While mentoring an emerging copywriter last week, I was asked about Search Engine Optimization (SEO). I told her that I would write a document on low-barrier, free SEO tips that she could refer to on the fly.
Search Engine Optimization (v.)
The process of improving your site to increase its visibility for relevant searches.
As I began writing the doc, I realized that this is valuable and important information, especially for writers or start-up entrepreneurs that are developing web content. Whether it is a blog post or a sales page, the below should be conscious considerations for your copy.
I’ve broken the article into three parts:
Before Writing | RESEARCH
Like any piece of writing (remember those 5000 word academic papers in University?), you’ve got to do your research.
Understanding the market landscape helps you: angle your product/service to resonate with your audience; understand the competition to help you differentiate; and discover the key search terms being inquired on search engines.
This is the start of any great marketing endeavour. Brainstorm and determine what angles you can approach the topic or problem that you are considering writing about. Some questions to ask yourself:
What value is this adding to my audience?
What value is this adding to the brand?
Who is my competition and what have they said?
What am I trying to say?
Has this already been addressed elsewhere? If so, how can I improve it?
What is my SWOT? (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats)
My personal favourite is “So what?“. You present the topic or problem you are probing, then you ask yourself, “So what?” – as in, why does this matter?
For every answer, I repeat “So what?“. I keep doing this until I can’t say it any longer – I have now found the core subject that I should be writing towards.
What answering these questions will do is clarify the aim of your search parameters, or maybe that you’ll need to pivot to another idea because what you thought was relevant, actually isn’t at all.
2. Find keywords and terms using web tools
*Please keep notepad handy*
I start with Google Trends to hone in the specific pertinent keywords. Sift through the results and find the search terms that matter the most to your subject. (Fig.1.1)
Then, I jump to Answer the Public. Don’t mind the freaky guy nudging you along on the homepage; what you’ll gain outweighs the brief moment of cringe. On this site, you will find the specific queries that have been searched using your keywords. (Fig. 1.2)
You will ultimately use these specific sentences in the article or webpage.
3. Top Hits
On a search engine (preferably Google), look up the keywords/phrases that you found earlier and see what web pages are the most popular. Read them and find source material that you can use in your blog.*
Also, keep the tab open or write the URL down, you will need it later.
*I wouldn’t necessarily use this for a landing page as the focus is to convert – pulling them to another site is a distraction
Here we are – the easy part. You’re an expert on the subject, this is your “bread and butter”, but there are a couple things you need to be mindful of.
When beginning this stage, I like to write and get all the information out of me then address the points listed below. Nothing’s worse than getting into a creative flow and losing it – so take it from me, get the words out first.
If you need help getting into a creative flow, check out my personal guide to getting into the writing mood.
1. Link Externally
Remember those top ranking web pages from before? Link them as references throughout your article. These links will be logged by search engines and will help you rank – just make sure the verbiage you use ties directly to the article. Plus, it’s a great way to legitimize your content.
Much like the 5000 word university essay, everything should be referenced. I know the web is still kind of like the Wild West, with algorithms changing all the time and convention sometimes becoming unconventional, BUT real ones will know and there’s more to gain from doing it.
Be too legit to quit.
2. Link Internally
While you have their attention, send your readers to other relevant articles or pages on your website.* The longer visitors are on your website, the more opportunities you have to build credibility and relationships, and the more likely you are to convert them.
*This isn’t really SEO practice for the article at hand, but it is a converting tactic and SEO tactic for your past content.
I strongly suggest that blogs use visuals to help convey messages, and breakup walls of text. Content should be seen as a value-add and entertaining, to further build your brand relationship with your core audience and as an invitation to newcomers.
But what does it have to do with SEO? Well, if you title it accordingly with your keywords and use alternative text that describes in detail what’s going on in the image, you now have another searchable item in your article or webpage.
After Writing (but whenever really)
It’s time to take a step back, and have a long look at the fine piece of work that you’ve just completed.
1. Subheadings (H2,H3)
Look to see if you broke up your article into subheadings – around every 250-400 words
Be mindful of this, as headings are indexed as prioritized items by search engines.
A lot of times, subheadings reveal themselves in the writing process and it’s really an attunement of where your writing is taking you. It also helps to keep you organized with your writing flow.
An example is this very article. I didn’t go into it thinking “I have to do a ‘before, during, and after’ process”, it just organically made sense while I was writing. Quite simply, be mindful and aware while you’re writing.
2. Meta Descriptions
Make sure that every web page includes a page summary for search engine results. If you don’t, search engines will usually grab the first couple lines of your webpage, and….
…cut off the remaining lines haphazardly. Be in control of what’s displayed and ensure that it is succinct but still engaging enough to warrant a click.
Closing out our mentoring session, I mentioned that these are all marketing practices tailored to copy. Copywriters are marketing professionals that chose to use words as their medium, akin to graphic designers using images and commercial songwriters using notes.
We all want to get to the same place as marketers but the avenue we chose to get there is what defines our roles.
I know this is a very simple breakdown and we could get into a more data-driven (or backend 😱) approach, but this is just a gateway into understanding the value of written SEO.
Happy writing everyone!
If you have any additional questions, feel free to hit me up below.