For a long time, the discussion around SEO and copywriting was one of conflict. Concise messaging versus a length that search engines will notice. The most benefit-driven heading for the job versus the one that includes the right keywords.
Today, though, search engines are more sophisticated. With the right support from an SEO specialist and a copywriter – in most cases not one person who professes to do it all – you can strike a balance that improves visibility, gets people to your website, and then engages and converts them with strong copy.
I’m delighted to have Gareth Simpson on the blog – someone that’s seen the evolution of SEO first-hand – to talk about that balancing act between copywriting and SEO.
Read on for some practical tips on building relationships with robots and people alike.
Does the thought of SEO fill you with dread? You’re not alone. But writing user-friendly copy and pleasing search engines doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive.
A website that stands out with awesome copy and a unique brand voice is much more likely to rank well — it will definitely attract the right kind of digital attention. Especially if your competitors aren’t so hot on copywriting, you can make a big impression with quality copy.
And…the best sort of SEO favours quality copy and usability over anything else. A website that’s filled with poorly executed copy won’t do well with users, even if relevant keywords have been deployed here and there.
Here is what you need to know about juggling both SEO and copywriting as part of a web project — integrate SEO and copy efforts for maximum commercial gain.
Define page purpose from day one
One of the most important web rules that will be universally accepted by copywriters and SEOs alike is the ‘one page = one purpose’ rule.
A web page needs to:
- Justify its own existence
- Offer value to the user
- Point the user towards a single (commercial) goal
- Be unique
Pages that are woolly, confused, overwrought, unclear, and asking the user to do ten different things at once, aren’t going to convert well.
The key to writing elegant web copy and having a site that’s universally sound from an SEO perspective is defining page purpose in clear terms. Be 100% clear on what each individual page and URL is adding to the overall customer experience, and be ruthless when it comes to culling (and creating) web copy.
One easy way to do this is to crawl your site’s existing URLs and pop them into a spreadsheet — where you can clearly set out the purpose, theme, and goal for each page. (This crawling tool is free for up to 500 URLs). Approaching page purpose systematically like this will help you quickly identify which pages need consolidating down, or separating out into multiple subpages.
Decide whether search traffic is part of page purpose
There are some pages that need to rank highly in search engines, others that don’t. Don’t make the mistake of trying to surgically optimise all your pages — focus on key landing pages that are going to make a big difference to search, and leave the rest.
You are better off consolidating SEO efforts like optimisation and link equity (incoming backlinks) into a few key landing pages; trying to optimise every single page will probably result in cannibalisation (different pages ranking for the same keywords). Cannibalisation can be avoided with careful planning and keyword targeting if needed.
Being clear and concise
Another consideration that will unite both SEOs and copywriters is the need for clarity. Your customers shouldn’t be reading your website with a dictionary in hand, or be confused about what it is you actually do five minutes into reading your services page.
Being extremely clear and precise is very important for web copy — people scan websites in the shape of an F (heatmap above), and aren’t going to be getting out a magnifying glass to decipher yours.
- Use action words
- Put your most important copy where it matters
- Spell things out — ambiguous and vague ‘solutions’ don’t rank well with people (or search engines).
Research is key
For both SEO and writers, spending time researching is time well spent — it will allow you to understand your audience’s needs, as well as give you ideas on what topics and themes to cover in your web copy.
Keyword research has a bad reputation thanks to the days of keyword stuffing — but researching your niche and gathering data on what people are actually looking for is never a bad idea. Even if you decide to not pursue all the avenues opened up by keyword research (and you definitely shouldn’t use all the weird stuff that people type into search engines), it’s a foolproof place to start. Using a free tool like AnswerthePublic is a great way to gather keyword information to help you structure a new website.
The key to good keyword optimisation isn’t repeating phrases over and over again, but about finding out what themes and topics are part of your niche vocabulary (rather than just relying on gut and instinct).
Keyword research and rankings data (available through Google Adwords) are also a great way to convince stakeholders when a new copy direction is needed.
Not many copywriters think of leaning on SEO as way to justify updating copy — but it’s a strategy that works.
Use clever web design to help you out
For SEO reasons, you may need to include more copy on your domain, as it makes sense to create plenty of targeted content in order to ‘own’ the search results. If you are creating informational resources, make sure that they are still easy to read and accessible — don’t present the user with walls of unappealing text.
This is where clever web design can help you out — text formatting and the creation of subpages and call-out boxes can help you maximise copy real estate, whilst still keeping the website easy to read and navigate.
Especially when you are chasing online sales and leads, optimising pages and creating lots of online copy is a must. In the ecommerce market, store builders are pretty much designed with SEO in mind, and WordPress have successfully merged the needs of bloggers, SEOs, and merchants through handy SEO plugins. Take advantage of all this clever software to help you create attractive and well-written pages.
Who are you writing for?
At the end of the day, you need to invest time and money into creating a relationship with your audience and customers, not obsessing over Google bots.
However, anyone who is looking to make money through their website should also have a basic understanding of SEO. Hire a consultant, agency, or technical SEO to handle the more techy side of things, but don’t let thoughts of keywords and crawling bots constrain you too much. (And please, leave the copywriting to the experts).
Writing excellent web copy is an exciting mix of digital disciplines — and SEO is just one of them. Don’t forego your creativity in favour of plodding SEO copy, but don’t ignore it entirely either.
The key thing to focus on is writing quality copy that’s going to convince people they need to use your products or services. Start building a relationship with people through your copy today.
Gareth Simpson – Technical SEO & Startup Founder
Gareth is an SEO pro with over a decade in the industry. Now based in Bristol, his specialisms are blogger outreach and content.
You’ll find him at his desk, drinking green tea and working on his latest campaign.