingly difficult. All content is not equal. This means that because you paid someone $5 to write 1000 words on landscaping, it’s not as deserving (or valuable) as a 1000 words written by an expert landscaper.
Gaming Google into getting your 1000 words of sub par content to rank #1 is what’s becoming increasingly difficult. What’s becoming increasingly EASY is getting Google to rank that 1000 words of content written by an expert landscaper. If you can provide good, valuable content, you can rank for your desired keywords a lot easier.
There are three different types of search queries, and I’d like to take a moment or two to go over each type and look at an example SERP to see what Google likes in each case.
Search Query Used: Willis Tower
If you take a look at these results, for what they are, they are basically exactly what anyone could be looking for when putting in the search query “willis tower”.
- The first result is the official result, which a Google Manual Reviewer has without a doubt labeled as “Vital”. Underneath that result there is the Building Info quick link, Contact Info, Directions and Property Amenities.
- The second result is a deep link to the same site as the official site. I have a theory where if a site is marked as Vital to a search, the rest of the algorithm doesn’t take into account that the official site has been “stickied” as the #1 result and therefor often over compensates by linking to a deep page of what the algorithm has determined as the “official” website. I won’t get too much into this as there’s a large chance that by the time you’re reading this, the algorithm might have changed and it’s no longer relevant. It’s also entirely possible that I’m 100% wrong.
- The third result is basically another official result, it’s the Skydeck’s official page where you can buy tickets and get information about the observation deck. Below this result there’s the contact information like phone number and address and there’s also reviews, as rated by the general public – all provided by Google Places. This result would be tagged as Useful by a Google Manual reviewer, it’s not Vital. Someone from New York searching for “Willis Tower” is not necessarily looking to book tickets to go to the Skydeck. A search for “book tickets to observation deck willis tower”, would be a query that it is vital to.
- Next up is the trusty and dependable Wikipedia link (have you made a donation recently?). People often tend to think Wikipedia has some God-like authority in the Google SERPs, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. I actually see Wikipedia as Google’s crutch. When they can’t trust another link to provide accurate detailed info, they throw Wikipedia in there because they know what the user experience will be. Maybe that is a form of authority, but it’s not the “unbeatable” authority some people make it out to be.
- Image bar, you’ve got 7 popular different pictures of the Willis Tower giving you a good idea of what it’s about..
Now equally important (in terms of page real estate) is Google’s own information that they feel you may be looking for. They include a map, with a link to directions, some more images (which may be redundant), some quick information/facts (at a glance), hours of operation, the nearest subway station, and links to more reviews so that they can say they’re being fair to their competitors. So now pretend to be the CEO of a search engine and ask yourself, is someone who is searching for “willis tower” getting what they want out of this page? Let’s do a brain storming session here and think of all of the possible questions some one searching for Willis Tower might have:
- How tall is it?
- Where is it located?
- How much does it cost to visit?
- How do you get there?
- What hours is it open?
- Are there reviews from other people?
- When was it built?
- What’s the address?
- What’s the phone number?
- What’s the nearest subway station?
- What does it look like?
Google’s goal is to give people what they are looking for as quickly as possible. In this case, the SERP shows that the building is 110 stories (snippet in first result), it’s located in Chicago, Illinois (snippet from Wikipedia), for the cost you have to click on the third result, directions to get there (map, plus link to directions), hours of operations in the right info bar below the map, reviews under the snippet to the third result from Google Places, the Google Places listing also has the address and phone number, the info bar below hours of operation states the closest subway station and we’ve got 12 different pictures to see what it looks like.
If you think this is a fluke, you’re wrong. Google’s algorithm is able to decipher fluff from the meat of the content. They know the type of information people are looking for when they enter an informational search and in order to display your page in their results, they have to know that you’re providing them with the information that people are looking for. If you are writing SEO copy for an informational search, then you need to do the research and get the most comprehensive and all encompassing information you possibly can. By offering this type of premium information in your SEO copywriting, you are can achieve rankings with a fraction of the back links you would need if your content was all fluff.
