All the SEO tips you need to write prime-positioned copy that converts like crazy! Learn how to write Titles, descriptions, content and more!

Here’s How TV Commercials Help Copywriters

I was happily binge-watching Letterkenny on Hulu, when a Peloton ad flashed on the screen.

If you watch live or streaming television, you’ve probably seen one of their ads. Beautiful people with amazing homes and zero body fat furiously pedal their Peloton bikes while somehow still looking attractive.

(How do those people do it? I look like a wet rat after a workout.)

“A hard 20 after a hard day isn’t for everyone,” the voice-over warns. “Waking up before the sun isn’t for everyone.”

You can check out this commercial if you haven’t seen them before. 

Yes, Peloton’s ads make me laugh. Yes, I love mocking the amazing homes and the glistening models with perfect hair and the just right amount of sweat.

BUT…

I have to give it up for Peloton. Their ad copy is exceptionally brilliant.

Let’s break this down…

  1. The company sets a clear, target customer expectation, “Only certain kinds of people are Peloton people.” The viewer can immediately self-select and decide if they are a “hard 20 after work” person — or more of a “let’s sit on the couch and watch Hulu” person.
  2. If they are a “hard 20” person and are interested in the bike, they’re reinforced by visuals with pretty people enjoying their fun workouts in their amazing houses. Sure, most of Peloton’s target audience may not currently live in a top-floor condo and look sexy while they sweat —  but hey, maybe, a $2,500 exercise bike will get them there.
  3. And then, they learn they can make payments of under $60 a month. For the person in their target market sweet-spot, $60 a month to have the life and body they’ve always wanted is a bargain. This is a sweet way to overcome the “I can’t afford it” objection and to make their target audiences’ dream life a reality.

Why do I bring this up?

Sometimes, as entrepreneurs and writers, we get so focused on writing copy that “appeals to the masses” that we forget an important point.

“The masses” aren’t our target audience.

Look at how Peloton structures their ads. Sure, people mock their ads (most likely, people who aren’t in their target audience.) 

Yet, I bet those ads are making Peloton a lot of money. 

Let’s face it: their ad agency knows exactly what makes their target market tick — and they twist that “are you one of us?” knife throughout their commercials.

It’s hard-hitting and done exceptionally well.

Sure, their commercials exclude a lot of people. Not everyone has a beautiful condo and perfect workout hair. Not everyone is physically able to work out.

Does Peloton care? No. Because they aren’t out to please the couch-bound people. Or, the people who would prefer a gym. Or, the people who don’t have $60 a month lying around. 

I may mock Peloton, but they teach copywriters an important lesson:

When we write copy that pleases everyone, our copy loses its power.

So, if you’ve been afraid to write laser-focused copy because, “you don’t want to lose possible customers,” think again.

You don’t need everyone to come to your site — but you do need the right people. 

And those are the people for whom you carefully craft your content. Not “everyone.”

What do you think?

Have you fallen into the “I have to create content for everyone” trap? Do you look at your own content and think, “Ugh, yeah. This is not good”? Leave a comment and let me know!

Are you writing dead end conversion pages?

I wrote this post in 2011 and realized it needed updating. I hope you enjoy the revised version! – Heather

To paraphrase the Talking Heads – is your content sending your readers on the road to nowhere?

You see this issue frequently pop up in blog posts. Although the site navigation is there, the body copy is link-free – and there’s nothing that encourages readers to go deeper into the site. There’s no link to a related web page. There are no sales page links. From a conversion perspective, the content is a dead-end.

Granted, some pages (like squeeze pages) are built like this on purpose. Their purpose is to force the reader to take a particular action. However, what I’m talking about is regular site content – for instance, FAQ content, blog posts and articles. Here’s what I mean.

Read more

Do SEO Writers Need Technical Skills?

Raise your hand if you’ve ever thought SEO writing was “too technical” to learn and involved too much programming and geeky terminology.

Yup. That’s totally normal. And it’s certainly true that SEO writing has geeky-sounding elements.

Heck, I remember trying to wrap my head around what a Title was when I first learned over 22 years ago. Throw in weird terms like “meta description” and “H1” and “image tag,” and it’s enough to make some writers nope out of SEO writing.

(Obviously not you. You’re much braver than that.)

At the same time, one common question I get is — how much technical information do writers need to know? In other words, how geeky do you need to go?


The answer? Well, it depends.

 
For instance, if you’re new to SEO writing, you don’t need to bury yourself in programming blogs and code.

