Writing can be difficult for a lot of people. Even those of us gifted with a passion for wordsmithing can often find ourselves hitting walls when it comes to creating the right copy for the right occasions. This perhaps happens most often in the world of SEO copy.
For many, SEO copy is a difficult beast to wrangle. Not only does it involve checking off all the boxes of any other writing (easy to read, good grammar, economy of words, etc.) but it also needs to include the kind of content that will catch the favor of search engines. A lot of writers tend to get hung up on that last part, sacrificing their normally stellar writing styles for a difficult-to-read, keyword-stuffed tome that could only be enjoyed by search bots.
The one thing that a lot of people don’t realize about creating search engine optimized copy is that it doesn’t need to be approached much differently than one would normally approach their copy. With a few small tweaks and a solid plan, you can easily strike a balance between engaging content and SEO-friendly content.
Here are a few ways to create great SEO copy that will be loved by spiders and humans alike.
As with many SEO-related tasks, you’ll want to start with a solid keyword research plan. There are a lot of ways you can do keyword research. Using SEMrush or Ahrefs are good options, but they costs money. If you’re coin purse is feeling a little light (especially if a certain coronavirus has crushed your business and budget), try Keywords Everywhere (which is mostly free) or Keyword Keg, which offers some free options and some very affordable paid options.
Once you have a list of optimal keywords, it’s time to brainstorm. Pick a handful of the most relevant and highly-searched keywords and jot them down. Next, begin thinking of synonyms and related terms. Feel free to use a thesaurus, if you like, or a free online tool like KeywordTool.io or the Google Keyword Planner. Once you have some related terms, put them aside—we’ll come back to those in a minute.
You likely already have a pretty strong idea of what you want to write about. And while jumping head first into writing may seem like the next best step, consider making an outline first.
An outline not only helps you stay focused during the writing process, but it also allows an opportunity to contextually organize what you want to say. Why is this important? Because search engines, Google in particular, are all about context and relationships these days. Just like a human would, spiders often figure out the purpose of a page by comparing its content against itself and against the content on the rest of the site.
For instance: Before smart phones really took off, people used to search with single words or concepts. For instance, someone looking for a local pizza joint might type something like “pizza place” or “pizza place in Philly.” But because mobile searches and voice searches have gotten so popular, the average person has evolved to the point of asking Google questions instead, such as “What’s the best pizza place in Philly?” or “Which pizza places in Philly sell beer?”
To take advantage of this, you need to anticipate potential questions a reader may have and fashion your content towards that. This can be difficult, however, a quick brainstorming session can go a long way.
It’s no secret that Google tends to rank longer-form content a bit better than shorter content. This isn’t because Google is “rewarding” higher word counts, but usually because those longer pieces are more comprehensive and answer more potential questions for users.
So, when creating your copy, consider writing something a bit more long-form that covers all the possible topics that could relate to your theme. By doing this, you’re essentially casting out a larger net and may end up ranking for more relevant searches than you might with a shorter piece of content.
That said, you don’t want to add words to a document just for the sake of it. Adding fluff doesn’t help readers, so it likely won’t help in Google’s eyes, either. Always practice “quality over quantity.”
You have your keywords, you have your outline, you have all the topics you want to cover—you’re ready to write. But unfortunately, this is the part where a lot of people get hung up. The reason? Keywords.
As mentioned earlier, the right keywords are essential to a successful SEO campaign, however, sometimes we put a little too much emphasis on them. When this happens, we often end up with hard-to-read, keyword-stuffed content that borders on nonsense. Not only does this suck for readers, but it sucks for search engines, too—and they’ll show you how much it sucks with lower rankings.
The best way to combat this? Be yourself! Put the keywords aside and start off by writing as you normally would, using the verbiage you normally would. Once you get a draft committed to paper, go back and think about places where keywords could organically fit into the copy without affecting readability. By being yourself and not thinking about keywords, you may find that you’ve already done this naturally!
The trick here is to be careful not to use a keyword too much. Instead, bring out those synonyms we discussed earlier. Part of Google’s charge toward understanding context included understanding the relationships between words (for instance, Google likely knows that a hoagie, a sub, and a grinder are all the same thing). Take advantage of this by using some of those synonyms you found earlier in your copy. This could potentially help the content rank for a wider range of searches as it could potentially answer a wider range of queries.
