In 2020, your content has to please both people and search engines. There’s no way around it.
And that’s not all: even if your content does get noticed, it’s not worth much if it doesn’t convert. Or at least push your readers further down the funnel.
SERPs are crowded. WordPress users alone produce about 70 million new posts and 77 million new comments each month.
At the same time, the average click rate for the first position in Google is 28.5%, and only 2.5% for the tenth (and much, much less for the second result page...).
It’s not hard to figure out that your content has to be top-notch. And if you publish things online as a part of your content marketing strategy, you know this well: an interesting blog post alone doesn’t pay the bills.
This is why you have to polish your SEO writing skills. It’s the only way to:
- Rank high in SERPs,
- Make your readers take desirable actions,
- Become the most wanted content creator on the market.
Below, you’ll find the crucial tips on combining writing prowess with a data-driven approach for killing results.
What is SEO writing, anyway?
The term “SEO writing” is often used interchangeably with “SEO copywriting.”
According to Matthew Woodward’s handy definition:
SEO copywriting is about crafting content that targets specific keywords with high levels of engagement to keep your readers hooked.
Your content does not only have to grasp your readers’ attention and give them exactly what they want. It also has to be properly optimized for Google to rank high for specific keywords.
According to a study by Semrush and CMI,
the most challenging task for copywriters is to find a balance between the creative element and search engine optimization.
The competition is also harsh. Just on LinkedIn alone, the number of candidates who apply for copywriting jobs and claim to have SEO skills is this…
But don’t panic yet. The market is huge but there's a lot of crappy writing. I bet 90% of those guys have no idea about modern optimization and still think writing a title tag and meta description is all they have to do. It’s the best time to learn a few handy SEO tricks that will help you impress your clients and your employer.
And here’s the important thing:
The Google algorithms are getting more and more sophisticated (ever heard of the BERT algorithm update and NLP in SEO?). The search engines keep trying to provide the best experience to its users. Which is why:
- Google favors the pages with low bounce rate and high time-on-page—so you have to write content well enough to engage your readers.
- Google favors clean, logical article structures—and it’s also what gives your readers a better reading experience.
- Google favors specific user intent—so you have to match your readers’ expectations.
Et cetera, et cetera. So you can easily kill two birds with one stone!
Even when articles on HubSpot's are not the most sophisticated pieces of art, Google loves their content.
Why? Because of their post structures, domain structure, internal and external linking, CTRs, brand building efforts, great grasp of their personas, etc.
Check out our guide on how to optimize blog posts for SEO to see what you can be doing for your existing blog posts right now.
SEO copywriting vs. SEO content writing
What’s the difference between SEO copywriting and SEO content writing?
In short: it boils down to the purpose of both forms.
The goal of SEO content writing is to drive organic traffic to your site.
SEO copywriting aims to convert the leads, move them further down the funnel, and make the sale.
Sometimes, though, the line between the two is blurry. A sales copy might drive traffic to the website by ranking high for the right user intent, and a good blog post might sell thanks to its persuasive nature and well-placed CTAs.
In this article, I decided to focus on copywriting for a reason. It’s because its goal is not just to drive attention and build authority but also to convert leads.
And I believe that a well-executed SEO strategy can help with driving the proper attention from the start.
But don’t get fixed on the definitions. In the ever-changing landscape of online marketing, few things are set in stone. The content forms evolve and change. The tips I present below will be just as valuable to any type of SEO writer.
8 SEO writing strategies to win over your readers and search engines
Let's dive into the most actionable strategies that will help you get ahead of your competition in no time!
#1 Research & evaluate your keywords
Keyword research is where most SEO content- and copywriting efforts begin. If you do it wrong, your hard work is doomed from the start.
Yet a lot of marketers don’t treat it seriously enough. They’re still in the mindset that the higher the search volume, the better the keyword.
But popular queries are usually dominated by strong competition. Outranking them is a challenging task. And if you can’t get to the first page in the search engine, your efforts are in vain.
As the known SEO joke goes, “the best place to bury a body is page two of Google.”
Here’s what you should be doing:
I’ll give you an example of how to research and evaluate the keywords properly.
Let’s say you want to write a copy for a site selling dog grooming equipment. Its brand recognition is not yet outstanding.
