So, you want to Become an SEO Copywriter? Then Nail these 5 Skills
As competition on search engines like Google becomes ever more fierce, more and more companies are out there looking for skilled SEO copywriters who can help them get ahead of their competitors.
But, SEO content writers are low-paid and renegaded to the sidelines compared with shiny ‘conversion’ copywriters who rake in all the dough.
While there are a plethora of companies out there expecting content writers to churn out long-form articles for a slave wage, there are plenty who are willing to pay big bucks for great content writers.
Take Chima Mmeje an incredible example of high-paid, highly skilled SEO copywriter who isn’t shy about charging premium rates for her highly-sought-after skills.
So, if you’re worried that SEO copywriting will result in content-mill rates you can rest assured. You can earn a great living from SEO copywriting AND love what you do.
But first you have to master some core skills including:
- Market & Topic Research
- Keyword Research + Search Intent
- Building SEO Content Briefs
- SEO Copywriting
- Measuring Content Success
We’ll look at each one in more detail once we cover what SEO copywriting actually is.
What is SEO Copywriting?
SEO Copywriting is the skill of writing highly persuasive copy and engaging content that also ranks well in search engines like Google and Bing.
An SEO copywriter will carry out keyword research and make sure that their blog posts and web copy best satisfies the search intent of the user. An SEO copywriter will also be familiar with concepts like how Google uses Natural Language Processing (NLP) to understand language.
For me, SEO copywriting is the perfect alignment of the creative “left” brain and the analytical “right” brain. To paraphrase David Oligvy, an SEO copywriter needs to be both a killer and a poet.
Master These 5 Skills to Become an in-demand SEO Copywriter
As promised, let’s look at the 5 skills that you need to master to call yourself an SEO copywriter and charge accordingly.
Market and Topic Research
Before you can think about search engine optimization, you need to understand the audience that you’re trying to target.
You can write all the best SEO optimized copy in the world, but if it doesn’t satisfy what your particular market wants to learn about to help them along on their buyer journey, then it’s going to be pretty useless.
Proper market and topic research can help you uncover new content ideas that will be genuinely useful and interesting to your target market, but how do you go about with this type of market and topic research?
How to Carry out Market & Topic Research
- Surveys: send out surveys to your client’s email list/past clients asking about their struggles, hopes, aspirations and what alternatives they’ve tried to solve their problems. Don’t just have multiple choice options, let the survey takers write their answers in their own words.
- Customer interviews: a bit more detailed than a survey, interviewing past customers and getting an idea of their customer journey is a goldmine of market research. Not only will it help you come up with great content ideas and better understand your target market, you can even use the interviews to write up things like case studies.
- Voice-of-Customer Data Mining: scour relevant Facebook groups, forums and social media channels to get a feel for what types of questions your audience are asking. My personal favourite is checking the comments section on YouTube videos – you won’t believe how many questions people are asking over there. All of these will give you an endless stream of great content ideas.
So that covers market research in a nutshell, but what about topic research? As copywriters there are times when we are writing about an industry that we aren’t 100% familiar with.
First off, I would try and specialize in industries I’m familiar with. For example, I used to be an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher so I love writing ESL content and it’s an industry and an audience I know really well. When you’re writing about an industry you already know and love you won’t just write faster and better, but you’ll also really enjoy your work.
You can usually get away with writing sales copy for an industry that you aren’t 100% familiar with, but content is another beast and readers who are true aficionados will be able to sense if you’ve just copy-and-pasted information from Google with no original insight.
Secondly, if your client has any type of online courses, books, resources etc ask for access to these so that when you’re writing their content you can infuse their unique perspectives on it and really get a feel for how THEY teach their topic.
Keyword Research + Search Intent
Keyword research and nailing search intent is super important for effective SEO copywriting and it’s also what scares most new SEO content writers.
When a searcher goes to Google, what they type into the search bar is their “keyword” or “keyphrase”. As an SEO copywriter, you’ll need to do some research using a tool like Keywords Everywhere or SEMrush to find great keywords to target for your content.
