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In this guide, we'll walk you through the basics of writing for SEO in 2020. What's more, we’ll share some killer copywriting tips and tricks to supercharge your content this year, helping you draw readers in and convert them into sales for your business.
If your company produces any type of content online (which is likely, since you’re on this blog and because 53% of companies do) then you’re probably at least familiar with the term ‘SEO’. But what is SEO exactly? How can you write for SEO? And what role does SEO play in generating leads and increasing your find-ability online? 🤷🏼
If we want to understand what writing (and also copywriting) for SEO can do for us in 2020, we first need to understand the important basics of SEO — what it is, what it does, and why it’s important.
And because SEO is ever-changing, we need to explore what it means today and for the near future.
In this guide, we’ll do all of the above. And what’s more, we’ll share some killer copywriting tips and tricks to supercharge your content in 2020, helping you draw readers in and convert them into sales for your business.
What is SEO writing?
SEO — which stands for search engine optimization — means the process of maximizing the number of visitors to a particular website by ensuring that the site appears high on the list of results returned by a search engine.
So, essentially, SEO is the process of actively trying to get your website in front of potential buyers, when they happen to be searching for education on products or services similar to yours.
A lot of factors come into play when we’re talking about SEO aside from just content, including:
- Having a secure and easily accessible website
- Page speed
- Domain authority and URL
- User experience
- Social signals
- Outbound, and inbound links
- … and more.
But if we’re talking specifically about content and writing for SEO, it means using chosen, targeted words or phrases — called keywords or keyword phrases— within your content to help search engines find and rank your web page above others.
In producing content for the purposes of SEO, there’s a fine balance in using these keywords and phrases to rank within the search engines, while still trying to keep your content logical, interesting and informative for readers. We’ll delve into tips for exactly how to do this later.
Just as a side note: There is a form of SEO we’re not going to discuss in this article, which is black hat SEO. This term basically refers to formatting your content specifically for search engines and not considering the reader experience at all, i.e. keyword stuffing, duplicating content, and using non-relevant links. This type of writing for SEO is frowned upon and can get you penalized by the search engines… so don’t do it, hmm-kay?
Why should I care about SEO in 2020?
The internet has made researching purchases infinitely easier than it used to be, with thousands of options and reviews right at the your fingertips.
And people are taking advantage of this. In fact, a recent study from the Ecommerce Foundation states that 88% of purchasers research a product or service before they buy it online. Another. from SEO Tribunal, showed that 93% of online buying experiences begin on a search engine like Google or Bing.
Pair the information above with another intriguing study by the Content Marketing Institute which found that content marketing gets three times more leads than paid search advertising, and it becomes obvious why anyone who is selling anything online, or investing in any type of online presence for their business, needs to be thinking about SEO.
That includes you, right?
So how exactly do you become a go-to resource for your ideal customer?
That’s a bit of a loaded question. So let’s break it down by discussing a few solid actions, each of which go a long way in helping companies rank their content in 2020.
How to write for SEO: Inside the mind of a search engine
The goal of writing for SEO overall, is to be found.
When writing any type of content for your website, the first step in getting that content optimized for SEO is to understand the basics of how search engines actually work. This can be easier said than done, considering many of the search engines actually change their search algorithm around 500-600 times a year.
The good news is that most of those changes are minor, and as long as you are able to keep up with big announcements, you should be fine with making small tweaks to your SEO strategy.
Today, Google, Bing and Yahoo are the largest search engines, with Google towering over all. Google is pretty transparent about their changes, and you can bookmark this page to help you keep up with all of their many announcements.
To keep matters simple, in this guide we’ll be focusing on ranking your content specifically for Google in 2020.
So how does Google’s search algorithm currently work?
It’s a little like the Dewey Decimal System, but on steroids, and with a lot more complexities. In a nutshell, here’s how it goes...
When something is published online, Google indexes it in their internal ‘library’. Then, when someone goes to Google to search for a word or phrase, Google uses their established algorithms sort through hundreds of billions of webpages in the search index to find the most relevant, useful results for the user.
As we mentioned above, algorithms are chameleon-like, constantly shifting and changing at a whim. But a few constants that affect where you’ll be ranked in an algorithm always seem to remain, so let’s talk about those in a bit more depth.
