Maybe you’re thinking of becoming a freelance copywriter and you’re wondering what sort of work you’ll be doing. In your research, you keep coming across terms like SEO and you’ve begun to wonder what is SEO copywriting anyway?
Here’s a primer along with resources to kickstart your training. (Not in the mood to read? Watch my video below.)
What is SEO copywriting?
To understand what SEO copywriting is, we need to define some terms. Let’s start with copywriting. At its simplest, copywriting is writing that sells a product, service, or cause. You will encounter different definitions—and even criticism of mine. But mine works, and here’s why: The digital landscape has blurred the lines between different types of writing. In today’s digital marketing landscape, people use the terms copywriting, marketing writing, content marketing, and content writing interchangeably. And I don’t think they’re wrong in doing so. Content drives all business. It’s a 400 billion-dollar industry. And the goal of all content, ultimately, is to get people to buy (or donate or vote).
So that’s copywriting. Now, let’s talk about SEO.
SEO stands for search engine optimization.
Hearing what it stands for probably doesn’t help much, does it? What the heck does search engine optimization even mean?
Have you ever done a search in Google and wondered HOW Google decides which sites to serve up in its organic listings—especially on the first page? Well, Google uses a complex algorithm to determine what to serve up. (And only Google knows every element of the algorithm. It’s kind of like Colonel Sanders’ recipe for KFC.)
Basically, Google’s algorithm involves many, many moving parts—and it evolves over time. For example, twenty years ago, the algorithm didn’t even consider mobile devices because smartphones hadn’t been widely adopted yet (the first iPhone came out in 2007). Today, mobile-friendliness is an important “signal” in Google’s algorithm.
Why does Google care so much?
Google’s primary goal is to satisfy the user’s search query. (That way, you’ll continue using its products and clicking on its ads.) Whether you’re looking for “sandwich shops near me” or “senior living marketing services” or “how to clean corroded batteries,” Google’s primary goal is to give you the answers you’re looking for.
Its lightning-fast algorithm determines what to serve up in its results. Many factors go into this, such as the quality of the content itself, the number of authoritative backlinks pointing TO the content, how the keyword phrase that the user plugged into Google is used in the content, even how fast the site loads. (Note: That is an incredibly SMALL sampling of what goes into the algorithm, but you get the idea. To dig deeper, check out this article from SEMRush on how the Google search algorithm works.)
When it’s searching through the thousands and thousands of potential sites it can serve up, the algo eventually lands on the top contenders and thinks, “This web page does the best job of answering the user’s search query, so let’s serve that up first on the list of organic search results.”
Let’s demonstrate with an example . . .
Let’s say you’re the director of sales and marketing for a fictional community called The Elmwood Senior Living. And you need help with marketing. You google “senior living marketing services” and some paid ads show up at the top of the results, but also some organic listings.
You see one that catches your eye—the one for Senior Living SMART. You visit the site and love the vibe, the owners’ experience, the knowledge they share on their blog, and the impressive list of other senior living communities it works with. You decide to request a complimentary 30-minute brainstorming session.
THAT right there is an example of search engine optimization at work. (And yes, that’s one of my clients. I optimized a page on the site for the phrase “senior living marketing services” – keep on reading to understand WHY I did this.)
Can people who create online content position the content so that it has a chance of being “chosen” by the Google algorithm?
YES! That’s where search engine optimization and SEO copywriting come into play. You can finesse—or optimize—your online content so that it has a better chance of being served up (or, as we say, ranking well) in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
In fact, search engine optimization is its own field. People have titles like “SEO specialist” or “SEO consultant.” These folks know the ins and outs of ALL aspects of search.
But at the end of the day, one of the most important pieces in the SEO puzzle is the content itself. And good news, copywriting newbies: The main goal in SEO copywriting is to simply write awesome content. Meaning content that’s helpful, engaging, and error-free. Which, I’m thinking, is one of the main reasons you’re drawn to this field—because you WANT to write great content.
And yes—SEO copywriting is a bit more involved than simply writing awesome content. But honestly, if you’ve got THAT part down, the rest is straightforward. Sure, you need to know the target keyword phrase you’re writing about. Tools exist that can tell us what keyword phrases real people are searching on for every topic under the sun. (I use SEMRush, which is a paid service. But there are some good freebie keyword tools out there.) So if you have a client who operates a senior living marketing agency (like I do), you can do research in the tools to see what phrases people are searching on.
In the example I provided above, the phrase “senior living marketing services” has a search volume of 50, meaning 50 times a month, on average, people are plugging that phrase into search engines. It has a keyword difficulty of 32. The lower the keyword difficulty, the better chance you have of creating content that can rank well for that particular keyword phrase.
Note: some phrases (like the term “marketing services”) are incredibly competitive. There are thousands and thousands of searches on that phrase each month, but because there are so many other websites out there using the phrase, it will be next to impossible for you to come in and get a new site, blog, article ranking high for that phrase.
But a phrase like “senior living marketing services” is incredibly specific and doesn’t haven’t nearly as many web pages using that specific phrase (that’s what the “KD” indicates in the image above: keyword difficulty. The lower the number, the better chance that your content can rank for that phrase, if done right). And, sure, there’s much lower search volume for the phrase “senior living marketing services,” but if you write awesome content that can rank well for that phrase and that piece of content regularly brings in a good chunk of those 50 searches a month . . . well, only good things can happen, right? (As in, that anonymous website traffic becomes bona fide leads and even customers.)
OK, so what is SEO copywriting then, exactly?
SEO copywriting involves using keyword phrases and adeptly weaving them into engaging and helpful online content. The content can vary—you might be writing a home page. You might be writing a service page. You might be writing a blog post. You might be writing a landing page. But your job is to take the keyword phrase and produce a piece of engaging, helpful, error-free content that follows SEO best practices.
The number one best SEO copywriting technique? Writing for HUMANS first. Perhaps you write a blog post on Senior Living Marketing Services: How to Choose Ones That’ll Boost Occupancy. See how that incorporates the keyword phrase, but also hints at a great piece of content that can solve the searcher’s problem?
As an SEO copywriter, you will need to . . .
- Understand your client’s business—particularly their ideal customer. What are the customer’s pain points? What solution does your client provide? How would that ideal customer search in Google to solve the problem they’re experiencing?
- Do research in keyword tools. As I mentioned above, there are free tools and paid tools, like SEMRush (I use SEMRush). You need to research phrases that real people are searching on related to your client’s business, particularly those “longer-tail” keyword phrases that tend to have lower overall search volume, but less competition.
- Expertly weave the keyword phrases into the content, but in a way that sounds natural. No keyword stuffing!
- Follow best practices for formatting. Use the keyword phrase in the title and in sub-headlines, and use bullet points and short paragraphs. (Kinda like what I’m doing here.)
- Write effective page titles and meta descriptions. Again, you can learn how to do this.
- Stay current with the latest SEO and SEO copywriting trends.
Basically, any writing that you—as a professional copywriter—do online will involve search engine optimization. So if you’re thinking about pursuing freelance copywriting, take the time to become familiar with SEO.
A great resource to start with: The Ultimate Guide to SEO from HubSpot.
Some great sites to browse (in addition to HubSpot):