As a rule of thumb, you should be looking for keywords that aren’t stupidly competitive or too broad, and are actually related to a topic that your audience wants to learn about (go back to market research…) and fits into the buyer journey of your target audience (again, see market research…)
While keyword research is really important, I would argue that it’s nowhere near as important as nailing search intent. Honestly, I think Brendan Hufford is the king of search intent and he puts it nicely by saying;
Nailing search intent for your specific audience is what makes the difference between mediocre content writing and highly-skilled, high-converting, “OMFG I love this s@%$” content writing.
Remember, every single person going to Google is hoping to overcome a problem, but there are different stages of overcoming that problem.
(Okay, searches like “How old is James McAvoy?” isn’t really a problem – but you’re not here to write that type of content anyway…)
Let’s take an example:
Level 1: Problem Aware Searches
Keyword: “Why is my dog barking at other dogs?” “Dog barking and lunging at other dogs”
Intent: this person (hahahahaha it me pls help…) is walking their dog and is really embarrassed and maybe even freaked out by their dog’s seemingly aggressive behaviour with other dogs. They are looking for answers as to WHY their dog is behaving this way. The know the problem, a barking and lunging dog, but they don’t yet have the proper vocabulary to better understand the problem and they don’t know how to fix it.
But let’s take Brendan’s advice on board here: what are they REALLY searching for? In this case, validation that just because their dog is lunging and barking at other dogs it doesn’t mean they are actually aggressive and how to tell if their dog is actually a danger to others.
They also want to know that this problem is fixable in some way because now they’re dreading walking their dog and wondering if they’ve made a mistake in adopting this dog. They probably feel like a leper at the dog park. No other dog walkers want to engage with them because they think this reactive dog is a weapon on a leash and don’t want to put their dogs at risk.
Also, animal lovers are highly empathetic and the searcher may be genuinely having a terrible time worrying about their dog.
They want that perfect relationship with their dog where they can ramble around the city for hours on end and not have to constantly worry about their dog acting like a delinquent in public. They want to smile smugly as passers-by see their dog in a perfect heel walk and nod approvingly.
Content: empathize with the problem, help them understand why this is happening, encourage them to read a related article that introduces a solution, reassure them that this is a common problem (1/3 dogs are reactive btw…).
Level 2: Solution Aware
Keyword: “How to Condition Your Dog to Like Other Dogs” “Dog Training Techniques for Reactive Dogs”
Intent: Now they’ve done some prior research and they know have specific vocabulary for that behaviour, aka “reactive”. They also know that a solution exists (conditioning their dog) and that dog training can help their stressed-out pooch.
They need step-by-steps, breakdowns and overviews of how to implement these solutions and hey…do YOU offer these types of services? Well isn’t this just a great moment to link them to your virtual 1:1 reactive dog consultations or your course for reactive dogs?
Oh isn’t it also a GREAT opportunity to link them to a case study on how you’ve helped a reactive dog become really at ease around other dogs while out on a walk?
Content: Introduce your unique framework/perspective on this solution and how it’s helped people just like them. In Ry Schwartz’s famous words, it’s also a great place to “slaughter the sacred cows” in the industry and mention why other methods, such as harsh corrections and punishments, won’t work to solve the problem.
Level 3: Product Aware
Keyword: “Spirit Dogs Reactivity Course Review” “X vs Y for reactive dogs”
Intent: They know about this specific course which deals with the problem of reactive dogs and they are trying to make a purchasing decision on whether or not your solution is the best for them.
Content: case studies, detailed comparisons and why your product/solution is the best
Level 4: Product Aware
Keyword: “Spirit Dogs Reactivity Course”
Intent: Ready to purchase this course
Content: Sales page
Most of us will be working with smaller companies who won’t have a lot of branded search volume (if any) for levels 3 and 4. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth it to create that content! Linking to a transformative case study from a level 2 article can be a great way to make a sale or simply move the reader to a new stage of awareness.
