SEO copywriting: the ultimate guide
SEO copywriting is a crucial component of any successful SEO strategy. Still, it can also present a significant challenge for anyone wanting to create high-quality content that ranks well in search engines. As search engines crawl web pages, the content of your website should be fine-tuned to the — ever-changing — algorithms of search engines. In addition to that, write clearly so that your audience both enjoys and understands your website. After all, we know that readability ranks.
This complete guide to SEO copywriting takes you through the process of keyword research and the different stages of the writing process. It will also help you write the readable and SEO-friendly articles your website needs! And last but not least, we’ll give you some insights into creating SEO content for international sites and the challenges that come with that.
This guide to writing SEO content covers the following:
SEO copywriting and holistic SEO
At Yoast, we practice what we call ‘holistic SEO’. Our primary goal should be to build and maintain THE BEST possible website. Ranking in Google will come easier if your website is exceptionally high quality and your content is unique and helpful. The reason for that: Google wants to serve its customers what they want. Their mission is: to index all the world’s information and make it universally accessible.
In addition to this, Google, of course, wants to make money, but they’ll have to show people the results they are looking for – otherwise, people will stop using Google. We can agree that Google wants to show people the best results. If your website is the best in your niche market, Google wants to rank it high in the results.
What is SEO copywriting?
SEO copywriting is one of the most powerful tools people use to get ahead of their competition. By creating high-quality content that’s carefully optimized for search engines and tailored to the needs and interests of their target audience, people can increase their visibility, drive more organic traffic to their website, and ultimately grow their revenue.
It’s like the perfect blend of art and science, where a little creative flair and strategic optimization techniques can work wonders for your online presence. Whether you’re a small business just starting or a larger enterprise looking to dominate your industry, SEO copywriting can help you succeed in the search result pages.
Holistic SEO is an interdisciplinary marketing strategy to make the best website in a niche market. To do so, the technical design of your website should be excellent, the UX of your website flawless, and all security aspects covered. Most important, however, is that the content of your website should be well-written, appropriately marketed, and targeted at the audience your website serves. This approach requires relatively advanced SEO writing skills.
Do you want to learn all about SEO copywriting? In our SEO copywriting training, which is part of Yoast SEO academy Premium, we’ll teach you how to write copy that ranks!
Write the best copy!
To ensure your website is the best in your sector, the text on your website should be easy to read. Without making any concessions to the quality of your SEO content, you should tweak and fine-tune your text to the specific demands of search engines. SEO copywriting is very much like the process of writing anything else, so it’s hard work, and inevitably, some of us have more writing talent than others. Unfortunately, we can’t all be Ernest Hemingway, but anyone can write better SEO copy with some training.
Read more: 5 tips to write readable blog posts! »
SEO copywriting in the age of generative AI
Generative AI is like a machine that can effortlessly create content for SEO purposes. It can be trained to analyze keywords and other factors to generate new and optimize existing content. However, we must remember that the human touch is still vital in ensuring that the generated content is of good quality, without factual errors, and relevant to a target audience.
Due to the design of its technology, you must also remember that generative AI tools like ChatGPT, Bing Chat, and Google Bard can not give you original writing yet — but it is very good at reusing stuff already out there. Still, it cannot come up with things itself.
Generative AI will be a handy tool for creating SEO content in the future. However, it’s essential to use it wisely and ensure the content meets brand guidelines and target audience needs. Please use generative AI responsibly. Use AI as a guide, not as a fully automated content factory.
Before writing: always start with keyword research
The very first step of SEO copywriting has little to do with writing. First, you need to decide what you’re going to write about. Which topics do you want to be found for? You’ll need to use the keywords you want to rank for in your copy, so keyword research is the first step of SEO copywriting. Keyword research is what you do to list the keywords and keyphrases for which you want to rank for.
Proper keyword research consists of these three steps:
1. Formulate a mission statement
Before starting the actual keyword research, think about your mission statement. This is what makes you stand out from the crowd. While formulating your mission statement, consider who you are and what your blog is about. What makes it unique? Take your time to develop and write down your mission statement. For more information on creating mission statements, read our post on how to write a mission statement for your website.
2. Make a list of relevant keywords
Once you have formulated a clear mission statement, you can start listing all the search terms (keywords) you want your website to be found for. If your mission is clear, you should be able to develop search terms that apply to your niche market and your unique selling points. These will be the keywords you’d like to be found for.