In fact, you only need to know the geeky bare minimums.

What are the bare minimums? I’d argue that a beginner SEO writer should understand:

• What a Title is, and how to structure one for maximum click-through.

• How to write a meta description.

• How to put keyphrases in the copy without the text sounding weird or stilted.

Is more knowledge better? Sure. The more you know, the more you can help your clients and the more you can earn. But when you’re just starting out and getting your SEO feet wet, you don’t need to immediately dive into the geeky side of the pool. It’s OK to stay in the shallow SEO end.

When does knowing geeky information come in handy?

Sometimes, smaller companies look to their SEO writers as their overall SEO expert. They know the SEO writer isn’t a programmer or coding ninja — but, they rely on the writer’s SEO expertise to at least point them in the right direction.

For instance, one of my clients had two versions of their site in Google — a www version and a non-www version. They thought their previous programmer had redirected the site…but it didn’t happen.

Although I wasn’t the one fixing the issue, I did flag it and show why it was a problem.

Should I strive to be an expert content writer and technical SEO geek?

Not necessarily. Most people I know are good at one or the other. Not both.

For instance, my brain tends to gravitate towards the content side. (Surprise!) It’s true that I did help a major site figure out their technical Title strategy once upon a time, but that’s because it was easy for me to translate their issue into content terms.

I know enough to communicate with technical teams and when something may be wrong. But I’m not going to program a site. If I look at my brain in Donny and Marie Osmond terms, my brain is a little bit technical…and a whole lot of content rock and roll.

(As a side note, I’ve met just one person who is equal parts technical and content. He’s like a unicorn, Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster rolled into one.)

Which skill is most important as an SEO writer — content skills or technical?

Well, you know how I’m going to answer this one.

In fact, this is one of the questions SEMRush asked me during their Twitter #SEMRushChat. I posted my answer below.

Q3. Creative skills or technical knowledge: which skill would come first for an SEO copywriter, if you had to pick only one?

A3: Creative skills, hands down. Writing smart copy is a unique skillset. In fact, a @conductor study said that 81% of SEO jobs require content skills. Having said that, a smart SEO writer who understands writing to sell and technical SEO is a powerful combination. #SEMRushChat

So yes, technical knowledge is a smart thing to have. You can do a lot to drive traffic if you understand the SEO strategy behind the words.

But let’s face it — the SEO may drive traffic to a page, but it’s your words that will cause people to convert.

And that’s a powerful skill.

What do you think?

How many of you remember Donny and Marie Osmond? (Sometimes, I have to throw in something for the old folks, you know?) On a scale from 1-10, with 10 being a super-level technical geek, how geeky are you? Leave a comment and let me know!

SEO Editing vs. Copywriting for SEO

Should you create original SEO content? Or, should you optimize an existing page (in other words, add keyphrases without rewriting the copy?).

Freelance and in-house writers ask this question all the time. I receive emails saying, “My boss (or client) wants me to add keyphrases to this existing page. The problem is, the page isn’t very good. Will the keyphrases help? Or is better to rewrite it?”

That’s an excellent question that I address in the video  — or, you can read the modified transcript, below.

SEO copywriting and SEO editing — what’s the difference?

First, let’s go over the differences between SEO copywriting and keyphrase editing.

Keyphrase editing is also known as “on-page optimization,” “optimizing the text,” or “SEO copyediting.” The technique is to add keywords — either derived from the writer’s keyphrase research or received from an SEO — to existing text.

When a page is optimized (or edited,) the content is not rewritten. The writer may edit the page Title and meta description, but for the most part, she’s working with the existing content.

SEO copywriting usually refers to creating original content. The writer still conducts keyphrase research (or receives the keyphrases from an SEO.) However, rather than editing the existing content, she would write brand-new content and include the keyphrases (along with synonyms and related words.)

So you see, SEO copywriting and keyphrase editing are very different: one is working with existing text, and the other is throwing away the existing text and starting fresh.

Should you optimize your site? Or rewrite your pages?

So, when is a better strategy to edit existing pages rather than rewrite them?

It’s best to optimize a page (keyphase editing) when:

  • You (and your readers) already love the content
  • The page isn’t crucial to the sales process
  • The bounce rate isn’t too high

If you have content on your site you (and your readers) already love and it’s performing well, but it wasn’t written with keyphrases the first time around, the page may be a good candidate for keyphrase editing.

