SEO Copywriting Has Changed!
Be aware of the shifting sands of SEO if you don’t want your website and online content to sink without trace
The fact you’re reading this means it’s likely you’re wondering about the current state of play when it comes to SEO copywriting.
Google’s never-ending changes to the way search engine optimization (SEO) works have left many people feeling confused. This also includes SEO copywriters who have to be fairly agile to keep up with the latest steps in the Google dance!
At the heart of this uncertainty is the need to understand what Google is looking for when it comes to ranking web pages. The past four or five years have seen the search engine make big changes to the criteria (aka ‘algorithms’) it uses to rank website pages.
Anyone who owns or runs a website wants to make sure their efforts are rewarded with high rankings – as well as making sure that the ‘content’ they’ve created provides a pleasing and useful User Experience (UX) for their target audience.
Whatever Happened to SEO Copywriting?
Once upon a time… SEO copywriting was simple. Then, along came Google with big changes to the way it ranks website pages. What were once winning SEO ways were made useless over-night. That meant people like webmasters and business owners, SEO copywriters and marketing professionals had to adjust to Google’s new approach.
It’s worth pointing out that Google made these changes to give users the best possible results for their searches. By making sure that its results provided only the most relevant web pages with the highest quality content, Google consolidated its position as the world’s leading search engine.
If that meant stamping out unfair SEO ‘tricks’ that tried to beat Google’s ranking system, then so be it. That led us to where we are today: SEO practitioners in general – and SEO copywriters in particular – need to follow Google’s guidelines for webmasters.
The big changes came via improvements in technology. This gave Google the capability to monitor more closely what was going on out there among the millions of Internet pages in its Index.
How Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird
Fed Into Google’s 2016 Algorithm
Back in the year 2011, we saw the first major change in Google’s algorithm that would affect the rankings of many thousands of websites. This was given the cute name of ‘Panda’ – although the negative effects on many online businesses were far from cute. Other updates followed.
- Panda Overview
First introduced in 2011 – and continuing. Websites seen as having ‘quality content’ were ranked higher. Sites such as article marketing repositories were seriously downgraded.
- About Penguin
Introduced 2012. This update penalized sites that violated Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. This included sites using ‘black hat’ SEO techniques such as keyword stuffing, duplicate content and so on.
- Hummingbird Lands
Introduced 2013. This update was different from Panda and Penguin. It uses new search technology to focus on semantics – the differences and similarities in the meaning of words. Since Hummingbird, Google matches keyword searches with the ‘overall meaning’ found in web copy.
See my article on SiteProNews: ‘Are Synonyms the New SEO?’
SEO Copywriting in 2016
It’s probably fair to say that a lot of people aren’t clear about the implications of Hummingbird – and how SEO copywriters should respond. There’s confusion about the role of keywords in online content. For example: is their use still relevant in on-page SEO – or has Google’s search technology taken over the reins by automatically extracting the true ‘meaning’ of a web page or article?
The <keywords> meta tag is now deemed unnecessary. You can leave it to Google to figure out which keywords occur in the natural, organic sequence of the copy. Of course, that doesn’t free copywriters from the responsibility of researching and including keywords in their text. And – almost incidentally – by using synonyms, the writer creates opportunities for ranking by ‘long-tail’ keywords and phrases.
Great Content – Today’s ‘Gold Standard’ for SEO Copywriters
Although keywords are still important, the single most important consideration in delivering SEO success is to make great content the cornerstone of your online marketing strategy. (This applies to both ‘on-page’ and ‘off-page’ content – as explained below.)
Your content should be informative, relevant and substantial. Each web page, blog or article should be tightly focused on a clearly identifiable theme, and the development of your content should progress in a natural way that covers as many elements of your subject as possible.
Your readers (i.e. potential customers) will appreciate the easy-to-read content – and Google’s robots will be guided easily through the various keywords and headings provided to recognise that your content is worthy of preferential ‘organic’ ranking on the search results pages! (SERPs)
Content Marketing & ‘Social Sharing’
Content Marketing is an ongoing process
– not a singular event
There’s nothing new about creating ‘content’. ‘Article Marketing’ (of sometimes dubious quality) has been around online for at least ten years – and traditional offline marketers have always used published articles to promote their expertise.
What IS new, however, is Google’s quest for quality content and the way in which it’s rewarded via SEO by higher page rankings (on the SERPs). That means there’s a real incentive for copywriters and marketers to produce the best quality content they can.
To provide its search customers with the best search experience possible – and therefore retain its position as the world’s leading search engine – Google must direct people to the best possible content that corresponds to the keywords they type in.
What constitutes ‘Content’ is a moveable feast and could include: the content that features on web pages (the copy and various visual elements such as infographics) as well as ‘external’ linked content such as articles/blog posts, press releases, newsletters, case studies and videos.