Your first thought might be a desire to rank for “dog grooming.” After all, the keyword gathers a lot of traffic and must be the first stop for anyone who thinks about giving their dog a little makeover. It’d be nice to get a piece of that traffic!
But now, let’s see who you’d have to compete with for attention. I’ll use Surfer Content Editor, a tool made especially for writing for SEO, to look at the SERP competition in its customization panel.
Oh, my! The domain names alone are enough to give me a headache—I mean, how can a mere mortal compete with Yelp? Besides, take a look at the average monthly traffic and the domain score (that I will tell you more about later, along with the content score).
There’s no way you can rank high for this keyword.
Instead of chasing the impossible, you should go for long-tail keywords. They’re more specialized and less dominated by strong domains. Thanks to that, you can rank with your piece of content and not just backlinks.
Let’s look at what the search results look like for the phrase “dog grooming scissors.”
Much less intimidating, isn’t it? Surpassing Amazon will be tricky, but you can easily beat the rest. Their Domain Score is not high, so you’ll compete just with excellent on-page optimization.
This means that with high-quality SEO writing, you can get to the first page. And since the monthly traffic is reasonable as well, why not target this keyword?
Check out our detailed guide on keyword difficulty evaluation to learn more.
#2 Get the search intent right
Search (or user) intent is one of the essential keyword ranking factors these days. Its importance in SEO writing is immense.
It’s the WHY behind the search query—the reason why people look for stuff. Do they want to find a specific piece of information? Read an extensive guide? Make a purchase? That’s what you have to decide.
With Google getting more sophisticated in providing relevant search results, we all have to give the searchers exactly what they want.
For an SEO writer, getting the search intent right is incredibly crucial.
But how do you determine the search intent? Good news: it’s all right there in the SERP.
First, let’s talk about the four most commonly recognized types of search intent:
- Informational intent—the user is looking for information and knowledge.
- Navigational intent—the user already knows where they want to go and wants the brand to direct them there (because they don’t know the exact URL).
- Transactional—the user wants to buy something specific.
- Commercial—the user is planning to make the purchase, but they’re still in the research mode (looking for reviews, comparisons, etc.).
So how to guess which one you need to satisfy?
Let’s use an example of the keyword “hire content writers” and dive right into the SERP.
Here’s what the top 10 looks like:
What can we see here?
- Pages 1, 3, and 10 are typical content writer directories. They satisfy the transactional intent.
- Pages 2, 4, 5, and 6 are service landing pages. They allow you to hire content writers as well, while also persuading you to work with them. They serve the transactional intent as well, maybe with a subtle hint of commercial intent.
- Page 7 is a listicle, characteristic for the commercial intent. You can read about the top places to hire content writers.
- Pages 8 and 9 are guides to hire content writers and are purely educational. They match the informational intent.
Okay, so how does this information help you with SEO writing?
Google assumes that people searching for this keyword are about to make a purchase. To rank for “hire content writers,” your best chance is to publish a service landing page.
If you intended to rank for this keyword with a guide, you have to rethink that. Only 2 out of 10 pages are guides. Your chance of outranking them AND the service pages (that you can’t even compare your article with because of the difference in forms) are incredibly slim.
You can repeat this process for every single keyword to determine what piece of content you should write to rank.
It’s also worth it to check the scope and form of the content you’re competing with. For example, if you already decided to write an informational guide, check what your competition’s blog posts look like. Are they full of long paragraphs, or just actionable bullet points? Are there a lot of different types of media or chances for interaction?
Whatever you find—you can be sure this is what your readers want. Don’t reinvent the wheel, and try to stick to the rules!
You can learn more about pinpointing the search intent in our actionable guide.
#3 Run a careful competition analysis
Before you get to writing for SEO, you should always check your competition.
All keywords are different. You have to check out what works every single time. Good practices can only take you so far.
The best way to do it is to scan the first ten pages of search results. They clearly must have done something right to climb that high. Now it’s your turn to do these things even better.
But comparing yourself to every single page from the top 10 doesn’t make sense. You should only consider your direct competition—pages that serve the same user intent, have the same sentiment, and high content score.
Now, I will walk you through the process of picking the SEO competitors.
Step 1: Exclude pages that have different user intent than yours.