It’s also OK to edit the page when it isn’t crucial to the sales process. For example, I’ve worked with companies that have edited old blog posts and saw a great bump in search positions as a result. Editing FAQ pages and articles can offer the same benefit.

Finally, optimizing the page is OK when the time on page (or bounce rate) isn’t too high. You know that people are sticking around and reading the page once they’ve landed on it, so adding in some strategic keyphrases here and there is typically fine for that page.

An SEO content editor or an SEO copywriter usually handles the keyphrase editing. He may be someone you employ in-house, or a freelancer.

There are also certain times when it’s better to write original content, such as:

  • When the page is crucial to the sales process
  • When the page is a duplicate
  • When page conversions or time on page is low

If a page is crucial to the sales process, or is somehow intended to make money — like the home page, and subcategory pages such as products and services — it’s better to rewrite it.

You also want to rewrite the page if it’s a duplicate. This is common with  local landing pages, where two (or more) pages may be basically the same (outside of the city name.)

Also, when you know that the page isn’t working — you’re not getting conversions, the time on page is low, and people are bouncing out quickly —  rewrite it. Readers are telling you they don’t like the page by leaving as soon as they can.

Sure, you can edit the keyphrases into a poorly performing page and sure, hypothetically that page might position a little better, but it won’t help boost conversions.

Either a freelancer or an experienced in-house SEO copywriter can rewrite your pages. Also, an SEO content strategist could do the keyphrase research for you, as well as dovetail her research with the rest of your SEO plan.

Make sense? There’s clearly a difference between when you would write original content and when you can work with the existing content — and it’s smart to know those differences before you proceed.

(Editors note: I originally wrote this post in 2011. A lot has changed since then, so I updated the video and the transcript. I hope you enjoyed the post!)

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21 Ways a Copywriter Can Help a Small Business

If you ask a small business owner to give a presentation in public, you can see beads of perspiration forming almost immediately. That is, if your attention isn’t drawn to their knees knocking or their leg imitating a piston right where they sit.

While public speaking is a known and easy-to-admit fear of many, writing is a more subtle fear. Accepting the task is easy, but when it comes to stringing words together, many business owners are like a deer in headlights.

Just as the best speakers value speech writers, and professional athletes have coaches, business owners need copywriters and copy editors. Here are a few areas where most small businesses could use a wordsmith:

Writing Big Pieces

  • Web Page Copy: There are plenty of small business web pages filled with mangled text, piecemealed and pasted from multiple sources, not always from their own pages or brochures.
  • Ebooks: Every business owner likes to think they are an expert in their field (ask their employees). Every business owner would like a bigger mailing list. Ebooks can prove the former while building the latter.
  • Press Releases: While some writers think press releases are a thing of the past, small business owners (your potential clients) do not. In smaller towns, well written press releases can mean local media coverage.
  • Blog Posts: This type of writing is the mud where many businesses get stuck. Providing conversational copy, relevant to a targeted audience, with a clear call-to-action, often means bigger profits in less time (and agony).
  • Articles: Most business owners are not familiar with terms like article marketing, advertorials, or native advertising. They like the concept, but shy away from the writing.
  • Sales Pages and Landing Pages: Most small business owners are familiar with the concept of long-form sales letters. Few are adept at putting the copy, the callouts, and the calls-to-action together.

Small Bits & Pieces

  • Commercials: Television and radio remain a popular platform for small business advertising dollars, especially in smaller local markets. As you know, short-and-quick is not always synonymous with clear-and-concise.
  • Catalog or Product Descriptions: Small blurbs like product descriptions, catalog copy and menu items are often difficult for a small business owner. It becomes an exercise of the ketchup trying to read its own label – from inside the bottle.
  • Email: Canned responses are time savers. Template sales emails or inquiry emails can also save time and increase outreach. When written clear and concise, a small business can send these emails with confidence.
  • Display Ad Copy: From taglines to internal signage, chamber directory ads to phone books, some small businesses haven’t changed their ad copy in years.
  • Brochures: Still viewed as an expected leave behind, sales collateral like brochures and sales cards hold a lot of value to some businesses. Creativity can be a key in creating a library of copy to be used elsewhere within the business.
  • Status Updates: If a small business is active in social media, status updates read more like commercials than conversations.

