How to write SEO copy for higher rankings & traffic

Written By Fraser McCulloch

Traditional marketer specialising in keyword research, SEO content plans, and content briefs. Has-been Scottish golfer. 

Learning how to write copy for SEO is essential if you want higher rankings, traffic, and conversions.

Whether or not you’re new to writing SEO copy, this guide to SEO copywriting provides a repeatable system for writing that ranks well on search engines.

What is SEO copy?

SEO copy is the text describing what a web page is about to readers and search engines and written to rank high, educate readers, answer reader questions, and encourage them to take action.

Step 1: Target the right keyword

Before writing any content, you need to know what to write about, which typically involves keyword research; and expert subject knowledge.

Keyword research is the process of finding out what people are looking for online, so you can write content that they’re interested in.

Keyword research isn’t usually a copywriter’s job, but it is much easier to target relevant keywords before writing anything when you have a content plan in place.

Content plan

I use a keyword strategy called click forecasting to develop client content plans.

Here’s an example of a content plan.

When creating these content plans, I try to identify keywords the client should use to attract their target audience using the buying decision process.

The buying decision process is divided into 4 main stages, although the process isn’t always so linear.

  • Problem recognition.
  • Information search.
  • Evaluation of alternatives.
  • Purchase decision.
buyers journey image

Problem Recognition

Problem recognition is when consumers identify a problem with their current situations or products and seek solutions before making a purchase.

Here are some examples of problem searches.

  • How to fix a golf slice.
  • Reduce inheritance tax.
  • Fix smashed iPhone screen – you’ll see different results, local repair stores, online shop results, and a guide on how to fix a screen yourself.

Using keyword research tools such as Ubersuggest or Ahrefs to filter keywords with “how” or “reduce” or “fix” to find the search volume and traffic potential of problem recognition searches.

Informational Search

Informational search happens when people are looking for information but are not ready to buy anything and want to learn more about a category, product or service.

Here are some examples of informational keywords.

  • Italian restaurants
  • Dry cleaners
  • Best Web Designer in Glasgow

Again filter keywords in your research tool with a type of service and “best” or “top”.

Evaluation of Alternative and Reviews

The evaluation of alternatives is when users compare two or more options and choose the option with the highest value. In other words, it’s choosing the best alternative.

Example evaluation or review queries are:

  • Ubersuggest vs Ahrefs
  • Duda vs WordPress
  • Convertkit review
  • iPhone 11 review
  • QuickBooks review

Purchase Decision

The purchase decision stage is when someone decides whether or not they want to buy something; they might search for the nearest shop or search to buy the product.

Here are some commercial keyword examples that people search before deciding to buy.

  • Seo cost
  • Web design costs
  • MacBook Pro price
  • buy new iPad

Using this model means I can let the client choose which keyword to target based on traffic potential and the stage in the buying process.

How to write SEO copy for higher Google rankings and clicks

Step 2: Map intent to content format

User intent, the greatest copywriting technique you will ever acquire, is what people try to accomplish when using a search engine.

It can be as simple as “I want to find out about my favourite band,” or it can be something like “best family car.”

Knowing what users are looking for helps us understand what to deliver in our copy and content.

Examine top page results

To identify user intent, you need to examine the content and title of the top-ranked web pages.

For example, if your keyword target contains “how-to”, you will likely need to create an article that provides instructions or guidance for users to achieve their desired results.

But examining the search results is a time-consuming process.

You can use the table below as a shortcut to see specific keywords are mapped to content formats.

Alternatively, there are content tools that help you better address intent.

Keyword or Title includesIntentContent Format
HowThe user is searching for instructions to get a result or outcomeHow To
WhatThe user wants an answer to a question.What Is
Best/TopThe user wants to find, use or buy from a list of products, services, or solutions.Best
List, best, numberThe user wants suggested resources, products, services, and tips.List Post
ServiceThe user needs a service that solves their problem.Service Page
ReviewThe user wants to know more about a product or service before buying it.Review Article
VS, ComparisonThe user wants to see the features and benefits of competing products or services before buying the right one.Comparison Article
AlternativesThe user is dissatisfied with a product, service, or company and wants another similar solution.Alternative Article
GuideThe user wants to learn more about a topic.Guide Post

Knowing what to target and the correct content format to match user intent increases your ranking potential before a word is written.

