By BRIAN CLARK
Founder of Copyblogger & Scribe
HOW TO CREATE COMPELLING CONTENT THAT RANKS
WELL IN SEARCH ENGINES
Once upon a time, there was something called SEO copywriting.
These SEO copywriters seemed to have magical word skills that allowed them to place just the
right keywords in just the right places and amounts, and even in the densities that were just
right for miraculous top rankings. And that’s all you needed . . . or at least that’s what was
There’s no doubt that the location and frequency of keywords is still critical. Search engines
work by keying in on the word patterns people are looking for and returning relevant content.
But that’s not all there is to it.
Here’s the deal . . . much of what determines the ranking position of any particular page is due
to what happens off the page, in the form of links from other sites. Getting those links naturally
has become the hardest part of SEO, which is why we’ve seen the mainstream emergence of
social media marketing as a way to attract links with compelling content.
Put simply: If your content isn’t good enough to
attract good, natural links, it doesn’t matter how
“optimized” that content is.
That’s why a good SEO copywriter is also a writer
who has a knack for tuning in to the needs and
desires of the target audience. And because links
are so important, those needs and desires have to
be nailed well before that content will show up
prominently in the search engines.
The same emotional forces that prompt people to
buy can also cause other people to link from
blogs, and bookmark, vote, and retweet from social media platforms. The context is different,
as are the nuances, but it’s still a matter of providing compelling benefits in the form of
“Ask yourself what creates value for your users,” sayeth Google.
Their brainy engineers continue to diligently create smarter search algorithms, while people-
powered social media sharing delivers links and traffic as a reward for compelling content.
PUT SIMPLY: IF YOUR
CONTENT ISN’T GOOD
ENOUGH TO ATTRACT
GOOD, NATURAL LINKS, IT
DOESN’T MATTER HOW
To sum it up: a good copywriter needs to have a flair for writing content that’s inviting to share
and to link to. She needs to have top-notch skills to optimize the page, so search engines know
what it’s about and who might want to read it. And she needs to know how to write copy that
converts readers to buyers.
That copywriter will become a vital (and well compensated) member of any serious marketing
So, if it’s all about what happens off the page, does the “SEO” in SEO copywriting still matter?
Absolutely, and here’s why.
Search is still the biggest game in town
“Pick your survey, search remains one of the top activities on the Internet and has been for
over a decade,” says search industry legend Danny Sullivan in a recent conversation. Danny
pointed me to one such survey that shows search is the most common online activity after
email, and that fact cuts across generations.
“People make billions of unique searches each month,” says SEO guru Aaron Wall via email.
“And unlike Facebook flittering, those people are in focus mode.”
In other words, compared with most Internet traffic, searchers are the most motivated people
who hit a website. This is important.
If they’re looking for a product or service, there’s a good chance they’re looking to buy it. If
they’re searching for information and your site provides it, you’ve got a great chance of
converting that drive-by traffic into long-term attention with your content.
And of course if you’re a professional web writer, whether freelance or with an agency, this
discussion is purely academic. Go ahead and tell your client not to care about Google traffic,
and let me know how that goes.
So, search traffic is clearly important, as long as it’s targeted search traffic. Before we look at
the elements of modern practice of search engine optimization, however, let’s make sure we
understand how search engines work.
How do search engines work?
Search engines have become an indispensible aspect of modern life. But most of us don’t have
a clue about how they actually work.
I’m just guessing you don’t want to dive into complex mathematical algorithms.
That’s ok. You just need a high-level understanding of the basics.
So let’s look at the three major components that power search engines, and the general
approach to “spoon feeding” them so they understand our content and rank us the way we
You’ve likely heard of search engine “spiders” that crawl around the web looking for
content. These are actually bits of computer code that find information on a web page,
“read” it, and then tirelessly continue along their journey by following links from your
page to other pages.
The spider periodically returns looking for changes to the original page, which means
there are always opportunities to modify the way a search engine sees and evaluates
your content down the road.
If for any reason the spider can’t see your content, or doesn’t understand what it’s
about, your page can’t be indexed and ranked. This is why Chris Pearson created the
Thesis Theme for WordPress, and why he obsesses over making it better. Clean, fast-
loading code matters.
The spider is not just casually browsing content, it’s storing it in a giant database. This is
The spider’s goal is to save every bit of content it crawls for the future benefit of
searchers. It’s also gauging how relevant that content is to the words that searchers use
when they want to find an answer to something.
The final critical aspect of search technology is the way the engine decides to deliver the
most relevant results to searchers. This is accomplished by jealously-guarded
algorithmic functions. That’s a fancy way of saying that search software follows a
complex set of rules. These are the ground rules for a duel between your content and
other content that might satisfy a searcher’s keyword query.
Why you have to spoon feed search engines
Search engines have come a long way since the early days of the web, but they’re not as
sophisticated as you might think. It’s not that search engines are dumb; it’s more like they’re
bright little toddlers who need information delivered to them in a way that works for them.