I explained how to get the user intent right in point number 3.
After you have your SERP’s dominating intent pinned down and decide what to write, you have to exclude every page that doesn’t conform to your search intent from the competition analysis.
Just think about it: what’s the point of comparing your upcoming blog post to service pages? Google has different guidelines for different types of content (just look at the differences in length and keyword saturation, for example). Taking them into account can seriously harm your analysis.
Step 2: Analyze the sentiment
With the rise of Google’s NLP algorithms, new sophisticated ranking factors keep coming up. One of them is the sentiment.
In SEO, the sentiment is an interpretation of positive, neutral, and negative emotions present within your content.
As of today, it’s not an absolutely critical ranking factor. But it’s so easy to check that it won’t hurt you—and you’ll be a step ahead of your competitors!
What does it have to do with picking your competition?
You should always write content in a tone that’s dominant in the SERP and only compare yourself to the content that matches that sentiment.
According to an analysis of 17,500 pages, 87,7% have a positive sentiment. No wonder—pretty much all marketing content has to have a positive sentiment to invoke good associations.
However, it’s not always so. Just google “cigarettes.”
Good luck finding anything positive among these search results! Ranking for this keyword with a tobacco store offer seems nearly impossible.
Google offers tutorials on how to numerically (and accurately) check the sentiment of the content.
Google uses a scale from 1 to -1 for their sentiment analysis.
All texts with a score between 0.25 to 1 are considered positive; from 0.25 to -0.25—neutral; and from -0.25 to 1—negative.
However, using just the Google API requires a bit of technical knowledge.
You can also determine quite accurately just by checking the search results. Just look at the “cigarettes” SERP—words like “never,” “quit,” or “diseases” don’t evoke anything positive, do they? Checking for similar emotion-filled words should be enough to help you exclude the competitors you don’t want for less competitive keywords.
If you want to make double sure that you got the sentiment right, check it in SERP Analyzer.
How to do it?
First of all, when setting up your query, you have to enable all three of the NLP results. This way, you’ll be able to check the sentiment and see it on the chart.
Secondly, choose “nlp” for the “Content” category (in the top right corner).
For clearer results, you can also un-tick all the other boxes!
Then, you can check the average sentiment for the top 10:
As you can easily see, this SERP is predominantly negative, with only the last position reaching neutrality.
Step 3: Exclude the competitors with the lowest Content Score
When choosing your competition, you should only compare yourself to websites with high-quality content.
After all, why would you like to compare yourself to something poorly written?
There are two main ways that websites can rank high: have a strong domain or crazy-good content.
And since we’re talking about SEO writing here, we want to take care of the second category.
But how to accurately check whether a given website’s content is good or not? The easiest way is to consult Surfer’s Content Score.
Content Score is a metric available in all Surfer tools. It measures the quality of content in relation to the given keyword.
When choosing competition in Surfer Content Editor or SERP Anlayzer, the score appears next to the URL:
How to use it in picking competition? As a general rule, you should only compare yourself to the pages that surpass 67 points. If there are only a few high-quality ones, just pick five or six with the highest score.
This way, you’ll make sure your content will be better or just as good as your competitors’.
Step 4: Exclude the pages with super high authority
If you write for a site that isn’t already an SEO mogul, you should exclude domains with the highest authority.
Just think about: why would you compare a site of your small e-commerce to Amazon or Yelp? Their domain strength alone guarantees them a high place in the SERPs, even if their content sucks. Simply put, content is NOT the main reason they rank high.
Many tools provide accurate numerical scales that help determine a websites’ authority, like Ahrefs, Surfer, or Semrush. But if you don’t use any of those, you can go for a free Chrome extension, Keyword Surfer.
It will allow you to see average monthly traffic for a given domain.
If this number is super high, you can assume the domain is strong.
Keep in mind: If you use Surfer and have already followed step 4, you don’t have to exclude pages with high authority if their content score is also high. It means that their strong domain isn’t the only reason why they rank so well. You can still treat their content as a benchmark!
Step 5: Use the insights you gathered to create guidelines for your content
What to do when you finally narrow down your direct competition?
You can go through every page by hand and try to get the perfect recipe for your next piece.
You can also use a tool, like Surfer, to prepare the guidelines for your content for you.
