SEO Copywriting: A Beginner's Guide

SEO copywriting involves writing content designed to be found by search engines and enjoyed by readers. This is a beginner’s guide based on my 16 years of experience as a freelance writer.

May 6, 2024
Written by
Christy Bieber
Reviewed by
Nate Matherson

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SEO copywriting is a special type of writing. Of course, the writing has to appeal to readers, first and foremost — because content that’s unique and useful will appeal to search engines, too. But there are also specific SEO copywriting techniques that will help your webpages rank well on search engine results pages (SERPs).

A key element of writing for SEO is using the right keywords, so Google can understand exactly what information the page contains (this applies to other search engines as well, but Google is this article’s focus).

The goal is for Google to know that your content provides helpful information about the things your potential customers are searching for, so it can direct those customers to your page.

The Basics of SEO Copywriting

When you're using a search engine to find something — whether it’s a new skill, a new TV, or just some information — you’ll frequently go to Google and type a description of what you’re looking for: “inbound marketing strategies,” “70-inch TVs on sale,” or “what is the capital of Suriname” The terms that you’re using to search are called keywords (or key phrases).  

After you enter your keyword, Google decides which content to show you, out of the millions of pages on the web. So when you’re creating webpages, you need to tell Google that your pages will be helpful for readers searching for a particular keyword. SEO copywriting allows you to do that.

Your goal for SEO copywriting is to create helpful content that Google understands and wants to deliver for the keywords your target audience is searching for.

Good SEO Content Is About More Than Just Keywords

Google uses many techniques to decide what content to deliver when someone types a keyword into the search bar. Google’s Gary Illyes has said that Google uses more than 200 different signals when determining which pages to rank and where to rank them.

The keywords included in your piece are obviously one of these signals. By including the keyword “inbound marketing strategies” in the content you write, you’re telling search engines that your page would be of interest to people using that keyword to search.

But you don't want to just write content that includes a certain keyword a hundred times. That's called keyword stuffing. And that type of content isn’t helpful for readers.

Google wants to deliver useful results, so it measures positive reactions, negative reactions, and user interaction signals to understand whether searchers are enjoying your pages. For example, metrics like bounce rate, time on page, and scroll depth might provide Google with context about how helpful your content is, even if Google refers to metrics like these by other names internally.

Because all of these factors matter, effective SEO content:

  • Contains the keywords your intended audience or customers are looking for
  • Quickly addresses the search intent of the searcher
  • Encourages readers to read the entire page (or at least most of it).
  • Provides unique value, helpfulness, or information gain.
  • Encourages site visitors to stay on the page for a while
  • Prompts readers to visit other pages on your site after clicking on the first piece of content.

How to Write Effective SEO Copy

If you want to create content that ranks well on SERPs and drives organic traffic, there are a few SEO best practices that should be part of your process:

1. Choose the Right Primary Keyword

Choosing the right keyword to target is the foundation of all SEO copywriting. After all, you don't want to focus your search engine optimization strategy on the wrong phrases.

To pick the right keyword:

  • Think about what your customers need: If customers often ask you the same question, this is a good starting point for keyword research.
  • Find out what competitors are ranking for: If everyone in your industry is targeting a particular keyword, it's likely a good one for you to target as well.
  • Do keyword research: There are both free tools (like Google's Keyword Planner) and paid tools (like Positional, Ahrefs, or Semrush) that can help you research what people are searching for and how intense the competition is to rank for a specific keyword. Use these tools to make sure that enough people are searching for the keywords you're thinking of targeting, and to understand how hard it will be to rank for them — a metric called keyword difficulty.
  • Prioritize the keywords you want to rank for: You can create only so much SEO content at once. You'll need to decide what primary keywords to target first. Typically, you should include some keywords for the top of the marketing funnel (general keywords that can be harder to rank for), as well as some for the bottom of the funnel (more specific keywords targeting people ready to take action) in your SEO strategy.
  • Choose a primary keyword. After doing research and prioritizing which keywords to focus on, pick a primary keyword, or a main keyword that you'll optimize a specific content piece for. This is the keyword you’ll include in your headings, meta descriptions, title tags, and slug (the phrase on the end of the site's URL).
  • Choose your secondary keywords. Typically, you’ll cluster some keywords in keyword groups if they have similar search results, so you can target multiple keywords with each piece of content. SEO software can help you to identify supporting keywords and long-tail keywords that can be served by the same page.
  • Create a content inventory: Writing multiple pages targeting the same keyword isn’t helpful. This confuses Google about which page should rank. So keep track of what keywords you already have SEO content for, and don't duplicate your efforts.  