Think of it this way. You wouldn’t set a bone-in ribeye and steak knife in front of a 4-year-old
and expect him to have at it. You’d present the food in easily chewable bite-sized chunks with
Likewise, you might write an article about “green widgets” using metaphors, entertaining
analogies, and smart synonyms. You know you’re writing about green widgets, and most
reasonably intelligent people know it too.
But if you don’t use the words “green widgets” in certain locations and frequencies along with
other SEO copywriting best practices, both you and the search engines are out of luck. The
toddler goes hungry and you’re frustrated and likely dealing with a mess.
That’s not to say you want to serve up keyword stuffed crap with less appeal than mashed
beets. That would be a really bad idea.
On the contrary, you must create that ribeye-steak content that engages people first and
foremost, while also spoon-feeding search engines what they need. The end goal is always to
let other people find you with the language they use when searching.
We’ll look at how to do that a bit later in this report. But first let’s discover why unique,
engaging, quality content matters first and foremost beyond just keyword location and
Off-page elements eat the biggest slice of SEO pie
Take a look at the pie chart below, generously provided by Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz:
A quick review of the chart reveals that when it comes to SEO, what people do in response to
your site on other sites is way more than half the battle:
• 23.87% – The general trust and authority that your domain has due to quality incoming
links is the largest indicator of SEO success. Google treats links that flow into your site
steadily over time as an indication that other people trust your site, find value in it, and
reference your content as an authoritative citation. Therefore, Google trusts your site
• 22.33% – The number of links to a specific page on your site matters a lot too. That’s
why the engagement and quality of the content of the page is directly related to the
probability of attracting natural incoming links.
• 20.26% – The anchor text of links from other sites (anchor text is the words used in the
clickable portion of a link) matters because this is Google’s way of finding out what your
page is about according to other people, not just the keywords you choose to use.
In other words, it’s like my favorite saying goes:
What people say about you is more important than
what you say about yourself.
In this case, Google wants to know that people are
linking to you, and which words they’re using to link
to you (anchor text), because that’s a more trusted
So yes . . . compelling content is always rule number one. But just like great content goes
unnoticed without promotion, great content doesn’t rank well if you don’t make it clear what
it’s supposed to rank for.
But how do we get people to notice our content so they can link to it? That’s where social
media comes in. Blogs, social news sites like Digg and Reddit, social networking hubs like
Twitter and Facebook – these are organic content distribution systems powered by your
friends and fans (and their friends and fans, and so on).
It may come as a surprise that some of the brightest minds in social media are SEOs, and
they’re completely on the up-and-up and non-shady. That’s because social media allows
content to be shared, and sharing results in the links that are vital to getting content to rank
well in search engines.
SEO copywriting is the “last mile” to targeted search rankings
Are you familiar with the “last mile” problem in the broadband industry? You can have
thousands of miles of high speed fiber optics carrying loads of data cross country. But if the
final connection to the customer’s home is aging copper or pokey coaxial, the benefit of the
fiber is lost.
Likewise, if you do everything right by building a website Google trusts, but don’t specifically
tell Google that your page content matches the words people are actually searching for, the
targeted traffic benefit is lost.
That’s what effective SEO copywriting does – it tells Google which words are the most relevant
ones to the people you want to reach.
WHAT PEOPLE SAY ABOUT
YOU IS MORE IMPORTANT
THAN WHAT YOU SAY
You don’t necessarily have to fully optimize your on-page copy upfront. But you do have to
begin with the ending in mind from a keyword standpoint. We’ll go more into that in just a bit.
And if you ignore this SEO stuff?
Sure, you’ll get some untargeted “long tail” traffic. But what good does that really do you?
Even with an advertising business model, irrelevant traffic bounces off your site quickly,
leading to disgruntled advertisers who don’t renew. And if you’re selling something, you’re
only burning bandwidth.
The beauty of building a reader-focused online presence based on valuable content is that you
can do well even if Google hates you, simply by getting people to opt-in and follow you over
The cool part, though, is that if you actually follow that path, Google loves you.
Take advantage of that. It’s the critical last mile of a well-rounded and laser-focused online
marketing campaign that makes a huge difference to your overall success.
Traffic has to convert, or why bother?
Now we come to the big point. Everyone loves traffic – it’s addictive and strangely gratifying in
its own right.
But traffic doesn’t pay the bills. It’s people who take the actions you need them to who do. So
again, it’s not traffic that matters, it’s targeted traffic reaching the intended pages.
Here’s the problem . . . too many people think a search-optimized web page or blog post is
some ugly keyword stuffed mess. That might (maybe) be tasty to spiders, but it sends people
running for the hills.
And you just don’t need to create that keyword-stuffed junk.
Danny Sullivan said it well at the close of our recent discussion:
“Unfortunately, too many assume that SEO means trying to trick search engines. It doesn’t. It
simply means building a site that’s friendly to them.”
Part of being friendly to search engines is using language in your content that relevant
searchers are also using. That’s where keyword research comes in.
The 5 essential elements of search engine keyword research
Keyword research is cool. It allows you to gaze directly into people’s minds.
Rather than listening to people say what they think they might do, you get to observe what
they actually did, by looking at the words and phrases they used to find information. And when
aggregated, you get a nice view of the words people most often use when thinking about and
searching for a certain topic.
