SEO Copy: The Basics

Search engine optimization involves many things: linking, copy writing, competitive research before writing copy, navigation, usability and even marketing copy or "optimization of landing pages." In this article we will look at writing for search engines, or specifically writing text that is both bot friendly and human friendly.

There will be an emphasis on search engine bots in this article. Writing for search engines is slightly different from sales copy, but you can "SEO" your sales copy. This article will look at ways you can write SEO copy like a pro, and make sure that the search engine bots consistently rate your pages high for relevance. Another point worth keeping in mind is that you can edit ANY copy for SEO, even if it was written by a six-year-old.

I learned most of what I know about SEO copy by experimenting and reading. A great resource is Glenn Murray’s site http://www.divinewrite.com/. He ranks number one for "SEO copywriter" in the search engines, so he must be good. He also has great tutorials and articles available for free reprinting, which is a great linking strategy.

In this piece, apart from looking at "writing" copy, we will also look at researching what copy to write. This is very important because you don’t want to be stuck trying to be relevant for just two extremely competitive key words like "business" and "entrepreneur" (man is your work cut out for you!). Hopefully by the time this is done you will be writing great copy.

The beginning

You need two different kinds of tools: tools for research and tools for writing. I am currently typing this on Google Docs, and I have to tell you, it’s neat. Any word processor will do for writing, but if you are an aspiring copywriter on a low budget, or a small site owner on a low budget, a Windows product may not be the best option. Try Open Office of Google Docs; some people tout Word Pad and note pad, but they don’t work for me because they don’t include spell checking, find and replace, and word count features. But finding your writing tool is the second thing you should worry about; the first thing you need to do is find your topic.

This is not an article about keywords, so it wont go deeply into keyword research. My editors get a lot of key word articles and they would rather see a copy writing article, so… Before you can write any copy you have to research your key words. Once you have chosen your web site’s theme, you start playing with your key words.

Let’s assume you want to build a tech site. Now that sounds suicidal because there are millions, nay billions of tech sites around. But let’s say you want your tech site to focus exclusively on open source software from the Debian project (or some other obscure project). The next step is to check that there are some people that actually need your service. 

To check for your audience you can use a number of tools to see which key words are competitive and which are not.  Overture is a great tool for checking how many times  a key word has being looked up in the last month, and it is free. I don’t bother going to Overture’s (now Yahoo’s) site any more though; I use SEOchat’s key word tools page. Not only do these tools help you pick key words but they also help you keep track of your key word density and key word difficulty (how easy or how hard it is to rank for a particular key word).

Another tool that suggests the keywords for which you should optimize is the Google suggest tool, which focuses on Google. The magic word here is "relevance." It actually suggests relevant keywords for which to optimize. This is extremely important because if you get the right key words for optimization and if they are not extremely competitive (yet have enough traffic), you can get away with doing little or no linking.

And that’s the real magic with great SEO copy. Done right, it can get you top rankings for specific key words immediately, without doing anything else — no linking and no other on page optimization. This is because your page gets high marks for "relevance." If no other URL is ranking as high for relevance as you are,  you immediate go to the top of the SERPs for that particular key word. This more or less solves your SEO issues once and for all for that particular keyword or key word phrase.

Note that for highly competitive key word phrases and words, copy alone will not get you top rankings. This is because so many other pages score high for relevance that your relevance rating will (more or less) hardly count, and additional methods will be needed to get high rankings on the SERPs. But copy is always a great way to increase relevance ratings, so when facing strong competition, what do you do?

Competitive research is simple. You look up what the top people at the top of the SERPs are doing (assuming you are competing for similar key word phrases) and then you model your campaign after theirs. This does not always work because a lot of times you will discover that your "competition" in some niche fields are yellow pages and may be Wikipedia.org. Competitive research will not necessarily work, but it will give you an idea of what to do when writing your own copy. Note that you will need to check out how the competition arranges its content (architecture), the linking structure, and how sales copy and SEO copy are combined.

SEO copy

Once you have settled on your key word phrases, all that is left is actually writing the copy. One very important factor to consider is your key word density. This is the major difference between ordinary copy and SEO copy; it’s simply about how many times key words show up while the copy remains readable to humans. Ideally the copy should be so readable to humans that it serves the dual purpose of SEO copy and link bait. It should be so good that people actually link to it because it’s a good resource. When the copy accomplishes these two functions I call it "fish food," because It serves as link bait and is bot friendly.

If copy is written by a non SEO person, it will probably have a main theme that shows up five percent of the time, and with related themes (maybe three or four) that show up another four to five percent of the time. So a piece on Dell will have Dell in the body about five percent of the time, note books another five percent, Intel five percent and maybe servers five percent.

This kind of copy is OK and highly readable. It will be crawling with pronouns like "it" (referring to Dell, Intel, notebooks or servers), "they" (referring to Dell), "the computers" (referring to Dell or the computer), and "the processor" (referring to Intel). All of this is well and good, but you you won’t get relevance marks for the key word phrases you have selected. To get relevance marks for a particular key word, the best density is 20 percent. That’s very hard to pull off while keeping the text readable, so a good rule of thumb is 14-17 percent. It’s quite easy to do this.

If writing about Dell, write on Dell. If writing about the Dell Vostro then don’t bother telling us too many things about the processor that powers it (write that on a separate page, and devote one page to the processor IF you want to compete on processor key words). If you are writing about the "Dell Vostro 1700" then use the whole term when talking about it. Don’t use "it," use "Dell Vostro 1700." Do not use "the computer" instead of "Dell Vostro 1700." 

Pretty easy isn’t it? Now you can skip buying that $47 e-book on how to write SEO copy that you wanted to buy. If you want to say anything you say it in relation to the "Dell Vostro 1700." Needless to say this kind of writing is best done over several rewrites. First you write the copy straight, then you start editing it with special attention paid to inserting the key words. In this way you write a highly readable piece, then you carefully insert your key words so that it remains readable.

This kind of writing is sometimes called "theme-based copy" because each page has only one theme. You can check how well you are doing in terms of key word density by using a couple of SEO Chat tools: Keyword Density Checker and Keyword Cloud. Simply by avoiding the use of pronouns and focusing on one topic per page, you should exceed the ten percent key word density mark. If you have picked niche key words then your page should start ranking high on the SERPs almost immediately. 

For a good piece on how to design your architecture so that your information is well displayed and arranged next to your graphics, check out this neat piece by Stephen Davies. Its also very helpful for showing how to design your page before putting content in it, so it’s a great piece for web content editors.

Editing

The good thing about SEO copy is you can pretty much turn anybody’s copy into SEO copy. Just make sure the person is only writing on one theme. Once the theme is done you can remove the pronouns and insert the key words. SEO copy is not a very big problem; it is however a big deal. Hope you enjoyed reading this piece; I would love to see your feedback!

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