Here’s what you need to pay attention to when writing for SEO in 2020:
Do your keyword research:
In this new decade, using strategic keywords is still a big factor in your SEO success.
But in order to use the right keywords in your content, you need to know what they are — what terms, phrases or words are your clients/customers using when they search for goods or services like yours in Google?
To help you find out, there’s a long list of both free and paid tools like Console, Ahrefs Keyword Explorer, Google Keyword Planner, Moz Keyword Explorer, SEMRush, Soovle, and Jaaxy, to name just a few.
But knowing which keywords to use and plugging them into your content in a non-obvious way is only half the battle. In order to rank in the first few pages (where people will actually find you) you have to also consider which of those words/phrases have a low competition rate and high search volume. For example, if you’re selling cat food and you want to use ‘cat’ as one of your main content keywords, you’re probably never going to rank.
Look instead for longer-tail keywords and phrases to help narrow down the search for your audience.
Long tail? Is that another cat reference? 🤔
No, long tail keywords are search terms of 3-4 words in total. And if you bear in mind that 70% of online searchers use 4-word phrases, these longtail phrases carry a lot of potential.
So don’t be afraid to apply more complex phrases to your keyword strategy. Instead of ‘cats’, try ‘organic boutique cat food’. This means, not only are you in a category with lower competition, but you’re much more likely to get in front of a customer who is a great fit for your product — much better than someone who has just searched ‘cats’!
(Because, honestly, most of the people who use that as a 1-word search term are probably looking for hilarious cat videos on Youtube. Aren’t we all?)
Of course, you need to take into consideration how many pieces of content you can actually write with your chosen keyword phrases and what the investment vs. potential payoff is for each piece of content/feature keyword.
Basically, are you likely to convert someone who is searching for ‘organic boutique cat food’? And is that conversion worth the time it takes you to write content around it? That’s an internal ROI decision you’ll need to make.
Speaking of conversions, let’s dive into the next factor you need to consider when writing for SEO: the user journey.
Consider the user journey:
Search journeys may sound like some sort of holistic millennial retreat, but it’s actually a serious business when it comes to attracting clients and customers online. In terms of SEO, search journeys refer to a customer’s online buying process, from start to finish.
So what does this mean for you and your SEO writing?
It means that in order to rank for the keywords and keyword phrases you’ve chosen, you need to understand what stage in the buying process that customer was in when they searched for that term. Then, you can use your content to answer the questions relevant to that phase.
To go back to our cat food example again, if you’re choosing the keyword term ‘organic boutique cat food’, maybe write about the different types and grades of cat food (including your own, of course — but we’ll talk about this more when we discuss copywriting for SEO). Here, your content can help the reader understand why buying organic, boutique cat food is so important for their cat’s overall health and wellness.
Format your content for featured snippets:
From what we can tell, it seems like the featured snippet will continue to reign supreme in 2020 from an SEO perspective.
If you’ve ever plugged a question into Google — “how long for a hard boiled egg?” — you may have noticed how it will conveniently pull a sentence or paragraph from a piece of content, placing your answer right at the top of the page for you.
People love the featured snippet — and who wouldn’t! Featured snippets are popular because they give the readers a quick and convenient answer to the question they were searching for.
For example, if you searched: ‘What’s the best organic cat food’, Google will pull a what’s called a ‘featured snippet’ from a blog or article out there in the world wide web that matches your question and provides an answer:
“Therefore, our study showed 99% of cat owners believed Puurfection was the best organic cat food on the market...”
So how do you get that coveted snippet? There are a few ways suggested by SEO experts:
- Use an inverted pyramid layout in your content. This article, from Dr. Peter Meyers at Moz, details how he found great success in structuring his content in an inverted pyramid. Starting with the lead, basically giving the answer to the question, then moving into your supporting research and then into additional sub questions.
- Lean on Google for some reverse research. Search questions you think your audience would be asking, and see if there is already a featured snippet that answers that question. If you find some questions that do not yet have featured snippets highlighted, write content around those questions and specifically format them to grab that much-desired featured snippet spot.