Choosing the right competition is an essential part of working with Surfer’s Content Editor. Based on the pages you choose, the tool will grant you guidelines for your next article. Headers, length, keyword density, and more—you’ll be able to create SEO content that’s optimized from the start.
#4 Use the right keywords—with the right density
Remember the popular SEO joke?
“An SEO copywriter walks into a bar, grill, pub, public house, Irish, bartender, drinks, beer, wine, liquor…”
I admit it’s pretty funny. And the approach it mocks won’t take you far.
SEO copywriters should create valuable content that will comprehensively cover a topic. And to cover a topic, we need to use relevant words and phrases, related to the main topic.
Those words, and the number of times we use them in relation to content length is called True Density (link).
As with most things SEO, there’s no one formula to calculate it. The density is different for every keyword.
So, how to make sure you get it right?
You can use tools, like Surfer Content Editor, that will tell you how many times you should use a given keyword and in which context, based on algorithms more sophisticated than a simple median.
On this screenshot from Surfer Content Editor, you can see how many times you should use given words and phrases. It will also warn you if you over-optimize— using a keyword too often might make search engines classify your content as spammy.
#5 Increase the readability and UX
To keep your readers and maximize your SEO efforts, you have to take care of the UX and readability.
In May 2020, Google released a new algorithm that will “judge web pages based on how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page.”
If the customers don’t interact with your site well, that’s a loss in itself - you want to convert them after all, not scare them away. But now, it comes with an added bonus of dropped rankings.
Of course, a lot of things stem from the way the whole site is built. As writers, we can’t just fix all the UX on our own. But it’s our job to take care of the aspects we do have control over, like the navigation and clarity of our content, or appropriate alt texts.
Making the readers feel at ease with your content is a win-win.
It will help you boost your marketing efforts by increasing CTR (click-through rate), conversions, and improving your branding efforts (building a trustworthy, authoritative image).
It will also be beneficial for your SEO writing efforts—more clicks, less churn, and more time spent on the page are all signals for the search engines that your website is worth boosting.
Let’s see what you can do to increase readability and UX when writing for SEO!
Title tags are the first thing both your readers and the search engines will see.
It’s the title you can see directly in the SERP:
It’s best when it’s in-line with the H1 in the text. Don’t confuse the bots and users!
Here’s what you have to do to make sure your SEO title tags are properly optimized and engaging:
- Make sure it’s no longer than 55-60 signs.
- Make double sure that you used your keyword! If it’s not there, Google won’t care. But only use it once. Keyword stuffing is unforgivable.
- Your title has to be in-line with the content. You can’t trick Google. Make sure the robot crawling your page will find what it expects.
- Think about the structure of your heading. What will make the readers want to click it? There are a few good practices you can consider using.
In one of their studies, SEMrush divided the title types into five categories: questions, guides, lists, how-to, and others. They found that blog posts with lists in the headline (like X tips to... , X ways...) got up to 2x more traffic and 2x more shares than other types.
Hubspot, on the other hand, found out that the readers like seeing the word “who” and “photo” in the headline. They also like titles with brackets in them (e.g. [interview], [video]), because it tells them right away what type of content they will see. The study also goes deeply into what people don’t want to see.
Use this advice to create the perfect title. However, always use your best judgment first, and trust your creativity. Make the readers curious!
- Try to tell a story with your title. Don’t just call your article “a guide to SEO.” Try to give your readers a hint of what they’ll find inside and gain by reading.
- Don’t overdo it with strong words signaling urgency or need. Avoid sounding like an over-eager telemarketer! Leave all the “must-sees,” capital “NOW”s, and “foolproof strategies” in the past.
The headings (H2s, H3s, etc.) play a crucial role in your article, both for search engines and your readers.
- The sub-headings can serve an SEO purpose. They are an additional space to insert your main or secondary keyword. And for the bots crawling your website, they’ll be the first step to checking what your content is about.
- Sub-headings break the text apart into smaller parts, making it more readable. The readers know what to expect from each part, and the text becomes clearer.
- Make the headings tell the whole story of the text. The readers often skip through the articles, only looking for sections vital to them. They should understand the structure and point of your article from subheadings alone.
Image and media breaks
When was the last time you saw a high-ranking article for a competitive keyword that didn’t make room for at least one image?
