Meta titles, keyword density and green coats: getting to grips with SEO content

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Writing web content is a markedly different discipline to creative writing or news reporting. The ClickThrough Marketing content team is staffed by three fully-qualified journalists: including our newest member, Martin Boonham, who has a Masters in Journalism, as well as the NCTJ qualification. Here, Martin shares his initial thoughts on SEO copywriting and his first month with ClickThrough…

I came to the ClickThrough team as a total newbie to Internet content. Despite being a little green, the team has thankfully not forced me into any initiation ceremonies, or tricked me into a hilarious ‘write some copy on novelty item X’ practical joke. Not yet, at least.

Now, although I am new to the world of SEO copywriting, that isn’t to say I have not had any experience in writing content. Far from it.

In fact, I have quite a range of experience; writing for the local press, a game website, a student football site, and a variety of pieces for charities I worked for.

I’ve written news articles extensively as part of my NCTJ training, followed by several placements to get more practice out in the big, wide world.  But, the peculiar realm of the online copywriter remains new to me.

I’ve found the best way to adapt is take the proverbial bull by the horns, and tackle the overwhelming oddities of SEO head-on.

When I first joined the team, I didn’t know my Google Pandas from my cuddly toys. A big challenge has been getting myself up to speed on industry news topics. I currently look after our news feed service for clients, and picking out the best topical stories, which tie-in to their keywords, has been interesting.

The training to get me up and running has been quite intense. Seemingly, no sooner have I built up an idea of keyword density in my head, then someone comes along and tells me something new: sending other information tumbling out of my brain to languish somewhere near the bottom of the dreaded page two of my cerebral search engine.

PPC, SEO, content marketing: all kinds of topics have been covered, and drilled into my head over the last few weeks. And whilst it has been a rocky road at times, it has nevertheless been an enjoyable experience.

Building up knowledge of a topic quickly is, thankfully, a skill we learn as journalists: being able to translate complicated jargon into Plain English is a fundamental skill.

In just a matter of a few weeks now, I have written a wide variety of content for all sorts of companies, talking about everything from villas abroad to the kitchen sink. It has been a challenge to get my head around writing to different ‘styles’, and using a company’s ‘tone of voice’ but it has been fun, and is just another reason why I enjoy the work.

I have also had the chance to dabble in different forms of copywriting, as well as the usual content marketing stuff. This has included page descriptions for sites, directory entries and article writing.

Articles have been a particularly interesting challenge. As a journalist, you’re trained to write tight, succinct copy: a skill which doesn’t necessarily lend itself to writing a 500-word article about plugs. It’s more of a challenge when you need to include the phrase ‘Joe Smith’s Super Fantastic Furniture Emporium’ multiple times. Throw in the fact that you also have to include ‘zebra patterned super comfy settee’ as a supporting keyword, and you can really understand the huge challenge an online copywriter faces on a daily basis.

Ten sentences crammed with the keywords are simply not good enough, as my new knowledge of Google’s search engine updates will attest to.

So my focus has been on ensuring the article reads naturally, whilst still adding SEO value.

Having passed my subbing exam during my NCTJ studies, I also got to try my hand at headline writing.

However, even my training couldn’t fully prepare me for the world of SEO requirements, where we are restricted to 70 characters for titles, and puns are a no-go. If you’re really on the ball, you may have noticed the aforementioned keyword phrase weighed in at a mighty 45 characters. This poses its own particular problem, as brand names and keywords are a headline must-have: and this restricts the precious little space we have to create an enticing header.

Meta descriptions are also restricted to a set number of characters, 156 to be precise. Acting as a digital equivalent of the shop window in combination with the title displayed in the search engine results pages, the descriptions really have to be on the money to entice the customer to make that elusive click.

It’s another challenge I’ve enjoyed tackling, as you have to be wary of keywords in the back of your mind, as well as considering the things that would really make you, as a customer, want to click to view the site.

It’s all about differentiators: free delivery, service awards, low prices, free samples or support: these can be really important phrases that make the difference between a digital visitor and a passer-by.

It has been pretty hands-on and there has been plenty to learn. I certainly had no disillusion that I would be entering an environment akin to Mad Men. There are no sharp suits, curvaceous secretaries or endless supplies of cigarettes and alcohol here, but then for the most part, that’s probably a good thing.

Instead, I join a content team featuring shaggy beards, green coats, and rock ‘n’ roll: much more my cup of tea.

The team are all good-natured, and while one or two have a propensity to chain smoke as any good Mad Men-style copywriter should, we are drawn together by a love of words. And coffee.

And with that, it’s time for a cuppa.

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