- Use a tool like SEMRush to find out what featured snippets your competitors are ranking for. Then try to create content with either more direct answers or more recent data to try and beat them out.
Consider your post length:
Post length is an interesting debate when it comes to writing for SEO in 2020.
Up until recently, many experts had agreed on the rule ‘the longer, the better’. In fact, a study by CoSchedule showed that long-form content outperforms shorter content by over 40%, and posts hovering around 2,500 words performed best.
However, another study suggests that simply isn’t the case across the board. Instead, it suggests that writers and bloggers need to analyze their own reader data to see what their audience prefers. This could take a little A/B testing on your end to see what type of content seems to be ranking the best for your audience. But could be a good payoff in the end — if your audience is more likely to read short-form content, there’s no use in you spending your time or money writing a 4,000 word article.
So unfortunately, there’s no hard and fast rule here. All you can do is to try and test out a few pieces of content and see which performs best with your readers.
A simple post frequency rule: post frequently
Sure, how often you can post depends on your resources. But if you’re dedicated to posting at a consistent frequency for SEO, there is some data you can follow that’s a little more concrete than what we saw with post length...
A helpful study from HubSpot recommends that smaller companies should blog (or produce some sort of written content) around 11 times per month. Medium companies should aim to blog about 16x per month. And large companies more than that (as engagement correlated with company size). The study also points out that companies who blog more than 16 times per month received 3.5 times more traffic than those who only blogged 0-4 times per month.
(Again, not everyone has the resources to produce 16 blogs per month internally, so you could always consider outsourcing this work to a reputable third party!)
It should come as no surprise that visuals will play an important SEO role in 2020 — probably more than ever before.
Paying attention to your visuals, and making sure they are tagged and formatted correctly, will help get you ranked in 2020.
Because Google now delivers nearly as many image-based results as they do text-based results. So if you’re not helping customers or clients find you through the images you use on your content, then you’re missing out on a big SEO opportunity.
In order to help your images work for you in search, you need to make sure you’re adding image alt-text, and doing it correctly.
Here are three golden rules to follow for image alt-text:
- 1. It needs to be relevant to your content
- 2. Use keywords, but don’t overdo it! Keyword stuffing won’t help you, and might actually harm you
- 3. Keep it short! 125 words is the max word count you should aim for, any longer and your snippet might not appear as a complete thought.
Okay, time for a quick review…
So far, we’ve seen how writing for SEO simply means optimizing your content to engage with a larger readership.
If you follow the steps stated above, you will make it easier for potential customers to find you when either searching for a product or service like yours, or when seeking an answer or solution which you can provide.
But then what? Enter: copywriting for SEO.
Copywriting for SEO
Now that we’ve covered writing for SEO in 2020, let’s talk about copywriting for SEO in 2020 — writing for SEO’s bigger, slightly more persuasive cousin.
While the two sound very similar, they actually serve two completely different purposes.
As we talked about earlier, writing for SEO is focused on creating content to attract those top-of-funnel audiences who are looking for more information or education about a particular product or service.
In copywriting for SEO, our purpose is to produce a different type of content that will then convert those readers into buyers.
The normal purchasing process of an online buyer goes something like this: Research, Education, Comparison, Conversion. The ever-knowing entity that it is, Google actually caught onto this ‘buyer process’ and applied it to its algorithm. Now, Google can actually take into consideration at what point of the sales cycle someone might be at, showing them content related to that phase.
In other words, if someone searches ‘what is the best organic cat food’ Google realizes and understands that the buyer is in the educational phase of their buying journey. So, they’ll provide them with tem content that is more educational at its core — explaining which ingredients certain brands of organic cat food contain, which brands are most popular, etc.
If they search ‘Stores that sell organic salmon flavored cat food with free shipping’ they understand the buyer knows precisely what they want and are looking to purchase. Then, Google will show them content related to the purchasing process and actual websites for stores who sell what they’re asking for.
Examples of great SEO copywriting
While SEO writing is mostly done through long-form articles and blogs, SEO copywriting most often pertains to content such as web page copy, sales page copy, ad copy, and video and audio scripts. It’s the type of content you want to be found when searchers are close to the bottom of the funnel; well-informed and ready to pull the trigger on a purchase.
