SEO content writing isn’t always easy. It takes time. It requires basic knowledge of SEO, good writing skills and attention to detail. Over the long term, you’ll need add to your content – editing and producing new copy in line with marketing goals. This too takes time and skill. Doing it well, from the start, will be worth more to your business than you may think.
Good content or, even better, GREAT CONTENT, will help your website’s ranking in search results. It will help people find your website in direct searches, and attract traffic to your site from related, or indirect, searches. It can give you an authoritative online presence within your industry, giving you influence – a ‘voice’. It can attract links from other websites and blogs by making your website a ‘go-to’ for references and information on the services or products you offer.
It will increase your potential and actual customer base, increase sales, and boost your ‘bottom line’.
What’s not to like about good content? Or the time and learning investment you should make in creating it?
STEP 1: Avoid the most common copy writing mistake made by website owners
One of the worst online marketing mistakes is one made over and over by an alarming number of website owners. It’s a mistake made before they’ve even started using their websites to market their service or product online: It’s BAD CONTENT. Bad content does not only refer to badly written copy. It refers to all content that isn’t good content. So, before we go on to what constitutes good content, let’s do a quick summary what makes for bad content. A quick point form will do, because we are going to focus on the more important good content. On how you can create it, and how you use it to achieve what you want with your website.
Bad Content is:
- Badly written
- Well written – but not in the right way or for the right ‘audience’
- Not edited for spelling, grammar and syntax errors, and typos
- Too long or too short, not to the point, boring, or annoying because people can’t find what they want without going on a treasure hunt
- Copied from other websites, then rewritten ‘just enough’, or put through a ‘content-rewriting program
- Plagiarised (VERY BAD – YOU NEVER WANT TO DO THIS! It’s theft, and Google picks it up INSTANTLY)
- Not SEO’d
- Over, or badly, SEO’d (too many keywords, outbound links etc.)
That’s enough. The points above offer an overview of the pitfalls involved in not investing in good copywriting and unique, well written, content. Now – let’s focus productively – on the really valuable stuff: Good SEO Content Writing. Because there’s a little more to it than it being the ‘opposite of bad content’.
STEP 2: Before you write, consider the Cornerstones of Writing Great Web Copy
There are 4 ‘cornerstones’ for the creation of quality, targeted and well produced website content: Let’s call them Who, What, Why and How
(Later, once you have your main copy and marketing goals in place and you embark on a long-term marketing strategy, you can add Where and When)
WHO you are writing for – including your ‘primary audience’, ‘secondary audience’ and search-engines.
WHAT you are going to write – on what pages, how much on each page, as so-called ‘static web copy’, or as blogs.
WHY you are writing it. What do you want to achieve with each piece or type of content – considering elements such as user behavior to encourage them to stay on the site, navigate, ‘buy’ and ‘contact’, getting links, getting traffic etc.
HOW are you going to write the various sections of content – considering elements such as style, readability, reading level, good practices (your do’s and don’ts), use of headings, etc.
1. WHO are you writing your copy for?
When producing content, don’t just write about what your offering. That’s essential, of course, but it’s just as important to write it for your target market or target markets.
Primary and Secondary ‘Audience’: Because your target market may be bigger and more diverse than you think…
Who constitutes your Primary target market – your main readers / audience / customers?
Who makes up for Secondary target market – your wider readership / potential audience / potential customers?
- Primary ‘Audience’: Your existing customers and people who would look for your specific product or service online
- Secondary ‘Audience’: Potential customers and people who are looking for your type of product or service
Once you have identified your Primary and Secondary market, you can then plan on what information to give them. Plan this with a view to how you want them to respond to it, what you want to give them and what you want from them.
Once you have done this, consider the other two important (but in the initial set up stage of content creation, slightly less important than your primary and secondary targets).
- Potential site visitors whose use of the website will influence how your site ranks in searches, in the mid to long term, and
- The ‘bots’: the search engine algorithms.
Please note that I say only ‘slightly less important, because you will need to consider them when you get down to structuring and writing your content. This is especially true with regards to the search engine algorithms.