Once armed with keyword intelligence that’s relevant to your niche, you have the unique
ability to create highly relevant content that aids your site visitors and enhances your
credibility. You’re speaking the language of the audience, and satisfying their needs.
And if you get it right, you’ll likely rank well in search engines too – after promoting the
content and gaining traffic from social media. It may seem strange to view search traffic as a
secondary benefit in a Google-driven world, but
that’s exactly how you should view it.
Google won’t treat you as relevant until others do
The counterintuitive rule of search engine keyword
research is to try to forget that search engines can
send you traffic. View the data as free or low-cost
market research and you’ll have the proper mindset
to formulate a content strategy that has a shot at
ranking well. People need to like your content before Google will.
I’ve got a more extensive guide to keyword research for you in the Appendix to this report. But
here are five essential things to understand when it comes to keyword research:
1. Research Tools
Some use Google’s Keyword Tool as a free research tool. Another free option is Aaron
Wall’s SEO Book Keyword Suggestion Tool (registration required). Professionals often
use paid keyword tools over those provided free by search engines due to the bias that
comes with wanting to sell you search advertising. You can research the more popular
solutions by clicking here.
RULE OF SEARCH ENGINE
KEYWORD RESEARCH IS TO
TRY TO FORGET THAT
SEARCH ENGINES CAN SEND
2. Get Specific
“Keyword” is the term that gets tossed around, but what you’re really after in most
cases are keyword phrases. For example, a real estate attorney in Austin, Texas would
gain very little actual benefit from ranking highly for the single word “attorney” (and
good luck anyway), but specific keyword phrases based on geography and specialty
would yield highly targeted traffic (“Austin real estate lawyer”). And don’t forget
synonyms. (“Austin real estate attorney”)
3. Strength in Numbers
Don’t take as gospel truth the reported number of monthly searches provided by any
particular tool. But do pay attention to relative popularity among search terms.
You want to make sure enough people use that phrase when thinking of your niche to
make it worth your while, especially if this is one of the primary search terms you want
to target for your site overall. At the same time, be realistic. If you are trying to rank in a
very competitive sector, make sure that a certain keyword combination can rank for an
easier phrase if the more competitive term ends up out of reach.
4. Highly Relevant
Make sure that the search terms you are considering are highly relevant to your
ultimate goal. If you’re a service provider or selling specific products, keyword relevancy
may be easier to determine — you ultimately want someone to purchase the product or
service. Other goals may require more careful consideration, such as subscriptions to
content publications and contributions to charities, for example.
5. Develop a Content Resource
Here’s the key element. Can a particular keyword phrase support the development of
content that is a valuable resource to readers and act as a foundational element of what
your business is about?
• Satisfies the preliminary needs of the site visitor
• Acts as the first step in your sales or action cycle
• Prompts people to link to it
It’s this step 5 – a foundational content resource – that translates keyword research into
strong search rankings, so we’re going to look at it in more detail next.
How to create cornerstone content that Google loves
Imagine with me for a second . . . someone has just arrived at your website, and this person
has no idea what you’re talking about. And this is an important visitor.
Pretend further that this single visitor could make the difference between success and failure
for your business. She has no time to waste poking around your site trying to figure out what
you’re all about, so she immediately picks up the phone and calls you, demanding an
What do you tell her?
You’d probably give her essential information about how you understand her problem, options
for solving the problem, examples of how you can help, and explanations of why you perfectly
meet her needs, right? And I’m betting you’d want to explain it in the most compelling fashion
you could, given what’s riding on the deal.
In a nutshell, that’s what Google wants you to do with the content on your site.
When trying to rank well for the central topics your
site is built around, creating cornerstone content is
your best bet. Whether it’s extended tutorials about
keyword research, content marketing, or
copywriting, a unique frequently asked questions
page, or an inspirational mission statement, this
content serves a vital function in creating a relevant,
compelling, and useful cornerstone that provides
your site with a solid foundation for search
optimization and usability.
A cornerstone is something that is basic, essential,
indispensable, and the chief foundation upon which something is built. It’s what people need
to know to make use of your website and do business with you.
And when approached in a strategic fashion, this content can rank extremely well in search
engines. The key is creating compelling content that’s worth linking to, and then finding a way
to get the word out.
A CORNERSTONE IS
SOMETHING THAT IS BASIC,
AND THE CHIEF
FOUNDATION UPON WHICH
SOMETHING IS BUILT.
Here’s a 5-step strategy that I’ve found useful when developing cornerstone content and
getting it to rank well in search engines.
Taking into account what we know about keyword research, choose the most
appropriate keyword phrase for your content. In other words, what is the relevant
question that searchers are asking that your content and business solution answer?
Will answering that question aid a visitor to your site in getting the most out of the
experience? Are enough people asking that question to make ambitiously answering it
Then you have to make sure that search engines think your content is actually about
that keyword or combination of keywords. We’ll get to that shortly.