To come up with good terms, you have to get inside the heads of your audience. How are they most likely to find you? What would they search for on Google? At the end of your keyword research, you should have a list of all the relevant search terms people might use. Also, think of combinations and variations of these terms. You can also use tools to help you in the keyword research process. For example, Yoast SEO integrates with the Semrush related keywords research tool. After you’ve made a list, you may have trouble deciding which keyphrase to use. If so, read our post about choosing your perfect focus keyword.
Create an overview
Eventually, you should have a helpful overview, which will significantly help your SEO copywriting process. It helps to create a table of your keywords to summarize the information. Try to devise combinations of keywords, then order the keywords by some priority. Which keywords are essential to rank for and closest to your mission statement, and which are less so? When choosing which keywords to tackle, you should also consider how likely your pages will rank for that specific keyword. Focusing on less popular and less competitive keywords can be a good strategy at first. Please read our posts about why you should focus on long-tail keywords if you’d like to know more about the importance of less competitive keywords.
3. Look at search intent
Nowadays, SEO strategies should largely revolve around answering people’s questions. Whenever someone enters a search query into a search engine, they are on a quest for something. There are four kinds of intent searchers can have:
- Informational intent: to find information on a specific topic.
- Navigational intent: to access a specific website by entering the term in a search engine.
- Commercial intent: to buy something sometime soon and research before purchasing.
- Transactional intent: to buy something after doing their commercial intent searches.
In your keyword research, you need to find out which kinds of intent apply to your keywords and try to match these search intents. You can use the search results to determine which intent applies to your keywords and create great content matching this intent. Which intent you’re targetting should also affect your writing style; we’ll go into that later in this guide.
4. Create landing pages for searchers
The final step of keyword research is to create awesome posts or pages for the keywords you want to be found for. The SEO content should be tailored to attract visitors who found your blog through a specific keyword. This could be a dedicated page or a blog post optimized for a specific keyword. Ensure visitors can navigate your blog through the menu or internal links. And make sure you have a page for every relevant keyword you come up with.
If you’ve found an excellent format for these kinds of posts or pages, you can use Yoast Duplicate Post to use that format for similar pages. With it, you can clone a post and easily fill it with the content your page will be about.
Your keyword research will give you a good idea of what to blog about. Then, you’ll have to unlock content around a specific word. A word is not a topic, though. Next to a keyword (or keyphrase), you will need an angle, a specific story around that keyword. Read our tips on coming up with ideas for your blog if you want to know more.
Three phases of writing an article
Once you’ve decided upon a topic or a story you want to write, SEO copywriting begins! The SEO writing process consists of three stages: preparing, writing, and correcting (or editing).
Phase 1 of the writing process: Preparing your text
The first phase of the actual SEO copywriting process is planning your piece. Before you put pen to paper (or fingers on the keyboard), take some time and think about what you will write. You’ll have a topic in mind by now, but before you start writing, you should have clear answers to the following questions as well:
- What’s the purpose of your article? Why are you writing? What do you want to achieve?
- What will be the main message of your post? What’s the key question you want to answer?
- Who is your audience? What are they looking for?
- What information do you need to write your piece?
- In what order will you present your information? What will be the structure of your article?
In our post about preparing a blog post, you can read all about how to come up with proper and clear answers to these questions.
The purpose of your text and search intent
The first question in the list is: what’s the purpose of your article. Thinking about that beforehand is essential because it affects how you should write your article. Do you want to inform users? Amuse them? Or persuade them to do something on your site? The preparation step is also when you should consider your visitor’s intent. If your keyword research shows that the intent behind a particular query is informational, you would like to write a persuasive, sales-focused page for that keyword. In that case, that could be a better match. Of course, this will be fine if you’ve thought about your keyword strategy.
In any case, you need to think about your user’s intent before you start writing, simply because an informative text differs from a persuasive text. The language you’ll use when writing an informative text should be clear and focused, whereas persuasive language will usually be very positive, focusing more on the reader. And amusing texts use more informal language, wordplay, or exaggerations.
Keep reading: Why the purpose of your text is important for SEO »
An important element of planning your article is setting up its structure. The structure of the text on your site is vital for SEO copywriting. If your content has a clear structure, you have a better chance of ranking well on Google. You can use mind-mapping techniques to help grasp topics and find connections between the different parts of your subject.