‘Social sharing’ is about the recognition of high quality content that readers feel is worthy of sharing on various social media sites. In Google’s eyes, content that is shared is a vote of confidence in its quality and will therefore be rewarded accordingly with high rankings in Google’s search results pages (SERPs).
Content Marketing has become hugely competitive – simply because the stakes (of free, organic listings) are so high. That means the onus is very much on those producing the ‘content’ to market their wares as effectively as possible. The aim of course is to be visible on Google and to be seen by ‘followers’ on the various social media sites.
Search engine marketing techniques such as AdWords or e-mail marketing can be used to complement organic visibility – especially when there’s a key piece of content to be marketed such as an e-book or white paper.
For more details, visit: www.buzzwords.ltd.uk/freelance-copywriting/content-marketing
On-page & Off-page SEO
SEO copywriting has two main components – ‘on-page’ and ‘off-page’…
- On-page SEO – uses the techniques that affect what search engines look for when matching web page content to a specific search query. These are concerned primarily with including relevant keywords in behind-the-scenes ‘meta tags’ in the HTML coding that tell search engine robots what the page is all About. A simple way to view the code is to right-click on your mouse and then click ‘View Source’.
Since the Hummingbird update, Google is helped in assessing the true meaning of on-page copy through the use of semantic analysis. Depending on search ‘relevancy’ and various other elements in its algorithm, Google will rank page content accordingly in the Search Engine Results pages (SERPs).
SEO copywriters should pay particular attention to the following meta tags:
<title> tag – This is the most important tag. You can see it as the top line in each of the 10 results shown on a page in response to a search query. It should include a primary keyword or phrase (some say you should place this keyword at the beginning of the line). Use a maximum of 60 characters.
<description> tag – Although this tag is not a deciding factor in SEO, it provides an opportunity to include information that adds value to your <title> tag.
<h> headline tags – These indicate which are the visible on-page headlines and sub-headings featured in the copy. With long copy in particular, they provide search engines with important ‘sign posts’ as to the subject matter of the copy. The tags used range from <h1> to <h6> where <h1> is the most important for SEO and should include the main keyword for that page. Other <h> tags can be used for sub-heads, bullet-points and lists.
- Off-page SEO – is concerned with factors such as LINK BUILDING and the various ways of generating external links with your own site’s web pages, articles and blog posts. It also includes links with content that is shared on social media sites. Links are seen by Google as ‘votes of confidence’ by whoever has shared or ‘liked’ material that links back to your website. Your content will therefore be ‘rewarded’ with higher online rankings.
Off-page SEO also includes blog posts (whether the blog is part of your website or a standalone entity). Google loves regularly updated content on websites so regular new blog posts fit the bill perfectly.
- Buzzwords offers Blog Writing Packages which provide you with a continuous stream of quality content to keep your readers informed and keep your SEO activities on the boil. Contact Mike Beeson at Buzzwords for more information and costings. (Tel 01457 764050).
User Experience (UX) and SEO
Design and navigation issues are important with UX – but copywriting also has a role to play and is therefore influential as part of your overall SEO activities.
UX is all about a user’s perception of your website – and, crucially, how they respond to it.
Usability is mainly about a site’s FUNCTIONALITY and therefore more about design and coding issues than copywriting. It’s just one factor among several that contribute to a rewarding User Experience.
Google can track how people behave once they’re on your site. If they don’t stay on a page very long, if they leave a site quickly or appear to be lost or confused by the navigation – this will likely add up to a ‘bad’ User Experience which will be reflected in Google downgrading the page.
Copywriters can avoid this outcome by writing copy that is tightly themed, clearly written and presented in a logical sequence. The language used should be easy to understand and the most important points in the copy should be included ABOVE THE FOLD in an uncomplicated page layout.
The Future of SEO Copywriting?
In February 2016, Rand Fishkin – the CEO of moz.com – outlined in one of his brilliant ‘Whiteboard Friday’ videos where he thought SEO might be heading in the near future.
In the wake of Google’s Hummingbird algorithm, Rand felt that optimizing for keywords and phrases is maybe a little bit out-of-date. More to the point, it may be less effective than looking at optimizing for broader topics, ideas and concepts.
It’s worth sounding a note of caution here. Rand is not advocating throwing the baby out with the bath water by completely ignoring keyword optimization. He is, in fact, suggesting that we combine both approaches.
That means you end up with a kind of ‘hybrid SEO’ where keywords retain their importance whilst at the same time optimizing for broad-brush topics and concepts.
Instead of creating a range of separate pages of average quality where each page targets a specific keyword, hybrid SEO uses a blockbuster page that includes keywords in the text, title, headlines and sub-heads – among content where Google will pick up on the keywords in a fairly routine way throughout the body copy.
At the same time, the broad-brush copy will cover a wide range of synonyms that are part of the page’s over-arching ‘topic’ that nevertheless include the original, old-school use of standalone keywords.