Mouth Pieces

  • Speeches and Presentations: Whether the full body of the speech or an outline, some of the best presenters tap into the strengths of a writer. Presentation slideshows are often in need of a good writer or editor.
  • Profiles and Bios: A lot of business leaders have difficulty writing about themselves. Bio pages on the web, in print or media kits, and social media profiles can all use the touch of a professional writer.
  • Video and Podcast Scripts: The “ums” and “ers” along with the always popular “so” and “basically” fill video voice overs and podcast episodes across the mediums. Good writing and a tool like CuePrompter will make your clients sound eloquent when they say the words you’ve written.
  • Transcription and Re-purposing: Smart business owners are starting to realize the value of recorded presentations or conversations, capturing large portions or small money quotes they can use elsewhere. A writer or editor who can extract the value from the whole is an asset to the company.

Specialty Pieces

  • SEO Copywriting: Writing title tags, headlines, and meta data is a specialized writing skill all its own. Recognizing how to improve copy for findability is also a strength many business don’t have internally. SEO copywriting is one of the most sought after types of writing.
  • Infographics: This style of writing also requires talents for both research and design. Being able to partner with a graphics person can strengthen the copy and the flow.
  • Tutorials: Technical writing or instructional manuals are very important to many kinds of businesses. Small businesses with a high turnover of employment are often seeking operational guidelines for new employees. Manufacturers are always on the lookout for a simpler way to teach customers how to use their products.
  • Grant Writing: If writing blog posts strikes fear into the minds of a business owner, grant writing can send them running for cover.
  • Policies: Terms of service, disclaimers, and codes of conduct are sought after as more businesses launch their own websites. This type of writing often includes a back-and-forth approval process with a legal department.

A lot of small business owners will avoid writing at all costs, sometimes delegating to someone within their company. Not every business will use all of the writing types listed above. It’s likely they haven’t yet considered the possibility of most of them.

As I work with small business owners daily, writing is clearly one of their weakest areas. If you’re a copywriter, or learning to build a copywriting business, I strongly encourage you to reach out to the small business owners in your area and help them in these areas.

About the Author

Mike Sansone works with small business owners and solopreneurs in building a better business presence online and offline. You can connect with Mike on Twitter.

How to Fire A Freelance Writer (And Still Feel OK After Doing It)

I had to fire a freelance writer today.

When it comes to giving someone the ax, I am a far cry from Donald Trump. Did I get pleasure from the experience? Heck no. Did I lose sleep over the decision? Sure.

Did it need to be done? Yes.

Fortunately, I’ve (finally) learned when to fire someone – and how to do it well.

Chances are, you’ll have to fire someone someday. The writer who misses deadlines. The accountant who doesn’t return your calls. The consultant that isn’t teaching you anything new. It’s never easy – no matter why you have to let them go.

Looking back, I’ve made many “I should have fired them sooner” mistakes. There was the vendor who bad-mouthed me to clients and colleagues (and yes, my clients and colleagues told me what she said.). There was the flaky vendor who would do a half-assed job, make lots of mistakes, and would charge me for fixing the mistakes she made. And then there was the vendor who was so rude to clients that they refused to talk to her. At all.

In all of these cases, I gave everyone chance after chance. I sent supportive emails. We had “talks.” There would be a temporary short term improvement. Then, time would pass, old habits would kick in and we’d be back to square one. Or even square zero.

This time, I was definitely smarter and more methodical. It didn’t make the process psychologically easier, but it did make it smoother.

Here’s what I learned:

Figure out the core problem

Is the vendor missing deadlines? Are your emails to them going into a black hole…and you never hear from them in a timely manner?  Or, is it just that you aren’t “clicking” with the vendor, no matter how you try? There may be a list of issues, or just one main one. Be clear  about your reasons for wanting to let them go.

Do you want to work it out?

If the vendor lied to you, bad mouthed you or purposely did something to jeopardize your business, you got to let them go. Right now. I don’t care how much you like them, or if they’ve worked for you for years. Let them go. You can’t afford to work with people who don’t have your back.

If there’s room for improvement, determine your desired outcome. Maybe you need them to always get back to you by the end of the business day. Or, you want them to proof their work before sending it to you. Ask yourself what kind of behavior change you need, and when you need to see it.

Start documenting the problem

It’s easy to think, “Things aren’t that bad” and fool yourself into thinking things are OK. When you document the problem, you’re forced to acknowledge that, yes, it is a problem. It’s not a one time thing. It’s a long standing issue. Plus, the documentation helps during the next step, which is…

Talk to the vendor about it.