2. Title Tags and Headline
No one in the SEO field disputes the importance of using your targeted keyword phrase
in your title tag. Search engines want to offer relevant results, so those results should
prominently reflect the words the searcher is using in the title of the page.
But remember also, the title tag is a headline. You want to speak back to the prospective
reader in her own chosen words. Plus, you want to wrap those words in a compelling
headline structure that promises to answer the exact question the searcher is asking
with the query.
And finally, writing a killer keyword-enhanced headline makes it more likely that
someone will simply use your title to link back to you. Since link anchor text is a
significant component of search engine algorithms, putting the right keywords into your
headline can give your content a significant boost.
Can a 500-word article rank well for a competitive search term all by itself?
But if you have a newer website trying to rank for a competitive search term, you’ll need
links from other authoritative sources to make it happen. That means your content has
to be impressive, both in quality and scope.
Develop an awesome multi-part tutorial. Write an inspirational manifesto. Answer the
question so much better and more comprehensively than the competition does, and
chances are much better that your effort becomes worth linking to and your search
results improve dramatically.
4. Content Landing Page
If you’re going to be ambitious in scope with your content, it makes sense to make
things easy on the reader from a usability standpoint. A content landing page is
designed to instantly communicate what’s going on to the visitor as soon as they arrive,
and also acts as a table of contents (via links to each part of the tutorial) that increases
Here are some of the benefits of the content landing page approach:
• Retention: Keeping a reader from hitting the back button is crucial to just about
every aspect of successful cornerstone content. You can’t score a reader,
customer, or link if the benefit of the resource is not quickly communicated.
• Bookmarks and Sharing: When presented with a highly beneficial (if somewhat
overwhelming) multi-part resource, the first impulse is often to bookmark the
page for a return visit. When that bookmarking occurs at a social site like
Delicious, it can lead to long-term traffic. And don’t forget that sharing killer
content is a sign of social media status among influencers. Content landing pages
help you score the bookmark and prompt that sharing impulse at a glance.
• Links: Likewise, a visiting blogger or webmaster might be instantly impressed
with your work, and link to you based on the benefits and scope communicated
by the landing page itself. The quicker you can impress a potential link source,
the easier you’re making it for them to follow through.
• Optimization: Optimizing on-page copy will boost your ranking after attracting
those links, so a landing page is a key benefit. It’s a lot quicker and easier to
optimize a content landing page than your undivided 5,000-word opus.
5. Related Content
You may have noticed that I’ve used the word “website” throughout this report, rather
than blog. However, I would never try to undertake this strategy without having a blog
Search engines favor websites that have a lot of relevant, frequently-updated content,
and they also like a lot of general link authority. Given the ease-of-publishing blogging
provides, it’s smart to use blog software to manage all that content. And given that
active blogging allows for constant participation in the social media space, it’s a critical
way to build general site authority via links, delve into specific and related topics, and to
reference your cornerstone content.
Put a link to your essential content in your site sidebar. And if you’ve focused on the
right topics, you’ll naturally keep cross-referencing your cornerstone content and link to
it from your future content as well.
Don’t go overboard, but do provide context when discussing advanced topics that
require an understanding of the basics. Never assume that everyone is aware of your
cornerstone resource or understands the basics. Periodically linking to your cornerstone
content lets it find new readers — and fresh links.
The Two Huge Benefits Cornerstone Content Provides
The first goal of cornerstone content is usefulness and relevancy to the website visitor, no
matter how they arrive. The second goal is to make that content so compelling and
comprehensive that people are willing – no, make that excited – to link to it.
If you focus strategically on these two goals, this whole search engine thing tends to get a lot
easier. Since attracting links is so important, in the next section we’ll look at ways to
proactively get the word out about your cornerstone content.
Five link building strategies that work
We now know the real secret to modern SEO is creating compelling content that naturally
attracts links, rather than begging for links to crummy keyword-stuffed “optimized” web
In other words, SEO copywriting is now all about
response-oriented copy — concepts and words that
ultimately result in a favorable action from the
Since the popularity of our content depends so much
on what people do off the page, it makes sense that
we might also need to step outside the confines of
the page itself to get the word out. Luckily, the same
copywriting skills you use to conceive and create your
content apply to promoting it as well.
The way to create compelling content is to focus
relentlessly on “what’s in it for the reader.” And in the same way, no one is going to link to you
unless there’s something in it for them.
The key is the same — understand who you’re talking to, figure out what will catch their
attention, then convince them to take the action you want. Here are 5 ways to do that:
1. Social Media News Sites
The quickest way for an exceptional piece of content to get a lot of attention (that, in
turn, results in secondary links) is to make the home page of Digg or Reddit. There are
lots of similar niche aggregator sites that can drive quality traffic as well, such as
TechMeme for technology news. For more offbeat content, Fark will shake your server.
If you’ve done a great job with your headline, it should magnetically draw people in.
However, you need to understand the crowd dynamics of each social media content
community. What works as a headline for Digg often doesn’t on Reddit. Tweak
accordingly, but try to retain your keywords in the title if at all possible, because most of
the resulting links will simply regurgitate the title as anchor text.
