Monday, December 9, 2013

Complete Guide to SEO Copywriting

SEO copywriting involves a clear understanding how search engines view a webpage. The goal is to write content that answers questions and includes relevant keywords that occur naturally.

When a webpage has sufficient, up-to-date, and credible content, search engines will drive more qualified customer traffic to it. A website that attracts the right visitors and moves them toward buying a product is a productive website. Qualified customer traffic can result in increased sales and other valuable conversion goals, helping the overall SEO program to be a success.

SEO copywriting today must be based on the new Google Hummingbird semantic search engine, which places less emphasis on content keywords, and more emphasis on a conversational content that answers customer questions.

Instead of just wondering “Do I have enough high volume and long tail keywords?” you should also ask “Is this content really great at explaining the topic or product to customers?” Keywords will always be important, but satisfying customers is the real key to successful content.

When I did some online research, I was amazed to discover how most "SEO Copywriting Tips" type articles were extremely skimpy, often being no more than 3 to 5 tips and included such dopey advice as "replace poor content with great content."

Here's what you really need to know to write good SEO web content.

One Theme Per Page. Each webpage must be devoted to a single theme (a topic, service, product, product category, or idea). That theme will be expressed in the HTML document title tag, meta description, image filenames, image alt attributes, and H1 and H2 headings.

Google wants to match a customer search query with the best webpage that will meet the need of the customer. If multiple topics are contained in a webpage, the primary theme will be diluted, and Google will not consider that webpage to have adequate focus.

Separate Themes on Separate Pages. When multiple themes, product categories, etc. are on a webpage, consider breaking that page into separate pages. Give each distinct idea, topic, product, service, etc. its own webpage. This will enable customers to drill down for more specific information as needed.

Know Your Target Audience. Ask yourself, “Who, or what type of customer, would go to this webpage? What would they hope to find on this webpage?” When you identify the theme of a webpage, Google the keywords and read a bit of the conversations and debates going on at other websites, blogs, and forums. Discover the hot issues and questions people have.

Do Some Competitor Research. Look at some competitive websites that rank well for top keywords. What do they seem to be doing right? What deficiencies do they have that you can exploit by writing better content for your client?

Also look at some other websites that don't rank that well. What do they seem to be doing wrong? Learn from their bad content. Consider how disappointed a customer would feel when they visited this poor content website. Decide what is lacking and make sure you don't have the same lack in your client's website.

Internal Linking Strategy. When a theme is complex, internal linking to subpages is the solution. Make sure the link wording (anchor text) has keywords in it, instead of “read more” or “click here” or “learn about the options available”. Revise such phrases to “read more about _________”, with “_______” being the keyword phrase (specific product, service, subordinate concept, etc.) that is the link anchor text. In other words, “heart surgery” should be the link, rather than “read more about heart surgery.”

Don't overdo it. Too many internal links can make a webpage look spammy.

No Keyword Stuffing. Don't write generic copy, then try to plug in keywords for SEO. Instead, use a set of recommended keywords as ideas for content amplification. Lists of recommended keywords should be used as possible synonyms or aspects of content that you may have overlooked. They are not to be used as magic bullets to sprinkle into otherwise generic copy to trick search engines into thinking the content is relevant and authoritative.

Long tail keywords are terms that are not used very often, but when they are used, they tend to be used by customers with deeper understanding of a product and are ready to buy now. Be sure to have some of these long tail keywords in your content, in addition to the more popular, high volume keywords (which are more competitive and harder to rank for).

Get Info from Client. Before writing a webpage, gather as much information as possible from the client. Client-provided facts are the most important aspect of copywriting. You can't pull these facts from the thin air or guess what they are. The account representative should contact the client with a list of questions or topics that need explanation and detailed information. This is the #1 priority for copywriting.

Do Some Research. Once you have the client-supplied information, you will probably find parts that could benefit from elaboration or simplification. Google the keywords or topic of the webpage and see what competitors and authoritative sources are saying on that same subject. You may discover new angles or directions to follow that you had not thought of yet.

You may see that competitive websites are using charts, videos, or other presentation formats to help clarify certain aspects. Consider doing something similar, but better.

Talk Like the Customer. Be sure to put information into the language of customers, while retaining the technically precise terminology. This is where definitions come in. Define the technical terminology in customer language. You may need to read customer testimonials or visit online forums to discover how customers are talking about a topic, product, or problem.

Use Conversational Language. As much as possible, make your content sound like a good friend or trusted adviser engaging in sincere, intimate conversation. Customers are turned off by stiff, institutional sounding content. Try to get a genuine, warm, human feel into the copy. Look at what you've written and ask yourself, “How would I state these ideas if I called my best friend on the phone and wanted to tell him these facts, quickly, simply, and in a way that would not bore my friend?”

People Buy Benefits, Not Features. It's easy to forget that features and technical specifications don't arouse buy behavior, unless they are translated as promises and benefits. People have problems and needs. They seek solutions and answers. Be sure to always explain the advantage of a feature and not just list features alone.

