Here’s a super-useful guest post written by Gareth Simpson, an SEO expert and consultant who’s been helping businesses get found on the web for more than 10 years. Enjoy! And feel free to leave him a comment with any of your tips or questions at the end.
SEO is an odd mixture of art and science, jumping through the hoops of search engine algorithms to manipulate content in such a way that it will please the ‘Google machine’ and enable you to outrank your competitors. On the other hand, you have copywriting, aimed not at machines but at people, designed to enthuse the reader and provoke them into taking action.
Content marketers are often chided for creating work that will please readers but not search engines, and vice versa for SEOs. In fact, some writers hate working on SEO copy, believing it to be spammy and a destructive force to their creativity. But the truth is that if you’re writing digital content, both sides must be taken into account. If copy isn’t SEO-optimised, no-one will ever find it. And if it’s poorly written, it may be found and instantly discarded. Here are some tips to please both SEO and copywriter and achieve that perfect balance.
New to SEO? Read this Guide to SEO in 2016.
Some background: print vs. digital
Copywriters from a print media background sometimes struggle when they first come to write SEO-driven content. This is because with printed advertising, they have full control over the choice of wording and messaging. Print media is the ‘push’ to digital media’s ‘pull’. Its audience is passive and will either decide to read your ad/flyer/mailshot – or not. The ad will find its readers based on how it’s manually distributed.
Online content is very different. The audience is active – they have full control over where they choose to go next and largely control their own experience. The content that you choose to put out there will determine what kind of audience you receive, and in what numbers. The precise wording becomes much more important, and this is where SEO becomes not only relevant, but crucial.
Focus on topics over keywords
In the past, writing SEO content involved a lot of keyword stuffing, even to the detriment of natural-sounding copy. Google’s algorithms soon put an end to that. While it’s still important to make the most of your top keywords and phrases, it’s better to ensure that it’s topical vs. saturated (too high a keyword density can actually have the opposite effect to the one you are trying to achieve).
When your efforts go into writing content that is relevant and topical, the right keywords and long-tail phrases will make their way in there automatically. For copywriters, writing around a topic gives much more room for creativity than writing around a pre-set list of keywords.
A good rule of thumb is to start by ensuring that primary keywords are included in the post title, and secondary keywords in the article’s introduction and conclusion. You can then check the article’s overall density using a tool like SEO Book and make tweaks accordingly.
Don’t sweat the details
Good content isn’t formulaic. Writers often have a distinctive style, but each piece will have its own personality. If the rules of writing content become too rigid, copywriters can find their creativity stifled. A good technique that allows for compromise between SEOs and copywriters is to let the SEO set the topics to cover (based on the keywords they know to be relevant) and allow the writers to create content freely around these guidelines.
Once complete, the content can be reviewed and tweaked as necessary to make sure it’s optimal for SEO, but still reads well for readers. Becoming too surgical while you’re trying to write can lead to unnatural-sounding copy that lacks spark and personality.
Add SEO tools into the content production workflow
Most digital copywriters know about basic SEO best practices – things like headline optimisation and checking keyword density. But give them a few more of the right tools, and you will make creating SEO-friendly content much easier for them. Content optimisation training is a great investment, if you can spare the time.
Here are some super handy tools for copywriters to maximise their on-page optimisation skills:
- For keyword research: keywordtool or Ubersuggest
- To check for plagiarism: Copyscape
- To mix up words and phrases naturally: Thesaurus
- For long-tail keyword ideas: HitTail
- For content analysis: SEO Review Tool
When writers are educated about the value of organic search and the power it can have on rankings, as well as how to edit things like meta tags and image tags, the process runs much more smoothly.
If your business runs off a user-friendly store creator like Shopify, writers can even upload content themselves. These DIY website builders put you ahead of the game by having editable title tags, meta descriptions, URLs and alt tags, as well as auto-generated sitemap.xml files, robots.txt files and canonical URL tags, which prevent duplicate content.
When it comes to readability online, there are certain conventions that should be followed to encourage users to engage. How your content looks really matters, as users tend to scan copy online rather than reading it through word-for-word. In terms of SEO, the more content there is on a page, the better. But if that content is all squished together in long, meandering paragraphs, it feels like work to get through.
By encouraging copywriters to break their writing down into short, scannable paragraphs and bulleted lists (within limits), the copy has room to breathe and becomes much easier for the average reader to take in.
See what I mean?
Subheadings (or H2s) are also important, and are a great place to capture important keywords that will guide the direction of the content. They help readers to get a surface overview of what’s covered if they are just scanning through. SEOs and copywriters can work together to determine these important touch points and the order of importance in which topics should be addressed.
When SEOs and copywriters each understand and appreciate what the other is bringing to the table, this is the sweet spot where effective digital content is produced – content that will both draw visitors to the site, and keep them engaged once they arrive. To have one without the other is useless. In this instance, you need to try and please everybody: searchers and search engines alike. Always remember that good keyword-optimised content should never consciously alert the reader to any odd usage or repetition of words. The desired result is natural and relevant all the way.
What have you found to be useful when working on projects with SEOs and copywriters? Please share your thoughts and tips in the comments.
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. Follow Gareth on Twitter and LinkedIn.