Sometimes search engine optimization gets a bad rap because so many people abuse it.
That’s too bad, because SEO copywriting is a great (and smart) way to drive traffic to your site or blog.
It will help you get more visitors through organic search, and when it’s done properly, it can even attract links, since your search-optimized content will be compelling, useful, and authoritative.
I’ve been working in this field for the last ten years — writing copy myself and helping clients tweak theirs — and I want to share with you the five tried-and-true SEO lessons I’ve learned that will drive more traffic to your site.
Of course, there are no tricks or cheats here. Just good common sense, strategically deployed.
Step 1: Create content landing pages that become link magnets
Content marketing strategy involves building a site that has authority in your niche … and you do that by writing valuable content related to the subject matter most important to you and your blog.
This content is called cornerstone content. For example, on my blog my posts on9 Hard-Hitting Content Strategies for Small Business Blogging and How to Optimize Your Business for Local Search and Social Marketing make up some of the cornerstone content on QuickSprout.
It is what defines my blog … and it’s created around focused keywords like “blogging,” “content marketing,” “SEO,” and “search.”
To take this a step further, build a tutorial of cornerstone content and then create a landing page where you park all of the links and optimize it around a certain keyword.
This is a powerful SEO strategy since you’re putting a lot of content on one search engine optimized page, to focus links on a single great page rather than spreading them across many individual pages.
Another advantage includes a much higher likelihood that people will like, tweet, and plus your content landing page.
More important than any other factor, this type of page works because it’s easy and useful for your audience.
On one page your visitors can scan a particular topic. They’re happy to share it, because it’s such a useful resource.
Step 2: Update your content to lower bounce rates and rank higher
As advances in SEO like semantic search continue, search engines are trying to more closely match what people search for and the most relevant resource to satisfy that search.
For example, during research for an article on mobile SEO, I came across scores of pages on the topic.
I thought I’d hit pay dirt.
But what I found as I analyzed all of the data, was that most of it was irrelevant. The landscape is so new and constantly changing — especially in the last year — that articles written even two years ago were obsolete.
These articles were heavily search optimized for “mobile SEO” — and ranking very well — giving the impression that they were highly relevant to what I was searching for.
But the user experience sucked, and I was frustrated. All of the truly relevant articles were buried.
What does this have to do with SEO copywriting? Everything.
The situation above resulted in low-conversion pages (low-conversion because they resulted in higher bounce rates from those search results). High bounce rates will eventually show the search engines that your site quality isn’t good — which is bad news for your rankings.
For the “good stuff” to rank well, the publisher would need to optimize the copy by way of creating updates, or creating new and better pages that the old pages could point to.
If updating old content sounds like a pain … well, it is.
But the rewards — higher rankings because you are adding value to the web — are absolutely worth it. If nothing else, make sure you’re keeping your content landing pages up to date and extremely relevant for your readers.
Step 3: Create highly readable pages for more social shares
One surprising result from optimizing your content for search engines and for people is that it is much easier to read.
A page that is written in a conversational style, with correct grammar, good spelling and a reading level at about fifth-grade will be read by more people — and attract more links — than content that looks as if a lawyer or doctor had written it.
Keep your language simple and your thinking clear. This isn’t about “dumbing down” your content — in fact, highly readable content is often harder to write.
You need to write so that even a fifth grader will understand it. When you do that, you will up the chances that people will understand — and share — it.
Step 4: Use the right keywords in the right place
Keywords are the tools that will unlock the doors to great traffic for you, both in organic search and attracting links.
There’s nothing magical about them — keywords are simply the language your audience and customers use when they’re thinking about your topic.
Unfortunately, too many people still think in old-fashioned terms of “keyword stuffing” and trying to cram as many keywords into an article as possible.
So how often should we be using those keywords? Here’s a graphic from SEOmoz that explains …
What the graph doesn’t tell you is how often your keywords should appear on the page relative to the entire article. That range should be between 1% and 4%. As you can see from the graph, any lower (or higher) and you’re less likely to get the results you want.
In other words, if you were aiming for 2%, you’d include your keyword phrase twice for every 100 words you write.
Most of my articles are over 1,200 words and I usually aim at a keyword density of 2%, which adds up to 24 times that keyword appears in my article.
A tool like Scribe can be very helpful in quickly determining if you’ve overused (or underused) your desired keywords.
But where you position those keywords matters, too. Stuffing all of your keywords into the first 200 words of your articles will definitely send up red flags, not only from search engines but from people as well.
In fact, that’s the kind of unreadable rubbish that gave SEO a bad name in the first place. It’s not good for readers and it doesn’t work for search engines either.
Instead, follow these rules of thumb:
- Add keywords in H1 tag: The first place to stick your keyword is in H1. By the way, do not include more than one H1 tag on a page.
- Use keywords in your title tag: As always with modern SEO copywriting, do this gracefully in a way that works for readers too.
- Add keywords to H2 and H3 tags: These tags are usually used as sub headlines throughout your content.
- Mention a keyword in the first paragraph: The next place to position your keyword is in the first paragraph of your article. It’s even better if you can mention it in the first sentence.
- Add keyword to images: If you use images in your content, which I highly recommend, then include your keywords, assuming they match the image you’re using. For example, if your keyword is “iPhone protective covers,” you might name one of your images iphone-protective-cover.jpg and use that phrase in the alt and title tags. Remember that these tags need to match what the image is actually of.
- Create anchor text with keywords: Since search engine spiders crawl from website to website and page to page via links, including keywords in your anchor text will help them correctly identify your content. Remember that using a keyword phrase in your title makes it more likely for that phrase to show up in anchor tags when others link to you.
Don’t be afraid to occasionally clump the keywords together when that feels most natural, but for the most part, evenly distribute them throughout the content.
And last but not least …
Step 5: Create compelling content
Attracting links — from real websites with good reputations — is the number one thing you’re going after when it comes to SEO.
This is why you have to create compelling content.
Search engines analyze the links coming into your site, and they look specifically at the pages those links are coming to.
Those links coming into your site become votes for the credibility and authority of your site. One link from CNN will be worth more than one hundred links coming into your site from no-name websites.
Search engines also look at the words people use to link to your site. Theseanchor texts are one way that search engines decide what a page is all about.
Keep in mind that people link to you because they get something out of it — because your content is useful or practical for their audience, or your content is controversial or funny.
The formula for creating compelling content is simple:
- Use simple words
- Use the word “you”
- Write how-to posts
- Write detailed posts
- Hook your readers
- Create a conversation
- Prove your points
- Show you are an authority
- Care about your readers
Of course, you can also take a look through the Copyblogger archives, since they’ve been writing about that topic for nearly six years now.
No matter what happens with the search engine algorithms, compelling content will continue to drive SEO for a long time.
An SEO copywriting cheat sheet
Let’s finish with a little cheat sheet:
- Write grammatically correct, compelling content that is at least 300 words long. Make it detailed and support your argument with statistics to add authority.
- Create content landing pages that centralize multiple links to great resources.
- Make the content highly readable, aiming for a 5th-grade reading level.
- Include an appropriate amount of keywords in your content — not too many, not too few — including keywords in your title tags, first paragraph, images if appropriate, and throughout the article.
You don’t need an advanced degree to write SEO copy well. You just need to understand a few basics.
As you practice over time it will become natural to you, driving more and more traffic your way.