The Art and Science of SEO—A Copywriter’s Perspective
This is a follow up to the recent SEO What? Why Bad Copywriting Hurts Your Business (And Why SEO is a Bloodless Coupe). In that piece, I expressed my irritation at the way content has been dumbed down and commoditized, and how bad copy ultimately hurts the businesses it seeks to promote. In a competitive world, it’s essential that we take every advantage. The other extreme is to cut every corner. Bad copywriting is a mighty fine way to cut corners and tell the world you just don’t care that much, I proposed.
At the end of my catharsis, I decided a positive contribution to the gonzoblog on how you can use smart and skillful search engine optimization (SEO) copywriting was in order. I’m not a web designer or developer. You’ll have to see the brilliant folks behind the gonzoblog for that. I’m just a writer with a split personality. As an author, I’m passionate about sharing what’s inside me with the world. As an SEO copywriter and strategic marketer, I’m passionate about helping the people I work with be successful and make money. I’m a little less passionate about the making money part, but, still, I need to eat.
The 3 Stages to the Art and Science of SEO
There is a certain science behind SEO copywriting, but in playing by—and keeping up with—established rules, the art must not be sacrificed. Here are my three distinct stages in the art and science of SEO.
1. Develop Good Content
For almost all of us, the first and most important step of developing a winning search strategy is the primacy of good content. There are exceptions here. If yours is a commodity business and you do the same thing as everybody else in the same way for the same customers, then it really doesn’t matter how compelling your copy is. Your business model is based on sameness. Your marketing message may as well be too.
For the rest of us, start by developing the message behind your content that tells the world how and why you’re different and better. If you can’t do that with internal resources, hire someone. But before you hire them, make sure they understand the importance of the second step: keyword optimization and writing for search engines.
2. Find the Best Keywords
By now, I think we all know that using the right keywords is mission critical to the success of your web marketing efforts. The accurate targeting of keywords will make or break your SEO campaign.
There are three primary categories of keywords you’ll want to use:
- Highly competitive keywords used by a broad spectrum of qualified potential visitors to your site. These are the ones everybody whose looking, is looking for.
- Keywords that may not be directly related to your offerings, but reasonably related. Think broadly for best results. This is the way to capture folks on the outskirts of what you’re selling, and pulling them in to make them paying customers.
- Less-competitive keywords searched less frequently by potential buyers. These are my favorites. They’re the ones of higher overall quality. They’re that balance of the most searched for by your potential customers, but the least targeted by your competitors’ websites. Pay special attention to these.
SEO Software to Help Find the Best Keywords
Now, here are some tactical tips to help you find the best keywords. These are my three favorite SEO keyword tools:
This is my top choice, probably because I’m most comfortable with it. It’s also the least contingent upon needing a paid Google Adwords account to understand projections and results. Wordtracker costs a flat fee of $329 per year, and monthly licensing options are also available. With the monthly options, small businesses can simply turn it off and on as needed. It’s very easy to use, even if you have no keyword research experience. It also provides easy and meaningful reporting.
What I also like about Wordtracker is that while you can’t search by geography (which would be so great for local SEO), it does show you results of users who search by geography. For example, I just updated website copy for a dental specialist in a region of Northern Virginia, USA. There are multiple cities in this region. Wordtracker showed me what regions people are keying in for certain procedures. These results both verified and challenged the names of regions we planned to use and helped us hone in on what works.
Google AdWords Keyword Tool
The Google AdWords Keyword Tool is another popular SEO keyword tool. It’s heavily utilized by SEO pros and novices alike. It’s easy to use, and it’s completely free. It will provide some intelligence on your organic keyword selection, but its real value is in optimizing pay-per-click campaigns.
KeywordSpy isn’t as well known as the Adwords Tool or Wordtracker, but it’s gaining momentum. Also free, it provides some very interesting competitive intelligence. This is something to consider if you’re in a very competitive industry. You can enter a keyword and see which websites are using that phrase, including those that are running Google Adwords campaigns. You can even see the other keywords these specific websites are targeting. This is excellent competitive SEO intelligence.
3. Use Your Keywords Effectively
The third and final stage of effective SEO writing is in how you use the compelling copy and keywords you’ve selected. I’m going to tell you a secret. But please, don’t tell anyone. Many SEO writers aren’t using the basic conventions of writing for the web. I don’t say that to beat people up, but to reinforce the importance of either doing your SEO copywriting the right way, or choosing the right professional(s) to help you.
When putting the right keywords in the right places, remember one simple rule— Google behaves like a real person. Here’s what I mean:
Bold, bulletize, italicize, underline keywords
By using these common conventions, you’ll draw readers’ eyes and Google’s favor. Despite this reality, using these conventions for key search terms is often overlooked.
Hyperlink keywords and phrases
Draw attention to your top keywords by linking them throughout the site, as appropriate. Not only is this good SEO, it’s also good for the user’s experience and helps navigate them throughout your site. Speaking of linking, have you seen the jaw-dropping portfolio of gonzodesign?
Keywords in headlines and subheaders
Many writers are good at using keywords in headlines, and quite a few are also skilled at using subheaders. But it’s not easy. For creative people in particular, it’s extremely tempting for us to try and conceive enticing and clever headlines. Unfortunately, it’s better SEO to use straightforward and relevant headlines, even at the expense of creativity. While this is less fun and satisfying, the upside is that it will dramatically boost the number of people who actually read the content. This fact will help creative and business professionals alike to sleep well at night.
A personal caveat is that I don’t always follow my own advice here. But then again I also end sentences with prepositions and other no-nos. I have an aversion to rules. If you develop a lot of content, unexpected and clever headlines can work in your favor and help maintain your readership. But this really should be the exception, not the rule.
Keywords are also very important on the coding side of your website and should appear in your:
- page title tags
- anchor text
- page URLs – A great example is this page at Sun Tzu for Women, developed by gonzodesign. Each page has the title of the respective blog post. This is good SEO and orients the reader. This is another example or Google behaving like a person.
The technical coding part of the keyword optimization game should not be overlooked.
Parting Note: Quality Over Quantity
One of the most common pieces of conventional wisdom is that if you’re going to blog, syndicate content and otherwise promote yourself webtastically, you need to constantly push out fresh content. I’m a writer by trade, and even I can’t put out good quality blog posts and articles at a rate of three times a week. I have deadlines to keep for the people who pay me and if I’m going to do my best work, it’s not going to be by holding myself to an unobtainable standard. The idea that you have to publish fresh content with great frequency for its own sake is ill-advised. Don’t do anything based on arbitrary metrics and conventional wisdom. There’s a life lesson in there somewhere.
A better approach is to determine content that matters to your audience, based on your strategic message and your keywords, and develop copy based on those. Which would you rather have:
1. Awesome content once a week (or less) that attracts links and gets pushed out virally through Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and other social media, and even syndicated in web media, or
2. Frequently updated, sloppy content that gets ignored?
Excellent, reliable, and (lastly) fresh content will keep customers and prospects coming back. This will elevate you and your brand as a trusted source of quality information. That’s realization of the art and science behind SEO.