2. Guest Writing
Guest writing on established blogs and other content sites has become one of the most
powerful strategies for getting your own site rolling. You freely contribute content that
not only allows you to raise your profile, but allows for links back to your own site.
SEO COPYWRITING IS NOW
ALL ABOUT RESPONSE-
ORIENTED COPY –
CONCEPTS AND WORDS
THAT ULTIMATELY RESULT
IN A FAVORABLE ACTION
FROM THE READER.
Once again, creating killer original content will open doors for you, especially when it’s
created for the benefit of someone else. And you can use that killer cornerstone content
you’ve already produced as an example of the quality you can deliver.
Depending on your relationship with the site owner, you may be able to link to your
cornerstone content from within the body of the content itself, but only if the citation is
extremely relevant to the content and beneficial to the reader. Otherwise, your link
needs to go in your byline or bio.
Most people tend to link to their site or blog URL in the byline of contributed content.
Turn it around by focusing the byline on the reader instead of yourself, and feature your
cornerstone content instead of your home page.
For example, if I were to guest blog somewhere about strategies for attracting links,
which byline is more attractive to the reader when finishing my article?
NO: Brian Clark writes about online copywriting and content marketing at Copyblogger.
YES: Check out Brian Clark’s free SEO Copywriting whitepaper, which is all about the new
style of online writing that helps your content rank well in search engines.
Not only is that better for the reader, it’s better for you. Your link contains keyword-rich
anchor text that helps your cornerstone content rank higher for a popular search term.
3. Social Networking
Twitter and Facebook have become amazing content distribution networks. Sooner or
later Google will factor in social media sharing in its algorithm (if they haven’t already).
Remember, gaining followers and fans is not about your ego, it’s about creating a
dynamic network that gets new people to see your content. And the more people see
and share your content, the more likely it is to attract those valuable links.
But it’s not really about one-off link requests. Networking on Twitter, Facebook, and
LinkedIn is about establishing and growing relationships with influencers in the social
media space. These are the linkerati – prominent bloggers in your niche, top Digg users,
relevant web journalists, and social media mavens.
You need to network from a “what’s in it for them” perspective. Catch attention, gain
interest, and create a desire to help you in the future by offering something that
benefits them first.
4. Linking Out
Linking out to attract links? Yep.
Engaging in dialogue with the owners or staff of relevant content sites in your niche is a
great way to get noticed, and it can lead to links back to you. Bloggers definitely watch
who is linking to them, and you can take the initiative by linking out first before looking
for one in return.
Simply linking out for the sake of linking won’t accomplish much, especially with
bloggers who gets lots of links. The key is to be strategic about how you link and what
It’s just like any other conversation. Join in and add your two cents, but make sure
you’ve got something substantive to say that will reflect well on you. Use a great
headline to make sure you are noticed, and then deliver the goods. And since your
cornerstone content is the foundation of what the conversation is likely about, finding a
way to mention it in the context of the dialogue will naturally bring it to the attention of
influencers in your field.
5. Article Directories
At one point in time, submitting about 20 articles to a directory like Ezine Articles with
the right anchor text in your byline would get you a really good ranking for some search
terms, at least in Yahoo and MSN. However, because the engines discount duplicate
content, having dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of sites republish your article (and
linked byline) no longer does the trick by itself. Plus, the engines know that the article
writer controls the anchor text, so “hand edits” are made to the algorithms to lessen the
“juice” that the big directories pass.
However, a site like Ezine Articles is still excellent for creating exposure to your
cornerstone content. Producing other content that links to your multi-part tutorial
displayed on hundreds of web pages drives direct traffic, and can lead to your content
being referenced in other posts and articles that do pass on link authority.
The strategy is much the same as with guest posting on a blog. You’ll get the best results
from creating original content that does not appear on your site, and submitting it to
one or more reputable directories. Rinse, repeat, and get results.
Content + Promotion = Links
The words you put on a web page have no life of their own until they get read. And those same
words will not gain prominence in search engines until the words are linked to by relevant,
Search engines can still be gamed to a degree, just like offline organizations and systems can
be exploited. However, the goals of the search engines are similar to society at large, and they
are getting very good at finding rule breakers and dispensing swift punishment.
Creating compelling content and beneficial relationships are link attraction strategies that
won’t get you banned or penalized. You’re also simultaneously achieving your overall goal of
converting site visitors into customers, clients, revenue and profits.
Now it’s time to turn to the “last mile” of search engine optimization – the location and
frequency of keywords in your “on-page” copy, and other SEO best practices that help you
outrank the competition.
Five areas to focus on for effective SEO copywriting
When I first started Copyblogger in 2006, I was almost militantly against focusing on “old
school” on-page optimization. Seems strange, since I’d been a successful student of SEO since
It was because I saw so many people focusing only on keywords like it’s 1999, and yet they had
no links. Their content was weak. Their sites weren’t trusted or authoritative.
You can’t optimize something that’s dead. So my
initial goal was to get people to focus on content
that attracted attention and links first. Only then do
you have something you can make better-suited for
search rankings (that’s what optimize means, after
YOU CAN’T OPTIMIZE
SOMETHING THAT’S DEAD.