Once the client has chosen the keyword to target from the content plan, create a content brief containing the following.

How to write SEO copy for higher Google rankings and clicks

Step 3: Write a page title (headline)

From an SEO perspective, the page title is important, and it’s the first thing people see when they click on your page.

However, the page title is your guiding star from an SEO writing perspective.

Whenever I write copy, I refer back to the page title to ensure that I stay on track and write about what the reader wants from the page (intent).

The easiest way to write a page title is to use this little formula:

[keyword being targeted] + [user intent] or [outcome/result]

For example, the keyword this page targets are “how to write SEO copy“, and the result readings want is higher rankings.

So the page title is How to write SEO copy [32 Actionable Tips for higher rankings]

Step 4: Write a meta description

A meta description is an excerpt of text that appears beneath a web page’s title. It helps users decide whether or not to click on a particular page.

The meta description also appears when shared socially.

So the meta description should be compelling enough to get clicks from people interested in what the page offers. 

The easiest way to write a meta description is to copy your page title and add “learn more” at the end.

How to write SEO copy for higher Google rankings and clicks

Step 5: Short URL containing the target keyword 

A URL (Uniform Resource Locator) is a fancy way of saying “web address.”

Research has shown that a short URL containing the keyword you target helps rank a web page better.

Writers don’t need to worry about the URL, but website owners should not use long URLs containing dates and months; keep it short and sweet.

Step 6: Introduction to set the expectation

The introduction to your web page or the first sentence of the page is essential as it reinforces that the user has landed at the right place and should encourage them to continue reading.

You can use the Problem> Agitate > Solution formula as a framework to write the introduction.

But I prefer to keep it simple and use the same formula for writing the page title.

[keyword being targeted] + [user intent] or [outcome/result]

Here’s the introduction to this page.

Learning how to write copy for SEO is essential if you want higher rankings, traffic, and conversions.

How to write SEO copy for higher Google rankings and clicks

Step 7: Bottom-line up-front

BLUF stands for “bottom line up front” and is where you put the most important details of your page at the top, in the first screenful, preferably.

For example, product review pages typically contain a summary box at the top describing the product, who it’s for, features and benefits, and a product line.

I summarised the key statistics at the very top of the page, helping readers look for data sources when creating their content.

Step 8: Draft outline and headings

The easiest way to write copy is to create an outline containing headings and subheadings.

These headings act like prompts or chapters in a book.

But how do you write an outline?

Each content format has a unique outline.

For example, a “how-to” article contains a series of steps.

A product review page typically starts with a product summary before discussing its features, benefits, proof, alternatives, and risks.

And a service page includes headings about the solution, process, faq’s, case studies, results, etc.

It is far easier to write your copy when you have an outline or headings to write from.

How to write SEO copy for higher Google rankings and clicks

Step 9: Body copy

In the body copy, you write detailed information such as definitions, answers, benefits, or case studies under each heading you’ve mapped out.

Write with one person in mind.

When you write your body copy, you want to visualise one person as you write.

Think about the person who would benefit most from your article or guide.

So I am thinking of you as I write this.

Definitions

A definition is a short explanation of what something means, and you can use this formula to write definitions.

[term] [conjunction] [definition]

For example, 

What is editing?

Editing is the act of making changes to your website’s content, such as adding new pages, images, videos, etc.

Answer

A good answer results from answering a question or solving a problem, and your copy often requires you to provide answers.

You can use this format to write an answer:

[start with the question] [conjunction] [provide answer] [include an explanation/details]

For example,

What is SEO copy?

SEO copy is the text on a web page describing what it’s about to readers and search engines. It should be written to rank high in the search results, educate readers or answer their questions and encourage them to take action.

Features and Benefits

Features and benefits are essential when writing product, service or review page copy.

A product feature makes a product unique, like its size or colour, whereas a product benefit is what customers will get from using it.

For example,

This Nike top features “moisture-wicking fabric”.

The benefit is to “help you stay dry and comfortable”.

The iPhone 13 Pro camera has a wide camera that captures more light, and the benefit is better photos and videos.

