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Google doesn’t disclose specifics about how it ranks web content. It tells us it uses over 200 criterion, but the ranking algorithm itself is a well-kept secret.
For that reason and others, SEO copywriting best practices can’t and don’t guarantee a top ranking in Google’s search results. Nor can they promise a high click-thru or conversion rate.
That said, SEO best practices do demonstrate a pattern of repeated success over time. They’re the next best thing to getting specific direction from Google and it makes sense to embrace them.
Best Practice Sources
The SEO copywriting best practices in this post are derived from:
- published SEO industry expert research and opinion;
- Google’s published search engine guidelines.
They’re intended primarily for small business owners and SEO copywriters although anyone that writes content for the Web should find them useful.
SEO Copywriting Best Practices
- Write For Humans First and foremost, write content for your human audience, not search engines. That means your content should answer the questions searchers most care about. This is called “satisfying search intent” in SEO circles and it means you should put yourself in the shoes of your audience, try to figure out what specifically they are searching for and why, and then give it to them. Google says it is “the single most important thing to do.”
- Satisfy For Search Intent, Not Word Count Quality content that satisfies search intent ranks highest in search results. The number of words is not a ranking factor for search engines. Some SEOs have identified a correlation between rankings and high word count, but it’s more likely the lengthy content has thoroughly addressed the searcher’s need than word count has anything to do with high rankings. Your copy should be as long as it needs to be to satisfy search intent and no more. Don’t write extra just to hit some “magic” word count. It will waste visitor’s time, they won’t appreciate it, and that will eventually be reflected in your rankings.
- Produce Quality Content
While I just said that it is important to make sure your content answers readers’ burning questions, it is equally important to do it with quality. High-quality content gets shared more on social media which can snowball into its earning backlinks which DO help your rankings. So how do you write with quality? There are no easy answers to that question.
Google provides general guidelines for quality content but they are better suited to teaching you what not to do than to provide specific how-tos for quality content. I personally find the best way to achieve quality content is to:
(a) review the content of the top 10 current ranking pages for your keyword phrase; and
(b) write like a journalist.
Reviewing the top 10 ranking pages for the keyword phrase you’re trying to rank for is also extremely helpful. It will tell you what Google thinks people want to find when they search for that phrase, and it will tell you what Google’s ranking algorithm considers high-quality.
Look to see if the majority of pages are informational, lists, or something else. Look for patterns in the main topics they discuss. Look at the level of detail they go into and aim to beat all those things. To rank well in search results, your content will have to be highly relevant, uniquely valuable, well structured, engaging, accurate, and trustworthy. It is hard to do but definitely gets easier with practice.
Writing like a journalist is a tried and true writing and storytelling technique that journalists have relied on for decades. It eases people into your content, keeps them engaged, and demonstrates respect for your readers’ time. Writing like a journalist helps you write crisp, compelling, complete, and accurate content that hooks readers in at the beginning and keeps them engaged. It also broadens your own knowledge of the topic you’re writing above and what industry experts have already said and agree on. It’s well worth the effort.
- Focus on One Topic Per Page or Post Your reader’s time is valuable. If a visitor to your website arrived by searching for SEO copywriting best practices, don’t write a treatise on all SEO best practices, stick to just the ones that have to do with copywriting. If you want to write about all SEO best practices, write a separate post on that topic and link to it, but only if it helps your audience.
- Create Only One Page or Post per Topic
Along the same line, only write one page or post about a specific topic. When you have two very similar pages or posts, visitors and search engines will be confused about which to read or rank. Why compete with yourself?
Make sure all your content is differentiated. Write for search intent and not to satisfy some SEO quotient for the number of keywords on the page. Search intent is the reason someone is searching. They are looking to find information to help them do something – make a purchase, answer a question, learn how to do something, or find a specific person, business, or location. Figure out what it is they are wanting to do with the information by, as previously mentioned, reviewing the current top 10 ranking posts for that subject and then write similar, but better, content. Only write one comprehensive, high-quality, and helpful page or post per search intent. More is unnecessary.
- Structure Content For Skimming Most journalists write using an inverted pyramid technique that presents information in descending order of importance. This lets your audience get to the most crucial details quickly so they can decide whether to continue reading or return to search results. Start with an outline that structures your content hierarchically, dealing with the most important topics first and progressively narrowing down to the finest of details until the topic has been dealt with thoroughly, and completely.
- Make it Engaging
The best writers are masterful storytellers. They use real or imagined people and events to make their narratives compelling, relatable, and memorable. They use high-quality, charts, graphs, images, photos, and videos to increase reader enjoyment, understanding, retention, and clickthru rates.
When you create content, aim to use original charts and images as they’re more likely to earn links and social shares. If that’s not possible, there are lots of high-quality, licensed-to-use, and some even free media sources on the Internet. You can start by visiting this Pinterest page which identifies quite a few sources and what you need to know about legally using content you find on the Internet.
- Employ Tried-and-True SEO Copywriting Tactics
Use your focus keyword phrase – the phrase you want to rank for – in a way that is natural and helpful. Use it high on the page (in the first sentence or paragraph if possible), in the middle, and toward the end. Use it:
- 2-3 times on short pages;
- 4-6 times on longer ones;
- once in the main heading or title of the page or post;
- once in subheadings, so long as it makes sense.
Don’t overdo it. It will seem forced, turn off readers, and potentially lower the quality rating of your content.
Other Helpful Resources
Don’t know about keyword phrases or how to identify them? Check out SEO Industry Leader Moz’s Guide to Keyword Research. I also have a Pinterest board dedicated to keyword research for small businesses. There are a variety of helpful posts referenced there.
SEO copywriting isn’t the same as on-page SEO. On-page SEO is broader in scope and includes things like URL, meta tag, and image optimization best practices. SEO copywriting and on-page optimization improve your ranking potential. Read how to optimize a page or blog post using WordPress and the popular WordPress For SEO Yoast plugin to learn a 12-step process for on-page SEO.
Here is a shorter, PDF-version of this SEO Copywriting Best Practices post.
Lastly, have questions? Use the comment section below and I will respond.
Last Updated: 03/16/2021