SEO Best Practices – Before, During, and After Copywriting

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.
Search Engine Land

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 | During Writing | After Writing

type on keyboard and grow plant
source: tenor

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.

1. Brainstorm

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

Since this is an article about using free SEO tools, there are two that I predominantly use: Google Trends and Answer the Public.

*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)

fig 1.1 – search for “Search Engine Optimization” on Google Trends

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.

fig. 1.2 – finding specific sentences to integrate on Answer the Public
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

During Writing

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. 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.

3. Images

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.

Lesson 1: Read more, Write more

At the start of my journey as a copywriter, I was taking online classes, sitting in on seminars, and watching as many resources as possible. During this process, I remember one thing distinctively being mentioned:

“To become a better copywriter,
you must read more and write more.”

That was the main thing that stood out to me. I haven’t truly loved reading for quite some time – I speculate that it was the mandatory scholastics of university – but over the last 8 months, I’ve begun every day with a book and a coffee. I have rekindled my love of reading once again.

The smell of opening up a fresh book, and hearing the spine crackle just slightly, has become a sensory treat… I guess it’s accurate to call it “sensual” – sew nawtee.

I got your (paper)back

Ranging from James Baldwin to Sun Tzu to Naomi Klein, the importance of seeing various writings, exhibiting various techniques and styles, has become a simple daily ritual that I can’t foresee leaving my life anytime soon.

Absorbing the way they use writing tools (ie. cadence, metaphor, hyperbole, etc.) to deliver their messaging, has made me a better writer. I’m studying without studying and I know that I’ll ultimately bleed what I feed. That is, all the information that I consume will disperse onto everything that I produce.

And to fortify these lessons, I write.

The key here is not to force it but rather let the words flow. If your writing isn’t relatable or genuine, it won’t resonate with anyone.

Source: reedsy blog

Resonation is beyond important in copywriting and poetry. In Sullivan and Hoche’s “Hey Whipple, Squeeze This: The Classic Guide to Creating Great Ads”, they mention (and I’m paraphrasing) if no one can relate to your ad, it doesn’t matter how creative or intelligent your copy is – it won’t sell.

This foundation can only be established by having your ear to the ground, and understanding the best way to display your message. And to do this, you must read and learn.

There are no cheat codes to getting better. Surround yourself with content that you strive to produce and keep on writing.

What was the last thing that you read?

A Glass of “So Real” – a poem about diaspora and identity

As a person that is outwardly facing as someone from an Asian ancestry, but obviously mixed, I’ve encountered frequent questioning on my familial place of origin.

Born in Scarborough to Jamaican and Guyanese parents, I definitely get a couple odd looks as I do not look like the stereotypical West Indian. And that statement, “stereotypical West Indian”, has always led to convolution and internal conflict; I knew my history and who I was as someone from the Caribbean diaspora but yet the need to constantly validate myself to onlookers was very frustrating.

The Caribbean has had many peoples settle within the region – forcibly, coerced, or as an escape route. My personal history embodies all of these lineages but growing up, I’ve had my story denounced by many from the Caribbean and larger Canadian communities. This poem is my story.

The reason I named this poem ‘A Glass of “So Real”‘ is that many Caribbean countries drink a medicinal concoction derived mostly of steeped hibiscus called sorrel. Sorrel has a deep red colour which stains most things if spilled. To me this embodies our unity as Caribbeans and the blood that ties us together.

Though we may look different, this narrative is what joins us in solidarity.

Featured in Page to Stage by the Community Arts Council of Vancouver.

It was written that the first people were pureblooded
And eventually it was written in pure blood
You see, the lust for a new exotic type
Trickled down their lips
Thrusted from the arms of mothers and fathers
Taking jaws, fingers, and hearts
Lives lost forever, even if there was still a 3/4 beat

Flattened voices, still pounding like a drum
Still pounding full of tradition even if masked by gospel song
Mixed children taught to be indoors, where the pretty ones stay

And mastah say,
“He looks well learned”
“She looks fair, no burns”

And you wonder why we have a racial complex?
And I wonder why they’re still called red
And you wonder why we hate those that share the same blood but without physical trait?
We value but hate the blood taint

A history that wasn’t written but tattoo’d
Seared into our eyelids like we’re staring into an eclipse
Well ain’t that some shit?
We hate each other for the same reason they hate(d) us

And that’s why I fought with my own understanding

With my slanted eyelids, high nose, hairy ass legs,
Kinda brown(ish) skin… I don’t really know
I mean, I’ve dug hard to understand my whole lineage
But I know I don’t look Scottish
I don’t look Lebanese
I don’t look African
I don’t look Chinese.
I look Jamaican.

Nah. You don’t look Jamaican.

I could tell you all about the transatlantic slave trade, riding the tradewinds all throughout the Greater Antilles.
I could tell you about the Maroons and how they escaped the plantations to settle with the remaining indigenous.
I could tell you about the Scottish that wanted to be seen as fair, and came to get a piece of theirs.
I could tell you about the Lebanese that came to JA as a safe haven.
Or maybe it’s the indentured servitude of the Chinese.

Nah. You don’t look Jamaican.

Vexed at this type of test, I get thrusted into
Like my story is buried so far deep, some refuse to see it
Though all they need to do is focus.
That’s what it is, I know it’s there and this story has to be told
Whether you like it or not, it can’t be erased.
Lost no more but found forever.

I am a Jamaican, and this history is our connecting shackle.
And in these chains, we can set ourselves free.

Pass me a glass of “So Real”.

Art work:

Phuong Nguyen is an artist and art therapist that currently practices in Toronto, Canada. She is primarily a painter and has completed her Bachelor of Fine Art at OCAD U in 2014.