It pays off to think about the structure of your piece before you begin. Because the structure is the skeleton of your text, it will help the reader grasp the article’s main points.
Posts and pages with a clear structure will also increase conversions on your website. You have a better chance that your visitors will buy your products or return to your website if they understand your message correctly. For practical tips on how to set up the structure of a piece of writing, you should read our post on how to create a clear blog post structure.
Generative AI can help you structure content and describe topics
You shouldn’t use generative AI like ChatGPT to automatically generated full articles for you. You can use them to get a better grasp of a topic, to get more context, and to be inspired. Generative AI can also help with structuring text, like:
- Automating content outlines: Generative AI can suggest content outlines based on the identified topic or keywords. This can help you create articles, posts, and other types of content by providing you with a text structure and writing guidance.
- Identifying key phrases and topics: Generative AI can access large amounts of data to identify key phrases or topics that recur in a particular field. This can help you include important information in your content and structure it to follow a cohesive narrative or theme.
- Providing content recommendations: Generative AI can suggest related content that you can use to structure your writing. It can analyze the content available and identify related information that would be relevant to the topic at hand.
- Offering writing assistance: Generative AI can suggest sentence structure, grammar, and punctuation to help produce well-structured content. This can help you create high-quality, readable content that is easier for audiences to engage with.
- Formatting and layout suggestions: This feature can help your content planning and optimize it for user engagement, providing the most effective structure based on the type of content that needs to be created.
These helpful features enable you to create high-quality, optimized content that drives more traffic and engagement, but be critical and remember the human touch.
Phase 2 of the writing process: Writing your text
Now you can start the actual SEO writing process! This only takes about 20% of your time on your article.
The most important tip for this phase of SEO copywriting is to just write. People often have trouble formulating the first sentence (or the first paragraph). But, at this stage, you can skip writing that first paragraph altogether. Just write a few words referring to the content your first paragraph should contain and start writing the second paragraph. Beginnings and endings are easier to write once you’ve fleshed out the main body of your post.
If a sentence isn’t grammatically correct or sounds awkward, keep going, and don’t worry. You can rewrite these things in the next phase, which is editing. In the writing phase, staying in the flow of writing is crucial.
Stick to the structure of your text
While writing, use the structure you created in the preparation phase as an outline and write the paragraphs according to that plan. Make sure you write clear paragraphs. Start each paragraph with the most important sentence, then explain or elaborate. Your readers will be able to grasp the most important content from your article by just reading the first sentences of your paragraphs.
Make sure your text is readable
Reading from a screen is hard, so if you want your readers to read your entire blog post, you must make it easy to read. Posts that are easily read will result in more returning visitors and a higher conversion rate. Most importantly, make sure your text is pitched right for the audience you’re writing for.
To read more tips on writing readable texts, read our post with tips on how to make blog posts more readable and our post with tips on how to improve your blog’s typography. These tips will help you fine-tune your SEO copywriting process.
A few ways to improve your writing style
Some people are natural writers and don’t need any tips for their SEO copywriting – they can write an attractive, fun, readable article in a few minutes. Others lack that skill. But while attractive writing is a matter of talent, practice surely helps! Let’s look at some tips to improve your writing style and two writing styles to experiment with.
Tip: Read a lot!
If you want to develop an attractive writing style, it helps to read a lot. Reading (novels, blogs, magazines, whatever) will inspire you to write excellent articles. It will teach you how other people form their sentences and build their paragraphs. It teaches you how to use humor and how to play with language. Plus, it allows you to develop a gut feeling about what makes a nicely readable article. If you want more tips on developing your writing style, read our blog post about achieving an attractive style.
The inverted pyramid style
A well-known writing style in journalism, the inverted pyramid means you put your most important information upfront. You don’t bury your key point halfway down the third paragraph but tell the complete story in the first paragraph. Of course, you can elaborate in the following paragraphs. But you get your main message across right away. This writing style holds up pretty well for some types of articles. It especially comes in handy now that web content is increasingly used to answer every question a searcher might have.
Read on: Writing content with the inverted pyramid style »
Everyone loves a good story, and most people can also tell a good story – especially from personal experience. Great news: you can use the power of stories in your SEO copy! Whether in blog posts or product pages, including a (relevant) story will go a long way in catching your reader’s interest. Stories can provide more clarity and help your readers remember you more easily.