This is not the time to suffer in silence. If missing deadlines is unacceptable to you – tell them. Outline what deadlines they’ve missed and how that affects your business. If communication is an issue, tell them you need a faster response time – and be specific about what that means to you. I prefer to do this by email so I have the paper trail. Other people prefer to do this by phone and then they later send a follow-up email. It depends on your personal style and the relationship you have with the vendor.

You may learn that the vendor has been sick, is going through a divorce or having another problem that prevents them from giving their 100 percent. Be sympathetic, but remember that their problem isn’t your problem. It’s OK to cut them some slack. But it’s not OK to do it when it’s at the expense of your business or sanity.

I will have one – maybe two “talks” with the vendor. After that, my next step is to…

Set up consequences

Have you told the vendor what you need – and you’re still not getting it? Tell them that if things don’t improve by X date, you’ll have to let them go.  At this point, your vendor may quit. Or, she’ll promise to get back on track. Promises are nice – but action is what you’re looking for. If your vendor doesn’t fulfill his or her end of the bargain, it’s time to…

Say, “You’re fired.”

If things have reached this point, you have done everything you can do. The vendor, for whatever reason, can’t do what you need – so it’s time to let them go.

Send them an email and keep it professional, factual and friendly. Tell him or her why it’s happening, refer to past documentation and sever ties immediately. If they’re in the middle of a project, find someone else who can take over. The faster you (and your vendor) can move on, the faster it’s out of everyone’s lives.

Firing someone is never fun – but it is necessary. What tips would you add to this list?

This SEO Writing Tactic Never Works

Has your boss or a prospect ever said, “I’d like to try optimizing one page to see what happens. Then, if the page positions the way we want, we’ll work on other pages”?

Argh.

You hear this a lot if you’re freelancing or working for a boss who doesn’t get SEO. In their mind, you should be able to achieve some pretty sweet Google positions with just one page. That is, if you know what you’re doing…

And if you don’t grab some great Google positions after the one-page test? Well, that’s your fault.

Nope, nope, nope.

As one of my colleagues said about this very topic, “That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.”

Here’s the real deal…

SEO writing success is more than “let’s optimize one page and wait for the rankings to flow in.”

SEO is an ongoing process for ALL your site pages. Not just one.

Think about it.

Let’s say a company had 1,000 un-optimized pages, and they wanted you to optimize just one of them.

That means your one optimized page — no matter how well you did — is being dragged down by 999 UN-optimized pages that aren’t helping the site.

The odds are unfortunately stacked against you (and your client) no matter how good you are, how smart you are, and how well you wrote the page.

It’s a no-win situation.

What can you do instead?

Well, this depends on how educated the client is — and how motivated they are to change their situation.

Sometimes, you can suggest an SEO content audit instead. This is where you comb through your client’s site and pinpoint any optimization opportunities.

For instance, many sites (yes, even in 2020) are keyphrase-free. Or, have crappy Titles. Or, their content doesn’t match the searcher intent.

THESE are bigger SEO content issues than just “tweaking one page.” Sure, fixing these issues will cost more time and money than what the client had in mind — but, it does help him reach his goal of better site positions and more traffic.

Or sometimes, you may be able to help the powers-that-be in a different way. For instance, your client may have a bunch of good (yet un-optimized) blog posts that all talk about a certain topic. You may be able to optimize those posts, create an authoritative pillar page, and drive traffic that way.

Granted, that’s a longer-term strategy that would also involve some promotional efforts. And it will take more time and resources. But, it’s a more successful strategy than randomly optimizing a page and praying for results.

(BTW, I talked about this strategy as it relates to new sites — but the strategy could also apply to older sites with existing content. Here’s some additional information about how to do it.)

But, what if they still insist on optimizing a single page, even after you share why it won’t work?

If you have the freedom to turn down the work, that’s something you may want to consider — especially if you get the feeling that the prospect isn’t listening to your advice.

It’s always OK to walk away from a prospect if you know you can’t give them what they want.

Or, if you do take on the work, consider writing a strong CYA email that reiterates your concerns. That way, your client can’t come back in six months and say, “Why didn’t you tell me this won’t work?” (Yes, it happens.)

Just don’t get sucked in to the “well, can you send a detailed email outlining what you would do instead” trap. General advice is fine. Customized advice would fall under “consultation” or an SEO content audit…and cost money.

Don’t give away those tasty SEO tidbits in your brain for free.

What do you think?