Take the time to get this process right. Choosing keywords is central to any SEO copywriting strategy.  

2. Choose the Right Type of Content

Google links to different types of content for different search terms. For example, a search might lead to a blog post, a sales page, a landing page, or some other type of webpage — depending on the keyword the user entered.

To decide what kind of SEO content to create, search the phrase you’re interested in ranking for. See what the top results are. If most or all of the top results are blog posts, you'd want to create a blog post of your own to try to compete for page views. If most are landing pages, then you’d want to create a landing page.

For example, for the keyword “free CRM,” most of the top results will take us to product pages for different CRM companies.

But for the keyword “how do I fix a sink,” the top results are mostly blog posts (and a lot of video results).

3. Write High-Quality, Helpful Content

Whatever type of content you're creating, it's absolutely critical that you write helpful, engaging pieces that appeal to your target audience. In fact, Google rolled out the “helpful content system” to find and prioritize content with these characteristics.

This helps you increase your search traffic. If visitors stay on your site for longer, that may signal to Google that your document or search result is good (however, this won’t always be the case, depending on the keyword you are targeting).

You may also earn backlinks from other respected websites naturally, which Google sees as a trusted authority. Your pages will rank better because of it. Writing high-quality SEO content also helps increase conversions, as visitors are more likely to become customers if you provide helpful information.

So how do you write good content? I've been an SEO copywriter for 16 years, and here are some of the SEO copywriting techniques I use:

Write Engaging Intros

You want to capture the reader's attention right away — especially if you're creating a blog post. Often, I'll try to do this with an interesting statistic or by telling the readers what they'll learn if they read on.

Answer the Searcher’s Question Quickly

Searchers are frequently looking for specific information or answers. One of the best SEO copywriting tips is to try to provide that information or answer that question right away. You can go into more detail later, but an overly wordy or vague introduction is likely to cause your site visitors to leave quickly.

In other words, you want to hit the search intent, or the reason that someone is doing a search, very quickly within your piece of content.

Just take a look at Positional's blog post on the subject of dwell time. As you can see, the opening paragraph immediately provides a clear, concise answer to the key question that searchers are asking: “What is dwell time?”

Include Graphics and Videos

Skilled SEO copywriters often break up content with graphics and videos to add interest. Pictures are sometimes the best way to deliver information effectively.

For example, this article on Positional’s blog explains how to use Google Search Console. Some screenshots were invaluable in demonstrating how to get started.

Avoid Large Blocks of Text

Have you ever looked at a big block of text on a website — especially on your phone — and clicked away immediately because you didn’t want to wade through all those words? If so, you aren't alone.

Writing effectively for the web means:

  • Keeping paragraphs short and sentences simple.
  • Breaking up text with headings, charts or graphics, and lists or bullet points.

The goal is to make your page easy for readers to navigate and learn from.

Link to Other Helpful Resources

Strategically including helpful links in your content is useful for readers and for transferring authority between pages on your site.

For example, in the article you’re reading right now, where I mention search intent, I've added a link to a page about that topic. Doing so allows you to click on that page to learn more about the subject. A good internal linking strategy also helps Google find and index all of your site’s pages.

Also, externally linking to sources when making claims is helpful for searchers.

Integrate Keywords Naturally

While you want to make sure you're using keywords so search engines can find your content, you don't want to use them too often or in unnatural ways. This can make content feel stilted or robotic, and that may cause a reader to click away.

