Writing for the web is a completely different ball game to other forms of prose. With character limits, keyword usage, headings, hyperlinks and more, it has become an entire craft of its own, writes Adam Stokes.
With Google often moving the goal posts for SEOs, writing web copy has never been an exact science. Remember when meta keywords were top of the list?
The job of the SEO content writer is a dynamic one. Pleasing the reader has always been the easy part; we haven’t changed much over the years. But pleasing the Google machine is something else entirely, and with so many changes to what search engines require, also come changes to online copy.
So we ask a simple question. What exactly does it take to satisfy users, as well as the search engine?
Starting from where any good SEO writer would, keywords are the backbone of every piece of online content. The trouble is trying to keep a piece of writing optimised enough so that it can rank highly in the SERPs without affecting readability. Though no numbers are set in stone, reviewing keyword density is a good way to help you optimise without keyword stuffing.
Sometimes you can overuse, or stuff keywords, without realising, other times you won’t reach your target as hard as you try. Generally, a balance is needed. The key is to remember that users don’t read online copy in the same way as they would read print, but that’s the challenge – combining high quality copy specific for web use with relevant keywords in a natural way. Synonyms are becoming the new answer to this, providing content writers with a solution (and one that Google accepts) to the never ending repetition of your primary keyword. Give Google what it needs, and give the readers what they want.
Something that directly affects the use of keywords, the length of a piece should always be dictated by the amount of information that it warrants. From product descriptions to landing pages and blogs, there is no rule book on length. That said, it is beneficial in some instances for content to reach a certain length for the piece to be recognised as valid, authoritative information. This can be harder to achieve for certain pieces, as some products may have very little information on them, and some branding might not permit a lengthy style.
The go between? Get creative. From extended landing pages to quirky, unique product pages, extending the content for Google, but with information that the reader will enjoy, is a good place to start the balancing act.
Header tags also rank pretty highly with regards to their importance in online copy. Much like any form of writing, they help to structure a web page, breaking it down for the reader into easy, sizeable chunks.
As a ranking factor, all header tags must contain keywords to help Google to understand what the page is about. But what about when you have an abundance of headings, and fitting in a keyword in all of them just won’t work? In certain listed articles or instruction based pieces of content, simplicity can often aid in understanding, and having to insert keywords into a heading may often take away from this. The answer? CSS, or Cascading Style Sheet. This is used alongside HTML to display any visuals on the page in any style necessary, and can replicate the appearance of a heading, without hindering ranking factors by creating a heading without keywords.
It’s not all content writers in one corner and Google in the other, so we thought we’d end on a positive note. Many elements of online copy offer great benefits that are impossible to replicate in print – hyperlinking being one of them. Those tempting blue phrases throughout blogs and articles that you know you’ll have to scroll up for, or at least open in a new tab and save for later, are a great benefit to user and search engine alike. For the reader, links can keep them engaged from one post to the next, building brand engagement or maybe even leading them to a conversion. For Google, you can help build a strong internal linking structure that helps to promote visibility and ranking. In fitting style, linking truly does bring the demands of SEO and reader together.
So, there you have it. Though it may be a constant battle between pleasing the user and the algorithm, the challenges of SEO copywriting can always be tackled through a little compromise, and a lot of hard work.