When I first started Copyblogger in 2006, I was almost militantly against on-page search optimization. Seems strange, since I’d been a successful student of SEO since 2000.
It was because I saw all these people fretting over keywords like it’s 1999, and yet they had no links. Their content was weak. Their sites weren’t trusted.
You can’t optimize something that’s dead in the water. 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 (that’s what optimize means, naturally).
Fours 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 don’t make it impossible to find. 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 article is designed to help you know how to tell search engines what you’re talking about is the same as what people are looking for. That’s all SEO really is.
And yet . . .
I feel compelled to quickly discuss the things you need to focus on first. Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz gives us a quick list of the stuff that must come prior to on-page optimization, so I’ll repeat those here with my own commentary:
Accessibility – If search engines can’t see your content within the code, your page can’t be indexed and ranked. This is why our StudioPress division created the Genesis Design Framework for WordPress, and why we obsesses over making it better. Code matters.
Content – Now that the code structure is right, we come to what people actually want. Create great content and the people, sharing, and links will follow. And then you hit the bonus round: Google gives you even more goodness.
User Experience – The easier your site makes it to consume and share your content, the better you’ll end up doing SEO-wise. People don’t consume or share content that creates barriers, sometimes even if only a little.
Marketing – To paraphrase Rand on this one, spreading the word is often more important than being right, being honest, or being valuable. I like to say promoting your content is a virtuous necessity. Whatever works for you, but do get the word out.
Okay, now let’s move on to the five 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
Before we get into this, let me share a few strategic considerations.
When I’m building an authority site, I don’t care about optimizing everything I write. I use a lot of metaphors and pop culture references instead of keywords to get people reading and linking to build the overall trust of the domain. Then when I want to rank well for something, like copywriting, or seo copywriting, or landing pages, my job is much easier.
If you’re a news blogger (or newspaper), things are different. You want to optimize everything as best as possible up front, then move on. Different strokes for different folks.
That said, here we go.
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.
The original title of this post contained the keyword phrase “SEO copywriting,” but it was positioned at the end of the title. That’s because I went with the more compelling headline first and foremost. But I can serve an alternate title in the title tag (which is the snippet of code Google actually pulls the title from) thanks to a post feature in Genesis (also available with the All in One SEO plugin for WordPress).
So, I can always enter a more search-optimized alternate title later, 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 that.
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 click-through.
2. Meta Description
SEO copywriting is not just about ranking. It’s also about the presentation of your content in a search engine. 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 or All in One SEO.
Unique and frequently updated content makes search engines happy. But you know that part. For search optimization purposes (and just general reader-friendliness) your content should be tightly on-topic and centered on the subject matter of the desired keyword phrases.
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 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 is about.
Which brings us to . . .
4. Keyword Frequency
Keyword frequency is the number of times your targeted keywords appear on the page. Keyword density is the ratio of those keywords to the rest of the words on the page.
It’s generally accepted that keyword frequency impacts ranking (and that makes logical sense). Keyword density, as some sort of “golden” ratio, does not. 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 can use.
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 keyword stuffing, and your page could be penalized by Google.
You don’t need to mindlessly repeat keywords to optimize. In fact, if you do, you’re likely to achieve the opposite result.
5. Page Links
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 – quality search results for people.
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). If you focus on the five areas above, however, you’re covering the vital elements of effective on-page optimization.
This is an excerpt from a free 28-page report called How to Create Content that Ranks Well in Search Engines. To get the whole story, head over to the SEO Copywriting Made Simple page to instantly download the full updated PDF.
About the Author: Brian Clark is founder of Copyblogger and CEO of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Brian on Twitter.