Copywriting For SEO
If you want to do well at SEO, then crafting pages to please readers is important. In this guide, I’ll show you how to write great copy that hooks in visitors.
Why Is Copywriting Important?
If visitors land on your page, but click back, you’ll do less well at search. Recent changes in search algorithms mean your pages are likely being judged on how useful a user finds your page.
One way to hook readers into your site is by using well-crafted copywriting. If you convince more of your visitors to engage in a “desired action”, which is the end-goal of copywriting, then the more profitable your site should become.
As internet traffic gets more expensive, the sites using copy that converts more visitors than the competition will likely win the game. These sites will be more able to afford to invest in traffic generation.
If You Fail To Get Your Copy And Offer Right
If a searcher is looking for a good offer on a product, they might click the result at #1.
If they don’t find an offer to their liking, what do they do? They’ll likely click back. They’ll try another site further down the page. They may click on three of four results before they find the offer they want. They may rephrase the search query.
There is no point ranking well if the customer doesn’t like the offer, or the offer is not clearly articulated. There is SEO value in presenting a great offer. There is also SEO value in making that offer clear to the reader. The value comes from making the most of each visitor. The higher your conversion rates, the more distance you put between you and your competitors.
What Copywriting Is, And What It Is Not
Copywriting is language used to encourage the reader to take action.
Copywriting differs from “telling” and other academic forms of writing in that the goal isn’t simply to convey information, but to direct the reader towards a transaction.
You may have heard the phrase “SEO copywriting”.
What some people mean by “SEO Copywriting” is “stuffing the copy with keywords”. For example, if I were targeting the term “seo copywriting”, I might be tempted to include the term “seo copywriting” often, meaning the page may be more likely to rank for the term “seo copywriting”.
See the problem?
Repeating keywords can make the copy sound ridiculous. Ridiculous copy is unlikely to move visitors to desired action.
This keyword-stuffing approach came from a time when search engines placed a lot of emphasis on “keyword density” i.e. the number of times a phrase appeared in the copy relative to other terms. Search engines no longer place ranking weight on this metric. I’ll show you better way to integrate keywords.
Copywriting describes benefits. For example, “the internet you can put in your pocket” is a benefit statement. It could be used to convince someone to buy an an iPhone.
Copywriting presents an offer. For example, “buy now and receive two months of free data”. An offer may also take the form of a desired action i.e. “sign up for our email list”.
Integrating Copywriting With SEO
There are two aspects to SEO. External and internal. External aspects concern factors beyond your site. A search engine will rank your site by looking at links pointing to your site from other pages.
The second aspect is pages on your site. You have a lot more control over these pages. If you have interesting, well written content, then it is more likely people will be happy to link to you. Once visitors arrive on your site, it is more likely they will engage with your message. If your pages are on topic, and interest a reader enough so they don’t immediately click back, then your rankings are likely to increase.
Both external and internal factors must work together in order to get the most out of SEO. It’s not just about getting visitors to your site via search engines, it’s also about what visitors do when they get there. Poor writing, or writing that doesn’t hook people in, can lose hard-won visitors.
How To Structure Your Copy
The most important aspect of copywriting is the headline. It’s the hook that draws people in. If we don’t have a great hook, people are unlikely to read further.
In terms of SEO, the headline plays an even more important function. When a user clicks-thru on link text from a search result, they expect to see a similar headline on the page they land on. This serves as confirmation they have found a relevant result.
The title tag is a good place to use keywords terms. These will be displayed in the search result. If a reader clicks on your link, they’ve already committed to read further, so long as the headline on your landing page reaffirms their interest.
Appeal To Self Interest
Readers aren’t interested in you. Or your product. Readers are interested in themselves. Therefore, effective copy makes an appeal to self interest.
The three time-tested ways of appealing to self-interest are:
- Outline Benefits
- Make Offers
- Provide News
A benefit is what the product or service does for the user. For example, an iPhone “holds the internet in your pocket”.
Benefits are typically stated as verbs. Benefits are active. For example, “the iPhone’s slim shape makes it easy to fit in your pocket”. You may notice I’ve rolled a feature – the slim shape – into a benefit i.e. “easy to fit in your pocket”. This is a powerful technique that intertwines the features and benefits, and thus makes them more memorable.