You need to plan for content strategies that will target the ‘third-level’ audience who could boost your website rankings and expose your site to a wider secondary audience, even if they are not potential customers themselves.
How you structure your content will impact on how the search engines crawl your website – right from the day your site goes live. This It will make a difference to what the search engine identifies your site as being about, what keywords your site ranks for, and who it should serve it up to, and in what position in ‘personalised search results’.
This last is especially true in Google’s case. Big Brother makes it its business to know more about who might want your service or product, than you do.
Now, you are ready to move on to WHAT you are going to write – firstly for your primary and secondary market, or audience, and secondly for your third-level potential traffic sources and the search engines.
2. WHAT content should you put on your website
What do you put on your website for each of those audiences?
What pages do you need, and what do you put in them? What blogs will you need?
Your website Pages will contain you so-called ‘static content’. This is the content that won’t change much, if at all. You can edit it, improve it and SEO it (or ideally get it SEO’d by an SEO professional). Later you could add more Pages, but your initial page layout should contain your foundation content – content that tells site visitors (human and search ‘bot’) exactly what your site is about and what it offers.
Content that responds to user behavior, evolves, changes and will light up different algorithmic neurons in the search engines’ bot-brains, is all called ‘dynamic’ content.
To keep things simple, let’s concern ourselves with the ‘dynamic content’ opportunities offered by blogs.
- What blogs can you write?
- Should you write short intros to industry news, pulled in via a newsfeed?
- Or write whole stories and articles yourself?
- What about completely original blogs posts?
- Is it necessary to work with an SEO consultant to decide on topics? (The answer is almost always a resounding YES, YOU SHOULD – just by the way.)
- Should posts be based on current goings on in the industry?
- Should my posts be angled at answering common questions?
- Should posts answer commonly asked questions on Google and other search engines? (Another YES!)
The above is a selection of questions you need to ask yourself when planning your ‘dynamic content’.
Some extra ‘what to write’ to keep in mind in the content planning stage:
Another aspect to WHAT you’re going to write for your website, is whether you will write it all yourself from scratch.
If you do, will you write it from what you know, and/or from ‘offline’ reference material? Or will you need to get information from other sites, or even competitor websites?
Ideally, you should write it from what you know, if you are going the DIY route. However, you there may be instances where you do not have the full suite of information in your head, or available to you in ‘hard copy’ form. In this case, you’ll need to reference information on other websites, and/or collect information online. Collecting information may require taking whole batches of information from other websites.
Think about what can be referenced – keeping in mind that you don’t want too many links going off your site to other websites. If you are going to reference information on other sites, another essential consideration is how ‘authoritative’ those sites are, and how well they are ranked by search engines. This SEO behind this is fairly complex, and you might need to get advice and guidance from your SEO consultant to plan this properly.
If you take content from other sites, it must be rewritten, to the extent that it is written in a unique way. This applies whether the content is a paragraph or two, or whole swathes of copy. It can even apply to a single sentence if that sentence will positioned as a heading, sub-heading or intro description; it also applies if the sentence is going be positioned to be picked up by search engines to create the content ‘snippets’ that appear under your website’s URL and page title, in search results.
If you are not going to write it all yourself, what do you need to prepare for your copywriter? Should you hire a professional writer? Or should you ‘kill two birds with one stone’ and contract out some of your copy production to your online marketing company?
3. WHY the content you decide on should be on the site
What to write should be carefully planned, that on one website, with its suite of pages (static content), and with its news and/or article blogrolls (dynamic content), you can…
- satisfy existing customers
- get new customers
- get both existing and potential customers to ‘convert’ by clicking through to ‘buy now’ or ‘contact us’
- get traffic from people who might not buy, but who can help your website fare competitively on ‘Google et al’ (and so be found by those who may buy)
- ensure that Google and other search engines ‘classify’ your website correctly from day one
That’s it for WHY. It’s an indisputable ‘cornerstone’ of DIY writing of good content, so it doesn’t require more explanation.
Now… on to the biggest section of our guide to DIY content: the HOW.