Years later, it seems things have swung in the opposite direction for some. Social media
“experts” maintain that SEO doesn’t matter because search traffic just “happens.”
Yes, search traffic “happens” if you produce unique content and make it easy for spiders to find
by having clean underlying code and a fast-loading site. But the “right” search traffic doesn’t
just happen, not unless you’re lucky (which simply means you don’t know what you’re doing).
This section is designed to help you know how to tell search engines that what you’re talking
about is the most relevant solution for what people are searching for. That’s all SEO ultimately
is, and we’re about to explore the crucial last steps.
So let’s move on to the five SEO copywriting areas to focus on with your web page, blog post,
online press release, whatever . . . they’re all the same in the eyes of Google.
Five SEO copywriting elements that matter
Remember when we talked about spoon feeding the toddler? Here are five things that make
your content easy to digest for search engines so you can rank as well as possible.
Whether you optimize up-front or later, you at minimum need to know what keywords
you’re targeting and include them in the title of your content. It’s generally accepted
that the closer to the front of the title your keywords are, the better. But the key is that
they appear in the title somewhere.
It’s important that your CMS or blogging software allow you to serve an alternate title in
the title tag (which is the snippet of code Google pulls to display a title in search results)
than the headline that appears on the page. If you use WordPress, Thesis builds this and
many other SEO functions directly into your posting interface, in addition to all its design
So, let’s say I decide that the most compelling headline for prompting readership,
sharing, and linking for an article is:
Five Areas to Focus On for Effective SEO Copywriting
That title contains my keyword phrase (SEO copywriting), but they might not be in the
best location for ranking or even for quick-scanning searchers compared with regular
readers. By using an alternate title tag, I can enter a more search-optimized title for
Google and searchers only, such as:
SEO Copywriting: The 5 Essential Elements
The emphasis on keywords in the title makes practical sense from a search engine
standpoint. When people search for something, they’re going to want to see the
language they used reflected back at them in the results. Nothing mysterious about
Having keywords in your title is also important when people link to you. When your
keywords are there, people are more likely to link to you with the keywords in the
anchor text. This is an important factor for Google to determine that a particular page is
in fact about a particular subject.
You should try to keep the length of your title under 72 characters for search purposes.
This will ensure the full title is visible in a search result, increasing the likelihood of a
SEO copywriting is not just about ranking. It’s also about what your content looks like on
a search engine results page (SERP). The meta description of your content will generally
be the “snippet” copy for the search result below the title, which influences whether or
not you get the click.
It’s debatable whether keywords in your meta-description influence rank, but it doesn’t
matter if they do or don’t. You want to lead off your meta-description with the keyword
phrase and succinctly summarize the page as a reassurance to the searcher that your
content will satisfy what they’re looking for.
Try to keep the meta description under 165 characters so the full description is visible in
the search result. Again, you can create a meta description in WordPress right in the
posting area with Thesis and other themes and plugins that add SEO functionality.
Unique and frequently updated content makes search engines happy. But you know
that. For search optimization purposes (and just general reader-friendliness) your
content should be tightly on-topic and strongly centered on the subject matter of the
desired keyword phrases (this goes back to the spoon feeding analogy).
It’s generally accepted that very brief content may have a harder time ranking over a
page with more substantial content. So you’ll want to have a content body length of at
least 300 words.
It might also help to bold or italicize the first occurrence of a keyword phrase, or include
it in a bulleted list, but I usually don’t get hung up on that. It’s also debatable whether
including keywords in subheads helps with ranking, but again, it doesn’t matter –
subheads are simply a smart and natural place to include your keyword phrase, since
that’s what the page (and each section) is about.
Which brings us to . . .
4. Keyword Frequency
Keyword frequency is the number of times your targeted keyword phrase appears on
the page. Keyword density is the ratio of those keywords to the rest of the words on the
It’s generally accepted that keyword frequency affects ranking (and that makes logical
sense). Keyword density, as some sort of “golden” ratio, probably doesn’t. But the only
way to make sense of an appropriate frequency is via the ratio of those keywords to the
rest of the content, so density is still a metric you need.
In other words, the only way to tell if your repetition of keywords is super or spammy is
to measure that frequency against the overall length of the content. A keyword density
greater than 5.5% could find you guilty of what’s called keyword stuffing, which tends to
make Google think you’re trying to trick them. Bad idea.
Just keep in mind that you don’t need to mindlessly repeat keywords to optimize. In
fact, if you do, you’ll probably get the opposite result.
5. Linking Out
Linking is the fundamental basis of the web. Search engines want to know you’re
sufficiently “connected” with other pages and content, so linking out to other pages
matters when it comes to search engine optimization.
Here are some rules of thumb for linking based on generally accepted best practices:
• Link to relevant content fairly early in the body copy
• Link to relevant pages approximately every 120 words of content
• Link to relevant interior pages of your site or other sites
• Link with naturally relevant anchor text
Again, these are guidelines related to current best practices. Don’t get hung up on rules;
focus on the intent behind what search engines are looking for – giving those human
searchers quality results.