Nguyen is interested in people and the complexities and simplicities that come with being human.  Working with mostly representational subject matter, she aims to evoke emotion, nostalgia, connection, and empathy.  She has shown work in Canada, the U.S., and the U.K.

Transforming Miles

I’ve wanted to do this since high school.

The idea to make a beat out of the ’80s Transformers intro came to me in high school but I felt like I had zero knowhow to make it.

This is my first real beat.

I had no clue what I was doing, technically. It might show but I don’t really care. The idea has evolved from just using the intro and adding drums to chopping it up and sampling the great Miles Davis.

My personal experiences in life has helped mold my output.

I was watching “The Birth of Cool”, a Miles doc. It gave me access to a level of appreciation far deeper than I had before. I think it’s through this learning I was able to really find the balance I wanted in the overall sound.

Title: Transforming Miles

Transformers – 80s intro
Miles Davis – Blue in Green
Shakers and conga – stock Garageband

How to keep writing during a recession

Where did the last couple of months go? With many of us unemployed due to layoffs, or having contracts suspended/delayed, there is definitely an air of uncertainty. Atop of this, we’ve also seen the world protest for racial justice and true equality, a flame of solidarity we have never captured on this scale since the post-9/11 anti-war protests.

With all this instability, my mind became creatively clouded, oft feeling like my creative spirit was slipping through my fingers. So I decided to come up with some measures to help keep grasp of this, and in essence myself. I also realized almost everything I write is so damn serious, so here’s a meme to start us off.

Since that’s out of the way, here’s my 4 tips to maintaining creative space.

1. Warm-Up

Good god this is important. I have to stretch my body and mind to get into the groove. I’m not going full-Richard Simmons but my daily routine starts with deep stretching, deep tunes, deep meditation, and deep vibes. If I’m not tapping into myself, the real me is not going to translate on to paper / screen / in conversation.

2. Space-Making

It’s important to find somewhere you can rely on for safe creativity. A space that is free of distraction and free of judgement to allow for a free train of thought.

I wrote and recorded a poem earlier in the quarantine that was all about battling creative anxiety and undue pressures.

Tune into it here and take some of that weight off your shoulders, Atlas.

I live in a basement with housemates (one being a 2 year-old) and this was huge for me. I needed to create a space that didn’t have to contend with a screaming child, casual conversations, and everyday stomping upstairs. I bought a desk and stool so that I didn’t have to work in the main area, and headphones to muffle out the noise. Depending on the day, I relocate to the balcony since the street noise never gets as loud as the house.

Does that mean you can’t come up with ideas elsewhere? Absolutely not. I would argue most of us come up with ideas away from our traditional creative spaces, like the toilet or in the shower (S/O to The Hustle’s Shower Thoughts). We then tote these ideas along with us until we can develop them from our established creative spaces.

“We Bleed What We Feed”

3. Do Stuff

Nothing is better than doing stuff. Just do it… bleh, did I just do that?

But seriously, doing stuff is an important way to get your brain to function from multiple perspectives. This is key for anyone working in copywriting or marketing: one of the best ways to understand various audiences is to walk in their shoes. And no, this won’t lead to having multiple personalities.

Split (2016)

When I’ve experienced new things, I’ve approached old concepts in a refreshed way. If we aren’t constantly questioning convention, how are we developing ourselves?

Think Jazz is weird? Listen to some Coltrane, Mingus, Brubeck, or Hancock. They’re all Jazz musicians but all have completely different approaches.
Haven’t read a book since university? Think about most of the content that you listen or watch, and there’s probably a book that talks about it too.
Drive everywhere? Start walking and taking in the fine details of your neighbourhood. Bricks may be laid in a way that you’ve never seen before or trees may twist at unique angles.

I like to say, “We bleed what we feed”, meaning that everything that we consume will find its way into our work, so just the act of exposure will be reflected on what we produce.

4. Take a Break

I guess the chocolate bar was on to something. This is probably one of the most difficult things for me: TAKE A BREAK OR BREAK YO’SELF!

excerpt from Friday (1995)

And it’s true. With all this anxiety from wanting to live up to my own expectations, and the sheer passion and energy I put into everything, the fear of burning out is definitely a reality. Check out Leah Bae’s The Burnout Project to learn more about burning out.

Taking a break away from what you love is hard, it’s your baby. But if you don’t take, at the very least, a couple hours off, you’ll be toast.

Mentally fried. Psychologically flambéed. Brain braised. You get the picture.

I noticed that when I don’t take breaks, even the slightest 15-30 minutes, my stress levels go through the roof (tbh, I’m still kind of fried right now while writing this). Life is hard enough already and we need to take moments to appreciate the things that we have achieved, to be happy, and treat ourselves kindly.

I know it’s easy to focus on the things that we’ve yet to do or are out of our possession (that’s how capitalism works) but being grateful for what we do have can help ease our minds and thoughts.

Creativity is necessary to keep the world ticking and going, and it’s important that we create space for it mentally and physically. Whatever it is that you do to fuel your creative fire, I commend you and appreciate your talent, even if I don’t know you or your work.

There’s still much to do in the world but it’s important to not forget about yourself and your gifts. By giving yourself the chance to hone in on your talents, you’ll be able to show up in the world even stronger than ever before.

PS. I suggest subscribing to The Hustle’s newsletter. They bring business news straight to your inbox, but in a fashion that is way more relatable and hilarious (dare I say more credible too) than your evening news. Think pop culture, memes, and gifs balled up with economics and current events.

And no, I am not getting paid for this…but I’m open to it.