4. HOW to write GREAT CONTENT for your website -the nitty-gritties!
Some General Language Rules:
Bad language muddies fundamentally simple concepts. At best this will make the reader pause and reread a couple of sentences. At worst it will irritate them, and you may lose a customer.
There are a few fundamental rules to writing great copy. However, rather than hash them out here, let’s sum it up by saying: If you can’t write well and only you know that), get someone who can write well, to do it for you or edit your copy.
If you insist on writing your own copy – well then:
THE DON’TS OF GOOD COPY WRITING:
- Don’t make spelling mistakes.
- Don’t make grammar errors.
- Avoid using too much jargon. Some would say avoid using jargon altogether, but jargon exists for a reason. We invent words and phrases, and lately, acronyms, to say things that would otherwise take paragraphs (with disclaimers and links to Wiki explanations). Here’s the thing though: unless your reader is an industry expert or ‘insider’ they will only end bewildered or annoyed. Don’t make your readers feel stupid, irritated or bored by overusing jargon. Just don’t.
- Don’t hard sell. Use facts and unique aspects to entice your reader. The world is leery of hard sell techniques these days. They are just not as gullible or as innocent as they were last year.
THE DO’S OF GOOD COPYWRITING:
- Make sure your writing is ORIGINAL. Don’t copy other people’s stuff! It’s simple!
- Don’t skimp on important information. The only questions your reader should be left with are ones they want answered when they click on the Contact Us, Get a Quote, Learn More (etc.) buttons.
- Strongly related to the above point is: WHAT INFORMATION ARE THEY LOOKING FOR? We will have resort to examples for this one:
- Say you sell Pet Insurance:
Your main page copy will be about Pet Insurance. With your copy properly SEO’d, in a nice, well designed, website, you are all set and go for people Googling ‘Pet Insurance in (wherever you are/your target market is located)’. So, sit back, rub your chin and twiddle your thumbs?
No? Of course not. You have an online marketing campaign going on, so you are expecting hits on your site from multiple sources. Say you have a Facebook campaign, headed ‘Get Medical Insurance for your Pet today! It’s MORE AFFORDABLE THAN YOU THINK!’. The link they are encouraged to follow should land on text that states exactly what they clicked on the link for: How affordable it is: e.g. You can get full veterinary care for your dog, for as little as R235 per month! Contact us now to ensure your pet is covered (linked to your contact page), or ‘learn more’ (link to your main page)
Don’t stuff your content with keywords. Use ‘just enough’. You can measure ‘just enough’ by getting a ‘proof-reader’ to read through it. An objective eye will pick up if it’s obvious you have used a word, or a phrase, too much. It will make your copy a jarring read.
If it’s obvious to the reader, it will be obvious to Google.
Keywords are important. You should ensure that they are there. There should be at least 3 or 4 mentions of your primary keyword in a 300 – 400-word long piece. Sometimes you can get away with more. It all depends on the subject matter. It can also depend on the order in which things are written.
Try to get your primary keyword (or phrase) into your first sentence and your last – or as close to. That takes care of two of them already.
SEO CONTENT WRITING READABILITY
- Who constitutes your Primary target market – your main readers / audience / customers?
- Who makes up for Secondary target market – your ‘extra’ readers / greater audience/ potential customers?
You have decided on WHO, WHAT, and you have a clear map with WHY. Ideally, you have your information at hand, and you are ready to begin writing. So, let’s start with your Primary and Secondary Audiences. How do you now write your content for these audiences?
In a way that will keep them reading to the end of a post, or to where they will ‘convert’? (Google tracked behavior that influences how it ranks your website’s content)
When most people have: short attention spans, want immediate answers to their questions, instant satisfaction and have high expectations?
If your target market is executive, believe it or not, you may need to write some of your copy as if addressing high school students. Lower high school in fact – around a Grade 8 Readability Level (ref. ARI Readability Index)
This is because busy executives don’t respond well to high-level content with sophisticated syntax, and complex arguments. That might be fine for business documents, but it isn’t right for web copy. Also, the kind of prose aimed at their educational level in books and feature articles, is unsuitable for most website copy.
