When I first started working as a website copywriter, I knew relatively little about search engine optimization (SEO). I understood that keywords could open the door to search engine traffic, but I didn’t realize just how much effort was involved in successfully finding and implementing those keywords using SEO.
In hindsight, I entered the SEO copywriting niche almost by accident. Back then, I provided general copywriting services for online and for print. As I settled into my newfound profession and increasingly focused on web content writing, I noticed that I was receiving more and more requests for “keyword articles.”
The premise was simple: Write an article (or ten) and use a particular keyword or keyword phrase a predetermined number of times. Some clients wanted the keyword to appear five times in an article. Others specified that the keyword must appear in bold, headings, italics, or near the beginning of a paragraph. Often, the keyword also had to be included in the title.
These assignments made me curious, so I started researching SEO to better understand my clients’ goals. After realizing how SEO could positively impact traffic to a website, I started testing SEO copywriting on my own sites, and finding the endeavor successful, I eventually added SEO services to my repertoire.
What is SEO Copywriting?
SEO copywriting is the practice of writing material for online publication. It includes strategically placed keywords in order to attract traffic from search engines. The most targeted search engine is Google.
Ideally, extensive research is conducted to determine which keywords are a good fit for the website to which you want to draw traffic. This should be done before the SEO copy is written.
Also, there should be a strategy for implementing the keywords not just in the copy, but in the website’s code.
Many business owners request written copy for their website and when asked about keywords, they just list keywords off the tops of their heads without truly understanding that in website copywriting, a keyword is more than a word from the dictionary that relates to your website or your business.
For example, a restaurant owner might suggest the keyword “food.” I don’t even have to research this keyword to know that it’s highly competitive, and it would probably be impossible for a small business to rank on a search engine for this keyword. Also, it’s extremely nonspecific. Folks searching for “food” could be looking for a grocery store, recipes, or nutrition information. In fact, I’d guess it’s quite unlikely that a searcher looking for “food” is actually seeking a restaurant.
Keywords can’t be pulled out of thin air, and website or business owners should never make assumptions about keywords. Take an entrepreneur who calls herself a beautician. She’s attached to that title and requests it as a keyword in her site without doing any research. Would she be interested to learn that the keyword “beautician” generates about 110,000 searches per month through Google alone?
How would she feel about her keyword choice if she learned that “hairstylist” gets 165,000 searches a month? Or if she were to discover that “hair stylist” (two words) gets 368,000 searches?
Imagine her surprise when she finds out that “hairdresser” is searched 823,000 times a month.
Which keyword should she use?
Keywords, SEO, and Assumptions
It’s easy to assume that the beautician should target the keyword “hairdresser” because it gets the most searches. However, a good SEO specialist asks probing questions about possible keywords:
- How competitive is the keyword?
- How much research, copywriting, and other resources will it take to rank for this keyword?
- Can the business handle the amount of traffic that this keyword could potentially draw?
A large chain of salons might have the budget and resources to launch an extensive SEO campaign that costs tens of thousands of dollars. Such a chain could also handle the number of customers that a massive campaign could attract.
However, an independent, self-employed beautician may prefer another strategy. It could be more beneficial to rank high for a beautician-related keyword that gets a lower number of searches and for which it will take less time and resources to achieve high rankings. This is especially true if she is intent on remaining independent and cannot handle a clientele roster that numbers in the tens (or hundreds) of thousands.
The Art of SEO Copywriting
The actual practice of SEO copywriting involves writing copy that contains keywords. This is neither as simple nor as straightforward as it sounds.
A good copywriter knows that the first priority is to create copy that compels. That means understanding the primary intent. Should this copy incite website visitors to buy a product? Encourage them to hire someone for a service? Register for membership? Click to another page?
Compelling copywriting is clear and easy to read. It speaks to the target customer and it is concise. Usually, it’s formatted to be scanable. Often, it’s balanced with descriptive and interesting images (or video).
Keywords have to fit into good copywriting, which requires a significant aptitude for writing. If you build copy around keywords, then the copy will be keyword-driven rather than customer-oriented — written for machines rather than people. A talented or skillful SEO copywriter knows how to work keywords into great copy, much like a chef works herbs and spices into a gourmet recipe.
Hiring an SEO Copywriter
The goal of SEO copywriting is to increase a website’s rank on search engine results pages (SERPs). A professional SEO copywriter understands this and wants her clients to succeed.
A skilled SEO copywriter may or may not provide keyword research and other SEO services. Some copywriters only do the writing. However, any professional SEO copywriter should have a thorough understanding of how SEO works.
When you hire a copywriter, you may already have a list of keywords. Perhaps you’ve already conducted the research and just need someone to write the copy. Or maybe your site has been optimized for some time and now you just want to update the written content.
In any case, both an SEO copywriter and business owner should understand that SEO is not as simple as plucking keywords from one’s vocabulary and then casually strewing them throughout the written copy.
Melissa Donovan is a website consultant and copywriter. She is also the founder and editor of Writing Forward and the author of over seven books.