Yes, there’s other stuff . . .
There are other elements as well, such as URL structure and keywords, keywords in image alt
files, tags and categories, and various other minutia (here’s a list of on-page elements and their
varied importance). But if you focus on the five areas above, you’re covering the vital elements
of effective on-page optimization.
Does this mean you have to sacrifice readability to satisfy search engines?
Does writing for people work for SEO?
Hang around web writing circles for any length of time, and the inevitable “write for search
engines or write for people” debate comes up. It’s a little weird, really.
Last time I checked, it’s people who use search engines, not some other life form. So you’re
always writing for people.
Obviously, the debate stems from the fact that
search engines are powered by computer
algorithms. But as search engines have gotten
smarter, writing that pleases people and satisfies
the “spiders” is not that far apart, if at all.
Let’s look at four factors that work well for SEO and
see how well they cater to the needs of people.
LAST TIME I CHECKED, IT’S
PEOPLE WHO USE SEARCH
ENGINES, NOT SOME OTHER
LIFE FORM. SO YOU’RE
ALWAYS WRITING FOR
1. Compelling Content
As we saw in earlier, link attraction is the biggest aspect of today’s practice of search
Google looks at the links pointing at your domain, and those pointing at particular
pages, as votes of legitimacy. Taking it a step further, Google also takes into account the
words people use when linking to you (anchor text) to get an idea of what the right
keywords would be for your page.
While it’s still possible to buy links (just don’t get caught), there’s no way to “trick”
someone into linking to you. People link because there’s something in it for them in
some way, and because something about your content compels them to do it. The
smartest SEOs create content that’s remarkable because it’s valuable, controversial,
funny, opinionated, engaging, enlightened, etc.
Because Google has tons of information thanks to AdWords, AdSense, Analytics, Google
Reader, Tool Bar and Website Optimizer, some see search algorithms moving away from
links and more to site usage data (how people actually interact with content). Whether
that’s the case or not, content that people find compelling will continue to constitute
the biggest factor in search engine optimization.
• Good for SEO? – Check
• Good for People? – Check
2. Content landing pages
One smart strategy for content marketing and anyone building an authority site is to
create valuable content resources related to the most important topics you discuss. As
you know, I call this cornerstone content, because it’s the fundamental information your
site is built on.
An example of this on Copyblogger is Copywriting 101. You’ll notice that instead of a
single post, I did a 10-part tutorial series and aggregated it on a content landing page
that’s clearly focused on the keyword “copywriting.”
This is a strong SEO strategy because I’m aggregating a bunch of content on one search
optimized page. This directs the majority of links to that page instead of the individual
parts, allows for easy cross-linking in future content, and prompts social bookmarking
and sharing due to the scope of the resource.
But the real reason it works is because it’s people friendly. Given the usual scattered
backward chronological nature of a blog, the page is highly usable and useful as a
resource for people new to copywriting (and for those who want to link to a resource
• Good for SEO? – Check
• Good for People? – Check
3. Speaking the language of the audience
Whether Google moves more to usage data over links as an indicator of quality remains
to be seen. But one song remains the same – Google has to match up what a page is
about with what people are searching for. Which means your words need to match up
with the way searchers most like to talk about it.
Keyword research and the use of keyword phrases within content is the one area where
some web writers and bloggers seem to push back, and I’ve never understood it.
Anyone who’s not interested in understanding and mirroring the language used by their
intended audience is simply not interested in being an effective communicator, search
engine traffic or not.
As I’ve said, telling search engines that what you’re talking about is the same as what
people are looking for is what SEO really is. But even if search engines didn’t deliver
traffic at all, the ability to know, understand, and mirror the language of the audience is
an amazing gift we’ve been given thanks to search data. Why not use it when people
respond well to it?
• Good for SEO? – Check
• Good for People? – Check
4. Enhanced readability
What? Good SEO makes content more readable? You’re probably thinking I’ve lost it on
It’s true. When you implement the whole range of SEO best practices, you rank well
with exceptionally reader-friendly content (that’s why it got links in the first place).
Keyword stuffing is not what Google wants. And neither do people.
It’s true that you can underuse keywords in relation to the overall length of the content
and hurt your ranking potential. But most people new to SEO copywriting tend to
overuse keywords beyond what’s necessary.
The myth that search optimized content is ugly and unreadable is simply that – a myth.
When you approach SEO copywriting in a logical, informed fashion, your content isn’t
keyword stuffed. It’s natural, and compelling, and artful.
• Good for SEO? – Check
• Good for People? – Check
At this point, I hope you have a better feel and understanding of the modern practice of
SEO copywriting. But it can still be a little overwhelming, especially in the context of the
balancing act that is your business or profession.
How to make SEO copywriting simple
Given the demand for loads of fresh, compelling content combined with the need to carefully
optimize for search engines, modern SEO copywriting is critical for website owners and an even
bigger business for professional web writers. Those same demands make creating search
optimized web pages, blog posts, and press releases time consuming at best and mystifying at
Even after teaching this approach to SEO
copywriting for over 4 years and mostly practicing
what I preach, we started neglecting the “last mile”
of on-page optimization ourselves.
