If you’re exploring how to become a copywriter, then you probably have some affinity for writing already. What you need are the skills to translate that affinity into a marketing context.
Perhaps no other non-writing skill is more critical to copywriting than SEO.
You have a vague notion that SEO has something to do with Google searches, but beyond that, it gets a little hazy, right?
Researching SEO can prove to be a spiral of jargon around techniques, hacks, and tools. That’s why we’re here to give you the basics—practical SEO fundamentals you can start implementing in your writing right now to become a better copywriter.
… But what is SEO?
Ok, before we start, an Explain-It-Like-I’m-Five rundown of SEO is in order.
What does SEO do?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, and it does just that. It “optimizes” a website to turn up in Google search results.
Higher Google rankings = more visits to the website = more conversions
When a website appears on the first page of a Google search for a particular solution or product, more people will visit that site and, hopefully, become customers. If your client’s website appears on the first page, they will see much more traffic than they would if the site appeared on the second page.
- Over 90% of Google searches end on the first search results page.
- Even on the first page, the number 1 recommendation is 10 times more likely to receive a click from the searcher than the number 10 recommendation.
- Only .63% of Google searchers click on a result on the second page or lower.
But I heard Google is moving away from pages?
There are rumblings that Google is re-engineering its results “page” format to not have pages at all. A Google search will appear as an endless scroll, with no delineation between “pages.” Regardless, the higher ranking a site has, the more customers it will attract through SEO.
How does SEO work?
To understand how SEO works, you need to understand what the search algorithm wants — to locate and retrieve web pages most likely to provide the information the searcher was looking for.
Google doesn’t read web pages like we do. The algorithm looks for signals that validate pages as relevant and useful to the searched phrase.
Good SEO puts the right signals in the right places, so the algorithm can validate and “pick” your website as a worthy result for the searcher. As you learn how to become a copywriter, you’ll see how sending the right signals gets more results than sending the most signals.
Sending the right SEO signals with keyphrases
So what kind of signals are important to search algorithms?
The most obvious signal is the searched phrase itself — the keyphrase.
If you want to attract people searching for “best lawn mower” or “vegetarian pizza in Denver,” your page should include “best lawn mower” or “vegetarian pizza in Denver” in the copy.
- Short-tail keyphrases are short and usually denote a more general idea. Long-tail keyphrases are longer and denote a more specific idea. “Best lawnmower” is a short-tail keyphrase, while “Most fuel-efficient lawnmower under $300” is a long-tail keyphrase. Sometimes, a long-tail keyphrase is a question (aka, a “query”) like “What’s the best lawnmower I can get for $300?”
Shorter keyphrases usually get more traffic, but they are harder to rank on. Vice versa for long-tail keyphrases.
- Keyphrases don’t offer much wiggle room. Google can see that “best lawnmower” and “best lawnmowers” are basically the same, but “vegetarian pizza in Denver” and “vegetable pizza near Denver” are completely different. Point being, as you implement keyphrases, they must be exact.
- Keyphrases should be part of a larger strategy. We’re sticking with the basics here, but your client should have a list of keyword targets to help guide you. The art of keyword research is a tool you’ll develop as you discover how to become a copywriter, but for now, your client should supply them.
The location of the keyphrase matters, too. As you write your content and build it on your client’s content management system (e.g., WordPress), you’ll need to include that keyphrase in the right places — titles, body copy, and headers, as well as metadata and alt-text on images.
Titles, headers, and body copy
Remember, Google doesn’t “read” content like humans, but it does “skim” content in a human way.
Think about it. When you land on a web page, your eyes don’t start at the top left and proceed through the page left to right, top to bottom. Your eyes jump around to make sure you’re in the right place and get the lay of the land.
Search algorithms do the same thing to check for the presence of the searched phrase. A perfectly SEO-optimized piece includes the keyphrase
- In the title
- In at least one H2 header
- In the body copy, 6-8 times for every 1,000 words
- 7-10 times for a 1,200-word piece, which is the standard word count that Google likes for a blog.
To save you from the rookie mistakes the rest of us made when figuring out how to become a copywriter, here are a few guidelines to tick the SEO boxes without muddying up your writing.
Don’t keyword stuff.