You should consider inserting images, videos, embedded tweets, etc. into your articles. Here’s why:
- They make the text more visually attractive, increasing the site UX and reader satisfaction.
- They’re another way to break walls of texts, this time in a visually engaging way that will be a change from the same old font.
- Videos and images can help you claim more real estate in the SERPs. For some keywords, google loves showcasing additional images or videos, like here:
The more of them lead to your blog, the higher the SERP visibility and CTR.
- Embedding tweets from your company Twitter, or a personal Twitter of an influential company worker, can boost your brand visibility and authoritativeness and increase your chances of getting shares and retweets.
Using shortlists (like numerical points, bullet points, etc.) is an excellent way to:
- Avoid walls of texts;
- Make longs lists of items easier to comprehend and remember;
- Make it even more convenient for the readers to skim through the article and get to the meat.
Image alt tags
Preparing alt tags for your images is another quick win, both for SEO and your blog’s accessibility.
Well-optimized alt tags (that use the proper keyword and are informative) can position the images used in your article in Google image search. This is important mostly for original graphics, and when the search results for your keyword are full of images. This way, you’re more likely to appear high in the SERP.
#6 Get familiar with best writing practices
There’s no way around it: to be a successful SEO writer, you need to be a good writer first and foremost.
I will try to give you a few actionable tips for SEO writing. You can start using now to boost engagement and conversion rates.
For commercial websites, CTAs (Calls To Action) are present everywhere on a page. From the main page through landing pages and articles, they appear in many forms and shapes.
While writing for SEO, we need to take care of the CTAs in our texts. With the right placement and wording, they can do wonders.
Why should you use CTAs? There are two main reasons:
- To boost the conversion rate and help your text get a decent ROI;
- To make the people stay on your site longer, which is a positive signal to Google.
Of course, instead of coming up with separate CTAs every time, you could just place a huge button saying “BUY NOW” at the bottom of each article. But you don’t want that.
If you write a listicle of the best coffee pots, then sure, you can think about slapping that “click here to buy” CTA next to each item.
However, if you’re writing an educational guide, you can’t start selling to your readers all of the sudden. You have to warm them up first. Maybe guide them to a data-driven report or a case study first to make them acquainted with your product before they buy it.
Use your best judgment to find the right placements for your CTAs. If you don’t know where to start, three places always work:
- Right before or after the table of contents—that’s where the readers always look.
- Next to a particularly meaty bit of your article. You can assume that most of your readers will read it and be at their most engaged.
- At the very end. If a reader makes it all the way there, they’ve warmed up enough to click a CTA.
Learn writing tips from the best
There are thousands of ways you can improve your writing prowess. Only some of them apply to SEO content writing.
Copies have to be simple, engaging, and to the point. Forget writing like you did for your creative writing classes.
I’m going to tell you about three simple writing tips that will quickly influence your conversion rates.
One more thing: this guide focuses more on SEO for writers. If you’re after polishing your writing style, check out the writing class by Malcolm Gladwell or Copyhackers’ The Ultimate Guide to No-Pain Copywriting (and anything else they offer).
Use short sentences and simple vocabulary
Your readers have limited time and a limited attention span.
Don’t write long, convoluted sentences that will showcase your excellent command of the vocabulary, grammar, and interpunction and take your reader on a long journey through the meandering stream of your writing.
Just look at the sentence above. Didn’t you stop paying attention after the second comma?
Opt for short, simple sentences. It doesn’t mean that no complex sentence can appear in your text. Just don’t overdo them and tire your readers out.
Try to avoid complex vocabulary. You never know your readers’ reading comprehension level, and you don’t want to confuse them. It’s especially crucial if you write SEO content in English— chances are, a huge chunk of your audience isn’t native speakers.
Of course, this advice doesn’t apply if you’re a content writer for academic niches. And applies double as much if you write for kids! Always use your best judgment.
Apply open loops
Open loops are a narrative element that relies on setting up your readers’ expectations and revealing the whole truth later.
In films, shows or books, we call them the cliffhangers. At the very last second of the episode, it turns out your favorite character is dead. But who killed them? You won’t find out until the next episode. Or the season finale.
Teasing builds anticipation. And you don’t have to be a TV writer to use it. It can work just as well for SEO writing.