This doesn’t mean that you must write as if they are stupid. It just means that you should be ‘on point’ all the time. If you need to make complex arguments, use short sentences as much as possible. Make it easy to ‘skim read’. Readers will scan the page to find the specific piece of information they’re looking for—if they don’t find it easily, they’ll move on.
- Copy should on point enough for your reader to have trust in you and your company. It should be immediately obvious to them that you know what you are writing about. You need to offer a high level of assurance in your writing.
- However, copy must be simplified enough that your readers can scan it quickly and get to what they want – fast! Remember – they have meetings to attend. Or golf.
- Avoid long words with lots of syllables if they are not necessary required needed, and ‘big’ words (like ‘convoluted’), as far as you can.
- Ditto for complex sentences. Complex sentences are impossible to avoid completely, and sometimes they are needed. But you’ll be surprised at how often a long complex sentence can be broken down into two or three simple sentences.Do this as often as you can. Then the long or complex sentences you need to keep won’t detract from the readability of your content. Hold on! Let me see if I can improve the last sentence that I wrote…‘Then the long or complex sentences you need to keep won’t detract from the readability of your content’. Instead – how about: Then you can keep some long or complex sentences. They won’t detract from the readability of your content. Better…right? Use complex sentences only when it improves the flow of information or is required for a sentence to make sense
- Remove unnecessary words from your sentences.
TIP: When you write, or edit your copy to simplify it, remember that:
- you are NOT trying to win a writing contest
- you ARE trying to ensure your reader doesn’t get bored and click through to another website
We have used the ‘executive-level’ audience as an example here. This is because the lesson learned about writing for them (through Google Analytics tracking of their ‘user behavior’) can be applied to all content. No matter who it is written for.
Achieving the right readability level is not always easy to do. You’ll need to play with word order. You may need to experiment with concept order too. You don’t want to break grammar rules. You also need to make sure your content still makes sense. Retain the flow as much as you can. Retain the meaning too!
SEO Content Writing Readability Tests
It’s a trick to get your copy to a suitable readability level without ‘dumbing it down’ to the point that you lose your reader’s trust. But, have no fear! There are a number of great software tools you can run your content through to check the readability level.
The Flesch-Kincaid Readability Test and the Hemingway Editor will help you edit your content until you get it right.
Using software to edit can be quite a process, and a maddening one at that (especially with the Hemingway Editor). But it won’t take too much time, or drive you crazy, if you pay attention to the reading level from the start.
TIP: Readability Tests and Editors are SOFTWARE. They are not perfect. Do your best with them. Try to get as close as you can to your ideal readability score. But if the suggestions made are going to ruin your writing, you can ignore them. The choice is yours, and in many cases, you’ll make a better one.
Some other tips for SEO Content Writing Readability:
- Stick to active voice as much as you can Using active voice will make for shorter and more direct sentences.
- Address your reader directly. It’s not always appropriate, but if it is, it’s a good way to:
- increase readability (lowering ‘readability level’) through active voice and shorter sentences
- draw in your reader by making your copy more personal and encouraging them to ponder on what you are saying.
- Avoid using industry jargon in any copy that is not aimed solely at industry insiders.
- Acronyms are very useful. Use them- they shorten sentences and make them easier to read, but ensure you start with the full phrase the acronym represents. If your copy is long, intersperse the acronyms with the full title on a ratio of 80:20 – with 80% acronym use. This is not a rule, but it’s useful to remind readers what the acronym stands for.
Arrangement of Content – for Readability (and SEO):
Some Formatting Guidelines:
- Use bullet-point or numbered lists – especially if your copy is long.
- Use ‘white space’ to help reader’s eyes scan the page easily. For example: It’s fine to have bullet points close together if the info on each is short. It’s better to leave a gap if the info on each is two, or more, sentences long.
- You can also use list-form to ‘break up’ follow-on points in a long explanation. This is not standard; it would not be used in a hard copy document. However, it is suitable for more informal website copy.
HEADINGS: Basic SEO rules for both writing and formatting your web copy:
We have put these rules together because they cannot be separated. All website copy must be arranged with a specific set of headlines.