How Well Does This Webpage Answer Questions? Look at a webpage, not just from the point of view of the client, but also from the viewpoint of a customer. What may seem adequate to a client can be woefully incomplete to a customer. Think: “If I had an urgent need that this product can fulfill, would this webpage satisfy me so much that I'd buy the product, or set up an appointment, or contact the company for more information?

Expand on Bullet Lists. Often a webpage will have some introductory copy, then a bulleted list. The items in the bullet list could usually use at least a couple sentences or a short paragraph. For example, a list of diseases treated by a clinic. Why not add a definition of each disease and maybe some common symptoms?

Almost Nobody Reads Content. People tend to skim and scan content. They typically don't read it like a person would read a book. Web users are impatient, multitasking, and in a hurry. Keep this in mind. Make it easy for customers to quickly zip through the content to zero in on the exact answer they need at that moment. Break up long, dense paragraphs into shorter paragraphs. Use bullet lists and subheads. Use images to add variety and separate ideas.

Start Some Paragraphs with “You” or “Your.” When you think in terms of customer needs, you won't write copy with an “our” and “we” emphasis. Try starting some paragraphs with “You” or “Your”, as in “You'll get _______ (benefit) with this _______ (product).” or “Your _________ (problem/need) will be taken care of quickly, at an affordable price, with _________ (product).” Customers don't want to read corporate fluff that talks on and on about how great the company is. Customers want to read copy that talks about their problem and how to solve it by using the product.

Good Content Attracts Links To It. One of the benefits of complete, compelling content on a topic is that it will be valued by others, so that they will want to link to it. This is a great way to get backlinks to a specific webpages, which are better than backlinks to the home page. A deep link indicates that a specific piece of content is treating a specific subject in a superior and meaningful manner.

Use Synonyms Instead of the Same Terms Repeatedly. The purpose of keywords is not to make content appeal to search engines. Google Hummingbird semantic search engine actually places far less emphasis on matching user queries with content keywords, since many black hat websites have used keyword stuffing in a misguided attempt to game the system. Keywords that are synonyms act as alternate expressions, so your content doesn't get tiresome or seem repetitive.

Good Content is Fascinating. There really is a way to make any product or topic extremely interesting, no matter how dry and dull it might appear at first. The copywriter's challenge is to know so much about the customer needs and the product benefits, that a compelling story or a remarkable description can be communicated to the customer.

You can spice up the content with historical background facts, interesting anecdotes, customer testimonials, insights from blog posts and forums, powerful presentations of how important or urgent it is to solve the customer's problem (rather than letting it languish), and putting yourself in the customer's shoes, imagining their need, and feeling the relief of having that need met by a superior product.

Images Grab Attention and Clarify. Be sure to specify photos to be included in content. People prefer to see images of other people doing things, using a product to solve a problem, being serviced by smiling employees, etc. Notice how magazines successfully use images to draw your attention. Images are important for adding credibility and clarifying what is described with words. Add keyword captions under the photos.

Think of The Webpage as a Movie Script. The H1 (headline) tag should be like the title of a movie, but responding to a question, and implying a benefit. Instead of “Cardiac Care” your header might be “How State of the Art Cardiac Care is Delivered to Our Patients”. The H2 tags should describe the main scenes in the movie/webpage. The content under each H2 subhead should summarize the action and move the plot forward. The climactic final scene is the strong Call To Action that prompts the customer to buy now, set up an appointment, contact the company, or some other conversion act.

Test Your Content. Get a friend, family member, or colleague to read your webpage copy. Ask them if it makes sense, if everything is clear, and if you might have missed an important detail. Tell them to be hyper-critical and totally honest. You care more about getting the copy right, than having your feelings hurt. You might be amazed at how effectively other people can evaluate content. Get several opinions, for one person may not catch everything that needs improvement.

Become an Expert at Talking About the Product. You can't necessarily become an expert at manufacturing, inventing, or using a product. But you can, and you must, quickly become an expert at talking about a product or topic – at least to the extent of being able to write intelligent, accurate, engaging content for the website. This might mean spending more time reading blogs, forums, magazines, books, and competitive websites related to the product or the problems the customers are having.

The Goal is Not Communication But Transaction. Web content needs to tell a story and convey information. But the goal is not education or enlightenment. The primary aim of web content is to persuade a customer to buy something, schedule an appointment, sign up for a newsletter, watch a video, download a file, or whatever conversion goals are desired by the client. Every webpage, even About, should have a strong Call To Action, moving the customer closer to a purchasing decision or other mission-critical business objective.

Command the Customer to Act. Don't just assume that the information itself will provoke a buying transaction. People like to be told what to do when an action is in their best interests. They don't respond to vague instructions. If there are 3 steps to a transaction, number those steps so a customer's progress is logical and orderly. Tell the customer exactly what they need to do next, at every step along the way.

Use commanding phrases like “Now that you've seen how great this solution is, go to our Product Guide to select the right model for your specific needs.” with “Product Guide” as the linked text that when they click on it, will take them to the Product Guide webpage. Remember to help the customer understand how to respond to the offer – and never assume that the customer will enjoy the information so much, responding to the offer will just happen without prompting.

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