On a recent episode of the Optimize podcast, Dave Rathmanner suggested that Google may classify your content as unhelpful if you are over-optimizing, “keyword stuffing,” or using keywords in an unnaturally excessive way.  

It's important to be careful, especially if your keyword is one that you'd naturally type often within an article.

I was once writing SEO content about rental agreements, with the keyword “rental agreement.” I accidentally used that phrase about 30 times within the content, just because it can be really hard to find another term to describe that specific type of document. I had to go back and change it to avoid seeming like I was engaged in keyword stuffing for clicks.

Offer Something Other Pages Don’t

Finally, it's important for any SEO copywriter to create interesting content that goes beyond what competitors provide. There's lots of information on the web, and you want your content to have the best information out there.

Google focuses on E-E-A-T, or experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness, when deciding which websites to display in response to consumer searches. So you want every piece of content you write to demonstrate these qualities.

There are a few ways to do this, including having experts in your industry write your content, or at least interviewing experts and including their quotes. For example, I'll sometimes interview a financial advisor when writing a personal finance article or a mortgage loan officer when writing about borrowing to buy a house.

The important thing is to develop some type of SEO copywriting strategy that goes beyond the generic and dives deep into the topics that your potential readers are interested in.

4. Optimize Your Content for SEO

While you're writing your content, or after you have a complete draft, you'll want to optimize what you've written. This means making sure that you’ve included the right components to appeal to search engines.

You can use SEO content writing tools, like Content Harmony, MarketMuse, and Positional, to do this. Below, Positional’s Optimize toolset shows how it helped me optimize this piece by showing me what SEO keywords I had and hadn’t included, the reading level, and whether I’d used the right number of headers and images.

Some people like to write within these tools. I prefer to write a draft in Google Docs first, input it into the tool, and make necessary changes to earn a good SEO score.

That way, I'm focusing on content quality first and not obsessing about getting my keywords in from the start. I find doing it the other way too distracting. But experiment to find which SEO copywriting techniques work best for you.

5.  Keep Your Content Updated

Effective SEO copywriting isn’t a one-and-done project. While high-ranking pages can pay off for years to come, you need to keep your content library fresh and updated if you want to continue to get organic search traffic.

Having a regular update schedule is a good idea — for instance, refreshing blogs and pages every six months or once a year. You may need to update them more frequently if you’re in an industry where information changes often. For example, if you’re writing about mortgages, you may need to update a page about mortgage rates often as market conditions change.

Content updates not only ensure that your information isn't outdated but also help you make sure that you’re still targeting the right keyword (keyword relevance can change over time) and delivering what users are looking for.

Mistakes to Avoid in SEO Writing

It's important to avoid some common errors during the SEO copywriting process. Specifically, you should:

  • Avoid duplicating content, even within your own website. Google doesn't directly penalize duplicate content, except in extremely malicious cases. But if the search engine finds multiple versions of the same page, it will show only the best match. So, this can still hurt your SEO strategies, as only some of your pages will be visible.
  • Avoid plagiarism. Google values original content, and engaging in plagiarism violates its guidelines. If Google spots plagiarism, your site may be downgraded.
  • Avoid using large amounts of AI generated content: Google penalizes sites that use automation to create low-quality content at scale.

Final Thoughts

SEO copywriting requires both strong writing skills and a solid knowledge of SEO techniques.

You can hire a freelance writer to tackle it, or take ownership and learn how to develop great content that includes the right keywords and that readers love to read.

The important thing to remember is that it takes time to improve search engine rankings through producing quality SEO content — but unlike with some marketing techniques, your efforts should pay off for many years to come.

Christy Bieber
Freelance Writer

Christy is a freelance writer with over a decade of experience. She has a Juris Doctor (JD) from the University of California, Los Angeles, as well as a degree in English, Media, and Communications with a Certificate in Business Management from the University of Rochester. Her work has been published on websites such as Fox Business, New York Post, and Forbes.

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