How to write SEO copy for higher Google rankings and clicks

Case studies and testimonials

Case studies and testimonials are real customers who have benefited from a product or service.

They can be included to help convince visitors that your company is legitimate.

You can use customer interviews or web review sources to write your case studies and testimonials.

Facts and Data

Facts are things that we can prove or disprove by gathering evidence.

There is an SEO myth that the best place to bury a body is on page 2 of the Google search engine.

However, my research of 100 random websites proved that they earned, on average, 11% of their organic traffic from page 2 positions.

That’s an interesting fact revealed using data that no one else, to date, has communicated.

Images and videos

David Ogilvy recommends using one-person photography rather than illustrations to accompany the copy.

That’s me buggered then!

I try to utilise screenshots to outline instructions in my articles.

Add the primary keyword in your alt image tag; to help with image visibility.

Use short words, shorter sentences, and paragraphs

Anyone writing copy should read Dr Rudolph Flesch’s Art of Plain Talk.

The Art of Plain Talk recommends using short words, shorter sentences, and paragraphs to communicate.

  • Use short words.
  • Shorter sentences.
  • Short paragraphs.
  • Highly personal copy.

Fast forward 70 years and the Yoast plugin incorporates the Flesch scoring method for web pages and posts.

How to write SEO copy for higher Google rankings and clicks

Bullet points and lists

Use bullet points and lists to keep the readers’ attention.

Use one sentence per paragraph as it’s easier to read words on a web page this way.

Make sure you have spacing between lines and paragraphs, making it easier for users to read and maintain attention.

Furthermore, bullet points in a list format sometimes earn featured snippets.

Reduce words per sentence

When your sentences extend beyond 14 words, it becomes harder to read on mobile devices.

Sentences that take up 3 lines become difficult to read as you scroll through a page.

Your sentences should not be any longer than 20 words.

One sentence per paragraph

One paragraph should contain a sentence of 14 to 20 words.

After you finish one sentence, start a new paragraph.

Remember, we are writing copy to be read on mobile devices, tablets and computers for people who skim pages to find answers.

We’re not writing an essay for a college professor or trying to please a journalist or newspaper editor.

Write for people who scan and skim copy.

When you analyse user studies of people visiting web pages, they quickly scan up and down the page.

People have a short attention span, but once they find an important element, a phrase, heading, image or other elements, they will stop and read the page entirely.

How to write SEO copy for higher Google rankings and clicks

Length of copy

It depends on the product, service or article, but the rule of thumb is that the more you tell, the more you sell.

Research shows readership falls off rapidly up to 50 words of copy.

But few people drop off between 50 and 500 words.

In split tests, long copy outsells short copy.

Some web pages are straightforward and do not require many words, like e-commerce category pages, contact pages and home pages.

Sometimes a few visuals and bullet points are the search results that users require.

However, research by Brian Dean has shown that pages that rank in the top 10 search results have 1890 words on average.

Internal links

Ideally, you want to add internal links to other pages on your website.

Moz study identified that the first link in the body of a page passed the most value to other pages on your website.

You want other pages with links using relevant anchor text to link to your new page, as this can improve the search position of your page.

When you’ve published your page, you want to identify other pages that can pass link strength to this newly published page.

Outbound links

There are a few reasons to add an external link on your page, the main reason being the power of association.

An external link may help a search engine better understand your page.

How to write SEO copy for higher Google rankings and clicks

Step 10: Make your transitions.

Transitions or bucket brigades in copywriting are word devices to help you move the reader from one section or sentence to the next.

You’ll use words such as “however”, “therefore”, “instead”, and “furthermore” to connect sentences without the previous sentence coming to an abrupt ending.

Example of a transition or bucket brigade.

Step 11: Editing.

After completing your draft copy, leave it for a while, circle back and edit it.

  • Check the grammar.
  • Check the spelling.
  • Read it out loud.
  • Use Grammarly to remove unnecessary phrases or rewrite sentences.

Step 11: Summary and call to action

End on a high note by writing a summary and the key takeaway or action you want readers to take from the page.

Conclusion

This guide to SEO copywriting gave you a repeatable system for writing that ranks well on search engines.