There was a time when you could simply repeat the keyphrase as many times as possible, and the site would rise in the rankings. That doesn’t work anymore. Google can detect keyword stuffing, plus it’s just not necessary, and it hampers the reader experience.
Speaking of which…
The reader’s experience trumps everything.
The best way to implement keyphrases is to write the blog without thinking about them at all, then go back and put the keyphrase where it feels natural. It isn’t always possible to organically include the keyphrase in a blog title or header. That said, try anyway. Get creative.
Google also checks for the key phrase in the page’s metadata.
Including the keyphrase in the header, title, and body copy of the page is called on-page SEO. Metadata doesn’t exist on the page itself—it’s part of off-page SEO.
Metadata is what you see when a website appears on a Google search results page. The keyphrase should appear in the meta title, the meta description, and the URL slug.
The meta title is the larger text in blue, “The best lawnmowers at the best prices | Gardener’s Depot.” Meta titles need to be 60 characters or less. If you’re writing a blog, the title of the blog can usually serve as the meta title. It’s pretty standard to include the name of the company in the meta title, as shown here with “| Gardener’s Depot.” Of course, it’s best if the meta title includes the keyphrase.
The meta description is the text underneath. Meta descriptions need to be 155 characters or less. It isn’t enough to just describe what the page is about. A good meta description entices someone to click and learn more. Make sure to include the keyphrase in the meta description.
The URL slug is included in the web address to that particular page. For this example, the slug is “/best-lawnmowers-best-prices.” Most websites will automatically create a URL, but to give it a little more SEO juice, you can change the URL to include the keyphrase. Place the keyphrase at the beginning of the slug—i.e., “/best-lawnmowers-best prices” is better than “/best-prices-best-lawnmowers.”
These off-page SEO measures do not impact the reader’s experience. Therefore, you should employ them in every single piece you write. SEO success is about consistency and details, and off-page SEO measures don’t take very long to execute.
Hack: Use this free metadata preview tool to play around with your metadata and see how it will look on an actual search results page.
Alt-text on photos and images
Just like Google can’t “read” content, it can’t “see” images. To signal what a picture portrays, they include their own metadata called alt-text.
Functionally, an image’s alt-text appears when the image itself fails to load. This tells the reader what they aren’t seeing. Alt-text is also scanned by reading assistant tools used by the visually impaired. So taking the step of including alt-text isn’t just an SEO win, it makes your page more accessible.
Unlike the URL slug, an image’s alt-text is left blank by default. You’ll enter the alt text when you build your page or blog in your client’s CMS. Every image needs alt-text, and each one should include the keyphrase.
How many images are enough? For a blog, one header and two or three inline images are plenty.
Within your client’s CMS, you may see other places to attach text to images, e.g., a field labeled Image Description or Caption. As far as we know, these do not impact SEO, so including the keyphrase in the alt-text should be enough.
How to become a copywriter with 10 SEO golden rules
To sum it all up, here’s a handy checklist you can use for every piece of content you write.
- If possible, include the keyphrase in the title of the piece.
- If possible, include the keyphrase in at least one H2 header within the piece.
- Include the keyphrase 6-8 times per 1,000 words in the body copy.
- Bold the first use of the keyphrase in the body copy.
- If writing a blog, the word count lands between 1,200 and 2,200.
- Include the keyphrase in the meta title, which is under 60 characters.
- Include the keyphrase in the meta description, which is under 155 characters.
- Include the keyphrase in the URL slug at the beginning of the slug.
- If writing a blog, the page contains one header image and two or three inline images.
- For each image, include the keyphrase in the alt-text.
The SEO rabbit hole is deep. As you learn more about how to become a copywriter, you’ll gain a better sense of SEO concepts and strategy, and you’ll pick up more advanced techniques.
That said, 90% of the SEO work takes place in these nine simple steps.
Implementing these best practices in each and every blog will place you a cut above other writers. By nailing these steps, you’ll make life easier for your clients, and your work will drive more traffic—all leading to more work, more clients, and more experience to your name as a copywriter.
Riley Manning is a Content Strategist and Director of Content Operations at Content Workshop. He is also a fiction writer who received his MFA from the University of Tampa. Riley’s work has appeared in Archetype, Hobart Pulp, Rejection Letters, and Bridge Eight Literary Magazine.
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