Benefits should not be confused with features. A feature describes an aspect of the product or service. For example, a 24 hour battery life. A benefit is something the feature enables the user to do. In the case of a 24 hour phone battery, the benefit is “you can go all day without plugging the phone into a charger”.
People care very little about your product or service. They care a lot about the benefits your product and service can offer them.
Try making a list of benefits to integrate into your copy. An easy way to do this is to make a list of features, then write next to them what each feature does for the reader.
- Feature: 24 Hour Battery Life Benefit: You can go all day without a recharge
- Feature: Run-flat tires Benefit: you don’t have to change a tire if you get a puncture
- Feature: Padded headphones Benefit: comfortable to wear for long periods
When you come to write your copy, identify the benefit you most want your reader to remember, and work this into your headline.
Here’s an easy formula to remember when crafting headlines:
- Take a verb
- Add a desirable quality
Here are a few examples:
- Drive all day without getting tired
- Select the cheapest flights while you sleep
- Clean dishes in half the time it usually takes, using half the water
Readers are certainly likely to want to read further as the unexplained benefit headline is an enticement to discover more. Also note that in the last example, I added two benefits to make the headline even more compelling.
In terms of SEO, it can be a good idea to work a keyword into a headline if you can do so without compromising the headline. It’s better to have a compelling headline than force an inappropriate keyword where it should not go. Keywords can be integrated elsewhere, if necessary i.e. in the body text and/or in the title tag. You only get one chance to make an impact, and a click back is likely to cost your rankings, and business.
You can look at benefits in a number of ways. Opportunities to “reduce pain” are a benefit. For example, “Clean a window in ten seconds using MicroClean technology”.The “pain” is that windows can take a long time to clean.
I’ve also added a proof i.e. “MicoClean Technology”. The reader may not know what “MicroClean Technology” is, but it creates a lead in for me to explain it in the body copy. If nothing else, the readers curiosity is aroused.
We’re all familiar with offers. “Buy one, get two free!” “Buy now, and pay nothing for the first 12 months”. “Fill out your email address and go in the draw to win a holiday”.
An offer makes for a simple, compelling headline. Offers as headlines work best when the reader is already familiar with your product. Offer headlines work less well when your product and service needs explaining.
People like hearing news. They like the new, because change is inherently interesting. Two of my example headlines integrated a new(s) element:
- Drive all day without getting tired
- Select the cheapest flights while you sleep
Clearly, these headlines imply a change to the status quo. You cannot currently cannot drive all day without getting tired – well, most of us can’t – and you can’t book flights in your sleep. I’m setting up an expectation that I’ll provide information about a new way to do those things. If someone reads further, they will find out what it is.
2. The Body
The headline has one purpose. To get people to read down into the body copy. The body copy has one purpose. To get people reading to the close. Each line has a purpose. To get people to read the next line.
The First Line
The promise setup in the headline must be satisfied in the body copy. Once you’ve crafted a great headline, the first line of the body copy should come easily, as all you have to do is explain the headlines.
If we led with a benefit, such as “Drive all day without getting tired“, then the first line would explain the benefit i.e. how one can drive all day without getting tired? For example, a first line might be “when you drive long distances, your body aches. You get tired. But there’s now a great way to avoid those aches and strains, with contour car seat covers that gently massage your pressure points”
If we led with an offer, we explain the offer. If we used “Go in the draw to win a holiday”, then the first line would explain the offer. “All you need do is give us your email address, and you’ll go in the draw to win an all-expenses paid trip to the destination of your choice”.
If we led with news, we demonstrate the impact of the news on the reader. We demonstrate how the news will change their lives. If we used the headline “Latest in-home power generation unit means no more monthly power bills”, the first line of our body copy might be “Latest developments in home power generation units mean you need no longer pay line charges for grid electricity. Simply install a HomePower unit and it will provide all your electricity needs for up to a year. Your local dealer will then swap the replaceable power unit with another fully charged unit, and you’re good to go for another 12 months”.
The Three-Step Body Copy
The body copy has a beginning, middle and end. Obvious, of course. But why does this three-step format work so well?
It’s the format of stories. Stories are a very powerful means of communication.
