This post demonstrates how and when to balance creative, persuasive copywriting with SEO best practices. While we use the example of two competing team members (an SEO Specialist and a Copywriter), this guide gives general advice on how to maintain creativity when also focusing on page rank.
Successful copywriting is an art form and a skillful copywriter conveys a brand or product message with wit, creativity, and unequivocal purpose. The task, which seems effortless when conducted by the most talented writers, requires not only a strong understanding of English language mechanics and techniques, but also a foundational background in persuasive marketing communication. The copywriters themselves agonize over proper word use and placement (both within the sentence and aesthetically on the page). Thus, a talented copywriter is an incredible team member, and to elaborate on my earlier assertion, successful copywriting is an art form, which is not to be interfered with…
Enter the Search Engine Optimization Specialist.
Just as every company needs a confident and capable copywriter, the organization could use an equally confident and capable SEO specialist. Unfortunately, while a copywriter considers the form, mechanics, and design of text, an employee trained for proper and efficient SEO is concerned with keywords, relevancy, and page rank. Thus, there is a high potential for miscommunication between these two marketing tacticians.
Therefore, it is important to recognize where on a webpage the skills of a copywriter or the skills of an SEO expert should take priority. Below is a guide on how to best optimize a webpage so both machine and customer are able to read and process the page contents.
Research – Pick a Partner and Stay Together
Both team members (the copywriter and SEO specialist) will conduct intensive research phases before producing any content for the webpage. The copywriter will research the company’s internal marketing materials, both online and offline, as well as the messages of competing brands and products. The SEO specialist will carry out keyword research and build a primary and secondary target keyword list. It is important for both of the experts to keep aware of the other’s research, as it will significantly help in the content creation process.
For example, a thorough understanding of the company’s products along with a quick review of offline marketing materials will aid the SEO specialist in the keyword brainstorming and review session. On the other hand, having keywords in mind before the copywriter’s first draft is a great way to start the SEO process early during content creation.
Content Creation – Give a little, Get a little
Lead: SEO Specialist
Teamwork is key, but when writing the headline of the page it is absolutely vital to insert a primary keyword. Thus, if it comes down to it, a copywriter must sacrifice a clever, eye-catching headline for a strong keyword. While integrating a keyword into a great attention grabbing headline is a plus, I’ll warn copywriters to not fight this battle with the SEO specialist.
Extra Notes: Use the HTML <H1> tag. While form is important, the <H1> tag is a key indicator for relevance when a search engine crawls your Web page. Also, match the title tag keyword with the H1 tag keyword.
For the crawler, keywords are important, but for the human visitor, the page’s message is king. If you haven’t captivated the visitors with a catchy headline, it is essential to get to work early in your page copy. Thus, don’t start pushing keywords if you cannot fit the terms (or phrases) naturally within the page text.
Extra Notes: Incorporating both primary and secondary keywords (maximum of 2-3 terms per page) within page copy is of high importance, especially within the first 100 words. While you do not want to force the terms into the text, do write with keywords in mind. Try using keywords early in sentences and passages to aid in delivering the message.
Sentence form implies sentence length and structure in addition to text format (e.g. bold, italics, etc.). For sentence structure, keep your text grammatically sound. In the past, I have found concise sentence structure to provide the best results for two reasons.
1) Better control of the page message and overall reduction in grammar mistakes.
2) Easier to insert SEO target keywords at the front of a sentence rather than integrating in the middle or end.
Extra Notes: For search engine optimization purposes, bolding and italicizing keywords does carry a little weight with the search engine crawlers. However, the influence is no where near what it needs to be to forcefully incorporate it to your page copy. It is easy to use this strategy ineffectively, and this method can really make sentences look (and read) awkward for page visitors.
The Page Design
Lead: SEO Specialist
Obviously, a graphic or Web designer should be involved in this process, but beware the pitfalls of beautiful web design. Copywriters and designers produce gorgeous templates for company webpages, but considering SEO is too often an afterthought. Keep SEO in mind through the entire process and I suggest always leading with your page headline and content.
Extra Notes: Be weary of Flash designs and other applications on pages. Never hide an important product or brand message under an image, especially a flash image. While regular, non-flash images contribute to overall page optimizations, page content will deliver the most influence on a search engine results page.
Consider the Rest – Bits to leave you with
- External Copy – While this post has only discussed online page content, it is good practice to make keyword insertion a uniform procedure across all marketing materials (e.g. print materials, social media, etc). Therefore, if an offline, print catalogue should ever need to be reproduced on the company website, much of the content will already be optimized for page rank.
- Localize – If you run a small, local business, use the name of your city often in your SEO keywords and website ad text. Not only will this aid in your page rank, but also the incoming SEO traffic will be significantly more targeted and relevant.
- Update your copy – Today’s Internet is personalized, instant, and fresh. Blogs, Twitter, and Facebook are leading the way for instant communication, and this new way to process information isn’t lost on the major search engines. Fresh, relevant content is king!
- What’s Next? – This is never a question a webpage visitor should be asking. Thus, when writing copy or worrying about SEO, always force another action from your visitor. Moreover, make that action valuable for both the visitor and for your business.
Hopefully, this guide will help to balance our practical SEO mindsets with our appetites for creativity. Do you have any web copy best practices I didn’t mention? Let me know in the comments.