Keep on reading: What is storytelling and why should you use it? »
Take a break now and then
SEO copywriting can be a fairly intense process. If you write for long periods, you’ll find that concentrating becomes harder. The exact time, however, will be different for every individual. If your mind has started to wander, that’ll be the time to take a break.
Many people find writing hard for more than twenty minutes at a time — attention spans can be quite short! At that point, people should step away from the computer to do something else. Even a minute-long break can be enough to return to your writing with fresh and renewed concentration and creativity.
Phase 3 of the SEO copywriting process: Editing your text
Once you’ve finished writing your piece, you’ll have the first draft of your article. You will improve upon this first draft in the final phase of writing. The last step will still take quite a lot of time.
The editing phase is the phase of the SEO copywriting process in which you should ‘kill your darlings’. Don’t be afraid to throw stuff out. You should read and re-read and re-re-read your post and correct any awkward sentences, unclear phrasing, and jumbled paragraph structures. Make your content marketing stand out.
Here are five steps to take to edit your article thoroughly.
Step 1: Read slowly (and out loud)
You can start this phase by reading your piece slowly (and even out loud, this can help). Each sentence should be grammatically correct, and the spelling must be flawless. You need to be very critical of your work. You can have your computer read the text out loud for you — make sure it doesn’t stumble.
Step 2: Focus on sentences
Start by making sure every sentence is correct. Focus on the spelling of words and rephrase awkward formulations. Ensure sentences are grammatically correct and check for readability: ensure your sentences aren’t too long.
Step 3: Focus on paragraphs
If all sentences in one paragraph are approved, look at the structure within a paragraph, focusing on that first sentence. Does that first core sentence capture what you wanted to say in that paragraph? Are the sentences within a paragraph presented in a logical order? Do you use transition words to make the connection between sentences clear?
Step 4: Check the text structure
Check whether the structure between paragraphs is clear. Are your article’s topics presented logically, or do you need to make changes?
You should also check your headings and subheadings. Make sure your focus keyword is in one of those headings and subheadings. But equally important, ensure the headings help your readers grasp your text’s structure. In the article on how to use headings on your site, we explain how to use them.
Step 5: Ask for feedback
The final step in your SEO copywriting process is getting feedback. After editing your text, you should ask people for feedback. At Yoast, all the posts we write are read by at least two of our colleagues before we publish them. Feedback allows for the perspective of someone other than the writer and almost always leads to vast improvements in the post.
It would also be useful to let someone from your audience proofread your post to test whether the message is communicated properly. Also, feedback from someone with professional writing and grammar skills, such as an editor, will help you improve your blog post even further.
Use Yoast SEO
While editing your text, you will find our Yoast SEO plugin useful for SEO copywriting because it helps to optimize your text for search engines and to make your text more readable. For a detailed overview of how to use Yoast SEO when optimizing your content, you should read our post about the content analysis feature in Yoast SEO. The plugin analyzes content in various languages, so you can benefit from using the plugin even if you are not writing in English!
Read more: 10 copywriting tips – from experts to experts »
SEO copywriting for international sites
Writing well is hard; writing your content marketing efforts in multiple languages is even more challenging! This is true if you own websites for multiple regions and languages. Translating content can be a tricky business because of the phenomenon of false friends in different languages. False friends refer to words that look alike in two languages but mean something different.
Creating content for your multilingual sites is not easy. It’s doable, though, and we think there are three ways to go about this:
- translate the content;
- create new content for that market;
- transcreate content: a combination of both.
Getting translations probably is the easiest. But it’s also the most tricky one. Are you sure your translation sends the same message and has the same tone of voice as your original article? That’s hard to judge if you’re not a native speaker. Therefore: always have a native speaker check the copy. At least.
Creating new content by your local team is the safest choice, with probably the highest quality result. However, it is very time-consuming, and you’re not taking full advantage of the available content.
Therefore we’d advise to “transcreate”: take what you already have as a basis, but rework it to fit the local target group. Make sure native speakers that know the local market create this content. If you’d like to know more about this, read our article on creating great copy in multiple languages.
Conclusion: SEO copywriting is a process
SEO copywriting works best when you follow a defined process and ensure your text is as good as possible. While not everyone is a natural writer, SEO writing is something everyone can get better at with practice. Don’t forget to maintain your content over time to avoid it getting outdated and stale!
Keep reading: The ultimate guide to content SEO »