Search Query Used: iphone 4 cases
Someone who is searching for this query is either looking for information before buying, or is immediately looking to buy. Google reflects this by having four stores above the fold, plus the Google Shopping results with an image and then a review from CNET.com (trusted source). The stores have similar pricing, except the third store which has very low prices. The first three stores all have extensive listings 200+ with the third having over 3000 products. None of these stores have any SEO copywriting on the pages, they’re all just product listings.
In this case the most useful information you can provide in this listing is dependent on whether or not you’re retailing the item. If you are you can combine the review/informational aspect with the transactional aspect (product listing) and provide a complete user experience then you’re putting yourself at the top of the food chain. If you’re an informational source for this transactional term the best case scenario would be to have an authoritative review with user interaction and links to quality websites where the searcher can complete their transaction. This is what Google wants for a transactional query.
Search Query Used: facebook
Navigational queries have the clearest intent of all, they are almost always looking to go to a specific page or website. In the case of our example, facebook, there’s also the slight possibility that the person is looking for the history of the site or for the latest news. In all situations it’s generally very easy for Google to display all possibilities of what the person may be looking for above the fold. The official site is going to be tagged as Vital by most manual reviews and navigational links are displayed like the Login, Forgot your password? etc from the above screen shot. There’s the touch of personalization in the right pane that show individuals connected to the query, in this case Mark Zuckerberg the founder of facebook and two others.
In all three examples of the search queries, the display could change over the coming months or years, but usually the changes that Google makes are in an effort to improve user experience.
Keep in mind that Google is not anti-webmaster nor are they against you making a buck off your website. What Google is against is websites that are out to make a buck without generating useful content. They are against it because this ruins the user experience. The user makes a search query on Google and is expecting to find what they are looking for. When you rank a website that does not satisfy the user’s intent and create a useful experience, not only do they blame your site – they also blame Google for sending them to your site. In order to combat this, Google has become very sophisticated in determining what content is quality that user’s appreciate and which content is spam that is not useful.
How do you develop useful SEO copy?
In each of the three search query types, there are ways to create content that is worthy for your website to be ranking for those keywords.
Informational Query – Simply have the best content possible. You may not be able to rank #1 for Willis Tower, the official page will take that spot. However you can rank #2 by creating a useful user experience on your website that covers every aspect of the Willis Tower. A good bench mark on most topics is to read the Wikipedia page in it’s entirety and then offer MORE than Wikipedia does on that given subject. If you can beat the quality of the content on Wikipedia, you’re generally in good shape. If you’re reading a Wikipedia article and basically regurgitating in your owns words, you’re going to need a ton of links to your website in order to over take the other results.
Also, informational searches tend to have a lot of long tail searches associated with them. Searches like:
- When was the Willis Tower Built?
- How tall is the Willis Tower?
Long tail searches are much more likely to turn up non-official web pages where you can rank #1 for them. By providing useful and complete information on an informational topic, not only does it help rank for the large keywords, it will allow you to rank for the longer tail keywords which can collectively bring in more traffic than the large terms and can often be more profitable.
Transactional Query – There are many different types of transactional queries, some of them can be official while other’s aren’t. If someone searches for “iphone 4″ they are almost certainly going to get the apple.com website. If someone searches for “iphone 4 cases” they are more likely to get a store that retails generic cases for the iphone 4. If you are trying to rank for a transaction term that has a competing official page, you will most likely be battling it out for the second spot. If you’re trying to rank for a transactional term that does not have an official page, you can aim for the first spot.
The key in almost any transactional query is to provide as much information for the potential buyer as possible. This includes unbiased reviews, but it also includes offering detailed specs, history, pros vs cons, as much information interested buyers could possibly be seeking. You want to out do your competitors and make sure that your user experience on your website is as complete as possible.