Have you been asked to optimize one page “as a test”? What other weird SEO writing requests have you heard? Leave a comment and let me know.

Is Your SEO Copy Crap? 8 Ways to Tell

Last week, a prospect asked what I thought of his site copy.

I took one look and resisted the urge to say, “Um, how much did you pay for this?” The writing was…bad.  Picture a 500-word, below-the-fold paragraph with no hyperlinks, no call-to-action…and what’s worse…

All of the copy was italicized. All of it.

Imagine reading that on a mobile device.

The prospect knew that something seemed “off.”  But he thought, “I hired someone who specializes in SEO copy. Maybe the copy is supposed to read that way.”

Not by a long shot.

Life is too short to pay for bad copy. If your SEO copy sucks, that means that it’s time to send it back to the writer and get her to fix it.

Here’s how to separate the stupendous from the sucky:

 – Read the copy out loud and hear how it “sounds.”

If your content sounds clunky — or if the keyphrases stand out like a sore thumb — send it back to the writer. Keyphrase-stuffed copy won’t help you drive traffic (in fact, it will do the exact opposite.)  Plus, over-optimization is bad from a conversion standpoint. After all, you don’t want your readers bouncing out of your site as soon as they arrive.

 – Understand that good SEO writing is good writing, period.

Do you have the urge to bring out your red pen and slice unnecessary words? Smart SEO copywriting is tight, which means that the writer is using as few words as possible to bring the point home. If you feel like the content is “fluffy,” lacks focus, or misses important elements (such as citing sources), send it back for editing.

 – Does the copy make your company’s benefits “pop?” Or is it all focused around features?

Your readers care about one thing: How can your product or service solve their problem. That means your writer needs to transform your company’s features into hard-hitting benefit statements. If your web copy is filled with features (a common problem,) ask for a revision.

Bonus tip: Review how many times the writer used your company name, “we” and “our company.” Ideally, your copy is focused around the word “you” — otherwise, you may sound like a bad date.

 – Is the copy focused around one single keyword?

This is old-school SEO writing that will tank your Google positions. Good SEO copywriting is topic-focused, and contains synonyms, related words — and, yes, well-researched keyphrases. Not only should you send this content back to the writer, you should consider if you ever want to work with her again. This kind a mistake is a huge red flag screaming, “Hey, I haven’t updated my SEO content writing methods since 2009!”

–  Are there spelling or grammatical errors?

Granted, your writer is human – and things happen. But if you are seeing multiple errors and you’re finding yourself correcting the document, stop. That’s what your writer is supposed to do for you.

 – Is there a call-to-action?

This could mean linking to a sales page, another blog post, or encouraging folks to sign up for a newsletter. Your writer needs to weave your site’s (and your page’s) conversion goal into the copy. If they haven’t, it’s time for a rewrite.

 How is your page Title (what appears as the clickable link on the search engine results page.)

Does it include the page keywords? Is it enticing? Or is it a bunch of keyphrases separated by pipes? If you’re thinking, “Hmm, I don’t think I’d click on this result,” send it back to the writer.

 – Is the page easy to read?

Long, scrolling paragraphs are visually overwhelming – especially on a mobile device.  If the paragraphs are long – and you’re not seeing any subheadlines that break up the text – have your writer check out these SEO writing tips before they rewrite the copy.

What happens if your writer revises the content – yet your SEO copy is still crap? It may be time to let the writer go and find someone else who better suits your needs. Better to take the loss now and move on, then upload crappy copy and suffer the consequences.

When Is Short Copy OK?

Have you heard that writing short copy is spammy, and you should always write a minimum of X words?

You’re not alone. Recently, I received this question:

“What is the minimum number of words for a blog post? 

I was told many years ago that it was 300 words and then a couple of years after that I was told the minimum should be 500 words. Anyway, recently, I read somewhere that the minimum number of words is 300, although, longer posts have a tendency to rank better.

I’ve been blogging for an attorney for about 2 years and making sure that I hit the 500-word minimum but I’m wondering if, every once in awhile, I can throw in a 300 or 400-word blog without creating SEO problems.”

Short answer — yes! There’s a huge misconception about word count and what Google “wants to see.”

Let’s break it down.

Once upon a time, you could get great Google rankings by writing short, crappy content. People would create poorly-written 100-word “articles” that repeated the keyword over and over — and those articles would actually position (!)

In fact, a number of large companies moved their content production offshore to non-English speaking countries. Although those writers did their best, they were paid (very little) on volume — not on value. The result was typically pretty horrible.