At the beginning of this section, I told you:
“I’m going to tell you about three simple writing tips that will quickly influence your conversion rates.”
But I haven’t revealed them right away. I set you up so that you continued reading.
Employ bucket brigades
What is a bucket brigade?
Well, traditionally, it’s a chain of people working together to put down a fire.
But it’s also a technique that can help you write content better.
It’s a way of breaking down your paragraphs…
Or important sentences...
into shorter parts. What for?
To use the power of “delayed gratification.”
Capture your reader's attention.
And build anticipation!
How to introduce bucket brigades into your SEO content if you don’t want to split the paragraph after every sentence as I did above? Introduce a natural flow with phrases like:
- Here’s why:
- You may be asking yourself…
- Before we continue, let’s talk about one more thing.
- But that’s not all.
- It’s exactly like that.
And whatever else you come up with.
#7 Take care of internal linking
Internal linking is another important aspect of SEO content, especially if you’re an in-house writer who takes care of the entire blog structure.
There are many guides that will tell you more about the whole philosophy and technical aspects of internal linking. Right now, let’s focus on the most critical pieces of knowledge: why you need internal links on your page, and what are the ground rules of any internal linking strategy.
Internal links point to other pages on the same website. As a content writer, you have plenty of room for internal linking in your articles. You can link to product pages, landing pages, other articles, and more—whatever you feel is best in the given context.
But why is internal linking important? There are a few reasons.
- It makes the website easier to navigate for the users. Have you just mentioned a detailed guide to keyword research in your article about SEO writing? Link to it right away, don’t make the user look for it.
- It builds the authority of a website by creating so-called content clusters. Search engines look favorably at websites that include many pieces of content on the same subjects, connected with hyperlinks.
- It helps to build the right structure of your website.
As writers, it’s our job to include the right internal links (called “anchors”) in our SEO content. How to make sure you title your anchors just right? Here are the ground rules.
- The anchors pointing to a page should consist of the keyword the page ranks for. Ideally, it should be this keyword only. If it doesn’t make sense contextually, at least try to include it somewhere in the anchor. Don’t know which keywords your piece of content ranks for? Use Google Console. For an article titled “How To Create SEO Title Tag That Users Will Love,” GSC suggested me the following list of keywords to use as anchors:
- Don’t let the anchors overlap! If we choose the “title tag” keyword for the content I mentioned above, we’ll have to use a different one for every next piece about this subject. Having two articles competing for the same keyword doesn’t make sense most of the time.
- Be consistent! If a page has a dedicated keyword, don’t randomly change it. It has to stay the same in every piece of SEO content. It’s considered good practice to create a file with a list of internal links and consult it.
#8 Don’t forget about meta descriptions
A good, well-paid copywriter should know how to handle meta description.
They’re the cherry on top of every good piece of content.
After all, they’re the first description of our article that the readers—and bots—will see.
It appears in Google right below the title tag:
And, as with all things SEO, you should optimize it both for the search engines (for better rankings) and your readers (for better click-through rate).
How to do it?
- Make sure your keyword appears in the description. But avoid keyword stuffing—it will make Google think you’re spammy, and the readers will deem you untrustworthy.
- Make it no shorter than 50 but no longer than 160 signs—that’s the optimal length for Google.
- The copy should be engaging but accurate. Hook your readers, but don’t deceive them - upon clicking, they should see exactly what they saw on the cover.
And there you have it: the guide to successful SEO writing in 2020.
SEO copywriting is a crucial part of any on-page SEO strategy. In today’s competitive landscape and with the growing importance of content, the only pieces of copy that can succeed are those that combine SEO optimization with substantial, value-driven, and persuasive writing.
By performing keyword research, choosing proper benchmarks and competition, taking care of readability, UX, writing style, internal linking, and meta descriptions, you can create a copy that will fulfil SEO content’s two main goals:
- Make your content rank high in the search engines with the help of on-page SEO optimization tricks;
- Improve CTR, conversion, and time-on-page by meeting your readers exactly where they want to be met and answering their pain points.
Follow the advice included in this guide, and I’m sure you’ll climb up the SERPs in no time!
And if you’re hungry for more tips on how to make your copywriting career skyrocket…