A film will start with a depiction of the status quo, usually a problem the protagonists must overcome. We see the protagonist overcome the problem, and then reach a new status quo. Viewers like to see movement from stasis to a period of chaos, to a new stasis. Order. Disorder. Order.
This structure can also be applied to copywriting.
At the beginning of a movie, the main character will face some form of trouble in the first twenty minutes. In copywriting, that “trouble” is the problem to be solved.
If we look at our example, “when you drive long distances, your body aches. You get tired. But there’s now a great way to avoid those aches and strains, with contour car seat covers that gently massage your pressure points”
“Your body aches”. “You get tired”. These are the challenges our central character must face. You can identify “the pain” by examining your product or service and look at the problem it is solves. An SEO agency is trying to solve the problem of lack of visitor traffic from search engines. A car manufacturer is trying to solve a transport problem. A movie maker is trying to solve a boredom problem.
“The middle” is where you counter the problem. To use our example “when you drive long distances, your body aches. You get tired. But there’s now a great way to avoid those aches and strains, with contour car seat covers that gently massage your pressure points”. The middle is “But there’s now a great way to avoid those aches and strains, with contour car seat covers that gently massage your pressure points”. The solution to the pain of body aches is the “contour massage seat covers”. The contour solves the pain – in this case, quite literally.
This is also the point you can build credibility. People today tend to cynical, especially of exaggerated advertising claims. The headline and opening lines make some big claims – which sound great – but the reader now wants proof. If the middle fails to provide proof, you’ll lose them.
When providing proof, switch to factual mode. Describe features, make comparisons, expand on the characteristics of the product, talk about quality aspects, provide credible research data and endorsements from other customers.
The end of the story is when you bring the reader into the narrative. Up until this point, they’ve been interested, passive observers. Tell them what action they should take should they identify with the story. This action will save them from pain, or provide them the benefits – or pleasure – that have been outlined. They should ring this number now, make an order, sign up for an email, or whatever it is you want them to do. This is called….
3. The Close
Now is also a good time to restate the offer.
In long copy, you may need to restate the offer a number of times, but regardless of copy length, you should always do so in the close.
You then need to tell the reader how they can accept the offer. This could be and address, a form, a telephone number. It should be crystal clear at this point what the user has to do – make it explicit. If the reader has read this far, they are definitely interested – so don’t be shy about coming right out and saying what you want them to do.
This is also the point you may have to overcome final objections. This is tricky to get right, as you need to anticipate what the objections are likely to be.
In commerce, especially online commerce, people are concerned about security of their credit card numbers. Ensure you address this concern by displaying security badges and other safety identifiers.
People are concerned they are buying based on description, rather than seeing the actual product. If you can, try and offer free trial periods and money back guarantees to reduce the buyers risk. These offers can work well, because the number of people who claim their money back tends to be small, yet those who are put off if you do not offer such guarantees can be significant.
Buyers may also resist doing anything, because it’s easier to do nothing that to take the risk and do something. This is where time limited offers work well. If they don’t act now, they risk missing out. The fear of missing out is a strong driver to act.
There are various other tools you can use throughout your copy to give the final shine and polish.
Smaller headlines are particularly useful for breaking up long text. This is especially important online, because readers tend to scan.
Graphically emphasize important points using larger type, or different fonts and colours. Again, this can help connect with readers who scan. Not everyone is the same, so will react to different points you make. By using subheadings, you can can draw attention to multiple points that may otherwise get lost within the text.
Bursts, Callouts, And Sidebars
You can use images, different fonts, boxes to attract attention to individual points within the copy. Callouts help break up the monotony of a page full of text and draw attention to specific features.
When crafting a page:
- Make a list of features and benefits.
- Decide on the most important benefit. Make this your headline.
- To craft a headline, take a verb and add a desirable quality.
- The first line should explain the promise setup by the headline.
- In the body, highlight the problem, and show how it can be overcome. Describe features and benefits.
- End with an offer. Tell the reader what they need to do next.
- David Ogilvy On Copywriting
- Copyblogger: Copywriting 101
- Jay Abraham’s Trick For Headline Ideas
- Various articles on Copywriting on Smashing Magazine
- Ten Companies That Nail Copywriting