A Beginner’s Guide to Writing for Search Engines (and People)
When writing for search engines, keywords are just the keys that unlock topics. What will visitors find when they open the door? A lavish palace? A homely woodland cabin? Or a dusty broom cupboard?
Here's what we will cover...
- So you have your keywords. Now what?
- Don’t cram - splinter!
- Structuring your web pages
- Use the power of storytelling
- Why meta titles and descriptions matter
- Optimisation is never done
So you have your keywords – now what?
Once you first start delving into the strange world of search engine optimisation (SEO) you will soon come across that enigmatic concept of keywords and keyphrases (or ‘search terms’ as they are often referred to).
In fact, the first stage of any SEO copywriting is to perform keyword research to find out exactly what members of your target audience are typing into Google (and other search engines) to find the kinds of product and service you offer.
But a bunch of words and phrases are not enough on their own. You can’t just hand them over to a web designer and expect them to type them in ‘somewhere’ and magically teleport you to page one of Google.
This is where the ‘writing’ part comes in and you can either commission a copywriter to do this or knuckle down and do it yourself. Since you’re on this page, we figure you are one of the brave ones.
By the way, if you want to master the whole SEO process, we recommend you sign up for our next SEO Training Course where our optimisation experts will be happy to enlighten you.
Anyway, moving on…
Don’t cram – splinter!
Why have one page rank for a bunch of keywords when you could have dozens?
If you try to cram all of the keywords and keyphrases you have discovered into one page you will come up against a bunch of problems:
- Your message will get scattered
- You might rank well for one or two keywords but your one page will be outperformed by more focused competitors
- You can only ask one main question, make one main statement etc. (see the section on meta titles and descriptions)
- You will probably get a headache once you reach the 10,000 word mark
It is a much better strategy to create multiple web pages using your keywords and keyphrases as a root. Each web page can then be tightly focused on answering one or two questions or making a few salient points.
Each web page can then be honed to compete effectively against similar pages from competitors.
The SEO specialists Yoast suggest you prioritise a number of keywords (not necessarily the most popular) as your ‘cornerstone content’. You can then use internal linking to connect your other pages to these.
Structuring your web pages
First, it’s worth stressing that not everyone will approach writing in the same way. Some will start with their list of keywords and use them to build a web page. Others will write the page and then start inserting keywords and keyphrases. There is no one ‘right way’ to write.
However, you will need to end up with a structured web page at the end of it because, for all their clever coding, search engines are not psychic and can’t use intuition. They look in specific places for the information they need to decide whether your web page is likely to satisfy the person who ends up there.
Whether you are writing a document to be translated into a web page (e.g. a Word Doc) or you are typing directly on to your website (e.g. via your website’s dashboard), you should make use of headings and subheadings. Your most important keywords and keyphrases should go into these headings and preferably near the beginning.
Why does this matter? Without getting too technical, your headings will either be manually or automatically assigned a tag (a bit of code) which tells search engines that this is a heading and therefore important. These tags are named ‘H1, H2, H3’, etc. with the main headings getting a lower number.
Using headings is also a great way to visually arrange the layout of your page, introducing structure and white space. This appeals to readers, especially those who prefer to scan content before dipping in for a closer look. Inline images, callouts (e.g. quotations), bullet points, font styling and numbered lists are also effective ways to make your writing pop.
This leads us on to the next important point: making sure that your writing engages people and not just Google search bots.
Use the power of storytelling
Writing for search engines isn’t really writing for search engines at all.
At its heart, SEO copywriting is still the same, age-old technique of communicating with human beings. You just have to tweak the language and structure to make sure the search engines know what a great job you are doing. While the technology is ‘getting there’ in terms of emulating natural human-to-human interaction, it’s not quite there yet. Bots don’t nudge each other and say, ‘Hey, this guy’s got the makings of the next James Patterson’, or, ‘She’s the next J.K. Rowling’.
However, you can still inject powerful, storytelling principles into your web copy while jumping through the hoops you need to for the search engines.
In fact, there is a great advantage in presenting your web pages as stories which we explain in our linked article.
So you’ve written your story, structured it with headings, bullet points, pictures and white space. Is it time to hit ‘publish’ or send to your web designer to upload?
Why meta titles and descriptions matter
Do you want a tip that will instantly boost your SEO copywriting?
Spend time crafting your meta title and description!
Meta what? In simple terms this means the snippet that comes up on the search engines. The title (the bit you click) needs to include your juiciest keywords while grabbing the reader’s attention. The description beneath gives you a few more characters to convince the reader to check out your site.
Every web page you write should be accompanied by a carefully crafted title and description. You wouldn’t dream of paying a newspaper for an ad and then saying, ‘Write what you like’, so why let Google choose what to display in the search results?
If you have a WordPress website, SEO tools like the Yoast plugin make this part of the process very easy by providing title and description fields you can fill in for every blog post and web page you create.
Optimisation is never done
Finally, it is worth emphasising that optimisation is not a one-time task; it’s a process.
The keywords people are using change over time and new industry buzzwords and trends change the marketing landscape. Keeping on top of these shifts (not to mention the changes in search engine best practice) is a full-time job.
You will also need to monitor the performance of each of your web pages to ensure they are converting well. Depending on the content, some pages may need updating to take into account new information so we recommend a regular content audit.
Combining quality writing with strategic marketing processes will make you an unstoppable force in your niche.