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Are you writing your SEO copy based on the latest information?
Are you sure?
I originally wrote this SEO copywriting checklist in 2012. My, how things have changed. Today, Google stresses quality content even more than before, conversational copy is key, and there are new SEO writing “rules.” I’ve updated the list to reflect these changes and provide additional information.
As a side note, I would argue that there’s no such thing as “writing for Google.” Yes, there are certain things you should do to make the Google gods happy. However, your most important goal should be writing clear, compelling, standout copy that tells a story. I’m keeping the old headline in the hopes that I can convert some of the “write for Google” people to do things the right way.
Whether you’re an in-house SEO content writer, a DIY business owner or a freelance SEO copywriter, this 27-point checklist will help you write engaging, Google-happy content. Every time.
Items to review before you start writing:
– Do you have enough information about your target reader?
Your copy will pack a powerful one-two punch if your content is laser-focused on your target reader. Ask your client or supervisor for a customer/reader persona document outlining your target readers’ specific characteristics. If the client doesn’t have a customer persona document, be prepared an hour or more asking detailed questions.
Here’s more information on customer personas.
– Writing a sales page? Did you interview the client?
It’s important to interview new clients and learn more about their company, their USP, and their competition. Don’t forget to ask about industry buzzwords that should appear in the content.
Not sure what questions to ask to get the copywriting ball rolling? Here’s a list of 52 questions you can start with today.
– Writing a blog post? Get topic ideas from smart sources
When you’re blogging, it’s tempting to write about whatever strikes your fancy. The challenge is, what interests you may not interest your readers. If you want to make sure you’re writing must-read content, sites like Quora, LinkedIn, Google Trends and BuzzSumo can help spark some ideas.
– Use Google for competitive intelligence ideas
It’s time to research your article idea! Check out the sites positioning in the top-10 and look for common characteristics. How long are competing articles? Do the articles link out to authoritative sources? Is there video? Do the articles include quotes from industry experts? Your job is to write an article that’s better that what’s already appearing in the top-10 — so let the competition be your guide.
– Did you conduct keyphrase research?
Yes, keyphrase research (and content optimization) is still a crucial SEO step. If you don’t give Google some keyphrase “cues,” your page probably won’t position the way you want.
Use a keyphrase research tool and find possible keyphrases for your page or post. As a hint: if you are tightly focusing on a topic, long tail keyphrases are your best bet.
– What is your per-page keyphrase focus?
Writers are no longer forced to include the same, exact-match keyphrase over and over again (hurray!). Today, we can focus on a keyphrase theme, and weave in multiple, related keyphrases.
– Did you expand your keyphrase research to include synonyms and close variants?
Don’t be afraid to include keyphrase synonyms and close variants on your page. Doing so opens up your positioning opportunities, makes your copy better (and is much easier to write!).
Here’s some more information on close variants (plus some advanced SEO tips.)
– Writing a blog post? Does your Title/headline work for SEO, social and your readers?
Yes, you want your headline to be compelling, but you also want it to be keyphrase rich. Always include your main page keyphrase (or a close variant) in your Title and work in other keyphrases if they “fit.”
Here’s some great information on how to write headlines that get noticed (and are good for Google.).
– Did you include keyphrase-rich subheadlines?
Subheadlines are an excellent way to visually break up your text, making it easy for readers to quick-scan your benefits and information. Additionally, just like with the H1 headline, adding a keyphrase to your subheadlines can (slightly) help reinforce keyphrase relevancy.
As a hint, sometimes you can write a question-oriented subheadline and slip the keyphrase in more easily.
– Is your Title “clickable” and compelling?
Remember, the search engine results page is your first opportunity for conversion. Consider how you can create an enticing Title that “gets the click” over the other search result listings. You have about 59 characters (with spaces) to work with, so it’s important to write tight. Here are some additional Title-writing tips.
– Does the meta description fit the intent of the page?
