Copywriting best practices for SEO

by ian on July 30, 2010

Writing good copy for SEO is simple but takes a lot of discipline. Follow a few rules and you’re all set, but you must follow those rules. Otherwise, you’re at risk of badly hurting an ongoing SEO effort.

This is not just about writing good copy for SEO. When a customer clicks on a search result and lands on a page, they expect to see the key phrase for which they searched show up on that page. If they don’t see it, the chances they’ll stick around are slim.

Think in outlines

Think of your page as an outline, and then think of your key phrases as the critical outline elements. Target the most important keywords in each outline element.

The outline elements you should most worry about are:

  1. The title tag (marked ‘1’ in all examples in this section);
  2. The level one heading tag (marked ‘2’).
  3. The body copy (you get the idea).
  4. Page images and captions.
  5. Supplemental copy and links.

sample page from AmericanStationery.com

Look at the next few sample pages to get an idea of how those elements look on the page:

A Product Page

  1. The title tag should start with the most important key phrase. If “embossed business stationery” is the one for these folks, then this title tag starts well. Unfortunately, it then packs in all sorts of totally irrelevant garbage. Keep your title tag restricted to describing the page and category, and that’s it.
  2. The level 1 heading should also include the target key phrase(s). This one isn’t bad. Sometimes you can’t include all the keywords in a product page heading because it won’t make sense. But they left out ‘business’. If I’m a customer who searched on ‘Embossed business notes’ and I see ‘informal’ in the product name but not ‘business’, I’m gone. This is where reviewing the personas can really help you.
  3. The body copy should have the target phrase as close to the start of the copy as possible. In this case, the target phrase (“embossed business stationery”) doesn’t even show up. Yikes.
  4. If you have control over image names, captions and copy near the image, work in the key phrase there, too. It’s important to success in image search results. A search engine can’t categorize an image named “123asdf.jpg” by its filename. It can categorize “embossed-business-stationery.jpg” according to its filename, though.
  5. Supplemental copy is handy, too. If you can, write a few paragraphs that can be placed anywhere on the page. If you can work in links to other relevant pages and include the key phrases in those links too, even better.

A Home Page

  1. Title tags do not need to include branding except in very rare cases. The client had better already show up for their own name. TEI totally wasted the title tag on their home page.
  2. The level one heading tag is good, since the target phrase was ‘team development’.
  3. The work ‘team development’ into the copy twice, but it should show up sooner.
  4. This image is utterly worthless. Again, if I review the personas for this site I know damned well the visitor has already seen this same stock image on 500 different sites and ads. Use something relevant, and give it a relevant caption.
  5. The supplemental links on this page are good.

A Copy-Intensive Category Page

  1. The target phrase here is ‘heated pet beds’, so the title tag is great.
  2. The heading is OK. It’d be better if it read ‘Heated Pet Beds that are Safe, Portable and Good for Your Pet’. Search engines do differentiate between plural and singular.
  3. The body copy isn’t bad either, but again, it doesn’t say ‘heated pet beds’. Also, a side note: This page has level 2 headings (the orange text over the body copy). At least one of those sub-headings should incorporate the key phrase, too.
  4. The images don’t have keyword-rich filenames. Nor do they have captions.
  5. The supplemental copy might get a top ranking for ‘newsletter’ or ‘coldheat’ but not ‘heated pet beds’.

If there’s more than one key phrase

On larger sites and larger pages, there may be 3,4 or even 10 different target key phrases. In those cases, work with the SEO specialist and marketing strategist to set priorities.

It’s about little things

Great search-focused copy is about lots of little things, not one huge change. As a copywriter, you shouldn’t worry about things like code compliance or navigation. You should focus on the things you control: Headings, titles, body copy and the like. By doing so you can do your part to improve rankings and conversion rates.

Related/other modules in this section:

  1. Why copy matters more than anything else
  2. HTML rules for readable online copy
  3. How to edit your writing for SEO without sounding stupid
  4. QDF Explained

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