While most people can learn to write for SEO by following a few concrete rules, copywriting for SEO is a bit more of an artform. When copywriting for SEO, your audience has to be very clearly defined, you need to know exactly which pain point or problem you want to address in your copy, and then, how to elegantly present your brand or product as the solution.
Rules for SEO copywriting
Effective copywriting for SEO takes practice, and can take quite some time to perfect. But if you want to try your hand at this writing form, here are some things to keep in mind:
- The best place to start is inside the head of your ideal buyer/client (figuratively, of course). Copywriters must understand, in great detail, the psychology of the audience they are writing for. This means understanding their problems, their frustrations, things they may have tried before to solve them, their emotions around the buying process, and exactly what they’re looking for an ultimate solution.
- The best copywriters use words that appeal to the reader’s emotions. Data is great, competitor comparisons are great, and talking about awards and recognitions that your product or service has won is great too. But if you really want to win over your reader and spark a conversion, appealing to their emotions is key. However, you’ll want to be careful which emotions you tap into depending on what your ultimate goal is. This great article from Hubspot presents research on how using emotive copy can affect conversions based on your industry specifically. Quick tip: It’s easiest to tap into the reader’s emotions by using stories. Stories hook the reader in, and get them invested in what you’re saying.
Get to know the 6 Principles of Persuasion, and learn how to write using them: Dr. Robert B. Cialdini released a book in 1984 called Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. The book is still incredibly relevant in 2020 and is used by some of the world's top marketers and copywriters for conversion optimization. In the book, Cialdini discusses 6 principles that can be used as an effective way to persuade:
- Reciprocity - people naturally feel more obligated to do something for someone if they have received something from them (for example, a discount, or free insight or education on a certain topic)
- Commitment/consistency - people will feel more willing to buy something from you if they have already committed to something small (like a free guide or white paper download)
- Social proof - people are more likely to try something if they see others doing it (aka influencer marketing)
- Authority - people will listen to what others in authoritative positions tell them to do (aka “4 out of 5 dentists recommend this toothbrush”)
- Liking - people are more likely to buy from someone or something perceived as likeable (the all-important ‘about us’ page)
- Scarcity - if something is special or in short supply, people will want it more (special discounts, sales, or limited time offers)
In SEO copywriting, you can work these principles into your messaging to help move the reader in the direction of a conversion.
Again, be sure to also use the tactics of SEO we mentioned in the first part of this article as well.
Shall we try to wrap all this dense information up into a tasty little SEO burrito? Then, we’ve got a good chance of digesting it before another inevitable algorithm change.
Here’s what writing for SEO looks like in 2020...
Writing for SEO is an incredibly important tool in upping your business's online presence. You can enhance your website’s SEO by:
- Writing long-form content for your blog or articles, strategically using specific keywords and keyword phrases
- Making sure your content takes into consideration the user journey
- Finding opportunities to answer questions that do not yet have answers in the form of featured snippets in the search engines
- Testing what post length does best with your audience and posting articles of that length frequently
- Correctly formatting and tagging images within your posts
Copywriting for SEO can be used to improve a site’s chances of being found, and convert customers or clients at the bottom of the funnel (or end of the buying process) by:
- Getting inside their head and figuring out what pain points your product/service can solve for them
- Appealing to their emotions
- Using the 6 principles of persuasion in your writing
- Using the ‘writing for SEO’ tips above (when applicable)
Learning how to write for SEO is something that takes research, practice, and a little bit of trial and error. As a rule of thumb, the best way to begin making the search engines more aware of your website is to start producing really great, educational and interesting content.
Simply deploy the tactics explained above, and let the algorithms do the rest.
Remember: Consistency is key. So if you’re not seeing results right away with your traffic, keep going! Experiment, test, and refine, and you’ll no doubt begin to see your efforts pay off.
Looking for a content marketing partner to help you out? At Scribly, we’ll help you nail your SEO copy for the coming year. We’ll explore and identify which topics and keywords will skyrocket your ranking, then our exceptional writers will craft up compelling copy to bring the readers in.
Why not get in touch today? We’d love to hear from you.