To varying degrees, search engines take readability and usability into account when ranking a page. To take advantage of this, you’ll want to make sure your post isn’t just a giant block of text but is instead broken up in a way that makes it easier for a reader to consume.
One of the easiest ways to do this is by breaking up your content into sections—similar to how you did earlier with the outline. Make sure each section is designated with its own subhead line, and that said subhead line is contextually relevant to the section it’s introducing (also make sure you’re judiciously using keywords to create it).
Also try to take advantage of numbered and bulleted lists, if it makes sense for your copy. Not only does this make it easier for users to process the copy, but Google tends to favor these as well.
There’s a lot to process in the above steps, but if I can impart one primary lesson it’s this: Stay true to your writing! While it’s tempting to write copy for rankings, what’s most important is the message you’re trying to convey and doing it in a way that resonates with readers. If you write great content, great rankings are likely to follow!
This post originally appeared on BlogPaws.com
Let me start by getting personal for a moment: I love content. I love it so much, in fact, that I kind of hate calling it “content,” as I think the term makes it too easy to generalize and commoditize the amazing work that comes from the writers, artists and developers of the marketing community. Make no mistake about it: content has (or at least should have) its roots deep within the creative arts.
Because content is such a creative, artistic endeavor, it’s so easy to screw it up. Yes, content should be a creative venture. But it should still be a profitable venture, too. Sometimes, that can make for a tough balancing act during the content creation process—something I’ve learned from experience over the past few years.
Leaning too far to one side of the creation/profit camp or the other, you (and by extension, your team and clients) open yourself to a host of issues that could very easily derail your entire content creation process—which could in turn derail your entire content strategy, and maybe even your marketing goals as a whole.
The following is a list of some of those derailing factors that I’ve encountered in my content creation experience, as well as the lesson I’ve learned from said derailments. Some of these may be no-brainers, some of them may not be—either way, I’ve learned from the challenges these experiences have brought upon me, and I’m hoping you can as well.
Like I mentioned, content is often a creative venture and any creative venture worth doing requires time to breathe and bloom. Because of that, it’s important to make sure you have the time needed to properly dedicate you and your team to a project. By time, I mean not only billable hours, but literally the calendar time needed to properly build and execute content.
Like everyone else in the marketing world, I’ve tried my hand at using infographics as the backbone of a content strategy. On the surface, infographics seem easy: you have some facts and copy laid out over some pretty graphics. You have a copywriter and designer on your team—this should be done in a day or two, right?
Wrong. Surprisingly, a lot goes into an infographic. For one, you don’t just need copy; you need interestingcopy—often in the form of facts or statistics. Facts and statistics require research, which requires time. Know what else requires time? Building a dozen unique vector images to accompany each point laid out in the infographic.
No matter how simplistic a content piece may be, it’s going to take time to do it in a way that stands out above the competition. Communicate with your team to get a better idea of just how much time each player needs to create their absolute best work. Once you have that time estimation, increase it by 25 percent to cover any incidents or revisions that will inevitably occur.
I listed these first two derailments next to each other for a reason: setting adequate time for a project is the first half of the equation, while setting up milestones and meetings within that timeframe is what makes it work.
I’m a firm believer that the creative mind works best when it’s unhindered by the realities surrounding it. That’s my flowery way of saying that if you want a creative to hand in their best work, you need to leave them alone and let them do what they do best.
That said, one of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made was following this philosophy to a fault. By not keeping up with copywriters and designers, it’s not only easy to lose track of the project’s progress, it’s also nearly impossible to catch any errors that may occur during the content creation process. Next thing you know, the project deadline is a day away and you have 10 pages of copy on the wrong topic because the copywriter misunderstood an aspect of the project.
In a perfect world, creative minds would get to work in the kind of vacuums they need to develop the best possible work. But it’s not a perfect world and mistakes happen—in fact, they happen all the time. To prevent that, build frequent milestones and meetings into your timeframe.
This is sort of a no-brainer, but most people hate meetings, which make them easy to shrug off in a crunch. By planning milestones and scheduling meetings to discuss said milestones, you ensure that a project is still on track while there’s still time to handle any problems that may crop up.