Then, Google made a sweeping change and made it known that “thin” content was bad. This algorithmic update, called Panda, devastated sites that relied on poorly-written content.

But here’s the thing…

Although “thin” content is often short, short copy isn’t necessarily bad. 

“Thin” content and “short” content are two different things.

Here’s more information on what thin content is and how to fix it.

In fact, Google said in 2019 that word count isn’t indicative of quality.

Sometimes, what you’re writing only needs 300 words to fully explain the topic.

Maybe even less.

The purpose of smart SEO writing is to answer the readers’ query and to entice her to take the next action step. Adding 200 more words to reach a mythical word count “requirement” won’t serve the reader and may detract from what you’re trying to say.

So, don’t be afraid of short copy. It can position.

BUT…

Know that short copy positions for highly specific queries — not broad concepts. Don’t expect a 300-word article to position for in-depth topics like [how to take care of a kitten] or [content marketing strategies for 2020]. 

It won’t. Nor will it fully answer your readers’ questions. That’s when longer content comes into play.

In fact, this post weighs in at slightly less than 500 words. Sure, I could have gone in-depth on the history of content words counts, and discussed why everyone wanted short copy back in the day.

But, that wouldn’t add much value, would it? :)

So yes, short copy is OK.

What do you think?

Have you been asked to write longer content “for Google?” Leave a comment and let me know!

When Should You Insert Keyphrases Into Your Copy?

I received a fantastic question during an interview for The Copywriter Club Podcast. (Hey, Rob and Kira!) 

In fact, it’s a question newbie SEO writers struggle with all the time.

“When should I insert keyphrases into my copy? As I write? Or should I add them after I’m done writing?”

Although some people will tell you their way is the right way, this is one of those rare SEO writing instances where you can do your own thing.

Meaning, you can add keyphrases as you write the copy. You can edit them in after. Heck, you can do both. You do you.

Having said that, both approaches have some specific advantages.

If you want to add the keyphrases as you write:

It can be faster. You can write spectacular content and include keyphrases all in one pass — no additional optimization necessary.

It saves editing time. You won’t need to edit a sentence (or more) to make your keyphrases “fit” the way you want. They’re already in the content.

If you want to add the keyphrases after you write the main copy:

It can be easier. ESPECIALLY if you’re new to SEO writing. Doing it this way may mean more content editing to make the keyphrases fit. That’s OK.

You may see keyphrase (or content) opportunities that you didn’t see when you wrote the main copy. This is especially true for keyphrase synonyms and related words.

Plus, keyphrase editing is a great way to make old copy better for Google (and easier for your readers to find.) Here’s how to do it.

What do I do?

Both. Of course. :)

Yes, I’ll add the keyphrases as I write the content. I’ve been doing this for so long that it’s easy for me to see the keyphrase opportunities and to include them where they naturally flow.

But…

I always take a second (or third) keyphrase pass as part of my editing process. I double-check that I didn’t go wild with my keyphrase usage — and I also look for missed keyphrase (even topic) opportunities.

You may choose a “best of both worlds” approach, too. It’s what works for you.

What about keyphrase research? Can I do that after I write the content?

Nope.

You should conduct keyphrase research before you start writing. Every time.

Why?

Because today’s SEO writing process isn’t like the bad ol’ days when we were optimizing pages for a single keyphrase like [running shoes.]

In today’s brave new SEO writing world, we’re weaving in a number of topic-based keyphrases.

For instance, I just evaluated an REI blog post about how to choose trekking poles and hiking staffs. Although [how to choose trekking poles] and [how to choose hiking staffs] were obviously the page’s main keyphrases, the guide also discussed how to find the right length for the right terrain, how the poles are made, and how-to tips.

What’s more, all of their subheads topics, such as “tips for using trekking poles” are based on keyphrases and keyphrase research. 

Is it any wonder that, according the SEMrush, this ONE page is positioning for 595 keyphrases?

Yes, 595 keyphrases.

That’s why keyphrase research is more than just learning how people search. It can also give you article structure ideas. 

For instance, you may find a tasty question-oriented keyphrase during the research phase that may slightly change how you approach the content. Having all the data in front of you early can prevent extensive rewrites later.

As I’ve always said, keyphrase research gives you power.

What do you think?

When do you add keyphrases to your SEO content? As you write? Or after you’re done as part of the editing process? Leave your comment below!