Building SEO Content Briefs
In my opinion, this is one of the most overlooked SEO copywriting skills.
An SEO content brief is the “skeleton” of an article, such as the headings, stats you want to use, FAQs and related terms that your content should contain.
Successful SEO copywriters know that writing content that ranks involves designing your content in some way and this is where solid content briefs come into play.
Using a tool like Frase.io can help you build out these content briefs by pulling in data from the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) based on your target keyword. For me one of the most useful things about a tool like Frase is the “topic score”.
The “topic score” helps you identify whether or not your content contains enough related terms to help search engines understand whether or not you’re covering a topic in enough depth. Frase will provide an average topic score across your top competitors so you can compare your content with the top ranking articles on that topic.
A high topic score will help your article have a higher relevancy score for your targeted keyword and increase your chances of ranking higher.
This type of data is impossible to extract manually and using a tool like Frase to build out a solid content brief and using their editor to write and edit your content will help you create higher ranking articles.
The art of SEO copywriting goes far beyond simple keyword density (how many times a keyword shows up in an article). As mentioned in the last section, relevancy and related terms are increasingly important to get your content ranking, but coherency and structure to your blog posts is also incredibly important.
Google, much like humans, prefers content that is structured with proper headings, bullet points and short, clear sentences.
What makes great SEO Copywriting
- Structure your writing into proper HTML tags such as <h1>, <h2>, <h3>.. headings
- Choose clear, simple language that gets the point across quickly
- Write in shorter sentences – don’t overcomplicate your sentence structure with endless clauses and asides
- Don’t bury the lead: if you ask a question in your content make sure to answer it right away
- Clear calls to action: what do you need the reader to do next?
- Avoid keyword stuffing at all costs (repeating a keyword over and over again)
- Build out content briefs
- Be conversational: this is the internet, not a university research paper
- Write clear and enticing meta descriptions
- Optimize FAQs: ask a question in your FAQ and immediately answer it as concisely as possible
Related Content: 5 Tips on How to Write for Humans and Google
Check out my podcast interview with Wes McDowell where I talk about how to write SEO copy that sounds nothing like SEO copy 😉
Measuring Content Success
Now that you’ve written some great content you’ll want to measure some type of conversion rate from that content and here’s where I like to introduce minimal viable Google Analytics.
During the onboarding process with your client I would ask for access to their Google Analytics and decide on some content marketing goals.
This can be as simple as setting a goal in Google Analytics for an average time on-page of 5 minutes and tracking what posts are converting that goal. This will give you an idea of how engaging your content is and what topics tend to hold people’s attention for longer.
But the most important goals will probably be related to conversions such as driving readers to a specific landing page for a product. You can track whether or not your content is leading people to that landing page by using a Google campaign link embedded within your content and using Google Analytics to see how many visitors have gone to that landing page via a link in your content.
Apart from measuring conversions and engagement, you’ll also want to track how well your content is performing on the SERP and if your content is generating any backlinks. You can follow this on your client’s Google Search Console by regularly checking what keywords they’re ranking for and the click-through-rate they’re getting for those keywords.
A great way to track backlinks is to go to Google Search Console > LINKS and it will show you a breakdown of top linked pages and top linking domains.
You can also check how your content is performing with a tool like SEMrush and keywords everywhere. I usually use SEMrush for this which gives me a good estimate for the keywords a specific article is ranking for and also their position on the SERP.
FAQs about SEO Copywriting
How much do SEO Copywriters make
SEO Copywriters can expect to make anywhere between $40-$200/hour depending on their experience level and the industries that they work with. It’s quite a range I know, but it’s nearly impossible to give a definitive answer.
Are SEO copywriters in demand
Yes! According to Hubspot, 64% of marketers actively invest time in search engine optimization which means they are also on the hunt for SEO copywriters. Many industries like SaaS, local businesses and online business influencers are all investing regularly in SEO copywriting services.
What qualifications do you need to be a copywriter
You don’t need specific qualifications to become an SEO copywriter. There are a lot of different courses online that you can take to improve your skills.