By and large, ambition is one of the best things about working in the creative space. It’s a potent, volatile fuel that burns hot within the creative mind and forces it to push out the kind of work that transcends simple “content” and pushes it closer to being a piece of art.
Unfortunately, ambition can be every bit as dangerous as it is advantageous. I was recently reminded of this when tasked with creating—what else?—an infographic. Where others saw the opportunity to create a by-the-numbers infographic, I found the opportunity to go bigger by creating an animated infographic that would truly express the content while stimulating the imagination of its viewers.
Had I ever created an animated infographic before this? Nope! Was I going to let that stop me? Of course not! I’ve created regular infographics before; How hard could an animated one be?
So, I promised the client an animated infographic in a relatively short amount of time. What could go wrong? Spoiler alert: Everything.
Aside from taking way longer than I should have to establish a workflow and research the information needed for the copy, I also burned through an embarrassing amount of time while trying to master the basic mechanics of the animation. Even after figuring out the process, the actual implementation caused me to push back the deadline repeatedly (something that could have been avoided if I had been mindful of the first derailment).
There is no shame in having limits. In fact, recognizing and appreciating your limits—whether they’re creative or something else—is the first step to surpassing them.
With that said, it’s not really a good idea to test your limits on the client’s dime. It’s not fair to them and it puts you in a terrible position, especially if you fail. If you’re going to push yourself (and your creative team) past your limits, make sure it’s something reasonable and attainable.
By now, it’s pretty obvious just how much I view content as a creative endeavor. Marketing, of course, is a natural fit for those of us in the creative field, as it provides a lucrative way to do what we love for a living. Unfortunately, that love can sometimes cause projects to derail, especially when creativity runs out of hand and leaves the original goals and KPIs in the dust.
The fact of the matter is, the whole reason a content piece is being created in the first place is to reach some sort of goal and, ultimately, profit from reaching said goal. It may be link building, it may be opening up a new traffic channel, it may be getting more contact forms filled out—whatever the goal is, it’s the sole reason for creating a content piece.
As much as we creative types believe it’s about making artistic and stunning content, the fact remains that it’s ultimately going to be used as a marketing tool. It’s when that fact is forgotten that problems arise such as missed milestones, missed deadlines or delivering a final product that looks much different than originally planned.
Don’t let creativity run out of control. While it may be more enjoyable to let creativity reign supreme over any content creation project, it offers more opportunity to stray from the original, metric-based goal of the content in the first place. Finding that happy place between creative harmony and marketing success is really the key to any successful content marketing strategy, and striking a balance between the two is paramount.
A lot of people feel that the content creation process goes like this: A client hires you to do something and you do it for them. That process is very true to a degree, however, pedantically following that rationale is going to leave both you and the client holding a half-assed piece of content that may never perform to its full potential.
This fact bit me hard a while back. After creating what was a great content piece to use as linkbait, we handed it back to the client as planned. In order for this content to build links as it was intended to, the client needed to be involved in various promotional tactics such as posting it on their site, sharing it through their social networks, creating press releases and more. Instead, they sat on their hands (and the content) and didn’t do much of anything with it.
The content went largely unseen and the client never saw a return on the time and money spent creating it. In retrospect, this all could have been avoided if we had held the client more accountable. When a client hires you to create content, they’re entering into a partnership with you. That partnership should be dedicated to creating the best possible content and making sure it drives in the best possible results. If they’re not holding up their end of the deal, the success of the campaign could suffer for it.
The fact of the matter is, nobody knows the audience the content is meant to reach better than your client. Because of this, they can not only offer great insight on the project, but can also elevate its success in the marketplace.
Just because they’re paying you doesn’t mean they should be hands off on the project. Keep them in the loop as much as possible—from conception to execution—and make sure they’re held accountable for their milestones just as you are.
Whether you’re an independent contractor, working within an agency or part of an in-house team, there’s a lot that can go wrong in the content creation process. Ideally, most creative teams would have processes and practices in place to prevent the sort of issues listed above, but even if they do, it’s still possible to derail the content creation process by overlooking the tiniest of issues.
How do you avoid that? Once a project is done, take time to reflect on it before moving to the next one. Spend an hour brainstorming and writing down whatever thoughts about the project fill your head. Do it as a team if that helps. By taking a minute to breathe and look at the project after it’s complete, you can learn from past mistakes while preventing new ones from occurring in the future.
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