Navigational Query – Assuming you’re not the website that people are trying to navigate to, you need to offer what the official site does not. This includes reviews of the website and news about the website. If you can create a sort of non-official community for the user’s of the official website to share, discuss and otherwise participate, you will legitimately deserve to be in the #2 spot.
A lot of people think that navigational queries aren’t desirable or profitable. The purpose of this page is not to discuss the merits of going after certain types of queries, however it is worth mentioning that simply basing a community around popular websites can be extremely profitable. Facebook gets 3.08 BILLION searches per month according to Google Keyword Tool. “Facebook login” gets an additional 158 million searches per month. The crumbs off of that plate are pretty nutritious.
SEO Copywriting Done Properly
Now that we’ve discussed the types of search queries that are done, and the types of website’s that Google wants in it’s SERPs let’s talk about how to really make sure that Google loves the content on your website.
Using Keywords in your SEO Copywriting
Let’s do an example of SEO copywriting. Let’s say we’re writing a paragraph on project management. The keyword we want to optimize this paragraph for is project management.
Bad SEO Copywriting: Even though Rome wasn’t built in a day, it might have been completed more quickly if the early Romans had used a little planning to coordinate the city’s construction. Raising a city out of the Italian hillside is only one example of a task that could benefit from planning. The tools and techniques of project management are frequently used in the engineering, construction, and technology industries. This discipline can also be applied to other types of projects: planning a neighborhood party, building a chicken coop, designing a mobile phone app, or running a Presidential election campaign.
- As a human being reading this, you can tell every sentence is written in a way that’s relevant to the topic. However as a search engine spider, the keyword is only mentioned once “project management”. It’s mentioned in the middle of the paragraph and hardly a “vital” word to the theme of the paragraph.
- If you do a keyword search in Google Keyword Tool, we can see the relevant keywords to this term:
So all of these keywords like software, certification, institute, tools are all keywords that Google is going to consider relevant to the term “project management”. If we had a paragraph that was about viagra and poker, and then popped project management into the paragraph, the surrounding words would be less relevant than if we used software, certification, institute, tools etc.
- Overall this paragraph is both interesting and appealing to someone who wants to learn about project management, however it is not optimized for search engines.
Over Optimized SEO Copywriting: Project Management – Even though Rome wasn’t built in a day, it might have been completed more quickly if the early Romans had used a little project management to coordinate the city’s project construction. Raising a city out of the Italian hillside is only one example of a task that could benefit from project management. The tools and techniques of project management are frequently used in project management engineering, project management construction, and project management technology industries. Project management can also be applied to other types of projects: planning a neighborhood party using project management, building a chicken coop using project management, designing a mobile phone app using project management, or running a Presidential election campaign using project management.
- Now you can see project management repeated through this sentence again and again. When you’re reading it you might be thinking what’s with the writer’s obsession in writing the word project management again and again, it’s overkill. This is not how you do SEO copywriting, simply over-doing it is worse.
- Good SEO copywriting is natural, when it feels forced it’s both rubbing the reader and the search engines wrong. A good copywriter can push that boundary to the maximum between being natural and feeling forced.
Good SEO Copywriting: Project management is about collaborating resources and efforts for maximum efficiency. Even though Rome wasn’t built in a day, it might have been completed quicker if the Romans had used project management to coordinate the city’s construction. Raising a city out of the Italian hillside is only one example of a task that could benefit from project management. The tools and techniques of project management are frequently used in the engineering, construction, and technology industries. Project management can also be applied to other types of projects: planning a neighborhood party, building a chicken coop, designing a mobile phone app, or running a Presidential election campaign.
- Project management is repeated through out the paragraph in a way that should read naturally.
- It has the expected related keywords like tools, projects, etc.
- It’s clear & concise without feeling forced.
How long should your SEO Copywriting be?
There’s a lot of discussion I’ve seen on the optimal length of SEO copyrwriting where some people suggest that there’s a magic number. If there was a magical number, I’m pretty sure split testing would have been performed extensively if not by myself, then someone else in the SEO community. The reason that there isn’t a magical number, is because from a search engine’s perspective it’s impossible to determine what that magical number would need to be. With that being said, there are guidelines we can follow which will both help your SEO efforts while also making your content easier to read for your visitors.