- Your H1 headline will be at the top of the page. It’s the heading for your copy.
- Your H2’s are your sub-headings. These are used to section your copy to organize the information and make it easier to read.
- Your H3’s (used only in longer copy) are sub-sub-headlines… and so-on and so-forth. Very long copy will include H4, H5 and even H6 headlines.
- Headlines (H1 – 6) make your copy more readable for humans. However, they have another, equally important (and in some cases more important – e.g. SEO blogs) role.
- A reader will see:
HEADING XXXXX XXXX XXXX
SUB-HEADING xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx
…and so on.
Search Engine ‘bots’ will also see that – bit they will see the H1, H2, H3 etc. designation in the code. This will tell the bot what the most important things are in the copy (i.e. what it is about) in a cascading order.
So, if you are going to write your own website copy, it is essential that:
- you word your headings with attention to detail – including the right keywords in them, in the right ‘cascading order’
- you advise your web developer as to the H1, H2 etc. order. H1 is obvious – it’s the one at the top of the page. However, the positioning and wording of H2s and H’s down the heading cascade, might not be so obvious.
Tip 1: You may want to arrange your headings, from H2 down, in one way for the reader, but another for the Search Engines. Often, it’s the same arrangement, but not always. A heading for a reader can be sued to guide the eye, explain or entice. Headings for Search Engines need to clearly organize keywords and information in straight-forward ‘order of importance’.
TIP 2: A better idea would be to let your SEO consultant do the headings! Or advise on them pre-writing. OR – let them play with them, letting them make the necessary related edits to your content and arrangement.
Back to the point of considering WHO you are writing for (instead of just writing about your product the way you feel like writing about it?) Or knocking out your content in the quickest ‘just get that task out the way’ fashion?
The point is – to get your reader to click on the link at the bottom of the page. It can be a learn more button. It can be a contact us button. Or a buy now button. This is called ‘conversion’. A high conversion rate means more sales. It also has a crucial role in SEO. Google and other Search Engines use ‘user behaviour’ to evaluate the relevance and quality of your website. Conversion rate is one of the most valuable user behavior insights they use.
SEO Content Writing Structure
Let’s consider a ‘model’ that fits most website content. This model applies no matter who it’s for, how they found your website, or what page they landed on.
It’s called the ‘inverted pyramid model’. We won’t spend much time on this, because it really is quite simple:
1. The Inverted Pyramid Model for Copy Writing and Content Production
Consider what an inverted pyramid looks like. It looks like a funnel, right? When applied to your website’s content, that is exactly what it is. A funnel. The top, and biggest, layer of the pyramid offers the most important information. This will be presented in the first few paragraphs.
The next layer offers the next most important information – specifically info that clarifies the points made in the top layer of ‘most important information’. This helps maintain your reader’s attention – just enough to ‘funnel’ them to the conversion button – remember: learn more, read more, contact us, buy now etc.
Why we asked you to imagine the ‘inverted pyramid’ as a ‘funnel’:
The ‘funnel model’ for copy production is our ‘take’ on the ‘inverted pyramid’ model.
The traditional explanation is that the Inverted Pyramid starts with the most important information at the top and the least important at the bottom. Re-imagined as a ‘funnel’, one can understand better how to structure the one’s content. Entice them. Suck em in. Close. That’s it. You got ‘em.
2. Direct your Content: An essential aspect to website content:
Use your pages. The number of pages is not set in stone. Customer Managed Sites (CMS) are built on programs that allow you, the website owner, to add as many pages and sub-pages, as you want. Whether you do this yourself or outsource this task your website developer or content manager, CMS platforms make is easy to design a layered ‘flow of information’.
This helps you organise and sub-divide your content for your audience. It also helps Search Engines bots ‘understand’ and rank your website the way you want them to.
Again, this is a complicated field. Consult your SEO specialist on headings before you plan your pages!
LAST BUT NOT LEAST: It’s not too late to fiddle with and fix your copy after your website is up and running. However, it’s better to have your most important copy correctly written before your site is indexed. You can add it to it later.
Tuesday, October 29, 2019