We were constantly producing quality content and
attracting links, and yet we were:
• Neglecting on-page content optimization due
to time constraints
• Slipping up on SEO best practices for our key
• Failing to train our new writers in content
Back in the summer of 2009, a colleague named
EVEN AFTER TEACHING THIS
APPROACH TO SEO
COPYWRITING FOR OVER 4
YEARS AND MOSTLY
PRACTICING WHAT I
PREACH, WE STARTED
NEGLECTING THE “LAST
MILE” OF ON-PAGE
Sean Jackson approached me and said he and his technical team were building an SEO
copywriting software solution based on the content strategies I’d developed over the years (in
other words, what’s in this report). I was certainly skeptical, but he had my attention.
Sean’s approach was different than that taken by most SEO tools, in that the software put the
content first and foremost before the optimization. I liked what I heard, and started working
with the team to evolve the early prototype into a testable beta version.
My approach to new product development is simple – I’m a web writer and content producer,
and so are the people who read Copyblogger. If a tool makes my life easier and my content
better, it’ll make your life easier and your content better.
Simple philosophy, and yet this approach has never let me down.
Once I began using the earliest version of the software service, my skepticism disappeared.
Suddenly, the “last mile” to prime search optimization became a whole lot more manageable:
• Optimizing became more efficient, eliminating time concerns
• Evaluating on-page SEO best practices came at the push of a button
• Training new writers went from a chore to a “hands-off” experience
But I didn’t stop there. I assembled a group of hard-nosed and skeptical beta-testers ranging
from ornery new bloggers to cynical SEO pros, and let them use and abuse this new tool any
way they saw fit.
The results were remarkable.
Self-professed SEO haters like blogger Johnny Truant came to realize that SEO copywriting was
not a soulless creativity killer when done correctly. Veteran SEO Michael Gray helped us refine
the service during the beta period, and now uses it to train his team of freelance writers in
effective content optimization.
At that point, I was convinced. It was time to give this thing a name.
I decided on Scribe.
Here’s how Scribe makes SEO copywriting simple
In the old days, a scribe was a writer entrusted to record the most valuable and important
information for kings, nobles, and cities.
These days, Scribe™ helps writers create content that gets found online, and that’s become as
valued and important as any old scroll or parchment.
Scribe is an SEO software service (a web-based application plus and/or an integrated
WordPress version) that analyzes the content of web pages, blog posts, online press releases,
you name it . . . all at the click of a button.
Scribe then reports back and tells web writers, bloggers, affiliate marketers, and small business
owners how to tweak their content to get more search engine traffic, all while maintaining
quality reader-focused copy.
It’s like having an SEO expert as a writing assistant
What’s innovative about Scribe is in the way it differs from typical SEO tools. Instead of asking
you for a keyword phrase and then pushing you to construct content around it, Scribe:
• Analyzes what you’ve already written, preserving your natural flow
• Reveals what search engines will think your page is about
• Suggests changes to better reflect the language searchers are using
• Guides you through remaining content elements based on SEO best practices
With Scribe you’ll:
• Optimize content faster
• Eliminate guesswork about keywords
• Employ SEO best practices
• Preserve maximum readability
• Increase targeted traffic
When you subscribe to Scribe, you tap into the content optimization algorithm on our servers
right from your WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal interface. Posting and optimization become
Or you can optimize content for any platform with Scribe’s web version — it’s up to you. All
Scribe platforms (Scribe Web, WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal) are yours as a subscriber, and all
future versions and upgrades to Scribe are included as well.
How to take a step up with Scribe (promotional code)
Scribe subscribers are raving about increased search traffic, higher rankings, increased
efficiency, and easy content optimization. Now you can join them in stepping up your traffic
and search rankings, and get a great deal at the same time.
Here are the regular Scribe monthly subscription plans:
• Advanced: 300 evaluations a month (around 75-100 pages or posts) for $97
• Professional: 120 evaluations a month (30-40 pages or posts) for $47
• Publisher: 30 evaluations a month (7-10 pages or posts) for $27
• Starter: 15 evaluations a month (3-5 pages or posts) for $17
For a limited time, you can “step up” your number of monthly evaluations without paying the
higher price for the next-level plan. For example:
• Get Advanced (300 evaluations a month) for $47 per month instead of $97
• Get Professional (120 evaluations a month) for $27 per month instead of $47
• Get Publisher (30 evaluations a month) for $17 per month instead of $27
Before I send you over to the site to learn more about Scribe, you need to remember STEPUP.
That’s the code you’ll enter on the Plans and Pricing page to get the next higher plan for the
lower price. Simply look for the promo code field at the lower right-hand side of the top yellow
box, enter STEPUP, and push the “Get” button to see your “step up” choices.
Ready? Discover how Scribe steps up your traffic and rankings here.
Remember, the code STEPUP is the key to the deal, so don’t forget to enter it. This is a limited
time offer, so . . .
Get started as a Scribe subscriber today.
Copyblogger & Scribe
How to Create Compelling Content
By BRIAN CLARK