Every topic has sub topics. A sub topic of your main topic might be deserving of a sentence, or it might be deserving of 20,000 words or more. The important question in SEO copywriting when it comes to the length of your topics is whether or not the topic is deserving of a sub topic, or whether if the topic belongs in it’s parent topic.
You don’t want to make an entirely new page/article for one sentence. So that one sentence as a topic in itself probably belongs on a parent topic’s page.
On the other end of the spectrum, a topic in excess of 1000 words is a rather long read and deserves to be broken up in some manner into several smaller topics. There’s a couple different ways you can break up sub topics, the first being by making a new sub page of the parent topic. The second method is using headers with anchor links to the headers so that the visitor can easily jump within the sub topics. The last method being just a long page where the user has to make their way down the page.
- Sub Pages for New Topics – This is generally the best approach in terms of SEO. The more sub pages you create, the more pages there are for search engines to cache. The theme of the page is also highly targeted and more relevant to it’s related queries. Last but not least the internal backlinks of having more pages is an added benefit as well.
- Anchor links to Sub Topics – This option has become a lot better lately because Google has incorporated the ability to offer direct links to your anchored sub sections:
You can see in the above screen shot, this was a query for “Evolution of Microorganisms” and so Google has provided the direct “Jump to Evolution” anchored link to the evolution sub section of the Microorganism page.
- A Really Long Page – Sometimes just a really long page makes the most sense. The reason being is the more information you have on one page, the more important it becomes to the page’s main topic. If you break down the topics into sub pages it can reinforce the main topic however if the main topic is unconditionally the most important with the sub topics being a distant second, it can make sense to use the meat of the sub topics to reinforce the main topic as one major authoritative source on the subject rather than breaking it up into bits and pieces. It also makes sense in some situations when the order of the sub topics is very important. Collectively they make a point that’s only coherent when they’re put together. In this case, keeping them together on one page is ideal.
Should I worry about Keyword Density in Copywriting?
In a perfect world, no, however as described above when your keyword density is too low it’s counter productive, likewise when the keyword density is too high, it’s counter productive. SEO Copywriting is about keyword placement within your copywriting – without at least having a general understanding of keyword density, it’d be hard to do that. So let’s go over the basics.
What is Keyword Density?
Keyword density is the percentage of times your keyword is found through out your copy. So if you have a paragraph with 100 words and your keyword is repeated 3 times, your keyword density would be 3%. There’s many different ways to calculate keyword density in your seo copywriting, but what’s important is a general understanding of what it is – not the detailed calculations.
What is the Optimal Keyword Density?
Taking a random paragraph off of Wikipedia like:
The above paragraph has 134 words and I used “Bieber” as the keyword to measure. The keyword density used in this paragraph is 3% which is considered optimal by most search engine experts. Why is it optimal? Without knowing this is a description of Justin Bieber’s career beforehand, after reading it there’d be very little doubt left in your mind. However as you’re reading it, you’re not getting the impression that the paragraph is using keyword stuffing to game a search engine. That’s the optimal keyword density – making the subject apparent enough without over doing it.
The optimal keyword density often falls between the 1-3% range. This does not mean it’s best practice to calculate all of your SEO copywriting to determine the keyword density. When you’re first getting started it’s a good idea to write down some paragraphs which are optimized for a keyword then figure out their density. Once you get a general feel of what 1-3% looks and feels like, you can wing it.
Using special formatting in SEO Copywriting
One of the foundations of solid on page SEO is how you structure your content using HTML markup. If you don’t know HTML and hearing about it makes you nervous, don’t worry about it. We’re not talking about the actual coding of your website. We’re simply talking about how you format your website.