You’ll find Rand Fishkin’s full article (and video) here:
Hiring the Best SEO Copywriter
There’s more to hiring a copywriter than comparing hourly or daily rates. Always bear in mind that their magical words could have a dramatic effect on how Google ranks your content – never forgetting either that potential future clients will be influenced by how and what your copywriter writes.
SEO copywriting is distinct from other forms of copywriting in that it has its own set of ‘rules’. The first requirement you will have of your SEO copywriter therefore is that they understand the various elements of SEO and how they work together.
In common with other areas of copywriting, it’s vital that a SEO copywriter brings a commercial perspective to the project. They will need a thorough understanding of your business and the marketplace in which it operates.
This will very likely involve online research into competitor activity. It will almost certainly involve detailed discussions about the topic in hand, as well as a detailed briefing of the copywriter by the client or agency.
There’s no doubt that the multi-faceted nature of SEO copywriting in 2016 makes it a challenging and time-consuming activity. Not least, it has to meet several challenges – in the same piece of work, and all at the same time!
The ultimate challenge of course is to produce attractive, highly informative and easy-to-read copy that will also rate highly with the search engines. It’s taken as read that your copywriter will be familiar with the mechanics of HTML code and how to use it in the shape of meta tags and so on.
It should also be a ‘given’ that a copywriter understands how to pitch a specific tone of voice that best suits the target audience. Google demands fluent, lucid and authoritative copy. Anything less will persuade the reader to move on quickly to the next website, article or blog post.
Having the ability to write coherently whilst also incorporating a range of keyword synonyms is another relatively new skillset demanded of SEO copywriters. A more traditional requirement is to ‘close the sale’ with a strong ‘call to action’ – that’s assuming of course that the text has already persuaded the reader of the validity of their proposition in the first place.
Hiring a copywriter with these ‘walk-on-water’ capabilities will require evidence that they’re up to the job. This could be with an extensive portfolio, recommendations and endorsements – and also by being persuaded that the copywriter understands the subject as you explore the ways you’ll work together.
Wherever possible, avoid making ‘price’ your primary consideration. Please remember that a competent SEO copywriter will deliver work that projects your business in the best possible light. That will give you extra credibility and professionalism – and if it comes with the bonus of high rankings on Google, the leads and sales this generates will be priceless!
Buzzwords SEO Copywriting Services
See a measurable return on your investment with the
combined skillsets of SEO and Content Marketing
Writing exceptional online content has been the driving force at Buzzwords for over 20 years. The fact that today’s SEO embraces the same core values is good news for every client – current and future.
We can tailor SEO copywriting packages to meet your business and budgetary needs. A co-ordinated approach covers every option in a cost-effective and proven way. Here’s how it works:
- An initial SEO Review We take a strategic look at your current online position and how this squares with your overall online marketing aims. We will then create a set of recommendations based on the SEO services below…
- Analysing your Competitors’ SEO Activity A mass of information is available from competitors’ websites including visible online content and meta information included in off-page HTML coding. We will also analyse your competitors’ inbound links to identify new link building opportunities. We will also look at whether your competitors are using Pay Per Click Advertising and analyse their keyword-approach and landing page content.
- SEO Copywriting and On-page Optimisation Buzzwords’ vast experience in this area makes sure your web pages cover all the bases. From keyword research to competitor comparisons and the correct usage of meta data, internal linking and anchor text links (not forgetting the fluency of the page content itself) – in every respect, your on-page SEO couldn’t be in better hands.
- The All-important Function of Link Building Generating a series of inbound links from a variety of ‘high authority’ and industry-relevant sources can work wonders for your website rankings. In particular, you can target the URL of single pages on your website if there’s a particular keyword for which it’s important to rank well. To achieve this, Buzzwords uses techniques such as article writing, online PR, blogging and video marketing.
- Campaign Progress Reports Buzzwords produces monthly progress reports measured against strategic SEO targets. These cover important elements such as web page rankings and newly-acquired links.
SEO Copywriting Rates
- A fee for website copywriting is agreed at the outset. Your website is written using on-page SEO copywriting techniques. Naturally flowing copy is written that includes important keywords, phrases and synonyms (to maximize long-tail keyword opportunities).
- To maximize link building and traffic to your website (i.e. ‘off-page SEO’), a Content Marketing programme can be devised at the same time. This can take several forms: blog posts, articles, infographics, podcasts, videos – and sharing your content on social media. A monthly retainer fee is the usual way to finance this activity.
NEW! – SEO COPYWRITING TRAINING COURSE
A new addition to Buzzwords’ successful range of copywriting courses will be available from early 2017! Each one-day course will follow Buzzwords’ popular one-to-one personalised format. All courses are tailor-made to suit your exact requirements. Additional modules can be included covering other aspects of copywriting. You’ll find more details of current courses at: www.buzzwords.ltd.uk/copywriting-training-courses
To register your interest in this new SEO Copywriting Course, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org – or call Mike Beeson today on 07714 222 464.