Writing effective copy for both search engines (SEO) and flesh and blood visitors is crucial for overall site performance. Rather than hire a pro, many clients prefer to take the DIY approach. Typically, this is considered to be a cost-saving method, however experience reveals that this path more oftent delays projects and reduces the site’s performance on multiple levels. The reality is that the cost for SEO copywriting aren’t high in the first place, and the ROI will absolutely outpace any savings hoped for.
In many cases, I recommend a hybrid approach where a professional SEO writer is used for a limited number of “priority-one pages”, and the rest is written in-house. It’s unlikely that everyone on the in-house team will consider themselves as either marketing copywriters or SEO experts, so I’ve put together this guide for clients writing their own copy.
SEO Wrting Guide for DIY Clients
My first bit of advice is to write first for humans and second for search engine. It will do no good to attract the visitor to bad content.
Writing for Humans Writing for the web is unique. First assume that nobody reads. They scan. So keep sentences and paragraphs short and easily digestible. As any good copywriter knows, maintain a consistent tone and voice, while making sure the content is relevant. Use bullet lists for key points high in your pages. Link bullet points to content on the page.
- People scan versus read
- Short clean sentences and paragraphs
- Bulleted summary points
SEO Writing for Search Engines The general guidance is that you’re goal is to provide the search engine with an accurate and clear “theme” for the page – so for each page, you want to select a small group of terms to focus on. Each page should focus on a different list. SEO gold is found when these terms are applied to the url address (file name), html page title, heading tags (h1, h2, h3), body copy, image alt tags, and link anchor text and alt tags from in-bound links – and the more links to the page the better. All of that isn’t your job as a writer, but incase you’re looking to earn extra credit I thought you should know.
The short list of things you need to consider is:
- Segmented keyword list for each page
- Up to 10 keywords per page
- Singular and plural terms are considered different (by Google)
- Bolding and Headlines (H1, H2, H3 heading tags) indicate prominence
- Cluster your terms at the top of the page
- Keyword density – don’t over do it.
- If you business has geographic focus, use appropriate city and state terms.
Keyword Development: If a list is not provided, you will want to create your own of up to 10 phrases, with only 2-3 terms of primary focus. To build that list, you should first consider the page’s focus and write down terms that apply. Reference any existing keyword research that already exists. If you want to check for related terms and to find out how many people actually search for your terms, you can reference Google’s keyword tool. You can also study at sites that Google returns for those core terms. Check their page title tag at the top of your browser especially, as well as page headings and content.
Remember to consider plurals as separate terms from singulars (Google considers them different). Just remember to use terms that your audience uses. This may be very different than the language used internally.
- Existing content (assuming you’re optimizing existing copy)
- Terms the audience commonly uses
- Existing keyword research
- Google keyword tool
- Competitor sites that rank high for your term
Keyword Density: I’m often asked how often to repeat terms, and keyword density is the percent that a term is used compared to the total words on a page. It’s generally understood that density is no longer relevant because its too easy for marketers to manipulate – so don’t focus on this. You’re looking for a balance that doesn’t make the page to appear spammy to the search engines, which you can be penalized for. If you’re curious anyhow, this keyword density tool will show you which terms are prominent on your page, and their density percent:
Prominence: Headlines or “heading tags” both break up the page for easy scanning, and provide an important way to give prominence to your terms. If you look at the code, you’ll see these expressed with “heading tags” such as H1, H2, or H3. You typically use an H1 heading at the top of your page, and subsequent H2/H3 within your content. Bolded terms may get more weight. Terms at the top of the page will also.
Remember that overall, you simply want to establish a “theme” for he page. Identify the terms that your audience will search for (versus insider terms you may use). Write your content to be relevant to that audience and carefully work your top keywords into your headlines and content in a way that will read effectively for human visitors first.
Oh… and les is more.