Using Header Tags in your SEO Copywriting
A header tag is like this <h1></h1> and it’s placed around the titles of your document. There’s six separate header tags from h1 through h6 (all formatted the same except the numerical value). The point of Google taking header tags into consideration when grading the topic/relevance of your page is generally the topic of your page would be included in the header of the document. For example if you write a thesis about microbes, there’s a large chance that the title of the thesis would include the word microbes in it.
The ideal use of header tags is using your keywords, but not stuffing them. Header tags are not like the title tag where you want to optimize every character in the title. Header tags naturally should have supporting and related keywords. You also want to include h2′s and h3′s where possible with supporting sub topics. For example if your page is about buying widgets:
<h1>Buying Widgets: A Detailed Guide</h1>
Content on buying widgets in general.
<h2>Tips On Buying Cheap Widgets</h2>
How to buy cheap widgets.
<h2>Is Buying Expensive Widgets Better in the Long Run</h2>
General over view of pros vs cons on buying expensive widgets.
<h3>Durability of Expensive Widgets</h3>
Detailed explanation of the durability of expensive widgets</h3>
<h3>Expensive Widgets are for Heavy Duty Use</h3>
Only buyexpensive widgets if you’re a heavy user, not an occasional.
<h2>Read Reviews of Widgets Before Buying</h2>
Benefits of reading reviews of widgets before buying them.
So in the above example at the top of the page you have your main title which explains what the page is about in general and that’s an h1. From there you have several sub headings to break the page up and your main topics are in h2 tags to highlight the significance of the sub topics. Once again one level deeper, you have the h3 tags which are sub sub topics and they support their parent topic.
Google looks at relevant keywords. So say for example your topic is about buying widgets, they know that cheap widgets, widget reviews, expensive widgets are all part of sub sets of the parent keyword. By including sub keywords in h2/h3 tags you’re further organizing your content for both users and search engines. Do not use h1 tags just for the sake of using them. For example:
You should buy widgets because I have a store that’s selling them and I want to be rich.
<h1>Buy a Widget</h1>
Widgets come in all different colors and shapes because they’re GREAT.
I love widgets and so do a lot of other people so read these widget reviews and then buy a widget from me.
The above example does not add structure to your website. You might follow the logic of “If Google places priority on what’s between h1 tags I am going to add a bunch of them and rank for everything!” But that’s not the way it works. Google places importance on h1 tags when they can be used to determine the topic of the content underneath them. A page with several h1 tags that are stuffed with keywords does not help understand the structure of your site and it dilutes the “title” of the page so it really hurts you more than it helps.
Using Bold and Italic Tags in your SEO Copywriting
Similar to heading tags, bold or italic tags are generally used to note or emphasize important words within a document. Search engines picked up on this and pay slightly more attention to words with these tags. Bolding or italicizing every word or every repetition of keyword through out a document is counter productive. Proper use of bold tags would be at most once per paragraph with a per page limit of 4-5 assuming the page has about 500-1000 words. Italics are for when you want to highlight the entire sentence, not just a keyword.
Example of SEO Copywriting using bold: Are you looking for red widgets? You’re in luck, we’re the number one source!
Example of SEO Copywriting using italics: Our red widgets are the only red widgets approved by the FDA.
Hopefully you can tell the difference between the two examples and why I used each one in their given example. If you were to read them out loud, it makes sense to emphasize red widgets in the first example while in the second example it makes sense to emphasize the latter part of the sentence.
You don’t want to combine the two as it’s kind of a form of sensory overload on your users and it’s not like this stuff is going to be the difference between being on page 10 and page 1. Using bold and italics can give you a slight edge over your competition so it’s good to use them through out your SEO copy as a slight advantage however optimizing a single page for a single term and going overkill with bold and italics is not what’s going to put you over the top so show some restraint in your use.
<strong> vs <b> and <em> vs <i> is another debate which has been squashed by Matt Cutts (an engineer at Google). He has flat out said in no uncertain terms that there is no difference in Google’s algorithm between the two, so you can feel free to use either/or.