Yes, writers should create the meta description (they’re like marketing statements, after all!). And yes, every page should have a unique meta description. Google expanded the meta description character count to approximately 330 characters (with spaces.) Now, we have more room than ever to describe the page and encourage a click-through.
Here’s more information about how to do it.
– Is your content written in a conversational style?
With voice search gaining prominence, copy that’s written in a conversational style is even more important (check out this post for more information about Google’s guidelines.) Read your copy out loud and hear how it sounds. Does it flow? Or does it sound too formal? If you’re writing for a regulated industry; such as finance, legal or healthcare, you may not be able to push the conversational envelope too much. Otherwise, write like you talk.
Items to review when the page is complete:
– Did you use too many keyphrases?
Remember, there is no such thing as keyword density. If your content sounds keyphrase-heavy and stilted, reduce the keyphrase usage and focus more on your readers’ experience. Again, I recommend reading your copy out loud and hearing it it sounds.
Here’s a great article by Ian Lurie that discusses TD-IDF and why keyword stuffing doesn’t work.
– Did you edit your content?
Resist the urge to upload your content as soon as you write it. Put it away and come back to it after a few hours (or even the next day.) Discover why editing your Web writing is so very important.
– Did you edit it again?
Once is never enough. Review your content at least one more time. It’s amazing what you can find to edit the second (or third) time around!
– Is the content interesting to read?
– Are your sentences too long?
Vary your sentence structure so you have a combination of longer and shorter sentences. If you find your sentences creeping over 30 or so words, edit them down and make them punchier. Your writing will have more impact if you do.
– Are your paragraphs too long?
Long paragraphs without much white space are hard to read off a computer monitor – and even harder to read on a smartphone. Split up your long paragraphs into shorter ones. Please.
– Are you forcing your reader into a “dead end” page?
“Dead end” pages (pages that don’t link out to related pages) can stop your readers dead in their tracks and hurt your conversion goals.
Want to avoid this? Read more about “dead end” Web pages.
– Does the content provide the reader valuable information?
Google spanks sites with “thin,” low-quality content that’s poorly written. Before you upload your page, ask yourself if the content answers your reader’s questions. If you find that you’re focusing more on the keyphrase usage than the actual content, rewrite the page.
– Did you use bullet points where appropriate?
If you find yourself writing a list-like sentence, use bullet points instead. Your readers will thank you, and the items will be much easier to read.
– Is the main CTA (call-to-action) clear–and is it easy to take action?
What action do you want your readers to take? Do you want them to contact you? Is your main goal to entice your reader into making a purchase? Make sure you tell your reader what you want them to do and make it easy for them to take action.
– Do you have a secondary CTA (such as a newsletter signup or downloading a white paper?).
Do you want readers to sign up for your newsletter or learn about related products? Consider ways to make the secondary call to action stand out.
– Does the page include too many choices?
It’s important to keep your reader focused on your primary and secondary CTA’s. If your page lists too many choices (for example a large, scrolling page of products) consider eliminating all “unnecessary” choices that don’t support your main calls to action. Too many choices may force your readers into not taking any action at all.
– Did you include benefit statements?
People make purchase decisions based on what’s in it for them. What does this mean to you? You need to put the benefits front and center. Make sure that you tell your reader how your product/service will make their lives better and satisfy a need.
And for heaven’s sake–don’t bury your benefit statements!
– Do you have vertical-specific testimonials?
Testimonials are fantastic–they offer third-party proof that your product or service is superior. Whenever possible, include vertical-specific testimonials (for instance, a real estate agent testimonial on a real estate landing page.) This will help increase your conversion rates.
Learn more about writing sales copy with testimonials.
And finally…the most important question…
– Does your content stand out and truly deserve a top position?
SEO writing is more than shoving keyphrases into content. If you want to be rewarded by Google (and your readers), your content must stand out. That means knowing what your competitors are writing and coming up with a new angle, writing something in-depth and truly educating your readers. Making your site a must-read resource will take time. But the positions (and conversions) are well worth it.
What additional tips would you add to the checklist?
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